David Garnham 1946-2018

Dad was a remarkable man, clever, technically minded, always cheerful, a man who lived very clearly in the present moment. He cared deeply for us as a family and could only really relax when he knew that everyone around him was happy. It goes without saying that he was admired by everyone who met him, and he enjoyed life.

As a civil servant for most of his life, I would ask Mum what his job was and she would say that he sat in an office all day and drank tea. And I’d think to myself, wow, what an amazing job. His job was actually quite stressful but the legend endured for many years that he was working tirelessly, helping the tea industry. Mum also used to say that he was not allowed to look out of the window in the morning at work, because this would give him nothing to do in the afternoon. But that’s The Muv for you.

Dad’s interests were also my own. Traveling, motor racing, aviation, music. I knew that one of his favourite singers was Bob Dylan, and I often wondered if I was named Robert as a kind of tribute to Bob Dylan. Though thinking about it, at the time I was born, Aunt Kath was working for Roberts Radios. Any trip either of us took was always a footnote to the type of aircraft we’d flown on, and we would talk about its route, the weather during the flight, the places the aircraft flew over, how the landing had gone, what time it had left and how long it has spent taxiing before taking off. It’s engines, it’s wingspan, the noise of its engines, and any turbulence that there might have been. Oh, and sometimes we’d talk about the actual holiday.

For me, though, Dad was a naturally funny man, who introduced me to humour and comedy from a very early age. He loved everything, from Allo Allo to The Simpsons, in which his resemblance to Homer was at times weirdly uncanny. Looking back to the days when there were only three tv channels, I always remember him roaring with laughter at films such as Airplane, Laurel and Hardy, Tom and Jerry, The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, or comedians such as Kenny Everett. He could tell a joke with all the comedy timing of a professional, something that I thought totally normal from an early age. Although for some reason he always repeated the punchline. And when he was a scout leader, I remember someone drawing a pair of tits on the fogged up window and Dad telling them off. No, he said. No. Watch. This is how they actually look.

Funny things would often happen to him and he would delight in telling us about the small things that elevate even the most normal circumstance into the realms of comedy. Like the time he went fishing and his fishing companion, Bert, asked if he’d enjoyed the cream bun. What cream bun?, Dad asked, before he realised that he was sitting on it. Or the time he wanted to show Angela how to roller skate and put on her rollerskates for an expert demonstration, only to start flailing his arms wildly before landing in a heap on the crazy paving. Or the time he went in the loft and then fell between the rafters right over Angela’s bed. Or the time he bought a cd at a car boot sale for 10p and the man running the stall said to him, hey, I don’t know if your interested, but I’m doing five for 50p. Oh good, dad said, and he went back and chose four more.

So dad’s method of dealing with people was simple. Distill a person down to their immediate characteristics, turn them into a character and then deal with them as such. Then everything that they do just adds to the narrative of who they are. In such a way, for example, most of his work colleagues had nicknames that he gave them. Some of these were quite rude, some of them were downright funny. He used to call one of his neighbours Dogs Head Stuck In Gate Woman, because she stopped to chat once and her dog got its head stuck in the gate. Backpack Man, because he wore a backpack. And where we used to live, there was someone he called Isiah. Why do you call her Isiah?, I once asked. He replied, because one eye’s ‘igher than the other. The fun just never ended.

I can’t imagine my Dad ever hating someone, apart from random TV personalities like Roy Castle, for some reason, and Ernie Wise. By turning people into affectionate caricatures, it was impossible to take them seriously enough to hate them. He would describe a person he knew who ran a hotel with an iron fist, who he nicknamed Wiggy, for obvious reasons. And then describe Wiggy’s attempts to put on a community coffee morning, in which people were only allowed a coffee once they had a biscuit, and if you ate your biscuit before the coffee arrived, then you didn’t get a coffee. Only he would tell this story in such a funny way that I’d be laughing about it days afterwards and telling everyone I met. In fact there are so many of these stories, I’ll have to write them down.

We shall all miss him greatly, of course. There’s so much to be thankful to him for, the fact he provided for us, strove to make our lives better, rebuilt our house, taught Angela to drive, took us on amazing journeys to far away places, and moved down to Devon. But most of all it is the humour that I shall miss, the jokes, the one liners, the roaring with laughter at someone falling over on You’ve Been Framed, the sudden bursts of old London music hall songs which I swear he just made up as he went along.

So I’m going to finish this eulogy with two memories of dad which made everyone laugh. The first being about fifteen years ago, he gave a cd of didgeridoo music to a friend of mum’s, this lady hated didgeridoo music, which for some reason dad would play in his car. Only knowing she wouldn’t accept this gift, he told her that it was Christmas music. This lady worked in a nursing home, and on Christmas Day itself she put the cd on to entertain the residents while she cooked their dinner. Of course she came back later to see all these poor old dears sitting in their party hats, listening to didgeridoo music. Dad got hours of pleasure out of this.

The second memory goes back to when we were kids and dad took us on a day out to Sammy Miller’s motorbike museum. The visitor toilet was in the corner of a warehouse qfull of old motorbikes and the Muv went in and then pulled the flush. Only this toilet had recently been used and the tank took ages to flush. The whole museum could hear mum frantically pulling on this chain, faster and faster in an effort to get it to flush, and dad turned to me and Angela and said, the old chap who runs this place is going to think that someone’s started up one of his bikes.

He exists in memories,
Frozen in so many moments
Of joy
And will continue to do so.

Thank you very much, and here’s to you, Dad.

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Alfred Harley, Regimental number 37601

The whistles blew on 16th August, 1916.
They ran across no man’s land,
These ordinary men,
Thrown headfirst into the darkness
Because of fools in high places,
The stroke of treaty pens and
The senseless oblivion of normality.
There seemed to be no reason.

Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
32 years old,
Taken down by machine gun fire and left
For thirty five hours,
His chest wounded, leaking blood,
His hip and thigh torn apart by
Ceaseless bullets, clutching at
Churned earth as the pain takes hold
Amid the thud of bombs and gun fire,
This ordinary man,
A father, a husband.

Rescued by the hands of his enemies,
Patched up and nursed back to life,
Then held as a prisoner in strange territories,
How life itself must have swirled around him
Confusing and cruel.
How many other lovers, mothers,
Sisters and brothers
Should endure a grief so stifling as to smother
For no reason other
Than the decisions of another?

Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
Survived,
And returned home fifteen months later,
No longer an ordinary man,
But still a father, a husband,
And more fortunate than so, so many others.
Yet even now, one hundred years on,
He is remembered and honoured,
Alfred Harley, regimental number 37601,
My great grandfather.

What I’ve been up to.

A famous saying on tea towels and greetings cards is that grief is the price we pay for love. As you might be aware my father passed away a few days ago, but mixed in with the inevitable grief was a feeling that a great worry had been lifted, even if in the saddest possible circumstances. Dad was not an old man, he was younger, for example, than the Mael brothers from Sparks. Towards the end, though, he was very poorly.

Naturally my thoughts and preoccupations over the last couple of months have been family oriented, and in spoken word I was operated on remote control, unable to commit to anything and unwilling to start any new projects. My solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, offered a strange solace, as a project that I am very happy and proud of. I had to cancel a few high profile gigs, too, and I was very glad that I did.

Yet this last week I have launched into a seam of creativity the likes of which I cannot remember for a long time. My head is suddenly full of ideas, snippets, phrases, stanzas and ideas for projects. I rediscovered the joy of playing around, just filling my creative spaces with objects, paper, laptops, props and letting my imagination run wild. Nothing seems off limits any more. I find joy in the smallest things, such as a word, or an idea.

One of the things I’ve been doing is to make audio recordings of myself just talking, improvising poems and pieces into the mic, adding music. The quality varies, but the material on the whole is interesting and may form the basis of something new. I’ve been playing around with movement, and not restricting myself to just standing behind a mic. And yes, this even includes dance. I’ve been playing my melodica and, oh dear, even singing.

Now a psychologist might suggest that I’m doing all of this to ignore the inevitable grief, but as I’m going about my daily chores and doing whatever needs to be done, I’m thinking, wow, I’m an artist. And I really want to be the best kind of artist that I can be. Indeed one of the most inspirational things I watched last week was an interview with one of my heroes, Laurie Anderson, and she talked about her creative process of just being loose, not caring about the outcome, just playing around with whatever is at hand, and that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s incredibly rewarding and I’d recommend it to anyone.

So I have one or two new projects to keep me going, which I’m really excited about. And hopefully pretty soon, you will see the fruits of these.

On haiku.

You know, I was thinking the other day. Why does the word monosyllabic have so many syllables?

And naturally, this got me thinking about haiku. You know, the short from Japanese poems.

Do you know what makes me really annoyed? It’s when you go to a poetry recital, and a poet announces that They’re going to perform a haiku, but first they remind us What the rules of a haiku are. And the explanation of what a haiku is Takes longer than the haiku they read out, All that build up, and it’s over.

It’s just like sex. Except it’s something I can do, too.

I wrote one the other day which I was Really proud of.

The man with no arms,

Fighting in the local pub.

He was kicking off.

So shall we bask in its glory?

Note the syllables. Five, seven. Five, It’s a work of art.

I was so pleased with the haiku that I put it on Facebook as a status update. And I got the following comments.

Edna – Nice haiku

Steven – Great haiku.

Gary – Your limerick is missing two lines.

Mike – Like it, mate. Smiley face.

Paul – Love it, lol.

Greg – Great stuff, lol.

Paul – Hey Greg, how’s it going? Lol.

Greg- Not bad, Paul, lol.

Paul – You out tonight? Lol.

Greg – Staying in tonight, lol.

Paul- Saving up for your holidays? Lol.

Greg – Yeah, lol.

Paul – Minehead again this year? Lol.

Greg- Yeah, lol.

Paul – Camping of hotel? Lol.

Greg- To be honest we thought about taking a tent but after last time with Dawn’s bad back I thought we’d better not risk it what with that and it being allergy season, you know she does suffer, the poor thing, so we’ve booked in to a nice hotel for the week, lol.

Paul – Lol.

Greg- Hey Robert Garnham, did you write this on an aircraft? Lol.

Me- Yes, as a matter of fact.

Greg – Then you’re a member of the mile haiku club.

Lol.

Robert Garnham Live at Brixham Theatre

Here’s a video of a gig I did at Brixham Theatre in September 2018. I hope that you enjoy it.

On discovering my audience demographic

I’ve often written that my ideal demographic seems to be people above the age of seventy. This is an unusual position for a spoken word artist to be in. Most of my contemporaries are edgy and youthful and perform poems about social issues with anger and verve and bravery. And as a result they are feted by audiences and social media, and their videos go viral, and they are surrounded by youthful acolytes and admirers. This is fantastic, of course, and I would do anything to have a similar audience. However, the gigs where I have gone down the best have generally been to those of . . Well . . Octogenarians.

The good thing about this is that these are usually people who have disposable income and want to buy books as a result. They have the money to buy the books and the time to read them. The bad thing about this is, most of them aren’t on social media. So this means that they are not exactly likely to go searching for me on the web after a gig. As a result I rely on word of mouth.

I also tackle social issues, of course, using the medium of comedy poetry. I was chatting to a comedian on Monday night and he laughed when I told him that I saw myself as a safe LGBT poet for a straight audience. But I wasn’t joking. I’ve done LGBT gigs and while they’ve gone ok, the biggest reaction always comes from straight audiences. It’s rather satisfying to be quietly subversive, slyly introducing concepts such as gay rights and representation of minorities through the medium of comedy poetry to an audience who one would assume to be more conservative in outlook. But not necessarily. I believe that most of the audiences I’ve performed to are open minded and not the stereotypical Daily Mail readers that one might imagine. Except in Tiverton.

So last week I did a variety show at a theatre in Brixham. It was great to have a big stage to play around with, greater still to have a huge audience who laughed in all the right places. They loved what I did, and I loved performing to them on a rainy night at a Devon fishing port. The demographic, again, was somewhat mature, which I didn’t realise until I left, as the stage lights were so bright. But it went down a dream and I enjoyed every minute.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up performing to young people. I love young audiences, as they do weird things like whooping and clicking their fingers, which when I first heard I thought was an attempt to summon a waiter. And then afterwards they come up and say things like, wow, that was totes amazeballs. But lately I’ve grown to accept and then love the fact that people over a certain age are still up for a laugh and a bit of naughtiness.

Here’s a video of what I got up to

https://youtu.be/CyVrd7Z-X_8

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

I don’t know what’s happening with spoken word in Torbay at the moment, but there seems to be a remarkable increase in energy and interest which is quite thrilling to see. This last month, both Stanza Extravaganza and Big Poetry, the two spoken word nights in Torquay, were standing room only and sold out. Both had audiences that were bigger than the actual venues, which is certainly a nice problem to have.

I was chatting with Brenda Hutchings as she gave me a lift home, and she was of the opinion that spoken word audiences in Torbay now see it as normal that they should come to such a night and expect comedy poetry. I believe she’s right, and that this is a local thing, a peculiar speciality just of the Torbay scene. Audience members in Bristol, London, even Exeter, do not automatically expect that what they are about to see will necessarily make them laugh, and that if this happens, then it’s just a bonus. However, Torbay’s audiences expect to be entertained and to have a laugh. This is not to say that serious poetry and serious issues are not tolerated. Indeed, serious content is magnified by such expectations. Witness, for example, the rapturous response to Melanie Crump’s poem about women’s rights and empowerment.

Not only do there seem to be a lot of comedic poets in Torbay, but they are diverse and funny in their own unique way. Melanie Crump and Brenda Hutchings can both be hilariously funny and also deeply serious and emotional. Steve O uses props for incredible effect, Tom Austin uses props and costumes, Joanna Hatfull uses rhyme and storytelling, Shelley Szender explores her material in a relaxed and relatable manner. Both myself and Samantha Boarer, my co host at Big Poetry, look at life and relationships and erotic issues within our work juxtaposing the everyday with the downright filthy.

Part of the success of the local comedy poetry scene is the curating policy of Big Poetry. Each night is put together with one eye on the holistic effect of so many diverse performers, but a big philosophy of the night is to include comedy poets. As well as the local Torbay performers, we invite the funniest poets from Exeter and Plymouth, Totnes and further afield, such as Julie Mullen, Ross Bryant and Jackie Juno, and they become as much a part of Big Poetry as the venue itself. Each has their own loyal following.

I’ve written before of the perculiar nature of the local scene. The poetry nights at the Blue Walnut started almost ten years ago and the emphasis was always on experimentation and comedy, thanks to performers such as Chris Brooks, Bryce Dumont, and the previously mentioned Tom Austin, who would push the performance envelope and be as downright weird as they possibly could be. It was this atmosphere that attracted me to performance and it was with these people that I crafted my own act and stage persona. I can think of nowhere else in the country where these elements hold sway in such a tight geographical location.

We are also very lucky to have some fine poets whose styles are so different and diverse as to add a singular touch to any evening, such as Becky Nuttall, who does an enormous amount for the local art and spoken word scene, and Jason Disley, whose jazz influenced beat poetry is utterly unique. Jason has just started running a new night in Paignton called Speaky Blinders, which is also going from strength to strength and is imbued with the whole Torbay ethos of spoken word as fun. Becky is working hard on various projects bringing art and poetry together, while also running the Stanza Extravaganza poetry nights at the Artizan Gallery.

It’s a thriving scene down here in Torbay, and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it. Our audiences are amazing and without them and their encouragement, the scene would not be quite as vibrant as it is.