Workshop, 10th March 2020

The busy archivist can often find herself exhausted after a long day of measuring the length of Emily Dickinson’s hyphens, the precise tension in Gerry Manley Hopkins’ rhythmic springs, or comparing colour swatches to find the precise shade of red daubed upon the wheelbarrow, and is in want of a good brisk constitutional round Walpole Park – especially now that the golden-hosts-to-be of daffodils are breaking cover.  The trees are alive with rose-ringed parakeets, the paths are a carpet of pigeons and herring gulls, the grey squirrels are busy digging up their nuts are the chatter of a dozen tongues gently combines with the drone of low-flying airliners.

But when the pressure of all that ink becomes really too much, stronger measures are needed and I make my way to the Ealing & North Circular branch of the Allied Cataloguers, Indexers & Alphabetisers Union social club, tucked away between the Polski Sklep and the Barnes & Pikle Rare and Unnecessary Goods Emporium.  Where better to unwind with a Times crossword to erase with the blunt end of a pencil or a quick game of Esperanto Scrabble with a retired geography master ?   But best of all are the cocktails, where each ingredient is served in its own glass – arranged in alphabetical order, of course.

Anyway, enough downtime daydreaming, back to the business at hand and this week’s workshop – a more select affair than usual but none the worst for allowing time for the odd tangent or two (and the tangents can become very odd indeed).  First upto the invisible microphone was Roger Beckett telling us how hard it is to tell our friends about that indescribable something, making way for a rapping Peter Francis laying down some truth about a busker and a windfall in a new style.  John Hurley then got to musing about what might have been with the stranger a few doors down, while Pat Francis spun us a tale of her grandfather’s unusual profession and his ghost in her hands, before Martin Choules spoke us a folk song without music about some floridly-named sisters who came into bloom throughout the year.

My most proximal visit to the social was alas marred by a regrettable incident involving some magnetic poetry and a tin of alphabetti spaghetti has reminded me of the many poems written to the demon drink, not least the one of Georgie Byron’s that he claimed to be a ‘found’ poem, having been inscribed on a drinking mug made out of a skull.  Everyone assumed he was joking, but the next week he turned up with said tankard and solemnly passed it round to show that yes indeed, the very verse was (rather hastily) written upon the braincase, whose otherwise crisp whiteness suggested an uncomfortably recent change of use.

The object was passed along hurriedly, no-one wishing to handle it for long, until at last it reached Sir John.  “Where on earth did you dig up such a thing ?”  he enquired, completely missing his own pun.  “I took it from the shoulders of a blackguard who dared challenge me to a duel !” his lordship replied.  But a cynical Humph Davy commented that he would have loved to have been his second that day, just to see the spectacle of Byron doing battle with a terrier – “for it is undoubtedly formed from a canine cranium.”  “Hogswallop !” Byron retorted “he may have been a midget, but definitely of a human variety.”  “I fancy” Davy countered “that you must have been fair in your cups already that night, to confuse the two.  But take heart, you can proudly hold your trophy aloft and declare ‘Alas, poor Yorkie’ !”

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