Not a lot of time for preamble this week, what with both the heatwave and the football to contend with. Of course, it would be most unbefitting for a senior archivist to be seen giving two figs for the foreign adventures of the young men chasing the ball around, but we still need to keep our aloof sneers in practice. As for the unexpectedly season-appropriate weather, we likewise cannot be seen sitting out in Walpole Park dressed in deckchairs and knotted handkerchiefs, and therefore must spend long hours of pointedly being at work while the rest of the nation skives off.
So, on to the amble. This week’s workshop saw a smaller crowd risk sunstroke and having the score revealed for the sake of the muse. Pat Francis kicked off with a traipse through the marshes where the land flows into the river, passing to husband Peter who gave us a brief flourish a pre-blind-date assignator. Alan Chambers has been dribbling the long way round, taking it slow through the garden, soaking up the warmth and in no hurry to turn goal-wards, while old campaigner Doig Simmonds has been contemplating taking the ultimate retirement with a long step down off a short ledge – but don’t worry, the ledge is metaphorical. John Hurley offered some classic commentary in our ears about a woman still haunted by her lost lover when he was transferred to France in the War, and Martin Choules wondered why we never got to play interplanetary fixtures in a Galactic Cup.
With such lush lawns quite literally on their (back) doorstep, it is to be expected that the Archives contain numerous accounts of football being played at the Manor during Sir John’s time. This may sound surprising, given the popular image of a poet as a fey, sensitive soul whose only use for exercise is in climbing the six storeys of stairs to their garret, and it is an image that Johnny ‘what, you expect me to kick that thing’ Keats fills well, but Georgie ‘best bloody poet in the whole bloody world’ Byron cuts a rather different figure. Percy ‘the Bysshe’ Shelley fell somewhere inbetween, able to hold his own in midfield as long as he could have regular sit-downs when the ball was blasted into the pond again.
It should be pointed out here that this was pre the ever-organising Victorians sitting down and drawing up some sensible rules to stop all the silliness like picking up the ball and punching the opposition. Therefore, these Tuesday games tended to be free-for-alls, with players sometimes switching teams, or forgetting which goal they were supposed to be aiming for. There were no touchlines, so the game could invade any part of the garden, though woe betide anyone who trampled through the daffodils when Billy ‘I have written other poems as well, you know’ Wordsworth was on the pitch. Finally, as the sun slipped down behind the privet to announce full-time, the muddy and exhausted players would trudge into the salon and start the post-match analysis about who was supposed to be keeping the goal.