Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Clowns make you laugh – don’t they?
My attitude to clowns is somewhat ambivalent, due, I suppose, to my dislike –maybe misunderstanding - of slapstick. I appreciate and giggle at Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and cringe at Charlie Chaplin, but custard pies? NO! The make-up also, though traditional, I find hard to like. A mask, however cleverly painted, is a mask nonetheless, and what is more disturbing than a visage which appears to be something it is not, in fact hides its true character? Strangely, in other cultures, the white mask is not threatening. I had not thought about this for some time until I read an article recently about children's entertainers and saw photographs of them in unlikely and definitely unflattering costumes and remembered the reactions of two of my children.
Gareth was about three when I took him and his older and younger sisters to an after-school show. I remember nothing of the show, nothing of Gillian and Susannah's reactions, but even now, almost four decades later, I recall Gareth's reaction and smile. He laughed so hard he almost fell over – he laughed so much that the rest of the audience turned to smile at him and laugh with him – he still has a robust sense of humour.
Susannah was never very fond of clowns – they frightened her, for she was a sensitive child - but one Christmas, when she was about two and a half, my parents gave her a life-size (for her) clown doll. My mother, a gifted needlewoman, had made it for her. It was made of cheery red material, robustly stuffed and had foot straps which enabled her to slip her feet in and move the clown as she wished – to dance with it. As she opened it – my parents holding their breath – and revealed it she said, 'Cloudy' and that was his name for ever after. She had hours of pleasure playing with this life-size doll until eventually she outgrew him and he had pretty nearly disintegrated. I will never forget her delight as she uncovered him and the joy she had playing with him. He was for her alone – far too small for her older siblings to commandeer and though my mother never said anything about it, her little granddaughter's pleasure was as great a gift as the gift she had so lovingly created.