The Iceman told me: “My latest development is filming my own wise sayings…”
“That sounds good,” I said.
“… with my duck.” he added.
“Has it surfaced online?” I asked.
“Yes,” said The Iceman. “It’s on YouTube.
“My plastic duck comes from a hotel in Southampton when I think you booked me on a show,” said The Iceman.
“It was probably Prove It with Chris Tarrant?” I asked.
“I sent a letter to the hotel,” continued The Iceman, ignoring me. “I told them I had borrowed their duck.”
“You stole the duck?” I asked.
“I borrowed the duck from a hotel bathroom in Southampton,” admitted The Iceman, “while I was doing a TV show for you.”
“So,” I said, “you’re grassing me up as an accomplice before and after the fact?”
“You’re implicated,” said The Iceman.
“No-one likes a grass,” I told him. “How did you get into performing with ice anyway? I’ve forgotten.”
“My website,” said The Iceman “has got a lot of what you might call ‘stuff’ connected to it. But it’s a bit arbitrary. What was the question?”
“When did you first think to yourself: I know what is going to make me famous and rich. I will melt ice on stage.”
There was a long, long pause.
“Was fame and wealth my aim?” The Iceman mused. Eventually he said: “I think it was an attempt to publicly share my own feelings.”
“About…?” I asked.
“About my situation…” said The Iceman. Then he paused. “And my planetary life,” he continued.”
“Which is or was?” I asked.
“That’s why the audience started saying Deep! Deep!” said The Iceman.
“Did you study Marcel Duchamp?” I asked.
“I’ve always been aware of him, but I’m not sure he’s my main influence.”
“Who is?” I asked.
“This is the duck from Southampton,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question and holding up a Polaroid photo. “Do you remember that show?”
“Not specifically,” I said. “Describe what you do in your act – for people who have never seen it.”
“It’s not really an act,” said The Iceman. “I do it for real.”
The Iceman tries to melt a block of ice on stage in various increasingly desperate ways.
“Has the act changed over the years?” I asked.
“It’s got more reflective.”
“The ice?” I asked.
“The act,” said The Iceman.
“How?” I asked.
“More thoughtful,” said The Iceman.
“How?” I asked.
“At the Royal Festival Hall,” explained The Iceman, “I sat with the block of ice. Reflecting.
“Originally, the act was pretty straightforward: I put the duck under the ice and tried to use lots of different agents to melt the ice. I was the catalyst. Breath, friction, de-icer sprays, salt, money, a blow-torch, hammer, chisel, explosions… and the duck would usually still be not afloat. So, in a way, the whole thing was a study in failure. But then, as Simon Munnery said, we all knew the block of ice was going to melt in the end, so I could not help but be ultimately successful.
“Now, though, it’s… well… slower, really. There’s less emphasis on trying to melt it. I’m just being with the ice while it melts.”
“So basically,” I said, “the act is developing towards a point where you are going to sit by a block of ice and not do anything.”
“Yes,” agreed The Iceman. “At the Royal Festival Hall in 2011, I read the Financial Times while sitting next to the block of ice.”
“And did reading the Financial Times help?” I asked.
“Well, I think people thought I was trying to make a point,” said The Iceman. “The theme of Stewart Lee’s show there was Austerity. On my website, there’s quite a few photos of the block at the Royal Festival Hall and you’ll probably notice, if you’re kind enough to visit, that, in some of them, I’m looking very reflective. Very thoughtful.”
“What were you actually thinking?” I asked.
“That’s difficult to decipher,” said The Iceman. “Thinking about things like the history of the Universe. Have you read that they’ve just spotted some evidence of the original Big Bang?”
“I didn’t really understand it,” I said. “It seemed to say that everything expanded very quickly, faster than the speed of light. That’s what any Big Bang does, isn’t it? Did you understand it?”
“I’ve got a feeling I was there at the beginning,” said The Iceman. “I think we all were.”
“Well,” I said, “bits of us were. And we’ll all be there at the end. The Sun will expand and explode and everything will be stardust. We are stardust.”
“Do you sing?” asked The Iceman.
“No,” I told him.
“You’ve made Malcolm Hardee into more of a star than he was when he was alive,” said The Iceman. “He was a very funny man. I don’t think he ever reckoned me, though he was kind enough to book me.”
“Did he not reckon you?” I asked, surprised.
“Perhaps he did,” said The Iceman. “He did book me once on The Tube with Jools Holland.”
“Did the rock music fans of Newcastle like you?” I asked.
“Morrissey was on the show,” said The Iceman. “He showed a distinct lack of interest.”
“Well, that’s Morrisey,” I said.
“Morr-icy,” mused The Iceman. “He was probably admiring me without realising it. Tell me if you’re bored…The block never stayed up on the platform.”
“When?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“When I did my act,” said The Iceman. “It always collapsed. I always refer to the one at The Tunnel…”
“Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club?” I asked.
“Yes,” said The Iceman. “I got stuck in a bus in the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames and the block melted so, when I put it on the platform at the club, it was just a bucket of water. So I went home quickly. The audience had a reputation for throwing things at the acts.”
“Your act was very time-sensitive.” I said. “When I booked you on TV recordings, you had to do the act at the appointed time and no later.”
“I was amused by your organisation of the Hackney Empire show,” said The Iceman, “because, on your schedule, it said Ice block arrives at stage door at blah blah time… It made it into an epic event.”
“There was no point being late,” I said, “because your act would have disappeared.”
“Dice-appeared,” said The Iceman thoughtfully. “Only the second half of my Hackney Empire act is on YouTube. But I quite like that, because the ice block is moving around in the audience.”
“You must have played the Glastonbury Festival?” I asked.
“Yes I did,” said The Iceman. “In the Cabaret Tent. I was the only person at Glastonbury to have an electrical source in order to have a fridge for my block of ice.”
“Did the Glastonbury audience appreciate your act?” I asked.
“I think they were a bit stoned. It was an interesting experience. I seem to remember Malcolm Hardee’s tent moving a lot when he was – what’s the phrase? – I suppose ‘bonking’ is the polite word. I have this image in my mind of a tent vibrating near my fridge.”
“What do you do for the rest of your time?” I asked.
“I work very hard and I have a proper job. I want it known that I do a proper job and I am in a long-term relationship and I can hold down a relationship with The Icewoman. People often think I’m disturbed.”
“Do you want me to quote that?” I asked.
“I’m frighteningly sane,” said The Iceman and then laughed loudly. “I like that… Frighteningly sane. I want you to quote that.
“I do do a lot of research on human beings. I work with quite a wide range of human beings, especially teenagers. It’s interesting for me to assess human behaviour. It feeds my work.”
“So,” I asked, “I can say in the blog in print that you do other things? That you’ve got a job.”
“Even if I don’t know what it is.”
“Yes, I’ve got a job and it’s worth a few bob,” said The Iceman. “I used to say that in the act. After all my efforts trying to melt the block of ice, when people were not really laughing, I used to say Well, at least I’ve got a job! and they would laugh at that and then I’d say It’s worth a few bob! That’s actually from the act. Do you see it as an act?”
“I see it as a lifestyle choice,” I said.
“Yes,” said The Iceman, “I’ve stayed with it. And, in one way, that’s a curse., because I can’t really develop it much. People tend to think Once you’ve seen the ice block, you’ve seen the ice block. But I think there’s a certain consistency about repeating the process. Though I’ve got bigger gaps these days.”
“Bigger gaps in what?” I asked.
“Between performances,” said The Iceman.
“What number of blocks are you up to now?” I asked.
“I used to be very meticulous in documenting it,” said The Iceman. “And then I think I threw my documentation away.
“So there’s a lot of controversy for art researchers about what number I’m up to.”
“Perhaps you should start again,” I suggested. “Start at 1001 like the carpet cleaner.”
“A new blank sheet,” mused The Iceman.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” said The Iceman. “Start again… N…ice…”