One of the pleasures of living abroad is being in a time zone that’s inhospitable to watching live television coverage of key events in America’s presidential election cycle. Having missed the circus that was the Republican National Convention, I made up for it yesterday by spending the afternoon under the not-so-big top of a real circus, one with clowns and acrobats and animals whose sole aim was to do the exact opposite of what appeared to be the objective of America’s Grand Old Party: to make people smile.
Giffords Circus is a summer institution in the Cotswolds, touring village greens and commons with its distinctly throwback-style of entertainment. This year’s show, The Painted Wagon, is a wild-west themed extravaganza—a metaphor all too fitting for behavior last week at the RNC in Cleveland. Dodge City Saloon proprietress Sarsaparilla Sal was our hostess for the afternoon, while the house band led by Handsome Eddie provided the musical accompaniment for a variety show that included a lassoing cowgirl, juggling barkeeps, and gasp-inducing aerial hoop dancing. Tweedy the Clown and his pet iron, Keith, were also on hand to keep the laughs coming. There was even a baddie sheriff who tried to arrest the whole audience for eating gold chocolate coins that had been robbed from Wells Fargo by El Gifford. Perhaps in Cleveland he could have been deployed to arrest an effigy of Hillary. It’s as if the Giffords—the circus is the brainchild of Nell and Toti Gifford—anticipated the political climate in America and built the perfect antidote of an afternoon. Now if only they would consider touring it in the states.
Looking at my blog posts from the last year, it occurs to me that my afternoon at the circus fits a theme of how I like to spend my free time these days. From Kelmscott Manor to the whimsical Welsh village of Portmeirion to the London Tweed Run, I’m most interested in those activities who have no higher aim than happiness. I’m drawn to the creators of the world who’ve embraced this, from William Morris to Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis. A look over the headlines for the past month explains my newfound affinity for pursuits unburdened by any objective other than delight. More than ever, we need the Giffords of the world. An afternoon at the circus deserves a permanent spot on the curriculum for being human, especially if you’re running for president.