It’s a circus story

I HAVE one specially vivid memory of visiting the circus as a child.

Billy Smart’s came to Kings Park every year, and we always went along. Few will forget the smell of greasepaint on the scary clowns and roar of the crowd.

And those of us who went to the circus before the days of animal rights and political correctness will also remember the warm damp smell of sawdust soaked in the excrement of exotic animals, horses pirouetting, lions and tigers on colourful upturned half drums kept at bay by a man in red with a whip, chimps at a tea party, muscular acrobats in sequins high above the ring …

My own best memory is a bit different. One year a Wild West circus came to Kings Park, at its centre a man in fringed buckskin on a beautiful horse – a bit like Champion the Wonder Horse, I thought.

And at one point in the evening, when a lion cub had been taken round the audience for photographs with the children, this man invited brave kids to come into the middle of the ring for a balloon blowing contest. I dashed forward and took my place.

Now I have never been much good at blowing up balloons. I can’t get beyond that bit where they suddenly start to fill quickly with air.

So the cowboy star came round the back of me and put his fingers over my bulging eyes, much to the amusement of the packed Big Top. He asked, in what sounded like an American accent, if I was OK, and put a microphone to my mouth.

I said: “What soft hands you have for a cowboy.” There was a lot of noise and I was hustled back to my seat and my waiting parents.

It didn’t quite take the magic away, but I have been a bit sceptical about it since then.

These days, circus is a very different animal … or rather, NOT animal.

And the Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole conurbation has one of the biggest circus venues in the country. At Poole’s Lighthouse they are CRAZY about circus, and one of its newest exponents is on stage next week.

You might not think that a show called Bromance has anything to do with those legendary big top shows, but apparently this trio of young men who have devised a show about male friendship in acrobatics are the bearers of the torch.

On the other side of our area there is Circomedia, a school of circus skills utilising the height and scale of the former St Paul’s Church in St Paul’s, Bristol.

We are rightly horrified at the treatment meted out to helpless animals in the old touring circuses that crisscrossed Europe. Debate continues as to whether it’s cruel to have horses and ponies and dogs performing in circuses, and of course there are those who would ban horse riding in all its forms as cruelty.

But  if you, like me, are a fan of Angela Carter’s mesmerising Nights at the Circus or enjoy the anarchy of the Tiger Lilies’ Circus Songs and the darkness of Spring­steen’s Wild Billy’s Circus Story, Bromance (that annoying word for male bonding, all part of the touchy-feely post Diana world we all live in) is your way forward.

Gay Pirrie-Weir