Friday, September 29, 2006

My First Poetry Gigs / Loo Love

My First Poetry Gigs

Lewes Garret. My poetry friend Sean Kelly (pictured left) offered me my first poetry gig, at his excellent club, PureAndGoodAndRight, at the TOYK bar in Leamington. I had just started to prepare for it, deciding which of my far-from-perfect repertoire of poems I should try out on a live audience.

Meanwhile Sean suggested we go to watch a big poetry show in Birmingham. I met him at Birmingham New Street station for a beer, and we walked on to the Library Theatre where the last of a series of poetry gigs called 'Six of the Best' was to be staged.

Even though the performance was just about to start, he introduced me to the compere, Birmingham's Poet Laureate Richard Grant, aka Dreadlockalien. I was amazed when Richard asked me if I wanted to do a poem or two. I heard myself saying, 'Yes, great' and watched him typing my name onto his laptop.

I regretted my rashness. I like to plan and prepare. This is not the way I do things. The following minutes were frantic. I knew none of my poems by heart, so while the gig was kicking off I desperately rifled through my rucksack in a hunt for rhyme. Thankfully, I found a tatty, dog-eared old notebook - I possess many - with scribbled poems in it. They were early versions, and I could hardly read my own handwriting. I had certainly never read them aloud.

So I rapidly rewrote, attempting to make them scan and changing words and entire lines. All the while I was aware of being in a 300-seater venue in front of an intimidatingly large stage onto which I could at any moment be called to read my poetry.

I had just finished redrafting the second poem when the time came. While a live musical jingle was being played by resident band Fat Controller, Richard Grant - who had been making up rhyming intros for all acts - rushed over to me and, in a stage whisper, said: 'I can't think of a rhyme for Oliver. What's your surname?' I don't use my second name, so I said, 'Try rhyming with Ollie.' He concocted an intro with a brilliant rhyme and a quip about my distinctly Shakespearean shirt.

I was on - and as nervous as hell. I felt the stage would swallow me up. I read, as calmly and slowly as I could, Probably Not, which won a laugh, and Ed Cases, which was rewarded with some applause. I was pleasantly surprised. I left the stage with a vast sense of relief, feeling I had been flying by the seat of my pants.

The rest of the gig was absolutely tremendous. Sean Kelly did a funny poem timed to last precisely one minute, and Richard Grant is clearly very talented. Although a performance poet, his written poetry on his upbringing with numerous foster parents was outstanding and moving.

I also really enjoyed the piece of hip-hop theatre, and the brilliant headliner, Elvis McGonagall, a very funny poet and impressionist and the current 'World Slam Poetry Champion'. It was a great gig. More than anything, I was struck by the high level of moral support that the poets gave each other. Six of the Best has clearly been a brilliant concept, superbly executed.

My other 'first poetry gig' was at Sean's club PureAndGoodandRight, at TOYK, in Leamington. I was far more nervous for this one, although it was in a much more intimate venue (packed to the gills). I have always suffered from stage nerves, which drove me into the jaws of the demon drink when I chanced my arm as a stand-up comedian between 1995 and 2000. I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

I had turned up early in my poet's shirt and chatted to a very pleasant Birmingham poet called Spoz whom I had met at the other gig. I collared Sean Kelly and asked to go on first. I was really nervous as I read my first poem, The Liger - a whimsical number.

I knew it by heart, having recited it all week while cycling to work, but glanced down at my notes all the same. I made more eye contact with the audience than in Birmingham, but still did not feel entirely at home. I was conscious of gripping the mic stand like a fiend!

The next one I did was my tribute to Pope John Paul II, which I guess rather surprised the audience. A serious poem, about a Pontiff. However when, afterwards, I mentioned his successor's recent global PR gaffe, I was rewarded with a hearty laugh from the audience.

Next I performed the First Canto of my long, narrative poem Jack Dove. This I did not do well. Suddenly flushed with nerves I blew loads of lines of the 12 eight-line verses, and felt awful for it. I was shaking but I did not completely lose my nerve.

After that, it was a wonderful night. I enjoyed Sean Kelly's compering. He is a natural MC. Spoz also had great stage presence and some tremendously funny poems, particularly the ones about meeting Jesus. The headliner was Rachel Pantechnicon about whom I had heard much while, apparently, learning little. After a couple of lines of her set, I whispered to Dani Carbery: 'She's a bloke!' We fell about laughing at my admission of ignorance. It had not occurred to me for one second that Rachel Pantechnicon would be a poetic cross-dresser.

Rachel Pantechnicon (pictured left) was excellent; I could make imagine her making a great living on the stand-up comedy circuit I used to inhabit, rather than limiting herself to the 'Warwickshire spoken word cabaret circuit' as she described it afterwards. I particularly liked the ridiculous children's storybooks that she produced between poems. It was a fitting end to a very fine evening indeed!

Loo Love (Flashback to Thursday, 4 May 2006)

London Victoria – Brighton train. 7.49pm. I am sitting opposite the in-lurve couple from hell. They sat down, moved my case, and immediately starting virtually making love, French-kissing until their tonsils were sore. Then they had a loud conversation about his toilet habits. Now they are both watching an episode of The Simpsons on their laptop on guffawing like the buffoons they truly are.

How would you describe these morons? Well, she has black hair, gappy teeth, and small, exposed breasts; and is in her late twenties, with nice eyes, but far too much make-up. He is in his late thirties or early forties, with a receding hairline, curly, or, God forbid, permed hair, and a pretentious T-shirt. His teeth are bad, although not as bad as hers.

Now she has started to chew gum, and he is telling her about the difference between what he describes as boys' and girls' toilets. They are truly scatalogical in their relationship. Rarely has a couple irritated me as much. Now they have started pet-hitting each other; now they are French-kissing again; now she is jacking up her crop-top to reveal her tubby tub and nasty navel. Chunder! Vom! Chuck! Puke!

All the other bloody seats are taken, or I would move to escape this. Could it get any worse? Yes, he has just farted, a loud and smelly one. She has responded by getting out her lippy, and redoing her tarty face. Excuse me while I throw up!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Unusual Words / Clarke Shooed

Unusual Words

Sunset in Chester, UKLewes Garret The holidays are over; Edinburgh Fringe 2006 is all packed up. . . back to harsh reality! To soften the blow, here are 30 of my favourite unusual words:

1. Wantwit - stupid person,
2. Disendow - to take away,
3. Bilbo - sword (or penis),
4. Dastard - despicable coward,
5. Nog - beer,
6. Tangletalk - nonsense,
7. Irenic (or eirenic) - doing something for peace or the common good,
8. Braggart - vain boaster,
9. Mortalled - drunk,
10. Creps - trainers,
11. Glabrous - hairless, bald as a coot,
12. Worldling - worldly person,
13. Parlous - perilous,
14. Mien - air, look, manner or bearing,
15. Lushhouse - lowly public house,
16. Mendacious - lying,
17. Porrect - to hold out for acceptance,
18. Scribacious - tending to write,
19. Leam - to gleam or shine,
20. Jen - compassionate love for all humanity,
21. Dipsomania - alcoholism,
22. Ballyrag - to play jokes on,
23. Cloying - disgusting, distasteful,
24. Summerset - to somersault,
25. Unctuous - greasy, slippery or obsequious,
26. Cuckquean - female cuckold (woman whose man is cheating on her),
27. Litherless - without moral backbone,
28. Choplogic - scatty person,
29. Misyoked - unhappily married, and
30. Popinjay - parrot figure set up to be shot at.

I enjoyed that! My holidays were also fun. Here are some of the places I visited after leaving Edinburgh:

Isle of Wight: Went surfing for a day at a lovely place called Lake, and witnessed a remarkable incident. Someone jumped, fell or was pushed off the passenger ferry, plummeting some 60 feet into the cold water. A lifeboat and a helicopter were scrambled, and the ferry stopped. The survivor was winched out of the sea by the chopper and lowered onto the lifeboat. The passengers and crew of the enormous ferry ship looked on.

Brighton: Superb time, shopping, relaxing and lunching at my favourite seafront cafe. On a sunny day Brighton is one of the best places in the world to be.

Chester (pictured above and below): Walked the Roman wall and rowed on the river. I read The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford, who was nine and living in Lewes when she wrote it in 1890. We saw a very good production of it in Lewes last year, performed by an excellent company of actors including a neighbour. It is great fun and unusual, relying on a child's take of the adult world and its manners for its comedy.

And I saw Van Morrison - for nothing. Van the Man was performing at the race course. Tickets were expensive. But you could hear him perfectly well from the road overlooking the course - you did not even have to look at the guy! It was good, although Van Morrison hardly set the crowd on fire. They only woke up at the end when he played Brown Eyed Girl, shortly before he vanished without a word. Nevertheless, a great man!

Steam train in Snowdonia, Wales North Wales: Travelling by train, bus and on foot, I did a wonderful little tour of Snowdonia and the rest of northern Wales. Highlights including the steam train journey from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Minffordd, a journey I had done more than 20 years before with a mate and two Irish nurses whose names – Jackie Cronin and Monica Healion (pictured below, Monica Healion, now Monica Stone, top) – are forever etched on my memory.

This time it was sopping wet when we got to the fabulous Portmeirion, one of the world's great follies, but we managed to enjoy the extraordinary architecture.

Monica Healion in Wales in 1983 Two more trains and a long hike up the hill from Betws Y Coed and we overnighted at the Youth Hostel at Swallow Falls Hotel. I really liked it there. It offers an excellent bar and inexpensive room rates - and you can borrow from their collection of old books.

The next day, I have never seen the falls, swollen with the torrential rain, so beautiful.

Jackie Cronin in Wales in 1983 We took an open top bus to Pen Y Pass (very spectacular) and another bus down the mountain again. The rain had kicked in with the vengeance, so we forked out to take the traction railway up Snowdon. You could see very little but the railway is a remarkable piece of Victorian engineering.

We gradually made our way back to Chester where two drunken rugby players were wresting on the station platform, egged on by a dozen others!

From my travels, here are 10 Welsh words (with their English translations):
1. Lifft - lift,
2. Gwesty - hotel,
3. Seidr - cider,
4. Llety - accommodation,
5. Siop - shop,
6. Thacsis - taxis,
7. Preifat - private,
8. Marmaled - marmalade,
9. Tost - toast,
10. Salad – salad.

Clarke Shooed (Flashback to Friday, 5 May 2006).

8.01am. Lewes Garret. The green and yellow of the South Downs are overcast - not at their best. On a more positive note, the Government has been given a thrashing in the local elections. Yet, John Prescott clings on his job by the skin of his teeth.

7.46pm. Garden, Lewes Garret. A few minutes ago my substitute chiropractor hoisted me up and down on what looked like a Hannibal the Cannibal transportation trolley. You could hear my neck bones being crunched into position. They still feel strange.

The chiropractor was a middle-aged Australian woman. A useful session. Afterwards, I walked around Lewes, as recommended, and went to see the manager at my bank to complain about the pathetic lack of progress in the probe into the theft of my money in a Leamington petrol station debit card fraud.

'I saw the story in the Sun,' she chirped.
'Yes, I leaked it to the media,' I explained.

We had a terse conversation which resulted in her offering to ask the bank's fraud investigation unit to get a move on. Later, she called to say I should get my money back within 10 days. A victory of sorts! I am not, however, counting my chickens. . .

Later I bumped into a mate from the Lewes salsa class SalsaMagic who told me he was chancing his arm as a stand-up comic, a trade I had tried for five years. He told me about his first two gigs and I asked: 'Have you got a fail-safe opening gag?'

'Well,' he said, 'I think it's funny. I say, "You look like an attractive audience - you should be at home having sex. Except you, sir [pointing at a man on his own]. YOU'RE A VIRGIN!"' No comment.

It is beautiful here in the garden. Although the sun is almost down and the half-moon bright above me, the sky is the deepest blue, the birds performing their evensong for free.

11.15pm. Bed. Charles Clarke has been sacked as Home Secretary, and Prescott has lost his department and most of his workload, but not his job as Deputy Prime Minister, his large salary, ministerial Jags, central London flat (at Admiralty Arch), or free estate in Buckinghamshire. Nice work if you can get it!

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