Zippo's Circus in Brighton – with performing cats!

Last month I wrote about a visit to the little Zippo’s Circus on Hastings Pier, and  the post was picked up by Zippo’s. They said that if I wanted to see a full-scale traditional circus, with animals in, to come to their show in Brighton. When I saw they had performing cats, that was it. I rounded up Philosopher and off we went. 

Performing cat!

     After Hastings, it was good to see the huge Big Top – about four times as big as the tent on the Pier. We had excellent seats, right at the front, but oh horrors, well within marauding clown range. I repelled the person with glacial stares, but Philosopher ended up with a cloth over his head, which was whipped off to shouts of ‘nothing’, presumably referring to lack of hair rather than lack of brain power….
     Firstly, sorry about the quality of the photographs – cameras are never any good with those lights…
     The show was excellent – very fast paced, daring, high quality acts, and wonderfully traditional, including a knife thrower who looked alarmingly like Benny Hill. Philosopher could not watch him at all. I could scarcely watch a man running and jumping on the top of a wheel up near the ceiling, with stilts on, blindfolded – what a way to earn a living.  Maybe I’d prefer to be this girl in a jar….

Bit of a squash in there….

     In a working life managing people, one of the worst things was how precious they were about their status. With circus people, one minute they are selling popcorn to the punters, next minute they are stars of the show, swinging from the ceiling in a spangled leotard.  I was imagining suggesting to the consultants who worked for me that they should muck in and fill in a bit of time between assignments by doing a bit of photocopying or filing….

Selling popcorn a moment ago….

     So, what about the animals?  I know many people get very agitated about the use of animals in circuses, and indeed, I would no longer want to see lions, tigers, elephants etc. However, domesticated animals have lived and worked with humans for many thousands of years, and a circus life, even with the travelling, confinement etc is no different than the lifestyles lived by many millions of animals, which apparently, we condone. Think pigs in tiny pens, dairy cows, chickens, police horses, show-jumpers, and horses in the Grand National. Think over-bred dogs. What about that ‘cute’ pug that can’t breathe well enough to run about. That cuddly labrador living a life of pain from hip deformity? What about cats that live indoors, in small flats… I could go on and on.
     Sadly, there were no beautiful galloping Liberty Horses with nodding plumes. [Zippo’s – are there any Liberty Horse acts left?] We saw two heavy horses with the bareback trick riding act. The horses seemed bulkier and more thick-necked than the rosinback horses I remember from my childhood, but again, the men jumping around on their backs were also bigger and heavier. The horses clearly were not bothered by the riders, but disliked the tight fixed reins necessary to keep them to an ordered trot round the ring. I could see quite a bit of mouthing and eye-rolling. These are powerful horses bred for hard work. Maybe they need more exercise to quieten them down before coming into the ring? However, the reins were kept on for short periods only, so I couldn’t get too worked up about it.

Two heavy horses…

for trick riding…

     The only other horses were in a circus dressage act – like the Olympics. We could have done with more classic Spanish Riding School-style showstoppers – capriole, levade (we saw one brief one, or was it a courbette….) Oh, when I was little, how I longed to see the white stallions performing in Vienna. Now I’d probably be bored to death. Oh what an utter nerd Battleaxe can be.  But I grew up pony obsessed…

Dressage horses

     There was a little Jack Russell terrier, who clearly thoroughly enjoyed his job, as he would, and some very clever budgies.

     Principally, though, I wanted to see the cats, as they are reputed to be so untrainable. We found them before the show, sleeping in the sun in their trailer.  They looked happy enough.

Snoozing in the sun

     They were all apparently rescue cats, and they must pick food-obsessed ones, because it was immediately clear that they only strutted their stuff in return for copious quantities of cat treats, administered during and immediately after they did a trick. I’d guess, also, that they had not had a meal before the show, making them hungrier and more receptive.  They jumped around, walked tight-ropes, balanced on balls, climbed a pole to jump down onto a cushion (although that particular performer spent a typically long cattish time balanced on the top of the pole savouring the treats left up there for him, while the audience waited in suspense).
      The cats looked fine. They all had their tails well up and seemed unfazed by the noise and the lights. Only trouble was, act was a bit short.

Tail up.

Over too fast….

I’m only here for the grub….

Just hang on while I have a snack….

      Of course, we have a food-obsessed rescue cat here at home. Digby already will appear from wherever distant place he may be hiding or sleeping at the first rattle of the treat container (and also, interestingly, at the sound of a tin-opener, even though he has not had tinned cat food in the four years he has been with us). So yesterday, I rattled the pot, he blatted in through the cat door, and within five minutes I had him sitting and raising a paw to ‘ask’ for a treat.
      I think, however, he is a little too spoilt – and portly – to be a circus cat. That pole would probably snap if he climbed up it. I can’t see myself in the obligatory spangled leotard either, never mind selling the popcorn in the interval, dears.

Digby learns to ‘ask’ for a treat

Catching on….

But actually, one pities those who have to work for a living….


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