It was with a hopeful heart and an optimistic air that I donned the brogues, tipped the hat and buttoned the tweeds to step out and join The Beat this week last. Was I preparing to top up the numbers of a once chart-bothering Two-Tone Ska combo featuring Rankin’ Roger? Or was I about to join the ranks as a Special Constable, albeit in civvies? The answer, you will be relieved to hear, is neither. The Beat is the ingenious acronym for the Borough of Ealing Art Trail, a house-to-house invited search for local art, the aim to provide a much-needed ad-hoc gallery for the professional and amateur dauber alike and an excuse for citizens of the borough to have a jolly-good poke about in their neighbours’ houses in the hope of collecting some ideas as to what the devil to do about that laminated flooring that needs to be ripped out and replaced with something more acceptable.
I offered the Powers That Be the chance to let my neighbours inveigle chez moi with their disdainful walking boots and their appalling facial hair but I was turned down. Ostensibly this was on the grounds that charging people ten guineas apiece to take selfies of themselves with me while I sit in my wing-backed arm chair and read aloud from my collected works was not quite what they meant by visual art. Whatever I think of this narrow-minded and suffocating definition of the term ‘visual art’, I can only hope that they come around to my way of thinking by next year as I am getting a brighter bulb in the drawing room to improve the ambiance and we would not want that to go to waste.
Certainly, this week’s workshop could have done with brighter lighting. We are still a somewhat nomadic poetry group, as remedial action to The Library at Questors is not quite complete. The fresh paint and incomplete wiring led the somewhat nauseous poets to opt for The Lodge, the slightly disturbing Maisonette which perches, trunk-like, to the roof of the Grapevine Bar. The interior of the Lodge is a fantasy of oatmeal woodchip, but it at least had enough functioning fluorescent bulbs to read by and the meeting progressed with unabashed camaraderie. Nick Barth opened with a warm tribute to the Borough of Ealing Art Trail, though I am glad to say that we did not bump into each other in the pursuit of aesthetic betterment. Pat Francis wrote about portraits and photographs of those lost before the last war. Martin Choules chimed in with a back-handed tribute to John Dryden and his odd ideas about the English language. Caroline Am Bergris gave us a dense rumination on the cycles of an unrequited relationship. Samir Hazelhurst made his debut with the group by means of a flavoursome lament on an absent lover. Daphne Gloag read aloud from a fresh new work celebrating the Light on the Hill, though copies were unavailable. Peter Francis mused at the victory of an all-powerful creator over a destroyed creation, wondering if He would smile. Finally, Ann Furneaux drew the woodchip experience to a close with a wry observation of Land’s End, seen through the eyes of a hopeful traveller.
As for art in Ealing, we can be reasonably sure that the odd piece was dashed off in Pitshanger Manor itself. J M W Turner was a regular guest of Sir John Soane’s, though whether we can blame poor lighting in some of the rooms of the manor for his more careless splattering is a matter for speculation. As has been noted in these pages, William Blake was part of a regularly inebriated cadre of poets to join the Workshops at the turn of the 18th Century. Glancing at his poem London
… But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
makes one wonder whether Blake was inspired by lying awake, in his cups, staring at the ceiling, suffering from a strident outbreak of Urban Fox. I surmise we have all been there, haven’t we, dear reader?
If you have been, thank you for reading.