At the circus you learn to be grateful for the small things in life. Sometimes you have water, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have power, sometimes not. You never have internet but that is neither here nor there.
If being here has taught me anything, it is to be resourceful. I now never leave the site without a water bottle, my phone charger, my laptop and (if we are in a city or big town) swimming gear and shampoo in case I happen to stumble across a leisure centre. Always be prepared is the circus mantra.
My days off are inevitably spent searching for a toilet, a plug socket, a wifi connection and a shower (in that order). This probably sounds extremely boring to most of you and I suppose on some levels it is. But I love the challenge, the treasure hunt-esque quality with which I now approach each new location on our tour.
What better way to get to really know a place than by searching for those most basic necessities? And the happiness when you find them is unparalleled. In one town I stumbled upon a café with superfast wifi, numerous plug sockets (so I could charge my phone and my laptop – the luxury!), toilets with proper walls rather than just cubicles and a map on the wall with the local swimming baths circled. I felt like I’d discovered El Dorado, Atlantis and Narnia all rolled into one big, coffee-scented mecca. Readers, it was a good day.
So that is one side to circus living, the slightly crude side if you will. The other side is like something straight out of an Anglea Carter novel. Magical realism abounds. For example, it is not unusual for someone to suddenly do a handstand or start juggling mid-way through a conversation. There is no need to acknowledge this, they expect you to just keep talking.
I once rounded a corner to find a Ukrainian dressed in a bear-suit (the head tucked safely under his arm) casually leaning against a tent pole smoking a cigarette. Again, this is not to be considered odd.
Yesterday I had a very serious conversation about Argentinian politics with a colleague who was dressed as a genie and wearing a comedy moustache. Just your normal day at the office! It is as bizarre and outlandish as you would expect the circus to be and it’s moments like these, so unique and random and perfect, that I will take away with me once my time here is over.
A final aspect of circus life can be summed up in one word; disorientation. At this very moment, I have a vague (at best) idea of which part of the country I am located in and have narrowed it down to two possible counties. I only know the name of the town because I work in the box office and have to write it on the tickets.
I am two days late submitting this article because dates are only important here when they relate to shows and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are company days off so therefore don’t count. Yesterday I had to walk around the site three times before I was able to locate the toilet block, which moves location every site in what I can only assume is someone’s idea of a joke. Ten minutes ago someone burst into my bunk thinking it was theirs because my wagon is in the exact same location on the new site as theirs was on the old site.
But none of this matters because we will be moving on on Monday and will do it all again at the next site (wherever that is). Nothing is serious because nothing is permanent. For someone like me, who has spent their whole life taking things pretty seriously, this is the most liberating philosophy to penetrate my consciousness in a long, long time. Maybe ever.
I just hope I will be able to carry it with me when talking politics with genies and stealing cigarettes from headless bears are no longer part of my daily routine.