It's Christmas Eve and the family are all fast asleep. Good. I have one more story to tell, and it's my Christmas Cracker.
This time last year 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore was on at the newly refurbished Sam Wannamaker theatre at the Globe. Superbly cast and sexy as hell, I'd heard so much about it but it was sold out, except for a front row matinee ticket the last afternoon the children were at school. I took the tube to London Bridge and walked along Southbank, past Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hind, grabbing a mulled cider from a Christmas stall and feeling time wind backwards. By the time I got to the Globe, I was quite merry and open to the delights ahead. The theatre was candlelit, and my breath caught. Next to me there was a gentleman on his own. An American professor, a visiting academic to Worcester College, Oxford, and very engaging. Talk turned, as it does with me, to circus. His face lit up. When he had been a student himself at Oxford, his tutor had been Zippo's father-in-law. "Many people may say their son-in-law is a clown, but his really is!"
Zippos is a catchy, and very familiar name. You only need to say it and it conjures up a smile. It is an old-school big top circus that has been going since the 80s, and that encounter at the Globe made the connection all the more personal. So this year, I made plans with a dear friend, the one who recommended Slava's SnowShow, to go with our children.
Getting there was quite an adventure. We took the tube to Green Park (note, Knightsbridge is closer) and struggled forward while a tornado spun us back (or so it felt!), like the wind blaster in Slava's finale. Still, it was the first time for us all at Winter Wonderland, and as we crossed into Circus Town, we really were over the rainbow. Arriving at the last minute avoided any queues to get in and we took our seats with barrels of popcorn. The place was packed, and there was a hum of excitement.
The warm up was from Mr Lorenz, in spats straight out of a vintage silent comedy, orchestrating applauses the crowd's applause like an Italian conductor meets the Marx brothers. Winnie the Ringmaster was as I'd always imagined, gratifyingly traditional in his red tail-coat, smart white gloves and top hat, a true show man. Pip the Clown, his foil, made me think of the Michael Crawford brand of joker - (in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em rather than Barnum!) - a hapless, clumsy innocent, and a real delight.
The first act were the Tropicana club: Cubans doing acrobatics on the Russian barre, with a touch of salsa - a flipping brilliant way to get the party started.
Next was Miss Jenny from Australia on the Spanish web, beautiful grace in motion. An interlude of clowning with Pip followed, segueing into a masterly piece of juggling from Mr Lorenz.
Romance was in the air next with a beautiful sequence on silks from Duo Stefaneli from Bulgaria - the girls in our group enchanted, my son terrified they were about to kiss (he's at that age). Having just seen Star Wars they were in fits of laughter at the Star Wars sequence next where Pip's light-sabre turns out to be a ... and loved the laser light show that followed streaming shapes onto the ceiling.
The final act was the Wheel of Death, something I could hardly bear to watch. Watching these Moroccan acrobats spin round like hamsters in a wheel at first looked like fun, but when they started standing on the outside, with just their balance to hold them my heart shifted gear. By the time they threw juggling, skipping over a rope and a blindfold into the equation, we were all on the edge of our seats - as my son said, "epic!"
Afterwards it was a joy to meet meet Stefan and Neli while buying a helium Olaf balloon for our littlest, and then as we were leaving Winnie the Ringmaster. They are as gracious, warmly welcoming and old-school lovely in person as they are charismatic on stage. The show wasn't long - under an hour, which was perfect for families with young ones like ours, and for the grown ups, left wanting more, there is is the siren call of the more adult, contemporary circus show Cirque Beserk that is also running in the round at the Winter Wonderland before it goes off on tours in theatres round the country.
So, there we are. It is Christmas Eve and time to get cracking, much to do. My husband gets home from hospital this afternoon having had successful surgery on his leg (see previous chapters!), and I am hugely grateful to the world of circus for keeping our spirits lifted in the meantime. Whatever your plans are for the festive period, wishing you peace and joy for a very Merry Christmas and love from us all.
Note: Zippos Circus shows are on until 3 January at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park - see: www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com (click here)
More footage, including videos, on Instagram @Lucylovescircus and @zipposcircus