In today’s episode Robert goes along the beach in Paignton for a walk next to the sea and performs two poems. One of them is about a chap called Bill, who just wants to make some noise. The other is about a man who sees a ghost, ooooo!
New poem! I performed this a couple of weeks ago at Paignton Palace Theatre and people have been asking to see it online. It’s a love letter to my home town of Paignton. It’s also featured in my new show Yay! The Search for Happiness, and my forthcoming book Yay!, to be published by Burning Eye.
This town is not torrid, nor tainted nor brazen,
This tornado of flavours,
Chip shops and chopsticks and packets of Quavers,
Savour its layers and nautical sailors.
Barbers and harbours and car parks and mars bars
A beer at the Pier Inn while peering at the pier thing
A stride and a stroll
But hide from the gulls your hot sausage rolls
It’s the way that we roll
With our seaside soul.
High tide drip dry nick nack paddywhack
Picnic and a packamac
Sand in your rucksack
Sand in your flapjack
Sand in your arsecrack
Let’s go to the pub.
Cinema chick flicks
Candy floss, pick n mix
Fish n chips, kiss me quick
Think I feel sick!
Ring road surf shack seaweed stink
It’s worse than you think
Dodgy dodgy plumbing and a blocked up sink.
Big bands and jazz hands, gleaming sands and
One night stands
You probably will not understand
It’s ain’t no hole
With your seaside soul.
Soup of the day
The all day breakfast
Only served till midday
Have you paid and displayed?
Grab your bucket and spade!
You’ll never be dismayed
But your heart will always stay.
This frisky town this sea breezy town
This cream tea scene of green seas and freezing dips
Donkey rides and cheesy chips
Ice cream by the bowl
We’ve got seaside soul.
Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
The hot pulse of life adding fire to my brain
The legs of the pier stride deep in the brine
Let’s dance once more time, say you’ll be mine
We laugh and we grin and we howl at the ships
The night is afire and it smells just like chips
You bend for a kiss like a child with a doll
You asked what’s for dinner, I said, seaside soul.
An ode to the ghost ships
Through the mists of a calamity
In a year we never asked for,
The long arm of our shoreline bay
Offered you anchorage at first only
For commercial reasons.
Yet your streamlined sleek and tower block decks
Formed a fleet of imaginary towns,
Dark horizon Christmas trees with an
Imaginary population, new neighbours.
In a world of sudden restrictions you became
A local secret, an impossibility of the soul,
A solace as onerous as the mournful horns
Adding an extra solemnity for remembrance,
Seeing out this accursed year, or those
Poor fishermen who would never return.
We can sing sweet lullabies, dainty and plaintive
Though none can compare to your industrial symphony,
A blast of the horn as unsubtle as anything!
On foggy mornings you layer the imagination,
Ethereal in the gloom your hulking gross tonnage
A link to a world beyond immediate geography,
Ghost ships, haunting the present with voyages past.
Image Ian Williams
The wait is over!
Those rockin’ cool cats have done it again! That funky groove sound is back with Croydon Tourist Office’s new offering, Take It Easy With Croydon Tourist Office! While other bands may rest on their laurels, Croydon Tourist Office have been hard at work for eight years putting together a collection of tunes which perfectly sums up the zeitgeist. Can there by any more perfect accompaniment to the world it is at the moment than these happening tracks?
These eclectic offerings may have a fairly fluffy initial outlook, but there’s menace lurking beneath the surface. By turns life affirming and post apocalyptic, those crazy groovers have been hard at work, like scientists, perfecting each sonic nuance, and by turns, probing the human condition.
It’s a huge honour for me to work with Croydon Tourist Office. As a non-musician, music is something that has a mystique and a magic to me, and to hear what my fellow band mates seemingly pull out of thin air seems somehow miraculous. The songs on this album date back to around 2012, though some were new compositions taking advantage of the lockdown situation, music and sound files emailed back and forth from one musician to another. The core of the group remains Bryce Dumont, John Samuel, Max Coulson and myself, but we have had an array of other talented people join us.
You can listen to the album and download it from our Bandcamp page here:
The Curse of the Green Pouffe
Strung from lamp post to lamp post, the multicoloured fairy lights wiggled, jiggled and jumped in the wind. An angry sea scratched at the pebble beach. Flecks of sand stung cold raw cheeks. It was dusk.
The world seemed obsolete, nullified by the obviousness of the season. Decay, frost-shredded painted gaiety and cartoon characters diminished by the elements, painted on shuttered ice cream shacks.
‘It’s heaving down here in the summer’, I tell him.
‘How far is it to your flat?’
‘Just a road away. I thought we’d make a detour, so you could see, the, erm . . .’.
We walk huddled hands in coat pockets.
‘You look like your profile picture’.
‘So do you’.
I like the way that the wind ruffles his hair. His cheekbones are much more pronounced than I thought they would be.
‘Wild’, I whisper, meaning the weather.
And he’s slightly taller than me.
There are lights on the horizon out at sea, ships sheltering in the bay, and they twinkle and pulse just like stars, and if it weren’t so cold then maybe I could create my own constellations.
‘I’m cold’, he points out.
And the multicoloured fairy lights throw down a glow which gives us several overlapping shadows, our two forms merged and combined like a pack of cards being shuffled. The iron legs of the old pier stride in to the angry sea like a Victorian lady holding up her petticoats,
‘Really cold’, he says.
‘When we get to my flat’, I tell him, ‘you’ll be warm enough’.
‘What’s that?’, he said, pointing at the pouffe.
‘It’s a pouffe’, I replied.
He walks around the living room, warily, looking at it from several angles.
‘What does it do?’
‘You put your legs on it when you’re sitting on the sofa’.
‘Yewwww . . .’.
‘Shall we just sit down and, er, warm up and . .’.
‘With that thing, there?’
I sit down. He lingers for a bit, and then he sits down, too. We look at each other and we smile.
‘I really liked your profile’, I tell him. ‘We’ve got a lot in common, haven’t we? It was great to chat online, but I’m so glad we’ve met’.
‘Seriously’, he says, ‘it’s called a pouffe?’
‘Yes . .’.
He looks at it for several seconds.
‘I can put it out on the landing if you like, if you’ve got a . . . Phobia’.
‘It’s still been in here, though’.
‘Put it out if your mind’.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to’.
And then neither of us says anything for a while. I can hear the clock ticking on the mantelpiece.
‘A green pouffe . . .’.
He sighs, leans back in his chair.
‘I was in the jungle’, he whispers. ‘They said I was green. Green meant new, apparently. But I was more likely green because I just felt so unwell. The food, you see . . . And everything in the jungle was green, too. Have you ever really looked at the colour green? There are so many varieties. Green leaves, moss, bark, more leaves, green everywhere. And I felt so bad, I really did feel ill.’
‘That’s a shame. Let’s snuggle . . .’.
‘They reckon I had some sort of disease, brought about by flies. Mosquitoes, probably. They do things to the mind, and affect the way that we see the world. You can never tell how it’s going to go. But with me, it was the effect of everything. The greenery. The predominance of the colour green, just kind of crowded in on me. Made me lose my senses, in a way’.
‘Jeez. So, let’s fool around a bit, you and me. .’
‘And the greenery, it did things to me. I became obsessed. We were there to film a documentary, you see. About slugs, and I was the only newbie there, the only green member of the team. And as I say, I was throwing up the whole time . . ‘.
‘You never mentioned the throwing up.’
I try to put my arm around his shoulders, but he stands up and looks out the window.
‘Sure! A never ending spume of it. I was having visions, it was like some kind of hideous trance that the jungle had put my under. So they flew me home. And the film company, they paid to send me out and recuperate in the countryside. But the countryside, oh, have you ever been to the countryside?’
‘Every now and then. Say, aren’t you hot wearing that big jumper? And those . . Jeans?’
‘There was greenery everywhere. Greenery and scenery. And the scenery was mostly green. There were fields and trees and the fields and trees were green. Especially the evergreens. The greenest evergreens I had ever seen. And there was moss and dappled sun and rhododendrons. And there were villages and villages greens. And the village greens were green. And everyone out there eats their greens. And also some of the tractors were green.’
‘Fascinating. Say, has anyone ever said what nice lips you have? Very kissable . .’.
‘So then I came back to the city . .’.
(‘Here we go . .’).
‘ . . And there was lots of green here, too. The Starbucks logo is mostly green. And so is the fungus in the bus station. And my friend Pete’s car is green. And so is the tie I was wearing yesterday. And the traffic lights are occasionally green. Red, mostly, and amber, and red and amber, but occasionally green. And salt and vinegar crisp packets. Again, green. And the District Line is green. And it passes through Turnham Green. And even though the neon signs are multicoloured, you could probably turn ’em green. Green. Everything is green.’
‘Yes, it is somewhat ubiquitous’.
‘And it does things to me. All this green. It really does affect me very badly. I can’t stand it. I get flashbacks. Green flashbacks. You’ve got to understand’.
I laid my hand on his leg and made a mental note not to include broccoli with dinner.
‘I’ll move the pouffe’, I whisper. ‘Take it away from here, if that makes you feel any better. And then I’ll start on the dinner’.
‘Thank you ‘, he replies. ‘I’m sorry. But it really is giving me the willies’.
I get up and I move the pouffe outside where he can’t see if, and then I come and rejoin him on the sofa.
‘Oh my god’, he says. ‘Is that footstool over there beige? Oh no! I was in the desert, you see, surrounded by miles and miles of beige sand, when I started to feel very ill . . .’.
I let out a deep sigh, lean back on the sofa, and I start peeling an orange.
It’s Paignton carnival tonight! Here we go with some live updates.
The Poundland float is looking amazing, they’ve gone with a circus theme and a chorus of self service scanners which have been programmed to say roll up, roll up.
Poundstretcher are going with Enchantment Under the Sea. That’s Jim from the regional office dressed up as a giant crab.
It seems that not everyone has got the memo about a different route this year, basically last year’s route but in reverse. Reports are coming in of a hideous head on crash between the Stoke Fleming Marching Band and the Churston Ferrers majorettes just outside Winstons.
Probably in poor taste for the Paignton Ferry Company to have gone with a Titanic themed float.
Hats off to the team at Paignton Library whose float is a giant microfiche and is fitted with speakers blaring out white noise and a giant sign saying ‘Sssssh!’
WH Smith have just gone with a wheelbarrow filled with water with a duck floating on top. Only the duck has just flown away. So the wheelbarrow, which reads ‘we are all quackers at WH Smith’, now has extra poignancy.
The Paignton Topiary Enthusiasts float is blaring out Kate Bush, and I’ve only just got the joke.
Big Jim’s Fish Bar has a Jurassic Park themed float but they’ve obviously not realised that hippopotamuses and crocodiles aren’t dinosaurs. Nice try, lads.
Paignton Carnival itself has a float and the Paignton Carnival float is a float depicting Paignton Carnival itself. This is all getting very meta.
Oh! Here comes the Stagecoach bus float. It’s in the shape of a giant book. And it’s fiction! Just like their timetable.
Oh no! The Paignton pier helter skeltor on the back of a low loader has just got wedged under the railway bridge.
Nice touch! Mickey’s Fancy Dress Hire shop are marching along in their normal every day clothes.
The Wilmington funeral homes float, we are all agreed, is in very bad taste, but the horses do look amazing in their black tassels and feathers.
Torbay leisure centre gym are doing demonstrations of weightlifting and exercise but they’re being followed by the McDonalds float handing out Big Mac coupons.
Ah! Here’s comes the Carnival Queen of Furzeham, she’s looking resplendent, shame about what that seagull did to her dress. If she could just put down her mobile for a second and wave, that would be a lovely touch. I’ve never seen someone texting so furiously.
And the Dartmoor Prison float, belting out George Michael’s Freedom. I’m sure there were more people on it when they set out earlier?
And here comes the Winstons float! They’re playing ‘Everybody was Kung fu fighting’.
The sharp bend on to Torquay Road is causing some carnage, so far the floats have lost two large plastic goats, a wardrobe, a giant sequinned shoe (which we think came from the Tesco’s float), and a selection of shrubbery and potted lupins, and a lifesize cardboard cut out of Monty Don, which we think has come from the garden centre float. Oh, and a teenager called Brad who’s dressed for some reason as Pam Ayres, and due to his concussion, he can’t remember which float he was on.
In fact there’s quite a pile of items on that corner.
The vape shop have got an amazing float in the shape of a steam engine, pumping out so much smoke and steam that it’s obscuring almost everything else. Smells of caramel, though.
The girls from Superdrug are keeping us all entertained with their soulful vuvuzela playing. Although it does sound like the mating call of a wild goose, its going to cause problems when they come through the park later on.
As ever the procession is finished by the wonderful synchronised electric scooter team from the Old Wellhouse pub.
Paignton station showing even they’ve got a sense of humour with their rail replacement bus. Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve just been told it actually is a rail replacement bus.
I think there’ll be an internal investigation at the zoo tomorrow to see if it really was a good idea to parade around two hippos called Donald and Boris.
Heeeeeres the Lidla float! They’ve gone with a Strictly Come Dancing theme this year. But Dan from checkout six has just pirouetted dangerously close to the edge of the lorry, there. He’s now hanging on with his fingertips and Beth from the frozen aisle is trying to drag him back on by his Tyrolean braces.
And Paignton police there, with their police car with flashing lights. Instinctively, most of the assembled locals have just done a runner down some side streets.
To be honest these last few ones are quite boring now, they just look like cars and occasional vans.
Last night I watched a documentary about alien abductions. It was a terrible programme and it really did waste one hour of my life. However, it did remind me of the occasions in which I have seen weird objects in the sky which I’ve not been able to explain.
I am a logical person with an interest in science and aviation. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved aircraft and flying, and I grew up near Heathrow Airport. Because of this, I’d spend a lot of time looking at the planes flying over our house. I knew all the airlines and the different types of aircraft and could distinguish between, for example, the Boeing 747-200 and the Boeing 747-300.
In the late 1980s, my father and I both observed two bright lights in the sky to the west of our house. It was night time and the bright lights were stationery in the sky. They were brighter than the surrounding stars and perfectly parallel with each other. We observed these lights for a few minutes, and then, quick as a flash, they moved to a slightly different part of the sky, still to the west. Naturally, my scientific mind is eager to determine what these might have been. Geostationary satellites is my best guess, for they appeared to be a very long way up in the upper atmosphere. I’m sure that other people must have seen these, too.
The second weird thing I saw must have been also in the late 1980s. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was on the school playing field at break time, at the middle school I was attending. As normal I was doing a bit of plane spotting, when I saw an object floating directly above. It was metallic and reflected the sun from its sides, and triangular, slowly turning, so that the sun on its sides seemed to pulse. I watched it for quite a while, thinking, hmm, I bet they’ve got a good view from up there, and what a beautiful day to be flying, then thought no more of it. It was only when I grew up did I ponder in exactly what it might have been. My best and most boring guess is that it was some kind of helium filled balloon. But where would it have come from? It looked very solid.
The third thing that I saw already has a name and a catalogue of witness accounts. During a ferocious thunderstorm, again in suburban Surrey, a ball of lightning moved very slowly past my bedroom window. I remember it very distinctly, the way that the shadow of my window frame very slowly moved across the room, the way that my drawn curtains lit up with the light from the glowing ball very visible the other side of them. Indeed, this seems to run in our family, as my mother believes that she also saw ball lighting when she was a young adult, actually penetrating the walls of the room she was in at the time and passing right through as if it were a ghost.
And the last thing I saw was the weirdest. In the early 2000s I caught the passenger ferry from Torquay to Brixham across Torbay, again on a very clear, sunny day, only to see what can only be described as a thin sliver of metallic ribbon curling and floating through the sky across the bay, in a westerly direction. It seemed to curl and bend over itself as it moved and there were no obvious signs of propulsion, yet it was very clearly moving. My scientific mind pondered on what it could possibly have been, eventually settling on a Swarm Of Bees or some such insect, but it really did have solidity.
So these are the odd things I’ve seen during my life. I’m open minded as to what they might have been. I’m aware that some might assign them as being of alien origin, though I’m conscious that it might be almost impossible for anything to travel across the vast distances of space. I have never believed in aliens, or at least, in extra terrestrial entities.
I wrote this a while ago. It’s about the town where I live. It’s a strange little place.
Take a walk with me a while
Amid the gleaming downtown edifices of
This Devonian utopia,
The night pounding rhythms of
Bawdy talk and seagull squawk,
How could any soul not submit?
The Neon shining brightly nightly
Brash words info the ether,
Soup of the day,
Have you paid and displayed?
The all day breakfast
Is only served till midday.
Hushed tones hint at pride,
Just a whisper of this town’s name
Instills a quiet awe,
Here did philosophers dream
And hold their sway
The jewel of Torbay
Big bands and jazz hands
A smile, a laugh
A night on the town
A punch in the schnozz at Winstons,
Verily did I dream of this and that,
A kiss me quick hat
And shops selling tat
Groovy nightclubs and movie scenes
The beautiful, the obscene,
Twirl me across the dance floor once more!
And then honking up in a taxi,
Dreaming big and living large,
Life in all its grace sublime,
It’s skyline replete with
Architectural wonder, Edwardian villas,
The stylised Victorian pier,
How just a glimpse causes my heart
To thump and jive with
A sultry palpitation,
Garfield Road car park and the bus station,
Wordsmiths and poets feint at its beauty,
Wordsworth was said to have cried
At its sheer sublimity
My mother also looked at it and cried
But that was for entirely different reasons,
This city of dreams,
This glitch in time,
Peak mugging hours are four till nine,
Many a hapless soul has gazed
Upon the sleek facade of the
Poundland Building and felt
The mundanity of their existence
Shouting out to the world as if
Declaiming their faith,
How worthless am I,
How worthless am I,
My friend Jim lives here
And gets an orgasm every time he sees the town,
He mostly keeps his curtains closed,
The famous names,
Personalities of merit and celebration,
How many names
Come from this mighty conurbation,
Household names like Sue Barker
And . . . .
That metropolitan burn
That inner city beat
Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
Fighting off a seagull for a battered sausage
Gasping in wonder at the towers so chic
Stocking up on novelty gift farting gnomes
The romance of Lidls Neon reflected on wet paving slab
Romantic Latin music and a snog in Crossways
This sensual town
This gleaming barnacle
This paradise dank
This magical place
Oh, oh, oh!
Story Behind the Song
The most cursory glance at Wikipedia or Google will not reveal the full story behind the song ‘Manhattan’, written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart in 1925 and sung by, among others, Ella Fitzgerald and Lee Wiley. Originally intended for the revue ‘Golden Gaieties’, the song has grown to become a signature not only of Fitzgerald’ career, but also an evocative glimpse of 1920s New York society. However, the truth behind its composition is strange enough to be a subject for a comedy itself, and it is this that I shall concentrate on in this essay.
The story of the lyricist Lorenz ‘Larry’ Hart – (for it is the lyrics of the song that I shall be concentrating on) – in its sadness, is a direct contrast to the sensitivity and humour of which his work is most remembered. Throughout his life he struggled with alcoholism and also the emotional turmoil of his homosexuality which, at the time, was not a socially accepted mode of living. At the same time he was enormously successful as a lyricist – his partnership with Richard Rogers – who wrote the music – resulted in such songs as Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine, The Lady is a Tramp and, of course, Manhattan. That such a talented man should die relatively young and alone of pneumonia at the age of 48 is, of course, tragic for one who brought such joy to the casual listener.
It is only recently that the full story of ‘Manhattan’ has come to light. As in most cases of art, the simple and timeless lyrics were the product of much editing before a definitive version was arrived at. It is in this process that the most surprising discovery has, of late, been made – ‘Manhattan’ was originally intended not to be about Manhattan at all. A first draft, discovered by historians of popular song, corresponds with the time that the lyricist spent at the English seaside resort of Paignton where, incognito, he was able to recuperate in a harbour side boarding house and recharge his creative batteries.
Paignton must have seemed a thousand miles from 1920s New York. Indeed, it is odd to think that a lyricist used to the lights of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and Times Square should be immersed in a location in which the only comparable sight was the splendour of the Torbay Road or the lights of the pedestrian crossing at the bottom of Victoria Street. But Hart was industrious during his stay in Paignton. His landlady at the Haddock’s Halt Guest House recalls visitors to his room, local theatrical types with whom he collaborated on such shows as the Fish Gutter’s Lament and the ever-popular I Am The Wife of the Crazy Golf Man. How sad it is that such scripts are forever lost, and that Larry Hart should have used the pseudonym Maud Jenkins on all such promotional material.
It is not know whether Hart partook of such local delicacies as fish ‘n’ chips or candy floss during his stay in Paignton. As an advocate of inner rhyming in his work, it is certain that, even if he were not aware of their taste, he would almost certainly have attempted to rhyme them. If one were to look at the work he produced on his return to the Big Apple, one will find evidence of Paignton’s memory buried, as if a code, in such songs as ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ or ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. ‘My heart is sings like a crazed midships man / My eyes they sting as if hit by a fish ‘n’ chips pan’, or , ‘You’re woozy over wine, you feint over beer / You stole my heart on Paignton Pier’.
It is interesting, of course, to speculate on the adventures of Larry Hart during his stay in Paignton. An intensely private man, he was not prone to mix well with other people – however, local historians have placed him at many a local party in the Paignton area and there are reports of him joining Agatha Christie, Gilbert and Sullivan, the D’Oyly Cartes, Albert Einstein and others at a wild party just outside of town, dancing the Charleston into the small hours and consuming vast amounts of chicken tikka misala. Such local tales, of course, have to be treated with the utmost caution, though one would find such to be historically accurate with the exception of the chicken tikka masala. It would almost have certainly have been a light korma.
Hart’s stay in Paignton must have been recuperative. He regularly attended the local writers circle, or so it is thought, though he left once halfway through a workshop because he could think of nothing to rhyme with ‘Dartmouth Steam Railway’. His biographers explain that he had seen magic in the area, in the sun rising above the pier, in the calm waters of the harbour, the bingo halls, the bins out the back of Tesco’s. After a while, the lure of New York must have seemed like the hint of a timeless other world : who needed the subway when it was just as easy to ride the Number 12 to Newton Abbott? What was the point of the Empire State Building when Paignton had its Woolworth’s? Who needed the Big Apple when Paignton was his very own small, shrivelled prune? Perhaps it is in such a form of mind that Hart sat down one midsummer’s night in the Haddock’s Halt and, ignoring the sound of skateboarders in the street below, wrote the first draft of the song that would later become ‘Manhattan’.
And here it is in all its raw poetry. One has to remember that the final wording was not yet decided on, but I think you will recognise, underneath, the song we all know and love today :
Summer journeys to South Devon
and to other places aggravate all our cares
We’ll save our dayrider tickets.
I’ve a little guest house in
what is known as old Torbay Road
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.
We’ll have Paignton beach
Foxhole and Goodrington too.
It’s lovely going through
It’s very cool and neat
on Victoria Street you know.
The number 12 bus charms us so
When cool sea breezes blow
As far as the co-op.
And tell me what street
compares with Winner Street
Sweets and crisp packets gently gliding
The great big town is a wondrous toy
Though occasionally it might annoy.
We’ll turn Paignton pier
Into a Wetherspoons.
We’ll go to Hookhills
Where they all look ill
Or just weird.
And starve together dear
We’ll go to Broadsands
and eat a pasty or a roll
In Victoria Park we’ll stroll
Where our first wallet we stole
and we were mugged.
Is a terrific soap they say
We both may see one of the characters smile
Paignton’s glamour may never spoil
Though in Winner Street, tempers come to the boil.
Yet I quite like it.
It’s handy for the shops.