Do any of you remember Billy Smart's Christmas Circus? Forget watching The Sound of Music for the third time, the circus was the thing I loved.
My sister liked the high wire act and my brother laughed at the clowns with their big feet and the car which fell spectacularly apart as they drove off at the end, but I loved the animals.
I loved the glossy black horses as they cantered in slow formation, precise as any dressage Olympian, the plumes on their heads dipping in time to the music. I loved the madcap antics of the dogs as they jumped through hoops and balanced on balls, tongues lolling and a twinkle in every eye. I even liked the ponderous grace of the elephants. But I never liked the big cats.
The lions and tigers never seemed to enjoy themselves. They did their tricks and were rewarded with a bit of meat on a stick, but they always seemed grudging. They would snarl at their trainer and each other and one always got the impression his whip was for real. And any show which needed a cage to protect the audience didn't feel right for me.
Times have changed now. Performing animals are not accepted now in the way they were. It won't be long before it is illegal to use them in circuses. That may be for the best.
I remembered the circus yesterday when I made an unthinking comment and found myself transported to an arena with several angry tigers!
Not real tigers of course. People I thought I knew. But they might as well have been tigers.
Oh, I knew they all held opinions different from mine, but I had not expected the venom, the vitriol and the outrage my comment caused. People were caught unexpectedly on the raw, and they reacted.
There was much ill-feeling as my friends fought among themselves. Some of them attacked me. But my comment was innocuous; it just opened the door on previously unsuspected resentments and bitter passions. Resentments and passions which were then vociferously justified, while other views were viscously attacked.
C S Lewis used the analogy of rats in the cellar. He points out that this ill-temper and bile is always present, like rats in the cellar, and the sudden opening of the door will reveal them. "The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light." I just happened to switch on the light unexpectedly.
I have my own rats. They hid from the tigers yesterday, but they resent them. Maybe my rats are tigers too.
Maybe I need to go into my own cellar with a whip and a chair and tame those rats.
But I'd far rather find those tiger-striped rats, trap them, and let them go far, far away from me.
Because I don't want rats in my cellar at all.
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