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The Scrivener: Spangles And Sawdust - Part Five

Brian Barratt, a life-long circus enthusiast, can lay claim to a unique experience. After the world’s youngest lion tamer, then aged 19, had been scratched by one of his animals during a training session, he sat astride the pillion seat of Brian’s motorbike to be transported to the nearest hospital.

For many more entertaining surprises visit Brian’s Web site, The Brain Rummager. www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

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In 1966 the combined Boswell-Wilkie circus visited Kitwe (in Zambia) — I surmise that inevitable hard times and competition forced the two shows to merge.
A couple of years before that, we had Doyle’s Great International Circus. As usual, I hung around the back entrance to chat with artistes. I delighted in seeing them in workaday clothes, rehearsing their acts. A young man with a grey overall coat came up to me.

He introduced himself by name (which I have now forgotten). He was billed as The World's Youngest Lion Tamer, aged 19. One of his lions had taken a swipe at him during rehearsal, and scratched his arm, which he showed me was swathed in a rough bandage. There was a risk of tetanus. Please could I take him to the nearest hospital to have it dressed properly?

In those days I drove a motor-bike, an Ariel Leader, so he perched on the back of the saddle, and I headed for the nearest hospital. This happened in be Nkana Mine Hospital, in what was then known as Nkana African Township. The place seemed deserted, as we wandered along corridors seeking help, but we eventually found a matronly uniformed lady. She was imperiously surprised to see us.

I explained in a serious tone that the young man had been scratched by a lion. She looked at him, in his shabby grey overall coat, and her face showed total disbelief. I asked him to explain, so he opened up his coat and revealed his scarlet and gold circus costume. Matron believed. The wound was immediately dressed.

Doyles featured a well-built man, wearing a small loin cloth and a great deal of gold paint, who posed on a small, round, illuminated platform. The light came from beneath, and accentuated his physlque as he struck various body-building poses. My young companion was impressed.

I was more impressed by a completely opposite kind of act. It was the first ‘rag doll’ act I’d seen, where someone produces what seems like a limp rag doll from a box, and proceeds to knock it into all sorts of odd shapes and positions. In the end, you wonder if it really is a person, until the other performer reveals herself to be alive and well.

We once had a real international circus In Kitwe — Circus Brazil. It had suffered a great deal on its way through Africa, and the Big Top was damaged by tropical storms. The impression you gained, as you walked in, was one of tatty amateurism, but the show itself was excellent.

It included acts not usually seen in local circuses, including a memorable Wall of Death motor-cyclist. He did his act inside a huge sphere made up a metal strips, so that the Death Defying Feats could be seen from all sides. I well remember the sight, and also the noise.

The roar of the motor-bike as well as the roar of the crowd.

And that’s what it’s all about.

© Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt


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