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About A Week: Circus Magic

Peter Hinchliffe reveals his circus blushes.

The first time I went to a circus I got a bigger laugh than the clowns.

We were on holiday in North Wales. Dad thought it was time I was introduced to the tinsel and thrills of the Big Top.

I still blush when I recall the events of that day.

The circus tent was in a field at Rhos-On-Sea. If circuses had been categorised in like manner to football teams, this one would have been at the foot of the Fourth Division.

The show was short-handed. The staff had to tackle a wide range of duties.

The lady who took our tickets later appeared as the trainer of a team of performing poodles.

At the interval she came around selling orange squash and choc ices, then she appeared on the back of one of the two elephants parading in the grand finale.

It was that sort of circus.

We were late arriving. Not that Dad liked to make a grand entrance. He was a shy man, but he had taken a wrong turning while driving through Rhos.

The opening parade had just finished. The clowns were coming into the ring as we were shown to our seats by a boy not much older than myself.

Seats? Perches would be a better word. Pigeons would have been at home on them.

The audience squatted on narrow wooden planks which rested upon tiered scaffolding.

We were on the second plank back from the ring. We had a plank to ourselves.

I sat down. In those days I didn’t weigh much, but I felt the plank bend.

Dad sat down. The plank bent pronouncedly.

Mum lowered her weight…

You wouldn’t have said my Mum was fat. Plump, perhaps. Pleasantly plump.

As Mum came into contact with the plank there was a sound like a .303 rifle being fired.

The plank broke into a V.

And the Hinchliffes were cast down to the ground.

The audience rocked with laughter.

We weren’t hurt, only embarrassed. An embarrassment magnified by the clowns, who rushed across, at first concerned, then turning us into the centrepiece of their act while pretending to help us sort ourselves out.

The audience laughed louder, and louder.

At us.

When we were finally re-seated on a thicker plank, and the clowns had tired of exploiting our mishap, the two elephants lumbered into view.

Further embarrassment was in the offing.

The elephants mistook the ring for a public convenience.

They began to relieve themselves. Copiously.

And the spot where they chose to relieve themselves was in front of Dad, Mum and me.

As a team of circus hands sprang into action with buckets and shovels, the audience tittered.

I took it personally. I was sure they were still laughing at us. “Never again.’’ I thought.

But my second circus was Billy Smart’s. Artistes by the score. Exotic costumes. More animals than I could count. Shiny red and green paintwork.

And comfortable seats.

I was hooked. As soon as my elder son was old enough, I took him to Robert Brothers circus when it visited Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was entranced, enraptured.

A troupe of bears came ambling by.

His eyes were saucer-big, incapable of expressing greater attention or pleasure.

“What are those Dave?’’ whispered my wife.

A happy little voice replied “The biggest dogs in all the world.’’

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