Out of hundreds if not a thousand stilt walking gigs in crazy costumes my favourite venue would have to be Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Not because of the humans cackling at our costumes but because of the reactions of the animals. One night, with another performer, I was dressed as a floaty fairy with giant wings (2-3 metre span) whilst on three foot stilts. We wandered from the dressing room down to where a corporate cocktail party was being held overlooking Sydney Harbour at the bird flight show amphitheatre. We mingled amongst the suited guests for about 15 minutes, then the organisers announced that the bird show would start soon. As we spun around in our costumes a bird keeper approached us.
“You guys have to leave now! We can’t get the birds to come out to put on a show with you two around. The owl is terrified, she thinks you’re gigantic birds of prey.” So we walked away from the function as the sun set over the zoo, and as we made our way back to our dressing room we passed the lower part of the zebra and giraffe enclosure. Realising what a rare opportunity this was to observe the African animals at dusk with no crowds around as they ate, I turned to look at the animals. I saw a bongo frozen in terror at the sight of us. I will never forget the look of fear on the animal’s face as he gaped at us, open mouthed. His look said, “WTF is that?” Then I noticed that the giraffes and the zebra had all stopped eating, they were all staring at us with eyes as big as saucers, the expression on all their faces said, “Is that something that is going to eat me?” We walked away as fast as we could, not wanting to completely freak out these beautiful members of the animal kingdom.
The following year we were invited back for the opening of the newly built zoo entrance, with VIPs and politicians in attendance. This time we were dressed in different animal costumes. I was dressed as an emu on stilts and we mingled amongst the kids and families lined up to go in. I looked up as a keeper in khaki shorts approached us. “You guys will have to go. Mika the seal can’t shake the hand of the premier until the weirdo stilt walkers move away. Her keeper can’t get her to come out.”
There is an old Creole saying: The goat that climbs up the rocks must climb down again.
Earlier this year I went to the Middle East to stilt walk at a fair in front of the Bahraini royal family. As one does in one’s day job. So I had to work while I was there but for me it was a single mother escape with endless joy from the minute I sat down on the plane. I love planes. Someone gives you food regularly, you watch endless TV and films, read pointless magazine articles, someone refills your drink and cleans up your spills and you don’t have to make anyone dinner. What is not to love? When we arrived in Bahrain we had drivers to help with our bags and take us to and from work. I can handle hotels, I really can. Having staff clean the bathroom and make my bed every day was divine. This single mother was loving it. One day after work I had a massage, then sat in the jacuzzi for two hours. Because I could. Someone else was washing my sheets. Free from housework and childcare, I could shop, eat too much food, look at tourist sites and sleep in. When I returned to my darling friends who had looked after my children while I was away, I realised that even though I loved my Middle East adventure, from the camels to the swarthy men, it didn’t really matter where I went, because every servant mother needs to misbehave at least once a year.