The Questors season is winding up, with the final play in the calendar about to open, followed by a quick benefit shindig for those preparing to take British theatre to the Monegasque next month. But rest assured the Pitshanger Poets will be ploughing through August with nothing more than a sunhat and lazy manner to fend off the heat. At least the dozen copies of their offerings they clutch make for a handy impromptu fan. But before we reach the month of the first emperor, let us finish enjoying the one of the last dictator – when the days are dogs, the ants are flying, the schools are out, and the lawns are sighing.
Sometimes it feels like there are too many poems about summer, especially when it is one’s job to collate them. Must you really compare me to a summer’s day, again ? And is having your train grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere really muse-worthy ? But it seems that tall drinks and long evenings will forever draw quill to parchment, even as we lesser mortals are too heat-exhausted to lift much more than an eyelid. Are they cold-blooded, quickening with the quicksilver, or building up their tolerance for their hoped-for holiday in Dante’s Inferno ?
Plenty of seasonality at this week’s workshop: Aisha Hassan, taking a break from measuring the sunflowers, presented a mother suffering a hot flush at an innocent question, while Owen Gallagher has been watching the Test, and remembering the great sadness of the stiff upper lip. Fresh from the pool, Christine Shirley has been catching a glimpse of the other side, while Doig Simmonds has packed up his picnic and has been returning to his old haunts as a haunted man. Still wearing her whites from the mixed doubles, Daphne Gloag has been spilling her milk setting rooms on fire, while Martin Choules has been wondering if he’s been missed as he ties up his punt for the evening. Peter Francis was washing out his watercolour brushes as he told us about the widow of Johnny and how little she knew him, while Pat Francis was toying with the fruit salad in her Pimm’s glass as she remembered the east-enders making do with scraps of garden to raise the chickens in. For Michael Harris, carefully rolling up his new Panama, the noisy concrete of here contrasts strongly with the familiar graveyard of over there, which left John Hurley, with his hopes for the Ulster future accompanied by a chorus of crickets, to close the meeting just as the shutters needed drawing.
Of course, the Pitshanger Poets haven’t always braved the heat of Hyderabad through the with only a pith helmet to prevent sunstroke – time was when August was verse-less. This was as true in Sir John’s day, when the regulars were instructed to lay off the poesy till September, and the housekeeper was sentried on the veranda ready to shoo-off any whimsical types clutching their latest Ode to a Punch Water Ice or The Ballad of the Thunderbug. The Manor, she told them, was closed for the Season. If they had no country estate to retire to, perhaps they might like to try one of the upcoming spas such as Windermere or Brighthelmstone, but Ealing was on sabbatical until September…
Which was a great pity if the rumours are true that one Tuesday evening in August during the lordship-of-the-manor of Thomas Gurnell, there a heard a panting of hooves and a skidding of breath as a tired and tam-o’shantered Rabbie ‘Robert’ Burns came riding up eager to join the society that had extended him so many invitations, (and also, keen to avoid being lunch to the midges back in Ayrshire). He had a burning desire to share with them how his luve was like a red red rose, but he was of course politely but firmly informed that there would be no poetry until the nip was in the air, if he would care to return then, and she was sure the regular poets would be thrilled to finally meet him. “Ah, pox yer heid, Missus !” he spat back, disgusted, “Ye’ll nae mair see me roond these parts agen till a’ the seas gang dry !”