Fosdyke woman’s World War 1 memorial

When Mina Houssain was growing up it was the men who did illusions and the women got chopped in half.

She grew up in a circus family, her grandfather’s character Coco the Clown famous throughout the UK.

Mina Houssain  with her grandfather Coco the Clown's shoes and Belisha beacon walking stick. SG010914-100TW

Mina Houssain with her grandfather Coco the Clown's shoes and Belisha beacon walking stick. SG010914-100TW

Mina learned the skills from being a small child and became an acrobat like her parents, but as an adult wanted to do her own thing and ended up as one of the few female illusionists.

Touring is something she still does today as director and owner of Circus Hassani, the big top these days based in Fosdyke when not on the road.

Many of us would be reluctant to leave the comforts of home for very long, but it’s the freedom of worldwide travel that Mina finds so very exciting.

“I love to travel,” she says. “I would go down the Amazon in a shoe box because I love to know what’s round the next corner.

“I love people and races and cultures and food and it’s just the ingredients of a fantastic world. I find it exciting.”

Her own family contains that mishmash of races and cultures that so appeal to Mina, from her Latvian grandparents to her Moroccan father.

Perhaps for that reason her World War 1 memorial in kiln-fired glass – one of the hobbies she picks up in the winter months at home – is for “everyone who fell in the conflict on all sides”.

Thankfully, her grandfather Nicolai Poliakoff survived the war, though he was injured.

In the late 1920s/early 1930s Nicolai came to England where he joined the Bertram Mills Circus, playing Coco the Clown for the next 36 years.

His injuries prevented Nicolai from fighting in World War 2 so he joined Ensa, he and his wife entertaining the troops instead.

As a child, Mina says her famous relative was just ‘Grandad’ to her, but she says: “He was everywhere. He used to do parties for the Queen and the children, the only person to be allowed through the main gates of Buckingham Palace with a sign-written van saying ‘Coco the Clown OBE’.”

The award was given for his road safety work in schools, using a walking stick in the shape of a Belisha Beacon.

Mina donated her memorial to Long Sutton Royal British Legion, which in turn will display it at a World War 1 commemorative exhibition being held at its hall on Saturday (10am to 5pm).The exhibition has been organised by Long Sutton & District Civic Society as part of Heritage Open Days 2014.