On the run from Andi Peters following a misunderstanding about cruises, Melissa begrudgingly agrees to follow her friend Joanne (and Joanne’s 17th century throwback ‘life partner’ Fax) to the Edinburgh Fringe. While leafleting for Fax’s dreadful stand up show about faith healing and vegans, Melissa endures the highs and lows of pretentious student plays, ‘street typing’, and the knowledge that her shop has been left in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand tills…

Crap Comedy is the follow up to the 2018 novel Crap Holiday. Read it here.

Half an hour later we’re out the door and making our way through the park. I’m still wearing my barbecue sauce jeans. In fact, the only thing I’ve changed is to add sunglasses to my outfit, even though it’s cloudy. Fuck any daylight escaping into my retinas this morning. Fax is wearing his velvet suit again.

Joanne and Fax spot a group of people doing handstands in another part of the park. ‘Oh, circus skills! Come on Mel!’

I stand my ground. ‘If by ‘come on Mel’ you mean ‘Don’t worry, we’re just kidding, we’re not going to make you attempt a handstand so last night’s gin comes out of your face’, then that’s fine.’

Joanne rolls her eyes. ‘God, fine! You can just watch. Come on!’

And they’re running off ahead of me before I can say anything else. For fuck’s sake. When I said ‘let’s go see what’s around’, I ideally meant somewhere I can sit in the dark and drink black coffee until I shit myself, and then I’ll feel better. If there’s someone doing some bullshit comedy in the corner of the room that’s fine, as long as they keep it down. What I didn’t mean was ‘let’s go sit in a brightly lit field watching a man in a jester’s hat doing forward rolls’. That is not what I meant at all.

I trudge off after them, until we get to a tent marked ‘Curious Cathy’s Corking Circus Skills’. We sit cross-legged on the grass next to a mixture of small children, parents, and adults desperately trying to get something to put on their Personality CV. I’m not sure which category Joanne and Fax fall into. I’m glad I thought to bring some sunglasses, although I can’t help wishing I’d also brought my rolling pin.

‘Welcome welcome one and all!’ yells Cathy, a middle-aged woman with a hairstyle that makes me feel threatened. At least she isn’t wearing a jester’s hat. I lean back on my hands and shut my eyes under my sunglasses. When Saif asks me what I did ‘on my holiday’, I’m going to have a hard time explaining this to him. That’s if he hasn’t burnt the Co-op down or lost his trousers again.

‘So, the first thing we’re going to be learning is a forward roll! I’d like you all to stand up with your feet very firmly on the ground!’

I’m not sure if Cathy will murder me if I don’t obey, but I decide I’m too tired and hungover to care. Quite frankly, maybe it would be better for everyone involved.

Everyone but me stands up. Cathy looks at me. ‘Come on lazybones, anyone can do a forward roll!’

‘I’m OK thanks, I’ll just watch.’

Cathy does a big theatrical sigh. ‘What’s your name my love?’

Where is this going? Last time I told someone my name I woke up in bed with a married man. Cathy better not try that shit. Nevertheless, I decide telling her my name is safer than risking a fist fight with her.

‘Mel.’

‘Well, boys and girls, isn’t Mel going to feel silly when you’re all doing forward rolls, and handstands, and cartwheels, and she isn’t!’

‘Yeah she is!’ cheer Joanne and Fax. Fucking pair of Judases.

‘Maybe later’ I mutter, while poking Joanne really hard in the leg with a twig I found nearby. A few of the kids standing nearby hear Joanne hiss at me that I’m a ‘mental bitch’. Good. If I was ever in the mood to do a forward roll, I’ve been put off by this primary-coloured Karen trying to shame me in front of kids. Next time she tries to make me join in, I’ll threaten to stand up and tell the kids what sex is like.

‘Okey dokey, everyone find a space!’

I’m instantly back at primary school in my vest and pants, pretending to be a tree in a chilly hall, while the music from The South Bank Show plays.

Joanne and Fax eagerly find a space. I notice Fax shooting warning looks to some of the kids, to signal that this is his turf. And please remember that Fax is wearing his velvet suit, which he is apparently wearing on stage again later. Nothing can go wrong.

Curious Cathy claps in what I think she imagines is a fun and jovial manner.

‘Okey dokey boys and girls! Let’s have a big warm welcome for my very special helper… Pogo!’

I wonder if Pogo is going to be:

A) A clown
B) A dog
C) Her poor husband wearing an unconvincing wig

Option C turns out to be correct.

Pogo gives us a wave, but underneath is radiating fury. I wonder how many kids have bitten him today. There are a lot of kids here that look like they’re called Callum, even the girls. I start laughing at Pogo before I remember my sunglasses don’t actually cover my mouth.

‘OK Pogo, would you like to show the boys and girls how to do a forward roll?’

I suspect Pogo wants to do no such thing, but he obeys rather than risking a full-on row with his wife in front of the crowd. The kids are watching Pogo with rapt attention, as are Joanne and Fax. Fax looks like he’d like to be taking notes.

Pogo gets on all fours, but instead of doing a forward roll falls over on his side in a hilarious manner. The kids all laugh. Joanne looks on disapprovingly, failing spectacularly to grasp the point of this error.

‘Silly Pogo!’ yells Cathy. ‘That’s not how you do a forward roll!’ Pogo mutters something that looks suspiciously like ‘fat bitch’ under his breath.

And anyway, why don’t these kids already know how to do forward rolls? When I was their age it was one of my favourite things to do, along with running round yelling with my finger up my nose. This was before I discovered booze and depression.

‘Now boys and girls, this is how you do a forward roll!’ Catchy proceeds to execute one of the most basic moves known to man, complete with a gymnast’s ‘ta-da!’ pose at the end. I think she might actually be very proud of herself.

After this, the group are ordered to have a go. Cathy prowls round the budding acrobats, helping some of the younger ones not break their necks. Pogo’s gone back in the tent, presumably to have a swig from his hip flask.

I look over at Joanne and Fax. Oh Jesus. Fax has done OK, but Joanne is still in a ball with her head up her arse. Cathy looks puzzled.

‘My fucking beads are caught!’

At this point, Cathy decides she should really run over to Joanne and help before any more ‘naughty words’ escape from her mouth. But I notice a couple of kids near Joanne have stored the word ‘fucking’ in their memory to use later, maybe when they lose at Buckaroo.

Turns out Joanne’s string of rose quartz beads have become tangled up with the charms on her sandals. I have no fucking idea how this has happened, but I’m not surprised it has. I’m also not surprised that Joanne never thought to take her stupid necklace off. And I’m definitely not surprised that Fax is saying ‘I did it, did you see me?’ to Cathy.

‘Yes it was very good’ says Cathy, who has decided Joanne and Fax have learning difficulties. Quite reasonably, in my opinion.

Once Joanne is untangled, and one of the kids has called her a ‘gay retard’ (I don’t think she heard, thank Christ), it’s time to move on to handstands. At this point I feel unbelievably smug that I stood up to Cathy and am not taking part in this.

‘Okey dokey boys and girls, everyone find a partner!’

I’m waiting for some fat kid to approach Cathy and go ‘Miss, I don’t have a partner’, but sadly this doesn’t happen. Guess it was just me that did that, back in the day.

‘Ooooh Poooogoooooo!’

Pogo doesn’t reply. He’s possibly dead.

‘Silly Pogo, he can’t hear me! Maybe if we all call him together! Ready? 1…2…3…’

There’s a deafening roar of ‘POGO!’

Pogo reluctantly appears.

‘Pogo, would you be so kind as to help me show the boys and girls how to do a handstand?’

Pogo rubs his neck as she says this. I wonder how many times he’s been to the spine doctor due to Cathy’s incessant need for handstands. Without replying, Pogo prepares to do a graceful handstand, but one of his hands ‘slips’ from underneath him and he collapses in a painful looking heap. Poor bastard.

Cathy laughs in her exaggerated, pantomime style. I know this is for kids and everything, but I can’t shake the feeling she’s really enjoying seeing Pogo hurt himself.

‘Silly Pogo!’ The kids are going mental at this point.

‘Now then, watch closely boys and girls, because Pogo is going to help me do a proper handstand!’

We all watch closely. I think the plan is for Cathy to do a handstand, and for Pogo to help her by lifting her legs should she require. This is not what happens. Instead, Pogo waits for Cathy to ‘assume the position’, then grabs her legs and bellows ‘WHAT DID YOU DO WITH DAVE!’

We are all silent. Even the Callums have stopped sniggering.

‘Chr… I mean, Pogo, please let me down right now!’

‘TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT DAVE YOU LYING SLAG!’

A few of the more outraged parents have gathered up their kids and are making a hasty exit. The rest of us are going fucking nowhere. This is brilliant. I never thought I’d enjoy learning circus skills so much.

Cathy is simultaneously arguing with Pogo, and trying to maintain the jolly veneer she’s had all morning. A couple of the kids have started to cry.

‘Pogo please, this is not the time!’

‘I DON’T GIVE A SHIT, IT’S NEVER A GOOD TIME IS IT?’

But Cathy is determined to be professional. Spying the kids staring at them, somehow still expecting them to teach them handstands, Cathy tries one more time:

‘Oh, silly P…’

‘THAT’S IT!’ Pogo lets Cathy drop in a heap on the ground. ‘I’M GOING TO THE PUB.’

He storms off across the grass. Cathy looks after him, then decides she doesn’t give a shit, and is going to act like none of that happened. She takes a few deep breaths, then resumes her jolly, Peter Pan on HRT act.

‘Okey dokey boys and girls, shall we all have a go at a handstand?’ Jesus Christ, this woman’s some sort of robot.

Joanne and Fax decide they don’t want to be around ‘negative relationship energy’ (plus Joanne is still embarrassed about failing to do a forward roll), so we all make our way on through the park and into town. I make a mental note to buy Pogo a beer if I see him in one of the pubs.

Well?

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