Rebecca Front: 'I'd rather flay myself than listen to someone banging on about clown workshops'

Share
Related Topics

I visited England once," said our taxi driver as we sped down one of San Francisco's vertiginous hills, "I was there for a jugglers' convention."

"You juggle?" asked my husband. "Oh yeah," said the guy, with an insouciant air which suggested that most Californians had some kind of circus skill. "Not professionally. I guess I could earn a living from it if I had to, but I don't. Mostly I do it for fun. Juggling helps with pretty well every part of life."

Usually, on our taxi jaunts in different cities of the world, I sit in the back fussing over the children's seatbelts and my husband rides in the front with the driver making small talk. He's better at it than I am; better at deciphering unfamiliar accents over the crackling intrusion of the radio, better at navigating his way out of those awkward political back alleys about 'immigrants bringing the country to ruin', better at asking that supplementary question that leads from the mundane to the interesting and even occasionally bizarre.

But uncharacteristically, he failed to follow up on our driver's last remark, and as our son was making a "what did he mean by that" face at me, I thought I'd better do it.

"You're going to have to elaborate on that," I said. "How has juggling helped your life?"

And he told us.

We've been fortunate enough to travel a good deal in the past decade, but of all the cities we've visited it is San Francisco where I've left my heart. Somehow that hippy spirit of unbuttoned, unwashed abandonment which I find so resistible when it sprawls through London, bothering commuters at times of economic summit, seems less contrived, more integrated into the fabric of a place where the history of the anti- establishment is so strong that it has become the establishment. In San Francisco, I become a more tolerant person than the head-down, purse-clutching, don't-make-eye-contact conformist I am in London. So while in everyday life I would rather flay myself than listen to someone banging on about how clowning workshops would make me a better person, in San Francisco I was willing to give it a fair hearing.

Juggling, our driver explained, had taught him two big lessons. Firstly, it's all about throwing and catching just one ball. It is multi-tasking in its purest form, a series of individual acts which must be completed simultaneously. If you learn to control each throw separately – height, speed, trajectory - you'll have space to deal with the uncontrollable – wind speed, broken fingernails... I don't know, ask a juggler. But chuck everything in the air willy-nilly, and you end up with a total balls-up.

"So when I'm driving, for instance" he said, "I'm aware of my speed, how long it'll take me to stop, whether I can safely make it between those rows of moving cars. That way I can factor in the unpredictable nature of other people's driving. Sometimes I juggle for 20 minutes before I get behind the wheel; it slows down my thoughts, but speeds up my reactions."

And the second lesson? He glanced in his rear-view mirror and addressed the children.

"When I first started juggling," he told them, "I was hopeless. Of course I was. It's not a natural thing, not something some people are born with. But then I worked at it, and I got pretty good. And when it got too easy, I wanted to make it harder. Most things in life aren't about talent, they're about skill. Everybody starts out bad at stuff and most people stay that way, but you don't have to. The only thing that stops you getting better at something is not trying."

I looked at my kids, drinking all this in. It was of course the same speech we give them over their maths homework every week, but somehow I knew that learning about perseverance from a guy who had struggled at the beginning with burning clubs was going to have more impact.

We pulled up at our destination. My husband handed over some money, and the driver began rummaging around in his bag.

"It's OK, you can keep the change..." my husband protested.

"No, wait..." said the guy, and producing four little coloured balls, he showed us some of his skills.

We thanked him for the making a short taxi ride unforgettable.

"Well you know, I always think the world would be a better place if everyone knew how to juggle."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why