It has become something of a cliché for people to say they are frightened of clowns. Far more terrifying, to my mind, are putti. You know where you are with a clown – in the Big Top, where he galumphs across the sawdust with a bucket and a hooter. But those damnable putti!
Let’s be honest, if you were out and about, sashaying along the street, taking the air, and you saw, swooping through that air and coming to rest, hovering just above your head, a chubby baby with a full head of curly hair, and wings, and possibly armed with a bow and arrow, I think you would shriek in terror and run screaming for the hills. This would be a mistake. The wiser thing to do, in the circumstances, would be to run screaming for shelter, inside an enclosed building, where you could barricade yourself in. Putti can fly, but they cannot fly through brick walls.
If you run for the hills, the putti will follow you, calling out to their putti pals to join them. And that call! These are babies, remember, so their call is a godawful infant squeal, accompanied by gurgling. By the time you get to the hills, bedraggled and panting, there might be dozens or hundreds of putti hovering around you, like drones. If, in your terror, you piddle in your pants, as you are likely to do, the putti will giggle, in that horrible babyish way that is more like hiccups. Do you really want to find yourself alone in the hills beset by a swarm of hiccuping flying babies, some of whom have bows and arrows?
The wards of our lunatic asylums are crammed with poor souls who made the mistake of trying to flee from putti in the open air. The other mistake people sometimes make is to think they can turn the tables on the armed putti by shooting arrows at them so they drop, fatally wounded, from the sky. This doesn’t work. You cannot kill a putto. Unlike Ploppo the Clown, they are immortal.
Thankfully, since Renaissance times, we have seen rather less of the putti than we used to. Scientists are not sure what has caused the drop in numbers. It could be something to do with smog. But they are still out there, cherubic and terrifying and swooping through the air – flying babies! – and you would do well to be on your guard.
Is there a separate name for the ones that are just a baby’s head with wings? I think they are even more scary.