charliejuggler (charliejuggler) wrote,

In a field again

I'm standing in a large marquee in a field somewhere in Oxfordshire, chatting to an enormous Brummie punk about the current fashion for burlesque, and whether it is a good or bad thing for professional circus performers. To my left a young mother asks a friend to watch her 3 year old daughter as she picks up three juggling clubs and throws them a few times to warm up, before standing opposite another juggler and beginning to pass them back and forth. There's a hard-fought game of table tennis in one corner and in the next tent four people are playing a complex board game involving hundreds of small cardboard and wood pieces. Outside, there are four jugglers playing a variant of volleyball - volleyclub - and several others are sat down watching, drinking chipped mugs of tea and munching cake. We're all surrounded by an eclectic collection of tents, living vehicles, caravans and shelters, and there's also a large fire ringed by old sofas and chairs made from recycled shipping pallets.

I worked out recently that I've spent nearly a year of my life in fields very similar to these. The pattern is familiar: I arrive, spend most of the first day saying my hellos (and I'll probably spend the same amount of the last day saying goodbyes, if I can stand it), put up my tent and take a large bag of props into the marquee, where it will probably stay all week. This is the only group of people who make me feel completely at home - they're my tribe, my second family even, and provide an anchor against the tides of changing jobs, relationships and homes. It doesn't particularly matter where the field is - outside a water park in Slovenia, a scout camp north of Bristol with a view of the Severn River, behind a sports centre in Doncaster - after a day or so it feels familiar, as at least some of the same people are there. We'll sit round a table and drink, chat, joke, take the mickey, discuss tricks, props and shows, and revel in our shared strangeness. None of us ask each other "how many can you juggle" or "are you a clown" or "could you just come and juggle at my event, I'm sorry I can't pay you, but it would be great publicity I'm sure". An easy generosity is prevalent - sit still for more than half an hour and someone will offer you something to eat or drink, even if you haven't met them before.

We're not all professional jugglers of course - in fact, these are probably in the minority, it being hard to make a decent living as one while balancing family life, keeping our skills up to date and dealing with the 95% of the life that entails travelling, loading, unloading and waiting as opposed to the 5% of fun performing. Some of us are also electricians, or doctors, or postmen, or software engineers. However even those who haven't picked up a prop in years will still come to these events to catch up with old friends and enjoy watching others juggle. There will be shows, of course, featuring whoever has a new (or very old) routine they can perform. Finding people to construct the stage (out of whatever we can find), run the lights and sound, stage manage etc. won't be hard as we've all been involved in running circus shows somehow.

The evening is drawing in and I have a vegetarian curry on order from the cafe, served by a cheerful young chap in a white chef's outfit and a hat made of modelling balloons. Later on I'll listen and sing along tunelessly to a guitar-playing juggler who has driven up from Cornwall while drinking tequila slammers with a Kiwi making a six-month tour of the British juggling scene (this will be followed, inadvisedly, by gin and then rhubarb vodka). I probably won't be in bed before the early hours, and tomorrow is my last day before the end of the event.

I don't want to think about that too much as for the moment, I'm home and it's marvellous.

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