Eyes of a Child parts 1 & 2 / Floating - the Moody Blues
On the Monday after the Sunday, Circus Archaos (see previous two posts) arrived to set up on Highbury Fields, the Evening Standard carried a story about how their mad motorcyclists had been jumping over the cars that were parked on the perimeter roads around the fields, riding from the front over their bonnets, rooves and then straight onto the next vehicle without touching the ground. I was there: it happened just as the press were gathering for a short preview of the show, two of the bikers seemed to have imbibed a little too much of something wicked, and were daring each other to mount the cars, laughing manically all the while. After they'd ridden over three cars, end to end, the other circus personnel talked them off their bikes and dragged them away to "cool off" while their boss, Pierrot, chequebook in hand, placated a besuited local who was seething with fury at the damage done to his vehicle. At least that's how it looked to the reporters, photographers and anyone else present. Of course, this was all planned, the cars were their own, and Pierrot and the newspapermen were in tacit agreement not to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Or as the quote from "The Man who Shot Liberty Valence has it: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This was just good publicity.
Pierrot had good form in the fabrication of headlines. On their previous visit to the UK, fighting for headline space, the Circus had put out a story that the strong man had walked out on them to join up to fight in the Iraq/Iran war and calling for any potential replacements to contact them. When they did, surprise surprise, Archaos had already found a new one, but thanked them for calling.
These tricks added to the charm of the anarchic bunch of performers that I had to the pleasure to work with for just over a week. I went to every performance, helping with the box office, security and the guest tickets, anything to be able to slip in and watch the show. Even though it was the same every night, I was always thrilled and on the edge of my seat unless I was laughing so much I fell off it.
They had a motorcyclist who was in effect the dressage motorcycling champion of the world and who was very young, about twenty as I recall. At one point, from a stationary start he drove 6 metres, then straight up the 3 metres of a vertical face of a wardrobe-shaped box, to come to a stop on its roof, a less than 3m x 1m rectangle. He also did indeed ride through the stacked seated audience, terrifying everyone, but never touching a soul. There were jugglers, as well as the chain-saw juggling clowns, acrobats, tightrope walkers and wonderful, thrilling trapeze artists, all performing to the live music of a leathery, punky, burlesque style rock band. There was magic, and explosions with sulphurous smoke, and an air of demonic anarchy fused with the sense of adventure and innocence of the original circuses of my childhood only better. They were easily amongst the best performances I have ever seen.
I once went on the high trapeze myself. It happened a few years later, when I was Head Steward for the Circus Space high trapeze installation at the Hackney Show on Hackney Downs. The Circus Space people were friendly but distant, despite the fact that I knew some of them, having commissioned them to do youth work in the Islington communities. They were that peculiar combination, half-hippy, half daredevil aeronaut, half gymnast, adding up to one and a half of the something special and different that makes up a circus performer. In the afternoon it rained for a short while and this meant that the public couldn't have trapeze lessons for an hour so, prior to the restart, us stewards were given a go. There was a safety net, but even so, as I stood looking down, high up on the little launch platform, I was terrified. I'd been shown when and how to pull in and push out my hips, chest and legs, and how the timing was all important, so I plucked up my courage and jumped off. My flight was brief and ended within about eight ever-shortening undulations back and forth, my inept trapezoid exertions in all probability resulting in no different a trajectory of the bar than if I hadn't been on the end of it at all. After hanging there for a moment, like a prisoner suspended in torture or chained to a dungeon wall, I let go and dropped like a rotting fruit into the waiting net. I was mortified - I'd been so hopeless at it. But afterwards, as the Circus Space guys returned from their breaks, each came up to me and said, with newfound admiration and genuine camaraderie, in a confidential, near whisper, "Hey Stylus, I heard you flew, man." And for a few short hours, I was respected, one of them, part of the Circus sister and brotherhood.
And it was good.