Monday, November 06, 2006

William Shakespeare, the Circus and Me

It's been quite a weekend: not one, but two pockets of childhood nostalgia revisited. I'm weak with remembering.

The Circus is in town. The very same Circus that came to our lovely local Victorian park when I was a child. There the Big Top sits, overlooking Kent Town harbour, all white peaks with blue tips. For the Bim, who had never been to a circus, and for me, who has only the faintest, infinitely romantic memory of it, it was all too good to be true.

And thus it was that we decided to try Anna-mouse with her first live show. Since beloved child was in not-so-loveable mood all morning, I employed my best distraction tactics as we prepared to leave by asking her to choose one of her furry friends to accompany her to the by-now momentous event. She chose one of my personal favourites, a soft shaggy bear given to Anna-m on her first day in the world whom I named William Shakespeare (yes, yes, okay; what do you expect from the daughter of an actress and a writer?). Within minutes William had been transformed, with a few bits of string, shiny paper and Anna-m's dark glasses, into the kitschest bear who'd ever had the good fortune to be taken to the Circus.

Off we processed down to the Circus site, Anna-mouse up high on the Bim's shoulders, me and Will bringing up the rear. Spirits were high, the atmosphere carnival and the Bim and I were enchanted with ourselves for creating this special family outing. Anna-mouse too was enchanted; by the peaky tents, the chatty queues, the picket fence holding us back and the general, much touted promise of all that was to happen inside.

The show went up late, but it didn't matter. We had clowns to entertain us, other children to watch, the orchestra to point to. We were in a smoky, penumbral gloom in plastic seats not far from the ringside, and Anna-mouse caught the excitement snaking round the arena like wildfire. Things couldn't have been better.

Until the show started, that is.

The thing we'd not taken into account, of course, was the noise. 'Ladies and Gentleman,' crowed the Ringmaster, 'iiiiitttts showtime!' And so struck up the band. And Anna-mouse tears. No, not just tears. Gutwrenching, end-of-the-world sobs. She sat shaking, her face pressed into her father's shouder until we could bear it no more and she was rushed from the Big Top, to which no amount of cajoling, reasoning or calming could persuade her to return. This was, oh, two minutes into the show. Ten minutes after that I was beckoned from the tent entrance to come and console my inconsolable child. As the Irish Bim put it, 'Only her Mammy would do.'

So that was it: the most expensive ten minutes we can't afford. But... it was worth it. In the few solitary moments Will Shakespeare and I stayed in the glittery dark, I did indeed re-find the sense of magic I'd had all those years ago in that North London park. I could have seen that the ring was smaller, the costumes tawdry, the tricks shoddy and not especially well performed but the hope-filled girl that was me was already there by then. I saw nothing but the glorious, magic world of entertainment in the same way I'd seen it before I knew what entertainment was, and I was transformed by it, as I was then.

Will and me haven't been the same since.

*Image courtesy of


Rachel said...

Love it.


Anonymous said...

Well - I was the sort of child who (around 8 years old) sat in the circus tent shaking with fear that the trapeze artist would fall and be dashed to pieces in front of our eyes; and rigid with terror that the lions would break free from their cages and kill us all (yes, they had scary animals at Bertram Mills' Circus in those days!)- I had to be taken out, to walk around in the dark with my grandmother until the others came out!
(Lovely post re 5th Nov. As children we had no idea whatever that there were anti-Catholic connotations to Guy Fawkes night - we saw it just as an excuse for traditional fun.)