In today’s episode Robert goes along the beach in Paignton for a walk next to the sea and performs two poems. One of them is about a chap called Bill, who just wants to make some noise. The other is about a man who sees a ghost, ooooo!
In today’s podcast, Robert is still walking in the woods. He ponders on a scummy pond, a glimpse of London through the trees, and reads a poem about Icarus.
Robert Garnham goes for a walk in the woods, reminisces about magpies, and reads a poem about the summer solstice and a petrol station.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been making videos of some of the short poems that I’ve been writing. Usually little more than a minute long, they give me a chance to have a little fun! I hope you like them.
So today I performed my annual New Year’s Day poetry extravaganza. And as I’m staying in Brixham at the Muv’s, this took place in the room at the back of her garage where I normally rehearse, a place I have nicknamed the ‘Sunrise Rehearsal Studio’. I can make as much noise as I like in there and nobody can hear me, because the room is not attached to or near any other building.
The day before, I’d kind of made a New Year’s Resolution, which had two parts to it. The first is to concentrate more on comedy poetry, the second is to have fun performing. The first part of this resolution has come about because I feel that, over the last couple of years and especially since lockdown and the pandemic, I have spent most of my time doing things other than comedy poetry. And yes, while it’s great to experiment and try other things, I was just kidding myself that any of these were worth unleashing on an audience. Serious poems, serious pieces of writing, various artworks and ideas which had at least taken me out of my comfort zone, were the speciality of proper artists and proper poets who have made a career out of such a manner of expression. The one thing I’m good at, hopefully, and known for, is making people laugh through poetry and performance. And I hadn’t done nearly enough of this since the end of 2019.
The second part of the resolution is to have fun performing. I know this sounds a bit weird, what with my performance being very silly, comedic and clowning, but I’d spent far too much time concentrating on performance and theory and effect and not nearly enough on enjoying the process.
So today’s gig in the Sunrise Rehearsal Studio allowed me to have fun in the silliness of what I was doing and, hopefully, in such a way, connect with the audience. And once I’d made this pact with myself to enjoy what I was doing, well, wouldn’t you know, I started to really enjoy what I was doing!
2022 is here, now. And I have no idea where it will go or what will happen. I have a couple of projects on the go which might lead to something wonderful, or then again, they might not. But I’m determined that I shall have lots of fun along the way. I hope to see you out there in poetry land, too.
Happy new year to everyone, and here’s to a better future!
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is of Beryl Reid eating a wagon wheel. An actual wagon wheel.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is of the crank handle of an old jalopy.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is of Samuel Beckett breakdancing in the cafe at a garden centre next to the narcissi.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is apppatently an advert for Dreadnought Sheep Dip.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a monk trying to feed a jacket to a horse.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows a small field just outside of Norwich and some of the adjacent lay-by.
Today’s advent calendar picture shows Skippy the Kangaroo waiting for an exhaust manifold to be fitted to his Ford Capri. One of the mechanics is Liam Gallagher. It’s raining. The Irn Bru drinks machine has an Out of Order notice on it written in calligraphy. The man in the office behind a glass window is sad because nobody appreciates his calligraphy.
Today’s advent calendar picture shows kylie Minogue as reimagined in Fuzzy Felt
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is of Inspector Poirot looking for a pair of scissors to open the packaging that his newly bought pair of scissors have come in.
Today’s advent calendar is a picture of a colander. It’s an advent colander.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture is very minimalist and shows a penguin at the South Pole looking very quizzically at a harp.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows the starboard spark plugs of a coal barge.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows the Easter bunny.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows a duck behind the wheel of a 1986 Opel Manta being stopped by a policeman who happens to be a ferret, whose pointing at a speed limit sign which says 30mph, while a badger walks past pushing a prom inside of which is a lobster baby, while the other side of the road there’s a kangaroo which, inexplicably, is walking a dog.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows a selection of different pasta shapes laid out in size order next to a Philips screwdriver, presumably for scale.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows the bearded captain of the bulk carrier MSC Mercury Thora Hird on the bridge behind the wheel, but he’s vogueing, Madonna style, while his First Mate captures the whole thing on his mobile phone, as the other crew on the bridge clap and cheer. They’re obviously intending to upload it to Tiktok.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows an exasperated theatre director shouting at an ostrich through a megaphone on a theatre stage. Muscles are bulging in his neck. The ostrich has fluffed another line in the big monologue and will have to start again. The ostrich can barely hide its contempt. The play they are rehearsing is called Up My Left Trouser Leg.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows an advent calendar.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows a moment of hilarity on the novelty farting gnome production line. Doris has put one of them on her head and is doing a silly little dance to Cher’s Believe, everyone’s laughing, though she doesn’t realise that her supervisor is standing right behind her. This is the third time she’s done such a thing in the last week. The manufacture of novelty farting gnomes is a serious business, doesn’t she understand? And why is it necessary to add the word ‘novelty’?
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows the Three Wise Men having stopped off to buy scratch cards , are leaning on a post box and furiously scratching them with 10p coins.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows an argument at the crunch nut corn flake production line because the manager has sped up the conveyor belt and they’ve obviously started falling off on to the floor, there are boxes everywhere, tempers are fraying, arms raised, red faces, bulging veins in necks, and nobody has noticed that a lion has just sauntered in through the door.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows a runaway flat bed truck with about fifty standard lamps balanced on the back making its way driverless through the giraffe enclosure at a safari park. The giraffes are curious, of course, and somewhat envious of these long necked mechanical objects. Maud from the adjacent tea hut looks up from her urn, she’s pointing to the large net that she’s kept just for a situation like this.
Today’s Advent Calendar picture shows Yogi Bear lying flat on his face with a tranquilliser dart stuck in his rump, in the meat aisle at Morrison’s. He’s riffled the chiller cabinet and made a hell of a mess.
When the beer’s been a flow
And I need to go
To a room of urinals
All tight in a row,
To lessen that pressure,
That busting to pee
To feel that relief
So heavenly free,
But I’ll tell you this once and you’ll probably not care
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
He’s burly of course,
He pees with such force
Like Niagara Falls,
It sounds like a horse.
He lets out a groan
So at ease as he pees
It’s holding me back,
I want to shout, please!
Leave me alone, it’s really not fair!
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
I wish he’d just dash,
I’d offer hard cash.
All I wanted to do
Was go for a slash.
But my waterworks clam,
They’re ever so fickle.
Nothing comes out,
Not even a trickle.
I stand like a statue in a pose of despair.
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
I’ve always been weak
And ever since meek
And never more so
Than when having a leak.
With a bloke so butch
He looks like King Kong
My god how on Earth
Has this gone so wrong?
He’s still weeing now, I want to peak and not stare,
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
I feel like a loser
He looks like a bruiser
This happens each time
I go to the boozer.
One moment I’m sitting
With Daphne and Jenny
But then oh my god
I must spend a penny.
I’m jealous of how he can wee with such flair
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
It doesn’t make sense
I’m feeling so tense
And that’s kind of why
I concoct the pretence
That I’ve had my wee
I find myself trusting
Not to let on at all
That I’m actually still busting
I’d best keep it in and just utter a prayer
I can’t go if there’s someone else there.
For reasons which are too tiresome to go into, I decided to purchase a fake beard. I’d done a bit of research online and I’d noted the differences between those that use elastic around the back of the head, and those which clip around the ears. On various websites, the convention seemed to be that those which clip were the most durable, as the elastic ones are prone to perishing with repeated use. I don’t know why someone would want to use a fake beard repeatedly, it probably being more prudent in the long run actually to grow a beard, but in any case, and pondering on the pros and cons of all the various permutations of fake beard construction and design, I set off into town, intent on making a purchase.
One of the fun parts of online research had been the reviews of fake beards left by previous customers on the various websites. ‘A tendency to itch . .’, for example, or ‘Amazing! Looked just like the real thing!’, on another. ‘It fitted right over the top of my normal beard with no problem at all! Nobody suspected a thing’, read another, or, ‘Terrile! The elastic snapped on only its second usage and almost had the eye out of the ambassadors wife’. The funniest customer review for a fake beard came from a young lady called Samantha who wrote, ‘I originally got this for a costume for myself, but didn’t use it. My son ended up wearing it to dress up as an old man in his first grade class. It worked well and stayed on for most of the day. But beware: this does not look real in the slightest’. Well, it wouldn’t, would it?’.
The fake beard can trace its heritage back to the days of the Yukon gold rush of 1896. In this rugged environment up in the frozen north, the vast majority of potential prospectors arrived clean shaven before making the perilous journey into the wilds, armed with little more than hope and a good shovel. As the winter set in the more rugged among them sprouted impressive beards, and as the famous rhyme points out, the bigger the beard, the more they were feared. In this environment of deep cold and lawlessness, a man was judged solely on the volume, mass and bushyness of his facial hair, and only those who made the grade were unmolested by rival prospectors, bandits, thieves, ne’er do wells, robbers and the perennially shifty. And those without beards didn’t stand a chance.
Gordon McKirk saw a niche in the market and, with his patented glue made from fir tree sap, and a healthy supply of skunk pelts, began to sell fake beards to the prospectors. His Klondike tin shack set up between brothels became one of the most visited businesses of the gold rush, new arrivals making a beeline straight from the steamers and through the mountains to his shop in order to cultivate the manly frontier look. Gordon himself would offer a bespoke fitting service, matching the skunk pelts perfectly with the various chins presented to him, applying the sap glue with a small brush and applying the fake beard before revealing to the customer their new look by means of a mirror hidden behind the curtain. Alas, this was a trick, as the mirror actually was a portrait of one of a number of existing rugged gold prospectors, such as Dangerous Dan McHiggins, Dangerous Dan McKinley, Dangerous Dan McNish, Dangerous Dan McFortescue, or Toby Simpson, who wasn’t particularly dangerous, but he did have a big beard. In actual fact, all of the gold prospectors who left Gordon McKirks shop looked more or less the same, smelling of fir tree sap and skunk pelt, and would promptly get robbed the moment they set foot outside the shop.
Alas, Gordon himself was to succumb in 1898, when, blinded by the various pungent aromas of his skunk pelts, and deafened by the constant honky tonk music coming from the brothels on either side of his Emporium, he tried to fit one of his fake beards to a full grown adult male grizzly bear.
When I was a kid my next door neighbour was a kindly old lady called Celia. She lived alone and kept herself to herself for the most part, though she did volunteer for a couple of days a week listening to children read at the local primary school. She also was quite deaf, and her voice would get higher and higher the longer the sentence that she was speaking. So for example she might say, ‘I was walking through the town the other day and I Thought I Might But Some Daffodils SO I DID AND I MUST SAY THEY’VE STARTED TO COME UP AND THEY LOOK SPLENDID!! But the most unusual thing about Celia was that she always had fake beards hanging on her washing line.
There were always at least seven of them. And you would never see her wearing any of them, which was the weirdest thing. In all other regards she was quite normal and genial, and she was a churchgoing lady who was admired by the local community for the most part.
Of course, there were rumours about why she would have fake beards hanging from her washing line, the suspicion was that she was helping out with the local amateur dramatics society, but she had never shown any inclination towards the arts or any interest in theatre whatsoever.
At about this same time there was a series of cars being held up late at night by an armed individual, a lone figure who for one reason or another became known as the Masked Monk of Maidenhead. It was always something of a mystery why he should be known as the Masked Monk of Maidenhead, as there was nothing particularly Monk like about his reported appearance, and nor did the miscreant operate anywhere near Maidenhead. Rumours then began to persist that Celia, my own next door neighbour, was actually the Masked Monk of Maidenhead, what with all the fake beards hanging on her washing line. It didn’t matter that not one report of the Masked Monk of Maidenhead mentioned any facial hair, fake or otherwise. Nevertheless, rumours persisted and Celia started to become a suspect.
‘It’s just my fluffy BUNTING’, she would say. ‘Every day is a celebration so WHY NOT PUT OUT BUNTING? AND WHY NOT MAKE IT FLUFFY?’ Let’s face it, we’ve all heard of Normal Bunting and the WORLD NEEDS CHEERING UP AND I’M THE ONE TO DO IT!’
As is usual in these situations, the truth was even stranger than fiction and there was a clearer story at the heart of Celia and her fluffy bunting. And bizarrely, it did involve the Masked Monk of Maidenhead.
As I say, she was a church going, god fearing lady, who also did charitable work every now and then for the local monastery. Of the ten monks who lived there, three were bearded. Living by rules which stipulated anonymity, every time the monks appeared in public, they had to look the same so that they were compelled not to form emotional attachments to ordinary people and be swayed from the path of their teachings. Celia would, therefore, provide them with a beard washing service so that they could go about their religious piety freed from the constraints of picking bits of fake beard from the filters of their tumble dryers. When one of their number rebelled against this doctrine and formed an unhealthy obsession with an optician named Brenda, he was ostracised from the religious order and would spend the rest of his time flagging down passing motorists, demanding from them use of their laundry facilities.
Of course, this might all be rumour and inneundo, and to be honest, Celia is probably long dead now.
Alexander the Great, allegedly, was a prolific wearer of fake beards. In the days when he was seen out and about while wearing one of them, he was apparently known just as Alexander the Average. A ruler of the known world by the time he was thirty, Alexander appears in statues, artwork and on coins clean shaven and looking pretty damn hot, yet contemporary accounts always mention him stroking his beard. It is not pointed out whether he was wearing the beard at the time that he was stroking it, or if this was just a mistranslation. What is clear is that many historians suggest he would take time away from the rigours of his court and duties, his lovers and soldiers and necessary admin, don a fake beard, and slip into the busy city streets of Babylon in search of open mic comedy nights.
It is not known whether or not Alexander graces the stages of such institutions himself, or whether he preferred just to sit at the back and heckle. But there are accounts of a comedian from this time, known as Alexander the Great Ninny, who was more of an observational comedian and whose act was much mimicked by such later comedians as Mark Twain and Queen Victoria. One of Alexander the Great Ninny’s Jokes runs as follows:
‘What’s the big deal with conquering Persia? What’s that all about? If you really want to set yourself a challenge, try sorting out the Babylonian annual theatre festival. On the one hand, you’ve got bloodshed, screaming, decapitation, impaling, horror and massive human suffering, and on the other, you’ve got the conquering of Persia’.
Now naturally, this is kind of joke that nowadays has been done to death, with a punchline that you can see a mile off, but at the time it was all new and, contemporary accounts attest, Alexander the Great Ninny would then end each set by tugging his fake beard down, revealing a glimpse of his actual face, and saying, ‘Guess who, folks!’, before scampering off stage to thunderous applause.
So as I say, I decided to go out and buy a fake beard. To be honest, as I left my house the other day I felt excited by the prospect of buying a fake beard and this put something of a spring in my step. I walked with a bit of a smile on my face, the sort of smile which told the world that I was off out to buy a fake beard. I’ve often seen this smile on the faces of other people, and I can always tell what it is that they’re up to, and now it was my turn to have this smile. And those with beards, fake or otherwise, often have the same smile but it’s hidden away from the world. Hidden behind their beards. The smiles might even be fake, as fake as the beards that they hide behind. A philosopher might say, we’r all hiding behind fake beards.
There’s a joke shop in the town where I live. Mister Happy’s Jocular Palace. It has costumes and party accessories as well as Jokes, and for a joke shop, it’s run by the most miserable man I’ve ever met. How tough life must be for him, a man with no sense of humour, spending his entire life running a joke shop. Unless, this itself is the joke. Perhaps he has found the best way to live his life, like a miserable comedian, a man who draws out laughter from the world but hides behind his own ennui,
So I go in to his shop and he looks up from his newspaper. He probably doesn’t get many customers on a Wednesday morning. I walk past the whoopie cushions and the fake noses, the plastic dog turds and the squirty lapel flowers, to a display of fake beards hanging in packets on the wall. And there were so ,at different types of fake beard. Stick on fake beards, hook behind the ear fake beards, elastic strap fake beards, short fake beards, long fake beards, fake goatees, grey fake beards, brown fake beards, white fake beards, and all kinds of different length, from just a couple of inches to ones that came down halfway down your chest, there was every conceivable kind of fake beard you can think of.
Mister Happy puts down his newspaper and ambles over.
‘I’m looking for a fake beard’, I told him.
‘How long do you want it?’, he asked,
‘Just for the night’, I replied.
On how I learned to love writing short stories again
The only thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. When I was a kid, I’d write all the time. For me, the most wonderful thing in the world was a new notebook with all of its blank pages and the limitless possibilities of the words that would fill it up. If there was one thing I really enjoyed, it was making people laugh because of what they were reading, knowing that it was my own words that had caused such merriment. I remember my English teacher, Mr. Smith, encouraging me to write, and I’d show him my stories and he’d sit and read them to himself and every now and then he would laugh. And I’d always ask him what it was that had made him laugh.
During my teenage years I discovered existentialism and I forgot all about wanting to make people laugh. I just wanted to be seen as a deep thinker, a modern Camus or Kafka astounding people with my weighty philosophic intellect. The only things missing were a beret, and a weighty philosophic intellect. This ‘phase’ took a few years to get over.
In my twenties, I moved to Devon and joined a writers’ circle, and for the first time I would be reading out my words to other people. And when they laughed, it was the most magical feeling in the world. I spent all my spare moments writing, in my first flat, which was on the third floor of a spooky gothic mansion, and I’d sit there all evening and write and write and write, endless short stories which I’d then immediately file away, and sometimes not even print off.
Education came late to me, and I spent seven years doing an undergraduate course, and then two years doing postgraduate, all by distance learning, so writing took a back seat but I’d still have a crack at it if I had a spare few moments, though I’d never look at what I’d written once it was done. And as soon as my education was over, I discovered comedy performance poetry and the deep joy of being on stage and making people laugh.
Of course, this was a pivotal moment, because now I was getting paid and travelling all over the UK, spreading comedy and joy and meeting wonderful people. Indeed, the last thirteen years have been a magical experience and I never thought that I’d be in such a position. The fact that I make strangers laugh and enjoy life, if only for a few minutes, makes me feel incredibly privileged.
A couple of years ago, I went back to writing short stories. The only difference now was that, thanks to this thing called the ‘internet’, which wasn’t around when I was younger, I could now submit the end results. And wow, the response has been amazing. I’ve had short stories published all over the place, from magazines such as Stand and Defenestration, to Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter and Jersey Devil. Indeed, I have even been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in the USA, which is where most of my work is published.
But the most amazing thing of all is that some of the stories I’ve had published were ones I’d written twenty five or thirty years ago. Stand, one of the most respected magazines in the UK, have agreed to publish a story of mine next year which I wrote one evening at that old gothic flat. Black Moon magazine have just published one which I remember reading to the writers’ circle all those years ago. I’m absolutely astounded that these old stories are finding a new lease of life, while at the same time a little sad that I wasn’t brave enough to send them off at the time, as a nerdy twenty something.
So what’s my point with this essay? I suppose it’s ‘never give up on your dreams’, or something trite like that. Or at the very least, ‘give it a go, because you never know’. I was deeply unsure of myself for most of my young adult life and this has continued to some extent. I certainly don’t feel like I have a sense of entitlement but I’m at least glad that I am now a little braver when it matters.
And writing? I still love it, as much as I did when I was a kid!
Are you coming?
Yes I’m coming
Are you going?
Only if you’re going
I’m going if you’re going
Are you coming?
I don’t know if I’m going.
I don’t know if I’m coming or going.
Are you going to
Only if you’re going to too.
Who’ll be there?
I’ll be there
Will you be there
If you’ll be there
We’ll be there
Even if he’s there
You know who he is
I don’t know who he is
Will he be there
I don’t know if he’ll be there if I
Don’t know who he is.
Will he be there?
Sorry about that lol
No probs lol
Tried my best lol
Can’t be helped lol
These things happen lol
Smiley face lol.
Taxi or bus?
Bus or taxi?
Taxi taxi taxi
Bus bus bus
Uber is Uber
Never heard if Uber
Shall we take an Uber
How do you take an Uber?
Do you take an Uber with food or water?
Yeah, what’s an Uber
I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Uber
I once took an Uber and my Uber was a Ford puma
Oh it was a puma Uber
I once took an Uber and my Uber was a Subaru.
Do they have Ubers in Cuba?
Try underneath the ironing board it was there last time I looked
Sorry that was for someone else, lol.
Smiley face. Lol.
What do you mean puma Uber?
I don’t think I’ll go if he’ll be there
He won’t be there
You said he’d be there
I didn’t say he’d be there
Someone said he’d be there
Yes I’ve heard of Uber
I said he might be there
Might he be there
He might not be there
I’m not going there if he might be there
My cousin uses Uber
Try underneath the sideboard then
He probably won’t be there
Who won’t be there?
He won’t be there
But he might be there
He might indeed be there
It’s a chance you’ve got to take
I might not go
Well I’m not going if you’re not going
And I’m not going if both of you aren’t going
So who’s going?
I’m not going
Nor am I
Not if he’ll be there
And you won’t be there
Who’ll be there?
You know who
I don’t know who, do you?
So whose actually going?
Still, it’s nice to spend time at home, isn’t it?
Hey everyone I’ve booked an Uber for seven.