Clowning around on the highway

2016-09-26 12:37
"I had forgotten that with white-face make-up, massed ribbons in my hair, a red. white and black- coloured costume, I probably appeared like a sangoma.

"I had forgotten that with white-face make-up, massed ribbons in my hair, a red. white and black- coloured costume, I probably appeared like a sangoma. (Supplied)

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Was his name Dr Bird or Dr Fish?, we wondered as we drove away from the University of Zululand Science Centre in Richards Bay. Of course, Dr Fish was doubly appropriate for a scientist in a bustling port city. While we mused over this, we kept an eye out for a petrol station.

One of the hazards of being entertainers and part-time academics was that we were both awaiting a lot of overdue salary payments and wanted to use the cash we were paid for fuel to drive home. Cash flow could be an issue at times and this was one of them. Dave Fish had managed to ensure we were paid in real notes that day. But the roadsides were bare. We saw road-construction vehicles but no one else. We wondered whether we should have stopped to ask where to go, before we rushed on to another show. We had both packed up and headed for the car on the trot, in a bustle to avoid being late. Neither of us had remembered to ask. Surely there would be a station on this central arterial route, to the N2?

Friend and colleague Pamela Tancsik and I had had a great gig, balloon making and face painting to promote a fun day at the science centre but were now concerned as we realised we had reached the freeway. We decided to drive slowly. Hopefully there would be a sign of somewhere to stop soon. As we passed a speed trap on the opposite side of the highway, we started up a hill and the car came to a halt and started to slide gently backwards. I backed off the road. With an empty tank, we felt like real fools.

We could see the speed trap. How convenient. Pamela ran back to ask the cops where we could get petrol. After what seemed a long wait, I got out into the gentle drizzle and started back towards them, as they approached. My huge purple coat billowed out behind me in the wind in the gloom of the storm. The Zulu policeman was so startled he stepped back. I had forgotten that with whiteface make-up, massed ribbons in my hair, a red, white and black-coloured costume, I probably appeared like a sangoma. This confusion happened regularly, but my magic is all trickery and we needed real help right now. After his shock subsided, he explained there was a petrol station five kilometres away if we turned off at the next bridge. Unfortunately, he and his partner could not leave their post to go there for us without getting a reprimand. Fair enough.

As an AA member, I used my cellphone and called for assistance, but was told that they had so many urgent storm-related breakdowns it could be up to five hours before they could get to us. At least they were honest. I then called my client to explain the delay and we resignedly tried to flag down a passing motorist.

You would think two female clowns dressed in bright costumes could stop traffic. While a lot of cars slowed down, it was half an hour before help arrived unexpectedly. Sergeant Buthelezi had come back. They had to abandon their speed trap due to all the cars slowing down to look at us, so he would take Pamela to the petrol station with an empty five-litre water bottle found in my boot. We could then pour in the petrol and get there to fill up. I offered to pay him for his trouble. He was horrified: “No, no that is bribery.” I was startled as I hadn’t realised that. All I had to do was send a fax to the station as soon as possible to explain what had happened and why he and his partner had left their trap. After they drove off, I called my clients who said they and their guests would wait for me to arrive. It seemed almost miraculous.

Sergeant Buthelezi had been concerned about leaving me alone in the car, but I pointed out that there was a whole village scattered across the adjacent lush green hillside so I should be fine, and I had my cellphone. Imagine his astonishment when they returned to find me surrounded by children on the backseat as I made balloon animals for them: my idea of a thank you to the community.

The children had not been as fearful as either the policemen or the passing motorists and after the first one had approached, all had rushed across to the car to be entertained.

We left our small group of young friends and set off for the bridge and the muddy road through a field finally to fill up. I cancelled the AA. We raced to drop Pamela at her car near Gateway. Finally, I got to my very patient audience in Phoenix: all of whom had waited eagerly in their makeshift party venue in a rather rainy garage for their clown to arrive.

As soon as I got home I started to write out the fax. Sergeant Buthelezi, wherever you are now, I hope you know that there were two clowns and a lot of happy people that day. Not just because you stopped trapping cars, but because you assisted us so well in the end. I couldn’t have chosen a better spot to break down.

As Pamela said, it’s the kind of crazy miracle that only seems to happen to me when I’m travelling.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am particularly forgetful and bad with names, although I often remember the happy faces of the children we entertained. That day was particularly memorable for the wonderful patience of that Phoenix family, too. There are two names that are firmly lodged in my mind as a result of that experience, along with the expression on Sergeant Buthelezi’s face as I got out of the car.

Adeline (or Adi) Paxton is an avid reader, storyteller and traveller: better known as Cherry the Magical Clown and as an entertainer and creator of puppet characters and
edu-tainments. She is a voice artist working on radio dramas at Lotus FM and supporter of several parrots along with her husband Marc.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  true stories of kzn 2016

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