Author Topic: An Unauthorised Biography


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An Unauthorised Biography
« on: January 23, 2014 »
Simon Legg was born in a travelling circus. His mother was a trapeze artist, his father, the lion tamer. Most of his brothers and sisters were snapped up by the freak show, but Simon escaped that fate because he had enough of his mother's genes to make a go of the flying arts.

It was a long apprenticeship with many tumbles to earth. Fortunately he was allowed the use of a safety net, at least until his father found out: "I put my head inside the mouth of a voracious predator every day," he said. "You don't see me using a net." Too well mannered to argue the point, Simon had no choice but to become very good at not falling.

Except in love. Her name was Lilly, and she was the contortionist. She was a little older, certainly more worldly, impossibly sexy. Late at night they would steal away from the Big Top into the meadow and literally tangle themselves into a knot of passion. Thoroughly smitten, Simon was so sure the trajectory of their relationship could only lead to the altar that he took to doodling "Lilly Legg" in his journal. But Lilly's heart wasn't true.

One night as Simon was on his way to the show he heard familiar cries of passion coming from the clown quarters. Ignoring the bicycle horn visitors were supposed to honk as a courtesy before entering, he flung himself into a scene from hell. Amidst a nest of rubber chickens, juggling balls, fright wigs and other funtime props, Senior Clown Clarabell was introducing Lilly to his seniority. She appeared to be enjoying it so much Clarabell was reaching for a bottle of seltzer to cool her down. In an unthinking rage, Simon grabbed the first thing that came to hand – a tiny bicycle – and flung it at them. He missed, but the clatter was enough to get their attention. Now reaching underneath the bed for a shoe to throw at the interloper, Clarabell didn't miss. He did aim rather low. As the shoe smashed into his knee, Simon had time to register, with an odd kind of horror, that it was a normal human size. He limped away, Clarabell's laughter ringing in his ears. Lilly's silence was the final betrayal.

Much as he wanted to crawl into a dark corner and die, the show must go on. This most fateful of days the trapeze troupe had a real crowd-pleaser planned: The Triple Screwdriver. Devilishly difficult in the best of times, it was clearly the worst of times; but afraid to miss any of the glory because of his injury, he quickly bandaged his knee.

Sweating in pain, Simon forgot to talc his hands to dry them. As a result, in the middle of the screwdriver he lost his grip. His astonished partner plunged to a hard end.

His astonished partner was his mother.

His father never forgave him. He died not long after, when his assistant forgot to feed the lion before the act.

With both parents now in the Big Top in the sky, Simon carried on at the circus. It was the only home he knew. Shunned by the other trapeze artists, he was forced to find a new role. Ironically it was Clarabell who took him under his wing. Also orphaned at a young age due to a tragic clown car accident, the veteran performer became his surrogate father. It helped that Lilly had by this time moved on to the bearded lady, who was indeed bearded, but certainly no lady.

Clarabell schooled Simon in all the tricks of the trade, most important of which was how to make people laugh even when you're crying inside. Especially then. "We're in the lemonade business," he would always say, though he seldom drank anything so soft.

Simon grew to love being a clown. It helped assuage his monumental sense of guilt to bring joy into other people's lives. He also found that he was very good at riding the little bike.

Here our story might have ended, Simon leading a clown peloton in the popcorn-smelling air, had not another tragedy struck. Clarabell died of mimer's lung, gasping his last in front of an audience gasping with laughter. Losing one parent is bad luck. Two is coincidence. Three starts to look like a pattern. Convinced he was a locus of bad karma, Simon left the circus.

For a while he wandered the earth on his little bike. He chanted with monks in Sri Lanka; piloted hot air balloons in Kenya; sold used Marxist literature in Red Square; drove cable cars in San Francisco; taught macramé in Goa; was briefly a harem attendant in an unnamed kingdom in the Middle East; tagged the Great Wall of China. He fell in and out of love constantly, sometimes several times a day. He never allowed himself the luxury of growing roots. As he restlessly roamed, he held in his head the dream that his mother had often spoken of but been denied: to settle down and live in a bungalow. He felt he didn't deserve a life of such comfort.

Eventually Simon washed up in London, where he found work as a courier until his bike was stolen by a very short thief. He took this as a sign that this was where he was meant to be. In need of a vocation, he became an architect, designing bungalows that he would never live in.

He bought a replacement bike, a regular sized one this time. At the end of every working week he took to riding out to the coast. There he would scan the horizon, searching for something he couldn't quite name. Soon others started following him. Although they couldn't name what they were looking for either – Friday Night Ride to the Coast is a convenient shorthand that scratches the surface – they formalized the arrangement and got insurance. It only made sense.

Does the man make the ride, or the ride make the man? Simon often ponders this, and many other things, late at night as he strings together his necklace of lights. Also this: The show must go on.