Christmas is not usually thought of as a moveable feast, but if one looks up the birthday of Isaac Newton then one is met with a mixture of dates, either 25th December 1642 or 4th January 1642 (1643 not beginning until 25th March). The discrepancy depends if one is reckoning by the good-old British Julian system or that new-fangled Gregorian that those overly-bureaucratic Europeans so insisted on. Izzy himself was in no doubt that he was a Christmas baby, and reminded all his friend that they needed to stand him twice as many drinks to celebrate both at once. “Me and the lad” he used to mutter, usually after the third bottle, “we know what it’s like to wait all year for a party.”
On his later visits down from Cambridge, he was oft to drop in on the weekly gatherings at Dick Slaney’s new manor just off the Oxford Road near the hamlet of Ealing, especially as a birthday treat. There he would love to listen to Andy Marvell and Johnny Milton reel off couplet after couplet, from the sacred to the saucy. But he was less happy if Ned Halley was also in attendance, asking the poets if they could add a few comets into their heroic stanzas, particularly as the Star of Bethlehem. Heresy, Izzy thought ! Clearly the Magi were awed by a conjunction of planets as they followed their clockwork orbits. But the evenings were even worse if Bob Hooke turned up as well, trying to shoehorn in his spring theory by declaring the Star to be a sudden bursting forth of a nova, or Robbie ‘Ideal Gas Law’ Boyle pushing for a shooting meteor vaporising and glowing. Their arguments became so intense that Mr Slaney had to insist that they divvy up the four Tuesdays of Advent between them – alas, they could never agree who got which, and it was a certainty that if one came then their mass would attract the others.
There was also a decent-sized crowd at this week’s workshop, but before we get into that let me first confirm that this was the final one of the year, as we have been bumped in the schedules on both Christmas and New Year’s Eves – it seems that poets these days are more than happy to be happy and would rather spend the season snoozing with their families instead of shivering with their miseries. Honestly, this is what happens when a garret becomes a loft conversion…Anyway, Christine Shirley was first down the chimney with her Wintry lament over an absent friend, followed feet-first by Michael Harris as he shed his world-toughened skin, possibly to better fit down the flume. A frustrated Pat Francis has been on the phone for an hour and still can’t get through to the North Pole, but at least she can share a warm bowl of fusion-cuisine soup courtesy of Roger Beckett’s brother while she waits. John Hurley meanwhile gave a salute to two of his mentors from the toy workshop, perhaps trying to ensure they ended up on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, unlike Bernice Wolfenden’s cats who are hogging all the chairs for themselves. We then had a portrait of a wife mucking in with the bricklaying mere minutes before giving birth from Owen Gallagher, a real labourer’s labour which would put Mary to shame, while new member Rithika Nadipalli has been fending off Winter blues with waterfalls and squirrels. Alan Chambers then introduced us to the donkey of his mind, dressed in seasonal red and green but thankfully not wearing a straw hat, and David Hovatter has been looking for images to put on his Christmas cards and definitely plumped for the flower over the multi-story carpark. We then had a storming rendition of a Victorian classic from Peter Francis, who reminded us that Christmas isn’t just for puppies but old dogs with new tricks, and Martin Choules gave us a verse about how he’s partying too hard to write us a verse.
When Izzy wasn’t arguing, he was usually calculating, often on the back of other poet’s handouts. How far away had the Magi come from, given twelve days of travel at a constant average speed, moderated for likeliness of hilly terrain ? How many infants could Herod’s soldiers slaughter in a night, given the population density and time taken to wield a sword ? And how many people lived in Bethlehem if the town could only support a single inn ? The only thing that could stop this constant scribbling was another cup of Jack Dryden’s curtain-raiser punch, guaranteed to put darns in one’s stockings and oats in one’s Scottish play – although it would appear that Izzy often had difficulty keeping it down, and he always kept a pail handy incase of an unexpected equal and opposite reaction.