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?’
‘Shush!’
‘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.

Jean Alesi and me.

Jean Alesi

In 1989 my mother bought me a second hand black and white television for my bedroom. I was fifteen years old and until that time, had not had my own tv. In those days, of course, there were only four channels so the likelihood of there being anything on to watch was very small. My sister had had her own colour tv for a couple of years, which wasn’t fair because she was younger, and not only that, but hers had a remote control. Remote controls were new technology. Our old big tv downstairs had a remote control and if you lost it, you could change channels by rattling a bunch of keys. How nonchalantly, my sister would sit on her bed and be able to change channels without even having to move or grab a bunch of keys. And now I, too, had my own television set.
It was a cranky old thing, (the second hand tv, not my sister), short, squat and smelling ever so faintly of burning dust and electricity. And if it was switched on for too long it would get very hot and it would turn itself off at inopportune moments, a strange little button at the back popping out with a fierce click. Once it had cooled down one was able to press the button and turn it on again. If it was still hot, the button would just stay out and you’d have to sit and wait for ages, which was no good if you were watching something really important, like Columbo. And during a heat wave you’d have to wait for hours. The damn thing would just not cool down.
In the defence of my tv, though, there occasionally wasn’t anything on at all. The announcer would come on and say, well, we’ve got no programs for the rest of the afternoon, so here’s the test card. Oooooooooooooo!
One day – and it must have been a Sunday – I caught the start and opening laps of the San Marino formula one Grand Prix. It was pretty hard to decipher what was happening, what with the fact that all the cars were shown in black and white, and there was always a lot of static interference every time my sister used her hair dryer. The television set had a dial, and you had to dial in to the television channel the same way that you had to with a radio finding a station. And very shortly after the start of the race there was a very bad accident involving Gerhard Berger.
Motor racing was a part of my life from an early age, but I’d never taken much interest in it before. My childhood bedroom wallpaper was of John Watson’s Marlboro sponsored McLaren. It’s great to think that it was such an unenlightened age that cigarette sponsorship was allowed into the bedrooms of small boys. I didn’t know much about John Watson, or motor racing for that matter, or McLaren, or smoking, butmy dad was proficient in all of these, and I picked up bits along the way, enough to know that the McLarens were still sponsored by Marlboro, and that the leading drivers of the day were Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet, and my own favourite, Gerhard Berger. And the only reason I liked Gerhard Berger was because his second name was Berger. I liked burgers. I had no interest in taking up smoking, but eating burgers was definitely helped because of the wonders of Gerhard.
The race on my little black and white television was stopped because of Berger’s accident, and as I waited for it to restart, the inevitable occurred and my television turned itself off. I put my hand on the back of it and, sure enough, it was giving off a pretty intense heat. The strain of being turned on for almost forty five minutes was obviously too much. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use it for a couple of hours, by which time the race would probably be finished.
So I went downstairs to the living room, and as luck would have it my parents were out gardening or something else interesting that parents do on a sunny spring morning, and I was able to watch the rest of the race on the big television in the living room. Now this television was colour, and having sat through forty five minutes of black and white, the contrast – no pun intended – was amazing. The colours were vibrant, the green grass around the track, the multicoloured cars and drivers and the McLarens looking just like they did on my bedroom wallpaper, their Marlboro branding vibrant and luxurious. I’d never seen a spectacle like this, the excitement and the intensity of motor racing revealed in all its technicolor brilliance, the primary colours, the advertising hoardings, the flags and banners in the crowd, the vibrant orange of the flames licking around Berger’s crashed Ferrari. It was probably at this moment that I fell in love with formula one Grand Prix racing.
Now it must be said that I was a weird teenager. At fifteen years old I’d already sussed that I was gay. It was obvious to myself, though not particularly so to other people. I wasn’t entirely camp and I wore the sorts of clothing that all my friends wore, so I’m sure that nobody knew, that it would remain this devastating big secret which I would carry with me to the grave. I told myself that I was very good at hiding it. I also thought that I was one of the handful of gay people in the entire world, that it was basically just me and Julian Clary. There didn’t seem to be any other gay role models. It was also the nineteen eighties. Homophobia was very popular in mainstream society and most people seemed to be very fond of it, particularly in Surrey where I lived on a council estate within earshot of the main runways at Heathrow Airport.
So I was kind of glad that I’d got in to formula one motor racing, because this was the sort of thing that the average straight man really liked, all those machines and engines and drivers and strategies and ladies in bikinis carrying large lollipops with the names of the drivers, and adverts for cigarettes and beer and after shave and spanners and motor oil, and brash egos and the roar of the engines. It was a straight person’s paradise. And the more I got in to the sport, the more I saw that this gave me an escape route should I be talking to my friends and the hypothetical question comes up, ‘Are you gay?’, to which I might reply, ‘No, and did you see the race at the weekend?’
The summer progressed. Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet, Berger. These titans, these gods of the sport who towered above not only formula one, but life itself. How excitedly Id tune in to catch their exploits, with their distinct personalities and their almost superhuman powers to pick me up and fly me away from gaydom into that sparkling iridescent rainbow glitter world of perpetual absolute straightness! And then, one day, along came Jean Alesi.
Imagine if you had to invent the perfect racing driver. Imagine if you were writing a novel and you realised that you needed a stereotypical barely believable cartoon character of a racing driver. What characteristics would you give them, if you were a little lazy when it came to inventing such characters? A firm jaw, dazzling blue eyes, a small stature, handsome youthfulness, sultry eyes with a faraway stare. And what kind of nationality would you give your invented racing driver? French? Italian? Well, why not a mixture of both? And what kind of name would you give your hypothetical stereotypical racing driver? Something distinctly European, yet a name which sounds fast even in its spelling and economy of letters. Jean Alesi. Four syllables, not very many letters. Oh my god, he was everything I wanted him to be!
Jean Alesi burst on the scene halfway through 1989. And all of a sudden these old towering idols of motor racing didn’t seem quite so special. Jean was in a much slower car, yet he was driving much better than them and spent most of his first race in second place before finishing fourth. He didn’t seem to care very much that there were people out there who needed these titans of motor racing to just keep going and going. Jean Alesi was like a fresh thought introduced into a tired way of looking at the world. Jean Alesi was the embodiment of excitement. Jean Alesi was the equivalent of saying, hey, you know what? There are other ways of living your life. Jean Alesi was also very good looking.
Oh my god, I liked him a lot.
And soon the exploits of Jean Alesi became the only reason that I watched formula one. Well, that and the need to appear to be the same as all the other blokes, what with formula one being so blokey. Because within this blokey structure, Jean Alesi demonstrated that there was room for something new and exciting. He held his steering wheel right at the top. He leaned his head over at crazy, exaggerated angles around the corners, it was like he was pretending to be a racing driver. It was almost, dare one say it, camp. He had no technical skill whatsoever. My nickname for him was Crazy Alesi. One of his former team mates used to call him Jean Asleazy. He seemed to run on pure enthusiasm.
I wanted to come out. I was desperate for the world to know who I was. But the world was a different place back then and the framework of support that most LGBT people in the Uk mostly have now was missing back in 1989. There were hardly any gay people on television, unless it were the basis of a joke or a cheap stereotype, and section 28 was prevalent in schools preventing teachers having serious conversations about homosexuality. The AIDS crisis was at the forefront of everyone’s mind whenever the subject of gay men was discussed. Homophobia was everywhere, in throwaway comments and the laughter of school fiends, jokes told openly, and in government policies. Being gay was a personal source of shame, a hideous joke played by nature and something which I thought I might even grow out of, or at least train myself to disregard. I just hadn’t met the right woman yet, a woman with short hair, blue eyes, no female bits and only male bits, possibly French Italian, probably called Jean. I wanted the world to change.
And Jean Alesi wanted to win a Grand Prix.
Over the next six years, Alesi found himself in another race. I was getting older, a teenager now, late teens, the early twenties beckoning, and I gave myself the target of coming out to the world as gay in a glorious burst of music and love, before Jean Alesi won his first Grand Prix. As luck would have it, Alesi soon signed to Ferrari, a team which at the time was in one of is periodic performance troughs, so the idea that Alesi might actually win a race was now almost impossible. This gave me some breathing space. I felt like a swimmer about to plunge into icy water, steeling himself, just standing there, year after year, unable to make that final move. And knowing that if I did, I’d get more than a cold shoulder. Every other week I’d sit and watch as Alesi found a new and exciting way not to win a race, and this seemed emblematic of my own struggle. Moments of promise and potential victory falling apart, and assured win undone by some minor trifle. For six long years Jean and I struggled together to get what we wanted, to make our name on history before it was too late.
And then, in 1995, when I was 21 years old, the bastard did it.
It was the Canadian Grand Prix. It was one of those races in which all the other drivers fell by the wayside. And this left Alesi out in front, victory assured. I remember those final laps, I was almost crying with delight, and yet while I felt pleased that he was actually about to do it, I also felt a sense of loathing that he should get what he always wanted, and I would be left there, alone. And as he crossed the finish line in an emotional moment of tears and celebration, I thought, well, my life hasn’t changed in the slightest.
If it’s any consolation, that would also be his last win in formula one. I did think about waiting until his second win to come out, and I’m glad that I didn’t, because there would be no second win. In fact it would be another four years until I came out to friends and family, by which time I already had had a partner. But that’s another story.
Every now and then Jean Alesi turns up on television. He’s much older now but he’s still good looking and my mother fancies him. To me he was the epitome of what a racing driver should be, but he’s always stood for more than that. He was my personal talisman, my guardian angel, he was there showing the way without him even realising that he was doing it. He showed me that you could change the order of things just by the force of sheer enthusiasm and, of course, a lot of hard work. My own coming out felt less like a fantastic victory and more like a plane crash. And perhaps Alesi had already had his coming out moment, the time he had told his parents that yes, he was a racing driver.
There are kids out there now looking for the same escape. The world is ever so slightly easier for them now. And that’s such a good thing, people seem far more open minded and people can be who they want to be. They don’t need racing drivers to show them the way. Or perhaps, they do. Perhaps we are all racing drivers now. We are all Jean Alesi.

Poem

When I was a teenager
There were only two things I desperately wanted.
To come out,
And for formula one driver Jean Alesi to win a Grand Prix.
Both of them took a long time
And relied less on skill and more
On the bad fortune of others.
The circumstances had to be just right,
And once this landmark had been reached,
The floodgates would open
And there’d be no stopping us,
Me and Jean Alesi.
There were lots of accidents in the way,
Near misses and heart stopping moments,
And in 1995, in the city of Montreal,
Jean Alesi finally took the chequered flag first,
To floods of tears and immense relief.
And yet.
Just as he crossed the finish line,
I, who was still to achieve my end,
Felt a sudden anger towards him.

Perpendicular: My new podcast

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a podcast and it’s now ready to be unleashed on the world. Each episode is a purpose written piece featuring all kinds of whimsy. I’m hoping to release one a week but to get things going, here are two episodes.

I hope you enjoy them!

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/perpendicular-1/s-MqMu2

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/perpendicular-episode-two-elvis-impersonator-newton-abbot-station/s-MBqnS

The Unbearable Lightness Of Robert Garnham Series Two

Well I’ve had great fun this year working on some silly video diaries. I’ve been releasing one a week for the last seven weeks.

They really don’t take themselves too seriously.

You can watch all of them here at this link. And I hope you enjoy them!

Here’s a trailer, and the link to see the playlist is below.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPOfqmiGH9pCLdENqiwXA6yb8vQCrmVNg

Thoughts from on the road

So I’m on tour at the moment. It sounds very grand and I suppose in a way, it is. I’ve already had some amazing adventures, such as that whole episode in London where I suddenly became responsible for a whole office block. And I’ve met and listened to some amazing people.

Hackney was great. The audience was young, enthusiastic and energetic, and they seemed to love my set, laughing in all the right places. There was a DJ playing music for poets to come on to, and as I came on he played You Sexy Thing, so I danced as I came to the stage, which meant that people were already laughing. And one of the poems that I performed was my Titanic poem, which not only went down really well, but provoked another big laugh when the DJ played the Theme from the film Titanic as I left the stage.

The whole evening was a delight particularly the slammers, whose work was heartfelt and honest, funny, entertaining. It was great to catch up with Fran Isherwood, someone I’ve known on social media for quite some time without ever actually meeting.

And last night was Bristol. The best thing about Bristol is that I know so many people there, none more so than Melanie Branton, one of my best friends. I met her at the station, I stood among the rush hour commuters with her name on a sign waiting for her to appear from the turnstiles. We went for dinner in a very noisy pub and then made our way to the gig, and chatted, and caught up on all the latest spoken word gossip. I did a slightly different set in Bristol because I figured that people had seen me enough times, and it was greeted very well indeed.

Again, the slammers were amazing and it was a real treat to see Clive Oseman win. He’s such a well loved figure on the national scene and it was his first win at a Hammer and Tongue event, well deserved too, with a hilarious poem which had a touch of anger to it, too. And the other main support, Imogen, was absolutely astounding.

Melanie and I went to get a drink after the gig but amazingly, the pub we had chose was just about to close. However there were a table of young people in there who had just seen me, and they cheered and clapped in a most embarrassing manner.

So I’m on a train now to Brighton, and I’m looking forward to the next week or so of constant travelling. Hotels, trains, coaches. Everything has gone without a hitch and I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this, now!

On the road- and looking after an office block in London

So I’m on tour at the moment. I didn’t really think these things happened in spoken word, but indeed, I’m actually being paid to go around to six different cities and perform whimsy at people. And I’m having the most amazing time. The reason for this is that I’m seeing the whole thing as an adventure and really, that’s the best way. Because otherwise, it would be complete madness.

Last night was the first stop on the tour, Hackney, and I decided that I would stay somewhere a little different, and, it has to be said, cheap. Over the years I’ve had a habit of finding quirky accommodation, particularly in Edinburgh, but even the annual lottery of Edinburgh accommodation had nothing on the place I found to stay last night.

A bit of internet research led me to a phenomenon known as the pod hotels, where you basically get a bed and, if you’re lucky, a bedside table. I’d stayed in similar places before in New York, so I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for. I was also hoping that it would be the same as the Japanese pod hotels, where you get a tiny cabin and nothing else.

The hotel was on the first floor of a six storey office block. I arrived yesterday afternoon slightly early, my check in time being six PM. I was let in, and the lady on reception was whispering. And why was she whispering? Because the pod hotel during the day caters for tired Londoners who need a nap. It’s a nap pod hotel. And someone was still having a nap. ‘They’re due to wake up just before six’, she said. And sure enough, at six o clock the lights came on and the napper woke, thanked the receptionist, and off he went out into rush hour.

The receptionist showed me how to operate everything. The lights, the door, the shutters, and then she told me where to leave the keys, and that was it, she was off. I was given a tiny pod, with a bed in it and, indeed, a bedside table. And then I thought, hang on. I’m the only person here.

So now I started feeling somewhat anxious. I was due at a gig around seven. Should I put the shutters down? What if I put the shutters down and shut in other guests? What if they put the shutters down while I was at the gig and locked me out for the night? I texted the receptionist and she confirmed, amazingly, that I was the only guest.

And that’s when it struck me. I was now effectively in charge of a whole six storey office block in the middle of London!

I went to the gig and it went amazingly well, the audience were responsive, young, vibrant and up for a laugh, and I was very pleased indeed with my performance, but the whole time, at the back of my mind I was worried that something had happened to my office block. And even more scary, once I got back, let myself in, and pulled the shutters down behind me, I had trouble sleeping. The slightest noise got me jumping. Was someone trying to break in? Is there someone upstairs? Is that someone moving around that I can hear? And then I started to relax. Whatever happens, I told myself, this is just another crazy spoken word adventure.

So I’ve just booked out and nothing bad did happen, and the office block was unscathed. I did think about having a snoop around, (the receptionist said that there was a kitchen on the fourth floor that I was welcome to use), but I could imagine them reviewing their CCTV and seeing me dancing around the empty offices. Mind you, I did sit at the receptionist desk for a while, you know, just for something to do.

Anyway, next step is Bristol and as it’s a city I know really well, I’m not envisaging any more weird adventures. Unless, of course, they just happen . . .

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

When it’s forty below and the tent is so cold
And icicles cling in your beard.
Your sleeping bag barely is much of a comfort
And life is as bad as you feared.
The howl of a wolf in the lonely cold woods
Sends shudders of primordial guilt
And the hunger which pangs like the wolf’s wild fangs
Demolishes the life that you built.

The moon is aglow in a sky filled with stars
And the forest is ominously dead.
Your senses acute, the sole of a boot
You can hear with each rhythmical tread.
The great northern lights light up the night
Like fingers of phosphorus fire.
And if any damn fool say they don’t question it all
Then they would be surely a liar.

And if that’s not enough you’re feeling quite rough
And parts of you are starting to whiff.
You’re out of hair gel in your own private hell
And in the mornings you’re ever so stiff.
You watched as a bear ran off with your iPad
And an otter peed in your shoe.
And your beef flavoured Pringles had a bad best before date
And without Netflix there’s not much to do.

The endless Wild woods seem to go on forever
And the wifi signal is patchy.
You haven’t had a chance to do a good laundry
And your pants feel uncomfortably scratchy.
You let out a cuss word when you lost your password
While changing your status on Facebook.
You rolled over last night and had such a fright
When a pine needle stuck in your buttock.

The last time you went on a trek such as this
Was in Wetherspoons finding the loos.
And your Instagram post hasn’t had many likes
And your selfie was facebombed by a moose.
And there’s twigs in your hair and twigs in your socks
And there’s probably twigs up your bum
And there’s twigs in your crisps and twigs in your soup
And you hope it’s not the same twigs that have been up your bum.

The mountains loom like mountains tend to do
And loneliness points at your scowling.
And you feel sleep deprived and just half alive
Because the stupid wolves kept on howling.
And you feel with a quiver, if fortune were a giver
Then to you he’s been something of a miser.
You decide that next time you log on online
You’ll moan about it on Trip Adviser.

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

One of my highlights of last year was performing my show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak. It was a show which took me away from my comfort zone, a sustained piece, occasionally theatrical, humorous, but with moments of introspection and tenderness.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I was privileged enough to be able to perform it at the GlasDenbury Festival, on the poetry stage in a marquee, with the hot sun beating down. And me wearing a feather boa and one hundred percent polyester ringmaster outfit!

Due to the presence of kids at the festival, i had to do a slightly edited, clean version of the show, but it was still received well and remains one of my favourite moments of the year.

And here is a blurb:

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.

Hope you enjoy this:

www.dropbox.com/s/6rmzlnoa8l7j0bg/In the Glare of the Neon Yak Glasdenbury 2018.aac

On nicknames and darts.

I’m Robert Garnham, Professor of whimsy. Professor of whimsy. That’s not my nickname, that’s just what I call myself. For marketing purposes. If you’ve made it up yourself, it’s not a nickname. That’s the rule. A nickname isn’t a nickname if it’s something you’ve decided without anyone else’s input.

A friend of mine is a semi professional darts player, and he’s decided to call himself The Intimidator. Just like that. He has decided. Keith The Intimidator Hepplethwaite.

The only thing intimidating about Keith is his liberal use of Lynx Africa body spray and his ability to belch the theme tune to Frasier. It’s pretty disgusting.

So he calls himself The Intimidator, and at great expense he has had it printed on his shirt across his shoulders, The Intimidator, and on his darts, The Intimidator, and on his personalised beer mug, The Intimidator, and he insists that everyone call him The Intimidator. Look at me, I’m The Intimidator. The Intimidator!

And then one day, as a joke, I called him Doris. And you know what? Now EVERYONE calls him Doris!

But there’s something weird going on with the names of the people in his darts team. The members of his darts team are Matt, Pete, Trev, Jim, Kev, Deano, Craigie and Paulie.

So apparently, this is the rule. If you’ve got a name of two syllables or more, your name is shortened to the first syllable. So Matthew becomes Matt, Trevor becomes Trev, Kevin becomes Kev. Fair enough.

If you’ve got a one syllable name to start with, then an extra syllable is added on the end, as they’ve done with Deano and Craigie. Ok, then.

But the team was recently rocked by an crisis when a new member joined them. And this crisis was because his name was Milo.

What the hell can they do with the name Milo? It’s already got an O on the end, and you can’t shorten it to Mile, that’s too much of a mouthful in the fast paced world of pub darts.

So what they’ve done is really quite ingenious. Cos they’re quite sneaky really, are darts players. Sneaky little darts players! They’ve stopped calling him Milo, and they’ve started calling him Fido, which kind of sounds like Milo, and once they’d got used to calling him Fido instead of Milo, they shortened it to Fide.

Much better. Much better.

Poem

Darts.
Nightly pub-sport spectacle.
Like rhinos line astern gripping tungsten spears.
Darts.
Chunky-reaching cheek-wobbling darts.
Beer belly a-quiver overhanging too wide tee shirt unsolicited stomach glimpse darts.
Spherical hysterical measures out in trebles.
Darts.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Cocky oche-jockeys crafty cockneys dressing sloppy.
Sports-upholding team mate-scolding beer glass-holding.
Carpet shuffling fart-muffling comes away with nothing.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Double-chaser bullseye-maker opponent-hater third-rather.
Forefinger fling-flourish free-form darts throw panache.
Board-seeker tip bounce wire hitting kerplink.
Unlucky, Trev.

Thud. Thud. Kerplink.

Great big belly-man darts-land Leviathan takes a stand.
Meaty meaty clap-hand (nurses darts like baby chicks),
Arrow-flinging darts board-singing double-trimming
Guess who’s winning?

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Trophy-doting low-score-gloating show-boating local scrote
Boozy-wobbling woozy-toppling lazy darts-fling treble twenty
Bar staff aghast, darts stars laugh, fast darts dance, last chance,
Bust.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Last game, the same again, self-same blame game.
In the team lean, seeming so keen, trophy a gleam, he’s a darts machine!
No pain no gain, no gain, no fame, oh, the shame!
Sudden-death shoot out, league-topping bullseye-aiming,
Thud, pretty nifty, scores a fifty, mores the pity,
Geddin my son quivering tentative there the dart itself hanging like a
Swan so graceful in its beauteous flight betwixt chubby
Sweating fingers slow-mo revealing the under belly wobble
Suspended in mid air aerodynamic like the philosophic truth
Writ large straight into the exact centre of the board!

Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.

See you all next week?

One week, two very different gigs!

I’ve been very lucky over the last few years and had some gigs with some very big audiences. This doesn’t always happen. Last weekend I did a gig in a florist in Brixham to eight people. It was a private affair so I knew what I was letting myself in for, and I did my usual routine. The demographic was, well, the youngest person there was seventy five and the oldest was eighty three. I’m not being ageist, as I work with older people and I know that they enjoy a laugh as much as the next person. However the fact that there was only eight of them made it very hard to elicit anything beyond a mild chuckle.

And then four days later, I performed to three hundred young people in a theatre in Bristol.

The whole dynamic was so different. I did the exact same poems and they were greeted so wonderfully that I felt kind of relieved, as if I had lost something along the way. The gig at the florist had made me wonder if I was just some weird bloke who had been dragged off the street into someone’s private function, which actually come to think of it, was pretty much near the truth. I’d been invited to perform after the owners of the venue had seen me walking with my family on Boxing Day and had asked me, on the spur of the moment, to come and do this private gig for them. So the whole set up was already a big weird!

To add to the weirdness, I was given my own dressing room at the florist, which was a small room filled with flowers. I’m certainly glad it wasn’t the allergy season. There was a stool in the middle of the room on which I could sit and prepare myself for the performance, and that’s where I spent most of the night, sitting on that stool going over my set and wondering how it would go. And as I say, eight people.

But Bristol. Wow. I was supporting the wonderful Dizraeli, a huge name on the Bristol scene, and as a result they had sold out and the theatre was packed. I was on near the start of the evening and I really felt that the night had a potential of going completely up the Spout. Would all these trendy young people find my work amusing? Would I cock it up completely, and forget my words? Would they not find my humour funny and start playing with their phones, or dabbing, or flossing, or fidget spinning, or whatever it is that young people are in to these days? But from the start of the set, it was completely magical. The room laughed. Indeed, they laughed a lot. They laughed at bits that audiences don’t normally laugh at. They were listening intently and with enthusiasm. The first poem usually takes two and a half minutes but it was almost a minute longer than normal because of all the laughing.

And what an amazing feeling it was to perform to so many people. The big stage, the space, the fact that all of these people were concentrating on me, made me think that anything if possible, and also that anything I wrote intending to be funny, actually was funny. Indeed, it made me feel invincible!

It was an amazing gig, and when I left the venue I was greeted by a group of these young people, who started quoting bits of my poetry at me. It was such a great moment. And then, because I’m so rock and roll, I decided to go to the local supermarket and get some groceries, only to meet some more young people next to the display of bagels, one of whom flung her arms around me and thanked me for making her laugh. I assume she had been to the gig!

So two amazing bookings in two very different places. And as I caught the train home the next day, I thought how amazing it would be if every gig were a sold out crowd of three hundred people, and how wonderful it would be if I could command such interest on my own.