To a seven-year-old boy on the green streets of Hastings, his answer was the coolest thing I had ever heard. Whilst visiting my elder brother in hospital, in the days before MRSA was a figment of a litigant’s imagination, the neighbour’s response to the enquiry as to what brought him to Baird ward made my sibling's medical condition pale into insignificance. The lad in the next bed, surrounded by copious copies of the local paper, had been thrust into the caring bosom of the NHS as he had been "attacked by a lion". Fascinated, and gullible, even I did not believe the tale until he excitedly, with his one good arm, flipped the paper onto its top to proudly display the splash: ‘Boy mauled at circus!’.

This malarkey now seems alien to the current crop of youth. I relayed this story to my daughter Isabel yesterday, and she afforded me that withering look fathers receive when they spread good natured porkies. Innocence lost, she no longer believes my yarns of the moon being made of cheese or my having scored the winner in the FA and World Cup finals.

The boy, let’s call him Carl, for I have forgotten his name (and most people were called that on the south coast in the 1980s), had wandered around the back of the circus tent where, as you do, he chanced upon a lion casually passing time between public whippings. Being an animal lover, Carl attempted to stroke said lion, the big cat took umbrage, and Carl spent the next few weeks at Nye Bevan’s pleasure.

I thought of Carl yesterday when the family Ellis made a long overdue trip to the circus in Hemel Hempstead. The Hemel magic started early with the roundabout, where left is right and so is left. Upon arrival at Boxmoor, we were struck immediately by the quality standard of the performers' trucks and caravans. Gone are the days of less-than-legal two-berths with leaking septic tanks, and it’s a big fat hello to retractable mobile home sides turning a hovel into a palace with one sleek flick of a ringmaster’s wrist. The Bulgarian plates should have been a clue to the lack of spoken content and, true to form, not one word was uttered from the performers throughout the duration of the extravaganza.

The circus is hip once again, thanks to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum in the terrific The Greatest Showman. Kids and adults alike want to relive the innocence of days of yore through the mystique of modern day hobos who, when they aren’t stuck in traffic between European fields, practise putting their feet in their mouth or hanging by a finger from the tip of the big top.

In his day, Barnum had the benefit of animals and, to use old time parlance, freaks. In place of such political incorrectness, we now have pantomimes. Take a bow Jedward and The Chuckle Brothers. Barnum had bearded ladies, those of the vertically challenged persuasion, and the morbidly obese. Now, there is no such public mockery, or as much as a gerbil in place of sub-Saharan livestock, with which to enthral the masses.

The trapeze artists were great and, initially, so was the ‘drag a few punters into the ring and humiliate them’ routine. This was the highlight of the show on the first occasion, with butch blokes being dressed in feather boas and being forced to perform less than synchronised hip gyrations. It was all my nightmares come true during the finale when I found myself being forcibly dragged by the mute ringmaster to stage centre to perform. I begrudgingly mounted a piece of fabric and undertook a bizarre groin thrust ritual as I was roundly publicly mocked. How the fabric of life weaves a merry pattern; 40 seconds earlier I had been anonymously eating a bag of Twiglets.

Even in its most recent incarnation, the circus never ceases to amaze and surprise. As for me, I’ll be back one day soon. No doubt I’ll be sporting a syrup so as not to stand out come ritual humiliation time. But take it from me: The dream is alive, watching it come true, its taking over you, oh, this is the greatest show!

Brett Ellis is a teacher who lives in London Colney