I’ve been doing lots of ‘social’ over the past week or so and very nice it’s mostly been too. What with my writing group, two poetry reading events and a whole weekend of free live music at different venues around Tunbridge Wells my feet have hardly touched the ground and my liver has hardly had an hour to recover.
Highlights of the weekend have been meeting friends and listening to some of the excellent bands giving their all for nothing at the local ‘Unfest’ festival, particularly the Forum’s (“Britain’s Best Small Venue 2013” according to the NME) self-proclaimed resident band Joeyfat and the somewhat surreal Brainflowers, but there was tons of other good stuff too if you happened to be in the right place at the right time.
On the poetry front, I went down well at a local Cafe’s open mic night, but absolutely DIED at the Forum, where the Word Up poets (see previous blog) did an hour to a family audience on the Garden stage. I had said before starting that it was my first time reading poetry sober, and asked them to go easy on me. All things considered, I should have trusted my instincts and taken a rain check, though that would have been somewhat ironic considering it was one of the sunniest days we’ve had all year.
My friends there were very supportive, offering me get out of jail free cards about how difficult it was to be heard over kids playing in the garden and highlighting my lack of experience with a mic. They also noted that I was wracked with nerves, my hands shaking so wildly that the words I was trying to read were pretty much just blurs. My son Ben, though, was far more direct with me: ‘You can make all the excuses you want, dad, but just face it – you bombed.’ I have vowed never to try to read out loud while sober again and to NEVER read poetry in a garden to a mixed crowd. Oh, and to sell my son for medical research.
The most horrifying aspect of my busy week has been the volume of cameras surrounding me and the number of photos of me that have appeared online, despite my begging and pleading for anonymity and mercy. I will qualify that from the outset by stating that this is NOT false modesty and it is not, directly, a vanity thing: the simple truth is that I am one of the most un-photogenic people on the planet, which, coupled with low self-esteem, makes looking at photographs of myself traumatic, depressing and soul-destroying. I am aware that this is partly body dismorphia, and I’m also not delusional about how I actually look, so it isn’t an ‘ego’ thing, but it often proves impossible to explain my dread of cameras to others who think I’m either fishing for compliments or just being bigheaded. The proof, however is in the pudding, and I was gratified when one photographer who, having tried a dozen times to get a picture of me with Ben where I didn’t look like a cross between the Honey Monster and Captain Pugwash, concurred, ‘God, you’re right, the camera really doesn’t like you, does it?’ No. It bloody-well doesn’t.
I once heard it said of Sophia Loren that every feature of her face taken individually was ‘wrong’, but when combined created a startling beauty. There are also, it is well known, many girls who look fairly plain, gawky, scrawny or dowdy in ‘real life’ but who shine when captured on camera. The latter, in fact, is almost universally accepted, so why is it so hard for people to accept that there are also perfectly reasonable looking human beings for whom the camera works a darker kind of magic, distorting, magnifying and accentuating every negative to create a whole that is, unlike the lovely Sophia, so much less than the sum of the parts? I may not be an oil painting, but I do know I’m also not the bloated troglodyte who displaces me in 99.9% of the photographs I appear in.
For several years now I have managed to avoid cameras completely, but over the past week that has proved impossible. I would apologise to anyone who happens to stumble across one of them. That said, if you print off a copy, frame it and put it on your mantelpiece it will ensure that your children or pets don’t wander too close to the flames. Here’s one to save you the effort of Googling.
PS: Adding insult to injury I have just been directed towards a ‘remix’ video of Unfest events that features me dying on my arse in the poets garden… TBH, you can’t HEAR me dying on my arse, because it’s a montage/music mix, and you wouldn’t know from the footage, but I think someone somewhere is taking the pee all the same…