The ‘phony winter’ of November is well and truly over. Open skies and sharp frosts remind poets to get on with what they like doing best; writing about how miserable things are for a poet in winter. It is little surprise that the Poet in Winter is such a classic, nee clichéd image for Christmas cards. I would be astounded if I do not receive half a dozen examples in this year’s haul, depicting such classic images as the poet on a bare tree branch, staring into the middle distance with his beady little eye, or the poet on a snow-covered wall, wearing a bright red waistcoat, mulling over a tricky couplet. Then there are the silly ones, where the snow is falling heavily and the artist has Photo-Shopped a ridiculous woolly hat on to the poet’s little head. You can see why children are convinced that there is some innate connection between poets and Christmas, and that poets need to be looked after at this time of year. Personally, I have found it hard to perch on a bench in Walpole Park with a notebook and pencil recently without some toddler rushing up with a beef sandwich and a mug of hot, steaming Famous Grouse, egged on by their beaming parents in the distance.
This weeks’ workshop was a hectic affair, there being many highlights. Doig Simmonds brought a new piece evoking a first meeting. Peter Francis Has been finding his black level while lost in fog. Samir Hazlehurst read the next part of his gluttonous examination of a feast, we still look forward to finding out what is going on in his story. Pat Francis has been learning about the First World War poet Ivor Gurney and brought us a miniature of his time in training. Daphne Gloag has been reviewing a relatively new piece, Aspects of Water, a fine poem, too. Christine Shirley is clearly incensed by the Paradise Papers, if this poem is anything to go by. Michael Harris’s poem reveals lovers expanding to meet each other in an indulgent image which chimed with us all. Martin Choules may look forward to being able to write about winter, but has his poem shows, he is not willing to let November go before it’s ready. Finally, Nick Barth freely admits that he ripped off Phillip Larkin in this week’s Homage to a Government.
Of course, part of the challenge with this time of year is persuading the two-seater to emerge from its slumbers into some form of life in order that I can make my accustomed journey onto the broad expanses of Mattock Lane. The process often takes several hours, with my Man needing to carefully warm the block with paraffin heaters, pre-heat the coolant in a milk pan, coddle the battery with scarves and stimulate the points with encouraging words before finally engaging the complex sixteen-point start-up sequence which will fire up the engine. Once the car is running smoothly, which often does not take much longer than another forty-five minutes, it is ready for me to dart off like a gazelle on the mile and a half drive into town to visit Pitshanger Manor
Now that the house is nearing what surely must be the end of its long restoration process, it has been my honour to poke my head around the door and grant myself a little privileged access. Over the last few months the painstaking work on Sir John’s Classical interiors have really begun to take shape and I have offered unfettered audiences to the talented craftsmen and women as they wobble on their stepladders. It’s at this stage in the project when their skill is so evident, as they piece the stucco back together, match the heritage colours, restore the woodwork to its glowing best, while taking care not to over-restore, to respect the patina of the house itself, when I am sure they really welcome the many, many questions that occur to me as I talk to them on the job. Occasionally, I do find myself helping out by catching a dropped hammer or stepping smartly sideways to avoid a falling paint pot. It does appear that the restorers become a little clumsy when I am around, perhaps they are simply impressed by the clear grasp I have of the milieu, the spirit of the house and wish to keep up with my train of thought. There will be more about what I learned in a future blog, in the meantime, thank you for reading.