Adventures in Swindon

I just thought I’d write a quick blog about the gig I had in Swindon this last week. I’ve always got on well in Swindon, ever since a slam I entered there many moons ago and managed to come second, performing a poem about the town that I’d written during the interval. I’d headlined or featured in Swindon three times over the last few years, at Oooh Beehive twice and at Rusty Goat’s Poetry Corner. I’ve managed to build up a small fan base, you might say. So Swindon has always felt like friendly territory for me and I’ve always loved going there.

It must be said that what Nick Lovell and Clive Oseman have created in a small backstreet pub in Swindon is really quite amazing. Oooh Beehive, (the name a not so subtle pun on the name of the pub), is that rare thing : a well attended and enthusiastic poetry night in front of a non poetry audience. Over the last few years, Nick and Clive have got some of the biggest names on the spoken word circuit to come along and perform at the pub and the nights seem to be going from strength to strength.

I suppose I am a little biased. As I say, I seem to have a loyal fan base in Swindon, and my poetry always goes down best with non poetry audiences. But the fad that the drinkers at the pub are so enthusiastic is all down to the efforts of Clive and Nick.

It took me five hours to get to Swindon from Paignton, due to the wonderful insertion of a rail replacement coach service from Tiverton to Bristol. You have to wear seat belts in coaches now and the seat belts on this particular coach strapped me to the sit with very little room to manoeuvre. I couldn’t even bend down to get my iPad or a book out of my bag, so I was consequently strapped there for the whole two hour ride up the M5.

Shortly after leaving Tiverton, I noticed the good looking young man across the aisle from me. I’d seen him getting on the coach and I marvelled at his incredibly symmetrical face. Indeed, he looked almost like a robot, a created idea of what a human should be. His skin was smooth and his hair clipped and blended at the sides and back. His eyes were a luscious blue and he had the most amazing eyebrows of any man I had ever seen. And there I was, strapped in to my seat, unable to move and unable to concentrate for the next two hours.

As is often the case in such situations, I thought I’d try and figure how he lived his life. He could have been a male model, and would not have looked out of place on the pages of a magazine, or perhaps he was an actor, with his Hollywood classical looks. But then I happened to notice his hands. I’d never seen such bruised, battered, misshapen hands, with the dirtiest fingernails. How can his face be so beautiful, and his hands be so disgusting? A part of me felt appalled. This bizarre mix of the sweet and the sour, like carrot cake served with sour cream. And then I noticed his mobile phone. He was swiping through Google search images of tractors and farm equipment. Ah, I thought, he’s a farmer. That would explain the hands. And then I started thinking about his life, a country lad, chugging along on his tractor.

I stayed in a very cheap hotel just round the corner from the Beehive pub. It was run by three young Indian men. One of them let me in, and led me to the reception where the next greeted me warmly, and we exchanged a joke or two, but then he turned to the young man who’d let me in.

‘You haven’t finished preparing the rooms yet! Look, it’s four o clock and our guests are arriving! Go! Go and finish the rooms, you are lazy!’

The receptionist then turned to me and smiled as if in apology, as his assistant scampered away. And I found myself smiling in agreement with him, as if sensing his frustration. People, eh?, I felt like saying.

That night, as I prepared for the gig, I heard a fierce row break out downstairs, accompanied by the slamming of doors and one of the men yelling, ‘we’ll see! We’ll see!’ A part of me felt glad that I would only be staying there for a short while, though I was keen to know more about my hosts, as I felt it might even be the basis for a sitcom. What with that, and the sign on the wall telling guests that if they brought anyone back to their room, then the police would be called.

Things got even weirder the next morning when I left early to book out, to be greeted by the assistant who was standing at the door to the breakfast room in the most amazing hotel uniform, resplendent and stately, as if this cheap bed and breakfast were now a high class London hotel. He even bowed as I came down the stairs.

As I say, the Oooh Beehive gig went very well. About a third of the way into my set I became conscious that I had the attention of everyone in the pub, even those in the next room, and they were attentive and appreciative in a way that other audiences tend not to be, or at least, tend not to be with me. And once the evening was over, myself and Tom Sastry, who had been the other feature act, were treated like poetic kings, titans of the spoken word scene, by the audience, who were genuine in their excitement and gracious with their praise.

The next morning I went to Primark and then to the station to catch the train and coach back to Paignton, and I told myself not to be too complacent, that gigs will not always be as good as this one. The scene that Nick and Clive have fostered in Swindon is unique and loving, accepting and open minded, and both of them are people for whom I have a lot of time. I would recommend anyone with an interest in spoken word to get along to Oooh Beehive at some point.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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