Clowns and Jugglers and Mimes, Oh My!

A recent study by the University of Sheffield, into appropriate decor for children's hospital wards, concluded what I could have told them long ago: clowns are scary.  After a personal life-long terror of those whitened faces, drawn-on smiles and enormous flapping feet, I can vouch for it. And I'm not alone. Coulrophobia, to give clown-fear its proper title, is one of the most common phobias on the planet. Three years ago, hundreds of residents of Sarasota, Florida, a town with a proud circus heritage, successfully campaigned to prevent the erection of 70 giant clown statues around their hometown on the grounds that they were terrified at the prospect.
Theories abound about just why these red-nosed entertainers are so frightening. I, for one, don't recall being traumatised by someone dressed as a clown, and I'm not convinced that it stems from not being able to gauge a clown's real feelings behind the makeup. They're just plain creepy. I do know that I was already a phobic when my parents took me on my first circus visit. And I recall vividly the disappointed and bewildered look on my father's face when his little girl burst into tears at her first sight of his big-top favourites.
You'd think the advancing years would have cured me. If anything I've got worse. I've tried to find comfort in the experiences of others and logged on to scores of anti-clown websites. On there is even a forum on which coulrophobics can blog about their own experiences; another website offers clothing and accessories with anti-clown slogans. But none of this has cured me.
Any claims I might have to a genuine phobia, however, are pooh-poohed by friends, who claim that I'm just being miserable. You see, I'm also one of those people that squirms at the mere mention of "street entertainers". I know what you're thinking, but let me try to convince you otherwise.
Take mime artists - and I wish someone would. What could be more irritating? All that "help me, I'm stuck in a box" play-acting just winds me up. I mean, just how many times can you watch someone struggle with an invisible balloon?
It baffles me that someone would want to spend all day doing Marcel Marceau impressions when they could be doing anything else. But then again, the website regards mime artistry as "ideal for theatre artists who can't sing, or act, or remember lines". There exists, believe it or not, an I Hate Mimes Club. And there have been some pretty high-profile mime haters too. A character in a Terry Pratchett book outlawed miming and punished exponents by forcing them to climb an invisible ladder out of a scorpion pit while reading a sign saying: 'Learn the words'. I don't even think they're all that popular. Be honest, when you see mimes in the street, how many people are standing there watching?
It's the same with jugglers. Is there actually a point to juggling? The World Juggling Federation is an organisation dedicated to "promoting the sport of juggling to a worldwide audience". Juggling as a sport? I'm not even convinced it's an entertainment. How hard can it be? The average 9-year-old girl can do it. Anyone can learn to juggle, surely? OK, not me, obviously, because I have absolutely no co-ordination, but it would seem to be within the reach of those with even basic motor skills. There are other forms of silly street performers, too. Stilt-walkers, for example. As a child I could walk on stilts, quite competently as it happens, but they don't impress me either.
Acrobats are amazing, of course, and trapeze artists and tightrope walkers too. Fire-eaters are also impressive, but, on the other hand, once you've seen one .... And just how do you find out you can do that without setting yourself alight?

I don't think it's so much what these street artists do that bothers me, it's that they choose to do it at all. There you are, minding your own business, when suddenly, out of nowhere, appears a smart-alec on a unicycle, ambushing you into his performance, making you part of his act whether you want to be or not. Then there are the street musicians. Not the gypsy violinists, flutists and classical guitarists, who can all add wonderful ambiance to a street scene. I'm talking about the ones with the didgeridoos. The ones who leave you wishing they didgerididn’t.