In 1998, Peter Symond’s Sixth Form College hired an ex-student, Duncan Gale, to come in and teach the cast of the upcoming production to juggle. It wasn’t necessary, but the drama teacher (whose name I have completely forgotten, so sorry Dave…) thought it would be a good exercise. Since I could already juggle three balls, Duncan leant me a set of clubs and a catalogue from the main juggling supply shop in the UK, Pippa Tee’s.
All this ancient history was brought back to me yesterday when I spotted this book on the shelf in my library.
I met Charlie Dancey in the summer of 1989, when he and his juggling partner Haggis McCleod came to the Winchester Hat Fair. I had been juggling for a little less than a year, but I had already formed a partnership with my friend Dougie (“Catch 22”, because we were stunningly original. Dougie hadn’t read the book, so he didn’t know it had nothing to do with juggling. In fact, he may not have realised it WAS a book….) In 1989 we went to the 3rd British Juggling convention and learned how much we still had to learn.
And at the Hat Fair I watched Haggis and Charley’s routine and and set out to learn it. We straight up stole their “pick up to six” club passing routine, except for skipping over some of the more exotic passing tricks. We couldn’t match their finale, since we didn’t have six-foot unicycles, but we could pass fire, and that was a big deal for the types of crowds we drew at village fetes and church events (the only gigs we were getting, obviously).
Haggis and Charlie’s show was blindingly good. They seemed half cocksure, half desperate. Tricks were pulled off with assurance, or a last minute effort, and their banter was hilarious and all off the cuff.
Except the next time I saw them, the show was almost identical. Aside from the little flex for changing circumstances, the lines, the tricks, the accidents and miracles were bang on. I learned that even the loosest-looking, most extemporaneous-sounding show can be planned in advance. These guys pulled off their great moves not because they were good (although they were and ARE exceptional jugglers), but because they had run through this show and those tricks a million times or more. The jokes landed in the right place just like the clubs did, not from a lucky coincidence, but by intent.
Doug and I never got to Haggis and Charley’s level, even when we were able to replicate all the tricks in their routine (including the six-foot unicycles…) We added members to Catch 22, which became the Juggling Fiends, because we (some of us anyway) were Shakespeare scholars, and it’s a quote, don’t you know?
The Fiends had a good run, reaching seven members at our peak, and doing shows every weekend from May to September. We even appeared on TV with Toyah Wilcox
(That was the year I had to stand in for Dougie and perform the crowd-pleasing stunt known as “The Bucket of DOOM!” Simply put, we announced that one of the team would stand on his head in a bucket of water, and the crowd formed, waiting to see what the trick was. The trick was, of course, that there was no trick. Dougie, or in this case, I, simply stood on his head in the bucket of water. It’s not hard, just uncomfortable, but people seemed impressed. It has never been of any use to me since, however. Don’t put it on your resume.)
So, seeing Charley’s book brought back happy memories of stranger times, and reminded me that I’m juggling on September the 7th for the Burnaby Public Library Summer Reading Club Medal Ceremony. I won’t be doing the Bucket of DOOM, though. Sorry. Check out Charley’s book – it contains way more than just juggling tips.