Puppets and panto bring a little magic to road safety

An enterprising pair are combining high-octane performance with high-visibility jackets to get the message across to Aberdeenshire youngsters

Jean McLeish

A former car salesman and a plumber who gave up their jobs to become magicians are helping keep Scottish school children safe.

On a dreary November day, more than 100 children at Ellon Primary in Aberdeenshire are cross-legged on the gym floor, shrieking out road safety messages.

"They're going to be high as kites after this," whispers a teacher, leaping to her feet to join in the "Stop, Look, Listen, Think" routine.

Unable to sit still for a second, the children gawp as lights and baubles seem to appear from thin air.

Thousands of pupils across Aberdeen city and shire will watch this show over the next few weeks, learning how to use crossings and walk and cycle safely from the Allans Magic performers.

The P1-3 pupils are getting this message from their teachers too: "Especially at this time of year, when it's darker nights - so this is a follow-up for them," says Laura Trahearn, one of their teachers.

"The children are all really enjoying this and that's what it's all about - making it fun, so hopefully they'll learn it and take it all in."

Jordan Charleson, aged 5, gives magicians Alan Innes and Allan Petrie a rave review: "I liked it and I liked the doggie too - Robbie the doggie." Andrew Arthur, 6, says: "The one with the balls mixed up - that was my favourite trick."

The road safety magic show has been organised by Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City school travel teams with Grampian Police. It started in Aberdeenshire two years ago and, due to its success, the one-hour show has been introduced in Aberdeen City schools too.

Allan Petrie says: "We've done a lot of research on the show, and what we find with kids is there's got to be a lot of repetition and we have to keep their attention at all times."

He believes it's the only act of its kind in Scotland and hopes to take the show beyond the north-east.

"We researched it for about six months," he says, "looking at all the different magic effects we could do, because obviously you don't get road safety magic tricks.

"But we've worked very closely with the council and police and these are the messages they wanted us to put forward. The main one is always wear a cycle helmet, and the other thing they added this year was the high-vis jacket," says Allan, wearing a bright yellow jacket. Part of the act involves encouraging pupils to see this as not just safer but also a fashion statement.

Their puppet accomplices, Vern the Bird and Robbie the Dog, add another dimension to the show, and there's plenty of singing and panto-style shouting to keep the young audience engaged. The two men are breathless by the time they finish their routine, but they are both glad they gave up the day jobs.

"It's always been a hobby for both of us and we joined forces about four years ago to go full time. I was a car salesman and I'd had enough of all the stress ... I'd always wanted to do magic, so I just took a stab at it one day," says Allan, recently voted Scottish children's entertainer of the year by the Magic Circle. "It's a better lifestyle and it's not about money," agrees his partner Alan, who gave up a lucrative job as a plumber.

Headteacher Veronica Cordiner is impressed: "Absolutely fantastic show. They got the message across in a really fun way. It was repeated and very multi-sensory in its delivery. It ticked all the boxes: the visual learning; the kinaesthetic element, where children are moving and participating; the humour - the message always gets across when there's humour involved."

Teachers have a hard act to follow.

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Jean McLeish

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