Those of you who have observed me promenading the leafy lanes of Ealing may have noted in my demeanour a newly-minted air of bonhomie and relaxation of late. I am told my skin has a healthy glow, that my bonce betrays a lustre superior to the advertised effects of the best products of the International heavy-industry, petroleum-based haircare industry. Where once I huddled at the back of a favoured Café with my well-thumbed Francis Ponge (which I read for the cocktail recipes), I now brave Ealing’s heady breezes and sit outside at one of those tiny metal tables, flaunting a Jean Cocteau or Francis Prevert with gay abandon. The reason for this levity? I have just returned from the annual tour au Sud in the old two-seater. Vivid moments from the long drive down, the smells, the wonderful flavours of the local produce, encounters with strange country-folk and their idiosyncratic ways are still rattling around my brain like Kodachrome slides loosed from their boxes. In quiet moments I can still feel the heat in my skin from languid evening walks along glorious beaches. Mind you, I was thankful that I remembered to take a blazer as the breezes can be pretty brisk in Bournemouth at this time of year.
Brisk was not the watch word of this evening’s workshop, for we were able to indulge each poem with an appropriate period of appreciation. Owen Gallagher began with his poem about a door to another world to keep on your key ring. Peter Francis wrote about Manet’s Venus and who she was, really. John Hurley has been watching the fish in his local chippie… who has been watching the fish. Martin Choules captured a moment in time, the beginning of the end of the slave trade. Nick Barth has been climbing a mountain in a train. Daphne Gloag has been looking through a crumbling window to a pristine landscape beyond. Nayna Kumari brought us a few lines about the moment one has to decide to change. Finally, Helena Catherall visited our workshop for the first time and read us a piece we will need to hear again before too long.
Speaking of our Gallic cousins, I notice from the Pitshanger Poets Archive that the great Serge Gainsburg was in high demand for a visit to a workshop at the manor back in the swinging sixties. Serge was a frequent visitor to London and several invitations were both proffered and accepted by the discerning French bard. Detailed preparations were made, including the creation of subtitle cards for the poems he was expected to read and the provision of a powerful ventilation system to clear the inevitable fug of Galloises. Regrettably despite three invitations, Gainsburg was never seen at the manor. On the last occasion the Pitshanger Poets were kind enough to stump up for the fare for Serge and Jane Birkin to make the trip out from the wild West End, but mysteriously the couple never arrived. The mystery was solved when a member of the PP Workshop, walking home passed The Central London Group Grill Bar, a notoriously groovy hangout on Northfield Avenue. There was Gainsburg in full flight, entertaining the other patrons and creating an impromptu ‘happening’ among the vinyl seats and formica tables. The poet went in to the grill and upbraided Gainsburg, asking him why he had not managed to get himself along to the Workshop at eight o’clock as promised. Apparently the bard shrugged, pointed to a plate of egg and chips, exhaled a cloud of smoke and said, ‘Qui est mon heure du dîner’. In the words of the British Diplomatic Corps down the centuries ‘if the mission is to succeed, feed the Frenchman’. If you have been, thank you for reading.