I was idly toying with the breakfast boiled egg the other morning, wondering what I was going to make of the day when the dramatic news flooded in. Ealing’s weather has been somewhat capricious of late, doing its best to convince one that it is Spring while one is behind glass staring out at the sunshine dappling the newly-sprung daffs in the garden and then turning the tables and erupting in downpours as soon as one presents a galosh to the avenue. Such meteorological brow-beating had me on the verge of transferring my mortal remains to the Study where my fifteen-act Verse Play on the collapse of British Table Manners continues to experience a troubled gestation, when my man loped in proffering the telephone.
‘It’s Pitshanger Manor, Sir,’ he effused. ‘They request your presence on site.’
Now, this was a turn up for the tweed slacks. Those of you with a keen eye for scaffolding and hoardings will have noted a certain inaccessibility to The Manor of late. This is due to the wheelbarrows of lottery cash that have been rolling into the redevelopment programme. Having spruced up Walpole Park, the keen eye of the Town Planner has turned to the house itself, with the result that it is to be returned to something more like the edifice that the great architect Sir John Soane left behind when he upped antiquities and moved to Holborn. This includes the removal of the former Public Library, sitting as comfortably next to the Manor as a teacher would sit next to an Ofsted Inspector in a mix-up at the school Christmas Party. Already, walls are coming down and ill-advised chunks of masonry are being removed. The chaps running the show have rejected all my kind offers to pop in and have a nose about from time to time, with the result that I have not been within a chisel-throw of the place since we carted the Archive and the Ferranti Pegasus off to its temporary home in the Town Hall basement in January.
However, they had called for me. I needed no further enticement. Without pausing to consider the remains of my egg I scampered out to the old two-seater to get her started with all speed. A scant forty-five minutes later I was on the road.
Upon arrival at the Manor a brief meeting with the on-site team of Historians and Antiquarians revealed the cause of the excitement. Upon taking down a wall a hidden cupboard or cache had been revealed. Inside the cache was an ancient metal box. Inside the box? Slim volumes of poetry!
At this juncture I must interrupt the course of my narrative to turn to the proceedings of this weeks Workshop, which was a very enjoyable meeting. Owen Gallagher has been imagining the prayers of someone who is not sure what they want to be. Alan Chambers brought back an early poem describing the start of a long journey in the minds of geese. Daphne Gloag has been looking at the paintings of John Hoyland and without mentioning colour. Martin Choules has been at work, although his mind, it appears was with the geese. Nick Barth railed against those who believe the Counter-Culture is dead. Doig Simmonds has been clearing out some old pictures and musing on the shadows they leave. Finally John Hurley has been remembering the Captain’s wife, who was a worrier.
The Historians had surmised that the box was owned by the Perceval sisters, Pitshanger Manor residents and daughters of this country’s only assassinated Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval. These ladies retained links with the British Government throughout their long lives. As mentioned, inside were a number of slim volumes, but one stood out. The red-bound book, barely a pamphlet, carries the Royal Seal of Queen Victoria and the poems are written entirely in German. My understanding of that tongue is not perfect and I only had the chance to study one work, but my first impressions are that the young lady authoress was extolling the virtues of frequent exercise, especially at night, paying tribute to her newly-wedded husband and thanking him for his recent gift of a large Bratwurst(?) At this stage I had to admit defeat. It was beyond me. The poems in the Perceval Cache are to be translated by a professional linguist, at which point we may find out why it was that they needed to be hidden so carefully in the first place. If you have been, thank you for reading.