Reflections on my 2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Reflections on my 2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Looking back on my Edinburgh Fringe this year, I’m astounded at how little went wrong this time. It’s weird, but every one of my visits to Edinburgh can be recalled through what went disastrously wrong. For example, in 2015, I lost my passport during the flight up to Edinburgh, and I would need it again a month later for a trip to New York. In 2016, I arrived in Edinburgh but my luggage went to Honolulu, so I had to do the first two days with the same clothes I’d worn on the plane, and none of my props. In 2017, things actually went quite well but I’d accidentally booked not enough days at my accommodation and had to find two more nights to stay somewhere in the city. In 2019, my train only got as far as Preston and had to turn back because the line was flooded, and then when I arrived in Auld Reekie I discovered that my show wasn’t listed in the PBH brochure. (My fault, I should have checked). And then on the train home, someone stole my luggage!

So I suppose all of these were damn good learning experiences, and this year I had flights sorted, accommodation booked, I’d double checked the PBH brochures, I had my favourite venue, (Banshee Labyrinth), and I had a show without any props, so if something happened to my luggage, then the show could still go on.

There were other things I did differently this year which seemed to work. For a start, I listed the show in the main Fringe brochure under comedy rather than spoken word. This was the first time I’d done this, (mainly because I knew I had a show which had a fair amount of comedy in it, unlike 2015’s Static, or 2017’s In the Glare of the Neon Yak). And I think this did lead to a slightly higher number of audience members. The idea of this came from a little research I did where it transcribed that a lot of people who get the Fringe brochure only ever look at the sections which interest them. Theatre, for example, or comedy. My own interest is comedy, for example.

The other thing I did was to include my name in the show title. For a long time the show was called ‘Yay! The Search for Happiness’, but I decided that this sounded too much like a motivational speech, and the title itself hinted that it ought to come with some kind of trigger warning. I decided on ‘Robert Garnham, Yay!’, which I think really worked.

Another thing which was different this year was my whole attitude. In years past I’d take a show to Edinburgh and feel as if all of my eggs were in one basket. If this failed, then I was a failure too by extension. And also, it has to be admitted, I was never as sure as my shows in the past, never one hundred percent convinced that I was writing or performing to the maximum of my (possibly limited) abilities. This year, with a show which had no props or music to hide behind, I had made sure that I knew the show inside out. I’d been rehearsing the thing since early 2020 and I felt that I knew every nuance of it. As a result, I felt much more relaxed while talking to people about my show. If an audience came, well, then it came. If it didn’t, then at least I knew I’d done my maximum.

And also, I had my writing, now. I wasn’t just a comedy performance poet. By the time I got back to Edinburgh in 2022, several things had changed in my career. I was now a published writer, humorist, newspaper columnist as well as a comedy performance poet. This helped me to see what I was doing the context of someone who wasn’t putting all of his hopes and dreams into one show. If the show was a flop, (a show I;d given everything to), then at least I had short stories in magazines, and people reading my newspaper columns. All would not be lost!

This all helped me be incredibly more relaxed in Edinburgh. It’s only taken about ten years, but I felt I was negotiating the fringe with some degree of knowledge which I could fall back on. I even started to enjoy flyering.

Yes, you read that right. Traditionally, I hate flyering. Dyslexia manifests itself with me with an inability to speak to strangers or say things on the spur of the moment. I cannot improvise to save my life and a witty comeback is a three hour process. I find engaging with other human beings to be absolutely exhausting, yet this year, I had something I could describe very easily. ‘A search for happiness on the high seas. Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!’ My eye-catching flyers helped tremendously, too.

And finally, I decided that this would all be an adventure. If it all went tits up, then it would be something to write about. After the last two years where nothing much happened, it really did feel like the most daring thing in the world to go to another city, another country, and bring a show with me. I knew that in the dark days of winter, I’d sit back and ponder on the people I met, the places I went, the lovely audiences I had.

Will I be back next year? In all likelihood, yes. And here are my highlights:

1. The young Scottish couple who came to my show and chatted afterwards about seaside towns. I’d pulled them in to the show at the last minute and worried that they wouldn’t like it. They did, and they bought a book. They told me the name of the Scottish town where they lived. I had to ask three times because I didn’t understand the answer. Abercernichnie? Aberlakichnee?

2. The lady who came to my show and flung her arms around me at the end, and then, much to my surprise, so did her husband!

3. The man who said that my show should be on Radio Four. But it was noisy in the bar and I thought he’d said he was from Radio Four and I got unnecessarily excited!

4. Gecko came to my first show and seemed to really like it, he laughed at all the funny bits and this helped the rest of the audience laugh too.

5. Ditto Alexander Woody Woodward, who it was a thrill to meet in the flesh.

6. The fight which took place during my penultimate show in the audience. Yes, you read that correctly. An audience member took exception to the noise coming from the bar of the Banshee. She went and told them to be quiet, in a very feisty manner. Next thing I know, she was laying into them! I had a great audience that night and it seemed to bind us all together as a shared adventure.

7. The wonderful audience I had at the last show, which included my good friend Elizabeth McGeown and also my regular ‘Robheads’ from Leith, who brought me a lovely present to open on the way home.

8. The tourist who took a selfie with me, and then another tourist who asked for my autograph, I suppose, just assuming that I was famous because I had a show!

9. The taster session I did at St Andrew’s Square during which I had a very big audience, a lot of whom were filming me on their mobile phones.

10. Selling loads of books!

11. Getting home that night and thinking, oh my god, was there really a fight tonight?!

You can read the blog I wrote in Edinburgh this year right here:https://professorofwhimsy.com/2022/08/21/thoughts-from-the-edinburgh-fringe-2022-2/

Thoughts from the Edinburgh Fringe 2022

In a few moments I’m going to be checking out of my student accommodation and my Edinburgh Fringe will be done for another year. This year has already been a little bit special, either because it was my first visit since 2019, or because it was the first year that nothing went wrong. In previous years I’ve had lost luggage, a lost passport, a dodgy venue, and all kinds of minor frustrations not to mention some pretty bizarre accommodation. But this year everything went amazingly well.

The first thing that went amazingly well was that I had an audience every day. And sure, they weren’t the biggest audiences of the fringe, (the week started out with five people and hovered around the seven mark until the weekend, when the numbers shot up), but for me, that was very good indeed.

The second thing that went amazingly well was that I was really, really pleased with my performances. This is a show that I know inside out. It’s also the first show I’ve ever had that has no props, no backing music, it’s just me and the mic for an hour, relying just on words, delivery and the content. And I’m hoping that I pretty much nailed it.

And as a result of this, I felt very relaxed every day about the show. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment or doubt about the show, which made it easier to tell people about.

The third thing that went amazingly well was my flyering. Now I’ll have to be honest and say that I hate flyering. I find it absolutely exhausting. The act of being alert to who’s around you, looking people in the eye, trying to gauge who might be interested, takes a certain mental strain. And due to various reasons, I’m rubbish at talking to strangers unprompted, but this year I felt that I really did nail the art of flyering. I was chatting to people, telling them about the show and boiling it down to the essentials: a search for happiness on the high seas! Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!

Several audience members stick in the memory: the young couple from Fife and a Scottish seaside town with an unpronounceable name (even though I asked twice), who loved the show and told me about living in this seaside town. The man who just came in and liked it so much he came back again the next day. The man who told me that the show should be on Radio Four, (which I misheard and thought that he said he was actually from Radio Four!). The couple I’d never met who came and both flung their arms around me when the show was done. And the couple who visit me every year, who I love to see and who gave me a lovely present when they came in, which touched me in ways that they couldn’t possibly imagine.

The best thing about doing the show was to make these connections with strangers, so that by the end of the hour, they’re no longer strangers. They’ve sat there and they’ve watched you perform and they know more about me as a person, and they’ve laughed, and this connection has been made which, I think, says something deep and meaningful about the human condition.

And as well as the show, I did a couple of appearances on the EdFringe Stage at St Andrew’s Square, which both went very well and the staff said that I’d been one of their favourite performers of the fringe, which really touched me.

It’s been a horrendous couple of years and through it all, the aim had been to come back to Edinburgh. And I made it! And so did everyone else! And now that my time here is done, I can barely conceive that it’s over. What happens next? Where will the creative muse take me? And what will I have the next time I’m here? These are exciting questions which I cannot wait to answer.

Performing at St Andrew’s Square

Thoughts from the Edinburgh Fringe 2022

In a few moments I’m going to be checking out of my student accommodation and my Edinburgh Fringe will be done for another year. This year has already been a little bit special, either because it was my first visit since 2019, or because it was the first year that nothing went wrong. In previous years I’ve had lost luggage, a lost passport, a dodgy venue, and all kinds of minor frustrations not to mention some pretty bizarre accommodation. But this year everything went amazingly well.

The first thing that went amazingly well was that I had an audience every day. And sure, they weren’t the biggest audiences of the fringe, (the week started out with five people and hovered around the seven mark until the weekend, when the numbers shot up), but for me, that was very good indeed.

The second thing that went amazingly well was that I was really, really pleased with my performances. This is a show that I know inside out. It’s also the first show I’ve ever had that has no props, no backing music, it’s just me and the mic for an hour, relying just on words, delivery and the content. And I’m hoping that I pretty much nailed it.

And as a result of this, I felt very relaxed every day about the show. There wasn’t a hint of embarrassment or doubt about the show, which made it easier to tell people about.

The third thing that went amazingly well was my flyering. Now I’ll have to be honest and say that I hate flyering. I find it absolutely exhausting. The act of being alert to who’s around you, looking people in the eye, trying to gauge who might be interested, takes a certain mental strain. And due to various reasons, I’m rubbish at talking to strangers unprompted, but this year I felt that I really did nail the art of flyering. I was chatting to people, telling them about the show and boiling it down to the essentials: a search for happiness on the high seas! Poet in residence on a fish factory ship!

Several audience members stick in the memory: the young couple from Fife and a Scottish seaside town with an unpronounceable name (even though I asked twice), who loved the show and told me about living in this seaside town. The man who just came in and liked it so much he came back again the next day. The man who told me that the show should be on Radio Four, (which I misheard and thought that he said he was actually from Radio Four!). The couple I’d never met who came and both flung their arms around me when the show was done. And the couple who visit me every year, who I love to see and who gave me a lovely present when they came in, which touched me in ways that they couldn’t possibly imagine.

The best thing about doing the show was to make these connections with strangers, so that by the end of the hour, they’re no longer strangers. They’ve sat there and they’ve watched you perform and they know more about me as a person, and they’ve laughed, and this connection has been made which, I think, says something deep and meaningful about the human condition.

And as well as the show, I did a couple of appearances on the EdFringe Stage at St Andrew’s Square, which both went very well and the staff said that I’d been one of their favourite performers of the fringe, which really touched me.

It’s been a horrendous couple of years and through it all, the aim had been to come back to Edinburgh. And I made it! And so did everyone else! And now that my time here is done, I can barely conceive that it’s over. What happens next? Where will the creative muse take me? And what will I have the next time I’m here? These are exciting questions which I cannot wait to answer.

Performing at St Andrew’s Square

In the Glare of the Neon Yak

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a rip roaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? 

An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is by turns delightful, magical, disturbing. It’s a veritable modern fairy tale!

Juicy – The Video of the CD!

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of performing at many venues and entertaining audiences. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of these filmed, either as snippets, or the whole show. Collected here are some of those which I didn’t put on YouTube, fearing that to put my best work on social media would leave me with nothing to perform in public.

So here, for a limited time, are the recordings of some of my favourite poems. The audio from these and others appear on my CD, Juicy, which can be ordered here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/juicy

I’d like to thank those who have filmed me including Laura Jury and Danny Pandolfi

New Year’s Day Whimsy

Well, I did my annual New Year’s Day special yesterday, from the environs of the room at the back of my mothers garage, as I am staying in Brixham for the new year period. Here it is in all its whimsical glory, I hope you enjoy it!

If you like what I’m doing, feel free to support me right here:

https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

My New Year’s Resolution: To have more fun!

So today I performed my annual New Year’s Day poetry extravaganza. And as I’m staying in Brixham at the Muv’s, this took place in the room at the back of her garage where I normally rehearse, a place I have nicknamed the ‘Sunrise Rehearsal Studio’. I can make as much noise as I like in there and nobody can hear me, because the room is not attached to or near any other building.
The day before, I’d kind of made a New Year’s Resolution, which had two parts to it. The first is to concentrate more on comedy poetry, the second is to have fun performing. The first part of this resolution has come about because I feel that, over the last couple of years and especially since lockdown and the pandemic, I have spent most of my time doing things other than comedy poetry. And yes, while it’s great to experiment and try other things, I was just kidding myself that any of these were worth unleashing on an audience. Serious poems, serious pieces of writing, various artworks and ideas which had at least taken me out of my comfort zone, were the speciality of proper artists and proper poets who have made a career out of such a manner of expression. The one thing I’m good at, hopefully, and known for, is making people laugh through poetry and performance. And I hadn’t done nearly enough of this since the end of 2019.
The second part of the resolution is to have fun performing. I know this sounds a bit weird, what with my performance being very silly, comedic and clowning, but I’d spent far too much time concentrating on performance and theory and effect and not nearly enough on enjoying the process.
So today’s gig in the Sunrise Rehearsal Studio allowed me to have fun in the silliness of what I was doing and, hopefully, in such a way, connect with the audience. And once I’d made this pact with myself to enjoy what I was doing, well, wouldn’t you know, I started to really enjoy what I was doing!
2022 is here, now. And I have no idea where it will go or what will happen. I have a couple of projects on the go which might lead to something wonderful, or then again, they might not. But I’m determined that I shall have lots of fun along the way. I hope to see you out there in poetry land, too.

Happy new year to everyone, and here’s to a better future!

Small Town American Boy Tries an English Delicacy

So this poem, amazingly, is based kn a true story. I’ve changed his name. Because he might read this!

America,
Land of the free.
Stars ‘n’ stripes,
Hollywood,
And it’s so amazing,
They’ve even got McDonalds there.
But I tell you
What they haven’t got.
Cheese and pickle sandwiches.
And forever there shall remain
A chasm as deep as the Grand Canyon.

My friend Brody,
All American boy raised on
Baseball and NASCAR,
Country music and out of town malls,
And fishing down at the old creek
With Emmy Lou,
Weirdly infatuated with
Inspector Morse,
Texted me one day
The question that was burning within.
What’s a cheese and pickle sandwich?

One moonlit night in small town America,
In the midst of apple pie baking,
Pick up trucks and 7-11s,
Did his postman deliver a jar of
Imported English pickle, and Brody,
Ever keen to sample exotic foodstuffs
In the glare of diner neon and freeway streetlights,
The roar of pick ups and duck hunts,
Concoct a delicacy so rare as to make
The Angels whimper.

I asked him afterwards
What he had thought.
And he replied
That he melted inside,
His taste buds had come alive,
He almost cried
For the years he’d existed without
Cheese and pickle sandwiches.

The air seemed more pure,
Colours more vivid,
Senses heightened and he was overtaken
With an inner peace
So utterly consuming,
He said he felt a strange compulsion
To grin at a squirrel.

Imbued with hope he skimmed above
Mere comprehension
And suddenly
America made sense.
The love of Kermit for Miss Piggy.
The intricate rules of the rodeo
And most of the Twilight saga.
A lump of processed cheese.
A spread of pickle sublime.
Two slabs of supermarket granary
Lifted him above the humdrum.
Oh! It was like a gastronomic slap in the face.
Oh! It was like a religious awakening.
Oh! It was a cruise control on a turnpike
(Because I definitely know what both of those mean),
Because they Lord of the Snack had sung
And the words which oozed forth
Into the ears of this small town boy were,
‘Go on, make yourself another cheese and pickle sandwich’.

And he opened the screen door.
And he sat on the stoop,
Filled with righteous fervour,
That he should lift up
This cheese and pickle sandwich
As an offering to God on high,
All hail the cheese and pickle sandwich!
All hail its mighty goodness!
And he howled at the night
Like a cowboy,
Yaaaaaaaa-Hooooo!
Mamma!

So you liked it?, I asked.
Sure, he replied, it was swell.
What do you think I should
Try next?
And I suggested
Spam Fritters.

Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist – A review of the Hazel Hammond exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol

Exhibition Photo, Image by Vonalina Cake Photography

I first heard about Hazel Hammond about thirteen years ago. I had just started in performance poetry and someone mentioned this artist and poet in Bristol, who did a show in which she invited audience members to write and draw fake tattoos on her body, the idea being that she had a date and needed some tattoos fast. I then went to a gig at the Artizan Coffee Shop in Paignton, Hazel was headlining and her poetry was amazing, life affirming and very human. I became absolutely smitten with her as a poet and as a person.

A short while later I started attending various open mics up and down the country and one of these was Acoustic Night in Bristol. Hazel was there, and we became acquainted and I would stay at her house every now and then when I was visiting Bristol. Amazing company and absolutely devoted to art, she would tell me about her various projects such as Marietta’s Wardrobe in which she created a box containing postcards of the contents of the wardrobe of a lady named Marietta, and a poem to accompany each. Marietta’s Wardrobe was a study of memory, loss and grief and brought a curator’s eye to the keeping of memories. And when I put together my show about tea, which I toured throughout the UK, Hazel knitted a hat for me in the shape of a teapot based on the exact dimensions of my head.

Knitting is one of Hazel’s artistic mediums. She told me about one of her performance art exhibitions in which she knitted herself into a cocoon live on stage. The cocoon was then taken to an arboretum. In such a way, Hazel remains one of the most original artists you are every likely to meet, unafraid to blur the boundaries between disciplines, and poetry was at the heart of this.

I’m 2018, Hazel had a stroke. It was an incredibly anxious time for her friends and admirers. Her friend, fellow poet Andi, used social media to update us on her condition, but you couldn’t help but fear the worst.

During her recovery, Hazel turned to art as therapy, from the models and characters she would create with plasticine, to the exotic finger dancing she would develop when listening to music. But during this time, she found that words had left her. Afflicted with the condition aphasia, Hazel could no longer rely on her mind to deliver the words that she so cherished as a poet. In the film which accompanies her exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, she explained that she shunned the company of poets. I asked her why and she replied, ‘Jealousy’. Poets had their words, and Hazel did not.

The title of the exhibition is ‘Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist’, which is an apt description of how Hazel’s life has changed in the years following her stroke. The film details her use of art as therapy and the work that she has been doing in the community, using the lessons learned through her own therapy to help other stroke sufferers. In the next room, there are photographs of the knitted hats she has been making which deal with her stroke. One of them is a visual metaphor for the stroke itself, in which one can put one’s fingers as if right down into the centre of someone’s brain. I explained that I found this one a little creepy. She laughed and said, ‘It’s not real, it’s only a sculpture’.

There’s a lot of Hazel’s trademark humour in the exhibition, in spite of the serious message about art which it delivers. Photographs of Hazel wearing her hats are humorous. In one of them, she looks out slyly from behind what she calls her ‘Shouting Hat’, which she wears when she wants to shout because the stroke has left her with a soft voice. Another demonstrates the visual disturbances she suffered, and another is paired with gloves which demonstrate how she uses her fingers and hand gestures to add meaning to her speech.

The exhibition is hugely atmospheric and emotional. The viewer is left truly astounded at how Hazel has overcome such adversity through art, and it is hugely inspirational that she should make the absolute best of such a horrible situation. Hazel has always been an inspiration in any case, and this exhibition cements that feeling.

But what of the poetry? I wanted to ask Hazel if she thought she might write again, but it didn’t seem appropriate to ask. The question is addressed during the film. One of her friends says that perhaps it will come back. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not in the form in which it once existed. But then I thought, this whole exhibition is poetry. It’s the visual manifestation of something which speaks to the viewer emotionally. Hazel has gone beyond mere words and found an even higher form of expression, the likes of which most poets can only dream about.

I heartily recommend this exhibition, and I hope that it tours to other places once the run at the Arnolfini has been completed.

Hazel, photographed by Robert Garnham, Oct. 2021
Robert Garnham wearing Hazel Hammond’s Teapot Hat, 2019