Saturday, 24 October 2015

Circus



The Moscow State Circus had been in town last week, camped out on Bristol's Clifton Downs. Early one morning, as they were packing up to hit the road, I walked through the remaining trailers and caravans, drawn up into a ragged circle around the yellowed patch of ground where the big top had been.

It must be a strange life, being circus folk.  In and around the encampment I could hear not just Russian but a rich mix of various other languages, as performers and stagehands did what presumably they spend most of their time doing: hanging around, getting ready, arguing, and moving on.  A glamorous trapeze-artist looks pretty indistinguishable from the girl who runs the ticket office, when kitted out in a hoodie, jeans, and trainers, though I doubt the ticket-office girl does quite such elaborate stretches in the morning.  Various semi-feral kids were running in and out of caravans, apparently trying to kill each other.

A long time ago I did once work as a "casual" for a couple of days with a visiting circus, hammering steel stakes into the ground for the hundreds of guy-ropes that hold everything up.  The cash was good, but it seemed a pretty seedy, hand-to-mouth sort of life, and needless to say I was not remotely inclined to run away with them, in the traditional style.  Though I suppose in meaner, leaner times the temptation must have been stronger, and something of the sort must have given young Will Shakespeare his chance to break out of a dull, predictable life of making gloves in Stratford-upon-Avon.


4 comments:

Zouk Delors said...

But Mike -- what would you have run away with the circus as?

Mike C. said...

Well, they were a bit short on midgets... [tish!]

Martin Hodges said...

In 1929 my great uncle ran away to join a circus, aged 16. I didn't find out about this episode in his colourful life, until after he died. Shame, really.

Mike C. said...

Martin,

I think a lot of "running away" went on, back then -- to sea, into the army, etc. There was probably a lot more darkness in the domestic sphere to run away from -- abuse of various sorts, including simple cruel indifference -- which was never spoken about. I wish now I'd known to ask about my grandad's journey from a Liverpool "foundlings" home to a village in North Herts, though I doubt he'd have had the resources to describe it.

Mike