On the road (The 2019 Hammer and Tongue Tour)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay! The Search for Happiness

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

Interview

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

Yay! The show diaries (2.2.21-6.3.21)

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

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

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

3.2.21

Line learning linking material.

5.2.21

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

8.2.21

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

9.2.21

Line learning linking material.

10.2.21

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

11.2.21

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

12.2.21

Line learning linking material.

13.2.21

Line learning linking material.

14.2.21

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

15.2.21

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

16.2.21

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

17.2.21

Line learning Happy.

19.2.21

Line learning Happy.

20.2.21

Line learning Happy.

21.2.21

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

22.2.21

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

23.2.21

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

25.2.21

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

27.2.21

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

28.2.21

Practising random parts of the show.

1.3.21

Full show run through, 53 minutes.

2.3.21

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

3.3.21

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

4.3.21

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

5.3.21

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

6.3.21

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

Gravity of the situation

Gravity of the situation

Thunder roar and dancing flames,
Gravity regained.
Cosmonaut Major Pavel,
Youthful,
hero of the
Red age
Braces in his helmet
For the crush of atmosphere . . .

Another frosty morning on the Steppes. The flat landscape is a faded sepia nothing. Her cottage is nowhere near a main road, little more than a wooden shack surrounded by a wooden fence which demarcated her territory from the endless nothing. A few flowers in pots had not yet had the chance to bloom, though they had shown green roots and signs of growth. She hung out the washing. Her breath turned to vapour, but she was used to the cold. Her scarf, her shawl, her dress, bright primary colours against the dull landscape, the dark wood panelling, the peeling paint, the overcast sky.
She hears a whistling sound. She pauses for a while, her lips clamped on clothes pegs as she hangs a pair of flowery bloomers. The whistling spins gets loud, pronounced, sustained, and she looks up just in time to see a parachute open, and suspended beneath it a Soyuz re-entry capsule. The whistling stops, and the capsule, grey and defined against the overcast sky, swings back and forth, then lands with a heavy thud in the field next to her cottage.
‘Not again’, she whispers.
She finishes hanging up her bloomers, spits out the remaining pegs into her laundry basket, then ambles over to the gate, just in time to see the hatch of the capsule open.
‘Another couple of metres and you’d have crushed my bluebells!’, she yells.
Major Pavel squeezes himself out of the capsule. Like toothpaste from a tube.
‘Olga?’, he says.
‘Pavel!’
The gravity is too much. He’s been on the International Space Station for almost a year. He kind of slumps down on to the side of the capsule.
‘How are the kids?’, he asks, as he takes off his helmet.
‘Fine, no thanks to you’.
‘I had to make sacrifices. For the good of the space programme, and for Mother Russia’.
‘Don’t give me none of that’.
‘How I’ve longed for your supple arms, capturing me, plucking my Sputnik from the sky, my sexy Soyuz so charred and beaten . . .’.
‘You just left me one morning. Gone . . ‘.
He seems dazed. He looks over at her cottage.
‘What . . . What are the chances?!’
Her dainty touch, skin so soft as new year snow.
‘Hugging my metal machine to your chest . . . You dainty flower . . ‘.
‘Don’t you go on about dainty flowers. Another five feet and you’d have crushed my dainty flowers with your fancy spacecraft. Bluebells are just coming up . . .’.
‘Did you miss me?’
‘I’m certainly glad you missed me!’
‘But did you . . Miss me?’
Her features relax, somewhat.
‘Yes’, she whispers.
‘They’ll be here soon’, he says. ‘To pick me up. Begin the debrief. Add my knowledge to the needs of the Motherland ‘. He looks at her and smiles.
‘They might not be’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Social distancing’.
‘Olga!’
He takes a step forwards. She takes a step back.
‘Two metres!’, she says.
They stare at each other across her bluebells.
The night before he’d seen lightning over the Brazilian rainforest. He’d never felt further from home.
‘The sky’, she whispers, ‘is the same as it’s always been. But we’re all cosmonauts, now’.

Of pirates and conveyor belt toasters

Poem

You know those
Conveyor belt toasters you get
In buffet breakfast bargain hotels?
My mate Brian
Has one of those in his kitchen.
It’s kept on all the time
On the off chance that
Someone might fancy some toast.

Brian is a pirate.
He’s proud of his toast conveyor.
I’ve seen him plunder a frigate.
I’ve seen him
Butter a crumpet.
The toast falls off the bottom
Of the conveyor belt
And he says,
Har harrrrrrrr.

We met on the high seas.
I was first mate on the poop deck.
He threatened me with his big blunderbuss
But after that we got on fine.
You must come round for dinner
Some time,
He opined.

I brought a fine Merlot.
I’d like to propose a toast, he said.
Would you like some too?
And we sat like lemons
In an awkward silence
As we waited for it to trundle through.

Four slices.
Cut in two.
Pieces of eight, he said.

Yay!: The Search for Happiness (Diaries)

Yay! show diaries

4.5.20

Write down themes of poems due to go into the Yay collection and decide that most of them are about the sea or wildlife. Conscious that the theme has to be happiness. Decide to make it a love story on a trawler possibly breaking the fourth wall every now and then. Decide to include Seaside Serenade in the collection as it would fit well at the start of the show. Write out very rough approximation of the storyline. A quest to understand what happiness is. Decide against the love aspect.

5.5.20

Working on a possible poem to go at the end of the show, provisionally titled Often I Don’t Realise I’m Happy or Oh! Actually It Turns Out I’m Happy!
Read some Vanessa Kisuule and Shagufta Iqbal for inspiration but then decided it needed ‘Liv Torcing up a bit’. First draft of poem completed.

6.5.20

Finished and fiddled with Oh! It Turns Out I’m Happy! Had a tentative go at writing the first paragraph of the show. Also made a new version of the Yay book manuscript. Now wondering whether to include Seaside Soul as it fits nicely after Seaside Serenade.

7.5.20

Worked on the linking material before Seaside Soul, and between Seaside Soul and Sideburns. Pondered on adding The Lad on the Bus Watching Porn on his phone to the show. Seaside Soul is now a part of the show.

11.5.20

Worked on the linking material and the material for the trawler section. Added the Homecoming poem to the show. Also worked on the dead aunt section.

12.5.20

Continued working on linking material. Swapped running order of the poems in the middle.

13.5.20

Typed up the first few pages, changing and editing sentences, then worked on the Giant Octopus section hoping to make it a stand alone segment.

14.5.20

Typed up the rest of the existing material and rewrote the giant octopus scene.

16.5.20

Worked on coffee shop scene and linking material, worried that the show may be too long, also worried that it should end at the end of the Trawler section.

17.5.20

Completely scrapped yesterday’s writing and rewrote the end of the show keeping the action on the trawler. Ended the show with a sudden idea to incorporate the gay pride boat ride.

18.5.20

Typed up the new material and made a few cosmetic changes and loosened up some of the language. First draft of the show now complete. Put aside for a few days.

1.6.20

In preparation listened to Tina Sederholm’a podcast about writing shows. Pondered on removing Seaside Serenade as it shares too many similarities with other poems, and replacing it as the first poem with I See Me in the Future, which is only half written. Then rewrote and wrote new linking material for the first few minutes, setting the start of the show in Surrey instead of Devon. Then turned attention to Shakka Lakka Boom and thought of alternative words to make it more my own poem, including Plipperty Plopperty Ploom.

2.6.20

More work on the new beginning of the show and writing the new linking material. Added a couple of jokes, then typed up and worked on I See Me in the Future.

3.6.20

Put all of the show together and had a full read through, comes to 57 minutes but it’s over 8000 words. Made lots of notes. Rewrote the first verse of Shakka Lakka Boom. Decided to remove the Lighthouse poem and the lighthousekeeper section to free up time, and this would let me put Seaside Serenade back at the start. Started rewriting I See Me in the Future just on the off chance. Feel that Seaside Serenade would be a better opening poem.

4.6.20

Rewrote the script. Took out I see Me in the Future and added Seaside Serenade. Removed Lighthousekeeper and that whole section. Also removed I want to be a Submariner as it had the same themes as three other poems, wrote a new one based on a poem originally rejected for Spout, Dunker Dumper, which gives background to Stinky Pete’s malaise. Interestingly this poem was written in the Wetherspoons in Barnstaple during the Fringe there. Added Brandon to the end of the show. Rewrote the opening linking material to add more jokes and attitude. Word count now just over 7400.

5.6.20

Updated Yay collection to include new poems for the show, and new Shakka Lakka Boom.

10.6.20

Rewrote the Surrey linking material and also went through the show, reducing the word count and editing. Word count now 7300.

13.6.20

Rewrote the opening speech after Seaside Serenade, including some jokes that came to me and getting rid of the awkward book plug.

14.6.20

Sunrise rehearsal room, Brixham. Rewrote the end of the Skipper’s octopus story, adding a joke. After lunch did a full read through. Comes to just under 53 minutes now. Decided to lighten the poetry towards the end and looked at replacing the poem Yay, perhaps with I want to be a Submariner, or even a sequence of short silly poems from a pretend poetry workshop on board the vessel.

15.6.20

Started rewrite of the ‘poetry workshop’ section with a view to replacing the ‘Yay’ poem. Wrote rough notes and selected some previously written short, sharp poems for this section with punchlines.

16.6.20

Rewrote the poetry workshop section and put it in the script. Removed the Yay poem and the linking material leading to it. Net result, about a hundred words less. Current word count now just over 7100. Currently toying with the idea of the Dunker Dumper song being played on a mobile phone as a pretend voicemail message.

24.6.20

Rewriting odd bits of the script to add in more jokes (but not puns). Made Becky be on the rescue boat at the end. Rewrote the opening paragraph. Spent the afternoon watching YouTube videos about writing solo shows.

25.6.20

More work on adding humour to the script. Looked also at various aspects of the show, even the title. And should I perform the whole thing while ironing? And then struggling to put the ironing board away? Approaching it with a ‘nothing is sacred ‘ mentality!

26.6.20

Did some more micro-rewrites, trying to make individual sentences punchier and funnier. Then did a full table read of the show as it is now, it comes to 52 minutes. Made some notes. The idea persists of using an ironing board, it could be used as numerous props: boat, gangplank, a person, a surfboard, an ironing board, a table. Something to ponder on. Do I really need to lug an ironing board around? Spoke to Ian Beech about using one of his photos for the poster for the show and the cover for the book, and the idea had his blessing though he was worried that Burning Eye would alter his image. After dinner, started working on some different ‘workshop’ poems , the latest idea being to get audience members to read them out.

27.6.20

Finished rewriting the ‘poetry workshop’ short poems.

1.7.20

Chatting with Tina Sederholm about hiring her to do dramaturg work on the show script.

17.7.20

Printed off the script for Yay and put it in the same ring binder as used for Juicy, Yak, Spout, etc.

21.7.20

Re-begin line learning Seaside Serenade. Amazed at how much I remember.

8.9.20

Official announcement of the Yay show and book on the Burning Eye Twitter and social media account and on other various social media platforms.

15.9.20

Official announcement of the title of the book and show on the Burning Eye Twitter account and in various social media platforms.

1.11.20

Brixham: Full ‘table read’ of show and notes written. Current length 54 minutes. Is Queer Express necessary?

2.11.20

Spent the afternoon on rewrites based on yesterday’s table read. Replaced Queer Express with I Want to be a Submariner.

3.11.20

Spent the afternoon and evening on rewrites. Word count now under 7000. Pondering music for the poems, and a different voice for the mobile phone song in the middle. Just to give me a rest!

4.11.20

No election result. Started rehearsing, amazed to find I still knew most of Seaside Serenade. Went through the introduction and linking material.

5.11.20

Still no election results. Rehearsed Seaside Serenade and learned lines for the following linking material. Slight rewrites to first introduction.

6.11.20

Still no election results. Rehearsed Seaside Serenade and the following linking material. First seven minutes of the show now committed to memory. Decided against music.

9.11.20

Rehearsed the first seven minutes and began to rehearse Sideburns. Mark was bored so he came down and watched the first seven minutes.

10.11.20

Sideburns line learning.

11.11.20

Sideburns line learning.

12.11.20

Applied to PBH Free Fringe for the show for 2021. Line learning for Sideburns and re-run of first seven minutes.

13.11.20

Sideburns line learning.

14.11.20

Sideburns line learning during torrential rain storm.

15.11.20

More Sideburns line learning. More torrential rain, thunderstorm, hail. Started also on the linking material after Sideburns.

16.11.20

Rehearsing linking material.

17.11.20

Rehearsing linking material and Seaside Soul.

18.11.20

Seaside Soul line learning.

19.11.20

Did the first fifteen minutes or so of Yay and more Seaside Soul line learning.

20.11.20

A run through of Sideburns and Seaside Soul a few times to make sure they’d stuck.

24.11.20

Started work memorising linking material after Seaside Soul.

25.11.20

More work on memorising linking material. Ran through all the show so far from the beginning. Also pondering on light rewrites. A Brixham trawler sank over the weekend with two lives lost. I was asked to provide some words for the local news website. Decided that the script would need some revisions to make it less trawlercentric, in honour to the fishermen, one of whom is a friend of a friend, and the sacrifices those in the fishing industry make. Pondered on changing the location to a factory fishing ship.

26.11.20

Up early for rewrites. Research into factory fishing ships and had several ideas for jokes and funny lines. Rewrote two lots of linking material and made cosmetic changes to wording, very pleased with the results. Current word count 7043.

27.11.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral.

28.11.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral.

29.11.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral

30.11.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral

2.12.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral.

3.12.20

More line learning Instructions for my Funeral, followed by a complete run-through of everything learned so far. Memorised twenty minutes of material since the start of November. Therefore thinking logically that it will take two more months to memorise the rest of the show, though I wont have as much free time.

6.12.20

Line learning Instructions for my Funeral and then started learning the rehearsing the following linking material. Printed the updated script and put it in the folder. Rewrote the linking material as I went along. As I was rehearsing, (having moved the table and chairs from the bay window to create a stage), I saw a little aircraft spluttering, popping and banging as it flew over. Hopefully not an omen!

8.12.20

Line learning linking material.

9.12.20

Line learning linking material.

13.12.20

Complete run-through of the show so far. Then started the process of committing ‘Homecoming’ to memory.

14.12.20

Line learning Homecoming.

15.12.20

Debuted Seaside Soul at Big Poetry Goes Viral on Zoom. Accidentally missed out a verse.

16.12.20

Line learning Homecoming and rehearsing Seaside Soul, as I’ll be performing it tomorrow night at the Palace Theatre as part of an evening of culture in celebration of the theatre. They asked for a poem about Paignton. Funny you should ask, I replied, I’ve been working on one!

17.12.20

Debuted some linking material and Seaside Soul at Palace Avenue Theatre as part of their evening of culture.

18.12.20

Line learning Homecoming (while at work alone on the shop floor in the first, slow hour of the day).

19.12.20

Went for a walk in the bright sunshine down across Paignton Green to the harbour, line learning Homecoming. Stood on the concrete breakwater and recited the poem a few times. Later on, went through the show so far (excluding Seaside Serenade) just to make sure I could remember the poems.

21.12.20

Line learning Homecoming and the linking material which comes afterwards.

22.12.20

Line learning Homecoming.

23.12.20

Line learning linking material. Also went through all of the linking material of the show so far, (saying ‘fast forward’ once I’d got one verse into the actual poems).

26.12.20

In Brixham. Line learning linking material. Begun the process of learning Poet In Residence on a Fish Factory Ship. Rewrote the second verse using the old typewriter to type up the revisions. Only one of the crew will henceforth be known as ‘stinky’.

27.12.20

To the Sunrise Rehearsal Studio in Brixham to work on the Poet In Residence poem. Great progress rehearsing and line learning.

29.12.20

Line learning Poet In Residence. Also did a run-through of the first twenty five minutes of the show, completely error free for the first time. Felt like a big step!

1.1.21

Line learning Poet In Residence.

2.1.21

Line learning Poet In Residence.

3.1.21

Went to the sea front, prom and beach in bitterly cold winds and recorded myself underneath the pier performing Seaside Soul, to publicise the show and book. Spent the afternoon editing and re-dubbing the footage, shared to social media channels.

5.1.21

Another lockdown begins. Line learning Poet In Residence.

6.1.21

Line learning Poet In Residence and experimenting with an intro played on the melodica.

7.1.21

Line learning Poet In Residence. Then undertook a run-through of the show so far, 27 minutes. Followed this with line learning linking material.

8.1.21

Applied to Norwich Fringe and to the Guildford Fringe for 2021. Afternoon, line learning linking material and Shakka Lakka Boom.

9.1.21

Line learning Shakka Lakka Boom and linking material.

10.1.21

Line learning Shakka Lakka Boom and linking material.

11.1.21

Email from Guildford Fringe saying they’ll be in touch about dates for Yay. Spoke with Melanie Branton about providing a song via answer phone message for the ‘You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa’ section. Sang a version of it and sent it to her along with the lyrics. Line learning linking material. Also, performed Seaside Soul on the weekly Forsaking the Mic Zoom meeting and chatted about the show. Ran through the show so far for Mark.

12.1.21

Ran through the show so far again. 34 minutes. Pondering on what to remove if the running time is too long.

13.1.21

Did a ‘table read’ of the rest of the show to work out timings. Decided to remove two poems, ‘Moby Dick’, (which I stayed up late last night re-writing), and I Want To Be A Submariner. The Submariner poem needs rewrites in any case but I’ve never been totally happy with it and it seems superfluous to the plot. Moby Dick feels better now it’s rewritten, but it’s also superfluous to the plot. As a replacement I took the Sunrise poem from Squidbox and rewrote it, adding a final verse. This is a more contemplative piece and fits the mood nicely. This new poem will also be inserted into the Yay book in place of I Want to Be A Submariner. Hopefully, the running time will be around 55 minutes now.

15.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Sea monster section).

16.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Sea monster section).

18.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Went for a walk in the rain and dark to go over the lines in my head, the sea monster section).

19.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Sea monster section).

21.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Sea monster section).

22.1.21

Line learning linking material. (Sea monster section).

23.1.21

Decided to carry on the Yay show into 2022 as well as 2021 and to make it as ‘robust’ as possible to last the distance. Had a great rehearsal, going through the whole of the learned show so far and concentrating on movement, and incorporating a chair, which may be the only piece of furniture or prop (except the phone). Then used voice changing software to record the poem / song ‘You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa’, adding some dialogue at the start and the end. Edited it all together to be used in the shows. Very happy with the progress today.

24.1.21

Line learning linking material.

25.1.21

Line learning linking material. Considering some music at the start of the show. Last night recorded some vocal ideas. Today pondered using a verse from the poem Happy.

26.1.21

In a light rain shower I went to the woods down the road and filmed myself performing Instructions for my Funeral. Then home and edited the footage. Ran through the linking material and the ‘Muffin’ / ‘Sea Monster’ sections, then rehearsed ‘Nathan went for a walk in the Rain’. Finally, rewrote linking material between ‘Nathan . .’, and ‘Sunrise’.

28.1.21

Line learning ‘Sunrise’.

29.1.21

Line learning Sunrise.

30.1.21

Line learning Sunrise. Made a video for the ‘Happy’ poem.

31.1.21

Ran through all of the memorised show so far, 45 minutes. Had a minor panic when I thought the timer said 55 minutes! Did some work with the chair just to play around during the show. Then spent some time line learning Sunrise.

1.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

Shakka Lakka Boom

I’ve been working on the new show and collection for months now so this poem has been stuck in my head for absolutely ages, and yet the weird thing is, it’s not been out into the big wide world yet. Until now!

Behold! Enjoy this brand new video of my poem Shakka Lakka Boom!, taken from my forthcoming collection Yay!, and my solo show Yay! The Search for Happiness. I hope you like it!

Shakka Lakka Boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Gotta get through the day,
Gotta do your thing.
Gotta get through the day,
Feel it deep within.
Gotta get through the day.
People, make some room.
Say into the microphone:
Shakka lakka boom!

Go to bake a cake one day.
Go to bake a cake.
Go to bake a bake one day,
Hope I don’t make a mistake.
Add all the ingredients,
Stir them with a spoon,
A little salt and a pinch
Of shakka lakka boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Made my Broadway debut
In a Shakespeare play.
I know all my lines by heart.
I know, just want to say.
‘To be or not to be,’ I said,
And, with a sense of doom,
Forgot what came just after that,
Said, ‘Shakka lakka boom!’

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Go out on a hot date,
Small talk and a chat.
Go out on a hot date
And then back to his flat.
Making lots of small talk.
Hope I don’t peak too soon.
All he did was stroke my arm
And shakka lakka boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

And then I went to the funeral.
My aunt had passed away.
Such a lovely funeral
On such a dismal day.
I went to give the eulogy.
The coffin lid went zoom!
My aunt, she suddenly sat right up,
Said, ‘Shakka lakka boom!’

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

What is ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’?

In 2018 I toured the fringes and festivals of the UK with my show ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. It was something of a gamble at the time to write and rehearse an hour long poem which took me away from the comedy and whimsy and into a strange territory of myth, folk-lore, atmosphere and storytelling. The show had taken a few years to write, from around 2015, and almost a whole year to learn. I was hugely pleased with the outcome and I got the chance to perform it everywhere from Edinburgh to London, the GlasDenbury Festival to Surrey, and then with a live jazz band in Totnes. It is the piece of work which I’m proudest.

Performing the show was a weird experience. Over the Edinburgh fringe, I suddenly became aware that the characters were almost friends, and that I would look forward to performing them again when their part of the show arrived. Indeed, it was something of a shame when the run ended and I felt genuinely sad not to perform these characters for a while. Almost immediately I began to think of a possible sequel to the show, yet I knew that it would not be the same because I didn’t want to spoil the mythology that I had built up around the show. ‘

‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’ took place on a sleeper train heading north, filled with circus performers, and stalked by the mythological entity the Neon Yak, loosely based on the folklore tales of Herne the Hunter. I decided that a follow up show would have a similar structure, (characters telling their tales), but I wanted to go deeper and move the focus of the show to the actual situations in which these characters found themselves. I wrote three new pieces and also ‘borrowed’ the long poem ‘Bulk Carrier’ from my 2018 book Zebra, and then wrote a kind of framing narrative to bind all of these together. I envisaged an LGBT astronaut, flying to Venus, being consoled throughout his long journey by stories which would remind him of the importance of his community, until the final story details his own adventure when he finally gets to the planet.

The individual sections which make up the show could easily stand alone as performance pieces: ‘Bar Code Blues’ takes place in a supermarket in the 1990s with a character who is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. ‘Bulk Carrier’ takes place on a container vessel in the middle of the ocean which is haunted, (Why not?), by the ghost of Marcel Proust. ‘Much Ado About Muffins’ is a modern retelling of the Shoemaker and the Elves, taking place in a bakery which refuses to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding. And the final piece, ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’, takes the astronaut to a planet where every desire and hope are granted.

And as a special link to its predecessor, the voice of Ground Control is none other than Tony, previously the Train Manager from ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. A change of career, perhaps, but he’s lost none of his humour.

I’d hoped to perform the show all over the UK during 2020, but world events put paid to that. With a show already written for 2021 and the publication of my new book to tie in with it, I knew that Electric Dragons would probably have to be mothballed for quite some time. So this autumn I set about making it into an audio play, a monologue delivered with musical interludes and sound effects, which I might unleash on the world this Christmas.

It’s been an amazing journey working on this show. Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t get to see the light of day in 2020. But without the constraints of having to fit the show into an hour slot, I was able to stretch my legs a little with the audio version. I do hope you will like it, and let me know what you think of it.

‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’ will be released on 23rd December.

Performing ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’, Edinburgh, 2018

A Little Faith in the Moment

(This short story was adapted into a song by the music / spoken word collective Croydon Tourist Office).

A sultry midsummer evening and the clammy village is an unwarranted hug, all honeysuckle smells and foliage, sticky pine needles and fervent deciduous shade. Cottages crowd in on to the single-carriage road as if wanting to know all the gossip. The steep valley sides seem to funnel the heat, ever-present mounds of arable greenery, the low sun throwing long shadows from the flanks of the grazing sheep. How on earth did I end up here?

          I’d been to the pub, but the pub was a disappointment. I’d had a warm lager but the bare-brick furnishings and low hanging ceilings had made me feel even hotter. And I’d hit my head on a copper-bottomed pan that had been hanging from a rafter. There was laughter. I’d never felt dafter.

          But I didn’t want to go back to my rented cottage just yet. I had a desk of half-completed work waiting for me, and it was too, too hot. 

          ‘Come in for a bit of a pray, have we?’, the vicar asked.

          I’d been lingering in the porch of the village church. Stone brick, solid, a stunted tower a modest graveyard of slanting headstones. I caught a glimpse of pews.

          ‘Not really’.

          ‘Not a believer?’

          ‘To be honest, no’.

          ‘Me neither’.

          He had a long beard and a strange expression on his face, as if the top part of his face was profoundly disappointed that the bottom half of his face had grown a beard.

          ‘Really?’

          ‘Come in’, he said. ‘It’s cooler in here. Take a pew’.

          He laughed. His moustache was stained brown by nicotine. I entered the church and felt a certain coolness envelope me. A flagstone floor led to a simple altar, while the low evening sun threw stained glass colour across the aisle.

          ‘How are you a vicar if you don’t believe?’, I asked.

          ‘Nobody checks on these things’, he replied.

          ‘And don’t the audience suspect anything?’

          ‘Congregation, my son. That’s what we call them in the biz. They may have their suspicions, but they’ve not said anything’.

          He was tall and thin and he moved like a crow. There was a pile of hymn books on a side table. The air was infused with the smells of mothballs and summer fruits, furniture polish, and the merest hint of whisky. The vicar picked up a feather duster and fluffed it over the window sill.

          ‘It’s not like the congregation is very large’, he continued. ‘Six at the most. I do funerals, mostly. There weren’t any weddings at all last year. And I haven’t christened anyone in such a long time. The font is now where the wifi transmitter is kept. I use it to go on Wikipedia. It’s a font of all knowledge’.

          He laughed again. A series of slow, halting huffs.

          ‘Sorry. Just some vicar humour’.

          ‘Did you ever believe? I mean . . Did you have a faith, and then stop?’

          He sits on a pew and dangles the feather duster between his legs, kind of sways it back and forth. 

          ‘I had a total failure of faith when I was a teenager. I was on a bouncy castle at the time. The sun shone through the trees, and I wanted to bounce higher and higher, and touch the air. I wanted to stroke the face of god!’, he said, almost triumphantly. But then he lowered his voice. ‘I thought . . If I were a god, I’d not want some snotty nosed teenager touching my face and spreading his germs. Of course, god would have made the germs, too. He would have loved those germs. And the air, it was all atmosphere. Pure science! We can bounce as much as we like, but the sky will always be out of reach’.

          ‘So it was nothing to do with human suffering and unjust luck?’

          ‘No. Bouncy castles’.

          ‘Then why did you want to become a vicar?’

          He waved a nicotine stained forefinger in my face.

          ‘The uniform’, he replied. ‘Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and I tell you, it’s more practical than it looks. That, and the chance to spend time in beautiful buildings such as this’.

          He squinted at me.

          ‘You’ve got a bruise. Have you been to the pub?’

          ‘Yes’.

          ‘I’ve been meaning to tell them about that copper bottomed pan for years’.

          The shadows begin to lengthen and all of a sudden a shard of sunlight illuminated the tip of the bronze cross on the altar as if afire with a sudden majesty, ethereal and life-affirming,

          ‘Best get home’, he said, ‘my soaps will be on’.

          I turned to the altar and watched flecks of dust curl in the air, moving on unseen currents. I turned back to the vicar, but all trace of him had gone.

          ‘What on earth?!’

          It was as if a spectre had made himself apparent only by his leaving, as if common sense had mutated, spun on a golden moment into the sublime, a supernatural hand reached out and plucked a miracle from the ether, and my heart began to race.

‘Sorry’, he said, as his head popped up from between the pews. ‘I was picking up a sweet wrapper’.