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37/ “LEFT TUFT”

Left Tuft 02.06.15 photo by Daren Callow

performed for 'Billy Cockle plus special guests, an evening of unique and memorable entertainment', curated by Frog Morris, at the Montague Arms, London, 2nd June 2015.

Last Summer I made a small sculpture called 'Old Hippie's Ear', which was a long lot of mostly golden thread and lametta growing out of a shell. Very shortly afterwards I read 'Malone Dies' by Samuel Beckett, and about a quarter of the way through it I found Malone giving a description of his own hairy ears that described nearly exactly what I had made:

“...my ears from which there spring two impetuous tufts of no doubt yellow hair, yellowed by wax and lack of care, and so long that the lobes are hidden.”

So then I thought that I would remake my ear sculpture as a pair, to be titled 'Two Impetuous Tufts' – but I've had a few goes at that, and it hasn't worked. So I thought that perhaps I should make a couple of performances as studies for the work-in-progress sculpture: one working with my left ear and one with my right.

I was asked by Frog Morris to perform at a night he was putting on at the newly-reopened Montague Arms, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to, since I'd already performed twice there (in the old days), and I didn't really want to perform in a pub, and Frog Morris's variety-show line-ups invariably fill me with such apprehension. But on the other hand, I hadn't made any performances in such a long time, and Frog has always been such a grand supporter of me, so for both of those reasons I thought that I should. So then I started working on a few ideas, and it actually felt very good to be working on performance ideas again after not doing anything for so long, and I felt quite enthused... Then I heard from Frog some of the comedian-heavy line-up he was putting together and once again I didn't want to do it... But finally I heard that my friend Nicole Mollett would be appearing also, with a tabletop miniature magic lantern show, and that made me feel better about things, and I started working on ideas in earnest and decided to do the one of two impetuous tufts performances.

I had the idea somehow that I wanted to lay my head in the open pages of a talc-smothered book, so I pulled out an old hardback A4 still largely empty sketchbook that I've had since childhood, and used that for making my plans for the performance, with the plan also of using it as performance prop. I filled half of the sketchbook (leaving half free for a future, right-tuft performance) with notes and sketches, making use of the felt-tip pens that I recently bought in order to be able to write a sufficiently colourful thank you letter to the curator of the season of Vera Chytilová films that graced the National Film Theatre this Spring. I continued to worry about the bill, but finally wrote a note to self in there, saying that I should just make my performance and let it work as cabaret, if hopefully it can, and if it could then that would be very fine.

So the night came, and I went to the Montague, and I felt okay, and then less so, and then Nicole came and set up her little theatre, and I put my head in the hole and that relaxed me, and then Frog did an introductory bit, and then it was me, and again I really wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. I climbed to the stage, took off my jumper, shoes & socks, and brought my bag of materials down onto the floor. I half-heartedly spread out a dust sheet and one by one placed all of my materials onto it. I opened a bottle of prosecco, poured a little into a bowl and drank some. I opened up my sketchbook to the first blank pages, took a large stick of charcoal, and wrote in there: “2 Impetuous Tufts pt 1 “LEFT TUFT” 2. VI. 2015”, then I tore out the two subsequent pages (the pages in the book are perforated), placed the stick of charcoal between them, and crushed it to a black dust with a beautiful stone that I have used in a couple of previous performances, tipping the black dust into another, smaller bowl. Then, into the next blank double-page of the book, I squeezed an entire container of talcum powder, which made a big scented cloud, which made a few people at the front cough but not too badly. I was very happy with that bit, I think that at least made for good cabaret, and by that point I was relaxed and enjoying the performance. I drank some more prosecco, took a golden garland of lametta and cut it into a pile of pieces with scissors. Then I took a spool of golden thread and snipped lengths off that. I took off my t-shirt and attached the bits of gold thread to my left ear with masking tape. I tipped some soil out of a flower-pot, and mixed that and the bowl of black charcoal dust into the bowl of prosecco with my fingers, then wiped my fingers on the t-shirt. I poured the resulting mud into a cardboard cone (actually a party hat with the elastic removed) and placed the mud-filled cone for the moment back in the bowl. I lay down with my head in the book. I placed the stone upon my left ear. I put the pieces of lametta over the stone. I took the mud-filled cone and held it above my ear. I snipped the end off with the scissors to allow some mud to spill over everything on top of my ear, and then snipped more off to allow more to rain down. I got up and pulled my t-shirt back on, drank from the bottle, and gathered up the materials I wished to keep and put them back in the bag I'd originally carried them on in. I climbed back up to the stage and put my jumper, socks & shoes back on, and came back with a bin bag to clean up the remaining materials. I saw that I had inadvertently left a rather dramatic and emphatic trail of white talc footprints up the black steps.

I think it all went okay, and I think it probably made good cabaret. There was a lot of laughter, but if there was to be laughter then I think it was in the right places. At one point there was an almighty crash, which turned out to be Nicole falling off a chair while attempting to photograph me. A couple of people afterwards told me they had enjoyed it but had had no idea what it was about, and I thought that's fine. I was very happy that they didn't ask me to explain it. Frog seemed really to enjoy it, and it would be worth it just for that. And somebody, whom I'd reminded of something or other, asked me if I had been the mermaid in Betws-y-Coed forest (I wasn't, but was of course very happy to be mistaken for such.)

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