Thursday, March 31, 2011

The circus

Big Top? Not for me thanks

I once worked at a circus.

You’ll notice I said ‘at’ instead of ‘in’, and when I said once I meant it quite literally.  While still in the 6th form a friend heard that a visiting circus was paying ready cash to labourers helping take down the big top and all the other paraphernalia after its final engagement in the Quarry, a park in Shrewsbury town centre.  So having found out more, off we trouped (see what I did there?) to earn a bit of easy cash.

There was a time as a small boy when I adored being taken to the circus.  There was a good one in Blackpool, the highlight of which was the very climax of the show, when the lights were lowered completely for a while, only to come back up to reveal that the ring had been filled with water (complete with fountains), and around its perimeter long legged ladies paraded in white feathered costumes along with the other entertainers, the whole spectacle bathed in a deep blue light to give a magical, almost Disney effect.

As I got older the circus became much less enchanting. The clowns ceased to be funny (big shoes and cars that fall to pieces haven’t been my kind of humour since I was still in short trousers) and over time they took on a sort of creepiness which to this day I find slightly disturbing.  As you get older you also become more aware of things like the amount of make up applied to the artistes’ faces (presumably with a trowel), and the sawdust and animal droppings spattered up the back of the ladies’ flesh coloured tights.

However, at 17 years of age I was glad of the chance to earn a few quid, but it really was back breaking work. The first thing I noticed as we started to pack up the circus was that everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, whereas I hadn’t a clue. However it didn’t matter much, because I didn’t actually need to use my initiative or understand the bigger picture. I just had to run, lift, push, pull, fetch, carry or heave as and when instructed. There was no Personal Protective Equipment on offer, not a hard hat in sight, so you had to keep your wits about you, what with metal gates, fencing, ropes and wooden benches being swung about all over the place, much of the time in virtual darkness.  The speed with which everything was dismantled and loaded onto lorries was impressive, considering the sheer amount of equipment involved.  It looked like chaos, but there must have been a plan.

A couple of hours later we queued up to be paid off by the foreman. My mate and I could see handfuls of notes being thrust into the hands of the other casual labourers ahead of us.  These guys were much older than us and I imagine otherwise unemployed, so had far greater need of the money than we did. Even so, when our turn came we were more than a tad disappointed to be given just £2 between us.  It might have been 1977, but a wage of 50 pence an hour was still pretty rubbish.

My mate questioned this paltry sum. “Take it and fuck off!” we were told with no small amount of menace.  The foreman and his cronies were big ugly buggers, “well ‘ard” you might say, so we took the money and just made it to the nearest pub before closing time, where we quickly converted our hard earned cash into whatever beer and crisps it would stretch to.  The refreshment was most welcome, but if I’d felt any lingering fondness for the circus it had now gone completely. Bunch of bloody clowns if you ask me.
Not funny, not funny at all you creep!


  1. Great post, just shows how some people (and clowns) will always take advantage of the young'uns:(

    Lesley x

  2. Oh fantastic, I must pass on my potato picking exploits..