Workshop, 12th June 2018

I notice from my barely-manageable inbox that some of this column’s regular followers have been eager to get in touch with me of late.  In a display of scarcely-credible diplomacy, organisations large and small have been writing to me requesting my permission to be permitted to write to me again at some point in the future.  According to my Solicitor, whose advice I sought on the matter, this is due to a measure called GDPR, which I think I remember my mobile phone using before 3G was introduced.  This must have been around the time my man told me I had to stop using my nice little phone with simple number buttons on it, as everyone was now obliged to stare into a thing resembling the monolith from the film 2001, A Space Odyssey, while being required to prod the things incessantly on the Tube.  He tells me this is what the young people are into at the moment, with train spotting, the hoola-hoop and watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS being on their way out.

Perhaps I am at risk of over-egging this GDPR thing, but the logical implication seems to be that because I once requested a catalogue from them, World of Bow Ties incorporating Cravat Hut are obliged to ask my permission to remember me.  It did get me to wondering whether the arrangement is reciprocal.  I have therefore asked my man to write to the various purveyors of holidays, sofas, curtains, kitchens, concert tickets, books, gadgets, quail’s eggs, vintage spare parts, cummerbunds and folderols in my inbox to ascertain whether I may have their permission to remember them, just in case I want to do business with them in the future. My man has instructions to erase the details of any vendors I do not hear from within the month from my computer.  The law may be an ass, but if I am, as a result of this required anonymity, to refer to companies by means of cryptic clues, such as ‘South American river appears to have a loose approach to paying tax, one word’, or ‘a fruit falling on Newton’s head will have you searching for a charging lead, one word’, or ‘higher class grocer issues imperative to a flower to pause, one word’ in everyday conversation, so be it.

Everyday conversation this week’s Workshop was not.  Michael Harris got things started with a piece on truth and lies, a short poem which inspired a lot of discussion.  John Hurley has been visiting old friends and relations in a graveyard and captured the atmos precisely.  Pat Francis has been watching a heron, and we went on to discuss whether these birds belong in air or water.  Peter Francis got us talking about man’s place in the World Wide Web.  Nick Barth wondered whether a poem can really be a machine.  Anne Furneaux told us that for some people, every day is like Sunday, while some of us feel that every day is like Monday.  Owen Gallagher showed us a boy staring into a pawn shop window at his own guitar, a peculiar cruelty.  Fred Burt had us wondering whether thoughts can really leap like dolphins.  Martin Choules should have inspired a longer conversation about fate and predestination, but for the fact that we needed to hear from Alan Chambers and his modern take on a war poem, before we ran too late to spend a little time in the bar.

One of the other questions which exercises my correspondents, apart from the question of whether we are permitted by law to make a note of each other’s names, is the current state of Pitshanger Manor.  I am glad to say that my twice-weekly visits to the old place indicate that work is proceeding smoothly.  While I was horrified when an innocent enquiry of one of the hardworking brush-bearers elicited the response that when painting the ballroom ceiling he had run out of magnolia and was switching to white with a hint of elephant dung, I was later assured by the Project Manager that this was an attempt at humour and should not be paid any attention.  I have always considered myself as a man of the people, a brother in spirit with the skilled artisan used to the arduousness of physical toil, and had not expected such flippancy.

There are many fascinating aspects to the Pitshanger Manor Restoration, enough to fill an Award-Winning and decent-selling book by a local aesthete,  bon viveur and doyen of the Ealing creative writing circuit, methinks.  The objective of the project was to return the house to the condition as completed by Sir John Soane in 1804.  However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, his house was but one of the several locations where the aspirational Georgian could mix with the enlightened.  There were the Workshops of the Pitshanger Poets, Wilbraham Tollemache’s Classicism Study Evenings at Ham House, King George’s Arboreal Dialogues  at Windsor Park,  Landscape Painting with JMW Turner in John Soane’s grounds, Jeremy Bentham’s regular discourses on the advisability of cruelty to criminals from Westminster, Needlepoint with Princess Amelia at Gunnersbury, non-lethal duelling in the grounds of Boston Manor, and last and by no means least, Comet Hunting with the Herschels in Slough.  For a Renaissance Man like Erasmus Darwin, seeking inspiration for his Lunar Society in the rare journeys he was able to make to London from Birmingham, this must have seemed like an embarrassment of riches.  Imagine poor Darwin’s dismay upon his arrival to find that due to, some might say, overly-competitive planning, all of these delights were held on a Tuesday Evening.  Once arrived in the locale, poor Erasmus set to, furiously rumbling along the turnpikes in an attempt to visit as many meetings as he could in one evening, in a premonition of the ‘seven bridges of Konigsburg’ problem, before admitting defeat and retiring to the relative tranquility of Derbyshire.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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