I was five years old when I saw a Clown for the first time.
It was smoking a cigarette in the dingy corridor outside the ladies loos in McDonalds. Black ringed eyes blazed from sunken sockets. An afro of red hair framed the Alabaster face.
I was rooted to the spot; earthed by an electrifying thrill of terror. Through the skeins of smoke, the rictus grin widened. I dropped my ice cream, screamed, and ran for my life.
The Clown set off after me. I could hear its canoe like shoes slapping against the floor as it chased me down the endless passageway of eerily flickering lights.
Over the deafening rush of blood in my eyes, I could hear it shouting at me. It’s voice was nasal, wheedling and unequivocally Welsh.
I had almost reached the the door when I tripped over the hem of my party frock and went sprawling to the floor. Slightly winded, I struggled to my feet and turned around. It was standing over me. The fluorescent light bounced off its bulbous nose as it extended an unearthly yellow hand.
“What’s your name little girl?” it crooned. A red and white striped sleeve rode up to reveal bare white flesh. I closed my eyes, opened my mouth and lunged, biting as hard as I could. It emitted a yodelling screech, staggered backwards and slid to the floor clutching it’s arm.
“Fuck!” it whimpered, as blood ran between its fluorescent fingers and soaked into the lurid yellow trousers.
I spat a small pulp of flesh onto the floor as the door opened and a matronly looking cashier bustled in, humming to herself.
“Oh my God Gwenny! What happened?” she screeched, clutching her face in horror.
I shot under her arm, fought my way through the crowded eating area and and threw myself into the arms of my friends Mother, sobbing hysterically.
In the ensuing chaos, Ronald/Gwenny was carted off for a tetanus shot, I vomited copiously into an open hand bag, and the manager, an officious little Welsh Man with a wonky eye, demanded that the whole party leave the premises immediately. The two adults in charge of our group were faced with the unenviable task of rounding up 20 hyperactive five year olds and the accompanying detritus of coats, toy and satchels as the manager looked on scowling and tapping his foot. Outraged at having to leave before pudding, the children dug their heels in and screamed blue murder . Little Billy, whose behavioural problems were well documented, switched into feral mode and head butted the manager in the crotch.
Suffice to say, I was never invited to another McDonalds party.
My Mother delivered a bunch of flowers the next day. Gwen, sporting 3 stitches in her right arm, grudgingly acknowledged the folly of grabbing a child who was, in her own words, “scared to death”.
“I was on a fag break. I was only trying to reassure your little girl. Perhaps I’m not cut out to being Ronald McDonald.” She sighed.
Once the initial trauma had subsided and I could actually talk again, my Mother made laudable attempts to assure me that Ronald McDonald was not a monster. I listened grimly as she explained that he was merely a Company Mascot – a harmless buffoon, a marketing ploy to engender feelings of camaraderie and fun amongst its young clientele.
“There’s not just one Ronald McDonald you know, there are LOADS of them. They’re EVERYWHERE!” hissed my my older sister, when Mother had left the room.
I gawped in horror.
“There’s one under your bed right now. It’s going to get you when you go to sleep. It’s got fangs that drip blood and it’s going to chop you up into little pieces.”
At this point I sustained a massive panic attack and my Sister was sent to bed in disgrace.
Mother’s reassurances fell on deaf ears. A terror was spawned that day, the roots of which are so trenchant, that my palms sweat at the sight of a Circus Poster.
Jasper suffers from Alektorophobia, a morbid fear of chicken or poultry, a prohibitive condition for any country dweller, (pheasants are rife!) particularly one whose wife is an avid collector of rare breed Bantams.
As with many sufferers, the primal source of his phobia stems from a traumatic experience in childhood. (He was six) The seeds of fear were sown long before however, by virtue of his Mother’s pathological aversion to anything with wings or feathers.
He can vividly recall her terror if a jackdaw dropped down the chimney into the hearth. She would rush out of the house shaking with fright, and refuse to enter it until the bird had been released outside.
On shooting days, his Father was forbidden to bring the bag onto the premises until every last feather had been plucked and disposed of.
Feather dusters were anathema. Her new Daily Lady inadvertently bought one into the house one day and started dusting the kitchen where Jill was making cakes for the Hound Puppy Show.
She had just taken a giant slab of fruit cake out of the AGA. She turned around to put it on the wire rack, and was confronted by a voluminous bundle of multi coloured feathers twitching menacingly amongst the crockery on the dresser. She succumbed to a crippling panic attack and dropped the cake on the floor.
Jasper’s earliest memory is of sitting at the table in his high during a large family Lunch gathering. A pair of starlings flew into the Dining Room just as his Mother came in carrying an enormous tray of cut crystal glasses. The birds swooped and dived wildly as the assembled guests waved their napkins at them in an attempt to drive them out of the window. Uncle Albert, red faced from a surfeit of wine, leapt up and swatted wildly at the terrified birds with his Trilby. He caught one of them full on, sending it hurtling into the wildly heaving bosom of Jasper’s Mother. With a primal scream of terror she flung the tray into the air and bolted. She was out of the front door and down the garden path before it hit the floor.
Jasper’s early years were liberally punctuated with alarming bird related incidents, each one compounding his grim conviction that birds were the work of the devil and should be avoided at all costs. It is little wonder that by the time he was six, he displayed a deep distrust of anything with feathers.
He was almost seven when he was involved in a terrible incident which proved to be the catalyst in transforming a wary dislike into a full blown phobia.
So profound was his trauma, that the acute horror of that day remains intact, undimmed by the passing of time. The visceral minutiae of fear is so deeply entrenched, that decades later, the memory still haunts him.
It was a beautiful Summer day. Jasper and his sister, who were four and six respectively, were playing at a friends house down the lane.
They had spent a happy morning building a raft and playing in the stream, until Kate (the friends Mother) called them for lunch.
They raced each other up to the garden where picnic blankets had been laid out alongside plates of sandwiches, crisps and cakes. The children were ravenous and started to eat.
Jasper was on his fourth sandwich, when he noticed that Thomas was staring over his shoulder with an expression of horror. Turning around, he almost choked. Standing by the Potting Shed, almost concealed in the long grass, was the biggest Cockerel he had ever seen. It was taller than the compost bin with a thuggish neck and a deep muscular chest.
It swaggered out of the long grass and fixed a malevolent eye on the children.
Lucy began to whimper.
“Shhh, nobody move a muscle.” Hissed Thomas.
“He must have escaped. Daddy keeps him locked in a pen.”
“Why?” asked Jasper faintly.
“Because he’s so dangerous. He hates people.”
There was a brief silence while the children digested this information.
“What are those sharp things on his ankles?” whispered Tori.
“They’re his spurs. Daddy said they’re like razors and they can cut you to ribbons. When he attacks he lifts his legs up and slashes at you like this.” He said, demonstrating.
The cockerel was heading their way. It high stepped towards them on thick scaly legs. Jasper fought a wave of nausea. He rubbed his clammy palms on the shorts, shivering as he noticed how it’s spurs curved like sickles and the reptilian black eyes glinted evilly beneath the blood red comb.
The two girls scrambled to their feet and towards the house sobbing with terror.
Thomas grabbed Jasper’s elbow and hissed
“Get up very slowly, no sudden movements, and then walk backwards. Whatever you do, don’t turn your back on him.”
Jasper gulped and stood up. His legs were shaking.
The cockerel never took his eyes off them.
Suddenly, without warning, it ran at them, head lowered, wings outstretched.
Both boys screamed, turned and raced towards the house. Jasper was a little tubby as a child and couldn’t run as fast as his friend. Thomas reached the garden fence and threw himself over head first, before turning around and shouting to Jasper.
“Hurry up! Run faster, he’s catching you up!”
Jasper huffed and puffed, his heart banging against his ribcage as he struggled to run through the long grass. He had almost reached the fence when he tripped over a tussock and went sprawling to the floor.
He was lifting himself up when a heavy weight slammed into his back, sending him flying onto his face.
The cockerel was upon him!
Thomas screamed and wet himself.
Jasper squealed, trying desperately to shake the bird off. Its sharp toe nails scrabbled agonizingly at his bare flesh as he stabbed viciously at the nape of his neck with its pointed beak.
Several hens came running over to spectate.
Jasper, sobbing and exhausted, was convinced that end had come. I am going to be killed by a cockerel he thought, as the crazed bird beat its powerful wings around his head and scratched and stabbed and pecked.
Suddenly there was a shout, and Rupert, Thomas’ Father came charging into the paddock brandishing a Rifle.
“Don’t shoot my Brother!” screeched Tori, running after him and kicking him in the shins.
“Stand clear!” he bellowed, taking aim.
“For God’s sake be careful!” yelled Kate, who was standing wrapped in a towel in an upstairs window having been summoned from her bath by the carnage outside.
“BANG!” Doris, Kate’s Prize Buff Brahma who had sidled up for a better look, keeled over in a cloud of feathers and twitched violently.
“Fucking hell!” screamed Kate, dropping her towel.
“Shit!” muttered Rupert. “Sights out.”
The discombobulating sight of his favourite hen flapping and writhing in her death throes proved a fortuitous distraction for the psychotic bird. Evidently aroused by her untimely demise, he jumped off Jasper’s back, rushed over to Doris’s twitching body and began thrusting with wanton abandon.
Rupert rushed forward, seized Jasper and carried him to safety.
Jasper was taken to hospital where his wounds were dressed and he was treated for shock.
The Cockerel, who had made a dash for liberty, was eventually cornered in the greenhouse, and decapitated with an axe.
Jasper was, understandably, deeply disturbed by the attack. The incident left him with an enduring terror of birds. He vowed never to go near another chicken for as long as he lived.
And then he met me…….
To be Continued.