A Wiz of a Wizard if Ever There Was



When a friend sent me the Wizard of Oz Trivia game as a gift (complete with collectible tin), my (now ex) husband pulled out the set of question cards and tested me. I got 99% of the answers right. He shut the deck back in its tin with a resounding clank, and said, “I am never playing that with you. No one will ever play with you.”

He was right, of course. The gift itself was a joke, sent by my friend Emma, who’d once invited me around to watch The Wizard of Oz on television. Ten minutes into it she threatened to turn the telly off if I didn’t shut the f*** up, because I was reciting all the dialogue and songs in time with the actors.

I zipped it.

Fifteen minutes in she said, “Your lips are still moving!” I watched the rest of the film with my hands over my mouth, unwilling to let her shut it off even though I had every word, every frame of film off by heart.

It is bizarre that I adore this movie and have seen it roughly as many times as I have years on the clock. For one thing, I was nearly twenty before I enjoyed its technicolour glory. We only had a black-and-white television until my grandmother, correctly convinced that her daughter wanted to divorce my father, bought a colour television as a bribe. While it might be argued that a lack of colour was missing in my parents’ marriage this was definitely not the solution, as events later proved. 

I had no idea that the Wicked Witch of the West was poison green, though I knew about all the other symbolic colours from reading L Frank Baum’s books – I own nearly all of them and a well-thumbed Annotated Wizard of Oz – in which he divides the kingdom of Oz into red, blue, yellow and purple regions, with the Emerald City at their centre. Or is it really green? Dorothy and her companions have to put on special glasses when they get there, so maybe it’s a trick of their light. . . .

The Wicked Witch of the West tormented me throughout childhood. I was convinced she lived in the upstairs bathtub – so much so that she became known to my family as The Witch in the Bathtub – and that she would kill me if I dared enter the room in the dark. Light vanquished her, in my mind, much as water did for her in “real life.”

(It is only now that I see how gut-bustingly funny it is that I located her in a water container. Oh Little Lee, you still keep me entertained! And I cannot believe my sarcastic, joke-loving mother never pointed this out, since it wasn’t like her to miss a trick.)

Our, erm, lodger, led me to devise a complicated system of flicking on all the upstairs lights as I readied for bed. After my final wee of the day the sprint began: hit the bathroom light, reach across the landing to flick the hall light off, dash the two steps into my bedroom, hit the light switch by the door and then leap from the doorway into bed, all because the bitch was chasing me. She took advantage of my transit time to relocate to the space beneath my bed, and I always slept with my extremities tucked under the blankets so that she couldn’t reach out and grab me.

One of the most grown up things I ever did, well into my twenties and not even living at home anymore, was to leave my foot exposed outside the covers. As one part of my psyche quivered in terror, another part said, “See, nothing’s happening. There are no demons hiding in the shadows.”

Now, I was a fat kid, so to those downstairs my evening ritual must have sounded like a herd of hippos returning to their happy hunting ground. But what really galled my father was my frequent inability to turn the hall light off. It shone down the stairs. He could see it from our living room and his blood simmered as he calculated every wasted kilowatt. I would be summoned out of bed to turn it off “properly this time” – and you can imagine how complicated that was, given all I’ve told you so far.

Fast forward many years in the future, when I was living in Glasgow with my husband. It was early days, and while I won’t pretend I didn’t know there were problems even then, we were relatively happy, and ensconced in what we called the Wee Room, where there was an open fire and where we’d set up the television. There was also a press in the room, in which we kept a miscellany of items, including DVDs.

He turned to me and said, “If you could watch any DVD right now, what would it be?”

I hate questions of this nature. I am very bad at “what’s your favourite” questions, whether it’s about books, paintings, or films. But I thought about it and finally said, “Well I guess if I could watch any film at all on this dreich day, it would be The Wizard of Oz. Too bad we don’t have a copy.”

He smiled. “Oh, don’t we?” And with the sort of adroit flick of the wrist he excelled at (which was probably one of things that attracted me in the first place), he opened the door of the press without moving from his seat. Tall man, long arms.

There, face forward, was a DVD of The Wizard of Oz. He’d bought it to surprise me.

We watched it together, and he didn’t complain when I sang off key.

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