When I was younger I had a certain fondness for playing with words, sometimes vocally but most often in my head. I liked to change the names given to most things; a garage became Derek and on the more formal occasions in my head, Derek the Garage; there was Rob the Bank and Alexander the Gate all making it to print in the blossoming new dictionary on the shelves in my mind. It was a constant work in progress though as names morphed into new names. Eventually names gave way to numbers- Rob the bank briefly became 801 and then in a partial u-turn became Robby 801. Derek transformed into Des 47. Then in the windy waves of warm spring air in a stick-in-hand walk through a birch wood a new naming system, which excited me greatly, entered my fertile head. All names were to be replaced with adjectives that described the quality I assigned to the objects themselves. Hence Derek the Garage took on the appellation of Oily or The Oily One; the sky became Bluey; a tarmac road became Treacle Lane and a peach became Fur Ball. This still left room for some charming anomalies, to wit an old abandoned truck in the ditch along the main road became Count Truckula and a ticket became Tickety-Boo.
Eventually, the new dictionary became so ingrained in my head that utterances slipped out in normal conversation. This threw people a little askew. My parents worried about me and then worried some more and eventually sent me to a special clinic for such problems.
There I met a man who put 'S' at the end of every word, a young girl who put ‘Sh’ at the beginning of every other word. The problem was that we all hung out together and picked up each other's unique wording. It didn't so much replace our own , rather it fused with it to create alarmingly non-sensical utterances, for instance a garage which had evolved through the ephemeral nicknames of Derek The Garage and Oily or the Oily one became Shoilys, as in ‘ I’ve put my bike in Shoilys’ except all the other words in that sentence were probably corrupted in other ways.
The clinic’s experts fashioned some bespoke exercises to counter this but these added even more corruption to our spoken words so in the end they concluded that rather than speaking such gibberish we had better say nothing at all. This annoyed me to such an extent that at the tender age of 12 I vowed not only to refrain from speaking then but forevermore!( much to my parents sadness). However, in the next few years my resulting choice of career was pleasing to my parents; it would allow me to express myself and entertain others- on my 16th birthday they bought me a tight black jump-suit and a pair of fine white gloves to enable me to hit the streets of London as a mime act.
The next week I stalked the embankment to practice with my new gloves. I chose a good patch on the grass by the Tate Modern where I could debut my Man-Pushing-A- Large-Ball-Up-A- Hill-And-Getting-Flattened-As-It-Rolls-Back-Down. I was tentative at first, thrusting my white-gloved in front of my then suddenly losing my nerve and then pretending I was just stretching into a yawn. But somehow the courage came and I started rolling my ball. It went well enough and as my confidence grew that afternoon I showcased all my gestures to an indifferent crowd of one old couple, a Japanese teenage girl and two skinny pigeons. As I became more accomplished I would walk into restaurants and practice hand flourishes to beckon diners to their seats; I’d elaborately refuse freely given flyers by people in the street by holding up both hands in the halt position and moonwalk away from them with hyperbolic rejection.
One day a restaurant owner actually chased me, not just for a few yards but all along the South Bank, and over London bridge; I jumped onto a passing ferry but he still kept coming, so I dived in the Thames and swam for my life. Once I came ashore at Blackfriars he was still hot on my trail. In the end I mimed my drama to a policeman who then apprehended the fucking nutter.
For the most part though people were charmed by my clumsy enthusiasm and apparent lack of talent, in perhaps the same way they would warm to Eddie The Eagle Edwards or a poodle on a skateboard.
I’d like to say that fame beckoned quickly but the only beckoning going on was my elaborate ‘pulling-in’ of traffic onto no-access roads( for which I received a catalogue of hand gestures, which I would then mimic as if I thought their exponents were practising mime like me.). And with time I refined the Man-Pushing-A- Large-Ball-Up-A- Hill-And-Getting-Flattened-As-It-Rolls-Back-Down by making it more real, so real in fact that I used an actual giant boulder and it really did flatten me.
There was a new ward in St Jospeh’s Hospital that catered especially for ‘cartoon accidents’. There were patients with bulging eyes, electric-shock hair, large pulsating head lumps, even one or two who had received such a forceful downward blow to the head that they were just a head on a pair of feet. I was the only patient who had been entirely flattened. Getting to the hospital had been an outrageous indignity, involving the paramedic rolling me up like a Morrocan Rug, if you please!
Nurse Wanda was young but she knew her mind and furthermore she seemed to know other people’s minds, especially mine. So when I garnered a suave approach to her affections, well the suavest a man can muster in that condition, by shuffling my body up the bedside cabinet so that it would faintly make contact with her hips as she bent over to plump up my pillows, she pulled away laughing. ‘That’s enough of that Flat-so,’ She said rolling her eyes with some barely perceptibly sauciness.
During my recovery she breezed in every day to straighten my blankets and pump my pillows and usually managed to makes some joke about my condition- ‘Are you feeling a little flat, today?’ ‘Good morning, 2D’ ‘Don’t worry you’ll soon be returning to your flat soon’ -all punctuated with warm yelps of laughter.
Once I’d blown up to my former proportions I started dating Wanda. We would meet at the Embankment tube station and walk arm and arm along the river. It occurred to me to break my silence and become a speaking member of humanity again. Love can do that. Love can break your silence. But my miming had become such a part of my soul’s expression that it seemed the most authentic me. So we strolled along laughing together at my most elaborate mimes of love, sketching in the air giant hearts or plucking our hearts from our chest and squishing them together.
She had a keen sense of mischief did old Wanda, which manifested in the most delightful spontaneity; one day she pulled us both into a joke shop and bought several sets of goofy dentures, the type that British comedian Dick Emery used to wear when he played his menacingly camp vicar. We wore them ourselves and entered shops as a goofy couple just to see any subtle responses from shop assistants. Then we insisted that our friends wore them while we compiled a photo album of every one we knew in their most goofy form. We persuaded strangers on the street to pose for our photos, waiters, policemen, taxi drivers, anyone we came across. Wanda found a friend in publishing and before that year was out we had published the first volume of Goof- an album of our pictures with captions and descriptions of who we had encountered these people. Soon ‘goofing’ became an internet craze in the spirit of its predecessors like planking and milking etc.