One minute he’s sitting very, very still and the next, with a raucous and infectious laugh, is gyrating all over the special glass booth. Love him or hate him, he commands attention standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and for 76 years has been entertaining the crowds. He is the famous laughing man.
Holly loved Blackpool Pleasure Beach. There was a lot for youngsters to do, and the innocent fun began immediately on passing through the ticket barrier. There he was in garish costume – laughing hysterically with the congregating holiday makers. Old ladies plaited their legs, youths struggled to look cool and blasé, kiddies were hoisted onto daddy’s shoulders to see the spectacle … but Holly … today Holly wasn’t laughing.
Like other kids from social care, the annual Sunday school trip was their one big event, something to plan and look forward to weeks beforehand. Each August, when schools were out, Uncle Kevin would hire a huge, shiny coach for the day. All the regular attenders were treated to a day at the sea-side with a fish ‘n’ chip lunch. Life was tough for the disadvantaged and Kevin was a man who acted out his faith.
But Holly was sullen. She stood rigid, staring at the laughing man. His shiny face looked taut, stretched tight like cling film; while his eyeballs moved hideously from side to side: “Isn’t he a scream honey?” Kevin hollered in Holly’s ear. He slipped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed tight. “Are you having a good time?”
She nodded sheepishly, keeping her eyes fixed on the maniacal clown. “He looks possessed.” She declared flatly. The large lady standing by mopped up the tears rolling down her cheeks: “My, this is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t be frightened sweetie. He’s not real!”
“I know he’s not real. I need the toilet!” Bev, an older helper accompanied her to the ladies room.
“You ok Holly? You’re quiet today.” Holly shrugged her shoulders.
“Aw c’mon, let’s have a smile then,” she cajoled. Uncle Kevin will be sad if we don’t enjoy our special treat.”
Later, Kevin explained to Bev: “She’s from a real roughhouse. Her dad’s probably been away on a bender. Leave her be, she’ll get over it.”
The following Sunday, before the lesson began, prayers were said to thank Jesus for another lovely day out at the seaside. Bev then took it upon herself to say a big thank you to Uncle Kevin for making it all happen.
“Hands up all who had a fantastic time.” She said. Immediately every hand shot up, bar one. Holly slid quietly from her chair and cast a quick glance at Bev.
“I need the toilet.” She said.
“Ok Holly. Off you go then.” She hesitated,
“I need the toilet.” Bev gestured her bewilderment to Kevin.
“Ok. I’ll come with you.”
“Kevin, I’m concerned about Holly,” Bev whispered later. “She’s usually such a bright spark. There’s something funny going on.”
“You’re right,” agreed Kevin. “Maybe I’ll check it out with the family.”
“Would you like me to call round?” Bev asked. “It’s on my way home.”
“Bev, you have no idea what that father is like. He’s a drunkard, a bully and a liar. Leave it to me. I’ll sort it.” Bev didn’t argue, but with womanly intuition, quietly pondered in her heart.
It was 6 weeks later when the impish and lively Holly returned to Sunday school. Bev was to be the new teacher now because Uncle Kevin had been called away on urgent business.
Bev told the children that Uncle Kevin had done something bad and he was very, very sorry. He’d asked Jesus to forgive him and help him to stop doing bad things: “And because Jesus has forgiven him,” she reminded them, “He would want us to do the same.” And with the simplicity of children, they did.
Holly suggested that they drew him a really big picture of the laughing man to cheer him up. Bev said that was a wonderful idea and she would make sure he received it.
One week later, Kevin took the picture, signed by its artists with love, hugs and kisses; the picture of the crazy, cavorting clown, and pinned it to the wall - the wall by the door of his solitary confinement prison cell. And wept at the innocence of children.
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