Michael Harding: Clowns! That’s what we need. More clowns
Clowns were seen as the laughing stocks who would never make anything of themselves
Clowns! That’s what we need. More clowns
I was trying to make conversation with a waitress in Bucharest one day and there was an image of a black cat on her apron. I felt heartbroken, because I had left my own cat alone for a week with instructions to feed himself.
“What is wrong?” the waitress asked.
“I miss my pussy,” I replied.
She didn’t delay much at my table after that.
I’m such a fool, I thought, because I had made yet another social faux pas.
“A clown,” my teachers would have said in the old days. “You’re a clown,” they would have hissed. Because clown was a pejorative label and clowning around wasn’t tolerated. A clown was an idiot – an eejit – who would end up working petrol pumps, a loser in life, and despised by the world.
The waitress wasn’t amused either. I left without a smile and wandered like an outcast down by the corner of Carol Park, amid the debris of the saddest car boot sale I had ever seen. There were sunglasses with no glass, and broken watches that would never work again, all for sale, all displayed by faded beauties in middle age with too much lipstick, and overweight men in vests, who sat behind their stalls in the desperate heat of noon. Clowns, I thought, all of them.
Theatrical foolsA Cartload of Clowns
And I felt I too would love to make someone laugh by pointing my finger towards the invisible, the way clowns can.
Dermot Healy’s poem about his cat came instantly to my mind:
When the Cat died
Of cat flu, the kitten
Looked around anxiously
Waiting for the sneeze in the dark.
When I came home I was in Carrick-on-Shannon one day, parking up towards the rear end of a big Toyota with Dublin registration plates. Two teenagers emerged from the back seat, like they were trying to climb out of an argument, and their mother stood on the pavement bewildered behind large spectacles, smiling at the town like someone was taking her photograph against her will.
“Is there anywhere to eat in this town,” she asked as I passed.
“The Bush Hotel does an excellent lunch,” I replied.
In fact, I was going there myself, and so I walked fast in order to be ahead of them at the carvery. And I was all paid up at the till before they were in the door. But they ended up at a nearby table. The woman had a copy of Writing the Sky, a collection of essays about Dermot Healy.
“Ah, you must be a fan of Healy,” I said, and I fawned over her like she was a long-lost friend.
“We’re on our way to Sligo,” she said, pointing at the children. “I want to show them the places Healy talks about in his poetry.”
Then I got overexcited. I mentioned that I thought I saw Healy on YouTube recently. “I think he is living as a hermit in a cave in Egypt,” I declared. I was joking but she gave me that look again, like she was being photographed against her will.
In fact, I had seen a Coptic monk on YouTube who lives in a cave and talks about emptiness and God. “But he’s the spit of Healy,” I insisted.
She began to fork broccoli into her mouth and gnash it to pieces like she was dismembering demons, and I felt like withdrawing. But then I gave it one more try. I recited Healy’s poem to her, about the cat. She looked at me like she was a nun and I had just appeared in front of her holding a lance and wearing feathers. This is like Bucharest all over again, I thought in despair. I am making a fool of myself. But then, just as I was about to withdraw, she burst out laughing and her face lit up and she said, “That’s really beautiful.”
And out of the blue I said: “Clowns! That’s what we need. More clowns.”