Kibworth and Smeeton WI – February 2024

The Kibworth and Smeeton’s WI new year’s programme began on Thursday 11 January with John Parnell talking to us about Circus Skills, which included some of the history of the circus in this country, together with entertaining
demonstrations of juggling.

When he was young John lived in Nuneaton and developed a liking for the circus because the railway ran near the house and he used to watch circus animals being unloaded from the trains. Later, while on his honeymoon, he spotted some juggling clubs, bought them – and spent his honeymoon learning how to juggle!! Back at home, he started performing his act in a club and was so good that he was given a double-page spread in a local paper. John took us back 250 years to tell us about a gentleman named Philip Astley. He was regarded as the father of the modern circus, an integrated entertainment experience which included performances with horses, dogs, clowns, jugglers and music.

From an early age Philip’s dream was to work with horses. When he joined the Light Dragoons at the age of 17, he came into contact with professional riders and instructors, becoming a brilliant rider himself. He was particularly skilled in trick riding and he and his wife began putting on public open air displays in London. He developed a reputation and his popularity grew. He began to introduce clowns and juggling acts to amuse spectators between equestrian displays. He also opened a riding school where he taught in the mornings while continuing with his afternoon performances. Over the years he added other performers to the jugglers and clowns, such as dancing dogs, tightrope walkers, acrobats and musicians, all of them acts which had previously been performed individually – and so the circus was born.

The Ringmaster’s uniform was based on Astley’s army uniform. John demonstrated a variety of juggling tools, which were lined up along the stage. He explained that juggling balls downwards is easier, because they slow down on the way back up! He juggled hoops, chiffon scarves, spinning plates, hoola hoops, boxes and diabolo sticks. The latter consists of a length of thin rope attached to a stick held in each hand. The diabolo is rather like a yo-yo, which is tossed in the air and caught on the rope in ever more complicated moves. He told us that W.C. Fields used to smoke cigars and developed juggling tricks with the cigar boxes before he became a comedian. John’s talk was interesting, humorous and lighthearted and he made everything look easy. He invited members to try their hand, telling us that it does help you to concentrate if you have your tongue out!

On Friday 12 January our ladies played a skittles match against Great Glen WI at the Rose and Crown at Thurnby. It was a midday match so after two games they had a delicious lunch. Continuing on, Great
Glen won 3-2, but it was a very close match, so much so that when the points were added up, Kibworth had the higher score! It was another enjoyable and very friendly match.

We will make an Easter wreath using fabric, guided by Margaret Cathie and Lois Parker on Thursday 14 March at 7.30pm in the hall at the Kibworth Community Hub.

Pat Sharman