The Unbearable Lightness Of Robert Garnham Series Two

Well I’ve had great fun this year working on some silly video diaries. I’ve been releasing one a week for the last seven weeks.

They really don’t take themselves too seriously.

You can watch all of them here at this link. And I hope you enjoy them!

Here’s a trailer, and the link to see the playlist is below.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPOfqmiGH9pCLdENqiwXA6yb8vQCrmVNg

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The quietest foods.

Dear Aunt Milly,

I was having a conversation the other day with some friends about what might be the quietest food. This conversation came about because as you know, lately I’ve been watching a lot of television with Mum whenever I visit and, unlike a lot of older people, she’s got incredibly good hearing. I mean, seriously, you can’t get away with anything. If you’re running water while brushing your teeth, she knows. I’ve often sat in my room and read a book and she’s knocked on the door. ‘You’re reading again, aren’t you? I can hear the pages turning’. The upshot of this is that she has the sound on the television turned down quite low indeed, which means that you can’t hear a thing if you’re eating, for example, crisps. So you have to wait either for an advert break and down a whole packet as quickly as you can, or opt for a quieter food or snack.

(Seriously. Perhaps she thinks she’s saving electricity by having the sound turned down so low).

The general consensus had it that the quietest foods were probably egg mayonnaise sandwiches, bananas and marshmallows. Someone suggested ice cream and while this indeed may be one of the quieter food stuffs at is molecular level, those with sensitive teeth are prone to making ‘Hurrr . . .hurrrr’ noises. At, you might say, the molarCular level. Yogurt, too, got a favourable mention, though some brands lead to a certain slurping and a persistent scraping of the pot. And then the conversation moved on to noisy eaters, and this in turn led me to thinking about Stinker.

Stinker is a very loud eater. I don’t know if you ever met him, he kind of looks like a surprised ferret. A surprised ferret who’s also a bit constipated. No matter what Stinker sticks in his gob, everyone else gets to listen. Every motion of his mouth, every physical contortion necessary, every bite, chew, suck, nibble is loudly pronounced and weirdly amplified. There’s a constant ga-thluck ga-thluck ga-thluck, whether it’s a biscuit or a lamb chop. And if you’re really lucky, he will start talking while he’s eating and bits of the undigested food will come flying back out again. It’s really quite disgusting. It’s weird to think he used to be a nurse.

Though it’s hard to tell with Stinker. He’s told so many stories over the years which can’t all possibly be true, like meeting Freddie Mercury’s mother on a bus, or sharing a taxi with Phil Collins, that nobody knows whether he actually was a nurse or not. I remember the time he fainted in the library, only it was the most fake faint you’d ever seen. He went down so slowly that he even had time to tidy up as he did so, moving things out of the way, with a prolonged, ‘Ooooooooooooo-awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww’, which he didn’t stop until he knew that everyone was looking. I think he even found a 20p coin when he was finally on the floor.

So the other day I met him in the street and as usual he kind of grabbed me by the arm. There’s no escape when he does this. He’s probably so used to people running off halfway through one of his chit chats.
‘Ere! You wouldn’t believe what happened to me the other day’.
Uh-oh, I thought, here we go.
‘What’s that?’
‘I was almost abducted ‘.
‘Really?’
‘Yes, I was walking along the coast path between Paignton and Brixham. And as I was walking I was conscious of this strange man following me. And whenever I stopped, he stopped. And whenever I sped up, he sped up’.
‘That sounds very worrying ‘.
He was so close to me that I could smell his breath.
‘And I knew that he was just waiting for the opportunity to abduct me.’
‘To abduct you?’
‘Yes. For the ransom, you see. So that they could contact my family and demand two million pounds’.
‘Naturally’.
‘And you could just tell that he meant trouble. This strange man, I’d never seen him before in my life. He probably had a shooter. And I started to get really worried’.
‘How frightening for you’.
‘So anyway we came down off the headland to a small secluded beach. The kind of place where nobody would ever see us. And that’s when I saw a man on the beach with a power boat ‘.
‘Right . .’.
‘And he said, hey, that man over there is following you. And I said, yes, I’ve been walking faster to get away from him, but he kept increasing speed. He’s probably going to abduct me and demand a ransom of three million pounds. And the man with the speed boat agreed that this was a distinct possibility’.
‘Of course’.
‘And this man on the beach, the man with the boat, he said, hop in my boat, I’ll take you the rest of the way’.
‘I see’.

‘I clambered aboard, and off we went. And I turned and waved at the strange man, of course. Showing him that he couldn’t now get his hands on me, Ha ha.’

‘That showed him, didn’t it?’
‘So wasn’t that nice of the man with the boat? If it wasn’t for him, I’d have probably been abducted. Just goes to show how sensible I can be, getting myself out of a sticky situation like that’.

Well anyway, dearest Aunt Milly, I bid him good day and didn’t once question why he should be so concerned about the strange man following him, and not at all concerned about the strange man with the boat who actually whisked him away along the coast. I also didn’t question why Stinker thought that he was worth two or thre million in the first place. These things are probably left to someone with a greater understanding of the human mind than me.

Anyway, it was finally decided that the quietest food is probably margarine.

I’ll see you in two weeks for Derek’s anniversary,

All the best

Robert

More thoughts from on the road: The buffet breakfast

Dear Aunt Milly,

I was sitting in the hotel reception area this morning waiting for the man behind the desk to stop pretending to be busy. I knew that he was pretending to be busy because he was tapping away on a computer keyboard and huffing. And this is exactly what I do whenever I don’t want to be interrupted, or if I’m on a train and I don’t want anyone to sit next to me. He had very prominent eyebrows, in fact you might even call them eccentric. The left one looked like it knew what it was doing, the right one looked like it was doing something else, and the cumulative effect of this was somewhat abstract. You know, like when you open the fridge and a budgerigar flies out.

From where I was sitting I had a good view into the adjacent breakfast room. It was a buffet style breakfast and I could see other guests loading their plates and bowls and filling cups from a coffee machine. They’d tried to sell me a breakfast when I’d booked in, even though the room had already been paid for. They were quite insistent that I bought a breakfast but at nine pounds I thought it somewhat exorbitant.

Mum and dad always used to stay in places where you had a buffet breakfast. Dad would always eat too much but he would be too embarrassed to be seen going up and getting so much food, so he used to get my mother to pile extra food on her plate, too. Then they would get to their table and she would make a big pantomime of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got far too much here, silly me, would you like some more, dear?’

A very middle class looking white couple come in with their son. They’re all smiley and looking well to do, all pastel clothing and beige chinos, while their son is an emo goth, looking very sullen, with his trendy long hair and glum expression. He lurks behind them, scowling, fed up with the world and he injustice of it all. Or maybe he was still seething over the price of the buffet breakfast. And I think, what have you possibly got to be miserable about? Your parents look nice and they’re wearing nice clothes. And the sun is shining. And you’re young and you’ve got the whole of the rest of your life in front of you. He stands behind them at the self service buffet, then gets to the front, fills up a bowl of cornflakes, goes to put milk on, and the canister has run out. And I thought, there, that’s given you something to be miserable about.

So I go to the desk to book out once Eyebrows has looked up from his keyboard and let out a sigh.
‘Room 111. It’s all paid for, I believe’.
‘Yes, it was prepaid’.
He takes my room card.
‘You haven’t paid for your breakfast’, he says.
‘But I haven’t had a breakfast’.
‘Yes, but you haven’t paid for it’.
‘I didn’t want a breakfast’.
‘My colleague has put you down for a breakfast’.
‘I said I would think about having a breakfast. And now I’ve thought about it, and I don’t want one’.
‘But you haven’t paid for if’.
‘Just as well, then’.
‘So you need to pay for the breakfast’.
‘But I haven’t had one, and I’m not having one’.
‘Anyway, you need to pay for it’.
‘Why should I pay for it when I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t want it?’
‘Because my colleague says that you wanted one’.
‘But I didn’t want one then, and I don’t want one now’.
‘So how are you going to pay for it?’
‘I’m not going to.’

I then look at him. And all of a sudden an unspoken agreement passes between us. As if the universe has suddenly revealed itself to be a very difficult place. Amidst the chaos and disorder of those rules to which we, in society, are bound, we had found a common kinship, and an acknowledgement that we were both trapped. He couldn’t help me, and I couldn’t help him. Like two people, drowning, unable to save each other.

‘Have a good day’, he says.
‘You too’, I reply. And there’s just a hint of a smile.
I leave the reception area and I go outside. And as the door closes behind me I suddenly think, hmmm, actually I do feel a bit peckish.

Anyway, hope that you’re not being bothered too much by your bunions.

Yours,
Robert.

Thoughts from on the road

So I’m on tour at the moment. It sounds very grand and I suppose in a way, it is. I’ve already had some amazing adventures, such as that whole episode in London where I suddenly became responsible for a whole office block. And I’ve met and listened to some amazing people.

Hackney was great. The audience was young, enthusiastic and energetic, and they seemed to love my set, laughing in all the right places. There was a DJ playing music for poets to come on to, and as I came on he played You Sexy Thing, so I danced as I came to the stage, which meant that people were already laughing. And one of the poems that I performed was my Titanic poem, which not only went down really well, but provoked another big laugh when the DJ played the Theme from the film Titanic as I left the stage.

The whole evening was a delight particularly the slammers, whose work was heartfelt and honest, funny, entertaining. It was great to catch up with Fran Isherwood, someone I’ve known on social media for quite some time without ever actually meeting.

And last night was Bristol. The best thing about Bristol is that I know so many people there, none more so than Melanie Branton, one of my best friends. I met her at the station, I stood among the rush hour commuters with her name on a sign waiting for her to appear from the turnstiles. We went for dinner in a very noisy pub and then made our way to the gig, and chatted, and caught up on all the latest spoken word gossip. I did a slightly different set in Bristol because I figured that people had seen me enough times, and it was greeted very well indeed.

Again, the slammers were amazing and it was a real treat to see Clive Oseman win. He’s such a well loved figure on the national scene and it was his first win at a Hammer and Tongue event, well deserved too, with a hilarious poem which had a touch of anger to it, too. And the other main support, Imogen, was absolutely astounding.

Melanie and I went to get a drink after the gig but amazingly, the pub we had chose was just about to close. However there were a table of young people in there who had just seen me, and they cheered and clapped in a most embarrassing manner.

So I’m on a train now to Brighton, and I’m looking forward to the next week or so of constant travelling. Hotels, trains, coaches. Everything has gone without a hitch and I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this, now!

On the road- and looking after an office block in London

So I’m on tour at the moment. I didn’t really think these things happened in spoken word, but indeed, I’m actually being paid to go around to six different cities and perform whimsy at people. And I’m having the most amazing time. The reason for this is that I’m seeing the whole thing as an adventure and really, that’s the best way. Because otherwise, it would be complete madness.

Last night was the first stop on the tour, Hackney, and I decided that I would stay somewhere a little different, and, it has to be said, cheap. Over the years I’ve had a habit of finding quirky accommodation, particularly in Edinburgh, but even the annual lottery of Edinburgh accommodation had nothing on the place I found to stay last night.

A bit of internet research led me to a phenomenon known as the pod hotels, where you basically get a bed and, if you’re lucky, a bedside table. I’d stayed in similar places before in New York, so I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for. I was also hoping that it would be the same as the Japanese pod hotels, where you get a tiny cabin and nothing else.

The hotel was on the first floor of a six storey office block. I arrived yesterday afternoon slightly early, my check in time being six PM. I was let in, and the lady on reception was whispering. And why was she whispering? Because the pod hotel during the day caters for tired Londoners who need a nap. It’s a nap pod hotel. And someone was still having a nap. ‘They’re due to wake up just before six’, she said. And sure enough, at six o clock the lights came on and the napper woke, thanked the receptionist, and off he went out into rush hour.

The receptionist showed me how to operate everything. The lights, the door, the shutters, and then she told me where to leave the keys, and that was it, she was off. I was given a tiny pod, with a bed in it and, indeed, a bedside table. And then I thought, hang on. I’m the only person here.

So now I started feeling somewhat anxious. I was due at a gig around seven. Should I put the shutters down? What if I put the shutters down and shut in other guests? What if they put the shutters down while I was at the gig and locked me out for the night? I texted the receptionist and she confirmed, amazingly, that I was the only guest.

And that’s when it struck me. I was now effectively in charge of a whole six storey office block in the middle of London!

I went to the gig and it went amazingly well, the audience were responsive, young, vibrant and up for a laugh, and I was very pleased indeed with my performance, but the whole time, at the back of my mind I was worried that something had happened to my office block. And even more scary, once I got back, let myself in, and pulled the shutters down behind me, I had trouble sleeping. The slightest noise got me jumping. Was someone trying to break in? Is there someone upstairs? Is that someone moving around that I can hear? And then I started to relax. Whatever happens, I told myself, this is just another crazy spoken word adventure.

So I’ve just booked out and nothing bad did happen, and the office block was unscathed. I did think about having a snoop around, (the receptionist said that there was a kitchen on the fourth floor that I was welcome to use), but I could imagine them reviewing their CCTV and seeing me dancing around the empty offices. Mind you, I did sit at the receptionist desk for a while, you know, just for something to do.

Anyway, next step is Bristol and as it’s a city I know really well, I’m not envisaging any more weird adventures. Unless, of course, they just happen . . .

One week, two very different gigs!

I’ve been very lucky over the last few years and had some gigs with some very big audiences. This doesn’t always happen. Last weekend I did a gig in a florist in Brixham to eight people. It was a private affair so I knew what I was letting myself in for, and I did my usual routine. The demographic was, well, the youngest person there was seventy five and the oldest was eighty three. I’m not being ageist, as I work with older people and I know that they enjoy a laugh as much as the next person. However the fact that there was only eight of them made it very hard to elicit anything beyond a mild chuckle.

And then four days later, I performed to three hundred young people in a theatre in Bristol.

The whole dynamic was so different. I did the exact same poems and they were greeted so wonderfully that I felt kind of relieved, as if I had lost something along the way. The gig at the florist had made me wonder if I was just some weird bloke who had been dragged off the street into someone’s private function, which actually come to think of it, was pretty much near the truth. I’d been invited to perform after the owners of the venue had seen me walking with my family on Boxing Day and had asked me, on the spur of the moment, to come and do this private gig for them. So the whole set up was already a big weird!

To add to the weirdness, I was given my own dressing room at the florist, which was a small room filled with flowers. I’m certainly glad it wasn’t the allergy season. There was a stool in the middle of the room on which I could sit and prepare myself for the performance, and that’s where I spent most of the night, sitting on that stool going over my set and wondering how it would go. And as I say, eight people.

But Bristol. Wow. I was supporting the wonderful Dizraeli, a huge name on the Bristol scene, and as a result they had sold out and the theatre was packed. I was on near the start of the evening and I really felt that the night had a potential of going completely up the Spout. Would all these trendy young people find my work amusing? Would I cock it up completely, and forget my words? Would they not find my humour funny and start playing with their phones, or dabbing, or flossing, or fidget spinning, or whatever it is that young people are in to these days? But from the start of the set, it was completely magical. The room laughed. Indeed, they laughed a lot. They laughed at bits that audiences don’t normally laugh at. They were listening intently and with enthusiasm. The first poem usually takes two and a half minutes but it was almost a minute longer than normal because of all the laughing.

And what an amazing feeling it was to perform to so many people. The big stage, the space, the fact that all of these people were concentrating on me, made me think that anything if possible, and also that anything I wrote intending to be funny, actually was funny. Indeed, it made me feel invincible!

It was an amazing gig, and when I left the venue I was greeted by a group of these young people, who started quoting bits of my poetry at me. It was such a great moment. And then, because I’m so rock and roll, I decided to go to the local supermarket and get some groceries, only to meet some more young people next to the display of bagels, one of whom flung her arms around me and thanked me for making her laugh. I assume she had been to the gig!

So two amazing bookings in two very different places. And as I caught the train home the next day, I thought how amazing it would be if every gig were a sold out crowd of three hundred people, and how wonderful it would be if I could command such interest on my own.