Friday 13 July 2007

Mummy on the Edge - Families NW Magazine Jul/Aug 2007

Mummy on the Edge (of the Universe)
Angelina Melwani boldly goes to the Circus and the Planetarium

It is the start of a wet half term. Mini-Me and her menagerie of imaginary siblings crave excitement and are enquiring about plans, mainly due to my own deliberately vague assertions that, “We are going to have such fun!”

Mini-Me is obsessed with Earth, “astronoids” and aliens. “How do aliens get born?” My insufficient answers elicit similar questioning of every adult she meets, from her grandmother to the checkout lady in Sainsbury’s. I got her a fantastic pop-up book from my friend Charmaine who sells Mini-IQ called My Wonderful Earth from which she has learnt loads. However, it’s not enough. Being a guilt ridden single mother of the noughties, I am gripped with the desperate desire to quench every thirst for knowledge I detect, any way I physically can.

With this in mind, I take her in the pouring rain on the epic journey from Bushey via National Rail, Tube and Docklands Light Railway to the Royal Observatory, suitably based at “The Other End of the Earth” (AKA Greenwich). Their website ( details a new show at the Peter Harrison Planetarium where they “take you on a journey through time and space… providing a magnificent introduction to the wonders of the universe” with a question time at the end. Mini-Me is hopping with excitement.

In no time at all we are climbing aboard the milk-float-type vehicle that runs us to the top of the hill to the Planetarium. Mini-Me grows pensive as she considers again my non-committal answer to her repeated question, “Mummy, are there aliens?”
“Well, you can have a chat with an Astronomer and get all your answers today.”

At the end of the show which Mini-Me has enjoyed, utterly absorbed, lying horizontal on top of me in order for her eyes to reach the images (we didn’t book so are sitting on the very edge of the universe), I yawn and glance at her, wondering if she heard me snoring. Mini-Me takes her place at the front of the theatre to monopolize Dr Claire Thomas Phd., a friendly, real live Astronomer, there for the very purpose of answering those burning questions. Allowing limited input from Dr Thomas, Mini-Me expounds on Life, the Universe and Everything, covering How Aliens Get Born; the order of the planets from the sun; meditation; our full postal address; her array of imaginary siblings and various unrepeatable details about my personal life. I gasp and cover her mouth and in a muffled voice she says, “But it’s true!” Mortified? Absolutely. But at least she hasn’t asked me about aliens since then.


The only circus I had ever been to before now was Cirque du Soleil, and I didn’t get it. It was surreal, bordering on creepy watching a giant man with no head walk around holding an umbrella. How the hell would I have explained that to Mini-Me? So when Zippos Circus came to town in Watford I discovered what I had been missing all these years.

If you think spending an afternoon catching flying spaghetti in your up-do is not the ideal afternoon out, you are wrong. This was a show packed with interactive fun; Henri the handsome Clown as a rude waiter, chucking water and bits and bobs into the audience during a well-choreographed restaurant vignette; heartbreakingly beautiful dancing horses; the stunningly rubberlicious Ena hanging artfully from the silk rope (and serving tea in the interval – circus life, eh!); Zaya performing breathtaking twirls from the trapeze; muscled gymnastic brothers balancing in gravitationally impossible formation; daring tightrope walking family, the Ayalas in spangly white suits; a husband and wife knife-throwing act (-I’m not saying anything!-); their daughter the football and tennis racquet-juggling dynamo and much, much more, from all over the world. This is family entertainment in both senses, performed to and by families. And, in the surprisingly intimate setting of the big top, up-close and personal, it is utterly enthralling and not in the least bit naff. In fact, the most disappointing thing to behold was that many seats were empty - a sheer waste, for such good value and satisfaction - but this did nothing to dull the sparkle in the blue, blue eyes of Norman Barrett, the suave and immaculately turned out “world’s greatest ringmaster” who also entertained us with his talented band of ice-cream coloured budgies.

“Remember,” he said, “if you’ve enjoyed yourself, tell your friends!” So I’ve turned into a circus evangelist and am telling everyone I know to go. ( I’ll definitely go again and next time I’m going to take my parents, too!