Workshop, 11th April 2017

I enjoy a tidy, ordered life.  I always know where to find those small but vital attributes of everyday existence without which it would be unwise to venture forth from the abode; keys, wallet, sunglasses, straw boater, phone, my trusty catapult.  This is in no small part due to the endless care and attention of my man who has a rare talent; being able to find a thing without first saying ‘where did you have it last?’ or, ‘it’ll be in the last place you look for it.’  I have never understood why the penalties for uttering these futile phrases is not more severe. Even when capital punishment was in vogue it was still possible to offer such unhelpful advice (with or without the aid of sarcasm) and merely be transported to Australia for seven years, which is getting off a bit lightly if you ask me.

This week’s workshop was entirely lacking in futile phrases, every line a bon mot, every criticism constructive.  Doig Simmonds got us off to a great start with a new poem, a haunting observation of a victim of Parkinson’s disease.  The mood was changed dramatically by Pat Francis who has been practicing her rhyme and meter by writing a lullaby.  Peter Francis then took up the cudgels with a boyhood memory of the death of his father.  Daphne Gloag has been spending her time on Time and the rhythm of life.  Danuta Sotkin-Kondycki brought us something of a dramatic verse-play, imagining a newly-minted Adam complaining to a slightly careless God about his love-life.  Martin Choules told us  a story of the creatures of the brownfield site.  Gerry Goddin made a welcome return to the group, with a new guitar and a song about a girl equipped with machine-gun lips.  Ann Furneaux brought us an experience of mortality and fresh linen from hospital.  John Hurley wrapped the meeting up with an admirable portrait of a man who became admirable, Martin McGuinness.

For all my boasts of living a life of structure and order, the fact is the other day I could not lay my hands on my set of Waverley novels.  Those classic works of fiction were written by the great Sir Walter Scott and set in the Station which the burghers of Edinburgh had presciently built in 1814 in fervent anticipation of the arrival of the railway a mere twenty-eight years later. Scott was by all accounts a polymath, a renaissance man; not only a lawyer, a historian, collector of folk tales he was also a poet, novelist and very good at finding things.  For example, around the time he was getting into his stride as a novelist, he offered to locate the Scottish Honours, or crown jewels, which had been missing for a hundred years.  The Honours had been locked in a large wooden casket in Edinburgh Castle but were then thought to have then been removed and spirited away.  Scott and a team of military men opened the casket to find the jewels were where they should have been all along.  As men of dignity and resolve, they presented the unearthed treasures without once saying; ‘Ah told ye so’, or, ‘Who’d a thought it, eh?’ or even a ‘Did ye no’ think of looking in the last place ye ken’t it was?’  Any gentle sarcasm was saved for the 80 Shilling session in the Malt Shovel later that evening.

As a result of this heroic escapade Sir Walter found himself a big deal in the finding things business.  He became a vital adjunct to His Majesty’s Government, largely because George the Third reputedly had a talent for losing his possessions.  It is said that this habit began when he lost the American Colonies, which is surely a little cruel.  However, rather a more worrying trend for an absent-minded monarch (nick named ‘Farmer George’ for his attraction to worldly affairs) was the increasing part high finance was playing in the workings of his nation.  The expense of fighting wars was met by a National Debt, which needed a Bank and an impressive building to house it in.   Our very own Sir John Soane was employed to construct the edifice, which leads us to the one time Sir Walter Scott and he met at Pitshanger Manor.   The young Scott arrived at the Manor looking forward to a lively evening but instead found Sir John in somewhat of a tizzy.  He had taken charge of one of the keys to the Bank of England, a symbolically huge thing over three feet in length.  He had then mislaid it and it was looking like he would be in no mood to host a poetry workshop until it was found and King George could regain access to the public debt.  Scott ascertained the gravity of the situation and headed directly to the fine lobby of the Manor.  There, hanging on one of a row of hooks by the front door was the Bank of England key.  Scott handed it to a grateful Soane with barely a word, ensuring the Government could finance another war and the senseless waste of human life could continue.  Britain never forgot about the young man with a talent for the written word and looking in the right place, and memorialised him after his death with a hugely gloomy edifice in Edinburgh which is very difficult to miss.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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