As three boys growing up in south-east Auckland, we had the occasional treat of a visit from a small "circus" company, a one-tent affair which featured sideshows designed to terrify faint-hearted punters from near and far.
The main attraction of the visiting troupe was focused on a scruffy tent, no bigger than a standard two-person sleepout from which emitted regular screams, designed to make the hairs on the back of young necks stand upright. Organ music played in the background and a crackly microphone in the hands of a man at the door implored the gathering crowd to "come see the world's only living headless woman".
The queue stretched from the tent which contained a flickering candle and another object not easily discernible in the half-light. When the tent filled, the entrance was closed and the crowd drawn in.
The spruiker from the doorway then began, in a hoarse whisper, to explain that we would be seeing a 16-year-old girl who had been badly injured in a motor accident.
Slowly he reached for the second object, which appeared to be covered by a tea towel. As the towel was removed and our eyes adjusted to the light, the girl in front of me fainted. Fortunately an ambulance officer moved in to revive her.
I remember noting that the "head" sat on a plank across the top of a wooden packing crate.
It sat on an amateurishly fashioned silver pie dish with cotton wool stuffed around its jagged edges. The cotton wool had been liberally doused with a bright red substance for the final shocking effect.
Just before the cover was replaced, at the spruiker's behest the girl flickered then fully opened her eyes, sending people running from the tent screaming.
My older brothers lost no opportunity to use the ensuing pandemonium to inflict further terror on their siblings. From this distance in time, it is embarrassingly obvious now that the whole episode was based on a clever illusion professionally executed.
Coincidentally New Zealand has welcomed an act featuring seven illusionists who will no doubt create a similar environment of terror and amazement among the audience. But punters seeking such thrills need not wait for local sideshows - they can see illusions aplenty every week on the sports fields of the nation. Take the following examples:
Was that a former All Black spied in the media in the front row of European royalty from Monaco? Byron Kelleher sure has come a long way from Waikato's back blocks - surely just an illusion.
Was that a serious sports commentator who recently advocated that cheering be abolished at all junior football games? What next? Spectator-less stadiums? And what does Kevin Fallon have to say about this?
Must we watch each week with increasing horror the injuries that Warrior Kevin Locke suffers or inflicts on himself - the latest example being against the Titans when Locke went down in an incident described by one commentator as appearing as though he'd been shot by snipers in the grandstand?
As for the Warriors themselves, can we now conclude that their disgraceful capitulation to the Penrith Panthers means their 2013 NRL campaign was merely an illusion?
As they say, things are often not always as they seem. From a loyal Warriors' member's point of view, the rout at Penrith looked like dereliction of duty on a breathtaking scale. And that was no illusion ...