In anticipation of my presentation at Clifton Village Litfest in November 2022, I was driven to find connections between Swansea and Bristol. Something you have wondered about in those quiet hours just before dawn, I am sure. But then, of course, I remembered The Great Zanetto, the man who, with his remarkable vegetable powers, serves to link Swansea, not just with Bristol, but with Clifton itself.
You see, on 29 February 1896, The South Wales Daily Post reported that the Swansea Empire had booked this new novelty act who had caused a big sensation in Bristol. He had drawn an audience in excess of 5,000 who watched him catch turnips dropped from the Clifton Suspension Bridge on a two-pronged fork held in his mouth. Five turnips were dropped before he succeeded because, he said, they kept being caught by the wind. Not an unusual combination, apparently.
In Swansea he appears to have adapted his act to accommodate a smaller town’s more robust entertainment needs. Here, Zanetto tried to catch a turnip, or an orange, on the prongs of the special performance fork held in his mouth, thrown at him from the auditorium. This provided the ideal opportunity, not only to observe The Great Zanetto’s mastery over both root vegetables and citrus fruit, but also to encourage the sort of robust critical analysis that a Swansea audience has always been ready to provide.
The Great Zanetto soon moved on, as vocations often demand, to novelty weightlifting, but I am afraid to say things didn’t necessarily improve. He and his partner, Lorene, might indeed have deserved their description, as the greatest wonders of the age, who gave a marvellous exhibition of their peculiar powers. In fact, Lorene with her hair alone, tied in two pleats, lifted a large and heavy cannon, which has been used in time of war, and which was then fired on the stage. Sadly, all Zanetto, could do was lift an iron-framed pianoforte, the property of a local resident, with his teeth. Age does not come alone, as everyone knows, all too well.
It was never going to end well, was it? All too soon he was in the High Court seeking a divorce from his wife, a slack-wire dancer, (not a reflection upon her morals, as the punctuation confirms) professionally known as ‘the beautiful Jessica,’ on the ground of her misconduct with Joseph O’Gorman, an Irish comedian.
Such a cruel betrayal, when acclaim and prosperity were so tantalisingly close.
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