June, it seems, insists on being bright and sunny, which for we basement-dwellers in the windowless world of the Pitshanger Archives is a complete waste. But for those in the non-troglodyte domain of Walpole Rec above our heads, the roses are red and the violets are blue. Indeed, it is noticeable how our volunteer internees are picking up the habit of arriving late, leaving early, and taking longer and longer lunch breaks (always a danger when one’s bunker is located beneath a public park), all the while complaining that the cataloguing of punch-cards is no work for the summer, except as makeshift fans.
But poetry will not wait for the nip to re-enter the air and the coffee to replace the soda. For the past five hundred years, every lord, squire, merchant and dairymaid within an evening’s horse-ride, foot-stroll or penny-farthing-career has descended upon the Manor clutching their sheaves of pentameters, ballads and trochees with an urgent need to share all with sundry, and somebody has to preserve their posterity.
Written in our ledgers we can every one of them is written up, if only we can first find our ledgers. Clearly what we need is an efficient organisational system, and thus we have undertaken the Great Microfiche Project in the new Theophilus Marzials wing. This provides a ready reference to our vast catalogue, which will indicate which chapter to search in our many-volume index, which in turn elucidates which of the chronicle tomes is required to find the relevant key to locate the correct directory containing the necessary codex revealing the relevant register recording the particular page in the loose-bound ledger. We’ve no time for summer.
No such pasty-faced sun-dodging for this week’s workshopees, which was full of healthy outdoorsyness. Pat Francis has been butterfly-spotting and brought us a poem in two wings, while Peter Francis has been collecting sorrows in a graveyard. For John Hurley, the trees are on to us even before the axe is swung, and Owen Gallagher has been out doing the rounds of the yards and sites with the exciseman. Alas, Nayna Kumari must report on a shut-in who’s only sign of nature is in their jigsaw, and Daphne Gloag has been spending her halcyon days with her nose in the a book, but inbetween Alan Chambers has returned us to our wild ways by summoning up an ocean in a prairie. Doig Simmonds reported a death like the lifting of a summer storm to first allow a final burst of sunshine, and perhaps the weather has likewise been interrupting Martin Choules’ attempts to glumhood by relentlessly cheering him up against his wishes.
A favourite sandwich-spot for the interns to while away their lunchtimes is the beehive in the park. Ingeniously fitted with a large window to reveal the inner workings, they strangely seem to able to relate to those restive drones constantly hustling along in their dark, cramped maze. Sir John himself was most keen on beehives, and the tradition has continued, so that when the grounds became the public park it is today the bees were already in residence, although it is unclear if this were officially or as squatters.
In the 1920s, Alan Alex Milne was a regular attendee, and would often wile a while with the bees beforehand. He was also a honey fiend, and not above knocking back a couple of hexes if he thought he could get away with it. One summer’s day, overcome by sugarlust, he was determined to snatch a slurp off the Walpole bees, but he wasn’t so reckless as to blunder in unprotected – first he protected his hand from the stingers by stuffing it inside a stuffed bear toy that he snatched off a passing urchin. Suitably gloved, he swooped, smashing through the comb and using the fur to soak up as much liquid gold as the teddy could bear. But tragedy ! His now-bulky hand could not retreat through the opening, nor his hand from its ursine protector. Trapped, he was, yellow-handed !
As luck would fortune, the other poets had decided that such a gorgeous evening was not for cooping up in manor houses, and took their workshop into the park. They soon spotted poor Al Al, and once they had finally finished laughing they got down to saving him. Bob Graves suggested they amputate, while Edie Sitwell was more of a mind to try lubricating with creosote. But ever-practical Graham Greene soon won them round to playing it cool – the problem was that Milney, in his panic, had caused the blood to rush to his hand and swell it up. What was needed was to read him their poems to calm him down, and at the end of the session they all grabbed a bit of Al Al pulled and pulled while he owwed and owwed until he popped like a cork from a honeypot. And then the workshop had to be swiftly concluded as dozens of angry bees came pouring out of the hole (presumably angry at the theft of their larder, but you never can tell with bees), and the poets went pell mell for cover, but not before many a sting was landed. But were these attacks any worse than the stabs of the critic’s stiletto ? But then, what critic is so incensed he is prepared to die to snark ?