Friday, 24 October 2014

Chapter 44: Cambridge Circus

"Richard found himself pondering, drunkenly, whether there really was a circus at Oxford Circus:  a real circus with clowns and beautiful women, and dangerous beasts."
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

And here I was with a dangerous beast. Not in Oxford Circus, or even in Oxford per se, but Cambridge, well, it's close enough. "I see you've taken off your magnificent Louboutins" he observes, "will you strap them back on, or would you like me to drop down and do it for you?!"

"Er, sorry, remind me, what did you say your PhD was in again?" splutters the (ahem!) beautiful woman, blushing and back-pedalling furiously. Having waved the red(soled) rag at the bull, she found herself taken aback by this sudden charge. 

"I'm doing in-depth research into trapeze artistes..." came the amused reply.

Wait, rewind, and let me start at the beginning. I'm back at my old college in Cambridge and there is a party going on celebrating its 60th anniversary.  In other words it's a relatively new college, aptly, originally, and still for me, despite recent rebranding, called New Hall. It is an all-girls' college, but, as they used to say, if you did a roll call during the fire drill there would be twice as many men there than women. And here we are again, surrounded by men. And this one with the shoe fetish is one of life's charmers. His attention is terribly flattering ... until I realise he has only been chatting me up to get to the esteemed gentleman with whom I happened to be in conversation. Ha ha. There's no fool like an old fool. Scrap beautiful woman, make that a clown. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted...

"Clowns" on Jesus Lane

Anyway, what with free booze (ever the student), a photo-booth and a dance-floor, the evening has been a lot of fun.  Only about half a dozen from my year have turned up, of whom we catch up with a couple of English grads and leave the NatScis to themselves. Birds of a feather, as ever. The diminished turn-out is not surprising as this is is a single sex college after all, and many spent their time at university getting the hell out of there, never to return.  As one of the Lost Girls, it's only a quirk of fate that I'm there at all, having piggy-backed onto the invitation to my dear friend, Vicky. My husband is with the kids at a reunion for alumni and family at his old Oxford college, and the opportunity to return to mine seemed to redress the balance. Vicky and I browse the photos on the college hall of fame - a few eminent scientists, an actress and the Artistic Director of the Donmar, from the year below, grab our attention.

So, what has this got to do with circus?  Well, everything connects back to circus, in my world anyway. I joined the Juggling Society in Fresher's Week, hung out in a café called Clowns, and it is Vicky who inspired me to sign up to Circus Space in the first place, having trained there on static trapeze for years herself. As for dangerous beasts, well, I think I'll keep them safely locked up in the vault of my memory, where they belong. Much is made of the use, and abuse, of privilege in Oxbridge circles. Take the the über-successful play "Posh" at the Royal Court, for instance, about an elite, and secret, drinking society, which has now turned into the film "The Riot Club". Privilege for me, though, simply signified the luxury of access both to small tutorials and to the sheer beauty of the place, which I cherished. Twenty years on, and I find that sense of awe has not diminished.

So the Louboutins stayed off and we all danced the night away.  The final song was a disco classic: "It's raining men", well, hallelujah, some things never change...  

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as is circus, everywhere.

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