Workshop, 5th November 2019

Every time that the hardworking and unimpeachably impartial councillors in Ealing Town Hall are trying to decide how to best stoke up hate for a four-hundred year old terrorist, they will inevitably propose a massive bonfire in Walpole Park.  And every time we will have to remind them that there are caverns beneath with ceilings that can barely hold when an earthworm decides to go for a wiggle, and which are protecting millions of highly-flammable pages, not to mention our Winter fuel stores of tinder-dry tinder.  And so once again it must fall on Poetry to be the killjoy who makes life that little bit duller even out of school.

What with our thoroughly-expected general election in full swing, there are of course parallels a-plenty to be shared among the chattering class-warriors about of how they wish old Guido would succeed-oh, as if the Papist Plotters were still living in the present tense.  These humourless True Believers (including many of the Archives present interns, despite their lack of an ability to vote) are proselytising doing away with democracy ‘just this once’ because they already have all the answers and if only we would shut up and do what they say then we’d be in the land of Milk and Honey faster than a cow being chased by a bee.  Nonsense, say their opponents (some of whom are also present down here), the Sunny Uplands lie in the completely opposite direction, while yet others fret over the King Over The Water, or is it King Billy Goat Gruff ?

But that’s quite enough politics this election, and the Workshop was blessedly free of attempts to set the world to write.  The speaker’s chair was first occupied by Roger Beckett, declaring he lacked the gift for giving presents yet still bestowed us with a freely-given free verse, followed by a point of order from Daphne Gloag oohing and ahing the at the spaces between the fireworks.  The Father of the House Peter Francis then described a scribe having to leave room for the later racy marginals, and Caroline Am Bergris asking an urgent question about the epic question she might have been asked in her youth by the gods.  John Hurley then proved to be a very crossbencher while poetically ranting over the recent Season of the Dead, while Madame Chairman Pat Francis read out a report on her son’s soft toy both present and absent.  The eternally independent member Owen Gallagher was looking down on human hypocrisy with a crane-driver’s eye, and Martin Choules informed the select committee on the need to disagree like gentlemen, leaving Michael Harris stood to defend his seat while giving a non-pology for loving in his own way.

Of course, election fever has gripped the Pitshanger Poets before, like the year when Harold Wilson dropped-in in November 1974, weary from the campaign that followed the equally wearying nine months of a hung parliament.  What he needed was an evening away from the white heat of door-knocking and baby-kissing and to be a simple husband accompanying Mary Wilson the budding poetess.  In truth, Harold was never the literary sort (unlike his opponent Ted Heath who even went to the trouble of writing his own), but he could find one end of a sonnet from an eye-rhyme.

However, he was in for a shock that night as a puckish Philip Larkin read a favourite of his by the late Robert Frost – The Death of the Hired Man.  Who should we encounter therein, but a certain Harold Wilson, simple farm boy with ideals and learning above his station who was always slogging and arguing with old man Silas as they tried to build up the hayricks.  But was the latter, suggested our Phil, an allegory for Socialism itself and this “Harold Wilson’s” uneasy working relationship with it ?  The PM took this in, sucked on his pipe, and mused that that must make Farmer Warren the arch capitalist who would deny old Silas the chance to make a living and drag young Harold out of school to deny him the chance of betterment.  No, Harold thought that Harold was better off keeping out of the hayfields and concentrating on his future in the cities, where the future came so slowly – after all, a week was a long time in piling ricks.

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