Tag Archives: Juggling

Stupid hobbies again: The Juggling Box

The first plan, taken from my planner.

When I get busy with things I have to do, my brain will squirm like a bored toddler and suggest stupid hobby stuff instead. I waste a lot of energy arguing with myself that I don’t need a pedal powered landspeeder, don’t have room to store one, even if I knew what to make it out of, and the steering would be a real issue, though I guess we could knock up a variant of rack and pinion and…

This is how I get into trouble.

Right now it’s pretty bad because I have a suit of Clone Armour (From The Bad Batch, coming soon to Disney +) that needs a complete overhaul. I have a dalek that needs surfacing work, and a ton of electronics. I have a helmet I’ve started for Mrs Dim, the first costume she’s expressed interest in wearing, and there’s loads more to do on that. Oh, and I started a rough project to build a Hollow Knight mask for my youngest Weasel.

All of which means, along with my day job and the paid writing work, that I have plenty to do, thanks very much Brain.

So a couple of weeks ago my brain started sketching out ideas for a new juggling box (see the illustration at the top.)

I know the kit I need for the kind of show I do these days, so I made a list and began to imagine the box I would need to hold it all. Since I didn’t have any way to measure the clubs and stuff, I used Z as the length of the clubs, and X as the depth, and Y as the width of all five of them together. All the other parts of the box would be measured in relation to those distances.

Don’t worry if none of this makes sense, it’s just what I do to keep my brain happy.

After a couple of weeks, it became clear that my brain wasn’t going to let go of this one. Never mind that I haven’t had an actual juggling gig in over a year, never mind that there’s nothing wrong with the kit transport that I have now. Oh no, we must make a box, my precious, and it must be very, very complex!

I bought wood. I wanted to buy piano hinges as well, but obviously they don’t make those the right length. In fact, of all the things I went to buy at Home Depot, the only bits I actually found there were the wood (2ftX2ft project panels) and some all-purpose tool holders that were going to be used to clip the clubs into place inside the box.

I didn’t photograph the early stages because it went very quickly and I didn’t have any hands free. First, construct a box with all the correct dimensions. Check those dimensions very, very carefully. Get corners as close to 90 degrees as possible. Then very, very, VERY carefully, cut all around the middle of the box, and really, really hope you picked the right side to start. Then, cut one of those pieces in half on the other dimension. Now, go look in that box of hinges and see if you can find four the same.

Ok, well, are there two the same?

Good.

Are there another two that are the same as each other?

Ok then. Put two hinges on each side, and now you have a box that opens along a central seam! I put the tool holders in place in the back and the clubs fitted in as if I had measured. (Which I had. Again and again.)

This would have been a good place to stop. I had achieved something, and my brain was a little surprised. Maybe it would have left it at that, but now my confidence strode to the fore and said “This is JUST the beginning!”

Because there’s more than clubs, right? You saw the list I made. By putting in guard rails on either side, and little restraining rails on the bottom, I could put juggling knives in one side and fireclubs in the other, swinging out like some magical thing!

I also made a box to sit on the top that would hold all the juggling balls.

And this was good, and I was happy, but then a little voice spoke up from the back of my mind and said “Er, excuse me, but where does the diabolo go? And the diabolo handsticks? And the devil sticks, come to that. Also, the front swings open, weren’t you going to design some fancy closing mechanism that would ALSO hold the juggling rings?

Reader, I switched off the lights and left the workshop.

But a few days later I was back at it again, because my wretched brain could see POTENTIAL. This might actually be GOOD and IMPRESSIVE and lots of other concepts that really shouldn’t matter to me now that I am nearly forty nine and living on a different continent from most of the people who made me feel inadequate as a human being.

I shifted the knives over to the same side as the fireclubs, because there’s room for both and then they rattle less, and that made space for the diabolo and both sets of handsticks on the right.

The Devil Stick itself was too tall for the box. I didn’t want to cut holes in anything, so I bolted a small plastic holder to the bottom of the right hand side, and the last of my general purpose tool holders to the top. Click!

Now for the front. I cut a couple of blocks to the curve of the juggling rings, then glued them on either side of the front doors. Then I cut a couple of square blocks that were larger and glued them on those blocks. Now the rings would hook in on these blocks and sit snug, holding the doors closed!

I also dug out a small pair of wheels for the back and some rotating castors for the front. Now the front doors could swing open easily.

And that’s where I am now. The voices in my head have subsided a bit, apart from the one saying the box of balls needs to be secured to the main box, and the whole thing should be edged with veneer to hide the screws and then lacquered a deep honey gold. Oh, and there should be some sort of handle to pull the thing along. And where am I going to put the poi? And what about the buckets for the magic bucket trick?

I don’t know why zombies want brains. They’re nothing but trouble.

Where’s the catch?

Dim at church fair july 89

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.

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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.

juggling convention hall

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).

Wall juggling b

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?

bw playground fiends

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

Assotment0001

(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.)

Catherington bucket 2

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.

https://www.amazon.com/Every-Trick-Book-Charlie-Dancey/dp/1468303430

 

 

January’s Juggling Workshops

Burnaby Now Picture

Picture courtesy of The Burnaby Now

UNFORTUNATELY, THE WORKSHOPS HAVE HAD TO BE INDEFINITELY POSTPONED. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN LEARNING TO JUGGLE, PLEASE CONTACT ME BY EMAIL AT dtrasler3@gmail.com

On January the 24th I’m starting a new series of Circus Skills workshops. After the success of the kids workshops in November, I asked the Community Office at Stoney Creek to help me set up workshops for the local community.

There’ll be six sessions, each an hour long and beginning at Seven pm. I’m able to accommodate a maximum of fourteen students, and will be teaching a range of skills.

Juggling

For absolute beginners, I’ll be teaching basic three ball juggling. This can take as little as ten minutes From there it’s a short hop to more three ball tricks – there are THOUSANDS of those – or on to four or five ball patterns.

If you’ve got some experience with ball juggling, we can move on to club juggling. It takes a little more practice and technique but is very visually appealing. There’s also the opportunity to learn to pass clubs between two, three or four people.

Spinning Plates

Exactly what you think they are – plates that spin! Easy to master, but getting them spinning is just the beginning. There are a number of tricks to get to grips with, as well as the challenge of balance and carrying multiple plates.

Devil Sticks

Also known by the more appealing name of Flower Sticks, almost everyone has seen these props in action but few remember the name. A centre stick is kept aloft by two handsticks, appearing to defy gravity as it spins. It can be tricky to master, but is well worth the effort

Diablo

These also have another name – Chinese Yo-yo. Unlike yo-yos, they aren’t attached to the string, which is good as the most popular trick with a diablo is throwing it high into the air. Since the library ceiling isn’t too high, we won’t be throwing them up much, but there are dozens of other tricks to learn on the way to diablo mastery.

Poi

Developed by the Maori in New Zealand, poi are decorative and entrancing to watch. Two weights on lengths of string, they are swung in intersecting patterns but never tangle…Well, they SHOULD never tangle.

Unicycle

Another perennial circus prop that many people wonder about, the unicycle isn’t as difficult as it looks. Once you’re in possession of the basic rules, all it takes is a little regular practice and you’ll be as comfortable on one wheel as you are on two. Just remember that freewheeling isn’t an option!

For more information about booking places on the course or arranging private lessons, contact me through dtrasler3@gmail.com

Book review: The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern

Back in the summer, on holiday in the US, I nearly bought this book. I nearly did so for three reasons:

1.            It says “Circus” in the title. As a juggler, I’m a sucker for all things circus. Except clowns, obviously.

2.            It has a brilliant cover. Yes, I judged the book by its cover. Cliches exist for a reason.

3.            It’s written by Erin Morgenstern. I thought the name sounded familiar, and then realised it’s the name of the person who sort of wrote “The Princess Bride” If you want me to explain that reference, then I’m sorry, I’m not going to. Watch the film, and thank me afterwards.

For various reasons, I didn’t buy the book back then. Lucky for my family, since I enjoyed it so much when I did get my hands on a copy, that I wouldn’t have seen them for the entire length of our camping trip (3 days – which is exactly how long it took me to finish reading it)

I loved the book, which makes it hard to do a serious review. My impression was that Erin Morgenstern had perhaps written several descriptive passages, maybe working out what the Night Circus would be like. These then got incorporated into the more traditional narrative as the writings of one of the characters in the story. From the blurb on the back, you might expect a love story combined with elements of “The Prestige”, where two rival illusionists strive to best one another in a magical tourney, but it isn’t like that. The story ranges a little in time, is magical in almost all senses of the term and, for once, did not disappoint with the ending. That’s no mean feat.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with a love of magic, or circus, or love stories. There’s no vampires or werewolves, which, frankly, is a relief.

Buy the book HERE

Heading into Fall…

Getting to grips with Autumn…

Autumn is typically a time of looking back, of hunching shoulders and preparing to draw down for the Winter. But this year, I’m feeling unusually optimistic about the coming months. The Appraisal Service has been busier than ever, and I beta read the fun “A Mystic Romance” and the challenging “Jump Drive“. Both of these last were projects I picked up through the social network G+, an invaluable source of advice and interesting information.

As you can see from the drop down menus at the top of the page, I have also dived back into Circus Skills workshops, reaching out to local school and the Parks and Recreation programmes in my local area. Circus Skills are easier to pick up than you might think, and there’s quite a range of things to learn. I have a trunk full of kit from my days as a semi-professional juggler, and I spent several years in the UK running workshops and Adult Education classes in juggling and circus skills.

One of my early workshops at Winchester, UK. See anyone you know?

If you have any questions about my proofreading services, or about Circus Skills, or you just want to learn more about G+, then drop me a line at dtrasler@shaw.ca, or leave a message in the comments.

Now I have to go and rake up the leaves. What have YOU got going on this Autumn?

Who I was twenty years ago.

Never got the hang of juggling ON a unicycle, but I'm one of very few people who juggled WITH a unicycle.

I was surprised and shocked yesterday morning: picking a t-shirt out of my drawer, I noticed it was from a juggling convention I once attended. In 1991. I was shocked because I realized that’s twenty years ago. You may find it shocking that I have a twenty year old t-shirt, but what got to me was the thought of how long ago that section of my life was.

I got into juggling as the result of some unlikely coincidences. I was watching a TV show (The Paul Daniels Magic Show, I think) and there was a guest star on it, who was dressed in a green felt suit and juggling Snooker balls. He’d catch these balls in special pockets he had sewn to his shoulders and hips. I was impressed, and determined to learn to juggle. (I was around thirteen or fourteen, still at an age where these impulsive decisions can be made. Now I would sit back, shake my head and imagine how many times the juggler had injured himself to perfect his act.) One of the unlikely coincidences I mentioned was us having a snooker table in the room where I was watching television. Another was that I picked up some of the snooker balls and figured out the basics of three ball juggling in an evening WITHOUT BREAKING ANY HOUSEHOLD ORNAMENTS.

I had to wait a couple of years for the next coincidence. My college were putting on a big show for the end of the term, and they needed everyone in it to juggle for a big street scene. To achieve this, they asked an ex-student who was now a street performer to come and give lessons. When he discovered I could already juggle three balls, he leant me a set of juggling clubs, and, worse, the catalogue of a juggling supplies shop. By the end of that year I was running a juggling course at the college, and by the end of the next I was running an Adult Education course in juggling.

Paul teaches Toyah Wilcox some tricky juggling moves in our TV appearance

For around ten years, juggling was a big part of my personal identity. I tried quite hard to make it my profession, forming a troupe called “The Juggling Fiends” and performing at parties, festivals, running workshops. We even had a spot on a tv programme. But it’s hard to make a living from juggling, harder than it is to make a living from writing. The troupe drifted apart as life intervened, and though we all stay in touch, we’ve never had a full Fiends reunion. We all still juggle though, it’s not a habit you have to kick when you grow up. I brought a trunk full of juggling stuff over to Canada with me, and the clubs will come out over the summer. The Weasels like playing with the stuff, but none of them have been bitten by it the same way I was.

But looking at that t-shirt yesterday made me see how our view of ourselves can change over time. For about ten years I was a juggler who had to do other jobs to earn a living. For the last decade I’ve been a writer who sometimes takes a day job while minding the weasels. For a glorious year here, I was just a Playwright, before the falling exchange rate sent me off to The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer. Maybe the next ten years will bring another change.