It was easy for Sooty. All he had to do was wave his magic wand while Harry Corbett recited the words: “Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy”. All kinds of shit would happen. A rabbit would pop out of a hat. An empty glass would fill up with lemonade. A brick would turn into a cream cake. Sweep would turn into Sue. It was all down to some trickery beneath the counter, but I loved it when I was four years-old, chuckled until I was seven or eight, and pretended through adolescent drinking binges that Sooty was an evil genius plotting to take over the world.
I wish it was that easy for me. Fifty years later and two, or is it three more people sticking their hands up Sooty’s arse, and I’m face down in a bucketful of aggro. Trouble at work, undermined by Slimeball who’s cosy with the managing director. Grief from the Ex, who won a court order that I should sell the house and give her, and her soon to be new husband, half of the money. A wannabe DJ across the road who plays crap music at maximum volume. And the bunch of muppets I’ve supported since childhood heading for relegation. I wish I could just wave a wand, say “Izzy wizzy” and make it all go away.
Not that I’m thinking about that as I enter the charity shop. It was one of the scarves in the window that drew me in, a nice piece of coloured silk that might only cost a quid or two, but then I noticed the battered old box with the magic set. I open it to find bits missing, but there is a dog eared leaflet of instructions for tricks, a couple of plastic rings, small coloured balls, and a round black stick with a white tip. I pay the two pounds thinking of it as therapy, a magic wand to pretend for a moment that I have Sooty’s power to make things easy. When I get home I glance at the leaflet, look at the rings and balls for ten seconds, then dump them with the box and leave the wand on the coffee table. Then comes a phone call, the Ex’s solicitor and the question they’ve asked twice already. “Is the house on the market?” I lie: “Yes.”
A few nights later Sooty comes to me in a dream. He’s silent – always needed Harry, or Matthew or whoever to speak for him – but he moves towards me, eyes fixed on mine and paws around his magic wand, holding it across his chest. Then he places it before me and nods. My mind wriggles for a moment, wanting to understand, then realises it’s a dream and slips back into sleep.
It’s strong enough for me to remember the next morning, and into the following day as I sit watching my team on TV. Fourth round of the FA Cup, live on BBC, two-one down on eighty-nine minutes and struggling to get the ball. I admit defeat, decide to console myself with a private joke and pick up the magic wand. “Two goals in two minutes …. Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy.” Thirty seconds later there’s a tackle in midfield, a long pass to the right, a couple of clever jinks, a cross to our striker’s head and the ball’s in the corner of the net. They’ve nicked a replay. Then another minute, another tackle, a long ball that splits two defenders and sets the same striker clear for a low shot into the other corner. 2-1. I watch guys in blue shirts dive into an ecstatic pile and think “Bugger me!”
It’s an amusing coincidence. Over the following days I’m pissed off at work by Slimeball, as he makes smartarse remarks about colleagues and nicks another slice of my budget through a sneaky word with the MD. The Ex calls, asking again if I’ve placed the house on the market. I lie that the estate agent is coming to view on Friday evening. And the neighbour’s playing the soundtrack for a prison riot. I fall asleep on the Friday thinking that the world’s full of bastards, and find Sooty waiting for me. Again he looks me over, approaches, places the wand before me and nods. I remember when I wake up and wonder if I’d drunk too much.
By lunchtime the neighbour is winding me up again. House, garage, basement; I don’t know what it is but it makes a misery of lunch and dinner. The wand is on the kitchen table – I can’t remember placing it there – but I pick it up and think a wistful thought out loud: “Shut that bastard up.” Then I wave the wand. “Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy.” I forget about it, ignore the voicemails from the Ex, wind myself up with thoughts of Slimeball and turn up the TV to drown out the music.
Late afternoon I go to the bathroom, return to thinking the TV sounds louder and realise the music from across the road has been replaced by whinging voices. I look through the window and see a handful of big men, all cropped hair and dark uniforms, carrying a sofa, a 60-inch TV and a fridge freezer towards a lorry. I read the sign on its side: something, something BAILIFFS. Then I see more men carrying turntable decks, a laptop and four big speakers across the road. The neighbour is pleading and his girlfriend is crying, but I can see the bailiffs are all avoiding eye contact. I have to stop myself from punching the air and back away from the window before I’m seen. GET IN THERE!
I spend a contented evening watching TV and telling myself that if the neighbour is in debt he probably can’t pay the rent either, which means he’ll soon be gone. I remember the magic wand, smile at the idea that it worked, then tell myself not to be so daft. Coincidence.
But a few days later I dream of Sooty again: the look, the wand, the nod. I wake up, spend breakfast thinking over the dream, and can’t help taking the wand to work. It’s mid-morning when Slimeball walks over to my desk with a smug grin on his face.
“I read your report,” he says. “Glad to see there are only three split infinitives this time.”
“Well take three of these,” I say. “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.”
He walks away still grinning. A couple of colleagues give me those looks, sympathetic but warning that I’m stoking up trouble for myself. I decide that at least I might get a laugh from the situation. I take the magic wand from my bag.
“Alright folks.” I speak at a level that only those close to me can hear. “Let’s cast a spell. Please let Slimeball fuck up and get sacked. Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy.”
It gets a laugh and someone asks if I can pull a rabbit from a hat. I manage to concentrate on work, until late afternoon when the MD appears and leads Slimeball towards one of the conference rooms, and we all notice that the HR manager follows. Five minutes later a security man appears, and two minutes after that Slimeball is escorted back to his desk with a cardboard box. He says nothing, fills the box and leaves the building. Ten minutes later we get the email including the words “inappropriate behaviour” and “dismissed”. At the end of the day the need for gossip takes a bunch of us, including the guy who worked most closely with Slimeball, to the pub. It seems he had made a sexist crack about the MD’s wife in the kitchen, not knowing he was by the door. Crash and burn. Nobody seems sad to see the back of him, and one mentions my words with the magic wand. I laugh it off, saying it was a coincidence, while thinking to myself: “Oh fuck! It really works!”
I get home to a letter from the Ex’s lawyer. It translates into “Sell the house or else!” That’s after I had spent sixteen years paying off most of the mortgage. After she had spent almost as long moaning that I didn’t earn half as much as her sister’s husband. After she had left me for a bloke from her pilates class. Why should I put up with that any longer? I take the magic wand from my bag, place it on the kitchen table, and decide on the next spell. “Make her die … quickly.”
Two weeks pass and I can’t find Sooty in my dreams. There are days when I pick up the magic wand and give it a wave but always stop short of saying the words. It needs Sooty to come to me first. Then I receive the letter from the divorce court: if I don’t provide proof that the house is on the market within a week I’ll be in contempt, threatened by a fine, even a couple of weeks behind bars. Her again. I pray, not to God but Sooty, to come to me … that night … please.
Once in bed I toss and turn, look at the clock every twenty minutes, and around four-thirty give up on sleeping for the night. And that’s when I fall asleep, and finally Sooty appears. I smile, feeling pleased to see him. He stares at me. I wait for him to give me the wand but he’s still, as if in thought, picking over the events that had brought us together. I speak his name. He doesn’t answer. I hold out my hand. He squeezes the wand a little closer to his chest. I move towards him. He backs away. I plead gently.
I extend my hand but he backs off further. I don’t get it.
“Come on Sooty,” I say. “I have to get free of that bitch.”
He gives one shake of his head, then waves the wand. Now I hear a quiet male voice in a soft northern accent.
“Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy.”
Then I’m awake, but not in a darkened bedroom. I look up at a strip light and a white ceiling. Two faces take shape – a black guy with dreadlocks, a white man with grimy teeth – both perched on white tunics. Dreadlocks looks familiar; I’m not sure. Same for the woman in a white coat who comes into view.
“How do you feel?” she asks.
“You’ve been very restless.”
“What happened to Sooty?”
“We don’t know,” says Dreadlocks. “You kept calling his name.”
He smiles, just short of a laugh. I move my arms and wriggle a little, realising there are leather straps hanging at my side. I remember the wand, the magic words, saving me from the grief that had been spoiling my life. Except for the Ex.
“It’s not finished,” I say. “One more.”
“Do you mean that … What was it?”
Grimy Teeth grins.
“One more!” I shout. “I’ve just got to get that bitch!”
The doctor takes my arm and the two men press my shoulders to the bed.
“Her again?” says Dreadlocks. “You wanna let that go man. It’s got you into enough trouble already.”
“Where is she?”
“Safe, well out of your way.”
“But I didn’t get the chance.”
“And you won’t.”
For a moment I’m quiet, trying to make sense of it all, but Sooty takes over, waving his magic wand.
“Sooooty! What have you fucking done to me!”
I push myself upwards, free of the two men for seconds, try to jump up but feel their arms wrap around mine, their weight flattening me on the bed. Then the leather straps are whipped and tightened over my chest, thighs and shins. I’m powerless, tortured, angry.
“Sooooty! You bastard!”
They back away from me.
“Woh!” says Dreadlocks. “Has he really woken up?”
“It’s the nature of his psychosis,” says the doctor. “No line between dreams and reality.”
“Psychosis? Not me. Never. I’ve been stitched up by a glove puppet with a magic wand.”
“Are you going to sedate him again,” asks Grimy Teeth.
“No,” says the doctor. “He’s had enough of that. He needs to stay conscious.”
I strain against the straps for one, two, ten minutes, cursing and crying, then let it go. I flop backwards, close my eyes, and try to unravel the mess in my brain. But all that falls out is the memory of Sooty waving his wand and those words.
“Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy.”