Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tender for meridian

‘Tender For Meridian’ is what I saw written on a small boat tied to the roof of a car. I was in the traffic, dressed as a clown and ready for three hours of hustle and bustle at a giant hardware store, entertaining kids and making the adults smile. And all day long I couldn’t help thinking of those words – tender for meridian.

Something about them made me calm and easy.

I know what they mean: the little boat is the ‘tender’ for a bigger boat called ‘Meridian’. But when I was driving in heavy traffic on the way to a gig - and driving to gigs is usually tense because I’m preparing to be the ‘funny’ guy in a society where the word ‘clown’ is on a par with ‘arsonist’ – I let those words repeat in my head like a mantra, and their different meanings created a sublime resonance. Tender: exposed and sensitive; gentle and sympathetic; young and vulnerable; to make an offer; a person who looks after things. And a meridian is a giant circle from pole to pole, or a pathway of energy in the body.

Tender for meridian.

As this kept bouncing round my mind I worked through the day and things became so easy, gentle and funnier than ever. Emotion spilled forth with ease. I found myself giggling at children.

I don’t like cute, never have: those clowns and fairies and jesters who do little more than smile, dance, juggle and generally patronise children. I have to challenge everyone, dig into egos and prod with irony and wit. And over the years I’ve done this because…well, it’s why I became a clown; I’ve always said and done what most are too scared or polite to do or say. Like the time a few years ago when a policeman saw me driving with my Jack Russel dog on my lap. He pulled me over and said, “What are you doing driving with the dog on your lap?” and I thought for a bit and said in a serious tone, “Well, he’s kind of handy because I don’t have an airbag”. At first the cop was flabbergasted but he let me off, and as he and his partner drove off they were roaring with laughter.

This need to challenge has however, gone too far at times, to the point where my clown character – Edward De Bozo (the famous lateral-drinker) – has upset people and occasionally caused complaints such as, “He was rude to me” or “He sang a love song to my wife that made me look like an idiot” or “I told him to get away from my stall and then he went and told everyone else to get away from my stall so I didn’t sell anything for the first half hour”. While ninety percent of these complainers have deserved all the needling I could give - in the same way that Frank on the TV show M*A*S*H deserved every bit of teasing Hawkeye gave him – these events have ultimately left me upset too. They were real.

So, in recent times I’ve sat back a bit, been less acerbic and a little sweeter. It hasn’t turned Edward into a mindless patronising character but it hasn’t been that exciting either. But today I touched a softness and an absurd and gentle ease that came about I believe because of those words – tender for meridian – and everything they imply.

Hippy rubbish? Maybe, but I really think it’s time we embraced gentleness; not in an automatic ‘please and thankyou’ kind of way, but as an active embrace, a truly enthusiastic grab at being kind...and tender.