Tag Archives: Myra Dubois

How to survive being attacked with a miniature flame-thrower for being gay

Simon Jay and Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay (right) & Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm by Mr Twonkey last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay appeared peripherally in this blog last month, when he staged and directed Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm.

“What’s the attraction of Mr Twonkey?” I asked Simon Jay this week.

“He says the most ridiculous things,” Simon told me, “in a very naturalistic, deadpan way and the detail of his fantasy world fits very well with the way my mind works. In fact, my partner says: It’s almost like someone has put your mind on stage. It’s the non-sequitur humour that I love – talking about a character that’s half witch/half accountant or the House of Cheese or the Wheel of Knickers. Very specific details and lots of stuff that comes from a really dark place, which I really respond to.”

Simon’s autobiography – Bastardography – was published this week.

The blurb reads:

Telling this story is important for not only a generation affected by mental health and sexuality issues, but also for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider looking in. Growing up with a Combat Stressed Naval Officer Father, a neurotic Mother who flosses her teeth with her hair and an extended family of alcoholic eccentrics is bad enough, especially on a rough South London estate in the 90s. But that is just the tip of the trashy iceberg. Life in such a place is barely tolerable if you tow the line, but Simon didn’t even know where the line was.

“Why call it Bastardograhy? I asked.

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

“Because I’m completely unflattering about everyone, including myself. It’s about how creativity kept me going – just writing and performing.

“I first went with my parents to a psychiatrist when I was thirteen or fourteen for ‘family therapy’ because I wasn’t sleeping and was up at 3 o’clock in the morning. This was before I ‘came out’. People like to re-write history and say Oh! It was because you were being bullied at school! But this was before that. I was already fucked-up.

“I ‘came out’ when I was 14, at a really rough all-boys school near Sutton in South London. Added to which, I was very mentally unbalanced as a child, which wasn’t treated until my late adolescence/early twenties when I started having breakdowns and going into hospital.”

“You ‘came out’ at 14??” I asked.

“I announced it in a history lesson,” replied Simon. “Well, I didn’t announce it… In an all-boys school, everyone is obsessed with everyone’s sexuality and, in this one lesson, this boy – the skinhead boy – was asking everyone if they were gay.”

“Why in a history lesson?” I asked.

“Because,” explained Simon, “they were going on about What if Hitler was gay…because there was this rumour that Hitler was gay and that’s why he committed genocide… So this skinhead boy went round the classroom and everyone was saying: No… No… No… No… and I said Yes, just because it was the truth and I didn’t really think about it. And then there was this massive backlash and it just spread. It was my first viral hit. There were 1,000 kids at that school. By the end of the week, everyone knew who I was. I was infamous already.”

“That sounds great if you’re a 14 year-old,” I said.

“Until they start beating you up,” Simon pointed out.

“What did the history teacher,” I asked, “say when the skinhead boy was asking everyone if they were gay?”

“He didn’t hear it. Teachers are oblivious to what students talk about.”

“So you were bullied at school for being gay,” I said.

“Most of it was verbal,” said Simon, “but there were times when stones were thrown at me, aerosols sprayed over me and they tried to set me on fire; it was very creative.”

“Tried to set you on fire?” I asked.

Simon Jay - always comes straight to the point

Simon Jay – always comes straight to the point

“There was a boy who sat behind me in the tutorial lesson and, one day, I could feel this wet at the back of my neck and a tschhhhhhh sound. And I thought: Why are they spraying an aerosol at the back of my head? and then I heard a match being struck. They lit the match while they were spraying the aerosol to make a little mini flame thrower. At the time, none of it seemed very remarkable. When you’re a teenager, you’re resilient; you’re invincible; you don’t feel threatened by…”

“…the miniature flame thrower?” I suggested.

“The worst one,” said Simon, “was having stones thrown at me. Big stones.”

“What happened when they used a flame thrower on you?” I asked. “It sounds like it might have had an effect.”

“Luckily, it just singed hair, because I moved out of the way in time.”

“There was teacher present?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And…”

“They did nothing. Sometimes they laughed when I was bullied. Sometimes they purposely turned a blind eye and went out of the room. There was a Christian art teacher who liked to laugh at one boy who liked to revel in very gratuitous homophobic rhetoric. It was just fun for him.”

“You said you were mentally unbalanced as a child,” I said. “Isn’t everyone mentally unbalanced at 14?”

“To some extent,” agreed Simon, “But I was very withdrawn as a child and was obsessed with death and had existential crises.”

“That still sounds normal for a 14 year-old,” I said.

“It is normal – or maybe you’re just as weird as I am. No, it is normal, but I didn’t function very well and I wasn’t very happy and it progressed into adolescence.”

“What do you mean you didn’t function?”

“I didn’t interact with the world in a way that would ensure survival. I didn’t eat or sleep properly. Didn’t urinate properly – never urinated in the toilet, just in the bed. I was a very strange child in a very quiet, unassuming family.”

Sion’s father was in the Navy

Simon’s father was in the Navy

“Did you come out to your parents before or after you came out at school?”

“Six months later. I did that by letter. I left it on the kitchen table. Saying what had gone on for the last six months: that I had come out and I’d been bullied because of it. I was very passive. Once the other kids realised I wouldn’t fight back, they saw it as open season on me.

“I left secondary school after taking seven months of being bullied. Then they put me in a ‘special’ school when I was 15 for the rest of my secondary education and I failed all my GCSEs: I could do them, but I was completely detached. I was completely out of it, not in the real world any more. Completely separate from reality.”

“Drugs?” I asked.

“I started smoking,” said Simon, “but I’ve never really taken (recreational) drugs.”

“So you started smoking weed?” I asked.

“No, no. Cigarettes.”

“That’s bad,” I said. “Weed OK; nicotine bad. So why haven’t you taken recreational drugs?”

“Because my mum said: If you take drugs, you die. And I’ve always been frightened I’ll have some sort of seizure.

“Anyway, I flunked all my GCSEs, then I broke down and didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks and thought my parents were ghosts. I had a complete mental breakdown. So they popped me in the hospital – the psychiatric unit – and that was the beginning of my recovery, really.”

“They filled you full of uppers?” I asked.

“Oh yes. An anti-psychotic called olanzapine that makes you like a zombie.”

“But you weren’t seeing visions?” I asked.

“Vaguely seeing visions. I thought I was a woman at one point. I thought I had ovaries they were not telling me about. One thing that was not a vision was I had to have a Northern Irish male nurse scrub me down. But I was so fucked-up I couldn’t enjoy it.”

“Just scrubbing you down?” I asked.

“I had pissed myself. So I was covered in piss and they had to put me in a shower and I couldn’t wash myself, so they had to do it for me. But I wasn’t into it because I wasn’t there. That’s the most disappointing moment of that era: the lack of male nurse action.

Simon at the Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photo by Sarah-Jane Bird)

Simon at the student Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photograph by Sarah-Jane Bird)

“Then, as I was getting better, I went to college and did an access course which allowed me to go to university without having GCSEs. I was going to do drama, but I was 15 minutes late to be auditioned, so I did Media Studies instead – Screenwriting for Film & Television at Bournemouth.”

“At what point did you want to be a performer?” I asked. “All this mental stuff sounds like it’s pushing you towards performance.”

“I was a complete neurotic fuck-up,” agreed Simon, “until I got in front of people in a theatrical way and I was safe then: because I had control then.”

“When does the book finish?” I asked.

“Last year – 2014, when I had my last breakdown and finally recovered properly. I had a really bad breakdown in 2013 and nearly died.”

“Why?”

“It was almost like a mid-life crisis. Basically everything broke down. I think it was worse than the one I had when I was a teenager.”

“You’re still with the partner you met at university?”

“Yes. But I should say my book is not a misery memoir. It’s a very funny book. There are jokes on every page.”

“Did I tell you,” I asked, “that my blog has been nominated as the Funniest Blog in the UK?”

“Yes,” replied Simon.

“I am not convinced they have read it,” I said.

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Comedy’s Captain Beefheart Twonkey ruminates on robot arms and replicants

Paul Vickers on Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers talked to me from Edinburgh via Skype yesterday

Paul Vickers performs on stage as Mr Twonkey.

“I went to art college and that’s when it all went wrong,” he told me yesterday. “That’s when I started on this road of creative adventure…”

“You mean you started on this road to fame and penury?” I suggested.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Once you get started, you can’t stop and then you realise you’ve wasted your life so you might as well keep going.”

“Why are you Mr Twonkey?” I asked him, which I thought was an easy question.

There was a long pause.

“You don’t know?” I asked.

“Not entirely, no,” said Paul. “I was using a little puppet and I dropped it on the floor and I said: Oh, Twonkey! and it seemed like a good name for the puppet. I think the puppet was originally called Twinkey and, when I dropped it, it became Twonkey. It was Claire Smith of The Scotsman who coined the term Mr Twonkey.”

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Paul suffering for his Art with some prop pigs (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“So critics have some use,” I said.

“Well, yes, they are useful,” said Paul. “Sometimes they punish you; sometimes they praise you; but it’s always useful to have an outside perspective on what you’re doing because obviously it’s very difficult to have full awareness of what you’re doing.”

“Have you full awareness of what you’re doing?” I asked.

“No. Not quite,” said Paul.

“I’m seeing a read-through of your play Jennifer’s Robot Arm on Monday,” I said, “Is it your first play?”

“Yes,” said Paul decisively, then added: “Well, not entirely. No. I did a short radio play called Pissed as a Postman and I also attempted to write a musical called Itchy Grumble, which was released as an album. I re-salvaged what I could of it and wrote a little novella Itchy Grumble about it which I sell as a book at my shows.”

There is a trailer for the book on YouTube.

“Was Pissed as a Postman taken up for broadcast by BBC Radio 4?” I asked. “It’s an interesting title.”

“Eh… No,” said Paul. “It was something I wrote years ago. It was originally called Dusty Bottles. It was about a bunch of barflies who are drinking and then they realise one of the people they’re drinking with is God and one of them dies and they dance themselves to death. For a long time, it was the only decent thing I’d ever written. When you first start evolving creatively, you sometimes have those moments where you do one thing that’s really good, then you have difficulty replicating it and it takes a while to get your ‘voice’ and your style. So I re-booted Dusty Bottles as Pissed as a Postman and did that recently and it opened up the idea of me maybe writing plays.”

You can hear Pissed as a Postman on SoundCloud.

“What’s the difference between a play and a 60-minute show?” I asked.

I suppose,” said Paul, “that you expect a play to be in two acts and last at least 90 minutes.”

“How long is your play?” I asked.

“About 60 minutes. It’s got a narrative that’s quite clearly defined whereas my Twonkey things don’t really have a narrative. They’re more just like a scrapbook to incorporate what I do, which is sing, do a bit of comedy and tell fairy tale like stories. Jennifer’s Robot Arm is an expanded one of those miniatures, cos there was a short story called Jennifer’s Robot Arm which I expanded.”

“What is it about?” I asked.

Jennifer’s Robot Arm - the read-through on Monday

Jennifer’s Robot Arm – in London, Monday

“It’s about a little girl who thinks she’s the sister of Pinocchio and her mother is quite a careless drunk and the little girl is lost in her fantasy world. She has a friend called Patrick Promise, who is like a little goblin and he wants her to prove that she is made of wood by showing him her tree rings but, of course, she’s not. She saws her arm off and her family panic and try to work out what to do about the fact she’s lost her arm. And this guy just walks in off the streets and they find him in the mother’s bedroom, raking around in her lingerie drawers and, when they confront him about why he’s there doing that, he says it doesn’t really matter, that nothing really matters.

“It turns out he is an inventor and he can help them by making a robot arm. There’s money under the fruit bowl, but it’s not enough to pay for the arm. He starts off with a bit about Admiral Nelson and how Nelson lost his arm in Tenerife and how they tried to make him a porcelain arm. So the fruit bowl is the Admiral Nelson Memorial Fruit Bowl. But it’s not enough to pay for the arm, so the catch is that the mother has to sleep with him over a certain period of time to pay off the debt for the robot arm. They enter into a sexual deal which goes wrong.

“The man says: I’ve been trying this on for years. I go from house to house and this is the first time it’s actually worked.”

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

Mr Twonkey in full absurdist flow yesterday (Photograph by Mary Trodden)

“You are not performing in the play,” I said, “but Myra Dubois and Simon Jay are?”

“Yes,” said Paul. “In a way, it’s kind of been taken out of my hands this one. Simon Jay is a big Twonkey fan and was performing in The Counting House at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and came about four times to see my show, which is a lot for anyone to tolerate. And I went to see his show: he’s a one-man theatre. His show was about un-picking a man’s life through an autopsy and he played about five or six different characters and rummaged around in carrier bags.

“I had been trying to get my play off the ground up here in Scotland. I got £300 from the Tom McGrath Trust. But then Simon took the baton and said he’d try to get it staged in London.

“When I was writing it, I imagined Myra Dubois in the role: it’s a perfect role for a transvestite. She’s the best drag act in London. It works for the woman to be quite a formidable force. Myra can really control a room and she’s a brilliant stand-up comedian.”

“Have you got a new show for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

The younger Paul Vickers on the Dawn of The Replcants’ album Wrong Town, Wrong Planet, Three Hours Late

“Yes. Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop. It’s about how I’ve been sacked from Looney Tunes during a purple patch, which is partly true because Warner Bros own Looney Tunes and the band that I used to be in – Dawn of The Replicants – was signed to East West, which was a subsidiary of Warner Bros and they dropped us in the late 1990s. They had people like Simply Red and the Led Zeppelin back catalogue and The Doors in Britain. They were looking for something like The Beta Band, a big alternative Scottish band at the time and we did a couple of albums for them.”

“So,” I asked, “is Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop about that?”

“Not really,” said Paul.

“Are you frustrated at the moment, because you’re not in a band?”

“There’s an element of that,” said Paul. “Except I am in a band, but we’re just not active all the time. The band’s called Paul Vickers and The Leg… The Leg are an entity in themselves but sometimes they also do records with me. We’ve just released an album called The Greengrocer.”

“Songs from your previous shows?” I asked.

“There’s a couple of songs from previous shows. My Trifle was in last year’s show Twonkey’s Private Restaurant.”

There is a clip from Twonkey’s Private Restaurant on YouTube.

“Is The Greengrocer a novelty album?” I asked.

Paul Vickers and The Leg

Paul Vickers and The Leg, their beefhearts in the right place

“No,” said Paul. “It’s a proper album with a band. It’s in the Tom Waits/Captain Beefheart area. No-one does absurdist Blues-rock like Captain Beefheart. Basically, the over-all theme is the idea that you can be creative, but you’ve still got to sell vegetables; you’ve still got to have a shop. It’s not a concept album but, on the back, it’s got a picture of an aubergine filled with carrots, which are supposed to be sticks of dynamite.

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

The new Greengrocer album by Paul Vickers and The Leg

“I think a lot of my things recently have been about that idea that I have a job… I have to do that job to survive. I think The Greengrocer is partly about that. Obviously, I’m not a greengrocer, but…

“You could be if you wanted to be,” I suggested.

“I could be,” agreed Paul. “It’s that level you walk between being an artist and actually surviving.“

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