Rhyme & Pun-ishment - a chapter from the novel Crazy Diamonds
By Jude O'Flynn
Rhyme & Pun-ishment
I have a quick shower then make my way to the computer room to sew the lines together. Must. Avoid. Rory. I’m starting to think that Webb is paying him commission to frighten me into working. I peer into the room and scan all corners. Rory’s not here. Phew. No need to desperately seek knowledge from Teenchat perves. Just get on with the word jigsaw. Two hours till showtime.
The Pig is like a cave. The sole light sources appear to be candles wedged into empty Jack Daniels bottles. I analyse the bottle closest to me. It’s caked in dreadlocks of wax. I don’t know anyone here and I’m nervous. Time for a drink.
‘Please could I have a pint of Thursty Codger?’
The chap behind the bar reminds me of the bearded Americans. Maybe he was one of them? Maybe he got bored of God and academia, and thought he’d be better off pulling pints in a Cambridge boozer.
‘Got any ID, mate?’
‘Er, yeah, I think so…’ I show him my student card.
‘Sorry, got to be a driver’s licence or something like that.’
‘I don’t drive.’
Why the f*** would I bring a passport? I’ve only walked about a mile and I don’t remember seeing any border patrols on the way.
‘My passport’s at home. I was 19 in January – look at the date…’
He doesn’t look at it and turns away to secrete a double whiskey for himself. ‘There’s pop if you’re thirsty.’
I don’t want a bloody lemonade. I was hoping that a swift pint would stop the trembling. Just as I begin to nurture my sulk, a man in a ten-gallon hat starts shouting.
‘Hallo, everybody! Welcome to this month’s Rhyme & Pun-ishment! I’m Adrian Artaman, your host for this evening. I used to run a variety night in the Big Smoke. I’ve introduced Blah, Blah, and Blah…’
It’s a very long list, and when he finishes, I wonder why he didn’t tell everyone about being at school with Elvis, or that one time he tuned George Harrison’s guitar.
‘OK, so our first act is a former regular. Nathan, where are you, my friend?’
Nathan gets up from the chair about half a metre from Adrian’s left hip. He stands at the mic and pulls the bottom of his grey tank top as if he’s trying to cover a gravy stain in the belt area.
‘Hi all. It’s good to be back. The poetry scene in Wisbech is much smaller than here!’
Everyone else laughs, and I don’t know whether to feel sad or happy for the people of Wisbech.
‘My first poem is for Alice…’
It goes on and on and on, and I think about what I’ll do for my 20th birthday tomorrow.
‘Thank you, all. My second poem is a bit different to what I usually do…’
Nathan changes the pace of his delivery so that each word becomes a sentence
‘Give it up for Nathan!’ yelps our host in the hat.
I gave up a long time ago.
‘Where’s Pavlov? Are you here, me old mucker?’
A bald man in a Che Guevara T-shirt strides to the mic.
‘Alright?’ he says in a cockney accent. A Britpop remnant who can’t play an instrument. ‘Here’s some new s***…’
It’s certainly s***.
‘This one’s like a rap…’
It’s certainly crap.
‘The fabulous Pavlov, everybody!’
I watch him go to the gents’ while his friends drain their glasses. One of them is banging the table as they declaim that we have just had the honour of witnessing ‘the southern Cooper Clarke’.
Next up is a woman with exceedingly long, straight hair and satellite dish glasses.
‘Hi, everyone. This one’s for Nathan…’
Audible vomiting is taking place and we pretend that the cause is alcohol. The phrase ‘delightful gossamer dew’ is my cue to shut my ears.
The next poets can be summed up as: So Quiet You Couldn’t Hear A Pun Drop; Drunk One Just Ranting; Brave Reliance On Limericks; and Dandy Making Doves With His Hands.
‘Keep that applause coming! See you after a ten-minute time-out for some more local talent!’ Adrian is beaming and I can’t believe that we’ve only had the first half, during which I’d forgotten why I’d come here.
‘Is this a poet I see before me?’ Adrian clasps my shoulder in matey fashion.
‘I’ll slot you in just before our headliner, OK?’
‘What name do you go by, my friend?’
‘Christopher Columbus The Equity Trader.’
In a break from making the word collage I read that a poet called John is more commonly known as Attila The Stockbroker. Seems like a cool thing to do: take the name of a dead explorer and add a finance job title.
‘OK, Chris. Good luck.’
I consider trying again for a pint, but The Beard is bound to ask me for my birth certificate. I’ll read through the script I brought in case my memory fades on stage. At least being sober makes this less likely to happen.
‘So, kicking off the second half of the evening is the vivacious Verity. Where are you, darlin’?’
A woman in dungarees and Doc Martins makes her way through the meagre crowd.
‘Hi, everyone. All the poems I’m going to read tonight are from my new book Endless Spring.’
Apt title, as another year passes.
Next up is a bag of nerves called Julian who reads a poem called ‘Waiting for a Bus’, which is about waiting for a bus. Alcohol is undoubtedly the cause of the standing ovation he receives. Then we have: a ‘huge fan of Sylvia Plath’ whose very short poems are all about cats; a beat boxer who jabs the air like a preacher warning us of the devil; and a gloomy chap called Kevin who reads an insomnia-solving poem about ‘all the major conflicts, including the ones in our hearts’.
‘And now it’s my pleasure to introduce our penultimate act. He’s travelled a long way to be here tonight. It’s…Christopher Columbus!’
No, it’s Christopher Columbus The Equity Trader! I spent a good ten minutes thinking of that name.
‘Hello. I’m going to try a bit of Shakespeare tonight.’ This prompts a mini surge to the bar. ‘Just a few lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you haven’t seen the play, it’s basically about someone squirting love juice into people’s faces. Sounds like something I watched on the internet!’
‘If I tell any more rubbish jokes, I’ll be bard!’
‘Fair enough. I’ll get on with it then…’
I remember my lines, though I’m sure I mispronounced the word ‘ousel’. Oh well, it’s not as if I’ve just played a bum note at Wembley.
‘What a discovery we’ve made tonight! Give Chris a big hand!’
The Beard gives a big finger, though this is possibly to indicate that there is one more poet to endure.
‘Our headliner is an award-winning poet, playwright, and author. She’s toured Europe, Asia, and the US. She’s been on radio and TV, and she’s co-founder of the Poet Tree Festival. Everybody, raise the roof for the extraordinary talent that is…Tessa Attwood!’
Never heard of her, but it looks like everyone else has.
‘Thank you. It’s good to be back in Cambridge. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting more and more wound up about the word ‘menopause’. Surely it should be ‘womenopause’?’
Fair point, but I don’t hear the arguments in favour because I’ve left the pub and I’m walking back to college.