I am delighted to be able to relate that it is Festival time again. A heady season of beer, comedy, blues and jazz is about to be launched upon the happy breed of men who live in this blessed plot, this other Eden, this demi-paradise, this Ealing, as the Bard would have had it. As I write this I am enjoying a pint of Fuggles’ Mildly Irritating and leafing through the Ealing Festival brochure, a document extending to very nearly ten full-colour pages, while shaking my head in sheer wonderment as to how the blighted denizens of the culturally-starved outlying regions of this Kingdom survive the summer. For example, what do the country folk of Somerset living in a quiet Market Town such as Glastonbury do for musical entertainment? What lengths would they have to go to to see a group of decrepit rock musicians ‘lifting the roof off’ a marquee? Looking to the chilly North, I bet the doughty but dour Scot living in a sober, serious City such as Edinburgh would kill for the chance to see the kind of high-quality stand-up artistes we attract year after year, to our top-drawer Comedy Festival, a happening right on our very doorstep that lasts almost an entire week. As I gaze at the bubbles struggling to rise through the thick, syrupy ale in my glass I have to ask myself, where else in the world would you find a festival devoted to, of all things, beer?
Any Pitshanger Poet gazing idly out of the Library window during this week’s Workshop would clearly see the marquees being raised at the veritable Camp du Drap D’Or that is Walpole Park during the summer. Caroline Maldonado, on a brief break in London from her annual sojourn to Italy, wondered what we ought be lamenting in this day and age. Marilyn Keenan recalled noble Brian, whose body did not work but whose heart was whole. Fawzi Karim read us a poem in English and in Arabic, a treat I can tell you, concerning letters written but never replied to. Owen Gallagher brought back a memory of his mother, clean houses and tea. Nick Barth has been doing other things when he should have been writing poetry. Martin Choules is fascinated by the fish within us all. Olwyn Grimshaw is imagining a world without war and without testosterone, it’s easy if you try. Finally John Hurley told a story of the death of a child against the backdrop of a rocky coastline in Ireland.
As previously related in this Blog, the Ealing Summer Season used to include a Poetry Festival, back in those distant days when Poetry was an Olympic Sport, everything was painted black and white and people moved jerkily and a bit too quickly. The competitive poet was required to have a strong pair of lungs as he or she was called upon by the ancient rules of the art to declaim through a loud-hailer to vast crowds of baying fans. ‘Tag’ or Doubles Poetry was hugely popular and some poetic pairings have passed into legend; Eliot and Pound, for example made it to the 1919 Final reading alternate lines from ‘Prufrock’ and ‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’. The Ealing Poetry Festival would breathe its last on the eve of World War Two and with it the last Doubles Poetry Competition. Whether the pairing of John Betjeman with Stephen Spender really worked is debateable, but the crowd loved the powerful combination of lines from A Subaltern’s Love Song and Spencer’s Port Bou. What is certain is that their defeat of the hotly-tipped Auden and Isherwood was as unexpected as it was crushing. Whether this precipitated the sudden departure of the young chaps to the United States and their subsequent, somewhat shameful exile can only be the purest speculation. If you have been, thank you for reading.