Stand-up comedy is stressful enough without being late for a gig – as happened to me many moons ago in the proud city of Bristol. This pre-dated sat-navs and apps like Waze and my paper map of the city was proving as baffling to me as Shakespeare had been at school.
And with time running out and becoming ever more frantic I spied a pedestrian on the roadside and pulled over to plead for help. Ordinarily I would have noticed that this bloke was not a good prospect for directions but as desperate as I was, I yelled through my window the address of where I needed to be. In my head, at least, this was an emergency because people were waiting for me to make them laugh.
The pedestrian turned in my direction and made a quick assessment.
“I’m going that way. I’ll get in and show you.”
And proving the extent of my desperation, I allowed this to happen. He jumped in my car and instantly I regretted it.
The first thing to hit me was the smell. A smell I had never smelt before or since. It was acrid and overwhelming. I left his window down, opened mine also and hoped that he wouldn’t notice.
‘Okay, which way?’ I pleaded.
But this chap had other things on his pickled mind, namely to explore the footwell of my car. This is when I noticed the old wound on the back of his head. His hair is matted with old blood and new – and a yellow puss was oozing on to his black and crusted collar of his shirt. I fretted that this puss might even be his brains. Are brains yellow? And how will this affect his sense of direction because it’s still about ME!
I continue to drive aimlessly, frantic and hoping for a miracle.
Suddenly he sat upright clutching a spent shot gun cartridge that he had found in my car. You can imagine my shock although there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for its presence which I won’t go into here.
“Have you got a shot gun?” He asked me.
His west country accent seemingly much broader now and more menacing because he is clearly under the influence of something other than oxygen and my panic ramps up even more.
‘No.’ I replied, a little frightened now and also furious with myself for allowing him in to my car.
“Do you want one?” He added.
Do I want a shot gun? No. I just want to get to my gig and tell my jokes. Hopefully people will laugh and then I can go home.
I can’t remember if I replied to his generous offer to secure a shot-gun for me – but now he began rummaging about in his holdall – presumably for a gun. And now I am shitting myself. My gig is completely forgotten – eclipsed by much more pressing matters, like staying alive. My options dwindling and none of them are good.
Comedians run the risk of getting no laughs on stage, something we refer to as ‘dying’ and something which all of us will experience to some degree. And whilst this is an awful prospect, it is much more desirable than actually dying and at the hands of a madman. I seriously contemplate just stopping my car and running for my life. I am confident that I can outrun him and if he does shoot me, I am also reasonably sure that he will miss.
He continues to wrestle with his holdall and I can barely look. One eye on the road and the other on a potential murder weapon. But surely, his bag is too small to house a shot-gun but then I worry about a sawn-off – made infamous in countless movies we gorged on as kids. By now, I decide that this a bizarre robbery/mugging and that I will cede to whatever his demands are. Anything to remain alive. All the money I have on me. My mobile phone and even my car. But I might draw the line at any sexual favours he requires. A bridge too far…
And finally, after an almighty tussle, he manages to release the object from his bag – which he duly points and thankfully it is not a gun…
But a leg of lamb.
I kid you not. A leg of lamb.
So let’s recap…
I am lost in Bristol. Late for a gig. I have picked up a homeless man who is now pointing a leg of lamb at me.
This is when I notice his hands. They are badly swollen and an array of colours. Bright pink to black and every colour in-between. His fingers are fat, like bananas. His knuckles are mostly ripped open and the wounds are festering. His finger nails are back, some are missing. Old injuries compounded by new, the guy is quite literally rotting and now I understand what the smell is likely to be.
“Do you wanna buy a leg of lamb?” He asks me.
This ranks as the most bizarre question I have ever been asked in my life.
He continues with his unnecessary sales pitch,
“I’ve just burgled it from Sainsbury’s…”
I don’t think to correct his English. Burgle might be a verb – in that a house can be burgled. But a leg of lamb cannot be. A leg of lamb can be stolen or purloined but never stolen.
“Twenty quid in the shop. But you can have it for tenner…”
Clearly, this is a good deal. Half price, plus I get to survive. I daresay I could have hung on for an even better deal. £7.50 perhaps?
But of course, my survival instincts kicked in.
Back in the day, when heading to gigs, I would leave my wallet at home and instead take a twenty pound note to cover any petrol, food and/or any other emergencies – which this most certainly was.
Deftly, I produced the note and his blood shot and yellowing eyes widened.
“Stop the car.” He shouted and I duly obliged. He grabbed the money and practically fell out of my car, possibly adding further cuts and bruises to his already broken and stricken body. And then he was gone – on his toes, no doubt to buy something to take him out of his consciousness and who can blame him, the poor wretch.
The only thing that remained was his pungent odour (the smell of death, I fear) and of course a leg of lamb.
I could have cried with happiness. I am alive and I think to call my wife, Nikki who is at home with our two year old and newly born twins. To tell her that I am alive.
But then I remember the gig.
And the joy of just being alive pales immediately – replaced by my reality – that I have a gig to get to and a need to be funny…
I must have made the gig because I have never missed a gig in my life (no sick pay in my game). But I cannot recall how I fared. I have no recollection either what we did with the lamb. I suspect we didn’t eat it (receiving stolen goods?) plus its mawkish association – one dead animal being passed to me by another animal who I fear was dying also.