On having a larf.

For goodness sake, anything makes me laugh these days. I don’t know what it is but if it’s funny, then I’m in to it. Over the last week I’ve listened to Steve Martin, watched a Judd Apatow Netflix special, several episodes of the Larry Saunders show, I’ve listened to Gecko’s wonderful album, Ivor Cutler, watched an Arnold Brown DVD, Flight of the Conchords, and, believe if or not, Hinge and Brackett. Oh, and I’ve just started rereading Hunter S Thompson.

Why this sudden need to immerse myself in comedy? And also the sort of comedy that I don’t normally watch or listen to or read?

For some reason I’m remarkably receptive at the moment to anything which makes people laugh. I start each day with web comedy shows of snippets, such as Portlandia, to which I’ve become addicted, or Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. I’ve also watched hundreds of hours of random sketches and web broadcasts from comedians and Youtubers, some of which is particularly cringe worthy or not really funny. And that’s now I spend my breakfast, a bowl of coco pops and squinting at my iPad.

Life by its very nature is serious, and because it’s so serious, it’s also inherently funny. We go to work and we work and we come home from work. To my mind the funniest places in the world are the city of New York and the whole of Britain. These are places where life is taken seriously yet, at the same time, not that seriously. Where humour exists to alleviate awkwardness or to get a point across, where sarcasm dances with parody to create something truly special.

Watching all these funny people, I noticed something funny, and that’s the Funny Muscle. Being funny and spontaneous is a skill which can be developed. I’m using mine right now as I write this sentence and I’m wondering where the next time during this sentence will be where I might be funny. Ok, so it didn’t happen during that sentence, and it’s probably not happening during this sentence either.

The weird thing is, immersing myself in such a way has helped me to see the world differently. I have a day job, which is filled with the usual petty annoyances and temporary hardships, but I look at it now more as a sitcom. Admittedly, not a very interesting sitcoms, but the situations which arise certainly have comedy in retrospect. I get home and I laugh, honestly, I do. Likewise, if you’re afraid of a person, or have a certain aversion to a person because of the way that they make you feel, then look at them as a character in a sitcom. They begin to conform to their own stereotypes and this makes them funny, even if they’re not funny people.

Perhaps that’s why I’m watching so much comedy, and so much diverse comedy. The warbling and innuendo of Hinge and Brackett are a long way from the stand up of, say, Trevor Noah, but they are a diversion from my every day life which I feel that I need right now, to take my mind off the normal crushing loneliness of existence. And in not restricting myself to a certain genre or type of comedy, I’m hoping to give my comedy muscle a huge work out. Though obviously, not enough to end this blog with a joke. IMG_0348

On reading novels again.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who first said, ‘If you go to the supermarket when you’re hungry, you’ll end up buying more’. As ever, Wilde cuts right to the truth of the matter, and its always been the same for me, particularly with books. I go weeks without buying any books, and then have a sudden splurdge.

When I buy a book I’m buying in to the idea of reading it in the most heavenly circumstances. Bright summer light streaming in through the window, a feeling of absolute contentment, and the book being so well written and engaging that life itself becomes a transcendental bliss, a quiet hum for the senses.

When I was studying for university and then postgrad, I read because I had to read, and I read an awful lot, and a lot of that was awful. I still have a library of academic tomes on how to run museums and the correct procedures for hanging a painting. By the time I finished my degree and my dissertation, I felt that I didn’t want to read, ever again. Reading became a chore, and I would read for three hours a day, before work, after work, and at spare moments while I was at work.

It’s taken a good four or five years to realise that reading can be done for fun. I didn’t realise I needed glasses until just as my degree was finishing, reading was giving me headaches and I went to the doctor and he sent me to the opticians. The words would dance and move around on the page, the letters would cram themselves up to the letters next to them, and it would take me three attempts to read a sentence, sometimes. And then I’d no longer comprehend the sentence because I was too busy working out what the words and letters were. This was particularly evident during the time that I read Finnegan’s Wake.

I’m reading now for pleasure. There are certain books which I’ve been reading for research, mostly books by spoken word artists and comedians, or books about poetic theory or comedy theory, but now I’m reading for pleasure. I luxuriate in sentences and I take my time to read a book in complete relaxation. In such a way I have began to really appreciate again the form of the novel. I have also been rediscovering books I’d previously read, such as those by Haruki Murakami, Graham Greene, Edmund White, the short stories of Dorothy Parker. I’m just about to start rereading Angela Carter.

Because of this, I’ve started getting excitable around bookshops again. How lovingly do I run my fingers over the covers of random paperbacks, imagining taking them home and reading them. I have fondled many a bestseller. Naturally, a hectic life ensures that the actual act of reading can never live up to this ideal, but it’s like buying a dream. Some time over the next day or so I shall be finishing Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana, a book I have enjoyed even if one does turn a blind eye to the casual 1950s racism. His spare sentences and use of dialogue are among the best.

So the point of this blog is to reaffirm that I have reaffirmed my love of the literary novel and reading as a pastime.

New York Poems

I was going through some old files today and I found the poems I wrote while I was in New York. I’ve tidied them up, formatted them, and present them here in all their Manhattan glory.

New York 1.
They say that Manhattan is a state of mind
But I’ve looked on the map
And it’s definitely there.
It doesn’t stop,
Not even in the dead of night,
The rumbling, the growl,
Inexorable,
No wonder they look so angry.
I went into Starbucks at five in the morning
And there was already a queue.
Shuffling jittery city dwellers,
The insomniacs and the early risers,
The boy who cannot sleep in
The city that never sleeps,
Nothing more offputting than a
Mardy pre-caffeine New Yorker.
Don’t take coffee, I take
Well actually I do take coffee,
Thanks for asking,
And maybe one of those tarts.
I’m English, you know.
Sitting in the window and watching
The cyclists,
Weaving, open-mouthed.
Stop lights mean nothing to them,
Life seems so tentative,
These two-wheeled mosquitoes,
How many of them end up
Plastered on the front of those
Big-assed delivery trucks that you see,
Or some nobhead’s Humvee?
I thought the barista was only being nice
When he asked me for my name.
He repeated it with a smile, all
Rhotic on the consonants,
Elongating the vowels in a way
They don’t normally get pronounced,
Making my heart all fluttery
Until I notice he’d written it on my cup.
It’s the familiar things
That make me feel at home.
Crushing disappointment,
And the fact that they
Also have McDonalds over here.

New York 2.
I
need one with a shot of espresso.
You’re the newbie, you’ll need this.
There’s a whole bunch of confidence there.
She never told anyone
But she likes attention.
She’s like that with every guy, trust me.
And then she can cut him out, say uh-oh,
It’s like oh, it’s bad, she’ll go far,
She got green locker room doors,
She won’t try to apologise.
I don’t have an issue with her.
Every time I told her she gave me the one two.
I used to consider you a friend
And I was your friend whatever.
(Found poem, three NYPD police women chatting in a coffee shop at the next table).

New York 3.
The
way he’s sitting
And what he’s wearing
And his hair
Those are the definites.
His sensitive eyes
His long eyelashes and the
Way he just looked
At that jogger,
Those are the peripheries.
And the hoodie,
American Dance Theatre,
Alvin Ailey,
Whatever that is.
(I will google it later).
It’s all mostly symbolic
I feel
I know him.

New York 4.
She
took my hand and danced with me
Amid the noise and clamour and cacophony
Of Times Square
As the skyscrapers whirled in their
Concrete and glass delirium,
She yelled
Above the engines and the horns and the
Shouting and the hooters and the sirens and the roar
And the buzz and the energy and the excitement
And the rush and the glee and the pulsing rhythms
Of the city in all its brash omnipotence,
Sorry,
I thought you were my husband.

New York 5.
(Amid the Abstract Expressionists, MoMa)
He, who isn’t here
Would have haunted these
Very pictures,
Broken nose to canvas
And a ready opinion.
Losing himself
In the Pollock
And it’s intricate action,
Felt a spark of the very now,
And would have known everyone
On first name terms.
Jasper. Jackson. Elaine. Robert. Mark.
The boy with the red trainers,
A sly flitting nonchalant phantom
Who will blond my dreams
With his purposeful demeanour
Right now here and
F would have approved.

New York 6.
I’ve
only got one joke about denim.
A one liner about crinoline.
I’ve only got a couple of puns about nylon
And a quip about silk
Basically,
I’ve run out of material.

New York 7.
(Written
in Tom’s Diner)
I wasn’t sitting near the window.
I was at the counter.
But it was still the diner on the corner
And the burger was mighty fine
On a drizzly Manhattan Saturday.
And there’s a ball game on the tv screen,
Notre Dame are playing NC State
And I’m not sure what the sport is
But they’ve all got helmets and shoulder pads.
There’s a picture from a magazine
Of Jerry Seinfeld on the wall and he’s
Kind of looking at me imperiously
As I eat my burger which,
As I said, is mighty fine.
I’ve got that tune in my head now,
You know the one.
The Seinfeld tv theme music.
I probably wouldn’t have come here
If it wasn’t for, you know,
These two things.

New York 8.
The
Staten Island ferry
Everyone is merry
They’re all waving at me!
Am I a celebrity?
Have I been recognised?
Am I famous here?
No, they’re
Wiping mist from the windows
Of the inside seating area.
I’m depressed now.

New York 9.
She
purred
Hold on there, honey,
I’ll just put you through
On to line number three.
There was barely a click.
No static.
She’s such a
Smooth operator.

New York 10.
I want to go out with Rhys.
I want to have a date with Rhys.
I want to spend quality time with Rhys.
I want to get to know Rhys.
I want to be with Rhys.
I want to make out with Rhys
I want to express my love for Rhys
I want to have relations with Rhys
I want to be at peace
With Rhys.
I say to Rhys
Please
Rhys
Please
Rhys
Please please please
Rhys Rhys Rhys
Rhys
Come on
Don’t be a tease
Put me at my ease
I haven’t got flees
You are the bees
Knees
Rhys
Rhys
What do you say?
Rhys
What of it, Rhys what of it, Rhys what do you reckon?
You and me Rhys please Rhys what do you think Rhys
Me and you Rhys you and me Rhys us together Rhys
Rhys
Us together Rhys us together Rhys us us us
Together together together
Rhys
Rhysie babes.
Please
Oh dear!
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys
Has called the police.

New York 11.
The
big pancake. The big muffin.
The big nausea. The big nothing.
The broad one. The tall one.
The big fella. The concrete devotional.
The prostrate giant. The cosmopolitan.
The metropolitan. The big breakfast.
The all day lunch. The concrete funnel.
The distorted mirror. The seismic cherry.
The license to chill. The delicatessen.
The bad boy. The big bad boy,
Cavernous potholes so deep you’ll
Lose yourself for a week.
The big dependable. The three-way delicious.
The exuberant fruit. The hungry papa.
The pumping beehive. The big badger.
The big glacial. The big crazy.
The big security. The big despicable.
The big beat. The big Apple.

New York 12.
No
ghost dance
On these gentle hills
Nor ceremonial gatherings
On the granite outcrops,
Central Park no wilderness,
Just the whisper of
Other people’s conquests
Too rooted in the now
To wander successfully.

Mr. Juicy – the script

Juicy

(Bing bong!)
British Falcon Flight 7633 to Norwich, now boarding at gate 6b.
This is the first call for British Falcon Flight 7633 to Norwich,
Now boarding at gate 6b.
Thank you.

(Bing bong!)
Could Mr Mozarella, travelling with Air Italy to the Po Valley,
Please make himself known to a representative of his airline.

(Bing bong!)
Air Beagle Flight 133 to Exeter, now boarding at gate 6a.
This is the first call of Air Beagle Flight 133 to Exeter,
Now boarding at gate 6a.
Thank you.

(Bing bong!)

I called him Mr Juicy.
I met him at the gate of an airport departure lounge.
He was flying to Norwich, I was flying to Exeter.
Our planes were delayed because a fuel transporter had
Broken down, diagonally, across gates 6a and 6b.
Nobody could move it.
The two of us, me and Mr Juicy, we looked out the
Terminal plate glass window.
He asked if I had a dry wipe marker.
Why?
So I can go in the toilets, he said,
Add my initials to the hourly checklist.
You know.
Just for a laugh.

No sign of any movement on the apron.
Men in high viz jackets stand around, dumbfounded.
Mr Juicy, all grins,
Sits across two soft cushioned seats.
I sit opposite from him and he watches
As I stare at the floor.
What are you doing?, he asks.
I’m looking at a small dot.
Part of the fleck effect of the tiled floor.
Concentrating on this insignificant dot.
Soon I’ll be hundreds of miles away and the chance
Of seeing this tiny dot again
Will be very small indeed.
You’re weird, he says,
But I like you.

And I liked him.

Rip up the afternoon with your sheer existence!
Batter the world with your beauty,
Show no resistance!
Like a soldier marching, marching,
Left, right,
You are
All right!

Like a porcelain hammer,
Like a grenade of love,
There is no grammar
For me to put into language
That I am made of love.
No longer
Afraid of love.

Let us be brothers in arms, primed to attack,
Let’s drill together, I’ll watch your back
Like two soldiers marching, marching
Perfect rhythm, perfect motion marching marching
Left right left right keep this up
All through the night.

You bludgeon me
With your masculinity
Batter me
With your beauty
Shatter me
You’re such a
Cutey
I want to be with
You, see

War zone decrepit and a scorch earth policy
To fight for love is the ultimate fallacy
Like a soldier
Marching marching
Into the inevitable
You can conquer me!

I’d lay down my arms.
Then lay down
With you
In my arms
If only
You would ask.

(Bing bong!)

We apologise for the slight delay to flights British Falcon 7633 to Norwich and Air Beagle Flight 133 to Exeter, currently awaiting boarding at gates 6a and 6b. This is due to . . .. Operational difficulties.

The driver of the stranded fuel transporter
Hops down from his cab, lands awkwardly,
And sprains his ankle.

(Bing bong!)

Could passenger Mr Mozarella, please make himself
Known to the Air Italy information desk, located
In the man terminal building,
Next to the Weatherspoons pub.

I tried not to look over at Mr Juicy too much.
I didn’t want him to think that I fancied him.
But then
I wanted him to know
That I fancied him.
Open, pleasant face and long, long legs, see them
Draped over the chair next to him,
Body-hugging white tshirt,
Purposefully unkempt hair,
The feint trace of stubble,
A ruffian with the soul of a poet,
Who’d just captured
The soul of a poet.

He said,
I watched that DVD the other day, you know the one,
The Neverending Story. But I’m suing the film company
Because it was only on for 118 minutes.

And another thing.
How come the logo for Universal Pictures
Is just of planet earth?

And how come
The Three Musketeers
Are called the Three Musketeers
When there’s four of them
And they don’t use muskets?

I smile, and laugh.
I want him to know that I’m, you know,
Not necessarily heterosexually configured,
But I don’t want to go too over the top.

Mr Juicy tells me about his mother.
She works at an old folks home, in the kitchen.
They have to perform miracles, he says,
They’re given a Chicken and told to feed
Thirty residents with it.
Rezzies, as those in the business call them.

If someone was not expected to live beyond the
Next evening, then their last meal would be
Rice pudding.
The solemn walk of death,
Carrying a solitary rice pudding from the kitchen
Through the dining room,
And all the rezzies wondering who it was who
Was going to be presented with it.
Poor Ethel.

Ethel looks down, sadly,
At her rice pudding.
Her whole life
Has led to this.

(Bing bong!)

This is another call for Mr Mozarella.
That’s Mr Mozarella,
Please make yourself known to the
Air Italy officials.
The manager is waiting to hear from you.
The head honcho.
The big cheese.

I like your . . . Body-hugging white t-shirt, I tell him.
Thanks, he replied.
Very fashionable, I continue, I’d wear one too,
But there are certain bodies which, you know,
Don’t look good hugged.
Everyone deserves a cuddle now and then, he replies.

Oh my goodness!

But like an idiot I say nothing,
And then when I do, I change the subject.
At school we had some weird fashions,
It was trendy in year eight to have a tin of
Mackerel fillets poking out of your shirt pocket,
You were nobody unless you had a
Tin of mackerel fillets in your shirt pocket,
The teachers would confiscate them,
They always looked so healthy, our teachers,
Must have been all that omega three,
And the poor kids, bless them, they’d go in
With these tescos own brand mackerel fillets,
Am I Rambling?

Everyone deserves a cuddle now and then, that’s
What he’d said, or did I imagine it?

I’m rambling.

He says,
My best friend is an astronomer.
He has been tracking a super massive black hole
For the last few years
Using mathematics and pure science to work out
It’s behaviour.
He’s calculated that a star fifteen times the size
Of the sun is heading straight towards it.
Can you Imagine? This gigantic star and this
Super massive black hole.
I said to him, what will happen to the star?
And he replied,
It will turn ever so slightly more red.

If the ultimate state of the universe
Is chaos, I say,
Then that makes me feel better
About the cupboard under the stairs.

Everyone deserves a cuddle now and then.

I say to him,
I’m really worried that one day I’ll
Slice a loaf of bread
And accidentally split the atom.

(Bing bong!)

Ladies and gentlemen, once again
We apologise for the delay at
Gates 6a and 6b.
The operating difficulties are
Ongoing.
Please accept,
For your listening pleasure,
The following mood-enhancing music.

MUSIC

Mr Juicy smiles, leans back his head and closes his eyes.
The sun comes out, lightly caresses his face.
He looks so pure.

Unblemished by life
Unworried by the immediate
Unhurried unsullied unruffled,
Pure.

Unfazed by the obvious,
Unmoved by the oblivious,
Unabashed, unapologetic, unholy.
Pure.

Unmasked by circumstance,
Undressed by my imagination,
Untainted, unfettered, unforgettable,
Pure.

Pure.
Like the mountain air is pure,
Like the morning of a new day,
Like the mind of a nun is pure.
Like a babbling brook from a glacier,
The glacier itself renown for its purity,
That’s how pure you are.

I bet you don’t fart much
And even if you did
The people near you would say, my god,
Did it just get purer in here?

You’re as pure as a summer rose
Ensconced in morning dew,
You’re as pure as the air
After a thunderstorms been through,
You’re as pure as a paperback
That’s totally brand new
The Big Book of Pure,
Bought it this morning,
That’s how pure you are.

(Bing bong!)

Mr Mozarella, are you there?
(Bing bong!)
Mr Mozarella?
(Bing bong!)
Mr Mozarella?
(Bing bong!)
(Bing bong!)
(Bing bong!)

Where am I?
You fell asleep, Mr Juicy says.
Does this count, I wonder,
If I tell people I’ve now slept with him?
What’s the latest?
They’ve stretchered the driver away.
Now they’re trying to move the fuel transporter.
Some fuel spilled out.
They’re trying to mop it up.

I tell him,
Just before my mother was born,
The cleaner came in the room,
Wrung the mop out the window of
The hospital,
The head fell off.
How’s that for an omen?

POEM

Oh, Mr Juicy.
Juicy perfection.
Millions of years of evolution,
Of chance and random occurrences,
Births, death, circumstance,
His parents needs and his fathers
Sperm going for it,
Winning the race,
To create him.

And for everything to align just right
And in just the right quantity and appeal
To the very depths of my own personal
Masculine preferences,
Perfect nose,
Perfect limbs,
Perfect eyebrows,
Perfect skin,
And for him to be here now,
This morning, a freak of
Airport scheduling and airline timetables,
Just here, just now,
Fortune like a peach so juicy.

But . . .
What right has he to be so gorgeous?
What has he ever done to deserve it?
Why not me?
Why not everyone who’s
Gazed in the mirror,
Felt nought inside but pale horror,
Wanted to change the world,
Wanted to be loved?

I’m attracted to him so much
That I almost hate him
With his witty conversation and his
Affected nonchalance
He chats to me not that he enjoys
The fact of my existence
Or that he wishes to impress me,
But merely because it is all so
Easy for him.

I mean nothing.
I am a momentary distraction.
He’s got a nice arse.
In half an hours time he’ll forget
I ever existed.
In half an hour
I’ll be thinking about
Lost opportunities.

(Bing bong!)
Lost opportunities,
(Bing bong!)
Hold on to him,
Memorise his face.
(Bing bong!)
Memorise his face
Because you’ll forget it quickly.
(Bing bong!)
Massive disappointment.
(Bing bong!)
This is the final call for
Massive disappointment.

Can you imagine what it would be like?
I mean,
The pressure to be constantly amusing,
Me and him, together forever,
Going through each day looking for anecdotes,
Something happens and you think,
Oh good, some new material.
I can’t wait to tell . . .
Jesus Christ,
I don’t even know his name!

(Bing bong!)
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your patience,

Comes the voice of doom,
Signalling the end of a romance,

We’re about to begin boarding flights
7633 to Norwich and 133 to Exeter
At Gates 6a and 6b,

Where the future will dissolve and crumble
Like an overlooked meringue

Please have your passport and boarding card
Ready for inspection.

That’s us, he says.
We’re on different planes, I point out.
I know, he replies.

Two parallel queues start to form at gates 6a and 6b. He
Gathers his belongings.

It’s been nice talking to you, I tell him.
Yeah, he says.
Yeah.

Two queues in tandem,
Shuffling forwards.
And I feel sick inside,
Incapable of telling him,
And stunted by social constrictions
That stand in the way of us
And a life together.

But I’d hate it.
Two queues shuffling forwards.
Is it not better, I tell myself,
To let him be.
To preserve it as the most perfect
Moment of all?
A love so deep that none was ever shared?

Two queues shuffling forwards.
He’s there in the corner of my eye,
And I’ll never see him again.
To know more now would spoil it forever.
I don’t even know his name.

Two queues shuffling forwards.
The skies await and with them
All is gone.

Bye, he says,
Smiling.
His queue is moving faster.

I’m momentarily distracted by a kerfuffle ahead.
I’m sorry, Mr Mozarella, the attendant says,
This isn’t your flight.
Exeter, Mr Mozarella.
No, not the Po Valley.
Exeter.

It holds up the queue, and when I look again,
He’s gone.
Mr Juicy has gone.
Through the gate and off to his plane
And things will never
Be the same.

It takes an age to sort out Mr Mozarella.
I trudge across the lonely windswept apron,
Giddy on more than just aviation diesel.
Up the steps of our Exeter bound plane.
I pause, briefly,
Looking back at the airport terminal
Hoping that he still might be there,
Waving, or even running towards me,
Across the concrete,
But he isn’t.
He meant so much,
And I meant nothing to him.
The wind ruffles my hair.
How transitory this life we all live
With its fleeting moments.

I’ll never find anyone else like him.
There were nights when I was so lonely
It seemed he dark itself were a million fingers
Pointing away from me,
My existence so transitory as to
Hardly be worth the breath.
Each moment a death.

I will survive this!
As long before I found my own solidity
That the love I had inside of me
I could share
Should still be there.

How many others will disappear,
Chance encounters and momentary infatuations,
Squandered beauty and sheer
Miscalculations, misread signals and a certain
Immobility deep set within,
That I should live to live to love
Rather than love itself
And forever remain
Hopelessly
Lonely.

Good morning, sir,
Welcome aboard.
My name is Josh.
I look up.
He’s the best looking
Cabin attendant I’ve ever seen.
img_3888

Best year of my life?

There’s about six hours of 2017 left here in Devon. And it’s a year which I really don’t want to end just yet as so many amazing things have happened. I know in the real world it’s been pretty naff for a vast number of reasons, but for me it’s been, without hyperbole, the best year I’ve had. The year started with appearing in indents for a certain building society which was incredibly surreal. I then was longlisted as Spoken Word Artist of the year with the Saboteur Awards. Next up I devised Juicy, which was always going to be a stop gap show showcasing different poems, and it got into various fringes. Performing at Edinburgh, Denbury and London at the Redgates Theatre were all highlights, and I had some amazing gigs in other places. On top of everything I finally went semi professional as a spoken word artist, doing corporate work and education work too, and then just when the year was ending, I had a book published and a couple of videos released in YouTube. It’s been an amazing year!

I’ve got so many projects pending. As well as the ongoing Zebra tour, I’ve got a one night performance of Juicy at the Bike Shed theatre on the seventeenth of January, a film project with film maker John Tompkins based on Beard Envy, and a new show which I’ve already written called In The Glare of the Neon Yak, which is set on a sleeper service from London to Edinburgh. Performance wise, I’ve started learning all of my material and I’m about to start working with a director. Things are very exciting!

Naturally, the year was made by the wonderful people I’m surrounded by, such as Melanie Branton for her advice and support, Mark Tunkin for everyday practical issues. It’s been an incredibly busy twelve months and there have been days where I’ve not known where I was heading, or why, catching trains, the whole thing being a bit of a blur. Sadly, I also lost two friends this year, both of whom were incredibly supportive of my work.

I’d like to wish everyone a fantastic 2018 and all the health, happiness, fulfilment and success you can grab!

Here’s a new poem.

Poem

Part One

Flat cap on, whiskers brushed,
His wife giving him a kiss at the
Door of their bungalow.
Have a good day, dear, she says.
There’s a packed lunch
In your satchel.
See you tonight, my love,
He says.
We’ll listen to Des O’Connor
On the wireless tonight.
He walks down the front path,
She watches him go.

Part Two

An eerie silence
Looms over the
Lingerie department.
He’s got his flask and
His camping chair,
His Daily Mail.
He’s set for the day,
Ensconced in the gap
Between the cut price knickers
And a dump bin of socks,
His own niche in the market.

The throbbing passion of moments sublime
In their inexorable rush between
All human desire
And the urges that certain men feel.

Part Three

In the 1950s he’d go to the barbers.
Something for the weekend, sir?,
They’d ask.
He thought they were offering him
A bus timetable.
And meeting his wife, Marge.
His father asked if she was called that
Because she spread like butter.
He thought that this was a reference to
Her technique for doing
The plastering.

Married in 1959,
He remained a virgin until 1973
And that was only because there
Was an incident
While she was giving him eye drops.
Ever since then
He always comes over
Unnecessary when he heard the
Word Conjunctivitis.
They didn’t get a TV
Until 2003
And the first thing he’d see
Was a woman in a bikini
Being sensuously doused
In lukewarm Ovaltine.

His false teeth
Shot out of his mouth and
Ricocheted off the
Sideboard.
The next day he ordered
A crate of the stuff.
Marge, he said,
Bung the kettle on.

Part Four

How proudly
Marge would tell her
Friends,
He’s still working
At his age
At the department store.

He tells her that
He’s a diesel fitter.

He holds up a pair of knickers
And says,
‘Dese’ll fit her!’

Part Five

You can do it,
He imagines the merchandise
Saying to him.
You can do it, Jim.
You can do it.
You can do it.
You can do it, Jim.
You can do it.
You can really really do it.
Such a great selection
Of support bras.

Part Six

This unsolicited assister,
This unpaid worker,
This societal resister,
This brazen lurker,
This flat capped octogenarian
Amid the Lycra spandex,
This persistent drooler
At the opposite sex.
This pleasure seeker
This knicker peeker,
This old man ahead of
Society’s curve,
This outright perv.
This troubled he
Amid the double Ds,
The birds and the bees,
The dogs and the cats,
This ghost in a coat,
This phantom amid the scats,
This downright fool
Amid the smalls
He wipes the drool
Away from his chin
He wipes the drool
Away from his chin
He wipes the drool
Away from the chin
His name is Jim.

Oh, Jim.
Oh, Jim.
Where do we begin
To obey those little voices from deep within.
Saying Jim, oh Jim,
Do just what you may
And spend another day
Surrounded by lingerie.
Way hay.

Part Seven

Another day done, he
Wipes the crumbs from his lap,
Folds up his chair,
Picks up his mack,
Bids the staff a fond farewell.

Marge has cooked him
A casserole.
As they eat, the clock ticks
On the mantelpiece.

This casserole
Is very nice, he says.
Yes, she replies,
Yes, it is.
It has been rather clement today,
Weather wise, he says.
Yes, she replies,
Yes, it has.
I see interest rates are
Remaining the same, he says.
Yes, she replies,
Yes, they are.
Then she leans close to him
And whispers,
I know where you’ve been spending
Your days.
The clock continues to tick
For at least two minutes.
This casserole
Really is first class, he says.
Yes, she replies,
Yes, it is.

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On how the Pet Shop Boys have always been there for me – life as a listener.

I stated listening to music when I was about ten years old. I think it was about this time that my parents gave me a radio, and I was ten years old. Previous to this I’d had a small battery powered radio which I could only tune to Radio Four. Amusingly, I thought that the orchestras playing were always live, coming from a studio somewhere in London. My Uncle Charles had been a classical music buff and he would play us his favourite records whenever we visited him in London. The whole family would go out for a walk and he would put on his favourite record and play it to me and my mother while everyone else was out walking.

So, with the new radio I quickly got into pop music and within a year I’d built up a list of the sorts of bands and singers that I liked. Shakin Stevens, for example, Toyah, Madness. And then along came the Pet Shop Boys.

1. WEST END GIRLS (1985)

This was played on the radio a lot. And because I’d only just got in to music, and I was only eleven, it was kind of the base by which all other music would be measured. It always seemed timeless with the very pronounced English accent and the backing music which seemed functional rather than exuberant or showy. I went into school and told someone that I liked this song and they said that I was very trendy indeed for liking something so bang up to date.

2. LEFT TO MY OWN DEVICES (1988)

I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas in 1988. It was bright yellow and it had a radio attached, too. Amazingly, I’ve still got it and it still works. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song. I was sitting at the table in the dining room of our house listening to, I think for some reason, Andi Peters standing in for one of the regular DJs on Radio One, and he said, this is brand new from the Pet Shop Boys, and it’s a bit over the top. And wow, it completely blew me away, so much so that I would try and listen to the radio more just to hear it. It sounded as if the opera singer at the start was saying ‘Arse’, and they probably were, because it’s been removed from subsequent versions. And parts of the lyrics resonated with me: not wanting to drive a car or be interested in talking about cars, (like all of my school friends), being a lonely child who liked playing on his own, and of course the verse, ‘i was faced with a choice at a difficult age, would I write a book, or should I take to the stage’. So I became a performance poet and did both. And also, because of my uncle, I knew who Debussey was.

3. SO HARD (1990)

I also remember exactly where I was when I heard this. I was in my bedroom. The song sounded amazing and I decided to go to Woolworths the next day and buy the cassette single. Now at the time I’d just discovered formula one racing, and my favourite driver was Alessandro Nannini. I thought he was just about the best driver and that he would have a very long career. I rushed home from Woolworths with the cassette single and turned on Teletext to see the latest motor racing news, and the headline was that Nannini had been in a helicopter crash and was very badly injured. Listening to the song on my cassette player minutes later, the song seemed to be about Nannini and his injury rather than suspicion and the end of a relationship. It still reminds me of Nannini even now.

4. CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? (1993)

I went on holiday on my own. It was the first time I’d been away. I wanted to go somewhere and just write, so, living in Surrey, I caught the train to Looe in Cornwall, a place I felt I’d be able to disappear, and just write. It poured with rain. I brought my Walkman with me and bought the new Pet Shop Boys album, Very. I was worried that it would be downcast and moody like their previous one, the masterpiece Behaviour. I remember laying on my bed in the hotel room and listening to this, the first song, and being incredibly happy because it was poppy and upbeat. Even though it was raining, I was on my own, and I was in a strange place, I still felt happy because of this song.

5. BEFORE (1996)

I was disappointed in this song. It sounded like they’d phoned it in, deliberately made a song just to sound like them. I remember thinking the same about REM’s Imitation of Life. But the thing was, I was living in Surrey but I knew that I’d be moving to Devon within weeks. I was working in a small village shop at the time and it was very hot, and I’d cycle home and collapse on my bed, put on the radio and listen to the pop songs on Capital FM, and invariably this song would come on. And I’d say to myself, cmon lads, you can do better than this. Weeks later we moved to Devon. It felt like the start of a new life and a million miles from Surrey and London. I felt like a new person. The new Pets album Bilingual came out so I went to the supermarket and bought it. And this song was on it, and I’d completely forgotten that it existed even though it was the first single from the album, it just took me back to Surrey and the weird thought that it’s strange to move between the first single of an album and then the album itself. Life was moving, but the Pet Shop Boys were still there.

6. SOMEWHERE (1997)

By now I’d got a job in Devon. We had a radio at the shop in the stock room. This song came on and it completely blew me away, but at the same time I was sad that I should be listening to it for the first time at work rather than in the comfort of my room. And wow, it was completely over the top. They were out and proud and I was neither.

7. HOME AND DRY (2002)

I was on holiday again, alone again, this time in Italy. By now I had a portable Walkman cd player which ate up batteries like nobody’s business. The uncluttered music of this track and the simple lyrics about a life which I hoped one day to have too – waiting for a loved one to come home – seemed to speak about so much other than the domestic. Yet I always associate this song with being in Italy and being on my own. Except I wasn’t on my own, not really. I had the Pets.

8. THE LAST TO DIE (2013)

Ok, so by now I’m a spoken word artist and pretty much, as the song goes, the kind of man that I’d always meant to be. When the Electric album came out, I was completely crazy for it. All the songs were pumping and amazing and seemed the perfect accompaniment to my life and how hectic it had now become. I’d go through phases of loving and being obsessed with each song on the album, and the week that I was obsessed with this song was the week I was in London, doing open mics and exploring what the spoken word scene was like. I’d listened to this song about twenty times on one particular day, just before heading from the hotel to Bang Said the Gun. I got there and the atmosphere was amazing, and I entered the mini slam. However as the evening had worn on I’d felt ill and, not knowing it at the time, I had a virus which just sapped all my energy. I did the slam and then went immediately back to the hotel, trying to revive myself with this song. I then got a message to say that I’d won the slam but they couldn’t find me to tell me.

So they may not be the trendiest band in the world, and a work colleague may call them ‘those whining bastards’, but the whole ethos and spirit of the Pet Shop Boys has always helped me through life at strange moments, and I’m sure that there is more to come from them and, hopefully, from me.

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Melanie Branton reviews ‘Zebra’ by Robert Garnham

I have been thoroughly enjoying Robert Garnham’s Zebra (I know this sounds like one of Robert’s own comedy innuendoes).

Robert, of course, does funny so terribly well and there is vast amounts of crowdpleasing funny here, whether it’s his surreal imagination (a national craze for snogging zebras, a badger who thinks he’s on Eastenders, an evening spent loading the dishwasher with Montserrat Caballe), his unerring ability to observe all-too-true detail (the straight men’s pub that has a porcelain vase with chisels in on the windowsill, the gig in a remote part of the Amazon basin which is recognizably every poet’s worst gig ever, the comparison of noisy neighbours’ orgasm to the noise made by a flatulent elephant trying to squeeze the last drop out of a washing-up liquid bottle), his witty parodies of The Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly and Titanic, or his audacious Byronic rhymes:

e.g. “Wiped your sweating brow with a serviette.
My friends think I’m pervy, yet
I’m not.”

“Seeing yesterday’s sandwich
in the bin
with a sense of malaise.
It’s chicken mayonnaise.”

But the serious undercurrents that were there in Nice, the tears-of-a-clown preoccupations with death, loneliness, fear of failure and inadequacy, existential angst, gay politics, are foregrounded here and at times take on a more overtly serious form, but with Robert’s trademark diffident understatement making them all the more poignant. Autobiographical poems about trying to date a girl in his teens, the horrible experience of being at secondary school, the disturbing experience of witnessing a sudden death, and an extended sequence of poems where the Arctic cold is used as a metaphor for the repression faced by gay men in a homophobic and closeted society have a massive emotional punch precisely because of the precision and economy of his storytelling and his elimination of any hint of self-pity or attention-seeking.

It’s even outer and prouder than Nice, with poems like Straight Pub and Flamboyant skewering the patronising, insulting heteronormativity of those who’re “not homophobic” but who would reduce gay men to exotic background colour or sitcom jokes, powerfully political poems like The Doors and Steadfast reminding of the external and internal repression, discrimination and persecution that gay people still face globally, and poems about Tom Daley, a beautiful shoplifter, shirtless roofers and ex-boyfriends unashamedly celebrating the beauty of the male form.

This wide-ranging,mature, screamingly funny, but also heartbreakingly serious book ought to be on everyone’s Christmas list.

Zebra can be bought here http://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/zebra
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Zebra

My new book Zebra is out now! I’m hugely proud of it. I believe that it contains some of my best writing, and I can’t wait for other people to read it and let me know what they think.

Zebra is a book several years in the making. Not only does it contain more of my comedy poems including some old classics as well as newer pieces, but it also contains my more serious work as well as material from my two Edinburgh shows, Static and Juicy. It’s a layered, textured book, which really gets a grip on life and what it means to be alive. There are one or two deeply autobiographical pieces, dealing with growing up in the suburbs of Surrey, first love, school, as well as a poem written five minutes after learning of the death of David Bowie. There’s also plenty of merrymaking and whimsy, of course, playfulness and poetry.

So why is it called Zebra? There are several reasons, not least that it’s named after a poem of mine which I used to perform while sharing stage with a cardboard Zebra. At the Barnstaple Fringe a few years ago the cardboard Zebra started getting a bit ragged so a friend and and I went round the art and craft shops of Barnstaple to find some gaffer tape to fix it. On the way home from Barnstaple my friend’s car had its sump guard fall off, and the zebra gaffer tape saved the day! He used it to stick the sump guard back on. The other reason is that it’s a nod to one of my favourite groups, Yello, who had an album called Zebra. Everything I used to write at the time was done to that cd. I must have been about nineteen.

I’m enormously proud of Zebra!

You can purchase your copy wherever you see me, or here http://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/zebra

Noel Harley

Yesterday being Remembrance Sunday, I was thinking of my Great Uncle Noel, about whom I knew very little except that he died during the Second World War. Ever since I was a kid, I’d seen his name on the war memorial next to Virginia Water Station, without really knowing much about him.

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By chance I was scrolling through a Facebook group for the area in Surrey where I grew up, only to see someone had mentioned him in a posting about Remembrance Day services. I got in touch with the person who had made the post comment to discover that she is a relative on my mothers side. We chatted online about my Great Uncle, who was also her Uncle.

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Noel was 22 when he died, in 1943. He was stationed in North Africa, working on clearing mines in advance of an assault, an operation which took place in pitch black on a night in which there was no moon. Added to this there was fog and also significant dust thrown into the air by the movement of the tanks, and the lorry in which Noel was travelling collided with a stationary tank. He was buried at the Al Alamein Military Cemetery in Egypt.

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I’d never known any of the details. His death was just one of millions and there are now very few people alive who would have known him. My distant cousin was kind enough to email me some documents and photographs about Noel. And this is when something very strange occurred.

It’s long been a spooky fact that I share my birthday not only with my dad, but also my uncle and my grandfather, Noel’s brother Alfred. And while my uncle and my dad are twins and come from the other side of my family, it’s always been a little odd that three generations of us have the same birth date. I opened the email from my cousin to find a scan of Noels birth certificate, only to see, remarkably, that he was also born on January the second.

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This strange fact, this weird coincidence, had been hidden for all of these last few years, and only my late Grandfather would probably have known this. Every time he celebrated his birthday, he would have remembered his younger brother Noel, who died when he would have been about thirty years old.

It certainly makes me think about fate, if such a thing exists, but also about the life that he, and many others, did not have.

Static : The Script

Hello,

Here’s the script of my first solo show, Static. It hasn’t got the poems in it, but I thought people might like to read the in between material.

It was performed on several occasions throughout 2016 and on one occasion in 2017 in Torquay, Exeter, Bristol, Edinburgh, Guldford and Totnes.

It was all a bit wobbly but I had great fun with it, and it was the mist autobiographical thing I’ve written.

STATIC
Robert Garnham

Robert is in the performance space with a small battery radio tuned loudly to static.

Poem : ‘Static / Wind’

I tell you what, it gives you the willies. 

Thinks about things for a while. Opens performance book.

Poem: ‘The Increasing Physical Dexterity of Justin Bieber’

2009.
Feeling so damn unique. There’s nobody like me in the world! That sensation of circumstance, geography and time being in just the right alignment to create me, and me alone. And there’s poetry in my chest, it’s beating away, pounding out strange rhythms with the absolute promise of being such an individual, that I might one say change society and make a real difference to the world!

Putting pen to paper. Oh, you brave poet! Your words will echo like an aftershock, an earthquake as time itself bends in on you with your uniqueness, like Lord Byron with a megaphone, Wordsworth with an attitude, Ted Huges on the ten o clock news shaking his fists at convention.

2016
Seven years of writing poetry and discovering that there’s nothing really unique about me after all.

Seven years of writing poetry about minor trips out to the dentist, mild personal discomfort and vacuum cleaners. Seven years of looking in the mirror every morning and saying, Yeah, that’ll do. Seven years of my work being compared to that of John Betjeman, usually by people who say things like, ‘His work is not as good as that of John Betjeman’.

Seven years static. A life spent going nowhere.

(Sit)

I want this show to be one of those worthy shoes, you know, where you learn all about me as a person and all of my shortcomings. I suppose my first shortcoming is that I was born in Surrey, a county so bland and so irrelevant that absolutely nothing newsworthy or interesting has ever happened there. And that’s a fact. Look it up in the history books, if you like. Nothing interesting has ever happened in Surrey. My birth there in 1974 coincided with the resurfacing of the Guildford bypass, whereas here in the same year you of course had the Olympics. Oh, and later that year my aunt saw a badger.

I was brought up with this sense of low expectations and the absolute blandness of existence. Even my name is boring. Robert Garnham. I sound like an estate agent. I like to think that I was named after my dad’s favourite singer, Bob Dylan, who is of course, Robert Zimmerman, and this at least makes me a little bit excited about being called Robert. But at the time I was born my aunt worked in the factory making Robert’s Radios in Molesey. I can imagine the decision-making process that led to my parents choosing such a boring name.

(Improvised family conversation involving Robert’s Radios).

Robert sits in the chair as his own mother while feeding a baby, presumably Robert. He stands to indicate when his father is speaking.

I suppose I got off lightly. My Uncle worked for a fork lift truck company called Lansing Bagnall.

Robert builds a theremin on the table out of a corn flakes packet, two Wellington boots, a tape machine. He plays the theremin.

Let’s try and . . .

The tape machine interrupts him. Improvised silliness with the tape machine.

School was hell.

Poem : ‘2 Abbey 1’

(Stand)

I grew up in a house on a hill. Three generations, six of us in a two-up, two-down cottage surrounded by woods in the hills of Surrey. From the back bedroom window at night I could see the whole of West London. In the evenings I’d tune my radio through the static to the jazz stations, sit there for hours in the heat and the humidity of the sticky forest Surrey summer, and gaze at the neon and the road signs and the motorway lights.

Poem: ‘The Prince of Belgium’

Apart from being gay, that was.

(Sit).

And oh, mamma! I was very gay. I was probably the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. Yet my whole suburban mindset dictated that I should stay in the closet and not tell anyone because this was Surrey and people didn’t really want to know about such things, they were too busy buying bowler hats and going to wife swapping parties and voting for weird Conservatives and because of that I thought there was something wrong, a strange error in the system which just affected me. I knew that everything had to change but the time was never right.

It took a few years, and I came out to my friends first. They were surprisingly supportive, but at the same time they were incredibly surprised. Even though I’d been the gayest thirteen year old that Surrey had ever seen. You see, by the time I was twenty, I was a completely different person.

In fact, it still comes as a complete surprise when people discover that I’m one of those gay people that you hear about. I think, personally, it’s because I’m so macho, and manly, and tough, and masculine, and something of a hard nut. I think, basically, it’s because I’m a stud.

(Stand).

Though to be honest, I’ve always felt like a gay man trapped in the body of a bus driver.

I always wonder what my friends thought about that whole gay thing.

Poem : ‘Not Flamboyant’

I was set up on a blind date suggested by mutual friends and we hit it off immediately. At the time I was a part time shop assistant, and he was a trampoline salesman. Looking back now I see that he was incredibly patient with me. In fact he even said that it was what inside that counts, and that to him looks weren’t . . .

Hmmm.
Come to think of it, he charged me twenty quid.

Poem : ‘The First Time’

So I came out. And I had oodles of sex. And I masturbated a hell of a lot. It’s hard to believe looking at me now but when I was 18 to 20 I was a very attractive young slip of a thing with a trendy haircut and a face lit up with the evident joys of life. I always wondered what my first partner would be like and I would daydream about the usual ones, bearing in mind that this was the early 1990s. Peter Davison from Doctor Who, or Chesney Hawkes, or for some weird reason, foreign secretary Douglas Hurd. My first proper partner was a young man called Jamie, a slightly taller, thinner version of Lance from Neighbours. He invited me back to his place ostensibly to show me his collection of Star Trek memorabilia. I knew it was about to get really interesting when he took me up to his bedroom to let me see his collection of phasers.

Poem : ‘Jamie’.

Oh, when I look back on it now it’s like I was doing it all the time. But as I’ve got older, I’ve shown less and less interest in these matters. Things have slowed down. I’ve slowed down. I’ve become static.

I feel like there’s this sense that my life is going nowhere. I’m now officially middle aged and there’s a huge list of things that I’ve never done.

(The list is written on cards. Robert dances and improvises as he unveils them).

I’ve never bought a house.
Learned to drive.
Fallen in love.
Had a promotion.
Earned the respect of my contemporaries.
Had a jacket dry cleaned.
Hosted a barbecue.
Owned a sofa.
Walked a dog.
Got married and had kids.
Bought a round in a pub.
Used a power drill.
Been arrested.
Paid a bribe to council bin men.
Used an axe.
Slapped a yak.

When I look at my life I’m tempted to think that I haven’t done much with it. I don’t have a fancy job or a nice big house or a big throbbing monster of a car. In fact all of the things that seem to drive successful people seem to have passed me by.

And I’m ok with this.

It lets me concentrate on the important aspects of living, like sleeping and biscuits and buying hair gel.

Here’s a diagram to illustrate my thinking on this.

(Improvised diagram and flip chart section).

I’m about as camp as an oak tree. I’m about as flamboyant as Ryvita.

(Look left and right as if imparting a secret).

Yet I see wonder and amazement everywhere. I watched a documentary once in which it was pointed out that the echoes and shockwaves from the Big Bang which created existence itself can still be heard as static on a radio receiver. The idea of this has always interested me immensely. I may be just a poet, but I’ve always wanted to probe the origins of life and existence and make my own little mark on the world. The work of the large hadron collider, I believe, will ultimately shed new light on the mysteries of the universe, and I try to muck in and help where I can.

So for you, ladies and gentlemen, and for science in general, and for deeper understanding, I’m going to construct a large hadron collider right now, right here, on stage.

Robert takes a length of garden hose, a camera, a biscuit on a plate, and attempts to create a black hole by smashing atoms together in the garden hose. He finishes by holding up photos on his ipad of the resulting smashed atoms.

Of course, I would need a proper scientist to tell me what this all means.

It’s all connected. Everything is connected. Time and memory, light and shade, and all those atoms spinning around, radio signals from the original Big Bang, and me, me as a young man with all that wonder and amazement, I’m still that person only I’ve channelled it all elsewhere, the parts of it that haven’t been ground down by the finer detail of living, every now.

Yet I’m also aware that the world I live in is freer and more open and accepting than other parts of the world, and that’s what this next poem is about.

Poem: ‘The Doors’
Poem: ‘Badger in the Garden’

Robert performs the performance piece ‘Static’ which starts with the radio being switched on again.

The whole piece is delivered with the radio on. At the end of the piece, Robert packs away all of the paraphernalia and sits on the chair with the radio in his lap. He turns it off.