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The 1993 Christmas CircusThe Annual General Meeting of the Village Players had come and gone. The decision had been made, but Reverend Stu wasn't at all happy about the way Mayor Vick had pushed it through without allowing full discussion.
They'd agreed that in future years there'd be an agenda published in advance, but that didn't really help Stu with the current problem.
He just wasn't too sure about this idea of holding a circus in the Village Hall over Christmas. He'd accepted that nobody could come up with a good pantomime script, but he just couldn't see how a bunch of amateurs could put on a circus.
He had no worries about FlippeR as ringmaster, but felt that the rest of the artistes might not be quite up to it.
The idea of Ben doing an escapology act in front of all those people frankly scared him to death; and as for Vick volunteering to be the fire eater, he just didn't know what to say.
There was one thing which he knew for certain would be a total disaster, and that was Paulo's idea to do a balancing act with a huge pile of books.
Still, even though he had his misgivings, it wasn't his problem any more. All he had to do was sit there in the audience on the night and get up and collect the cheque for the church roof at the end.
All the worry of getting the show up to scratch would fall with the newly appointed producer, but Stu didn't really have all that much confidence in him.
If Bert hadn't stood up at the AGM and reminded the assembled members that his full name was Bertram, then they probably wouldn't have made the stupid decision without realising that his second name wasn't Mills, but Higginbottom.
However, the decision was made and they'd all have to live or die with it now. Bert had got the bit firmly between his teeth.
Confidence in Bert grew slowly as the months passed and the day of the performance got closer. He'd actually got Vick to rehearse his fire eating with HOT tea for a change and he'd got Ben practising escaping from traffic jams on the A1.
It was when he appointed Gloom as the lion tamer that they all started to worry again.
Then, all of a sudden he disappeared for a week saying he was off to a milk conference in foreign parts. It was much later they all found out that he'd secretly been to Iraq to buy a gun big enough to fire poor FlippeR out of.
Although Bert had got all the measurements spot on, Tony Goodman still kept insisting that the thing wasn't big enough.
Everyone thought that Tony had been talking about the gun, but it turned out later that he wasn't.
It was early November when the contractors moved in to reinforce the roof of the Village Hall to take the attachments for Simon's flying trapeze. This was the second year running that Simon had volunteered for a role involving a skimpy costume.
Mayor Vick was getting more and more frustrated as November turned into December and Tim's herd of dancing elephants were still tethered outside the hall. The Town Crier had to keep announcing to Villagers that they should treat anything unusual as a roundabout.
Mavis, the automatic roadsweeper, just couldn't cope with everything the elephants produced.
As the rehearsals proceeded, Ben was up to cardboard boxes, Vick was trying warmed Remy Martin and Paulo had managed to balance his car log book. Things were going really well.
Timmo, the mad trick cyclist and bungee jumper almost had his act perfected when Aunty Zara had a problem in one of her rehearsals and things went wildly wrong.
She was perfecting her mind over matter display when, instead of words magically appearing on the blackboard in front of her, the front wheel of Timmo's bike suddenly changed to square.
Timmo went stiff as a board and FlippeR immediately rushed over to see if he could help. There was no hope for the bike, so a replacement had to be found.
Unfortunately, the only other model available was a second hand motor bike from Sue, which meant that the act had to be re-named Timmo, the mad motor cyclist, or as Vick kept abbreviating it, much to the other Tim's disgust, TMMC.
The other casualty during the run up to the show was Val. It had been intended that she'd do a trampoline act in a leotard.
Apart from the worries about hidden cameras in the roof of the hall, everyone thought her act was very good and, in true theatrical style, they kept shouting "break a leg". Unfortunately the wishes were a bit too close to the truth, and she did.
It was decided that Clive and John Murrell should take over the trampoline act, but dressed as clowns for modesty.
Vick had now started borrowing Spelling's meths to set fire to in his practice runs for the fire eating. This meant that Spelling was getting withdrawal symptoms and pinching Maud's vodka out of her hip flask.
This in turn meant Maud was turning to Gloom's secret stock of lager which he needed for dutch courage before tackling the lions.
Nobody had told Gloom that he'd do a bit better if he didn't insist on using a revolving chair in the act.
It was all right if the lion went for one of the legs on the left, as that made it unscrew and put the lion a bit further away; but when it went for the right hand side, the chair screwed up and the lion ended up only twelve inches from poor Gloom's face.
The tickets were going quite well for the performance. In another departure from previous years, the committee had appointed Colin the Roadrunner as sole ticket agent.
Considering he was marking up the prices by his usual two hundred percent, they seemed to be going like hot cakes. He was rushing round the country selling them to all and sundry.
Mayor Vick kept strutting around taking all the credit for the excellent ticket sales. According to him, the reason they were selling so well was because HE'D decided to have the performance during the reduced fare scheme just introduced by the Siliconshire Bus Company.
The fact the bus company announced the scheme AFTER Vick had set the date had nothing to do with it.
Paulo was having a lot of trouble getting his balancing act right. Having succeeded with his log book, he must have lost concentration for a moment, as he was now practising with more and more logs; rather than more and more books.
Although Bert was giving him lots of advice on the exact positioning of the logs, the act just didn't seem to be coming on very well.
It finally had to be decided to drop the act completely and put Paulo on the ticket desk in the foyer. That WAS supposed to have been Ichabodd's job, but she'd been helping Vick with the meths and the fumes seemed to have got her into a very strange mood where she was convinced she was only a photograph and the whole world was flat.
It was now the day before the show.
Tim's elephants had now produced so much havoc that they just HAD to find somewhere to lose it before the public arrived.
Harry from the Den turned up with a bulldozer and it was agreed to dump all the rotting stuff round the back of the Leisure Centre in the garden of number 80030, where everything else was rotting anyway, so nobody would notice.
Rather like the previous year, Ben had gone missing. He had last been seen practising in a big metal crate but had then disappeared. Luckily he'd taken his portable phone in with him, so he did ring somebody and ask them to push a vague note under the door of the Village Hall.
Unfortunately though, they ran off after leaving the note, so nobody still knew where to find him.
There was nearly a fight between Vick and Timmo when Vick was caught syphoning the petrol out of the motor bike to use in his act. Vick had run out of money, having gone through a hundred gallons of unleaded and two hundred gallons of four star in his practice runs.
Crispin came to the rescue from the Dog and Bone with a huge bottle of strange Polish spirit.
This would run Timmo's bike, burn nicely in Vick's mouth AND satisfy the needs of Spelling, Maud and Gloom.
Gloom was getting even more nervous by now, having just realised that those things in the cage were, in fact, lions and not sheep. He tried to swap roles with Tim, but Tim was insistent on staying with his elephants.
After all, Tim had now got them almost to perfection in their version of Swan Lake and there was no way he wanted Gloom taking all the credit.
The only person who seemed totally happy with his act was Mercury and his performing parrots. Mind you, he only had one solution to sorting out any which misbehaved, and that was to kill them.
The evening of the performance had arrived. John Cull in his customary role of Front of House Manager was making sure everybody had the right seats and knew all the emergency procedures in case Simon's trapeze made the roof fall in.
The committee hadn't been happy with the warm-up act the previous year, so had asked Howard Key to entertain the audience before the show.
After what everybody thought was a cross between a strange rendition of the football results and a demand for the English to pay more for Scottish water, it was time for the show to start and Keith Otter struck up on the organ and drowned Howard out.
Forward stepped FlippeR, resplendent in his glittering tail coat and top hat, to introduce the proceedings.
Now, it would all have worked out a lot better if Ben hadn't escaped upwards through the floor of the lions' cage just as Gloom had finally got them under control.
In the ensuing confusion, Tim's elephants somehow got loose and started their very professional act, but unfortunately while Clive and John's trampoline was still in the ring.
When the second elephant got onto the thing it collapsed and all the elastic sides got tangled up with each other. The poor elephant looked like five pounds of potatoes in a three pound shopping bag.
Luckily Harry was around and brought in the bulldozer again to roll dear old Nellie out of the fire exit to be untangled away from the gaze of the crowd.
Simon's trapeze act went very well, and he even managed to stay in his costume this year. Even Timmo finally went down a storm as he roared around the ring on the motor bike whilst standing on the saddle, secured only by his bungie rope hanging from the roof.
There was a slight hitch with the performance however, when Mayor Vick got a little out of control.
Whether he'd taken too large a gulp of Crispin's Polish spirit, or whether he just managed to sneeze at the wrong moment will never be known, but the result was a total catastrophe.
Just as Tone was lowering FlippeR into the giant gun ready for the finale, a huge jet of flame shot from Vick's mouth and landed on the fuse of the gun.
The Village News later reported that the earth moved for everybody in the ensuing explosion. Unfortunately the gun was still pointing directly upwards so FlippeR could get in easily; and directly upwards was the direction he exited the Village Hall, straight through the roof.
Everyone was in a state of total confusion and Bert was rushing about in blind panic.
Half the audience was convinced that the problem was down to Scattie and another of her faulty spells, as she was rushing around waving her besom broom, the end of which had been ignited by a passing spark.
She was supposed to be following the elephants round, using the broom to tidy up after them, but as usual she was in completely the wrong place at the wrong time.
With no ringmaster, what could they do? In the end, Nick Harvey was wheeled on to do a boring monologue about Christmas decorations or something like that, but the crowd was still restless.
First they started chanting about the show being rubbish, but then they all started filing out to the ticket desk to ask for their money back.
Paulo finally got to do his book balancing act as they were all demanding the full fifteen quid back that they'd paid Colin for the tickets; not realising that the committee had only sold them to Col as a job lot at a fiver each.
Paulo was last seen doing the rounds of all the local businesses, asking them for donations to prop up the finances of the destitute committee.
It was some hours after the rather premature end of the performance that all the artistes were sitting around discussing what on earth they could do.
Gloom and Tim returned having just finished rounding up the animals which had stampeded from the explosion. "I think they were a bit scared" said Tim. "There's a lot more for the garden of 80030!"
They all agreed that whatever Vick had to say at the next AGM, there was no way they would ever get involved in a circus again. The previous years panto had been tame compared with this year's fiasco. "A heck of a lot tamer than those lions" said Gloom.
It was at this point that they started to hear a faint whooshing sound.
The noise got slowly louder and louder and was eventually followed by a huge thud, as a blackened heap landed in the middle of the floor in front of them.
"Fancy the lead in next year's panto FliPz?" they all asked in unison.
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