Welcome to the Pitshanger Poets

Welcome to the Pitshanger Poets Workshop Blog.

We hold a weekly workshop at the Questor’s Theatre in Ealing to read and discuss our work; you are welcome to join us. This blog will keep you updated with news from the workshop, poetry events and examples from our membership, old and new.

We meet every Tuesday night from 8pm in The Library, Questor’s Theatre, Mattock Lane, Ealing, London. Bring a poem, bring copies and be ready to discuss it in a friendly, enthusiastic group.


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Workshop, 14th January 2020

Sometimes, being a world-renowned poetry group is simply not enough on its own.  There is no point in being pre-eminent practitioners of poesy in the middle of a wilderness of prose – location is as important as locution.  Take the ill-fated Border Bairds began by Rabbie Burns following the success of his own Ayrshire Airs.  Despite selling many copies of his slim volumes, he was lucky to attract more than half-a-dozen crofters and hirders, and there’s only so many poems one can write about sheep.  A similar problem dogged the Lakeland Lyricists that Willy Wordsworth hoped would spread culture through the uplands, but was often just him and a zonked-out Sammy Coleridge yet again.

No, to organise a successful literary jam, one needs to be located in a city, somewhere where all those  romantic types can complain about the ruthless bustle of daily life while still accessing cheap garrets and decent coffee.  And Ealing has long fitted the bill, being far enough from the smoke to feel like it’s in the country, but close to the railway to whisk one back into town in time for last orders.  And the fact that the mainline in the other direction took one to the dusty dormitories of Oxford was another bonus, allowing student scribblers with pretentions to laureates an opportunity to test their latest verse well away from their fellows.  The last thing a callow youth with a posh accent and a bright future in the Foreign Office wanted was for word to get back to the porter’s lodge that they were a secret soppy-headed sonneteer.

No shame among this week’s readers, as a confident Pat Francis brought a brief exclamation of sudden avian appearance perhaps best summed up as “wow, goldcrests !”.  We were then treated to Peter Francis’ work-in-progress as an enigmatic cloche-hatted mother remembers the war – but where is it going ?  We hope to find out soon.  Michael Harris then related to us a dream starring a flooded road, his own mother in a car, and a determination to wade his own way across, followed by a touching appreciation of dawn by a sick man as told by John Hurley.  Doig Simmonds then shared his thoughts about the next world, where he hopes to meet up with old loves, and Alan Chambers’ evocative cicada-filled dusk by an atmospheric pool – perhaps the very same dusk that Rithika Nadipalli spent with a bonfire and a hunger.  Daphne Gloag meanwhile has been looking into absences and finding them full of words, and Roger Beckett has been going home to his folks and finding the years just fall away, but not in a good way, leading to Martin Choules telling us how he’s been lying awake at night from the worry that he might have insomnia.

One of those Oxonian odesmiths back in the mid-Twenties was a young Teddy Geisel, reading a PhD in English Literature and keen to meet his heroes in the tweed: Tom Eliot, Bobby Graves and Ziggy Sassoon.  Alas, these luminaries did not take him very seriously, nor his earnest heartwrenchings about be-stockinged vixens, verdant eggs or mean-spirited festive-frustrating thieves, and surely the silly doodles besides the verses couldn’t have helped.  All-in-all, following this regular ridicule, it is perhaps no surprise that he left Oxford without completing his thesis, deciding that if he wanted to call himself ‘doctor’ then who was going to bother to check up on him anyway ?  But it seems he did leave one lasting impression of Tom Eliot, who seems to have his fellow-countryman’s idea of a hat-loving feline and twisted him into a Cheshire-cat crime lord.

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Workshop, 7th January 2020

Those people who know me well know that I am a man Who Gets Things Done.  I am one who browses the self-improvement selections of his local book shop with a wry smile, having divined and internalised the key concepts of these instructional works for myself many years ago. For a cove such as your loyal correspondent, instructional volumes on Time Management, the Habits of Highly Effective People, Winning Friends and Influencing People, or Taking Fridges to Newcastle or Selling Coals to Inuit are so much paper under the bridge.  I became a self-directed, in-the-moment, task-oriented poet virtually as soon as I opened my first vellum-bound notebook and scribbled out my first stanza with the freshly sharpened HB.

As a result of this meticulous organisation, I am a master at the art of filling one’s time.  Not for me the ‘writer’s block’ which afflicts so many.  I am rarely to be caught staring at the blank page or flickering screen.  This is due to my to-do list approach to poetry writing, to wit, I have a ready supply of poetry themes to hand next to the blotter and if I get stuck with one idea during one of my meticulously-timed writing sessions, I simply move onto the next.  In this way I can be sure that when my Man shimmers in with the steaming cup of needful, I will have a Palladian Villa of stanzas constructed, ready for a rub-down and a top coat.

Very little Polyfilla was required by this week’s crop of Pitshanger doyens.  Alan Chambers led off with a not-altogether uncritical dig at the Christmas Pud and its after-effects. Rithika Nadipalli quite by chance picked up on the festival’s dread aftermath with a sonnet on the impossibility of consuming the Christmas Dinner.  John Hurley paid close attention to the woodwork and dug deep into his own past with memories of the coastline where he grew up in Ireland, now a little gentrified.  Doig Simmonds finished the architraves in a contrasting shade with a poem eluding to a word missing from the world today.  Pat Francis expertly cut in with a fine brush, working her way around John Milton and his gift for the perfect sonnet.  Peter Francis added a false door to ensure the room maintained its symmetry, completing a ramble through thoughts of home while at a distance.  Nick Barth added a little grotesquery to the alcoves taking a sly look at people-watching, or were those people watching him?  Martin Choules will have nothing less than Italian marble for the mantlepiece he leans on and tells us about a new super-earth.  Finally, Roger Beckett has chosen a painting of a bucolic landscape to go above the fireplace, as he developed his theme of Art.

I think it was Thomas Crown who opined; ‘Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, January is the pivot in the circles that you find in the windmills of my mind.’  I believe the notorious billionaire bank robber was trying to say that this is the time to make your New Year’s Resolutions.  For me that is the list of poems that I resolve to write this season, and it is a list I am happy to partially preview here.  I have always thought of myself as a proactive as opposed to a reactive poet.  However, the first few weeks of Jan have been a fertile grist to the noggin’s mill.  With that, here are just a few of the ideas that have popped their heads above the mental parapet since the bongs:

-Beyond Brexit BoJo will bob in Beaujolais no more

-Brothers in Arms

-Ken’s Koala’s kalamatously kremated eukalyptus kopse

-Nancy Pelosi packed the Trump and took him off to the circus (media, that is), with a trumpety Trump, Trump, Trump

-The Waistline

-Corbyn’s confirmatory referendum concept copped a resounding rejection.

-The Futile Fear of Farage

-The Benedict Cumberbatch Dominic Cummings Rehabilitation Dynamo

-In Camden Town did Sadiq Khan a Stately Pleasure Dome Decree (just in time for the BBC 6Music Festival)

I have ideas like these with alarming regularity, usually following a fitful, cheese-fuelled afternoon nap.  I have already appraised my publisher of the sort of ideas I am working on – the stunned silence he gave me following my passing of the latest list across the restaurant table was all the encouragement I needed for the labours of year ahead.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 17th December 2019

Christmas is not usually thought of as a moveable feast, but if one looks up the birthday of Isaac Newton then one is met with a mixture of dates, either 25th December 1642 or 4th January 1642 (1643 not beginning until 25th March).  The discrepancy depends if one is reckoning by the good-old British Julian system or that new-fangled Gregorian that those overly-bureaucratic Europeans so insisted on.  Izzy himself was in no doubt that he was a Christmas baby, and reminded all his friend that they needed to stand him twice as many drinks to celebrate both at once.  “Me and the lad” he used to mutter, usually after the third bottle, “we know what it’s like to wait all year for a party.”

On his later visits down from Cambridge, he was oft to drop in on the weekly gatherings at Dick Slaney’s new manor just off the Oxford Road near the hamlet of Ealing, especially as a birthday treat.  There he would love to listen to Andy Marvell and Johnny Milton reel off couplet after couplet, from the sacred to the saucy.  But he was less happy if Ned Halley was also in attendance, asking the poets if they could add a few comets into their heroic stanzas, particularly as the Star of Bethlehem.  Heresy, Izzy thought !  Clearly the Magi were awed by a conjunction of planets as they followed their clockwork orbits.  But the evenings were even worse if Bob Hooke turned up as well, trying to shoehorn in his spring theory by declaring the Star to be a sudden bursting forth of a nova, or Robbie ‘Ideal Gas Law’ Boyle pushing for a shooting meteor vaporising and glowing.  Their arguments became so intense that Mr Slaney had to insist that they divvy up the four Tuesdays of Advent between them – alas, they could never agree who got which, and it was a certainty that if one came then their mass would attract the others.

There was also a decent-sized crowd at this week’s workshop, but before we get into that let me first confirm that this was the final one of the year, as we have been bumped in the schedules on both Christmas and New Year’s Eves – it seems that poets these days are more than happy to be happy and would rather spend the season snoozing with their families instead of shivering with their miseries.  Honestly, this is what happens when a garret becomes a loft conversion…Anyway, Christine Shirley was first down the chimney with her Wintry lament over an absent friend, followed feet-first by Michael Harris as he shed his world-toughened skin, possibly to better fit down the flume.  A frustrated Pat Francis has been on the phone for an hour and still can’t get through to the North Pole, but at least she can share a warm bowl of fusion-cuisine soup courtesy of Roger Beckett’s brother while she waits.  John Hurley meanwhile gave a salute to two of his mentors from the toy workshop, perhaps trying to ensure they ended up on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, unlike Bernice Wolfenden’s cats who are hogging all the chairs for themselves.  We then had a portrait of a wife mucking in with the bricklaying mere minutes before giving birth from Owen Gallagher, a real labourer’s labour which would put Mary to shame, while new member Rithika Nadipalli has been fending off Winter blues with waterfalls and squirrels.  Alan Chambers then introduced us to the donkey of his mind, dressed in seasonal red and green but thankfully not wearing a straw hat, and David Hovatter has been looking for images to put on his Christmas cards and definitely plumped for the flower over the multi-story carpark.  We then had a storming rendition of a Victorian classic from Peter Francis, who reminded us that Christmas isn’t just for puppies but old dogs with new tricks, and Martin Choules gave us a verse about how he’s partying too hard to write us a verse.

When Izzy wasn’t arguing, he was usually calculating, often on the back of other poet’s handouts.  How far away had the Magi come from, given twelve days of travel at a constant average speed, moderated for likeliness of hilly terrain ?  How many infants could Herod’s soldiers slaughter in a night, given the population density and time taken to wield a sword ?  And how many people lived in Bethlehem if the town could only support a single inn ?  The only thing that could stop this constant scribbling was another cup of Jack Dryden’s curtain-raiser punch, guaranteed to put darns in one’s stockings and oats in one’s Scottish play – although it would appear that Izzy often had difficulty keeping it down, and he always kept a pail handy incase of an unexpected equal and opposite reaction.

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Workshop, 10th December 2019

Although they typically hate to admit it, poets love Christmas.  If you don’t believe me, go and ask one. I challenge you to invite one of your local poets out to a convenient pub, cafe or other hostelry, ply them with a cold or hot beverage and raise the subject of Christmas.  (I have to admit, you’re on your own in this part of the task.  I have been calling for a National Register of poets for a decade now, but the Poetry Society have rejected the notion out of hand, informing me that it sounds ‘a bit creepy’.  Even so, I have long felt that we could do with a better identifier of one’s local poet than a preference for full-length skirts, crushed velvet smoking jackets or corduroy trousers). Go ahead, interrogate away.  I venture that it will not take too many beverages and/or gentle prods of the upper arm area with the eraser end of your HB pencil for them to concede that however hard-nosed or issue-driven their oeuvre, Christmas is a boon to the jobbing poet.

There are, of course those poets who actively enjoy Christmas.  They are the type who are breathlessly enthusiastic about dropping the odd robin, star or mince pie into a piece on the Ravages of Winter, just to show that one can add a few flourishes of joy to the frigid gloom.  Of course, these poets must exercise caution, lest they be shanghaied by a ganger working for a Christmas Card Publisher, or worse, the Novel and Inspirational New Carols department of the Church of England.  I almost became a victim of this villainous creed once.   I was on a sight-seeing tour of Coventry Cathedral when I saw a group of churchmen smiling menacingly.  Luckily, I have a talent for mime, did my best Jacob Epstein Gloomy Archangel and was able to escape by the Vestry.

Then there are the gritty realist poets who are happy to follow Dylan Thomas into the dank world of the working-class Christmas.  This can be very effective, if used judiciously.  I would always advise the avoidance of lines such as; ‘We were so poor that Christmas/we couldn’t afford a poem/we made do with warmed-over doggerel/left over from the Harvest Festival’.  I won’t tell you who wrote that, but he is currently the Poet Laureate.

You would expect the more rational, secular or scientific poets to shun the whole concept of Christmas, but in my experience they cannot help themselves.  Get a lab-resident-lyricist thinking about stars and Christmas for any length of time and they’ll be describing photons whizzing thither from the Event Horizon before you can say ‘Professor Brian Cox’.  Before too many stanzas have passed, those same photons are striking the retinas of a number of Magi, who proceed to tack their camels to the East, becoming suddenly obsessed with slumbering infants in stable furniture.

I believe I know what you are thinking, dear reader.  Did any of this week’s clutch of Pitshanger Poets take up the cudgels of a proper Christmas poem?  Well, let’s see, shall we?

Doig Simmonds launched into a fine piece concerning the alien character of that toad work to many people of the world, who differentiate between what one is obliged to do (work) and what one just does in order to just be.  John Hurley presented us with a short history of the long road to peace in Northern Ireland, with the hope that we do not have to re-learn how to mend fences in the near future.  David Erdos pulled a powerful biographical piece from his knapsack, this one telling the story of the benighted Antonin Artaud, rescued from an asylum by Arthur Adamov.  Beautifully narrative but never prosaic.  Michael Harris neatly body-swerved the Christmas poem, avoiding a reference to mistletoe with a neat piece of misdirection to his teacher Miss Stilletto.  However, his was a double poem and part deux referred to a friend of his, known as the holy spirit.  A hint at Christmas?  Roger Beckett is thinking beyond the General Election (and how did it turn out?  I seem to have missed the news) to a parliament to come, one ruled by the arts.  Alan Chambers certainly did take up those cudgels, with a Christmas Card-shaped collection of three riddles with a wild, seasonal flavour.  Anne Furneaux returned to her childhood, for another episode from her toybox, this time the doll with the china face, broken and restored.

Daphne Gloag did bring us a seasonal poem, but which season?  Her Completion Of the Seasons neatly refers to Autumn, but we thought from this end of the year.  Owen Gallagher told us another tale of old Glasgow, and in an echo of Doig’s poem, taking a perspective on work.  Bernice Wolfenden tells us she has not written many poems, but she has taken it upon herself to tackle a sestina, with a challenging theme – her own health – along with a challenging form in this wry, humorous work.  Pat Francis has been thinking about the Borough’s Workhouses in this sharp look at the men who set themselves up as the Guardians of the Poor in Victorian Britain.  Finally, Peter Francis brought us a Christmas poem by any other name, with a neat reference to the Holdfast, a tree brought into the house at the end of the year.

Our roll-call of this week’s Pitshanger Poets would not be a complete without mention of Niall Cassidy, a talented and valued veteran of the group who left these shores to return home to Ireland not long ago.  The poets would all like thank Niall for the Christmas card and the welcome contribution.  There will always be a welcome if you find yourself in Ealing on a Tuesday evening, Niall.

When all is said and done, however we like to like to imagine we are capable of exercising free will, poets, like all carbon-based life forms love a compelling event, and Christmas is right up there with the best of them.  My advice to the writers in my learned audience is to relax and go with it.  Christmas is very much an ideal, one it is nigh-on impossible to realise, except in the form of a poem.  Just be thankful that it is not your job to write about every Royal Wedding, Funeral and de-Fenestration as it happens, on pain of having the Sack ration reduced should the few lines not move the nation to tears the following morning.  ‘Lines written on Prince Andrew confirming his name and address to the judge in His Majesty’s first appearance at the Old Bailey’ cannot be long away I suspect.

Merry Christmas, and if you have been, thank you for reading.



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Workshop, 26th November 2019

I am sure my loyal readership will agree with me, there is a great deal of lying, falseness and downright fakery in the media these days.  The insistent clarion call; ‘It must be true, I read it in a book!’ of our childhoods has been replaced with the no-less strident; ‘It must be true, I read it on the internet!’  It seems that the Alt-Right and Alt-Left have decided that it is just fine to take an Alt-Liberal approach to truth, and that as long as your web site, Tweet or Facebook Post says something we can agree with, we are more than happy to accept that your pants might be on fire.

There is something about this fast-and-looseness with the truth which sticks in the craw of this, your devoted correspondent.  Here at the Pitshanger Poets Blog we have always stood cheek-by-jowl with veracity, shunning the glittering shortcuts of mendacity to tread the longer, less fascinating road with the sacred sword of truth burning there in front of us, dazzling our eyes and generally making it impossible to know where we are putting our feet.  Not for us an easy tale of poets long-dead, caught in slapstick situations at the famous Manor while the indulgent Architect looks on.  Each Pitshanger Poets Blog is a scrupulously-researched detailing of your actual verité, redolent with the smoke-filled atmos of the time and as true as Don Juan is long, unless that is, a big-name Netflix producer reading this just happens to get in touch at the usual address, wishing to turn our epic tales into the next must-see box-set, in which case every last word is Copyright Aubrey Ffinch-Whistler & Felicity Chalice 1610-2019, so there.

Copyright is not something we worry about too much at the Pitshanger Poets Workshops.  We poets tend to be somewhat careless with our hard copies and I do wonder what would happen if some go-getting editor was to simply sweep up the spares following a Workshop and compile a slim volume, they might sell as many as, well, fifteen copies and make enough money to ride the E2 bus all the way to Greenford Broadway.  Certainly, Roger Beckett did not collect the remaining copies of his ‘Poet’s epitaph’ piece, another characteristically amusing and sophisticated poem.  Alan Chambers has several published volumes to his name and this week brought a piece which is no doubt in copyright, for the weird sisters he once met at a poetry workshop.  Owen Gallagher gave us a work in progress, no doubt for his next volume, on the theme of how to sandblast a non-unionised workplace.  Daphne Gloag brought us a revision, exploring the dimensions, all of them.  John Hurley told us a story that he would perhaps rather forget, concerning a series of misunderstandings with a single woman, for whom English was not her first language.  Pat Francis has always been generous with her copyright, as is evidenced by the number of her poems she has contributed to this Blog, this week she continued her Picture Post Theme and the safe birth of the first Rhesus Baby.  Peter Francis has always been adept at adaptation, this week he gave us a ribald story from a woman’s point of view.  Nick Barth is always careful to copyright his work, but no one knows why.  This week he brought us a revision of an old piece, concerning the importance of listening to one’s thoughts.  Martin Choules is so prolific that he has started his own poetry Blog, with a new poem every day, you really should take a look.  This week’s poem tells the tale of a girl mulling over the way angels might fly.

I have been thinking about fake poetry recently.  It’s not something one hears about so much these days, but a few years ago it was somewhat newsworthy.  Who can forget the Lost Poems of Richard Wagner, so enthusiastically promoted by Hugh-Trevor Roper and published at length by Rupert Murdoch in the Sunday Times?  Or the ‘missing’ Larkin poem later discovered to be the lyrics to ‘The Caravan of Love’ by fellow-Hullians, The Housemartins?  How about the forty plays, 154 sonnets and sundry other works attributed to one W Shakespeare but later discovered to have been written by Francis Bacon, the modern artist?  I still remember where I was when I learned that a collection of amusing TS Eliot poems about Cats read to me by Nanny on her knee, was in fact the Book for a stage musical and at least two singularly strange motion pictures with tunes by Andrew Lloyd-Webber.  If that was not enough, we have in these august pages revealed to the world that the poet known as William McGonagall was in fact a fiction invented by Thomas Hardy.

Personally, I yearn for the day when the Conservative Party decides to target my inbox with fake poetry.  If Labour proposed to increase state spending on poetry development and support by £308 billion, I would whoop for joy, even if the only way to achieve that was to ask Mark Zuckerberg to send us the contents of his small change tin.  There is, in my humble opinion far too much reality in fake news these days.  If D Trump started tweeting ‘The Raven’, by E A Poe as his own work, I would take it as a sign that the Dark Times were well and truly over.  One can but dream.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 19th November 2019

There was a smaller group than usual at the Workshop this week, so there will be a suitably smaller than usual diary to recount it.  This is nothing to be alarmed at, the future of poetry is not behind us, the Questors Library shall soon enough see pentameters to the rafters once again – but clearly the literati of Ealing needed a breather this week, perhaps suffering from Mid-November blues when one realises that one’s determination to this year definitely keep Christmas confined to December is once again about to fail.

Anyway, straight onto the Workshop, where a not-at-all time-pressured Roger Beckett brought us the only poem he had kept from his youth, complete with nightmare and Freud – perhaps it was a rather troubled youth ?  John Hurley has been musing on refugees and whether there is no room left at the inn (darn it, there’s that Christmas again !)  Meanwhile Alan Chambers finds his daydreaming disturbed by a concert, not that he minds, and Doig Simmonds has been ponderoing how his memories have not yet reached the distant aliens.  Pat Francis has been reworking her piece about the Picture Post of her youth tucked under the cushions, while Peter Francis has been watching his shadow under the gaslights down his street, and Martin Choules has some wise words on the dark art of peacemongering.

Back in Sir John’s time, some weeks were so quiet that even Eliza and Mrs Conduitt had to be drafted in to make up the numbers, much to their annoyance.  Since Sir John composed very little himself, they in effect became an audience for the solitary poet who had shown up who, once they had read their one prepared poem, would then be required to search in their memory or pocketbook for any scraps of ideas or offhand couplets to fill the time.  Things went better when the only attendee was Leigh Hunt, who was far more of a promoter for others than a scribbler himself, for then they could spend the evening playing rummy instead.

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Workshop, 12th November 2019

Memory and poetry are inextricably intertwined.  For many the simple times-tables and a smattering of poetry were the first things one had to learn by heart at school, and those repetitive numbers and redoubtable phrases will stay with us long after everything else has faded and we struggle to recall what we had for breakfast.  It is a common trope that with age, memory fails, but is this truly the case?  Sometimes I am sure that my memory is not what it was, but then my memory is so poor how can I be certain?  There is of course the possibility that with time one has less of significance to remember; that as one gets older one day will inevitably resemble the next, that one poem will recall the last poem.  Reassuringly, one may remember the nice little pocket calculator that one has on one’s phone and the whole nerve-shredding horror of learning your seventeen-and-a-half-times-table (one of Mr Harridan, the Maths Master at my Prep School’s favourites) will fade like a nightmare on waking one bright summer morning.

We don’t expect poetry by rote at the Pitshanger Poets in this day and age.  Of course, the Victorians were very hot on the idea and for a few years in the late Nineteenth Century a poet could expect a barracking for consulting their spidery hand-writing, with shouts of ‘reading!’ from the other members of the Workshop.  At the time there were cruel souls who claimed that it was no great punishment to send Oscar Wilde to reading gaol, but they had surely got the wrong end of the stick that they were using to beat about the bush.  Behaviour of that type never rears its ugly head in today’s enlightened times, for we understand that poetry is both a written as well as an auditory form.  As has so often been said, Nicholas Parsons should by rights be our Chairman, for he understands the vagaries of the English better than any man alive.  Owen Gallagher has always been economical with the written word and skilful with sound.  This week he gave us a revision of his poem playing cowboys and Indians as a young adult with his normally mute father.  John Hurley is getting into the spirit of winter with a poem about showers and sodden pavements.  Roger Beckett presented something much more enigmatic with his sketch on moving from place to place.  Pat Francis brought us a triptych of a poem which served to build hope in the room, while Peter Francis gave us a colder view of Christmases past, when despite being a child, he was never a kid.  Nick Barth has been thinking about tattoos and has written about ink from two points of view.    Martin Choules clearly sees himself as a victim of fate and finds himself behind his keyboard  on a daily basis, ticking the days off.  Fortunately, Daphne Gloag was on hand to inject some brightness back in the room with an observation of a welcome, wintery visitation; a fox in her garden.

Keen-eyed readers (and I know many of you are, despite the protestations of my penury-ridden optician) will have noticed that this week’s erudite and entertaining blog is even more delayed than usual.  I must lay my cards on the table and admit that I was unavoidably detained over the last few days by a member of Ealing’s Finest.  The few clues that I can glean from the detective who came to sit in my best wing-backed armchair and drink tea from my second-best china is that Uncle Archie has been in trouble again.  Archie has been uncontactable for the last few months, and it may be that the sleuth knows why, but she remained tight-lipped on the subject.  Instead she fired a series of questions at me between mouthfuls of my third-best shortbread, but I denied all accusations.  As you, my loyal readership are my witnesses, I am innocent of the various crimes and misdemeanours she was so ready to drop weighty hints about.   Besides, the events she referred to are all a frightfully long time ago.  As a result, I do not remember meeting Archie or any of his various lady-friends in March 2001, although I do recall the Pizza Hut in Workington on the night in question and the Meat Feast Pizza and Cheesy Garlic Bread I ate there with startling accuracy.  As for the statement of the young lady, I am not a man given to perspiration; Let the record show that while seventeen and a half times seventeen and a half is equal to three hundred and six and a quarter, I had all of the sweat beaten out of me by Mr Harridan while at Prep School.  So let the case rest, m’Lud.

If you have been, thank you for reading, or is that Reading?

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