06 May 2012
Death of a Clown
For me my Life's been the theatre
A Thesbian I wanted to be
Treading the boards as a trouper
Join in the joviality
Each role I played was a pleasure
The applause gave a lift to my soul
The stage was my very existence
But now the years have taken their toll
No longer can I be 'Top of the Bill'
But a 'stand in' when they are short
Of players to play demanding roles
In the past for my position I've fought
Now I am faced with decision
Shall I wear the mask of drama to hide a frown
Or bring to conclusion this lonesome life
And end my life as a clown
As I slowly walk to the riverside
To slip in the water and drown
When all that is left to remember me
As my body sinks below
A few Daffodils float on the surface
As the finale to my Life's last show.
27th June 2008
Creatures great and small, beneath the tented sky,
welcome to the Circus Minimouse, where, of course, we use only
Homo Sapiens for your entertainment. See the clowns, if you can
bear a joke too often repeated; watch the daring high wire act
and feel the frisson of your world on the brink; gasp with ashtonishment
at the jugglers, and how much they can let slip through their fingers
And once again I would like to apologise, for the absence of our man-tamer,
who unfortunately has run away to another Circus.
Dreams, they come in many forms
great ambitions, but not the norms
of society, but those who're getting decrepit and old
they dream of youth, and of being bold
So when I saw them I looked wide eyed
at the younsters gliding round at their parents side
being told off to shouts of “Come here”
then I saw what it was, well out of my sphere.
They weren't around when I was a kid
so it's something that I never did
go darting around on an even keel
lifting my toes, using a wheel in the heel.
Instead I'd put on my san'shoes white
and run like the wind, fast and light
I offered to swap with Billy Girvine
'cause his san'shoes were faster than mine.
Today I want wheels but the shop does not have
any non-pink, casual, size ten and a half
none at all of sensible hue and with no laces,
fit for a pensioner of limited paces.
So I guess I'll miss the grandest thrill
of floating with panache down Ilford Hill
and being hauled back up by taxi or bus
stealing a tow while the drivers cuss,
or casting off the dirty mac
and launching into a big attack
and seeing their faces, the slack jawed shock
at green and yellow licra with hernia jock.
Front page news, pictures all blurry
taken by fumbly fingers in a hellofa hurry
the headlines, lurid, would wail with woes
“Beware of the Pensioner with the turned up toes.”
Terrorising the shopping malls
invading hallowed consumer halls
but I'm not worried, they'll never catch us
when me an ma heels run off to the circus.
Newham Writers Workshop
CIRCUS OF FAITH
I had my hearing aids checked, re-tubed, sound different
Rehabilitate my brain once again, all goggle-de-gook
Been there, done that, many times before
Chat away, the humour, my personality - okay!
I have holes in both eardrums, meniere's disease
Different than a profoundly deaf person
Deafness effects us all in different ways.
I watched 'The Silence' BBC 1 Drama
Four episodes, a character, Amelia (Genevive Barr) newcomer
I have been glued - it is true - Silence is Golden
Climb away...even with hearing aids, a cochlear implant
The person wearing the aid, realizes they are just that -
They have to rehabilitate, they help, they don't cure
Some hearing people think they do.
I am proud to be a deaf person
I am proud to be partially sighted
I am proud to have a pituitary tumour
I am proud that I have to cope -
and try to write so others can be helped
If they will listen! And Learn!
(c) Josie Lawson
All Rights Reserved
CIRCUS ANIMALS (PRICE OF LIFE)
If you take me you'll forsake me
but don't try to break me
you know I should be free
"Reserve" me, then preserve me;
you know you don't deserve me
and this cage is no sanctuary
Please take heed of reform
I wasn't born to preform
If you love me, let me be me.
Free to fly in the breeze;
Swing through the trees
or hunt in my own territory.
A Circus With No Clowns
Circus and childhood are like bread and honey – excitement and the sweet
smell of sawdust in a large multi coloured tent, whilst one sat hunched
on a rough wooden bench – waiting for the whip to crack and the voice
of the red-coated ringmaster to peel out,
‘Welcome to the Circus!’
Whilst I happily trotted off with my mom, to the twice yearly visit of
the Chipperfield family; it was another circus that played a huge part
in my childhood. Circus in the dictionary, is also defined as a large
circular shaped place where roads converge, of which we had a few in
Birmingham, such as; Colmore Circus, Paradise Circus and Lancaster
It was the latter, which became an integral part of my growing up, for
here, at its bottom end stood The Central Fire Station. The large, three
storey, wedged shaped complex (for it was more than a building) stood
as an island with roads on three sides and a clock tower arch, as its
Deserted now it no longer serves its purpose; as West Midland Fire
Service Headquarters, have moved elsewhere to a brand new purpose built
Head Office; with no on site Fire Tenders; just dedicated to offices.
Such is progress?
Where do I fit into this, you ask? Well my connection began on the very
day I was born! Let me elaborate.
My mother gave birth to me at Loveday Street hospital, just off
Lancaster Circus, whilst in a neighbouring hospital, The General; my
father was in for one of his frequent visits, due to continued ill
health. The story was often told how he was wheeled through a connecting
tunnel, to see his new born daughter. The significance of this was I
was the first of his three daughters he saw at just a few days old. My
elder sister, Kathleen, was born whilst he was serving abroad in World
War Two and she was three when was demobbed – next, in 1946, Pauline
came into the world at three months premature, and it would be another
two months before was allowed home – with no fathers permitted to visit!
Things had moved on a wee bit when I was born eleven years later. Mom
was in hospital, for bed rest and dad across the road in The General,
when I decided the time was right for my appearance!
It was visiting hour at the time and with this being precious, my mom
held on till the bell at eight pm!
The visitor, who delayed my arrival, was to become one of the most
important people in my life, my dear Auntie Ruby.
It was she who was taking care of my sisters, along with my auntie Oll,
both of whom remained unmarried – with no child of her own, Auntie Ruby
embraced all her nieces and nephews, but as she and my mom were close in
more than just age, we were as valued as her own daughters would have
Auntie Ruby bought with her an extended family – her numerous work
colleagues of Birmingham Fire Brigade, based at Central Fire Station –
from cleaners to wage clerks, from fireman to officers they were a close
Jim Roach, a leading fireman at the time, supported my family at the
time of this hospitalisation, by driving them here and there, as he was
one the few people to own a car, his wife was also a great support, the
legacy of which is, I inherited her Christian name as my middle name and
she became my Godmother! It was ‘the done thing’ then and so I became
Janet Edna Dearn! Edna I ask you!
As I grew, I valued the close presence of auntie Ruby – always involved
in our family life, there never seemed to be a moment, she wasn’t there.
Right from a toddler I was taken to visit her, in her office at Central
(as it was fondly known) where she happily laid down her work and took
us around the station, including the ‘Pump room!’
Things were so much ‘free and easy’ then; no high-tech security was
required. No swipe cards or key coded door controls! They were to come
To fill in a bit of background of how she came to be working there, we
have to go back to World War Two. When she was called-up, Auntie Ruby
chose the Fire Service and after training and serving in Birmingham, she
was stationed down to Portsmouth. When peace was declared, and the Fire
Service reverted back to being under control of the Local Council, she
was offered the chance to stay on in a civilian capacity, to assist in
the re-organisation. I don’t believe she even hesitated! She loved the
camaraderie and the secure future it offered, and indeed it did just
that. She remained working in the same office, Building Surveyors
(becoming Sites and Buildings) till she retired at 60 and a grand party
in the ballroom!
Yes, a ballroom! For Central boasted a fully sprung wooden floor, in a
full length ballroom, with a stage, on its third level, where much
entertainment took place. Auntie Ruby herself was at one time in the
choir and once donned a habit as a nun in a production of The Sound of
The ‘recreation room’ on the floor below mirrored the ballroom in its
size and presence.
As for the rest, of this now deserted majestic building, perhaps you
would like to join me in a little tour and travel back with me on a past
visit to Aunt Ruby’s domain.
It began by walking through the arch in the clock tower; there began the
surprise for a first time visitor, for the building was ‘hollow’.
Contained in its three sides, was a large cobbled yard, used for drills
and training. Once a year, a display and inter-brigade competition was
held – and fireman from competing stations and watches would race to
roll their hoses out first and win the shield! This was a highlight in
the family calendar.
On the right and ahead was tenement style flats; fireman and their
families often lived on site back then, officers included. Training
offices were also contained here, as were classrooms for the Auxiliary
Fire Brigade – disbanded in the late sixties.
At the far end were the workshops, repair shops and the ambulance depot,
which were all relocated in time to more appropriate premises.
Turning in to a side door on the left, one was into a corridor laid with
oak wooden flooring, polished to perfection; this style of flooring was
indicative throughout the building. A curving staircase led to the
second floor; the polished wood continuing in the sweeping banister.
Directly opposite, behind a thick carved wooden door (again indicative
of the building) was the Building Surveyors Office (later to become
Sites and Buildings), where my auntie Ruby was Chief Clerk. A most
Its purpose was the upkeep and maintenance, of all fire stations in the
Birmingham area; and from 1974 the whole of the West Midlands. This
included, the once fireman’s flats – bringing aunt Ruby into contact
with fireman at grass roots level, right up to the top brass; when a new
fire station was commissioned to be built, the office also sharing in
this responsibility. I said at her funeral three years ago ‘her legacy
lives on’ and I believe this be true. She was at ease, dealing with
contractors to councillors, from tendering a ‘new paint job’ to
collating and balancing the budget for the end of the financial year.
March and April was the only time ‘we had to stay away from the office’!
A quote from the Jubilee book, a 50 year history of Birmingham/West
Midlands Fire Service Headquarters; 1935 – 1985.
‘Special mention must be made of Ruby Maddox who worked in the
department from 1948 till her well- earned retirement in 1980. Ruby
helped to carry the section through many difficult periods including the
transition in 1974 and many of the systems she instituted are still in
A ‘real’ office of the time, complete with fireplace and the chimney
breast adorned with a large mirror, it immediately gave a warm welcome
to visitors, as did the smiles of its staff. As well as my aunt, there
were two other clerks and in an adjoining office, the Building Surveyor
himself – later to have a technical assistant.
Two large casement windows, with views over Lancaster Circus, flooded
the office with light and whenever passing or approaching the building, I
always looked for ‘Auntie Ruby’s window’, where she sat at her desk,
with a large blotter pad and a glass ashtray – funny the odd things you
There were two typewriters – changed and updated as time went on, that I
could ‘have a go on’ typing with one hesitant finger! Switching from
black to red ink on the ribbon!
Of course all office equipment and stationary moved on with the passing
of time and as I grew I shared the unfolding of this, but nothing
matched those early days, where ledgers were handwritten, in blue ink,
in neat rows and columns, in hard bound volumes.
To this, and the other offices, a lady with a trolley visited
mid-morning and mid-afternoon, laden with milky coffee and a large
teapot – biscuits in the morning, cakes in the afternoon, no leaving the
desk for a walk to the vending machine for weak coffee in a plastic
I remember Mom, ‘timing’ our arrival to join in the refreshments!
Of course taking in fluid, results in the ‘letting out of’!
This meant running the gauntlet of The Staff Office! Very large it
contained multiple desks, and big uniformed foreboding men. At least
they appeared foreboding to a young child – me! They were very kind
actually. Having risen through the ranks, they still wore a dress
uniform adding to their stature. The strong aroma of pipe tobacco was
always present and is as fresh in my mind as if it was yesterday.
The embarrassment came later, as an adult when on meeting any of them,
they said, ‘I remember when you was little and…!
Oh, but it was worth plucking up the courage to walk the length of that
office, for through the door at the end – things got very exciting!
A large decoratively, art deco wall tiled area ;known as ‘the landing’
housed a caged lift, where one could see all the well oiled mechanism as
it slowly rose up and down the three floors.
Two closed doors with shiny brass plaques, offices of The Chief Fire
Officer and the Assistant Chief Fire Officer were situated here also. I
knew they were to be respected. I have to share with you though, a story
that was often told, that when a dear gentleman; whose family and ours
were great friends; having rose through the ranks right to the top of
the tree as Assistant Chief Fire Officer, was now someone, I just
couldn’t go and see. Apparently, I used to keep saying ‘Can we go and
see George now? Why can’t I see George?’
He subsequently became, Chief Fire Officer George Merrill CBE, OBE.
George Merrill stood in office at the time of the Birmingham Pub
Bombings and I remain very proud to have grown up knowing him as both a
civilian and as an officer.
Here also, was situated the ladies ‘cloakroom’. One of the highlights of
a visit! Why? Because on its facing wall, it had a huge window (nearly
always pushed up open) that overlooked ‘the yard’! I used to ‘spend a
penny’ as quickly as possible, so I could rush from the cubicle, lean on
the wide window sill and watch all the comings and goings. If you were
lucky, training would be going on at the tower. Men would be hurtling up
ladders and carrying ‘casualties down slung over their shoulder, or be
wearing gas masks, as they emerged from the 54 foot, smoke filled,
underground tunnels. Beat television, every time! Especially if the
turntable was in the yard!
From this landing, the corridor led on to the Fire Control Room, with an
old style switchboard, with black plugs being pulled and pushed in and
on the main desk stood a large red telephone! Maps and pins adorned its
Local knowledge was much relied upon; I fear this is
something we have lost now with the centralisation of Fire Control. One
of aunt Ruby’s lifelong friends Freda ‘Chippy’ Carpenter was a stalwart
in this department and reached the rank Principal Fire Control Officer
before she too retired.
Like aunty Ruby, when retirement came, she was ready. Technology was
moving onwards and upwards, and she left a fire control office that had
‘outgrown’ its switchboard and was now housed in a new extension with
computers and modern communication systems.
Before we head down to Pump Room, a tour of the ‘upstairs’ wouldn’t be
complete without saying a little about the canteen. Although it couldn’t
be called ‘little’! The kitchen and dining area was huge! Well it did
cater for an immense staffing level. All good home cooked food was
served, typical British Fare of the era, including, good old stodgy
It was an extra special treat to join aunty Ruby for dinner! I used to
feel so important standing with her in the queue to be served, because
once we had our meal, we headed for an anti-room, reserved for ‘higher
ranks’. I don’t recall it as snobbish, everyone remained friendly, and
it was ‘just the done thing’ back then.
Having her dinner at work, like this, five days a week, meant aunt Ruby,
rarely ever cooked! Such was her busy social life, with friends in the
brigade – she was always ‘somewhere’ at the weekends, or with us her
family. There was the odd Sunday, when as a child I had stayed over at
her flat, when she cooked dinner, because I remember picking fresh mint
from outside the front door. It was always, lamb or pork steaks, her
I had so many happy weekends with aunt Ruby; I could go off at a tangent
here, so to return to Lancaster Circus!
Where better to return to than the Pump Room! I used to hold my breath,
when aunt Ruby telephoned them, to ask if she could bring her niece
If I could just transfer my memories and senses of that time onto paper,
then I wouldn’t have to write any more. It is still so intrinsically
imprinted within me today.
Walking down the main stairs to the main entrance hall; where stood
‘Ollie’ a full sized bronze statue of a once proud and brave fireman and
also a shiny brass helmet mounted on a tall plinth, the area was
opulent and very grand!
I only remember ever coming in that way, through the main doors once, on
a senior school trip and desperately struggling not to boast, and not
to show off too much! Aunt Ruby did pop down to say hello, making me
feel very smug!
On the left coming down the stairs was the watch room, where; before 999
went straight to the switchboard; all calls reporting incidents were
channelled through via the duty officer.
Ah but to the right were the engines!
Shiny engines all in a row, lined up, all ready to go, when the big red
double doors opened on the cry of a shout! These doors could tell their
own story, form the days when they were manually opened by pulley and
chains to the electronic push of a button!
To be met with an expanse of tiled floor meant, some appliances ‘were
out’ and a brief moment of disappointment.
Never lasted for long, as there was always ‘something’ to climb on or
sit in! I have to be careful not to mention too often, that I remember
Fire Engines with wooden ladders, and wheels, because it gives my age
away, but I do, just!
Oh, the smell of leathered seats, so evocative, as I sat in the front of
the ‘pump escape’, wearing a yellow cork helmet, that often fell down
over my eyes.
I recall a line up of several other vehicles but I cannot tell you the
make and model of every one, that is something for the fire engine
historians, but all of them to me, were exciting to be around.
A couple of pump tenders with a larger capacity, stood also with their
doors open, waiting for hastily dressing fireman, racing from wherever
they were, or sliding down the shiny brass pole; having abandoned their
dinner in the canteen on the second floor, or hurtling out of narrow
beds, throwing back woollen grey blankets, from the dorm on the first
floor; grabbing their uniform and boots as they flew past and dived into
the cab, to finish getting geared up, ready for action.
There was also a turntable ladder; replaced in the early seventies with
the much anticipated arrival of Simon Snorkel! High rise blocks were
shooting up all over Birmingham, for which a super turntable would be
needed! Enter Simon!
After this, there came the back up vehicles, for major incidents – I
loved these! They were so smart! All polished wood and leather!
A fully equipped mobile canteen and a control tender to head operations,
in which I would sit in for as long as I could get away with, it was so
peaceful. Strange, away from the chaos of a fire situation, the engines
at rest in the pump room were just silent beautiful creatures.
Last in line was the big green recovery truck; as I mentioned earlier
the workshops were originally part of the Central complex and my
interest stopped there! I was a girl, well sometimes, anyway!
Not all of this, was of course, done in every visit, I bought it all
together here, for the purpose of this story.
As I got a little bit older, I often went by myself to visit, this was
my time, something I valued and I was always ‘going off’ by myself –
sometimes, I have to admit without permission, but that is another tale
for another day!
Visiting regularly, as I did, there were many times, I saw the engines
going out on a ‘shout’ and I used to rush to the nearest window or
vantage point, so very excited to see them turn out, sirens blazing
(incidentally the first siren was fitted to a pump engine, at Central,
in 1957, the very year I was born!) wondering where they were going,
where is the fire!
Back home if there was a merest hint of a siren, or flash of a fire
engine, all us kids, would track it down and run after it, sometimes
ending up streets away.
Just like, the thrill, of seeing lions coming into the cage; through a
wire tunnel; mouth gaping, responding only to the crack of a whip, sea
lions balancing balls on their noses and elephants trunk to tail
parading round a sawdust ring, both gave a heightened buzz to a child.
So the two Circuses were not so very different, and now?
As I grew, I learnt to understand the fear and danger from fire; or of
being trapped; from both the victims and the fire fighters perspective,
just as I learnt we need to respect the wild creatures of our planet,
they are not man’s toys, as fire is not a game.
The empty shell of Central Fire Station at Lancaster Circus is now;
after a much fought battle; a listed building but its future remains
uncertain. Wild animals are no longer subject to cruelty and cramped
unnatural conditions, in our circuses, but their future is also
uncertain. Man is destroying our planet, as a fire feeds on oxygen. We
all need to quench the flames.
Footnote; Aunty Ruby had a wonderful retirement, the social links with
her beloved Fire Brigade ever stronger and friendships forged remained
throughout her life.
Circus & Clowns
When we were young we looked forward to
a few treats in our lives, such as a day out in the country, sun
bathing on the beach, a trip to the seaside. But the most
electrifying and surreal was to go to the circus and see the roaring
lions and tigers, the performing elephants and the artists on
decorated horses, as they careered round the ring with the riders
standing up on their backs, even switching riders as they went full
gallop round the ring.
The clowns would enter in their
outrageous costumes, with strange hats and very colourful outfits,
with painted faces together with huge red noses and boots that were
three sizes too big.They usually entered the ring with an exploding
car which popped and banged and the doors fell off. Then the
slapstick would start, with the buckets of water and custard pies
going everywhere. They were always the children's favourite act.
Even the adults had to smile at their antics .
Why do clowns have such sad faces? Why
do we burst out laughing when they fall over or get a bucket of water
thown over them or a custard pie in the face? It's a strange
psychological thing we do at someone's misfortune.
Mind you the history of clowns goes
back a long way. They started off as court jesters, performing in
royal palaces. Their act consted mainly of tumbling and juggling
while others travelled with gypsies, performing in groups, visiting
towns and cities all over the country. Even to this day they are
still performing in local circuses, at children's parties, visiting
children in hospital and maintaining the morale in this sometimes
very sad world.
The thrill of the circus
animals performing and doing great acts of drama animals doing a
lot of things, walking round the ring and climbing and the flying
trapeze and dogs performing and monkeys jumping and crowd roar and
shout elephants walk and climb and roll over perform with their
trunks and monkeys climb and jump slap stick throwing over clowns
horses ride round there is sometimes cruelty in the circus whipping
animals and hitting them caged birds lions and tigers do different
performances I don't believe wild animals should be locked up.
The circus came to town
The circus came to town one night, the big top rose up from the ground
like a large balloon being filled with air. Queues of excited people
waiting to go in. The children hardly able to contain themselves as the
huge doors open like two arms welcoming them in. The colours from the
costumes sparkle and shine. The type rope walkers way up high. The
swinging trapeze tick-tock tick-tock. Clowns blow whistles, trip, roll
and fall to the laughter of the crowd. The smell of candy floss fills
each nostril. Music Ringing out from huge speakers booming inside and
out. Those lucky enough to be inside totally absorbed in the electric
atmosphere. Those outside begging to go in straining for a small
The circus is here
Up goes the big top ready
Excitement fills up the air
Clowns trip, roll, fall, and crowds laugh