If you received a Classical Education like what I did, hem, hem, you will be aware of The Grand Tour. Time was the Young English Gent was expected to high himself off on a pre-set itinerary of Ruins, Roman Remains, Rustic Residences and Ruritanical Arcardias, commonly know as the ‘Seven Rs’. By this odyssey was a chap’s character forever forged and never mind Gap Year, this could turn out to be a Gap Decade once all the donkey rides across the Alps, Sexual Awakenings and tricky letters to one’s Pa about the Contessa in Sienna had been addressed.
There were no tricky letters in tonight’s collection. Daphne Gloag brought a new poem focusing on the ability of certain birds to tell the future. John Hurley wrote about a less than salubrious evening in Accident and Emergency, bringing his fine ear for narrative and dialogue to the piece. Sandeep Sharma, who has newly joined, (or is that re-joined?) the group brought a staccato piece about the death of a friend in violence and alienation. Alan Chambers wrote about the shared experience of darkness and distance. Owen Gallagher brought back a piece about teaching, or not teaching, depending upon what can be seen. Martin Choules was the only member of the group to pick up on a May theme, describing his own experience of being a May Fly. Nick Barth has been to Rome, and doesn’t he just go on about it? Finally David Hovatter wrote about the bewildering disappearance of an airliner in the dim corner of a Breughell painting.
Nowadays the Grand Tour involves nothing more arduous than buying a return ticket on a Budget Airline, paying several times that figure for the taxi fare to the advertised city and rubbing shoulders with the hardy Silver Voyagers busy spending their kids’ inheritance. I know this from first hand experience, having just returned from a few days in Rome, where I was picking out a set of matching architraves for a pal of mine hoping to make it big in the curating line. Despite my being on the Piazza Navona on a middling grey day in May it was hard to avoid the English tongue and I was obliged to fall into conversation at Prosecco Hour with a small collection of ex-pats who were curious about my tweeds. Nowadays, there is no obligation to hand over one’s Postal Address, even if one is certain in the haze of the Limoncella that one would welcome a further encounter. No, in the digital age an email address will do and you are welcome to it, if only to add variety to the increasingly desperate rain of missives aimed at my inbox by my tailor.
It was not always so, of course. The Grand Tour’s explosion in popularity coincided with the inexorable rise of the Romantic Poet and the nexus of these two trends was a measurable uptick, as the Marketing Wallahs have it, in the membership of the Pitshanger Poets. For, no sooner had it become known that such grandees as Byron, Shelley or Keats were renting abodes in sunny climes to do a spot of writing, swimming, fighting the Rebellious Turk or dying of consumption than every fresh-faced gent with an allowance and a quill pen was turning up at the Tuesday Workshop hoping to cadge an invite from a Known Poet and an introduction to his sister-in-law. Of course it soon became clear to even the densest Baronet that Romantic Poetry was no career to be in if you wanted your offspring to survive to a ripe old age and when the House of Lords enacted an Act of Parliament banning members of the Burke’s Peerage from attending Pitshanger Poets Meetings the trend was well and truly over. While the Act has never been enforced it stands to this day, the enobled among the regular members having had their Poetic License officially revoked. If you have been, thank you for reading.