Sunday, 21 February 2016

Chapter 132: Turning 40 - Lucy Loves Passion

I was going to slip surreptitiously into my 40s, would you believe. No, seriously! All I asked for originally was a quiet lunch at home with Mum and Dad to myself (being the youngest of six), and my dear friend Kirsty, and then to cosy up with Xavier and the kids after school in the evening. But with a love of circus and street performance, laughter and passion, there have been a couple adventures on the way that having a big birthday has enabled, and turning 40 has gained its own momentum. The first you know about: my trip up to Bristol to ask Ken Dodd for a pie in the face at the Slapstick Festival (see Chapter 128: An Audience with Ken Dodd - click here), a clown’s pilgrimage that was the direct result of a workshop in November when his name cropped up, invoked in hallowed terms. 

The Mangoré Duo album: Latin Melodies
 ( - click here) 

The second was a party. You see, just before Christmas, dropping off my son at a choir rehearsal for a carol concert, I came across a couple of buskers playing Spanish classical guitar on the Kings Road. They were coming to the end of the set, their fingers numbed to the bone, too cold to play on, but I’d heard enough and my heart went out to them. Such music, you see, was a particular passion of mine in my 20s. Fresh from living in Spain, a regular at the annual flamenco festival at Sadlers Wells (still going), I had even bought a guitar from Macaris on Charing Cross Road, with the express desire to learn, but had to return it the following day when a wise friend pointed out I could ill-afford it. We were studying accountancy at the time, but she was much more adept at balancing the books, still a work in progress for me. Anyway, hearing this pair, Will and Benjamin from The Mangoré Duo, conjured up the spirit of Lorca, the blood red Andalusian moon, black lace mantillas, wild stallions*, dusky, oppressive heat, longing and lovers. Search them out - they have the most beautiful CD as well. On the spur of the moment I asked them if they would play at a party, they agreed, and an idea began to form. With Valentine’s hot on the heels of my birthday, I wanted to share on the love and stir things up. “Are you crazy?” said my son, when he heard the logistics I had in mind. But where better than our kitchen to pack in family and friends like cattle, with lashings of alcohol and paella to soak up the atmosphere, and enough space for a few improvised sevillanas to let rip the duende

The first Friday in Lent is possibly not the most auspicious day for such a fiesta, but then it also happened to be the feast day of St Julian, patron of circus performers and carnival. Who could ask for anything more?! Well, I did! The stage set, the guests were now invited to tread the boards in their own interpretation of the Latin Lover theme, and many were unrecognisable. We had masked moustachioed matadors, foxy Zorros, medieval troubadors with alluring codpieces, mysterious black widows, los cornudos, tourists off the Costa del Sol, my daughters in flamenco dress, my son in a Spanish football kit, Xavier resplendent in a translucent (and somewhat transparent!) golden traje de luces, yours truly in a burlesque steampunk gypsy affair… and even a flaming flamingo, olé! After such a night, the following day could have been a little flat, but on two hours sleep we were soon on our way to a tiny spa town in the Alps where my husband’s sister, and her Swiss family, have been going for years. Xavier on crutches *before* a ski holiday got a few laughs at the airport - as well as his fair share of admiration when we explained how it happened (see Chapter 117: Clowning on Ice - click here). For holiday reads, I took Enid Blyton’s Circus Collection for the kids, and Toni Morrison’s Jazz for me, a huge fan of Morrison’s Beloved, which we studied at school. Already on the plane journey Morrison's forward had my mind buzzing about jazz, as much as circus, being an avant-garde state of mind. I thought back to the trip with the kids to Matisse, who embraced both in his art (see Chapter 30: Matisse and the Art of Circus - click here), so you can imagine my amusement when we arrived at the hotel to find the picture (above right) hanging in the corridor right outside our room. What a welcome! I was glad I'd brought my juggling balls as well, when the latest challenge from Jon Udry came through, one that I am still working on...

Circus everywhere
Leukebad is a small, family resort and where snow had been dumping down and the pistes were relatively empty. We booked our littlest into ski school, my son into lessons with his cousins, and with my husband out of action, my daughter and I booked in with a replacement instructor. Xavier told us he’d booked us in with a woman (not intentionally!) called Roma. I was surprised, for having read Enid Blyton the night before, we’d been introduced to Roma the Tiger Tamer, and he was most definitely a man. As we walked down the steps from the telecabine a poster boy for the Red Carpet ski school (literally, as it happens), greeted us with a broad smile. Marco, ah, the boys teacher, I thought relieved. Ah no, Madame, I’ve swapped with Roma and you’re with me. My son was delighted, even if Roma, a guy, was not a tiger tamer. He is a breakdancer too. Marco, as it turns out, was the owner of the ski school, where the byword is passion, and we were honoured. When not skiing, Marco spends half the year as a sailing instructor. As someone whose husband grew up on skis in the same mountains, and is himself a keen sailor, I found they had certain elements in common, in particular as both are following their dreams, they are very encouraging of others doing the same, however divergent the path.

Clowning everywhere
On the flight over I read newspaper columnist Melanie Reid on the four stages of learning - unconscious incompetence, when you are unaware how bad you are, conscious incompetence, when it is all too clear to you, conscious competence, when you start to make genuine progress, and unconscious competence, when you have worked so hard and practiced, it becomes second nature. I’m on the border of level two to three, in circus as much as skiing. In terms of technique, I learned from Marco to align my breathing with the flexion in the turns and appreciate the zen of skiing. I learned also that skiing has a lot in common with pole-dancing - at my level anyway. That is to say that I invariably feel more elegant and glamorous than I appear on video, and then I squirm with embarrassment. I learned that there is a time and a place to look ridiculous in snow plough, namely on a steep narrow black when your über-confident niece has skied off the edge of a cliff into the nets. Lying face down on the snow, hanging onto her for dear life with my sister-in-law, our sons having thrown themselves on our legs for counter-balance, was beyond terrifying. For my part, faith in my upper body strength, thanks to circus training, made the world of difference, and between us we managed to pull her up and out. All in one piece, the only pratfall was when I managed to trip over my own poles while slowing to a stop. Good preparation for the full-time clown course I am on for a week from tomorrow.

Back at the hotel that evening I learned that insanity is not necessarily doing something once, out of curiosity, but going back for more. So it happened that when with a hardy Canadian friend in the sauna, I found myself honour bound to follow her into the plunge pool in the snow outside, where hitherto I had only splashed on the steps, and plunge head first into the depths. So cold, I wondered for a moment if I could make it back to the steps and clamber out, but something else I’m learning, from skiing and circus alike, is that there are times when if you stop to think, the fear may literally paralyse you. You just have to go for it.

The last lesson learned was that if I fall asleep reading to my children Enid Blyton’s tales of Jimmy and Lotta’s adventures in Mr Galliano’s Big Top, of the wonder dog Lucky walking the tightrope and the horses marking time to the band’s music, I will wake up believing Giffords Circus (click here) has a place for us. Well, we can all dream! 

*Note: Speaking of flamenco stallions, check out the equestrian theatre of Bartabas coming to Sadlers Wells with his show Golgota 14-21 March ( - click here)


  1. When you turn 40, it means it is time for celebration and this is the reason I am looking ideas for my mom’s 40th birthday celebrations. How is the idea of family dinner party at the venues in Chicago?

  2. Hi there, that sounds like a lovely idea! Have a wonderful evening and best wishes to your Mum on her birthday!