In the last instalment of Lessons Learnt The Hard Way I realised that in some situations a microphone was probably a good idea and in some it was a necessity. Sadly, three months later I hadn’t taken the hint and worse was about to happen. I took an enquiry for an end of Eid party which was taking place in a mosque. I went through what I did and all was fine. The only stipulation was that I couldn’t play music at all. This was fine I said, at the end of my show I’ll make some balloon animals for the children. The booker explained that this wouldn’t be a good idea. All the parents would want one for their child, they’d all be fighting for a balloon and they’d be complaints if any child didn’t get one. We agreed that I could make one for any child that helped me in the show but that was it.
Really, at this point I should have realised that with a lack of material to complete a one hour show without music, games or balloon modelling I should have passed up on the booking. However, and this is a double edged sword, my complete self confidence in my abilities led to the fateful words, “That will be absolutely fine”, and the party was confirmed.
Come the day of the party, I arrived to be told that there was a slight delay due to a service going on so could I wait in the hallway. I was then surrounded by a dozen teenagers who proceeded to rapidly fire questions at me. It was basically a recreation of McCauley Culkin grilling John Candy in Uncle Buck about his life and facial hair. Eventually I get in and start to set up. At this early stage in my career I didn’t have a professional magic box to hold, display and hide everything in. Instead, I carried everything in a B&Q tool box and laid them out on a table. The guests proceed to come in, approximately 250 of them and all are seated on chairs with no room on the floor for any children to sit.
I start the show and almost immediately become aware of three things. Firstly, it’s horrible not having children on the floor to interact with. Secondly, I would have to shout in order for everyone to hear me and finally I was talking really quickly. Maybe because they were with their parents, maybe because they couldn’t hear me properly or maybe because I was a bit off my game, I wasn’t getting a lot of reaction. This led to me feeling a bit nervous, speaking even quicker and rattling through everything. Just like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, the caretaker suddenly appeared and offered me a microphone. As I had Mango at the time and needed my other hand I politely declined. The rapid fire delivery with little reaction continued until I finished my last trick. Relieved it was over, I looked down at my watch only to be overcome with feelings of panic, dread and sheer terror. I still had 30 minutes to go. With no other material to hand I froze and a little bomb went off in my brain. The words that innocently then tumbled from my mouth will haunt me for the rest of my life, “Who wants a balloon?”
Imagine the opening of the Harrods sale, the rare Pokemon Go character that appears for a few fleeting minutes, the launch of any product made by Apple or a hoard of hungry Zombies chasing fresh meat. Now multiply it by 10 and you have what happened for the next 30 mins. The parents were first, climbing over chairs, pushing each other out the way to get to me first. The children followed closely, slightly bemused by the rabid pack in front of them. Ok, so maybe a slight exaggeration to help set the scene but trust me, it was chaos and I was scared. “My son wants a dog”, “My daughter wants a butterfly”, “I have to leave in one minute, my son wants a sword”, “My daughter’s crying, she wants a flower”. That was the first twenty seconds. Out of nowhere again the caretaker appeared and offered me the microphone again. Just where he thought I was going to put it whist using two hands to make balloon models I have no idea. He then offered to help me with the balloons. I politely said I was fine but he didn’t listen. He started blowing up balloons, giving them to me and saying things like, “This is for a dog for the girl in blue” and pointed to an area where there were at least ten girls in blue who all declared they were the one in question. Balloons for different models need to be blown up to varying degrees and so most of the balloons he gave me were no good. On top of that, there was no control and I had hands coming at me in all directions. Honestly it was like a scene from Night of The Living Dead, just with less severed limbs.
I was constantly checking my watch and as the hour finished I declared, “That’s it I’m afraid, time to finish.” Cue complaints from parents that their child didn’t have one and would now be traumatised for life by the lack of a pink balloon dog. I turned to the table to put my props away to be met with an almost empty table. Some of them were on the floor, some were on the floor broken and some were in the hands of various children running around the room. Eventually I got most of them back and cleared away. My multitude of feelings about the experience, none of them good would follow the next day. Right now I was still in shock. I was reassuring myself that at least I would be home shortly and could put my feet up and relax. That was until I went outside and found eleven cars in front of mine. This was in spite of the fact that I’d been told no one else would park there. An hour later I finally got out, got home and had a little cry. It had been horrendous, but at least I had learnt some valuable lessons.
- The next day I ordered a sound system with microphone.
- I brushed up on my material and started developing new routines.
- When balloon modelling, I never had a production line system again.
- I realised that not all jobs would be right for me and I wouldn’t be right for all jobs.
- It’s ok to say no.
- I still had a lot of lessons to be learnt.