I’ve been okay for chest infections lately but I used to suffer terribly from them. I’m sure I’ve said but before I landed the Spar gig I spent four years as a children’s entertainer. They were good times on the whole although it ended badly.
I was known as ‘The Balloonatic’, that’s what I had on the side of my small white Diahatsu van and it all began at my eldest son’s third birthday. He’d just started nursery and it seems to be a thing now where parents try and out-do other parents by throwing awesome parties for their kids who aren’t yet big enough to give a fuck. I’d been dreading Pauly’s birthday. I hadn’t wanted to let him down in front of the other kid’s parents but there are only so many ways of entertaining small kids, you know? Crazy golf is out, go-karting, paintball. None of that will work for a kid and so I thought I’d teach myself magic and how to make things out of balloons and put on a big show at Communicare Hall. And that’s exactly what I did. Bought a sweet magic kit with 50 tricks in it and one of those wands that go floppy if you let go of the end. I also bought a load of balloons. Remember, back then I was just a regular stock broker, you know? I’d never been on stage before.
The magic show was a total fucking disaster. I knew I hadn’t practised enough but I hadn’t been worried about it because I thought it would be cute and funny if the tricks went wrong, you know? I could make a thing out of it. I could incorporate the fun of it all going wrong into the act. Of course the tricks went wrong and the kids aren’t even watching me, they’re just not interested in card tricks that don’t work. I did one trick right. One with things under cups but even then the kids didn’t give a fuck. The only trick the kids liked was the one where it looks like I’m pulling my thumb off but even that one got old after about 10 minutes, leaving me with 1hr 40min to fill. I hadn’t really practised the balloon-looning much as I thought it would be my sorcery that would carry the show and so with a heavy heart and dented confidence I started blowing up balloons. Well, the rest, as they say, was the future at the time and is now history. The balloons were a massive fucking hit. The kids were totally nuts for it. Without tooting my own horn I was a god-damn natural. I could pretty much make anything with four legs a body and a head – which luckily enough for me is every animal ever – out of balloons.
So when the party was over one of the parents asked if I’d perform at their kids party. At first I was unsure, you know? It’s okay to mess up your own kid’s party but some other little mother-fucker’s? That’s pressure. I thought about it for the rest of that day before finally at about 8pm I decided to follow my heart and go for it.
The next morning I went into work and told them all I was closing the office and they’d all have to find new jobs. I think they were relieved. My dad had started the company donkey’s years before now that he was dead we were all pretty bored of it. I went and bought the van.
Jersey is a completely backward little island. We get things about 40 years after the mainland and so I was instantly a massive hit. People had never experienced anything like it, you know? A fun children’s entertainer like what they have in America! I destroyed the Island’s Punch and Judy industry overnight (I don’t regret that at all) and that guy who wore a mask and danced in a cape never worked again. Of course pretty soon there were copycats doing the same thing as me but still in that first year I pulled in nearly £7,000. The van had paid for itself.
During the second year the pressure of performing was starting to get to me. I’d sourced – at the insistence of my wife – some cheap balloons from Ghana and of course they were substandard. The balloons began to explode in my face and I began to smoke. My wife was on my back all the time moaning about money. Little by little, in single increments too small to notice, the dream was unravelling.
Whether it was the smoking or just the nervous tension I’m not sure but my immune system started to suffer. Before I’d had a cold now and again but suddenly it seemed I was ill all the time. At every party there was at least one kid hacking its lungs up without putting a hand in front of its mouth and the germs that kid fired out seemed to go right into me. I was a human Petri dish.
Made it through that year though and the money was still rolling in but I was poorly. I’d developed a nervous tic when I was around balloons. I expected every single balloon to explode in my face and I was coughing a lot, pretty much all the time. Not quite all the time though, It would go for two weeks here and there and then I’d meet a new kid with a new strain of the virus and KABLAMO.
My nadir came in October or November at the birthday party of the son of a posh Irish woman. The night before I’d been in bed and it was like I’d swallowed some old-fashioned machinery. When I took a deep breath I could hear flywheels, toots and whistles in my chest. Up to this point I’d never missed a gig, you know, ill or not, I was so pro but the morning of the party I had to phone the woman. I was very ill but I put on and even iller voice.
“You’re still coming though,” she barked as soon as I mentioned I was a bit under the weather and so I said yes and drank half a bottle of Actifed. Got to the house and I couldn’t even park the van I was that ill. Just left it in the middle of their drive and stumbled sweating into the house. The woman said I didn’t look well and I thought, no shit! and then I was in front of some kids. I could take shallow breaths without having a complete coughing fit but if I pushed it a fraction too far then I was going to cough, no two ways about it.
The show began and I was saying things, I don’t even know what, while trying to blow up balloons with tiny breaths. First three balloons, with my short sharp breaths, I just spat into the space separating me from the kids. I turned and saw the posh Irish woman with her arms folded watching from the doorway. She didn’t look happy. I saluted her and scratched my head. I knew I’d have to inflate the next balloon. Concentrating I put a fresh balloon to my mouth. Took a small breath and then risked a slightly bigger one. Whoever said ‘fortune favours the brave’ is a fucking liar. I dislodged something deep inside and I was coughing like a manic. Covered my mouth of course but it took a while for me to stop. When I had stopped I handed the balloon to the birthday boy.
“Special treat, you can blow this up,” I told him. He came up to get it.
“Finley don’t you touch that!” Shouted his mother.
“Come on, lady, give me a break,” I told her blowing out my cheeks. The Actifed had turned me American. Finley sat back down. The sweat was trickling down my back. I scratched my neck. I tried two more balloons. I was going to make a giraffe if it killed me but again I just spat them into no-man’s land. It was pretty funny. I laughed, kind of. I chuckled looking at the five colourful splots on the floor. I chuckled again but this set me off coughing. The posh Irish woman had had enough.
“You’re disgusting!” She snarled grabbing my elbow and trying to drag me to the door as I coughed. I mumbled something about how I could still do it. I grabbed another balloon with my left hand and tried to inflate it as she tried to drag me. I tried as hard as I could to inflate it but it wasn’t happening. I tried again shaking free of the woman’s grip but I couldn’t blow it up.
“There you go, kid, enjoy,” I managed to wheeze throwing the uninflated balloon at Finley. The kids screamed and parted just in time and the balloon went splat on Finley’s chair.
Next bit’s hazy, there was a lot of pushing a shoving and perhaps a few punches got thrown but I do know the woman’s husband phoned up that night wanting to have a fight with me. The fight never happened but the posh Irish woman was one of those gobby ones who have to get involved in stuff and she started a petition and that was it.