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I can feel a draught in here

Can I feel a draught in here?

All I said was,
Why is it so draughty in here?
And you gave me one of those looks
Like the tosser that you are,
Sprawled akimbo half on the sofa,
Half on the pouffe,
You sports vest attired shag bunny
You king of pungency masked in Lynx Africa
You gymnasium dumbbell botherer whose limbs
Look like the spare parts left over when
Mother Nature has tried to make its first gibbon,
You text speak Netflix modern day lothario
Looks more like Onslow
Whose only cultural refinement is the ability to
Belch the theme tune to Countdown
You harbinger of sloppy sex whose bedroom technique
Feels more like conducting an oil change on a Ford Transit van,
Said,
I can't feel a draught.

And I was apt to point at the curtains
The net curtains the fine lace net curtains
Which were lifting ever so gently away
From the window frame gently swaying net curtains
And I said
What's causing this, what's causing this, eh?
Is it the ghost of Liberace trying to make a grand entrance?
And you didn't get my cultural reference
And thinking back
I didn't know what it meant either.

And furthermore I insisted persisted that
Should I stand there with feather next to the
Obviously ill fitting window frames
A feather whether the feather should
Demonstrate by means of its bristles undulating
Sensuously
Like a naked James Bond opening titles dancer
See them undulating these bristles
Like a naked James Bond opening titles dancer
Who ironically
Would almost certainly feel a draught.

And did I not impinge the possibility
That the curtains should billow so
Undulating billowing curtains ballooning curtains
Swishing whistling billowing curtains
Right in front of the TV screen
That we might
Billowing curtains billowing curtains
Fluttering across the TV screen
Lose sight of the bigger picture?

And thence did I not utter a silent prayer
A private invocation a spell a trance
Hands clasped flat palm on palm
Eyes screwed tight shut palm on palm
Prayer pious prayer eyes shut prayer
While you
Scooped up and consumed
Honey roasted nuts?

And did I not expostulate
And did you not lie there
Half slouched with your bronzed muscles
That put me in mind of the cheap handbags in Primark
With your shorty shorty shorty shorty denim shorts
Which when you take them off just kind of
Maintain the same shale put a book across the top
Use them as a makeshift coffee table
With your bleached blond blond blond blondie blond
Sandy beach bleached hair short spiked
Like the stubbly pasture grass around the steaming cowpat
Of your bald patch
With your face that looks like the top half was incredibly surprised
That the bottom half had grown a beard
And now it was off to go and join
A much more successful face
With your tattoo of Marilyn Monroe that had got so wrinkled
She now looked like Sid James
Did you not lie slumped there and suggest
I sit at the other side of the room
Sit at the other side of the room?
No I replied,
I ain't no draught dodger.

(That poem was just a draft).
Featured

An Ode to Simon Reeve

Poem

I stepped into a tropical bar.
Simon Reeve was there in a slow dance,
And I lost myself to his floppy fringe
Whose sweat-soaked flappy fronds would
Tickle my blushing cheeks,
Whose stubble scraped at the twilit skies
Like a cat’s claws on anaglypta,
Whose come-to-bed eyes betrayed none
Of the entitlement of his classical features
But a yearning for a sweetness so virile
That he could have been a treacle tart
And I ached, how I ached,
To be the custard.

Backpack merely decorative,
Naive tone a faux Theroux,
Poor man’s Palin,
Cargo-trousered doyen of sand dunes
And jungle trains,
No armchair droner he,
Riven with Reevisms, river crossings,
Barrier reef rovings,
Now gyrating for my pleasure in the aptly named
Club Flamingo.

Simon Reeve whose dimpled smile
Hauls in the night like a Titicatan net-lobber,
Whose unblemished skin betrays the
Goodness of various restorative unguents,
Whose manly chin is jutted like the
Bulbous bow of a speeding Shinkansen
And probably twice as purposeful,
Whose sensitive eyebrows are seldom parabolic,
Yet neither do they quiver intense for
Reevsie is an empathic soul,
Whose backpack is admittedly superfluous,
Whose torso is Michaelangeloian in its
Sculpted accommodation of his lean yet
Muscular frame on whose bounty I would
Willingly consume a quadruple-decker cheeseburger
Dipping a chip in a reservoir of mayonnaise
Stored for convenience sake in his belly button.

Action man for aunties.
Secret poet banging sand out his boots.
Earnest and eager though neither over with either.
Mortal enemy of Professor Brian Cox.
No world-weary Whicker he, but a clamorous compassion
And the kind of face
That would make even Vladimir Putin
Contemplate a five minute fumble
In the broom cupboard.

Simon Reeve, whose tousled locks hold
Within their definitely un-dyed verdantness
A vitality that would put Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to shame,
Whose rich deep Colombian coffee coloured eyes
Might penetrate x-ray-like beneath layers so effectively
As to pass right through the earth’s core every time
He bends down to pat a puppy.
Whose nostrils hardly flare.
Whose afterthought goatee clings on like
A countryside hilltop copse stunted
By the choking emissions from a nearby pig farm
Yet in whose branches barn owls berate the night
With their haunted warbling,
Whose luscious lips have tempted many a plastic surgeon
To bemoan the artifice of their own creations
And now before is delicate tongue-moistened plumpness,
Whose sturdy shoulders in their perfect powerful paralleogramatic
Precision
Would easily raise a live rhinoceros clear out
Of the Serengeti mud hole
Into which it had stumbled probably distracted
By the beauty of Simon Reeve’s face in the first place.

And I,
Simon Reeve,
I am that rhinoceros
And this ain’t no mud hole,
It’s the Club Flamingo
And our song has now ended
And our dance has now ended
And you’ve picked up your backpack
Which definitely doesn’t contain
Just a couple of pillows to make it look full for the cameras,
And off you go.
Featured

Robert Garnham, Yay!

Hello, here’s a recording I made of my show Yay!, at the back room of a charity shop.

This is the version of the show which went to the Edinburgh fringe in 2022.

I hope you like it.

You can support the work I’m doing right here https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

Featured

Exeter Poems, written by the Bard of Exeter

Last year I became the Bard of Exeter. During this time I’ve been working on various poems about Exeter, written often during visits to the city. You can read them below, they’re not in any kind of order. I really do like the city of Exeter and I’ve enjoyed my time as the Bard.

Robert Garnham, writer and humorist
Poem

The River Exe
Reminded me
Of my ex.
One has a sinewy
Snaking nature
And a big marsh
Where wild things live,
The other
Is the River Exe.
(You must have seen
That one coming,
Dear reader).
One would turn
Several times a day
And often
Not realise it.
The other
Is the River Exe.
(Tidal, you see).


Poem

Oh, Exeter Airport.
From the front
You look
Like a primary school.
Your departure gates
Are numbered
Gate One and Gate Two.
Your duty free shop
Is more of a shelf.
‘You don’t hear many planes’,
A friend observed
As we sat there in the
Living room of your
Departure lounge.
‘That’s because’, I quipped,
‘There aren’t any’.

Poem

She said,
‘Take me to your favourite place,
Restaurant, bar, tavern,
Eatery, joint, cafe,
Bistro, bistro, bistro,
Any place we can get food,
It doesn’t matter where,
So long as we’re together.
We can look into each other’s eyes
Amid the ambience,
And fill our souls with sustenance
Of two different kinds’.

Next to the vending machine
On platform three at Exeter St Davids,
She said,
‘I think we should
See other people’.

Poem

I’m Bard of Exeter, I said.
More like, barred from Exeter, my friend replied.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Yeah, funny.

I’m Bard of Exeter, I said.
More like, barred from Exeter, my cousin replied.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Yeah, funny.

I’m Bard of Exeter, I said.
What’s that?, my friend Bill replied.
It’s an honorary position, I explained.
No, he said, I meant what’s Exeter?

I’m Bard of Exeter, I said.
More like, barred from Exeter, my neighbour said.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Yeah, funny.

This is why I don’t
Tell many of my friends
What I’m up to.

Poem

There’s a view of the Cathedral,
The B and B owner said,
From your window.
And she was right.
She had blue tacked it
To the wall of the shed.

Poem

Let’s picnic in the grass, he said.
In front of the medieval cathedral
Whose precious beauty has tempted
Many a passing tourist to drop to their knees
And feint at its buttresses.
The rain
Made my pork pie soggy.

Poem

Is there a ram
In the RAMM?
A ramp
To put the ram
In the RAMM?
A van to carry
The ram to the ramp
To put it in the RAMM?
A man to drive the van
To carry the ram to the ramp
To put in the RAMM?
No,
But there’s a giraffe.

Poem

I contacted my sister,
I texted her
To say we’d arrived
In Exeter.
She didn’t know we were going,
It perplexed her.

Poem

From Telegraph Hill
The lights of Exeter
Twinkle in the distance
Like private stars in a constellation
Of one.
I’m lost in that timeless beauty
Once again.

And then we drive
Round and round
The multi storey car park.
The poetry
Has long since evaporated.

Poem

As Splatford Split approached
I still didn’t know
Which way you would go.
I watched your hands on the wheel.
Lazily, you turned the car to the
Left hand lane
And I did a little air fist pump,
Then held on,
Ready for the rocket boost
Of Telegraph Hill.
Quicker this way, you said.
Mmmm, I replied,
And I wanted to kiss you.

Poem

The next stop is Exeter St. Thomas.
To the uninitiated, they panic,
Bloody hell, we’re here much sooner
Than we thought.
It’s OK, I think to myself, relaxing, you’ve still got
Another five minutes until Exeter St. David’s.
But it must be disconcerting
Nonetheless.
Similar names, you see.

That night, before I went to sleep, I thought,
Oh,
Perhaps some people
Actually do want to get off at Exeter St. Thomas.
The universe
Is a cosmic joke.

Poem

I went for a walk
Down to the quay
By the river
In the sun.
I’d bought a chocolate milk
From M and S Food Hall,
Sat on a planter on the cobbles,
Necked its fine rich nectar.
Such fun.
Although I was the only one there
When I get up to put the bottle in the bin,
I took my bag with me,
Because, you know,
You can never be too sure.
My friend James is in his 70s and recently
Had his very first pickled egg,
So you never know what’s coming.
Anyway.
The quay.
It was nice.

Poem

I was in the men’s section
At Exeter Primark
When the tannoy announcer said,
‘Could security
Please be aware
That Mister Strange
Is in the men’s section.
That’s Mister Strange
In the men’s section.’
I looked around
But I couldn’t see him.

Poem

I always look
Too deeply
Into things.
Where others
See objects
I see
Atoms.

Poem

I like the sunshine
Too much
To be an
Overnight success.

Poem

While he was in the queue
Getting their coffee
She found a table and
Pushed two chairs in,
Pulled out one for herself,
And one for the one
She wanted him to sit in.

Poem

(In an Exeter coffee shop I overheard someone complaining about their neighbour who apparently spent most of the day sieving his gravel).

The gravel siever has a cluttered attic.
He’s out there now,
He’s out there every day
Sieving his gravel,
And by all accounts he’s got a cluttered attic,
Cluttered with boxes,
The boxes he had when he moved into the bungalow
Whose gravel needed sieving.

Does he ponder on those boxes as he
Sieves his gravel?
Does he ponder on sieving his gravel as he
Pokes his head in the loft
Like a Jack in the Box
Regards the clutter and lets out a mutter?
There’s no single performing.
There’s no shingle uniformity.
There’s so much going on in the world
But only two things going on in his.

Poem

I went to the ticket office.
The man behind the counter asked,
‘Single?’
Is it really so obvious?
I sat in my seat on the train.
The notice above me said,
Available.
Is it really so damn obvious?

The A303 isn't as long as it used to be
(It shrunk)

In prehistoric times,
Apparently,
The A303
Didn't stop at Exeter,
But kept on going.

Continental drift played a part,
Of course.
Dinosaurs, and then
The Romans
Used it to go to
Present day Nova Scotia.
There were tea rooms, so peaceful,
Very pleasant.
Mind you, no
Motorways in those days.

Genghis Khan
Got stuck behind a tractor.
Emperor Napoleon
Got stuck behind a tractor.
The Earl of Effingham
Got stuck behind two tractors.
And I bet he was
Effingham.

The Moon was slightly closer back then.
Stone Age man
Worshipping cats eyes gleaming
Brighter on account of the Moon glow
Not quite so far
For Armstrong and co to go.

Cowboys in the layby,
And the hunter gatherer clans of Wiltshire
Refused to welcome outsiders.
Mostly we just
Left them to their own Devizes.

Poem

There once was a man from the A303
Who wanted to go to Honiton via the B353
He took the A3033
And then the B453
And then the B353 itself but he ended up in Chard.

Poem

I'm a trainspotterspotter.
There were two fine examples
In Exeter St David’s last night.
I spotted both of them
Lurking amid the passengers
With their notebooks and their cameras
And their anoraks.
But then I noticed that I had been
Spotted by a trainspotterspotterspotter
And that he was being spotted
By a trainspotterspotterspotterspotter
And that he was being spotted
By a trainspotterspotterspotterspotterspotter
And so on
Until the time it would take to
Explain all of this would be more time
Than there is in the whole of existence
More than all of the grains of sand on earth
Or stars in the universe
So it's just as well that
They kept the buffet open late.

Poem

My cousin Phil
Slipped at the top of Telegraph Hill
Bounded end over end
In a never ending cartwheel
Right from the very top,
Then straight through the middle
Of a loving couple's picnic,
Damaging a sausage roll
And two scotch eggs
Virtually beyond repair
Falling at such a velocity
His shoes flew off
And one of them clouted a nun
Who shook her fist at him.
Phil
Still managed
To blend into the left hand lane
Of the motorway.

About 25 years ago
I used to work in a shop
In Sidwell Street
And at lunchtimes in the summer
Sunbathe on the flat roof,
From where
You’d be able to see
The cars snaking up
Telegraph Hill.
Probably wouldn’t have been able
To see Phil, though,
Because he would have been too small
And he didn’t exist, really.





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Reflections on my 2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Reflections on my 2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Looking back on my Edinburgh Fringe this year, I’m astounded at how little went wrong this time. It’s weird, but every one of my visits to Edinburgh can be recalled through what went disastrously wrong. For example, in 2015, I lost my passport during the flight up to Edinburgh, and I would need it again a month later for a trip to New York. In 2016, I arrived in Edinburgh but my luggage went to Honolulu, so I had to do the first two days with the same clothes I’d worn on the plane, and none of my props. In 2017, things actually went quite well but I’d accidentally booked not enough days at my accommodation and had to find two more nights to stay somewhere in the city. In 2019, my train only got as far as Preston and had to turn back because the line was flooded, and then when I arrived in Auld Reekie I discovered that my show wasn’t listed in the PBH brochure. (My fault, I should have checked). And then on the train home, someone stole my luggage!

So I suppose all of these were damn good learning experiences, and this year I had flights sorted, accommodation booked, I’d double checked the PBH brochures, I had my favourite venue, (Banshee Labyrinth), and I had a show without any props, so if something happened to my luggage, then the show could still go on.

There were other things I did differently this year which seemed to work. For a start, I listed the show in the main Fringe brochure under comedy rather than spoken word. This was the first time I’d done this, (mainly because I knew I had a show which had a fair amount of comedy in it, unlike 2015’s Static, or 2017’s In the Glare of the Neon Yak). And I think this did lead to a slightly higher number of audience members. The idea of this came from a little research I did where it transcribed that a lot of people who get the Fringe brochure only ever look at the sections which interest them. Theatre, for example, or comedy. My own interest is comedy, for example.

The other thing I did was to include my name in the show title. For a long time the show was called ‘Yay! The Search for Happiness’, but I decided that this sounded too much like a motivational speech, and the title itself hinted that it ought to come with some kind of trigger warning. I decided on ‘Robert Garnham, Yay!’, which I think really worked.

Another thing which was different this year was my whole attitude. In years past I’d take a show to Edinburgh and feel as if all of my eggs were in one basket. If this failed, then I was a failure too by extension. And also, it has to be admitted, I was never as sure as my shows in the past, never one hundred percent convinced that I was writing or performing to the maximum of my (possibly limited) abilities. This year, with a show which had no props or music to hide behind, I had made sure that I knew the show inside out. I’d been rehearsing the thing since early 2020 and I felt that I knew every nuance of it. As a result, I felt much more relaxed while talking to people about my show. If an audience came, well, then it came. If it didn’t, then at least I knew I’d done my maximum.

And also, I had my writing, now. I wasn’t just a comedy performance poet. By the time I got back to Edinburgh in 2022, several things had changed in my career. I was now a published writer, humorist, newspaper columnist as well as a comedy performance poet. This helped me to see what I was doing the context of someone who wasn’t putting all of his hopes and dreams into one show. If the show was a flop, (a show I;d given everything to), then at least I had short stories in magazines, and people reading my newspaper columns. All would not be lost!

This all helped me be incredibly more relaxed in Edinburgh. It’s only taken about ten years, but I felt I was negotiating the fringe with some degree of knowledge which I could fall back on. I even started to enjoy flyering.

Yes, you read that right. Traditionally, I hate flyering. Dyslexia manifests itself with me with an inability to speak to strangers or say things on the spur of the moment. I cannot improvise to save my life and a witty comeback is a three hour process. I find engaging with other human beings to be absolutely exhausting, yet this year, I had something I could describe very easily. ‘A search for happiness on the high seas. Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!’ My eye-catching flyers helped tremendously, too.

And finally, I decided that this would all be an adventure. If it all went tits up, then it would be something to write about. After the last two years where nothing much happened, it really did feel like the most daring thing in the world to go to another city, another country, and bring a show with me. I knew that in the dark days of winter, I’d sit back and ponder on the people I met, the places I went, the lovely audiences I had.

Will I be back next year? In all likelihood, yes. And here are my highlights:

1. The young Scottish couple who came to my show and chatted afterwards about seaside towns. I’d pulled them in to the show at the last minute and worried that they wouldn’t like it. They did, and they bought a book. They told me the name of the Scottish town where they lived. I had to ask three times because I didn’t understand the answer. Abercernichnie? Aberlakichnee?

2. The lady who came to my show and flung her arms around me at the end, and then, much to my surprise, so did her husband!

3. The man who said that my show should be on Radio Four. But it was noisy in the bar and I thought he’d said he was from Radio Four and I got unnecessarily excited!

4. Gecko came to my first show and seemed to really like it, he laughed at all the funny bits and this helped the rest of the audience laugh too.

5. Ditto Alexander Woody Woodward, who it was a thrill to meet in the flesh.

6. The fight which took place during my penultimate show in the audience. Yes, you read that correctly. An audience member took exception to the noise coming from the bar of the Banshee. She went and told them to be quiet, in a very feisty manner. Next thing I know, she was laying into them! I had a great audience that night and it seemed to bind us all together as a shared adventure.

7. The wonderful audience I had at the last show, which included my good friend Elizabeth McGeown and also my regular ‘Robheads’ from Leith, who brought me a lovely present to open on the way home.

8. The tourist who took a selfie with me, and then another tourist who asked for my autograph, I suppose, just assuming that I was famous because I had a show!

9. The taster session I did at St Andrew’s Square during which I had a very big audience, a lot of whom were filming me on their mobile phones.

10. Selling loads of books!

11. Getting home that night and thinking, oh my god, was there really a fight tonight?!

You can read the blog I wrote in Edinburgh this year right here:https://professorofwhimsy.com/2022/08/21/thoughts-from-the-edinburgh-fringe-2022-2/

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Thoughts from the Edinburgh Fringe 2022

In a few moments I’m going to be checking out of my student accommodation and my Edinburgh Fringe will be done for another year. This year has already been a little bit special, either because it was my first visit since 2019, or because it was the first year that nothing went wrong. In previous years I’ve had lost luggage, a lost passport, a dodgy venue, and all kinds of minor frustrations not to mention some pretty bizarre accommodation. But this year everything went amazingly well.

The first thing that went amazingly well was that I had an audience every day. And sure, they weren’t the biggest audiences of the fringe, (the week started out with five people and hovered around the seven mark until the weekend, when the numbers shot up), but for me, that was very good indeed.

The second thing that went amazingly well was that I was really, really pleased with my performances. This is a show that I know inside out. It’s also the first show I’ve ever had that has no props, no backing music, it’s just me and the mic for an hour, relying just on words, delivery and the content. And I’m hoping that I pretty much nailed it.

And as a result of this, I felt very relaxed every day about the show. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment or doubt about the show, which made it easier to tell people about.

The third thing that went amazingly well was my flyering. Now I’ll have to be honest and say that I hate flyering. I find it absolutely exhausting. The act of being alert to who’s around you, looking people in the eye, trying to gauge who might be interested, takes a certain mental strain. And due to various reasons, I’m rubbish at talking to strangers unprompted, but this year I felt that I really did nail the art of flyering. I was chatting to people, telling them about the show and boiling it down to the essentials: a search for happiness on the high seas! Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!

Several audience members stick in the memory: the young couple from Fife and a Scottish seaside town with an unpronounceable name (even though I asked twice), who loved the show and told me about living in this seaside town. The man who just came in and liked it so much he came back again the next day. The man who told me that the show should be on Radio Four, (which I misheard and thought that he said he was actually from Radio Four!). The couple I’d never met who came and both flung their arms around me when the show was done. And the couple who visit me every year, who I love to see and who gave me a lovely present when they came in, which touched me in ways that they couldn’t possibly imagine.

The best thing about doing the show was to make these connections with strangers, so that by the end of the hour, they’re no longer strangers. They’ve sat there and they’ve watched you perform and they know more about me as a person, and they’ve laughed, and this connection has been made which, I think, says something deep and meaningful about the human condition.

And as well as the show, I did a couple of appearances on the EdFringe Stage at St Andrew’s Square, which both went very well and the staff said that I’d been one of their favourite performers of the fringe, which really touched me.

It’s been a horrendous couple of years and through it all, the aim had been to come back to Edinburgh. And I made it! And so did everyone else! And now that my time here is done, I can barely conceive that it’s over. What happens next? Where will the creative muse take me? And what will I have the next time I’m here? These are exciting questions which I cannot wait to answer.

Performing at St Andrew’s Square
Featured

Thoughts from the Edinburgh Fringe 2022

In a few moments I’m going to be checking out of my student accommodation and my Edinburgh Fringe will be done for another year. This year has already been a little bit special, either because it was my first visit since 2019, or because it was the first year that nothing went wrong. In previous years I’ve had lost luggage, a lost passport, a dodgy venue, and all kinds of minor frustrations not to mention some pretty bizarre accommodation. But this year everything went amazingly well.

The first thing that went amazingly well was that I had an audience every day. And sure, they weren’t the biggest audiences of the fringe, (the week started out with five people and hovered around the seven mark until the weekend, when the numbers shot up), but for me, that was very good indeed.

The second thing that went amazingly well was that I was really, really pleased with my performances. This is a show that I know inside out. It’s also the first show I’ve ever had that has no props, no backing music, it’s just me and the mic for an hour, relying just on words, delivery and the content. And I’m hoping that I pretty much nailed it.

And as a result of this, I felt very relaxed every day about the show. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment or doubt about the show, which made it easier to tell people about.

The third thing that went amazingly well was my flyering. Now I’ll have to be honest and say that I hate flyering. I find it absolutely exhausting. The act of being alert to who’s around you, looking people in the eye, trying to gauge who might be interested, takes a certain mental strain. And due to various reasons, I’m rubbish at talking to strangers unprompted, but this year I felt that I really did nail the art of flyering. I was chatting to people, telling them about the show and boiling it down to the essentials: a search for happiness on the high seas! Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!

Several audience members stick in the memory: the young couple from Fife and a Scottish seaside town with an unpronounceable name (even though I asked twice), who loved the show and told me about living in this seaside town. The man who just came in and liked it so much he came back again the next day. The man who told me that the show should be on Radio Four, (which I misheard and thought that he said he was actually from Radio Four!). The couple I’d never met who came and both flung their arms around me when the show was done. And the couple who visit me every year, who I love to see and who gave me a lovely present when they came in, which touched me in ways that they couldn’t possibly imagine.

The best thing about doing the show was to make these connections with strangers, so that by the end of the hour, they’re no longer strangers. They’ve sat there and they’ve watched you perform and they know more about me as a person, and they’ve laughed, and this connection has been made which, I think, says something deep and meaningful about the human condition.

And as well as the show, I did a couple of appearances on the EdFringe Stage at St Andrew’s Square, which both went very well and the staff said that I’d been one of their favourite performers of the fringe, which really touched me.

It’s been a horrendous couple of years and through it all, the aim had been to come back to Edinburgh. And I made it! And so did everyone else! And now that my time here is done, I can barely conceive that it’s over. What happens next? Where will the creative muse take me? And what will I have the next time I’m here? These are exciting questions which I cannot wait to answer.

Performing at St Andrew’s Square
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On how I became a clown

On how I became a clown.

1.

I suppose I've always been a little bit clumsy. Affecting a demeanour each day of professional detachment, a manner almost sullen were it not for those moments in which human discourse were necessary, affecting an amiability, an openness, an expression of eager understanding and a willingness to compromise, only to have my belt suffer a sudden and catastrophic malfunction and my trousers fall around my ankles. A hand outstretched for a businesslike greeting, a shoe accidentally scraped against the skirting board, a sudden lurch sideways into a pot plant. Oh, I do apologise! And then later on, noticing the skirting boards around my office marked and scuffed by the numerous other times that I have stumbled.
Hey, hey, your flies are undone. Again.
And due to my body shape, I concede that my trousers have always been a little bit baggy.

2.

The trill of the alarm clock had interrupted a dream in which I was trying to get a giraffe to go up the stairs of a double decker bus. The giraffe had been stubborn and no amount of tugging or enticing could tempt it up to the first floor, and once underway, it got wedged firmly, its fat buttocks blocking the stairwell, much to the consternation of my fellow passengers. It's the usual recurring anxiety dream. The long neck of the giraffe allowed it to peer up to the top deck, grinning like a bastard, while I pushed and shoved and swore from behind. Buzz buzz buzz buzz! I got up, showered, shaved, made some toast and pondered in the coming day, only to glance at my watch and discover that it was four in the morning. And then I recalled that the trill of the alarm clock had been a part of the dream. For the giraffe and I had been returning from a trip to the shops where we had purchased an alarm clock.
I set to work at my desk, organising various work-related files on my laptop and trying not to think about my giraffe dream. I watched as the sun came up and lit the neighbouring houses a brilliant red, secretly resplendent as it rewarding me and others like me for getting up so early. I stopped for a few moments to look out at the sky, feeling if only for a short while the majesty of the planet in its eternal rotation, this celestial dance of time and fate, when the alarm clock sounded, this time for real. Buzz buzz buzz buzz! Had anyone been with me, no doubt, I would have at least given a smirk or acknowledgement of the humour in this, but as I was on my own, the only emotion I felt was one of deep annoyance. I got up from my desk and I switched the alarm clock off. The only comfort came from the fact that the new trousers I was wearing were significantly roomier than had been my previous pair.

3.

I was never
The class clown.
When I think of this
It gets me down.
The popular kids
Would mess around.
But me?
I wouldn't
Make a sound.

4.

I had a meeting with my boss today. I've written down everything that was said and I've made it into a short theatrical piece, which I call 'Bulbous'.

SANDRA stares at ROBERT from behind her desk.

SANDRA - I suppose you know why I've asked you here.
ROBERT - To be honest, no, I don't.
SANDRA - I've had an official complaint from one of your colleagues.
ROBERT - Oh?
SANDRA - It's about the meeting you chaired yesterday, on Effective Time Management.
ROBERT - Yes, yes, I'm so sorry that it overran.
SANDRA - No, it's not that.
ROBERT - What . . what is it?
SANDRA - (Sighs). Robert, is everything okay at home?
ROBERT - Yes, absolutely.
SANDRA - And you're not drinking heavily, or anything?
ROBERT - No. In fact, I hardly drink at all.
SANDRA - The complaint was actually about your appearance. Did you realise that your flies were undone the whole time?
ROBERT - No, I didn't.
SANDRA - So the message of the meeting, in which you were meant to instil in your colleagues a certain business-oriented professionalism, would probably have been received unquestioningly had you not got your foot stuck in the waste paper bin.
ROBERT - Yes, that was rather unfortunate.
SANDRA - And when you tried to pull it off, you sat on a desk, and the desk . . . Collapsed.
ROBERT - Again, I apologise.
SANDRA - And your nose. You see, Robert, it's becoming awfully red, and bulbous. That's why I asked about the drinking.
ROBERT - As I say, I can only apologise. And I shall make an effort to act from now on in a more businesslike manner.
SANDRA - Thank you, Robert. Please, for me, see that you do.

ROBERT gets up from his chair, shakes SANDRA's hand, then stumbles sideways through a glass partition wall.

5.

Walking home through the silence of the park, I could hear a soft squeak, squeak, squeak with each footstep.

6.

‘I've just had it with clowns’, Josh said. ‘I need a man I can respect’.
We'd met online and he suggested we have a date at that new cream flan and custard pie restaurant that had just opened in the middle of the town. It seemed the sort of place where nothing could go wrong. The seating was comfortable and so was the decor, warm and inviting. We sat at a table for two at the rear of the premises.
‘That is very important to me’, Josh continued. ‘Love, yes. Love is up there. And physicality, of course, but respect. Respect is the most important of them all. It seems to me these days that everyone is a comedian, so you get that sense, too? Where's the depth? It's all artifice, isn't it? It's like we've become avatars, covered in layers of glitz and showy nothingness’.
‘You can depend on me’, I told him. ‘I treat each moment with absolute and utter seriousness’.
‘I just don't know why people feel the need to fool around’, he said, ‘in every sense of the word’.
‘I think people just want to be noticed ’, I reply. ‘That's what's happening in this modern age. We all seem to want to get a kick out of making other people uneasy. The nuance of yesteryear is gone. Subtlety is missing from all of our lives. I blame the internet and social media. People can't even be bothered to wait for the punch line, any more. They want immediate gratification, whether it be sexual or comedic’.
‘I can tell’, Josh said, ‘That you are a thinker’.
‘I try to be’.
I looked at him, and he looked at me. I could see the small candle on the table between us reflected in his eyes.
‘Do you ever feel tempted’, he asked. ‘To become like all the other men? I mean, brash, and obvious, and only in it just for a laugh?’
‘No’, I replied. ‘I try to play the long game. Strip away the surface and this world that we live in is a very serious place. And how else might one approach the act of living itself, but through the contemplation of philosophical and existentialist inquiry? In such a way, I forsake the easy option and the expediency of a cheap laugh in order to probe the searing heaviness of our own manifestation’.
‘You know what?’, Josh said, ‘I think I've finally met a man who I can respect’.
At that moment the cream flan and custard pie conveyor belt around the serving desk suffered a sudden malfunction, sped up, and propelled its load, one after another, at such an angle and velocity across the room as to connect squarely with my own face, one after another in a perfect rhythm to the accompanying laughter from all the other customers. By the time the eleventh and last cream pie had been delivered with a forceful splat, and I was scooping the filling out from my eyes, Josh had long since gone.

7.

I never realised before how small my bicycle was until I glanced sideways at my reflection in a shop window, my knees out at a crazy angle, dwarfed by the buses, the cars, the lorries.

b. I never realised quite how tatty my old jacket had become, so tatty that I tried to draw attention away from its tastiness by putting a plastic yellow flower in the lapel.

c. And I shouldn't have gone swimming and then dyed my hair. The hair dye had a chemical reaction with the chlorine from the pool and turned my hair bright green. Still, what can you do?

d. And as I filled in the official documentation online to tell my work colleagues my preferred name and pronouns, my computer’s predictive spelling changed my name from Robert to Parsnip.

e. Sandra, my boss, has for some reason pulled me from delivering a seminar on Modern Business Etiquette.

8.

With the power of his intellect and his encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary stand-up comedy, my school friend Hasan could reduce the entire class into fits of laughter. And the laughter would drive him on, and he'd say something else that was funny, and the class would laugh some more. But Hasan was canny, he'd leave his best material for the end of the sequence, leading us up blind alleyways of silliness before delivering his punchline. Boom. As a result, this rather nerdy individual became one of the most popular people in school and I must admit to feeling rather jealous of his command of a room.
My teachers would always tell my parents at parents evening that I was always serious, unsmiling, intense. They said that I wouldn't join in with the other kids, and would bury myself in my work. Perhaps they were worried that something would give, that I'd snap one day and have some sort of life-changing episode, go beserk and tell the other kids exactly what I thought of them. Humourless, is the exact word that was used on more than one occasion. But I carried on in much the same manner and took my exams.
I left school with average marks.
Hasan became a marketing executive for a company that manufactures airline meals.

9.

To be mocked, and come out fighting with humour, is never a position in which I have ever found myself. Steady as she goes has always been my motto. I have rarely left myself open to ridicule by using the simple tactic of blending in to the background. And during those moments in which I have found myself in the limelight, I have adopted the simple strategy of being as intense and as dry as I possibly could.
‘You're too intense’, Steven had said to me, on what was to be the last night we'd spent together.
‘Just because I don't go down the street, laughing hysterically . . .’.
‘It's not that. It's more your tendency to over analyse everything. We can't even watch television comedies because you point out that certain things would never actually happen’.
‘All I was pointing out was that in real life, Tom would simply catch and eat Jerry . . ‘.
‘You see! You're too much of a realist. In all the time that we have been together, I never once heard you laugh. It's all buttoned up inside of you, isn't it? That's where you keep it. It has to be somewhere’.
‘Life itself is the ultimate ridicule’, I pointed out.
‘What does that even mean?’
The two of us are silent for a while.
‘I'd just like to find’, I tell him, ‘A well adjusted and content tarot card reader’.
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘A happy medium’.
Steven thinks about it for a few seconds.
‘OK. So admittedly, that was quite amusing. But it's too late, Robert. I'm sorry, but it's too late’.
Steven bent down and picked up his suitcase, walked through the door, and slammed it shut behind him.
The oil painting of a clown on the wall above the sofa wobbled for a bit, then fell off and landed right on top of me, my head tearing through the canvas, the frame of the picture now hanging around my neck.

10.


Emerging from the supermarket on the corner, the busy street glistening with a damp drizzle which fell from the overcast sky, smudged neon into the road surface. I stood there in my jacket, my loose fitting trousers, my green hair, my Parsnip name badge, my squeaky shoes, my lapel flower. I decided that I would give up on trying to understand the world, and how good it felt! I didn't need Steven or Josh or even Sandra, I didn't need any of them. Life is filled with organisms and mechanisms too complex ever to make sense of,
A small, battered car screeched to a halt right next to me and a gentleman in baggy, multicoloured clothing jumped out. Then another, then one more, then two more, then six of them, seven, twelve in all, until I was surrounded, and without saying anything I understood that there was a home for me. It didn't even need analysing. Life just becomes obvious, sometimes.
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Woodview

You can now pre-order my new collection, Woodview.

The link is right here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/woodview

And below you can see a couple of videos of poems from the book.

These are poems about memory, place, and growing up. These are poems about the things that happen and the people you meet along the way. Fleeting encounters on sleeper trains, becoming invisible in a Japanese mega-city, growing up in a house on a hill in the woods glimpsing the whole of London from the back bedroom window, and dreaming, and becoming entranced by the neon. 

But most of all, these are poems about the woods. The forest. The trees. Obscuring memories, perhaps, as well as the view. Lonely autumn walks through a leafy copse, imagining other places, other existences.

This collection of poems from Robert Garnham is subtly autobiographical and layered in surprising ways which takes the reader beyond the present moment.

‘The poems are a journey through memory, travel and the “everyday miracles” trying to find “meaning where there is none” and finding a home that “probably never existed”. Very serious stuff but you’re knocked off-balance by the humour which ranges from the ironic to the iconic, the snappy to the quirky, the satirical to self-deprecating, the wit and wordplay.’

(Rodney Wood)

‘Robert Garnham has an unerring eye for the bizarre, and a penchant for the outrageous statement, such as ‘I was never interested in poetry’. He told the school careers adviser he wanted to work in a garden centre. The Pet Shop Boys were dismissed by his dad as ‘whining bastards’. At the same time Robert developed a strange admiration for the US comedian Bob Newhart. Need I say more?’

(Greg Freeman)

‘Woodview is an evocative and sensitive collection of poems and prose that resonates with leaving childhood behind and searching for an identity. Robert is known for his wit and whimsical works, ever present here. Tenderly sitting beside these are the beautiful and honest poems in the section ‘A Person’ where Robert shows ‘the workings of my heart’. Woodview is Robert at his very best’. 

(Becky Nuttall)

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Woodview

These are poems about memory, place, and growing up. These are poems about the things that happen and the people you meet along the way. Fleeting encounters on sleeper trains, becoming invisible in a Japanese mega-city, growing up in a house on a hill in the woods glimpsing the whole of London from the back bedroom window, and dreaming, and becoming entranced by the neon. 

But most of all, these are poems about the woods. The forest. The trees. Obscuring memories, perhaps, as well as the view. Lonely autumn walks through a leafy copse, imagining other places, other existences.

This collection of poems from Robert Garnham is subtly autobiographical and layered in surprising ways which takes the reader beyond the present moment.

‘The poems are a journey through memory, travel and the “everyday miracles” trying to find “meaning where there is none” and finding a home that “probably never existed”. Very serious stuff but you’re knocked off-balance by the humour which ranges from the ironic to the iconic, the snappy to the quirky, the satirical to self-deprecating, the wit and wordplay.’

(Rodney Wood)

‘Robert Garnham has an unerring eye for the bizarre, and a penchant for the outrageous statement, such as ‘I was never interested in poetry’. He told the school careers adviser he wanted to work in a garden centre. The Pet Shop Boys were dismissed by his dad as ‘whining bastards’. At the same time Robert developed a strange admiration for the US comedian Bob Newhart. Need I say more?’

(Greg Freeman)

‘Woodview is an evocative and sensitive collection of poems and prose that resonates with leaving childhood behind and searching for an identity. Robert is known for his wit and whimsical works, ever present here. Tenderly sitting beside these are the beautiful and honest poems in the section ‘A Person’ where Robert shows ‘the workings of my heart’. Woodview is Robert at his very best’. 

(Becky Nuttall)

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Terence Donovan (Doug Willis from Neighbours) was born in Staines – A Poem

Poem

I’m not easily shocked.
I’ve dealt with a lot of crap over the years.
But this poem isn’t about me,
Much as I’d like it to be.
For I only discovered this very morning,
(And hold onto your hats, dear listener),
That Terence Donovan,
Father of Jason Donovan,
Terence Donovan,
Who played Doug Willis in the TV soap Neighbours,
Was born,
Are you ready for this?
Was born in Staines.

Yes, that’s right, Staines.
Staines in the former Middlesex.
Staines not far from Slough.
Staines now pretentiously calling itself
Staines Upon Thames
To make it sound less like the sort of place
You’ll get a slapping,
Staines,
Home to the Elmsleigh Centre and what’s was once
A really cracking branch of Our Price,
Staines,
Where I went to school and worked
In the local Sainsbury’s
(But as I just said, this poem
Is not about me),
Was where Terence Donovan,
Father of Jason Donovan,
Terence Donovan,
Who played Doug Willis in the TV soap Neighbours,
Was born.

It’s got a High Street, has Staines.
It’s got a Costa, has Staines.
It’s got a statue of two men
Carrying a roll of lino,
(Google it, I kid you not),
It’s got a Sainsbury’s, has Staines,
Where I worked 1992-1994
And fell in love with a till operative called Simon,
But what it hasn’t got is a blue plaque
Commemorating the birth of Terence Donovan,
Father of Jason Donovan,
Terence Donovan,
Who played Doug Willis in the TV soap Neighbours.
Heads should roll.

We all know that Staines is the place where
Mike Baldwin from Coronation Street came from,
And you can shove that factoid up your arse,
And don’t get me started on Ali G,
But how many of you know that Terence Donovan,
Father of Jason Donovan,
Terence Donovan,
Who played Doug Willis in the TV soap Neighbours,
Was born in bloody Staines?

Staines, for where the gods decreed
A confusing one way system and a cracking
Example of a brutalist multi storey car park
Where my sister once got a puncture,
Staines, whose library
Seems almost apologetic,
Staines, whose bus station is sympathetically clad
In coloured bricks which are all coated in oil stains,
Staines,
Staines Upon Thames,
Stains on the Thames,
Staines, whose beauty and architecture have caused
Many a lost tourist to drop to their knees and cry tears of
Bitter jealousy,
Staines,
Where I once saw Russ Abbott in Woolworths doing his shopping
Followed by a gang of kids who kept badgering him and
Shouting, hey Russ, do your angry Scottish bloke for us,
Until he told them to go away,
Staines, where my mate Justin
Found a pig’s eyeball on the seat of the photo booth,
Staines, where I asked Justin,
How did you know it was from a pig?
And what were you doing in the photo booth?
Staines, sparkling jewel of Spelthorne,
Was where
Terence Donovan,
Father of Jason Donovan,
Terence Donovan,
Who played Doug Willis in the TV soap Neighbours,
Was born.

Life’s funny like that.
And I’ve got a Pop Tart on in the toaster
So I’d better be off.


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What Jean Alesi Meant to Me

Jean Alesi

In 1989 my mother bought me a second hand black and white television for my bedroom. I was fifteen years old and until that time, had not had my own TV. In those days, of course, there were only four channels so the likelihood of there being anything on to watch was very small. My sister had had her own colour TV for a couple of years, which wasn’t fair because she was younger, and not only that, but hers had a remote control. Remote controls were new technology. Our old big television downstairs had a remote control and if you lost it, you could change channels by rattling a bunch of keys. How nonchalantly, my sister would sit on her bed and be able to change channels without even having to move or grab a bunch of keys. And now I, too, had my own television set.
          It was a cranky old thing, (the second hand TV, not my sister), short, squat and smelling ever so faintly of burning dust and electricity. And if it was switched on for too long it would get very hot and it would turn itself off at inopportune moments, a strange little button at the back popping out with a fierce click. Once it had cooled down one was able to press the button and turn it on again. If it was still hot, the button would just stay out and you’d have to sit and wait for ages, which was no good if you were watching something really important, like Columbo.  And during a heat wave you’d have to wait for hours. The damn thing would just not cool down.
          In the defence of my television set, though, there occasionally wasn’t anything on at all. The announcer would come on and say, well, we’ve got no programs for the rest of the afternoon, so here’s the test card. Oooooooooooooo!
          One day – and it must have been a Sunday – I caught the start and opening laps of the San Marino formula one Grand Prix. It was pretty hard to decipher what was happening, what with the fact that all the cars were shown in black and white, and there was always a lot of static interference every time my sister used her hair dryer. The television set had a dial, and you had to dial in to the television channel the same way that you had to with a radio finding a station. And very shortly after the start of the race there was a very bad accident involving Gerhard Berger.
          Motor racing was a part of my life from an early age, but I’d never taken much interest in it before. My childhood bedroom wallpaper was of John Watson’s Marlboro sponsored McLaren. It’s great to think that it was such an unenlightened age that cigarette sponsorship was allowed into the bedrooms of small boys. I didn’t know much about John Watson, or motor racing for that matter, or McLaren, or smoking, but my dad was proficient in all of these, and I picked up bits along the way, enough to know that the McLarens were still sponsored by Marlboro, and that the leading drivers of the day were Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet, and my own favourite, Gerhard Berger. And the only reason I liked Gerhard Berger was because his second name was Berger. I liked burgers. I had no interest in taking up smoking, but eating burgers was definitely helped along because of the wonders of Gerhard.
          The race on my little black and white television was stopped because of Berger’s accident, and as I waited for it to restart, the inevitable occurred and my television turned itself off. I put my hand on the back of it and, sure enough, it was giving off a pretty intense heat. The strain of being turned on for almost forty five minutes  was obviously too much. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use it for a couple of hours, by which time the race would probably be finished.
          So I went downstairs to the living room, and as luck would have it my parents were out gardening or something else interesting that parents do on a sunny spring morning in suburban Surrey, and I was able to watch the rest of the race on the big television in the living room. Now this television was colour, and having sat through forty five minutes of black and white, the contrast – no pun intended – was amazing. The colours were vibrant, the green grass around the track, the multicoloured cars and drivers and the McLarens looking just like they did on my bedroom wallpaper, their Marlboro branding vibrant and luxurious.  I’d never seen a spectacle like this, the excitement and the intensity of motor racing revealed in all its technicolor brilliance, the primary colours, the advertising hoardings, the flags and banners in the crowd, the vibrant orange of the flames licking around Berger’s crashed Ferrari. It was probably at this moment that I fell in love with formula one Grand Prix racing.
          Now it must be said that I was a weird teenager. At fifteen years old I’d already sussed that I was gay. It was obvious to myself, though not particularly so to other people. I wasn’t entirely camp and I wore the sorts of clothing that all my friends wore, so I’m sure that nobody knew, and that it would remain this devastating big secret which I would carry with me to the grave. I told myself that I was very good at hiding it. I also thought that I was one of the handful of gay people in the entire world, that it was basically just me and Julian Clary. There didn’t seem to be any other gay role models. It was also the nineteen eighties. Homophobia was very popular in mainstream society and most people seemed to be very fond of it, particularly in Surrey where I lived on a council estate within earshot of the main runways at Heathrow Airport.

Indeed, homophobia seemed to be institutionalised. This was a time of Section 28, and the AIDS crisis was still very much being felt. And I was this strange little thing, closeted to the world and fearful of the future because I knew that, if things didn’t change, I’d never be who I wanted to be. And this was probably true of a whole generation. My only outlet was writing, and the stories I wrote were also explorations of the same closet. Characters were good friends, but nothing sexual was ever hinted at. Their only goal seemed to be to find a nice girlfriend and get married. None of these characters existed anywhere else but in an incredibly straight universe.
So I was kind of glad that I’d got in to formula one motor racing, because this was the sort of thing that the average straight man really liked, all those machines and engines and drivers and strategies and ladies in bikinis carrying large lollipops with the names of the drivers, and adverts for cigarettes and beer and after shave and spanners and motor oil, and brash egos and the roar of the engines. It was a straight person’s paradise. And the more I got in to the sport, the more I saw that this gave me an escape route should I be talking to my friends and the hypothetical question comes up, ‘Are you gay?’, to which I might reply, ‘No, and did you see the race at the weekend?’
The summer progressed. Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet, Berger. These titans, these gods of the sport who towered above not only formula one, but life itself. How excited I’d tune in to catch their exploits, with their distinct personalities and their almost superhuman powers to pick me up and fly me away from gaydom into that sparkling iridescent rainbow glitter world of perpetual absolute straightness! And then, one day, along came Jean Alesi.
Imagine if you had to invent the perfect racing driver. Imagine if you were writing a novel and you realised that you needed a stereotypical barely believable cartoon character of a racing driver. What characteristics would you give them, if you were a little lazy when it came to inventing such characters? A firm jaw, dazzling blue eyes, a small stature, handsome youthfulness, sultry eyes with a faraway stare. And what kind of nationality would you give your invented racing driver? French? Italian? Well, why not a mixture of both? And what kind of name would you give your hypothetical stereotypical racing driver? Something distinctly European, yet a name which sounds fast even in its spelling and economy of letters. Jean Alesi. Four syllables, not very many letters. Oh my god, he was everything I wanted him to be!
Jean Alesi burst on the scene halfway through 1989. And all of a sudden these old towering idols of motor racing didn’t seem quite so special. Jean was in a much slower car, yet he was driving much better than them and spent most of his first race in second place before finishing fourth. He didn’t seem to care very much that there were people out there who needed these titans of motor racing to just keep going and going. Jean Alesi was like a fresh thought introduced into a tired way of looking at the world. Jean Alesi was the embodiment of excitement. Jean Alesi was the equivalent of saying, hey, you know what? There are other ways of living your life. Jean Alesi was also very good looking.
Oh my god, I liked him a lot.
And soon the exploits of Jean Alesi became the only reason that I watched formula one. Well, that and the need to appear to be the same as all the other blokes, what with formula one being so blokey. Because within this blokey structure, Jean Alesi demonstrated that there was room for something new and exciting. He held his steering wheel right at the top. He leaned his head over at crazy, exaggerated angles around the corners, it was like he was pretending to be a racing driver. It was almost, dare one say it, camp. He had no technical skill whatsoever. My nickname for him was Crazy Alesi. One of his former team mates used to call him Jean Asleazy. He seemed to run on pure enthusiasm.
I wanted to come out. I was desperate for the world to know who I was. But the world was a different place back then and the framework of support that most LGBT people in the Uk mostly have now was missing back in 1989. There were hardly any gay people on television, unless it were the basis of a joke or a cheap stereotype, and section 28 was prevalent in schools preventing teachers having serious conversations about homosexuality. The AIDS crisis was at the forefront of everyone’s mind whenever the subject of gay men was discussed. Homophobia was everywhere, in throwaway comments and the laughter of school fiends, jokes told openly, and in government policies. Being gay was a personal source of shame, a hideous joke played by nature and something which I thought I might even grow out of, or at least train myself to disregard. I just hadn’t met the right woman yet, a woman with short hair, blue eyes, no female bits and only male bits, possibly French Italian, probably called Jean. I wanted the world to change.
And Jean Alesi wanted to win a Grand Prix.
Over the next six years, Alesi found himself in another race. I was getting older, a teenager now, late teens, the early twenties beckoning, and I gave myself the target of coming out to the world as gay in a glorious burst of music and love, before Jean Alesi won his first Grand Prix. As luck would have it, Alesi soon signed to Ferrari, a team which at the time was in one of is periodic performance troughs, so the idea that Alesi might actually win a race was now almost impossible. This gave me some breathing space. I felt like a swimmer about to plunge into icy water, steeling himself, just standing there, year after year, unable to make that final move. And knowing that if I did, I’d get more than a cold shoulder. Every other week I’d sit and watch as Alesi found a new and exciting way not to win a race, and this seemed emblematic of my own struggle. Moments of promise and potential victory falling apart, and assured win undone by some minor trifle. For six long years Jean and I struggled together to get what we wanted, to make our name on history before it was too late.
And then, in 1995, when I was 21 years old, the bastard did it.
It was the Canadian Grand Prix. It was one of those races in which all the other drivers fell by the wayside. And this left Alesi out in front, victory assured. I remember those final laps, I was almost crying with delight, and yet while I felt pleased that he was actually about to do it, I also felt a sense of loathing that he should get what he always wanted, and I would be left there, alone. And as he crossed the finish line in an emotional moment of tears and celebration, I thought, well, my life hasn’t changed in the slightest.
If it’s any consolation, that would also be his last win in formula one. I did think about waiting until his second win to come out, and I’m glad that I didn’t, because there would be no second win. In fact it would be another four years until I came out to friends and family, by which time I already had had a partner. But that’s another story.
Every now and then Jean Alesi turns up on television. He’s much older now but he’s still good looking and my mother fancies him. To me he was the epitome of what a racing driver should be, but he’s always stood for more than that. He was my personal talisman, my guardian angel, he was there showing the way without him even realising that he was doing it. He showed me that you could change the order of things just by the force of sheer enthusiasm and, of course, a lot of hard work. My own coming out felt less like a fantastic victory and more like a plane crash. And perhaps Alesi had already had his coming out moment, the time he had told his parents that yes, he was a racing driver.
There are kids out there now looking for the same escape. The world is ever so slightly easier for them now. And that’s such a good thing, people seem far more open minded and people can be who they want to be. They don’t need racing drivers to show them the way. Or perhaps, they do. Perhaps we are all racing drivers now. We are all Jean Alesi.

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Some thoughts on the 2022 Barnstaple Theatrefest

It’s been a couple of years since the last Barnstaple Theatrefest Fringe, due to obvious reasons. It must have been so worrying for the organisers, with the world changing so rapidly over the last few months and the uncertainty which has clouded almost everything in the artistic community. It’s a brave decision these days to try and plan anything much too far ahead, whether it be a wedding or a party or, in the case of Barnstaple Theatrefest, one of the leading fringe events in the country.

So it was a huge joy that this year’s event went ahead, and the organisers must be applauded for making it happen. Yet even on the weekend itself, there were more challenges: an increase in Covid numbers, the train strike, the hot weather. It seemed that circumstance was conspiring to remind everyone involved that it’s really not too wise at the moment to get one’s hopes up.

But it went ahead, and it was a remarkable event. The one thing that has always struck me about Barnstaple Theatrefest has been the wonderful sense of camaraderie. Barnstaple is not the biggest town in the world, and there aren’t hundreds of events which make up the schedule, so anyone who participates in the fringe soon becomes acquainted with all of the other performers and technicians. On top of this there are several events where people can meet up and talk about their shows, whether these be the taster sessions, or the cabaret, or more social events in bars, pubs and cafes.

This is why I love being a part of it. There’s a genuine enthusiasm from everyone involved for theatre and performance, and I have several friends who I know only from the Theatrefest. This year there was the added bonus of the Soundwave Radio van parked in the square outside the museum, where one could just turn up and be interviewed live on the air about their show. I went along with my friend Melanie Branton, and we ended up chatting for over an hour about our shows and our art, and it was great to be there and have someone take what we do so seriously.

Naturally, any fringe event is hard work. My own strategy for getting in audiences involved flyering, exit flyering, taster sessions and chatting to other performers and fringe-goers. I’m not a religious man, but I also considered a damn good pray, too. As it happens I had a lovely audience every day for my show and made a few people smile and be happy, which is what my show was all about.

The world needs events such as this, and I can’t praise the organisers of Barnstaple Theatrefest highly enough. They are professional, enthusiastic, and I could sense the worry whenever I spoke to them, particularly on the first day with the train strike and the performers calling in unable to attend due to positive Covid tests and the such. And it’s true that perhaps audiences aren’t yet fully behind the idea of going out and seeing a show, particularly at the moment, but several performers had massive audiences nonetheless.

It’s always sad leaving Barnstaple. As the train left the station I felt just a slight pang of regret that life cannot always be like this. Maybe more towns should have fringe events, I told myself, or perhaps, maybe not, because this is what makes Barnstaple Theatrefest so unique.

I’m hoping that next year will be more stress free for the organisers, and that the world will be finally starting to look a bit normal. But for now, there’s a big smile on my face, because, wow, it was an excellent weekend!

My stage shortly before the first performance of ‘Yay’
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Whimsy in the Woods Episode 13

Robert records his podcast live from the platform at Birmingham New Street Station and recounts an episode from the train he has just caught, then performs a poem about a bedside lamp.

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Ballad of a Sad Bouncer

Our eyes met across the literary festival tent, at the exact moment Professor Zazzo Thiim erupted into a coughing fit shortly after he’d tried to pronounce the names of the Welsh rural communities in Memflak’s Operetta Lampeter. It was cruel of the organisers not to cut his mic, but I looked up again and I saw you were still looking over at me, and both embarrassed, we smiled. Even to this day the sound of a phlegmy cough is enough to fill my heart with romance.

Ballad of a sad bouncer

          We met outside the canvas marquee, the strong sun throwing red and white stripes across us.

          ‘So . . You like Memflak?’

          ‘Not really’.

          ‘Me neither’.

          And then we stood there for a while until a security guard asked us to move. Professor Zazzo was making his way to the book signing table, and we were in the way.

          ‘Do you need anything?’, someone asked him.

          ‘A glass of water, please’.

          ‘He wasn’t the most engaging of speakers’, you said, as we were bundled sideways. ‘Have you ever read any of his works?’

          ‘Only his pamphlet on the poetry of TV darts commentaries’.

          ‘Oh really? And what was his conclusion?’

          ‘That there wasn’t any’.

          ‘A wise man’, you said, and we both turned and watched as he took a seat behind a wallpapering table piled high with copies of his Memflak biography. There wasn’t a queue and a bird had defecated on his Panama hat.

          ‘So if you don’t like Memflak, then why did you come along?’, you asked.

          I’d just assumed that most of the people who were there would have been single, naturally.

          ‘Just . . . Chilling’.

We chatted about so much that sunny afternoon. You told me your biggest fear was 3D printing machines suddenly gaining consciousness and 3D printing only other 3D printing machines and then the whole world becoming drowned in 3D printing machines. And I told you about a friend who had a 3D printing machine, but the first thing that the 3D printing machine had to print as soon as you got it was the instruction manual on how to print on a 3D printing machine, but the only way you could print the instructions on how to print on a 3D printing machine was to have the instructions on how to print on a 3D printing machine. We both laughed and agreed that the world was an unusual place, and I wanted to invite you back to my B and B, oh, how I wanted to invite you back to my B and B, but there was something lazy and wonderful about our sudden new friendship, and anyway, you weren’t allowed back in the B and B until 3pm. Instead, we went to the crowded cafe tent and shared a vegan sausage roll.

          When you told me that you were a published poet, I almost fell off my seat.

          ‘But you’re so passably handsome!’

          ‘I know. It’s a shock, isn’t it?’

          ‘Are you . . . Rich?’

          You couldn’t stop laughing.

          ‘I’m a poet. In fact, it’s the perfect career choice for me, thanks to my crippling fear of success’.

          You told me that your first collection, Do Sheep Find Us Boring?, had won the Fortescue Prize for the best poetry collection to feature a mangle. Your second collection, The Non-existent Coffee Table, had fared less well, especially the scratch’n’sniff sonnet about sewage. And your third book, A Machine Which Exists Only to Destroy Itself, was what those in the publishing industry call a faulty fluorescent tube.

          ‘Why is it called that?’

          ‘Because it barely makes a flicker’.

          I knew that it was because you were too handsome to be a poet. Your teeth were mostly the same colour and you had hardly any dandruff. When you sipped your tea, only a few drops went on your trousers.

          I looked deep into your eyes. You looked deep into mine. The world around us seemed to fade from existence until its only components were you and me. And surely, in that stuffy tent over an over-priced sausage roll, we would surely have begun to kiss, had not there been a sudden clatter and thud from the next table and a cry of, ‘Buggering ‘ell!’, as Professor Zazzo Thiim’s chair collapsed.

          We helped the old fella up from the grass.

We queued for a while to buy tickets to see the famous performance artist Bonjour Twain, for it was rumoured that she would be debuting a new piece called The Measurement of Intense Disappointment, only it turned out that queuing for the piece was the actual piece itself, and that Bonjour Twain was a thousand miles away at her home in the Alps. We then went in to a lively debate between a surrealist poet and another surrealist poet, which had been especially choreographed by the festival organisers who had told both surrealist poets that their opponent was an adherent to ultra-realism and would only be pretending to be a surrealist poet. Our next port of call was to see a book reading by Will Self, but Will Self was stuck in a traffic jam, so the audience passed the time by playing a good-natured game of battleships. Our final stop of the afternoon was a speech on Bouncy Castle Development and Design : From Mock-Medieval to the Integration of New Technologies’, which Doctor Margaret McParson actually delivered while bouncing on a bouncy castle, which went very well until she had to sip a glass of water.

          It was a full afternoon.

          ‘Well’, you said, ‘I’d better be going’.

          And now the world did that thing it does every now and then where it reveals its true colours and kind of stamps on the hopes and dreams that only reveal themselves in retrospect.

          ‘Righty-o, then’.

          ‘It’s been fun’.

          ‘Sure has. When will I . . . Where will I . .  See you again?’

          ‘You can have one of my collections, if you like, then I’ll always be with you’.

          ‘I don’t really like poetry’.

          ‘My picture is on the cover. I’d like you to have it’.

          You rummaged around in your shoulder bag and showed me the cover of Do Sheep Find Us Boring?. You looked about fifteen years younger.

          ‘OK. Thanks’.

          ‘That’s nine ninety-nine’.

          I slipped you ten pounds. You didn’t have any change. Which is a shame, because I would have cherished that penny forever, perhaps drilled a hole in it and worn it around my neck. The book was OK, though.

          You walked away after we parted with a jovial wave, and I watched you disappear into the middle-class utopia of the literary festival. I was distracted, momentarily, by Professor Zazzo Thiim tripping over a guy rope, and when I looked up again, you were gone.

I went over to the bouncy castle, and took off my shoes, and I clambered on. I bounced once. Twice. Possibly as many as five times. But my heart wasn’t in it and I was worried that someone would steal my shoes. This happened once at a funfair in Bournemouth. I’d had to walk home in my socks.

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The Pyromaniac as a Time Traveller, (A poem from Woodview set to music by Croydon Tourist Office)

Here’s a poem from my forthcoming collection Woodview. I hope you like it.

Woodview is a bit of a departure for me, filled with semi autobiographical poems, memories of people and places. It will be published shortly by Beatnpress.

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Whimsy in the Woods Episode 12

Episode Twelve – Robert recites a poem about jigsaws, while waiting at Newton Abbot station for a train

Listen to the other podcasts here https://professorofwhimsy.com/podcast/

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Squidbox @ Palace Theatre, Paignton: Poems and an Essay about the Project working with Brixham Fishermen

You can listen to the 45 minute performance / reading right here: poems and an essay 12/5/22
  1. Homecoming (p63)

You know, things were jogging along just fine and the future looked incredibly exciting. I’d spent most of 2019 on the road, not only with the Hammer and Tongue  tour to Hackney, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton, but I’d taken my show Spout to Barnstaple, Reading, Guildford, Edinburgh and Petersfield, and I’d also performed headline sets in Newcastle, Milton Keynes, London, Swindon, Bristol, Exeter and even the Eden Project, where I’d actually performed in the main dome itself surrounded by thick jungle vegetation, before spending the night in a shipping container which had been transformed into a hotel room. Added to this the corporate work I’d been doing for a certain building society, and my December I was absolutely burned out. I decided to take three months off from performing.

          And you’ll never guess what happened next. 

          I’d been looking forward to 2020. I had gigs booked in faraway places and I was planning a new show, Yay!: The Search for Happiness, which would be something of a departure and I was excited about the whole process of putting it together. If 2019 had been amazing, I was sure that 2020 would be even better, the momentum having built up, but the international pandemic stopped everything in its tracks and all of a sudden, the whole world narrowed down to just my small flat in an out of season seaside town.

          I wasn’t alone in this, of course. I mean, obviously I was alone in my small flat, but I wasn’t the only performer for whom the future had suddenly turned to mush. Up and down the country, and throughout the world, singers, artists, performers of all types suddenly found themselves without a livelihood and a very bleak future. In a way I felt lucky that I only had myself to look after, and no mortgage, but on the other hand, things would be tough.

          I tried to make the best of it. I launched into online gigs. I made videos. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I started rehearsing and learning the new show. But the one thing that didn’t happen was that I was making any money.

          So, things weren’t entirely ideal. But then something wonderful did happen. Torbay Council were looking for artists to pay to do create local works in order to help them recover from the financial hardship of the pandemic situation, and add colour to the local artistic landscape. I applied, with the vague idea of writing about a subject of which I knew very little, yet was a big part of the local culture. I went through several ideas, from hotel workers to those involved in the holiday industry, until it struck me that, in spite of having a wonderful relationship with the town of Brixham, I’d never actually learned much about its fishing industry.

  1. The Trawler Basin (p10)

I sent an email to the Torbay Culture organisation, which was allocating funds, detailing an idea I had to write poetry about the Brixham fishing industry. It would be a strange departure for an LGBT comedy performance poet, but I was looking forward to embarking on a new project, and more than anything else, I was looking forward to earning some money.

          Amazingly, they said yes. They gave me a timetable of when things should be accomplished, and then assigned me a producer, who would put me in touch with various people within the fishing industry. And for the first time in a very long while, I felt like a proper artist.

          All I had to do was get started.

I didn’t know the first thing about the fishing industry. I knew that the fishing port in Brixham was one of the largest in the UK and that it had been there since god know’s when. My producer was a wonderful person called Clare with whom I had a couple of Zoom meetings and she gave me a few pointers of where to start. The harbour master? The fish market? Perhaps I should write to one of the trawler companies and see if I could interview one of their skippers. I was also interested in the ecological side of the business and how it affects the local ecosystem. But most of all I was glad to be involved in a project which took me way out of my comfort zone and my usual oeuvre of poems about badgers and dentists.

          By the marvels of social media I managed to get in contact with the skipper of a trawler. Indeed, he was the only person who worked on the trawler. Officially, it was the smallest trawler in the Brixham fleet, yet Tristan managed to go out every single day and get his catch and then sell it straight from his boat on the harbour side. As a result he had made quite a good living over the last couple of years and slowly built up a reputation for the quality of his fish.

          We exchanged a couple of messages and he invited me to come down to the harbour and interview him aboard his boat, the Adela.

          This was my official first foray into the world of reportage and I must admit I did not exactly cut a very athletic figure as I clambered from the quay on to his vessel. I’m sure there have been less graceful entrances into the trawling business, but the damn boat kept going up and down on a swell and I kind of managed it by kneeling on the edge of the vessel and kind of falling sideways. 

          Tristan gave me a quick tour of his boat and then invited me into the cabin where we had a chat about what he did.

          ‘I started out on the bigger trawlers’, he explained. ‘Several of us going out for days at a time.’

          ‘Did you get seasick?’

          I’d once caught a catamaran from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef and I’d spent the whole journey honking up.

          ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘Really badly, for the first six months, every single day I was so ill you wouldn’t believe it. But you know what? I hid it from the rest of the crew. I tried to be all tough and manly about it, but I would find a space where they couldn’t see me and up it would all come’.

          The cabin of the boat was decorated with photographs of his family and he explained that the boat was named after his daughter. I then turned the chat to what it was that he caught in his nets.

          ‘Anything with eyes and an arsehole’, he replied.

          We both had a good laugh about that and he said I was welcome to use it in one of my poems.

          ‘Seriously, though, the impact of climate change is affecting the types of fish that I can catch. Ordinarily, you’d be assured of catching certain species at certain times of the year. But now, it’s all over the place. Fish which rely on warmer waters are spending more and more time further north. And this affects what I can sell on the quay when I return. Most of my customers are restaurants and hotels and what they put in their menus depends on what I can catch while I’m out’.

          I asked him where he fishes.

          ‘That’s a secret’, he replied. ‘I can’t tell you, because I want to keep these places to myself. But let’s just say, some mornings the entire Brixham fleet leaves together, and they all go one way, and I go the other. I have my methods’.

          We had a great time chatting and I think I was more tense than he was about it. Indeed, he seemed very media savvy, which was a relief, and the one thing I was worried about was that I would write all these notes and then not be able to understand my own handwriting.

          Once we’d done, I clambered off the craft with all the grace of a hippopotamus, then went to the bus stop and wrote up my notes as quickly as I could before I forgot anything.

          But I was on a high, because this was my first ever bit of serious community engagement. Perhaps, I thought, people might start to see me as a proper poet after all!

  1. Solo Skipper (p18)
  2. Storm (p21)

One of the things I looked into, with the help of Clare, my producer, was the history of Brixham. 

          Clare arranged for me to spend a day at Brixham Museum, poking through their archives and chatting to the curator. I was assigned a desk in the stores and the curator brought me files, folders and newspaper cuttings about the fishing industry, and we chatted about the Fishawkers.

          The Fishawkers were a band of fishermen’s wives who ran the town while their husbands were out at sea in the 1880s. They would congregate on the quayside and bid on the fish that the fishing boats brought back. As this was conducted in the form of a traditional auction, the winning bidders were usually the ones who had the loudest voices and the Fishawkers had perfected the technique. They weren’t at all averse to using a bit of physical intimidation to make sure that they bought the best fish, which they would then ‘hawk’ from door to door in barrels. The museum provided me with plenty of newspaper accounts of Fishawkers brawling in the alleyways and streets of Brixham, and one in particular who was hauled up before the local judge for a breach of the peace and was then fined extra for her cheekiness in court. The judge had asked her if she had anything to say, and she’d replied, ‘I’ve got a bit of extra money here, guv, if you’d like to put it towards my next misdemeanour’, or words to that effect.

          The thing about the Fishawkers was that they were officially breaking the law. They weren’t allowed to bid on fish and then sell them around the town. As a group, they appealed this law and won and as a result struck something of a minor triumph in the advance of women’s rights at a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.

          I also read about the role that the Brixham trawlers played in the First World War, when the fleet was attacked by a German U-boat, the captain of whom demanded he board each vessel and rob their kitchens of food and cooking utensils. I guess such things were hard to come by when working as a submariner. But the most stirring story was that of the work the town did to accommodate refugees from the Second World War. Belgians from the fishing towns on the North Sea ferried across the Channel to Brixham, having forged friendships during peaceful times with visiting Brixham fishermen. And as a the Nazis moved in, they piled all of their belongings, family members, furniture and hopes and dreams aboard their fishing boats and made the journey.  In such a way, welcomed by the local townspeople, Brixham became known as ‘Little Ostend’, and the Belgians became a part of the town’s culture and community, getting jobs in shops and on farms, marrying locals and helping with the war effort. When the war ended, quite a few stayed behind. The rest left in a fleet of buses in order to make the return journey, the whole town coming out to wave them off.

          And now here I was, at a time of Lockdown and pandemic restrictions, reading about their exploits in the confines of the museum store room, feeling the swirl of history around me and the odd idea that really, no matter what we all go through, we are just the continuation of something much bigger. Which was a pretty profound thought for a comedy performance poet.

  1. Fishawkers (p45)
  2. Little Ostend (p47)

Clare suggested I look at the environmental aspect of the fishing industry. Bizarrely, a couple of months earlier I’d done a couple of online education courses, once it became obvious that lockdown was happening and that I’d be indoors for pretty much the foreseeable future. The two courses I did were both about as distinct from each other as I could manage. The first was a study of the Icelandic Sagas, delivered by the University of Reykjavik, and sure, it gave me one or two ideas for poems and short stories, but I took the course more out of interest. The second was delivered by the University of Queensland in Australia, and it was all about the coastal ecosystem, with special emphasis on coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses.

          So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that an area of Brixham just off the coast was home to a very important patch of seagrass. This was now something I could speak about with a small degree of prior knowledge, of how   seagrass is a vital piece of the marine ecosystem in that it acts as a nursery for younger fish and the next generation of fish stocks. Not only that, but seahorses were a feature of the seagrass environment, and I’d always felt a strange kinship with seahorses. I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s the flippers.

  1. Seagrasses (p50)

During the time I was working on the Brixham project, I was also planning my new Edinburgh fringe show for this year. And as you can tell from the following extract, the project certainly had an influence!

  1. Poet In Residence

The crew soon grew tired of my constant questions . . 

  1. Shakka Lakka Boom

At night, the captain regailed us with tall tales from a life spent on the ocean.

  1. Captain and the Sea Monster

 Wouldn’t you know, the weather was awful. I’d never seen such rain. I wore my usual ‘performance’ costume, but due to the intense and very persistent deluge, I wore a large raincoat over the top of them, and then a plastic mac over that, too. I was more worried about the camera and the microphone that I was wearing, but John and Clare kept themselves very dry while I stood on the quay with the rain rolling down my neck, performing to the camera. Worse still, the persistent rain flattened my traditional gelled, spiked hairstyle flat to my face, and the gel began to drip into my eyes. The book became a sodden mulch in my hands. In fact, it all reminded me of flyering in Edinburgh.

          And thus, the Squidbox project finished with something of a damp squib. But it had brought me closer to the town, and for the first time I felt truly a part of the local community. The poems made their way out into the world and I was asked to perform some of them at Brixham’s Museum during their inaugural poetry festival in the spring. And sadly, when a Brixham trawler sank off the coast of Sussex that winter, the poem We are Brixham featured on the Devon News website. Indeed, the whole tragedy affected me not only that I’d spent the summer with the trawler crews, and we’d chatted about the potential for danger, but also because one of those who died had been a friend of a friend and I’d hoped to interview him at some point, though never got around to it.

          Looking back now, the project seems a very interesting diversion. Once Squidbox was done, I was able to concentrate on the next solo show, and I incorporated a couple of the poems into the narrative, the storyline of which poked gentle fun at the whole process. By the time I’d finished the project, I understood that I certainly had the creative abilities to engage myself in something different, and this made me kind of fearless when it came to choosing a new project. But most of all, it demonstrated that no matter where we are and who we are, we are tied to the history, community and environment in which we are placed, and this kind of made me feel a little better about the world itself.

  1. We are Brixham (p62)

You can watch a video of some of these poems, recording in the pouring rain in Brixham, right here:

You can buy the book Squidbox here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

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A message from the chairman of the scone society

Dear fellow scone enthusiasts.
It pains me to write this letter, but circumstance has forced my hand. For many years, the Brixham Town Scone Society website has been a valuable tool for members to connect, ask advice, share cooking tips, and buy and sell both equipment and ingredients. There have been no complaints and many of us have both enjoyed, and taken advantage of, this wealth of scone-cooking know-how just a click of the mouse away.
However, lately it has come to the attention of this committee that the Classified section of the website has been coming under some abuse from certain members whose interests lay beyond mixing methods and how to create a really cracking milk glaze.
The problem first came to light when it was pointed out to me that a lot of our newer subscribers to the website, who filled in the online form, listed the classified section as their main motivation for doing so, yet almost all of them answered the question ‘How many hours a week do you spend cooking scones?’ with the response, ‘None’, and in a lot of cases, ‘I do not like scones’. This was somewhat perplexing and an investigation was launched in case there were some confusion in the title of our website, (Scones A-Plenty.com), or indeed if there were some new boy band or comic perhaps titled ‘Scone Man’, that was leading to this sudden influx in new members.
However, after a terrible mix-up (no pun intended) the other day in which one of our senior committee members, Maureen Hepplethwaite, found herself not at a scone cookery demonstration as she had been expecting, but at a swinger’s sex party, it was decided that action was needed.
The first thing we noticed was the number of young men offering a variety of different shaped spatulas for sale in the classifieds. While these are great implements in the mixing process, it is probably more common in the scone community to use wooden spoons, so I think it’s fair to say that this raised a few eyebrows among the committee. Most of these spatulas were advertised as being new, ‘or in new condition’, while some were being offered in a slightly battered state.
At this stage, alarm-bells didn’t actually start ringing. The admin behind running a pro-scone website means that some matters don’t actually get attended to until there’s some kind of emergency. The Great Flour Shortage of 2005 was one such calamity, and equally fraught was the resignation of our chairman in 2009 when he announced that frankly, he preferred muffins.
We then noticed the alarming number of society members offering scones of varying states of completion, some of which were ‘ready to pick up now’, others were, ‘come and collect’, while many were ‘lacking one final ingredient’. ‘Already in the mixing bowl’, apparently, (and according to Reginald, who does not proclaim to be an expert on such matters), means that the ‘seller’ is willing to conduct the process in their own home. ‘On the baking tray’, apparently means that they are willing to travel. And it’s anyone’s guess what ‘ready to be consumed with fresh fresh salad’, means. Suspicions were raised further when Phil Burton (member since 1988), advertised that he had a home-made ready mix featuring fresh sultana pieces and fruity chunks only to receive an email which read, ‘You’re a dirty boy, oh my, you’re a dirty boy!’, followed by someone’s phone number.
Dear society members, this will just not do. To get to the root of the problem, we have employed a code-breaker whose previous area of expertise was the Egyptian hieroglyphs and also the mating call of the common sparrow. And it was no surprise to learn that the codes adopted by many of the users of our classified pages were also a base form of mating call in themselves . Once she had explained what many of the codes and terminologies

were, I, as your brave Chairman, decided to pose online as one of these lovelorn scone-bakers with an advertisement composed specifically to entrap the guilty.
Spatula for sale (or rent). Slightly rusty yet ergonomically designed to offer maximum stirring. Mixture in bowl yet also functions on the tray. Fellow mixer must have GSOH. No salad please. Jam and cream to spread as desired. Satisfaction guaranteed. Stirs in an anti-clockwise or circular motion.
Alas, the only reply to my classified ad was from another society member who offered me a ‘lasagne’. ‘I don’t get it’, I said to the code-breaker.
‘Nor do I’, she replied.
And just to be safe, I haven’t eaten a lasagne since.
Dear society member, it is time to put an end to this, and the decision was recently
taken at a committee level to put an end to the classified section of our website. We understand that this may very well reduce the number of people who have joined our society, (over twenty thousand new members in the last six weeks, a figure which still manages to perplex us), but we believe that this is the safest method to rid our wholesome community of undesirable attention.
Like many of you, I started out as a young man with a head full of ideas and dreams intent on devoting my life to the construction and consumption of the humble scone. Starstruck by such scone-bakers as Ethel P. Anderson and Audrey ‘Iron Knuckles’ McGinty, I saw the society as a means to connect with like minded souls whose purpose and heart were in a similar vein to my own. It has been nothing short of tragic to see our fine institution highjacked by those whose thoughts remain as base as their own animalistic instincts. I see this as an opportunity to root out these wrongdoers and make our society safe again!
The moment I’ve finished writing this email, I shall be visiting the committee where no doubt we shall be indulging in the wholesome pursuit of the perfect scone. And yes, fellow committee members, thanks for asking, I shall definitely be bringing my own spatula.
Yours
The chairman.

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Slam Poem to Raise Awareness of Unregulated Backflow Systems in the Plumbing Industry

So I often get asked to write poems about issues and an issue was recently brought to my attention. I usually write about human rights and political matters but in this case I was asked by the Plumbing Standards and Water Supply Appliance Regulatory Commission to promote a campaign raising awareness of the contamination and pressure issues which come with unregulated backflow systems. The trouble was, before contacting me, they’d been watching videos of American slam poets, you know, those really big-voiced shouty ones.  So they asked if I could grow a beard and wear a check shirt and come up with a poem for them.

He said,
It’s there all the time,
That drip drip drip,
That rhythm which colours my life,
This drip drip drip
Like my life is a hip hop,
It’s a drip hop
It’s a drip drip drip
It’s a clogged drain in a chip shop
Like a clock tick tock counting down
The seconds to the next time
I have to do the washing up.
And he’s tired.
And he’s got a strange stain on his trousers,
A kind of waxy residue.

He said, no pressure.
I said,
How dare you tell me there’s no pressure!
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
I’ve known pressure since before you were born.
I’ve walked under stormy skies.
I’ve asked such questions, the where’s and why’s,
Life can be a disappointment but it’s seldom a surprise
You can see it in my eyes
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
And he said,
I meant water pressure.

He said,
The pipes, they rattle,
Like the plumbing in France.
You never get a chance.
It’s like a Broadway musical,
You should see the tap dance.
It’s a hotspot, it’s like hopscotch,
I’ll show you where you can find the stop cock,
Start a stopwatch
I’ll time you
It’s insanity
It’s you and me,
I said,
It’s a violation of regulation six
Slash four seven dash three,
You see.

Because
Because
Because
The two of us
Brothers in arms
Brothers with arms
We can fix this leak together
And be ever so clever
Don’t tell me whatever
The world is improving
This really is moving
But I tell you what isn’t moving -
The water in these pipes.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used an isolation valve.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used a tap back nut spanner.
Don’t tell me you don’t know your way around a pipe vice
That’s not nice
Like cooking a chicken tikka
And then running out of rice
Don’t you understand
This stanza is so long
I might possibly pass out!

Huhhhhh! (Pant!)
The way I passed out from plumbing school.
I ain’t no fool.
Pass me that pipe deburring tool.
But you,
You’re a tap squirty bloke,
You’re a basin filling jerk
You’re a water meter cheater
You’re a low flow joke
And me?
I ain’t going sixty foot down a well
To fix a pipe,
I ain’t plumbing the depths!

It’s heart skipping
It’s reality tripping
And all because the pipes are dripping
I’ll leave a gap now
For some audience finger clicking.

And now the emotions
Are getting to me.
Because no one understands that
I need
To

Tighten

A




Nut.

Let’s not succumb to the backflow.
It’s a blowback.
Like a distant memory, a throwback.
Everything has been inverted,
Like getting hot water from the cold tap.
Like that time I managed to persuade my life coach
On a change of career.
He’s now a chiropodist.
And me?
I’m an optimist.
And you?
You’re a Sagittarius,
And this?
This?
Needs no wonder
Nor hearts to plunder
This is going to take more
Than a sink plunger

And it’s why
We need
Industry regulation in the plumbing and water supply
Appliance sector.

That’s it for me now
It’s the end of the poem
Because just like the pipes
I’m drained.
Featured

In the Glare of the Neon Yak

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a rip roaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? 

An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is by turns delightful, magical, disturbing. It’s a veritable modern fairy tale!

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Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)

I don’t get asked to do workshops very much. But every now and then someone will say, oh, hey, erm, someone cancelled, is there any way you can lead a workshop on humour in poetry? Below you will find the notes that I use when I’m doing one of these.

Due to dyslexia, workshops aren’t something that I feel comfortable providing, because I can never successfully answer any questions which might come up. So I have these notes with me which I read from. I hope you find them useful!

Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)

This workshop gives us a snapshot on how to formulate ideas to use in poetry (or comedy) and how to expand on a theme. The second part of the workshop covers the attitudes we apply to those themes.

The purpose is not to create deep philosophical page poetry. That can take months and possibly years, though it may be a start along that route.

By its nature comedy has the ability to say more than can be said through serious poems, or at least, gives the poet a platform in which they might easily bring to the surface serious themes. These themes can then be explored in a comedic manner, for example, homophobic bullying, gender expectation, heteronormativity.

However comedy is only funny when you’re punching up. If you’re in a minority or an under-represented part of the community, comedy poetry can be a way of connecting with a wider audience, because everyone enjoys a laugh no matter what your background.

Punching down, though, is not funny. It’s downright mean and it enforces stereotypes.

While this workshop might not necessarily result in a fully-formed completed poem, it will hopefully give you the tools and the impetus to get working on something funny and compelling.

So what is performance poetry? What do you understand by that phrase? (There are no wrong answers).

Discussion five to ten minutes, possible discussion points:

  • A juxtaposition of ‘high’ art of poetry and it’s usual ‘serious’ tone with the mundane, therefore elevating the mundane to high status.
  • The surprise which comes with elevating the mundane to high status.
  • Saying what nobody has ever noticed, but through a poem.
  • Saying what everybody has always noticed, again, through a poem.
  • The communal fun of a shared experience, including content, rhymes, rhythm and the atmosphere in the room which comes from these.
  • Breaking up the tone of a poetry recital or gig which isn’t necessarily comedy-focussed.
  • Hiding serious messages and social concerns behind the veneer of comedy.
  • The surprise which comes with the juxtaposition of rhythms and expectations of poetry and the conversational tone of words and phrases. (Lidls, muffins).
  • Punchlines and jokes to make the audience laugh.
  • Exaggeration and attitude.
  • Creating tension and then relieving it with humour, punchline, tag, afterthought.
  • Using language, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, metaphor, simile, repetition, vocabulary and sounds for easy aural consumption.
  • Non-verbal communication.
  1. Ideas and material generation

Pick a subject to write about. Tricky, huh? It can be something mundane like turnips or teapots, or something abstract, like ennui or clumsiness. Or a place, or a memory, or a year. Or just an interesting word that you might have heard. Write the subject in the middle of a sheet of paper.  (Two minutes)

Add around the subject some free associations, once again ignoring the social editor, and the links can be as tenuous as you like. Just write the first thought that pops into your head.  (Five minutes)

Go around the word again and add a second layer of free associations to the first ones. Again, write the first ideas that come to mind. However more than just words, these will be more like statements or ideas. (Five minutes)

Choose one or two of these ‘branches’ and add three, four, or as many new associations as you like. Each one could follow the logic of the last one or it could be an ‘afterthought’ – like a comedy punchline. (‘I like my nephews. But I could never eat a whole one – unless they were served with roast potatoes – however I’m trying to cut down on my carbs’. (Five minutes)

If you’re really lucky, the last association might be a punchline or some kind of method of drawing all of these together neatly. If so, then you’ve probably got the basis of a joke. In any case, you’ve now got the structure of a pretty weird poem.

Just concentrating on one of these ‘branches’, free write a poem, ignoring the social editor.

The social editor is the part of the brain that tells you that you can’t say or write something because it isn’t proper. Part of writing comedy is learning to ignore the little voice that says, ‘Hey, that’s not logical, you wouldn’t find a duck driving a bus’, or, ‘In real life, people would certainly not try and have a conversation with an elephant about prunes mistaking them for a supermarket manager’.

Often when you ignore the social editor, several disconnected themes suddenly connect. Writers have been trying to think of methods to achieve this over the years. Some take to drinking, some take to drugs. My own method is to kind of take my brain out of gear, relax, free-write and see what emerges.  (Fifteen minutes)

(Read examples people have come up with, ten minutes).

  1. Attitude

This is the ‘what to do with it once you’ve found it’ part of the workshop. 

There are many attitudes that you can take while writing or performing. You can write in praise of a subject, or you can rant against it. You can be angry, venting, quizzical, perplexed, speak from a certain authority, you can be in awe, laughing at it, laughing with it, having fun, or you can be surreal or just plain weird. There are many different attitudes.

Others include : fun, surreal, plain / neutral, angry, ranting, in character, monotone. A lot of these depend on your tone of voice, facial expressions, movements and gestures.

Think about what kind of attitude you might like to apply to what you have written. (Five minutes).

(Let people demonstrate some of their attitudes, five to ten minutes).

Now look at these attitudes again and choose what you would consider to be the complete opposite. For example, ranting might become fawning, fun might become scared, angry could be enthusiastic. Or just pick a completely different attitude at random just to play around. (Five minutes).

(Let people demonstrate some of these attitudes, five to ten minutes).

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What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara

What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been re-reading Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. When I was a teenager, I read a lot of Kerouac and kind of fell in love with the idea of freedom and movement, jazz and friendship that his books described. Consequently I grew up with the idea of the Beat Generation being this mighty art form of expression and culture which has gone on to inform the literary movements of the present day.

          Naturally, this idea was just the romantic side of me attaching importance to something I really liked. Because when I was a teenager, I wasn’t into sports or football or anything like that. The big names of literature were the equivalent of major league football teams. I didn’t care about Liverpool FC, or Real Madrid, or Bjorn Borg. For me, the big names were Kafka, Camus, Dorothy Parker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And of course, Jack Kerouac.

          As I grew older I had to get a job, and real life kind of intervened, and this meant that I didn’t read, or dream, quite so much. Around the year 2000 I decided to study with the Open University, and this led me to the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

          I hated poetry. I always enjoyed English Literature at school, but I hated poetry. It left me cold every single time, from what’s his name with his bog bodies, to Byron going on and on about how much he liked Napoleon. Wordsworth was just a pain in the arse. Poetry never spoke to me the way that prose did, and most poems seemed to be a puzzle that had to be solved, but never would be solved, or at least, never by me. Some of the words were pretty, but really, who had the time? 

          I was very excited when I learned that one week, we’d be studying Allen Ginsberg. A-ha! Wasn’t Ginsberg a friend of Kerouac and William Burroughs? Sure, he was just a boring poet, but wouldn’t he be saying something as exciting as the saintly Jack?

          And sure, the beginning of Howl was great, but then it just became words again. And my mind started to drift. And I’d re-read lines. And the text would say, ‘Look how exciting this next verse is!’, and I’d read it and think, ‘What?’ The whole week was very disappointing.

          The next week we were due to study Frank O’Hara, and I thought, oh jeez, not another bloody poet. But perhaps this defeatist frame of mind was just the ring thing at the time, and it has probably changed the entire course of my life. Expected to be bored arseless, I was instead completely captivated by this slightly camp fresh new voice writing poems about drinking cola, eating hamburgers, calling up friends of the phone and watching B-movies. And of course, sexual acts in train station toilets. Frank O’Hara, I said, where have you been all my life?!

          If you’re reading this, then you’ll probably know all about Frank, and how he was a member of the New York school of poetry in the 1950s, allied to the abstract expressionists and employed by the Museum of Modern Art. I liked New York, and I liked abstract expressionism, and I’d been to MoMA several times. More than that, Frank seemed to be talking just to me. Sure, everyone who reads his poems probably thinks the same thing, but I sensed in his voice the sort of personality that I could easily become friends with. Who needs those Beat Poets with their beards and their sandals and their grimy treks across the continent when this urbane, funny, whimsical precursor to Warhol, who hung around cafeterias and galleries and burger bars, (and station toilets), existed and elicited more or less the same artistic response from the reader?

          It’s been 22 years since I discovered O’Hara and I’ve read almost every textbook, biography and anthology you can think of. Because O’Hara showed me that poetry can be about anything which you want it to be about. There doesn’t have to be something metaphysical or metaphorical about it. Sometimes a poem about eating a sandwich at lunchtime can just be about eating a sandwich at lunchtime. And it can be funny! Who else could end a poem with the words, ‘Lana Turner we love you, get up!’, the poem in question being ‘Lana Turner Has Collapsed’.

          When I first started performing and writing performance poetry fourteen years ago, O’Hara was my reference point. He helped me find my own poetry voice. This would be before I was introduced to the work of people like Ivor Cutler or Salena Godden. It’s probably fair to say that if I hadn’t read O’Hara, then I’d never have taken up spoken word.

There are literary stories which I love. These are usually about writers meeting, and some of these may be so mythological as to not actually have happened at all. One of my favourite stories involves a cab ride shared after a Parisian party by those two giants of the literary scene, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. And apparently, they sat side by side in the cab, completely silent the entire journey, and when they arrived at the first dropping off place, Joyce said, ‘Evening’, and that was it.

          But there’s another literary meeting of world which I enjoy, and this involves Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara. Representatives of the two different schools of poetry, the Beat Generation and the New York School, they apparently did not get along.

          Now this was a shame. It’s like discovering that two of your uncles don’t like each other. I tried to stay neutral in this battle from seventy years ago, but while I liked Kerouac, and while Kerouac was a big part of my formative years, I decided very much to put everything behind Team O’Hara.

          It’s not quite clear how this enmity existed. There have been some who have accused Kerouac of homophobia, though a lot of his friends, and a lot of the content of his work have been concerned with homosexuality and very non-judgementally so for a time that was significantly more conservative in these matters. There have even been some who suggest that Kerouac was simply jealous that Frank could be so open about his sexuality. Others suggest that Kerouac’s antagonism towards O’Hara was because his friend, Gregory Corso, was a big fan of O’Hara’s oeuvre, which made Jack jealous, and Ginsberg was also an admirer.

          Whatever the cause, word has it that at a poetry reading in New York, while O’Hara was reading some of his poems, Kerouac is supposed to have shouted, ‘You’re ruining American poetry!’ To which O’Hara is said to have responded, to much laughter, ‘That’s more than you’ve ever done!’

          I’d love this story to be true. Especially as Kerouac is later meant to have apologised a few months later, by visiting O’Hara’s flat, saying nothing, but typing out an apology on his typewriter. Something along the lines of, ‘Sorry for what I said that time’.

How I would love to have been there. I can imagine Frank afterwards, probably at a party, bitching about Kerouac. He would probably have found it hilarious.

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Blimp – Live in Bristol

You can now download a recording of my gig in Bristol last month. This was an amazing evening at the Wardrobe Theatre in front of a lovely audience.

I did a few old poems, a few new ones, a cover version and a really old poem from when I was about 4!

You can stream the album for free, or download it for a fiver. I hope you enjoy it!

https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/album/blimp-live-in-bristol-2022

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Seven Golden Rules to Enjoy Life, for Pete’s sake.

Some golden rules to start enjoying life, for Pete’s sake.
By Robert Garnham

Being a cheerful, optimistic sort of person, but also a poet, people often ask me for advice to get through the day. So here are my top golden rules which, hopefully, will benefit many of you.

1. No one is ever worth writing a poem for, though every now and then you’ll meet someone who’s worth a limerick, particularly if they come from Chard.

2. It’s easy to get a personalised number plate, according to my friend PUV 621R.

3. A two-day old baguette will stop your car rolling down the street.

4. Hold on to your nostalgia, otherwise you’ll have nothing to be nostalgic about, except possibly for the time you used to be nostalgic about things, so maybe you can be nostalgic about that.

5. Every fear can be overcome. Do it with a smile! (Unless your fear is crushing loneliness).

6. It’s never too late to learn. It’s never too early to forget.

7. Only concentrate on that which requires no thought.

8. You might not mention the elephant in the room, but you can certainly wonder how it got up the stairs and through the door.

9. Look at the mirror every morning and say, ‘I am loved, I am loved’. At least this way you’re prepared for any other claptrap that comes along.

10. Everyone you see or meet or talk to has been born. Even Avril Lavigne. And if you think being born was difficult, try getting a dentist during the weekend.

11. Go on, help yourself to the last cake in life. Living is all about grabbing the last cake. Go on, have it. Enjoy it. The dog licked it.

12. Get up early one morning, when the dew is still on the grass, and go for a walk barefoot in the park. Let me know when you’re doing this so that I can come round and borrow your vacuum cleaner.

13.Do something that excites you every day. Subvert the rules. Turn things on their head. (Naturally it’s best not to attempt this if you’re an airline pilot.)

14. How do we know that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck? Who was the first person to discover this? How many similar things do we do which are good or bad luck without us knowing? Brandishing a vase on a Thursday? Sitting on a pouffe just after lunch? The mind boggles, Mrs Trubshaw, the mind boggles.

15. Give as much joy to the small things in life as you do to the large. Which is why me and my ex split up.

16. If at first you don’t succeed, then maybe catching bullets between your teeth isn’t the job for you.

17. If you don’t think you can get it out, don’t stick it in there in the first place.
Featured

Whimsy in the Woods Episode Nine

Today’s episode comes from the centre of London next to the Science Musuem. Robert reminisces about working in a social history museum and the philosophical questions he would ask about looking at old photos of Victorian rural workers, then performs a poem about someone called Justin Trubshaw.

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Juicy – The Video of the CD!

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of performing at many venues and entertaining audiences. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of these filmed, either as snippets, or the whole show. Collected here are some of those which I didn’t put on YouTube, fearing that to put my best work on social media would leave me with nothing to perform in public.

So here, for a limited time, are the recordings of some of my favourite poems. The audio from these and others appear on my CD, Juicy, which can be ordered here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/juicy

I’d like to thank those who have filmed me including Laura Jury and Danny Pandolfi

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Shakka Lakka Boom Live in Bristol

Here’s a track from my forthcoming live album Blimp. Recorded at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol earlier this month.

You can stream or download Shakka Lakka Boom!

https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/shakka-lakka-boom-2

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Holding out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler Cover Version by Robert Garnham, Bristol, Feb 2022

Had an amazing time at Milk last night in Bristol at the Wardrobe Theatre and I managed to record my set. I was asked to choose a poem to ‘cover’, but instead chose Holding Out for a Hero, the Bonnie Tyler song.

Here it is in all its splendour!

Holding out for a Hero, Robert Garnham
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On the road again! Penzance, Wolverhampton, Bristol

On the road again

For the first time in three years I’ve been on the road again with my comedy performance poetry. Over the pandemic years and lockdown I’d become quite used to my own company and not going anywhere, and it felt like my world had just narrowed down to my flat and the town I live in. Going places and performing no longer seemed the sort of thing that someone like me did.

The last time I had a bit of a tour was in 2019 when I undertook the Hammer and Tongue tour, performing in six different cities over nine days. This time around is less exuberant, three cities over five days, but the logistics of travelling and making connections and getting to places to perform to people I’d never met was still the same.

Indeed, I’d quite forgotten how nervous the logistical side of it can be. The first gig was in Penzance, right at the end of the country. I caught a train to Bodmin Parkway and was then picked up by Rob Barratt, and after our joint show he drove me back to Bodmin Moor, where he lives, and let me sleep in his lounge. Logistically, this was the easy one.

I then came back from Bodmin, and spent the night at my mothers in Brixham, then the next morning caught a bus, a train, a rail replacement bus, another train and then another train, each time stressing about the connections and the timings and the links, in order to get from Brixham in Devon to Wolverhampton. Thankfully, every part of the journey went well, although there was an amusing incident at Newton Abbot where we all got on the rail replacement bus, and were then told to get off the rail replacement bus, and then they said, sorry, our mistake, and we all had to get back on the rail replacement bus.

After the gig in Wolverhampton, I got the train to Birmingham New Street, waited an hour, and then caught the train down to Bristol Temple Meads for gig number three. I arrived here last night around nine, by which time I’d done about ten hours on trains and buses. Thankfully, today is a day off.

But what about the actual gigs? I’ve had an amazing time. Penzance was a joy. I performed with Rob Barratt in our show, The Two Robbies, which we’ve put on all over the UK in recent years. The venue was an arts centre / theatre called The Acorn, with a proper stage and a cabaret seating arrangement. We even had our own green room with kettle, microwave and washing machine. If I’d known, I’d have brought my laundry! Rob was magnificent as ever and the whole evening was warm and friendly. We even had our own photographer supplied by the venue!

The Wolverhampton gig took place in a nightclub, though this was at three in the afternoon. A day of solo shows as part of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival, I was incredibly nervous beforehand, but the audience was a respectable size and my show was greeted very well indeed. By which I mean they laughed at all the good bits and the applause seemed genuine and generous. I was on a high which lasted all the way back to Bristol. I then had the joy of watching Elizabeth McGeown’s new show, Cockroach, which I enjoyed immensely.

Tomorrow night I’ll be performing at the Wardrobe Theatre here in Bristol as part of Milk, but for now I have a day of leisure in Bristol, and I’ll be meeting up with my dear poetry friend Melanie Branton. Tonight, I shall be rehearsing and fine tuning my set for tomorrow.

Seriously, it feels like I’ve hardly stopped moving since Thursday morning, but today should be somewhat less harried!

I just love the life of comedy performance poet.

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Whimsy in the Woods Podcast Episode Three

In today’s episode Robert goes along the beach in Paignton for a walk next to the sea and performs two poems. One of them is about a chap called Bill, who just wants to make some noise. The other is about a man who sees a ghost, ooooo!

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Some short videos that I’ve gone and made

Over the last few weeks I’ve been making videos of some of the short poems that I’ve been writing. Usually little more than a minute long, they give me a chance to have a little fun! I hope you like them.

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A plethora of short poems

I’ve spent the last few weeks making videos of short poems intending to release one a day. But then I thought, why not release the whole lot at once?

So here they are! I hope you like them.

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New Year’s Day Whimsy

Well, I did my annual New Year’s Day special yesterday, from the environs of the room at the back of my mothers garage, as I am staying in Brixham for the new year period. Here it is in all its whimsical glory, I hope you enjoy it!

If you like what I’m doing, feel free to support me right here:

https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

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Flapjacks a-plenty, a story for Christmas, by Robert Garnham

Flapjacks a-plenty

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a cappuccino-flavoured flapjack. I say ‘true love’, he was actually the man upstairs, the one who has a face that could rival the angels and a flat that smelled of beef-flavoured crisps. I must admit there was a certain chemistry whenever he spoke, he would ask about things that had nothing to do with anything, like whether or not I preferred skimmed to semi-skimmed milk, and had I seen the football at the weekend?
I’d not been sure what to make when he had moved in, a couple of months previously. He didn’t look like the sort of person who would have time for anyone else. He drove a souped up car with a big spoiler on the back and whenever he started it up it sounded like a fart in a sewer. And he wore a baseball cap a lot of the time, and not even ironically. I’d phoned up a friend.
‘I think his name is Aaron. Although it could be Adam. It’s hard to tell. Whenever he has friends come over they stand outside my window and shout up at his flat. And you know what people are like, they’re so sloppy with their syllables, sometimes’.
‘Is he good looking, though?’
My friend, Matt, was incredibly shallow.
‘Yes, very much. He has a face that could rival the angels. And blond hair. He’s absolutely gorgeous’.
Yes, Matt was very shallow indeed.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two chocolate coated flapjacks and another cappuccino-flavoured flapjack. Obviously, he didn’t know that he was my true love, yet. Plus I hadn’t eaten the flapjack from the day before, yet.
‘Where are you getting all these flapjacks from?’, I asked him.
We were in the communal entranceway. Tinsel undulated on the heat rising from the radiator.
‘It’s kind of a family tradition’, he replied.
Did I mention that he’s got blonde hair and a winning smile? I’m sure I remembered mentioning the winning smile.
‘But I don’t really like flapjacks’, he added.
‘I’ll have ’em’.
Kind of like a flapjack-orientated advent calendar, I told myself.
‘Right, I’ll see you tomorrow, then’, he said, and off he went, back up the stairs.
I kept the flapjacks in the cupboard in the kitchen, the one that gleams and shines whenever the kettle boils. I’d put a few Christmas decorations around the kitchen, some fairy lights around the microwave and some dangly jovial elves on the mug stand. Yet whenever I opened the kitchen cupboard door and saw the flapjacks there, it made me more festive than any plastic tinsel while at the same time reminding me of my true love with his blond hair and winning smile and his flat that smelled of beef-flavoured crisps.
He was out in the front driveway the next morning, putting rubbish in his bin. He was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts and it must have been about two degrees celsius out there. His manly, yet graceful frame contrasted with the drab surroundings. I almost dropped my cup of tea. Sure enough, there was a knock on my door around ten minutes later and he gave me three bakewell-flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate flavoured flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack.
‘I saw you putting the rubbish out this morning’, I told him.
‘Crisp packets, mostly’, he replied.
And boom, that winning smile.
‘Are you okay with all of these flapjacks?’, he asked. ‘They’ve got a good date on them, so you don’t have to eat them all at once’.
‘No problem. Keep them coming . . . Aaron?’
‘Pardon?’
‘Adam?’
That grin, again.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four plain flapjacks, three Bakewell-flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate flavoured flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack. To be honest it was only the cappuccino flavoured flapjack which appealed to me, which meant I was only going to be getting one a day of the sort that I actually liked, which wasn’t really fair but again I told him to keep them coming.
He went back upstairs to his flat and a short while later I could hear him belching the theme tune to Match of the Day, which, I guess, must have been quite difficult to do.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me five onion rings.
‘Is this some kind of a joke?’, I asked. ‘Where’s my flapjacks?’
‘The post was late this morning’, he replied.
‘My advent calendar picture today was of an advent calendar’.
‘Well’, he said, with that winning smile, ‘How meta is that?’
He went off out in his car a short while after that, baseball cap and big puffy jacket, and off he drove, those big double exhausts blowing raspberries at the cars behind them. I stood in my window next to my fairy lights and I gave out something of a deep sigh.
I don’t need to go on, but suffice to say, a veritable torrent of flapjacks arrived over the next six days sprinkled here and there with a modicum of onion rings. But it was the season of goodwill and in a strange sort of way I wondered if he felt sorry for me. It was great that he wanted to involve me in his annual tradition, what with his blond hair and his winning smile. But onion rings gave me wind, I didn’t have the heart to tell him.
The advent calendar picture that day was of a sneezing unicorn.
I’d start to imagine all kinds of scenarios where we might go out together in his souped-up car, me and my true love. Of course, he’d have to be very patient as I lowered myself down into the passenger seat. I don’t know why the suspension has to be so close to the ground in these things. We’d park in the multi-storey and go to the Christmas market, just the two of us, him in his puffy jacket and baseball cap, and sure, people might think that I was going around with my nephew, but it didn’t matter what they thought. And we’d sip mulled wine and marvel at the wooden carved decorations and the fake snow and the mince pies which were given a shockingly high mark-up just because it was a christmas market. And then he would go back to his car and he would smile and I would smile and he’d put on his CD player and instead of it being DJ J.D. Deejay D and the Angry Muvvas, it would be Bing Crosby singing I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, booming out from his speakers as we slowed down for the speed bump on which his front spoiler might scrape.
And then, subsumed beneath the warmth of sherry and mulled wine, he’d come back to my flat and we’d sit on the sofa and he’d snuggle up next to me and we’d watch late night TV. A festive edition of Police Interceptors, perhaps. With the normal theme tune but someone rattling sleigh bells over it, and superimposed fake snow over the opening titles.
Every day he would come. With his body-hugging plain white t-shirt and his blond hair and his winning smile, wearing shorts even though the heating was on. And I would look forward to it because I knew that every flapjack he delivered was his little way of saying, ‘Yeah, you’re alright, you are’.
I phoned up my friend, Shallow Matt.
‘Why don’t you ask him out?’
‘Yes, but where would we go?’
‘It’s just an expression’.
‘The christmas market? That’s just ridiculous?’
‘I didn’t mention the Christmas market’.
‘No, but you were thinking it’.
‘He went out to his car this morning. I don’t know why, perhaps he was just checking that it was still there. And he kind of ran his long fingers along the bonnet. And I thought, wow, that’s true love, that is.’
‘Do you actually like flapjacks?’, Matt asked.
‘Only the cappuccino ones’.
On Christmas Eve he came down with a box. It contained twelve Wimbledon fancy flapjacks, eleven goji berry flapjacks, ten yoghurt-topped flapjacks, an almond croissant, (I still don’t know how the almond croissant got mixed up in all this), eight caramel flapjacks, seven cherry and oat flapjacks, (‘Aren’t they all oat flapjacks?’, I’d asked), six toffee flapjacks, five onion rings, four plain flapjacks, (‘That’s your oat flapjack’, I said), three Bakewell flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate coated flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack.
‘Just pop it down there’, I said.
‘Aren’t you going to invite me in?’, he asked, ‘What with it being Christmas Eve and all that?’
He lingered in the hall. He smiled. He even leaned on the doorpost in what I suppose was an approximation of nonchalance.
‘Come on then’.
He came in. He looked kind of smaller.
‘Do you want something to eat? I’ve just cracked open a Pot Noodle, I can easily get another one on the go’.
‘Go on, you twisted my arm’.
‘It’s good to see you, Aaron’.
‘Adam’.
‘Adam’.
I looked out the window. It was drizzling. The sun had long since disappeared behind the factory that manufactured novelty farting gnomes. (Is there any other kind of farting gnome than a novelty farting gnome?). Our reflections glared back at us from the darkened glass, me and him, my true love, with his winning smile and blond hair and plain white t-shirt and shorts, and me, and we did look kind of good together, it must be said.
‘What was your advent calendar picture today?’, he asked.
‘It was an advert for some cut-price ceiling tiles’, I replied. ‘I think I might get a different advent calendar next year’.
‘Your flat’, he said, ‘smells of flapjacks’.

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Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist – A review of the Hazel Hammond exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol

Exhibition Photo, Image by Vonalina Cake Photography

I first heard about Hazel Hammond about thirteen years ago. I had just started in performance poetry and someone mentioned this artist and poet in Bristol, who did a show in which she invited audience members to write and draw fake tattoos on her body, the idea being that she had a date and needed some tattoos fast. I then went to a gig at the Artizan Coffee Shop in Paignton, Hazel was headlining and her poetry was amazing, life affirming and very human. I became absolutely smitten with her as a poet and as a person.

A short while later I started attending various open mics up and down the country and one of these was Acoustic Night in Bristol. Hazel was there, and we became acquainted and I would stay at her house every now and then when I was visiting Bristol. Amazing company and absolutely devoted to art, she would tell me about her various projects such as Marietta’s Wardrobe in which she created a box containing postcards of the contents of the wardrobe of a lady named Marietta, and a poem to accompany each. Marietta’s Wardrobe was a study of memory, loss and grief and brought a curator’s eye to the keeping of memories. And when I put together my show about tea, which I toured throughout the UK, Hazel knitted a hat for me in the shape of a teapot based on the exact dimensions of my head.

Knitting is one of Hazel’s artistic mediums. She told me about one of her performance art exhibitions in which she knitted herself into a cocoon live on stage. The cocoon was then taken to an arboretum. In such a way, Hazel remains one of the most original artists you are every likely to meet, unafraid to blur the boundaries between disciplines, and poetry was at the heart of this.

I’m 2018, Hazel had a stroke. It was an incredibly anxious time for her friends and admirers. Her friend, fellow poet Andi, used social media to update us on her condition, but you couldn’t help but fear the worst.

During her recovery, Hazel turned to art as therapy, from the models and characters she would create with plasticine, to the exotic finger dancing she would develop when listening to music. But during this time, she found that words had left her. Afflicted with the condition aphasia, Hazel could no longer rely on her mind to deliver the words that she so cherished as a poet. In the film which accompanies her exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, she explained that she shunned the company of poets. I asked her why and she replied, ‘Jealousy’. Poets had their words, and Hazel did not.

The title of the exhibition is ‘Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist’, which is an apt description of how Hazel’s life has changed in the years following her stroke. The film details her use of art as therapy and the work that she has been doing in the community, using the lessons learned through her own therapy to help other stroke sufferers. In the next room, there are photographs of the knitted hats she has been making which deal with her stroke. One of them is a visual metaphor for the stroke itself, in which one can put one’s fingers as if right down into the centre of someone’s brain. I explained that I found this one a little creepy. She laughed and said, ‘It’s not real, it’s only a sculpture’.

There’s a lot of Hazel’s trademark humour in the exhibition, in spite of the serious message about art which it delivers. Photographs of Hazel wearing her hats are humorous. In one of them, she looks out slyly from behind what she calls her ‘Shouting Hat’, which she wears when she wants to shout because the stroke has left her with a soft voice. Another demonstrates the visual disturbances she suffered, and another is paired with gloves which demonstrate how she uses her fingers and hand gestures to add meaning to her speech.

The exhibition is hugely atmospheric and emotional. The viewer is left truly astounded at how Hazel has overcome such adversity through art, and it is hugely inspirational that she should make the absolute best of such a horrible situation. Hazel has always been an inspiration in any case, and this exhibition cements that feeling.

But what of the poetry? I wanted to ask Hazel if she thought she might write again, but it didn’t seem appropriate to ask. The question is addressed during the film. One of her friends says that perhaps it will come back. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not in the form in which it once existed. But then I thought, this whole exhibition is poetry. It’s the visual manifestation of something which speaks to the viewer emotionally. Hazel has gone beyond mere words and found an even higher form of expression, the likes of which most poets can only dream about.

I heartily recommend this exhibition, and I hope that it tours to other places once the run at the Arnolfini has been completed.

Hazel, photographed by Robert Garnham, Oct. 2021
Robert Garnham wearing Hazel Hammond’s Teapot Hat, 2019
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I Wish I Lived in a Bungalow (A Poem)

I wish I lived in a bungalow

I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.
Mooching round in my bungalow,
Now what shall I have for my tea?
People would call
They’d stand in the hall
They’d look around
And say, ‘Is that all?’
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
I’d go from room to room.
I’d only need one plug you see
When I use the vacuum.
It’s ever so static
I’d feel so ecstatic
And going upstairs
Only leads to the attic
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or possibly a chalet.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
My god it would be such a laugh.
People would visit my bungalow
And ask, ‘Where’s the other half?’
I’d have no cares
I’d ignore their stares
There is no cupboard
Under the stairs
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or perhaps a ground floor flat.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
My bedroom down the hall.
Would I get bored of my bungalow?
No, not a chance, not at all.
It’s what I adore
I’d be thrilled to the core
My plan only has
One major floor
I wish I lived in a bungalow
And be closer to planet earth.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
Imagine the plaudits and glory
Like the Star Wars franchise the place
Only has the one storey.
It’s what I’d do
Without much ado
The downstairs loo
Is just called the loo
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Also, I’m ever so lonely.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
You try it, you can’t go back.
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Perhaps in a cul-de-sac.
It’s made out of brick
I get such a kick
You can keep your stairs
They’re making me sick
I wish I lived in a bungalow
With Darren from the coffee shop.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
It’s something I’ll always regret.
Nothing better than a bungalow,
You can keep your maisonette.
That’s my intent
The hours I’ve spent
It’s one step away
From being a tent.
It wouldn’t be far
You can visit by car
You can come right in
The door is ajar.
I’d make my stamp
Buy a standard lamp
You’ll have to admit
It’s kind of camp
I wish I lived in a bungalow
I wish I lived in a bungalow
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

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All about my new book, ‘Yay!’

Robert Garnham’s new collection Yay!, has just been published by Burning Eye.

Yay! , is a selection of what Robert calls ‘upbeat, happy poems for a world in which there doesn’t seem to be much to smile about’.

‘When I first started planning this collection, I decided that every poem would be something positive and optimistic, yet with depth, a serious undertone beneath the surface, and yet a positive outlook, something cheerful which might take people away from the humdrum. There’s also an undercurrent referencing mental health, and an acknowledgement that a lot of people are struggling at the moment.

Of course, I started planning this book in 2018, just before things suddenly became even more depressing, with the global pandemic and human rights abuses coming to light.

I initially saw the book the way people might see a pop album, something bouncy and cheerful which colours their summer and brings back happy memories. Like Proust with his madeleine. It’s also something of a ‘concept album’ with a deliberate seaside feel. The first two poems, and the last poem, are all about living in a seaside town. The rest of the poems are about LGBT issues, relationships, superhero pug dogs, scratch ‘n’ sniff Egyptian hieroglyphs, and a rap about tea.

I took two weeks off in 2019 and took a scalloper to an Icelandic peninsula, and there, in a low stone hut with a turf roof, I laid out the poems and tried to whittle them down to a collection’s worth, but only ended up writing more poetry! It was there, with the scent of sulphur from the volcanoes on the breeze and the sound of the sea crashing on the hardened lava floes, that I wrote the poem about a young man on a double decker bus trying to use his mobile data to watch porn.

I then went down to the Amazon, to the city of Manaus, and stayed in a wooden cabin on the outskirts of the jungle itself. And there, amid mosquitoes and with the sound of the rainforest a constant buzz, I laid out the poems on the forest floor and decided on their order. Some of the pages got squashed insects on them, and the air was so humid that the ink began to blotch. And yet still the muse was calling to me. Surrounded by such biodiversity and the pungent aroma of the peaty earth, I wrote the poem about being trapped in the toilet at a motorbike museum.

I am so looking forward to unleashing this book on the world! There will be a show to accompany the book, and book launches planned both online, and for real!

You can order a copy of the book here : https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/yay-book

(The book will be accompanied by a new solo show, Yay!: The Search for Happiness, which you can find out more about here : https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/03/21/yay-the-search-for-happiness-2/

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Yay! Videos

I have a new book coming out in May published by those good people at Burning Eye, and with a lack of actual gigs, I’ve been making some videos of the newer poems to get them out into the world. And it must be said, I’ve had a huge amount of fun doing so! There are still a couple more ‘in the can’, as they say, but here are the one’s I’ve released so far. I hope you like them!

Seaside Soul

Shakka Lakka Boom

Dry-Stone Walling

My Mother is Banksy

Instructions for my Funeral

Happy

Seaside Serenade

A Poem for Sebastian Vettel

In a sport of macho gas guzzlers
Mean spirited go getters tough talking overpaid wankers,
He was by far the one of the few voices of sanity,
Whose worldview and outlook
Somehow lifted the whole sport above
And hinted at a conscience.

Its not what you do or what you win,
It’s how you treat your fellow humans,
For are we not all travellers, lapping
Imaginary circuits or else that giant ride
We all take around the sun each year?

There’s a world beyond the obvious, an existence
We all inhabit, yet
Few take the time to sit back, look up
From what they’re doing,
Ask questions, see a better way of living,
Ask more questions, think of a world the way
It could be,
Decide to race on circuits unknown,
And ask more questions,
And ask more questions.

Change is a constant, and those who embrace it,
Embrace also the world.
Nothing ever stays the same, and sometimes,
That’s the hardest part,
But fortune must dance it’s merry dance,
Enmeshed with values which elevate every soul,
And the planet will still turn,
And history will decide whether this moment
Was truly a turning point.