Workshop, 28th February 2017

Ah, the modern times we live in. In general, the daily effervescence of the news does not penetrate our underground caverns beneath Walpole Park, but one of our more recent interns (who still cannot believe it possible that down here they can receive absolutely no signal on their pocket distractor) has informed us that Her Majesty has put her seal on the plans to drive a new high-speed railway through Ealing borough, and incidentally on to Birmingham. Alas, unlike in the original plans where it would run alongside the Central Line through the North Circular gyratory, it is now to be tunnelled throughout and the hopes of a future Hanger Lane High Speed station for non-stop trains direct to Glasgow or Prague is not to be.

Plenty decidedly was to be at this week’s workshop. Danuta Sotkin-Kondycki gave us a slice of lives on the prom, with an ocean liner thrown in for good measure, and Daphne Gloag has been following a star, and so have the Magi. For John Hurley, the lost world of the plough is tilled once more, while Owen Gallagher has not been enjoying his Aussie pint quite as much now that he’s reminded of home, and Peter Francis has been musing on synchronicity and how blackboard equations can be turned into striking chords. Nayna Kumari was keen to try out a highly regarded gastropub, but found the waitstaff less tasteful, and Pat Francis has been singing the blues, just for the hell of it. Michael Harris thinks that the path to enlightenment leads from application uninstallation, while Martin Choules has been keeping a tally of everything and found it adds up to not much. Finally, moles, Old Nog and Alan Chambers have been up late of late.

Speaking of Prague, one can imagine what a thrill the sight of such sleek high-speed locomotion would be to the ghost of Antonín ‘Tony’ Dvořák, a man of as many talents as diacritics. A lifelong trainspotter, in 1885 he managed to take time off from premiering his 7th Symphony at St James’ Hall to slip off to Paddington with a notebook and platform ticket, lost in a world of Dean Goodses and broad-gauge beauties. He even made a detour to Ealing via the Metropolitan District Railway service from Mansion House to Windsor. His purpose that Tuesday was to finally meet with Bill ‘Schwenck’ Gilbert of ‘& Sullivan’ fame – the two had been enjoying a considerable correspondence ever since the latter had hit upon setting a comic opera entirely within a busy suburban platform tea room, possibly with a love affair between a well-bred housewife and a rakish doctor. He needed a train buff to make it ring true, and he knew just who to turn to.

Unfortunately, the Archives reveal that old Tony was less interested in coming up with tips about getting the porters’ uniforms right or the right kind of whistles, and more with scoring the entire show. This of course was stepping on Artie Sullivan’s toes in a big way, and besides, Schwenck secretly thought that the Bohemian rhapsodist was somewhat less than hum-able. To extract himself from a thoroughly Victorian embarrassment, he desperately observed that surely the trains would be much bigger in America – indeed, whereas poor old Britain only had railways, the Yanks had whole railroads ! “Best to take the next steamer from Liverpool…don’t worry about my little operetta…silly idea anyway…oh, don’t cry, old man…oh, I see, just something in his eye…well, try pulling your eyelid down as far as it will go…yes, thank you Swinburne, but he really doesn’t need your suggestions…oh, I see you’ve done it anyway… um, would you like to borrow my handkerchief ?”

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