How To Play A Wizard At Parties

How To Play A Wizard At Parties

I hope for everyone's sake these two actually know each other.

We were all washing up after the Christmas Eve meal. (Have the ham on Christmas Eve, cook the turkey on Christmas Day and serve it with the leftover ham. Works every time.)

Enough booze had flowed and enough Annie Lennox had been played that the atmosphere was convivial and the discussion loose.

This year the guest list was entirely Antipodean. (One was born in England but grew up in New Zealand so it still counts.)

In London this is known colloquially as an “orphans’ Christmas”. Speaking of Antipodeans, the discussion turns to Tim Minchin having his atheist song banned from the Jonathan Ross Show.

I really like Tim Minchin. I say this. I also say the song -however mildly amusing- feels about three years too late as it feels like the atheist discussion has moved on from straw man pilloring. (So 2008.) He should have just done the unofficial “London Antipodean Christmas Song”. (Below.)

One of my dear friends agrees with me about liking Tim Minchin. She uses as an example how he told his four year old daughter the “truth” when she asked him what happens when we die. According to Tim we just end. My friend waits for a response.

This is a wizard moment.

For you to understand this wizard moment, a little context is required. We can probably all agree that 2011 has been a mostly shit year. Economically, politically, seismically… you name it. But also on a micro level. It seems to everyone I have spoken to that the tragedy count for 2011; deaths, illnesses, layoffs, etc; is much higher than other years. (Perhaps the end of the world will be a billion billion little paper cuts rather than one big boom?)

My dear friend is no different. She’s returning home much earlier than she wanted because her fiancé’s job situation is so dire he’s close to breakdown. The dream holiday she had been excited about all year was cruelly cancelled at the last minute (by her fiancé’s boss). Her mother on the other side of the world has just kicked cancer in the balls for the second time in the last five years. She is not so much as agreeing with Tim Minchin as she is tabling a discussion topic she would like input on. My input.

We all know how this goes. Magical folk -perhaps inevitably- become the proverbial witch in the forest cottage for our muggle friends. We are the ones they turn to for this type of thing. And not just the practical 2am discussions in the yard over gin and too many cigarettes about how to clear the ghost from the new boyfriend’s house or whatever. (Though those discussions did happen, obviously. It’s a party, after all.)

So I pause, hang up the dish towel and consider my options. The temptation to start barking orders and pointing at each guest in turn was resisted: “Oh Hell no! You. Get the tealights out of that drawer. You. Go upstairs and get the sandalwood out of the middle cupboard. You. Go and pull the Buffy-themed ouija board off the shelf in the front room. You. Clear the table. Let’s fucking invite some relatives round for a little Christmas drink and see what you think after that, yeah?” No. This is probably what I would have done if I were spending Christmas with you and the topic came up. (But you didn’t invite me. No, no.. that’s fine. Whatever.) However, this is a very different crowd.

And that’s basically the key to playing the wizard at parties. Know your audience. What you want to talk about is rarely what they want to hear.

The objective is still the same. The topic is tabled because my friend wants to know it’s okay to believe life continues beyond the meatsuit. She wants her hopes and nascent beliefs validated by her peers. She doesn’t need to know how to summon Hermanubis to allow clear messages to pass between the worlds.

My inner protocol droid suggests a new strategy: let Reason win. So instead I say

“How nice for Tim’s daughter to have a father that knows everything. Not that I’m questioning his right to raise his kid according to his beliefs (and even in this case I one hundred percent mean that) but it’s just simply bad science to make a truth claim without the evidence to support it. I wholly support his goal of making sure she grows up without the fear of some afterlife punishment affecting her happiness choices but there have been a number of interesting developments over the last couple of years that provide clear scientific proof of human psi abilities and the extension of consciousness beyond the brain… there are also tens of thousands of documented cases of past life memories verified by county records and such.

When I asked my own father -who is on the atheist end of agnostic- the very same question he said ‘well… some people believe we go to Heaven. Other people believe that something else happens. Other people believe nothing happens. But I personally don’t know.’

If it were me I would have said something like that. Except for the last bit. Because, for whatever it’s worth and a variety of reasons I’m not going to go into, personally I am extremely confident in the continuation of existence beyond death and I don’t really care who knows it. More wine?”

My friend breaks into a half smile of peaceful recognition. Oddly, so does my flatmate whom I have always assumed (based on her taste in Guardianista boyfriends) was a staunch atheist.

It was some successful party wizardry, then. But also I think it’s just not being a dickbag. In my late teens and early twenties I would have answered with a template response: “I’ve spoken to too many dead people not to have a healthy appreciation for the afterlife.” (Is it just me or is life after death one of the perennial top three dinner party topics?)

But really this is just making oneself the centre of attention: look at me, I’m all witchy and shit. Let me regale you with my awesomeness. And that marginalises other guests because you move the topic of conversation away from something they feel they can contribute to. (Boasting about magical exploits with non-magical folk is like hanging out with the kids three years below you at school so you can pretend you’re cool.)

Focusing instead on -in this case- parenting style means the conversation can keep going and also more neatly achieves the magical goal: making some people I love who are going through a rough patch feel a little bit better about the world.

That’s really what was asked of this particular wizard at this particular party:

On a cold, dark night at the end of a cold, dark year my friend wanted to know that at least one other person thinks everything turns out all right in the end. That, one way or another, like Tim Minchin, we’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.



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  1. 1

    Very thoughtful reply, Gordon. I had a very similar conversation with my oldest daughter last night on an hour long trek through the middle of nowhere. Similar to yours, not Minchin. That’s a pretty harsh “truth” to put on a four year old. Your dad’s method would’ve been better. I don’t know how much it will matter for that little girl. How often do we agree with the parental units on anything?

    This is a time of year I slouch to the north and the runes call not so subtly. It’s a time I contemplate my past, and consider the future. Death is always part of this. I didn’t know it until I read it, but I think I needed a bit of that speech you gave your friend.

    Thank you for sharing :)

  2. 2

    Happy Christmas, Gordon. ^_^
    How well you captured playing the wizard! I think I might emulate your response style next time that comes up; too often I simply stay silent, hoping that I won’t be asked for an answer, because my answer isn’t their answer and the Gods don’t seem to appreciate being pulled out as party favors.
    Also, Annie Lennox is awesome. How have I never run into her before?

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