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On a Roll with the Sprockets

Did the Sprockets reinvent the wheel? Their double-decker bus has four of the well-worn variety and is hung all around with those of their bicycles like so many circular escape hatches. Now a sprocket is nothing but a wheel fitted out to drive another. Isabelle Feraud (Izzy) and Scott Harrison
brought their orbicular mojo to get the November-stalled Berkeley Circle spinning again.

Izzy’s original point of departure was Toulouse, France, where she was born. After childhood years in North Africa, her path led to South London where she managed a restaurant. In 1991 she left playing the majordomo for a year’s training in a renowned circus school. Scott came from Bath, England. From his teens, he had an ice-cream business going there and in 1990 opened an equipment shop for jugglers, of which he was one. The couple met as performers in Capitan Bob’s Circus on Bath’s Weston Island and straightaway decided to busk their way to Australia.

Scott had never cared for a house pinned down to one spot by a mortgage. He and Izzy would make their home in a 1962 Bristol double-decker bus bought for £2,500. Converted with a scrap Mercedes radiator and made into a four-wheel drive, the former public service vehicle was ready for high and low temperatures and rough terrain. The last touch was a loving coat of lime-green paint. In 1997 the now rolling Sprockets began a fifteen-year world tour. Chance would be their roadmap. After France, Italy, and Greece, 1998 saw them cross into Asia. Always presenting their circus comedy show, they drifted on to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Japan. By 2006 they reached Australia and New Zealand, then crossing the Pacific Ocean to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Columbia Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, the USA and Canada. Along the way, their son Theo, born in1996, grew into the act, a spectacular addition with flowing blond hair that made him magical in lands where skin was darker and hair often coal black.

Photographs of the Sprockets’ travels are plentiful on the Internet. But the forty-five-minute film made the Sprocket way by film people met by chance in Mexico, gave us teasing glimpses of what we wanted to know about eating, sleeping, relaxing, working, educating a child, in short, about living a rounded family life on two narrow levels of vintage Bedford steel. The bus appeared like a space ship reduced to earth-crawling against the startling backdrops of forty-eight countries. The film lets us see the Sprockets in action performing their circus act, juggling, acrobatics,  unicycling, all bound together with magic tricks and laughter. Here what impresses is how the audience seemed to be part of the performance.

A chat with the Sprockets let us meet the individuals beneath the zany getups. Scott, who speaks best with his body, has a philosophic bent. He finds that people in the West, electronic gimmicks aiding, have lost the knack of being together. Izzy, for her part, radiates the quiet confidence of someone not overly troubled by difficulties or philosophers. She remembers California as being the least welcoming venue of the world trip. The couple, closely watched during performances, also do some watching. They have as much curiosity as their public. Izzy and Scott view life as more than a joyous road trip. For them, it’s a learning tour that never ends. They learn by knowing people, by not only acting before them but interacting with them. They want more than a contribution at the end of their shows. They want fraternity, a friendship sealed. The Sprockets have pulled off the road in Frigole for a breather. But for how long? They once played with the idea of acquiring a boat that could accommodate their bus and visit islands off the ferry routes.

Peter Byrne

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