It was BJC’s 25th outing this year (my 10th BJC) and it was convened in Southend from 11th-15th April.
We arrived just after 16:30, having navigated the M25 without issue and then got stuck behind a steam engine. Straight over to registration for our passes, show tickets, and explanatory brochure. A quick pitch of the tent before the showers came, then back to have a look around the main venue. I headed straight for the merchandising and got one of the rare size small hoodies and a size small skinny fit t-shirt (money well spent). The main hall was an excellent space – indoor tennis courts divided in half by a walkway, with workshops in the indoor basketball courts.
We stayed long enough in the main hall or get ourselves oriented and dump juggling gear for later (also having a quick tour around the traders who were still in the process of setting up), then back for some dinner before the evening festivities.
In the course of catching up with friends a group of us ending up in the evening’s quiz, which was half juggling questions and half general knowledge. But for my Helen Mirren being changed to a Judi Dench we would have drawn with the winning, but ended up with 42 to their 43. The winning team was composed of friends and we would have normally been part of it but we happened to be sitting at different tables chatting when the quiz started.
A relatively early night as it was going to be a busy day on Thursday.
Thursday was the British Kendama Open, but I started it with a swim (a gentle 500m) and running a workshop (introduction to club passing). I had to dash out of Aidan’s theory workshop halfway through to go help run the BKO (mostly filming).
Lots of good clicking at the BKO, but my spot was freezing cold and I had to dash out of the Big Top where it was being held to grab my massive down coat (dodging the heavy showers). Gorgeous sunshine was waiting when the competition was over (at which point I got a call from my sister giving me the lowdown on her merting with the incompetent solicitors who are still handling my grandmother’s estate, three and a half years on).
Back to the main hall for some solo juggling, watched the German wheel display, then dinner. After dinner I decided not to queue for Open Stage but instead headed back to the main hall to throw things around with friends. This was all going well (we were working through the scrambled v variations) when I got a club which bent my nail back 2mm into the nail plate, cracking it). That sidelined me for the rest of the evening, but I did get a Wallace and Gromit plaster out of it.
Later on I went to the Old Skool panel in the bar, to hear tales from “experienced” performers and BJC attendees. Highly entertaining and I hope it happens again in the future, there are lots of stories out there to be told.
Another 500m dip in the pool and a quick trip to Waitrose to stock up on plasters. Just as well as I managed to smash my thumbnail getting my highest ever run of 4 clubs (120 catches).
I elected not to attend BYJoTY as previous years had been hard to get into and I didn’t feel like queueing in the on-and-off rain for rickety big top seating.
It left the makn hall nice and quiet and I interspersed my bouts of solo juggling and snakeboarding with workshops (on social siteswaps and beginner hat manipulation) and after dinner watched the Gandini show “The Event” from the bar. No sound, but an excellent view, with additional commentary.
The “black tie and silver” party took place in the beer tent with a live band, so I got dollied up and trundled over there, to spend a lot of time trying not to look at Tom (there’s always one, I just wasn’t expecting it to be someone I knew). The live band (Scooby) were a little slow to warm up, but once they hit the right songs in their repertoire the dancefloor became cramme and I got my groove on (and made full use of my deely boppers).
Saturday was show day. Not being interested in the parade or games we walked down to the seafront, avoiding the buses and leaving more time for juggling, chatting, and playing cribbage. We did hit the end of the games, but there was ice-cream as a distraction, following which was the traditional herding of cats to find somewhere to eat before the show. We ended up in a curry-house chosen because they opened before their neighbour as the rain began to fall, after which it was a short meander to the theatre for the gala show.
The gala show began with the now traditional wasting of modelling balloons (though there didn’t seem to be as many giant beach balls bouncing around to whack you in the back of the head). The acts then ran as follows:
Phil Os – German diabolist. Lots of energy, good use of a semi-floppy haricut with rocky music. A bit of padding with some glow diabolo, but good fun and only minimal drops.
Ian Marchant – British variety act. A nice bit of combination trickery, and the final trick is good but I’d seen the act earlier in the year and the audience interaction brought out the worst in people who forget that the gala show isn’t a renegade.
Matthias Romir – German hat and ball juggling (with mime). I’d seen this in Munich at the EJC last year, and whilst good it did drag a little and I wanted him to get to the chair section quicker.
Gunnar Erik – German handbalancer. I was slightly concerned that he was going to be taking himself seriously when he marched on stage in his Matrix get up, but instead he kicked off with a properly hard trick (no waving around of the spare arm) and generally proceeded not to take himself seriously at all. Probably my favourite act of the show.
Gandini Juggling Project – multiple nationality gloclubs. Malte made me laugh (even though I couldn’t see his face) and it was all very good, very clever (with the colour changes and the music), but I’d seen a 4-person version of it in Rotterdam so it didn’t have as big an impact as it probably should have (plus the theatre was warm and I’d had a big dinner). It was good to see Jon Udry making it to the A team.
After the interval some juggling hero awards were given, to people who had contributed to the British juggling scene over the years, through their own juggling, through books and organising conventions, through prop design and manufacture. A couple of surprise inclusions and exclusions to my mind, but I wasn’t involved with the choices made so it’s always going to be very subjective. The acts kicked off again with:
Tony Pezzo – American ring manipulation and juggling. A very good act. I liked that he started with the high numbers, then gradually reduced (instead of going the other way), and the balance between fiddling about and actually throwing them was good. Extra points for hitting that final beat (and then just busting out 7 rings).
Rod Laver – British ping pong ball juggler. An act that I had mostly seen before over the years (though the gin bottles were new to me). All of the old jokes (still funny), all of the gurning (still my favourite parts of the act, though the actual juggling is also very good and mightily impressive), all round good egg.
Matthias Romir – back to do some club manipulation/juggling and clowning. All of the manipulation/juggling done with a balloon in front of his face (let me repeat that, with a balloon in front of his face!) was impressive, and I enjoyed the helium balloon interaction.
Tigris – German hula hooper and contortionist. Aside from a couple of tricks with the contortion I was disappointed with this act. It didn’t contain anything I hadn’t already seen and would have preferred to see HulaBoy Craig insteaD.
Françoise Rochais – French baton/club/parasol juggler. The headline act and very good she was too (though the initial costume was fugly). I preferred the second half of the act to the first and my only wish was that it had been a little longer (isn’t that the ideal, to leave the audience wanting more?). All done in heels on a raked stage.
A quick dash to get on the first bus back for more juggling in the main hall and watching some seriously good gladiators.
Managed to get the tent down and packed away in the dry (and high winds) leaving plenty of time to grab some brunch in the cafe and attend the BJC business meeting (broke even and the Yorkies are running it next year). A final wander around the main hall and trader then it was time for the closing show, “Smashed”, by the Gandinis again. It was a longer show than I thought it would be (an hour), but entertained for its full duration. Some things I was expecting, some things I was not. Funnier and more disturbing than I expected.
Back in the car and home.
Thank you to everyone who made it happen.