Clarence was not even tinily funny when I first met him. To be honest, he was filthy and had some raggedy spots. Even worse, he smelled awful. He was in a shopping trolley amongst a stack of other rejects of the toy variety. How my heart ached to see all those needy and worthy small people. How I wished I could rescue them all. I’m sure each one was a truly worthy character. But I could take just one this time – and I chose Clarence the Clown.
Poor fellow, he needed a strong wash cycle in my washing machine to even begin to get his act together. Mostly I can hand wash my rescued treasures, and my Knitty Gritty Kids were extremely grateful for the tender loving care I lavished upon them. Clarence had needs far greater than the worst of my small lost souls – with dirt deeply ingrained; there was just no choice but a sturdy mechanical wash cycle for him. And yet… his sense of humour is such that I swear I heard him shout ‘WHEE-EE-EE’ and ‘YIPPEE-EE-EE‘ as he whirled around at great speed in the Spin cycle. His comic spirit and eternal quest for new adventures are simply irrepressible.
Clarence tells me his name was inspired by a poem by Archie Langford. He says he fell in love with it when he read the first rhyme –
I remember when I joined the circus
A circus of great renown,
I wore baggy clothes and a little red nose
And they called me Clarence the clown.
And when he heard the ‘other’ Clarence’s first job was following elephants and horses with a bucket and spade, it all came rushing back to him. NOT the happiest of memories! Especially when he heard the last job the ‘other’ Clarence had was the exact same one the Ringmaster threatened him with right before he left. Even talking about it caused him to shake so hard he nearly lost his bright pink pompom on his hat. He absolutely refused to be the cannonball clown, to be shot out of the mighty barrel. His balloons would NEVER survive… and he feared, nor would he.
Clarence overcame his sadness about all the things he couldn’t do well, like juggling and sawing ladies in half and trapezing up in the great heights of the Big Top. He tried his hardest to fold balloons into clever look-alike animals, but they looked more like tornadoes-turned-twisters, and usually he got his hands tied up in knots instead. That was when he decided to use his balloons to hit people. Gets rid of a heap of crossness, Clarence told me.
Interesting, that crossness bit, because I often wonder about him having a dark side – a slightly ‘off’ type humour. It was those eyebrows made me suspicious at first… and it is my imagination, or do I see an overly mischievous glint in his eyes? Hmm… when you consider one of his pet loves is to bounce his balloons on the other Knitty Gritty Kids’ heads, you have to wonder! See poor Bimbo’s face? He looks as if he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry; looks like he’s thinking, That’s enough Clarence. Enough! STOP IT!
Strange thing, this… You wouldn’t think Clarence would be guilty of any bullying-type behaviour, after having been a victim himself – way, way back in Clown Technical High School. He told me about it one stormy night long ago, when he was cuddled up because he was still a newbie then, still afraid we’d send him on his way just like others had before. Sometimes he would act up quite badly, just like he was ‘testing the waters’ – trying to see if we still loved him when he was naughty. Took a while to learn we would love him always – BUT – he did have to learn to live by our house rules.
I guess it’s no wonder Clarence is a bit of a rebel – often a bit too cheeky for his own good. When I found him, he looked as though he’d had a pretty rough time of Life already. Must be hard to be funny if someone has broken your heart and not wanted you anymore… must take a lot of pretending you don’t care. It’s taking some time, but Clarence IS learning a lot about the healing power of love and togetherness from the rest of the Knitty Gritty Kids. They understand. Each one of them has been through their own particular stresses and trials.
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Beside me in bed there’s been a bit of squirming and scrunching up of small knees, jabbing themselves into my leg. Now Jonjon tightens his mouth and in a wobbly voice, says, “I was bullied, too.” And he ducks his head and sniffs loudly, although there are only crocodile tears and no true runny nose problems. I stretch my neck to look up under his downturned face and see he’s peeking out below his eyebrows to see how Mum or Dad are looking, hearing this news. Will they say anything?
Dad turns his head to one side and his face looks doubtful. You can see he wants to believe Jonjon, but this is the first he’s heard about any problems of the bullying kind. Mum nods. She suspected something the other day when Jonjon came home from school, she says. Now she asks if I knew anything. Happened this time I didn’t, but I’d been feeling a tad confused by a difference in his attitude, too. He was a little quieter, maybe. A few unexplained deep frowns crunkled his brow… stuff like that. But he never confided in me and just brushed me off like a pesky mozzie when I asked if he was OK. He’s kept it all dammed up for too long. His puckered up face clearly shows he wants to tell us now. I like that about Granny’s stories. The magical way they help kids open up about their own problems.
“It was Janey Walker. She started calling me names about being the butcher’s kid and saying mean stuff about you, Dad!” Jonjon’s face reddens and glowers with anger, remembering the hated words. “And… and… she shoved me, and then I shoved her back. And we did that a few times, but you know how big and solid she is – suddenly she was doing all the shoving, with each rude word she said, and I didn’t see what was right behind me, what we were getting closer to with each shove!”
“What?” I can’t help interrupting, trying to picture the fight scene and two ‘gangs’ of kids cheering these two on.
“The row of rubbish bins, that’s what!” Jonjon’s voice is indignant now he has the full attention of his audience. “She gave one humongous shove and sat me kerplonk right inside one of them. And… AND… she’s a GIRL!!!” I steal a quick glance at Mum and Dad. Their faces reflect the same horror my face feels like it’s showing. At the same time they seem to be tightly hiding a smirk at the picture his words draw, just as I am.
Once again, he grabs my chin and turns my face to be almost nose to nose with him. “But even that’s not the WORST, Sarah! I couldn’t get out again. My bottom was stuck tight DOWN and my legs were right UP in the air.” I have to fake a sneeze and a cough… there’s no other way to get through this moment. I notice Mum and Dad seem to be in the self-same predicament.
I can’t stop myself from saying, “Just like that little teapot, short and stout, your gang had to tip you over and pour you out!” I can’t help it. I explode into gales of laughter. And once again, Mum and Dad share the same problem. Luckily, the humour of the story has hit Jonjon too, and before you know it, we’re all rolling about the bed like a pocketful of monkeys.
Mum’s the first one to recover… sort of. She sucks in her cheeks. The twinkle in her eyes shows she’s not tinily fooled by Jonjon’s ploy to stretch out his bedtime. His story is correct – he doesn’t lie – but he IS playing it out to its utmost. “We’ll talk more tomorrow night about bullying and ways to handle it, OK? But for now it’s time for sleep because you’ve shared your worries – and you know the old saying?” And she waits for Jonjon and I to chant together – ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved’.
“EXACTLY!” she says in her best ‘no-nonsense-you’re-going-to-sleep-RIGHT-now’ voice. As I head off to my own bed and Dad yawns and stretches his arms wide, Mum smooths Jonjon’s ruffled hair and kisses each pink cheek – one to chase away bad dreams and the other to welcome only good ones. A firm tuck-in, a kiss from Dad, and it’s lights-out… and a repeat performance in my room.
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