“I have forgotten,” he told me.
“Me too,” I said. “Are you doing the Leicester Comedy Festival?”
“I am. On 9th and 10th of February. And the Museum of Comedy in London on the 15th of April.”
“Maybe that’s why,” I suggested. “What else have you been doing?”
“I have been taking advice on relationships from Lewis Schaffer.”
“Are you mad?” I asked
“He has algorithms,” Paul told me, “and he is trying to teach me how to read. He says I haven’t learnt how to read properly. I am dyslexic, but he is convinced that it is not a real disease. He thinks I am not trying hard enough.”
“He is teaching you too read?” I asked.
“He has a book,” Paul explained, “and I have to read words that have similar sounds and get used to reading and recognising them.”
“What is the book called?” I asked.
“This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer. When I mess up, he hits me with a wooden spoon. It is based on a similar thing to Dr Seuss. It does actually work. But it is tedious and unpleasant. I think Lewis Schaffer finds it funny – and I did to start with, but then it became tiring…
“…and painful,” I suggested.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “Lewis Schaffer was upset because I didn’t take the book with me last time. He said they had printed it out specially for me.”
“There is,” I asked, “only one copy of This Simple Book Will Let You Teach Anyone to Read by Lewis Schaffer?”
“I think there may be 3 or 4 copies. But he has got a copy that is specifically for me. It is signed at the front and it is my copy. We have had two sessions so far.”
“When was the previous one?” I asked.
“In May last year, I think.”
“Have you progressed?”
“Not as much as I thought. He showed me the page where we left off last time, and it was only halfway through the first page. But I think he may be cheating; I am sure I did more than just that page.”
“Is it enjoyable?” I asked.
“No,” said Paul. “It is not a fun activity and, last time, I did it before and after a gig so I was quite tired. But that doesn’t stop him. He’s relentless.”
“Relentless in what?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Just relentlessly… erm… cruel, I suppose. It seems a bit cruel.”
“I thought you were seeing him for relationship counselling?”
“Well, there is that as well, but he has not written a book about relationships. He just has an algorithm that he feels will work.”
“An algorithm on relationships?”
“What’s the algorithm?”
“It is based on the fact that all people are fundamentally selfish.”
“Lewis Schaffer thinks other people are too inward-looking?” I asked.
Paul laughed: “I am not sure I can repeat a lot of what was said.”
“Are you going to follow his advice?”
“It is always good to get the Lewis Schaffer’s perspective on a situation.”
“No it isn’t,” I said. “On relationships??? That seems like a very bad idea. You are going to end up an emotional wreck with no self confidence and speaking with a fake American accent.”
“That is true,” Paul agreed.
“Who first suggested,” I asked, “that you should go to Lewis Schaffer for reading lessons and relationship counselling?”
“That’s just what he sees as necessary when I turn up,” Paul replied. “That’s his idea of passing time with me.”
“Better than conversing…?” I asked.
“Well,” mused Paul, “he made me a chicken sandwich and then he took the book out… and the wooden spoon.”
I asked: “Does he keep a special wooden spoon for lessons?”
“Yeah,” said Paul. “That’s the one he beats you with.”
“This should be a show at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.
“It’s quite tedious, though,” Paul told me. “It really is quite tedious. It’s like blog – slob – cog – mob – gob – hob – lob. Quite tedious.”
“What does this supposedly teach you?” I asked.
“It teaches you how to recognise how certain things sound, because he says I get my Bs and Ds mixed up, which is true. And that I have difficulty recognising sounds and words. When I look at a page, I do sometimes have that thing where I can see words backwards. It’s partly why I ended up going down the road I’ve gone down. Apparently dyslexic people either turn to crime or art… I could be in prison…
“…instead of being hit by a wooden spoon?” I asked.
“The dyslexia has actually affected my life,” Paul continued. “If only Lewis Schaffer had got to me sooner, then maybe I would have turned into an upstanding member of society.”
“I am not convinced,” I told him, “that you are learning to read. You are just getting bruised.”
“He sees it as doing a good thing,” Paul countered.
Then there was a long pause.
“Well, I don’t know if he does,” he added thoughtfully.
“Anyway,” I said, “what is this new show you are taking to Leicester, the Museum of Comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe?”
“If you could push my Museum of Comedy show on the 15th of April that would be cool,” said Paul.
“And the new show is…?” I prompted.
“It is called Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”
“Is it going o be performed at Christmas in a jungle?”
“No. At the Museum of Comedy in London on 15th April.”
“Have you written it all?”
“More or less.”
“Which?” I asked. “More or less?”
“Well, I have a beginning and an end but, because it has never been performed in front of an audience, I don’t entirely know how much of it works. I have a rough story.”
“My manager – I don’t have a manager but, in Twonkey World I do – he sends me to do the Iquitos Fringe in the Hallucinogenic Peruvian jungle. The idea is he is trying to get rid of me, cos he has other acts who are more prestigious and exciting to manage.”
“Are you,” I asked, “going to have a jungle in the venue?”
“Yeah. My long-suffering other half, Mary, has made a jungle for me and some of my puppets have turned to a religious cult called The Chieftains of Paradise Who Welcome Evil.
“They wear a lot of rosettes and they believe that Jesus, when he rested, actually went to Hawaii and, when he was in Hawaii, he came up with some ideas like the Solomon Islands and Canada and the piña colada.
“I am trying to wean the puppets off the religious cult and the only way to be rescued from the jungle is for someone to go to the Chicken Church – which actually exists. It is not in the Peruvian jungle, but it’s a massive church that looks like a chicken. Well, it is not supposed to be a chicken: it’s supposed to be a dove but it looks more like a chicken. It has become a tourist attraction.
“The idea is that, if the puppets get to the Chicken Church and ring the bells, then the rescue helicopters will come and lift us all to safety.
“There is a song about the Chicken Church in Twonkey’s Christmas in the Jungle.”
“That would be,” I said, “the show which is going to be at London’s Museum of Comedy on 15th April?”
“Yes. The song is from a new album by Paul Vickers & The Leg with the working title Sherbert and Chilli – but that’s a long way from finished. We have about twelve tracks written and demo-ed. Christmas in The Jungle is another of the songs. It takes a while to finish these things… and there is always the temptation to try and get it right this time.”
“Do you,” I asked, “resist that temptation?”
“Well, I think I sometimes get it right accidentally. I do know how to persist and I know when something has gathered a certain amount of mass and it may be worth presenting to people, but it’s difficult to know when anything is ever really truly finished. It’s quite tricky to constantly mine the human consciousness for those gems or whatever they are.”
“Have you thought of doing something completely different – like not being Mr Twonkey?”
“I could have gone into advertising, but I didn’t. I could have gone any number of ways.”
“You still can,” I suggested.
“Yeah. That’s the thing. You feel you are in a very small, tight little room but, when you find those little doors it can take the roof off and it becomes expansive again. When people talk about writers’ block it’s really that they don’t have the keys to a door yet.
“David Lynch explains it really well. He says that sometimes you get little bits of ideas but you can’t work out what to do with them or how they connect and everything you need is in one room but it is a room you are not allowed access to yet.
“I think the ideas I have are not necessarily always fully explored. Jennifer’s Robot Arm – the play that I did – was originally just a 500-word story but I realised I could expand it out. There’s a lot of things I have like that; they could be expanded out. I would like to write more plays.”