A friend of mine and her husband have been doing their shopping and daily walks in character as superheroes around Shepton-Mallet in Somerset. It’s just their way of spreading a little joy. They’ve got two kids, so they take them along in the pram, and parade around in brightly coloured tight fitting costumes. The photos on their Facebook are delightful and they got an interview with BBC Radio Somerset and even some of the Arts Council Emergency Funding, being some of the only people who are bringing silly creative joy abroad in these strange times. Recently one of them posted a photo of a protective bushel that had been slung onto their windowsill by somebody local and witchy. Looking out for them, making sure that while they’re shiny and visibly bringing weird joy they aren’t accidentally bringing home nasties from anyone throwing bad energy their way, as can happen when you’re visible.
I only fully appreciated the power of a good costume in these times this afternoon. “Get that video done!” said a friend by WhatsApp. I haven’t really seen her for a decade but I’m hardwired to do exactly what she tells me. I had a video to shoot. I had been procrastinating for too long. Time for action.
I threw on my ringmaster jacket and headed to the park. I didn’t really think about the time it would take between my flat and the video, walking down the river in my ringmaster jacket.
A couple of years ago my friend, the snake owner, was in New Orleans. She’s part of a Mardi Gras crew out there, and involved in theatre as well. She knows the creative lot. An old costume store was emptying out their stock. There’s only a limited amount you can take in your checked luggage, but she’s got an eye. “What’s your chest size?” comes a message, and I tell her. “What colour is magic?” she asks next and for some reason I say “green”. “I’m getting you a present.”
Brooks Van Horn and Son made a ringmaster costume in green for the Mystic Club New Orleans some time ago. It’s blazoned with the name J Kenneth Baer. It fits me like a glove, as if it was meant to be worn by me, and it is very much mine now through familiarity and use. Big buttons, epaulettes. It’s a work of art and I love it. I’ve spent more on repairs for it than on any other garment I own because it gets a huge amount of active use and it is exactly what I need for much of the strange work I end up doing.
Walking to the park in it was delightful and surprising. I forgot how visible I’d be. I was just thinking about the video I was going to make and I realised that everybody was grinning at me as I walked past. I wasn’t even doing anything but they took some strange pleasure in a good item of clothing and a brisk walk…
I once stood on a podium for a few hours every day and barked for a sideshow on the South Bank. “Roll up roll up” you know the score. But for hours, and I kept it fresh despite running my voice into the floor. Hours every day in the hot sun for tuppence and the manager was a dick. This was before I got the jacket. I was just in something I’d pulled together, running my imagination. They didn’t provide costume, of course, or any help whatsoever. But that’s cool, I’m generative.
The woman running the candyfloss came up to me one day, as carny as toffee apple, long grey hair and all the tats. Is that the remains of a tooth? What’s that smell?
“My dad was a ringmaster,” and there she is right in my space, small but fervent, like a dangerous ancient otter. “There’s a few of you lads do the job you’re doing – I’ve been watching – and you – you’ve got the gab alright. You don’t have the costume though, boy. The costume does as much as the gab. Don’t matter what your saying if you don’t look right. Get a costume.” It was my last day. I guess, for the money, I hadn’t really considered anything more than throwing energy at it. She was totally right though. I’d forgotten the power of clothing. In retrospect I wish I’d had my Van Horn.
Here I am in the park. Everybody said hello. It was lovely. I wish I hadn’t left my top hat in the artists container at Wilderness two years ago. “No mate, none of us have seen anything like that left here. Certainly not my mate who left an hour ago wearing it.”