An introvert’s guide to performing

I’m not the most outgoing person. I don’t go out much and I probably have around two or three friends. I’m not a big drinker and I hardly ever go to pubs. And yet in spite of all this, I’ve managed to make something of a career as a comedy poet who stands on stage and does outlandish things and makes people laugh. How on earth did this happen, and how did it come about?

For a start I’ve always been what you might call an introvert and it’s probably still the same now. Part of working in the arts is having the confidence to put yourself forward for opportunities, and this is still an area where I struggle. I’ve never applied for funding or any other kind of sponsorship because, well, that’s not the sort of thing you do, is it? I hardly ever apply for big gigs or showcases, either. If someone asks, that’s great, and it makes me really happy for the rest of the day. But the idea of asking them gives me the willies.

The version of me who appears on stage is nothing like the version of me who exists ninety nine percent of the time. The persona I’ve created is just that. I don’t even wear the same sort of clothes on a day to day basis. And this is interesting, because for the ninety nine percent of the time that I’m not performing, the very idea of it also gives me the willies. It’s not my natural environment. Again the thought comes to mind that this is not the sort of thing that should be happening to someone like me!

Social media creates avatars, versions of ourselves that we want the world to see. I see poets and comedians in the real world acting more or less the same as the version of themselves that appears on stage, and to this day it makes me wonder where they find the energy. My other little rule is that I never mention my comedic poetic adventures in ‘real life ‘. I’ve never shown any of my friends any of my books or videos, and frankly, if I did, I’d feel very embarrassed indeed, and as for my family, well, Ive never even mentioned it to them at all. For a start, nobody is interested. It’s like living a bizarre double life, like some kind of poetic super hero.

But that’s what makes it so amazing. Right at this moment, reading this, I wonder how on earth I can possibly stand in front of strangers and not completely clam up. I go through a comprehensive sequence of preparation methods before I perform, including putting on a costume, doing my hair, changing my glasses, lying on the floor, doing breathing exercises, and then listening to very loud music. I think it’s fair to say that I’m not a natural performer!

Often, though, I’ll be on a bus, or doing my laundry, or walking home from work, and I’ll think of what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved, and it really makes me smile. Sure, it feels like it’s been done by someone else, but it’s a person I know really very well. This last year I’ve worked very hard on my performance and next I need to start working on being a bit more forthcoming and what my dad would describe as ‘pushy’. I’m like the kid in the corner who wants to join in but is too scared of the big kids.

I was chatting about this to another friend, who’s a poet, and she reckons it might be a class thing. I don’t have that middle class sense of entitlement that some of the bigger names might have, nor do I have the confidence that I have a voice that should be heard. I take great comfort in those who are naturally quiet, who seem to have made a successful career, and have done so through a mix of intelligence and luck, and I think, oh, I think, wow, I, too, had been really lucky!

This Year’s Advent Calendar (2019)

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Dame Thora Hird going off on one because someone has linked all of her paper clips together in a long chain and she needs a paperclip.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a perplexed stoat.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of the smile on Norse god Thor’s face slowly fading as he realises that the argument had had in his improv group had been real.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a puddle on the floor from a leaky roof, next to a Wet Floor warning sign, in a factory that makes buckets.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Martin Scorsese being chased through Poundstretcher by a bearded blue Pokemon.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Top Cat and his wayward brother Bottom Cat arguing with a nun over the last fake moustache in the joke shop.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of the world’s largest My Little Pony being ridden by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in the fifth race of the day at Epsom. They are coming last.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a moment of jocularity at the margarine factory as Bill on production lime fifteen puts his false teeth on a margarine tub and everyone’s laughing.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a killer whale ironing Batman’s uniform while a semi naked Batman is nervously pointing out the window at the Bat signal but the killer whale is too busy watching an episode of Salvage Hunters on a small tv.

Today’s Advent calendar picture is of Tony the Tiger being arrested for shoplifting in the kitchen utensils aisle of Poundland. ‘They’re grrrrrraters’, he’s saying, in a vain attempt to remind them of his fame.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a pack of three rubber door stops, £1.99.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Professor Brian Cox’s legs poking out the top of a haystack, next to a deflated parachute, and a man with an exuberant moustache wheeling a market barrow on which you can only purchase a pack of three rubber door stops, £1.99.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of an advent calendar picture showing today’s advent calendar picture which is a picture of today’s advent calendar picture.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of The Incredible Hulk about to go off on one because he can’t see how much battery life his iPad has due to a crumb from the baguette he’s eating having fallen on the battery logo, and he’s swiped it three times and yet still the crumb is there.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Pam Ayres sneezing on a duck.q

Today’s advent calendar picture is of an elk wearing a flat cap.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a hedgehog at an acupuncturist’s.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a confused zebra on bin day.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of 1980s pop group Bucks Fizz arguing in the curtains section of Debenhams with the sales assistant, who happens to be The Emperor from Star Wars.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a Fear of Abandonment group being told that their workshop facilitator is running late.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Hilda Ogden just finishing cleaning the last step at the top of a lighthouse just as the door opens and Woking Football Club start running in and up the stairs with muddy boots.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Professor Brian Cox trying to figure out how to change the time on the clock on the cooker.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of the Easter Bunny in a hot air balloon with the Toilet Duck and they’re both taking selfies while Foghorn Leghorn operates the burner. Toilet Duck is doing the duck face. They’re about to collide with Lidls.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a plate of six nuns fighting over the last custard cream biscuit which a squirrel has just nicked anyway.

Festive Greetings!

I’d just like to wish everyone I know a wonderful festive period and new year.

2019 has been mega for me and there are several things I’m proud of, such as my show about tea, (Spout), the little web series I made, (Unbearable Lightness), a little book I made of previous show scripts, (Gazebo), and other projects too, such as In the Glare of the Neon Yak performed with the jazz band Shadow Factory, and my one-off show The Moon Wrapped in String, which I performed with violinist Sharon Hubbocks. On top of this, I undertook my first tour of the UK, which was hard work but flipping amazing!

And there’s so much to look forward to for 2020. I’m putting another collection together with Burning Eye for 2021, and I’m working on a new show to accompany the book.

The other things I’ve been up to is that I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I got in to performance poetry more or less by accident and chance, and before this I’d always written comedy short stories and scripts. Lately I’ve been returning to these and finding my voice again as a writer. That’s the reason why I’ve been a bit quiet lately on the performance front, I’ve fallen in love with narrative and stories again and I’ve been busy working on short stories.

Naturally this is a time when you look back. The sad passing of Melanie Crump was a shock to the Torbay spoken word scene. We had a few lovely events including one at the Blue Walnut Cafe in honour of her and her work. I do believe that Torbay has the most diverse spoken word community in the country with the emphasis very much on comedy and humour, and long may this continue. It’s also incredibly supportive and friendly.

I’ve read a lot this year, as ever. I recommend books by the wonderful Melanie Branton and Becky Nuttall, Tom Sastry and the forthcoming collection from Tom Austin. Jason Disley’s CD is amazing, a mix of jazz and voice, and the DVD from Jamie Harry Scrutton showcasing his amazing animation. In fact, there’s so much good stuff out there that I’m sure I’ve missed something.

As a lowfi Christmas special, I’ve made a recording of my show, Spout, and you can find a link to it right here: https://youtu.be/EtBTc7ANM6M

I hope everyone has a great year next year, and thanks for everything. See you out on the road very soon!

Santa Fell down Sizewell B

https://youtu.be/-XD3nE4STd0

Santa fell down Sizewell B

There’s nothing under the tree
Nothing for you and nothing for me
At least not a thing that I can see
Since Santa fell down sizewell b

Rudolf has got the night off
And donner and blitzen have a nasty cough
The sleigh is now wrapped around a tree
And Santa fell down sizewell b

A large concrete chimney silhouetted against the sky
Santas dodgy tummy from a bad mince pie
He’s run out of tea and he needs a wee
And now he’s fallen down sizewell b

To the boy in the window who waved
To the elves in the factory who are all enslaved.
A Christmas elf dreams of liberty
And santas fallen down sizewell b.

The sleigh is all covered in tinsel.
The cars and the houses are covered in tinsel
I can’t think of anything to rhyme with tinsel
And now santas fallen down sizewell b.

Marjorie wants world peace
Dave wants an end to starvation
Gemma wants less underrepresentation in the media
Francis wants a more transparent banking system
Lisa wants a respite from the crushing oblivion which awaits us all
Jim wants a cheap pair of socks
But none of them will get what they need
Cos santas fallen down sizewell b

Plans for my Funeral

Plans for my funeral

I, Theodore Auberon Fricker-Fricker-Smith, being of sound mind and body, and willing to engage in matters pertaining to my future demise, and fearful not at all of the implications of such speculation, hereby, gladly and with enormous pride, give details of my funeral plans.

No-one shall wear black.

Black is the colour of mourning and it should not be worn at my funeral. I would prefer to keep in with the recent decoration of the family chapel, that those present should respect my wishes in wearing pastels, preferably lilac or lavender. Or Paisley. One has to make an effort in such circumstances not to fall into pathetic stereotypes and the stereotype of the grieving relative bedecked in black is perhaps one of the more tiresome for everyone else attending. Not everyone will be sad. Make an effort for the happy people. Pastels it shall be!

My coffin shall be carried to the church by six circus clowns, followed by two more, playing the flugel. At the same time they must be dancing, so that the coffin swirls and rotates around the church floor in a crazy rhythm as if almost celebrating the fact that I have snuffed it.
Preferably, the clowns must also be tap-dancing, though I am not too fussed about this. Oh, and they should be wearing pastels.

Sixteen massed zither players, flown in direct from the mountains round Salzburg, should serenade the guests as they file into the church. It possible, find a theremin and allow it to jam with the zither players for a while. The fusion of the two sounds, I am told, can be haunting and thought-provoking at the best of times and should fill the guests with a sense of peace, harmony and the innate goodness of man.

The vicar shall wear a Man United shirt. I have never been a fan of football, but, after having read the papers and scoured the news, I have noted that the average man worships football above all other, and Man United above all teams. Always one to go with the majority, I shall have my vicar wearing a Man U shirt. Surely, all those people can’t be wrong?

By the time the guest have arrived and the dwarfs have finished swirling and tap-dancing to the front of the chapel with my coffin, there shall be a sudden roar of music from speakers hidden in various locations around the room. Memflak’s Fifth Oompah in C Major (Rhapsody on a Theme of Tortoises) shall be fused with the latest release from the Faded Satans, ‘Granny’s Got Me In A Headlock’) – and shall be played as loud as the speakers permit. It would help if the vicar started break-dancing, in order to add to the solemnity of the occasion.

As the ceremony begins, I want a thousand coloured balloons to fall from the ceiling, each one inscribed with a word. The congregation should ignore the ceremony and, from these balloons, create a poem of deep meaningfulness and significance, which should then be proclaimed as my last final work. The balloons that are left over should be popped for no other reason than the fact that it will make such a satisfying noise.

At the commencement of the first hymn, the pipes of the organ shall be filled with jelly. Green, preferably.

There shall be no crying. Laughter shall emanate from all corners of the chapel. If there is not sufficient laughter to earn a rebuke from the nearby old folk’s home, then the zither players and the circus clowns should challenge each other to an impromptu game of It and the theremin player should be the judge. If this doesn’t work, then the vicar must be prepared to do host a spur of the moment tombola.
While this is happening, a small boy should be employed to crawi under the pews and tie together everyone’s shoelaces. And then, on the count of three, the vicar must announce that the person sitting on seat number 15c shall win a prize in the meat raffle, to which everyone will stand up and then fall over, therefore leading to the general sense of hilarity. If possibly under the circumstances, a fight should then break out.

I Theodore Auberon Fricker-Fricker-Smith, being of sound mind and body, cannot wait for this funeral and I shall therefore be attending myself, in person, before the event of my death. In fact, so tempting does this proposition sound, that the funeral shall be held next Wednesday, and I have already ordered the coffin. Bring your own beer.

Signed
Theodore Auberon Fricker-Fricker-Smith

Oh, and PS. I leave my stamp collection to the alligator.

Customer Service in the Deep Dark Woods

My latest podcast is another short story written sometime during the 2000s.

I hope you like it!

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/perpendicular-customer

Horse

https://youtu.be/NQdDlilcQ0Y

Poem

I always wanted to meet a horse
And last night I did!
My word
You’ve got big nostrils.

The horse said.

It’s not every day you see
An equestrian pedestrian.
He had the grooves.
He had the moves.
He couldn’t work the cash machine
With his clumpy hooves.
The Neon shone in his flanks.
I felt something move in my
Soul.

Psssssst!
I’ve always thought there was
Something equine about me, myself.
My favourite TV show is
Neighhhhhh,
Which is Horse for Coronation Street.
I said to my ex, Floyd,
Whack a saddle on me
And ride me round the bedroom,
Now whinny for me, Big fella!
Whinny for me!
Whinny like there’s no tomorrow!
Since then I’ve been
Desperately lonely.

Give me a call some time, I said
To the horse.
I can’t, he replied.
The mobile phone is too short
For my big head,
Plus,
I’m in a stable relationship.

We went to a bar.
The barman said,
Why the long face?
Ohhhh,
Just the usual ennui, I replied.

Why have you got that horse anyway?
Are you going to race him?
No, I replied, he’s much faster than me.

Clipperty Clipperty clop
With my horse I did trot
I could have such fun with one
I would buy a bun for one
My friend Ben is hung like one
That’s why we call him
Dobbin.

Ohhhh, horsey!
I want to take off my shirt,
And grab hold of his tail,
And twirl it around my nipples
And feel its thick horse strands
Sending me into raptures of heavenly oblivion.
It’s how I got banned
From ascot.
Naughty horse!
Naughty horse!

Briefs or boxers?, I ask,
Boxers or briefs? I say.
Briefs or boxers, boxers or briefs?
What are you wearing today?
He replied,
Usually, just jockeys.

We’re meant to be together,
But oh, the smell!
The rancid putrid smell,
I’m sure the horse will get used to it.
The two of us, having happy fun,
So carefree so rampant , the night comes undone,
Happy beyond belief,
The bit between my teeth
Life in all its horsey beauty falling in on us
A stirrup for the senses,
Love sublime every day
From the moment we wake up
To the moment we hit the hay
But instead
The horse did say,
Nay.

Oh look,
There he goes now!

On ten years as a performance poet 2009-2019

This Sunday afternoon I did a radio interview with Jeff Sleeman. During the interview we talked about the fact that this was my ten year anniversary as a performer and indeed, Jeff had been at the very first gig I’d been to. It seems inconceivable that ten years have passed, for I remember the night in question in precise detail. I remember that three of the performers had been bald and that I mistook one from another, and congratulating them on a poem that they hadn’t performed. And I remember seeing Bryce Dumont a couple of days later doing his shopping and becoming very nervous, having seen a local celebrity out of his stage environment. It all seemed so new and fresh.

Ten years, though.

I asked the host, Chris Brooks, whether I could have a slot at the next event and he said yes. Great! But now a serious problem arose, in that I didn’t have any poems. Not one. I had no material whatsoever. I’d only come along to the night the previous month because I was bored. So I hurriedly wrote two poems, one called My Family, the other called I Don’t Want To Be A Performance Poet. Both of them relied heavily on rhyme. And the latter was somewhat prophetic. So I stood there, hands shaking holding sheets of A4 paper, and amazingly people laughed in all the places where I thought I was saying something funny. In fact, I couldn’t quite believe it. For years I’d written short stories alone and nobody laughed. In one moment I had doubled, tripled, quadrupled the normal audience for my output.

It’s probably fair to say that performance poetry has changed my life. When I look back at everything that I’ve done over the last ten years, I can hardly believe it myself. Ten years ago I was a shy individual who would do anything rather than speak to strangers or hold a conversation. And now I leap on to stages in far flung places and Spout the most meaningless whimsy, and people laugh. I came from a background in which such exuberance was seen as the sort of thing reserved for those from different upbringings, that those who, like me, were raised on the mean streets of Englefield Green’s notorious Forest estate, could not possibly aspire to a life in the performing arts. Culture was out of touch. I didn’t have the right to perform.

Yet I did have one thing going for me, and that’s my homosexuality. Growing up and feeling different to everyone around me, during a time of Section 28 and the AIDS crisis, a time in which homophobia was the natural response and the default setting of organisations and even those in authority around me, I kind of knew that the world wasn’t quite as settled as people assumed. My childhood love of comedy and writing could be more than just a hopeless dream. My voice could be just as legitimate as those who I looked up to, even if I felt that I was not entitled due to my upbringing, my education, my background.

It’s just a shame that it took twenty years for this entitlement to become apparent. We now live in a culture in which we are told that we are all entitled to a voice, and that’s great. By the time I started performing, I was thirty five. The spoken word scene is now filled with young people who leap on the stage from an early age with an imbued sense of entitlement and freedom. It was never this easy!

Regular Robheads will have noticed that I try not to be too autobiographical. Attendance at a poetry night these days, particularly in cities such as London and Bristol, is to be immersed in autobiographies and the dance of the self, explorations of emotion, lessons learned from life and hopes for the future. And yes, I have one or two poems of my own in which I explore my own life and things that have happened, but in the most part, I prefer to keep these away from public exposure. For a start, my own problems and misfortunes are very minor indeed and I have been very fortunate to live a life of contentedness. Secondly, I’m very aware that the persona of Robert Garnham, Professor of Whimsy, who appears on stage, is a complete fabrication. Anything that I say on stage will never have a ring of truth about it. The truth is seldom so convenient as to fit in with a rhyme scheme, and just because something rhymes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.

So what I’m saying in this blog is that I am very happy with the person that I am now, and the progress that I’ve made during the last ten years. Each day as a performance poet is a learning process. I see those around me, those I look up to and admire who are way above me in the spoken word pecking order, and I try to see what they do and the way they achieve it. Jonny Fluffypunk, Rachel Pantechnicon, Byron Vincent, Melanie Branton, Liv Torc, people whose success and acclaim I one day hope to emulate, and that’s what drives me on as an artist and as a human being.

And that’s the last thing I thought I’d mention, here. In honour of my ten years, I’ve started calling myself a performance poet again. The biggest change in the scene that I’ve noticed, and one that has been pointed out by people such as Pete Bearder in his excellent book, is that the community has moved away from the performance poetry of the late 2000s, in which variety was the keyword, and comedy, and props, and general silliness and the willingness to shock, to become a kind of homogenised slam-influenced autobiographical entity known as spoken word. And while I’ve been pleased to acknowledge the ‘art’ part of the phrase ‘spoken word artist’, it’s taken about eight years to realise that this is not who I am. I am a performance poet, and more specifically, a comedy performance poet. And just by carrying on with what I was doing in 2009, (and what other people were doing too), I’ve somehow become a bit unique. And you know what? I’m really comfortable with that!

So, then, ten years! I’ve had the most amazing time. To celebrate, I’ve undertaken a little mini tour and the lovely interview with Jeff can be found below. My part of the show starts just after the hour mark.

https://m.mixcloud.com/jeff-sleeman/happy-sundays-03-11-19/

Year of the Cassowary

So recently I found the manuscript of my first ever home made collectin, Year of the Cassowary. These poems were written during the first couple of years of my spoken word career. I thought I’d post them here for your delectation.

The book was home made, printed and stapled by myself, and it offers a fascinating snap shot of my preoccupations at the time!

Robert Garnham

Year of the Cassowary

Contents:

Poem (Lines Written Inspired by Somerset)
Plop
Barn Conversion on an Accident Black Spot
On the Subject of Mister Shaw’s Private Life
Poem Which Starts with the Words ‘ Pull Up a Chair, Philip Larkin’
Matt’s Duvet
On Air Trapped in a Parisian Radiator
Doc
Nowhere Near Magnetic North
The Jacket of Agnes
Llama-Trekking with Kim Jong-Un
I Am The Wardrobe Man
Poem
Mister Purposefully-No-one-wish-I-Was-Someone-Man
Poem
Frank (1-1=0)
Karaoke in the Departure Lounge
Love Poems Love Poem
Lament of a Noted Brazilian Anglophile

Poem

Alack! Do some settle
In Somerset.
Sunset’s set, sat un-set
And stomach upset.
Somerset.
Somersaulting vaulting sum of
Greater parts. Haunting dauntless Taunton,
Summer parks.
I’d settle soon in Somerset,
Besotted thus with summer sex,
Haystack fumbles, aching, wet,
Hanging round at nights with the badger set.
Think of all the joy I’d get
In Somerset.

Although, I do suspect
A seldom sudden thought remains unsaid.
I don’t like barns. Or farms.
Or country vets.
And that is why I’ll settle not in Somerset.

(written on a train just outside of Taunton, 2010)

Plop

I have probed the depths of literature.
But my friend Mark only remembers
The one poem I wrote.
The one called ‘Plop’.
And it goes something like this:
Plop.
Pah-lop.
Plop.
At nights I reach right in and thrust my hand
Deep into the fiery furnace of metaphor,
And I grab the human condition
And I throttle it.
And I squeeze the truth out of it.
And I tear the words from the sky.
And I wrestle with sentences like a demon.
I am the king of ink, monarch of the pen.
My nib moving faster and faster as my fingers
Grip the shaft of the biro,
Spilling on to the page beauteous visions,
Truth, honesty, existential angst
And what it means to be alive.
And yet Mark’s favourite poem of mine is
Plop. Pah-lop. Plop.

(Paignton, 2011)
Barn Conversion on an Accident Black Spot

Our love was like a barn conversion
At an accident black-spot.

We’d took time to transform decrepitude
Into something quite hot.

Aesthetically-pleasing,
Occasionally teasing.

A place of comfort in which to reside
And yet, on the road outside

There was carnage on a nightly basis.
Our beautiful home, once a quiet oasis

Tarnished, ruined, a private hell
Amid the chaos of tearing metal.

Perhaps, we reasoned, architecturally-speaking
The drivers of the cars, continually seeking

Perfection, driven mad by our decadence and style
Had kept their foot off the break just a while

Too long.
(Brixham, 2009)

On the Question of Mister Shaw’s Private Life

For years, carved in hot melted tarmac
In the suburban commuter town where I grew up, the words
Mister Shaw is a Tosser
A permanent memorial to a teacher
Long since, having passed through, forgotten by most,
His name a mystery to succeeding generations.
He lived in a flat tacked to the side
Of the church hall. I suppose it came with his job
In our C of E middle school.
The place might even have seemed exotic, bohemian
Divorced from the humdrum of growing up,
Though, a deeply religious young man,
Probably he disapproved of anything remotely bohemian.
A bachelor.
My dad said he walked as if he had
A roll of lino under his arm.
Jutting chin, and the Alex Hurricane Higgins hairstyle
Of the early 1980s.
Was Mister Shaw a tosser? No, he was reasonable.
He encouraged me to write, and for that,
I shall never inquire as to what he got up to
In his church hall bachelor pad,
Scene of nativity plays and jumble sales,
Whether tossing or not.
(Cairns, 2010)

Poem Which Starts With The Words ‘Pull Up A Chair, Philip Larkin’.

Pull up a chair, Philip Larkin.
Help yourself to some cheese and onion Hula Hoops.
Stop frowning, I wont hurt you.
Tell me, Philip Larkin, is it true that you couldn’t work out how to use the self-service machine at Tesco’s?
Or that you lost your glasses while jumping on an inflatable bouncy castle?
Help yourself to a fondant fancy.
Oh, Philip Larkin!
You looked so glum when I suggested we go clubbing and then when we got there you shocked everyone by asking for a cup of tea at the bar.
That reminds me, shall I put the kettle on?
How did it go last night, by the way?
Taking on the Americans in an impromptu tug of war.
You and WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood
Verses the Beats – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs.
Trounced, you say?
You let go of the rope to pick up the 50p coin?
And Alan Bennett called you a knob?
He’s got a point.
Is it true, Philip Larkin, that you stayed up late last night to watch Wrestlemania?
Would you like a jam tart, Philip Larkin?
Would you? Would you? Would you really really?
Is it true that when you met Princess Anne you sneezed all over her?
I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were allergic to horses.
Is it also true that you put stones on the railway lines to see what happened when the fast train came through but you got arrested by the Transport Police?
Is it also true that you fancy Sarah Palin?
Well, we must meet again some time, this was nice.
You’ve got a bit of something just . . . Just there . . . That’s it . . . No, to the left . . . Never mind.
(Paignton, 2011)

Matt’s Duvet

I see you
In that photo message you sent
Wrapped in your duvet.
Why do they
Say that our love should be
The way that it should be.
Heteronormativity.
I see you
In that photo message you sent
I now repent
My life has been spent
It’s such a cruel day.
I wish I was there with you
Wrapped in your duvet.
(London, 2011)

On Air Trapped in a Parisian Radiator

Last night I dreamed, initially,
Of Paris
And then of those plastic keys
One might use to bleed a radiator.

Post-midnight, REM-induced fluctuations
Bubble and spurge into my psyche
Tinkling like the sound of bubbles trapped
In the central heating system.

The spotlight on top of the Eiffel Tower
Illuminates rusted metal
And the thermostat throws crazy shadows across the wall.

I wonder what it is in my life
Which needs such adjustment
That I should dream so sullenly
Of radiator keys.

Mind you, it was cold
And the last time I was that cold
I was in Paris.

A turn of the screw and things hiss out like air.
A turn of the screw and its all much warmer.
A turn of the screw and the relief is gradual.
Flower-patterned wallpaper and 1950s chintz,
Gurgling pipes, rusted controls, non-traditional plumbing.
Flaking, stippled ceiling, subsidence cracks
Ill-fitting sash windows and damp duvets.
So much work, so much work needs doing
But a turn of the radiator key is the very least I can do.
And it becomes a little warmer
Like my love for you.

Oh! That’s what the dream was about!
(Paignton, 2012)

Doc

Doc and I ran to pee
Before the river ferry left.
We had two minutes at the most.
We aimed for a small copse of trees on the riverbank.
We didn’t realise until we ran into it
That we’d waded into a swamp.
Ideal crocodile territory.
The relief was fleeting.
Bladder pressure replaced by a sudden swarm
Of mosquitoes biting eating feeding,
Slapped blood splotches on itchy exposed skin.
We ran back to the backpacker’s van along
The jungle road, arriving swiftly
To high-fives and exuberant cheers,
But at what price?
Eaten alive in twenty different places at once
And we’d not had time to wash our hands!

But, as Doc, who is wise in outback lore explained,
You never know when you’re going to get another chance
To visit the bathroom.
(Cairns, 2010)

Nowhere Near Magnetic North

Hallowed be thy onion rings.
Now the yoots have big hair.
And you with your M
Increasingly, slaphead : Forlorn.
The line dissecting forehead constant frown.
No wonder they think you’re the boss,
You always look so cross.
Answering the phone with a packet of crippens.
Infatuated with Doctor Hotch!
You hate it when I say ‘calm down’
Or say things like, ‘You only know you’ve got a dose of the Hotch
When you’ve got it’.
Talk about obssessedness!
(Paignton, 2011)

The Jacket of Agnes

I wonder whether she’ll be wearing the same old coat again.
The green felt long one with the big green buttons.
And the compartments in which she keeps
Ocelot.

She looks like a walking
Prairie.
And the coat is slightly hairy.
And she often gets lairy
In her coat, the one that she wears.

It’s got a hood.
The hood isn’t very good.
When she talks she can’t be understood.
On account of the hood.

She looks like a barn.
She looks like she should live in Chard.

The zip zips up but it doesn’t zip down.
The often causes her to frown.
Going up and over in an endless zip
Of zip-pulling rip-cord zip-rip-torn
Zip-a dee doo-dah
Zebadee zip slip knot zip not
Stuck fast zippy zip zip
But in any case she’d got those big green buttons on the front there
That I spoke about earlier in this poem.

She often wears a scarf with the coat.
But the scarf is the same colour and you can’t see it
Like a Patagonian mule falling into a castle moat.
I seldom gloat at her coat.
She’d grab me by the throat.
I’d probably choke.

And the shoulder pads.
Like boulders. Balanced on other boulders.
She once broke the nose of a postman
While turning around a tad too quickly.
Whacking him across the mush with those boulder-like shoulder-pads.
He’s been off work.

I wonder if she’ll be wearing that coat.
It’s grubby at the hem.
And every now and then
She’ll tug on a sleeve
In a kind of compulsive manner.
And its inner lining
Puts me in mind of 17th Century Czechoslovakian porcelain
In that you hardly ever see it
Unless she wears the coat inside out for no reason.

Have you seen her coat?
Have you seen her coaty-coat coat?
Have you seen her coat coat coating coat
Coat coat coatily-throatily
Coat coat coca-cola-coaty coatie coat coatilly coat?
It’s from New Look, or one of those other high street fashion retailers.
(Paignton, 2012)

Llama-Trekking with Kim Jong-Un

I went llama-trekking along the Dorset coast
With Kim Jong-Un.

On the edge of a cliff
With our llamas in tow
He confessed to me he’d never seen an episode
Of The Only Way Is Essex
And it ate at him inside.

I said, now look here, Jong.
You’ve got to be true to yourself
And approach life as if it is a picnic basket
Because one day, when all the mini-pork pies have gone
And the last fondant fancy consumed
You’ll be left with nothing but angry wasps and the washing-up.
Jong just looked perplexed.

The waves broke below us, and the wind whistled
As we made our way over dale and hill
And at one moment we stopped and Kim Jong-un made
As if he meant to reach across and peck me on the cheek,
But then he changed his mind.

The grass was tall and wet with dew
And it made his trackie-bottoms sag.
And he told me that rather than being the
Supreme Commander of the North Korean Army and
Prepared at all moments to strike down with venom
The imperialist West,
He’d rather be bouncing on a trampoline.

We headed back to base, it was late
And our llamas were weary
And Kim Jong-Un was keen to show me
His collection of staplers.
And that’s when I decided that if I were ever going to change the world,
This was the right time.

Jong, said I.
Put down that pot noodle,
Stop fondling that llama,
Grab your anorak and listen.

Should we march in unison,
Should we maim and kill
Should we divide and rule
Should we conquer, should we judge, should we frame,
Will it ever be the same, Kim Jong-Un?

Is it all a silly game, Kim Jong-Un?

Are you a freak or a peacemaker, a geek or a ruthless dictator,
A monosyllabic slab, a leader wrapped in glum,
Are you coming undone Kim Jong-Un?

Are you pliable by nature, a first-rate hater,
A war-widow maker, an atomic risk-taker,
Have you ever seen the sun, Kim Jong-Un?
Would you like a cream bun, Kim Jong-Un?
Is it really so much fun, Kim Jong-Un?

Will you grab at the truth or will you let it fly by you?
Will you reach out towards the absolute screaming necessity of peace?
What do you have to say for yourself, Kim Jong-Un?
What do you have to do?
What does the future in all its
Pounding incessant ever-so fragile easy-gone
Quivering army-painted atomic
Parallelogramatic sensomatic
Button-pressing most-depressing dissent-oppressing
Nation-starving one-heart-beat away from senseless oblivion
Have in store for you?

To which he replied,
Let’s go for an ice cream.
I Am The Wardrobe Man

Big hulking presence.
I loom in your room.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

On uneven floorboards I lean
Ever so slightly at an angle
As if politely implying deafness.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Fling my doors with gay abandon.
Like arms releasing coats and jackets
Faintly, the smell of mothballs.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Flat-packed self-built
And not nearly as solid as my
Oak veneer might otherwise indicate.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Shift me uneasily
It’s a two-man job
To get me moving.
Coming out of the closet that I am anyway.
No-one is in the least surprised.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Oil my hinges!
Mister Carpenter!
Or else I’ll squeal for England!
Opening my doors
Like the parting of the flasher’s mack,
I am the Wardrobe Man.

I linger
And hide from your acquaintances.
All of your mess, your transgressions
The squeaky scratchy scrape of coat hanger on steel pole
Like the inner protest of one who is so often so profoundly wronged.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Get those coats out of me!
I can’t stand it any more!
And the chest-of-drawers keeps winking!
I am the Wardrobe Man.
(Brighton, 2011)

Poem

I only asked you to show me round several districts of your home city.
The Icelandic district.
The Museum of Badgers.
The building that’s so tall they don’t let anyone go up it
Unless they’re scared of heights
Because they know that they wont get further than three storeys up.

You showed me the Museum of Dust.
The cremated remains of my Aunt Peggy
Being perpetually sucked up a vacuum cleaner
From a rug, and then the whole lot emptied back on the rug
And the process repeated. How ironic.
She was always complaining about the mess.

You showed me the Tesco’s Metro.
You showed me the World’s Largest Dartboard.
You showed me the atomic bomb shelter
To protect the city’s strangely large giraffe population in the event of nuclear annihilation.
You introduced me to the fishmonger who swears she got a text message from
Vincent Van Gogh.
The blind Morse code operator who swears he transcribed last year’s Booker Prize winning novel by decoding
The twenty-four-hour tap-dancing competition upstairs.

You showed me the bus station and you said.
You see all this?
You see all this?
What’s all this about, then?
What the bloody hell is all this about?

And that night we went to the zither recital,
The duck philharmonic
The wardrobes-on-ice show
And when we went to kiss in the underpass I strangely shied away.

The next morning, when I caught the train
From Platform 3, out of the city and off to somewhere else,
The whole place looked more or less like any other.
(Brighton, 2011)

Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man

You stride, purposefully
With keys jangling from your belt
Like a caretaker or a taxi driver
Bereft of that which would otherwise mark you out from the moment.
Perhaps you should fashion a natty moustache,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

You effect, without reason
The odd opinion, then guffaw
As if it had meant nothing at all.
How apt, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
That you should disappear in a crowd of your own invention
When you’d rather be chasing squirrels
Across Platform 3 of Exeter St. David’s station,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

You tell jokes. You are not a joker.
You tell jokes, and each one falls like a conker
From the horse chestnut of incomprehension.
And those who laugh do so because your flies are undone,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

And when you effect a jolly demeanour
No-one thanks you, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
But when you add a tad grumpy
You encounter a strangely hostile, singularly perplexed and not a little affronted
Grouping of pensioners, who then laugh at you.

Once, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
You fell down the stairs in KFC.
The perfect somersault,
Your hand-held carton of diet coca cola
Perfecting a neat parabola in the air.
Individual globules of carbonated soft drink crystallised like jewels
Before splattering on the sticky tile floor.
It was the prettiest thing you ever did,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
And then, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
You were fired from your position in the office
For drinking in the work place.
Alas, it was not alcohol on your breath they smelled,
But a lunchtime banana sadly fermenting on the windowsill.

Do you remember, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
That time you met the perfect woman
And you poured out your heart
And you told her your feelings
And the state of your life
And your sincerest motivations
And your penchant for strawberries
And your fear of death and of dying alone
And your fears in general
And your philosophy that the world exists somehow as a kind of personal affront
And of your years of crippling horrific tedious soul-draining mind-numbing loneliness
And she looked you in the eye,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man
She looked you in the eye and said,
Enthshuldigung, mein Englisch ist nicht so gut.
You hardly saw the funny side, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

Oh, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
You looked in the mirror once
And saw me staring back at you.
It freaked you out. And I’ll tell you what.
It freaked me out, too.
(Paignton, 2010)

Poem

If the most obvious explanation
Is the most likely
Then why do I presume the worst?

Apricots.

Admiring the smaller moments over the large,
And always being optimistic,
That all the small moments build up and become the large.

Thunderry showers.

I bland into the blandground,
Overlooked and quite bland
In the blanding bland bland of the bland.

Maroon.

Grabbing at several things simultaneously.
Surreptitiously.
Bland.
Obvious.
Optimistic.

Badminton
Shuttlecock.
(Paignton, 2011)

Frank (1-1=0)

One minus one equals zero.
One times one equals one.
One divided by one equals one.
One plus or minus the square root of one divided by a half percent of one plus one equals one.
And a bit.
One divided by infinity equals nothing but not quite.
One divided by infinity equals almost nothing, very nearly, hardly a speck.
Nothing therefore exists, not even one.
One equals zero plus a smidgen.
(Paignton, 2010)

Karaoke in the Departure Lounge

Deep beneath so many layers
Of postmodernist subterfuge
Like an accidental Wotsit in a packet of Frazzles.
A glistening gem, a rhyming couplet
A misaligned toupee on the crown of a slaphead.
There once there once there once
Was a man from Newton Abbot
Who did nothing funny or clever, nor did anything he do rhyme with Newton Abbot.
Deep beneath so many layers
The poetry,
Like honey dripping from the claws.
Of a monster.
In Poundland.

(Paignton, 2011)

Love Poems Love Poem

When I gaze into your eyes
I think of all those poems written
About gazing into someone’s eyes.

When I stroke your skin
I think of all those poems written
About stroking someone’s skin.

When we make love
I think of Wagner,
Which is a little odd.

When I feel the magic in the air with you
I think of all those poems written
About someone being with someone and feeling the magic in the air with them.

I’m always thinking of different things
More or less connected to what I’m doing.
(Paignton 2012)

Lament of a Noted Brazilian Anglophile

The fire chief of Jakarta,
Solitary in his quieter moments,
Playing chess with the station porters,
And dreaming, dreaming
Of the rural English countryside.

Of barns and church steeples
And farm implements
And hot rampant rumpy pumpy
With a milk maiden while inexplicably
Someone plays bagpipes,
And knights in shining armour
Move like Jagger
In the rural English countryside.

The fire chief of Jakarta
Resplendent in his uniform,
His brass buttons blazing in the hot Brazilian sun
(Or wherever the hell Jakarta is),
Dreams of Newton Abbot
With its market
And its culture
And its skyscrapers
And its metropolitan nuance.
With Robert de Niro in the local Costa Coffee
And crocodiles in the River Teign
And Manchester United playing
On the local village green.

The fire chief of Jakarta
Taking time out from squirting his hose
At a bush fire near a shanty town
To daydream of bowls tournaments
And maypole dancing
And sausage butties
And tractors toiling the soil
And doing all their tractory toil.
And Betjeman playing hopscotch in a pub garden
And Elton John balances a Cornishware jug on his head.

Snap out of it,
Fire Chief!
The favelas are aflame!

He sees
Contrails in the evening sky.
Hot air balloons vibrant in the sun.
Ducks lifting en masse from the village pond.
Hedgerows and barns
Hedgehogs and farms.
Afternoons in Chard.
Broad-meadow swamp-monsters.
Cluster-thatch mis-match cottagey
Cottages two-storey stone-wall
Two-up two-down cottage-type things
Combine harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Combine bloody harvesters!
He sees all of this and he aches within
And his heart pines for the metaphysical
Dread-beat nuance of one who is enraptured, trapped
By his own dark imaginings,
Oh what a fool you are
Fire Chief of Jakarta!

What a fool you are!
With your National Geographic magazines
And you dreams
And those endless TV repeats
Of Last of the Summer Wine
What a blazing fool you are!

Or are you?
I’ve been to Newton Abbot and it sucks.
I like your version much better.
(Exeter, 2012)

Limerick

There once was a man from Aberystwyth
Who was an existentialist.
While eating some ham
He said ‘I am’.

(can’t remember when or where)