Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Surreal Sunday Circus in Oxford

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend was a tad surreal, with a Mad Hatter's Tea Party on Saturday, and then on Sunday, guess where I went?

Yep! To a bona fide, genuine circus. How fabulously retro is that dahlink? I reckon it is something that everyone remembers from their childhood, and so to revisit it in adulthood is pretty bloody surreal.

We made our way to Oxford's Southfield Park, and as we parked, I got my first glimpse of the Big Top. It was like being 8 again, gazing in awe at the enormous tent, which was surrounded by trailers bearing the advert 'Zippos', and caravans which housed the circus entertainers. 

Pic.No.1. My first glimpse of the Big Top

It was with nervous anticipation (would it be as exciting as I remembered? Would the clowns still piss me off with their slapstick humour?) that we approached the entrance, clutching our tickets.

 Pic.No.2. The entrance to Zippos Circus

It was looking good! The first thing I noticed was the fact that the smell of the place was just as it should be; a a fusion of sawdust and hotdogs. The smell of hotdogs meant only one thing. I needed to buy one and get it down my neck....... it was, in my mind, a compulsory part of a circus trip.

"Would you like one Izzy?" I asked her showing her the limp sausage in a crumbling bread roll.

"No, it looks minging." She replied definitively. Minging? Where does she get these words from, I ask you?

We made our way into the Big Top itself, which was dark and warm with an auditorium surrounding a smallish circular arena where the performers worked.

Pic.No.3. Me stuffing my face with a hotdog

As we had some time to kill before the performance started, Izzy sat and surveyed her surroundings wonderously for a few minutes, and then I saw her features tighten. Uh oh. The girl had forumlated a plan.

"What?" I asked her suspiciously.

"I want my face painted," she replied pointing to a lady sitting in the arena who was, at that moment, making a beetle out of a small child.

"I've got a hotdog, can you take her?" I asked Steve.

"Yeah," he said begrudgingly, dragging her off by the hand. Three minutes later he was back.

"It cost bloody £3.00," he exclaimed, "I've been fleeced."

But hey, Izzy looked pleased with herself; "don't touch my face!" she commanded holding up her palm.

A moment later she turned to me, "I want one of those please," she requested sombrely, pointing to a lady selling plastic battery-driven windmills which lit up.

"Your turn," stated Steve.

I returned three minutes later dragging along an Izzy with a big grin on her mush.

"I've feel like I've been mugged," I huffed, "that bloody windmill was £5.00."

I don't know what the performances were going to be like, but man alive, Zippos Circus certainly had got their head around the concept of up-selling.

At that moment, the arena lit up, the music boomed into the Big Top, and the Ringmaster made his appearance, surrounded by girls with feathery plumes on their heads, and introducing the circus with resounding hyperbole. The crowd were clapping, the atmosphere was enthralling, and the Ringermaster introduced the first act with a flourish.................. [note to reader; unfortunately I didn't take down the names of any of the acts, so I am having to improvise].

Video.No.1. Some chap on a hamster's wheel type of contraption

So it was off to an exciting start, with the chaps doing some daredevil acrobatics, all without a safety net or harness (which was a consistent theme throughout all the performances). 

The whole circus thing basically consisted of different variety acts, each of which generally ran for about five minutes, so it was pretty pacy stuff. Plus, during the act changeovers, the performers ran into the crowds doing bizarre things like throwing giant balloons around, to make sure that the atmosphere didn't go off the boil. 

Here are some of the acts that featured in the first half.............................

Pic.No.4. A lady standing on chopsticks - she had the balance of a budgie and the biceps of a shot-putter

Next up was an act from China, and these guys had gargantuan strength ..... they were flinging each other around like Action Men (the ones without the Eagle Eye).

Pic.No.5. One chap upside down on top of another chap, making like Hindu Shiva

Pic.No.6. "Excuse me mate. Do you know you've got a bloke on your head?"

It was all cleverly done, with the lighting and catchy music contributing to the atmosphere. But, there was one thing I didn't like....... The horse display. The horses themselves were majestic part-arabs, and somehow stuffing their mouths with tight bits (which they constantly tried to adjust with their tongues) and making them do things like sequence dancing, rearing up on demand, and kneeling down to the audience, seemed disingenuous and unnatural. I don't know much about dobbins, and I am not saying that they were mistreated.... I just didn't like it..... Are there any dobbin-lovers out there to give me any additional information about nags performing in circuses?

Enough of that, and back to the people spectaculars! The Ringmaster reappeared to introduce a band of four Chinese Acrobats calling themselves Pole Dancers. 

Steve's face lit up, he sat up, and his gaze rooted on the poles that had been lowered from the ceiling in readiness. The act began and Steve's face fell. 

"That wasn't what I expected," he said wistfully. 

"There are children in the audience," I hissed back. 

"Hang on a minute!" He exclaimed, changing the subject. "Aren't two of the Pole Dancers those Chinese guys who were chucking themselves around a minute or two ago?"

"Blimey, I think you are right," I replied, peeringly intently at Action Men without Eagle Eye Pole Dancers. 

Vid.No.2. The Chinese Pole Dancers

And so as half time arrived, we slowly realised that the circus eke out every ounce of potential from their performers.

I went off to get some Coke, and Steve and Izzy went off to get some a burger and Slush Puppy (it's blue - Izzy'll be bouncing off the walls later then). 

We regrouped, and Steve said; "I am sure that one of the trapeze artists just served my chips."

"Hey, yeh," I replied, "that's weird because I was sure that the hamster-wheel bloke just served me my coke."

It was then that we realised that the whole circus cast probably consisted of twenty people, all of whom were multi-tasking, consummate daredevils, with additional burger-serving skills. [Ummmmm... I wouldn't mind seeing their job description].

Back to the performance. The second half commenced with a random resounding boom whch made most of the audience jump in shock.

The first act was at odds with this intro because it consisted of the Ringmaster's party piece, which involved 20 budgies, all trained to do amazing things, like pull carriages, do 360 swings on their purchases, launch themselves down slides, and do mini-assault courses. It was by far my favourite part of the show, but then I felt guilty because, it was probably the feathery equivalent of the circus horses. Another reason that I felt guilty is that if I rescued them from the circus, I don't think that I would be able to resist setting up further assault courses for them, involving a cheese grater, a washing line and a toilet roll. 

Anyway, let's trot on to the end, because I seem to have kept you a while this evening. After the budgies, my second favourite act of the night was a pair of deliciously camp tight-rope walkers (oh, and one of them was in the hamster wheel act earlier, backing up my earlier theory of multi-tasking circus performers). 

They did two particularly amazing stunts, and, showing uncharacteristic presence, I managed to capture both on video........... here goes.................

Vid.No.3.Tightrope walker jumps over his mate

When I say deliciously camp, I mean it. They were performing to Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust', and wearing black leather trousers with mesh T-shirts..............totally lush.
Vid.No.4. Fruitloop skipping on a tightrope

And then to make it more camp, they did some skipping. That'll be the cherry then.

So the circus ended, and it was everything that I remembered it to be (except for the fact that they have cottoned-on to up-selling (Pah! facepaint. Pah! light-up windmill). We wondered outside, blinking in the light, ears ringing from the music, with big smiles on our faces............... especially Izzy..............

Pic.No.7. Izzy at the circus. This shot cost £8.00 in props - she has her face painted as a butterfly and is holding a Taiwanese plastic windmill. (Hang on! she looks a bit like one of them Avatar type things to me)

All in all, a proper retro, surreal day! Top banana.....  you know you want to!

P.S. The clowns still pissed me off with their slapstick humour. 


  1. Sounds like a fantastic evening, even despite the slapstick. I love the idea of them all doubling up as burger flippers and fizzy drink sellers.

  2. Now that was a good evenings entertainment.

    Being a salesman at heart I love the selling of the extras.

    If you think they mulit tasked come down the railway sometime and see how it should really be done!!!!!

  3. Yeh Fran.... it was a totally retro evening... I loved pretending I was a kid again!

  4. Hello Robert... it was a really good night actually (I didn't expect it, but it was). Ahhh you salesman and your extras.... cost me a bleeding fortune it did!

    Yes I noticed from your blog that you do quite a lot at the railway... what are your main multi-tasks?!

  5. On the chuff chuffs I am in charge of 3 stations and run one of them. I don't get dirty on the footplate or anything like that, not my style.

    I work for myself and from home so don't see anybody all week except the door to door salesmen so getting out to the railway keeps me in touch with the human race.We start ten days of service on Good Friday, so a good oportunity to catch up on paperwork on the quiet days.

    Talking of door to door callers, I opened the door the other week and there was a chap from Virgin Media, Virgin sir he said, no mate I replied not after being married 24 years and promptly shut the door!!!!!


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