One of the joys of residing in London’s greenest suburb is the experience of rubbing cheek by whiskered jowl with Mother Nature and in particular, her furry, hairy and feathered progeny. I have always been a demon for the great outdoors and given a following wind and a good head of steam I can be riding down the lift and skipping past the doorman by the crack of eleven, almost any day of the week. Now, I am no wildlife expert, but my interest has been piqued, and when my interest is piqued very little holds me back. To this end, my Man has created a handy, portable spotting notebook, designed to complement my innate sensitivity to the natural world. I take it out of the hall dresser at this time of year when visibility begins to exceed 18 inches, or 45 centimetres, as the French are wont to say, and animals and birds become apparent through the gloom. I pocket the thing and make a note in it with the faithful stubby HB when I identify some exotic or rare creature. So far this year I have spotted 112 LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), 67 OSJs (Orange Splodge Jobs), 43 HBDJs (Huge Beaky Dark Jobs), 145 FRWW (Footless Rats With Wings) and 1,593 breeding pairs of Psittacula Krameri manillensis, the swarming parakeets which were descended from Humphrey and Katey, the only birds which did not attend the post-wrap barbecue for filming of The African Queen at Isleworth Studios.
So it was with a raised eyebrow that I wandered into Mattock Lane this Tuesday evening in anticipation of an enervating workshop, and also with the germ of an idea, about which more later. James Priestman had his copies all lined up in front of him, so he took the lead, with the imagined scene of Moses’ thoughts at the moment of his death. Pat Francis had us sucking our pencils with her intriguing two-stanza enigma about a messenger. Owen Gallagher stepped up with an illumination on the process of being a Catholic and joining the scouts in sectarian Scotland. John Hurley paced out another of his didactic pieces, on the subject of Valentine, he of the Day himself. Nick Barth has turned back to science fiction, and to grass. Peter Francis has been out and about in London, in a suburb a long way from Twickenham, and he was surprised at what he saw there. Daphne Gloag brought back one of her more speculative poems, concerning the astronomer Melchior. Finally, Martin Choules has been thinking of love, and of ravens, and of ravens in love.
It is apparent to me that many of the seasoned poets who have attended Pitshanger Poets down the years use the Workshop as a deadline to their working week. A poet is no different from any other form of sentient life and has hobbies, tasks, duties and honour-bound obligations to attend to. Some poets fall upon their work with relish and an explosion of ink, others hang back in dire trepidation of the effect their words may have on the world. As a result, some poems are long in the gestation, wrought with care and years of preparation, while others are dashed off on the bus on the way to the meeting. How many, I wondered, were inspired by the animals they saw from the top deck of that omnibus, Clapham or otherwise? Clearly some statistical analysis was in order, so I contacted Parsonage via secretive methods unknown to the MI5, FBI, FSB or PPI Recovery Agencies and asked him to crank up the Pegasus, the ancient, terrifyingly intelligent, valve-based, computer, dedicated to the analysis of all things Pitshanger.
As you might expect by now, Parsonage’s work yielded results so fascinating as to be barely credible. Poets who used the 67 bus to travel to Pitshanger Manor were twice as likely to write about foxes, thought or other wise, as poets on other routes. Poets writing about pigeons were strongly associated with the E2 bus from Greenford, while poets eulogising about nightingales processed almost exclusively on the E3 emanating from Chiswick. Those travelling by the N11, being a night bus had slept in a hedge and arrived raving about darkling thrushes. Poets traveling on the 607 from Dormer’s Wells wrote exclusively about cats, though this was a very small sample. Those arriving at the manor in large-framed bicycles with baskets on the front claimed to be delivering an order of sausages to Miss Perceval but took part in the workshop in any case. When asked about Parakeets, poetry and bus routes to Ealing, however, the Pegasus printed out a row of zeroes and shut itself down. So, having helped me find one of the few great undiscovered themes in literature today, I thanked Parsonage and repaired to my writing-den.
If you have been, thank you for reading.