Here Today: Gig the Third

Star Anise Arts Café, Stroud
Friday 1st November 2013
Secret Musician: Paul Bienek (banjo)
Special Guest: Maureen Rutter
In the Thermos: Lemon and Honey


STAR anise, Marcus has now discovered, is a small, star-shaped spice. His failed attempt to balance three of them on his face during Jo’s new game, Match of the Day, led to his opponent – granddaughter Lola, whom he was sure would lose because he could hear her giggling – winning a Tunnocks bar.

Another newcomer to the show was the News in Verse, which included our thoughts on:

I-spy whether you like it or not
There’s been lots of talk of spying
With Americans denying
Just how much they love their prying
And now Cameron is trying
To hide the truth too

When they act outside the laws
Inside their secret corridors
Should we not all be appalled?
Should it really not be called
G C H Fu-Q?

…and Kate’s Middle-tum
Big News! Kate’s tummy is flat
It’s a relief to read about that
Her stomach expanded to grow a prince
I was afear’d it would stay big since
But she’s been to the gym and toned her body
I don’t like women’s bits to look shoddy
Kate’s an inspiring rôle model
What a load of twaddle

With bonfire night approaching, Guy Fawkes visited the Post Office, there to be greeted by a very long recorded message, which began:
Cashier number 27 is now free. The Post office apologises for the late running of this service. Please stand back from the edge and remove all motor cycle helmets. If you prefer not to queue please go to our website www postyourletter dot com. Please note our premise,  that no dogs are allowed on the premises. Dog owners are invited to take advantage of our new post and bowl scheme outside the main entrance. This does not apply to guide dogs and hearing dogs. Copies of the guidelines for guide dogs are available on www woofwoof dot co dot uk. If you can’t read it because you are blind, a Braille copy of the guidelines for guide dogs is available from your local Girl Guides. Anyone who cannot hear this message should ask their hearing dog to interpret… and so on.

Marcus’s A-Z treatment on the same theme was entitled News Headlines, 6th November 1605:

Audacious British coup defeated.
Enigmatic Fawkes guy held
in James King’s lords massacre nightmare.
Overthrow plot quashed.
Rebel sneaked through undercroft vault with xplosives.
Yorkist zealot!

 In Tuberculosis Threatens To Take Over The Whole Village – the third chapter of our classic serial, The Pie of Life – retired solicitor Julian Lord designs a poster, the mini-bus from Stonegate Open Prison leaves Smiffy stranded, and vicar’s wife Rachael prepares to reveal something to Matthew…

D was Letter of the Month. Responding speedily to the demand for a deft dissertation, Jo duly delivered this delightfully daft description:

Daphne’s dog did a dollop of diarrhoea in Daglingworth.
“You dastardly dog,” she sighed darkly.
A dark dungeon of despair filled her damson heart.
But then, “Darling, don’t be a dunce,” she murmured to
“Do something.”
She was a dogmatic damsel with the demeanour of a daisy.
She desecrated the dollop with her dainty foot
and went to the Dog and Duck for a delicious dinner.

For Show and Tell, Jo spoke about her much-travelled Galotta 12-bass piano accordion – purchased new in 1979 for £169 – a new one today would only cost £29 more – and played the chords for the first song she ever wrote; What is marriage?

Marcus wished to honour his son, Gaius, who died on 1st November ten years ago. There was the woolly hat brought home from foreign travels; the amusing tale of Gaius picking up a revised poll tax bill at Poste Restante in Gilgit, Pakistan; and this short poem, written when Gaius was a teenager:

Memories or the Present ?
Which is more important ?
Memories ?
Or the present ?

For the present
Is but a split second.

But memories that last
Are all in the past.

We’re back on Sunday 1st December, 8pm, at Woodruffs Organic Café, High Street, Stroud.









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Kathy (Our Mam)

4. Kathy (Our Mam)

(From the archive of (edited) interview transcripts, The 34: 34 Years On)

SHANNON    She didn’t wanna do it. We had to work really hard to get her to. “What? Me? A cleaner? They’ve got to be joking.” She went on and on about it being a joke. “No way. And it says in the letter I don’t have to, so I won’t. And it’s only addressed to Occipier so it’s not meant, is it? Can’t be.”

CASPAR        A great big softie, our Mam. Me and Kath were only… what?

SHANNON    I were fifteen. You must of been twelve. I remember her calling her sister, Vivienne. “Can you come round? Something really odd’s happened. We’ve had a letter. I can’t work out if it’s for real or not.”

CASPAR        Auntie Viv. Fruitcake we called her.

SHANNON    “Ring that number!” Viv says. “Go on, ring it!” Our Mam weren’t sure. It’d gone ten by the time they finished arguing bout it. Mam didn’t think it right to ring anyone after ten. But it said 24/7 on the letter.

CASPAR        I would of. Used to call mates at school later than that. From me bedroom.

SHANNON    She did in the end. Made an appointment. Then a few days later, two of them turned up at the door. Mam made us tidy everything up and they seemed posh when they talked, but Mam were quite cool about in the end.

CASPAR        Don’t remember any of this.

SHANNON    Not even the brown lad? Imtiaz. I remember him as if it were yesterday. Rather handsome, I thought, at the time. And he came back just before Christmas with a proper iPad thing for you which was all set up so’s you couldn’t watch porn!

CASPAR        I must of chucked it in the bin then.

SHANNON    She only did two, or were it three, of the parliment things. Weekends away, see. Dad were alright bout it at first, but I think he were jealous. She quite liked it, I think. Said it made her feel important. Then when it started on TV she watched a few bits. “That’s so-and-so. I know her. Oh look, it’s Bill! Such a nice bloke, he is. He’d be a better bleeding prime minster than the one we’ve got now. Ha ha.” And she wanted to go on that big march… when were it, four or five years later… but she took ill a week before. Auntie Viv went. I mighta done but I was working.

CASPAR        Ah, I do remember that. Saw some of it on the box. How many was it?

SHANNON    Three million or more, the paper said. Couldn’t have been. “I’m there with them, in spirit,” Mam said. Shame she won’t remember any of it herself. Not now. We’re off to see her tomorra, aren’t we, Casp?

CASPAR        Aye.

SHANNON    She’d be pleased bout us doing this interview. If she could understand.

CASPAR        Aye. She would.

SHANNON    Will that do?

Chapter 5









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Here Today: Gig the Second

Black Book Café, Stroud, Tuesday 1st October 2013
Secret Musician: Patsy Gamble (saxophone)
Special Guest: Eliza Dewar
In the Thermos: Chamomile Tea


JUST before we started, Jo came up with a great idea – completely apt for this lovely café, which resembles a library with its floor-to-ceiling book shelves – only for Marcus to forget when we reached that point in the programme. Must ask Kelly if we can perform there again so we can add another item to the programme.

Apes with attitudes argued about primate development strategies in a sketch called The Theory of Evolution. Marcus recited an alphabetical piece on the same theme:

After Beagle cruise, Darwin extrapolates from
Galapagos, his illuminating journey’s, key lessons:
mutations naturally occur, proliferating quintessentially
robust survival through utilitarian variations.
‘Wanker!’ xclaimed yesteryear’s zoologists.

Y was drawn out of the bag as Letter of the Month – a tricky challenge for Jo, whose response was:

Yes ! The yellow yo-yo whizzed up and down.
Yolanda chortled with joy. The yapping dog yapped.
Look yonder! Over the Yorkshire moors a yeti appeared,
eating yams. Yawn yawn went Yolanda.
“You tired?”
“Yes, Nan”
“It’s Yuletide tomorrow. I’ll tuck you up. You yummy girl.”
“Yes, Nan.”

Marcus wears a black, velvet smoking-jacket for Here Today. It was gift, made by his Mum, when he left Hull for Bristol University in 1968. He reckons she’d envisaged him standing in his ‘rooms’, elbow resting on a mantelpiece, pipe in mouth, discussing the nuances of Plato with fellow undergraduates.

The Merry Month quiz questions* included:

1. a) She will be 56 on the 11th October
b) She declined an OBE in 2001
c) Her middle name is Roma
d) She has an adopted daughter named Billie
e) Her father was in the RAF, as was the father of her comedy partner, Jennifer

2. a) He died of cancer, aged 66, on 1st October 2000
b) Despite the rain, thousands of people lined the streets to watch the nine-mile funeral procession
c) The service ended with Frank Sinatra’s My Way
d) Barbara Windsor sent a wreath of red roses
e) His twin brother had died in Broadmoor, five years earlier

The subject of Jo’s Beautiful Spot was the late, much-loved, local artist Anthony Hodge. She spoke about his engaging nature, recited some of his poetry, and showed several of his pictures, including the cartoon works Citroen Pressé, Constable’s Hey Wayne, and Munch’s Ice Cream.

The tension and flood waters continue to rise in our Book at Book Time, The Pie of Life. Tonight’s reading saw the introduction of two key characters in Chapter 2 – Planning Application LB3017/91X252.

Confusion about the thermos infusion, chamomile tea, led to a chat about calamine lotion, the sunburn treatment, and thence to Oh My Darling Clementine, which both our fathers liked to sing. Several of the audience joined in a brief rendition of the popular folk ballad.

The gig drew to a close with the approach of bed-time.

MARCUS     I’m going up now, Jo. Put my pyjamas on.
JO          Er… no. I’ll put my own pyjamas on, thank you.

We’re back on Friday 1st November, 8pm, at the Star Anise Arts Café.



* Dawn French; Reggie Kray







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Here Today: Gig the First

Star Anise Arts Café, Stroud, Sunday 1st September 2013
Secret Musician: Pete Rosser (accordion)
Special Guest: Lis Parker
In the Thermos: Horlicks


NICK, who runs Star Anise, is one of those people whose face is a permanent smile. He not only helped us move furniture hither and thither, but also produced a small stage. We put out forty chairs, bringing three more in from the garden at the last minute.

Then, suddenly, we were singing the opening song. The audience chuckled, smiled, clapped. We started to relax.

For History of the World Part 1, we performed a sketch about Eve and Adam. Marcus then recited his A-Z version of the same tale:

 Adam bites cheekily, devouring Eve’s fruit,
giving himself incredibly joyful knowledge.
Lord murmurs, “No! Out!”
Pair quickly realise sleeping together
unleashes very warm xciting yumminess.

We’ve purchased a set of second-hand Kan-U-Go cards for Letter of the Month. Should last us a couple of years. R came out of the bag first. Jo had to write something using R words suggested by the audience, while Marcus was delivering a rant about (and against) compulsory voting. She came up with:

Ronald and Roger weren’t friends.
Ronald the ravishing rhinoceros
revelled in refreshing ripples of rain.
Roger, a rancid, recalcitrant,
reptile-type rhino, revelled in rubbish –
rooting around roaring!
Ronald and Roger rowed repeatedly
but after Roger saved Ronald
from walking on a razor-blade
there was reconciliation. Ahhhh!

The Merry Month slot included quiz questions. Members of the audience were given Tunnocks bars for calling out the correct answers* to:

1. a) She’ll be 31 on 22nd September
b) She attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London
c) Her second solo album was called Walk of Life
d) She married Chris Evans in 2001
e) She was born in Swindon

2. a) She was born on 7th September
b) Her 21st birthday was spent under house arrest
c) Following her mother’s execution, she was declared illegitimate
d) She never married
e) She was given a job for life in 1558

For Show and Tell, we chatted about our stage set: a blackboard, given to Marcus by sixth form students when he left teaching, and the easel on which it perches, which Jo constructed for the show at the Nailsworth Community Workshop.

Book at Book Time features our classic serial, The Pie of Life. Tonight we read Chapter One – Something Stirs in Upperly Bottom.

Horlicks, Jo revealed, was invented by two brothers from the Forest of Dean, one of whom was later knighted.

“He was made a bayonet,” she declared, to the biggest laugh of the evening.






* Billie Piper; Elizabeth I






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Fracking in Wonderland

Tuesday 20th August 2013

JOIN the dance? Will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

A group of anarchists has descended on the quiet Sussex village of Balcombe, occupying nearby land and causing considerable disruption to the area by drilling a large hole in order to follow a White Elephant, last seen consulting a pocket-watch and muttering something about not wanting to be late for a profitable tax break.

A number of police have been summoned to protect the anarchists in case their destruction of the countryside attracts the odd complaint.

It is uncertain what lies at the bottom of the hole. Some experts think it will end in a pool of tears; others expect to find a bottle of water, labelled ‘DRINK ME’, which will prove detrimental to health; others maintain there could be a cake, labelled ‘EAT ME’, which will allow rich, grinning Cheshire cats to get even fatter.

This latter theory is supported by another group, camping just up the road. They have noted how closely life resembles a tea party, where the Hatter keeps demanding that we all change places. This results in everyone but the Hatter having only crumbs.

(The Hatter is currently unavailable for comment. He’s apparently done his back in, preventing him from pursuing a customary holiday activity: hunting snark.)

Leading the hare-brained, mad march towards hydraulic fracturing is Baron Browne of Madingley. Some say that a string of accidents in the USA hastened his retirement from BP. He is known to have lied in a court deposition, but escaped a perjury charge. Some think this was under rule 42, the oldest rule in the book: All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.

He now works in the government’s cabinet office as ‘lead non-executive’. A merry dance has also led him to become chairman of the Lobster Cuadrilla.

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Alice.

Perhaps, one day, we shall wake up from this bizarre, dream-like world. More likely, however, is that we will only do so when fracking has become an environmental nightmare.













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Vonnegut’s Bridgnorth

Saturday 9th August 2013

KURT Vonnegut is the kind of writer I get on with. He tells it like it should be would be could be – if only we were all as smart, cynical, humanist and humorous as he. Many of his books include recurring phrases: ‘So it goes’, ‘And so on’, ‘Hi Ho’… and so on.

That evening in Bridgnorth, Kurt was busy elsewhere, so the Tralfamadorians sent an angel in his stead. I learned the angel’s name, but remembered it only as far as the next afternoon, when I met his grandson. It matters not, for all persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.

The encounter started with an email I nearly never read, for the NSA, Google Protection Service, or God, decreed it spam: the word ‘poetry’ in the subject line no doubt proving its subversive content. So it goes.

My young correspondent had painted each word a different colour. Children, who are born to care, do that kind of thing, when given permission not to behave like pretend adults.

She and I had to go through proper channels, but the grown-ups agreed to let me visit her school with my playground of words. Thus I journeyed to Bridgnorth under warm skies, arriving far too early, but a man in my position knows not to rely upon catching the last bus to a town you’ve never visited before, so you take the previous one, just in case.

In his last book, A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut talks of the pleasure of walking to the Post Office to buy a single stamp. I believe he is right about that.

I sat on a bench and spoke to passers-by. Hi ho.

A wooden sign with an arrow led me down back streets to the cliff railway and there, in the entrance – for the funiculaire was still open, at ten minutes to eight – stood the angel, smoking a pipe.

We conversed. He told me much of his own and the town’s history. I lit a cigarette. He wore a white shirt and navy-blue tie. I said that the terraced cottages and cobble-stones reminded me of seaside towns, at which he nodded.

A bell clanged, summoning him to press buttons and pull levers that operated winches that sent one car down empty while another ascended, conveying a young couple up from the embankment beside the river below. Clean machinery sang in the clean evening air.

There are time machines all over the place… once you learn where to look.

Vonnegut was a lifelong smoker of unfiltered cigarettes: a habit he described as ‘a classy way to commit suicide’. He died in 2007, after falling down a flight of stairs at home.

So it goes.









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You-must-be-joking fee

Thursday 8th August 2013

FARE from Swindon to Beckenham and back, booking in advance, travelling off-peak, with senior railcard: £20.10. No point in going from Kemble as there’s a replacement bus service until the end of August.

Same destination, by National Express coach (Funfare ticket) from Cirencester, then by train from Victoria, but going earlier and returning later than desired: £16.30, plus – and here’s the rub – a £1 booking fee.

No contest.

I like First Great Western. Travelling about once a fortnight to various destinations between London Paddington and Swansea, I find the services generally reliable, pretty comfortable, and – more often than not – punctual, notwithstanding the occasional ‘signalling problems in the Chippenham area’.

(But I do wish there were more standard class carriages on services likely to be overcrowded: passengers buy tickets for seats, not with standing in mind.)

On-board and station staff are friendly and helpful, with one young woman at Bath Spa deserving an award for her forbearance and demeanour. And although I’d never be seen in an anorak on the end of a platform writing down numbers, I do think the trains look nice, both inside and out.

Often, I book online. You still have the option to have the tickets sent to you, free, by first-class post.

Meanwhile, over on the National Express website, you wait and wait as, in the middle of the screen, that wheel of the bus goes round and round, some software somewhere apparently struggling to find the right timetable or convinced that you want to travel from Ciampino Airport in Rome to Victoria Bridge in County Tyrone.

Several clicks (and several minutes) later, you’re invited to fill in the usual details about who you are, how you’re paying, card numbers, expiry dates and so on… before choosing whether you want an m-ticket (sent to your mobile phone, for an extra 50p) or an e-ticket, the latter requiring you – not they – to use your printer and your paper in order to produce a copy of the damn thing.

And for the privilege of doing all their work for them, they charge you a booking fee of £1. It’s preposterous.

‘Passengers make more than 800 million journeys on our services every year,’ National Express proudly proclaims, to potential investors.

Even if only one in eight of those journeys are booked online, it can’t possibly cost £100,000,000 a year to keep an indifferent website running badly. Can it?






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