Category Archives: Miscellaneous

A rattle-bag of items that could not be placed elsewhere

Workshop, 13th March 2018

The Questors is yet again abuzz, an often occurrence for a theatre that stages a middle-teens number of productions each year, let alone those provided by visiting companies.  But on this occasion, the offering is a bit different, being more akin to the variety nights of older-fashioned times, if such nights featured only three pieces, and those tending more to short plays, stand-up and dance than to dog-acts and conjurers.  It is time for the bi-annual Questival, an even-year tri-night cornucopia of (a few of) the entertainments of the travelling player or the rep artiste.

Plenty of good turns at this week’s workshop – opening the bill was Alan Chambers with much Winter cold and muffled voices, warming us up for Daphne Gloag singing about a pretty cactus flower, but in a minor key.  Owen Gallagher then spun us a tale from his rocking chair about the bootless old ghosts in his house, and Martin Choules has just returned from a tour of the working-man clubs in the sprawling suburbs.  Pat Francis then soared us away on a flight of fancy involving a nod to Coward from a raptor’s servant, while her partner Peter led the feather-dusted tributes to the passing of a fellow trouper.  For the finale, John Hurley brought down both the house and the sky with yet more Winter with just a touch of the snows of yesteryear.

Back in Sir John’s day, after he had sold the Manor but while he was leasing it back for tax reasons, the only theatre on offer was whatever was currently occupying the room above the Red Lion.  These would vary greatly in quality, from pocket orchestras showcasing the latest short-trousered geniette (a miniature genius) to a singular man who could mimic the birds of the farmyard, right upto the moment the farmer brought down the axe on their necks.  The Pitshangerers could be a rowdy audience, with Georgy ‘Brian’ Byron chief among the hecklers, often in rhyming couplets.  Bysshy Shelley would sit in the front row and a scowl and refuse to crack a smile all night, while Wordy Wordsworth snored loudly at the back.

Finally, the manager would ask all to be upstanding for the singing of the national anthem, to rouse the spirits of true Britons during these Napoleonic times.  The crowd would give much gusto in the first verse, but then peter out as embarrassingly few of them knew the second, and some merry-andrew would always try to sing the verse about General Wade confounding the knavish tricks of the rebellious Scots, even though they weren’t even the enemy, and even though that verse had never been official anyway.  Such amateur choraling severely underwhelmed Billy Blake, who scribbled some alternative lines on a beermat involving dark satanic chariots of green and pleasant land.  Alas, he was no tunesmith, and his career in showbiz never took off.


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Workshop, 27th February 2018

There was a time when the entries in this diary were written immediately after the workshop, when the Pitshangerers turned out of the Library at Questors and staggered over to the Grapevine bar, full of aesthetic thirst and lyrical liveliness.  These entries were predictably rather brief, somewhat beer-stained, and occasionally incoherent.  And if you wish to retain such a romantic view of the bacchanalian bloggist dashing off a notice with one hand while downing his third double with the other, well, feel free.  And then perhaps you will be impressed by the prescience of the next paragraph that was obviously jotted down on Tuesday night and not at all on the following weekend:

So, the weatherpersons are predicting a little bit of cold coming up in the next few days.  Apparently nothing too severe, though the media will of course have make out that it is all much worse, and give it some silly nickname like ‘The Chiller from Siberia’.  It’s just possible there will be a smattering of snow atop the Pennines, but here in London – come on, it’s almost March !  And even if it did, then have no doubt that our excellent railways will cope admirably, and absolutely no-one will use it as an excuse to skive off work.

Not that a slight nip in the air is enough to prevent our Workshop from its regular airing.  We may have had less attendees this week, but that just makes for a more relaxed atmosphere where it’s not worth worrying if it should have been fewer attendees.  Alan Chambers cast off with his atmospheric seascape showing a heavy mist and an obscured shore so close yet so alien, while Doig Simmonds remembered the passing of a loved one and the paradoxes left in her wake.  Martin Choules has been working on the recent production of Animal Farm here at The Questors, but was most taken with one of the minor characters who never get much attention – it seems that for George Orwell, some animals are more equal than others.  Finally, Nick Barth has been watching the parakeets pursue their slow yet inevitable invasion of West London, much to the chagrin of the other bird.  Well, the older birds anyway – the chicks don’t seem to care.

Bad weather is no stranger to Britain, especially during the tail end of the Little Ice Age.  Even in Sir John’s day, and even without the Year Without a Summer, things could get pretty frosty.  The Winter of early 1814 was a particularly harsh, and often by the time the final couplet had sounded on a Tuesday night a thick snow had fallen making it impossible for the poets to reach even the Red Lion, let alone home.  There was nothing for it but to open up the guest bedrooms and light every fire in the house, and while Mrs Conduitt did that they men broke out Sir John’s brandy reserve and started on the inevitable drinking songs.  There was always a real feeling of camaraderie in the face of this unexpected lock-in, and it was always Georgie Byron who drank everyone else up to their beds.  But Sir John was usually there till the mild-and-bitter end, scribbling the journal entry for the workshop between quaffs while it was still fresh in his increasingly-fuzzy mind.

Come the morning and anyone with it was snow-angels and snowball fights all round and a quick skate across Sir John’s pond (it was always quick, since the pond was so small), and then back inside for Mrs Conduitt’s slap-up breakfast.  Sometimes, an expedition was decided upon to visit the frost fare on the Thames, or alternatively serious thought might be given to departing at once to overwinter in Greece.

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Workshop, Tuesday 13th February 2018

One of the joys of residing in London’s greenest suburb is the experience of rubbing cheek by whiskered jowl with Mother Nature and in particular, her furry, hairy and feathered progeny.  I have always been a demon for the great outdoors and given a following wind and a good head of steam I can be riding down the lift and skipping past the doorman by the crack of eleven, almost any day of the week.  Now, I am no wildlife expert, but my interest has been piqued, and when my interest is piqued very little holds me back.  To this end, my Man has created a handy, portable spotting notebook, designed to complement my innate sensitivity to the natural world.  I take it out of the hall dresser at this time of year when visibility begins to exceed 18 inches, or 45 centimetres, as the French are wont to say, and animals and birds become apparent through the gloom.  I pocket the thing and make a note in it with the faithful stubby HB when I identify some exotic or rare creature.  So far this year I have spotted 112 LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), 67 OSJs (Orange Splodge Jobs), 43 HBDJs (Huge Beaky Dark Jobs), 145 FRWW (Footless Rats With Wings) and 1,593 breeding pairs of Psittacula Krameri manillensis, the swarming parakeets which were descended from Humphrey and Katey, the only birds which did not attend the post-wrap barbecue for filming of The African Queen at Isleworth Studios.

So it was with a raised eyebrow that I wandered into Mattock Lane this Tuesday evening in anticipation of an enervating workshop, and also with the germ of an idea, about which more later.  James Priestman had his copies all lined up in front of him, so he took the lead, with the imagined scene of Moses’ thoughts at the moment of his death.  Pat Francis had us sucking our pencils with her intriguing two-stanza enigma about a messenger.  Owen Gallagher stepped up with an illumination on the process of being a Catholic and joining the scouts in sectarian Scotland.  John Hurley paced out another of his didactic pieces, on the subject of Valentine, he of the Day himself.  Nick Barth has turned back to science fiction, and to grass.  Peter Francis has been out and about in London, in a suburb a long way from Twickenham, and he was surprised at what he saw there.  Daphne Gloag brought back one of her more speculative poems, concerning the astronomer Melchior.  Finally, Martin Choules has been thinking of love, and of ravens, and of ravens in love.

It is apparent to me that many of the seasoned poets who have attended Pitshanger Poets down the years use the Workshop as a deadline to their working week.  A poet is no different from any other form of sentient life and has hobbies, tasks, duties and honour-bound obligations to attend to.  Some poets fall upon their work with relish and an explosion of ink, others hang back in dire trepidation of the effect their words may have on the world.  As a result, some poems are long in the gestation, wrought with care and years of preparation, while others are dashed off on the bus on the way to the meeting.  How many, I wondered, were inspired by the animals they saw from the top deck of that omnibus, Clapham or otherwise?  Clearly some statistical analysis was in order, so I contacted Parsonage via secretive methods unknown to the MI5, FBI, FSB or PPI Recovery Agencies and asked him to crank up the Pegasus, the ancient, terrifyingly intelligent, valve-based, computer, dedicated to the analysis of all things Pitshanger.

As you might expect by now, Parsonage’s work yielded results so fascinating as to be barely credible.  Poets who used the 67 bus to travel to Pitshanger Manor were twice as likely to write about foxes, thought or other wise, as poets on other routes.  Poets writing about pigeons were strongly associated with the E2 bus from Greenford, while poets eulogising about nightingales processed almost exclusively on the E3 emanating from Chiswick.  Those travelling by the N11, being a night bus had slept in a hedge and arrived raving about darkling thrushes.  Poets traveling on the 607 from Dormer’s Wells wrote exclusively about cats, though this was a very small sample.  Those arriving at the manor in large-framed bicycles with baskets on the front claimed to be delivering an order of sausages to Miss Perceval but took part in the workshop in any case. When asked about Parakeets, poetry and bus routes to Ealing, however, the Pegasus printed out a row of zeroes and shut itself down.  So, having helped me find one of the few great undiscovered themes in literature today, I thanked Parsonage and repaired to my writing-den.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 12th September 2017

Ah, my dear Uncle Archie.  I may not have mentioned my multi-billionaire commodity-trading relative in these columns before, perhaps the blog has never adequately intersected with his ever-eventful life.   Suffice it to say, Archie is one of the most callous, vicious, reprehensible, cut-throat, sell-your-own-grandmother Captains of British Industry you will ever come across, and as result he has always been enormously popular down at the club.

Our paths would normally rarely cross, being limited to the annual Christmas family food fight, if it were not for a strange course of events.  To tell the tale:  In return for a little service I was able to provide for the Chairman of The Old Actonians, I am lucky enough to be have been given free rein to use the nets and whack a few past the boundary any time I please.  My stroll to the grounds takes me past number 37 Gunnersbury Avenue, which is strangely enough, the home from peaceful home of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.  One sunny morning as I was passing number 37 I just happened to bump into a genial gentleman pruning the roses, and as roses are a passion of mine, we got talking.

Whenever I strolled past the Embassy in my pads on my way to the nets, the gentleman was there and I came to look forward to stopping and hearing his tales of life in the golden land North of the 38th Parallel.  As my readers know, I insist on adopting a strictly neutral stance upon all things political and tend to look down my nose at any form of philosophical extremity.  However, over the course of a few happenstance meetings the kindly gentleman made me aware that despite being a Socialist Worker’s Paradise where every man was his brother’s equal, the democratic people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were not without plight.  Central to this plight was the shortage of medical supplies caused by unfair treatment from the International Community.  The genial gentleman was always insistent that he could not burden me with this plight, but I pressed him for more gen.  He told me that countless medical conditions, such as the broken bones suffered by both democratic people and the democratic peoples’ beloved pets were going undiagnosed, since despite having many modern, shiny X-Ray machines in the clean, well-equipped hospitals and veterinary surgeries with which the country is blessed, they are so many shiny, useless pieces of furniture due to the chronic lack of fresh uranium.

As a victim of the International Community myself, I could sympathise and insisted to the Korean gentleman that as a person in my position there simply must be something I could do.  When pressed he reluctantly suggested that perhaps there was an outside chance that I was aware of a Commodity Trader willing to obtain a few measly tons of fresh uranium and get it shipped to Pyonyang, preferably under the cover of darkness and with no questions asked.  I immediately thought of Uncle Archie.

Turning, as we must to this week’s Workshop, questions were asked, but none of them about uranium.  Martin Choules brought a poem we suspected was from his redraft pile about a poem in his redraft pile.  Peter Francis has been thinking about those who are leaving, specifically leaving Sligo, whether or not they are aiming for the 38th Parallel.  Daphne Gloag brought back a piece concerning the end of time, we felt just in time.  Pat Francis brought us a piece about a violent storm at sea that had us concerned for the plight of the gulls.  Alan Chambers brought back an oldie-but-goodie, recalling the semi-militant squads of Christian Angels who used to patrol our Tube Trains to protect us from violence, much to our disgust.  Nayna Kumari is wondering whether she can bring herself to go to a family wedding.  Owen Gallagher also brought back a classic of his, about a boy who dreams of swimming.  Finally, like Pat, Nick Barth has been thinking about a storm, a tropical hurricane with Mole Poblano thrown in.

Even my most loyal readers must be wondering what possible connection my rambling story of the democratic people’s plight can have to do with the Poets of Pitshanger.   I admit, the events I describe began some years ago.  The genial gentleman still has his roses, the democratic people now have working X-Ray machines and no one can help but be hugely impressed by the hugely impressive parades that the healthy, democratic people are delighted to put on, year after year.  Mysteriously, Uncle Archie has not been seen at his club for some time and appears not to be answering his emails.   My point in telling this rambling story, if you must insist on me having one, is that we are open to all-comers at our Workshop. We are aware that the brother of the democratic people’s glorious leader Kim Jong Un, being the honoured Kim Jong Chull, is a fan of the cultural milieu of London and has taken up residence in its leafy suburbs.  We can but hope that one Tuesday evening in the not too distant future he chooses to start making the short journey from the Embassy on Gunnersbury Avenue to Questor’s Theatre on Mattock Lane to join us in our humble, weekly celebration of the poetic arts.  We may not be able to immediately rise to the high standards expected, nay deserved, by Kim Jong Un’s beloved brother, but in this increasingly perilous world, with its Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Staged Thermonuclear Warheads it will be nice to know that we are attending one of the very safest poetry workshops on the planet.

If you have been, thank you for reading.


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Workshop, 22nd November 2106

“Words, words, words”, as the Danish Prince so pithily put it before tearing the Lord Polonius off yet another strip.  Words are our baggage, our currency and our legacy.  The English language is stuffed with words like some sort of alphabetised Chesterfield sofa, while other tongues get by with a narrow Chaise Longue or spindly Mies van der Rohe chair to settle back on when they want things to make sense.  Is it any wonder the world rushes to learn English, considering how many words we have to choose from?  Thank goodness the English no longer own their own language or who knows how we might conspire to ruin it.  Enough! I hear you cry.  Break off this interminable preamble and get to the point.  In which case I will.  It has not escaped my notice that this is the time of year when The Dictionary Industry of the English Speaking World likes to corral an annual crop (is it possible to corral a crop?  What would work better? Harvest a herd?  Wrangle a regiment?) of neologisms.  Now, there’s a word that must have sent ruddy-faced Colonels to their blotters to dash off a flamer to The Times.  Why the devil do we need a word for new words?  Piffle!  Yours, Apoplectic of Andover (Mrs).

Any new words appearing in this week’s Workshop were handled in the traditional and time-honoured way; humanely netted, delicately stunned, they were then pinned to a green baize board alongside a small hand-written paper label.  Daphne Gloag does not always approve of neologisms but is always inventive in her use of words, as in this evening’s Tintorreto-inspired examination of Christmas Journeys.  David Hovatter was not one to discourage new words as he traced the journey from fish hook to sushi.  Jagdish applied a new meaning or two to old words as he told us about a potted plant at prayer.  Pat Francis played with words and form as she contrasted two views of fate.  Alan Chambers returned us to fish, lines and nets with another contrast- this time of two farms in a sea Loch.  Danuta Sotnik-Kondyck is embracing the English language with a poem about wolves she translated from a piece she originally composed in her native Polish.  Peter Francis chose some disturbing words for his imagined evidence to a truth and reconciliation commission.  John Hurley rendered extraordinary ideas to paper as he imagined an Irish President’s introduction to a President Elect. Nick Barth brought us a stranded astronaut, hearing words from the ether.  Martin Choules has not got anything to say, but he chose some great words to say it.  Finally, Ariadne Kazantzis pictured an alien learning English in order to teach young Anthony a few things about our planet.

I am sure you will be familiar with the more headline-grabbing neologisms of 2016.  Brexit has followed the increasingly unfamiliar Grexit and foreshadows the hypothetically water-logged Nexit.  The alt-right have caused many people to become trumpatised following a momentous event of some moment over the pond.  The OED now recognises moobs, whether or not they are scrumdiddlyumptiousSlacktivism is joining clicktivism in replacing activism, or the messy and exhausting process of painting banners and catching agoraphobia in the company of hordes of unruly strangers.  The now over-familiar mamil is being supplanted by the much more attractive spandexual, often on individuals who are beardtastic.

Which rampant hashtaggery brings me to the word which The Pitshanger Poets will strive to bring to popular usage in 2017, if only because we strongly advocate its application in this world of chronocide (the killing of time), via wexting (walking while texting) and linkulitus (the habitual sending of web links to others).  The word is unliterate, meaning a person who knows how to read but staunchly refuses to do so.

If you have been on this occasion, thank you for doing so.

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Workshop, 5th July 2016

I used to enjoy browsing the newspapers.  Following the initial cup of needful at the crack of nine my Man returns with the egg and soldiers and a selection of freshly-ironed national dailies.  I normally allow a mere hour or two of browsing while toying with an odd morsel of toast and marmalade before preparing myself for the onslaught of the day.  The most enjoyable part of observing this country’s Fourth Estate is to see just how far Journalists are willing to go to induce a condition of sheer terror in their unsuspecting readership.  Ah, happy days!  My mornings are not so jolly any more.  With the recent momentous series of momentous events, one thinks back on warnings of the break out of a new killer epidemic, news of a terrifying and unforeseen effect of global warming or confirmed observations of a huge meteor on a direct collision path with the Earth with a sort of misty-eyed nostalgia.

It is thus a relief to escape to the Pitshanger Poetry Workshop once a week.  John Hurley filled the kettle for tea with the story of a politician rocking the boat.  Olwyn Grimshaw set about lighting the grill with her observation of a scuffle amongst Magpies.  Alan Chambers started slicing the bread for toast with the story of a diversion.  Owen Gallagher warmed the pot with a boy’s dream of swimming.  Christine Shirley made sure the butter and marmalade were on the table in time for her piece on a gathering for friends.  Peter Francis brought in another poem from his wife, Mrs Francis who crisped the bacon with a poem about the life of the mind in an attic.  Doig Simmons made the tea and poured the milk with a piece about the face of his daughter.  Nick Barth fetched the orange juice from the fridge with a meditation on seizing the morning.  Finally Martin Choules kept an eye on the toaster to make sure nothing burned because the knob does not really work any more with his recipe for Gall Ink.

Another source of relief has been the recent goings-on at my Club, the British East-Asian Opium Eater and Retired Schoolmaster’s Club.  As you will recall, this is the organisation which does such a lot of good for retired schoolmasters here at home and also for the hard-working poppy farmers of the world.  The Opium-Eating wing of the club has always welcomed members from like-minded clubs around the world with the result that Retired Schoolmasters were submitting complaints to the Chairman that all the most comfortable wing-backed leather armchairs were occupied by somnambulant Opium-Eaters from Afghanistan, China, Russia and who knows where just at the time when the Schoolmasters dropped in for a whisky and soda.  Matters came to a head and the Retired Schoolmasters proposed that foreign Opium Eaters be barred from the club.  The Opium Eaters countered that without strong relations with overseas opium enthusiasts there would be no more opium and in an attempt to resolve the situation the Chairman called a vote of unity, which he then lost.  As a result, we are now voting for a new Chairman who will resolve once and for all the relationship between the Club and the International opium culture which we have done so much to create.

Everyone at the club had been expecting a straight fight between Boris Brummel, a descendant of the notorious ‘Beau’ Brummel and the ex-master of Squeers’ New, Free And Open Academy for Pedantry, Mr Wackford Given.  However, Brummel had to withdraw from the contest having suffered a severe injury to his back and two surprise candidates have entered the fray from the School Ma’am section, Ms Angela Lansbury and Ms Theresa Wont.  Ms Wont appears to have a clear lead with the Retired School Masters, partly, it is said due to her large collection of antique walking canes, an interest I have never shared but which has the Retired School Masters queueing down the corridors when she brings them in to the Club for a private viewing.    We are promised a lively contest when the ballot is held in a few weeks’ time and it certainly offers some respite from the momentous period of momentous events we currently find ourselves in.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 28th June 2016

You know, when a chap walks down the street, strolls into the lounge bar of his local hostelry or lowers his newspaper in the club and just happens to catch the eye of another chap, it helps if the party of the first part is broadly aware of the what is going on in the bean of the party of the second.  Up until the momentous events of what we shall call the last few momentous days there was a good chance that a shirt, arm band or button badge would be enough to give the game way.  Even though both sides utilise the trad. colours of red, white and blue it was still possible to ascertain the allegiance of the other cove at a glance.  Care could then be taken with any subsequent conversation not to cross a line, raise a hackle or prod at a sore and harmony would be maintained.  However, since the momentous events of the last few momentous days, recognisable identifiers have been cast aside.  What is more, it’s not as if they look appreciably different from us.  However, before one becomes despondent, contemplating the burden the last few decades in Europe have imposed on this country of ours and the many more years of pain we are likely to experience, it is worth remembering that it’s only a game and that it’s nice to see a tiny country like Iceland doing so well.

It was also nice to experience such a rich and varied collection of poems as this week’s workshop.  Olwyn Grimshaw was first off the spot when the whistle blew, pointing out the inconsistencies in allowing Mr Mark Carney to print his own money when a few creative hours playing idly with a decent colour laser printer can put you or me into jail.  Owen Gallagher then sped off down the left wing with a concentrated piece on the modern face of the Highland Clearances.  Martin Choules just avoided a high tackle with a tightly argued poem about the reluctance of young people to vote.  Daphne Gloag maintained possession with two versions of a recent poem concerning the light of now.  John Hurley did well to stay on side as he covered Brexit, BoJo, MiGo, NiFar, DaCam and WhatNow?  Nick Barth chose to boot it up the park with a hazily-remembered road movie to Berlin.  Peter Francis maintained formation with a solemn poem about a lost love.  Alan Chambers perplexed the back four with his memories of JS Graham.  Finally, Ariadne created a solid finish with a revision of her story about Georgia being late for school.

What with the momentous events of the last few momentous days it has been my solace and indeed happy privilege to spend time among the recent archaeological discoveries at Pitshanger Manor.  Items that have, no doubt, been carefully and painstakingly revealed by the precise fall of a size nine steel toe-capped boot or careful swing of a five-kilo sledgehammer are now emerging thick and fast from the priceless clouds of Georgian dust.  Once again I cannot go into too many details, however, suffice it to say that we believe we have come across another copy of the very document that must have inspired the all-too-serious Ealing Comedy, Passport to Pimlico.  The document is now with a team of crack, highly-offensive combat lawyers and while I cannot reveal the name of the London Borough that we believe is no longer (and, indeed has never been) a part of the United Kingdom, it will be fascinating to see how much a pint of London Pride will cost in Euros in the Grapevine Bar here at Questor’s once the dust settles.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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