Instructions for my Funeral

Instructions for My Funeral

My friend Anne has planned her funeral.
She wants bright colours,
All the colours of the rainbow,
Beach wear and party glitter,
Pink feather boas and dancing,
Cocktails and music and laughter,
Because, she says, ‘Life is a chase,
A dream; why not celebrate,
Obscure the hate,
Spread joy in the moment before it’s too late
To expose the beauty that lies deep within
Every pristine soul?’
Have you ever heard such bollocks?

I want sobbing at my funeral.
Uncontrollable sobbing.
Mourners dressed in black, sobbing,
In an austere church with such bad acoustics
That all you can hear is sobbing.
I want horses with those black tassels on their heads,
And I want the horses to look sad,
And if possible I want the horses to be sobbing, too.
I want dreary music, and just when it sounds
Like the dreary music is about to end,
I want it to start up again.
Dreary music and sobbing.

I want a sermon which goes on and on
And is so incredibly pointless
That not even the vicar knows what it’s about.
I want the vicar to be a droner.
A droner with a nasal whine,
Bad teeth and dandruff.
I want the vicar to talk about how
Meaningless life is.
I want the pews to be
Really uncomfortable.

I want my casket to be there, of course.
I want someone to throw themselves on it
And have to be dragged away.
I want some poor sucker to have to
Read some poem by a Brontë sister.
I want my gravestone to read,
Sleep brings no joy to me.
And I want the stock markets to crash
That very morning
Just because of my death.
And I want it to rain.
You know the sort of rain.
That wet rain.
And I want the pallbearers
All to get a slipped disc.
And on the way home
The mourners stop at a café
And order chips,
But the waitress says
That the fryer has broken,
So they order jacket potatoes instead,
But the jacket potatoes are still raw in the middle
And the salad is limp.

I want my death to come
At a period of maximum inconvenience
For everyone,
Right at a time of peak happiness
Or just before a long-anticipated holiday.
I want people to have to cancel things.
I’m laughing about it right now.
I want my death to be so, so miserable
That it reminds people of Worcestershire.
Oh my God,
That’s what I want.

Anne says she wants to put the fun
Back into funeral,
And she’s already bought a CD of S Club 7
Just in the off-chance.
But I, oh, I
Aspire to greater things.
In fact, it’s a shame
I wouldn’t be around to see it.

Performing in Berlin, 2014

During my spoken word career I’ve performed in some wonderful cities and places where I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone unless I had a gig there. Lancaster, for example, or Newquay, or Petersfield. Lovely places which I’m glad I got the chance to look around because I wouldn’t have even thought about going to them. And of course, London, New York, and Barnstaple.
About eight years ago I decided to have a few days in Berlin. I’d always been fascinated with Berlin having studied twentieth century history for my A-Levels, and it seemed a place imbued with the mystique of Cold War intrigue, wartime shenanigans, the excesses of the 1920s, and of course, the basis for Bowie’s mid-70s albums. So I booked into a lovely hotel near a small park and a lake, a short U-Bahn ride from the city centre, and set about having a good old poke around.
It didn’t take long to wonder if there were any spoken word open mics. I’d heard from people such as Mighty Mike McGee that there was a thriving spoken word scene in Germany and that they were very accommodating to English language performers. Indeed, I do speak a little bit of German, yet people soon lapsed into English when ever I opened my gob. A quick check of Google showed that there would be a slam in a venue not far from my hotel.
Incredibly nervously, I turned up at the King Kong Klub for their poetry slam. And the host greeted me, he was incredibly welcoming and made me feel at home, and I sat with his friend, who was taking the entrance money on the door. I’d already emailed to say that I was coming and they both seemed happy for me to take part. I’d spent part of the afternoon perfecting my finest three minutes.
The King Kong Klub was a bar with a kind of shabby chic demeanour. Or perhaps it was just plain shabby, it’s difficult to work it out, these days. And when the show began I soon realised that my limited grasp of German was not going to help me, as the host spoke very quickly and then at one point started throwing bananas at the audience. This, apparently, was a tradition at the King Kong Klub poetry slam. One of them ricocheted off my head.
And then the competition began. The first thing I noticed was that the performers, who were all performing in their home language, didn’t seem at all rushed. Indeed, they were doing slots of ten, fifteen minutes. And they didn’t follow any of the conventions of slam that I’m used to. Some of them had props. Some of them danced. Some of them did several poems. And after each had sat down, they were given scores by members of the audience, just like a slam ‘back home’.
And then it was my turn. I did my tidiest three minutes. Expecting not to be understood, I was relieved to hear the audience laugh at all the appropriate places, and then when I went to sit down the people at the bar told me in English that they’d loved the poem.
Now, due to my insistence on not looking at the scores, I had no idea how I’d done. The next performers came up and did ten, fifteen minutes. And then there was a break, and I was too embarrassed to ask the host if I’d made it into the next round! I remember going down a spiral staircase to the basement toilets and trying to pluck up the courage to ask, while at the same time wondering how long the building had been there, and which part of Berlin it had fallen into during the Cold War. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when the show restarted that my name was called again! Indeed, not wanting to look too presumptuous, I’d put my performance book away in my bag so I had to fumble around to get it out. I’d also nabbed one of the bananas. ‘For later’.
My second poem also was well-received, and I only knew I hadn’t made it into the final when they actually did the final. I do remember that one of the lads in the final did a set of poems which seemed to be about a toy car that he was using as a prop.
It was a wonderful night and I chatted with my friend on the door, as we had a beer, (I don’t usually drink beer, but he was nice enough to come back from the bar with it), and we both clinked bottles and said, ‘Prost!’, at which point he informed me that apparently I’d come fourth!
It was a lovely night, and I really do want to go back to Berlin once the world is a little safer. I made some new friends that night!

On the road (The 2019 Hammer and Tongue Tour)

I was going through some old blogs recently and daydreaming about the days when a performance poet could travel anywhere and life was pretty much normal. Though to be honest, my life has never been normal! In 2019 I was asked to do the Hammer and Tongue tour, appearing in six different cities over nine days, and it was the most amazing adventure. I’d spend the day travelling, zigzagging across the UK, and in the evenings I’d perform to a different audience every night. I met such wonderful people. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have decided halfway through to spend the weekend at home in Devon! It probably would have been easier and cheaper to stay in Surrey with relatives.

So here are the blogs I wrote during that magical period, from Hackney to Bristol, then Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton, with an inexplicable hiatus in Devon halfway through!

The first blog was written in a Wetherspoons in Hackney the night after the gig, the night after sleeping in an office block!

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/03/on-the-road-and-looking-after-an-office-block-in-london/

The second blog was written the day after the gig in Bristol. I was on the train to Brighton when I wrote it.

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/04/thoughts-from-on-the-road-2/

The third blog was written in a hotel in Cambridge while I was at the buffet breakfast, watching what was going on around me and laughing at all of the foibles of human nature. I think by now, some kind of madness had set in!

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/06/more-thoughts-from-on-the-road-the-buffet-breakfast/

The last blog was written at my bed and breakfast in Southampton before the final gig.

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/10/final-thoughts-from-on-the-road/

The thing about lockdown is that it’s brought a very real sense of what living means to me. And this is the accumulation of memory and experience, and meeting people on the road. I can’t wait for things to get back to normal, but a part of me is worried that they never will be quite the same. As well as the Hammer and Tongue tour, 2019 also saw me at the Edinburgh Fringe, and fringes in Guildford, Reading and Barnstaple with my show about tea, and with my regular poetry set in Newcastle, Petersfield and Milton Keynes. Little did I know what 2020 would bring!

Ink to the Pen

Here’s an avant gard sound poem I used to perform back in the early 2010s. I was particularly pleased with this one, and then for some reason, promptly forgot about it for over ten years. While putting the Juicy album together, I went through some live recordings made by Bryce Dumont and found a version of it I’d performed at the Epicentre Cafe in Paignton.

Audio version: https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/ink-to-the-pen

Subsequently, Bryce has also incorporated the recording onto a Croydon Tourist Office track on the Epicentre Nights album.

Poem

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the pen to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the pen to the page to the mic.
Jink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Jink to the zinc to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.

An ode to sausage rolls

I’m a crusty pastry muncher,
I’m a bakery flakery luncher,
You can see the crumbs on my jumper.
I’m all hyped up on those fast food blues
I’m a king size two-for-one cruncher.
I’d lift a door right off its hinge,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

I’m the man Greggs warned their staff about,
A mad-eyed sneeze-guard lurker,
Jabbing a finger at that one, that one, no, that one,
You don’t understand, this is what a lunch hours for,
Just give me more.
Not on ounce of my life has a regretful tinge,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

The lad in the bakers gives me a wink I wonder why he’s so chummy
The sausage rolls that I just bought now deep down in my tummy
Baked pastry line astern crunchy and yummy and scrummy
Hyped-up whacked-out het up my trousers so very crummy
I stand in the bakery window very much like a clothes store dummy
Too hot from the oven, just don’t want to singe,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

I’m not one to stall
While on a bakery crawl
But they often close at five
It’s not fair and it’s quite cruel.
I often lose my cool
Like the sausage rolls which retain their heat for quite a while,
As a rule.
I’d consume them intravenously, delivered by a syringe,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

Crumbs in the bag,
When it’s just the dregs
Basted with eggs
Like the ones in Greggs
But the questions begs
Have you got hollow legs?
Is this normal behavior
Or something from the fringe?
No!
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

It’s a calorific quite terrific
I’ve eaten so many I’m definitely prolific!
It’s a quite specific, scientific,
Mentioned by Egyptians on their hieroglyphics
Photographic, telegraphic,
What I’d like to do to one is borderline pornographic
In fact it would probably make you want to cringe
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

Yay! The Search for Happiness

Robert is a poet. And he’s happy. Or is he? After the death of a favourite aunt, he decides to find out exactly what it means to be happy. He ends up as a poet-in-residence on a fish factory ship in a search for contentment on the high seas. What could possibly go wrong? Comedy and poetry collide head on in this new show from the Professor of Whimsy’.

Interview

Comedy performance poet Robert Garnham has been writing a show about happiness. It’s a project he started back in 2018.
‘It seemed to me that there was a lot of negativity around at the time’, he explains. ‘And let’s be honest, the news was always really depressing. It’s hard to be upbeat at times but I thought it would be nice to at least try. Of course, then things started getting even worse’.
During this time he was also preparing his third collection, ‘Yay!’, due to be published by Burning Eye Books in May 2021.
‘The agreement was that I would write and perform a show which I could tour in support of the book. Mind you, this agreement came about before the global pandemic and the various lockdowns’.
‘I started work on the show in April 2020. At the back of my mind was the cheerful thought that maybe by the end of the year, everything would be back to normal. Ha! But I kept writing, and then in September 2020 I started the process of learning the script and rehearsing, all the time unsure when it would ever see the light of day’.
So what is the show about?
‘The show tells a story of the main character’s search for happiness. He’s happy enough, but when his Aunt dies he realises that he needs to get to the root of happiness. He asks himself, can we ever be truly happy if we’re only going to snuff it? He becomes a poet in residence on a ship and interacts with the crew, all the time looking for those moments of happiness. Of course, things don’t go to plan, but he learns what works for other people. Relationships? Humour? Alcohol? Being kind? A sense of belonging?’
‘The show touches on matters of mental health, identity, kindness, and learning to listen. But not in a preachy kind of way. It’s a comedy, but there are serious undertones’.
‘The show is interspersed by poems from the new collection. Also, I’d made a conscious decision at the start of the process not to have any props or sound effects. I’d spent most of the last ten years touring the UK, lugging a big box of props around, and seriously, I’m getting too old for that kind of thing! But I thought it would be an amazing challenge, just to stand there with the mic, the words, and nothing else.’
‘Naturally, the show does not solve any of the problems of modern society. I just hope audiences will enjoy it as an hour of amiable poetry and storytelling, a bit of silliness and wordplay, and perhaps think about what it is that makes them truly happy’.
Yay: The Search for Happiness will be appearing throughout the UK and also be available to stream online in 2021.

Yay! Videos

I have a new book coming out in May published by those good people at Burning Eye, and with a lack of actual gigs, I’ve been making some videos of the newer poems to get them out into the world. And it must be said, I’ve had a huge amount of fun doing so! There are still a couple more ‘in the can’, as they say, but here are the one’s I’ve released so far. I hope you like them!

Seaside Soul

Shakka Lakka Boom

Dry-Stone Walling

My Mother is Banksy

Instructions for my Funeral

Happy

Seaside Serenade

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic

During 2020 I collated some of the hundreds (!) of hours of recordings I’d made since 2010 of my various performances all over the UK, and I put them in the form of a CD. It was a wonderful process revisiting some of the many gigs, especially the special ones, such as Raise the Bar in Bristol, or Scribal Gathering in Milton Keynes.

The process was helped somewhat by the fact that my friend (and fellow Croydon Tourist Office band member) Bryce Dumont had recorded some of my earliest appearances at his monthly Word Command events in Paignton, at his vegetarian cafe, Epicentre.

During this time I was much more experimental than I am now, veering from comedy to sound poetry to poems which made a lot of use of rhythm, word, syllables and sound. One of these early examples was a poem called ‘Ink to the Pen’, which, for reasons I’m still not sure, I only ever performed once. Indeed, I used a massive book in which I’d glued my poems and for an even weirder reason, I tore this poem out of the book to make way for a new one, and consequently, forgot about it for over ten years!

Hearing the poem again was remarkable, because it was like a present from my past self. And I must admit, I’m rather pleased with how it sounds! I included it on the album and you can hear it right here.https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/ink-to-the-pen

Poem

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the pen to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the pen to the page to the mic.
Jink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Jink to the zinc to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.

Gasp.

Jonathan removed my antlers and said, ‘Not in here, the clientele are mostly Dutch’.

Yay! The show diaries (2.2.21-6.3.21)

This is what I’ve been up to for the last month or so with the show, if anyone’s interested!

(For progress up to this point see https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/02/02/yay-the-search-for-happiness-diaries/ )

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

3.2.21

Line learning linking material.

5.2.21

Line learning linking material. Also worked on the ‘poetry workshop’ scene and explored options of hearing or showcasing the poems. Thought about an audio section much like the ‘You Dunked Your Muffin . .’ Section where I say that I recorded the fishermen on my mobile phone. Decided to write the poems on paper and keep them folded in my pocket, (cleverly with the before and after lines written on the paper too!), thereby whizzing through a whole page of the script.

8.2.21

Rehearsed and went over last third of the show. Did a ‘table read’ of the final piece of long linking material, then re-wrote to shift the focus away from the Robert character ‘coming out’, and more to a confession of his love in keeping with the tone of the show. Tidied up and tightened the rest of the linking material which comes after the Sunrise poem.

9.2.21

Line learning linking material.

10.2.21

Chatted to film director John Tomkins about performing the show in Paignton to a select socially-distanced audience and him filming it and editing it professionally for streaming services and online fringe festivals. Also, line learning linking material.

11.2.21

Went out this morning in freezing wind with Mark to try and take some publicity photos for the show. Edited them. Spent the afternoon rehearsing and line learning. Just a couple of paragraphs to go!

12.2.21

Line learning linking material.

13.2.21

Line learning linking material.

14.2.21

Ran through almost the entire show from memory, with the exception of the last couple of minutes. Running time 55 minutes. Decided on a couple of ‘light’ rewrites.

15.2.21

Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material and more line learning.

16.2.21

Contacted Emily Appleton about taking some publicity photos for the show poster and to publicise the show and the book. Arranged for Sunday morning, weather permitting. Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material yet again! Line learning linking material.

17.2.21

Line learning Happy.

19.2.21

Line learning Happy.

20.2.21

Line learning Happy.

21.2.21

Looked at the end of the show, rewrote the last paragraph of linking material again. PThen looked at the last poem, wrote a new poem, ‘I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy’, and decided to make a medley with ‘Happy’ for the last words of the show, more fitting with the tone. The idea being I might put this poem on a postcard as an extra / bookmark for anyone who buys the book. Ran through sections of the show. Then off to Victoria Park skateboard ramps for a photo shoot with Emily Appleton for the show promotional material. Home, and re-worked the ‘You Dumped a Muffin in your Cuppa’ song, making it almost a minute shorter. Long day!

22.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy.

23.2.21

Full show run through from memory, for the first time! 54 minutes. Decided to end the show after the final linking material but then carry on with I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy afterwards. This gives the option of substituting another poem.

25.2.21

More subtle rewrites to the end of the final linking material to make it sound more like an ending.

27.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy.

28.2.21

Practising random parts of the show.

1.3.21

Full show run through, 53 minutes.

2.3.21

First real rehearsal session rather than line learning, played around with using a chair as a prop, marked up the scripts at moments where the chair will feature.

3.3.21

Exchanged emails with Paignton Palace Theatre about the possibility of using their black box space to film the Yay show without an audience for online fringe purposes. They emailed back to say yes, and free of charge!! (Well, they want some work off me in exchange).

4.3.21

Chatted to filmmaker John Tomkins about arrangements to film the show without an audience at the Palace Theatre and agreed terms, then chatted about the logistics. Next got in touch with the Palace Theatre and they said they could offer the actual theatre auditorium for filming purposes and let us use their sound / lighting engineer.

5.3.21

Worked on the publicity images sent by Emily Appleton to choose two or three as possible poster images for the show and images to send out with press releases. Then chatted to John Tomkins about the film version before listening to various bits of music as opening and closing music for the film version of the show. Had another rehearsal with the chair as a prop and also tried some choreography for the last poem, I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy. Finally pondered on the idea of signing the ‘Becky’ poem myself and ran through it a couple of times.

6.3.21

Full run-through of the show singing the You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa song rather than playing the audio, and doing the whole show with movement, choreography and using the chair as a prop. Also chatted to Bryce Dumont about the possibility of using Croydon Tourist Office music for the start and end of the filmed version.

Moon Simon – The story behind the poem

Around 2011 and 2012 I used to travel up to London every month or so and go to either Bang Said the Gun or Jawdance, two of the biggest spoken word nights around at the time. (Indeed, Jawdance is still going). Not only would I get on the open mic and perform, but also I’d see what was happening at the cutting edge of spoken word.

At the time I’d been working on a new poem about the moon, which had lots of different verses which independently made sense, but when you put them together, there was no logic to it. I was really worried about this. One month I went to London and I was booked in for a slot at Bang Said the Gun, but also decided on a whim to go to Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe. While I was there I saw a performer called Christopher Lawrence, who was fairly new, and for some reason he was introduced as ‘Christopher Lyons’. We’d been sitting together and I suggested to him that Christopher Lyons might make a very good stage name. Anyway, he did a poem – which I must admit I can’t remember much about, but the structure of it was very similar to my moon poem, plus it had a lot of word play and playing around with sound.

Something sparkled within me and I realised that I needn’t be worried that my poem made no sense. I came back to Devon and worked on the poem, and Moon Simon was born.

I next decided that it needed a prop. At the time I was heavily into props, so I gathered together a big pot of yellow paint, a very large piece of cardboard, and I wrote ‘MOON’ on one side and ‘SIMON’ on the other, and at various points during the poem I would twirl this around so that the audience saw either the word ‘MOON’ or the word ‘SIMON’. I then rehearsed a few times and found myself getting muddled and displaying the wrong side of the sign at wrong moments of the poem. This was most annoying.

I got to a stage where I was happy with the rehearsals. In those days I didn’t think I could memorise poems, and the poem itself was printed in a big notebook, so I knew I’d be holding this big cardboard sign with one hand and the notebook with the other.

My next gig was due to be in Ashburton, and it was the launch event of Lucy Lepchani’s new collection, Ladygardens. I didn’t know much about her publisher, but I went along into the Devon countryside with my giant cardboard moon, feeling incredibly nervous and wondering what these Proper Poetry People would think about me turning up with this weird prop. As it happened, it went far better than I could ever imagine. Not only did my set go well, but the laughter during Moon Simon – especially when I started getting mixed up with which side of the cardboard moon I should be showing at any point during the poem – was most hearty indeed. And when I finished my set the weirdest thing happened – I was asked to get back up and do another poem!

This wasn’t the only amazing thing about that night. It turned out that Lucy’s publisher was in the audience, a chap called Clive Birnie, and he came over and told me how much he liked what I’d done with the cardboard moon, and why didn’t I think about sending him some poems? Needless to say, without me realising it at the time, this was one of those moments in my spoken word career took a very definite path. It led to my first book with Burning Eye, ‘Nice’, and all sorts of opportunities thereafter.

I must admit I haven’t performed Moon Simon for a while, and maybe I should. It’s incredibly silly. The reason is very silly, too – I’ve stopped using the notebook it’s printed in. Part of the fun of performing it was that I’d be fumbling with the notebook and getting mixed up with the giant moon prop. And once I was conscious that this is what people were laughing at, then my confidence that I could do these on purpose and make it funny took a bit of a dive. Because now people were expecting me to get muddled!

I’ve been taking clowning lessons lately, so maybe I might be able to ‘fake’ this, and I’ll start lugging that giant cardboard moon around with me again!

As a side note, a couple of years ago Burning Eye brought out an anthology featuring their published poets, and guess which poem was chosen as my entry? That’s right. Moon Simon!