Wrote it, Binned It, Started Again!

I was 400 words into this week’s blog before I binned it. Steam started to vacate from my ears and angry blogs are not what I want to write. I was writing about tomorrow – the 4th of July – and pubs reopening in England. I was saying how stupid it was to announce that, after three months of BLD (Boris Lock Down), pubs in England would open on a Saturday. Open them, yes, if the science and medical advice suggest, with appropriate measures, that it is safe to do so. We need to get the country running again. The hospitality industry has suffered immense pain and loss and the social fabric of the country needs to be repaired. But, on a Saturday and from 6am apparently?!  What were they thinking?

I was beginning to break another rule of Cliffy blogs by being political. So I trashed it. But I do think it’s stupid and I am pleased to see that the pub in my village, which is owned by Greene King, is not opening until Monday. Putting common sense above profits, who’da thought?!

So, what shall I write about?  I know, juggling. I’ll write about juggling. 

Several years ago I gave a shortened version of my seminar on overcoming the fear of failure to the year 6 kids in my village primary school who were shortly to go on to secondary education. 

I still remember my first day at ‘Big School’ as being a fearsome experience.  From being the oldest (September child) in my junior school, I remember that first day as if it was yesterday. Wearing a blazer that was a little bit too big, “Because, it will last you next year too, Clifford,” and a tie that was already disappearing round the back of my neck, I was very scared.

So, there I stood in my village school, in front of about 20 year 6 boys and girls who were all looking at this strange man with a mixture of interest, disinterest and delight at not having to do an actual lesson.

There was one lad, who was, let me say, a bit excitable, a bit up front. I thought, if I don’t gently deal with him this talk won’t work. So I said, “What’s your name, young man?”  “Alfie,” he replied. “Right, Alfie, I have job for you.”  With that, I took out three juggling balls, juggled for less than 10 seconds, put them back in my bag and said, “Alfie, at the end, if I forget, you have to say, ‘Cliff, why did you juggle.  Were you showing off or was there a reason?”

Well, I had captured his attention, hadn’t I? And he couldn’t wait until the end to ask the question. Clever? Inspired?  Not really, it was more desperation.  My normal audience comprises of adults not 10 or 11 year olds.

I gave my abridged presentation based on my Channel swimming experiences with slides and a few props and it was well received. At the end when, prompted by their teacher, the children gave a polite round of applause, I thanked them for their attention and started to pack away having genuinely forgotten about the juggling. Alfie’s hand shot up. “Cliff, Cliff, why did you juggle? Can you do it again?” “Alfie, thank you,” I said. “I really did forget.” And then I told them this true story:

When I was about 7 or 8 my Uncle Len (who was the head waiter on the QE2 and, to us kids, a great adventurer because he sailed the seven seas) took my brother and me to the circus. In those days it was when they had elephants and lions and tigers but what transfixed me were the clowns.  Not the slapstick, not the big boots and funny costumes. No, it was when they juggled.  I thought that was the best thing I had ever seen.  I was wide eyed in admiration and, as soon as I got home, I told my mum I was going to join the circus and be a juggler. “That’s nice dear, tea is nearly ready,” was probably the reply.

Ignoring my tea, I quickly found three small spherical objects, threw them in the air and watched as, all fingers and thumbs, they dropped to the floor.  Hmmm!  I tried again. Same result. Again. Again. Same result.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t do it. “Well,” my 8 year-old self said, “This is too hard and I will never be a juggler. Mummy, I’m not joining the circus because I can’t juggle.” “Never mind, dear, perhaps you can be an electrician like your father. Now come and have your tea”

Over the years I did try to juggle but each time I failed miserably. Fast forward to when I was about 37 or 38. I am in one of my favourite places in London, Camden Market. I grew up in Camden, and the antiques and arts and crafts stalls almost from Camden Town tube station through Camden Lock leading down towards the Roundhouse at Chalk Farm were just the best. 

On the corner by the main entrance was a shop called the Oddballs Juggling Shop.  I wouldn’t say I walked in. I was dragged in by some sort of magnetic force field and I stared in wonderment at all the juggling paraphernalia and at a man behind the counter who was juggling three balls. 

“I’d love to be able to do that,” I said. “It’s easy,” he replied, without missing a beat. “No, trust me, I have tried many times. Just can’t do it.”  (It’s worth pointing out that the Internet and You Tube hadn’t been invented back then).

The man put down the balls, picked up a book and said. “You need to buy this book. You’ll be a juggler in no time.” It was called Juggling For the Complete Klutz, an American word meaning clumsy. Well, in my case, they got that right! Attached to it was a bag with three juggling sacks (clever, ‘cos when you keep dropping them they don’t roll under the furniture!). So I parted with my seven or eight pounds, thinking that was probably a waste of money, and departed.

When I got home, I opened the first page with a very sceptical, this won’t work attitude and began to read….. Place one sack in one hand.  Throw it up in the air to nose height. Catch it. Repeat many, many times.  Now take the second one……….

I swear, half an hour later I could juggle.  Euphoric, surprised, delighted, amazed. Those words don’t even begin to explain how I felt.  Ecstatic! There you are, I was ecstatic. It had taken me 30 years and half an hour to do something that I could have done aged 8. I could catch a ball aged 8, all kids can. But I gave up because “it was too hard”.

“Alfie, what is the moral of that story?” I asked, still juggling in front of the class. “That you don’t give up just because you think you can’t,” he replied.  “Exactly, Alfie. If it’s hard it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. And, especially, don’t let that person be you.”

A week or so later the teacher put an envelope through my door with a thank you note. I’ve still got it. She got all the kids to write post it notes thanking me. The one I treasured most was the one from Alfie, the kid who I thought was going to be trouble. He said, “Thank you for showing me that, just because I think something is hard, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I am going to learn to juggle.”  Now that made me smile.

I told my son, who was about 13 at the time, that I was going to teach him how to juggle. “Dad, I don’t want to learn to juggle.” “Well, come here, I’m teaching you anyway, you little ?%*! It’s a life skill, you’ll thank me later.”  Of course he learnt even quicker than I did and was delighted with his new skill, which he couldn’t wait to show off to his mates and, especially, the girls. He’s probably only juggled a couple of times in the years since.  But, that’s not the point. The point is he can. 

Take care, have fun, stay safe, learn to juggle.

Now, about those pubs opening on Saturday………!


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