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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

When it’s forty below and the tent is so cold
And icicles cling in your beard.
Your sleeping bag barely is much of a comfort
And life is as bad as you feared.
The howl of a wolf in the lonely cold woods
Sends shudders of primordial guilt
And the hunger which pangs like the wolf’s wild fangs
Demolishes the life that you built.

The moon is aglow in a sky filled with stars
And the forest is ominously dead.
Your senses acute, the sole of a boot
You can hear with each rhythmical tread.
The great northern lights light up the night
Like fingers of phosphorus fire.
And if any damn fool say they don’t question it all
Then they would be surely a liar.

And if that’s not enough you’re feeling quite rough
And parts of you are starting to whiff.
You’re out of hair gel in your own private hell
And in the mornings you’re ever so stiff.
You watched as a bear ran off with your iPad
And an otter peed in your shoe.
And your beef flavoured Pringles had a bad best before date
And without Netflix there’s not much to do.

The endless Wild woods seem to go on forever
And the wifi signal is patchy.
You haven’t had a chance to do a good laundry
And your pants feel uncomfortably scratchy.
You let out a cuss word when you lost your password
While changing your status on Facebook.
You rolled over last night and had such a fright
When a pine needle stuck in your buttock.

The last time you went on a trek such as this
Was in Wetherspoons finding the loos.
And your Instagram post hasn’t had many likes
And your selfie was facebombed by a moose.
And there’s twigs in your hair and twigs in your socks
And there’s probably twigs up your bum
And there’s twigs in your crisps and twigs in your soup
And you hope it’s not the same twigs that have been up your bum.

The mountains loom like mountains tend to do
And loneliness points at your scowling.
And you feel sleep deprived and just half alive
Because the stupid wolves kept on howling.
And you feel with a quiver, if fortune were a giver
Then to you he’s been something of a miser.
You decide that next time you log on online
You’ll moan about it on Trip Adviser.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak Live at the GlasDenbury Festival

One of my highlights of last year was performing my show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak. It was a show which took me away from my comfort zone, a sustained piece, occasionally theatrical, humorous, but with moments of introspection and tenderness.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I was privileged enough to be able to perform it at the GlasDenbury Festival, on the poetry stage in a marquee, with the hot sun beating down. And me wearing a feather boa and one hundred percent polyester ringmaster outfit!

Due to the presence of kids at the festival, i had to do a slightly edited, clean version of the show, but it was still received well and remains one of my favourite moments of the year.

And here is a blurb:

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring 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 tight rope 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 the sparkling new show from spoken word artist, Robert Garnham.

Hope you enjoy this:

www.dropbox.com/s/6rmzlnoa8l7j0bg/In the Glare of the Neon Yak Glasdenbury 2018.aac

On nicknames and darts.

I’m Robert Garnham, Professor of whimsy. Professor of whimsy. That’s not my nickname, that’s just what I call myself. For marketing purposes. If you’ve made it up yourself, it’s not a nickname. That’s the rule. A nickname isn’t a nickname if it’s something you’ve decided without anyone else’s input.

A friend of mine is a semi professional darts player, and he’s decided to call himself The Intimidator. Just like that. He has decided. Keith The Intimidator Hepplethwaite.

The only thing intimidating about Keith is his liberal use of Lynx Africa body spray and his ability to belch the theme tune to Frasier. It’s pretty disgusting.

So he calls himself The Intimidator, and at great expense he has had it printed on his shirt across his shoulders, The Intimidator, and on his darts, The Intimidator, and on his personalised beer mug, The Intimidator, and he insists that everyone call him The Intimidator. Look at me, I’m The Intimidator. The Intimidator!

And then one day, as a joke, I called him Doris. And you know what? Now EVERYONE calls him Doris!

But there’s something weird going on with the names of the people in his darts team. The members of his darts team are Matt, Pete, Trev, Jim, Kev, Deano, Craigie and Paulie.

So apparently, this is the rule. If you’ve got a name of two syllables or more, your name is shortened to the first syllable. So Matthew becomes Matt, Trevor becomes Trev, Kevin becomes Kev. Fair enough.

If you’ve got a one syllable name to start with, then an extra syllable is added on the end, as they’ve done with Deano and Craigie. Ok, then.

But the team was recently rocked by an crisis when a new member joined them. And this crisis was because his name was Milo.

What the hell can they do with the name Milo? It’s already got an O on the end, and you can’t shorten it to Mile, that’s too much of a mouthful in the fast paced world of pub darts.

So what they’ve done is really quite ingenious. Cos they’re quite sneaky really, are darts players. Sneaky little darts players! They’ve stopped calling him Milo, and they’ve started calling him Fido, which kind of sounds like Milo, and once they’d got used to calling him Fido instead of Milo, they shortened it to Fide.

Much better. Much better.

Poem

Darts.
Nightly pub-sport spectacle.
Like rhinos line astern gripping tungsten spears.
Darts.
Chunky-reaching cheek-wobbling darts.
Beer belly a-quiver overhanging too wide tee shirt unsolicited stomach glimpse darts.
Spherical hysterical measures out in trebles.
Darts.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Cocky oche-jockeys crafty cockneys dressing sloppy.
Sports-upholding team mate-scolding beer glass-holding.
Carpet shuffling fart-muffling comes away with nothing.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Double-chaser bullseye-maker opponent-hater third-rather.
Forefinger fling-flourish free-form darts throw panache.
Board-seeker tip bounce wire hitting kerplink.
Unlucky, Trev.

Thud. Thud. Kerplink.

Great big belly-man darts-land Leviathan takes a stand.
Meaty meaty clap-hand (nurses darts like baby chicks),
Arrow-flinging darts board-singing double-trimming
Guess who’s winning?

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Trophy-doting low-score-gloating show-boating local scrote
Boozy-wobbling woozy-toppling lazy darts-fling treble twenty
Bar staff aghast, darts stars laugh, fast darts dance, last chance,
Bust.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Last game, the same again, self-same blame game.
In the team lean, seeming so keen, trophy a gleam, he’s a darts machine!
No pain no gain, no gain, no fame, oh, the shame!
Sudden-death shoot out, league-topping bullseye-aiming,
Thud, pretty nifty, scores a fifty, mores the pity,
Geddin my son quivering tentative there the dart itself hanging like a
Swan so graceful in its beauteous flight betwixt chubby
Sweating fingers slow-mo revealing the under belly wobble
Suspended in mid air aerodynamic like the philosophic truth
Writ large straight into the exact centre of the board!

Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.

See you all next week?

One week, two very different gigs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Night in Burnsville, West Virginia

Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whooo!

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

I’m Not Ken Bruce

I don’t want riches or acclaim,
I don’t want to deliver a Ted Talk.
I don’t want to be a big shot movie star.
I want to be Ken Bruce.

I want to be mellow,
A jovial fellow,
How comforting his voice, it’s
Smooth vowels
Oozing through the sublimity of my
Subconscious,
The ennui to which I’d been lately
Plagued, suddenly loose,
And all because of Ken Bruce.

I look in the mirror.
I’m blatantly not yet Ken Bruce
Though to be honest I don’t
Really know what he looks like,
He sounds like he should have a beard.
And when the phone rings I want to answer,
Hello, this is Ken Bruce.
Popmaster!
Seriously though,
It’s Robert.

My ex broke up with me
Said it was because I was nothing like
You know who
Give me the juice,
It’s the ultimate truth
He phoned up and said,
Are you Ken Bruce yet?
I said, no.
Not yet.

I want to strut like Ken Bruce,
Hold my head high like Ken Bruce
Feel that the only thing greater than me
Is the sky Ken Bruce,
Hold an informative chit chat with Jamiroquai,
Ken Bruce
I want the wit of Ken Bruce,
The passion of Ken Bruce
I want to be on nodding terms with
Paul Weller
Just like Ken Bruce
I want to stand in the middle of the
Supermarket and shout
Look at the dates on these biscuits,
They’re ONE YEAR OUT!

But I’m not Ken Bruce.
And I never will be.
And I’ll never own the mid morning
And I’ll never own a bus
And I’ll never hand over to Jeremy Vine
At midday
And I’ll never play
An incredibly long Meat Loaf song
When it’s time to go to the loo,
Because really, it’s the truth,
I’ll never be Ken Bruce.

Menage a Trois

Poem

I was asked to be part of a
Ménage a trois.
I had to look it up.
I thought it was a type of meringue,
No wonder they looked at me weird
When I asked to bring my egg whisk.

It was all very exciting.
It certainly beats me normal love life
Of a ménage a one.
And it’s not even a ménage,
It’s a maisonette.

Oh, Steve, said Andy.
Oh, Andy, said Steve.
I’m here too, I said.
I’m your lion, said Andy,
Hear me roar.
I’m your tiger, said Steve,
He’s me roar.
And I’m a chicken, I said,
Bakuuuuurrrrp!
Nobody said anything.

The most exciting thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that I could tell people
I was in a ménage a trois.
The worst thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that when I put it on Facebook
Autocorrect changed it to
Milton Keynes.

This is so fun.
This is so hip.
Let me know
If you need a whip.
To be honest right now
I could do with a kip.

It’s all about experimentation.
I’ll put my hand to anything.
The slimy sweetness of sensual skin
In the gap between their bodies
My fingers exploring the depths
Of that fleshy canyon
Trying to find the Malteaser I dropped.

Sing to me, Steve, says Andy.
Sing to me, Andy, says Steve,
And I replied,
I can sing too!
‘There is
A house
In New Orleans.
It’s caaalllleeed
The riiiiising son!. .’.
That’s not what you meant, was it?

There was something amiss about the night.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I felt left out.
It was less a ménage a trois
And more a ménage a
Whatever the French for two and a half is.
Why did they even invite me?
What do I get out of this?
Why did they make me wear a
Giant panda onesie?
It’s just not fair, chaps,
It’s just not fair.

Steve, you look like a potato.
Andy, sex with you would be just like
Folding up an ironing board .
Abracadabra.
Rhododendron.
That’s it,
I’m off.

Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos With the Dalai Lama

Poem

I was playing Hungry Hungry Hippos
With the Dalai Lama
And the bastard was cheating.
He kept distracting me,
Pointing to things in the room,
Then manually manipulating the banks
With his hand
Scooping them in to the plastic hippo mouth,
The absolute wanker.

It’s all about gobbling up the little balls,
The cheap plastic rattling
With frenetic energy.
The hunger comes from desire,
The Dalai Lama said,
And desire without love is meaningless,
And you are going down,
Cos there ain’t no one better at
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Than me.

He had quick reflexes for an old man.
I’d never seen someone so
Absolutely devoted not only to victory
But the absolute annihilation of his opponent.
And when he got annoyed,
It really showed.
Oh, you make such a drama,
Dalai Lama.

He turned on the table lamp.
He turned on the standard lamp.
He turned on the main ceiling light,
The recessed lighting, the bedside lamps,
The fluorescent bulb in the kitchen,
He turned them all on.
It’s all about enlightenment, he said.

He told me his belief
That if you did something bad in life,
You get chicken curry.
For every bad deed,
Chicken curry.
He called it, korma.

Bang bang bang bang bang
He’s not aiming at the balls at all,
There’s no strategy,
He’s just going for it,
Yet it seems to be working.
He even has the nonchalant self belief
To look up at me as he’s
Banging away, and says,
Suck on that!

And oh for goodness sake,
Now he’s doing it one handed,
Showboating to an imaginary audience,
Bang bang bang bang bang,
The little plastic balls
Drawn to the gaping mouth of his
Cartoon hippo
With an almost supernatural force.
Jesus Christ!, be yelled,
I mean, Buddha.

His hand is steady
His eyes are keen
He’s the meanest mink
You’ve ever seen

He takes no crap
Don’t you forget
He’s the sickest dude
This side of Tibet

He ain’t no god
Surrounded by fools
His Hungry Hungry hippo
Is full of plastic balls.

Yo wassup homeboy,
As a young person might say.

And now we’re in the closing stages,
One ball left, he’s already won,
But he wants it,
Clicks his fingers and in rush
Four Tibetan monks who
Lift up the table at my end,
Tilt the game,
The lone plastic ball rolls,
Gom!
Straight into the gaping mouth of his
Hungry Hungry hungry Hungry
Hungry Hungry Hippo.

The game is over.
He places his palms together in prayer,
Then says,
Best of three?