By David Aitken

I chased after the circus caravans as they trundled out of Dundee but perhaps fortunately never caught up with them.  I wouldn’t have been a very good tightrope walker or trapeze artist, owing to my fear of heights, and would have felt uneasy putting my head into a lion’s mouth on account of my fear of enclosed spaces.  Although my wife reckons I would have made a good clown.

Young boys don’t generally run away from home to join circuses nowadays (why was it never girls who did that? — more sense probably).  This has probably as much to do with the rarity of circuses as it has with Covid restrictions.  And anyway, many of them will already have a PlayStation or virtual reality headset (what we used to call a brain) with onscreen violence that would out-Herod any lion.

One of the great puzzles of our present predicament — vanishing circuses aside — is the fact that children are less affected — or infected — than adults, and various explanations for this have been offered.  Apparently, young cells are relatively naive, and being untrained by time, they blast away at any new virus on a broad front, unlike us oldies whose immune systems don’t react much to novelty any more.  Tell me about it.

And did you know that children are the main reservoirs for seasonal coronaviruses that cause the common cold?  (They don’t seem like such little innocents now, do they?)  And when exposed to viruses, they receive smaller doses because of their smaller noses!  “Biology is rarely straightforward,” said one medical expert, presumably the man had a Ph.D. in the blindingly obvious.

Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing, according to Oscar Wilde, but having inexperienced T cells seems to have stood young people in good stead during the pandemic.  You have to wonder, however, why it is this same blanket immunity does not extend to other childish ailments, such as measles or bronchitis or asthma or influenza.  Several solutions suggest themselves.

Might it be that this virus simply doesn’t like children?  By which I mean that it finds them too much of a bother, too great a challenge, too demanding of its time and effort — the same reasons some schoolteachers resign.  After all, no less a philosopher than Homer Simpson reminds us that “kids ain’t nothing but trouble.”

Covid-19 is, after all, relatively new to the world itself and most of its time so far has been taken up with scything its way through the adult population without taking on the extra burden represented by the small-nosed ones.  Perhaps it hopes to get round to them later with a new junior strain, perish the thought.  And perish the strain.

All of which ruminations cast a new light on the fact that Corky, the original Circus Boy (Micky Dolenz, who was later the drummer in The Monkees) was only 11 years old when he joined the circus.  It is, after all, a safe vocation for children, with their young immune systems (and small noses.)  To my lasting regret, I have had to accept that I am now too old to join a circus.  Except perhaps as a whitefaced Pierrot…?


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