Before you all run screaming for the hills, let me clarify that this post is not about politics; or at least to no greater extent than the living of any life impacts the polis and is thus political. Far be it from me to note that many democracies have more in common with 5th century BCE Athens than is entirely healthy. Voting for a present-day Alcibiades and the modern take on a bracing expedition to Sicily seem to remain all too tempting: if only someone had documented what happened next…
No, as always, this blog focuses the blunt scalpel of its attention on the author and, in this case, his slightly eccentric response to reaching a delicate time of life – one that occurs less near the temporal centre than its name might suggest.
As regular readers will be aware, I have for some time been preparing my body physically to run away to the circus – despite my advanced age, lack of any athletic ability and being in possession of a perfectly viable career (or at least job) which has very rarely required working within a marquee or much in the way of physical exertion. Over the last couple of weeks, I have started to introduce some new threads into the rather abstract weave of my forthcoming acrobatic renaissance.
Recently, I came across the offer of a workshop on aerial circus skills at a local cultural venue which claimed to be suitable for beginners and so, in a fit of madness, booked myself a place. Having put my affairs in order, the weekend before last I cycled off to Eastleigh to try my luck with hanging from the trapeze and silks. The course was well attended, almost exclusively by young, female yoga teachers: so my age, height, gender and lack of flexibility did mean that I stood out somewhat from the crowd. In fact, there were a lot more attendees than the organisers had been expecting, so my time in the air was more limited than I might have hoped and/or feared.
The writing of this post should indicate that I survived the experience (or have seriously buried the headline) and rather enjoyed myself. Both the trapeze and silks were sited very close to the ground: at very much the right height for a female yoga teacher but not so much for me, so in inverted positions my head did have to force itself into the crash mat to make room for my torso. I made a rather decent fist at the trapeze with my existing skills hanging upside down proving beneficial. The only real issues were the sheer length of cord from which the trapeze was hanging, meaning that it did tend to rotate and sway rather more than I’m used to, and the more than usual height when standing atop the trapeze bar (I don’t often get to train in spaces with such high ceilings). Still, I kept up rather well with my fellow students.
The silks were a completely unfamiliar medium but I did, eventually, manage to work out the basics of how to climb them – but sadly only as the session ended and so haven’t had a chance to consolidate this knowledge or rise more than a foot above the deck. Most work on silks does require the player to gain some height first, so my skills will require a great deal more development in this area. In this field, my limited ability was eclipsed by some of my fellow students who taught aerial yoga and were very familiar with using silks. Nevertheless, the session was more than enough to whet my appetite and I rather fancy more time working on aerial circus: however, it does require somewhat specialist facilities and fairly tight supervision if I am to retain my neck in its preferred state (unbroken).
As a more widely usable alternative, the last couple of weeks have also seen me start new, more ground-based circus-related activities with the arcane art of hand balancing. I should stress that I have not been raiding local undertakers for finger-heavy appendages no longer needed by their users for some charnel-house take on Jenga. The only hands in use are my own and I am attempting to balance the rest of my body on them. I’d already been doing a little of this with my attempts at the planche but I have now taken this to a whole new, and much more difficult, level. There is quite a lot of my body to balance on my hands – of a decent size though they may be – and I often don’t know where my outskirts are or what they are doing. The hard-won proprioception I have acquired thanks to my previous acrobatic endeavours does not always translate successfully to the world of hand balancing: apparently I can be upside-down in mutliple, confusingly different ways.
As an added element of difficulty, all my previous acrobatic work has had my body square-on to the action being attempted but I am now hazarding activities where I am side-on which creates new areas of difficulty. It is also very exciting and yesterday I started on a movement which I have only previously seen in b-boying, capoeira and at the circus: it is going to be seriously cool when I can do it for more than a femtosecond without collapsing coated in sweat after a brief period of inept flailing. I always felt I was meant to dance: perhaps break-dance will prove to be my Terpsichorean destiny!
The big advantage with hand balancing is that I can practice it anywhere – well, anywhere with nothing breakable within a six foot radius of my body. It does involve a significant use of hollow body position, which I can manage in a lever but struggle to implement in other orientations. I seem to have difficulty getting my glutes to engage: or so I thought, but given the extent to which they are bitching this morning they may have been more engaged than I realised (probably married against their will). It is also quite hard work on the wrists: who’d have thought that as a single, middle-aged man my wrists would prove to be a weak point?
After yesterday’s session, my body was given an MOT or something analogous thereto: the inspection was limited to my body, so my horn and emissions went untested (just as well for all concerned!). Unless you are very careful, you may find some images of this process smeared all over social media like a child’s jam-covered finger prints over a new 4K TV (not shared by me, who – as you know – largely eschews on-line sharing). Unlike the car, my rear suspension passed with flying colours but a certainly lack of flexibility in my thoracic spine is going to need some work: it seems to need reminding that it is designed to move. I also discovered (though should probably have suspected) that my shoulders are great in protraction (which has much less to do with measuring angles than my school maths lessons suggested) but very poor at retraction. Overall, I seem to be in decent nick for a man of my advanced years and odd habits and there should be some mileage left in me yet.
I reckon all the minor issues identified in my MOT can be readily addressed, so I expect to soon start living life on my hands and give my poor abused feet a well-deserved rest!