A Funny Thing Happened Today


Benjamin and the Frog. Hmmm… Sounds like a children’s story doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, having recovered from a really sleepless night and an exciting day in The Out, I thought I would tell you all about my meeting with poet, Benjamin Zephaniah at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, and a meeting with a little frog the night before.

I was very excited that I was going to read my poetry to Benjamin Zephaniah. He is someone Colin and I worshipped from afar in the 1980s, those heady days of alternative cabaret and comedy. Tadpole and Co majored in disasters set to jazz and poetry, such as Herculaneum and the Titanic. These were surprisingly popular considering they were in very bad taste. Those days in the mid-eighties were brief but happy times brought to a premature end by the surge in interest in samba bands and the desertion of our percussionist, Richard Bett, aka Riccardo Thunderfingers. He was the only man I have ever met who was capable of sustaining a rhythm on congas whilst simultaneously being thousands of people going down with a ship or getting buried by volcanic ash.

Yes, we certainly did some crazy back stuff then. We performed music and poetry in gigs and literature festivals from Hastings to Edinburgh. Some of it was even quite good but it was the comedic disasters that earned us our Yorkshire bookings, courtesy of Wild Willie, and the opportunity to share the stage with such worthies as Henry Normal and Jo Brand. We never performed with Ben, but he was “Up there!” and when the opportunity came to meet him at Boston, read some serious poetry and discuss it we leaped at the chance.

The night before recording the interview I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous, excited and in that terrible place where the more you try to sleep the less likely it is to come. Add to that an annoying tune that kept running through my head courtesy of an advert on TV… you get the picture. Eventually I must have dozed off and about three thirty to four in the morning I was woken by a cat coughing. Now, when said cat is a Himalayan and there is a history of heart murmurs in the breed you worry, so I got up to check on him.

He seemed fine, but was scrabbling around his water bowl. Then he pounced on a blanket I had hanging over a box full of stuff I really ought to sort through, donate, throw away… you know the sort of thing. I lifted the blanket and in the semi-darkness of my Pusheen nightlight, I saw what looked like a pile of poop.
“Urgh”, I said, turning the main light on, but it wasn’t poop, it was a frog! We have an empty vegetable container we use for trapping and releasing flies so I grabbed it quickly and, with the aid of a piece of card, I easily caught the sleepy looking frog.

By this time Colin was up and about and wandered into the bathroom.
“You wouldn’t believe what I just caught in my bed room,” I said.
“Just a minute,” he grumbled.
He must have been half asleep because the surprise of finding a frog in the house didn’t register. Nor did he offer to do the gentlemanly thing and put it out for me. So here I was, standing in my nightie and slippers in the twilight before dawn, trying to unlock the front door while Froggie got more and more excited and jumped up and down in his box. He was released to the water feature by the pond (I know frogs hide in there). I was surprised that he made no attempt to escape after the first hop. I guess he is a very laid back frog and in my experience frogs are not scared of people.

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Now, I have no idea how a frog came to be in my bedroom, nor do I have any idea how long he was in residence. All I know is that he certainly seemed settled under the blanket and that one of the cat water bowls showed signs of dust-bunnies and what I assumed was a frog poop right in the middle. Cue vigorous cat bowl scrubbing and changing of water… I then went back to bed and caught about three hours sleep before I had to get up for an early start and our journey to Boston where we were due to read poems and discuss immigration, Pilgrim Fathers and Boston amongst other things.

I suppose I was a bit ring-eyed and stupid for my interview with Ben. It took me a long time to relax and come out of my shell, but he is a lovely, genuine man and seemed interested in my poems and Colin’s too. When it was all over the three of us chatted for a little while about the eighties, alternative cabaret and the parallel universes we seemed to exist in. Somehow we never shared the stage with Benjamin Zephaniah back then. Hopefully when the programme comes out, we will finally get that wish.

The wheels on the bus go round and round – unless you were with me this morning. I found myself car less when Theresa May called the snap election she had said she would never call. Getting to a meet and greet session with Age UK in Horncastle is not so easy if you are car less. Although Horncastle actually has a better service than, say, Louth or Mablethorpe it is still limited to one bus an hour. Evening services in Lincolnshire are virtually non-existent. You could travel to Louth in the afternoon and easily find yourself having to stay overnight if you miss the last bus back at around four.

Nobody who actually lives here has ever claimed that public transport in Lincolnshire is adequate, of course. Our rail services are limited and indirect, thanks to Mr Beeching, which is terrible news for our coastal resorts. Compared with London, Sussex and Kent we are undoubtedly a poor relation and an embarrassment. You can travel until midnight or even later on trains in South England. Busses run well into the evening to connect London with towns nearby. How can you have a busy city and a great night life without public transport? Well, in Lincolnshire you don’t travel far at night, to party or otherwise, unless you have a car and a designated driver. No wonder we are a sleepy lot!

So, my trip to Age UK for a meeting and coffee morning involved two busses. One to take me to Lincoln and that arrived at eight in the morning. I kicked up the dust and trialled my shooting stick – a necessary travelling accessory as there are no proper benches at Lincoln bus station. (I suppose because they don’t want to make it easy for our rough sleepers). At nine, I gratefully got on the Skegness service, which stops at Horncastle amongst other places, and sat back to enjoy the beautiful scenery en route.

We were well on schedule until, having just left Wragby, I heard a colossal bang.

“Jimminy cricket!” I exclaimed (the way you do). “What in tarnation was that?”

I didn’t think domestic terrorism had travelled to rural Lincolnshire just yet. Perhaps some oik who was bored on half term holiday had fired an air rifle at the window? A few seconds later we heard the unmistakable whine of a slipping clutch and the bus slowly ground to a halt in the middle of the back of beyond – or somewhere very farm-ish between Wragby and Hatton.

The driver was efficient, polite and tactful in the emergency, he called Lincoln and Skegness for mechanics and a replacement bus. He allowed parents with small children and a large dog to stroll along a farm track. He let me use his mobile phone as I couldn’t get a BT signal to use Skype on my notepad. Shortly after the mechanics had arrived, declared the bus undriveable, and the ten o’clock from Lincoln had passed us by, we all piled into a replacement double decker and cheerfully set off. The driver even told us to claim a refund of our fare because of the inconvenience.

A lady from Manchester led the singing. We sang “The Wheels on the Bus” and “If you’re Happy and You Know It”, much to delight of a three year old boy who had been positively angelic all through the journey. Then she launched into a cumulative rugby song about boils on noses of the women of the harem of Caractacus which frightened the little soul, probably because he was as confused as I was trying to figure out the words.

Well, they didn’t mind that I was an hour late. We joked about making this a social media opportunity about the poor public transport links in Lincolnshire. It wasn’t traumatic or stressful. There are much worse things happening in the world than a bus breaking down in the countryside on a glorious sunny day but we really, really need a decent transport infrastructure in this county.

Yesterday I blighted my day by discovering what I thought was battery acid at the bottom of a bag. I was looking for one of those, you know, make your feet soft and beautiful gadgets? I got one, an Amopé Pedi Perfect Foot File – Electronic Pedicure Tool for Christmas two years ago and never tried it out and now my feet are a bit grimly fiendish from wearing steel capped wellies in the garden. Well, to cut a long story a little shorter, I discovered it in the worst possible way. I put my hand into a cloth bag full of once precious “stuff” and pulled it out covered in golden brown gook with white crystals in. ACID! It was instant panic, hands under the tap for several minutes, then wash with soap and rinse again and again. I hoped I had been quick enough and wouldn’t need to go to A&E. Then I donned plastic gloves to carry on discovering the bag’s contents in case it contained something dangerous for the dustbin. (Like a credit card perhaps?)

Eventually after uncovering some restaurant leaflets, some pretty purple socks I had been given as a gift, a British Airways goody bag and a couple of hotel soap bars I discovered this little box. Surely the evil leaking batteries would be inside? I ripped it open. Nothing. Just more of the golden coloured primeval ooze. Then I noticed the writing on the little box – “Sheraton mints”. All that panic over a deliquescent box of confectionery. I think I am losing my marbles along with those soft centred mints and I am truly glad hoarding is only an occasional hobby rather than a serious profession.