When the Circus came to Town

If you are visiting from the A – Z Challenge, 2014, you may be wondering what the circus coming to town has to do with the challenge given that my theme is Social Justice.  Honestly?  Absolutely nothing; nix; nada and zilch.  The strain is beginning to show and a tiny sliver of a crack in the tenacity of the daily blog has started to appear.  The focus is killing me softly (okay may not so softly tonight) with its demanding routine which is beginning to seem like hard work.

Because I love writing the thought of stopping now that the flow is flowing is a tad frightening.  After all if I stop now what happens on Monday when you’re all (really?) waiting for some scintillating prose around the letter “L”.  Will the inspiration still be there if I take a break or will my fingers seize up completely or find themselves wrapped lovingly around copious cups of hot coffee instead.  So I decided to write a frilly little piece about the circus … just for you, well maybe for me too because the memories bring back the warm fuzzies.


Memories of childhood are peppered with annual entertainment events that formed the highlight of our year as we grew up in the 1960s.  The circus was one of those events which the family looked forward to during Christmas school holidays.  I was just as excited when the circus came to town and my own children were of an age to enjoy the fun under the big tent.  Funny how things are never quite the same as an adult.  Everything seemed smaller, quite dull and I no longer loved the animal antics as I had as a youngster.  Growing up has a bitter sweet twist as knowledge and enlightenment overrode the spellbinding wonder of the circus.

I remembered the smell of sawdust and pop corn and animal poo, lots of animal pooh.   During interval my father would buy us ice cream and candy floss and we wandered around the  brightly decorated cages where the animals were housed.  While my children were as entranced as I was at their age, I felt a sadness for the animals whose lives were spent in captivity performing antics for our pleasure.  I didn’t enjoy the second part of the show and I haven’t been to the circus since.


Turning into the street before my workplace on Wednesday last week I noticed the huge TAFE college oval was playing host to the circus.  The circus had come to town again.  Because I know that few animals participate in the performances nowadays I felt a little easier taking a closer look after work.  The trailers were still decorated with bright characters and circus artwork adorned every surface available.


The Great Moscow Circus comes to Town

As I hung over the fence like a child again I imagined what was happening inside the big top.  The trapeze artists would be practising their death-defying triple somersaults and being caught by some bronzed bare-chested Adonis swinging upside down arms outstretched.  I could hear the oohs and aahs and see my mother’s hands covering her eyes in fright.

There were small ponies being walked about the sports oval and groups of children patting the animals.  It made me think of the troupes of horses that wound their way around the circus ring as gymnasts formed a pyramid so many across and so many high as they rode the horses onwards; and how they were jettisoned from the pyramid to land on small springboards from which the next series of circus acts followed.

B & W Circus

The Great Moscow Circus that I stood and gazed at yesterday is a far cry from the Boswell Wilkie Circus we attended as children growing up in South Africa.  The Boswells were an English family who opened their first circus in Yorkshire in 1882 with equistrian performances making up most of the programme.  Clowns and other forms of entertainment were added later to fill the allotted time.

Mr. Boswell, the head and front of the company, is a very prince among circus riders. To say that he can do almost anything on horseback, or with a horse, is only stating the simple truth. His performances on a bare backed steed are astonishing. As a juggler on horseback he is a wonderful fellow, and in other departments he commends himself to the popular taste.” (“Blackpool Herald” – 13th July 1883)

B & W at Milner Park

In 1911 a later Mr Boswell, his wife and five sons, six ponies, a donkey and a dog landed in Cape Town and headed for the newly proclaimed gold rush town of Johannesburg.  The family joined an established circus troupe but went on to form their own company that enjoyed great success.  In later years, when we were children, they joined company with the Wilkie Circus and became the Boswell Wilkie Circus that entertained us each year.


3 thoughts on “When the Circus came to Town

  1. What a lovely post. I remember the circus from the 1970s in Mumbai (then called Bombay) and I did take my daughter when she was a kid. A circus still comes to town these days but I have not yet seen any of the ‘modern’ versions.


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