I am a coward.
I have been for almost as long as I can remember.
I blame my imagination. It is one of those imaginations that are vivid but negative. The images it throws up during any situation with variable outcomes are those of death, horror and possible social embarrassment.
My nostalgia is littered with memories of fear.
I have been forced into abseiling on two occasions. Once was at school. I kept going to the back of the queue at the rocky outcrop in the vain hope of our allotted death hour running out before I had to lean backwards and trust the knots of a physics teacher many considered insane.
On another occasion I went on an adventure holiday. I soon discovered that I liked the idea of adventure when daydreamed, but the reality was filled with awake nightmares of drowning in kayaks and being crushed in granite avalanche accidents. I hated it as much as I hated pretty much all experiences between the ages of 8 and 16 which involved groups of boys and men being what boys and men are told to be (or perhaps they even want to be).
Much of this comes down to trust. I HAVE to trust someone holding a rope. I HAVE to trust a drunk as I ride pillion on a motorbike on the winding roads of a Greek island (no time for details, which is a pity as I could tell you about the furious Greek landlady screaming at the intoxicated roof tiler who sang Sweet Home Alabama over and over again after finishing a bottle of sub aniseed booze). I had to trust my mother to hold me up in a swimming pool when I was learning to swim even though I knew she couldn’t swim herself. Thus, by the age of 12 I had finally achieved my 4 metre swimming badge, by 16 I had almost tripled that. I have rarely tested myself since then as public swimming pools bring me out in an urticaria rash (this is true, not some metaphor).
My cowardice inspiring imagination is not just about me and my death, it will throw up fear for pretty much anyone I don’t loathe. It kicks in when someone is more than 7 minutes late. I have seen their bodies made wretched by gunfire or machete in Peckinpah slow motion on a constant loop in my mind until my tardy friend turns the corner by the library door where I am waiting.
The greatest tension is biologically inevitably reserved for my son. The slowness of time when going into your infant’s room and waiting for the first definite in out of breath is almost impossible to measure on a scale. It feels akin to the time passing when watching a Pirates of the Caribbean film but with terrifying tension rather than boredom. Even now that he is five, there is still a little nauseous tremor as i walk into his bedroom and wait for the first up and down of his chest.
When visiting Tintagel Castle recently, I became monstrously tetchy as I imagined all the different mediaeval walls he might suddenly tumble over and plunge into the sea below – an Arthurian Daphne DuMaurier waiting to happen.
On the train yesterday, I suddenly imagined my son falling between platform and carriage wheels, despite the impossibility of losing little more than a flipflop between the particular gap at the particular station i was thinking of. We returned home, and none of the imagined fires, floods and fox infestations I had imagined seemed to have occurred, there wasn’t even a maniac hiding and chiseling in the loft.
Oddly, my chosen profession is one that some people think you have to be brave to do. Comics often hear, “oh, I don’t know how you can stand up in front of people and perform”, though in my case this might be said after some has witnessed me doing just that, and they are saying it from a pragmatic position of career advice, a veiled “isn’t it time you sat down”.
Stand up doesn’t seem to require bravery, more ego and stupidity. A diseased mind, rather than valour, seems to propel many to the stage. Mind you, I am glad I have a diseased mind, I’d rather risk scorn than physical death or limb loss due to a desire for physical adventure.
“Why have you got a prosthetic arm?”
“I lost my arm after playing Ha Has in Ipswich, the heckler’s derision was so great that my arm detached itself from my body and crawled away in shame”.
Footnote – I don’t think I fear death, I fear agony.
READING – The Kenneth Tynan Diaries, Private Eye
WATCHING – My Hero (Ben Moor on Hancock), Paul O Grady’s Working Britain
FURIOUS RAGES – when the big bearded man aided me in spilling some coffee into my computer on the 15.41 from Newton Abbot.
My tour with Josie Long & Grace Petrie starts in Glasgow on 2nd September, then to Newcastle, Reading, Norwich and on
My solo tour restarts in Liverpool on 10th September – all information on both here
Cosmic Genome app updates soon with Dave Gorman, Richard Dawkins and many more, plus Brian Cox, Helen Czerski, Ben Goldacre and the 50 more – sneak peek here