Workshop, 12th March 2019

Which is better, preservation or restoration?  This question has been whirling round the old bean of late due to events which I shall come to.  To draw a parallel, I am aware of how much the folk of Ealing enjoy seeing me pootle past in the old two-seater by their vociferous gestures and loud supportive cries.  How much would they enjoy my beloved automobile without its authentic perforated exhaust, machine-gun tappets and rumbling wheel-bearings?  If the vintage thermostat was not issuing forth its authentic drift of fragrant steam, would my fellow-travellers enjoy the experience of witnessing my progress up the Uxbridge Road quite as much?

Of course, I am being oblique with you, dear reader.  This week I was honoured to attend the glittering opening of the newly-restored Pitzhanger Manor (with its newly-restored letter ‘z’), and what a glittering occasion it was.  Now, it is not for me to report on the event itself, that is for the society pages and I would direct you to them.  Suffice it to say that the Prosecco flowed liberally, there were as many cheese and pineapple sticks as anyone could have wanted and I doubt any of the attendees saw their beds much before nine-thirty.  I am also not going to give you a critique of the restoration itself, except to congratulate the team on a magnificent job.  I encourage you all to hie you to Walpole Park to experience it for yourself.  No, I would prefer to draw your attention to the subtleties in the restoration, the mere details which only a connoisseur such as this correspondent would have a hope of spotting with the trained, porcelain-like orbs

Now, as per tradition, let me break my narrative for a short while to cover the essential proceedings of the last Workshop, for what a Workshop it was.  It never ceases to amaze how many poets will roll up for an evening’s prosody however chill and grim the weather.  Spring has not yet arrived, despite Feb’s false Spring, and yet we had thirteen readers (and where were you?) 

Alan Chambers was invited to lead off, bringing back a poem which raised the possibility of fading solace in the reflections in a window.  Pat Francis was up next, remembering a part-feral boy she was at school with who met a sticky end.  Anne Furneaux has been thinking about Sicily, music, dances and breezes.  John Hurley took us back to Ireland to witness Tim the gardener constructing a fertile plot.  Sara Cornejo brought back her poetic meditation for us to muse over.  Caroline Am Bergris took this evening’s poem as an opportunity to relate a story of a sexual offender, a story she has lived with for a long time.  Owen Gallagher brought back a poem with another kind of sexual offender – but much more of a voyeur.  Nick Barth has been imagining himself travelling on one of Volk’s more outlandish creations just off the coast at Brighton.  Peter Francis has been thinking about toads, and men and the essential distinctions, and essential similarities between the two.  Michael Harris has written us a cento, a poem made up of other poems, even if the lines he brought would all be familiar to a presenter on BBC 6Music.  Martin Choules has writers block.  Which has not stopped him from writing a poem.  Which must be some kind of paradox.  Doig Simmonds has been channelling his inner tabloid-editor in this weeks’ ironic reflection on the beggar.  Finally, Daphne Gloag stepped in bravely from the cold to bring us an evocation of Spring and the possibilities of Time.

As you may recall, I have been lucky enough to join the skilled restorateurs at Pitzhanger Manor on many occasions as they went about their labours and it was gratifying to see that they have taken note of the hastily-scribbled Post-It notes that I would regularly leave in my wake.  As one of the restorers told me himself, I am able to effortlessly span Architecture and Literature, a genre spanner in point of fact, making me one of the greatest spanners he had ever had the pleasure to meet.  Without my help, I fear many aspects of the patina of Pitzhanger Manor would have been lost.  For example, what of the dent in the skirting boards of the Breakfast Room left by the head of Alfred Tennyson as he dozed off for the third time during a reading by Robert Browning of his Bishop Blougram’s Apology?  Should it be lost to the filler’s knife?  Or the dents in the floorboards left by the sprightly heels of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he bounced rhythmically around the room while reading aloud, his preferred mode of declamation?  One has to look carefully, but I am happy to say that these crucial imprints remain.  However, some of my suggestions were not so lucky.  John Soane’s bright colours leap from every surface, in an effect many visitors will appreciate, however I mourn the loss of the nicotine wash which used to coat the interior, so evocative of the chain-smoking modernists and their reckless approach to health and personal hygiene.  Another of my recommendations was rejected by the team; there were two dents in the wall at the head of the four-poster bed in the master bedroom, caused by the posts repeatedly striking the surface during some athletic activity.  Alas, my entreaties that the damage could be due only to the nocturnal visits of one Lord Byron were met with blank stares by the artisans.  The impacts now repaired, one can only try to imagine Byron’s romantic exuberances, though I would always advise against that sort of thing.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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