It’s the day we’d been waiting for. It was the village Christmas party.
Us Passeri kids are dressed up in Christmassy outfits. My little sister is wearing a velvet Burgundy dress with puffy sleeves, she has a ribbon in her hair and she’s wearing patent boots the same colour as her dress. My Mummy strokes her hair and says in her Glaswegian accent “You look so cute ma wee toots.” My sisters face turns from sweet to evil and she looks us all in the eyes and says “These boots are good for kicking people.”
She has aways scared the shit out of me.
She’s a vet nurse now and is very good at it but I’m sure the animals get better out of pure fear.
There’s jelly and ice cream. There’s kids crying. There’s pissed off dads. All the makings of a typical village party.
The village hall smells musty, like an old coat whose home has been a lonely damp shed for 3 too many years. Lengths of sad tinsel are strung up on nails that were already there. There’s a piano in the corner with a sign on it saying “I’m here to be played but only if you know how”. At every village event a psychotic almost teenage boy would sit on the ancient stool and tap away at the black and white keys. Resident busy body Dolly would always shout “Oi! can’t you read? Look at the sign.” The psychotic almost teen would come back with “I’m playing a lovely tune.” This would be too much for busy body Dolly and she’d bang her walking stick on the floor and shout “I’ll play a nice tune on your backside!” Every village fundraiser, coffee morning, party. Without fail.
For this particular party some of the Mums from the posh end of the village had clubbed together and paid for a clown from the nearest town to come and entertain the kids. A very mediocre clown. Not the local creepy, pervy clown my Mummy said to avoid eye contact with and not Oodly Doodly, who was the creme de la creme of the children’s party clowns.
This poor bloke was somewhere in the middle. His outfit was okay, the make up was fine, the jokes were forgetful and vanilla, kids half giggled and parents talked amongst themselves. This annoyed The Clown. I would personally rather be hated than just “Ilaria? Oh, yeah, she’s okay.”
As an adult I wonder if The Clown (I’m sure he had a name) always wanted to do this? Or if his parents were proud? Perhaps they thought this clown stuff was just a phase?
The Clown is gesturing towards a pile of brightly coloured balloons. A little boy with fat red cheeks excitedly shouts “I want Batman in the Bat Mobile!” The Clown replies “How about a sword?” The boy looks at The Clown’s scuffed shoes and mumbles “Fine.”
His show is so unoriginal and lacking dynamism that when the village’s snottiest kid starts picking her nose, the other children watch. The Clown must want to die inside. I remember being in the school nativity, I was the narrator and wore the worlds ugliest hair band. As I was delivering my lines about the wise men following the star to Bethlehem, I heard two women on the front row talking about the cauliflower cheese they were going to have that evening. Were they rude? Yes. Was I that boring? Also yes. I blame the material to be honest. But this poor clown can’t do that as easily, it’s his material.
To give credit to The Clown, he’s giving it his all. Despite the unglamorous setting. He’s telling his jokes and performing cartwheels as if the room is a jam packed beautiful theatre. As an adult my heart goes out to him but little Ilaria was bored shitless. He was desperate for the approval of the grown ups but they were not arsed about him, they were just tucking into the left over sausage rolls.
This clown wasn’t a patch on our favourite clown. His name was Oodly Doodly. The greatest clown ever.
We were out in a shopping centre and we saw him performing outside an over priced stationary shop. A giggling crowd had gathered around him. Even the parents were engaged. His jokes were silly and rude in a way only grown ups understood. The children looked at him all sparkly eyed as he made sausage dog balloon models, threw sweets into the crowd and performed carefully rehearsed magic tricks. He was wonderful. I tugged on my my Mum’s arm and dragged my brother and sister over. We weaved our way to the front and sat cross legged and looked lovingly at Oodly Doodly. Our clown.
We spoke about him non stop on the bus home. My Mum had sneaked one of his cards into her pocket and booked him for my little sister’s 3rd birthday. Every kid on the street came round to our house, even Nathan on the end, the one we didn’t like. Kids from the posh end and the ‘other’ end were there. Kids and parents were sat on every step of the staircase and the carpet was covered with children. Laughter filled the house.
Oodly Doodly had been on top form. When my Mum made him a coffee I remember running into the kitchen to make sure she used the mug with the pink teddy on. That was my mug. I very carefully handed Oodly Doodly the mug and told him at great length how I didn’t let just anybody use the pink teddy mug. He pretended to care and asked for his cheque.
Oodly Doodly, in my house! What a treat. This needs to happen again. It’ll be my brothers birthday soon and the perfect occasion to have our clown back.
My Mum held the phone to her ear and dialled Oodly Doodly’s number. She was holding onto the card, it’s edges all curly.
My younger sister, brother and I were sat cross legged at my Mum’s feet. Waiting in excited anticipation. She was phoning Oodly Doodly! She was about to speak to Oodly Doodly!
She smiled at us, winked and said in her Glaswegian accent “Hello, I’d like to book Oodly Doodly again for my sons 6th birthday. On the 12th June.”
“He can’t? Oh thats okay, the following weekend?”
Another agonising pause.
“Okay, erm when is he free?” She said. She knew how excited we’d be, the date almost didn’t matter.
My Mum’s face dropped and she loudly said.
My sister, brother and I glanced at each other, looked at my Mum then back to one another. There was 3 second pause and then we all burst into tears.
Oodly Doodly is dead.
This was heartbreaking and something I wasn’t ready to deal with. Little did I know but this prepared us for multiple dead pets in the coming years.
Back to the crap clown in front of us. He’s dead behind the eyes and the kids are getting restless. He shouts in his own voice that he needs a coffee and a cigarette.
A big titted mum from the posh end of the village starts a game of pass the parcel. Laughter and chatter fills the room. This annoys The Clown even more, he’s now puffing angrily on his cigarette. Not appreciated in my own time, he says quietly. To himself.
The Clown comes back into the village hall. He waves a big hello to everyone and asks if anyone missed him. It’s silent but he has a smile on his face.
The village hall door slams loudly and everyone looks over to the doorway. We see the silhouette of a tallish man in a chunky coat. In my head I hear the Eastenders theme tune as I work out who it is.
“Ciao, sono tornato” The Italian Del boy announces.
It was our errant father. The Italian.
He stepped into the light of the hallway and all the kids ran to their parents.
The Clown saw this as an opportunity to play a game that involves the parents. Christ knows why he thought that would be appropriate.
The Italian helped himself to a plate of jelly and sat down on a teeny chair at the back of the hall.
The image of an Italian psychopath eating jelly on a children’s sized chair will always be funny and terrifying in equal measures.
We’d not seen him since he gave us a rabbit called Tom. He dropped of the scared looking rabbit that he’d Gaffer taped shut in a shoe box and then he disappeared.
The Clown gathers the children and playfully shouts “Run over to the grown ups and bring me their shoes!”
The kids quickly disperse throughout the room, giggling and grabbing at the grown ups shoes.
A little girl in a pink tutu stupidly takes one of the Italians expensive leather slip ons. She runs towards The Clown and hands the warm shoe to him. The Clown carries on joking around and says “Wow, this is a smelly one! Yuck! Which stinky grown up is the owner of this shoe?”
The Italian slowly rises from the child sized chair. It took a while, the chair really was tiny. He stands, all 6ft something and says in a booming voice “MINE.”
The Clown’s make up seems to melt off his face out of sheer horror. The Italian walks towards him. Everyone is silent apart form a baby that starts crying.
When The Italian gets to the front he is almost nose to nose with The Clown. I was genuinely embarrassed to share DNA with this man. A little girl next to me whispered “Ilaria, is that your daddy?”
I considered lying to her but there was no mistaking it. The curly hair, big brown eyes and massive nose. Sadly, the Italian was my Papa.
“Ermm, not really” I said.
The Clown wouldn’t give the shoe back and the kids were in fits of laughter. The Clown thought ‘FINALLY’ he revelled in the laughter getting braver and braver. The Italian puffed out his chest. The parents were glued to this…it was more intense than the Bakeoff finale.
The Clown danced in front of The Italian, teasing him with the shoe. The Italian started to clench his fists and he made a strange sound, a sardonic noise escaped from behind his gritted teeth.
The Clown looked at the crowd and said “Ooh look, the Italian man is getting angry.”
The kids laughed again.
The Clown asked the Italian for his name. The Italian told him in broken English and bits of Italian to “F**k off because he was a red nosed mother f**ker”. Italian is such a beautiful language.
The Clown then did something very stupid. He mocked The Italians accent. This was a step too far. The children laughed again. The Italian went red, puffed out his chest once more and in what seemed to be almost slow motion, punched The Clown so hard he fell backwards into his suitcase of props. A rubber chicken squeaked and he squished a bottle of red face paint as he fell. The kids screamed thinking The Clown was dead.
Everyone was speechless and was left open mouthed in shock.
Busy body Dolly assertively made her way over to The Clown and took the leather slip on out of his hand. She looked up at The Italian and said “You horrible sod, you’re not getting this shoe back until you start behaving yourself young man. Now sling your hook.”
The Italian, for once in his life did as he was told. He turned around and hobbled towards the door wearing one shoe. An image I’ll never forget.
Everyone gave Dolly a round of applause. The Clown said thank you to the crowd. My brother piped up and said “The clapping wasn’t for you.”
My sister, brother and I looked at my Mum and asked if we’d get a present from the Italian. My Mum replied “Go and say thank you to Dolly. She’s given us the best Christmas present. She’s made sure the Italian won’t be back for a while.”
Photo credit: (c) Andy Hollingsworth Archive