I never had a birthday party. I never had a sleep over. And I never went to the circus.
Sure, back in the day, circus shows used to be shown on television, so I knew what a circus was and could extrapolate an imaginary experience from the visual I saw on the TV screen: people sitting in a ring beneath the humungous big top; the caged magnificence of the elephants and lions; the dazzling troupes of garishly dressed trapeze artists and the rowdy explosion of clowns with their falling apart car. But watching the spectacle from the familiar comfort of one’s own living room is not the same as being there in the flesh and feeling the crack of the Circus Master’s whip igniting the air in front of your face.
So when Billy Smart’s circus advertised their latest appearance in the nearby town of Warwick Karen and I decided we’d take our boys; effectively give them the experience I’d never had as well as right a wrong on my behalf.
And what can I say?
Circuses have plainly changed from those that I used to watch on the telly. The elephants and lions were gone. We didn’t even have poodles dancing on spinning balls. This is probably a good thing as the last thing one wants when going to a circus is a moral dilemma. The clowns and their custard pies and their ever-collapsing car had also bitten the dust. I daresay the pincer movement of Stephen King’s It and The Simpson’s Krusty had hastened the end of the traditional clown. Instead we had a physical comedian who, like a Mr Bean or a regular mime artist, “filled in” with pratfalls and childish sign language while the backroom boys hefted the safety nets and the props around between acts.
And despite the Circus Mistress – Miss Yasmin Smart no less – proclaiming the circus’s credentials from the heart of the big top and tracing her own lineage back to a Stetson wearing Billy Smart, I couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of Eastern European circus workers who filled every nook and cranny and made me think I was about to run into Roger Moore’s creepy 007 playing a dodgy version of snap with a simpering Jane Seymour. But hey, the circus performers themselves were an international lot – an Argentinian bolas wielder who looked like a long lost member of Kiss, a French foot juggler with the most amazing thighs I have ever seen (I swear to God she could have rolled a cigarette between her thighs and inserted the roach without using her fingers), a haughty looking trapeze artist troupe who looked like they’d rather be throwing knives around rather than each other and the “Xtreme Brothers” who proved their strongman credentials by hefting each other around in borderline-obscene three-man pyramids, the configuration of which often made the eyes goggle and one’s goolies water.
But I have to say I loved it.
I was actually at a real life circus and felt like a kid again.
And my boys? They took it all in their stride. In fact my youngest was more enamoured with the light up spinning windmill toy we bought him during the intermission rather than the trapeze artists who deliberately (in my opinion) missed a few catches in the hope that the resultant “ooohs” and “aaahs” would encourage him to break away from the hypnotic lure of his toy.
When he’s old enough to start benchmarking the tensile strength of the performers’ thighs by visual inspection alone, then they might stand a better chance of holding his attention.
Until then I can see why my own parents never bothered getting me tickets to the circus as a child…
*Though he did say afterwards that he thought [and I quote] "Billy Smarties' circus was the best circus in the world..." so something of the occasion must have made it through the windmill filter.