In the Glare of the Neon Yak

In the Glare of the Neon Yak was written between 2016 and 2017 having gone through several incarnations, starting as a show called Vestibule Dreams, about people standing at the end of a packed train and sharing their stories.

The story of the Yak is based on that of Herne the Hunter, the mythical ghost who used to haunt several places including Windsor Great Park, near where I grew up.

I took the show all over the UK to various fringes and festivals culminating in a run at Edinburgh. And in 2019 I did a live version with the Totnes jazz band Shadow Factory.


A poem about a small town in West Virginia where I spent the night as a teenager.

Poem (Burnsville)

The car is big, brash and American,
As American as a baseball game,
And just like a baseball game,
It seems to go on forever.
The size of a frigate, this thing,
Burns enough fuel to power a small city.
You be navigator, my uncle says,
Which is easy as there’s only one road
Here in the mountains of West Virginia,
Even I can’t muck this up.
I catch my reflection in the rear view mirror.
You’re a long way from Basingstoke, sonny jim.

We’re on a road trip through America.
The scenery and grandeur are simply stunning
But I haven’t had a sausage roll in ages.
A teenage lad,
Overcompensating his obvious campiness
By wearing an Arsenal football shirt,
(I have no idea who Arsenal are,
I just like the fact they’ve got
Arse in their name),
And my uncle looks like Leslie Neilsen.
No wonder that diner back there
Went very quiet the moment we walked in.

And jeez, I’ve become so terribly English.
The Americans really seem to like it,
A waitress made me read from the TV Guide
And she couldn’t stop laughing.
And no, I’ve never met Benny Hill.
Why is everyone here obsessed with Benny Hill?

A muggy, huggy, humid day.
The moment I step from the car,
Everything goes Moist.
The constant heat has led to some serious chafing.
As the sun sets the highway announces
A small town called Burnsville,
We stop for the night,
Leslie Neilsen swings the frigate off the freeway
And we book into a small motel.

The adjacent highway sighs
As if it’s all too much.
The hillsides loom,
The Neon buzzes.
Passing trucks growl and
The world smells of diesel,
Melting tarmac and decomposing weasel.
It’s gritty,
But not in a Harold Pinter sort of way,
But in the way that grit is gritty.
There’s something sticky and
Unsettling in the heat of the night,
A bit Like finding half of a frog
In a packet of Quavers.
Restless dreams in wooden homes,
This covered fold, this
Hidden valley, and I,
Jolted up from hours of driving
And awash with hormones and teenage desires,
Suddenly turned on by absolutely everything,
Which I can only quell by singing
The refrain of a tv advert for Bran Flakes.
‘They’re tasty, tasty,
Very very tasty!
They’re very tasty!’

My room is hot.
I’ve seen these places
In so many films.
A bed, a bathroom, a bible.
I open the window and the moths fly in,
Thousands of the fluttering bastards,
Moths on the Tv screen, moths
Circling the lights, moths on the window frame,
And even the bastard moths are turning me on.
I try to bat them with the bible
But the bible turns me on.
I try to shoo them out the door
But the door handle turns me on,
And the door frame,
And the door turns me on,
And I turn off the light and then
Turn it on
But even turning it on turns me on,
And I realise that I have to get away,
Oh yes,
I have to get away.
I place my hands on my head and through
Gritted teeth I sing,
‘They’re tasty, tasty,
Very very tasty!
They’re very tasty!’

It’s warmer outside, and dark, so dark.
I walk down to a dried up stream
Behind the motel,
Turn and look at the wooded valley slopes,
It’s all so quiet and ethereal but bloody hell,
After a while it starts to turn me on.
I tell myself there must be monsters here,
Gun toting wild men,
World hating survivalists,
Angry war veterans, how masculine,
How beautifully masculine,
Sensuous and masculine,
How it turns me on!
I try to look for some natural splendour,
But all I can see is a Coca Cola machine,
Humming and electric and brash
And vibrating ever so softly, like a lover,
Which turns me on.
So I walk, I walk up to the main road,
The highway, long grass crickets chirruping,
Like the springs of a bed, (impersonate),
oh god!, back to the motel,
The motel where so many slumbering naked people
Have tossed and turned,
Oh dearie me,
How dreadfully even this motel turns me on,
And just as I’m thinking I should really
Get a grip,
I see the open door to the motel laundry room.

Bright lit fluorescent glaring in the sultry night,
And two shining hot shirtless lads operating
The machines, nonchalant, slyly sexual, the
Glistening sweat causing their lithe bodies to writhe
And contort with an ethereal glow,
They’re tasty, they’re tasty,
Oh my, they’re very, very tasty,
They’re very tasty indeed.
And all of a sudden the motel is just a motel,
The moths, the crickets, the Coca Cola machine,
The doorway and the light switch,
They are what they are,
And I am what I am,
And the lads, oh mumma!
We all know what they are.
I go back to my room,
Boy oh boy,
Do I go back to my room!


The next morning we load
Our luggage into the frigate
And Leslie Neilsen asks me
What I’d like for breakfast.
For some reason I have
Sudden hankering for Bran Flakes.

A queer body

A Queer Body

I’ve always been passably handsome
When viewed through frosted glass,
(Frosted glass slightly concave
Acting the same as ‘skinny mirrors’
In fashion boutiques,
Or are they just an urban myth?).
Anyway, passably handsome
At a quick glance.

Though this queer body,
Structured as it is like the
Centre Pompidou with all of its
Accoutrements and pipes on the outside,
Has, on drunken nights,
Momentarily convinced a member
Of the same gender that it might be right
For voracious osculation, you know,
Ironically, the night not a total waste.
There’s no accounting, my mother
Would say, for taste.

But last year it started to
Stand up for itself, (excuse the pun),
And developed a lump that had to be
Swiftly removed, like an edited comma,
Erroneous punctuation,
And then this year decided on a whim
To do the obvious thing and
Get that trendy flu that everyone’s been
Raving about, you know, like a hat,
Or that winter eight years ago when
All the trendy kids wore jumpers that said ‘Geek’
When they obviously weren’t.

Ay, ’tis a queer body, wrapped
Around a queer man who has the lusts of a
Queer man and the abs of a panda.
I know, I thought, let’s shave of all of my
Body hair (I was bored) and look beach ready,
Ended up looking like a chicken, oven-ready,
A butterball plucked and my chest hair
Itched like a bastard for weeks.

I’ve been nicking items from various Trevelodges and making my own hotel room

A poem about purloining various equipment from a certain brand of affordable hotel.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 57: OI've been nicking items from Travelodge” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 57: OI've been nicking items from Travelodge</a></div>

Most of the Ikebana club has been taking performance-enhancing steroids

Most of the Ikebana club has been taking performance-enhancing steroids

Careful with those secateurs, Enid!
Shove the bastard in the pot,
All nuance has gone, hasn’t it?

Can someone help me pick up this
Heavy bad of Grow-More compost, oh,
It’s OK, Molly’s got it.

The judges in Biddeford last week
Thought something was amiss.
The winning creation looked more like
It had been threatened with a severe beating
And had assumed those convoluted shapes
Of its own free will.

When asked to provide a urine sample,
Ethel went berserk with a trowel.
She’s already got a two-year ban from all
Officially sanctioned ikebana competitions.

Maud was seen in the chemists
Collecting a suspicious package from a
Pharmacist who gave a knowing wink.
She’s in contention for a sixth title this year.
She also got my brother’s Fiat Punto out of a ditch.

Harold did something creative with some cherry blossom
But was too interested in
Showing everyone his glistening abs.
He’d oiled them up, apparently, with Bonjela.

Trevor’s suddenly built like a brick shithouse.
He’s got the branch of an oak tree
Rammed in a water butt and he ain’t leaving
Until he’s had it out with the committee.



Always yearning for more.

Start the day with a yearn.
A bit of a yawn
And then a yearn.
When will he learn?
And then the urges kick in.

All fuzzed up on the indefinable this trendy shag happy
Fashion conscious tight t – shirted skinny jeaned hair
Purposefully unkempt to such the right degree as if
To promote architecture over aesthetics this knowingly
Crash bang handsome nonchalant gymnasium frequenter
With his yearning and his urges looking into the mirror
Thinking hmmmm, today’s the day I might meet and forever
Fall in love with
A chubby overweight forty something poet with glasses.

He yearns.
Yearns and urges.
This is what he wants.
You can’t spell

Two in the afternoon,
Never been up so early!
Slender fingers
Poet dating websites.
Doesn’t see a thing he likes.
They’re all
Hip hop trendy slam heroes
Slippy hip lip spitting split lip
Literary nerds
They’re all
Achingly trendy
Syntax bendy rangers and shouters
Mic crooning pouters
They go from Bard to verse
He’s looking for
Old timer rhymers,
Middle aged and overweight and
Wearers of glasses.
Philip Larkin
He’d do nicely
Thank you.

He yearns.
The pain inside
It burns
He imagines
The ease at which
They squeeze
The poems out of themselves.
They make it look so
He’d like to do the same.
He feels he could
Bang one out
Any second.

Laughing with the lads beer with the lads now
And football with the lads all nonchalant joshing
And mega bants about birds and booze and beer and boobs
And he accidentally lets it slip that he’s always had a thing
For Alan Bennett.
I’m sorry,
Did I say
Alan Bennett?
I meant

He wants
To spend his years
With sonneteers
Become old and grey
And fade away
With haiku masters
Recover from a hip op
Forgetting all that hip hop
Better fetch a stretcher, man.
How he pines for
John Betjeman.

He yearns.
Sneaks on to
Chubby overweight forty something poet with
Glasses and a shirt and tie dot com
Sees pictures of various midlife
Midspread jovial looking
Z list performance poets
Draped seductively
Library return counters
Art council grant forms
He sees the look of soulless doom
Hidden behind their thick framed glasses
And fixed forced smiles
And he thinks
I’d be there for you
All the time
Every time an audience didn’t laugh
Every time you crashed out the first round
Of the Swindon Poetry Slam
Every time a trendy fresh on the scene
Battle rapper says
Have you been doing this for long?
I’d be there for you.

He yearns.
But the world
It still turns.
He wants a
Chubby overweight forty something poet
With glasses and a shirt and tie and possibly
Spiky hair too.
If only there were someone for him.
Just who could it be?
Just who could this person be?
Just who could this person be?

I hypnotised my Aunt (A poem)


I hypnotised my aunt.
I can’t get her back.
She thinks she’s a donkey.

We went to the library
And she kicked over a photocopier.
We went to the supermarket
And she eeeee-orrrrrrred at a cabbage.
We went to Costa Coffee
And she asked for a carrot.
And then she swished her tail
In Boots
And knocked over a display of
Electric toothbrushes,
Which, strangely enough,
She also did the week before
I hypnotised her.

Actually, come to think
Of it,
Perhaps she’s a donkey
Hypnotised into thinking
She’s my aunt.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 53: I hypnotised my aunt” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 53: I hypnotised my aunt</a></div>

We began to fuse together (A love poem)

Dearie me, I’ve written a love poem. It’s about two people who agree so much with each other that they start to become the same person. It’s actually a little bit disgusting. Anyway, you can hear it down below:

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 52: we began to fuse together” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 52: we began to fuse together</a></div>

On missing the Edinburgh Fringe

For the last couple of nights I have dreamed about the Edinburgh Fringe. I can’t remember what the dreams entailed, but there was definitely cobbles and drizzle and small theatre stages crammed into implausible locations. The cancellation of everything this year, including Edinburgh, has been pretty hard to take as a performer who relies in the most part in an audience. But most of all, it’s the communal madness and annual pilgrimage to Auld Reekie that I’ve found myself, oddly, missing muck more than I thought.

I say ‘oddly’ because last year, absolutely everything went wrong. Last year was my sixth year as a performer and my eighth fringe in all. The adventure started when the railway lines got flooded on the way there and I arrived nine hours late after various detours taking in Birmingham, Preston, Manchester and Newcastle instead of my original train which should have taken me straight there. I arrived to find that my show had not been included in the Wee Blue Book or on any of the signage at the venue, and then the venue itself had the toilets overflow because the sewage pipes had been inundated. One day I arrived at my venue to find a comedian setting up, they had assumed that the room would be empty because they had taken the wrong day off by mistake. And then on the way home, someone stole all my luggage. In spite of all this . . . I decided I wanted to go back the next year.

Edinburgh means a lot to the structure that I give to my year. I start writing a new show in November or December the year before, and then rehearse it up till April, when I unleash it on the world. I then do the same fringes every year : Barnstaple, Guildford, Reading, GlasDenbury, culminating in a trip up north. The whole year is structured around this timetable.

But Edinburgh means a lot more, too. It really is like a convention of spoken word artists and performance poets. People who you only usually see on social media are there, and a community exists of likeminded people sharing tales of flyering and accommodation. Some of these people have become very good friends over the years and it’s always somewhat emotional seeing them for the first time in a year. It’s also a great training ground, where you can hone your show and watch as many other different types of show as you can fit in. The inspiration I get from going every year lasts me a very long time and helps me experiment and push the boundaries. My last two shows wouldn’t have existed without seeing other shows.

And yes, Edinburgh is hard, physically and emotionally. I don’t know who decided to build a city right on the top of an extinct volcano where it rains most of the time and all the streets are cobbled. And you’re competing against thousands of other shows. And flyering itself is soul-destroying. I’m really no good at it. Yet the highs are extraordinary – slam wins, big audiences, great feedback, and of course, that miracle year in 2017 when I ended up on the radio and in all the papers, certainly outweighs the bad days where you get an audience of one, or you get absolutely drenched for eight hours a day.

I was looking forward to this year. I was going to do a ‘Greatest hits’ package which required minimum props and I’d found some great accommodation, and I was hoping to do everything right. Well. maybe next year, now.

And that’s if next year happens at all. The economic landscape may look very different by then, but I’m hoping there will still be a chance to go back up. With the exception of the town where I live and the town where I grew up, Edinburgh is the place I know the best having stayed and performed all over it for most of the last decade. I can’t envisage not going there for two years.

I had my portrait painted . . (A poem)


He raised his brush like a swordsman en gard,
Leant forward and jabbed the canvas, once, twice,
Paint flung, splodges on the studio floor,
A stab, a lurch, a crooked line, elbows akimbo, ha ha, he said,
Then looked up at me once more.

You’re the first portrait I’ve ever done in landscape, he said,
And I admitted that the diet wasn’t working,
I’d already unbuttoned the top of my shirt in what I thought
A provocative manner, quoth he, as he danced and
Gyrated around the canvas,
Do what you like,
My last commission was a prize winning pig,

He came over and looked deep into my eyes,
Tried to gauge the exact colour he might use to depict them,
Their tone, their blend, the actual shade of them to reveal
The truth of me,
Are they Colombian coffee? Or midnight mallard?
He squeezed out on to his pallet from a tube
Marked poop brown.
Poop brown!

As he painted we chatted and I told him i’d bought a new
Sandwich toaster
And he told me he’d ordered some erectile dysfunction
But the delivery man had left it with his neighbour and
He was too embarrassed to go and get it
And I told him that the sandwich toaster
Also did paninis
And then we kind of ran out of things to discuss.

He came over with a protractor and
Measured the acute dimensions of my schnauzer.
Where did you get that protractor?, I asked.
In the road, he replied,
It fell out of the sky, perhaps from above.
Oh wow, I replied,
Heaven must be missing an angle.
He didn’t laugh.

These crisps, I told him, are revolting.
He replied, that’s the pot pourri,
Winter fruits and sandalwood.
Oh no, I replied, that means
I’ve left my beef flavoured Wotsits
In the wazza.

He danced around the easel slapping on paint,
Wavered and quavered as he layered his paint,
Like a boxer in the ring, a feint to the left, and paint,
A fling to the right, it’s a fight to the canvas
It’s a punch-up in paint,
A slapping in more ways than one!

Have you captured my best side?, I asked.
No, he replied, I’ve done you from the front.
Do you want me to pose naked?, I asked.
I don’t do abstracts, he replied.
I said, I’d like to paint a self portrait.
He said, you’d need to take a long hard look at yourself.
I tried it once,
It just wasn’t me.
Have you captured my earlobes?, I asked.
No, he replied, they just ran out of the door.

And with a hop and a skip he dabbed his last dab,
Stroked his brush home one last time,
Then stood back and declared his work done,
The latest in a sequence entitled
History’s Greatest Blunders,
With a flourish he turned the canvas around
For my perusal and, like a magician,
Said, ta-da! Voila!
Have a gander at this!

And I replied,
That’s not me, that’s Eammon Holmes.