Tag Archives: surreal

A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 2 – Comedy, characters, dreams…

Robert Wringham is not his real name…

Yesterday’s blog finished with:

ROBERT: So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

Now read on…


JOHN: I am not in any way a performer. No talent; no interest in doing it. There is a different mindset between performers and writers, isn’t there? I’m not remotely a performer. I can’t ad-lib fluently in spoken speech, whereas I can write I think fluently quite quickly.

ROBERT: I don’t want to be truly me performing on stage; I want to be a character. I think I can just about hold my own in terms of fast thoughts, but what I can’t do is play the character at the same time. However, in Stern Plastic Owl and my other books, I think I CAN do that.

JOHN: So, when you were a stand-up, it was character comedy…

ROBERT: Not like Alan Partridge. It’s like what I said about ‘Robert Wringham’ and the doppelgänger. I want this clear line between the real me and what I’m showing, otherwise it’s not actually a creative act. I don’t want to go out there and just talk. I want to have a character and that was why I was not very good as a performer. I couldn’t really do that.

The way I’ve found round that problem is to do these books. 

JOHN: By and large, I don’t like character comedy because, in television, I got typed as a finder of bizarre and/or eccentric ‘real people’. So I know there are loads of eccentric or even just slightly unusual people out there – well, most people are slightly unusual – and they are really interesting. So why should I watch someone pretending to be eccentric or unusual when they are not? – They are just analysing someone who isn’t themselves and fabricating a character to hide behind.

Charlie Chuck is not a subtle character study of a real type…

The closer a character act is to being real, the less I’m interested. The more ‘cartoony’ they are, the more I’m interested. Charlie Chuck springs to mind. Charlie Chuck (real name Dave Kear) is not a subtle character study of a real type of person.

ROBERT: One of my favourite comics is Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) and a lot of people don’t really think of him as a character comic although he is. You could not be like that in real life. I assume Matthew Hall at home is going to be nothing like Harry Hill.

JOHN: Yes, he’s a cartoon character – in a good way. I think really good straight stand-up comedians on stage are themselves, but slightly heightened versions of themselves. And then there are the OTT cartoony-type ones. But stand-up ‘character comedy’ tends to be just wannabe actors showing off their abilities, not performers who inherently have that odd ‘comedian’ gene.

I also don’t particularly like slow-speaking comedians. If I pay to see Jerry Sadowitz, I’m getting value for money in the words-per-minute, but slow comedians, by-and-large, I think: Just get on with it! I never liked Jack Benny. Too slow. Although, oddly, I liked George Burns.

ROBERT: To me, ‘slow’ is the ultimate cool because it’s the opposite of… When you’re nervous on stage, you go fast. A slow-speaking comedian instills a certain confidence in the room. You think: Oh! This guy knows what he’s doing! He’s going to slowly reveal the routine. It’s also very funny: almost as if they don’t care what the audience thinks.

JOHN: I guess maybe George Burns felt more Jewish to me, which I like. Jack Benny was maybe less ‘American Jewish’ humour.

ROBERT: My partner is Jewish and Jewish is a big part of our shared life. In my secret mind, ‘Robert Wringham’ is Jewish, though I don’t tend to talk about it on the page. My favourite humorists are all Jewish. 

JOHN: S.J. Perelman?

ROBERT: Yeah. Woody Allen, Fran Lebowitz, Jon Ronson.

JOHN: So what’s next for you after Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: I’m working on my novel. It’s almost done.

JOHN: Tell me it really IS about sitting in a bathtub and it’s called Rub-a-Dub-Dub

ROBERT: Yes! It is!

JOHN: A lucky guess on my part. What’s the plot?

ROBERT: I think ‘plot’ is old hat. So, instead of going wide with a plot, go deep. It’s about the conscious state you have when you’re in the bath. You’re nostalgic. You’re thinking back. There’s this time machine effect. You’re thinking back to you childhood. So that’s what my guy in the book does. He’s remembering things, thinking of his worries, thinking on his body. There’s a lot of stuff about the body in it.

There is something called phenomenological writing, which is just the real nitty-gritty of what surrounds you. You’d be surprised how you can make that interesting.

JOHN: As I speak to you, I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun sitting in front of a station/cathedral. What is phenomenological writing?

“I am looking at a squeezy pink double decker bus standing in front of a painting of a nun…”

ROBERT: It’s really old. It’s a French thing. For example, Georges Perec did one where it was all in one building, but it was into the nitty-gritties. So he’d be talking about the design on the carpet for ages and going into the shagpile of this single room or the individual books in the bookcase and what they were. And it would all be in the service of something: like This is the character of the person who lives there. But it would be really deep into the nitty-gritty.

You would think: That can’t possibly be fun to read. But, actually, it’s really entertaining and interesting. What I’m doing and what Georges Perec did is playing it for laughs.

JOHN: I remember reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch and wondering why she went into such detailed descriptions of people’s houses… until I realised the descriptions were actually also descriptions of each householder’s personality. The houses personified their occupants. 

This blog bit is just pure self-indulgence…

You were talking about dreams earlier on. I’m interested because I have an unidentified medical problem. I used to sleep soundly and deeply and never remembered my dreams. But now I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since June 2020 – I wake up literally every hour and, of course, sometimes I wake up in the middle of a dream. I always wanted to remember my dreams because I assumed they would be surreal but they’re not. The dreams I have are very realistic not surrealistic. They have narrative storylines running through them. I am disappointed. You sound like you have better dreams.  

ROBERT: Mine aren’t stories at all. If I do something very repetitive during the day – like doing the washing-up – that’ll end up in my dream. Repetitive things go in. Embarrassingly dull.

JOHN: I don’t seem to have nightmares. Do you?

ROBERT: No. And, if I do write things down in my notebook, it’s always things like Stern Plastic Owl. I DID once write down Stoat: Hospital with a colon between the two words. I can’t even begin to imagine what that means. 

JOHN: I can only dream of having dreams which are that weird.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Eccentrics, Performance

A bit of a chat with Robert Wringham – Part 1 – The Stern Plastic Owl man…

Robert Wringham describes himself as a ‘humorist’… His latest book is 2021’s Stern Plastic Owl.

His first book, in 2012, was You Are Nothing (about Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee et al’s comedy show Cluub Zarathustra).

After that, he wrote A Loose Egg (2014), which was shortlisted for Canada’s 2015 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

His 2016 book Escape Everything! was a spin-off from the New Escapologist, a lifestyle magazine he edited and published 2007-2017 and which continues as a series of online essays. New Escapologist describes itself as “the journal of the art of getting out of things” and suggests that “work has too central a position in Western life”.

Escape Everything! was successful enough to be translated into German and released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as Ich Bin Raus and then, in 2018, in South Korea as [] 탈출하라. No doubt to further confuse readers, it was also republished in the UK in 2021 in English as I’m Out: How To Make an Exit.

Meanwhile, in 2020, in English, Robert had written The Good Life For Wage Slaves, which was re-published in Germany as Das gute Leben.

He had also written a regular column 2016-2020 in The Idler, a magazine whose declared aim is to “return dignity to the art of loafing” and had written for a variety of other esteemed outlets including Meat, The Skinny, the British Comedy Guide, Playboy etc etc etc.

Obviously, I had to have a chat with Robert.

It would have been churlish not to.

He lives in Glasgow and Montreal (his partner is Canadian), so we talked via FaceTime.


JOHN: You have said: “The highest form of human activity is the shenanigan”…

ROBERT: It makes sense, right? What could be better than a mischievous, spontaneous act?

JOHN: ARE you a mischievous, spontaneous act?

ROBERT: That’s what I aspire to.

JOHN: You describe yourself ‘a humorist’.

ROBERT: There’s a thing on Wikipedia at the moment about the definition of ‘humorist’ which says it’s “an intellectual who uses comedy to get his or her point across”. And that nails it for me. I don’t want to think of myself as an intellectual, but I do like the idea that I’m trying to communicate a ‘point’ packaged nicely with humour, so you can get inside somebody. It’s the sugar pill, right?

“I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon…”

JOHN: Why is your latest book called Stern Plastic Owl?

ROBERT: That’s a theme. My previous similar miscellany book was called A Loose Egg because I got hung up on that phase “a loose egg”. It came about by accident, because there was a loose egg in our fridge back in Canada.

Stern Plastic Owl is a random phrase too. Like all comedians and writers, I have a notebook nearby at all times, including by my bed. There is an idea that sleeping should be when your fertile ideas come up although, really, what I write down in the night is gibberish. But it feels like it’s a resource I should use and one of the phrases that stood out was Stern Plastic Owl. I didn’t know what it meant.

So there is a story in the book where I try to work out what it means. It’s kind of a detective story in the middle of the book.

JOHN: So did you find out what it means?

ROBERT: Not exactly. But I think it’s to do with anti-pigeon, do you know what I mean?

JOHN: No.

ROBERT: An anti-pigeon device. You’ve got an owl and you put it up on your roof to scare pigeons away. There’s one nearby and I think I must have seen that and it came back to me in a dream. So I tried my best to write a piece around one of those stern plastic anti-pigeon owls.

JOHN: I’ve never heard of this before. Are you telling me, if I come up to Glasgow there are fake owls on window sills and roofs all over the place.

ROBERT: They’re everywhere.

JOHN: You were a stand-up comic.

“I never got a horrible heckle ever…”

ROBERT: One of the very brief things from my very brief stand-up period was my come-back to hecklers: “Sir, you cannot count the number of cylinders I’m firing on”. I’m still happy with that. I never got to use it, but it was just there on standby. I never got a horrible heckle ever.

JOHN: You were too loveable?

ROBERT: Probably too young. A lot of audiences are just polite if you look very young.

JOHN: Why did you give up stand-up?

ROBERT: My favourite thing was writing the jokes and fine-tuning them. The hardest part was making it sound good, sound spontaneous. I didn’t enjoy the late nights or the Green Room badinage. I have met a lot of wonderful comedians in Green Rooms but I never felt I was holding my own in those conversations.

JOHN: You wrote that one great climb-down of your life was “pointing your imagination in the direction of writing rather than performance”.

ROBERT: Well, that’s not really true. That’s just what I put in the book. It didn’t really feel like a climb-down. I just didn’t want to tell the story in the other direction which was I was travelling in a favourable direction to the thing I wanted to do. I didn’t think there was any comedy in saying that.

JOHN: Is it a book full of lies? Like comedy routines?

ROBERT: Oh completely. The idea of what is true is something that is always on my mind a lot. For example, my real name is not Wringham. My actual passport name is Westwood. Robert Westwood.

 I wanted to change my name and be a persona. So, when I’m on the page or on the stage, it’s a separate thing. 

JOHN: Why Wringham?

Agraman aka The Human Anagram, John Marshall, c2018

ROBERT: I was always entertained by people like The Human Anagram (aka Agraman aka John Marshall) in the 1980s, but I wanted to do something else. I like horror novels and there’s one called The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

 It’s of the age of Frankenstein, but it’s Scottish and I think that’s why no-one has given a shit about it and it’s unjustifiably obscure. The villain in that is called Robert Wringham.

So, when I moved to Scotland, I thought: I’m taking that name! It’s sort of similar to mine and the thing about that book is it’s about doppelgängers. So I thought: My persona is going to be my evil twin. He’s going to do the stuff that I don’t do in real life.

(… CONTINUED HERE … )

Robert’s books have been published in the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Korea

 

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Filed under Books, Humor, Humour, Surreal

I had a car accident yesterday…

(Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini via UnSplash)

Yesterday I was driving my red-coloured car along the road when a silver-coloured car came up beside me and accidentally bumped very lightly against it. It was more of a skim than a bump.

We both stopped and got out. I walked round to see if there was any physical damage but it was only superficial: some of the paintwork on my car had light grey scuff marks. 

The other driver was very amiable and said: “Turpentine and meths will get rid of that. If you rub it on, it’ll be as good as new.”

He was a very pleasant man. I visited him in his office later and he was getting ready for some big event or other.

Later still, I was in the back of my van. There was a large carpeted shop in the back of my van. A couple of people from the United Nations – a young man and woman, as neatly dressed as Mormons, came in. I had met them at the amiable man’s office earlier.

We were standing chatting when a man with a broom came into the shop. He seemed to think that I was working for the amiable man’s organisation and he would be paid for sweeping the floor or rather, as it was, the carpet.

After he vigorously brushed the carpet there was, surprisingly, quite a lot of dust and minor bits of dirt which the man with the broom swept into a little pile. 

Then he left.

And I woke up.

Life is but a dream.

Just thought I would mention it.

I no longer own a car. I haven’t for years.

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The surreal UK Covid-19 self-isolation advice: Franz Kafka meets Catch-22..

(Image by TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay)

On the morning of Christmas Day, I tested positive twice for Covid on a lateral flow test, although I had no symptoms. That same day, I was able to walk in to a PCR test area and get that more definite test. Two days later, that test, too, came back positive. 

I had taken two lateral flow tests (morning and evening) on Christmas Eve which had been negative.

Current UK government guidelines for England said I should isolate for up to ten days from my first positive test. ie until Tuesday 4th January. But, if I took a lateral flow test which was negative on Day 6 and, 24 hours later, on Day 7, the rules said I could stop self-isolating.

On the evening of Christmas Day – the day I first tested positive – I had some internal flu-like shivers overnight; and the next night some lesser internal shivers. And, for the first four or five days of self-isolation, I had a new and persistent hard-edged hacking cough. 

But, by Day 6, I was back to having no real symptoms. 

However, on Days 6 and 7, I still tested positive for Covid.

Positive, too, on Days 8 and 9.

On Day 9 – that’s today – I phoned the government’s 119 Covid advice line because my attention had been drawn to the government’s own online advice, updated on 30th December.

The online advice said (and says):

“You should not take any more LFD tests (ie lateral flow tests) after the 10th day of your isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day.”

But presumably only if you test negative?… No. It doesn’t say that.

It continues:

“This is because you are unlikely to be infectious after the 10th day of your self-isolation period and should not take any more LFD tests after this date.

The italics are mine. And there is no time period mentioned.

What is said – and still clearly says – is that you should stop self-isolating after 10 days come what may and, in theory at least, you should never again under any circumstances at any point take any other lateral flow test.

Obviously that cannot be the intended advice – that you should never again take a lateral flow test. 

But the advice is clearly that, whether you test negative or positive on Days 9 and 10, you should stop self-isolating and re-join society.

This sounds mad and, I thought, cannot be the actual advice so, like I said, I phoned the 119 Covid advice line set up by the government.

Their on-the-phone advice was that, as a person triple-jabbed with vaccine, if I test positive on Day 10, I should self-isolate for 10 days although I could un-isolate if I test negative on Days 6 and 7.

“But,” I said, “the government website says I should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10, so I won’t be able to know if I test positive or negative on Day 6 and 7 of the new self-isolation period without taking a lateral flow test which, the advice says, I should not do.”

“That’s right,” I was told. “You should not take a lateral flow test after Day 10.”

“But, if I have to self-isolate after testing positive on Day 10, tomorrow, how can I know on Day 6 or 7 of isolating if I am positive or negative?”

“If you are negative you can stop isolating, otherwise you have to keep isolating until Day 10, at which point you can stop taking the lateral flow tests.”

“But I would not know if I were positive or negative without taking a lateral flow test and the government says, after Day 10, I should not take a lateral flow test.”

“If you do test positive, you have to isolate for another 6 days or until you have done 10 days in isolation and then you can stop isolating and do not have to do the lateral flow tests.”

They say Frank Kafka died on 3rd June 1924. I am not sure. 

I have always been attracted to surreality but there are limits.

I am going to return to daily life after Day 10 while keeping a healthy, well-masked distance from people and will wantonly keep taking daily lateral flow tests even though I have no symptoms. If I have two consecutive days where the tests have negative results, I will feel less wary… though not of bureaucracy.

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When I was a teenager, I dreamt I would die this year…

(Image by Enrique Meseguer, via Pixabay)

I tested positive for Covid-19 on the morning of Christmas Day.

It is 1st January now, a new year and I’m still testing positive…ho hum.

I had a dream last night. I was in the front room of my house with an unknown woman, watching a feature film from the 1950s.

Through the window, I saw this man who looked like a 1940s/1950s ‘spiv’ coming to the front door.

I said to the woman I was with in the front room: “There’s a spiv coming to the door”.

She looked out the window but could not see him, so I went out of the living room into the hall, then into the front porch and he just pushed through the letter box some ordinary leaflets about something I was not interested in.

I went back to watching the feature film with the woman.

For some reason the TV set was now on the floor and the woman had become six inches high and had pink hair, as young children’s dolls do. She told me she wanted me to hold her hair as she coiffured it. That was the word she used. Coiffure.

“I want to coiffure it,” she said.

She moved a small, padded stool over to near the wall, but this entailed turning the television round. We could still see the screen, but the TV set itself had been turned round.

The woman sat so close to the wall, though, that I couldn’t both hold her hair while she coiffured it AND continue to watch the television. Also, she was six inches tall, which complicated things. So I got another small, padded stool and moved it to the middle of the room and told her: “I won’t be able to do your hair so close to the other wall.”

So I turned the TV set round again.

I had to lift it up then put it down in its new position.

It was sitting in a low, one-inch-high wooden frame.

At least, that was what I intended to do but, when I was about to start, some more people arrived at the front door.

They were trying to tell me my back garden was in a mess and that I should buy a top layer of grass from them.

“Turf. That’s the word,” one of them said to me.

“Life is turf,” I told him. That is what I told him.

There were about three of them. I knew they were con artists and told them: “I like my back garden to be in a mess.”

The first man started lifting up the turf with his foot. One of the other men was holding some 6ft high poles. There were about six of them. The poles. Six round poles, each one the girth of a small man’s waist.

I thought I would try to confuse the men at the door.

“I don’t need any more poles,” I said. “I already have some. I was thinking of painting them. One can be red, white and blue for Britain. One can be red, white and blue for France. And I can probably get the German flag in there somewhere. I think if I paint one black, it would be very effective.”

I said this because I thought it would confuse the hell out of the man holding the six tall poles. And the others.

Then the woman I had been in the front room with came out to see what was going on. She was her proper height again.

It was now dusk or just after dusk. It was quite dark, so the gardening people went away, duly confused. 

But now there was a man at the bottom of the front garden who was allowing people to come in and offer their services to all the people who owned local houses.

I thought: This is very strange.

He was supposed to supervise them, but he was just letting anyone in who wanted to take a photograph.

Well, nothing wrong with that, I thought.

And then I woke up.

That was last night.

That is true.

Well, OK, that is not true. 

That was a dream I had on the 30th August last year. But I thought I would share it now. I muttered it into my iPhone, half awake, just after it happened.

And the heading of this blog is not true. When I was a teenager I did not dream I would die this year.

I worked it out logically when I was awake.

Back then, in the mists of the time when I was younger, I looked at the average life expectancy for an ordinary person. And I worked out that this would be the year I would die. I figured, all things being equal, I would die sometime in the 2020s and, if I were dead-on average, then 2022 would be the year I died.

We shall see.

Well, obviously, maybe I won’t. See.

But – hey! – life is but a dream…

(Image by Reto Scheiwiller via Pixabay)

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I nearly fell down an escalator…

I nearly fell down an escalator in London yesterday.

Why do they have to have down escalators? Why can’t they all go up?

If M.C.Escher can do it, why not the London tube?

Then the Victoria Line tube kept making announcements that Tottenham Hale was a step-free station and that it had no lift service.

And then my Thameslink line trains ran to schedule.

Whoever heard of such a thing?

The world has gone mad.

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Dream ballet children and a politician

(Photograph by Brad Pouncey, via UnSplash)

Yesterday, I posted a blog about a dream I had.

I had muttered onto my iPhone what was in the dream when I woke up, dehydrated.

I vaguely remembered this recording-a-dream thing happening before and have just looked through my iPhone recordings.

I had indeed recorded a muttered description about a previous dream on 5th October. 

This is it below.

I have no idea what any of it means.

Look – I was half asleep when I recorded it.

These are the exact words…


In my dream, I had just arrived in Edinburgh and I went to see a guy I knew who ran hotels and he told me where I was staying.

He took me round to the place where I was staying, which was actually two buildings separated by a street and I said: “Oh, you’re doing very well. They’re both show-ers.” 

He said something about getting money from somewhere and, as we went down the street between the two buildings, there were lots of little girl ballet dancers going into a lesson in one of the big rooms, which was a dancing school.

Just outside, as we passed by, in the street between the two buildings, an Australian girl in her twenties was talking to a man. They were talking about some sort of act. She was saying the audience would not see the stilts they were on when they were on the surfboards. So that would come as a big surprise to the audience: that they were on stilts under the surfboards.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Meanwhile, going in to the dancing school with the little girls was Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,. He was wearing a small pink tutu dress.

I think this was in my dream because, earlier in the day, I had found out he is surprisingly small – around 5ft 6in.

The hotel owner guy was saying to me: “Where’s your stuff at the moment?”

I told him: “Oh, it’s at the BBC Hotel.”

I think that was in my dream because, earlier in the day, comedians Njambi McGrath and Sara Mason had been saying that, at the weekend, they had gone to White City House, part of the Soho House group of clubs. White City House, is a 2-storey club inside what used to be BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane…


The iPhone recording ends there.

Well, I did tell you I have no idea what any of it means.

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Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch, Princess Margaret and the Pub Quiz Mafia…

Paul Vickers with clock sans cuckoo spoke on FaceTime

Twonkey aka Paul Vickers is back at London’s Soho Theatre on Tuesday with a new show. 

Well, sort of.

I talked to him on FaceTime. He lives in Edinburgh.


JOHN: You didn’t play the much-cut-back  Edinburgh Fringe this year.

PAUL: No, because it kept wavering. I was due be doing it at Dragonfly again, but then that got closed for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak.

JOHN: You’re coming down south for your Soho Theatre show: Twonkey’s Greatest Twitch. Didn’t you have a Twitch show before?

PAUL: Yes, there was Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. This one is more like a ‘Best of Twonkey’ show.

The difficulty is selecting what the best is. I’ve just chosen what I think the best bits are and hope people will agree with me. I mean, really, Twonkey started as a joke and just got out of hand. 

It was something I did off the cuff. I didn’t think: Oh, I’ll be doing this for over ten years. I just thought: I’ll do one Edinburgh Fringe and see what happens. But then you get addicted; you get on the treadmill of doing it.

I am feeling a bit like James Bond, in the sense that I’ve created a franchise and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’d like to pass it on to someone else.

JOHN: Who else could do a Twonkey show though?

PAUL: Princess Anne was on the list.

JOHN: Have you asked her? It’s worth asking because you’re likely to get a reply from some official which you could quote… Who else?

PAUL: Peter Crouch, the footballer. John Craven was mentioned.

Twonkey’s greatest latest seen soon in Soho

JOHN: Why would Princess Anne be ideal to do a Twonkey show?

PAUL: It was thought she might give it a bit of dignity. But Princess Margaret was the fun one. She used to get stoned with the Incredible String Band, apparently.

JOHN: And now it’s too late…

PAUL: Yes. But I feel like Roger Moore gearing up for Octopussy. It won’t feel like that once I get going again. At the moment I’m in that nervous period.

It will be like Diamonds Are Forever when I get going.

JOHN: You haven’t performed as Twonkey for a while, because of the lockdowns…

PAUL: Yeah. I’ve been more into band stuff. (More on his band Paul Vickers and The Leg in my blog of February this year)

JOHN: Are you going to do less Twonkey and more music?

PAUL: I think it might be a bit like that, yeah. We were gonna try and incorporate a band thing in the new show, but we’re not really ready: it’s such a long process with the band.

JOHN: Your shows tend to have music in them, but you mean the band could actually be part of a Twonkey show?

PAUL: That could happen. I’ve always wanted to do that. The main thing that stops me is expense and all the Edinburgh Fringe venues are basically just like a plug in the wall. It would have to be a big enough venue to fit six people with equipment on the stage.

JOHN: Anything planned after the Soho Theatre and before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe?

A cultural dessert – the Custard Club

PAUL: Well, I did write another show that I had been going to do in 2020: Twonkey’s Custard Club. I had an elaborate idea involving custard as currency and where desserts had become the main meal.

JOHN: That works for me.

PAUL: I was all geared-up to do it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but then all the lockdowns happened and I couldn’t do anything for almost two years.

JOHN: So why are you not doing Twonkey’s Custard Club as your Soho Theatre show?

PAUL: Well, I kept opening the Word document and I thought: I don’t know how I feel about that now… There had been enough time for doubts to creep in. Previously, there had never been enough time for doubts to creep in because, every year, I barely had enough time to get a coherent show together for the Fringe.

I think everyone’s gone through this thing where you had a structured life and, during the pandemic, it wasn’t there any more. And then you start thinking: Do I really need to do that any more? Is that important? Do I LIKE doing that? It’s quite stressful.

Paul Vickers and The Leg – all six members of the band…

All those things came into the equation, so I became a bit more serious. The new band album is quite serious. I got quite into that during the pandemic – crafting a really good album.

JOHN: What was Twonkey’s Custard Club like?

PAUL: There was a book that had 100 pages with the same picture on every page. It was a tankard and a sleepy/romantic Alpine scene. There was a whole bit about if that book did exist, how would you interpret it? You would probably automatically think there might be a slight difference between the pictures and start looking for it. But there was no difference.

JOHN: Was any custard involved?

PAUL: In that bit, no. It was not custardy that bit. It wasn’t ALL custardy.

There will be a couple of custard songs in the Soho Theatre show – the ‘Best of’ show – despite the fact they’ve never been heard by anyone before.

JOHN: Seems reasonable.

PAUL: If the gig at the Soho Theatre goes well, that’ll help me make my decision on what to do.

If everyone’s like You can’t stop doing that! That’s great, Paul! that’s one thing. But, if it ends with people booing and asking for refunds, then… (LAUGHS)

Twitch bound… the Wobbly Waiter from Twonkey’s Custard Club…

There are some amazing puppets that Grant’s made for the show. The Wobbly Waiter of the Custard Club has got leg braces and everything. It was going to have custard and wobbly things on the plate. You bomb about and create absolute chaos with him because it’s very heavy and impossible to control. So it’s the perfect foil for comedy activity. 

JOHN: You haven’t done Twonkey at all during the pandemic?

PAUL: Well I did a pub quiz as Twonkey in a little pub called The Hoppy in Edinburgh and that went really well. That was the first time I’d done Twonkey in ages.

JOHN: How does Twonkey do a pub quiz? Surreal questions?

PAUL: Well, there’s a lot of things I do that make it not work.

JOHN: Is that the basis of Twonkey? Making it not work.

PAUL: Essentially. For example, at the pub quiz, I was forgetting to read out all the answers and no-one had any idea who was winning, not even me because I had forgotten to count it up.

JOHN: What happened at the end?

PAUL: My brother tried to make sense of it all and we did crown a winner.

Woodland Creatures bar, home of an unconventional pub quiz

JOHN: You had hosted pub quizzes before?

PAUL: When I did it on Leith Walk, I used to do it at a place called Woodland Creatures. But the trouble with pub quizzes is that people take them very seriously and the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia came round. I was like the new kid on the block.

JOHN: Who are the Edinburgh Pub Quiz Mafia?

PAUL: Well, there’s a few of them that do the pub quiz circuit. Some of them do five or six pubs. I used to think the host for a pub quiz was probably a local schoolteacher with a bit of knowledge and time on his hands but – nah – it’s much more cynical than that.

The Pub Quiz Mafia were like: What’s this guy up to? Because I was going against the conventions of pub quizzes…

JOHN: … like giving the answers…

PAUL: …erm… yes. It was controversial at first. I had one round where I showed a clip from a film and people watched it really carefully, thinking the questions were going to be about that clip… but then I’d ask questions about a completely different film.

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey – unconventional is now standard

At the start, it was quite popular. I had a dominatrix doing the score cards. She was in latex and stuff.

She was like Carol Vorderman from Countdown. She was the brain and the discipline of the quiz and I was like Richard Whiteley, sitting there not having a clue what was going on, but being charming in a way I suppose. If I messed up, the dominatrix would keep me in line.

JOHN: She would whip you into shape?

PAUL: (LAUGHS) There was no whipping involved, but she made it known she was displeased. And she got angry with people who weren’t behaving in the crowd. After she stopped helping out, I was just sort of floating because I forgot I was doing a pub quiz. And it turned out that really frustrates people.

JOHN: What were you thinking if you forgot it was a pub quiz?

PAUL: Well, I start off thinking: Oh, this will be fun. And then I lose interest because it’s a pub quiz. I suppose I’ve made it my own. You could say it’s just a bad pub quiz.

JOHN: You should do a bad pub quiz at the Edinburgh Fringe. People would flock to it.

PAUL: Maybe… I will send you a link to my new video: Everyone Loves Custard. It will be in the Soho show.


And he did…
 

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Surreal

Last night, I stole a large iron safe…

I had a dream last night and woke up at around half past two.

I had stolen a large iron safe, shaped like a cube.

It was heavy and large and made of thick iron and had rounded corners.

I stole it from China and I was dragging it behind me, attached by a heavy, thick rope.

I was dragging it along outside Euston Station in London.

It was night.

But the safe was taken from me by three men working for a woman whom I had worked with at Granada TV in Manchester.

At five o’clock, I woke again. 

I was in the air, flying round and round, doing loop-the-loops.

I could feel myself doing them because, obviously, I was inside my body. 

But I was also watching myself objectively from about twenty or thirty feet away.

I watched myself going round and round in large vertical loops in the sky.

Going down towards the ground… up to the sky… Down to the ground… up towards the sky…

Large vertical loops in the blue sky.

Subjectively, inside myself, as I was flying, I could feel that the large iron safe was still attached to me and I was dragging it round behind me as I flew in loops.

But, as I watched myself objectively, from twenty or thirty feet away, I could only see myself.

I was dragging nothing behind me; there was nothing attached.

It was just me turning circles in the sky.

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Medical stuff, a fairground ride in my head and my normal abnormal…

After my recent jolly week in hospital, I seem to be back to my normal abnormal.

I try to go to sleep at night but it takes a bit of time. Then I wake up after two hours, go back to sleep and then wake up again every hour all the way through the night.

My normal abnormal.

Fortunately, I have not had serious vertigo (which I first had in January) since 1st June…

…until a couple of days ago.

In the afternoon I was feeling a bit unsteady. It was as if my brain were padded with suffocating cotton wool but I was also lightly swirly inside my head. So I went upstairs to my bedroom to lie down. 

When I did lie down on the bed, it was as if the soft brain tissue inside my head started whizzing round-and-round in a circle, faster and faster, parallel with the pillows… like a bicycle wheel or a fairground ride whizzing round and round, faster and faster, parallel with the ground but with centrifugal force trying to spin it off out of control and out of my head. 

I was able to stop this by lying on my left side not my right side, with my left ear on the pillow instead of my right ear; and by sitting up.

Around teatime, I was standing vertically again, so OK and went out thinking fresh air might help, but was a little wobbly inside my head, as if my brain were telling me it was not altogether in total control of how my feet worked nor safe controlling my overall balance.

I went to bed around 8.30pm and got to sleep around 12.50am, then woke up around 2.50am with my tongue, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my cheeks and my throat all parched totally dry – no lubrication, no liquid of any type anywhere. And I woke up once every hour through the night with the same thing, having to drink water to stop the parched mouth.

So, as I say, back to my normal abnormal.

Going to the toilet, I was a little unsteady on my feet. Going from my bedroom door to the toilet door, I pass the top of the stairs and, for safety, made sure the ends of my fingers touched both the edge of my bedroom’s door frame and my toilet’s doorframe, just in case I toppled into the gap between and fell down the stairs.

Swings and roundabouts, though.

There are the dreams.

For most of my life I went to sleep very fast at night and slept soundly, waking very slowly in the morning. What this seemed to mean in practice was that I was never aware of having dreams. Perhaps once every six or nine months if I was awoken in mid-dream by something like a noise or whatever.

So I think back then, because I went into deep sleep quickly at the start of the night and took a long non-deep-sleep time to wake in the morning, I never remembered dreams.

I always wished I could remember my dreams, because I like surreality.

Now, waking up virtually every hour throughout the night, I sometimes do remember the dreams. But they are not surreal. They are realistic, narrative and linear.

Swings and roundabouts.

Perhaps now, when I’m awake, it feels surreal. And, when I’m dreaming, it seems real.

The kidney doctor is phoning me tomorrow.

Their latest guess is it might be renal sarcoidosis but, as this has been going on for around fourteen months – since at least June last year – that’s just another guesstimate to explore.

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Filed under Medical, Psychology