Posted in comedy

The Clown

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.”

Pause.

“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.

“HE’S DEAD!?!”

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.”

Andy Hollingworth Lady Ilaria pics final edit

Photo credit: (c) Andy Hollingsworth Archive

Posted in childhood, comedy, social commentary

Brownie Camp

‘Mummy, what happens in there?’ I said, pointing out the window whilst wearing my nightie.

I was six years and 10 months old and very nosey about what happened in the little hut over the road. Little girls wearing yellow and brown would gather there every week for big girl stuff. Secret stuff. 

My mum said –

‘They’re Brownies, when you’re seven you can go’.

 I watched them every week desperate to join in. One week my little brother beat me to the window and instead of just watching the Brownies gathering outside, he stood on the windowsill, pulled down his trousers and had his willy out. It was the ‘willy on cold things stage’. I ran into the kitchen in a big huff and said to my Mummy –

‘Well that’s it Mummy, I can never be a Brownie. They know we’re a strange family already!’ 

He was only five at the time so it was all very innocent.

Not your average problem. 

Two months went by, I was finally seven, and  the whole thing had been forgotten about. I was officially a Brownie. Turns out the things going on in the secret hut were not that exciting. I didn’t get many badges and within a couple of years they all hated me when I announced I was going to a drama club in town.

Soon after joining there was a Brownie camp, we were all off to sleep in tents and eat beans. I’d seen this in the films. 

The first night of Brownie camp didn’t get off to a great start. I wasn’t allowed to attended the camp fire night with songs and marshmallows because I wasn’t eight. I was old enough to wash up everyone’s dinner plates and watch them having a lovely time out the window though. 

A girl that I hated was stuffing her annoying little face with marshmallows. I scrubbed the plates harder. I hated her because she had a pony, a desk tidy and she pronounced spaghetti bolognese as ‘esketti bologs’. I’m sure she’s grown up to be great but she was very irritating. She would try and make friends by having lots of fancy mini rubbers. Mini rubbers that totally won everyone over. She’d have every single glittery gel pen and a biro that had a feather on the end. A total pain in the arse.

To ease us into camping, the first night was indoors on bunk beds. I was one of the youngest so I had to go on the top bunk. The bunk beds were metal and hadn’t seen an Allen key in decades. They were squeaky and I’m a wriggler. One of the older Brownies sighed repeatedly until Brown Owl , the Brownie Leader , asked her what was wrong. She was a posh kid, named something like Portia, spelt properly. Portia sighed again and said – ‘Oh Brown Owl, there is just so much squeaking coming from Ilaria’s bed’

 Brown Owl quickly said ‘Ilaria, no more moving. Just stare at the ceiling and let Portia sleep’ 

I was fuming. 

No marshmallows, having to do the washing up and now this! Sod you Portia. From now on you will be Porsche. For the purpose of this blog your poshness is revoked.

Night two was when the camping went up a notch. We were staying in tents. My mum was worried they wouldn’t feed me because every time I came home from a sleep over at a friends house I’d say – 

‘Mummy I’m starving! Their mum made us share a tin of soup. Share!’ 

So she packed me lots of snacks that I immediately ate as soon as the tents went up. Within the first hours the tent was filled with ants because of my crumbs getting every where. I was made to share a tent with a little girl who had the snottiest nose I have ever witnessed. I was now officially a proper Brownie. I had regrets about joining. 

This doesn’t happen in all the books. It’s songs, sausages and nature. Not washing up, ants and snotty noses.

When you’re a fully fledged Brownie you get to go to big national Brownie event. There’s Cubs, Beavers, other Brownies and the one after Girl Guides and Scouts for when you’re a proper grown up. By that point I just think they should get a shag and stop trying to get badges for knot tying.

On reflection grown up Ilaria has learnt many things from Brownie camp. One major thing being, a badge for sewing doesn’t define you. Yellow and brown is a terrible combination and always carry an Allen key. You know, for just in case.

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunday Crisps

Today wasn’t an ordinary day. Today was Sunday and that meant ‘Sunday Crisps’

I didn’t realise until a couple of years ago that ‘Sunday Crisps’ was something my stingy Glaswegian Mum (or Mummy in our family. We’re not posh, we’re just pathetic) had invented. I honestly thought every family did it.

With all the fat kids running around (well, not running around) it would do the trick.
I’m not a politician but if Lady Ilaria ever becomes Prime Minister then the first thing I’ll do is introduce ‘Sunday Crisps.’

The sugar tax hasn’t really worked, if you want chocolate you’ll pay any amount for it but ‘Sunday Crisps’ could really take off. One fat kid at a time.

I’ll set the scene for you. Candles lit, we’re in our pyjamas and wrapped up in our crotched blankets. The telly is on, Xena Warrior Princess (I still don’t know if that was a man in a dress. Send answers). Followed by Hulk Hogan starring in the nineties classic ‘Thunder in Paradise.’

My mum must have adored us because having caught glimpses of these programmes as a grown up I have to admit that they are truly awful. That’s probably why she sent us to bed so early.

‘But Mummy, it’s daytime’

‘Go to sleep my wee cabbage flowers’

‘But the light is in our eyes’

‘Not listening. Sleep!’

‘But Mummy, don’t you love us?’

‘Not enough to fall for this rubbish. Now go to sleep, I’m watching Sharpe’

It’s okay though, we got our own back.

We asked our errant Father (or ‘The Italian’ as he’s still referred to, only by us. ) for a drum kit. We knew what we were doing. He wouldn’t buy us school shoes or vegetables but was perfectly happy to pay for something that would drive my Mum mad.

We’d found what we considered to be a loop hole ‘Go to sleep kids’ doesn’t mean DON’T play the drums; And by play, I mean bang the hell out of them with our fists until we got bored. We weren’t stupid, we wouldn’t dare pull this move on a Saturday night out of sheer fear that ‘Sunday Crisps’ may not materialise the following day. It’s a wonder we made it past the age of 10 with such smart arse ways, we were cute as a button though. Even I can see that! Everyone but my mum was sucked in my our chubby cheeks, big brown eyes and muddy knees. These 3 things mean you can get away with murder…almost. DISCLAIMER: This will not stand up in court though, sadly

We couldn’t let Mrs E down, she ran the village shop across the road. She was adorable and scary in equal measures. She’d pretend she was all tough but when we moved house she ran over the road late at night and ‘sold’ us a carpet for a fiver because she knew we were a bit skint. She knew about the Passeri tradition of ‘Sunday Crisps’. Mrs E was so patient as she waited for us to make our choice. It would take us forever to choose and seconds to eat. As a grown up I’m desperately trying to turn that into a metaphor for something deep but I’m struggling. A Wotsit is a Wotsit.

Watching my little brother eat the fluorescent coloured, chemical coated snack highlighted exactly why crisps were not a more regular feature in our house. They would send him wappy for half an hour. He’d have what we used to call a ‘mad 5 minutes’ where he’d turn into the cutest possible version of the Tasmanian Devil.

‘Sunday Crisps’ were definitely worth the mad 5 minutes, they bonded us all. I’d like to say we all shared our crisps but we weren’t very good at that.

When I have a baby I’m going to resurrect ‘Sunday Crisps’ and make Sundays special again and a real treat.

Roll on Sunday. I know you’ll all be doing it.

And incase you’re wondering…Walkers cheese and onion were my crisps of choice, Eleonora went for Skips and Adriano went for Monster Munch. Classics

Posted in comedy

The Village Shop

‘Kids! Get your wee bums down here.’

My mum shouted in her Glaswegian accent.

My little sister and I ran down stairs to be met with my mum holding a ten pound note. She waved it around and asked us to go across to the village shop for bread, milk and toilet roll. Boring things.

The highlight of the village I grew up in had to be the local shop. A Mecca for renting videos and buying penny sweets. I loved the village shop, it was great. All you had to do was ignore the rumours of the toenails in the quiche and it was a beautiful shopping experience. Something I’ve tried to erase from my mind was the time I was sent to the shop to buy mushrooms and the shop keeper woke up the sleeping cat who was using the mushrooms as a bed, shooed her away and blew the cat fur off them.

We’d often go in there with one penny each and take a ridiculous amount of time choosing between a strawberry shoelace, a cola bottle or a mini marshmallow. We were easily pleased. Back then we used to think ‘Our Mummy is so generous’ in retrospect I now realise what a genius move that was, and a stingy one at that.

The sweeties I always begged for were pink Bubbalicious bubble gum. We were never allowed bubble gum, it was banned in the Passeri household and for a very good reason. We could barely keep it in our mouths. I lost track of the amount of times I had to have it cut out of my hair.

The local shop was run by Mrs E, she was a lovely old lady. Thick jam jar glasses, long tartan skirt and one brooch too many on her jumper. She knew everything and didn’t care who she clipped round the ear, it was in the past, people didn’t mind back then. I was convinced I saw a mouse in the living room, I was terrified so I asked Mrs E if I could borrow her mouse trap (standard village banter).

Once we’d finished with it my mum sent me over the road to return it to her and to bring back some tomatoes for our pasta that evening. I handed back the mouse trap that was in a white paper bag and said that my Mum had asked for tomatoes. Mrs E was such a resourceful woman and couldn’t bare to see a perfectly good paper bag go to waste, so she put the mousetrap back in it’s drawer and put the tomatoes in to the paper bag. The bag that had only seconds ago had a mouse trap in. A used mouse trap I might add. She was a very thrifty lady but was hardly going to win awards for hygiene. Even as a kid I knew this was madness. I handed over the money, said bye to Mrs E and ran across the road back into the house and explained to my mum what had happened. I had one hand on my hip and the other flying around in the air for extra dramatic effect. Spot the mini Italian. I relayed the event to my Mum as if it was the hottest gossip to have ever passed through the village. Which it certainly wasn’t. In my opinion the juiciest gossip was that 3 couples from the posh end of the village were swingers, the evidence was that all the kids looked the same and that the parents were tired in appearance and smug from all the swinging.

Back to the ten pound note that was being handed to us. This is a moral conundrum – do we do as we were told or do we abuse her trust to live out our child like dream. Tricky one. Guess what we did? We went absolutely berserk…The world was ours. I was 9 years old, my little sister was 5 and we were in possession of more money than ever before, not too much money to know what to do with, oh we knew alright. I was going to buy pink, sugary Bubbalicious bubblegum and lots of it! We ran across the road to the shop.

Paper bags were filled with sweeties we were never normally allowed. The ones that Mrs E needed a ladder for. Chocolate mice, pear drops, strawberry bon bons…the delicious albeit forbidden list went on. We even got Mrs E to put in a few blue sweeties, these were another strictly prohibited thing in the Passeri household. My brother is Autistic so all those colourings and E numbers send him wappy and my little sister and I were a little bit nutty (not a medical term). The whole time Mrs E kept asking

‘Are you sure your mum said all the money was for sweets?’

Shit. We’d been rumbled.

I pulled my little sister to one side and whispered ‘listen, we have to get something else to make it look more realistic, she knows mummy would never let us have more than one sweetie each.’

My little sister nodded in agreement. We shuffled back over to the counter, I did my best grown up voice and said ‘we’d also like to purchase 2 carrots and a bin bag.’

‘Okie dokie sweetheart’ we’d got away with it! Part 1 complete. Part 2 was a little more complicated, we had to explain this to our mum.

My mum told us that this crime would send us to prison and we should pack a bag before the police arrive and take us away. We burst into tears. As a bargaining tool we said she could have all the sweeties, including my beloved Bubbalicous bubble gum. She thought for a moment before agreeing to the offer, took the sweets from my hands and phoned the police man and said it was okay. Phew, that was a close one.