Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

I don’t know what’s happening with spoken word in Torbay at the moment, but there seems to be a remarkable increase in energy and interest which is quite thrilling to see. This last month, both Stanza Extravaganza and Big Poetry, the two spoken word nights in Torquay, were standing room only and sold out. Both had audiences that were bigger than the actual venues, which is certainly a nice problem to have.

I was chatting with Brenda Hutchings as she gave me a lift home, and she was of the opinion that spoken word audiences in Torbay now see it as normal that they should come to such a night and expect comedy poetry. I believe she’s right, and that this is a local thing, a peculiar speciality just of the Torbay scene. Audience members in Bristol, London, even Exeter, do not automatically expect that what they are about to see will necessarily make them laugh, and that if this happens, then it’s just a bonus. However, Torbay’s audiences expect to be entertained and to have a laugh. This is not to say that serious poetry and serious issues are not tolerated. Indeed, serious content is magnified by such expectations. Witness, for example, the rapturous response to Melanie Crump’s poem about women’s rights and empowerment.

Not only do there seem to be a lot of comedic poets in Torbay, but they are diverse and funny in their own unique way. Melanie Crump and Brenda Hutchings can both be hilariously funny and also deeply serious and emotional. Steve O uses props for incredible effect, Tom Austin uses props and costumes, Joanna Hatfull uses rhyme and storytelling, Shelley Szender explores her material in a relaxed and relatable manner. Both myself and Samantha Boarer, my co host at Big Poetry, look at life and relationships and erotic issues within our work juxtaposing the everyday with the downright filthy.

Part of the success of the local comedy poetry scene is the curating policy of Big Poetry. Each night is put together with one eye on the holistic effect of so many diverse performers, but a big philosophy of the night is to include comedy poets. As well as the local Torbay performers, we invite the funniest poets from Exeter and Plymouth, Totnes and further afield, such as Julie Mullen, Ross Bryant and Jackie Juno, and they become as much a part of Big Poetry as the venue itself. Each has their own loyal following.

I’ve written before of the perculiar nature of the local scene. The poetry nights at the Blue Walnut started almost ten years ago and the emphasis was always on experimentation and comedy, thanks to performers such as Chris Brooks, Bryce Dumont, and the previously mentioned Tom Austin, who would push the performance envelope and be as downright weird as they possibly could be. It was this atmosphere that attracted me to performance and it was with these people that I crafted my own act and stage persona. I can think of nowhere else in the country where these elements hold sway in such a tight geographical location.

We are also very lucky to have some fine poets whose styles are so different and diverse as to add a singular touch to any evening, such as Becky Nuttall, who does an enormous amount for the local art and spoken word scene, and Jason Disley, whose jazz influenced beat poetry is utterly unique. Jason has just started running a new night in Paignton called Speaky Blinders, which is also going from strength to strength and is imbued with the whole Torbay ethos of spoken word as fun. Becky is working hard on various projects bringing art and poetry together, while also running the Stanza Extravaganza poetry nights at the Artizan Gallery.

It’s a thriving scene down here in Torbay, and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it. Our audiences are amazing and without them and their encouragement, the scene would not be quite as vibrant as it is.

Incite, LGBT poetry in London, the city as a beacon

Last night I performed a set at Incite, the LGBT poetry night in London run by Trudy Howson. And what a brilliant night it was, a happy and positive showcase of LGBT voices and concerns.

Trudy makes everyone welcome, greeting every audience member and matching up people who are sitting alone. She encouraged several people to sit together and they spent the night chatting and enjoying the poetry. This led to a very friendly atmosphere in the room, of acceptance and bonhomie.

The gig took place at the Phoenix Artists Club on Charing Cross Road, a fantastic venue in the heart of Londons west end surrounded by theatres, with Old Compton Street, itself the heart of gay London, just across the way. A friend of mine, New York drag act Margoh Channing, performed here a couple of years back and has fond memories of doing so, so I was particularly looking forward to following in her high heel footsteps.

I was also a little bit nervous, as I’d been to this night before as a spectator, and the headline acts were earnest and passionate supporters of LGBT rights and their work tinged with a deep seriousness. And while I’m an LGBT artist myself, I am aware that LGBT rights is just a small part of what I do. I’ve always seen myself as an entertainer rather than a poet, and I wasn’t sure if the audience would get my act at all.

As it happens, it all went rather well. The first couple of minutes were a bit tentative, you could tell that the audience really didn’t know what to think, but halfway through the first poem there was a change and people began laughing along with it. This was helped by the fact that the table at the front of the stage was a trio of lovely more mature ladies who laughed in all the right places, and afterwards thanked me for bringing some comedy to the night.

The other acts were amazing and life affirming, and I found their poetry incredibly inspiring, to hear about so many lives and diverse backgrounds and communities but all with the same motivations, the same problems, the same concerns. Trudy herself spoke of moving to London to find love and acceptance, and it seemed that most of the room had also done the same. There was a glorious cohesiveness to the audience, brought together at the Phoenix Artists Club for the same reason. It’s a shame that the gig was only a couple of hours long.

I left to get my train back to Woking. Walking from Charing Cross Road to Waterloo station, I crossed the bridge and saw London itself, its iconic skyline and skyscrapers lit up, and I thought of all those lost souls who drift into the capital in search of love and fulfilment.

Much Ado about Muffins

Much ado about muffins

A stark yellow light bends oblong from
Faux Edwardian windows
Illuminating each individual cobble of the
Pretend medieval street.
A sign hangs and creaks in the autumn breeze,
An antiquated font black on white,
Much Ado About Muffins.

Derek Dubbins is on duty, dour, he damps down
The desk with a bleach soaked dishcloth,
Rain-macked tourists huddle in the doorway
With rucksacks the wrong way round,
Derek sneers, scrubs harder, his knuckles whiten
While his regular clientele read the Daily Mail
And nod in agreement with the letters to the editor.

This is not the sort of place
Where you might ask for soya milk,
A traditional establishment
Harking back to a past that never was,
A display cabinet of scones,
Jam tarts, a framed photo of Margaret Thatcher
And another of that mad orange-faced gibbon,
You know the one,
And Derek himself, gammon red and
Incensed by subjects as diverse as breast feeding,
Health and safety regulations,
The rights of minority groups,
Croissants.
Nothing makes his blood boil more than the expression,
Live and let live.
In short, he’s a bit of a cock.

But Brad does not know this, Brad,
Eager and carefree and delicately attired
In a plain white tshirt and three quarter length trousers,
Converse all stars with no socks, Brad,
Sunny demeanour, a fervent believer
In the goodness of other souls,
Though quite possibly wearying after the
First ten minutes,
Brad lays his slender and manicured fingers
On the freshly bleached desk and says,
Would it be possible to order a wedding cake?

Why of course, says Derek,
Who’s the lucky bride to be?
Oh, replies Brad, that would be me!
Then let’s out a laugh,
Or my partner, my love, my other half,
Bradley.
What?, Derek asks.
Yes, I know, I call him Bradley
Because otherwise we’d both be called Brad
Nothing worse than shouting out your own name
During an orgasm!

No, he replies,
No, he replies,
No, no, no.
I don’t need your custom here.
I don’t need your cash.
Your ways and whims
Make a mockery of my beliefs,
Just go, just dash,
Before I call the police!
And brandishing his stainless steel cake tongs,
Derek watches
As Brad takes leave.

Silence descends upon Much Ado About Muffins.
Nervous cleared throats
And the occasional rustling
Of the Daily Mail.
All
Is as
It should be.

The dead of night.
A moonless midnight,
A silence so deep it stuns.
The kitchen refrigerator
Quietly hums.
Derek slumbers under his duvet,
Dreaming dreams of a new day
Where people know their place,
How great life would be
If everyone were like he.
He imagines a world without . . .

Fairies
Appear at the kitchen window,
Their dainty wings beat softly on the pane,
Each one emits an iridescent glow
Which sparkles, moves,
They let themselves in
And flutter round the room,
Twelve of them
Waving their magic wands,
Light as air.
Gary, Bruce, Dave, John, John, Roger,
John, Dave, Bruce, Gary, Roger and Sebastian.

They land on the marble work top.
Ok, girls, says Bruce,
You know what to do.
We’re here to celebrate
A love that’s true.
Let’s use our fairy dust
And bake with all our might
And feel proud of our efforts
At the end of the night.
Let’s get to work, let’s light the lamp,
It’s like then shoemaker and the elves
But a little more camp!

Ok, girls,
Let’s do this!

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

The fairies sit back and gaze at their efforts.
A triple tiered masterpiece with icing gently
Soulful like a rococo palace,
By turns baroque and stately, it stands as a
Testament to the love which
Propels the planet itself throughout its lonely orbit.
We shall bring Brad first thing, says Bruce,
Show him his cake, and then,
Our work here will be done.

At that moment the fairies hear
The trundling lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Fe, fi, fo, fum,
I’m off to have a dump.

Derek spies a suspicious sparkling,
Creaks open the kitchen door,
And there before him, the wedding cake
In all it’s majestic splendour,
The words Congratulations Brad and Bradley
Spiking his heart with a vengeful angst,
He goes bloody ballistic.
Tears into the fresh frosting and flings it, frantically,
Out the back door and into the yard
Where it lands next to the recycling bins.
He turns and stamps back up the stairs,
Stampy stampy stampy,
What an absolute bell-end.

Well, ladies, says Bruce,
No use standing round here all night
With a face like a slapped arse.
You know what to do, my lovelies.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

Again, the fairies stand back to admire their efforts.
In divinity does the cake
Seem to defy gravity, its delicate frosting
Reminiscent of a winters forest,
And equally ethereal the finely spun sugar lacing,
Like dew on a spiders web,
As tentative and timeless as love in all it’s glory ,
Less a cake, and more a hymn to matrimony.
We shall bring Brad first things they say,
So that he can pick up his cake, and then,
Oh then, our work here is done.

At that moment, bugger me,
The trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Hey diddle dee dee,
I’ve come to have a wee!

A moment or so later the second cake
Joins the first in the back yard next to the recycling bins,
Which he never uses anyway,
And most of the fairies can see a pattern forming.

Alright, says Bruce,
We’ll have one last crack at this.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

For a third time, the fairies stand back,
For the cake is a corpulence of crusted creams,
Daintily drizzled with delicious dustings of sweetness,
White with ice frosting, a triple layered dream
Held up with Corinthian columns, finely sculpted
Decorative dainty Daisy chains,
It stands as a hymn to love, a monument to
The deepest adoration, the passion
Which keeps us all from going insane.

A door opens upstairs,
Followed by the trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase,
Tiddly om pom Pom,
I think I’ve got the runs!

There’s silence.
He pushes open the kitchen door,
He sees the cake in all it’s majesty,
Congratulations Brad and Bradley,
And just as he’s about to lunge,
Bruce, the fairy,
Suddenly appears right in front of him,
Lit up in ethereal light in the dark of the kitchen light.

Arghhhh!, says Derek.
You!, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
What the fuck are you, I mean,
Seriously!

I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, says Bruce.
Really?, says Derek.
Naaah, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
Keep away, keep away!
Just what do you want from me?

The fairies surround him, but there’s no menace.
The glow of their wings flits across the ceiling,
Iridescent magic reflecting back from pots and pans.
We want you to love, says Dave.
We want you to cherish life, says Jim.
We want you to open your eyes, says Bruce,
And see that there’s so much else beyond
Your faded jaded introspective worldview.

Love is a dream for many.
Love is a ludicrous nonsense.
Love is the aim of every soul.
Love should never be banished.
Love is a celebration!
Love is the glue that keeps us all sane,
Love is more than just a game.

And love does not care for labels.
Love is a miracle whenever it occurs,
A passion shared is doubled, and it spreads,
Soars, fills the world and builds it up.
There were generations who couldn’t,
The world rattled with their silent screams,
It happens today in places less free,
Hearts torn in twain by the thunder of disapproval,
Lives ruined amid the scream of self righteous bullies.
He who stands against love
Stands against life itself.

There’s a magic in the air
As Derek feels a weight lifted.
He sees the world anew, then stares
Deep into his own soul,
Shudders at what he sees,
Deafening and darkness and the Daily Mail,
Hatred dictated by front page opinions
And the need to appear big.
You’re right, he whispers,
Love shall be celebrated,
And I’d be proud to play my part.

At that moment, a lonely sunbeam
Slants through the window, signals
The dawn of a new day,
And In walks Brad, accompanied by
Gary, Roger and Sebastian.
Proudly, and with a tear in his eye,
Derek announces, here,
With all the blessings of my humble tea shop,
And with honest and newfound best wishes
For a happy life together,
Please accept this
Splendid wedding cake.

Brad smiles, and leaps for joy,
Then bends down and inspects the cake carefully.
That’s very sweet of you, he says,
And it’s a beautiful cake,
But I have a wheat intolerance
And Bradley is allergic to dairy products.

One year as a semi professional spoken word artist

So it’s been almost a year now since I went semi professional and things are going well. I’ve done some amazing things and had some great opportunities, and I’ve glimpsed what it’s like to be a professional self employed artist, and how tentative the financial side of things can be. I feel like I’ve never worked harder. Every decision has to be made with a financial head rather than the usual emotional impulse to do something, whatever the consequences. The admin has taken over my life, in that there are days when I spend hours on end just filling in forms and understanding how things work.

All of this has left me with a deep admiration for those who are full time self employed creatives. We only seem to celebrate them when things go well, when they win big commissions or competitions, when they appear on Britain’s Got Talent and amaze the audience, or win poetry slams, or get parts in plays and films. What we don’t see is the frantic administration behind the scenes, the hours of self doubt and the incredible practice and industry these people put in to get something back.

For me, the result of being self employed is the idea that I have to choose my projects carefully. Every now and then something comes along which I really want to do, but I have to weigh up whether or not if will be a good use of my resources and money. I can no longer flit to a gig the other side of the country just to do an open mic slot like I used to in the old days, because if I did then I wouldn’t have enough money for the rest of the month. However, if I could combine it with another project which makes it financially viable, then I would.

One of the most surprising aspects of being self employed is the fact that I get commissions every now and then. I’ve written bespoke poems for people, for weddings and anniversaries, christening and parties. This week I had a commission and while I was in the shower, some great rhymes came. I went to my desk and spent an hour carefully crafting a poem in memory of someone’s grandmother and was just about to send it to them when I checked the original email. I’d got the name wrong. The real name didn’t even rhyme with anything I’d written. Looking back now, iT was rather comical.

So over the last year I have put together a brand new show with all new material, and taken myself out of my comfort zone with storytelling, serious material and a one hundred percent polyester ringmaster outfit, and then toured it around the UK. I’ve hired small theatres and venues and put together the gigs myself. I’ve taken over a regular spoken word night in Torquay. I’ve become the editor of a comedy online journal, and I’ve been employed as the social media manager for a more serious poetry magazine. It’s been quite a year.

So of course, I’m still semi employed. I still have a job for most of the week, which is where I’m off to now. But the progress I’ve made over the last year fills me with hope, all I need now is to build on what I’ve done, and who knows, there’ll be no stopping me!

In the Glare of the Neon Yak Live from GlasDenbury

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6rmzlnoa8l7j0bg/In%20the%20Glare%20of%20the%20Neon%20Yak%20Glasdenbury%202018.aac?dl=0

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a riproaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is the sparkling new show from spoken word artist, Robert Garnham.

This audio recording was made at the GlasDenbury festival on the hottest day of the year in a tent in a field in the middle of Devon.

A temporary good bye to Edinburgh, and thoughts on In the Glare of the Neon Yak

So yesterday I did my last show of In the Glare of the Neon Yak. And weirdly it was quite an emotional moment. This show has been with me for almost two years. In 2016 I met up with a famous fringe performer for a breakfast meeting about the basics of putting a show together and they gave me the most invaluable advice. On the way home the next day, an idea came in to my mind to set a show on a train. The first idea was to call it Vestibule Dreams, and that it would be the stories of all the people who were crammed into a Vestibule because there weren’t any seats in the carriage.

Several ideas kept rumbling away in my mind including a show based on the local legend from where I grew up, of Herne the Hunter, the mysterious deer who haunts only when England is in crisis or in peril. I wanted to create a similar myth, and the title came to me all of a sudden: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I would subvert the myth. A yak which only appears as a symbol that things will be ok. Those who see the Neon Yak will be assured that everything will turn out alright.

The next stage was that I bought a costume. A ringmasters outfit. And the show started to take place, what if I took the costume, the idea for a show set on a train, the idea for a show about a mysterious Yak, and put them all together? I gave myself four months to write the script, took a week off from work, and wrote the whole thing in five days.

Several parts of the show are nods to people I know. Tony the Train Manager is based on a real person, as is Molly. The train is called the Puddlehopper Express, which was what my dad used to call his car. The train company was called Preyard, which is what my dad calls a certain airline which he used to fly with. Jacques the tight rope Walker and Parsnip the clown are characters from a really bad novel I wrote when I was about thirteen.

In January of this year I started rehearsing. Previous to this year, id never been able to memorise a three minute poem, but I decided to memorise the whole hour show. I have no idea how many hours I spent going over the script. I would go to the gym and memorise the show while I was working out. I also worked with a director, who gave such good advice on movement and speech. The music was put together myself and by Bryce Dumont, who sent me thousands of his music files to plough through.

And so it was launched on the world. The first show at Exeter Phoenix was a bit scratchy in that the tech guy played all the music in the wrong order, but it wasn’t his fault.  Nevertheless the audience liked it, and from Exeter it went to Barnstaple, Bristol, Guildford, Denbury and Gateshead, before a final run through in Torquay, followed by Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has been its normal self. On some days I had quite respectable audiences, on others, two or three people. However, I had some amazing feedback. One of my heroes, the performance drag clown storyteller Dandy Darkly came to one performance, and he said some very nice things about it on social media. And then someone left this amazing review on the Edfringe website:

“If a tree falls in a forest, can dullards in pubs speculate as to the physics of sound? Similarly, if you see an engaging spoken word show that isn’t a search for identity or a lecture that resembles a Year 9 assembly, and only three people see it, does that mean it’s a bad show?

For idiots, the answer is obvious, because they’re idiots. However, for the three of us who watched Robert Garnham’s witty adult fairy story about five characters on a train journey from the West Country, the rewards are many.

Going the whole hog in ringmaster garb, Garnham manages to put across a star-struck train guard, a pie-eating clown-fixated trapeze-artist and his former clown lover plus a unique depiction of homoerotic coitus in the toilet of a Cross Country 125 and a sexting octogenarian all within the structure of a tale about the eponymous creature.

Such ambition and craft deserves Hollie McNish’s audience. She wouldn’t miss it, but we’d miss not having shows like this. It’d be like not having forests.”

And now the Yak is done, and I really can’t believe it. I’ve got used to the characters and they’ve become like friends over the last few months. I’m making plans to tour the show around the uk and anywhere else that shows an interest. But the last scheduled show has been done. And I’m only just starting to realise what an achievement it was. The last show had a large audience and there was a big cheer when it finished, and I must admit, I did feel a little emotional.

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Four

So I’m over halfway through my run now at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s been the usual case of highs and lows, though the highs are not as high as last year (with that whole Guardian joke lost Thing) and the lows are not as low (I arrived with all of my luggage). I’ve had good audiences and bad audiences. I had a day with low attendance but the audience was incredibly enthusiastic and generous with their donations. I’ve had a day with a sizeable audience who just sat there in a stony silence.

As ever it is the camaraderie which makes the fringe. My venue is a complex of seven stages and in other rooms are magicians, actors and comedians, and we all meet up in the room where we store our fliers, and chat about how it’s going. One of them told me that he spends eighty pounds a day hiring four flyerers and then gets audiences of sixty, which more than pays for them, it’s simple economics, he says. He’s a magician. Others are more philosophical and say, well, whatever happens, happens. Going on the advice of the magician, I hired a flyerers for an hour. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

I’ve seen some amazing shows, so far, and I’m aiming to get out today and see some more. In fact I might hold back on the flyering and enjoy a day in Edinburgh. The best thing I’ve seen so far is my favourite spoken word artist, Dandy Darkly, and his show All Aboard, a rip roaring cabaret style digression on politics and social issues delivered in brash camp storytelling. It was utterly transfixing and Dandy remains of the finest performers I’ve ever seen. Fay Roberts show The Selkie was a quieter mystical study of myth and nature.

The other day while I was flyering, someone asked me if there was dancing in my show. I shall only come along, she said, if there’s dancing. Someone else asked me what the weather forecast was, and when I said I didn’t know, she got very angry. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

So I have three more shows to go and a couple of guest spots here and there. And each night I come back to my student flat, cook dinner, drink red wine and ponder on how it has gone. And of course, I think about next year. What can I do next year? Now, what can I do?

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day One

I’m currently on a train heading north towards Edinburgh for the fringe. This is my sixth year as a performer, and my eighth in all, so I’m starting to feel like an Edinburgh veteran. Yet for some reason it seems in inconceivable that I’m going at all this year. I suppose the main reason for this is that I feel more prepared than I have done for years, with a show that I have rehearsed and polished and written specifically for the fringe, rather than a collection of greatest hits. I have also done more promotion work behind the scenes, and worked with a director. My whole year, in fact, the last two years, have been leading up to this, and yet, now I’m on the way, I can hardly believe it.

I stayed in London last night, in a hotel that I’ve been staying in on and off for twenty years. There’s something labyrinthine about the place, with rooms and corridors decorated as if from 1970s Czechoslovakia. There’s a complicated system of dials and knobs next to the bed to work the radio. The bed is surrounded by tongue and groove pine panelling. Every morning for the last twenty years, a man who looks like Leonard Cohen rules the breakfast restaurant with an iron fist, but he wasn’t there this morning. I felt cheated. I hoped that he was okay. It just didn’t seem the same without him.

The madness starts tomorrow, with my first show, and appearances at other events. I also want to see as much as possible when I get there, particularly cabaret and comedy as well as spoken word. And this is the first year that everything has gone ok. I haven’t lost my passport like I did the year before last. My luggage hasn’t got lost, like it did last year. And I won’t be staying in a tent or a flat with no roof, like I have done in years past, but in the same university flats that I’ve used for the last couple of years. Auld Reekie awaits, and I can’t wait!

A Brief History of the Thing on my Ear

About a month ago I noticed a lump on my earlobe which shouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t there before but it was there now. I knew that it was something dodgy so I went to the Doctor and she agreed. She explained that it was caused by exposure to UV light and this was a direct result of the hole in the ozone layer. I don’t want you to worry, she said, but we need to treat this seriously.

So of course, I did worry, but I decided also not to tell anyone because that would just spread the worry. I became aware of the lump at all times and regular Robheads will have noticed a slight reduction in selfies at this time. I continued with preparations for Edinburgh and zipped about all over the UK performing my new solo show. Barnstaple, Bristol, Guildford, Denbury, Torquay, Newcastle. Yet at the same time there was this nagging doubt in my head, that I couldn’t really enjoy any of these experiences because of the Thing On My Ear.

The ironic thing is that generally, I do not go out into the sun. I work indoors and the only time I go outside is to queue for a train or to walk to the rubbish bins. Nevertheless, I undoubtedly had a Thing On My Ear and it must have come from somewhere. Every time I shaved, I saw the Thing On My Ear. Every time I made plans for anything beyond Edinburgh, I thought of the Thing On My Ear. And every time I heard that someone had died, I thought of the Thing On My Ear.

The other weird thing that happened was that I worked really, really hard. I rehearsed every spare minute, and wrote the best I’ve ever written, and I put everything into every performance, particularly Totnes and all of my Yak shows. It was like I was trying to say something to the Thing On My Ear.

Today I got my emergency hospital appointment. I arrived early and a nurse asked me to go in a room and take off all my clothes. ‘But it’s on my ear ‘, I pointed out. ‘Yes, but we will need to see all of you’.

I duly undressed and seconds later, the door opened, and in came prominent Bristol poet and artist Hazel Hammond. Well, I thought, what kind of a sick joke is this? But she wasn’t Hazel, of course. She was the doctor, a wonderfully eccentric German lady who told me to lie on the bed. She then went over every inch of me, humming every now and then, flicking at various bits like one of the judges on British Bake Off looking at a meringue. She then looked at my ear. ‘Ah yes’, she said. ‘That is skin cancer. Now put your clothes back on’.

I did so, and I felt pretty down. The last time I dressed like this while feeling down was after that night of passion I spent with my ex just before I was dumped. She came back in the room.

‘You know, it is a very common form. It has a technical name, but it’s better known as a rat lesion. It’s not nasty though we will have to remove it at some point. This won’t be for a long time, in fact, you might think we’ve forgotten all about you. But rest assured, Mr Garnham, we haven’t forgotten.’

‘So it’s not . . A really bad one?’

‘No, it’s not. It’s a rat lesion. You have fair skin, Mr Garnham. You have the same sort of skin that ginger haired people have. Keep away from the sun. Go out, Mr Garnham, and do some shopping. And enjoy your afternoon. But keep away from the sun. Here are some leaflets. And on the day of your operation, bring a book to read. There will be lots of waiting around ‘.

So I’m back home, now. And the future suddenly looks much brighter, at least, with one less thing to worry about. Edinburgh now beckons, and so do many other exciting projects, and I’ve got a sudden urge to do two things. The first is to become more active in looking an environmental issues, which means, alas, I might have to start doing poems about recycling and sustainable energy. And the second is to reread some of my Hazel Hammond poetry books.

The moral of all this is, of course, that we should all cover up more in the sun. One of the leaflets says that it’s best to wear hats and use sunscreen. The bus home took me past Torquay sea front where semi naked people were frolicking in the sun, and I felt bad for them. Other people won’t be so lucky and we should perhaps do all that we can to make sure that we lessen the risks.

Was that the best I’ve ever performed? Is it all downhill from here?!

I’ve been very fortunate in having some amazing gigs this year with great audience reactions, but last night in a pub in Totnes really was rather special. It was a night of poetry and music set up by the amazing Julie Mullen and I was so pleased to be asked to headline, yet at the same time, fairly nervous. The problem with headlining is that there is nowhere to hide, and if you are slightly below par or not performing on all cylinders, then you can appear weak and unprepared. And it was an eclectic night of fantastic performances : Japanese style drummers, acapella singers, a jazz band, and comedy performance poets such as Brenda Hutchings, Shelley Szender and Samantha Boarer, all of whom are very accomplished and comedy oriented.

On top of that, a last minute venue change meant that the gig took place in a very crowded pub on a Friday night, the stage area set up right next to where people go outside to the pub garden and the toilets, so there was a constant footfall of customers and their dogs, walking from the bar to the garden or the bogs. So all of this conspired to make me feel even more nervous than normal before the gig and worried that audience fatigue would set in, for it was also incredibly hot.

But I needn’t have worried, as my set went down incredibly well and the audience were incredibly responsive. The sheer lunacy of the Beard Envy poem served well to accustom the audience to my style, and then the rest of the set, with its short, sharp, funny poems, was received rather well indeed. Indeed, such was the unusual location of the stage area that i was able to interact with the people walking past. During the Beard poem, a man with the most amazing rampant beard came in through the door behind me, and the place just fell about. And then during the Little House poem, just as I’m talking about the sexy handyman, a rather good looking young man appeared from nowhere right at a critical moment as if he were an extra in a play, and again, the place fell about, as I walked after him with my hand out as if he were a lover, leaving me.

I couldn’t have asked for a better response. And it was hot in there, and I was wearing my jacket, feather boa, sequinned hat, and the sweat was rolling down my face, yet it didn’t matter because a strange force had taken hold, something ethereal, I felt like Ayrton Senna on a pole position lap at Monaco, I really felt I couldn’t do any better or that things had never been better. I was dancing along to my poems, walking around, jumping up and down at one point, everything combined in a way that it never normally does, and then it seemed over too soon. I even did the one thing I’ve learned from others, always to do slightly less than the time you’ve been allocated, and leave them wanting more.

Not all gigs are like this. Not all audiences are like this. An audience is a fluid thing, only good for one small brief moment in history, and this was a good audience. A drunk Liverpudlian later told me that he thought I was hilarious, and that made my night. It’s these small connections that help.

This is the last time for a while that I’ll be performing that particular set. It’s next scheduled appearance is in New York, and I have no idea how it will go. But I got home last night and I thought, hmmm, was that the best I’ve ever performed? I’m still smiling about it now!