Saturday, 24 October 2015


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.


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...


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.