Sunday, 16 March 2014

We are not serious

Thanks to clicking, out of idle curiosity, on a chance link to a vaguely familiar name that came up in a computer search this week I had a vision of what might have been.
As I've mentioned once or twice, in a former life – over 30 years ago – I was involved in the world's unlikeliest clown troupe. In Belfast, at the height of “the troubles”. But in 1983, due to several devastating incidents which happened within weeks of each other, I just had to escape. It was meant to be temporary, but on the very morning I was supposed to take a plane back there to discuss a new project I had a severe panic attack of a kind I have never experienced before or since, and could not board the plane.
I later recovered the confidence to fly to visit a friend in the UK, during the year of the Miners Strike and Battle of the Beanfield, and saw a country I no longer recognised and no longer wanted to be a citizen of. To cut the story short, it was 1988 before I ventured off-island again, and then only to travel to Israel at the start of the Intifada, a two month adventure which (for reasons totally unconnected to the political situation in Israel) finally gave me the impetus to break back into a satisfying profession and life.
From the odd thing I saw on TV, I knew the Belfast projects were doing marvellous things, but never managed to get back into contact with old colleagues, even when in Belfast for a weekend of atheist subversion in 2005 and my hosts tried to help. So all these years I have wondered what happened, especially to my co-founder of the world's unlikeliest clown troupe.
Then, this week, that chance click on a vaguely familiar name revealed an astonishing story. My co-founder (then a startlingly individualistic 18 year old who, like me, left school unqualified at 16 having been told by teachers she would never amount to anything) carried on clowning, and other remarkable things. This should have been no surprise because, as I may have also mentioned, the whole point behind the clown troupe was that if you are in a hell-hole where conventional wisdom says you cannot do anything, you may as well go all out doing what you love, because even if you fail you will have had far more fun than conforming.
Then, in the late 1990's, she decided to take a B.A. in Archaeology, graduated with a first, went on to gain her Ph.D. in 2005 and to contribute to academic journals on a topic on which she is now almost Ireland's only authority. Remember again – written off as a no-hoper at school, living in a city where most of her generation were condemned to unemployment anyway according to the conventional wisdom. She's now, as far as I can gather, living happily in Galway, surrounded by other interesting and unique people and in every way defying the false logic of those who run these septic isles and think we should shut up and accept our place in their scheme of things.
It's odd enough running away to join a circus. Being one of only two people so individual they ran away from a circus is even rarer. Knowing the other one then, and knowing now that she went on to defy the odds (the norms?) for over 30 years, is an absolutely unique pleasure.

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