The Curse of the Green Pouffe

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.
‘Sorry?’
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’.
‘It’s green’.
‘Yes’.
‘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’.
He smiles.
‘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 . . .’.
‘Yes’.
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’.
He smiles.
‘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.

Spontaneous Human Combustion at the Funhouse

Spontaneous Human Combustion at the Funhouse

https://youtu.be/30LUNd6ihDQ

I think I’m going to burst into flames. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever had before. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about, except that one time. I was on a train, and the train manager came over the loudspeaker and said, ‘Take care as you alight’. Oh, I thought, I didn’t know that was a possibility. But right now, right at this moment, I think I’m going to burst into flames.

I was reading this story the other day about some man who burst into flames. There he was, just minding his own business, when, woof! A dog came in. And then he burst into flames. Ironically, his name was Ash.

He’d called his next door neighbour for help but his next door neighbour had said, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’

‘And the rest of me, too!’, Ash had replied.

And after that, he was quite dead indeed.

It’s quite disconcerting knowing that you might go up at any minute. I phoned my ex and I said, ‘I’m worried that I’m about to go up!’

‘First time for everything, he sighed.

So much for rekindling old flames.

The thing about spontaneous human combustion is that I expect it’s the sort of thing you can only do once. I’d spent most of the afternoon in the shower. My friend Beth has always said that I have a warm personality. You don’t know the half of it, I thought of replying. ‘Let’s go to the funfair’, I suggested, ‘and pretend that it’s not about to happen. And by the way, I think I’ve got heart burn’.
‘OK’, Beth said.
‘OK what?’, I asked.
‘OK, let’s go to the funfair’.

I don’t think Beth believed me when I said that I was going to burst into flames. She said it was like one of those stories you read where the lead character is also the narrator, and it’s obvious that whatever troubles they faced they had survived, because it was a first hand account. She then told me that she didn’t entirely believe in spontaneous human combustion, but that her uncle had once seen spontaneous goat combustion, and for the rest of the day he had had a strange hankering for a lamb roast.

But she didn’t believe me, I’m sure of it. On the other hand I’d hate it if my last words were to be, ‘see! I told you!’

A friend of mine is a fireman and I phoned him up and I asked him for some advice.
‘Well’, he said, ‘you can always fight fire with fire’.
‘But that’s no bleeding good!’, I said. ‘In fact, I reckon it would be counter productive.’
‘If you want me to rush round with my big hose’, he said, ‘then you’ve got another thing coming’.
We met at a house warming party. As I say, he’s a fireman.
Ironically, his name is Bern.

Beth and I arrived at the funfair on a glorious evening. The funfair was on the village green next to the pub and the main road. The setting sun had made the sky all red and the neon and fluorescent lights of the fair contrasted and complemented the glory of the clouds. The world seemed lit with promise as if in competition with the mystique and the firmament of space in its eternal and ethereal wonder, lighting the angular facade of Wetherspoons.
‘You haven’t dried your hair after your shower’, Beth said.
‘It’s true, I am somewhat moist, but it’s all on account of the spontaneous human combustion’.
‘Just plan to do it at nine o clock’, she said. ‘Say to yourself, nine o clock is when I’ll go up in flames’.
‘Why?’, I asked.
‘Because then it won’t be very spontaneous, will it?”
‘It doesn’t work like that’, I pointed out.
‘How would you know, if you’ve never done it?’, she replied.
The funfair had all of the usual accoutrements such as stalls and a dodgems and a couple of rides, but in the middle was a circus tent with a barker standing out the front. And by this I don’t mean a dog, but a man dressed as a circus ringmaster. He seemed very excited about the tent behind him, which was decorated in large fluorescent lettering and the word, FUNHOUSE.
Beth and I stood in front of him for a little bit.
‘Roll up!, he said, through his loudspeaker. ‘Roll up! Gaze in wonder at our Funhouse! Never before in human history has more fun been crammed into one small space! See the amazing Bearded Man! Marvel at the badger who thinks he’s on EastEnders! We have relics from the sinking of the titanic, including some of the original ice! We have a horse! And a very large rug which needs putting away! Roll up, ladies and gentlemen, roll up!’
‘This might take my mind off the spontaneous human combustion’, I pointed out, ‘and if it doesn’t, they might at least have fire extinguishers’.
‘Don’t be so blase’, Beth replied.
We went inside. Beth didn’t seem very impressed. The first place we went was the Hall of Mirrors. The skinny mirror made me look thin, the wavy mirror made me look wavy, the fat mirror made me look more or less the same. The ghost train was inoperative and instead there was a rail replacement bus. The tunnel of love was just boring.
Beth seemed to be wavering in her appreciation of the Funhouse, yet I, with my lurking inevitable internal combustion, saw the fortune teller sitting on a pouffe in the corner, puffing away on a crafty fag, and thought, hmm, she might know what my future has in store. As I approached she stubbed out her ciggie in the foil casing of a half consumed Bakewell tart, and I was glad that she didn’t immediately reach for a fire extinguisher. She had an expression on her face like a ferret with gout. Her chin looked like it was about to leave her and go and join a much more successful face.
By way of greeting she said, as is customary, ‘Hello’.
Her voice was gruff, like that if a trawlerman called Pete. She waved her hands at the lingering smoke.
‘Got told off yesterday, didn’t I?’, she said, ‘I was having a gasper. Didn’t realise it was against company rules’.
‘You didn’t see that one coming?’, I asked.
‘I’m a fortune teller, love. For other people. Don’t work on meself, does it? I deal in the mystical workings of the universe, not company health and safety regulations. Now, tell me, love. Have you been to a soothsayer before?’
‘Yes, I have’.
‘And what did they say?”
‘Sooth’, I replied.
She didn’t laugh.
‘Now, listen’, she said. ‘Some bastard has nicked me tarot cards. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to use a pack of HeMan Top Trumps’.
She opened the lack and laid them on the table between us. Skeletor, was the first card, then came Castle Greyskull. The next card was Skeletor again, followed by another Skeletor. Then Groundskeeper Willie.
‘Sorry, love, don’t know how that got in there’.
Then came another Skeletor. She looked up at me.
‘Let me guess’, I said. ‘The Skeletor card isn’t necessarily an omen of death?’
‘Let’s put it this way’, she replied. ‘You’ll be saving on winter heating bills’.
Beth and I went and had another mooch around the Funhouse and we both decided to leave. The petting zoo in the corner only had chickens and I’d never wanted to pet a chicken. There were also a couple of cocks, but that’s a different matter. I had a go on the Test Your Strength machine but I couldn’t even lift the hammer. We were just about to leave when there was a sudden blinding flash of fire and warmth.
‘Oh my god!’, Beth screamed, ‘He’s gone up!’
As luck would have it, it was only a fire eater, which I was glad about because I’d been wearing my best shirt. With great panache he spewed tongues of fire, momentarily lighting up the Funhouse and scaring the chickens. Ever the snowman, he pranced and danced, his flaming torch raised to his lips followed by a blinding flash, a sharded explosion whose warmth and brilliance seared into the night throwing shadows as if making us cavemen once more, solitary beasts in search of warmth, or an inhabitant of Milton Keynes.
I’d seen fire eaters before. On holiday at the coast one year, I’d been mesmerised by Marvello and his mastery of flame. The next year, The Great Splendido was similar exuberant, scorcher to the stars. And now here at the Funhouse, this, apparently, was Ben.
He was an interesting character. His face was angular and defined, almost cubist, like a tescos carrier bag full of chisels.
Beth and I stood and watched, entranced by Bens mastery of putting fire in his gob, and when he finished we both clapped.
‘Ah, thanks for that’, he said, in a strange high and squeaky voice. ‘Just doing my job’.
‘You were so good at it!’, I said, ‘you were literally on fire!’
‘Thanks, mister!’
‘What I’m really interested in is how you protect your insides from burning up’, I said.
‘To be honest’, he said, ‘you do get a bit of blowback, that’s how I lost my eyebrows. But as for my insides, yes, there have been one or two occasions where my lunch has been reheated. And I once belched at my Aunt’s flat and accidentally roasted her budgie. You know what, though? The best advice I could give is just to relax and not even thinks about it. So that’s what I do. I just get on and live my life. Oh, and when I’m practising at home, I’m always careful to turn off the smoke alarm’.
The whole time we were chatting I noticed that his bow tie was smouldering.
‘How did you get in to this?’, I asked.
‘Curry’, he replied.
He was quite cute, was Ben. I might even say, hot. I could imagine living with him, and how handy it would be. He’d have a steak and kidney pie cooked in no time. But I knew that it wouldn’t last, the two of us. I’d just had the ceiling of my flat repainted. I licked my fingertips and squeezed his bow tie, putting out the tiny flames with a slight hiss.
‘I’d better go’, he said. ‘And get my indigestion tablets’.
‘Bye’, I whispered.
‘Bye’.
At that moment the fortune teller ran over, and said rather breathlessly, ‘You will fall in love with a mysterious . . .’.
‘You’re too late’, I said.
‘Damn!’
Beth and I went outside. The sun was starting to set and the funfair was coming alive. On one side, the rides and the stalls, the lights, the neon, the music and the noise. On the other, a demonstration of dogs herding up some geese. The world seemed perfectly normal.
‘That’s the best advice’, Beth said. ‘Don’t worry. Don’t panic, don’t prevaricate. Be free to live your life without pondering on something that might not happen. If we let fate dictate our actions, then a fear of the unknown will take over, and we will never be free to enjoy ourselves. Now matter how far fetched our private fears, we mustn’t let them ruin the good times.’. She took hold of my hands. ‘Let’s go home’, she said, ‘It’s starting to get a bit chilly’.
I smiled at her and gave her hand a squeeze.
‘Yes’, I whispered.
And then, all of a sudden, woof!

The Tea Philosopher

(Poem written for my show, Spout, but ultimately not used)

The tea philosopher

The tea philosopher arrived
And sat himself down in the middle
Of the tea shop.
Dressed entirely in black,
With a beret too,
Just like the philosophers you see on tv,
He was only charging five hundred quid
For a full days philosophising,

We kept the tea coming,
Of course,
Because that’s why he was there.
Here you go, we would say.
Socrateas.
He didn’t laugh.
And he sipped it contemplatively,
And every now and then,
Jotted something down in his notebook.

At opportune moments he would
Hold his forefingers in the air,
As if to say, quiet,
The truth is almost upon me.
And we dared hardly breathe.
And we crowded in.
And we watched as he worked
And pondered
And probed the human condition
And we could scarcely believe it
At the end of the day
When he put down his pen,
Stood up, and cleared his throat
And said,

Without the spout,
The tea
Will just stay in the pot.

He then
Gathered his belongings,
Took his pay check,
And left.

That was worth it,
Then.

Plans for my Funeral

Plans for my funeral

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

No-one shall wear black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed
Theodore Auberon Fricker-Fricker-Smith

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

The Office of Insignificant Events

I’ve started going through some of the hundreds of short stories I wrote over the years. I stopped writing them around ten years ago when I began performing poetry instead. I’m still really proud of them and I hope you’ll find them entertaining!

Here’s one.

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/the-office-of-insignificant

Branching out

(Here’s a short story I wrote almost twenty years ago.)

Branching Out

There has been much said and written about the following subject in the academic community, it seems almost superfluous to add my own comment to the wealth of material already published on this topic. And yet the story itself seems somewhat compelling, like all good mysteries, and more so because it is, quite defiantly, true. The fact that a senior practitioner in literary matters has attested to the honesty of all involved adds a touch of authenticity to the whole situation, and who are we to argue with the judgement of a colleague so esteemed as Professor Zazzo Thiim?
‘They were branching out, pure and simple’, he told me, one charged evening at the local pub. He leaned back in his chair and seemed, just for a second, incredibly tired, as it the events of the previous week had drained him of energy. ‘I first heard it reported to me by one of my younger students, a naive fellow whose panicked account seemed ill-judged and unworthy of comment. But then other students and colleagues began attesting to the fact. They, too, had heard and seen with their own eyes, that the local skateboarders were quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson. I knew immediately that I would have to probe deeper’.
The old man leans forward across the table and interlaces his fingers. ‘I started that very evening. With a flask of cocoa and a pair of opera glasses, I went down to the local skate ramp and watched them from the bushes. I felt like a television botanist watching the mighty gorillas of some dank, faraway jungle. How incredibly amusing their mannerisms, how obvious the social gradations and rank within their clique, that they might defer to the most able of their group, and lend advice to the weakest. I would surely have watched longer had not I felt a sudden hand on my collar and a policeman inquire as to what I was playing at. ‘We have a name for people like you’, he told me. I can tell you it wasn’t a comforting situation, but when I told him the reasons behind my being there, his face relaxed. ‘Ah yes,’ he said. ‘The poetry thing. We’ve been racking our brains over that one, I can tell you. Come down to the station’.
‘Why?’ I asked, ‘Am I under arrest’.
‘Not at all’, he replied. ‘We’ve just found one of them trying to break into the library. Perhaps you might like to have a quiet word with him’.
The lad in question was a poor specimen, I can tell you, a pathetic, individual whose half-hearted attempt at perfecting the skater-boy look was almost laughable. On being asked exactly why he was breaking into the library he denied all knowledge that it had been such a building, that he was under the impression more that it was the off licence. When the constable slid a copy of Tennyson’s poetry across the table towards him he made a frantic attempt to grab it from his hands, only for the book to be snatched away from him. ‘Not so fast, sonny’, the constable said, in his laconic, laid-back voice. ‘First we need to talk terms. We can help you get your fix, but first you must help us. We need your skateboard’, he continued. ‘You see, there’s a little mystery here, and we need it cleared up’.
The Professor lets out a laugh. ‘I cut quite a figure on the skateboard ramp, I can tell you. Sure, I fell off a few times, but I soon won respect from the posse not only for my aerial acrobatics but also for my detailed knowledge of Romantic-era poetry. Indeed, things were going along quite fine. How glad I was to see that the stories were true – a particularly athletic turn at the board would be greeted with the words, ‘At Arthur’s ordinance, tipt with lessening peak!’, or a bad fall decorated with the expression, ‘lay low and slay him not!’ I must say, I quite enjoyed my spell with the lads, and at no time did they twig that I was a seventy-four year old academic professor, except when I passed around a packet of sanatogan in the mistaken belief that it was a bottle of alco-pops. ‘A fine pinnacle!’, I yelled, heading up the ramp at great speed. ‘And made as a spire to heaven!’ Brad was especially vocal and conversant in Tennyson’s later works and at times he would exclaim, ‘Sluggards and fools, why do you stand and stare? You are no king’s men!’, or even the ultimate insult, ‘Let this be thy last trespass, thou uncomely knave!’ As the sun started to set, the dusk spread out her silken fingers and seemed to caress the shapely ramps, and in the encroaching dark came a camaraderie I have not yet ever felt, not even in the throes of really good group discussion on Hemingway. Joining in with their masculine bravado, I put up the hood of my jacket and, feeling somewhat exuberant, shouted, ‘While Jove’s planet rises yonder, were now to rage and torture the desert!’ Oh, how absolutely wonderful I felt!
The effect, though, was immediate. The skaters stopped in their tracks. One skateboard, bereft of its rider, swung to and fro on the ramps before it, too, fell silent. ‘What was that?’ Brad asked. Flustered, I repeated my quotation. ‘You’, he said, breathing harshly through quivering nostrils, ‘Are an imposter!’
The rest of the group crowded in on me. I stumbled, and tried to make some kind of retraction to my earlier statement, but the damage was done.
‘That was Robert Browning’, Brad pointed out. ‘What are you, some kind of freak? Who quotes from Browning at a skate ramp?’
‘Yeah’, someone else piped up. ‘What kind of a sicko are you?’
I don’t mind telling you that I was scared. I escaped with my life, and for this I am monumentally thankful.
Naturally, the trouble vexed me for ages. Back at the department I toiled at my desk and tried to read into the whole episode some kind of reason, some kind of explanation behind the adoption of Tennyson. I looked at his rhythms, I looked at his metre, I looked at his rhyme scheme, but none of them matched with the rhythms I had heard on the skate park ramps. The content of his poems were also barren in their significance. I could see in his metrical skill and his lyrical genius no link to the satisfactory clatter of skateboard on concrete, no link between his romantic inclinations and narrative expression to the wearing of a hoodie. Late one night, though, thoroughly tired and dejected, I found the skateboard that I had borrowed that night, and the more I looked at it the more I could see that there was, however slight, a connection of sorts. Four wheels, I told myself, and one standing platform, just like the four isolated tenets of romanticism, the stylistically gothicism inherent, the reaction against enlightenment, imagination, vision and idealism, mixed with the surface and sureness of Tennyson’s reign as poet laureate – surely, this was what the skaters were alluding to in their adherence to his work? How relieved I was to get to bed that night’.
The Professor frowns and he lowers his voice. ‘I wrote up my report the next morning and submitted it to the head of my department. That lunchtime I felt free. In the Spring air I could hear the clatter of a distant skateboard and I nodded, knowingly, to myself. The world seemed right, somehow. The world seemed a better place. But that afternoon I received an anonymous letter.
How horrendous the news that it contained! It came from an ex-skater, whose adherance to the poetry of Tennyson had been questioned by some members of the group. He said that the skaters were not quoting from Tennyson – oh no – they were reading. There was a book stuck in the overhanging tree, he explained. And to prove their dexterity on the skateboard, the skaters in question would attempt to read a line at random as they were suspended in mid-air. If it had been a crisp packet, the anonymous writer concluded, then they would have read out the ingredients. There was no mystery.’
The Professor drained the last of his wine and made to stand. ‘The department has been embarrassed by this whole episode,’ he said, ‘As you can probably imagine. I would be grateful if you could not mention some of the more lurid details of this story’, and with that, the old man was off.
I followed a few minutes later. It was a dark night and there were a few stars hung in the sky. As I walked back to my car I was overtaken by a child on a unicycle, and he was quoting Oscar Wilde. But then, it could have been the drink.

The latest from WrinklyTown

One of the joys of spending my weekends in Brixham is catching up with all of the latest gossip from the neighbourhood where my mother lives. The main talking point around town at the moment seems to be the idea that the local tourist industry have had to place a bell in the harbour which rings every time the tide comes in or goes out. As yet, residents are unsure whether the bell rings just once, or just carries on ringing, like those annoying wind charms that the house next door have hung up from their washing line. The Muv opines that a series of bells ringing through the night might not be the sort of the thing that would be welcomed by the various hotels and bed and breakfasts around the harbour area.

The other talking point is that the local harbour authority have agreed to accommodate two large barges for the winter in order to make some money. They will be attached to the sea bed, the Muv says, all of a sudden an expert in maritime technology, with four legs on each corner, so they’ll be towed in, kind of like an upturned coffee table. With the tide bell ringing away and the two barges, it sounds like the town is becoming something of a boom town.

The other talking point is the cancellation of the annual trawler race. This has been done, apparently, on health and safety grounds. The annual trawler race has become a tradition, a celebration of trawlers and everything trawler related, and a chance for the town to let its hair down, like it usually only does at Christmas, new year, bonfire night, the pirate festival, the music festival, the biker festival, the harvest festival, the midsummer festival, the beer festival, the food festival, the air show and Easter. It really is a shame and I asked the Muv, who seems to be an expert in these matters, whether perhaps some of the trawlers have become a bit feisty hence the need to concentrate on safety.

‘Well according to my fiend Martha, who’s son works on one of the trawlers, they used to replace the fish in the holds with ice and crates of beer and then take to the high seas crowded with friends and family and drink as much as they possibly could. Remember Rodney? He needed his stomach pumped after the last one. He was off solids for months. But no, I have no idea why it’s been cancelled on health and safety grounds’.

The Muv is currently in the final preparation for the annual craft fair. I do love the way that this small port has its own culture and tradition, and the craft fair is one of these. ‘My job is to show one of the judges around’, she said. ‘But what we didn’t realise was that the two judges hate each other. Apparently, they used to be good friends and would work together and one judge would go round the other ones House every day for coffee. But then one day she asked why it was that whenever she came round for coffee, she was made to sit in the conservatory. Anyway, since then, they’ve hardly spoken to one another ‘.

One of the fiercest competitions during the craft fair is the annual cake contest. Now I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but last year there was a big controversy and cover up when one of the cakes at the end of the contest was unclaimed by its owner. With the town hall needing to be handed back to the council, the decision was made to carve up this cake and pass it around the craft fair organisers. The next day it’s owner inquired as to where it was, and this is where the cover up began. People denied knowledge, and rumours were purposefully spread that a homeless man had snuck in and put it under his arm. All knowledge of the whereabouts of the cake were denied. Should the truth ever come to light, it’s probable that the chair person herself would have to stand down. So you haven’t heard this from me, right?

Two years ago the Muv spent the summer working on a knitted representation of the children’s television character Bagpuss. She created her own pattern and worked tirelessly, making this knitted Bagpuss, and entered it in to the Knitted Character section of the craft fair. And then in comes Deirdre with a wheelbarrow containing a knitted representation of every member of the Brixham Male Voice Choir, intricate down to skin tone, individual clothing and hair colour. Mum’s knitted Bagpuss just didn’t stand a chance. This year word has got out that she is working on the nativity scene, and yes, I did urge the Muv to perhaps consider knitting the feeding of the five thousand for next year, but she would have to start now and perhaps carry on knitting right through the year, but she didn’t seem keen on the idea. I think she is looking at doing Kermit the Frog.

I’m off back home tomorrow morning, and as ever, it’s been like being delivered straight into a Victoria Wood sketch. People ask me where I get my strange ideas from in my poetry, and really, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak- What it’s all about.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak- What it’s all about.

Introduction: The setting of the beginning of Neon Yak is obviously based on London Paddington, particularly the sleeper service, though for some reason this one is going north, to Edinburgh and further. I once caught the sleeper service to Paddington, but found that it was named erroneously. Because sleep is the one thing that didn’t happen. Ten years ago I took the train from one side of Canada to the other and the magic has always stayed with me. But Canadian trains are different, your bed travels in the direction of the train, not oblong to it, and you don’t fall off your bed as it goes around a corner.

The idea of Neon Yak came on a crowded train from Edinburgh to Devon. I was standing in the vestibule with lots of other people for part of the journey and I thought, hmm, I should write a show about the different people here, and call it Vestibule Dreams. The show started to mutate when I saw that I could create connections between all the different characters.

Tony the Train Manager : Tony is based on a real person. A van driver who I knew. He had the same gruff voice and West Country accent. He would make up such amazing stories about the things he’d seen that day. ‘Hailstones the size of yer fist’, was one frequent story. He was a bizarre gentleman who had a weird phobia of Cornishware bowls, you know the kind, with the blue and white stripes.

The Circus of Mediocrity: When I was a teenager I wrote a novel. It wasn’t very good, but it was set at a circus. At the time I wanted to be regarded as a serious writer, so I wrote this psychological novel about a circus where weird things were happening. The idea stayed with me and sprang into mind when I decided that the characters in the train should be members of a circus. Only it would be a hopeless, raggedy, run down Circus. The ring master is clearly drunk and very fed up.

Jacques : Jacques was the main love interest in the novel mentioned above. The narrator ran away to the circus and slept in the wardrobe caravan with Jacques as his room mate, among all the sequin costumes and the smell of damp. Jacques was a bit of a prima Donna. This is the character that I had in mind when I was writing Jacques’ lines in the show. Young, excellent, flawed, slightly self indulgent.

So Jacques gets turned on by clowns. I expect this is a real thing. Weirdly I’ve had people ask me, having watched the show, whether I get turned on my clowns. No, I don’t. And they always look a bit startled. As if they wished they hadn’t asked. Mind you, if you look at a list of the people I’ve dated, you’ll see plenty of clowns. Sometimes, these things only become obvious in retrospect.

Molly : Ah, Molly. Molly is based on a real person. She’s in her late eighties and she’s still obsessed with sex. She’s a wonderful person. And yes, she actually did stand in her back garden at night and see the bombs falling on Bristol during the Second World War. I have told her that she is a character in my show and she has no interest in it whatsoever, bless her. Nothing fazes her. Amazingly, she still goes swimming in the sea when it’s warm enough.

Jennifer : Jennifer is also based on a real person. During the train ride across Canada I became friends with a lady called Jennifer, who was travelling for work but took the train because she was afraid of flying. Being the middle of winter, we decided one night that we would try and see the northern lights as the train passed across the prairies of central Canada. Jennifer and I lay on the floor of one of the carriages and looked out through the windows, up at the stars and the satellites and the aircraft, and the lights of a distant city burned on the horizon, and it could well have been the most romantic night of my life had there been any physical attraction. We didn’t see the northern lights, but she did point out the W of Cassiopeia, which has forever reminded me of her. This is alluded too later on in the section with Adam. The next day she got off the train at Edmonton and I said bye to her in the station, and wrote down my email address. I never did hear from her.

Is this all a dream? : The bit in the middle is just music and me faffing around with a toy train. It felt weird going to a shop and buying a toy train. This section was put in to give me a rest as by now I’d been talking for forty minutes, and I thought it would also give the audience a rest from listening to me talking.

Adam : There are aspects of Jennifer in Adam, too. But he’s a physical kind of person, in my imagination, an alpha male tough guy who gets what he wants and acts as a bit of a bully, but also happens to be a clown. I don’t know why Jacques should love him so. The episode in the toilet cubicle is clearly going to be just a one night stand, a momentary diversion from life, a transaction which will soon be forgotten, yet the narrator clearly thinks that this is the start of a beautiful relationship. It’s doomed, he’s doomed, we are all doomed!

I gave my phone to a young lady called Jennifer : This very short line draws together all of the story, and it only came to me after I’d written the first few drafts. In a moment which I can still remember, I scrawled it down and then a big smile came to me as I realised how clever I’d been.

The Neon Yak: So what’s the Neon Yak? I based it on the idea of Herne the Hunter. Herne, part man part deer, is a mythical figure from the forests around Windsor and north west Surrey, where I grew up. A glimpse of Herne was meant to herald a time of uncertainly. When I was a kid I would go on cub camps into the woods and I remember one of the cubs was particularly spooked and certain that we would all be haunted by Herne the Hunter. It didn’t help matters that, for some reason, the legend was also crow barred into the TV adaptation of Robin Hood, at the time riding high in the ratings in the early 1980s.

Coming from Surrey, woodland landscapes have always been important to me, particularly those around Woking, which are deep and dense and downright spooky. The idea of a Herne-like phantom, but kind of an opposite to Herne, came to me during the writing process, a glimpse of whom signals that things will be better. It’s a very visual imagining.

The narrator : Is the narrator me? I’ve certainly travelled a lot these last few years, and caught lots of trains. And yes, I’ve often felt like a Poundland Michael Palin. Looking at my writing, it’s amazing how much of it takes place on trains, planes, and other forms of transport, even cargo ships and space capsules. Perhaps the whole show is a psychological cry for help, an admission that there’s something indefineable that I’m looking for, that I just need to escape . . .

Performing this show has been a wonderful experience, and every time I do, it feels like the characters have become friends, people in whose company I feel totally at ease. Which has never really happened before. It seems to draw together so much from my life. I just wonder what I will think of this show in future years.

On being busy and loving it! (London and Milton Keynes)

Well, haven’t I been busy lately? A couple of years ago I really couldn’t take any more travelling and I kind of curtailed travelling around to gigs and things, mostly because of the day job and the logistics involved in trying to get to places far and wide. It all became something of a trial, until I found myself in a position where I was having to cancel gigs at the last moment due to work and the sheer impossibility of getting to them.

This year has brought a new philosophy to what I do, the idea that I am only doing gigs where everything is planned out in advance and that I might enjoy them and really not have to worry about anything. My thinking now is that I don’t really have anything to prove. I’ve hit all of the targets I had when I first started spoken word, and anything which happens now is a bonus. Plus there’s the added excitement of being very comfortable now with my performances and my material. Of course, it could all go fits up at any moment.

The last two months have been very busy for me. I’ve been zipping around the country like a mad thing, guesting at various events and taking my tea based poetry show to various fringes and festivals. Not only Edinburgh, but then immediately afterwards a gig in Hampshire, then. Devon, then up to London for some filming, back to Devon, then up to Milton Keynes for a gig. Next week I’m in Newcastle and then I’ve got a gig in Cornwall. If I had an agent they would probably have been fired by now!

Sunday was huge fun. I went up on Saturday night and stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find in Woking. It’s a place I’ve stayed in before, and amazingly I had the exact same room I’d had the night I performed in Hampshire. The streets of Woking were busy and it kind of reminded me of the Edinburgh fringe, except nobody wanted to go and see a show and I didn’t have to flier. My room had all the equipment necessary for making a late night cup of tea, except for a kettle. The lady in reception apologised profusely. They were out of kettles, and someone must have purloined it and nobody had noticed. It didn’t matter, it was late and I was very tired.

The next day I went up to London and met up with Peter Hayhoe of the Muddy Feet poetry YouTube channel. I am a big admirer of their output and I have had a couple of poems videod by them in the past. We met at Canada Water and he drove me out to Barking, where the filming studio was on an industrial estate. The whole process was made somewhat harder by the fact that a rap video was being filmed in the studio next door, so there was significant sound bleed, in fact it reminded me again of the Edinburgh fringe. Nevertheless, we did some filming and the whole experience was very enjoyable.

From the industrial estate, I caught the bus to Barking, the overground to Liverpool Street, the underground to Paddington, the train to Newton Abbot, and then the bus to Brixham where I spent the night at my mothers. It took seven hours to get home.

Two days later and I caught a train back to London, and then up to Milton Keynes. Scribal Gathering is a gig I’ve wanted to do again for some time, having performed there five or six years ago. I was picked up from the hotel by a man holding a large sign which read, ‘Robert Garnham, Professor of Whimsy’, which I found most amusing, and we drove out to the venue in Stony Stratford. And wow, what an amazing gig it was, a variety of music, comedy, storytelling and poetry, and the audience really did seem to like what I did. A performer would do anything for such a response, and to be honest it made me feel invincible, if only for a few minutes. I met some lonely people, too, and they let me keep one of the posters from the wall advertising the gig.

At such times I really do get a case of imposter syndrome. Before a gig, I tell myself that I’m really not worthy of headlining, reasoning that I really have no right to come along and profess to be so good at spoken word as to deserve such a slot. And afterwards, I always think that I’ve been somewhat mistaken and that it didn’t go as well as I’d thought. But at the time of performing, I felt absolutely amazing, and perhaps that’s why I travelled there in the first place.

So the gigs seem to fizzle out mid October and I’m looking forward to a bit of a rest. I’ve got a very special performance coming up of my show from last year, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, with the Totnes jazz rock band Shadow Factory, and that’s taking all of my energies at the moment. As I caught the train back from London to Devon today, I listened to various recordings and tried to run through the lines in my head.

I know that eventually these gigs and opportunities and excuses for zipping around the country will finish and I’ll be left with just the memories, and I’m okay with that. It’s the accumulation of memories which makes life worthwhile and I’m glad I’ve sorted out my mind to a point in which this is the foremost consideration. Each day is an adventure at the moment. And the next stop is Newcastle!