Flurgen the Viking lay on the floor of the house
A spear sticking from the middle of his back.
Bloody hell, who did this?
My friend Mark has bet me ten quid that
I couldn’t incorporate the number 12 bus timetable
Into this poem.
Yesterday the sunrise was resplendent.
Flurgen the Viking dead on the floor.
Whoever pulls the spear from his back
By Icelandic law
Has to avenge his death.
0723 Brixham Town Square
0724 Brixham New Road
And every twelve minutes thereafter.
Will it be Erik Jansen?
Will it be Jan Ericsson?
Will it be Ethel Shufflebottom?
She’s not from round these parts.
0726 Brixham Monksbridge Drive
I don’t know what happened
To the man who was meant to
Come and fix my door.
I don’t even care what happened.
I just want some closure.
Yesterday the sunrise was resplendent.
Ethel yanks the spear.
That’ll do to train my runner beans, she says.
But now you have to avenge the death of Flurgen,
Points out Jan Ericsson.
Can’t be arsed with that, she replies.
0729 Churston Village.
I work in a shop
Which sells ornamental horses
This morning I sold three on the trot.
I said to the bloke,
You wanna box for that?
He knocked me out in Round Two.
Yesterday the sunrise was resplendent.
0730 Churston Village School
Ethel that’s a fine spear you’ve got there.
Shame about Flurgen.
0731 Churston Village.
The bus is going backwards!
My brother’s got a police record.
It’s Every Breath You Take.
He played it on a old gramophone.
Wow, I said, that’s an old gramophone.
Is it a wind-up?
No, he said, it’s real.
Yesterday the sunrise was resplendent.
I work in a shop
Which sells ornamental horses.
He knocked me out in Round Two.
0733 Windy Corner.
Get up, Flurgen, for goodness sake.
The bus is going backwards!
I just want some closure.
In a misty glen Ethel
Came across the miscreant.
Did you kill Flurgen Flurgenssen?, she asked.
Yes, he said.
She gave him a damn good frowning andf said,
0734 Broadsands Library
Except for Bank Holidays
How come the Three Musketeers
Are called the Three Musketeers
When there’s four of them
And they don’t use muskets?
0735 Cherrybrook Drive
Hey Mark that’s ten quid you owe me
ABBA were being stalked
By Hank Marvin and his band.
Won't somebody help me chase the shadows away?
Category Archives: poetry
Christmas Eve with my Grandparents
There was always something special about the house where my Grandparents lived. On a wooded hill to the west of London, in winter the back bedroom window looked out over the whole of the city right the way from Heathrow to Canary Wharf and if you looked close enough you could see the fins of the aircraft winding their way between the hangars, the motorway signs of the M25, and maybe I’m just imagining it, but the lights of Piccadilly Circus. Actually, I’m probably just imagining that last one.
The front windows looked out over dense woodland. Dense, creepy woodland which in my imagination went on and on and housed bears, wolves, ghosts, and extended all the way to the Arctic. I was a pretty imaginative kid. The woods actually ended after a couple of miles with a golf course. But it’s always fun to paint such vivid pictures.
The thing about my Grandparent’s house was that bits had been added on the back over the years, so that what once had been a two up, two down cottage was now a two up, six down jumble of rooms one built on the back of another, so that it was always an adventure as a kid making your way from the front living room to the toilet, passing through five different doors and feeling as if one were getting further and further away from planet earth.
But it was a house where I always felt happy and comfortable, because it seemed like the sort of place where nothing bad could ever happen. There was a jumble of outbuildings at the bottom of the garden, one of which was Grandad’s magical workshop which had lathes and drills and drawers and a workbench and blueprints and I imagined him pottering away like the mad inventor that he probably was, and how I would later become a similar mad inventor, except with words. Perhaps.
The best day of the year was Christmas Eve. We would go to visit my Grandparents and the dark woods would kind of hold a romance within them, and the lights of London would twinkle like stars, and halfway through the evening, Gran would go to the kitchen and come back with sausage rolls baked in the oven, severed on her famous ‘silver salver’, and to be, this felt the most festive time of the year. And we’d chat, and Grandad would get merry on his whiskey, and my sister and I would sit on the floor and have cola, and it seemed such the most perfect night of the year.
It’s probably my Grandad that I most resemble. We both wear the same kinds of glasses and I found a photo of him the other day where he was wearing clothing remarkably similar to that which I wear on stage. Grandad was a mild, quietly-spoken man who would make a room crack up with just a soft-spoken phrase or one-liner. He was kind of a mix of Ronnie Barker and George Burns, and I miss him every day even though he passed away in 1995.
‘Have you been waiting long?’, I remember my gran once asking.
‘No, not at all’, he’d replied. ‘I watched the sun go down, and I watched the Moon come up’.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I’ll be off to my mother’s in Brixham. And tomorrow night, she will bake some sausage rolls and we’ll be using that same silver salver. It’s a tradition we’ve kept up with every year.
The following poem is taken from my book Woodview, the first third of which is about life growing up in that house on the hill in the woods.
Christmas Eve on Knowle Hill
In this room sing the memories of moments,
of spiced pies and flames a flicker,
frost sipped from removed overcoats which
smell of cross city trains, junctions,
winding B roads to this wooded hill
and a cottage barricaded against forest intensity.
Glimmer stars glimpsed between bare branches,
curtains drawn. The city lights undulating
on waves of cold, curtains drawn.
Ramshackle architecture, bits added on, the
kitchen with the oven through labyrinths of dark
passageways, rooms locked against the winter,
A spindly tree with multicoloured lights
and baubles on the picture tail, tinsel
twisting as heat rises from the gas fire.
A draught under the living room door.
Can you smell the sweetness of the city?
I hum this festive murmur of jovial
whisky warmth, sausage rolls, a silver salver,
seasonal serviettes and a quiet magic in the
woodland mysterious, this love we have
for moments and memories past.
Yay! Recorded live in the stock room of a shop
The thing was, I was fed up with lugging props around the various fringes and festivals. That was the crux of the issue. Each year I would devise a new solo show and each year I’d promise myself that it would be a simple affair, and within weeks I had incorporated so many props, costumes and technical details into the show that it couldn’t possibly be performed without a big box of paraphernalia. Which is not what you need when you have to run for trains or make your way from Devon to the Edinburgh fringe.
2019 was when things got just too much. That year, I had a show all about tea. The show was called ‘Spout’. ‘Spout’ could only be performed with: a tea pot, a cup, a saucer, a tea caddy, a box of drawstring teabags, a tea cosy, an iPad which had all the various sounds, music and cues stored on it, a Bluetooth speaker, some juggling balls, a large pad of paper with a word search written on it in sharpie, and a tray on to which I had glued another teapot, another cup, another saucer, a milk jug and a sugar bowl, so that I could dance around the stage without them falling off. So once you add luggage for a week in Scotland, merchandise to hopefully sell, and everything else which I normally travel with, you can see that performing the show was more like moving house.
And then on the way back from Edinburgh, someone stole my luggage. Sure, I had my box of props, but the tea cosy was in the suitcase which got stolen. The tea cosy was actually a proper hat knitted and created by the artist Hazel Hammond, and I think I was more upset about this than the fact I’d lost all my clothing. And that’s when I decided, the next show will have no props!
No music, either. No complicated cues. No background beats. It would just be me and the audience with no embellishment whatsoever. Something about this felt pure. It felt real. It felt grown up.
In 2020 I started work on the new show. I decided that it would tie in with my new book, published by Burning Eye. I decided that the show would feature only poems from the new collection. Which I knew would make the writing somewhat limited, but I was determined to get it done.
Each one of my shows was inspired by something or someone during the planning process. My first show, Static, (2014), was heavily influenced by the work of performance artist Laurie Anderson. In the Glare of the Neon Yak (2017) was influenced by storytellers such as Dandy Darkly. And when it came to the Yay show, I was busy looking at the work of singer David Byrne, and storyteller Spalding Gray. Spalding’s only prop was often just a table which he sat behind. And Byrne’s American Utopia stage show concentrated on choreography and movement. These were the two things I was watching or reading about during the creative process.
I also read a book about creating solo work, and it suggested keeping a diary. Aha, I thought. Now that’s something I can definitely do. I thought I’d forget about the diary, but it actually helped with the creative process because it pushed me to do something which I could then write in the diary as proof that I was making some kind of progress.
Naturally, at the time I had no idea that this period of creativity and rehearsal would coincide with various lockdowns, pandemic mandates, and the whole paranoia and psychological malaise which these brought to the art industry. At some moments I wondered if I would ever get the chance to perform the show. As it is, with a bit of luck and some nifty admin, I managed to perform Yay twice in 2021, as well as perform it to a completely empty theatre for the benefit of a filmmaker, so that people could view the show online during lockdown.
‘To be honest’, he says, ‘I really can’t remember getting home last night ‘.
And there he is, standing in the doorway of my flat, and he’s saying this with what almost amounts to a hint of jubilation in his voice. It’s New Year’s Day. And he obviously did get home last night.
‘Didn’t your brother give you a lift?’
‘He might have done, yeah, but . . . You know, I’m never drinking again. Well, not for a bit. Time for a dry January’.
It’s four in the afternoon and he’s obviously just got up.
‘I must have had a bad pint or something’.
‘There’s no such thing as a bad pint. It’s just an urban myth’.
‘Mum used to say all the time, whenever I got like this, that it’s a bad pint. That’s what does it. Ask anyone’.
‘It’s a euphemism’.
‘A new what?’
‘They should get Health and Safety to look into these breweries. All these bad pints. Oh, my head!’
He comes in and sits down in my armchair.
‘Ohhh, I think I’m going to be . .’.
I hold the waste paper bin under his nose.
‘It’s ok’, he says. ‘I’ve swallowed it’.
I look at him, sitting there. He’s wearing his t-shirt and shorts, the clothes that he wears when he’s in bed. At least he had time to change out of the clothes that he had been wearing. I look at him, with his features that look like the face of a teenager has been grafted on to the frame of a sixty year old.
‘Can you remember midnight?’ I ask.
‘The fireworks woke me up’.
‘You were asleep?’
‘Jeez. You’re such a party animal’.
‘But you had a good time, though?’
‘I can’t remember’.
I look out of the window. It was a mild, overcast afternoon. I can see people walking past to the park at the end of the street. I live in the ground floor flat directly beneath his. I knew that he was asleep because I couldn’t hear him moving around. I couldn’t hear his television, either.
‘Do you want something to eat?’
He puts his hand right over his eyes.
‘Never drinking again. Too many bad pints’.
His brother also lives in the same building. When the fireworks had started at midnight, his brother had gone outside and started up his car, and then he had just sat there for a bit, watching the fireworks from behind his windscreen. His rear brake lights had lit up my flat an otherworldly red as the new year came in. I must have gone back to sleep just after he had driven away.
‘I think maybe it might be a good idea for you to go off the booze for a little while’, I say to him.
‘I told you! It was a bad pint! And anyway, I’m doing the dry January thing. Not that I need it. Don’t you listen?’
‘I know, but you’re never serious about these things’.
‘Bucket’, he says.
I reach for the waste paper bin again.
His mother had thought we were lovers. I’ve never told him this, because I knew he’d go off on one. And when I’d told her that we weren’t, at the time that she was seriously ill and only a few days away from dying, she had told me that I should look after him. Make sure that he was okay. And I’d said, yes, I will. And that’s why I’d had been relieved, the night before at midnight, when I’d heard his brother get in the car at midnight.
‘I was thinking of going for a walk’, I say.
He clamps his hand right over his eyes, tightly.
‘Work, tomorrow’, I whisper.
‘I know’, he says. ‘Bad pint . . .’.
He gets up and shuffles towards the door.
‘Let me know if you need any food’, I tell him.
‘Yeah’, he says.
‘Yeah, you do, or yeah, you don’t?’
And then he’s gone, and it’s a happy new year, and the kids are going past on their bicycles and skateboards to the park at the end of the road, and the sun is already beginning to set, and his brothers car is still there where he’s parked if the night before, after he had brought him home.
On the Silken Breath of a Penguin in Repose – The Best Example of Antarctica Literature ever written.
ON THE SILKEN BREATH OF A PENGUIN IN REPOSE
When I heard that the great literary extremist Professor Zazzo Thiim was holding a symposium on the use of alliteration in Antarctic literature, I knew I just had to attend.
I knew that getting to the venue in the first place was in itself was a hard enough job; the convention was to be held in a remote hotel in the mountains which, in the middle of winter, would be cut off from the world by snow drifts, and sure enough, when the week of the convention came, the only way to get to the hotel was by walking the last two miles. As the darkness gathered around me, and large
fiakes of snow began to fll from the black, black sky, I gripped the handle of my suitcase and made my way up the track into the wilderness.
It must have taken a couple of hours to make the journey, and when I arrived at the hotel I was feeling irritable and uncharitable to say the least. My eyes were blinded by the motion of the snow as it had flown across my vision, and my fingers numbed from gripping the case for so long. The first thing I did was to dump my bags next to the reception desk and sit next to the roaring fire, in order that I may thaw my aching bones and curse my stupidity at having set out on such a journey in the first place. Yet only the one thought, of any substance, kept coming to me as I sat there in the orange glow: after all this effort, this had better be worth it.
I soon became aware that an old man was sitting next to me and, after a while, he asked if I was there to see Zazzo Thim.
“Yes”, I replied, “Though I am now beginning to wonder if I have made a mistake.”
The old man wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck and gave a chuckle. “I can assure you that the convention will be well-managed and adequately attended for my needs, for I, myself, happen to be Zazzo Thiim”.
“What makes you so sure that it will be so well-attended?” l asked. It was snowing heavily outside now, and the hotel did not seem to be bursting with guests.
“The subject in itself”, the old man said, smiling gleefully. “Who could fail but be enchanted by such a subject? Antarctic literature, let me remind you, is an expanding genre. I expect there shall be quite a rush tomorrow morning for seats”.
At this, he looked first left, and then right, and then whispered to me in a severe, confidential tone:
“It’s quite possible that some people might not be allowed in’.
At once l felt bad. How close l had been in deciding not to come, yet others might not have been so foolhardy. I knew that there would probably be a limited attendance as it was, yet Thiim was sure that there would be more. I felt a sinking sensation inside of me, the dejection he might feel on walking into the conference centre that next morning only to see myself sitting there.
“I can assure you”, I told the old man, “That we shall all be thoroughly enlightened”
I went to my room and changed for dinner. I decided that I would enjoy myself, and I ordered the most expensive item on the menu, yet the restaurant was virtually empty, with the exception of a table on the far side of the room where Professor Zazzo Thiim slurped, quite noisily, his soup. Every now and then I would look over at him and feel a well of pity deep in my stomach, and I soon decided that something would have to be done. But what could I do? As the waiters kept moving past, as if gauging whether or not we had finished, a plan began to formulate in my mind that I could, somehow, interest other people in the subject of Antarctic literature and perhaps even bribe them into attending. But the plan seemed hopeless, even fanciful.
After dinner I went for a walk outside in the snow. The mountains loomed, black shapes and shadows in the night sky, while gentle flakes fell from above, illuminated by the lights from the hotel. A frost was setting in, and the ground crunched with each footstep. At last l came to one of the chalets, and I was just about to turn around and head back to the main building when the door opened and Zazzo Thiim himself emerged.
“Ah!”, he said. “It’s you! Come in, come in, we shall discuss literature!” Feeling awkward at this sudden invitation, I tried to formulate some reason why I might go back, when all the time I advanced towards his cabin. “What a brave, hardy soul”, he said, “To be out on a night like this!” He held the door open for me and I entered the chalet.
It was warm inside and a fire blazed in the hearth. He motioned that I sit down, and before long he was telling me about his interest in Antarctic literature.
“I have always been interested in a young writer of Norwegian descent, Petter Jansen, a writer of such talent and deftness of touch. He would describe the harsh winters of his homeland and the very essence of being in the snow, a subject I would find most glamorous in comparison to my lowly upbringing. As soon as I could I decided I would seek out Jansen and learn from him the craft of story-telling, of descriptive language and other literary ideals. Only, according to those who worked in the book industry, Jansen was working in the Antarctic, at a research station near the South Pole”.
“Armed only with protective clothing and a set of his works, I joined an expedition by ski-mobile in the middle of the Antarctic summer. The nights were cold and the days long, the sun never seemed to leave the sky, and all the time I was filled with so many questions, so much I wanted to ask. His characters, you see, were fragile beings, brittle, like flowers left too long in the frost, and I wanted to find out why he spent more time describing the weather than he did the emotions and sensibilities of his characters. There were other questions, too: why he
should have spent all his life in cold places, when surely he could have lived anywhere on the royalties from his volumes, and why he had given up writing fiction only to work as a research scientist in the South Pole.
“On the tenth day we reached the Norwegian research station and I was privileged enough to meet Jansen. He was not what l had expected; of course, in the years since he had been published he had become an old man, and he sported the most wondrous beard, which almost reached down to the middle of his chest. He had a gruff accent, a dismissive way of sharing information, and a healthy dislike of anyone, including myself. I followed him as he worked, and watched as he drilled holes in the ice, sank instruments down into packed snow, took readings on electronic devices. He was monosyllabic, non-committal, and despite
everything, I started to wonder if I should have been there at all.
But that night we went to his tent and he shared a bottle of vodka with me. ‘And now’, he said, ‘The real work begins’. Imagine my surprise when he produced from a wooden chest a large manuscript, several thousand pages long, and a pen, whose ink kept freezing and he had to warm by candle-light. ‘What is this?, I asked. He turned to me, wearily, his face lit by oi lamps and the candles, and he said: “This is the finest Antarctic novel ever written. Indeed’, he continued, This is the only Antarctic novel ever written’.
I watched, silently, as he wrote. And with what devotion! He forsook everything in the outside worid, every distraction, and bent his head over the manuscript, writing with a bare hand, the fingers gripped tightly around the nib. For two hours he wrote, diligently, painstakingly, until his alarm clock buzzed and, of a sudden, he put the pen down, gathered the pages, and placed them back in a wooden chest.
The next day followed the same routine: scientific work in the daytime, an evening of vodka, then writing by table light. He didn’t seem to mind the fact that I was there with him – indeed. he almost welcomed my company and the interest I showed in his writing. Finally it came time for me to leave, for my colleagues were due to start the hazardous journey back to the coast, and I decided I would revel in his company for the last time.
“When he began writing I tried to watch the words as they were formed, but he kept shying away from me, positioning his body in such a way that I could not read what he was writing, and when the alarm clock rang to signal the end of his writing shift, he placed the pen down, the manuscript in the box, and he said to me: “That’s it now. Scram. The experiment is over!’
‘How crestfallen I was! It was as if I had been stabbed in the back. I returned to my tent that night feeling hurt, abused, and with a general dissatisfaction not only with Petter Jansen, but with all writers everywhere. That night I could not sleep, and a fierce wind blew up, which rattle the tent and moaned across the barren lands. In the midst of this delirium one thought came and it would not go – that possibly I might sneak into Jansen’s tent and read the manuscript for myself.
‘Two hours later the idea still lived with a bizarre logic. I could take the strain no more, and, as the first rays of the sun began to peek over the continental mountains, I left my lodgings, walked across the snow, and let myself into Jansen’s tent. He slept well, and I had managed to let myself in without him hearing. With the wooden box right below me, I had no choice but to open it up and read the manuscript right then and there.
‘Oh, the power! “The Silken Breath of a Penguin in Repose’ is a work the likes of which I shall never forget! The intense truth, the humanity on display, the concern for a world forever spoiled by man’s eternal folly! The language seemed to ooze like honey poured on from a spoon, and yet the prose was sparse, the words as economical as ice. The book was set in the future, or very slightly in the future, and Jansen himself was a character, a fortune teller who was never wrong. And the final scene, where the mad explorer wipes away a frozen tear to think of the harm his fellow man has done, almost reduced me to an insensitive and indiscriminate howl
of anguish. When I glanced up, I noticed that Jansen was staring right at me.
‘What treachery is this?’, he asked. ‘My private words, spoiled for all time! What is this but an invasion of the lowest order! How dare you spoil these most sacred pages!’
‘I had no choice’, I replied. ‘And in any case, such a wondrous work needs an audience. There is much here that might change the world. How selfish can you be if you keep this from those who need it the most? What I have just read is the most intelligent, the most poetic work ever created’.
‘You have ruined my work!’, Jansen continued. ‘You have ruined me! We had a trust, you and me, a friendship . . .’. .. And then he looked at me for a while. ‘Did you really think it was that good?’
“So we came to an arrangement, right then and there, that I would tell the world about his work, but only if I choose locations and places that would guarantee the audience would be small. And that’s why l’m here now, in the mountains, in the middle of winter, about to host a conference on alliteration in Antarctica Literature. I mean, what kind of sad person would possibly venture all the way out here for such a thing?’
I looked at the old man and smiled. Professor Zazzo Thiim then cleared his throat.
“Apart from you, that is”.
Alas, the conference did not work out exactly as he had planned. I had left messages and notes to most of the staff and the guests of the hotel that the old man needed support, that he would be crestfallen if the conference was overly attended, and that they should do everything within their powers to put off potential attendees, and yet, that next morning, when Professor Zazzo Thiim took to the stage, he was confronted by a hall completely filled with people.
“Well …”, he said, laughing feebly into the microphone, then wincing as the feedback screeched round the hall. He activated the overhead projector to show a picture of a penguin, which then hung on the wall behind him, solemn, ethereal.
“There is . .”, he stuttered, “There is, in the power and beauty of. . .Huh-huh”.
Pleadingly, he looked at me, as if asking that I should remember the reasons why he had decided to hold the conference at this particular hotel. So what else could I do?
While no-one else was looking, I leaned behind me and activated the fire alarms. Everyone got up from their seats and the hall was evacuated in seconds.
In Search of Lost Thiim
IN SEARCH OF LOST THIIM
The fact is that for some time now Professor Zazzo Thim has been lost, and it is my duty to find him. The manner of his disappearance is, beyond question, one of the most unusual cases I have ever come across. Yet the evidence I have before me, and the testimony of various witnesses, all point to the one conclusion: that Professor Zazzo Thiim is trapped, helpless, somewhere in Marcel Proust’s grand novel, ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’.
It did not take me long to deduce the basics of this case. Various students and colleagues of the Professor attested that he was busy constructing some sort of grand device in the basement of the institute in which he was employed. Various noises had been heard from the cellar towards the end of each academic day, and strange lights were seen by those leaving the building, orange in hue and regulating a slow rhythm. Those closest to the Professor could not find out from him exactly what it was he was building, though one colleague, Doctor Hermann Spatt, was most helpful in his assertion that the Professor was constructing a device which would, atom by atom, replicate his body as a series of words, and distribute them throughout a chosen text.
‘How do you know this?’ I asked.
Spatt grinned at me from across his desk.
‘l asked my dear old colleague. I came right out and asked him. Of course, he was pretty drunk at the time. But he told me what the machine entailed and what would happen to him as a result’.
At this, Spatt’s smile faded, and he leaned back in his chair.
‘Such a sad waste’, he whispered.
‘You must obviously have been close to your colleague’, I said, gently.
‘Thiim? Oh no, I couldn’t stand the chap. What I’m sorry about is that a book so wondrous as ‘a la recherche . .’ should be sullied by his ugly mug’.
The key to the basement in question remained locked and, on account of the strong, fortified doors to the cellar. I quickly deduced that it would take months, possibly years to enter that sacred room. Yet I remembered what Doctor Hermann Spatt had told me, and I set about reading Proust’s epic tome, that I may find some mention within its pages of the eminent Professor Zazzo Thiim.
The institute was good enough to provide me with accommodation during my stay. It was late autumn, and the trees were almost without their leaves. The paths around the parkland in which the institute is set were slippery, and it seemed the sky was hardly ever anything but a deep grey.
Proust’s volumes accompanied me everywhere. I would take walks in the
gardens, or through the woods, with one volume open under my nose and the next thrust under my arm. I would go to the dining hall and sit with the other students, hardly noticing their banter, so engrossed was I in the societal gossip as recorded by the redoubtable Marcel. Even my rare journeys outside of the campus were spent in the company of the Guermantes family, the many minor characters and the overriding sense of times past as recorded in those weighty books. It seemed my whole life had started to revolve around the novel, and I would make lísts of the endless family members, associates and contemporaries of the narrator, but each evening I would sit down and study these lists, safe in the knowledge that none of those mentioned bore the slightest resemblance to Professor Zazzo Thiim.
At around this time, Doctor Hermann Spatt, with the help of two science students and a Professor in electronics, began to build a machine using the blueprints found in Thim’s empty office which might, when up and running, be able to rescue the Professor from the depths of the accursed novel. The machine started to take shape in a far corner of the institute’s gymnasium, roped off from the rest of the hall by an arrangement of badminton nets, and each lunch time I would call in to see what progress was being achieved.
‘None at all, Spatt said, despairingly. ‘The machine just wont function. It needs more electricity than we are supplied’.
‘Then how did Thiim’s machine run so effectively?’ I asked.
Spatt pushed back the hair from his forehead and let out a deep sigh. “The energy needed to suck a character from a book is ten times more powerful than that needed to throw a character into the narrative. You see, Thiim had the advantage of gravity, but we have nothing, nothing at all’.
I walked around the machine and looked at it from many angles.
“It’s looking quite hopeless’, Spatt said, and l swear I saw a tear well in the corner of his eye as he contemplated his missing colleague.
That night I retired to my room. By now the bed was covered with the six volumes of Proust’s masterpiece. My reading of it was haphazard at best, covering the first three sections of each novel simultaneously, so that my understanding of the plot and the order in which Marcel’s life was playing out was tenuous at best. At worst,I didn’t know what was going on.
So many dukes, matriarchs, minor members of the aristocracy, childhood memories, subtle, beautiful women with strangely masculine names. That night I fell asleep and found myself in a nightmare, a dark, dismal Paris street where Proustian characters advanced upon me with their arms outstretched, their eyes displaying a frightening malice, humming, intoning some strange, ritualistic prayer which sounded for all the world like Kylie Minogue’s first hit single, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. I woke with a start, frightened into reality yet not trusting the world around me, the darkness of the night, the wind which, ever so gently, was roaring in the trees and stripping them of the last of the leaves.
I got up and walked to the window. I was dizzy, I was sweating, yet the room was cold. It was as if the natural laws which surrounded and informed us all had ceased, that the earth itself no longer recognised whatever constitutions had kept it going for so many years. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the trees, and the leaves falling, one by one, across the sodium light of a campus street-lamp.
‘My God’, I whispered.
Excitedly, I telephoned Doctor Hermann Spatt immediately. He answered on the third ring, and asked, blearily, what it was I wanted.
‘The machine!'”, I said. ‘You remember what you were saying? That Thiim had the benefit of gravity?’
‘And that we needed more energy because we were sucking a character out of a book, not throwing one in?’
‘Then why don’t we just turn the whole machine upside down? Put the machine on the floor and the book suspended above!’
There was silence on the other end of the line, and then Spatt’s voice cane back. ‘My word!’, he said, ‘You’re a genius!’
The next morning Spatt, accompanied by his assistants, set to work making the modifications I had suggested, while I, now with the help of three assistants of my own, continued my reading of Proust’s novel. We each took a volume and, starting at the very beginning, ploughed our way through the dense script, using different translations and even the French language original, so that we were working on three separate texts at once. Halfway through the afternoon Spatt rang to tell me that the machine was working perfectly, and all it needed was for me to find Thiim in the novel so that we might rescue him. This news gave us a welcome feeling of progress and we intensified our efforts until, by six in the evening, we were all very tired and our eyes and heads ached.
‘Thank you, lads’, I whispered, as they headed towards the door.
‘Erm, we were wondering’, said one of them, an amiable young man by the name of Adam. ‘Would you like to come out for a drink tonight?’
I smiled at their offer, for it was proof that we had gelled as a team. “Thank you, but I would rather maintain my faculties’, I told them.
Their shoulders slumped.
‘And I suggest you do the same, for we need our full concentration if we are ever to find the Professor’.
Adam smiled. ‘Very well’, he said. ‘We wouldn’t have gone overboard, anyway. Just a couple of drinks and then back home’.
‘Thanks once again’, I whispered.
The days were getting shorter, and once I had eaten my dinner, (accompanied, once
again, by the ever-present Monsieur Proust), I went back to my room and prepared for sleep. To be honest, I was beginning to doubt that we would ever find Thiim in this mammoth book, and a part of me was content just to sit back and enjoy the experience of being a small part in such a large, well-funded experiment. Though the more l thought about it, the more desperate l started to become, as I realised that the whole project now depended on me and my abilities wade through the novel for just the smallest clue. Worse still, I was afraid to sleep, for I knewthat I would be haunted by Kylie once again, that inane, stupid song, 1 Should Be So Lucky!’
Timidly, I retired to my bed.
At two in the morning I was woken by a fierce pounding on my door. Hardly able to concentrate, I opened the door and blinked in amazement to see Robert de Saint-Loup.
‘Do forgive my intrusion’, said he, ‘But I was wondering if you had had word of the Duc de Guermantes?”
‘I beg your pardon?’, said I, hardly believing my eyes.
At that moment M. de Charlus bounded down the corridor and patted Saint-Loup on the shoulder.
‘There you are!”, said he. His eyes then focused on myself, standing in the doorway in a pair of boxer shorts and nothing else.
‘Hello!’, he said, twirling his moustache.
‘I say!’, said a voice from the end of the corridor.
They both looked up and bowed, courteously, as Albertine approached. “Are you not on the way to the Verdurin ball? I proclaim it to be the most whimsical event of the decade!’
Hurriedly, I shut my door, then went over to the window. Oh, what a scene met my eyes!
The quiet park was awash with people, elegantly dressed, bowing, nodding, dancing, chatting in the glare of the street-lamp as if they were in a ball or a turn of the century function. And they were all, I was horrified to note, characters from Marcel Proust’s mighty tome.
I telephoned Spatt and he confirmed my worst suspicions. Some students, drunk of course, had broken into the gymnasium and fiddled with the machine.
Instead of pulling the hapless Thiim from the depths of the novel, they had, wantonly and without thought to the effects of their crime, pulled out every other character instead.
‘But this is horrendous!’, I whispered.
‘There’s no choice’, said Spatt. ‘We must round them all up and post them back into that hideous novel. Do you know what they’re doing now? They’re in the canteen, holding a mass madeleine tasting. This has got to stop!’
‘There’s only one way we can get them back into the novel’, I told the Doctor. ‘We must break into the basement and use Thiim’s machine’
It took the best part of the night to round up all of the characters. Because we had been using three different translations, there were three of each of them, and the three Marcels had met some time after half four and, indignant that their individualities had been compromised, had challenged each other to a duel, (from which, naturally, each one backed out.) Charlus was the worst, and three of his characters had to be retrieved from the public lavatories and from various male student’s bedrooms before they were all accounted for. At last we had rounded them
all up and we were engaged in the act of congregating them around the door to the basement, a tricky act which was achieved only by the entertainment of a piano playing Chopin and the liberal refreshment of champagne. Spatt and I, meanwhile, busied ourselves at the door. The thick oak would not budge to our shoulders, neither to a rudimentary battering ram fashioned out of an old roll-top desk. However, when one of the Robert de Saint-Loups saw what we were trying to achieve, he supplied us with some dynamite which, he assured us, was fresh from the Great War battlefields.
The following explosion was deafening. Two of the Mme de Verdurins went flying through the air, their stiff petticoats flaying in all directions. At last we entered that hallowed room and saw Thiim’s machine which, somewhat comfortingly, looked not unlike the reverse example we had fashioned in the gymnasium. Yet only now did Spatt and I see the almost fatal mistake that Thiim had made.
Indeed, the machine functioned well, and had been put together expertly. However, the absent-minded Professor had, one can only assume, accidentally, mistakenly placed within its confines not Proust’s magnificent novel, but a CD of Kylie’s first UK Number One hit, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’
It didn’t take long for the machine to be put to use. How affectionately we said good-bye to all the characters, who each invited us to various balls and society functions for the following Paris season. When they were all quite delivered, Spatt and I took Thiim’s CD upstairs to the gymnasium, where we placed it on top of the machine and pulled the necessary levers.
Seconds later, Professor Zazzo Thiim materialised.
‘Oh, my word’, he said, feeling his nervous forehead. ‘I was having the time of my life! l’ve never danced so much!”‘
‘You realise what you did?’ Spatt asked.
‘Oh, the CD? Entirely intentional, my dear friend.
‘But that’s preposterous!’
‘So many hours I’d spent on that machine, a copy of Proust under my arm. So many years I’d dreamed of meeting those wondrous characters. Yet when it came time to leave I thought long and hard about it . . ‘.
‘And I realised that I would rather be with Kylie, instead’.
‘Well, my dear Spatt. They’re so stuffy, aren’t they? And Kylie’s much more . . . Vivacious’.
At this, Thiim looked left, then right, then left again.
‘And another thing’, he added, confidentially, ‘She’s a much better dancer’.
Alas, the story does not end here. The following week, Kylie’s management refused to confirm that a new version of her original hit single had been mixed, with some quite bizarre vocals by various French dignitaries, mostly concerning the petty discriminations and social faux pas of early 20th Century Paris.
‘My god!’, Spatt whispered to me, down the telephone line. ‘We must have sent them to the wrong place!’
Yet not one scholar, student or academic genius happened to notice that Proust’s six-volume masterpiece now seemed not to have a single character left in it at all.
Zazzo Declares the Death of the Short Story
Between the late nineties and the mid 2000s, I wrote hundreds of short stories. This was a very hectic time in my life, and probably needlessly so. In 2000, I moved into a gothic flat near the seafront in Paignton, almost directly over the road from the shop where I worked. I was studying Open University every morning, getting up at 5, studying 6-9, going over the road and working 9-5, then home, and spending every single evening writing short stories.
On my day off I’d attend a Writers’ Circle and it soon became apparent that the other attendees seemed drawn to my funnier stories. In one story, I invented a character, a professor of literature by the name of Zazzo, and soon the other members of the writers’ circle started saying things like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see what Zazzo gets up to next week!’
My Open University degree was in Literature, so I’d have to watch a lot of videos (it was still videos back then), and listen to lots of cassettes presented by these eccentric academic types who were a million miles away from the milieu in which I moved. I saw Zazzo as belonging to this community, perhaps barely tolerated by his contemporaries, and often shooting off at a tangent, seeing patterns where there were no patterns, narratives where there were no narratives.
Zazzo was a literary investigator. Whenever there was a mystery with a literary element, Zazzo would be there. Skateboarders quoting Shakespeare for no reason? Send in Zazzo! A crab routinely predicting the winner of the Booker Prize every year? Another case for Zazzo! The discovery of yet another Brontë sister? Who do we call? Professor Zazzo!
The Zazzo stories were saved on various floppy discs, and then promptly forgotten about for twenty years. I had no way of accessing them for quite some time, but now, thanks to various technological developments (and some paper versions I recently found), Professor Zazzo has been saved from obscurity!
My life has moved on since those days. I’ve been working as a comedy performance poet since around 2008, and worked on various other projects, so it was a delight to rediscover this strange world. And I really hope you might enjoy reading some of the stories which I shall be publishing on this blog.
ZAZZO DECLARES THE DEATH OF THE SHORT STORY (A SHORT STORY)
As the train pulled into the station, Professor Zazzo Thim felt a twinge within him, deep down where he knew his heart should have been. He didn’t want to be there, he didn’t even know why he had come back to this place where, years before he had given an infamous speech in which he had proclaimed the death, as an art form, of the short story.
There had almost been a riot.
But the Professor was a sentimental man, and when he had received, in the depths of the University in which he taught literary experimentalism, a letter from a middle-aged lady who had witnessed him that day, fleeing for his life amid the baggage trollies and the tourists pursued by an angry mob, he knew he had to go back there, just for old times sake.
And now he was on a train, pulling into that very station, with its vast glass roof and endless platforms.
How lucky that he had given them the slip all of those years ago, he thought to himself as the train slowly began to slow. Would anybody recognise him now, all these years later?
The grand old station was the same as it ever was. The glass roof was a dirty grey, matching the overcast skies outside, while the rusted superstructure was plastered with pigeon droppings. Zazzo pulled his coat collar around him as he stepped out of the carriage onto the worn tarmac of the platform. He felt a coldness in the air, though, an eternal coldness, as if all the emotion from the thousands, the millions of journeys begun and ended here, the lives separated, the people who would never see each other again, had somehow become crystallised and
manifested just in him. The Professor began to shiver.
She was waiting for him at the exit of the platform, next the aerodynamic train engine which throbbed and sizzled as it recovered from its journey. She recognised the white-haired professor from the photographs on the jackets of his various, little-read volumes on the literature of Greenland and the cultural significance of the Haiku in Guatemala. (Verdict: virtually none at all). She stepped forwards, extended her hand, then helped him with the big bag slung over his which contained the manuscript of his latest novel. They went to the station cafe.
“We talk about it even now”, she said, over a cup of coffee which steamed gently in the slant of morning light.
“I didn’t realise it was such a big event “.
“Big event?” she asked. “It was the only event”.
The cafe was filled with travellers, youths with backpacks, old ladies with small trollies, all of them static for this one moment in time before they each went their separate ways to the furthest corners of the continent. Behind the counter, the coffee machine let off a cloud of steam which moistened the ceiling, while a small radio played jazz in the kitchen. The saxophone made Professor Thiim feel sad, though he didn’t quite know why. Something about the passing of the years, perhaps.
“You certainly caused quite a stir”, the woman said. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Mathilda, and the day I saw you leaping over the tracks while being pursued by that mob, I was employed in the cigarette kiosque. I remember it now, your scarf trailing in the wind, the papers of your speech flying away behind you, the angry mob piling over baggage racks and the ticket barriers, like ants coming back to their colony. Nothing stood in their path! You started a change in me . . .”, she said, contemplatively.
“What do you mean?” the Professor asked.
She smiled and looked down at her coffee cup.
“While was working that morning l was listening to your speech. When l saw you set up on the main concourse with a soap box and a sheaf of papers l thought you were just another religious zealot, or maybe one of those hopeless politicians with their fake promises. But when you started speaking about the short story, and speaking so eloquently, l might add, l became entranced. I remember it to this day the way you said that short stories no longer mattered, that we were all philistines
because we preferred trashy novels or the television, that all writers of short stories are, in some ways, the chroniclers of the modern world, capturing moments and emotions in subtle ways which other means can never attain yet entirely forgotten by everyone, and therefore, superfluous, misguided, and entirely fake. l remember the way you used to adjust the scarf around your neck as you talked, your face wrinkled in concentration. I was so captured by this that I completely forgot about my job, and when these people started crowding around you and heckling, I thought, a-ha! He has struck a nerve!”
“It’s nice that you remember”, the Professor said, fingering his collar where the scarf would have been. He remembered the scarf, he still had it at home somewhere.
“So I went home and I started to read short stories. Nothing major at first – romance, a bit of light comedy. Then l professed to Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, Checkhov. After a few years I wanted more, so l started on James Joyce, Italo Calvino, old Franz Kafka. Borges came next, of course, the master of them all. And now . . “.
“Yes?” the old man asked, fearfully.
“Now I’m reading Samuel Beckett’
“My word”, he whispered
“And it’s all thanks to you. My life has been enriched by that moment, by the passion and the fury of that one episode. I resigned from the cigarette kiosque, enrolled in university, and I began to acquire literary ideas of my own. Do you know what it means for a character to appear in a short story, for example? The characters believe themselves, for just one moment, to be so important as to be forever captured in the reader’s mind, and lodged there forever. Yet they do not have the longevity, the life-span of characters from, say, a novel. Such animosity exists between them! The moment in which they exist is so precious, so pure and concentrated that they could never last a whole novel with the same intensity. Just look at ourselves – if we two were to last a whole novel, we would be exhausted by the end of chapter three”.
The Professor nodded, solemnly
“I have so many ideas inside of me” Mathilda continued. “And it’s all thanks to you. So when I read a textbook on the use of penguins in the shorter fiction of Virginia Woolf – (in which it was concluded that penguins hardly featured in any of her work) – and I saw that the author was a certain Professor Zazzo Thim, who, years before, had almost been attacked right here at this very station, I thought: ‘l have to find him, I have to thank him personally for the life he has given me”.
The Professor fingered the clasp of his briefcase. He felt so many different emotions.
“I’m glad”, he whispered, above the soft saxophone solo from the kitchen. “That I have made an impact on someone’s life”. He opened the briefcase and took out a manuscript. “In fact, he continued, “I would like you to have this”.
“What is it?” Mathilda asked, laying an expectant hand on her chest.
“My latest academic work, explaining the death of surprise endings in short works of fiction. It is my belief that all surprises have been eliminated, that nothing more can ever be said at the end of a short story which may shock or confound the reader. I have called it, ‘No More The Lonely Badger”.
“I’m touched”, Mathilda said. Zazzo passed the manuscript across the table towards her and she took it in her quivering hands. “No more surprises”, she whispered, reading the sub-heading. “An investigation by Professor Zazzo Thiim”.
“Just one more thing”, he asked. “Why did the crowd react so badly to my speech? Why did they set about me in such a hostile manner? Surely, the people of this city don’t care that much for the short story as to attack me personally, just because of my hypothesis? I thought about it for the last twenty years, l’ve thought about the effect l had and the passion they displayed, see, and it, too, changed my life, it changed my ideas, and I started to devote my life to demonstrating that short stories do make a difference, and l have used the episode as an illustration in lectures, academic works and after-dinner speeches. Indeed, it could be said that my whole career has been based on this one incident! So tell me, why were the crowd so unaccountably incensed?”
“Didn’t you know?”, Mathilda asked. “It was the cup final day. They saw your scarf. They thought you were a United supporter”.
On performing new material
If you go on Netflix you’ll find a comedy documentary called Jerry Seinfeld : Comedian. This film highlights the differences between a comedian just starting to make a name for himself, and an established comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, trying out new material having decided to ditch everything he’d performed, to great success, up to that point.
It’s a fascinating film because it shows the process Jerry went through of learning new lines, trying them out, occasionally forgetting his words, occasionally having a bad gig, and you can really tell that this was something that he was putting a lot of work into. And it’s also something which I can, to a lesser extent, relate to.
I’ve been performing comedy poetry now since 2008 and during that time, whenever I’ve been asked to headline or feature somewhere, there have been a certain canon of poems which I utilise, having perfected these over the years and knowing, more or less, what the audience response might be. It’s been something of a comfort, having these poems : Beard Envy, Plop, Badger in the Garden, Little House, Jellyfish, etc. The only times I’ve varied this set has been the addition of a poem or two from whatever hour show I’ve been working on. The Tea Rap, and High Tea, both came from my show Spout and found their way into my usual headline set.
However, using this method resulted in a strange feeling which I’m sure is not unique to me as a performer and as a writer. I started to become jealous of the version of me who existed when I wrote these poems. I was jealous of the version of me who existed when I started rehearsing these poems. I was jealous of an earlier version of myself. And because of this, I’d tell myself that I couldn’t write or perform this way any more. That the best years were already behind me.
In 2020 I started work on a new show, Yay : The Search for Happiness, which was all new material, though I’d been working on some of these poems since around 2016. The new show was the perfect vehicle for some of the poems which had never made their way into a headline set before, such as Sideburns, or Instructions for my Funeral. For me, there were two ‘stand out’ poems from the show, Shakka Lakka Boom, and Seaside Soul. Both can be performed with gusto and Shakka Lakka Boom has a catchy refrain that people can join in with. Hooray!, I thought. Two new ‘bangers’ which might make their way into hypothetical headline sets.
At the same time as writing Yay, I was also working on a project with the fishermen of Brixham, which eventually became a sequence of poems called Squidbox. Most of these poems were earnest and dealt with serious subjects such as wartime refugees, family history or the rigours of deep sea trawling, but I did include one poem ‘just for myself’, a very silly performance piece called Seagrasses. I performed this a couple of times at events to publicise Squidbox organised by Torbay Culture or Brixham Museum, and this too became another ‘potential banger’.
Once the pandemic quietened down a bit and normal life began, so too did gigs and offers of paid slots, and that’s when the idea came that possibly, just possibly, I might try and start performing only new material whenever the chance arose. This idea seemed both foolish and a little scary, because I’d held on to some of the old poems for so long that people told me they could recite them almost word for word. The trouble with this was that I didn’t have nearly enough potential material to fill a paid slot.
My philosophy when putting a set together has always been variety. A poem with singing, some dancing, a poem with music, a slam poem, a rhyming poem . . I always wanted to vary things up so that audiences did not become too bored, and doing away with what had become a carefully honed and varied set seemed a huge risk.
I sat down last year and started work on new poems. Yet this was fraught. There’s nothing worse, when writing, of having a preconceived idea of what the poem should sound like. The process should be organic, and some of these early poems suffered through trying to force a particular style or method of delivery. Yet even so, I kept the underlying ideas and put them to the rear of my mind.
I’ve always said that when you’re writing, the best performance pieces come where two ideas suddenly collide head on. It was a case of thinking, sometimes, ‘Hmm, what else can I throw at this poem?’ An early example was Do Wacka Do, which had a very pleasing rhythm. I then thought, actually, wouldn’t it be great to drive a truck straight through that rhythm, and completely change the direction and beat of the poem halfway through? I was very happy with this, but it still needed . . Something. One day I was mucking around with some choreography when I remembered a Scouts disco I went to in the early 1980s, where one of the Venture Scouts was disco dancing and every now and then he would flick imaginary insects from his arms. And that’s when I thought, well, what about if I did that during the Do Wacka Do poem? Along with a strange forwards pointing motion that a friend of mine does. So all of these combined to create a new performance piece, which only takes about a minute to perform, but I was really happy with it.
Another poem was called Dreamscraper. I was fairly happy with this but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere, until I began to experiment with my voice during the poem, starting off at a high tone at the beginning of every stanza, and lowering my voice until the last line of each stanza where, inevitably, the punchline of that verse might be. And I don’t know why, but this sounded both exasperated, and funny, like it was really paining me to perform the poem. I performed this once at an open mic in Exeter and it went down really well.
I’d been working on a short poem called My Friend Cliff is a Zombie, too. Again, mucking around during rehearsing this poem, I discovered that I could sing the refrain, which became more of a chorus. I then developed more choreography, which relied on the use of jazz hands and a manic straight ahead stare, but even this didn’t seem enough, until I realised that I could just start the poem with the melodica, echoing the tune of the refrain. Almost done . . Until I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to end the poem with a line which changes the whole focus of it? I wont say what this change is, but boom! My Friend Cliff is a Zombie was ready to be performed.
There are other experimental poems I’ve been playing with, which I don’t want to give away. ‘Gom’ is a sound poem, which I have a lot of fun performing. ‘The Nature Reserve’ is a new poem which starts out sounding deeply serious, but then slowly becomes more and more silly with lots of quirky noises. Again, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I was rehearsing this poem just a couple of days ago and I ended up having to stop because I was laughing so much.
So these are the new poems I’m working on, and there are others. I’m keeping with my philosophy of having as much variety as possible. My tribute to Dame Edith Sitwell, ‘Coffee Shop Coffee Shop’, has been performed at a couple of places and is possibly the fastest paced poem I’ve ever learned. It’s not exactly a comedy piece, though it’s experimental and uses voice and rhythm in an interesting way. ‘Bill’ is a very Ivor Cutler-esque piece which I was really happy with, detailing a man thinking about a hypothetical conversation and then getting upset with the replies that the person he was having the hypothetical conversation was coming out with, but the audience seemed to think that the hypothetical conversation was actually taking place, so this poem may need to be retooled.
So on the whole, I’m rather happy with the new poems I’ve been working on, and the work I’ve been doing during rehearsals. It’s true that none of them are exactly ‘bangers’ just yet, because I’m not sure what parts of them an audience might like until I’ve performed them live a few times. But it really does feel like I’ve turned a corner and that the old poems can be rested for a bit. In fact, it really does feel like I’m just starting out again as a performer! And that’s no bad thing. There are other poems I’m still working on and playing with, and I really can’t wait to see which way they end up going!
You can now 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.’
‘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?’
‘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’.
Torquay 2, The Other Team 2
Torquay 2 Woking 2
Three hundred or so low guttural individual voices
Combine into a cohesive whole, a chorus of
Feral anticipation as custard coloured titans
Skip on to the pitch, the first among them kind of
Punches limply through a paper hoop
Emblazoned with their team sponsor's logo,
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost,
Three half-hearted palm slaps and then the paper gives way,
These athletic specimens of masculinity and matching socks,
Shiny blue polyester shorts a-gleam under the spotlights,
Back slaps and star jumps, half-hearted jogging,
While the opposing team, who must have had an
Awfully long bus ride, kind of slouch on to the field,
Mooching along the sides of the pitch like slugs around lettuce.
I'd brought a book to read assuming there would be seats.
Instead I was pressed up against the lanky frame of an
Ever so friendly thought unusually potty-mouthed
A rote of a lad who replica custard coloured shirt
Had last year's sponsor, McClintock's Polystyrene Coving Ltd.,
And who suggested at top column that the home team
Might like to consider breaking the fucking legs of the opposition.
Someone then tried to start a chant going,
'Oh we do like to beat them beside the seaside!
We're gonna beat you by two or three!'
But it kind of got drowned out
To a chant of 'Put them all in intensive care!
Put them all in intensive care!
Put them all in intensive care!
Captain Ollie's got great hair!'
I have come with a friend who's there for the football
But also to show me the football and he
Made a kind of grimace when I said I'd brought a book.
The home team did some warm up exercises.
'They're dancing!' I said, 'it's all a bit camp, isn't it?'
Number 32 is just my type, bleach blond hair, stubble,
Long legs and snake hips.
'Coooo-eeeee! Over here! Yoooo-hooooo!'
My pal said, 'He's on loan from Bournemouth'.
I said, 'That's okay, I'd give him back in one piece'.
The stadium announcer extols the virtues of both teams
And attests to the veracity of
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost,
And the game begins, number 32s elegant fingers splayed
As he dribbles the ball, like he's a ballet dancer,
Or a gymnast balancing on a beam, though even
The home team audience yells that he's a useless
Time wasting tossbag who gets the ball and does fuck all,
Go back to Bournemouth you useless waste of space.
He's got lovely eyes.
The ground rumbles and thuds as they race from one end
To the other, kicking up clods of grass and winning
The applause of the audience who shout encouragement,
These lads in custard who aim at the goal at the other end,
Someone misses a sitter, someone else scuffs it,
And then the ball goes in the corner and two opposing players
Prance and dance around it like Torville and Dean.
My eyes kind of wander off to the other side
Where twenty or so or the away team supporters chirrup
And you can just make out the faded lettering of
Last years sponsor showing through under a new coat of paint,
McClintock's Polystyrene Coving Ltd. is better than any competition.
Only the word 'tit' is still showing.
My pal has already told me in advance
The skill of number 10, whose speciality is
Less the sublime and precocious nature of his craft,
More his knack for falling over at just the right moment,
Now he goes down like a sack of spuds and the
Audience erupts, apparently this is a good thing,
He's allowed to aim a ball at the keeper and boom,
In it goes, I almost spill my cup of tea
As I'm jostled and the lad next to me flings
His arms around my neck, jumps up and down, the
Tea oscillates as I breathe in his Lynx Africa antiperspirant,
I must say I enjoy it a lot.
And now I want number 10 to fall over again.
Wouldn't you know it, he does, never fails to disappoint,
Fortune smiles twice in the low setting sun,
Achilles in his death throes, Icarus mid melt,
Our hero is downfallen and rolling in the mud like a hippo,
The ref's cheek bones prominent as his blows his whistle.
Boom, scores! The audience is enraptured once again,
Another clingy embrace of Lynx Africa,
I'm a cuppa carrying eucalyptus and he's my own personal koala,
Number 32 looks down wistfully as if jealous, I hope,
Oh, I hope, of me and my new found tame delinquent
Who sips a surreptitious beer from a paper bag and
Chinks against my half spilled Darjeeling, cheers!
Caught up in the joy of the moment I attempt to start a chant
Based on the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony
But it doesn't take hold.
Really, I'm only here for my pal who's brought me along.
This is his culture and I'm an interloper.
But I want to show that I understand life
Beyond the cliche, broaden my mind and experience
Every nuance of our shared cultural history.
'We're winning ', he says during the interval
As we queue for pies sold from a shed
Next to the unoccupied press box.
'Well, they are', I point out, 'We're just watching'.
I'm taking him to a drag show next weekend.
And then the announcer wants us all to sing happy birthday
For Little Liam, whose favourite player is number ten.
And Little Jimmy, whose favourite player is number ten,
And Little Jack, whose favourite player is number ten,
And he reminds us that we can all vote for the
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost
Man of the Match, which is usually won by number ten.
'I'd like to vote for number 32', I say, perhaps too loudly,
And everyone around me laughs and says how funny,
They love my sense of humour.
Two more goals soon after the interval.
Perhaps the audience has tired itself out,
I'm the only one who seems excited, and my new friend
In the McClintock shirt hardly seems inclined at all
To repeat his usual celebratory hijinx, no doubt
Enervated by his previous exertions and the two litre bottle of cider
Stuffed down the front of his trackie bottoms,
And when the ref calls a halt to the show I pat
My pal on the back and ask whether four nil in some kind
Of club record.
It was two all, he says, they switched ends.
Why didn't the announcer explain this
Before I got excited over nothing?
Oh, this communal kickabout, this colossal crowd clapping
This unified oneness this matey definitely not homoerotic bonding,
This celebration of the hunter's skill this
All-encompassing rough and tumble this slippery sport a spurt
With spurious curiosities this worship of the physical
This proof of prayer this spectacle this weird excuse
To suddenly bellow 'Nice tackle!' and no one bats an eyelid
This playing out of certain urges but would they ever let me
Join in? No, probably not, and number ten has got mud all over him.
What did you think?, my pal asks
As we file like clocked off factory workers
Into the adjacent streets, not that he's interested really,
Immediately he then adds, shall we get some chips?
I think of number 32
In the dressing room.