The Circus: The Excursionist XI

Really great adventures always start with a sign taped to a window of a shop or to a wooden pole along the curb.  At least that’s how I found out about the circus.  We’re not talking about Barnum & Bailey here or even the Big Apple Circus that visits Lincoln Center every winter.  No, this is a small one-ring affair, very European, very English and very entertaining.

Once upon a time I saw a small circus just outside of Bruges, Belgium.  It should go without saying that I fell in love with the trapeze artist…a dark and beautiful being that floated, back and forth, over my head.  If you’re interested in the consequences that can come of having your heart stolen by a woman flying in the air fifty feet above you, then find a copy of the classic movie Wings of Desire.  You’ll get the point.

But I digress.

The Jay Miller Circus doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.  A small traveling circus that winds its way through rural England.

After entering the Big Top from the bright day, I found myself greeted by forms that were indistinct to me…my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness.  But I did notice a bright red jacket.  After we were shown to our chairs…set up in the grass. (Someone had scattered a bucket or two of sawdust on the green field to remind you that you were at a circus)

I went back to the red jacket.  “May I take your picture outside?  I’m going to write a blog about all this and you’re very colorful (and pretty, I thought).

Here is Charlotte:

[Thank you, Charlotte]

A 5:00 PM, the lights went down.  And, as the cotton candy continued to be devoured by the many children, the Ring Master appeared.

[The Irish Ring Master. Total disclosure: this was taken half-way through the show, after the fog machine had been on for twenty minutes.]

What followed was a truly unique display of roller-skaters, jugglers, a state-of-the-art laser show, fire-eating women, ball rolling, magic and a woman who was spun in air above my head from a clamp attached to her hair!

Here are some of the visuals I took:

[Sand art projected onto a screen. It read Life Is A Circus]

[The finale]

So, it was over.  I quite enjoyed the talent (the hula-hoop woman was sensational) and the effort, but my mind always drifted from the action, to the life beyond the show.  During the intermission, I went outside to get some fresh air.  I looked over at all the RV’s that housed the cast and crew.  What were their lives like after the Big Top came down?  Were any of them married?  Lovers?  Were they happy on the road?  Did they sleep well at night after they failed in an attempt at something?

The woman, early in the show, sat atop a very tall unicycle.  She put a little hat on.  She put a saucer on her toes and flipped it to her hat. She repeated this with a cup, then again, and again until there were four cups & saucers on her head.  She failed three times to get a small cube of ‘sugar’ into the last cup.  Finally the assistant handed her the sugar and she simply placed it in the top cup…without flipping it off her toe.  I wonder if she relives her mistakes at night.  Did she fret over her inability to finish her act successfully?  I wonder about these things.

I hope she will sleep well tonight.

Advertisements

Passports 8: Losing My Way Near Shaftsbury

All of you know Shaftesbury, in Dorset.  In the town center, just off High Street is Gold Hill.  This is arguably one of the most photographed views in England.  It’s on all the England calendars, Beautiful Britain books and travel brochures.  It was featured in the movie “Far From the Madding Crowd”, when Terrance Stamp (young and dashing in his red officers tunic) rode down Gold Hill, passing a drop-dead beautiful Julie Christie (but galloping full speed into her heart.)  I don’t know whether she was more stunning in “Madding Crowd” or as Lara, in “Dr. Zhivago”.  I mean, those locks of hair the color of chestnuts (a dark blonde) that cascaded over her shoulders.  Her lips? Forget about it.  Full and sensual with a hint of a pout.

But I digress.

My wife and I decided to do our first longish walk near Shaftesbury.  I paid 3 pounds 60 pence for a thin guide to local walks.  The maps were hand drawn and the directions had passages like “the minor road near Ludwell”.  Minor road?  The booklet also said that they, the authors, thought it would be impossible to get lost with this guide.

Wait till they hear from my lawyer.

We drove out toward Ludwell but couldn’t find the “minor road” so I stopped at a pub to ask directions.  (Yes, I, a man, stopped for directions).  The bartender looked, from the back, like a guy dressed in a bizarre wig for Halloween.  She turned around and I saw that it was her real hair, dyed the color of…of a mix of purple, pink, red, orange and toxic neon maroon.  But, she gave me perfect directions to the parking area where we would start our walk. This is in contrast with the bartender/server, back in Shaftesbury where we had lunch.  She was a sweet and heartbreakingly beautiful blonde.  The only problem was that bartender didn’t know the name of the street that her pub was on…or how to get to the A30, which was only yards away.

So, we start our hike into a place called Ashcombe Park.  Ashcombe House, was once the home of Madonna when she was married to Guy Ritchie (he still lives there).  The countryside was beautiful and fragrant.  I stopped to touch a Queen Anne’s Lace flower and I brushed against a small thorn.  It pricked my thumb which began to throb and itch.  Some small amount of toxic substance was telling me: Don’t Touch The Flowers.  When I looked at the tiny thorn, I recalled Early Madonna and the perfectly conical, and razor tipped “bra” that she wore.  I got the message big time.  You can look but you can’t touch.

Part way along the walk, I walked past a tree that had been sawed.  I backed up to get a look at the tree rings.  I love counting tree rings and I do so whenever I can.  I made a rough estimate that the tree was about 150 years old.  I tried to put a little green leaf on the rings that would mark the time of WWII.  How many young men, field hands and farmers’ sons and husbands and lovers walked past that tree?  The tree was a mere sapling in the year 1860 +/- , which was about 25 years after Queen Victoria ascended the throne.

History was staring at me from the flat surface of a sawn tree.  Like the dates on a tombstone, each ring marked an event in the life of the people who walked that little vale in Ashcombe Park.

The guidebook mentioned going through several “kissing gates” but they were nowhere to be found.  I noticed new fencing along the pastures.  Again, the guidebook failed us.  We took the wrong turn, sort of, and began a long slog to the top of the hill where the car park was located.  The walk was said to be 4.5 miles, but I calculated that we did over 5 miles by the time we saw the adorable little Fiat sitting near a pasture and near a small but growing herd of cows.  I hoped they didn’t think I was there to milk them.  But they looked at me with those big, vacant bovine eyes.  I recalled my grandmother’s cow and the name she gave it.  I said: “Not now, Nellie.”

I would bet my last quid that phrase wasn’t heard too often in the fields and copses, when brave young soldiers walked home through the fields.  Or when a farmer’s son, finished his chores and skipped along the hedgerow to meet his girl.

His girl, Nellie.

Image

The valley of Ashcombe Park, Dorset.

 

 

Image

The wavy grey line to the left of center marks the 1940’s.  The center, the 1860’s.

 

Image

Shaftsbury in the distance.

 

Image

Gold Hill, Shaftsbury.