C h a p t e r O n e
THE ROYAL EASTER SHOW
Woke up with an opaque foreboding. Remembered it was the first day of the Easter Show.
I’d flown in the day before from Australia.
Got up off the floor at my friend Nick Nickolas’s place and went to the bathroom to remove inexplicable bat-shit from my hair. Reheated two-day-old coffee in the machine and had a cigarette. Got a lift from someone nicknamed ‘Porn Star’ to the gig as Nick was still sleeping and had blagged off till 7PM.
I arrived and was ushered into a small dressing room with lit mirrors and an incongruous bath, to be shared by four of us. Next door, eighty-four teenage Girl Guides giggled and squeezed into costume pre-song and dance, and then one hundred geriatric crooners descended, harmonising randomly backstage.
I got elongated—stilts, whiteface, flying helmet, the full variety entertainer disguise—and went out among farmyard animals, cowboys, candy floss, Ferris wheels, steer roping, towing fire engines with your teeth, Polynesian bands, spa pools, climbing walls, paintball shooting demos, Michael Jackson impersonators, sausage rolls, a cat show, cheese displays, halls of mirrors, horses, hydrangeas and the general public.
And in that one bright shiny moment scores of atrocities both globally and locally were committed beyond imagination and mention. One of which was a large pond in front of the stage. Who put that there and why? A goldfish-infested security measure? The only guaranteed comedy was the St John’s Ambulance caravan where you could peek at head injuries (fairgoers are forever falling over and landing on their heads).
Woke up stoically fatalistic, bordering on good cheer. Got up off the floor at Nick’s place and went to the bathroom to inspect various organs that had been sewn onto my body as I slept.
The sky was blue and cloudless, melanoma farming weather. Drove in, passed the stage where thirty-four ten-year-old girls were singing,
‘Thank God I’m a country boy.’
Backstage and the entrance to the dressing rooms was full of another contingent, these all 50-plus and dressed in lavender singing,
‘You are my sunshine.’
Got to our room, switched on Cookie the Clown’s TV, watched cricket. The TV broke. Cookie the Clown said it overheated, so I waited ‘til he went out, then put the TV in the fridge for twenty-five minutes but it didn’t help.
I have to stilt-up for the parade at 3PM every day. A brass band, four indiscriminate cheerleaders, three dancing girls (formal, lycra, sequins), five dancing girls (informal, casual attire), four assorted human stuffed animals, cowboys driving a ute. It’s hot, sweaty, thankless work, and if not for the occasional hysterical infant there would be little light on the horizon as this is but Day Two.
These are the best days of my life.
Woke up, gradually focused on a prize sow’s pristine off-pink buttocks and realised I’d somehow slept over in the animal pens at the show. Squealed a quick apology and left. Made it back to Nick’s place by late morning, He gave me some valuable tips on various animals’ erogenous zones and how to deal with jealousy when you’re not an alpha male (‘focus on another species’).
Went back to the Easter Show for Day Three. It was raining and a Monday, I put my stilts on and went for a walk. In order to lance the collective tedium contained within the stallholders and roustabouts, I chose to personify a bleak, unforgiving, emotionally insolvent, utterly bored, angry and dangerous pantomime. It was like a startling revelation crossed with a suppressed memory.
There was a middle-aged Polynesian woman with one eye focused several latitudes shy of the other working at a hot dog stand. She flirted with me by waving a tomato sauce-dipped hot-dog in my direction while crooning in Tongan. Disregarding the danger I accepted the hot-dog. I think she muttered some rude thing because her workmates almost fell into the deep-fryer laughing. The hotdog was average.
A guy sat in a stall for ‘Putt Putts’, toy boats that sail in small circles in the bath. He didn’t engage anyone. He just sat there reading a book as a handful of his product clacked around a tub. He had a sign that read, ‘Putt Putts—$10 each or 2 for $25’. I suspected he was not entirely committed to retail.
In the strongman tent today a large man towed an aircraft carrier 10 metres by a piece of dental floss clenched in his teeth. We drove home. Nick cooked, we ate and watched insufferable pompous twats reward each other for irrelevant renditions of third-hand fiction designed as both product placement and misdirection from life’s pointless, purposeless futility. Otherwise known as the Oscars. I immediately started writing a screenplay about an individual whose principled stand and integrity brings a large multi-national corporation face to face with its immoral past and transforms it into a cancer-curing, non-profit organisation.
I call it ‘Debbie Does McDonalds’.
Woke up. Hunched painfully up on the balls of my feet while making clucking noises, I hopped towards a saucer of seed in the corner. After giving myself a bloody nose pecking at it, I remember the hypnotism session with Nick the night before and get up. We have weapons-grade coffee, read the paper, check internet, discuss obscure philosophies, laugh heartily at the failings of others and head off to the Easter Show. We stop briefly to assist a throng of blind people crossing an intersection on their way to their annual scratch and sniff movie.
Some of us have thumb-tips for magic, padded groins like Porn Star, or personality, but others rely on makeup. Cookie the clown (more later) and I both put on our clown-faces while Nick lounged about producing inexplicable things from mid-air. Cookie is a fellow droll, into multiple revenue streams but still finds time to do dying cancer kids’ birthday parties.
‘Happy birthday, kid—It’s your last.’
Between sets, Nick chauffeured Cookie and me up nearby One Tree Hill. Two painted clowns in the backseat, one American style, one European, up to this hill (only 5 minutes away) where you could see the whole city, Rangitoto, Manuerewa harbour, Manakau harbour, the showgrounds.
Back at work, in the animal tent, the sow and her 8 piglets slept oblivious in the sawdust. There are various forms of Rodeo at the show and Cookie and I had come to label anyone paralysed or in a wheelchair for any reason ‘Rodeo Clowns’. I played with them and let them ride between my legs. It’s one of those all inclusive sad/bitter/proud things in a wheelchair that one can do with tall Clowns.
I spent the rest of the day being comically useful and dancing when the mood took me.
Surrounded by hostile forces, naked, with the entire cast of Bonanza pointing and laughing at my lacquered genitalia, I woke up. I had been placed into the still warm chest cavity of a recently killed cow as I slept. Sun dappled though yellow leaves of the large oak outside. The coffee this morning was so strong it coated one’s entire digestive system in caffeine plaque. Hyperactive yet strangely sedated we proceeded to Day Five of The Royal Easter Show.
I arrived late, conveniently missing thousands of schoolchildren by mistake. Cookie the Clown did Clown-cover; I got my three hours in later in the afternoon. There was a mid-twenties Rodeo Clown today, going downhill. He must have had a souped-up battery in his chair and he whipped between my legs faster than any Rodeo Clown has previously, and that’s after twenty years of Rodeo Clowns.
I patted a horse; it didn’t mind. I sewed six rubber gloves to the front of my costume, filled them with custard, and lay down with the piglets but they were having none of it; the mother became riled and scared onlookers by crashing, foaming and howling, in her nearby cage.
An older gentleman operated a toasted nuts stand, ‘Cashews $2 a bag’. He looked like he’d been sentenced to death. He hadn’t had a customer in five days and he’d got the thousand-yard stare of the doomed retailer. You could wave things in front of his face, he didn’t flinch.
Nick took Cookie and I up to One Tree Hill again, Cookie in the front seat and me in the back with my head out one window and my legs wearing stilts out the other. It’s the halfway point and we’d planned an ‘Over the Hump’ party tomorrow. It’s physically tiring and I was beginning to suspect I was mentally ill.
Flayed by a lifetime of embarrassment, I thought the ‘Over the Hump’ party would be audio casual, a doddle, mildly recreational. Instead, I was bamboozled, hijacked, taken hostage, brainwashed, led astray, bullshitted, fed lines, stitched up, falsely encouraged, patronised, ridiculed, autopsied, preserved and cremated.
The day itself went much like the others; I tried as fully as possible to dilute Cookie the Clown’s deplorable work ethic with the sweat of my brow. I patted the horse again and strangely it was more wary today than yesterday.
Whilst striding round tall and sardonic, I found a mannequin wearing a sleeping bag, and had a heart-rending, pathos-ridden relationship with it. No-one noticed.
Cookie the Clown, wearing a yellow wig, white face and large shoes, had the ignominy of having his six-year-old daughter see how he made his living. She wept. We all wept.
After work, the ‘Mind Barracudas’ at the party—Dave Sheridan, Nick, Phil, Andy and the Ghost of Christmas Past—had me sniveling in my cups as they craftily reminded me of favourite toys I’d lost and missing pets. Then they made excuses and went to bed and I spent time rigging an explosion of cheese the first time anyone used the bathroom. Tomorrow is the beginning of the Easter weekend and numbers should get ludicrous.
Wood chopping, chainsaw races, mustache competition for woman, high pitched scream comps for men, Little Black Sambo pancake races, all the wholesome multi-cultural texture of a nation truly in tune with its amalgam of Newcastle coals and bamboo. The moment I lay my head on a soft surface all this mental flotsam ceased.
I woke up, my head encased in a cage containing, in a separate compartment, a rabid starving possum. Nick stood by with a shotgun in case of emergencies. We puffed on coffee and glugged down cigarettes. Easter Friday. Christ died for our sins and all the bars are shut and you can only eat candyfloss.
Checking to see that the fridge was well-stocked for the evening, we turned our backs on domestic affairs and hopped into Nick’s magic-mobile. There we morphed into the professional show business personalities and quick-fire, nimble-witted, verbally dexterous artistes for which we are so well-respected and so handsomely paid. The car wouldn’t start so we morphed back.
The car started, we sighed and morphed again. The car leaked charisma all the way to the show.
The showgrounds were well stocked with bipeds. Many, many bipeds. More than all the other days together. Children and the elderly were trampled to their deaths as crowds surged from one hot-dog stand to the next. People stepped on bodies for toffee-apples. Fights broke out. Body parts were torn off the dead and used as weapons. In midstream the current was so strong that weak children spent the day being swept along recursive eddies.
Stilts are fun in dense crowds because your feet are at shoulder height and all you have to squeeze past people are two thin legs. The disadvantage is that you will never see the banana skin that matters. Or the pulpy potato chip, the bull, sheep, goat, duck, horse, rabbit or pig shit, the vomit, or the entrails thrown from the Gypsies’ tent.
I tottered into the show-jumping arena and jumped all the fences. Just flicking my legs over before the competition, with a grandstand in full fettle providing raucous support. It was Easter so I got a few good crucifixions (a stock pantomime pose of mine) in as well.
Cookie dressed in his clown cowboy costume today. It’s sad to realise that he’s probably one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t need help. He hypnotises chickens as a hobby. He has three. He actually convinces them they’re chickens.
I did the parade, played with the animals, watch men sprint up twenty-five metre poles, watched fast cowgirls barrel-race, danced to Polynesian music, made cynical faces at all the wrong people, did flicky one-trick-pony stuff with my legs. Stole two ice-creams, one plate of noodles and some popcorn (people don’t seem to believe the stilt-man will just walk off with it). Then it was over, the laughter faded, the happy children but memories. Life one day shorter and for what?
Woke up, tired, very tired, my body wanting to decompose quietly and my soul to be kept in a potted plant. Still, at this stage, routine takes over and I fixed my rictus grin. Nick had bought a ‘Sleepwalking’ sleeping bag with legs and feet, and hands free for opening cans of baked beans in the next squat he’ll inhabit in London (that much sweat in one waterproof sack!). At 11:30AM it ejected him with a loud belch.
I was there with the car keys and we went back to the Royal Easter Show.
A national opposition politician was going to skydive into the fair today (gosh, I’d vote for him), in tandem with the only guy that mattered, the bored professional skydiver tethered to the politician as he plummets to meet his constituency. It was called off due to inclement weather. I was furious.
By now I’m doing a lot of stock material. The Polynesians still press $5 bills on me and tell me to eat. The goats are still there to be stampeded. The pigs are understandably wary. The chickens are still unconvinced regarding road-crossing. I don’t mess with the horses, too much history.
I stroll about; people seem to be urgently in search of distraction. I oblige; I’m not happy either. Nick gets rained out on his first scheduled show and spends the afternoon turning others’ sunny dispositions into sour backgammon-loser refugee mindsets. I don’t gamble.
I work the Rodeo instead. Hard men and woman used to compound fractures, faces worn by constant sunshine rather than weekends in garden bars. Horse-wise, dog-knowledgeable, hamster-friendly, stilt-wary till that crust is broken, then it’s a chuckle-athon. Sad people, really.
The same human squirrels sprinted up the twenty-five metre poles, different horses jumped over the same fences. I’d been checking with the Saint John Ambulance on a daily basis to find out whether anyone had lost an eye yet. (It’s not a proper party until…)
We had drinks after work. What else is new? Still, it was a sort of carnie bonding session. A perfect opportunity to find a woman who would ingest weed-killer to give you a two-headed baby.
Four people lay in crumpled heaps on Nick’s living-room floor, but only one wore a sleeping bag with legs with ‘Sack with Attitude!’ written on it. I went and bought steak-and-potato pies for everyone; Nick inhaled his in his sleep. I followed up with badly-cooked eggs and bacon, raw mushrooms and coffee, but Nick was hard to muster this morning. He’s acting like a pony with colic, all pensive and brainless. The sleeping bag has taken a strange hold on him. He says he can feel it against his skin when he’s not wearing it. He wrestled out of it at 1:15PM and we eventually drove to work.
Today’s theme was drizzle. Drizzle on the parade, drizzle on the shows, the animals, the public, the stalls, the arenas, the rides, all was drizzle.
I wore my brand new disco stilt-pants; they look like liquid silver and really freak out the miniature pony. I wandered about in the rain while not lounging about the dressing-room listening to Porn Star (Gareth, Master of Fire and Steel) go on and on and on about the abnormally large penis that inhabits his perpetually leather-clad groin. He sometimes grabs it through his trousers for emphasis. Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day and I intend to cut it off and go fishing with it.
Nick continued to acquire credit via backgammon. Cookie the Clown has gone professionally mute—I fear I am a bad influence on him, he no longer seems happy. We swapped ideas for a movie (starring us) involving mini-golf, looking at the job boards at social welfare, perhaps being sent on a quest by the International Clown Council to find a fresh new gag and save the world. Gee, we were bored.
Once again the parachuting was put off. I liked the idea that, for the last three days, a leading politician’s put himself in a small plane with a big idea, buzzed the showgrounds at altitude, then gone home unrealised. Maybe tomorrow.
The last day.
A lot of the animals were sad because they’d made good friends with children and after today they had to go back to farms where they might be used for meat.
You know, if the Palestinians and Israelis could just get together over a Ferris wheel…share candy floss, win pointless stuffed animals, grin aimlessly…
The whole shell of the Royal Easter Show split open today to reveal a seedy underbelly full of colourful figures of note. The potpourri of old-timers with decades of experience with this tattered cultural icon was so dense with the rich seedy aroma of old money and an agricultural sense of ‘Breadbasket of the Empire’ that it was all I could do to keep my rancid personality in check in the face of their secure self-satisfaction.
Suffering from sensory overload, too many abstract exclamations, very little makes sense apart from the sleeping bags. I now have my own and have outfitted the family. Where was I?
I drove back home, remembered lost luggage and repeated the journey. Left my laptop on a horse float and remembered to drive back to grab it off the fender before the rain started. I was all messed up and humourless. Crying children under my belt, squealing animals, ten days of roving relationships, various reliable bands and Public Address Systems. The multitude of fast food stalls and political parties. Sick of it, I was going to bed. But enriched by an event that’s my country’s cultural staple.
25 more where that came from at