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!

On having a ‘costume’ when performing 

I’m a spoken word artist. I’m a performance poet. But right at this moment, as I write this, I’m just Robert Garnham. And the reason I’m just Robert Garnham at the moment is that I’m not wearing my performance clothes. I’m not in my uniform, I’m not in my costume.
When I first started performing I made a conscious effort to wear a kind of uniform for the purposes of standing on stage being whimsical. I have no idea why. I should really have taken the time to create a character, perhaps give myself a different name while on stage, too. But it’s too late now. I’m still Robert Garnham whether I’m on stage or not.
I thought that every spoken word artist had a uniform, a certain look to which they adhered. And perhaps they do, but it seems that my self-imposed uniform is more blatant than most. Every gig now begins with he ceremony of putting on the shirt, tie, jacket, chinos, converse all stars and glasses, then spiking up the old Barnet. And then I travel out to wherever the gig might be.
These are not my everyday clothes. I’m much more casual in ‘real life’, and I’m starting to wish I’d left room for a bit more flexibility when performing. This weekend, for example, I’m at a festival with two performance slots, and it’s going to be outdoors and hot, and yet I feel obliged to wear the usual uniform. The young, trendier poets will be in tshirts and shorts and they’ll quickly jump from non performance to performance with nary a blink of the eye. It takes me about fifteen minutes to get into character as Robert Garnham, Poet.
So. Would it make any difference if I didn’t dress up? Probably not. The word I’m looking for here is authenticity. I’ve seen so many wonderful poets wearing their everyday clothes, being absolutely marvellous at the Mic, an impression heightened by the authenticity of their words and their look. They don’t need to pretend to be someone else.
Which leads me to wonder if everything I’ve done has lacked authenticity because it’s been done from the perspective of an invented persona. Possibly. But as a performance artist, I’ve always attached a lot of importance to the visual as well as the audible. Or perhaps I’m at my most authentic when I’m wearing my performance clothes, and that I’d be strangely inauthentic if I were to start slowing around in what I wear on a normal day. Tshirt, shorts, hoodie, hair all over the place, different glasses. Or maybe still, those who like my work – Robheads, as I call them – wouldn’t accept anything delivered without a certain touch of aesthetic effort.
Or maybe none of this is particularly important at all.
So I’m doing this music festival tomorrow, and you know what? I’m just going to wear something sensible.

What is Juicy? An interview with Robert Garnham

What’s the theme of your show?: Juicy is a scatalogical mishmash of comedy poetry, spoken word shenanigans, serious and deep explorations of loneliness, LGBT rights, songs and a comedy monologue about lust at an airport departure lounge. I suppose if it has a theme, then that would be finding love. Different characters throughout the show find love, or dream of finding love.

What’s new or unique about the show?: Juicy is a free form entity, different every night, with no definitive order. It’s upbeat and funny one moment, contemplative the next. It looks at some serious issues, too, behind the fun and the hilarity, such as gay rights in places such as Uganda and Russia, loneliness, isolation, longing.
How did the show come into being?: the show just kind of evolved outwards from several different places simultaneously, somehow, in a kind of spoken word osmosis, meeting in the middle. It started with a few ideas, which were improvised, then these ideas led to other ideas.
Describe one of your rehearsals.: The show is in three parts so rehearsals were conducted in fifteen minute sessions in a shed at the back of my parents garage in Brixham, Devon. This is real home grown stuff! There’s a big mirror along one wall where I can watch myself practising. I play around a lot with word order and tone and movement and hey presto, the show started to come into being.
How is the show developing?: One of the important aspects was the adoption of music. I worked with some talented musicians and sound artists, which really helps with the tone and the delivery. And then I was privileged enough to work with Margoh Channing, one of the funniest cabaret drag artists of the New York scene, and she recorded some words for the end. I just knew that the end would have to fit in with her words!
How has the writer been involved?: The writer has been involved since the start. I’m the writer. I’ve been there for every rehearsal.
How have you experimented?: As I say, the music was the key to the show. I’ve performed all over the UK and New York for years, but never used music before. Most of my experimentations were actually with the technology necessary to get the music backing just right. I’ve also never done a long monologue before, so this was kind of scary. I was influenced by another New York friend of mine, the storyteller Dandy Darkly.
Where do your ideas come from?: I wish I knew! They just seem to arrive. Like being hit in the face by a kipper. You can be in a sauna or swimming pool or on a bus about to get off and suddenly, oh yeah! A badger that wants to be in EastEnders!
How do your challenge yourself or yourselves?: I watch other performers and see how they do it. And then I try to be as good as them. I’m really influenced by cabaret artists, even though I’m a spoken word artist. The sense of fun and naughtiness is irresistible. 
What are your future plans for the show ?: Juicy will be going to GlasDenbury Festival near Newton Abbot, the Guildford Fringe, and then the Edinburgh Fringe, where I’ll be at Banshees Lanyrinth.
What are your favourite shows, and why?: Margoh Channing’s Tipsy, for the humour and the pathos. Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. Paul Cree, Ken Do. All these people invent characters and invest them with humour, and take you to new places almost effortlessly. I’ve seen them all at various fringes. Also Melanie Branton’s new Edinburgh Show, she’s such a good writer and performer.
Show dates, times and booking info: 29 June at 5pm, 1st June at 650pm, 2nd June at 330pm, all at the Golden Lion in Barnstaple, tickets available on the Barnstaple TheatreFest website.
Then the Keep pub, 9 July at 730pm, Guildford Free Fringe, tickets available, again, from their website.
And finally at Banshees Labyritnth, every day at 1230pm, 13th to the 19th August, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Ant – A solemn investigation 

It has been apparent for some time that a solemn investigation were needed into the effects, physical and psychological, of an ant crawling on someone’s hat. Seeing it as upon myself, (the theme, not the ant), I set out, in a somewhat grave manner, and yet bravely, into such an investigation. 
The manner this investigation took soon revealed itself to be poetical in nature, and within a couple of hours I had completed a poem based on the theme of having an ant crawl on someone’s hat. Yet this did not fully satisfy me, and a further poem was written.
At this time, I was bitten by the bug, (again, not the ant), and more poems began to arrive. The theme of an ant on a persons hat soon took over my life and all of my creative output, until such a time arrived that I could think of little else. Indeed, the poems began to resemble a Groundhog Day syndrome, the same repeated themes, the same story with different outcomes, different languages and tones, until within a month I had thirty such poems.
The good people at Mardy Shark publishing soon recognised their worth and a pamphlet was soon produced, titled, simply, Ant.
Ant stands as the zenith of my creativity, a full flow measure of poetic and literary sensibility, all inspired by the horror and the bizarre situation of having an ant crawl on ones hat.
You can download the Kindle version of Ant herehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Ant-Robert-Garnham-ebook/dp/B071JDZJ7X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497201234&sr=8-1&keywords=Robert+Garnham+Ant
Or you can send off for the physical version here http://www.lulu.com/shop/robert-garnham/ant/paperback/product-23218401.html

Perfection (A Short Story)

Another one from the archives. 2008, to be exact.

Perfection

The fact that the whole of humanity had lived for this did not trouble him in the slightest. All of thought and philosophy, all of art, everything, including warfare and religion, had gone in to the construction of this one place, this hallowed, magnificent building where he would remain, living a life of idyllic bounty in an environment of absolute perfection. It wasn’t luck, nor was it heaven : it was the result of every virtuous thought there had ever been, and he, as the most perfect human who had ever existed, had been allowed to reside within its walls.

          The whole place was spotlessly white, and painted so as to appear almost clinical in the equatorial sun. Yet there was a rosy hue which permeated everything, and a smell of jasmine which lifted into the air much like the smell of a summer garden after the rain. The corridors were decorated with classical statues, finely sculpted evocations of masculine beauty and workmanship which, bathed either in the sun or in the shadows which, thrown down by the angles of the building, hide within them the joy which comes from beholding without malice the achievements of a master. The floor is tiled, pleasantly. In the centre of the building there is a courtyard garden where soft fountains sprinkle water which, in the sun, cast rainbows and prisms of light, while the foliage is home to such wondrous birds of paradise as to mesmerise the casual viewer. Cushions and seats are provided, that the scene may be contemplated from whichever angle suits him best. Through two doors at the southern end of the courtyard is the library, an old, oak affair with a running balcony and a sliding ladder on wheels, where the greatest works of literature may be read or studied. In the centre of the library are desks with brass lamps and a leather armchair angled at such a degree as to facilitate unforced comprehension. There is an art gallery further on, and a small museum. The whole place is perfect.

          He, too, is perfect. He has led a life of virtuous study and concern for his fellow man. In all of his relationships and dealings with other people he has been the most trustworthy and honest character, and yet he has been careful not to appear as too pious or pompous. He has never felt the need to bury himself within a certain political or religious organisation – (he sees, quite rightly, that to do so is to cede control of his character to a pre-conceived set of ideals or beliefs) – nor has he ever been overtly charitable – (for he is not one of those who prefers, rather than doing good, to be seen as doing good). He has always dressed smartly, and yet not too smart. He has never associated himself with one particular economic group, or racial group, or artistic group, or political convention. He has never felt malice towards anyone, and he tries all the time to see both sides of an argument before speaking his mind on any subject. He has never wanted to hurt anyone. In such a way he, too, is the ideal of perfection, the culmination of humanity.

          He feels no guilt at living in the house, nor does he feel any guilt at having felt no guilt. At the same time he is conscious that guilt might have been a factor in his residing there. He wanders from room to room and fills himself with the ideals of perfection with which he has been identified. The food is perfect and it is textured just so, that he might relish each mouth-full without indulging. The temperature is well-maintained and there is hardly any noise at all save for the fountain, the birds in the courtyard, perhaps some soft jazz which emanates, at night, from somewhere ethereal. He has never felt happier.

          It is especially gratifying to realise that the human race has existed just for this. So many philosophies and movements in both art and design have culminated in the perfect existence. Psychologists have toiled for centuries in the hope of discovering the most perfect, well-balanced way of spending one’s time. Artists have toiled, writers have written, in order only that the libraries and galleries of the house remain stocked with the finest of their achievements. And when he becomes bored of the house, there are sandy beaches and coves in which to wander, tropical islands, luscious, dense forests in which to wander. Nor is he alone. There are people nearby, friendly individuals, learned types, amiable fellows, beautiful men and women with whom he might converse or even fall in love with, people who care for him and want the best for him. Some nights he throws parties and entertains them, and they all drink and eat and they are very merry indeed, and they dance in the moonlight, under the stars, to the soft jazz or to whatever music might suit the occasion. Everything – it bears repeating – everything is perfect.

          One day he went for a walk along one of the wings of the house. He stopped for a while to admire a classical statue, and he could hardly see the marks left by the sculptor on the marble from which it was cast. Likewise, the paintings in the gallery seemed hardly touched by human hands, even though they were signed and catalogued. How wonderful the human race could be, he thought to himself. And the house itself – each angle was carefully considered that the play of light and shadow be worked in unison with something else, some mental approximation of fine living. He walked slowly. He walked, taking in the atmosphere. He could feel time itself stretching, becoming null and void. That afternoon he would sit and write haiku, he decided, and then he might call some friends and they would come round, and they would eat spaghetti Bolognese. At the end of the corridor he sat for a while on a stone bench and he closed his eyes, allowing the sun to stream in through his eyelids. It was warm, it was beautiful, it reminded him of something distant. Perfect, he said to himself. Absolutely perfect.

          Very faintly, he heard a soft, stifled belch.

The Shivering House (A short story) 

The house keeps on shivering.
I’ve called for a builder in order that he might assess the problem, and he recommends a doctor. The doctor didn’t know what to do himself, although he prescribed some pills because of a nasty rash in the kitchen near the microwave, and he also wondered why there was a patch of stubble in the hall.
‘Do you ever shave the floors?’, he asked, somewhat accusingly.

‘Of course not!’, I laughed. ‘Why would I do such a thing?’
‘I just thought you might be one of those house- rights activists. They have such weird beliefs. Shaving a house, they often say, gives it some dignity’.
I pointed to the floor of the living room where we were both standing and I indicated that the carpet had not yet had a chance to grow, though the previous house- doctor had stipulated a month’s wait at least until the shag pile had developed. ‘Would I have willingly ordered carpet’, I asked, ‘If I were in the habit of shaving the floors? Now I understand that stubble on the floor might be the next big thing in interior decoration, although I’ve heard that it can be quite painful on the feet. But I can assure you that the house, in all purposes, is allowed to follow its own developmental path’.
‘Hmm’, the house-doctor said. He wrote out his prescription and he passed it to me. ‘I’ll look into this’, he said, ‘But I’m not promising anything’.
The house kept on shivering all through the night.
I wondered if it was anything to do with me. Bad luck seems to follow me around, or maybe it is that I take to heart anything that goes wrong in my life, that I take things so personally. I have, however, never been happy in my new home. There was a curious burping noise when I first moved in, which was revealed to be a build- up of installation gasses in the main bone structure, and a nasty lump had to be removed a few weeks later, under aesthetic, a process which meant that I had to stay with my parents until the house recovered. But now this constant shivering, which, eerily, occurs more often at night, seems to confirm that such matters are completely out of my control. 
I go through the next few days with a grim determination that the problems of the house should not ruin my enjoyments of life. At work I am personable and polite and all conversations regarding the developments of my living space are answered with an airy grace, underscored by a ruthlessness in not inviting any of my colleagues home to view the place. I describe to them the exact colour of my carpet – when it finally grows – and they applaud me on the colour that I have chosen. ‘It is obvious’, I am told, ‘That you have a flair for decoration. Maybe you would like to work on our office, when the next budget comes through’. But I look around at the plain, glass and steel building, and the whole place gives me the creeps.
‘It just doesn’t seem alive’, I whisper. ‘How can one ever get a bond with an inanimate object? Who hasn’t fallen asleep at night lulled by the heartbeat of their own house? I’m sorry, but brick and mortar have nothing for me’.
I do not hear from the house-doctor for a while. Yet the shivering gets worse, a continual flexing and spasm evident in most of the inner walls. At last the rash on the kitchen wall clears up, although the house-doctor was correct, a path of stubble on the hallway floor would hint to me that a razor was being applied to it in a methodical fashion. One night on television I learned of a horrible disease affecting houses of a certain period, and a whole street in Basingstoke closed down and condemned, the houses coughing and spluttering, the walls braking out in cold sweats. The programme made me think and I wondered if my house, too, had caught such a disease, though it comes from a healthy stock and good breeding and is the result, I was informed at the time of its purchase, of a natural, free-range house-to- house courtship. The only problem I could see is that there was, in its heritage, a quarter bungalow, that its grandfather was a seaside shack by designation, and by their nature, single-storey houses have long been prone to infection.
 One night the shivering became so bad that I could not sleep. The bed kept on moving with each involuntary shudder, and I found myself walking the neighbourhood. The night sky was clear and I could see the stars above, and even the Coca-cola moon shining bright with its red neon laser glow. I could see beauty in the world, and for the first time I wondered if this beauty came from nature. Could it be possible? I remembered the years of my youth when I once saw a squirrel, and as my mother hurried me away from it in case I caught its diseases, I was entranced that another creature could also exist on this planet without having been designed or tested for usefulness. I remembered how wonderful this squirrel had looked, how sure of itself it was, and how there were once trees and the squirrels had lived in the trees. Heavens, they had even eaten nuts and still survived without succumbing to some allergy! But the stars, despite everything, were still there.
I returned to my house. I could see it convulsing at the end of the driveway. As I reached out to open the front door, it seemed to shrink back from me. When I breathed out a sigh of relief in the hallway, the walls broke out with chicken flesh bumps, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s almost as if the house is repulsed by me . . . ‘ . It was only when I got to the kitchen that the moaning started.
A deep, deep throated yawn. Which was most strange, because the house was not installed with a throat. I clung on to the furniture as the house swayed from side to side. Ohhhh, it said, ohhhh. It was as if there was an ache somewhere within it, and I thought about applying a paracetamol to its bloodstream, but then thought better because it would invalidate my warranty. Ohhhh, the house said. Ohhhh. The swaying got worse, as if the house were drunk, and I started to slide down a wall. Such a stench! Of stale sweat, and I could feel a clammy odour seep from the skirting boards. Then the heart beat started accelerating. No problem, I thought. Houses often suffer cardiac arrest. My Uncle’s house had three bypasses before it finally expired. But this was a pounding, a rushing of blood, and I could see veins underneath the wallpaper. The house was rocking from side to side, now, as if in the throes of some primeval dance. I wondered if its bungalow ancestry was coming to the fore, or the impetuosity of the maisonette. But this was worse, much worse. At last I fought my way back into the hallway to see something horrific, something so tremendously appalling that I have never set foot in such a house again.
A pair of arms had sprouted from the walls. The house-doctor told me later that in just two generations – and no doubt accelerated by the chemicals used to speed up the growing process – the houses had evolved, and grown inner arms by which they could amend themselves for maximum personal comfort. And what were these inner arms doing? They were shaving the floor, right where I had decided to grow my new carpet. Scrape, scrape, scrape. I ran into the night and I hid until morning in the shade of my garden shed, my only comfort coming from the red neon glare of the Coca-cola moon. 

You can listen to an audio of this story here https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/shivering-house

This year’s advent calendar 

Well this year’s advent calendar was a strange one. Here’s every day in it’s unusual glory. 
Today’s advent calendar picture was of a duck wearing a Groucho Marx moustache, nose and glasses.

Today’s advent calendar picture is of a clown waving his big shoe at a smoke detector 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of the Easter Bunny trying to keep two sides of a build-it-yourself shed upright while Marilyn Monroe reads the instructions. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of the seven dwarves waiting, angrily, at a mobile chip van, while the lady serving, who for some reason is a panda, is looking at holiday photos being shown to her by Snarf from Thundercats
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Gandalf at the self service Tesco machine 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of an advent calendar 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Vladimir Putin eating a Pot Noodle 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of sixteen Laurels (from Laurel and Hardy) and Sid James queuing at a self service cafeteria.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a frog trying to push a sofa up a flight of stairs, backwards, sweating profusely.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of an igloo, a bin with contents strewn around, and a polar bear flaked out by tranquilliser dart. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a Peruvian brown bear wearing a scarf scraping frost off the windscreen of a parked car with its engine running. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a sneezing unicorn.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a badger and a rabbit having a row about who gets the last chicken mayonnaise sandwich in the chiller cabinet while TV’s Victoria Coren Mitchell sneaks in and grabs it for herself.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a stack of suspended ceiling tiles, £11 each plus postage and packing 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of the nativity scene. (Bit early but there you go). 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of fifteen donkeys wearing sombreros and a man at a stall trying to sell them more sombreros but the donkeys are having none of it.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a badger getting a refund on a pair of trousers.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Lord Byron on roller skates in a crumpled heap next to a slightly dented Ford Focus. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a panda in a library reading a Will Self novel, double checking some of the weightier vocabulary in a dictionary. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Mr T from The A Team at the boating lake in the park, rowing a rowing boat past some rhododendrons. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a squid waiting in the queue for the Primark changing room with a Tigger the Tiger onesie.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Darth Vader in a lightsabre battle with Alan Bennett. 
Today’s advent calendar picture is of Michael Portillo looking very grumpy on a rail replacement bus. Oh, and why not, Skeletor from HeMan is sitting three rows behind him, eating a Pot Noodle.
Today’s advent calendar picture is of a confused ostrich.

How the song ‘Manhattan’ is actually about Paignton, Devon. True story!

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
Hellevoetslus Way!

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
In July?
Sweets and crisp packets gently gliding
by.

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
in KFC.
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.

And EastEnders
Is a terrific soap they say
We both may see one of the characters smile
some day.

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.