The Questors is gearing up for another season of thespicular theatricals and actorial ejaculations. Crowns are being polished, humps are being stuffed and limps are being hammed as the place is braced for another onslaught of butterflies. It is almost as if the eggs are implanted at the first read-through of the script, and hatch out in the stomachs of the troupe during rehearsals. Mostly unnoticed, except for the odd twinge when the director suddenly decides to do the whole play in Russian accents, they have pupated by the latter rehearsals and the actors start to feel relaxed and confident. But, as any gardener will tell you, pupas don’t remain pupas forever: once the cast first start rehearsing on the stage proper, beneath those hot lights, they begin to stir…
Except of course that no actual parasite could survive long in the high acidity of the stomach. Oh, tapeworm eggs can pass through unscathed, but they don’t hatch out until safely suckered onto the intestine wall. No, a far better metaphor is not butterflies in the stomach, but wasp larvas in the head. (And yes, that’s larvas with an ‘s’, because once you are having your brains selectively eaten away by a zombie-creating parasite, one of the first things to go is any consideration for the finer details of archaic plural forms.)
Day by day, the grub chomps through a few more ganglias of the cortex, but in very precise locations that cause the cursèd host to be overcome with an extraordinary desire to stand up public in well-lit, slightly-raised spaces, and exclaim to all that they come not to praise Caesar but to know him Horatio. And it is at this point that the now-fully-adult but microscopic wasps fly out with the projected voice to reach the very back wall of the auditorium, and to be inhaled upon the collective gasp of the audience to begin its life-cycle over once again.
Of course, the above entomological parasitography goes some way to explaining how it is so often a trip to the theatre as a young, defenceless child that first implants the idea in us of throwing off all thought of pursuing a sensible career as a firefighter or train driver, and instead yearning to tread the wormy, rotten boards of the plague-pit that is show-business. And, not wishing to alarm any potential audience, but alas both stage venues at the Questors have been known for years to be a hive of waspish stings and unfounded confidence. A plague on both its houses, indeed…
But there were no flies on the poets at this week’s workshop. Pat Francis was infected by an earworm, but it didn’t affect her perhaps as much as it should, while Daphne Gloag has been giving her poem about time and silence a checkup, and has now shaken off any malingering doubts. Peter Francis has been conducting a detailed study of the cross-generational health benefits of dancing in a small Irish community, followed by an intense investigation into the trauma of birth upon a foetus from Doig Simmonds. A bespectacled Martin Choules has completed his analysis on the use of personal adaptive optics in the betterment of vision, and finally Nick Barth, in suitably appalling handwriting, has released a previous composition of his from quarantine now that it is redrafted and bug-free.
Many was the time in the old days that the numbers attending the weekly Tuesday were low on account of the latest lurgy, as attested to by the Archives in robust and unnecessary detail. But one poet who would never let feeling down get him down was Billy Blake. All of God’s nature to him was wonderful, even the ticks, maggots and bedbugs. Indeed, when in 1803 he brought an early version of Auguries of Innocence, it contained many extra couplets that did not make the final cut:
A louse plucked from a child’s hair
Shall cause this world to grow less fair.
A guinea worm dug from an eye
Shall leave behind a greater stye.
A flea disturbed before she dines
Is desecration of the shrines.
For veins of blood washed free of flukes
Shall topple kings and pillage dukes.
Each tapeworm flushed from out the gut
Shall see our stenchful filth in glut.
And tortures wait in Hell for he
Who cures amoebic dysent’ry.
Alas, then only copy of his manuscript which includes these also appears to bear a large yellow-green stain across the page which obscures the rest of it.