Camaraderie at the Barnstaple Fringe

Its been the most amazing week or so and the last few day’s have been weird yet strangely life affirming.

I’ve been in Barnstaple now for three days participating in both Spectacular Vernacular and Poetry Ping Pong.  The weather has been amazing which has helped make me feel good,  but most of all it’s the camaraderie of the performers and those who run the event.

Day one 
Spectacular Vernacular overran a tad.  I amused every one by repeatedly saying Macbeth in the theatre.  Not everyone laughed. Previous to this I’d had to mend my cardboard zebra with gaffer tape. On the way home the sump guard fell off Tim s car.  We had to use the gaffer tape yo fix it.

Day Two
Spectacular Vernacular and Poetry Ping Pong.
The first Poetry Ping Pong was at Barnstaple Library. It went ok. The audience were appreciative. The second show was less well attended.  In fact it was only Tim and Saskia.  So Dan and I did all new material.
Spectacular Vernacular went better and didn’t overrun though there was a mini outcry when I dropped Camp Cat from my set.

Day Three
Poetry Ping Pong and Spectacular Vernacular.

Had two brilliant shows at the theatre. The audience was amazing and responsive. Previous to this Dan and I did an impromptu interview on local radio, and a marketing seminar.

For me the abiding feeling is of the attitude and support of the organisers and those in other shows. Everyone supports and promotes each other and sees as many shows as possible. For example I just watched Purgatory Passengers and it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years!

One day to go and three more shows to do. No sign yet if fatigue.  Though I do have work on Monday morning!

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A busy week. And a new poem.

The week started weirdly and then it just got weirder as it went on. But that’s what happens when you’re a performance poet, apparently.

You know that crazy hazy place you inhabit just before you wake, when dreams and reality kind of combine until you don’t really know what’s going on? I dreamed that I was at a poetry night watching Simon Williams, and he was reciting a poem called ‘There’s A Penguin In My House’. It all seemed so vivid and real and I had his voice right thee in my head. And when I woke, I could still remember the words! So the first thing I did was to write them down.

Nothing like a parrot though I’m told
Nothing like a parrot though I’m told
Though it’s got a dainty beak
every now and then a squeak

There’s s penguin there’s a penguin there’s s penguin in my house.

The next weird thing to happen was that Chris Brooks phoned me at work to say that he wasn’t feeling too good, and could I take his performance poetry workshop that night in Torquay? I said yes, and then only afterwards thought how I could possibly get away with leading a workshop and professing to know something about a subject through which I have bumbled in the most part.

But the group was excellent and enthusiastic, and the next thing I knew was that I ha dispensed with the lesson plan that Chris had sent me. Indeed, we all probably had too much fun. Apparently there was a lot of giggling.

Tuesday morning I went to the library quiet room and had a good writing session, coming up with two great new poems which I shall no doubt perform somewhere, some time.

Wednesday passed without incident.

On Thursday, I was asked to do an unannounced three minute set at Chris Brooks’ comedy night, Jocular Spectacular. On these nights, I usually do the door for him, so to throw people off the scent I wore a t-shirt and shorts for my door duties before changing into my performance clothes once the show had started. Chris informed the audience that I was only there so that the comedy night could apply for an arts council grant by proving that it had other art forms. The audience was amazing, really receptive and warm, the two poems I performed, ‘Titanic’ and ‘Baton Twirling Eel’, going down very well indeed. The headliner was Mitch Benn. I’d heard of him. I sat in the green room with him after my set. He didn’t say anything.

I left the venue to find my train home was delayed. And then when I finally got home at midnight, I discovered that I was locked out! I had to go to the shop where I work and borrow blankets and pillows, and then go to the flat I’m currently moving in to and sleep on the floor all night.

I say slept. I didn’t get much sleeping done. Hey fever, for a start. Secondly, it was damn uncomfortable. Thirdly, I’ve slept with earplugs ever since I was a teenager and I didn’t have any for the first time in years. All of a sudden I had superhearing. I could hear cars three roads away. Birds. Trees. It was very disconcerting.

Saturday, and rehearsals in Barnstaple for Spectacular Vernacular. Yes, it’s confusing being in two shows, one called Spectacular Vernacular, the other called Jocular Spectacular. In searing heat,I took the train to Exeter and shared the journey, by chance, with actor and comedian, star of stage and TV, James Cotter. We chatted about theatrical matters and it felt kind of good to hear about his career. At Exeter, he got off and Daniel Haynes got on, and so did fifteen drunk England fans, who spent the rest of the journey singing such classics as Minnie the Moocher and American Pie.

Rehearsals went well enough. A tin of tuna kept falling out of my flasher’s overcoat. That was the only setback.

Tim King offered a lift home to Paignton, and Saskia came along because she was going clubbing in Torquay. Tim’s sat nav diverted us into the sticks and, as the sun went down on a very hot Devon evening, we kind of drifted off the face of the earth. We passed a cheese factory. Then the road was closed for unspecified reasons, so we had to go back past the cheese factory. It was a very camp little factory. It had big chimney stacks. I wondered why a cheese factory should need chimney stacks, but there you go. By the time we got to Torbay three hours later, the streets were crowded with revelry makers, what with their being Football On and a UB40 concert on the sea front.

Arrived home knackered, and felt somewhat for Tim, who now had to drive all the way back to Exeter.

So it’s been a very busy week, and next week promises to be just as busy with nine shows over four days in Exeter, and a gig on Wednesday night too. But that’s the life of a performance poet, apparently.

Anyway, here’s one of my new poems.

Poem

For years
My parents didn’t know their neighbour’s names.
One day their neighbours walked past and said hello
And their dog got it’s head stuck in the
Slats of the gate.
My parents forever then referred to them as
Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman.

Oh look, they’d say,
There goes Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman
As the two of them walked past
Exercising their dog.

I thought how strange life is
And the certain barriers which we create
Such as names and other niceties
That this amiable couple should
Forever be defined, after a lifetime,
As Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman
Forever imbuing that one lame incident
With all kinds of semantics.

One day I visited
And Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman past
Without their dog.
‘Where’s Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman’s dog?’
I asked
And dad said, ‘it died, unfortunately’.
And I said ‘so what do you call them now?’
And mum said, ‘Philip and Beryl’.

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