Little kids and lap-dancing

Whether it’s clowns or lions or bearded ladies, everyone fears someone in a circus tent

‘ARE we in grave danger?” asked the woman on the blue plastic seat behind me, her two wide-eyed children climbing into her lap. She was talking about the elephant in the room.

Actually, the two elephants.

And Lowvelders know their elephants. They have sanctuaries-full. Kruger is just down the road. These weren’t even big elephants, but I knew what she meant. However many elephants you have seen, they are awfully big to share a tent with. Especially when they play football.

I had been cycling up from the river that morning when the first tiger had gone past at head height, promptly followed by a second. A white one. In a big blue truck, one of a line of blue trucks. The circus was coming to town.

The last time I had been in a Big Top I’d been with a friend and an assortment of children. Said friend had spent an uncomfortable afternoon weeping, but not from terror; he just hadn’t known that he was horribly allergic to camels.

Now, let’s not get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of circuses. I know. It’s a worry. But I checked out the animal policy on the website before booking and decided I could deal with it. So it was show time!

Cue: Loud voice above. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS. WELCOME TO . BRIAN BOSWELL’S INTERNATIONAL CIRCUS!”

Crash of drums. Loud music. There’s No Business like Show Business! Circling lights. Clapping. A collective gasp.

And silence . as two tigers and a lion loped ominously across the dust. Parents cooed. Children stared. It was gracious but oddly clumsy. Discomforting but somehow beautiful. And it was quickly over. The really dangerous bit – finished.

Luckily a cage had enclosed the ring, or I think the woman behind me would have jumped into my lap with both her children.

When the cage was removed, the romp began. Dogs jumping through hoops. Three little pigs. Clowns. A boa constrictor. Swinging acrobats. A rocket man. It’s the final countdown. Pole-climbers from China. And all number of contortionists and freaks although, fortunately, no bearded women or pygmies behind bars.

“Jussee, but circus clowns are good.” I’d been tipped off by a party clown earlier. “And they only get 15 days off a year!” And a good few knocks on the head and at least one fire-cracker up the backside at every performance, I thought. No wonder their smiles are painted on – but this audience was brilliant at the “BEHIND-YOU” bit. I laughed so much my cheeks hurt.

The kids rode Shetlands in the interval. We bought candy floss from a caravan wo-manned by the Mongolian acrobat who’d been swinging from a tattooed hulk above our heads only minutes earlier. One of us asked for directions to the loo and was sent to the Post Office, which would be closed. Ho ho. Never ask a clown for directions.

It is all kept firmly in the family. I reckon when your circus mum is too old for leotards and acrobatics, you put her into knee-length boots and lion-taming; when she’s too old to run away from fearsome felines, you move her to beribboned dog-handling and pink-plumed ponies. When she can no longer stand up, stick her in the box office.

It was nearly all over when the elephants tumbled in. A huge cheer went up. Then came the terrifying finale: hip-hop clowns, scouring the audience for volunteers to take part in a Michael Jackson moonwalk contest followed by YMCA with the entire troupe waving flags.

I checked that the woman was still behind me. I was in grave danger and might need to jump into her lap.