Thursday, 31 October 2013

Bread and circuses

I was wandering around the estate yesterday enjoying a day off work (strike action but not researching/working necessarily – I went to Gainsborough to see my Auntie Gwen, then I went home and spent much of the rest of the day catching up on a couple of episodes of Homeland) and I was amazed to find that a circus had pitched up on the playing field by Aisby Walk:

 This is a first as far as I know. The field was created in the early 1970s with a number of football and rugby pitches, and a changing pavilion. You can see how much it used to be a well-used, sociable spot here on an aerial photo from that time:

From the 1980s however, its use as a sports field went into a decline and the pavilion was eventually demolished due to vandalism, the slow death of the social and so on – and now it is clearly seen as the type of wasteland space that can typically be used as a site for a circus. This is all fine and good I suppose, but if Joan from the superb but cruelly underrated BBC comedy series Early Doors ever got around to asking me her favourite question, “do you like circuses, Ian?” then I would have to answer in the negative. The lights of the circus tent on this gloomy autumn morning also reminded me of a scene from near the end of Patrick Keillor’s film Robinson in Space, when Robinson reckons that Blackpool, with all its glitter, lights and amusements, held the key to his Utopia. It’s never made especially clear why the character feels that way. I always thought it was a bit of a situationist-hipster line to take on Keillor’s part, but I guess it’s really something to do with the resort being on the edge of the supposed revolution of everyday life, where the amusements there still have the potential to purely amuse rather than manipulate and abuse us. The same might apply to circuses, but for me this ...

... is more than incongruous.The landscape architect Thomas H Mawson, who designed Blackpool's Stanley Park in 1922, reputedly once said “Blackpool stands between us and revolution”. Essentially, places like Blackpool distract us, divert us away from revolution. But the Middlefield Lane estate is emphatically not Blackpool, and I wonder why this circus should be here at all, if not to do anything other than to deliberately prolong that process of distraction. Even in a small market town like Gainsborough, the Middlefield Lane estate was actually intended to be revolutionary - the Gainsborough Urban District Council proudly saw it back in 1964 as a sign of how the town and its people were forward-looking and progressive. Back then, the creation and constitution of new spaces like those found on this new estate were meant to be socially transformative. The GUDC's motto then was "Strive for the Gain of All'. The authority that replaced it (and which would have allowed this circus to pitch up on the estate) is the West Lindsey District Council - which now prides itself on being 'The Entrepreneurial Council'. 

It could be that the older I get, the more I'm turning into Tommy, another magic character from Early Doors who, when asked by Joan whether he liked circuses, replied "Nooo, they're shite". But the appearance of this circus on an estate where real social, economic and material deprivations persist is shite. This circus is certainly no indicator of a revolution of everyday life. Its presence not only stands between us and revolution, it sticks one big top finger at the possibility. For me, it also makes it that little bit easier to imagine the end of this estate as it was originally conceived.


  1. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Gisele - pleased you like it.