Old Party Pieces
Disasters can release hidden talents. They can be little personal disasters or domestic upheavals but they all have the potential to immerse you in a comletely new scenario.
A True Story
A child's birthday is not a grown up's birthday in miniature.
It is a completely different experience for the victim, the parent and the neighbours. No matter how well prepared you are, it creeps up and whacks you on the back of the knees with a long-handled shovel. There are several dumb ways to make the situation worse, such as, be married, be a teacher, love your kids, have helpful neighbours or, dumbest of all, be the granddad.
Our Jimmy is called after my brother who had the good sense to emigrate to Australia forty years ago as a single man and remains that way to this day. His namesake is just as adventurous and as much a daredevil so I suspect he will follow in his great uncle's footsteps.
The day has arrived. I'm here early. In fact, I've been here since nine o'clock this morning making a complete mockery of my daughter's beautiful, and according to her, exquisitely decorated, kitchen and living room. It will never be the same again. I have a huge banner proclaiming "Manchester United Player of the Year" with a blown-up-to-lifesize picture of Jimmy underneath hanging in both rooms. The foot pump didn't stop me being breathless by the time I had blown up a million balloons but it did help me munch my way through two packets of Liquorice Allsorts and three cups of coffee.
I was asleep, or, more accurately, in a coma, when Jimmy got home from school. His rude awakening technique is more likely to induce heart failure than a pleasant smile but it is his day.
By four there are roughly a million kids of all sorts ansizes and shapes. Some are of indeterminate colour, some quiet and withdrawn and one is hovering dangerously close to the lemonade "punch" with a foot-long bogie threatening to escape into the mixture.
"Our Stevie was sick in your fish tank."
"He stuffed chocolate down my pants."
"Your cat drank all my juice, can I get some more?"
"Helen put lipstick all over the dog."
The two Misses Prim are conducting an interrogation of John, my son, seated between them. In the kitchen his wife Jane is under the same kind of attack from a young pirate who seems to think that every interview has to end with someone walking the plank!
Half past four and little Mary Kelly screams from the hall, "I saw a horrible face at the door."
This heralds the arrival of the clown hired to entertain the kids.
"Blast," mutters my daughter-ilaw, "He was supposed to come round to the back to get in."
My son and I herd the kids into the living-room while Jane sees to the clown.
After a couple of minutes we are called out leaving the kids in the hands of a competent neighbour who had, unwisely, offered to help.
"What's wrong?" says Alex.
The younger of the two men speaks, "This is my dad, he's your clown but we had a bit of an accident on the way here and I think he's having a delayed reaction. Look at him! I'll have to take him to hospital."
"What about the kids?" says the older man.
The young man turned to Alex, "Could you not be the clown, at least for a while anyway?"
Alex turned to me, "Here's the perfect answer for that, dad, you're always acting the clown with the kids. What about you doing it?"
Fifteen minutes later I'm standing here dressed for the part despite all protestations and reasoning.
I make my way as carefully as anyone can who's wearing yard long boots, baggy pants and the rest of the getup that makes a clown.
The third step from the bottom gets me every time. I land in an ungainly heap in the hall and a dozen kids burst out to investigate the sound of the horn and immediately I'm in the thick of it.
The dog didn't take too kindly to this gaudy clumsy figure in the living room and tried to tell me so by sinking his teeth into an exposed ankle. I fall over backwards and end up in a heap with a huge bunch of plastic flowers in my hand. The kids squeal with laughter. I stand up and try to walk but wee jenny Maguire is sitting on the extensive uppers of the circus shoes. The clown goes down again, this time forward onto the low table spread with the remains of unrecognisable food and drink. My hand is lubricated by the gooey mess and I have no grip so my nose introduces itself to the woodwork. This unrehearsed performance and helpless laughter goes on for what seems like days until Jane announces that the "Thank-You" bags are ready.
Half an hour later the house is quiet but in ruins, I have two large whiskies under my belt and the real clown's son has returned.
"They're keeping my dad in overnight but they seem to think he'll be alright.
There follows a fateful and life changing conversation that continues for several days.
Suffice it to say that I am now the clown but there are no more spontaneous performances. Each 'spill' and 'trip' is carefully rehearsed.
We have a new purpose liveried van, our old clown is now adviser and director his son is in charge of transport and we are making a little profit.
This is the perfect passtime for me - everybody used to call me an old clown anyway.