My loyal readers have come to expect a great deal from the PP Blog, and it’s got to be said, if not shouted from the rooftops that the PP Blog has failed to deliver. The fact is that the blog-writing has had to take a bit of a back seat recently, perhaps you are good enough to have noticed, and I am here to tell you why.
When I was a mere nipper being dandled on the knee of one or other of my parents, I recall watching a program on the television, and I am reminded of it now. In fact, I now realise that this prog was shown on a Saturday night, which means that the chance of either parent being available to dandle, wish good night, tuck in or read The Racing Post to yours truly were vanishingly small. By the time the rousing theme music and opening titles to this glitzy drama appeared on screen, my darling P’s would be guaranteed to be in La Trompette Voyant, wolfing down the beuf en croute avec foie gras et girolles polished off with a couple of bottles of Manoir Délabré Bourgogne Pinot Noir et Bleu and all the trimmings. I would be at home on the settee, bathed, talced and pyjama’d up, ready for the land of nod, but not until I had watched this weeks’ episode, for this show was required viewing at the time. The strange thing is that while I can recall the plot lines and characters, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was called. I have a nagging feeling that the one-word title rhymed with the word ‘Palace’ and was set amongst the mainly evil oil barons of Texas. More than that I cannot say.
Now, in this continuing drama there was a story in which the most important evil oil baron’s younger brother, Bobby, was shot and killed, presumably because the actor concerned decided he had better things to do with his cheekbones. Anyhow, after a season of the show sans Bobby, the actor, probably deciding that he badly needed another nip or tuck, changed his mind and asked to be written back into the show. That moment, when Bobby emerged from the morning shower, cheekbones resplendent, to greet his wife Pam who had been certain that her husband had been dead for the last six months was pure television gold. And what was the startlingly brilliant explanation that the talented scriptwriters came up with for the impending temporal discombobulation, between the Bobby’s return to life and the experience of us, the loyal audience? It had all been a dream. Pam had dreamed the previous season, in all its intricate twists and turns, including the shooting of her husband and the last twenty-six weeks of riveting television, just as the butterfly dreamed of Zhang Zhou in the Taoist parable. Whatever we thought of our time on the edge of our seats wondering when JR was at last going to achieve victory against Cliff, or vice-versa, well we could just write that time in couch-potato land off. As of that moment, it was of naught. Even my youthful consciousness realised that my favourite show had jumped the shark.
I am certain as I sit here dictating this blog, socially distanced from my Man, (a thing, by the way to which neither of us took any time becoming acclimatised) that many of you feel that the year 2020 has already jumped the shark and that you would like to be able to wake up tomorrow morning to find the whole thing has been a nasty dream. On the other hand, I have an acquaintance who positively relishes lockdown. That he is an agoraphobic, antisocial sociopath with anger management issues who enjoys eating two-dimensional food which can be passed under a door (such as thin-crust pizzas and processed cheese) tells you everything you need to know about those who will come out on top in this brave new world that has such people in it. Perhaps he will get the ‘second term’ he longs for, I cannot speculate.
But never mind all that I hear you ask, what have the Pitshanger Poets been doing while we suffered such trials and privations as the virus has thrown us?
As you might have suspected, the PP Workshop went into lockdown with the rest of the country. The Library at Questor’s, the Pitshanger Poets’ home these long years was shut up with the rest of the theatre as the performing arts the world over were told to hang up their tap shoes and take a sabbatical. A country starved of live entertainment turned to the daily No 10 Plague Briefings and were greeted with a Hancock’s Half Hour which never quite captured the dark wit of the 1950’s original, despite a sterling effort from an earnest, if amateur supporting cast.
The poets did toy with the idea of turning to Zoom, House Party, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Meets, Cisco Webex, Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeetings, ZoHo or Slack for a regular virtual workshop, but with each poet favouring a different conferencing app and subsequent an inevitable hilarious results, we defaulted to email, surely the lowest form of communication not requiring ink, an analogue-to-digital converter using pulse code modulation, lossy quantisation and psycho-acoustic compression techniques or a pigeon. Since the beginning of lockdown, we have been sending each other our poems on a more-or-less weekly basis and then looking forward expectantly to the considered opinions of our brothers- and sisters in prosody.
As you know, the PP Workshop has a long and illustrious history, but the diligent Archivist and I had to go back to the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919 to find a hiatus as long as this one. Who can say whether Thomas Stearns Eliot contracted the flu in the Breakfast Room at Pitshanger Manor, before he departed to Margate to self-isolate by the seaside and knock The Wasteland into shape? Just as it would a century later, by 1920 The Manor lay silent and empty as economic activity, faltering after the end of the Great War was snuffed out. Re-reading The Wasteland now it is remarkable to find passages which one previously understood as common-or-garden War Poetry taking on pandemical notes. Puzzling lines such as:
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
evoke the impression that the moot comfort found in surviving death by war has been replaced with the creeping realisation of threat of death by flu, or perhaps the creeping realisation that one has been consigned to live in Margate. Is ‘a little patience’ a neat pun? Who needs End of the Pier comedy when Thomas Stearns is starring on the Promenade?
Turning to the Blog, I had high intentions to continue the regular autobiographical updates from the bubble which is my mansion flat, anticipating several months with little to do but complete some of those little projects that one has scribbled up on the Nobo Jotterboard (named for the famed Swedish aviator) hanging in one’s study. My list includes learning to indoor abseil, completing ‘Don Duo’, my sequel to ‘Don Juan’, painting a self-portrait in oils with eyes closed, sorting the volumes in my little library from alphabetical-by-author to chromatic-by-colour-of-spine (after seeing someone being interviewed on Newsnight on Zoom and being impressed by the overly-aesthetic display of books behind them), learning how to play the drums in the style of Keith Moon (this one being a personal gift to my upstairs neighbour the late-night saxophonist) and designing a hybrid power plant based on stored-energy retrieval for the venerable two-seater, (a project which stalled when I could no longer go outside to collect the Postie-discarded rubber bands).
As it transpired, I was contacted almost as soon as lockdown began by my Uncle Archie and on his entreaty managed to board a flight to Brazil, whereupon I was caught up in a series of events involving a canoe expedition up the Amazon to locate the world’s most remote wool shop, an international plot to kidnap President Bolsonaro’s poodle, a previously undiscovered tribe of indigenous people who claimed to have invented lawn tennis and worship a deity resembling Sue Barker and identifying a species of tree which is a natural source of PPE, including masks, gloves and gowns. All of which is, I am sure you will agree, far too dull, tedious and boring for an exciting, living-on-the-edge Poetry Blog such as this.
Of course, my return journey came at the height of the pandemic and involved a disjointed series of flights, pan-continental trains, hot-air-balloons, junks, steamers, limousines and rickshaws, periodically interrupted by the need to quarantine at an international port or border, usually in some deserted luxury beach-front Hotel, the staff of which had nothing to do all day but enquire which flavour of daiquiri I would like to try next. As I say, dull, dull, dull.
By the time I returned to London, the pent-up demand to meet in some form or another had reached breaking point, and following a group solution selection process, the rock star of the remote conferencing world, Zoom was chosen. I am pleased to announce that this week’s virtual Workshop was a resounding success. We took care to share our poems by email beforehand which aided preparedness. Rithika Nadipalli bravely led out first, with her short piece ‘The Present’, surely a plea for sanity in this mad world. New member Amir Darwash followed that up with ‘When You Grow Up’, a delightful melange of a poem, translated from his native Arabic and inspired by Kipling, surely a first for a PP Workshop. Nick Barth, by his own admission has been spending too long staring at the backgrounds presented on Zoom calls, and in ‘Eye Contact’ he looked for the sinister on the screen. Caroline Am Bergris is a veteran Pitshanger Poet and looked as relaxed and confident on screen as in person. She brought us the darkly suggestive ‘Paul’ describing the life of a man in a crisis, resolving to wait things out. It’s no exaggeration that Martin Choules’ poem ‘Barrow Boy’ is all in the title, but was highly amusing and Bronze Age archaeology always goes down well.
We are resolved to repeat the success of this evening’s workshop. The Pitshanger Poets is an inclusive, open, if slightly nebulous organisation. If you have a poem to read and can invite comments from the group, you might like to join the next workshop. Please get in touch. In the meantime, thank you for reading.
I do apologise to my loyal and devoted readership, the next few sentences are not going to be quite up to par, indeed I have a feeling in my typing fingers Now, I’m going to sound a little vague and flumm