Our last full day in Europe involved a lot of driving.
We woke up fairly early so we could check out of the cottage, a process that entailed a nice breakfast designed to use up as much of the perishables as we could as well as a fair amount of tidying up after ourselves to leave the place in good condition. The lady who ran the place seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing, but still. Someday we might want to come back, after all.
After one last sweep of the place to check for lost items we headed out to the car and were nearly run over by a rampaging herd of sheep.
It has to be said that sheep rampage fairly politely and are easily turned aside by anyone who will stand there and shout at them a bit, so it’s not like this was a scene from The Lion King or anything. I don’t think the World’s Grumpiest Cat even batted an ear at them. Maybe this is just something the sheep do all the time just for exercise. You can’t tell with sheep.
It was a long drive back to Richard’s house. We were warned that there might be considerable traffic coming out of Cornwall, since Saturdays are when the holiday rentals change over, but we didn’t run into much of that. Even the automotive slalom through Delabole went pretty smoothly. It wasn’t until we hit the A30 that we ran into serious traffic, and even there the only place where it became much of an issue was at the roadside services where we stopped to have lunch – a relatively cheerful place with the unlikely name of Hog & Hedge, because when I think about lunch I naturally think about shrubbery.
The place was jammed, to the point where vehicles over a certain size were simply being turned away. But we managed to squeeze past the guardians and into parking spaces and find something tasty to eat, and at that point all was right with the world and we could get on our way smartly. All told with the stop for lunch, what would normally be a 3-hour drive took us a bit over four and a half, which isn’t too bad on a Saturday in August, really.
There followed a period of rest and relaxation.
Much of this period, it has to be admitted, we spent watching old episodes of The Goonies. This is what happens when conversations are allowed to wander and you start with a simple observation that cream teas in Cornwall are lovely things and end up with “The Bunfight at the OK Tea Room,” which isn’t as big a stretch as you’d imagine but you’ll have to watch that skit yourself in order to see why. Pay attention to the mule, mostly because I found it funny. It’s kind of ancillary to the actual skit, but so it goes.
Fully rested and comedied, we headed out to the circus.
This took a bit of doing.
The Giffords Circus is an old-fashioned one-ring big-top circus that makes a circuit around the Cotswolds every summer. It’s an astonishingly marvelous thing, full of acrobats and juggling and music and bits of comedy sprinkled throughout. We saw it when we were visiting in 2012 and it was something we wanted very much to see again – at one point a few years ago I even wrote to them about the possibility of incorporating them into a Study Abroad course I was developing with the theater professor at Home Campus on the history of English theater (the circus being a form of theater, after all), though the class never quite happened for a number of bureaucratic reasons – and it worked out that they were having a show about an hour north of Richard’s house that evening. It was mostly straight up the A46 – a two-lane highway wide enough to have an actual dividing line in the middle, which was something we hadn’t really encountered much in Cornwall. We figured we’d head up to eat dinner at a place nearby and then go over to the circus. Easy!
And then we got detoured.
There must have been some kind of serious accident, because they shut down the entire highway and shunted us off into the secondary roads, of which there were two. The American road system has a lot more redundancy built into it than the British road system. Fortunately this was still in Richard’s neighborhood so we ducked down the nearby side road and then took a tour of Horton and Hawkesbury. I will say now that they seemed like nice little towns – all brown stone in the way that Cotswold towns are, and with at least one grand old church that might as well have had a sign out front saying “these places used to be much more heavily trafficked than they are now.”
This was also where I learned that the roads could, in fact, get smaller than the ones in Cornwall. All of the roads through these places were all designated for two-way traffic, but not one of them was wider than my driveway at home, and on some of them I wasn’t entirely sure we’d fit even one car, let alone two abreast.
You really have to know exactly where your car ends, driving in Britain.
Fortunately we made it back to the A46 above the accident with only a few instances of oncoming traffic to dodge around, and we continued on our way until we found our dinner at a place with the singular name of The Jolly Nice. I kid you not.
The Jolly Nice is an odd combination of farm stand, dairy outlet, and cafe. You walk past a whole lot of produce, cheeses, flowers, breads, and meats on display until you get to a walk-up counter, order your food, and then take it out back and sit down inside the yurt. This made sense at the time.
The thing to get there is the KFP sandwich, which stands for “Kentucky Fried Pheasant” – apparently they take the pheasants who don’t make it through hunting season and, well, make sandwiches out of them. Fried, with breading. Three breasts to a sandwich, because pheasants are not that big, after all. Chew carefully, says the sign above the counter, as there may be buckshot. They’re not bad, though very little in The Jolly Nice is safe for people with nut allergies.
It wasn’t a long drive from there to the field where the Giffords Circus was set up. We’d actually driven past it to get to dinner, so we knew more or less where it was. It was just past the town with the “Beware of the Cows” sign on the roadway. We headed up the winding streets and into a vast field where people directed us to a parking spot, and then we got in line to get into the bigtop. There aren’t assigned seats, after all, so you have to be quick about it.
If you have never experienced the Giffords Circus, you really ought to change that. If you are anywhere in the UK during the summer months you should track down where they are performing that night and make your way there, and if you’re not in the UK then you should fix that and then go track them down. It is as much fun as you can have in a tent with your clothes on. They’re refreshingly low tech – as they say on their website, “Our costumes are handmade. Our animals are trained by us. Our sets are painted in the barns on our farm.” They also play their own music and do their own stunts, and in an age of CGI and special effects it’s a lovely thing to be reminded of what human beings are capable of in themselves.
You go in and settle into your bleacher seat, and everything is right there in front of you.
They do a lot of comedy, for one thing. The main clown is Tweedy, who is there to remind you that clowns are funny. People forget that these days. They would not do so if they could watch Tweedy more often, but then not everybody can fit into a big top tent in the Cotswolds, more’s the pity.
With him in that last picture was Miss Bunty Velour (not her real name, but wouldn’t it be marvelous if it were?), who provides both comedy and occasional animal acts, among other things.
Having raised turkeys myself, I have to say that the last one was something I never thought I’d see in a performing arts setting. She’d sing a line from “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” pause, and then the turkey would gobble on cue, mostly. Domestic turkeys are the stupidest things on God’s green earth. More stupid than chickens. More stupid than that guy in your third grade class who ate pencil shavings as a routine part of his lunch. More stupid, in fact, than rocks. There are empty spaces and echoes that are smarter than your average domestic turkey. Having the patience to train a turkey to do, well, anything of any value whatsoever, is a sure sign that the trainer is both a deity walking the earth and clearly in need of a hobby. Color me impressed, yes indeed.
There are also acrobats of varying kinds and numbers, all of whom make you sit up and take notice.
And the thing is, folks, these are real acrobats. They get up there, not ten paces away from you, and really do these things. And if they mess something up (which I don’t believe they did this time, though it did happen when we went in 2012) they start over and do it again. I cannot tell you how much that last bit tickled me. That’s what real performers do, folks.
The first act flew by and suddenly it was intermission. We all piled out into the field and hit up the various tents and trucks. There is a candy tent, for those so inclined, and a souvenir truck where there are keychains for people who wish to use them as Christmas ornaments, which I appreciated. They were also very understanding about my quest for novelty 50p coins and gave me a couple that I hadn’t seen before. There was also a pizza truck, where we finally got Tabitha something she could actually eat. They only serve them at intermission, but you have to order them before the show because otherwise they run out, so if you go make sure you do that. We always feel a certain kinship with the pizza truck at the Giffords Circus since Richard was the attorney who wrote the patent application for the pizza ovens they use. It’s good pizza too.
Intermission ended quickly and we went back into the tent for more comedy, acrobatics, and general mayhem, some of which has already appeared in the photos above, and a glorious night it was.
After the show we boiled out of the tent with the rest of the crowd and found our cars, and somehow we managed to stay together on the way out as the crowd filtered by. It was about an hour’s ride back home though the first rain we’d encountered in our entire time in Britain, which is how you know that the climate is indeed changing. Britain is not meant to be dry. Whatever had happened on the A46 was cleaned up by then, so the drive went smoothly.
We fell into bed as quickly as we could, because the next day was going to happen much sooner than comfort would dictate.