How many poets does it take to change a light bulb ? Pah, real poets only compose by candle-light ! And so, it seems, do Archivists at present, as we are beset by the black dog of no electricity, un-windowed in our nuclear bunker with only a few sticks of hardened bee by-product to light our way and use up all our oxygen. Still, we’re only surrounded by shelves and shelves of highly flammable paper, so nothing to worry about.
And just what has caused us to wash up upon the night’s Plutonian shore ? Have we run out of old shillings to feed into the meter ? Has our Frankenstein-style circuit-breaker tripped the dark fantastic ? Has our improvised fuse-board made out of old coat-hangers and fridge magnets finally blown ? Or could it all be a metaphor for the pointlessness of attempting to order and classify something as ephemeral and subjective as the literary muse ? Or have we simply forgotten to pay the bill ?
But we defeated be not shall ! By touch alone, we groped our way to the boiler house and fired up the emergency cucumber-powered generator, while gig-economy interns kept the treadmill turning until we were generating just enough power to run the office refrigerator, as then we could leave the door open and use it’s light to see by. Alas, it turned out that the bulb had fused, and it further turned out that we arty types aren’t very proficient at household repairs, and so the answer to the first question is that it takes every poet you have to change a light bulb, and then you just end up with reams of contemplative verse on the frustrations of modern life, and a still-dead lightbulb.
But no dim-wits at this week’s workshop. Aisha Hassan struck a match when she totted up the cons of her relationship and it’s not looking good, while Doig Simmonds shone a light on an accident and the reactions of bystanders. Pat Francis has never extinguished her dream of a cottage in the country, but she has modified it to a library in town, while Daphne Gloag was all a-glow to rediscover a lost-one’s smell, and bag, and notebook. Sparks of creativity came off of Alan Chambers’ concert at sea, and Michael Harris made light of an old English teacher driven to retirement by too much language. Peter Francis’ minor upset was no ecorching fire, thankfully, (and definitely no typo, either !), while John Hurley brought the disinfectant of sunlight into the gloom of some refugees’ enforced sojourn in a run-down hotel, and Martin Choules gave us a quick celebration of man-size crockery before snuffing out the candle on another successful workshop.
So, you may be wondering how it is you are even able to read about our misfortunes on a website that obviously cannot be accessed without using electricity to move electrons about. Well, truth to tell, we don’t know if you’re reading this at all, for we have scribbled this entire entry on hundreds of tiny slips of paper by candlelight and sent them out into the world via pigeon-post. Not trained carrier-pigeons, mind, but any passing stray in Walpole Park that we failed to avoid out butterfly-net-equipped interns. Each slip is carefully numbered, and it is surely not beyond the wit of Ealingers to put two and twelve together and realise that they are missing nine others inbetween. A little community sharing and a sub-eight minute record with the Times crossword is all that’s required.
One small advantage of our pre-industrial predicament is to get the opportunity to commune more closely with the gloomy meetings that must have taken place in Sir John’s day. Mrs Conduitt ran a very tight house, with no money wasted on fripperies like oil lamps, meaning that candles had to do all the heavy lighting. During those times of national tallow shortage, these would be strictly rationed to one per residence, and Pitzhanger Manor would more resemble Castle Ortranto. The whole atmosphere had a profound effect on the teenage Mary Wollstonecraft who insisted in dressing entirely in black and wearing a veil, while Bill Blake was inspired to excise any furious spirits with a quick exorcism, but unfortunately he could only find a copy of the libidinous Tom Jones to be his book, and his bell had the unfortunate effect of repeatedly summoning Mrs Conduitt, how was certainly a furious spirit by the fifth occasion.
On one such evening we find Percy Bysshe Shelley, faced with the prospect of another attempt by Leigh Hunt at shadow puppetry (who never quite mastered his vaguely dog or deformed rabbit), likening the gloom to that faced by Jonah during his long-weekend in the belly of the fish, a fascination he would unfortunately take to its logical conclusion in the Gulf of Spezia. This set Johnny Keats to giggling as he imagined Jonah accidentally igniting the sea-monster’s intestinal gasses, and made up an Ode to a Fishy Heartburn on the spot. Eventually, after squinting over their verses and one final round of ‘murder in the dark’, they retire to bed, with a grumpy ‘Brian’ Byron muttering how on reflection he has come to see that walking like the night is less beautiful and more painful when one is unable to avoid walking into the sideboard.