Sunday 27 December 2020

Quentin Blake's 'Clown' and Covid

 What does a picture book with no words tell us about Covid? 

The story is of a toy clown who is discarded along with some other old toys. However, this 'toy' has a life, and so wakes up out of the bin (trash can). He has a scary time avoiding dangers but in the end arrives in the room of a girl struggling to keep a baby happy. The clown is able to entertain the baby, help the girl clean and tidy the room. The mother of the girl and the baby comes back and all is well.

This wonderful book - which I recommend to anyone and everyone of any age is in its own way a morality fable. Why is the clown discarded? Is he too old, or is he too much connected with someone's childhood. Originally I interpreted it (my reading) was that Quentin was saying something about the dangers of discarding our childhoods (which the clown represents). Or perhaps why neglect the arts (which the clown could represent)? 

In the light of Covid, and as an example of how interpretations can change over time, how the arts can apply in different ways in different conditions, the clown  now represents for me, the dangers of throwing away experience - old age if you like. This is precisely what was done when a group of scientists, journalists and politicians flirted with 'herd immunity' without vaccination in the first weeks of 2020. They were prepared to sacrifice the old, sick, vulnerable and high risk on the grounds that the 'rest' would be saved as - supposedly - immunity through exposure would spread through the rest of the population. This was a theory that had been shown to be either false or lethal for millions, on countless occasions through history e.g. the Black Death, Dutch Elm Disease, the rabbit disease - mixamatosis and so on. 

But back to 'Clown': I see the 'old'  Clown showing us that he is still 'useful', he shouldn't have been discarded, and that through his kindness, fun and solidarity with the other discarded toys that he has a social conscience that we can't afford to lose. Of course he also shows that kindness in what he does for the girl and the baby. 

I always loved the book. I now love it even more. I think Quentin Blake is a great artist in both senses of the word; someone who draws and paints, but also as a great creator of the arts. 

The book is now my Covid morality fable. Thank you Quentin.