Ben Keenan: Laughter was a sign this was a good party

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This week, I attended one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.

The eldest son of two of my closest friends turned four years old and decided to celebrate the traditional way with a party for 42 chums, enough cake, pizza and sugar-free squash to feed an army and a professional clown named Andy. Sounds like a million other kids’ parties doesn’t it. Well, allow me to explain why this party was a million and one times more sensational.

The birthday boy at this party was born with Down’s syndrome and, despite the daily challenges associated, can increase the level of joy in any room, any size just by walking into it. Many in attendance were disabled, but each and every one of them taught me something new about having fun and had such a wonderful time that by the end, the walls were vibrating with the sound of laughter and balloon’s popping.

At the centre of this expertly controlled chaos was Suffolk-based entertainer Andy the clown, who specialises in Makaton sign language-based magic. Incorporating juggling, close-up illusions and classic nursery rhymes into his show, Andy uses a form of British Sign Language known as Makaton at every step of the way.

Using 200 different actions, Makaton is a simplified form of signing which parents use to communicate with handicapped babies and toddlers whose speech and brain activity is still developing.

As the children and their parents danced, sung and signed the afternoon away, it was obvious to everyone in attendance that this party was a classic and one that’s inspired me to postpone learning a foreign language to attempt learning sign language instead. In a world in which human interaction and communication is the most important thing we can do to benefit each other, people like Andy the clown and the Makaton charity are giving a helping hand to some of the most remarkable and inspirational children I’ve ever had the privilege to spend time with and I really can’t wait for the next opportunity to do so.