Thursday, 2 October 2008

Is There A Clown Doctor In The House?

A few months a go we were watching one of those regional programmes that are usually about cleaning up the local canal or restoring an old theatre or such like. This one was about a group of people who go in to hospitals to visit children and help them come to terms with their conditions, or help explain the procedures they will be going through. They are known as Clown Doctors and use humour, magic and sometimes just plain silliness to to help relax and comfort the children. It turned out these Clown Doctors weren't just a bunch of annoying would be children's entertainers in wigs and red noses but were trained in all manner of things from psychology and infection control to close-up magic and balloon modelling. Personally the idea of someone coming up to my sick bed and asking me to 'pick a card, any card' would make me reach for the pain relief, but I'm not four years old and facing months of chemo.

I turned to remark to Polly something facile about rather having morphine than laughter as my preferred best medicine when I noticed a smile on her face and a far away look in her eyes. “I could do that,” she said. And truth be told I knew she could.

A few weeks later, after an exchange of phone calls and emails, an application form arrived. I say application form but I mean a demand for an autobiography combined with a dissertation on the philosophy of child care. I swear it would be easier for an ex-junkie, militant communist to join MI5 than for a experienced children's entertainer and nursery nurse to become a clown doctor. I know I'm biased but with more than 15 years experience as a story-teller, professional qualifications and real life experience as a nursery nurse both here and abroad, and years of earning a living as a jobbing actor (playing countless parts as cute woodland animals and fairytale creatures) there is no one in the whole country more qualified than Polly for a job like this. She spent hours and hours filling in the form and then dropped in the post.

As you might imagine, following the TV programme, the Clown Doctor people had been swamped with requests for application forms from would be balloon modellers and wig wearing circus wanna-bees. In the end some 375 people actually made it through the form filling and of those a handful were invited to a workshop. Polly was among them. After a morning of finding her inner clown and evolving from the primeval swamp into a dinosaur she was called back for an interview which is where we were up to today.

This morning Polly made her way back to Angel Islington for the interview. There were only six trainee places vacant so I did the “You've done really well to get this far” speech. Later, I received a phone call from her telling me how she had gone mad and been unable to stop talking. “I was surreal even by my standards,” she groaned, “At one stage I was telling them about ready rolled pastry already cut in to circles.” “Why?” I asked. “I don't know,” she wailed. “But after it was over one of the panel asked me where she could get some. Is that a good sign?”

Apparently it was. This afternoon they rang to give her the job though whether for her acting and entertainment skills than for her particular knowledge of frozen patisserie we'll probably never know. Next month she starts a process of training that will last two years. That's an awful lot balloon animals.