The mission: Nicholas Barber rolls up to Circus Space, and finds himself flying through the air with the greatest of, er, ease

y red nose is in place, my custard recipe perfected and I'm all ready to prod a tranquillised arthritic lion with a chair. Sadly, joining the circus is no longer quite so easy. In the Nineties big top, moth-eaten animals are out and eye-popping performance art is in. If I'm going to accomplish this week's mission I'll either have to master gymnastic aerial ballet, or I'll have to go down the Jim Rose route and hang metal weights from the more pain-sensitive parts of my anatomy.

On balance, the former seems marginally preferable. I head to Circus Space in the fabulously trendy area of Hoxton, east London. It's in this complex of halls and rooms, each equipped with ropes and trapezes, that 90 aerialists are already training for the Millennium show. But this being the magical world of journalism, I'm going to learn everything there is to know in one hour. One of the staff, Lorraine, agrees to give me a trapeze lesson, and from now on, my mission is twofold: I've got to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and I've got to write about it without using the phrase "show me the ropes".

I've come unequipped with Lycra, but Lorraine assures me that this is not a problem; I can just take my shoes and socks off and roll up my trousers. True, I look like a cabin boy in an amateur production of The Pirates of Penzance, but I've soon learnt the best method of climbing up a rope (getting down turns out to be much harder) and I've stepped on to the "static trapeze". This is not to be confused with the flying trapeze. The idea of the static is that you do all the swinging around, but the trapeze itself stays where it is. Frankly, it's not static enough for my liking. Still, I eventually get the hang of hanging, standing and sitting in the air. It's actually not too difficult, mainly because I'm too busy concentrating to realise how difficult it should be. Lorraine teaches people to do this kind of thing all the time, so when she says, "Now just put your toe on the bar and your other leg over your head," she's so matter-of-fact that it seems like the most natural thing I could be doing on a Thursday afternoon. As I hang upside down, I'm even relaxed enough to read a notice on the wall. "No smoking, no food or drink", it says, "and no blowing bubbles in studio spaces."

Next, I'm taught a few more advanced trapeze positions. My "half angel" is nearer to a "quarter angel" and I'm not sure how successful my "bird's nest" is. But it looks graceful when Lorraine demonstrates it, so I can only imagine that I'm the picture of lithe elegance on my own attempt. The fact that my trapeze is just five feet off the floor is, I feel, quite irrelevant. I leave Circus Space with a ludicrous sense of pride and Lorraine's words of encouragement ringing in my ears. I have a strong upper body, don't you know, and anyway, creativity counts just as much as perfect technique in the circus. So there.

The following day, my muscles ache so much that it takes me 20 minutes to pick a pen up from off of the floor

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