I can’t even trace back to when it all started for me, but as far as I can remember I've always had an insane fear of clowns. With their big fucking stupid glam rock-esque shoes, clothes that only a, well, clown would wear; bad make up that could only be rivalled at your local nightclub on grab-a-granny night; red noses that would make Sir Alex Ferguson look at himself in the mirror and be able to think 'hey it’s not so bad;' and their hair that… fuck! It’s making me physically sick to even think and write about this, but for the sake of my art I’m going to struggle through this and hope and pray that by the end I’m left with something that will be even semi-comprehensible.
So yes, my name is Johnny Proctor and I've had coulrophobia for more years than I can remember, although it's only during recent times that I've been officially recognised and diagnosed with this fear of clowns condition, and even then it's only due the incident I'm going to tell you about.
Life hasn't always been a garden of roses as a result of this affliction, but with a lot of careful planning and simple good old common sense I've managed to restrict contact with the clown community to a bare minimum. That, however, is not to say I've not had my life impacted on in any way either of course.
There was the time I almost lost my job at the bank due to refusing to work on a project with a colleague who was dressed as one on a comic relief charity fancy dress day, and it was only the sight of me drenched in sweat that convinced my bosses I was deadly serious about going against their advice of 'do the job or we’ll get someone else to do it for you;' and that they should appreciate and take on board my very real concerns or else they'd found themselves embroiled in some employee grievance 'clowngate' court case.
There'd been fancy dress parties that'd turned out to be legendary that I’d had to miss after being told at the last minute that so and so were going as clowns. As for Mcdonalds for something to eat ? Not in this life. As long as there’s remnants of that clown of all clowns, that absolute cunt Ronald Mcdonald, then I’ll be sticking to Burger King, thank you very much.
I know that by not getting to a party or missing out on a quarter pounder with cheese every now and again is hardly putting me in the same class as a cancer or AIDS victim. I’m pragmatic enough to admit that in the general scheme of things there are others out there who are in a far worse position than me. But the day of 'the incident' – as I stood there surrounded by an angry mob of travellers inside a circus big top, with one of their clowns sparked out on the ground, whilst my 4-year-old daughter cried her eyes out– I’m pretty sure I'd have traded the fucking Ebola virus for my coulrophobia !
Like most parents, I’d do anything in the world for my kid to make them happy. I’d unselfishly take a bullet or throw myself in front of a bus. Shit, if you've read some of my other work here on Sabotage Times you may have seen that I've even driven a taxi to give my kid the best Christmas possible!
One Saturday morning my ex-wife was in a panic over the fact that, despite all week long building up a trip to the circus with our daughter to the point that the little one was barely able to sleep with excitement, she was now pulling a Darren Anderton and couldn’t go. She was effectively blackmailing me – if I couldn't take my daughter then there would be no trip to the circus and it be would all be my fault. I resisted the immediate urge to remind her of my fear of clowns, reasoning that she never took this serious when we were married – but after a long and costly divorce what would be the chances of some empathy now? Against my better judgement I agreed to take her and made arrangements for later that afternoon.
From the moment I ended the call I knew I’d fucked up and that my bravado and sense of doing right by my kid wasn't going to end well. You know those occasions when you simply have a bad bad feeling about something? I was left with that feeling in spades, but simply put it down to my own paranoia. My heart was telling me that I’d be like some Navy Seal on this quest of mine, a quick in and out covert operation with my mental health and daughters happiness fully preserved, but my head was telling me otherwise.
However, as a dad, it was a decision that couldn't be reversed, and whatever I was about to walk into by entering that big red and white striped tent it was coming my way and soon. Upon arrival at the kiosk outside the venue, I took the wise decision to buy tickets away from ringside and instead elected to sit almost at the very back of the tent. Once inside, and after the obligatory fleecing of my wallet – involving food you wouldn’t give to a dog and toys that lit up in the darkness of the tent ( for all of 5 minutes before breaking ) – the circus began with the standard entrance of the ringmaster (complete in top hat and red coat) who was announcing the acts about to entertain.
An all-star squad of Spaniards and Eastern Europeans were all kitted out in an array of spandex in fluorescent colours, but weirdly, as they were announced one by one in front of everyone, there was no sign of any clowns? I was thinking that maybe just maybe that I’d lucked out here, but really,what was the chances of a circus without clowns? More chance of Miley Cyrus going a day without shoving her arse into someone or something, to be honest.
I tried to put all those thoughts to the side and to my surprise, despite the persistent stench of fear and paranoia that I was surrounded by, I managed to ease up a little and began to actually enjoy the show. A teenage girl from the Ukraine dressed in figure-hugging spandex – that looked like it had been painted on– was gyrating in all kinds of positions imaginable while spinning multiple hula hoops on every part of her body. I admit I probably enjoyed it more than I was meant to!
However, my luck was to run out around 20 minutes later during a performance by Oleg from Vladikavkaz who seemed to be balancing a whole secondary schools worth of chairs on top of him. With the big top in darkness I noticed an odd shaped character walking up the stairs in my direction. The silhouette showed curly hair sprouting out from each side of their head and what looked like size 45 shoes on them and I instantly recognised what and who was heading my way. I was one step away from asking God, "why the fuck out of all the areas of this tent did this clown have to be walking right into my own personal postcode?"
In what I shall look back on as the biggest piss take I’ve ever been subjected to, he got closer and closer to me, my heavy breathing began, the sense of fear and out and out panic was rushing over me in waves, and drenched in so much sweat in a matter of seconds. I’m sure it would've confused and stunned the medical world. The fact that it was dark and I was dealing with a silhouette was actually making things worse as it was allowing my mind to run wild. Yes, this incoming clown definitely had razor-sharp teeth to bite my head off and lasers for eyes that were going to slice my balls off James Bond Goldfinger style.
They say know your enemy? I could hardly see the bastard! For reasons I’ll never quite know or understand, he stopped his journey RIGHT beside my aisle leaving me frozen stiff in fear. My daughter sensed that something was wrong and whispered ‘is it the clown daddy?', whilst I sat there working on some breathing techniques. It was all I could do to look at her and nod my head, and the little gem that she is she instantly reached out and took my hand.
Bless her for trying, but she didn't have the luxury of comforting me and holding my hand for long, because within a second I’d loosened my grip before swivelling round and hooking the clown right on his novelty sized nose, sending him and his saxophone crashing back onto the stairs. It all happened so fast it was done before I even realised I’d done it. An example of natural defensive instinct I guess, but as he stood there beside me with his hand on my shoulder, it pushed me over the edge. I just completely lost it for a nano second but it was enough for me to inadvertently ruin the next part of the show.
Confusion reigned for the the following minutes afterwards, from what I remember kids and mothers were screaming at the sight of the clown hitting the floor, performers and circus hands were freaking out and running everywhere. I tried to make a show of it by seeing if he was alright, but that’s all it was… A show. Due to my phobia I didn’t want to be anywhere near him, regardless of what harm I’d just done him or not. This wasn't all academic, however, when 3 big, tasty looking Eastern Block roadie types came flying up the stairs and grabbed and pinned me against the back of the tent. They shouted all sorts at me, but I didn't need a couple of years studying Russian at night school to realise they weren't asking me how the show was going.
It was chaos, one had his hands almost round my throat while another one was shouting so close to my face he was covering me in his spit. Seeing her dad being threatened in this way this instantly set my daughter off who started screaming her head off shouting my name. To be blunt it was a monumentally fucked up moment: I’m worried about my 4 year old who’s screaming her head off with no one to calm her; I’m worried these lunatic roadies are about to rip my head off for absolutely twatting their mate; whilst it’s also starting to dawn on me that I’ve done this with hundreds of witnesses around so if the local constabulary are going to be brought into things I really am going to be proper fucked.
It felt exactly like the scene in Snatch where Tommy is being held by the pikeys, while they wait to see if Brad Pitt’s character Mickey has killed Gorgeous George in the fight over the caravan. As I stood there pinned against the circus tent with these hostile chaps shouting and gesticulating at me, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wasn’t exactly top of their pops at that moment in time. I had so many things running through my head all at once I thought it was going to explode.
The clown eventually got to his feet and said something to the the big lads holding me, and they suddenly stopped grabbing and pulling at me and let me go, allowing the clown to move closer towards me, but from what I could see he had seemed to grasp the situation, so ( wisely ) kept his distance from me. In an attempt to explain what had made me clock him one I made a cross sign like you see people doing for vampires in films! Yeah, not exactly one of my finer moments, but at that moment in time, with all that had been going on, it was the best I could do.
The roadies had gone by this point so I wasn't worried about getting completely rinsed by them any more, but I was still worried about how this was going to play out. For all I knew the police might’ve been on their way as we stood there. The circus maybe had plans to just sling me in a cage and take me with them when they left my town, and just make me their gimp or something. Who really knew? I've annoyed a lot of people in my time, but never have I walked into a circus big top, belonging to a motley crew of travellers, and assaulted one of them – so this was all new to me.
The clown to his credit was quite understanding, and instead of anything untoward he made to shake my hand, which I completely and outright refused due to the obvious. At first he looked a bit put out by this, only to realise about my phobia and laugh.
Grabbing my daughter, we took the ultimate in walks of shames out of the tent, whilst behind us the clown showed his professionalism by starting to belt out some messed up tune on his saxophone. As we left the tent one of the same roadies from before was hanging outside having a cigarette, and he didn't miss the chance, in his broken English, to tell me not to ever come back. The wide boy in me was itching to say that after all the fun I’d had this year I could hardly wait until they came back next year, but I elected to bite my tongue and ensure that I’d still be left with two fully functioning legs to get myself back to my car!
This same circus has now made a habit of visiting my town every summer since that stressful and emotional day, and every time I see that big top pitched up for the weeks stay I always have the same thought of buying a 24 pack of beer and an apology letter for the poor guy I panelled that day. But then I always have the same follow up thought of "not a fucking chance."