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,
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,
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.
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 . . .

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,
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,
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,
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,

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.

Spout, the official trailer

So yesterday I spent most of the morning on Paignton beach with film maker John Tomkins, making the official trailer for my new show, Spout. Naturally it’s not every day that you sit on a beach in a teapot hat, but I think I was very professional indeed. And the people passing by seemed to enjoy what we were doing!

Anyway, here’s the trailer. Spout debuts next week at the Barnstaple TheatreFest and then moves to Guildford, Reading, Denbury, Bristol, Torquay and Totnes before rolling into Edinburgh for the fringe.

An overview of my career : I have no idea what I’m doing!

An overview of my career : I have no idea what I’m doing!

I’ve been performing spoken word for ten years now. Yes, this is my big anniversary. And it only seems like yesterday that I started performing. I remember the first gig, I was incredibly nervous but people laughed in all the right places, and this was the first ever time that I thought, okay, perhaps other people might find what I do funny. And since then I have performed all over the place, at festivals and fringes and spoken word nights and comedy nights and anywhere else that will have me, and I get paid to do it now, and that’s amazing and excellent, but you know what?

I’ll let you in to a secret.

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

That’s right. Every time I sit down at my desk with a pen in my hand, every time I rehearse a poem, every time I get on stage, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. There’s no grand master plan, there’s no overriding theme, my poems are spur of the moment in the most part, and my performances are heavily dependent on the audience and the location and everything else.

Now I know this might not sound terribly professional. I know I should sit down and work things out. But I’ve spent ten years just going with gut instinct on absolutely everything. I have no idea what the right way of going about a career in spoken word looks like. I’ve had no training either in being an artistic practitioner, or the administrative side of things, and everything I’ve done I’ve had to teach myself to do.

And this is quite a comfortable position to be in. I don’t feel the need to follow any trends. In fact, my biggest influence is music and specifically, pop music. I don’t often watch other poets in my free time, and I don’t read page poetry, so I have no idea what the trends are. My main thought when concocting a poem is, hmm, I wonder if people might like this? And when I’m not performing or writing, I’m not a spoken word artist, I’m just a normal bloke who doesn’t even ink about spoken word until he’s actually doing it. As I say, I have no idea what I’m doing!

But this lack of a master plan has given me some fantastic memories and led to some amazing experiences. The best thing about ignoring boundaries and seeing beyond the narrow confines of the spoken word community is that it gives you the chance to collaborate with other artists from other areas of expression. Over the last couple of years I’ve worked with a film maker, a rock band, a jazz band, a violinist, a visual artist, comedians, improv artists, actors and art gallery curators. And these opportunities have all come about by not having a specific master plan.

Take poetry slams, for example. About seven years ago I got drawn in to the murky world of poetry slams and did quite well for a bit, but then got drawn in to the mindset that everything I wrote had to be a potential poetry slam poem. Dispensing with that mindset helped me write both shorter and longer poems, Poems that rely on props, music, and everything else, and I’ve been much happier creatively realising that you can go much further if you’re more relaxed in your writing.

But it has its downsides, of course, this mindset. There are long hours of existentialist dread where I have no idea of what I’m doing is worthy. And then I start wondering, well, does it have to be worthy? Does there have to be a message? I’ve just spent over half a year working on a show about tea and I have no idea yet if this was a waste of time. And the same goes for almost every project I’ve worked on.

So my career plan for the next few years is not to get bogged down in detail or on career plans. I’m just going to carry on going on instinct and having a fun and creative time. The artists I admire the most, Frank O’Hara and Laurie Anderson, spent their creative time being as open as possible and this is how I shall carry on. I have no grand plan to conquer the world or be the best spoken word artist there has ever been. I just want to have fun and help others have fun too.

I went to the Straight Pride Parade

I’ve just been to the straight pride parade
I gasped at the masks and the costumes that they made
I offered a salute to the striding blokes with banners
Proudly raising up their porn mags and their spanners

I’ve just been to the straight pride parade
There was a lovely beer tent though I asked for lemonade
Striding proud in line in a slouchy kind of way
Shuffling and lollopping and none of them were gay

All of them were very straight, butch and masculine
And I felt strange stirrings of something down within
To watch all these straight guys belch and march and fart
Did some very odd things to the depths of my heart

I’ve just been to the straight pride fete
All of them moustachioed and several called me mate
None of them wore sequins though a few had anoraks
And then they took their shirts off and rubbed sun cream on their backs

I’ve just been to the straight pride fair
I’d never seen so many definitely straight men there
Straight straight straight straight that was one of their chants
And then they took their clothes off and pranced around in their pants

I had a great time at the straight pride parade
Blokey blokey blokey blokey straight pride parade
Marching proud in line with the world at their feet
But Every day is straight pride day on every single street

Spout : A show about tea!

Spout is an hour show featuring poems, stories and autobiographical silliness all around the theme of tea. If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of tea, or are a coffee drinker eager to make that leap, then Spout is the show for you! Spout is sure to create a stir.

Meet Roberts gran, who’s very fussy about how she likes her tea. Meet Aunt Rosie, who likes to sing while she’s boiling the kettle. Marvel at poems about hipster tea shops, tea-based rap songs and a group of magical fairies who specialise in baking cakes for gay weddings. This whole show will make you see tea anew!

Robert Garnham is an award winning LGBT comedy spoken word artist from Surrey. He has been long listed three times as spoken word artist of the year and has features in TV advertisements for a certain building society. Spout is his ode, his love letter, to this beverage of kings, this every day magic potion, tea!

Spout will be featuring at the Barnstaple Theatrefest, Reading Fringe, Guildford Fringe, the Glasdenbury Festival, Big Poetry and the Edinburgh Fringe, with other events to be announced soon.

Here’s an interview with the creator and writer and main performer of Spout, Robert Garnham!

I didn’t sit down to write a show about tea. I just realised one day, ‘hang on a minute. I seem to have an awful lot of poems about tea’. I think the reason behind this is that I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, invariably drinking tea, and wondering what to write about, and then looking down at the tea making paraphernalia in front of me and thinking, ‘yes, that will do’. In fact, I had so many poems about tea that some of them couldn’t possibly be squeezed into the show.

Of course, the show isn’t just about tea. In a funny sort of way, it’s probably the most autobiographical thing I’ve done. My grandmother and my aunt both feature prominently, and it was the weirdest thing, they just kind of barged their way in to the script while I was writing it. I would visit them both and invariably, out would come the tea pot and the whole ceremony of making a cuppa and having a chat. And my word, they could chat. I’d hear all the gossip about the neighbours and then they’d move on to stories about the olden days. It was always difficult getting a word in edgeways.

Working in retail, my first responsibility of every day would be to make everyone a cuppa. ‘We don’t do many miles to the cuppa’, is the saying we adopted, to explain why we would stop so often for a brew. And whenever a new recruit would start, I’d say to them, ‘are you good with technology?’ ‘Yes’, they’d reply. ‘Great, then can you go and put the kettle on’.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer mugs to cups. There’s nothing more refreshing than a strong tea made in a big thick mug. You can’t gulp tea down with a dainty cup. And there’s always the risk of accidental slurpage. A mug makes tea informal. They’re also easier for washing up, too, more robust than dainty cups. There’s a line in the show, ‘I’d rather have a dainty cup and not a builders mug’. This is pure fiction, personally speaking, and I only put the line in there because it rhymed and scanned, and not because it is true. I’m a poet and I’m allowed to do things like that.

So how would I describe Spout? It’s certainly scatalogical, a little bit weird, yet it hopefully takes the audience to places that we all know and recognise, whole simultaneously making them think about the world anew. I mean, that’s pretty lofty, isn’t it, having a show with such aims. And I hope it means that you might learn something about me, too. We’re all different, and yet we’re all the same. We are brought together by the things that we enjoy.

This show is dedicated to my grandmother Winifred, and my aunt, Mildred. Both were strong, independent women, Londoners who survived the Blitz, and helped imbue in me a love of those little stories which keep us all sane, tidbits of gossip, anecdotes, and humour in all the kinds of places where they might otherwise have been lost. They were also both prolific tea drinkers.

I hope you enjoy watching Spout as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and rehearsing it.

Gennady Yanayev : The Musical

For the last few years I’ve had an urge to write a musical. Perhaps inspired by the success of Hamilton, I, too, have pondered on a lyrical exploration of the life and times of a similar historical figure, whose story really must be told to a new generation before they sink, inevitably, into the dustbin of history.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of musicals. Whenever I’m watching them I think well, if you have something to say, just say it. No need to create a song and dance about it. I still have bad memories of the time a friend insisted we watch the classic animated film, that defining piece of art Yogi’s First Christmas. I had no idea it was a musical, and the whole thing could have been a good half an hour shorter if that characters didn’t burst into song every five minutes for no apparent reason, you know, just like people do in real life. And there was an amusing moment when the park rangers are stressing over how to get Yogi to go back to his cave and hibernate like bears are supposed to do, and I was scouting at the screen, ‘Just use a tranquilliser dart!’ Ok, so perhaps it’s wrong to diss an entire genre solely on the basis of Yogi’s First Christmas, but, unlike a lot of gay men, I’d never seen what all the fuss was about with musicals.
Until Hamilton came along. I just loved the idea of this historical biography being relayed in hip hop and rhythm, completely contemporarising the life and times of Alexander Hamilton. It made me look at the whole genre of musicals anew. And that’s when I saw how much of an exquisite art form this can be. Musicals are amazing! The songs form a bond between the subject matter and the audience, a harmony of rhythm and voice blended with words to create a shortcut to the depths of a characters soul, or merely to move the story along quickly when things get boring. And the songs, oh, the songs! Clever wordplay, sung conversations and interactions, glitz, glamour, sequins, feather boas, a celebration of choreographed movement, musicals, oh, musicals, suddenly appealed to the very depths of me!
In short, the vast majority of them are very camp.
And that’s when I decided to try and write a musical about the most un-camp person in the vast pantheon of historical figures, one of history’s losers whose story might now have been forgotten, overtaken by the urgency of current affairs.
Gennady Yanayev was the president of the Soviet Union. Yes, he was. You can look him up in the history books if you don’t believe me. He was the dictator of the largest country on the planet and one of the two big superpowers. Gennady Yanayev was he man on top. The big cheese. The head honcho of the Soviet Communist world. And like a titan, he stayed in that commanding role for almost three days. And then, just like that, he was gone.
1991. This was a time of glasnost and perestroika and the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. After decades of brutal rule and secrecy, paranoia and political persecution, subjugation, fierce control and the kind of mindset which meant that imminent nuclear annihilation was a normal fact of everyday life, so much so that it was factored in to making plans – ‘oh, were having a barbecue next Sunday, why don’t you come along? Unless the Russians obliterate Basingstoke in the mean time’ – the openness of Gorbachev was a refreshing breath of fresh air. He was affable and charismatic and media friendly, unlike Brezhnev, who always looked like a constipated badger, and his two immediate successors who both died within months of becoming leader. Gorbachev was smiley, open, breezy, and he saw that there was more to life than threatening to blow up the entire world.
But the hardliners didn’t like it. Well, they wouldn’t, would they. It’s what made them hard liners. They were hard to win over. They could see that Gorbachev’s policies might very well lead to the break up of the Soviet Union. Ha, as if that could ever happen! And OK, the Berlin Wall had come down a couple of years before leading to revolutions right across Eastern Europe, free movement of people and ideas, but Russia was still communist. They saw Gorbachev as dangerous. He had to go.
They waited until Gorbachev was on holiday. You can imagine the scene as he left the Kremlin. ‘Now you chaps behave yourself while I’m gone’. And off he went with his suitcase and trilby, probably whistling in a jaunty manner as he climbed aboard his limousine. And they watched as he left, running from window to window until his car was a dot in the distance.
The coup was led by the chairman of the KGB and the chief defence industry minister. They were the brains behind the operation. They thought that they had to take some kind of action to get the Soviet Union back on its true path. Hardliners both, but neither of them wanted to be the actual figurehead. So they chose the deputy president. They chose Gennady Yanayev.
Gennady was a grey, colourless bureaucrat with a stony face and thick glasses that magnified his slightly mad eyes. He had worked his way up through the party machine to be Gorbachev’s deputy. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about him. Just the sort of person who would make the excellent lead character of my hypothetical musical. He also had another quality which adds a certain depth and almost comedic bounty to his character, and that’s the fact that he was, most of time, hopelessly drunk.
So Yanayev was declared to be the acting president of the Soviet Union, in an announcement which shocked the world and plunged international politics into a frenzy of paranoia and bad karma. It seemed as if the old, bad days of the USSR were back, that the hardliners had won while Gorbachev was being held under house arrest at his holiday dacha. Indeed, the word dacha had never been heard so much on the news. The whole world was in shock, religious leaders offered prayers, strategists and defence analysts looked at their nuclear capabilities, everyone was aghast.
Until . . .
Until Gennady Yanayev hosted his first press conference.
Never had a man looked less like a leader. He sat before the reporters and the television cameras in his brown suit and thick glasses, his hands shaking uncontrollably. He was blind drunk, and he slurred his words, his voice quavering, and when a young reporter pointed out that he had staged a coup, he was unable to reply, stumbling and bumbling over an incomprehensible answer. The next day the coup was over and Gorbachev was back in power.
And what of Gennady? Sentenced to treason, he was placed in prison but within a few years he was let out again, only to become employed by the Moscow Tourist Board. The rest of his life was conducted in relative obscurity, this rather bland individual who had once, for three days, been the president of Russia.
I envisage the musical beginning in an unglamorous office. Gennady is sitting at a desk stamping documents. There’s a bank of filing cabinets behind him. And as he stamps, in a humourless manner, he’s singing a song in a throaty, guttural fashion about how he likes paperwork. There’s truth in paperwork. There’s no wrong answer. And on the wall there are posters advertising various districts of Moscow. The scene ends when one of his bosses comes in, a young lady, who’s very sharp with him. ‘Your work is awful’, she says. ‘Just what has become of you? Have you always been this shoddy?’ Gennady looks, sadly, out the window.
The next scene goes back in time, and it’s here that I might use a bit of artistic freedom. Gennady is a young man, making his way up through the ranks. Each verse details a different rank, he’s twirling and dancing as soldiers and office workers detail the meagre ranks that he passes through. And then there’s a stirring scene where he’s asked by his wife, ‘Are you blind to our love?’, and he replies, ‘No, I’m just blind drunk’.
Next comes a scene where grey, stony faced men with deep voices invite him to join the Politburo. And then a bit of fun as we are introduced to the leaders of the Soviet Union, who One by one die off on stage, collapsing on to the floor. Brezhnev! (Dead). Andropov! (Dead). Cherenyenko! (Dead). They’re all dead, they’re all dead, and who oh who oh who is this?
A young, vibrant figure leaps on to the stage, ‘I’m Gorbachev!’
Naturally, what follows will be a joyful dance routine about how much everyone loves Mikhail. ‘Glasnost! Perestroika! Glasnost! Perestroika! We are aboard the Gorbachev train! Nothing on earth will ever be the same! Glasnost! Perestroika! Glasnost! Perestroika! We all love Comrade Gorbachev! Let’s hope he sticks around and he doesn’t bugger off’.
From here on the musical will become somewhat formulaic. There will be a soulful slow number about Yanayev’s love life, his drinking, the sadness at the heart of him and possibly a song about how he wishes he were more popular. And then the showpiece of the musical, just before the break. A riproaring smash hit of a song about the coup itself, called ‘Dacha coming atcha! We are the Gorby snatchers!’ followed by a scene in which Yanayev is pressured into becoming the new president.
Oh, I can just see it now!
After the interval, we see Yanayev in his office with a bottle of vodka, too afraid to go anywhere, looking out the window and checking for bugs. He’s lonely and he’s scared. Perhaps we might concentrate on this part of the show on his drinking problem. And next must come the press conference scene. Naturally, everything here will be exaggerated for comic effect. The press make him a laughing stock, there’s lots of rhythmical laughter and pointing and things build up into a kind of maelstrom, he finally admits that he doesn’t want to be the president. The scene will end with him being arrested.
And that’s more or less how the musical will end, with his release from prison and his interview with the Moscow tourist board being told through song. But at one stage near the end he might have the chance to put down his pen and dream.
For thirty hours, the world was his, from the frozen pines of Siberia to the heat on the coast of the Crimea, from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok, this immense nation, trans continental railways and factories, farms and roads, cities and tower blocks, airports and shops, and people, millions of people, workers, students, soldiers, families, they were all his playthings while he drinker vodka in an anonymous Kremlin office. Did he have a chance to look out of the window and see the stars in all their timeless omniscience, in the grave and cold constellations reaching down with their ancient light, that he might dare to imagine himself in league with their firmament, dizzy with the promise of political power and the aims of a just, new world, or was he absolutely blotto? And later on, in his cold prison cell, or in his drab wood panelled office with its functional decor, did he ever have cause to let his mind wander and think, for just a moment or two, I was once in charge of all this? Or again, was he absolutely blotto? And on his death bed, did he once again recall that press conference in which he was exposed to the world, a simple man, an individual representative of a bigger entity, seeing his future undone before it could even begin, or was he so blotto at he time that he remembered nothing of it? All I know is that is a story which must be retold, a stirring reminder that even the most frightening moments of international chaos have a human story at the heart of them.
You see, I recognise myself in certain aspects of Yanayevs character. I have had plenty of moments in which fortune, luck and hard work have paid off, and each time the results have been far, far less than is ever envisaged. I’ve seen my own triumphs simultaneously exciting and blurred not by alcohol, but by self doubt, fear, and good old fashioned sloppiness. I’ve felt myself surrounded by stars and high achievers only to look in the mirror and see a bland nobody staring back. And I, too, have been placed in positions of power and influence of which I was qualified not in the slightest.
I would dare to say that the story of Gennady Yanayev is a story for us all, a modern parable, and a caution from history. For no matter how much a person might achieve in life, they will always be forgotten very, very quickly.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak Live at the GlasDenbury Festival 2018

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 tight rope 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.

Mr. Juicy

Mr. Juicy is the twenty minute poem which concluded my 2017 show Juicy, which I took to Edinburgh and all over the UK. I am incredibly proud of this piece and listening to it again brings back all kinds of memories. I hope you enjoy it!

Elvis Impersonator, Newton Abbot Station

Elvis Impersonator, Newton Abbot Station

Have you ever gone through life thinking, wow, there are a lot of incredibly eccentric people out there? And then had that weird thing happen when you get all philosophical and start to wonder whether the weird people are actually the normal ones? What sort of person goes through life only caring what other people think about them?
I love eccentricity. In fact, were it not for the glaringly obvious, I’d love to be eccentric, too. I keep looking forward to being an old man, and having found my niche in the world of eccentricity, some kind of little quirk that I might expand and make all my own. And I don’t mean sitting on a park bench and barking at people, or being that man who used to walk around Paignton while wearing rabbit ears. I want to cultivate something epic, a kind of intellectual eccentricity, like Ivor Cutler, or Gilbert and George.
I haven’t seen Rabbit Ears for a few years, now. There was something almost graceful about him, the way he’d walk upright and with aristocratic bearing, and yet with a pair of rabbit ears perched right on top of his head. I remember one day my dad made a very rare excursion by bus into the town where I live, and sure enough, on the way home again, Rabbit Ears came and sat in the seat next to him. Dad spent the whole journey kind of looking at him out of the corner of his eye, while everything else pretended that he wasn’t there. And it was only when a kid came on that the silence was broken.
‘Mum, why is that man wearing rabbit ears?’
‘But why?’
‘Just be quiet!’
I wouldn’t say that I’d particularly have the bravery to walk around with a pair of rabbit ears, but there’s something distinctly charming and almost comforting about eccentricity.

One of the more interesting aspects of being a spoken word artist is that it involves a lot of late night travel. Gigs usually end around eleven at night and then I have to find my way either home or to the town where I’m staying. It’s usually considered polite to wait until the end of a gig, though I have snuck off early every now and then over the years. If I’m performing in London, for example, I usually stay in Woking, so that means a late night commute out to the suburbs. Which actually isn’t too bad. The trains are frequent and fast and I’ve never once been mugged, or at least, not knowingly. It’s possible during this time that someone has tried to mug me, but due to the fact that I often wear earphones at such times, I might possibly have mistaken it for a genial yellow or an enquiry as to the time. And there are plenty of people around, even on those late night trains. In fact there’s a weird kind of bleary eyed camaraderie, that we are all just winding down now, intent on getting home before midnight. In ten years of gigging, nothing bad has ever happened. I’ve also caught late night trains from Gloucester to Cheltenham, or Bath to Bristol, or Cambridge to London, or Oxford to Reading, and every single time I’ve felt safe and surrounded by people, even on the platforms.
Devon, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. Things are different in Devon. For a start, the trains are much smaller, shabbier, and seem to rock from side to side more than they go forwards. The trains are diesel powered, too. Which means that they seem to make a straining over exerted sound before they’ve even moved away from the station platform, shuddering and rocking and juddering until with a mighty effort they start creeping forward. And the stations they arrive at are dark, deserted, downright creepy and miles from anywhere.
And the other passengers. Wow, the other passengers are scary. There’s something about the train service in Devon, mainly because it’s the only public transport to some of these deserted rural communities, that seems to attract, if one must put it politely, prolific drinkers. Not only prolific, but vocal, too. Even if they’re travelling along and they’ve never met anyone else on the train, they have to kind of shout above the roar of the engines, which admittedly, are very loud. Even the most normal conversation sounds like a punch up and it’s not a good place to be for those of a nervous disposition. Cider is often the main beverage of choice, and I’ve begun to see those brown two little bottles as a symbol of potential trouble. The earphones come in handy. I’ve often listened to Radio Four over a background of what sounds like a full blown riot.
Mind you, I’ve always felt relaxed about public transport in Devon. I once managed to catch a bus from Newton Abbot to Paignton with my eyes shut, and nothing bad happened to me at all. The reason for this is that I had an eye examination at the hospital and a friend, Mark, had come along to make sure that everything went ok. The hospital asked me to bring someone, and it soon became apparent that this was because they were going to give me eye drops which would blur my vision and make me blind. This they duly did, and once my appointment was over, they let me go. But that was ok, I reasoned, because I had Mark with me. Mark would protect me, wouldn’t he?
Bless him, he made sure that I got to the bus stop okay. And then he said, ‘Right, good luck with getting home, I’m off’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m going shopping. Do you really think I’d come out all this way and not go round the shops? Anyway, let me know when you’re home. Send me a text’.
‘But I won’t be able to see my phone!’
‘It’s in your pocket. Right then, see you later’.
And off he went.
I’ll never know how I managed to get home. There was a lot of fumbling involved and as luck would have it at the time, I happened to live near the bus station.
But Devon’s stations are a whole different matter.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Newton Abbot doing a bit of train-surfing. Train-surfing, I hear you ask. What’s he going on about? Train-surfing is a method I use so that I don’t have to get the local service all the way from Exeter to Paignton. It’s usually full of drunks and ne’erdowells and it clatters along like a bouncy castle and it’s really most uncomfortable in every way you can think of. If you don’t get rattled to bits, you run the risk of a cider bottle over he head if you look at someone funny, or else some drunk is challenging everyone to an impromptu game of Buckaroo. So if I get in it at Exeter Central, then I get off it one stop later at Exeter St David’s and catch the fast service as far as Newton Abbot. The fast service is more comfortable and doesn’t stop at all the stations, and the scrotes tend to stay on the little local train.
That’s Train-surfing.
The only downside with this is that you then have to spend twenty minutes or so at Newton Abbot station, waiting for the little local service to catch up. And you know what they say about the place. At Newton Abbot station, nobody can hear you scream. However, even this is preferable to the late night local service. Or the Rat Pee Special, as Mark calls it. On account of the odours emanating from the on board toilets.
So there I am at Newton Abbot the having train surfed from Exeter. The stars are out and it’s pretty cold. My only company on the platform is the Neon coming from the Coca cola drinks machine. I’ve got my iPad for company and I’ve been listening to a comedy album, but now the local service to Paignton was just about to arrive. I’m looking, expectantly, into the gloom, waiting for the headlights of the train and it’s familiar strained diesel whine. And I, just pondering on an idea I’ve just had for a stage play called Dr Jeckyll And Mr Humprhreys, when an Elvis impersonator shambles along the platform.
Yes, an elvis Impersonator.
And he was drunk.
‘Excuse me’, quoth he, ‘Do you like Elvis?’
Now I know this is sort of like seeing a vicar or a priest and the first thing them saying is ‘Do you like Jesus?’ But it actually happened. This was the very first thing that he asked. And he was dressed like Elvis.
‘He’s okay’, I replied.
‘Them people’, he said, pointing in a kind of drunk way to the town of Newton Abbot in general, ‘keep laughing at me’.
The man is dressed as Elvis.
‘How come?’
‘They only care that Elvis died on the toilet. I keep telling them that there’s more than that. He made great music. But all they care about was that he died on the toilet’.
‘He died on the toilet?’
I didn’t know this for a fact, and I’d assumed that it was an urban legend.
‘Yeah. And they’re laughing at me because of it’.
I’ve never really liked Elvis, but I didn’t want to tell him this. I appreciate that he had a good voice and some good songs, and a certain rapport with his audience, but I’ve never really rated him as one of my favourite singers.
‘Do you like Elvis?’ he asked.
Well, here we go, I thought. But in my defence I was tired, and it had been a long day, and the fact that I had just performed to tens of people in Exeter kind of made me feel a little invincible.
‘He was ok. But for me, the best singer of that period was Roy Orbison’.
Now, I’ve told this story to a friend of mine and she said that this is the moment when the whole encounter could have gone tits up. He could have reacted badly. He could have lunged for me, for example, and beckme ever so violent and I could have finished my days dead, on Newton Abbot station platform, hacked to death by an Elvis Impersonator. But instead he seemed to take it very calmly and he said,
‘I love Roy Orbison! He was the best! Well, apart from Elvis, that is’.
‘That voice’, I ventured.
‘Yes! Oh man, he had such an amazing voice. Almost like an opera singer! That high note he hits in that song, what is it now . . .’.
‘Only the Lonely?’, I suggested.
‘Yes! It sends shivers down my spine. Oh wow, Roy Orbison was amazing.’
‘But not as amazing as Elvis, eh?’
‘Well’, he said, kind of standing back from me a little bit and doing something of an Elvis pose which involved a strange spasm of the leg, ‘That goes without saying’.
By now the train was coming in and I decided that I didn’t want to be stuck with a drunk Elvis impersonator for the rest of the journey, so I decided on a cunning plan. I would let him get on and then run down to the next carriage., seeing as though it was obvious that we were both waiting for the same train. I would pretend, in a very sneaky manner, that I was waiting for a train after his. Even though there was no train. This was the last service of the night.
‘Here’s your train’ I said to him.
‘You are’, he said, ‘a good bloke’.
And then he started that drunk persons thing that drunk men do when they decide that they have to shake your hand and kind of sum up everything they know about you.
‘You’re a good bloke. And I’ve really enjoyed talking. Such a good bloke. If I ever see you in the pub I will buy you a pint. Such a good bloke you are. Roy Orbison! Ha ha ha. You’re such a good bloke. You’re a really good bloke. Now come here and shake my hand. Roy Orbison! So good to meet you. Yeah. Roy Orbison. Elvis, man! And Roy Orbison. So good to meet a good person’. He said all this while shaking my hand.
At this point I realised that if I didn’t get on the train I’d miss it altogether. ‘You’d better get on’, I said, looking at the guard.
And as I watched him stumble on board, I managed to time it to perfection, running down to the next carriage and jumping on just as the guard blew his whistle.
I spent the rest of the journey hiding in the next carriage, squeezed up against the wall hoping that the Elvis impersonator didn’t see me.
As my friend Anne says, I seem to attract these sorts of people.