Mr. Juicy is the twenty minute poem which concluded my 2017 show Juicy, which I took to Edinburgh and all over the UK. I am incredibly proud of this piece and listening to it again brings back all kinds of memories. I hope you enjoy it!
Performance poet and Professor of Whimsy
Mr. Juicy is the twenty minute poem which concluded my 2017 show Juicy, which I took to Edinburgh and all over the UK. I am incredibly proud of this piece and listening to it again brings back all kinds of memories. I hope you enjoy it!
Elvis Impersonator, Newton Abbot Station
Have you ever gone through life thinking, wow, there are a lot of incredibly eccentric people out there? And then had that weird thing happen when you get all philosophical and start to wonder whether the weird people are actually the normal ones? What sort of person goes through life only caring what other people think about them?
I love eccentricity. In fact, were it not for the glaringly obvious, I’d love to be eccentric, too. I keep looking forward to being an old man, and having found my niche in the world of eccentricity, some kind of little quirk that I might expand and make all my own. And I don’t mean sitting on a park bench and barking at people, or being that man who used to walk around Paignton while wearing rabbit ears. I want to cultivate something epic, a kind of intellectual eccentricity, like Ivor Cutler, or Gilbert and George.
I haven’t seen Rabbit Ears for a few years, now. There was something almost graceful about him, the way he’d walk upright and with aristocratic bearing, and yet with a pair of rabbit ears perched right on top of his head. I remember one day my dad made a very rare excursion by bus into the town where I live, and sure enough, on the way home again, Rabbit Ears came and sat in the seat next to him. Dad spent the whole journey kind of looking at him out of the corner of his eye, while everything else pretended that he wasn’t there. And it was only when a kid came on that the silence was broken.
‘Mum, why is that man wearing rabbit ears?’
‘Just be quiet!’
I wouldn’t say that I’d particularly have the bravery to walk around with a pair of rabbit ears, but there’s something distinctly charming and almost comforting about eccentricity.
One of the more interesting aspects of being a spoken word artist is that it involves a lot of late night travel. Gigs usually end around eleven at night and then I have to find my way either home or to the town where I’m staying. It’s usually considered polite to wait until the end of a gig, though I have snuck off early every now and then over the years. If I’m performing in London, for example, I usually stay in Woking, so that means a late night commute out to the suburbs. Which actually isn’t too bad. The trains are frequent and fast and I’ve never once been mugged, or at least, not knowingly. It’s possible during this time that someone has tried to mug me, but due to the fact that I often wear earphones at such times, I might possibly have mistaken it for a genial yellow or an enquiry as to the time. And there are plenty of people around, even on those late night trains. In fact there’s a weird kind of bleary eyed camaraderie, that we are all just winding down now, intent on getting home before midnight. In ten years of gigging, nothing bad has ever happened. I’ve also caught late night trains from Gloucester to Cheltenham, or Bath to Bristol, or Cambridge to London, or Oxford to Reading, and every single time I’ve felt safe and surrounded by people, even on the platforms.
Devon, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. Things are different in Devon. For a start, the trains are much smaller, shabbier, and seem to rock from side to side more than they go forwards. The trains are diesel powered, too. Which means that they seem to make a straining over exerted sound before they’ve even moved away from the station platform, shuddering and rocking and juddering until with a mighty effort they start creeping forward. And the stations they arrive at are dark, deserted, downright creepy and miles from anywhere.
And the other passengers. Wow, the other passengers are scary. There’s something about the train service in Devon, mainly because it’s the only public transport to some of these deserted rural communities, that seems to attract, if one must put it politely, prolific drinkers. Not only prolific, but vocal, too. Even if they’re travelling along and they’ve never met anyone else on the train, they have to kind of shout above the roar of the engines, which admittedly, are very loud. Even the most normal conversation sounds like a punch up and it’s not a good place to be for those of a nervous disposition. Cider is often the main beverage of choice, and I’ve begun to see those brown two little bottles as a symbol of potential trouble. The earphones come in handy. I’ve often listened to Radio Four over a background of what sounds like a full blown riot.
Mind you, I’ve always felt relaxed about public transport in Devon. I once managed to catch a bus from Newton Abbot to Paignton with my eyes shut, and nothing bad happened to me at all. The reason for this is that I had an eye examination at the hospital and a friend, Mark, had come along to make sure that everything went ok. The hospital asked me to bring someone, and it soon became apparent that this was because they were going to give me eye drops which would blur my vision and make me blind. This they duly did, and once my appointment was over, they let me go. But that was ok, I reasoned, because I had Mark with me. Mark would protect me, wouldn’t he?
Bless him, he made sure that I got to the bus stop okay. And then he said, ‘Right, good luck with getting home, I’m off’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m going shopping. Do you really think I’d come out all this way and not go round the shops? Anyway, let me know when you’re home. Send me a text’.
‘But I won’t be able to see my phone!’
‘It’s in your pocket. Right then, see you later’.
And off he went.
I’ll never know how I managed to get home. There was a lot of fumbling involved and as luck would have it at the time, I happened to live near the bus station.
But Devon’s stations are a whole different matter.
A couple of weeks ago I was at Newton Abbot doing a bit of train-surfing. Train-surfing, I hear you ask. What’s he going on about? Train-surfing is a method I use so that I don’t have to get the local service all the way from Exeter to Paignton. It’s usually full of drunks and ne’erdowells and it clatters along like a bouncy castle and it’s really most uncomfortable in every way you can think of. If you don’t get rattled to bits, you run the risk of a cider bottle over he head if you look at someone funny, or else some drunk is challenging everyone to an impromptu game of Buckaroo. So if I get in it at Exeter Central, then I get off it one stop later at Exeter St David’s and catch the fast service as far as Newton Abbot. The fast service is more comfortable and doesn’t stop at all the stations, and the scrotes tend to stay on the little local train.
The only downside with this is that you then have to spend twenty minutes or so at Newton Abbot station, waiting for the little local service to catch up. And you know what they say about the place. At Newton Abbot station, nobody can hear you scream. However, even this is preferable to the late night local service. Or the Rat Pee Special, as Mark calls it. On account of the odours emanating from the on board toilets.
So there I am at Newton Abbot the having train surfed from Exeter. The stars are out and it’s pretty cold. My only company on the platform is the Neon coming from the Coca cola drinks machine. I’ve got my iPad for company and I’ve been listening to a comedy album, but now the local service to Paignton was just about to arrive. I’m looking, expectantly, into the gloom, waiting for the headlights of the train and it’s familiar strained diesel whine. And I, just pondering on an idea I’ve just had for a stage play called Dr Jeckyll And Mr Humprhreys, when an Elvis impersonator shambles along the platform.
Yes, an elvis Impersonator.
And he was drunk.
‘Excuse me’, quoth he, ‘Do you like Elvis?’
Now I know this is sort of like seeing a vicar or a priest and the first thing them saying is ‘Do you like Jesus?’ But it actually happened. This was the very first thing that he asked. And he was dressed like Elvis.
‘He’s okay’, I replied.
‘Them people’, he said, pointing in a kind of drunk way to the town of Newton Abbot in general, ‘keep laughing at me’.
The man is dressed as Elvis.
‘They only care that Elvis died on the toilet. I keep telling them that there’s more than that. He made great music. But all they care about was that he died on the toilet’.
‘He died on the toilet?’
I didn’t know this for a fact, and I’d assumed that it was an urban legend.
‘Yeah. And they’re laughing at me because of it’.
I’ve never really liked Elvis, but I didn’t want to tell him this. I appreciate that he had a good voice and some good songs, and a certain rapport with his audience, but I’ve never really rated him as one of my favourite singers.
‘Do you like Elvis?’ he asked.
Well, here we go, I thought. But in my defence I was tired, and it had been a long day, and the fact that I had just performed to tens of people in Exeter kind of made me feel a little invincible.
‘He was ok. But for me, the best singer of that period was Roy Orbison’.
Now, I’ve told this story to a friend of mine and she said that this is the moment when the whole encounter could have gone tits up. He could have reacted badly. He could have lunged for me, for example, and beckme ever so violent and I could have finished my days dead, on Newton Abbot station platform, hacked to death by an Elvis Impersonator. But instead he seemed to take it very calmly and he said,
‘I love Roy Orbison! He was the best! Well, apart from Elvis, that is’.
‘That voice’, I ventured.
‘Yes! Oh man, he had such an amazing voice. Almost like an opera singer! That high note he hits in that song, what is it now . . .’.
‘Only the Lonely?’, I suggested.
‘Yes! It sends shivers down my spine. Oh wow, Roy Orbison was amazing.’
‘But not as amazing as Elvis, eh?’
‘Well’, he said, kind of standing back from me a little bit and doing something of an Elvis pose which involved a strange spasm of the leg, ‘That goes without saying’.
By now the train was coming in and I decided that I didn’t want to be stuck with a drunk Elvis impersonator for the rest of the journey, so I decided on a cunning plan. I would let him get on and then run down to the next carriage., seeing as though it was obvious that we were both waiting for the same train. I would pretend, in a very sneaky manner, that I was waiting for a train after his. Even though there was no train. This was the last service of the night.
‘Here’s your train’ I said to him.
‘You are’, he said, ‘a good bloke’.
And then he started that drunk persons thing that drunk men do when they decide that they have to shake your hand and kind of sum up everything they know about you.
‘You’re a good bloke. And I’ve really enjoyed talking. Such a good bloke. If I ever see you in the pub I will buy you a pint. Such a good bloke you are. Roy Orbison! Ha ha ha. You’re such a good bloke. You’re a really good bloke. Now come here and shake my hand. Roy Orbison! So good to meet you. Yeah. Roy Orbison. Elvis, man! And Roy Orbison. So good to meet a good person’. He said all this while shaking my hand.
At this point I realised that if I didn’t get on the train I’d miss it altogether. ‘You’d better get on’, I said, looking at the guard.
And as I watched him stumble on board, I managed to time it to perfection, running down to the next carriage and jumping on just as the guard blew his whistle.
I spent the rest of the journey hiding in the next carriage, squeezed up against the wall hoping that the Elvis impersonator didn’t see me.
As my friend Anne says, I seem to attract these sorts of people.
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 tv 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 tv, 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, butmy 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 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, 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, 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.
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 excitedly Id 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.
When I was a teenager
There were only two things I desperately wanted.
To come out,
And for formula one driver Jean Alesi to win a Grand Prix.
Both of them took a long time
And relied less on skill and more
On the bad fortune of others.
The circumstances had to be just right,
And once this landmark had been reached,
The floodgates would open
And there’d be no stopping us,
Me and Jean Alesi.
There were lots of accidents in the way,
Near misses and heart stopping moments,
And in 1995, in the city of Montreal,
Jean Alesi finally took the chequered flag first,
To floods of tears and immense relief.
Just as he crossed the finish line,
I, who was still to achieve my end,
Felt a sudden anger towards him.
For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a podcast and it’s now ready to be unleashed on the world. Each episode is a purpose written piece featuring all kinds of whimsy. I’m hoping to release one a week but to get things going, here are two episodes.
I hope you enjoy them!
Well I’ve had great fun this year working on some silly video diaries. I’ve been releasing one a week for the last seven weeks.
They really don’t take themselves too seriously.
You can watch all of them here at this link. And I hope you enjoy them!
Here’s a trailer, and the link to see the playlist is below.
Well one more gig tonight and that’s my Hammer and Tongue tour done and dusted. It’s been an amazing couple of weeks, hard work and filled with the usual worries and paranoias of touring around and performing to new people in new places, but it’s been totally worth it and so, so much fun. I’m writing this in a coffee shop in Southampton. I can’t remember ever going to Southampton before, and after a while all these towns start to look the same, or at least, their high streets and shopping precincts. This morning I was in Reading, yesterday, Oxford. They all have Waterstones and Wetherspoons and most of them have still got HMVs. Travelodges and Ibises.
This morning in Reading I was walking to the station and I saw someone going around giving free henna tattoos to the homeless. I’m not sure what this achieves, and whether or not it helps the plight of those who are on the streets, but it’s something I applaud. I also saw a sign for a chiropodist which offers a walk in service. And on the train to Southampton I heard the gentleman behind me as the young lady with the coffee trolley of the train was anywhere near Bristol, yet. No, she replied.
I had a great gig in Oxford last night. There was a remarkable moment where I did a countdown to the beginning of a poem and right on cue, at the exact moment, a police siren blared outside. The audience thought it was hilarious. And what a remarkable audience it was, too. They were definitely up for a laugh and they seemed to like my own brand of whimsy. Steve Larkin is an amazing performer who certainly knows how to warm up an audience and I really enjoyed his set, filled with humour and energy, and I could easily have watched it for longer had I not been performs immediately after him.
One of the good things about this tour has been the chance to perform a lot, and to use this as an opportunity to try out new material. I have incorporated a couple of new poems into my sets this last week or so, one of which has been getting huge laughs every night and will be immediately promoted to the main set that I usually take around with me.
Indeed, I’ve been doing the same basic set for the last three years, and I’m looking forward changing it, adapting it, playing around with the format and the content, and incorporating lots of new material, but this is something which I’ll start work on once I’m back in Devon this weekend.
So that’s the tour almost done and dusted, then. And I’ve met such wonderful people on the way. I’ll have to remind myself that life won’t always be like this!
Well, I got to the gig, and it was the best one of the tour. The audience was totally amazing and definitely up for a laugh, I so wish that I’d recorded my set! There was a remarkable energy in the room and it was one of those gigs where two thirds of the way through my set I thought, well, this is one of my best ever gigs. I know that they’re not always like this and that it’s probably lulled me into a false sense of security, but last night when I came off the stage, soaked in sweat and totally knackered, I thought, well, I can conquer the world!
It’s a feeling which dies off, of course. There was much I could have done to make my set better. But wow, what an end to the tour!
Dear Aunt Milly,
I was having a conversation the other day with some friends about what might be the quietest food. This conversation came about because as you know, lately I’ve been watching a lot of television with Mum whenever I visit and, unlike a lot of older people, she’s got incredibly good hearing. I mean, seriously, you can’t get away with anything. If you’re running water while brushing your teeth, she knows. I’ve often sat in my room and read a book and she’s knocked on the door. ‘You’re reading again, aren’t you? I can hear the pages turning’. The upshot of this is that she has the sound on the television turned down quite low indeed, which means that you can’t hear a thing if you’re eating, for example, crisps. So you have to wait either for an advert break and down a whole packet as quickly as you can, or opt for a quieter food or snack.
(Seriously. Perhaps she thinks she’s saving electricity by having the sound turned down so low).
The general consensus had it that the quietest foods were probably egg mayonnaise sandwiches, bananas and marshmallows. Someone suggested ice cream and while this indeed may be one of the quieter food stuffs at is molecular level, those with sensitive teeth are prone to making ‘Hurrr . . .hurrrr’ noises. At, you might say, the molarCular level. Yogurt, too, got a favourable mention, though some brands lead to a certain slurping and a persistent scraping of the pot. And then the conversation moved on to noisy eaters, and this in turn led me to thinking about Stinker.
Stinker is a very loud eater. I don’t know if you ever met him, he kind of looks like a surprised ferret. A surprised ferret who’s also a bit constipated. No matter what Stinker sticks in his gob, everyone else gets to listen. Every motion of his mouth, every physical contortion necessary, every bite, chew, suck, nibble is loudly pronounced and weirdly amplified. There’s a constant ga-thluck ga-thluck ga-thluck, whether it’s a biscuit or a lamb chop. And if you’re really lucky, he will start talking while he’s eating and bits of the undigested food will come flying back out again. It’s really quite disgusting. It’s weird to think he used to be a nurse.
Though it’s hard to tell with Stinker. He’s told so many stories over the years which can’t all possibly be true, like meeting Freddie Mercury’s mother on a bus, or sharing a taxi with Phil Collins, that nobody knows whether he actually was a nurse or not. I remember the time he fainted in the library, only it was the most fake faint you’d ever seen. He went down so slowly that he even had time to tidy up as he did so, moving things out of the way, with a prolonged, ‘Ooooooooooooo-awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww’, which he didn’t stop until he knew that everyone was looking. I think he even found a 20p coin when he was finally on the floor.
So the other day I met him in the street and as usual he kind of grabbed me by the arm. There’s no escape when he does this. He’s probably so used to people running off halfway through one of his chit chats.
‘Ere! You wouldn’t believe what happened to me the other day’.
Uh-oh, I thought, here we go.
‘I was almost abducted ‘.
‘Yes, I was walking along the coast path between Paignton and Brixham. And as I was walking I was conscious of this strange man following me. And whenever I stopped, he stopped. And whenever I sped up, he sped up’.
‘That sounds very worrying ‘.
He was so close to me that I could smell his breath.
‘And I knew that he was just waiting for the opportunity to abduct me.’
‘To abduct you?’
‘Yes. For the ransom, you see. So that they could contact my family and demand two million pounds’.
‘And you could just tell that he meant trouble. This strange man, I’d never seen him before in my life. He probably had a shooter. And I started to get really worried’.
‘How frightening for you’.
‘So anyway we came down off the headland to a small secluded beach. The kind of place where nobody would ever see us. And that’s when I saw a man on the beach with a power boat ‘.
‘Right . .’.
‘And he said, hey, that man over there is following you. And I said, yes, I’ve been walking faster to get away from him, but he kept increasing speed. He’s probably going to abduct me and demand a ransom of three million pounds. And the man with the speed boat agreed that this was a distinct possibility’.
‘And this man on the beach, the man with the boat, he said, hop in my boat, I’ll take you the rest of the way’.
‘I clambered aboard, and off we went. And I turned and waved at the strange man, of course. Showing him that he couldn’t now get his hands on me, Ha ha.’
‘That showed him, didn’t it?’
‘So wasn’t that nice of the man with the boat? If it wasn’t for him, I’d have probably been abducted. Just goes to show how sensible I can be, getting myself out of a sticky situation like that’.
Well anyway, dearest Aunt Milly, I bid him good day and didn’t once question why he should be so concerned about the strange man following him, and not at all concerned about the strange man with the boat who actually whisked him away along the coast. I also didn’t question why Stinker thought that he was worth two or thre million in the first place. These things are probably left to someone with a greater understanding of the human mind than me.
Anyway, it was finally decided that the quietest food is probably margarine.
I’ll see you in two weeks for Derek’s anniversary,
All the best
Dear Aunt Milly,
I was sitting in the hotel reception area this morning waiting for the man behind the desk to stop pretending to be busy. I knew that he was pretending to be busy because he was tapping away on a computer keyboard and huffing. And this is exactly what I do whenever I don’t want to be interrupted, or if I’m on a train and I don’t want anyone to sit next to me. He had very prominent eyebrows, in fact you might even call them eccentric. The left one looked like it knew what it was doing, the right one looked like it was doing something else, and the cumulative effect of this was somewhat abstract. You know, like when you open the fridge and a budgerigar flies out.
From where I was sitting I had a good view into the adjacent breakfast room. It was a buffet style breakfast and I could see other guests loading their plates and bowls and filling cups from a coffee machine. They’d tried to sell me a breakfast when I’d booked in, even though the room had already been paid for. They were quite insistent that I bought a breakfast but at nine pounds I thought it somewhat exorbitant.
Mum and dad always used to stay in places where you had a buffet breakfast. Dad would always eat too much but he would be too embarrassed to be seen going up and getting so much food, so he used to get my mother to pile extra food on her plate, too. Then they would get to their table and she would make a big pantomime of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got far too much here, silly me, would you like some more, dear?’
A very middle class looking white couple come in with their son. They’re all smiley and looking well to do, all pastel clothing and beige chinos, while their son is an emo goth, looking very sullen, with his trendy long hair and glum expression. He lurks behind them, scowling, fed up with the world and he injustice of it all. Or maybe he was still seething over the price of the buffet breakfast. And I think, what have you possibly got to be miserable about? Your parents look nice and they’re wearing nice clothes. And the sun is shining. And you’re young and you’ve got the whole of the rest of your life in front of you. He stands behind them at the self service buffet, then gets to the front, fills up a bowl of cornflakes, goes to put milk on, and the canister has run out. And I thought, there, that’s given you something to be miserable about.
So I go to the desk to book out once Eyebrows has looked up from his keyboard and let out a sigh.
‘Room 111. It’s all paid for, I believe’.
‘Yes, it was prepaid’.
He takes my room card.
‘You haven’t paid for your breakfast’, he says.
‘But I haven’t had a breakfast’.
‘Yes, but you haven’t paid for it’.
‘I didn’t want a breakfast’.
‘My colleague has put you down for a breakfast’.
‘I said I would think about having a breakfast. And now I’ve thought about it, and I don’t want one’.
‘But you haven’t paid for if’.
‘Just as well, then’.
‘So you need to pay for the breakfast’.
‘But I haven’t had one, and I’m not having one’.
‘Anyway, you need to pay for it’.
‘Why should I pay for it when I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t want it?’
‘Because my colleague says that you wanted one’.
‘But I didn’t want one then, and I don’t want one now’.
‘So how are you going to pay for it?’
‘I’m not going to.’
I then look at him. And all of a sudden an unspoken agreement passes between us. As if the universe has suddenly revealed itself to be a very difficult place. Amidst the chaos and disorder of those rules to which we, in society, are bound, we had found a common kinship, and an acknowledgement that we were both trapped. He couldn’t help me, and I couldn’t help him. Like two people, drowning, unable to save each other.
‘Have a good day’, he says.
‘You too’, I reply. And there’s just a hint of a smile.
I leave the reception area and I go outside. And as the door closes behind me I suddenly think, hmmm, actually I do feel a bit peckish.
Anyway, hope that you’re not being bothered too much by your bunions.
So I’m on tour at the moment. It sounds very grand and I suppose in a way, it is. I’ve already had some amazing adventures, such as that whole episode in London where I suddenly became responsible for a whole office block. And I’ve met and listened to some amazing people.
Hackney was great. The audience was young, enthusiastic and energetic, and they seemed to love my set, laughing in all the right places. There was a DJ playing music for poets to come on to, and as I came on he played You Sexy Thing, so I danced as I came to the stage, which meant that people were already laughing. And one of the poems that I performed was my Titanic poem, which not only went down really well, but provoked another big laugh when the DJ played the Theme from the film Titanic as I left the stage.
The whole evening was a delight particularly the slammers, whose work was heartfelt and honest, funny, entertaining. It was great to catch up with Fran Isherwood, someone I’ve known on social media for quite some time without ever actually meeting.
And last night was Bristol. The best thing about Bristol is that I know so many people there, none more so than Melanie Branton, one of my best friends. I met her at the station, I stood among the rush hour commuters with her name on a sign waiting for her to appear from the turnstiles. We went for dinner in a very noisy pub and then made our way to the gig, and chatted, and caught up on all the latest spoken word gossip. I did a slightly different set in Bristol because I figured that people had seen me enough times, and it was greeted very well indeed.
Again, the slammers were amazing and it was a real treat to see Clive Oseman win. He’s such a well loved figure on the national scene and it was his first win at a Hammer and Tongue event, well deserved too, with a hilarious poem which had a touch of anger to it, too. And the other main support, Imogen, was absolutely astounding.
Melanie and I went to get a drink after the gig but amazingly, the pub we had chose was just about to close. However there were a table of young people in there who had just seen me, and they cheered and clapped in a most embarrassing manner.
So I’m on a train now to Brighton, and I’m looking forward to the next week or so of constant travelling. Hotels, trains, coaches. Everything has gone without a hitch and I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this, now!
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 . . .