And that was the view from the little hill in South London where we saw in the new year. Gorgeous view over my beloved city - enough of a panorama to see a handful of firework displays all going on at once. Although the biggest cheers from the assembled and warmly wrapped-up throng went up for the small gangs of kids shooting their own rockets into the air with frankly terrifying enthusiasm. Then we went home and I necked a rum and coke and fell asleep on the sofa. Start the year the way you mean to go on.
I can, perhaps, be forgiven for my tiredness, because the previous day we had gone to Paris. A little adventure. First Eurostar out, last one back, enough time to eat, drink and wander around. And that's what we did. Rather splendid.
I'd been to Paris earlier in the year to perform as the cabaret for a corporate party in a posh restaurant, and I'd had a nice time. Good gig, and I'd enjoyed having the time to walk up and down the Seine before I had to work. While doing this, I'd seen a con trick being played. I love a good con trick - I think everyone does. As they say in the brilliant movie House of Games, a good con trick only works because the victim is greedy or vain. As long as a con sticks to this rule, I think it's ok to appreciate it without moral complications. The scam I'd seen being played out on the banks of the river (and yes, they tried to play it on me and failed) was the apparently famous "Parisian gold ring scam". It's really simple. Here's how it works:
You're walking along, minding your own business, when you notice someone in front of you bend down and pick up a shiny gold ring off the floor. You both lock eyes. "Did you drop this ring?", says the con artist. Now, if you're honest and/or clued in, you say "nope" and keep walking. Here's what happens if you don't..
The con artist, usually looking a little poor, but with an honest smile, of course, shows you the ring. They show you a mark that proves it's gold. "Wow", you both say. You both look around for someone who could have dropped it, but there's nobody who might have. Perhaps you say "It's you lucky day, you found a gold ring", or words to that effect. The con artist will say "I can't wear jewellery because of my religion", or "The ring is too small for me", or even better "I wish I could buy my family a meal with this ring, but how could I?" - then, if you're male, maybe - "Here - the ring is yours - give it to your wife"
Even at this late stage, of course, you could not take the ring, and walk away. But if you don't..
You take the ring and say thanks, and just before you part company with this poor but honest good hearted stranger, they say "Perhaps you could give me a little money for some food? You have the ring after all.."
Aaand you give them maybe 20 Euros - because c'mon - they have a family to feed, and they did a nice thing by letting you keep the gold ring. The gold coloured brass ring that they used basic but effective sleight of hand to make you think they'd picked up off the floor when it was really in their hand the whole time. the ring worth a penny. Literally.
It's a great con. It only works because the mark thinks their getting something valuable for cheap - a seemingly unbelievable offer from a stranger who clearly sees what a decent person they are, a stranger who might not fully understand the worth of what they have, but could be relieved of it for a small fee.. Greed and vanity. On that trip, I'd had a great afternoon watching the scam being played, enjoying the theatre of it - the performances of the scam artists. So when me and my better half were walking alongside the Seine this week, I told her about the con, and we wondered if it was still being worked here. And pretty much as soon as I said it a woman bent down in front of us, picked up a heavy shiny gold ring and asked us if we'd dropped it. Brilliant. We saw it being worked - successfully - on three more tourists within the space of a half hour walk along the river. Street theatre, kids.
And it made me wonder if this is an exclusively Parisian scam. I'm pretty well travelled, but haven't seen this con being pulled anywhere else. I've seen three card monte in street markets in Malta and on bridges in London, I've seen the famous levitating toy scam that used to be big around Covent Garden but now seems to have migrated to Italy, but I've only seen the ring con in Paris. Are con tricks localised in that way? I'm assuming that the scam in Paris is run by one gang, otherwise surely there'd be fights over turf? Put this on the list of things I'd do if I were a deranged millionaire - travel the world researching the best con tricks.
Incedentally - if you're as into con tricks and associated carny shenanigans as I am, "How To Cheat At Everything" by Simon Lovell is absolutely positively a must read.
We did a little shopping in Paris, and amongst other things, bought a couple of gorgeous 50's magazine that had the image below as it's centrefold. Perfect thing to end this post with.
See you in the new year, monkeys.