winter past and spring to come

winter past and spring to come

As spring is in the air and Christmas is now nothing more than a distant memory, empty biscuit tins and sellotape marks on the ceiling, so I thought that it’s about time I enthralled you with yet another riveting blog describing the life, times and tribulations of a modern day medieval fool.

Here at the fool house we’ve had a great winter season. Some of the highlights of which were as follows:

Melford Old Christmas Fair.

devilstick peat performs at christmas fairs
The long melford olde christmas fair lantern parade

This was a wonderful event put on by the local people of long Melford. I must say that they really know how to push the boat out. There was a Santa’s grotto, reindeer, stalls galore, wondering magicians and of cause, yours truly was there. Performing shows and walkabout routines. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the day they had a lantern parade through the town. This was a particularly nice touch as it gave the local children (including the grown up ones) a chance to show off their home made lanterns and really put everyone in a christmassy mood.

You can see photo’s and find out details about this year’s fun packed event via this red coloured link to their facebook page.

Santa Claus.

devilstick peat performs as a magic performing santa claus
When Jester Dragonfly came to visit Santa, guess which book I found her in?

This year I had the privilege of being allowed to play santa, not once, but twice! (and only one child was heard to say “hey, Santa sounds just like storms daddy”). O.K. so I didn’t get paid for it. Well, not in money anyway. But this job isn’t just about the money. It isn’t just about the look on their faces when Santa does some magic (although that is one of the best parts). It’s about playing with and feeding a child’s imagination. And with that comes both, great satisfaction and great responsibility.

Do it right. Feed his imagination in the correct way, and he’ll grow up to be an imaginative adult. Just like the ones who had the imagination to dream of a world where telephone lines could link computers, or of incubators to help keep newborn babies alive. O.K. that might sound extreme to you but, as some of you may know, in my role of a humanitarian, I have done around a dozen tours of conflict and war zones. Here I’ve met children whose imagination has been fed the wrong way. Children who quite literally havent even smiled in over a year. How many of them are now members of Islamic state is anyone’s guess. Look at it that way and you realize just how important our job is.

BBC INTERVIEW

And that brings me to yet another of my winter highlights. I was approached by BBC radio cambridgeshire and asked if I’d be willing to talk about my work in war zones live on radio! It was broadcasted at 9A.M. on the 22nd of January on a program called “Nic Conrad on sunday”.

Devilstick peat about to be interviewed by the BBC about performing in war zones
DevilStick Peat at the BBC studio’s

This is like a local radio version of desert Island disks. Nic played a selection of my favorite tunes (ranging from “Puff the magic dragon” to “The time warp”) and in between we chatted about my life. I openly admit to being very nervous at the start. Not least because the last time the BBC interviewed me about my work in war zones they asked the sort of questions that you really shouldn’t (E.G. what’s the worst thing you’ve seen!). However I have to say that Nic was brilliant. Not only was he sensitive to the subject matter, but he really made me feel relaxed. It felt more like a natter with a mate than an interview.

 

You can hear the whole thing here. But hurry as it’s only available for another 11 days

Other highlights.

our circus skills badge session starts with our demo and ends with the students demo
Stormageddon and DevilStick Peat teaching Brownies how to use the equipment safely.
whole brownie, girl guide and scout packs get their circus skills badge in one session with devilstick peat
Juggling 3 scarves.
Scarves are perfect for learning the basic juggling pattern as they are so slow and floaty

We’ve been doing a fair few workshops over the winter. Including brownie and rainbows circus badge workshops. When not jestering, Jester Dragonfly volunteers as the local girl guiding district commissioner. So we do a special, discounted rate workshop aimed at getting whole brownie packs through their circus badge (including the art section) in one night. I love doing these as the ladies who run the packs always seem to get more joy out of the sessions than their brownies do. More than once we’ve had a brownie leader squeal with delight as they get a plate spinning or a flowerstick up and flying. In Fact they’re so much fun that we now have a new page on the website, especially for the Brownies circus performers badge workshops

We also ran a workshop for a special needs group of young adults in the town of March. We’d been paid to run a workshop for them earlier in the year and it was just so much fun, that we offered to come back again for free around christmas time.

Again, it’s not just about the money in this trade, it’s also about enjoying the work and this group are a real pleasure to work with. Both Jester Dragonfly and I were surprised by just how much they’d remembered from our last visit. A sure sign that they’d had fun.

Up and coming events.

But enough of this nostalgic reminiscing. For winter is past, and spring, with its daffodils and snowdrops is once again upon us (Hence the reason their threatening snow). So it’s time to look forwards and let you know not only a little about what we’ve got planned for this coming year, but also how to get those all important discounted tickets!

Once again we will be performing at all our regular events, including, but limited to;

Battle Medieval FayreA lovely little event that’s held outside Battle Abbey in east sussex every year on the late may bank holiday. There’s no discounted tickets avalible for this event, but that’s because it’s totally free to enter.

The loxwood JoustHeld at loxwood near Guildford over the first two weekends in August. This event ranks as one of the best medieval events in the country. It has everything you’d expect to see and a lot more besides. A great day out for the whole family. Discounted tickets can be found on their website (Follow the red link above).

England’s Medieval FestivalThis year the event, which is held at Herstmonceux castle in east sussex, is celebrating it’s 25th year. This has always been a big, spectacular event, but this year they’re really pushing the boat out to make it the best ever. It even has camping, glamping and bed and breakfast as well as a wonderful nightly medieval banquet. Discounted tickets can be found on their website (Follow the red link above).

The Cambridge Living History Fair. Well attended by traders, re-enactors and the public

But the very next event we’re performing at is “The Cambridge Living History Fair” on the 18th and 19th of February. I’m not going to go into too much detail about this event as there’s already a review of it in one of my earlier blogs. If you missed it, then you can view it hereFor more info about those attending, or to book yourself a stall, please check out their facebook pageSurfast to say that there’s not just stalls galore selling goods from all historic periods, but there’s also some wonderful entertainment guaranteed to amaze and amuse the whole family. So if you’re looking for an unusual valentines present for your partner, why not treat them to a day at the fair.

Then, on the 25th and 26th of March, we’re performing our “Total Immersion Showat “The east Of England Food Festival”. This is a wonderful event that’s held at The herst county showground, AL3 7TP.

This is a fantastic, fun filled festival of food, crafts and good wholesome family entertainment. There’s even going to be various personalities from masterchief attending.

So if you’re looking for a cheap, fun filled day out for all the family, then come along and join in the fun.You can even buy discounted tickets simply by following this link.

 

After that we pack up and head up north to Alnwick castle. here we’ll be spending April the 1st and 2nd celebrating Aprils fools day with various other fools. More info on that festival to follow latter.

As for all the other events we’re performing at. Well, I’ll tell you about them nearer the date. For now we’ll going to keep you in suspense.

“But What if I miss the next blog” I hear you cry. “Then I wont know where to see you”!

Fear not my friend. For all you need do is join that merry band of faithful followers who have subscribed to my blog. It’s really easy to do. Just enter your email address into the link at the top right hand side of the blog home page then click on the bit that says “sign up”, easy-peasy. That way you’ll get an email every time I post a blog and don’t worry. We at the fool’s house take privacy very seriously and promise not to sell or give your details to anyone else.

Well that’s all for now folks. I’m going to bid you all “hail and farewell”, switch off the computer, then stare out of the window at the snow clouds over head and think about how lucky I am to spend the winter in england with a wife and kids, as opposed to those horrible long gone winter days of freedom spent traveling around the beaches of India.

Yours foolishly

DevilStick Peat

The 31st Article

(Upholding a child’s rights to play and laughter)

Article 31 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, as signed by 162 of the 164 member states of the United Nations states that:

1. “States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

2. “States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

THE 31ST ARTICLE states that:

There’s no point in you and I enshrining these rights in posh sounding conventions unless we, their guardians, are prepared to actively enforce them.

The following are a set of rules governing the use and release of funds from THE 31ST ARTICLE bank account, and the behaviour and actions of collaborating artist and all personnel involved in all projects run by or connected with the not-for profit organisation known as

THE 31ST ARTICLE

Aims objectives and rules governing the release of the organisations funds:

1. The artist will hold as fundamental the aim to better the situation of children who live in crisis situations of any type (conflict, natural disaster, social inequalities, etc.) in any part of the world and to actively enforce Article 31 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

2. The main beneficiaries of THE 31ST ARTICLE projects are children living in situations of crisis, and the collaborating artist will make no distinction between them for reasons of race, religion, culture, politics, social situation or any other categorization when offering his/her work.

3. For collaborating artists participating in THE 31ST ARTICLE projects, volunteering is the general rule.

4. In respect to the artist’s public image, he/she will not use the participation in humanitarian activities as a means to promote their professional career, separating clearly at all times such activities and not using his/her humanitarian work for publicity purposes or to promote his/her professional career.

5. Collaborating artist will insure that the name, logo and identity of THE 31ST ARTICLE will not be used as a vehicle for remuneration.

6. In the matter of seeking financial support, THE 31ST ARTICLE remains attentive to the ethical values of our partners.


7. The collaborating artist, when working with
THE 31ST ARTICLE will, by definition of the nature of their work, see and share in difficult situations. Their work does not end when they return home. They should testify in any measure possible all situations of injustice that they have witnessed.


8. The collaborating artist, when choosing the contents of his/her performances and workshops, will consider the sensibilities of the destination population, taking into account their culture as well as the delicate situation in which they are living.


9. The collaborating artist will not use their humanitarian activities to impart personal ‘points of view’ to the destination populations of the projects and will limit themselves to sharing their artistic activities. The artist will not attempt any “evangelical” activities (including religious, political or social kinds) whilst working with/for
THE 31ST ARTICLE.

10. Although collaborating artist are expected to do their own fundraising, THE 31ST ARTICLE reserves the right to use its funds to pay part or all of the expenses of any participating artist as it see’s fit, including but not exclusively, travel, food and drink, play equipment, medical insurance and visas.

11. In the case of a difference of opinion, the decision of the bank account signatories will be final.

12. Collaborating artist will insure that they have the correct inoculations, medical insurance, visa and passport requirements etc for the countries and situations they encounter.

13. Collaborating artist wave the right to hold THE 31ST ARTICLE legally and/or financially liable for any damages, mental or physical to themselves or any part of their equipment howsoever caused.

14. THE 31ST ARTICLE reserve the right to use any photo’s, film, and/or written material on, by, or about collaborating artist and/or their work with THE 31ST ARTICLE to highlight its aims, work, and projects, be they past, present or future, to the general public, governments, non-governmental organisations, press, media and other parties.

15. The collaborating artist must remain aware of the fact that, for many of the children they encounter, they will be seen as role models and should behave as such when around these children. This includes not smoking, drinking, or being under the influence of intoxicating substances.

16. Although THE 31ST ARTICLE accepts the fact that, due to the nature of the crisis areas in which it works, it may not always be possible for collaborating artist to acquire receipts, where possible receipts for all funds used should be acquired and passed on to THE 31ST ARTICLE bank account signatories. Where this is not possible, a record of spending should be kept by the collaborating artist and handed over to THE 31ST ARTICLE bank account signatories as soon as practically possible.

17. The changing of these rules and guildlines can only be accomplished by a majority vote on the part of the committee.

To Russia with Love 2

I’ve got a friend (honest, I really have). In fact I’ve several friends, but there’s this one particular friend that has done something amazing, something that I want to thank them for. But to truly understand what’s so amazing about what he done,

I first need to tell you a little story. It’s called

TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE 2

(The sequel)

PROLOGUE

There’s this rather cool dude called Simon. As a child Simon, like all children, dreamed of running away to join the circus and becoming a clown. But, as happens all to often in the real world, silly little things like reality got in the way, and so it was that Simon grew up to be a Russian speaking Englishman (with an American accent) working and living in downtown London.

Then Simon came into an inheritance and, being the rather cool type of dude that he is, he decided to spend some of it on “giving something back”. Which is how comes, in 2005; Simon took a clown called PABLITO, a magician by the name of ROBIN FOX, and a certain red and yellow fool to perform in and around the town of Beslan, Russia.

Beslan is quite literally, just down the road from Chechnya and over the lumpy bits from Georgia. This whole mountainous area is a hot spot for conflict and ethnic tensions which often overspill into the surrounding areas. One such case resulted in a school in Beslan being taken over by terrorist. Over 360 people, mainly innocent children, died in the following massacre, a massacre that left the survivors, both adult and child, severely traumatised

It was a strange and very funny trip. In Moscow the hotel manager made a speech as we ate breakfast, telling us that we are heroes as he wouldn’t dare go to such a dangerous place! A statement that nearly put robin off his cornflakes. In Beslan we were adopted by the local mafia. “We have booked a private room in the best restaurant just to honour you. It is 12 miles out of town, but don’t worry. We will drive you!” Said a mafia man, in an area known for its kidnappings. (It must be said here that the mafia treated us like royalty, and he only pulled the gun out and started shooting once, and that was just because he’d drunk cha-cha).

In the graveyard, the one almost exclusively full of children and teachers, there, amongst the gravestones and teddies, we stood, looked, and cried. And in the schools, we played and performed, bringing not just laugher to  around 2000 children of conflict, but also solidarity to the bereaved parents, teachers, and school chums of those who died.

It was a good trip, so good that in December 2006 we went back again.

THE CAST

SWISS AIR and SIBERIAN AIRLINES gave us free flights, THE KATRINA HOTEL in Moscow and THE VLADAKAVKAZ HOTEL in Vladakavkaz gave us free board, THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND supplied us with two play parachutes, KENT CIRCUS SCHOOL gave us juggling workshop kit, MADINA, despite being pregnant, spent ages arranging this trip and getting all the relevant permissions etc, and SIMON (bless his little cotton socks) again offered to cover all the other costs (excluding my rooms mini bar). Along with us 4 there was also KUSHTER CARTUSHKER, a young Spanish clown friend of pableto’s, MADINA, whose patience ways were invaluable in sorting out the logistics of moving several mad clowns around a strange country, and my good friend Zarzar, a surgeon living in Moscow but brought up in Beslan. If his as good a surgeon as he is clown, then he should be working in Harley street.

BESLAN

From Moscow we turned right and flew down to the provincial capital of Vladakavkaz. The man checking the passports remembered us from last year, but let us in anyway. Outside the airport the locals had arranged a bus to take us to hotel Vladakavkaz. “Wicked”, I thought, “our own tour bus”.

I like this hotel. It might not be as posh as the Katrina, but each floor has a floor manager. They are always middle aged women who mother and fuss over us, not minding if its 4 a.m. and they’d just found some of us sitting on the floor in the corridor, trying to get the carpet to fly! It was one of those “you-had-to-be-there”  moments, the type that is only ever induced by copious amounts of cha-cha (In “the Encyclopaedia of foolish littertour” cha-cha is accredited the following description:

Cha-Cha; Used by Hannibal to tranquilize battle crazed war elephants this clear, innocent looking liquid has not so much a “kick like a mule”, but more of a “head butt reminiscent of a Glaswegian handshake”. A light little number that should only be used for arm to arm combat.).

The shows went well, very well. Simon and Zarzar took a more active role this time, playing clowning compeers and kushter, who only pablito had worked with before, fitted in like a cork in a bottle and done a great little escapology routine to a fast blues number called think, and a silly love thingy with pableto that went down well with all kids from 5-80.

What a lot of people don’t realize (and until I came here that was true of me as well), is the ethnic tensions here. The attack on the school wasn’t just an attack on the Russian people; it was also an attack on the Ossetian people. Also there is trouble between the two ethnic groups here, I.E. the Ossetian and the Ingush. This is one of the many reasons we don’t just work in the town, but also in the outlaying regions around the area.

Last year Madina and her husband spent several months running acting clubs for kids from both sides, getting them to realise that they aint so different after all. She helped get kids from all over the area to write and put on plays together, radio 4 even made a play about it.

It sounds silly and trivial in the great, violent scheme of things, getting mere children to laugh and play together. But by facing, and overcoming problems like writing a play, by acting together and being a success together, they will realize that maybe they aint so different after all. Like I say, it sounds like a silly, hippy type idea, but if you can think of a better way of stopping the ethnic conflicts here then tell me, because I can’t.

MY BIRTHDAY

I don’t have birthday parties. No real reason, I just don’t. But this year I was spending my birthday in ossia, land of snow capped mountains, beautiful woman, and a certain alcohol called cha-cha.

We were in a restaurant in Vladakavkaz (or bloody couscous as we call it). At just gone midnight, my birthday began with singing and dancing. Not being that good at either I opted for amusing a child at a table with some magic. Then, 5 minutes latter, as we returned to our table, the boy turned up with a present from his father, an extremely well crafted knife. Nothing fancy looking, for it’s not the sort of knife you see until it’s to late, but well made and sharper than my ex’s tongue. I was truly touched and thanked the child. Then, as I sat there wondering what sort of man takes something like that on a family meal, so the child reappeared, this time with daddy’s pistol. He wanted a photo of us (and the gun) together!!!

Then his father appeared and thanked me in person (all I done was a couple of basic tricks, nothing fancy). He asked what we are doing here and told us if we have any problems to call him, he has power. He then proved it by ordering me a birthday cake. It was well after midnight but this man is used to getting what he wants, so the waiter takes a taxi, wakes up the cake shop owner, mentions who’s ordered the cake, and 20 minutes latter I’m blowing out the candles. We ask the waitress what he does for a living, she looks worried and says “I know but I can’t tell you”. The truth is she doesn’t need to, we can guess. After the cake we head home and grab some sleep before the days work.

I awake and go for breakfast. On my return 3 floor managers come running up to us and speak in excited Russian. We don’t understand the words but don’t need to, the rest of the group all point to me. The ladies drag me off to a little side room and sing happy birthday as they pour us all vodka’s. It’s only 9;30 a.m. and already I get the feeling it’s going to be a long day. Several vodka’s latter I escape their clutches and bump into Madina; she wishes me a happy birthday and hands me a really nice bottle of Armenian brandy. (I drank it at Xmass, it was wonderful).

Our second show that day is in the centre for culture in Beslan, we’re working with a local children’s dance troupe. They have loads of energy and perform traditional dances to a professional standard, a real treat to watch as they spin and whirl, arms folded, legs a kicking, like a demented spinning top on cha-cha. Afterwards I’m called on stage and the whole theatre (450 seats, plus, staff, performers, and armed guards), sing happy birthday to me in bad English, it was so wonderfully cute, and children appear with flowers for me, one of them is the child from the night before, and I sense that daddy has pulled a few strings to make it so.

I know it’s silly of me, but I aint ever been given flowers on stage before, and I found it very touching.

Backstage a man I’ve never met before calls me over, looks over his shoulder in a guilty manner then, from under his coat, he pulls out and hands me a bottle of vodka “happy birthday” he says and disappears backi down the corridor. I watch the back of his head as he leaves and tell myself off for being paranoid, when he reached under his coat a small part of me wondered if he was going to pull a gun or knife or something. This time it was me that was nearly found touching…

That night Zarzar, our very own Russian Patch Adams, has arranged a meal in a wonderful restaurant with a medieval theme. I ask him if he choose it for its theme?

“This birthday” I think to myself, as Zarzar tells me that he chose it for me not because of its theme, but because its part of the local brewery, “just keeps getting better and better”.

Both the food and the beer (made with local mountain water) are superb. Afterwards we step outside and from that moment onwards my mind is a blank, can’t remember a thing. I’ve seen the photo’s of what we got up to and heard the stories, but trust me, you really don’t want to know.

BACK TO MOSCOW

Eventually our time is up and so, after working and performing for around 1500 children in more shows a week than all the west end musicals ever performed (or at lest that’s how it felt), we have to return to Moscow. On route we stop at Zazar’s parents place for a light breakfast. He feeds us cha-cha, it hurts. He feeds us another cha-cha, it still hurts, but not quite so much. By the 3rd one it started to taste rather good, at which point we decided to escape, as we really need to be sober (or at lest upright) for the airport.

Then we stop to pay our respects at both, the remains of the school that was attacked, and the graveyard where they buried their young (they had to build a new graveyard, the old one wasn’t big enough to house all the bodies). From the beginning to the end of this trip, I don’t think any of us went more than 2 minutes without laughing, except for these two places. Here I openly wept, for the children who died, for friends like Zarzar, but mainly for the children who are left to carry on, wondering why they survived when their friends and siblings didn’t. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I aint, and never will be.

At the hotel in Moscow we are checked in by an amazingly pretty lady who, like so many people here, remember us from last year, we decide that tomorrow night we will go to the circus and ask her to book the tickets; she agrees not just to book the tickets, but to come with us as well. But before the circus there’s still work to be done.

The next morning the hotel manageress comes to thank us at breakfast. She looks at me and tells her assistant to get me vodka! I do like this hotel.

We have 2 ports of call to make. One is a show at a cancer hospice, the other is an arts centre for orphans and special needs children.

There’s only one child at the hospice, the rest are adults, but all the patients and staff enjoyed the show. Afterwards the only child there wants to see me juggle some more, which of cause I do, afterwards he says “Bravo”, according to his father his so weak he only talks when he has to and that was the first none- essential thing he has said in 5 months.

Silly things like that mean so much to me, more than any award or money, so I’m on a high, feeling like superman, and not really listening to what the nurse says. She wants me to do something for some people in another room, no prob’s, because today I’m superman.

I enter the room smiling and straight away I realise 3 things.

A) I’m not superman,

B) These people only have days left to live, I can see it in their eyes

C) there’s no way that I can let them see it reflected in mine.

As I juggle away, part of me is silently praying that none of my kit breaks any drips or things that go “bleep, bleep, bleep”, another part of me is simultaneously praying that nothing stops going “bleep, bleep, bleep”. I mess around with a few silly things I have on me, my burping puppet, glowing lights, little mousie etc. Then we leave and head for the last bit of work,

MARIA’S CHILDREN

State orphanages in Russia aint that nice. You get the bare minimum of what you need education wise and very little love. So this artist called Maria opened an arts centre for orphans and special needs children. A place where they could learn all the arts, drawing, painting, circus skills, acting, the lot. The moment I entered it I could feel the love radiating from the walls. This place didn’t feel like a centre, it felt like a home, a real one.

We weren’t doing shows here, we were just hanging with the kids, having a laugh, drawing, and teaching some of our stuff. (Maria latter said that they learnt more from us in half hour than they have in the last week).

Maria is a tall elegant, blonde lady with kind, knowing eyes. She showed us the toilet door that Patch Adams auctions for several thousand dollars every year when he comes to visit her. I so want to meet that man, by all accounts his a right nutter, we’d get on well.

I give her the parachute that “THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND” had given me, and all of the juggling kit that had been donated by “THE KENT CIRCUS SCHOOL”

She thanks me and tells me that they will use it in Beslan in January when they teach the kids there circus skills. She then says “it’s such a shame you cant join us”

I ask who “us” are and she tells me.

“The children here who learn circus skills use them to cheer up other children in hospices, other orphanages etc. We’re off to Beslan next month to teach circus skills there, it’s such a shame you can’t join us”.

I stood there, trying not to grin like a mad man, as she told me again that its such a shame I cant join them, knowing that I have no bookings that month, knowing that THE 31ST ARTICLE has £1743 put aside for just this type of work, silently deciding who I’d like to take with me (Bet Dave would love it here… hope he likes cha-cha).

“But who” I hear you ask, “are THE 31ST ARTICLE”?

THE 31ST ARTICLE

There’s a man called Jeff. His from South Africa and lives in Cardiff, south Wales. For money he arranges gigs for pubs in the town centre. Last year he said to me “Peat, I love what you do so much that I’m going to put on a festival for you”.

The event was called “THE VILLAGE DREAM”, the venue was the holiday inn, the bands and entertainers worked for next to nothing or free, the day was great fun, and the amount raised was £1743 Profit. That’s no mean feat, and I love him for it (but don’t tell his girlfriend, she might get jealous).

The money raised was handed to “THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND”, who have held on to it whilst I (who has no bank account, no address, no credit rating, and as such, no chance of getting one) arrange for a “not for profit group” to be formed and get two of its members to open its bank account.

The newly formed group is called

THE 31ST ARTICLE

(Upholding a child’s right to play and laughter)

Like I say, this newly formed group has nearly £2000 to spend on just this type of thing. And the feeling of excitement I had standing there, knowing that I’ll b e back, was wonderful. So wonderful that I decided to write this email as a thank you to Jeff, not just for putting on THE VILLAGE DREAM FESTIVAL 2006, which raised all that money for my work, but also for agreeing to put on THE VILLAGE DREAM FESTIVAL 2007. So here it is;

THE THANKS

Thanks mate, nice one“.

THE BLAG

So, if any entertainers, bands, etc, fancy taking part in THE VILLAGE DREAM 2007, in return for “rich’s stored in heavon” then contact me now, BUT HURRY, places are going fast.

THE NAMING

Article 31 of “THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD” state’s that;

1, States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

THE 31ST ARTICLE states that;

“There is no point in you and I enshrining children rights in posh sounding conventions unless we, their guardians, are prepared to actively enforce them”.

THE END

P.S. for more info on THE 31ST ARTICLE, or to read about my first trip to Beslan, then please check out the aid work page on my website (WWW.devilstickpeat.co.uk). You can also see us in action on youtube, just cut and past the following address into your tool bar

Devilstick Peat is currently in the Middle East this is the first report he has sent us…

I turned up in the holy lands (I call it that so as to stop people giving me a 20 minute lecture about whether or not there is a state of Israel or Palestine) on the 10th of Jan, 2006. 15 days before the elections for the Palestinian elections. The first thing I discovered was the joys of the Israeli immigrations. Before I’ve even made it from the plane to the terminal they were questioning me. For some reason they don’t seem to like people with Iraqi stamps in their passports.
“Who are you? Why are you here? How can you afford to be a tourist? What were you doing in Iraq? What’s your father’s name? Your grand fathers name? If you really are a tourist, why don’t you have any tour books? Why are you really here?
My answers resulted in me being interviewed by his boss, his boss’s boss and his boss’s boss’s boss. My bags being searched and x-rayed and researched, a demonstration of my juggling skills, and then, after over an hour of interviews/interrogation…
“Enjoy your stay in our peaceful land”!!!
As an ex squddie I can’t really blame them, I know about security etc, and having to obey orders, but for a while I was worried that I wouldn’t get in (“dear everyone who already booked a ticket, enjoy your stay, I’m back in my local pub in the UK”. Wouldn’t that go down well).
My first couple of days was spent in Tel Aviv, just recovering from the flight, getting a bad stomach (all part of the joy of travelling), wondering if I could hold on long enough to make the hour long drive to Jerusalem, and answering my first bit of hate mail.
I know I’m on the right track when people tell me how bad I am for working with kids from one community or another. The funny thing is I don’t work with Muslim kids, or Jewish, Christian, Israeli, English, black, white or sky blue pink kids with cute little yellow spots. All I work with is kids.

AND KIDS ARE KIDS ARE KIDS. THEY ALL WANT TO BE LOVED, ALL WANT TO BE HUGGED, AND ALL SUFFER AS A RESULT OF CONFLICT.

Let’s face it. Getting on a bus not knowing if there’s a suicide bomber on it is as traumatic as watching a plane, not knowing if its going to bomb your home or someone else’s. Conflict knows no borders or limits of age. And I’m here for kids, not politics.
My first week in the holy lands was met with rain and more rain. Why is it that when ever I go to a desert zone, it rains.
After two days in Tel Aviv I took a mini bus to Jerusalem. It’s only an hours drive but because it’s higher up, it’s a lot colder, and wetter.
In Jerusalem I stayed in the Jewish area. It’s a lot more relaxed here than I thought it would be. People don’t look tense or scared. Saying that there are signs of tension and conflict. Security at bus stops, metal detectors at café’s and bus stations. I had to laugh at Tel Aviv bus station. There was a solider, all in uniform and a bag over his shoulder. He put his bag through the x-ray machine to make sure there was no weapons in it, then entered the building with his rifle across his back. Saying that, the next day there was a bombing at the same station.
Getting address’s of n.g.o.’s etc proved to be a slow, difficult affair. Probably because of security (aid workers do get kidnapped, as happened to the British lady last month).
Eliyahu proved to be a great contact. He’s a Rabbi who’s heavily involved in the peace progress. When we were in Iraq he came over with a Imam for a day of prayers. And if you think we were brave going there, imagine what it was like for a rabbi.
After he’d given me addresses and emails my computer started playing up. So being sensible I brought 50 cd’s and put everything on them. Just as well as the next day my computer got memory diarrhoea and deleted everything, windows, word the lot. I took it to a really nice computer shop I know and they put windows and word back on it (my computer now says welcome in Hebrew) and I went to a café intending to spend the afternoon drinking coffee, smoking a ne-gil-a and loading all my files, photo’s etc. Then I feel for the oldest trick in the book. A man sat down on my left and kept me talking while my bag, which was on my right, went for a walk, never to return. In it was my camera, diary, contacts and all the cd’s with all my files, photo’s etc in it.
(Still, these things were sent to try us)
I then had the embarrassment of having to go back to eleyahoo and asking him to take the time to go through all his files again. He didn’t even blink an eyelid, bless him.
Because it was so slow contacting folk in Jerusalem (mobiles that are never turned on, email accounts that just bounce, warchild netherlands that in 6 years of emails still steadfastly refuse to reply to a single email of mine, ever, (still, at least they are consistent, if nothing else) unicef who don’t have a list of n.g.o.’s,. I decided to take the unorthodox approach and said “blast it” (or words to that effect) and headed into the west bank, Palestine.
I went to a friendly town called Ramalla. I know the town was friendly because it was full of Arabs, the same race that kept me alive in the Iraq, a country that is covered with British and American killers.
The trip there involved taking a bus to an Israeli check point called Kalanda and walking unchecked into the west bank and then taking another bus to the centre of town. I wondered around without a clue of where I was going, checking out the prices of hotels etc and just getting a feel for the place. Then I decided it was time to meet nice people so I went to a café, ordered a ne-gil-a and coffee and waited.
Within ten minutes I’d met a young Palestinian who was wondering who I was, what I was doing here, and why I wasn’t scared. I explained to him about BOOMCHUCKA CIRCUS, our wish to work with kids from all communities, and my need to check out the local camps before the rest of the crew arrives.
He offered to take me to camps, after the elections and has since contacted me by phone to re-affirm this wish. One that I intend to take up.
After my day out in Ramalla, I headed back to Jerusalem.
On the Israeli side my passport was checked, and then rechecked.
Again my Iraqi stamp seemed to be a matter of interest, although why a stamp from an American and British run country should cause such interest is beyond me. Maybe its genuine concern for the children who you and I are starving to death (mal-nutrition has more than doubled since we started to steal the oil, must make people so proud to drive.) Eventfully they let me through and I headed back to my hostel where a young Israeli lady who works there told me how worried she was for me, and how glad she is that I made it back safely. I laughed and told her there was no danger, just nice people. Then I asked her if she’d ever been to the west bank.
She seemed shocked at the idea and told me she hasn’t , that the Israeli soldiers would not let her pass even if she tried.
If people cant meet, how the heck can they get over their fears and find peace? Most people in the world want a peaceful life, it’s governments that don’t, but then governments tend to be run by the rich, people who own companies like ozzie, the Israeli gun company. AND MAYBE THAT’S WHY

Part Two
I arrived at Tel Aviv airport to meet Andy but met the security man instead. He was standing outside the terminal and asked me why I was here and for my I’D. I told him I was meeting a friend and gave him my passport.
“Where’s this stamp from” he asked? I didn’t even look; I knew which one he meant.
“Iraq” I replied with a friendly smile.
“Wait here” he said and spoke on his radio in Hebrew “I just have to check with my boss” he said in a friendly manner
His boss arrived, looked at my passport, asked me some questions and then said o.k. and left.
I’ve never seen Andy, had no idea what he looked like and the chances are he didn’t know what I look like either, but I figured that if I wore my red and yellow coat and my juggling hat he’d know I’m me.
A blond haired, dreadlocked young man came through the barrier, smiled straight at me and said “Hi I’m Andy, you must be Peat”
“You recognised me then” I said
“Yes I saw your picture on the internet. What the **** is that balanced on your chin in one of the photo’s”?
“An A.K.47 assault rifle”
“Oh”

I like Andy. His easy to get along with and has a good sense of humour. Also it’s good to have someone with me when I’m running around sorting stuff out, remind me of things and kick my backside.
I took him to meet Ibrhim in Jerusalem. His a Muslim who works full time for peace. Travelling the world, talking and campaigning for people, regardless of religion, to love each other. A simple man who lives a simple life. Saying that I got a great photo of him with two mobile phones, one to each ear, as he was trying to arrange for a bunch of American Jews to come and meet with him in his home on the Mount of Olives. Unfortunately the group who organised their trip insisted on a man armed with a machine gun accompanying them every where. Ibrihim won’t allow weapons into his home, so they ended up meeting outside.
There was no need for the armed guard, no need at all. All it succeeded in doing was reinforcing the fear and mistrust that seems endemic here.

We went to a town in the west bank called Jericho, the oldest city in the world. And talked with a lady called Rowan.
She lissioned patently to us, despite the pain she was suffering from a large abses on a tooth and said that she’d arrange a weeks work for us in her town, and free accommodation (always a bonuses). Then we went into town for a ni-gil-a pipe.
We sat on a bouncany smoking and talking. Jericho is so much warmer than Jerusalem and the night air had a fresh smell to it.
Then, down the road there was a large commotion as supporters of hamas paraded along the street, celebrating their election victory.
Western governments are talking about removing funding because they don’t like the fact that demococy means people can be ruled by the ones THEY want, rather than the ones WE want. But from what I’ve seen (and I openly admit I don’t fully understand the politics here),
The ruling party, the fatur party, were very corrupt, several scandals have emerged. The people of Palestine voted for hamas, not because they are as armed and deadly as shin fain/ira (whom both bush and blair are happy to talk to, even though McGinnis, its youth and schools minister is a known terrorist and killer), but because they are more honest and less open to bribes. Which is a bit of a bugger if you’re a rich
Western country who use’s bribes to get what we want
The next day we headed up to the north of the west bank, to a place called Jenin
It took us two hours to get there, and we met with another local ngo and arranged to work with them, then, the business side of things done, we spoke about the general situation there, and that’s when he showed us the drawings.
I’m so sad to say that seen similar drawings before. After the genocide of Kosovo, the illegal war against the warm hearted people of Iraq, in Tamil Eelan and Beslan in Russia.
Drawings of hanged people, with blood red backgrounds, tanks, soldiers and dead families, a knife in a country that drips blood. Different children, different cultures, but still the same, sad drawings.
Despite the fact that I’ve seen it before, and had chance to prepare myself for them, my reaction was no different from Andy’s. Both of us had to fight back tears as we thought about the children who had committed their lives and fears to crawn and paper.
On the way back to Jerusalem another man in the mini bus introduced himself to us. His a Palestinian who works for world vision, an international ngo with a youth department. And we talked and exchanged calling cards. Then we came to a road block. The young soldiers there were polite and as helpful as they could be, but were under orders not to allow any Palestinian cars through, only Israeli ones. One soldier called me over and pointed to taxis on the other side of the road block, telling me that it’s quite o.k. for me to walk across and take another taxi, an offer we declined as we wanted to see what apertive means here, in the holy lands.
Eventually we turned around and headed off on another route, unfortunately this one too was blocked. Again we tried another road, on this one we met a check point manned by a tank and an arrogant little gobshite who not only uses his personality as a contraceptive, but also refused to let our friend from world vision pass.
As a member of an international registered ngo with a valid ngo id card our friend has certain rights afforded to him under the 4th of the Geneva conventions on the rights of humans. Including the right to unhindered travel.
This means that both it and its country were breaking international law.
At this point I need to point out that most Israeli’s that I have met hate what’s happening here and disagree with their countries policy and the way the international community refuse to do anything about it. Many I have met join hands with Palestinian protesters as they march against the wall. But the views of the majority here, like the views of the majority in Britain, mean little if anything to the ruling rich, especially where the highly profitable business of war and conflict is involved.
Eventually, after Andy’s sit in protest at that thing’s attitude (I can not call it a soldier as in my opinion soldiers only follow LAWFUL orders), we turned around again and tried yet another route.
In this land you haggle with people until a price is set, and when it’s set, its set, end of story. Which means that by now our poor taxi driver was probably losing money. Eventually he spoke with another minibus driver, and arranged for us to go with him (for no extra cost) as he wanted to turn around and head home. We changed taxi’s and headed on taking back roads that were less likely to be patrolled by Israeli soldiers.
It took us over 7 hours to do a 2 hour journey. Due in this time international law was ignored, people were humiliated and insulted, and guns were pointed at innocent, polite talking people like Andy and me. IS IT ANY WONDER THAT, AFTER YEARS OF BEING TREATED LIKE THIS, PEOPLE FIGHT BACK?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the interfader. I hate terrorising by people as much as I hate terrorising by governments. Today, as I was writing this, an Arab went crazy on a bus at the end of this street. Attacking people onboard the bus with a knife, then attacking those in the street. Something which I abhor, and which, due to the fact that it endangers civilian life, is also against the 4th convention. But unless people on both sides start treating humans as humans, how’s it ever going to end.
I can’t help thinking about a scene in the comic film “eat the rich”, where there is a siege in the Israeli embassy. The home secretary, gets the Israel ambasserter and the terrorist against the wall, knees one between the legs and says to the ambasserter
“you, give him his country back. And you (turning to the terrorist) get a hair cut and smarten your self up”.
At the time I found it so funny but now, after being here for a few weeks, I also think that that’s the attitude that’s needed if we, the western world, really want the war here to end

ANGELS Part Three
When God made man he sent some angels down to earth to be an example to us and to show us how to live. But this caused problems because their wings kept on getting caught up in brambles, or stuck in elevator doors, and besides, their wings took up too much room on buss and tube trains. So in the end the angels decided to take off their wings and walk amongst us, unnoticed in the rush hour crowds. This they promptly did, and still do. I know this because today I met one of them.
Her name is Tally and we’ve been emailing and talking on the phone for the last couple of weeks. She’s smaller than I imagined an angel to be, about 5 foot nothing, with grey hair and kind eyes, and she works as a teacher in a Steiner school in the north (If you don’t know what a Steiner school is, check them out, they are amazing places).
As part of the course work the students have to do a weeks community work, so Tally spent months and months arranging for them to work at a school in the village of Jaser a Zarka
Now Jaser a Zarka is not your average village by any standards, regardless of whether those standards are Israeli or Palestinian. To start with the fact that it’s inhabitants are black means that they are hated by all sides, both Arab and Israeli. Their origin is unclear but it’s generally believed that they were brought here long ago as slaves.
It’s known as the poorest village in Israel and is situated right next to one of the richest places in Israel. Because of the poverty Jaser a Zarka has a high crime rate, and violence, both domestic and criminal, is endemic. Also, because no one else will have anything to do with them, there is a lot of inbreeding, resulting in a high number of people with disabilities, both mental and physical.
It is home to the Arabic special needs school for the area, but most people from the surrounding area with special needs children won’t send them there as they deem the place as too dangerous.
And that’s where Tally and her 25, 16 year old Jewish students are staying and working, doing things like painting murals on walls, and meeting, interacting, and communicating with the local youth.
The amount of obstacles Tally had to overcome was awesome. The hate, fear, paper work and mistrust she had to contend with, frightening. Meetings about whose community the security guard should come from, Muslim or Jewish, local or from her school’s area. Will our children be safe in THEIR village? What happens if one of their children gets hurt in OUR village? obstacles and questions which you and I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But Tally, (being an angel and all), not only persevered, but over came these obstacles and eventually arranged for the weeks cross community work between two groups of the most wondrous angels of all… CHILDREN.
Then she heard about our tour and asked us to come and work there on the 6th. I said we couldn’t as that’s the day our 3rd performer (Theo) arrives in the country, but we could work on the 8th.
Theo turned up at the airport, spotted a man in a bright red and yellow coat and introduced himself to me. (To my lord and liege the Duke Henry Plantagenet (A.K.A. Kevin) I’d like to say thanks for the coat. It’s becoming quite famous in some quite infamous places). I’m sure I’ve met Theo before somewhere, but neither of us knows where. Again he, like Andy, is an easy person to get along with and has a good sense of humour. He’s been working in Sri Lanka with some of the same people I worked with in the Tamil area of the north and east, and has heard about me (but decided to join us anyway).
We drove back (in a borrowed car) to a friend’s place. He’s inherited a warehouse and has turned it into an “open space”, for like minded people. Once there Theo dumped his kit and then Mette, Theo, and I went into Tel Aviv town.
We met Mette in the hostel in Jerusalem. She is young (19) with blond hair, pale skin, and was being very quiet, too quiet. So quiet in fact that we soon realised that she must be Danish.
Truth is she was working in Palestine when a Danish paper decided to insult Allah, so she had to leave until it calms down (if it ever does). But Jerusalem isn’t the place to hide from religious sorts. So being the kind hearted folk that we are, we kind of adopted her and took her along with us. (“Dear mummy, the Muslims are no problem, but I’ve been kidnapped by clowns and am being held for ransom. If You ever want to see me again, then please send 200 custard pies to the following address”)
The next day (7th) was spent practicing some BOOMCHUCKA routines, like the music box and the two man juggle routine (for more info on them, check out the reports from our Iraqi tour), and working out a running order. Then on the 8th, after a days practice, we went for it.
We drove to Jaser a Zarka and knew we were in the right village as the roads were in a bad state of disrepair and the buildings were of a more shabby nature. An awesome storm was gathering and the wind was blowing hard, giving the place the deserted feel of a western frontier town like “high noon” or “dodge city”. It also meant that the show had to happen inside, in a classroom with a low ceiling, not a good thing for a juggler, and worst still for a staff spinner like Andy.
“Yep” I said to Tally with an air of confidence that was totally false “we can work here, no problem.”
We got changed in the next room, went through the running order one more time, took a deep breath, and went for it.
Thanks to the lap top computer that was donated by CHRIS HARRIS, and the speakers that were donated by TONY SIMMS, we had amplified music, always a good thing when one doesn’t speak the lingo. But as loud as the music was, it wasn’t loud enough to cover up the screams of a 15 year old girl.
She wasn’t screaming because the show was so bad (I hope) or because she was in pain, she was screaming because for some people with special needs, that’s the only way they can communicate. So I paid her little heed and carried on watching the show with a critical eye. Only afterwards did we learn the truth.
The show was a success and only afterwards did I tell Tally that it was our first one and that we only started to learn it yesterday. She was surprised, but not as surprised as I was when she told me about the little girl.
Like I said, her screams were just an attempt to communicate, and as such no big deal. Until you discover that in 15 years she’s never made a sound, not one, until today that is, when she saw our show.
Sometimes people ask me how I handle the horrors that I’ve seen in this job, and how can I carry on doing it. Graveyards full of children, ethnically cleansed villages etc. Hell, sometimes I ask myself the same question. Then every now and then, not every tour, not even every year, but just every now and then, the divine truly bless’s me by allowing me to witness a real, honest to goodness miracle. And knowing that the little girl chose that day and our show to try and communicate, was one of those times.
It doesn’t matter what happens now, because of that little girl the whole tours worth it. All the time, effort, headaches and fears I’ve had over the past few months was worth it for that one pure and simple miracle. And I’d like to give a big THANK YOU and loads of BOOMCHUCKA’S to ANDY and THEO whose shows brought about that miracle, and also to a lovely angel called TALLY, whose dreams and pure refusal to fail made it all possible

EPILOGUE
That afternoon, as the storm clouds gathered ever darker in the sky above us, we played games with local youths and Tally’s students in a community hall, using one of the parachutes we’d been donated by THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND (www.anneharris.org) Then they had a disco and, as we sat there, too old to dare and try to be trendy enough to dance, we saw a beautiful sight. Children dancing and laughing together. Not as Muslim and Jewish children. Not as Israeli and Palestinian children, BUT SIMPLY AS CHILDREN. And it’s a shame that the politicians of the world weren’t there to see it. For in that innocent and joyful moment called youth, did I truely see the wisdom of the ancients, the wisdom of brotherhood, of love, and of course, of laugher.
And Again I’d like to thank a very special angel called Tally. Not just for making it possible, but also for inviting me to come and see it.

NOT THE NEWS

Today, as I sit writing my report on East Jerusalem, a Palestinian family in the Jenin area mourns the death of their 10 year old daughter. According to the army, the car her father was driving didn’t slow down at a check point. According to her father, the army didn’t give him chance to slow down. Whatever the case maybe. The fact is that when the bullets entered her skull, another innocent life was lost to the madness of politics, called war.
You won’t hear about it on I.T.N. or B.B.C. news. Why should you? It’s not as if she’s an American or British adult who had a choice about joining the army, or a freedom fighter or terrorist who made a conscious decision to pick up a gun. She is (was) just an innocent child, one of thousands the world over who are born into and killed by, conflict.
I don’t know if she was one of the many children who watched our show a few weeks earlier and, if the truth be known, I don’t want to know (for down that road lies nightmares and madness). All I know is that if the media in Europe put as much energy into reporting on and showing footage of the war here, as they do the war in Iraq. Then we, the British people would put pressure on our government to change our policy towards the two governments here. And that would affect the British companies that make the weapons and other tools of apartheid that are used here on a daily basis.
So the empty place at her family’s dinner tables, like the empty desk in her classroom, go unnoticed by us, the so called civilised west. But to her family and friends I give my sincere and heart felt condolences, and to my government, whose policies allow this situation to continue, my sincere and heart felt contempt.

EAST JERUSALEM
Jerusalem is a modern thinking city where Jews and Arabs live side by side in relative peace, unless you look behind the scenes that is, or to be more precise, East Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem is not part of the west bank and as such does not come under the control of the Palestinian authority; instead it’s technically controlled by the Israeli government. The trouble is that, because it’s inhabited by Palestinians, they’d rather it wasn’t there. So there’s no police etc to keep law and order in a community where poverty and state enforced restriction of movement means that boredom is endemic.
Boredom and state oppression nearly always bring about the same results, a feeling of self worthlessness and inability to change your situation. This results in drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and religious fanaticising. The belief that the balance between “the cause” and your own “self worthlessness” is so one sided that “yes, the cause is worth blowing myself up for”. The result is a refugee camp with wild children, the sort that are fun to work with and make this job so interesting.

It was Friday, which meant that there was a bigger than normal amount of people on the bus to there camp (Friday is a holy day to Muslims and they’d been to “the dome of the rock”, a very holy mosque in the old town). But we persevered and eventfully, cramped and crowded, 4 clowns arrived at sul fit camp.
The show was to be held outside, in a children’s centres playground just inside the camp and around 150 children were already there waiting for us.
The children were excited and rowdy but good natured when we arrived, and what stone throwing there was, was done softly and without malice (I think). Almost as if it was a habit, one they think is expected of them.
They really enjoyed the show, even Matt’s part went down well, and one group, in the left-hand corner, would occasionally start chanting and clapping in a way that reminded me of fans at a football match.
After the show we chatted with the youth workers and arranged to come back the next day to run workshops, teaching the youth worker’s such things as parachute games etc. Then we took the bus back to the town centre. On the way we had to stop at a check point. They only really check people entering the Jewish areas, not leaving them. I guess that’s because they don’t care if an Israeli is planning to attack Palestinians, only the other way round.
The young blonde female soldier who checked our passports had a stern look on her face which, mixed with her uniform just made her look more sexy (sorry, but it did). She started asking Andy about his visa (he hasn’t got one. He asked the airport not to stamp his passport so they stamped a piece of paper instead. Then they ripped it up, knowing he’d get crap for it. His reply was to glue a picture of “Winne the Poo” in his passport and tell them that’s his visa). I tried to intervene by commenting on her ear rings and how nice they were (well, you never know your luck, and I am a sucker for uniforms). But she managed to ignore my advances with a self discipline that the army would be proud of. However, she did leave soon as she could, probably due to the fact that her will was weakening (well, a man can dream). So, heart broken, I carried on back to the town centre and the FAISAL HOSTEL near Damascus gate.

The Faisal is a great place, I really like it. It’s always full of European activists and independent journalists. This means that there are always people there with their ear to the ground. People who know what’s happening and can advise us on how to travel, what to watch out for etc, always a handy thing. It cost 25 shekels a night (8 shekels =£1) and comes with free internet access. Compare this with the 10 shekels an hour the internet cafes cost and you soon realise that I’m saving money by staying there.
The Faisal hostel is run by an amazing man called Hisham. His name means “the chosen one”, quite appropriate when you realise that he was born on the 25th of December.
I’m not the one to comment on his past. It’s enough to say that he now believes that non violent direct action is the path he should follow. As such he was a founding member of the I.S.M. (International Solidarity Movement, an organisation that supports Palestian’s rights).
His very, VERY well connected, so when he tells someone “I’m watching you” (In a nice way) you feel a lot safer. Some friends of mine, who once worked in Gaza, returned to find out that Hisham knew more about their movements than they did!!!
And sometimes, when it’s been one of those days. When the show wasn’t that good, or the organising was crap, when internal politics get you down. To come back to the Faisal and see Hisham’s beaming face and hear him say “Peat, I love you more”. Does more for me than anything else here, even the beer.
I feel not just lucky, but also proud to know him and list him as one of the few people I call “habibi”.

The days workshops was a big success (Here I have to admit that the juggling workshops were not my idea, they came from the rest of the group). They learnt parachute games and juggling, and Theo spent some time repairing a broken wire mesh fence which had sharp bits sticking out.
Then in the afternoon some kids turned up and we hung out with them. No longer performers, now mates (and as such, not to be stoned).
Then they had a mock wedding, two youngsters getting married. It was so much fun, with posh dresses and a really good, cool child drummer. Lots of hand clapping and dancing. The bride was a wicked dancer (I’ve included a picture of her in the attachments). It was one of those special moments, made even more magical by it’s spontaneity. One I’ll never forget.
And as I stood there, amazed by their zest and fire for life, and the way that those who have nothing, not even hope, always seem to the one’s that laugh easiest. I realised that it was a stark reminder of a belief that I hold close to my heart. That all children, regardless of race or religion, irrespective of political and economic status, all children are just that, i.e. CHILDREN
Isn’t it a shame that, whoever killed a 10 year old girl (and half a dozen other kids since I’ve been here), doesn’t feel the same. And that we; the powerful west, do so little to enlighten him.

Boomchucka.

To Russia with Love

(A tour of Beslan, Ossia, Russia)

DAY ONE, THE JOURNEY

Thanks to a good friend called CHRIS HARRIS I am now the proud owner of a laptop computer. Brought for me so that I can publicise my work with children affected by conflict and/or trauma. But don’t worry; I’m not off to Iraq or anywhere that dangerous this time. Instead I’m off to Heathrow and a plane to Moscow, Russia. Once there we turn right and fly to Beslan in the southern mountain rang known as the Caucasus Mountains, near Georgia, for a few days work. You might remember Beslan; it’s the place near Chechnya where the freedom fighters took over a school and held kids and adult’s hostage, resulting in the massacre of over 300 people, and loads of trauma for those who survived.

The trips been organized by a nice man called SIMON JOSEPH, he works for a company that takes business men to Russia and wants to give something back. So he contacted an agent called missing link and asked them if they knew of any entertainers who would give up a week, free of charge, to go to a part of Russia known for kidnapping and terrorist activity, and do stuff with children of conflict.

“Funny enough” they said, “we know just the man”, but he wasn’t available so they got me instead. In fact they got 3 of us. Pablito, a Spanish clown, Robbie, a magician, and yours truly, Mr. DevilStick Peat.

SWISSAIR and SIBERIAN AIRLINES have kindly donated the flights and given us extra weight allowance. The wonderful ladies from THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND (WWW.ANNEHARRIS.ORG) have been up late every night sewing the 2 play parachutes that I’m taking with me (and donating to the schools there so that some of the fun carries on after we’ve left). They are big and blue and have cute little fish sewn on them. They look great and I can’t thank Anne or her helpers (Jo, Di, Ross etc) enough, not just for the parachutes, but also for their moral support over the last year. Another good friend of mine SIR HENRY LAWRENCE has arranged for the translation of the parachute games into Russian and also kindly donated a digital camera. MATT COPPER has supplied us with a camcorder so that I can keep a video diary, and a really nice hotel in Moscow called THE KATERINA (WWW.KATERINA.MSK.RU) has given us rooms free of charge in Moscow, whilst the hotel Vladderkovkoz is putting us up free of charge in Vladderkovkoz. All of which makes this little trip quite a group effort.

If it wasn’t for people doing these little things I wouldn’t be able to do this, so if any of you know any of these people, please tell them that I, and the children of Beslan, say thanks.

There had been a rugby match in Cardiff (Wales’s v Australia) so the train was full up of drunken yet good-humored fans. Unfortunately it was also late which meant that I missed the last train to Heathrow, so I took the night bus’s and got there at around 3; 30 a.m. At about 4 a.m. Robbie and Pablo arrived.

I was so tiered that by the time we took off for Zurich I was already asleep and didn’t really wake up until just before we touched down. On the plane from Zurich to Moscow I stayed awake just long enough to read a report in Newsweek, stating that the area we were heading for, North Ossetia, (on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains) is on the brink of civil war. Then I slipped back into sleep, satisfied that Newsweek thinks this is my sort of place.

At Moscow we collected our bags and I suggested to the others that, for a joke, we should hang back and let Simon (who was already in Moscow) panic and think we didn’t catch the plane.

We laughed and joked and hung back, then went through the arrivals door to meet Simon. He wasn’t there!

“That’s it,” I thought, “either his late, his pulling the same joke on us as we pulled on him, or any moment now I’m going to get a call from Simon in London saying “Aprils fool”.

A few minutes latter Simon turned up apologizing for being late and we left the airport and headed into downtown Moscow via a train that took us through a snow leaden wood of silver birch trees.

Moscow’s cold, but not as cold as I thought it would be and nowhere near as cold as Cardiff was when I left. Even so, I’m glad that I brought my full-length red and yellow coat. Not just for the warmth but also because of the reaction I get when I enter a café, or walk down the street (well I am a performer). It’s made of wool to a 15th century design by a medieval re-enactor known as duke Henry Plantagenet and is long and thick enough to spend a night curled up in around a bonfire.

Robbie, Pablo and I are pretty much the same as any other entertainers, I.E. we cover up our nervousness by performing and clowning around, including on the train, in the street, in the café, everywhere. Resulting in strange bemused looks from those around us.

At the hotel we spent a couple of hours freshening up (And discovering the delights of the in room mini bar) before going out for a meal and a quick look at red square.

In red square there’s a flame burning there in honor of the Unknown Soldier and being an ex-squaddie myself I removed my hat and had a few seconds silence, “lest we forget” before jokingly daring Pablo to light his cigarette on it.

Simon played the tour guide and pointed out things like Lenin’s tome, the army barracks that were “accidentally“ burnt down and replaced by a new shopping mall (luckily for Russia, the cranes etc that were needed to rebuild it just happened to be in place the day BEFORE it burnt down. Handy that). Then we headed on to the restaurant via an evil underground system.

I say evil because of the gates. In London you have gates that open when you put your ticket in the slot, but not in Russia, oh no. Here you have gates that stay open until you DON’T show a ticket, then these two eunuch making gates swing out and down with a speed and force reminiscent of Mr. Guillotine himself.

The restaurant was under ground in a place that seemed reminiscent of the caverns where the Beatles used to play, and here we met up with Umbria, an English lady who works for a charity in Chechnya (I’ve already decided that I want to go there and see the other side of the story so maybe she’s my way in), Madina, a Russian friend of Simon who’s from the area and is coming with us, and Zazar, his a surgeon from Moscow who’s parents live in Beslan and his taken us under his wing. Apparently, when he was a child he wanted to grow up and be a clown. From what I’ve seen of him he is a clown, a natural one, who’s loving the excuse to be silly in public.

After the meal we returned to the hotel for 1 vodka before bed (well it is Russia) and 3 or 4 vodkas latter that’s just what a very tiered yet happy fool did.

DAY TWO

I awoke at around 6:30, cursed my headache and lack of sleep, drunk loads of water and started to write up about the day before, then met the others for breakfast. Robbie was late and still half asleep when the hotel sales manager came along and thanked us for what we are doing for the children, but he soon woke up when the manager concluded by telling us that we are brave heroes as he wouldn’t dare to go there. Just what you need to hear at breakfast.

After breakfast we headed off on the next leg of the journey, stopping off at the Swiss air office to thank the lady who arranged the free flights. There was an embarrassing moment when both Pablo and I told her that our bags had been damaged in transit. But we managed to laugh our way through it before heading off to the train station.

As the train headed to the airport, so Robbie kept us (and a couple of on lookers) amused with magic tricks with elastic bands and rope.

The flight to Vladikavkaz (or bloody couscous as I call it) took a couple of hours in a small jet and as we started to descend through the clouds we could see the Caucasus Mountains standing tall and Tolken like beneath us. I love mountains and as I gazed out at their steep, jagged and snow capped peaks I remembered Henry (who’s part Russian) telling me a nursery rhyme from the area. The words of which were something like

“Hush baby don’t cry

Daddies gone to kidnap a rich Cossack

So when he comes home we will have food for a week”

Suddenly the words of the hotel manager seemed less funny.

There was a film crew at the airport and a beautiful young lady with a bouquet of flowers, but not for us. Although within a few minutes of seeing us they decided to start filming, probably something to do with the endless ping-pong balls that I was repeatedly regurgitating, much to the amusement of the official who tried his best to look stern as he checked our passports.

Outside the airport we realised that it’s a lot warmer here than in Moscow, or indeed Britain (a nice comfortable 15%). We also realised that the bus was late so, being 3 clowns who’d been cooped up on a plane for 2 hours, we done what we do best, I.E. clowning around. The cleaners, police, and onlookers loved it but even so, the soldier with the A.K.47 assault rifle still wouldn’t let me balance it on my chin. (Spoil sport).

Eventually we split up, some of us went in a taxi and the rest went with Zazar’s father (who’d turned up to welcome us), and headed off south towards the not so distant mountains and the town of bloody couscous.

On route Madina pointed out Table Mountain (so called because of its flat top), a distillery, and the new graveyard. So many children died here that they had to build a new one to fit them all in. A sobering sight that reminded me of why we’re here.

We’ve all agreed that it’s important that we go and visit the graves, pay our respect to those we can never entertain, but I’m dreading it because I know it will hurt. You’d think that by now, after the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen and heard that I’d be used to it, but I’m not and don’t think that I ever will be. Indeed, the day it doesn’t hurt is the day I should quit this line of work.

The town it’s self is similar to most small post communist towns and reminds me of Kirkuk on the mountainous boarder between Kosovo and Albania. Its roads are straight and grid like with cattle that roam free on its outskirts, causing cars to suddenly brake and me to wish that the taxi had seat belts.

Simon took us to the hotel, unfortunately it was the wrong hotel and after a joke with the staff about sleeping on the floor we left and walked to the right one. On route 2 gipsy looking children came running up to Robbie and Pablo, hands outstretched in anticipation. As soon as they had paid up the kids came running up to me, unfortunately I don’t pay begging children, well, not with money anyway.

By the time the 5th ball had come out of my mouth they’d forgotten about begging and started laughing. For about ten minutes they walked along with me, laughing and squealing with delight each time I produced a new ball or seemingly pulled off a finger. The soberness of the graveyard was behind me now, lost to the joy of the moment.

Street kids are the same the world over. They all come running up with a hand outstretched. All look really startled when I do some simple magic, and all crave the attention that most adults cross the road to avoid giving them.

That night Simon and I met with the local minister of education and confirmed every thing was ready for us, and then we went out for dinner.

We walked to a restaurant and asked for a table, then we saw two small booths, one had a table for two in it and the other had a table for 8 in it. They were small private booths with curtains and designed for lovers (although why two lovers would want a table for eight is beyond me. Maybe the men here have more stamina than me). Every time the waitress came in she would knock first, although what she thought we were getting up to is no ones business. As we eat we discussed the show, who would do what when and were.

DAY THREE

Today’s the day. After months of planning, meetings, etc today’s the day we finery do our thing for the children of Beslan.

The first day of a show, the opening night (even though it’s morning) is always nerve racking. We all know our own shows are good, but we’ve never worked together before and so have no idea what the whole thing will look like.

It’s about a 20-minute drive to Beslan and at the entrance to the town is a heavy police presence, one of which really didn’t like it when he caught me filming him.

After the attack two new schools were built and in true Russian style they were given numbers rather than names, so what for us was school number one is in fact school number 8 (confused? you will be).

There was an armed guard at the gates, who kept on apologizing for checking our bags, but orders are orders, and after what happened here you can’t blame them.

The fun started as soon as we got out of the cars, Pablo messing about and mimicking people, me doing the ping pong balls (for a change) as we enter the school and head upstairs, pass another guard and into the theatre which had a real stage, a great start to the tour.

Once backstage we quickly worked out a running order and then I went to the door to mess around while they come in (what we in the trade call “meet and greet”).

The kids filed into the hall, accompanied by the occasional scream as woodbine (my furry rat like puppet) stuffed his nose in ears, bags, and anywhere else that would get a reaction, once they were inside the show started with me as the opening act, juggling 3 balls to “Here comes the sun” by the Beatles.

It’s a song that has special memories for me of Kosovo and the way the kids laughed at our shows, and lets face it, that’s what this work is all about, bringing a bit of sunshine into their life’s.

Pablo’s act is great. His one of these people who can just look at you and you have to laugh. The kids were in fits of laugher before he’d even started. He does a rolla-bolla routine (rolla-bolla is a tube with a short plank placed on top of it on which you balance). It’s based around the fact that he can’t do it and, in true clown style gets hurt and falls over a lot. Then at the end he does a skilful bit and ends up flipping the plank up on end between his legs, pretending to hit himself where it hurts.

Robbie was introduced as the ‘Koldoon Kavkaza’ (the ‘Wizard of the Caucasus’) and amazed the kids with humorous magic tricks that had everyone laughing.

My second spot on stage was the devil sticks, performed to a song by Punjabi m.c. I do like him and really must get some more of his stuff.

At the risk of sounding egotistical

WE ROCKED

The kids loved it and so did we.

By the time we’d finished we were buzzing with energy and adrenaline. Which is just as well as all too soon the children had filed out and the next audience (older children this time) was getting ready to file in

After the shows came the bit I’d been waiting for, parachute games. Because I hadn’t had a chance or room enough to fully open the parachutes yet, I was dying to see what they look like. They are great, more than great, and when the children shake it the fish look like they are swimming in waves. I really hope that the people who made them are proud of their work, they should be.

We played the games outside on the grass and I’m not sure who had the most fun, the children or Simon (who was interpreting for me). But all good things come to an end and all to soon it was time to finish up and say our good byes, stopping at the guard to jokingly offer up our bags for searching before getting into the car that Zarzar had borrowed from his father.

I’d forgotten just how much energy playing games with kid’s uses and once the buzz-fuelled energy wore off I fell asleep in the car. When I awoke it was close to sunset and to my surprise we hadn’t headed home. Instead we were in the mountains, on route to a ruined castle.

They really are amazing mountains with breathtakingly wonderful views and crystal clear rivers that roar as they cascade down to the plans below. Occasionally we stop and get out to take in the view and the warmth of the wind surprises me. As it gets darker and darker so the road gets smaller and smaller before turning in to a rocky track. I look out of my window at the long drop, which starts two feet away from the wheels and ends way off in the distance. I look ahead and try not to think about what would happen if we go over the edge, but fail miserably.

The tracks ends and still we continual up hill (well, up mountain), driving off road in a beat up old Volga at angles that make me wonder why it didn’t roll over.

Zarzar tells us that there’s a plague graveyard here somewhere, one of only two of it’s kind in the world and 5 minutes latter it appears in the headlights. It’s dark as we get out and stear out across a valley, way down below are the lights of a small town which houses a clinic for people with resoptarorty problems. In more peaceful times it was also a tourist town with people coming here for the skiing and climbing.

After a few minutes we return to the car and decide to head back down as we need to eat. As the car reaches the track the dog that chased as uphill now runs like crazy as we chase it back down. Then we hit the road again and continual down hill until we come to a restaurant owned by Zazar’s uncle. (In hindsight I think the whole trip was suggested by Zarzar so that he could bring us here).

There’s a young couple sitting at a table, and a man singing and playing an electric organ at about 3 decibels louder than is comfortable for my hearing. A blond lady who speaks some English produces bottles of vodka and a menu. As we wait for our meal other diners enter, including 4 men and what I presume are their wife’s and girlfriends. They catch my attention for several reasons. Not lest of which is the fact that they remind me of Serbian paramilitary’s, not just in their build, but also in their manumissions, but this is Russia, not Serbia so I try to put the thought out of my mind. After all, the bulge I notice at the back of the waist of two of them might just be thick wallets and not pistols.

The blond lady takes the microphone and tells the room why we are in Russia and asks if we’d do a little something for the people here. We of cause agree and each does a little something in between rounds of vodka, food and more vodka.

The people who reminded me of Serbians invite us to their table and, in between long toast made in Ossetian and Russian, tell us some of the background on the events surrounding the Beslan massacre.

There’s a difference of opinion about what happened and who none what when. Some say that it was just Chechens who took part; others say that it was a mixture of Chechens and Ingush, the other local tribe. (There’s a lot of tension between Ossetian and Ingush people). The government say they killed or captured all the gang, others say that some got away in the confusion. What ever the truth is, the fact is that over 300 innersent people, a vast majority of which were children, died in a senseless act of brutality that affected not just the people of Beslan, but Ossetian people everywhere. Then I learn something that amazes me.

I knew this is a “blood feud” area, reminiscent of Albania, but after the atrocity, not one revenge killing took place, NOT ONE!!! Meetings were held, arguments were thought through, but the town decided not to perpetuate the situation by doing what honor and tradition demanded. The decision was made that the horror of Beslan must stop, and stop NOW. The guts, wisdom and strength that must of took. I don’t think that I have ever meet such a wise race of people ever, nor will I again. If only more people, politicians and countries learned from this wise and ancient race then my job would be so much easier.

DAY FOUR

We leave the hotel and discover that the people from last night, the one’s I thought were Mafia types are waiting for us with a mini bus. They have adopted us and taken us under their wing. As we get into the back part of me silently wonders if we have been very nicely kidnapped. Another part of me says, “Not yet, first they’d let us work for the kids, then they kidnap us”.

I have a belief that when a whole nation or race suffers a collective trauma the safest person to be is the one who helps the children recover. After all, to pick on that man results in the children suffering even more, and that just isn’t worth the risk, not if you have to live there (and want to carry on living). So far that theosophy has been proved right in several conflict and kidnap areas. Let’s just hope it doesn’t let me down now.

Even if they are kidnapping us, the fact is I have more important things on my mind. Like 3 shows and the mother of all headaches (dam all those toasts last night, but it’s difficult to say no when his 4 times as wide as you and has a bulge in his belt. Even more so if you’re me).

At the second school we play in there’s an old lady who sits dead centre of the audience. Her face is like stone and a fearsome sight. I think to myself that if we can get her to smile then we must be the best clowns ever but try as we might her deadpan mask remains unchanging.

Due in Pablo’s rolla-bolla routine he falls to the floor and instantly 3 or 4 kids invade the stage and help him up. It was brilliant. Normally when the clown is down kids tend to kick or punch him, but not these kids. They really want to help. The trouble is it kind of stops his funny “I can’t get up routine”. So once the kids leave the stage he falls over again. This time half a dozen kids charge forward and help him up. Again he falls over and loads of kids are there, almost fighting each other in an attempt to be the ones who help him. Again they leave the stage but this time they are all posed, ready to charge and help him. It was the funniest and most beautiful moment of the tour and how that old lady managed to keep a straight face is beyond me.

That night our friendly kidnapers/guardians met us for dinner. We were tiered from the last few days of working, traveling and vodka laden toasts and just wanted to have a quiet meal in town then retire for the night. Our friends however had other ideas. They’d booked a table in a restaurant a few miles out of town and really wanted us to join them. Robbie is coming down with a cold and so decided to head back. Madina, who really doesn’t like these people, used escorting him home as an excuse to back out of the meal.

Simon has come up with the expression, “aggressive hospitality” to describe the way they look after us. Eventually we give in and agree to go to the restaurant with them and travel in two taxis. Russia is like Iraq when it comes to taxis I.E. every car is a taxi. You just put your hand out, someone stops, and you agree a price and jump in.

In all honesty I’m pretty sure that we are safe, but I’m also pretty sure that we’re partying with the Russian mafia and part of me wonders why it is that, when I do this type of job, I always seem to end up being befriended by gangster types. I think part of it is politics. They want to be seen by the locals as NICE axe welding sycomaniacs. Also, being of a less moral nature means they know just how dangerous this area is, and feel honor bound to protect us.

At the restaurant we are shown to a private room and have a meal fit for a king. The table, as big as it is, is not big enough to hold the endless plates of food that keeps appearing via a pretty blond waitress. Pablo jokingly comments on how pretty she is and we are immediately offered women should we want

“You want anything,” says one of them “women or anything at all just say and we will get it for you free”.

“And if you ever need to hide from the police or anyone” adds another “come here and we will hide you”

Although the meal is a laid back affair it includes lots of long, drawn out formal toasts, complete with a toastmaster. He is the youngest of them and the one I like most. Of all of them he is the one who I think has more morals. The toasts are conducted in a preset order. The first one is always to god, the second to those traveling the road. At one point I ask permission to make a toast and once permission is given I tell them that it’s my belief that every adult on this planet is personally responsible for and to every child on this planet, and ask them to raise their glass’s to our children everywhere. This impresses the toastmaster as this was the 4th toast and, according to tradition the 4th toast is meant to be to children. Pablo is impressed simply because it was a quick one (well he gets bored quickly, especially when he can’t understand what’s being said).

By the end of the meal I am 100 percent sure of 2 things.

A) That we are partying with the local mafia types.

B) That we are in no danger.

Despite everything, these are honorable people whose only wish is to look after us and thank us for our work. In Albania they say that you’re allowed to be a bandit if your children are hungry and let’s face it, who amongst us wouldn’t rob to feed their children. I know I would, and maybe our friends are no different (so I’m a trusting soul).

After the meal we enter the main hall where the other diners are eating. There’s a two-man band singing and playing music. A song is dedicated to us and we boogie on down for another hour or so before taking a taxi back to our hotel. As we leave the restaurant Pablo says, “ When I count to 3, we all run before they kidnap us”.

All joking aside they really did treat us like kings. No one can ever say that the noble and ancient people of Ossetia lack generosity.

At the hotel the floor lady tells us that her sister was killed in the massacre and then she gives us a book. It’s by a local poet and it includes photo’s of all those killed. As she talks to us about it we flick through the pages. Both Pablo and I have tears in our eyes. Its one thing to see it on telly but quite another to go there and feel their hurt. It will be a very very long time until I’ll be able to look at that book with dry eyes.

DAY FIVE

Robbie leaves today. He has a gig he can’t get out of. After the shows he will catch the plane back, as we must go tomorrow. We go out for breakfast and Robbie tells us that last night he was worried that we wouldn’t come back. Madina joined us and so did one of the mafia, the younger one who I liked.

The first show is in a school where Madina worked. She’d spent 4 months here earlier this year with John a psychiatrist/drama teacher. They were getting children from Ossetian and Ingush schools together doing drama workshops. Trying to increase their stunted imaginations whilst convincing them that they can be friends with the other ethnic group.

When we arrive there we are told that only one ethnic group are there. Apparently the Ingush children haven’t come because several people from their village were kidnapped the day before. The school is old and deferentially the poorest one we’ve been to, yet to me it was the nicest due to all the anti war posters that the children have drawn and put on the walls.

Parachute games are difficult as it’s raining outside and the hall is too small for the parachute. Add to this the excitement of the children and you’ve a disaster waiting to happen, resulting in the games being cut short.

After the show comes the part I’ve been dreading, the visit to the graves, but it’s important to go there, not just to pay our respect but also to help us comprehend the scale of what happened here.

We arrive at the graveyard at around 2 p.m. At the entrance is a big golden statue, maybe 20 feet high. It has 4 women in traditional dress standing in a circle, facing outwards. Their arms are raised above their heads and their hands are holding a mesh of thick branches upon which are little child like angles. Placed around it are huge wreaths and a large light brown teddy bear.

As I get out of the van crows dip and weave through the sky behind the graveyard.

To one side of the statue stand 4 large black marble slabs upon which is engraved the names of the departed. I counted 21 names in a column and two columns of names per slab.

“Jesus” I think, “that makes 168 names”. I stand there for a few minutes trying to comprehend how anything that calls itself human could do this to children, then, as I turn to enter the graveyard I realize that on the other side is another 4 large black slabs full of even more names. I do a quick bit of maths and my eyes start to water. Most of these people, a huge majority of them were CHILDREN

The graves their self’s are all made of matching reddish brown marble and stand in 6, incredibly long rows. Upon each one is a photo of the person whose grave it is, and at the base of those of the children are placed their favorite toys and cans of pop or sweets. At the base of the adults ones are their favorite brand of cigarettes or other personal reminders.

I recognize some of the photos from the book the floor lady had given us the night before. One is of a child only 4 years old. Another is of a 15-year-old girl. She looks radiant dressed in a long white bridesmaid dress. So full of pride and promise. A promise that now will never be fulfilled.

Tears roll down my cheeks as I look at grave after grave after grave. In my time I’ve seen some horrid reminders of mans hatred of man. The shadows of those we burnt in Al Amiria, Iraq. Forever scorched into the bomb shelters concrete floor. The white bricks that represent the missing Kosovo’s in gjakova, but this… I still can’t comprehend how people can do this to children.

I have no idea how long we spent there, each lost in his own thoughts, but eventually it’s time to leave and head for the next school. The ten-minute drive is spent in quiet contemplation.

At the next school Zarzar is waiting for us and as I go to step out of the mini bus he takes hold of my shoulders and stares hard into my eyes. He says nothing. He doesn’t have to. He can tell by my eyes where we’ve been and knows that there are no words to say.

After the show the editor of the local paper invites us to her house for some food. Robbie has to leave for his plane but the rest of us go along, stopping first at a music school as Pablo wants to buy an accordion and this place might know where to get one cheap. As people talk in the headmaster’s office so I try to keep my mind occupied by messing around with kids outside. After half an hour we head on to the editors home.

She reminds me of everyone’s grandmother. The type who always has a pot of chicken soup on the brew. She’s put on a big spread for us; unfortunately no one told her that we’re veggie. (Next time we should call it “veggie clowns on tour”; people might get the hint then). Like any self-respecting grandmother she apologizes for not having any veggie food in the house, then promptly over-fills the table with lovely veggie food and of cause, vodka.

Her house is within spiting distance of the remains of the besieged school. She tells us how her daughter was killed in the siege and how it took 5 days to find her body. Zarzar is sitting next to me and covers his eyes to try and hide the tears that are pouring down his face. I put my arm around him to try and comfort him, but how can you comfort someone whose people have been through this. He shows me a photo of a 4 year old he operated on (his a surgeon). They not only put a knife in the child’s stomach, but also then proceeded to wiggle it around. As I hug him I feel the anger burn inside of me. It is my sincere hope that those who caused this atrocity to happen die a very slow, cancerous death.

The editor then tells us that it wasn’t Chechnya people that caused this to happen, but Ingush. “Chechynions could never do such a thing; they are good people, but the Ingush…”

For myself I don’t know whose version of it is right. All I know is that it must never be allowed to happen again, NEVER

After the meal we head for the home of Zazar’s father for even more food (and of cause, the compulsory bottle or 10 of vodka).

We meet his family, the next-door neighbor, and the young mafia guy and his girlfriend. As per-normal in Ossetia, the toasting is a formal affair. Spoken with the reverence of a prayer they are said in Ossetian first, then Russian, so that Simon can translate them for us, (Simon is a great translator, I wonder if he realizes just how great a job he did). This takes time and Pablo gets bored, preferring to play games with the families’ pet budgie.

The neibour is the head of a school and asked us if we could come their and perform tomorrow. Simon translates this and waits for Pablo’s and mine answers. It was going to be an easy day, maybe a drive in the mountains before the flight home. We don’t hesitate in our answers. After what we’ve seen and the hospitality we have been shown there’s just no way to say no.

Eventually the night is over and it’s time to leave. We get into a car with the mafia man and his girlfriend. She is in the front with Pablo and his sitting in the back, between Simon and I.

He starts talking, one of his drunken speeches but Pablo’s had enough and turns the car stereo up so that it’s too loud for him to talk. His girlfriend finds this funny and turns it up even more. Because Simon is filming the view out the window he doesn’t see what happens next.

The mafia man leans across me and opens the window then his right arm reaches behind him to the bulge at the back of his waist, the one that I said could have been a thick wallet. IT ISN’T.

“HIS GOT A GUN” I say as he pulls it out, cocks it and leans across me to fire it out of the window and up in the air.

His girlfriend shouts at him, telling him off, but he just laughs, happy with the fact that his got her attention. Pablo thinks his bust a balloon, Simon thinks it was a firecracker, I think I need new underwear.

It was horrible, I wasn’t sober enough to guarantee being able to take it off of him (even if I was, his 3 times as wide as me), and really didn’t want to have a struggle in the back of a cramped car as that could of resulted in bullets going anywhere, including into the driver. I had a good idea that he was going to fire it out of the window but even so, sitting there watching him pull it and doing nothing was scary as hell.

Back at the hotel they are shocked when I tell them what happened and replay the tape in the camera. Sure enough you can hear it all, the cocking of the gun, me stating what’s happening, the opening of my bottom, the whole lot.

DAY SIX

We have breakfast and book out of the hotel then head off towards tino’s school. It’s just Pablo and me now as Robbie left yesterday. I warm the audience up with some silly balloon routines then Pablo and I take it in turns to go on stage doing things. As a final finally we get the headmaster to stand between us as we pass 6 clubs around him. In his mouth is a cigarette and Pablo knocks it out with a club.

I like this teacher. He looks like the sort of man who works with kids because he likes them, not just for money. (But then the only mafia type to wave a gun near me was the one I thought had morals).

After the show our mafia friends take us for dinner, after which we are due to go do something in a hospital so I stay in costume, glad of the fact that another show is a good reason to stay sober whilst around the armed mobsters.

The dinner takes longer than we hoped, due mainly to the length of the toasts, but eventually we head off to the hospital.

Alas we are too late for the children’s clinic but a rather amused police lady (even the hospital has armed guards) takes us to meet the doctor that Simon knows. We talk for a while, he proves he can juggle, so I take on his role, pull out his cigarettes and tell him off for smoking. Then all of a sudden it’s time to go and we head straight for the airport. That’s when I realize that I’m still in costume.

At the airport some rather bemused staff check my passport etc as I stand there, straight faced in a fools costume. Then I get changed, unfortunately there’s no toilet to get changed in so I have to do it there and then. Boy, am I glad that I have a full-length coat to change under.

As the plane takes off I take one last look at the Caucasus Mountains. They are beautiful and radiant as they stand tall and proud above the green planes below. Then I think about the Ossetian people.

They are a race that is slowly dyeing out. In Georgia, after the war, they had to change their names and forsake their past. And those who committed this terrible act know that. Which is why the attack was not just an attack on Russia, but also an attack on the whole Ossetian race. Yet despite this they refused to retaliate, not even the mafia types. I don’t think I’ve ever met a race that wise and honorable. I’m proud to have met them, all of them. Be they a teacher or a cleaner, mafia or manager. That one act of none-retaliation proved that there’s more wisdom and honor in their small race than in the rest of the world put together.

That night we are back in Moscow and partying in a nightclub. I perform the ping-pong ball routine for two children there. The nightclub owner see’s me doing it and it turns out that they are related to him. He takes me outside and tells me (via Simon) how he dreams of being a traveling clown. He looks impressed when Simon tells him I already am. When (not if but when) we return to Russia and Ossetia we have a paid gig at his club. Which would be nice. (I love doing this work but at the same time I have bills to pay, Xmass prezzies to buy, women to woo, so a paid gig now and then is handy.)

Back inside I tell Pablo that one day a young lady will see me doing that trick and be so amazed that she’ll offer to sleep with me, he laughs. 5 minutes latter there’s this lovely sexy young lady laughing at the routine. Then she’s offering me the chance to go home with her. I refuse. The instincts that get me in and (more importantly) out of conflict zones are still in force. There’s no way I’m going anywhere alone with a stranger, not even a sexy one.

DAY SEVEN

I’m up early, about 4 hours before the rest and spend the time catching up on this diary. When they arise it’s nearly mid-day and we have arranged to meet Madina for lunch. At the restaurant there’s a Russian clown who gives me a balloon before I leave. Then we head for the airport. Simon’s not with us as he has another flight booked. In the airport I buy a t-shirt that appeals to my warped sense of humor. It has the words “Kalashnikov, tested the world over” on it.

Then, laughing and joking, a clown and a fool who’ve just shown laughter to the kids, and solidarity to the parents, get on a plane and fly home to England, happy in the knowledge that it was a job well done.

P.S. the two parachutes that were so kindly donated by THE ANNE HARRIS CHILDREN’S FUND (WWW.ANNSHARRIS.ORG) were donated to the two schools that took in the child survivors.

P.P.S. We’ll be back next year