Static : The Script

Hello,

Here’s the script of my first solo show, Static. It hasn’t got the poems in it, but I thought people might like to read the in between material.

It was performed on several occasions throughout 2016 and on one occasion in 2017 in Torquay, Exeter, Bristol, Edinburgh, Guldford and Totnes.

It was all a bit wobbly but I had great fun with it, and it was the mist autobiographical thing I’ve written.

STATIC
Robert Garnham

Robert is in the performance space with a small battery radio tuned loudly to static.

Poem : ‘Static / Wind’

I tell you what, it gives you the willies. 

Thinks about things for a while. Opens performance book.

Poem: ‘The Increasing Physical Dexterity of Justin Bieber’

2009.
Feeling so damn unique. There’s nobody like me in the world! That sensation of circumstance, geography and time being in just the right alignment to create me, and me alone. And there’s poetry in my chest, it’s beating away, pounding out strange rhythms with the absolute promise of being such an individual, that I might one say change society and make a real difference to the world!

Putting pen to paper. Oh, you brave poet! Your words will echo like an aftershock, an earthquake as time itself bends in on you with your uniqueness, like Lord Byron with a megaphone, Wordsworth with an attitude, Ted Huges on the ten o clock news shaking his fists at convention.

2016
Seven years of writing poetry and discovering that there’s nothing really unique about me after all.

Seven years of writing poetry about minor trips out to the dentist, mild personal discomfort and vacuum cleaners. Seven years of looking in the mirror every morning and saying, Yeah, that’ll do. Seven years of my work being compared to that of John Betjeman, usually by people who say things like, ‘His work is not as good as that of John Betjeman’.

Seven years static. A life spent going nowhere.

(Sit)

I want this show to be one of those worthy shoes, you know, where you learn all about me as a person and all of my shortcomings. I suppose my first shortcoming is that I was born in Surrey, a county so bland and so irrelevant that absolutely nothing newsworthy or interesting has ever happened there. And that’s a fact. Look it up in the history books, if you like. Nothing interesting has ever happened in Surrey. My birth there in 1974 coincided with the resurfacing of the Guildford bypass, whereas here in the same year you of course had the Olympics. Oh, and later that year my aunt saw a badger.

I was brought up with this sense of low expectations and the absolute blandness of existence. Even my name is boring. Robert Garnham. I sound like an estate agent. I like to think that I was named after my dad’s favourite singer, Bob Dylan, who is of course, Robert Zimmerman, and this at least makes me a little bit excited about being called Robert. But at the time I was born my aunt worked in the factory making Robert’s Radios in Molesey. I can imagine the decision-making process that led to my parents choosing such a boring name.

(Improvised family conversation involving Robert’s Radios).

Robert sits in the chair as his own mother while feeding a baby, presumably Robert. He stands to indicate when his father is speaking.

I suppose I got off lightly. My Uncle worked for a fork lift truck company called Lansing Bagnall.

Robert builds a theremin on the table out of a corn flakes packet, two Wellington boots, a tape machine. He plays the theremin.

Let’s try and . . .

The tape machine interrupts him. Improvised silliness with the tape machine.

School was hell.

Poem : ‘2 Abbey 1’

(Stand)

I grew up in a house on a hill. Three generations, six of us in a two-up, two-down cottage surrounded by woods in the hills of Surrey. From the back bedroom window at night I could see the whole of West London. In the evenings I’d tune my radio through the static to the jazz stations, sit there for hours in the heat and the humidity of the sticky forest Surrey summer, and gaze at the neon and the road signs and the motorway lights.

Poem: ‘The Prince of Belgium’

Apart from being gay, that was.

(Sit).

And oh, mamma! I was very gay. I was probably the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. Yet my whole suburban mindset dictated that I should stay in the closet and not tell anyone because this was Surrey and people didn’t really want to know about such things, they were too busy buying bowler hats and going to wife swapping parties and voting for weird Conservatives and because of that I thought there was something wrong, a strange error in the system which just affected me. I knew that everything had to change but the time was never right.

It took a few years, and I came out to my friends first. They were surprisingly supportive, but at the same time they were incredibly surprised. Even though I’d been the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. You see, by the time I was twenty, I was a completely different person.

In fact, it still comes as a complete surprise when people discover that I’m one of those gay people that you hear about. I think, personally, it’s because I’m so macho, and manly, and tough, and masculine, and something of a hard nut. I think, basically, it’s because I’m a stud.

(Stand).

Though to be honest, I’ve always felt like a gay man trapped in the body of a bus driver.

I always wonder what my friends thought about that whole gay thing.

Poem : ‘Not Flamboyant’

I was set up on a blind date suggested by mutual friends and we hit it off immediately. At the time I was a part time shop assistant, and he was a trampoline salesman. Looking back now I see that he was incredibly patient with me. In fact he even said that it was what inside that counts, and that to him looks weren’t . . .

Hmmm.
Come to think of it, he charged me twenty quid.

Poem : ‘The First Time’

So I came out. And I had oodles of sex. And I masturbated a hell of a lot. It’s hard to believe looking at me now but when I was 18 to 20 I was a very attractive young slip of a thing with a trendy haircut and a face lit up with the evident joys of life. I always wondered what my first partner would be like and I would daydream about the usual ones, bearing in mind that this was the early 1990s. Peter Davison from Doctor Who, or Chesney Hawkes, or for some weird reason, foreign secretary Douglas Hurd. My first proper partner was a young man called Jamie, a slightly taller, thinner version of Lance from Neighbours. He invited me back to his place ostensibly to show me his collection of Star Trek memorabilia. I knew it was about to get really interesting when he took me up to his bedroom to let me see his collection of phasers.

Poem : ‘Jamie’.

Oh, when I look back on it now it’s like I was doing it all the time. But as I’ve got older, I’ve shown less and less interest in these matters. Things have slowed down. I’ve slowed down. I’ve become static.

I feel like there’s this sense that my life is going nowhere. I’m now officially middle aged and there’s a huge list of things that I’ve never done.

(The list is written on cards. Robert dances and improvises as he unveils them).

I’ve never bought a house.
Learned to drive.
Fallen in love.
Had a promotion.
Earned the respect of my contemporaries.
Had a jacket dry cleaned.
Hosted a barbecue.
Owned a sofa.
Walked a dog.
Got married and had kids.
Bought a round in a pub.
Used a power drill.
Been arrested.
Paid a bribe to council bin men.
Used an axe.
Slapped a yak.

When I look at my life I’m tempted to think that I haven’t done much with it. I don’t have a fancy job or a nice big house or a big throbbing monster of a car. In fact all of the things that seem to drive successful people seem to have passed me by.

And I’m ok with this.

It lets me concentrate on the important aspects of living, like sleeping and biscuits and buying hair gel.

Here’s a diagram to illustrate my thinking on this.

(Improvised diagram and flip chart section).

I’m about as camp as an oak tree. I’m about as flamboyant as Ryvita.

(Look left and right as if imparting a secret).

Yet I see wonder and amazement everywhere. I watched a documentary once in which it was pointed out that the echoes and shockwaves from the Big Bang which created existence itself can still be heard as static on a radio receiver. The idea of this has always interested me immensely. I may be just a poet, but I’ve always wanted to probe the origins of life and existence and make my own little mark on the world. The work of the large hadron collider, I believe, will ultimately shed new light on the mysteries of the universe, and I try to muck in and help where I can.

So for you, ladies and gentlemen, and for science in general, and for deeper understanding, I’m going to construct a large hadron collider right now, right here, on stage.

Robert takes a length of garden hose, a camera, a biscuit on a plate, and attempts to create a black hole by smashing atoms together in the garden hose. He finishes by holding up photos on his ipad of the resulting smashed atoms.

Of course, I would need a proper scientist to tell me what this all means.

It’s all connected. Everything is connected. Time and memory, light and shade, and all those atoms spinning around, radio signals from the original Big Bang, and me, me as a young man with all that wonder and amazement, I’m still that person only I’ve channelled it all elsewhere, the parts of it that haven’t been ground down by the finer detail of living, every now.

Yet I’m also aware that the world I live in is freer and more open and accepting than other parts of the world, and that’s what this next poem is about.

Poem: ‘The Doors’
Poem: ‘Badger in the Garden’

Robert performs the performance piece ‘Static’ which starts with the radio being switched on again.

The whole piece is delivered with the radio on. At the end of the piece, Robert packs away all of the paraphernalia and sits on the chair with the radio in his lap. He turns it off.

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How Sultry the Night that is Ours

I was coming back from a gig in Taunton last night and I had to change trains at Newton Abbot, with a  half hour wait. So I decided to set up my camera and film this, the poem I’d spent two weeks learning. I didn’t realise that the waiting room was next to the station office with staff still in there, but hey, I’m sure they enjoyed it!
https://youtu.be/9k72hubbjRg

Duck fight.

The other day I came through the park
And there was a duck fight,
Two male ducks going at it,
Quacking in the most boisterous manner
And flapping their wings.
Duck fight.

When people are insulted and they don’t care,
It’s said to be water off a duck’s back.
When ducks are insulted they
Are less inclined to be poetically philosophical.
They don’t take it lying down.
They don’t lie down.
I stood at the pond and I pointed and laughed
At the fighting ducks.

One duck was up for it.
The other was a well ‘ard mallard.
One duck showed a lack of respect.
He was pecked
By the other duck.
It was like watching Daffy arguing with Bugs
Only it was two Daffies
And nobody had a carrot.

A woman walked past and I said,
Duck fight!
She looked at me weird
And quickened her pace.

Peck flap quack flap peck flap quack.
Quack peck flap flap peck peck flap.
Flappity flappity peckerty perkerty
Quackety quackerty quack.
Peck flap quack flap peck flap quack.
Moo.
There was a cow nearby.

It made the pond
Awfully turbulent.
It was all kicking off.
I expect at the end of the fight
They would’ve both been cream quackered.

Wait for laughter.

I wondered what had started it.
Perhaps a transaction gone wrong,
A dispute with the bill.
Perhaps they were playing snooker
And one of them did a fowl shot.
Perhaps one of them said quack,
And the other replied,
I was going to say that.
Perhaps they were fighting over a chick.
Perhaps someone threw a frisbee
And shouted, duck!
But instead of ducking the ducks looked up
Because they were both ducks.
Perhaps it was none of these things.
Perhaps one of them
Made a wise quack.

I wanted to stop it.
I wanted to stop the duck fight.
But it’s never a good idea
Just to wade in.

I wrote in my diary that night,
I wrote,
And they’ve info the firmament of my rigid
Imagination,
Forgoing all but the sweetest dreams
Of nature divine and the privilege of
Which I have been thankfully prone,
Did I espy, in the park,
A duck fight.
Also, I went to Lidl and bought some fish fingers.

In the eighties I invented an
Alternative to My Little Pony.
It was called
My Little Duck
It was a My Little Pony
With the nose sawn off and a beak
Welded on.
It had too many legs.
Which gave it stability but was
Anatomically incorrect.

The park ranger put
His hand on my shoulder and said,
Just let them get on with it, son,
Let them sort it out between them,
And I said,
Why have you got your hand
On my shoulder?
And he said,
Why don’t you come back to my shed
And watch some duck fight DVDs with me?
And I said,
Ok.

On learning poetry from memory.

I’ve spent the last week learning a new poem. This might not seem like the most startling revelation from a spoken word artist, it’s what they do. I know lots of my poems from memory, especially the short ones or the ones which rhyme, a process I started when I got an eye problem and had difficulty in reading the book on dark stages. What makes this one different is that it’s a brand new poem which I haven’t yet performed.

I have a shocking memory for learning material. A long while ago I was in a play at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, it was a production of Sarah Kane’s Crave, and it felt almost impossible to learn because none of the lines made any logical sense compared to the line before it. I can’t remember how I managed to do it in the end.

The reason I’ve learned a new poem is that I’m taking part in a theatre writing showcase in London tomorrow and the director wants the poem to be performed from memory. So I’ve spent the last two weeks learning it, and using all kinds of techniques to make sure that the lines go in. So what I’ve been doing is making crazy associations between the end of one line and the start of the next.

For example:

. . .when he gets distracted by the cricket results.

So we’re walking on the beach, me and Brandon . .

I visualised cricket on the beach.

For ‘butt blocks in the rigging,
Man the head!’

I visualised someone getting their head caught in the rigging of a ship.

And for ‘whales both hump back and sperm,
First mate officers . .’,

I visualised . .
Well, someone would really have to be your mate to do anything with them and sperm.

I’ve also been practising the poem all the time, in the shower, at the gym, in the sauna, and while walking through town. I must have looked like something of a loony, walking along and mouthing words to myself, but it’s working. The poem is currently locked in place and I’m feeling rather pleased.

So the next step, of course, is to memorise a whole hour show. A three minute poem took two weeks, so a sixty minute show should take . . . Well, it should be ready by 2018!

Here’s the poem:

Poem

It must be hot,
My mars bar’s turned to mush,
The sound of melting tarmac
In the late night hush.
Bread in the packet has already turned to toast,
My neighbours pet chicken is now a Sunday roast.
Now I don’t like to boast,
Because I’ve got Brandon, oooo, Brandon
Basking on my bed in his boxers,
Both of us pining for something fresh
Other than the obvious
Like the steering freeze of truth,
The cool, cool wash of contentment,
Or a vanilla ice cream.

Bung a flake in it, good fellow.
Bung a flake in that thing!
Grab it, twist it, thrust it in,
Now how much do I owe you?

We’re making our way through this
Seaside town now, me and Brandon,
He’s promised something hot and long and sticky
The moment we get back.
It’s been years since I had a kebab.
Past shop clad shutters and graffiti denouncing
Tracey as a slag,
To the neon buzz moth hub
Of the prom prom prom
Tiddly om Pom Pom
Last night in bed he said
It isn’t  very long
Tiddly om Pom Pom
And it’s very limp.

And I said,
It’s seen a lot of tourists over the years
And it’s prone to erosion
And longshore drift.
Half of it was swept away
By a giant squid.

The rash on the side of my neck
Is caused by Brandon’s stubble as if scrapes
Sandpaper scrapey sprapey scrape
When he gets distracted by
The cricket results.

And now we’re walking next to the beach and his face is
Lit up like that of a cartoon ferret on a box of cheap own brand
Rice Krispie knock offs
The spoon filled with ricey goodness
Hovering inches from his cavernous gob 

And the salt air late night sea breeze
Caresses our manly frames
Imbuing in us all kinds of nautical hi jinx
Naval seriousness, merry little frigates,
Dolphin blowholes, bottom feeding mullets,
Whales both humpback and sperm,
First mate officers, salty sea dogs,
Able bodied seamen, bow thrusters,
Butt blocks in the rigging, man the head,
Bump head gurnards and bottle nosed lumpsuckers.
And chub.

Do you see the ice cream van?
Do you see the ice cream van?
An oblong of light spilled out on the
Sand flecked concrete,
It’s refrigeration generator
Throbbing the sir with a sudden intensity,
Chugga chugga chugga
Do you feel it throbbing away there?
Chugga chugga chugga
Window stickers advertising all kinds
Of things to lick and nibble and crunch down on
Cool and ever so creamy.

The moon beams on high like someone from Dorset.
In the glow of it’s madness we dance.
Oh, Brandon, I want to do things
To certain bits of you
For most of the night,
Though I’m conscious you’ve got an early shift
At the Lady Remington Smooth N Silky
Cordless Rechargeable Hair Removal Facility factory
And the ice cream man,
Oh,
The ice cream man,
Did I mention he’s also a magician?
A sparkle in his eye,
He starts waving his magic wand at us, and

Poof!

All is gone.
The ice cream man is gone.
The ice cream van is gone.
The neon and the stats are gone.
And Brandon is gone.
None of them ever existed.
It’s just me, and the prom
On a sultry night in a sleepy coastal town,
And the kebab shop is closed,
And the rash on my neck
Is just a fungal infection
And Tracey is still a slag, apparently,
And I walk sadly home,
I walk sadly home.

We’re sending our thoughts and our prayers.

Hey there Mister President, it’s happened again,
What shall we tell our tax payers?
We could jump into action, but action costs money,
Let’s send out our thoughts and our prayers.

Guess what, Mister President, a hideous happening,
World leaders and other big players
Have pledged their assistant, so I guess that means
We can just send our thought and our prayers.

Omg Mister President, you’ll never guess what’s
Been committed by some mad doomsayers,
We could be brave. Or perhaps just cave
In and send our thoughts and our prayers.

An island community hit by a hurricane
Melting ice and sea level layers
We could put a stop or just contribute
But let’s just send our thoughts and our prayers

The vocal minority is righteous and loud
And they foam and they spit, they’re such bayers,
For mercy for those who think that they know
So let’s just send our thoughts and our prayers

When the obvious is called for and various choices
Deep thinkers and other conveyors
Can make such great changes and go with their hearts
So we’ll send them our thoughts and our prayers

It’s hard to seem righteous when appearing so wrong
It’s hard to seem like a soothsayer
But acting with solemnity and a smidgen of balls
And the tiniest amount of knowing bravado
And the minimum amount of presidential clout
And not even sending out thoughts
And not even sending out prayers
But just the expression,
‘We’re sending our thoughts and our prayers’
At least makes it look like all of the above.

You’ve got a golf match
At two o clock, by the way.

My novel ‘Reception’, a brief excerpt

Hello.

Here’s the first few pages of my novel, Reception.
If you’d like to read the rest of it, it can be purchased here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Robert-Garnham/e/B005WVXA1I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_6?qid=1505720519&sr=1-6

One

The hotel towers. It gleams and it glowers, and it shimmers in multicoloured neon thrown up from the shops in the street below. Cars on the raised overpass roar unseen, the sounds of their engines amplified, funnelled by the concrete, while the skyway itself shudders on its precariously spindly legs. Spirit cars. Ghost engines. Oblivious to the hotel with its thirty-seven storeys of imagined corporate opulence. And those obligatory red flashing beacons, flashing, flashing, one on each corner on the very top floor of the building. Here I am. Try not to collide with me.

Two

I pull my suitcase through the revolving door and into the foyer. It is a vast space, purposefully mesmerising and almost laughably opulent. Gold fittings, leather sofas and granite walls subsume all feeling beneath a level of numbness which must surely have been the intention of the architect. There is a waterfall in the middle of the room, a real waterfall with rocks and running water and a plunge pool, and plants and trees and goldfish. The floor is so polished as to appear like glass and it reflects back the light from crystal chandeliers which hang at an equal distance, like jellyfish suspended in the sea. I recognise immediately that certain needs and ideals have been mistranslated, designed into something quite advanced from any conception of comfort, or perhaps it is the aim of the hotel to be snooty enough to acknowledge those who might be put off by its overbearing demeanour. Or maybe I am too tired to take the place seriously.
Yukio smiles, politely. She hovers behind the reception desk, a desk so vast as to cover an entire wall. It dwarfs her. Her business suit also dwarfs her. And the night, and the city both seem to obliterate her entirely. She smiles as I approach and she seems to frown ever so slightly at my clothing before correcting herself. I have been travelling through the night and my trousers and shirt have not fared well either from a grabbed aircraft sleep or from mealtime turbulence. I give her my name and my passport and my booking confirmation details, at which point she taps the details into her computer, then frowns and apologises in broken English.
‘Perhaps’, she suggests, ‘You are on the other system’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Sorry. But you must be on the other system. I will try the other system’.
I sense a problem, but I am tired and I can feel the night stretching out its hands towards me. Flying east has robbed me of a whole day’s sunlight and the resulting darkness when I landed had been unexpected as if I had been cheated by geography. She consults her computer again.
‘Am I on the other system?’
‘Sorry. You are not on the other system. Maybe I should try the first system again’.
‘How many systems have you got?’
‘We have one system’.
She apologises once again.
‘I check the first system a third time and now I check the second system. Sorry. But I must check’.
She does so. I step back from the reception desk. I recognise the song being played over the tannoy in the foyer, a rare pop ballad from the nineteen eighties that I have not heard for a very long time. Either the group is more popular in this country, I tell myself, or it is the most incredible coincidence that a song I once cherished and then forgot should be played at this moment, this exact, strange, odd moment.
‘You are not on the first system or the second system’, Yukio announces.
A sinking sensation deep inside. The singer of the pop ballad laments city weather in a mournful, slow voice which hints at something other than the usual decrepitude. The sparkle and the rain, eternal disappointment, the idea that things are never what they seem to be.
‘Are you saying that you have no record of my booking?’
‘Sorry. We will find your details. We will give you room now, you can pay for it when you book out’.
‘But I have already paid. That’s why I brought these papers with me, to show you that I have a booking’.
‘Maybe it is with another hotel’.
‘But this is the address of your hotel, yes?’
‘Yes’.
‘Then why would I be in another hotel?’
‘Sorry. There has been. Mistake. Perhaps we make mistake. Perhaps you make mistake’.
‘How many hotels in this city are called ‘Castle Hills’?’
‘Only this one. But sorry, perhaps there is mistake’.
‘Why would I fly to the other side of the world and come to this hotel if I were not staying here?’
‘I. Maybe. Check the system’.
Yukio seems to shrink even further inside her uniform. The onerous roar of the reception area fountain seems to echo television static, a technological breakdown, a heightened sense of alert where comfort should have been.
‘Maybe’, she says, ‘Maybe I let you stay here. But we sort out problem. We sort it out, and then perhaps you will pay for the room. That is the best decision. That you stay now and then pay in the morning if the problem is not sorted out. And perhaps doing this will sort out the problem’.
‘But I’ve already paid for the room’.
‘Our records. I’m sorry. The system is adamant’.
‘Why would I pay a second time?’
I start to feel a little bit angry. And yet I know that it is not her fault. It is quite possible that a mistake has occurred.
‘Our system seldom fails’.
‘Can you keep trying?’
She does so. She taps away on the computer for a very long time. I wonder if she is only doing it to satisfy me. I try to crane my neck to her side of the desk in case I am somehow able to aid her. Every now and then she stops typing and looks at the screen, her hand poised above the mouse as if unsure of what to do next.
‘Have you found me yet?’
‘No’.
‘On either of the systems?’
‘I have checked both systems. Two systems. And also the back-up system. No. You are not here’.
‘Pardon?’
‘You are not here’.
‘So you have three systems?’
‘No, we have only the one system’.
‘What can I do?’
‘You can stay’, she says.
She taps again at the computer. The same song is still playing from the reception area speakers. I’d never realised how long it was.
‘I can stay?’
‘Yes. You stay. But you must pay. Because you are not here’.
It has been a long day and I feel tired. Yukio looks up from her keyboard, nervous, hardly able to look me in the eye. But then she steals herself, reaches down to a drawer underneath the counter and passes me a form.
‘Fill this in, Sir. And credit card details. Because you must pay for the room. You are not here at the moment. Fill in the form and then you will be here’.
I let out a sigh.
‘Fine’.
I fill out the form. It requires all kinds of information. Passport number, credit card details, information for which I have to fumble in my luggage to find. At last I hand them back to her. The song is still playing in the background. It must be an extended edition, I tell myself.
She taps into her computer.
‘You are here now. You are on the system. Maybe this is why you were not on the system. Because of the forms’.
‘But you will look for me, wont you? You’ll look for my original booking?’
‘Yes, I look, Sir’.
‘And if you don’t find it?’
‘Whatever happens, you are here. But if you are here twice, then you will not pay again’.
‘You will check all of the systems?’
‘There is only the one system’.
I sense a hard edge lurking beneath Yukio. Obstinately, she effects the will of the Castle Hills Hotel. She is a product of its methods, a functioning part of its mechanism and yet, faced with an error, she cannot help but resort to its baser corporate instincts, the procurement of cash. The city wants to spit her out. The city closes itself off, with its light and its dark and its motorway flyovers. Yukio is its only interface.
I am too tired to argue further. She issues me with a card key and asks if I might need a porter to help me with my luggage to a room on the twenty second floor. I sense that she is dealing with me, mechanically, logically, ridding herself of one part of the problem before dealing with whatever mistranslation has eradicated all of my booking details.

A Day in the Life of a Spoken Word Artist

So yesterday I decided to have a creative day and just see if I could get some bits done without being bogged down with admin and emails and things. In fact it was a day I’d been looking forward to because there was a poem I’d been working on which wasn’t yet quite right. The poem was a hypothetical account of being astounded by a young spoken word artist , but it didn’t seem to have the rhythm or the ability to hold my attention as performer. I was looking forward to having a good old poke around on it. Here’s how the day went.

6-8AM: It’s my day off. Why am I up so early? What am I doing today? Oh god, the poem. Where is it? Here, let’s upload it on to the September Poem a Day site and see what people think. It’s not perfect, but people might give some constructive criticism.

8-9AM: Go to a coffee shop and stare at the poem. Decide that it’s best to put it away for a short while and concentrate on other things. Decide to use headphones and the coffee shop wifi to watch performance poets and spoken word artists on YouTube. It will be good research. Get sidetracked by watching videos of aircraft taking off and landing.

9-12AM: Go to the Quiet Study Room at the library. And just in case it’s not quiet enough, I use earplugs. Get out several poetry books and the poem that I’ve been meaning to work on. Can’t get the enthusiasm. Spend the first hour reading other poets, Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule. Spend the next hour staring at a blank sheet of paper because I’m not as good as Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Start work on the poem. Completely remove the last three verses and replace them with silly one-liners and jokes. It seems to work. Spent the last hour getting very excited because this now looks like the best poem there’s ever been. It’s amazing. It’s astounding. It’s far better than Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Treat myself to a trip to the toilet. Come back and look at the poem. What was I thinking? It’s nothing like Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule.

12-2: Go to the gym and ride the bicycle for half an hour. As I’m riding I keep thinking of the poem and lines that are so, so good that I will always remember them and jot them down when I get back to the changing room. Go on the treadmill too and watch MTV on the screen, following the lyrics on subtitles as I exercise all the time thinking, hah, my poem has much better lines than these lyrics. Get back to the changing room. I’ve completely forgotten the new lines. Go to the sauna and take a notebook with me to try and remember the lines. Nothing. I sweat all over the notebook and the pen dries up in the heat and becomes unbearably hot to touch.

2-4: Decide to rehearse. Decide that it should be a dress rehearsal with the new costume I bought which I want to use for the Edinburgh show next year. It feels a bit weird rehearsing in the costume and anyone walking past can just look in the window and see me. Decide to add a Venetian mask to the ensemble but it needs repairing. I superglue the feathers back on, then get my hand attached to the Venetian mask. Manage to free myself but feel lucky that I did not put it on with the superglue still wet. Try and put on some guyliner but I can’t see without my glasses to do it and it looks awful. Pop out to Superdrug to buy some really bright liptstick to finish the ensemble. Decide on bright pink. The lady on the checkout is very chatty and points out that I’ve picked up the tester. Do you know, she said, how many germs are on the tester?

5-7: Type up the revisions to the poem. It looks ok. Send it to Melanie Branton and she says it’s ok. She asks who it’s about and I tell her. In a mad moment I send it to the young poet that it’s based on and then immediately regret doing so. Spend the next hour with my data turned off so that I cannot see his response.

7-9: Prepare my set for the gig in Exeter tomorrow. Plan it right down to the second with opening remarks, costume, poem, linking material, spontaneous remarks. Fret that I haven’t rehearsed enough and rehearse the opening remarks a couple of times. Check my diary. The gig is actually next week.

9-10: I get a message from the poet. He likes the poem. I then go on to the September Poem a Day website and the old version of the poem is widely liked and someone even suggests that it’s one of my best ever poems. I look in the mirror and see that I’ve still got one eye half guylinered.

Do you have a personal philosophy?, I asked. 

Last night I interviewed Ian Beech live on Soundart FM, the Dartington-based community radio station. It was the first time I’d ever interviewed someone and I was really worried before that I would sound more like the boss of a company asking questions without having any back up questions. But Ian is a good friend and an engaging person and the whole hour zipped past, apart from an uncomfortable moment when I asked him about his personal philosophy and he said that he hadn’t got one.
Twenty years ago I wanted to be a writer of worth, a serious heavy hitting literary figure, and while these days I’m only one of those things, (heavy), I now find myself in a position where I can interview people and engage with artistic types on a regular basis. Twenty years ago, I would daydream about being interviewed because I was so famous, and one of the questions I’d practice an answer for was, ‘what is your personal philosophy?’
And I’d say, ‘live to live each day without regret, and teach the world how to love’.
Ok, so it was a crap answer, and so far, nobody has ever asked this question.
I’ve been at a loose end since coming back from the Edinburgh Fringe. The Juicy show took up a lot of time and thinking and now that Edinburgh is done and dusted, I’ve had a lot of free time to faff around with other projects. The trouble is now that I’ve started so many new projects that I’m kind of swamped. A book, a novel, a play, some new poems, a lot of new material and an art project all within the space of a week. So really I don’t know what’s going on.
As I wrote this in a coffee shop in Paignton, a friend has just come in and she’s told me about a project she’s involved in, a multi sensory multimedia performance happening ever half hour right here in town, and I didn’t even know about it. It seems amazing that art can squeeze itself into every day life. Paignton has never been the cultural capital of the world, although it did have a spate of yarn bombing a couple of years back which has fizzled out, the yarn bombed lamp posts now looking decidedly mouldy, but it gives me hope that art will always prosper in spite of geography and economic climate.
I wanted to ask her about her personal philosophy but she didn’t have time.
So life post fringe has been slowly returning to normal and the whole adventure now seems like something that happens to other people.

I told a joke.

So I was in the Edinburgh fringe for a week and while it all started in a naff kind of way, with my luggage and flyers not arriving, things ended up going pretty well. In fact something weird happened which I’d never even considered before I left. I actually had five minutes of fame! OK, I may not have had big audiences, but I did have five minutes of fame.
A couple of months ago I wrote a joke, a silly one-liner. I normally have a process for writing jokes, which is to come up with the punchline first, but this one arrived fully formed. I was sitting down on my bed when I thought of it. Yes, I can even remember what I was doing when the joke arrived!
I incorporated it into my regular set and tried it in a few places, married as it was to a ‘bit’ that I do with a poem supposedly written the night before and stapled to a crisp packet. (That’s how weird my life is . .). It got good laughs but I didn’t think much more of it. As a matter of course, or rather, as an aside, I added it to my Edinburgh show.
The first day I was there a call went out to submit jokes from shows to a newspaper reviewer, which I duly did with a very apologetic email, which I ended with the words, ‘I can hear you laughing from here’, which I’d meant to be a sarcastic sign off. I then completely forgot that I’d done this and I tried to get through a tough first day with no costume, technology, flyers or posters.
The second day went well and I had a great audience. I was so happy with the audience that I went and had a celebratory Scottish breakfast. I wasn’t happy with my performance that day, though, and I texted my friend Melanie Branton to say that I would go back to my flat and rehearse all afternoon. I had to tech Dan Simpson ‘s show that night, so I needed all the rehearsal time I could grab.
A few minutes into rehearsing, I got a message from Jo Mortimer to say that I’d been mentioned on the Guardian website. And indeed, there it was. The joke! Oh, that’s nice, I thought. I also felt guilty as I’d forgotten to do the joke in the show that day.
And then things went manic. Over a thousand people looked at my website over the next two hours. Twitter went into meltdown as people quoted the joke and tagged me. I left to tech Dans show and when I got back there were hundreds of social media notifications. Oh good, I thought. Maybe I won’t have to do much flyering tomorrow!
The only trouble was, the article did not link to my show, there was no way that people could find Juicy through the article. The next day was crazier still. The print copy of the Guardian came out, and the joke was read out on Radio Two during the breakfast show. Other websites began quoting the joke. I’d just gone out to start flyering when I was contacted by Radio Five Live. Would I go live on air and chat about the joke? Sure, I said. So instead of flyering, I was back at my university flat talking on the radio to researchers and then the host herself. And again, they did not mention the show.
The show that day was not well attended. I’d done hardly any flyering, though two people were there who’d done a bit of detective work and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The tag line I used on social media while publicising the show was ‘come for the joke, stay for the poetry’.
By the end of that day the joke had been mentioned on the Daily Telegraph website, and then the next day it was printed in The Mirror along with Tim Vine’s joke, as well as the Western Morning News and god knows where else, I couldn’t keep track. My own website had more visitors over three days than it normally gets in a year.
And then . . .
and then it all kind of calmed down. Visits to the website dropped away, and by the Saturday, the joke was more or less forgotten. My five minutes of fame had gone.
I’m so glad it happened, though. Not least that I can use this in publicity on flyers and things. When I got back to Devon my parents gave me a joke book, because apparently this might help with my ‘stage act’ and that I might be able to ‘read them out to the audience’. And friends and work colleagues keep telling me jokes and funny anecdotes and end by saying, ‘you can use that in your act if you like’. But apart from that, everything is fairly normal now and it’s like it never happened at all!

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