Liam Farrell: Clowns in the NHS? Don't make me laugh

I brought my daughter Gracie to hospital outpatients last week and when we went in through the department doors we were met by a pair of clowns; nothing surprises me about the NHS anymore.

They are called Clown Doctors, require a six-week training course and have the admirable goal of making children feel more at ease and making hospitals a more friendly and less intimidating environment (like they've never heard the words Sony PlayStation or Nintendo Wii).

Which was all good, and seemed quite harmless. Gracie and I were agreeably entertained for a few minutes by the clowns and their silly antics, but the true horror was about to dawn; a nurse came along to take Gracie away for some tests, and suddenly I was left alone with the clowns.

If you've read Stephen King's It, you may understand my discomfiture. The clowns, fair play to them, were really professional; no chance of them nipping out for a smoke-break or taking off their wigs and false noses and growling: 'F***ing kids, I hate the sight of 'em'. No, they stayed resolutely in character, making funny faces, taking pratfalls, as the sole member of their audience squirmed in embarrassment. My face was fixed in a false rictus, the best I could do in terms of a grin; getting hit on the head repeatedly by a balloon-on-a-stick rapidly loses its comedic value. I searched desperately for a means of escape; an open window to leap through, for example, or a passing unattended child to seize as a captive audience.

My spirit was breaking and I was just about to tell the clowns: 'Get out of my face before I hurt you,' when my gaze fell on a big red button on the wall; 'Press in case of emergency' it said.

Was it worth it, I wondered? Funny face and false noses, they were an emergency to me, so I inched closer to the button, though in a clandestine manner in case the clowns would notice and be offended.

Just then the nurse came back with Gracie, and I greeted her like she'd been gone for a thousand years.

'Look, darling, the clowns are still here, ain't that just great,' I said, pointing her at them like a weapon.

'Go ahead,' I said, 'make us laugh.'

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