Category Archives: Workshops

Workshop, 16th July 2019

It is that time of year when all aspiring poets start to mull over the possibility of a holiday poem.  One might have deadlines to meet, the Editor might be on the blower demanding final copy for the next slim volume, the pressures of keeping up with the twists and turns of Brexit may demand the keenest concentration as one works towards the three-act verse-play cunningly intermingling the themes of Halloween, new beginnings, departures and a buffoon hanging from a zip wire by his undercrackers, and yet, yet.  One only has to find oneself in a deckchair with a notebook, pencil and cold glass of something refreshing to hand for the familiar cues to come flooding in.  The seaside, an old-fashioned resort; finding just the right flavour of ice-cream in that place on the beach.  The shock of the cold sea on one’s first dip. Eating moules frites overlooking the harbour with a demi-pichet of vin rose.  Watching the gruff fishermen unloading their catch in the afternoon.  Staying in that charming Beaux-Arts Hotel at La Rochelle where we met the mysterious Baron.  Visiting the Casino with the Baron and learning Vingt-et-un.  Drinking Champagne and entering into an exciting business partnership with the Baron to build a new and even better Canal in Suez.  Being informed by the bank that one’s current account has been emptied by a mysterious transaction, and that one has no money to pay the bill at the charming Beaux-Arts Hotel.  Slipping out of the back entrance of the charming Beaux-Arts Hotel in the early hours and making a dash for the two-seater.  The strange scent of the La Rochelle Gendarmerie Interview room.  Surely, we all have had holidays like this?

This week’s Workshop saw a fair number of double poems.  For those not in the know, a double poem may be a piece quite genuinely developed in two parts.  Or it might be two poems that just happen to come together by some chance juxtaposition.  Or it might be that a poet has written a very short poem, and rather than just leave it at that, they decide to print a second poem on the same piece of paper and bring both pieces to the workshop in order to ensure that they get a proper turn.  Pat Francis lead out with a war poem with stanzas arranged in two columns which could be read cross-wise or lengthways with fascinating results.  John Hurley brought us a single and singular poem about the battles fought in the streets between bicycles and car wing-mirrors.  I would sympathise, but the two-seater does not possess such hideous protuberances as wing-mirrors; they would spoil its unmatched lines.  Michael Harris brought us a triple poem, no less, concerning a secret he is keeping.  One day he will have to tell all.  Martin Choules brought a single poem telling the story of a housing officer discovering the body of an old woman who died in her flat, and who then made homes for her living cats.  New Pitshanger Poet Mateen Mirza, in a classic double poem ploy, brought us two short poems which he insists are discrete works, yet both feature the theme of roses.  Roger Becket brought us a proper double poem, mainly about metalwork and filing metal away.  Niall Cassidy has been remembering a time when his mother told him he was in trouble with God, but luckily his grandmother was up there to stick up for him.  Caroline Am Bergris has been leaving dogs to lie, imagining their dreams of marrowbone and rain.  Nick Barth has been to Rome and tells us he is going back to revisit his beloved Pantheon.  Finally, Peter Francis rounded off with a recollection of a town on one perfect morning before the errand boys went away to war and the high street filled up with beauty parlours and hair salons.

Perhaps my holiday memories are slightly less halcyon than my esteemed readers’, I do hope so.  In search of reading more amenable to a relaxing time, I started scouting about and alighted on ‘Sand-Between-The-Toes’ by one Alan Alexander Milne almost immediately. His books are a constant feature of my bedside table and are guaranteed to get me back off to the land of nod should I wake in the middle of the night in a state of the screaming heebie-jeebies (screaming heebie-jeebies is putting it mildly dear reader; recently I have been cursed with a recurring and quite inexplicable nightmare that Donald Trump is the British Prime Minister).  You, the innocent (though never naïve) reader might assume that Sand-Between-The-Toes is based on a hallowed memory of father and son, as so much of Milne’s work certainly is; of walking along the beach with Christopher Robin.  Careful reading of the PP Archive puts another slant on things.  My colleague, the Archivist, Ms Chalice points out that Milne was an infrequent visitor to our workshops in the mid-twenties, just at the point when he was attempting to find himself as an author.  Co-incidentally this was the same point in history when a certain Thomas Edward Lawrence was also attempting to find himself.  Both adventurers in thought sought resolution in poetry, both writers beat a path to the Manor’s door.  However, it seems that two such large egos could not be contained by one small Breakfast Room.  Lawrence, a man more habituated to the stick than the carrot as a child was vocally unsympathetic to Milne’s playful stories of days out with his son.  Milne, on the other hand, a passionate pacifist, was unreceptive to Lawrence’s tales of derring-do, trudging round the desert waving swords and shooting Enfields at Ottomans.  Sand-Between-The-Toes was a sly dig, keenly aimed at Lawrence and his near-constant invocations of the sand, the heat and the other privations of life on the Sykes-Picot Line, which, by the way, points from the North to the West, hence the reference to the ‘good Nor-Wester’ in the poem.

The Archive attests that Lawrence either ignored or failed to understand Milne’s subtle dig, as peace reigned that evening.  The scene even made it to David Lean’s epic movie of 1962, with Kenneth Williams brilliantly cast as a serious but wry AA Milne opposite Peter O’Toole’s latter-day, deflated Lawrence.  Unfortunately, the Pitshanger Poets’ first appearance in a major motion picture had to be consigned to the cutting room floor, as earlier that year Walt Disney had acquired the film rights to every goddamned word AA Milne had ever written.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

 

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Workshop, 9th July 2019

Last week, you may recall, we were discussing nonsense verse.  Discussing it, note, in a light playful manner, for when one hears of doctorate theses dissecting just what is a runcible spoon, then one fancies that the academic has spectacularly missed the point.  However, ever since then this archivist has been plagued by the nagging bluebottle of unlooked-for cross references, swooping past my ear every few minutes with its unignorable buzzing until I was forced to spend half a day I could ill-afford to chase down its obscure footnote of coincidence in one of our weightiest and scrawliest tomes, inconveniently located at the very bottom of our tallest bookstack and carrying a Babel’s-worth of more junior volumes atop its fraying boards.  At least its considerable weight, while much straining this archivist’s back, did make it an ideal tool for slamming down on the aforesaid metaphorical fly and crushing its worthless, miserable body to oblivion, and the fact that the antique oaken table upon which it was resting at the time was rent asunder was small price to pay for finally scratching that itch.

So, what was the resulting irrelevant piece of miscellany anyway ?  Well, the archives (eventually) show that Lewis Carroll, was a regular attendee throughout 1871, playing truant from his lecturing duties at Oxford to catch the Great Western flyer down to seeking to polish his nonsensical verses for his upcoming Alice in Wonderland II – Back Down the Rabbit-Hole.  Initially he concentrated on honing what started out as The Baboon & The Blacksmith, swapping out one of the title characters each week for another mammal or tradesman with apparently no logic as to why this latest was any more absurd than the previous.

Nothing exchangeable about this week’s workshop, where the singular John Hurley has been struggling to stem global warming and Alan Chambers has been listening at night to the sound of his house breathing out and fidgeting.  Anne Furneaux remembers the coalmen from her childhood, leaving a film of soot in their wake – perhaps to clean up they needed to take a dip in the sky like the boy in Owen Gallagher’s fantasy.  A similar magical (though not nonsensical) theme was pursued by Roger Beckett as he listened to a tree’s digestion and by Nick Barth as he longed for dirty, noisy, sexy petrolhead machines in a world of batteries.  Martin Choules meanwhile has been looking up and ignoring the dim stars, and Pat Francis has been not ignoring her neighbour at the bus stop and then in the casket, leading us to a pleasant walk into the sunset on the beach with Doig Simmonds.

Which brings us neatly back to the beach of Lewis Carroll’s mollusc massacre.  Once this was set, he turned to the equally-lengthy Jabberwocky –  Alas, here instead of the non sense coming from a joyfully cannibalistic picnic, it seemed to consist of an endless litany of made-up words.  “Cut it down, Lewis !” was the comment each week, and sure enough when it appeared again it was shorn of yet another verse, but its constant wellspring of gibberish would still prove to wearying on Frederica’s gatherings.  Finally, exasperated, they nodded through a twenty-eight line version (but only because the final four lines repeat the first four), yet the upshot of such ruthless editing is that something important had become lost – the battle itself !  We seem to jump from the jabberwocky merrily burbling through the wood when a sudden double one-two is all it takes.  Vorpal blade or no, that has to be chalked up as a major anticlimax.

 

 

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Workshop, 2nd July 2019

Writing a good nonsense poem takes years of serious practice.  Do you think that Alice just tumbled down the first rabbit hole she encountered ?  Or that the Owl hadn’t dated a whole kindle of pussycats before he found the right Remarkable Pussy You Are ?  Many an expedition was sent out in search of the Ning Nang Nong, stocked with provisions of green eggs and ham all stored in a pelican’s beak, that ran into various crocodiles, snarks and enormous bears before coming galumphing back by sea in a sieve – or so I was told by a girl named Matilda, so it must be true.

The trouble is, if your verse doesn’t actually mean anything, it must make it’s pointlessness pretty – no excuses for shaky meter and half-rhymes when another, better rhymed word would make just as much sense (ie none).  The rhythm has to be perfect, the lines rattle off with never a hiccup or emphasissing the wrong syllable, and above all, it must sound great !  It might not mean anything, but who can fail to love with

The time has come, the Walrus said, / To talk of many things: / Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – / Of cabbages – and kings -’

Or

‘At whatever time the deed took place  / Macavity wasn’t there !’

Or

‘And there in a wood a piggy-wig stood / with a ring on the end of his nose,’

– hold on, we’re not done yet –

‘His nose, / His nose, / With a ring on the end of his nose.’

But there was nothing but the utmost seriousness at this week’s workshop – Martin Choules read us his dry discourse on the biology of siphonophores with only a brief attack of the giggles, and Roger Beckett has been treating climate change with the utmost gravity, despite it being minus fifteen in Aberdeen yet awfully hot in Aldershot.  For Daphne Gloag, the most pressing question was whether parrots are afraid of dynamite, and Alan Chambers has been off listening to the bells, while Christine Shirley found February to be a time for thawing, and there’s nothing silly about that.  Meanwhile, Owen Gallagher managed to sing a hymn of praise to workmen without a single cliche about milk buttock cleavage or milk-and-four-sugars, and John Hurley’s daydream beside a log fire took him into his sentimental past rather to where the bong-tree grows.  Peter Francis then told us with a straight face that his favourite element is water, but I swear his hidden wall is laughing at us, unlike the skylark in Pat Francis’ ode (who fortunately wasn’t a duck).  And then we came to David Erdos, or rather his cat, sneering at the folly of the human world that the felines are about to take over – it was just a shame he couldn’t have brought his cat along with him so she could have read it out herself, and finally Nick Barth has been down at the seaside looking at the light and wondering what the fuss is all about, which is a perfectly sensible English reaction.

Whenever anyone has brought some nonsense verse to the group in the past, the reaction hasn’t always been as warm as we might wish.  Edward Lear was as nonplussed as a negative integer with the reaction to his early Limericks (especially when they complained that the last lines were just repeats of the first), and Lewis Carroll thought that all the questions over the meaning of vorpal blades and borogoves rather missed the point (because there wasn’t one).  But perhaps their nonsense was just too…sensible.  But then again, I’ve always found the English to be unworthy custodians of their language.  Now James Joyce, there’s a man who could peloother his umbershoot with an agenbite of inwit till his poppysmic quark was a scribbledehobbled tattarrattat.

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Workshop, 25th June 2019

It is a truth not readily recognised by the civilised world that one has to be a sturdy sort of cove to be a poet.  Poets of today are tougher, stronger and have greater reserves of resolve and commitment than any of their forebears.  It’s a man’s life in today’s poetry, even if you do happen to be a woman (and why not?).  By which rambling I mean to say that poets of today are built to last.  Now, I know what you will be yelling at your laptops and other devices; I am intimate with the inner minds of my ineffable readership; surely today’s writers live life on easy street.  After all, poets of the past had to put up with enormous hardships, from travelling long distances in horse-drawn coaches and sailing ships, to lugging huge manuscripts around the place and living in unsavoury and unhealthy conditions, wearing heavy uncomfortable clothes, wigs and shoes, being forced to consume unfeasible quantities of alcohol and narcotics, living on poor diets and subject to a myriad of terrible at that point uncured diseases.  That may be the case, but by and large they were weak, on account of dropping dead the whole time.  QED, as my pediatrist might say.

By contrast, todays poets tend to survive to a ripe old age, churning out a well-regarded collection every couple of years, getting themselves to regular readings and book signings, all the while holding down a day job, or at the very least an academic position or two.  The professional poets I meet are insistent that life as a home-based toiler of the keyboard is a constant trial –  an endless round of dropping the kids off at school, making sure everyone has clean gym kit, being in for the grocery delivery, picking the kids up from school, being ready to cook some brilliantly original creation for the family any given evening, and being ready with shoulder to cry on and a bottle of Pino Grigio for other stay-at-home-spouses who have had one too many run-ins with that harridan who runs the allotments.  All this while developing a startlingly original perspective on the value of skilled manufacturing labour in a post-capitalist, post-industrial society inscribed in a wryly anachronistic Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse form.

Of course, it would be arrogant in the extreme to lump any one of the sparkling writers at this week’s workshop into this bracket.  John Hurley clearly travels for his art as his piece on Guernsey clearly shows.  Peter Francis is no stranger to the harridan who runs the allotments, but would prefer to think of bluebells than prize produce as his wistful poem this week makes clear.  David Erdos is new to the Pitshanger Poets, though as an actor he tells us he is no stranger to Questors.  His evocative poem saw his late parents through eyes that do not need glasses, though he might need them soon.  Michael Harris is no stay-at-home wordsmith – this week’s poem sees him out on the town, just as long as he can return to the castle of his mind.  Nick Barth, never one for a startlingly original creation, does at least manage to remember his gym kit, as he brought back a poem about a friend yearning to reach the edge of space.  Owen Gallagher’s poem about a father’s inner thoughts at a job interview demonstrates that he understands the pressures of juggling career and day care.  Roger Beckett also focused in on parenthood this week, jumping back through a couple of generations to what his father said about his stepfather.  Daphne Gloag brought us to a place, or perhaps two places that meant a lot through her childhood.  Chrissy Holbrook is also new to the PP, giving us an escapist, metaphysical picture of the sky.  Pat Francis is perhaps guilty of spending too much time at home, though it is clear she is even more guilty of spending that time watching sport.  Alan Chambers took us on a visit to St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden, with colour, shape and unwanted interruptions creating a vivid atmosphere.  Finally, Martin Choules gave us another of the songs created for an unheard musical about the first Transatlantic Cable.

Speaking as a modern poet who finds himself juggling the pressures of countless poetry workshops, car maintenance workshops, non-executive board-memberships, committees, charitable institutions, non-charitable institutions, downright cruel institutions, and a myriad other ways to waste one’s time, I freely admit that my existence would be impossible without the assistance, advice and a modicum of succour of my manservant.  Romantic Poets?  Pah! They did not know they were born.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 18th June 2019

I am sure you will agree with me that there is nothing which gets the creative juices flowing quite so much as seeing a live poet, simply existing, out in their natural habitat, whether that be urban, pastoral, conflictual, commercial, historical, tragical, comedic or somnambulant.  In days of yore (yore, your, or you’re?  My etymologist will not answer his texts), it was easy to see poets out and about, behaving like perfectly ordinary human beings.  Initially, a poet may appear to move like any other member of the species, but the committed spotter recognises that a poet’s comfort with metaphor, image and agility is reflected in their gait and can be identified from as far away as the other side of a busy street, across a tense barricade, from the bridge of a ship in a heavy swell or from behind a broadsheet newspaper, with or without holes cut out for the eyes.  For example, it was common to see poets such as WH Auden outside the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Stephen Spender striding purposefully around old Hampstead , C Day Lewis on a bench gazing at the Cam, or even Louis MacNiece, in another part of Hampstead on the tail of Spender who probably owed him a Guinness.  As has already been related in these august pages the Pitshanger Poets used to organise charabanc tours to popular poet-spotting locations.  Fans of the sport refer to the ineffable piquancy of seeing a poet scribble in a notebook, the possibilities becoming delicious for the confirmed spotter.  What were they writing?  Would those words ever be published?  Or were they simply completing a shopping list, something that would not see the light of day until the third volume of the learned and well-researched biography was published, many years hence?  And what is that down the front of their jacket, soup?

Alas, technology and a futile effort to improve the health of the ordinary population have made poet spotting a fading pastime.  In those simpler days every man, woman and child of the British Empire was expected to smoke at least twenty Woodbines a day in order to maintain the pre-eminence of the British tobacco industry and to improve the chances of dropping dead at an early age, thus making more room for the next generation.  Smoking is the bane of the committed poet, as in an enclosed space smoke can make it impossible to see one’s notebook, and the fire risks are considerable.  More than one Victorian poet is known to have set light to their own deerstalker, the traditional headgear of the jobbing writer, through over-enthusiastic pipe usage, before the fire-resistant Homberg was popularised by Betjeman in the 1930’s.  The effect of smoke, as every public and private building was full of the stuff, was to force the working poet out into the open and into the gaze of the ever-ready poet-spotter, at least until the inevitable fog descends. 

Of course, if you do wish to observe poets in action, there is no better arena than the Library at Questor’s Theatre at eight PM, any given Tuesday.  We had a star-studded cast this week.  Caroline Am Bergris read a poem about her mother and her experience with suicide.  Nick Barth has been working hard on his Adlestrop poem (every poet is required to write an ‘Adlestrop’ under the terms of their Poetic License).  Michael Harris gave us a poem about his mother, her headaches, and the suffering they caused to all concerned.  Roger Beckett brought as a short construction in metaphor concerning the acquisition of knowledge.  John Hurley is from Ireland and returns there for inspiration, and on this occasion acquired it while asleep in a bunk on a trawler.  Peter Francis also made hay with metaphor, on this occasion drawing on the life of chalk and its place in the planet we live on.   Alan Chambers wrote about the Theatre Director as master of clockwork.  Anne Furneaux returned to the stories of the workmen she remembers as a child.    Martin Choules brought us the words to a song not yet written, the song of emigrants past who may never return home.  Finally, Daphne Gloag brought us Swifts and possibilities flying in the sky.

Technology put the final nail in the coffin of the hobby of spotting poets outdoors.  Today professional poets freely admit to being slaves to their laptop computers and may not stray far from power, wi-fi and a nice flat white, and therefore if one is to catch a Simon Armitage, Carol-Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope or Andrew Motion, as it were, in motion, some sleuthing is called for.  It certainly helps if you have friends at the BBC and can get the running order of ‘Poetry Please’ in advance.  No seasoned poet likes to hear their work being made a hash of, so as sure as eggs is eggs they will head for the popular broadcasting pubs in the environs of Portland Place, such as the King’s Arms or Stag’s Head, to give Irons, Dench, West, Jacobi, Stewart, McKellen, Shaw or Lumley a few reading notes over the pre-match livener.  This gives the spotter an opportunity to observe poet and thespian together, interacting, at close-quarters, eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe.  My advice is to stand nonchalantly at the bar, just out of direct line of sight and simply observe.  The strained smiles, sincere nodding and air of acute embarrassment are compelling, and worth the price of admission alone.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 11th June 2019

As anyone who knows me at all well will tell you, I love a steam train.  We are currently approaching High Season for preserved railway-lines in this sceptred isle of ours, a time when every last tank engine, diesel multiple unit and dusty freight locomotive is pressed into service shuttling grandchildren and grandparents alike up and down the spidery bits on the national map of British Railways.  You know the ones, those baroque, curly fronds growing out of the end of Main Lines, the ones Dr Beeching found so distasteful and had erased, just before colour was reintroduced to the British national dress.

Some people allege that there too many preserved railway lines nowadays and that the valuable resources of the intense and single-minded army of boiler-suited volunteers could be better-employed on fewer, more historically significant restorations, but I disagree.  I am always on the lookout for an obscure stretch of single-tracked railway connecting two locations last heard of in the duller parts of Jude The Obscure.  However, much as I like the journey, my enjoyment is not solely to do with the hot breathless thing chained to the front and doing all the hard work.  I find I have become addicted to the multiple syncopated rhythms associated with train travel, and that with the aid of a seat, some space on the table in front of me not already occupied by melted choc-ice, a notebook and a sharpened pencil, I can get a few vital, searing verses down before the locomotive has to stop at a station mocked up to look like the First World War, to run around to the other end of the train and take me back to where we came from; typically, a station mocked up to look like the Second World War.

No one was there to make a mockery of this week’s world famous poetry workshop, and railway stations with blast tape on their windows were notable by their absence.  Alan Chambers broke cover with a poem about an end to order, sparked by the natural world.  Doig Simonds sketched us an image of marriage in a lock and a key.  Anne Furneaux returned to the world of work with a couple more artisans remembered from her childhood.  Sara B, still a newish member of the PP read a finely-honed piece on the charm of triboluminescence, the longest word in use this week at least.  John Hurley gave us a satirical poem and a wry smile, concerning the story of a stressful marriage and a death on the golf course.  Daphne Gloag rather mischievously tried out a new form on us this week, the Haibun, a sort of cross between a Haiku and a prose poem – this one discussing the tides.  Peter Francis is emerging from out of the mine, fossils in hand.  Roger Beckett brought a brilliantly pithy poem on the power of some pithy poems.  I believe Pat Francis is getting slight charity fatigue, discussing gifting pots for Africa.  Owen Gallagher directed us to the romance of the picket line and everything to breathe for.  Nick Barth has been ruminating on the many words for winds, and whether she cares.  Finally, Martin Choules urged us to observe the light from the nearer stars, just because we can. 

Clearly the preserved railway industry has latched on to the enormous power of nostalgia to attract a riding public, for it is well-known that there is nothing that a young boy of say, five or six years old likes more than to be reminded of a wartime past they cannot possibly remember.  In my humble opinion, even the oldest of codgers one sees piloting said kids around the place are a bit fresh to remember the last one.  Why, it’s almost as if we are becoming nostalgic for an unremembered past, and who would fall for such a blatant subterfuge?  Surely there is more to the romance of the steam train than the tragedy of war? What about the romance of poetry? Which insight gave me the most brilliant notion, one I will propose to the next railway volunteer I come upon, be they busy serving customers at a ticket window or sweating up on the footplate shovelling coal; The Poetry Train.  Who would not want to ride a train redolent with the atmos of a favourite poem?  All one would have to do is conjure a few of the more well-known classics for the riding public.  For example, the train could stop for no apparent reason in a deserted station called Adlestrop (for those of you who are interested, the real Adlestrop is on a main line, and has ceased to exist, I have looked).  Passengers could be herded aboard a dingy mail car and have to sort Cheques from Postal Orders and letters for the rich from letters for the poor to in order for the train leave the station.  At the very least there should be an army of Whitsun newlyweds irritating a stony-faced librarian, or a railway volunteer dressed as a fat lady wandering about in a corn field in gloves.  Perhaps a Betjamannish tennis match in a permanent state of high drama as the train passes?  The possibilities are endless, and accompanied by a bottle of brown ale, a ploughman’s lunch and a short observational quiz for the competitive, the journey would take on an entirely new dimension.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 4th June 2019

Ah June, that first burst of Summer before the mugginess sets in, that step-up from the promising but changeable May yet still unsullied by the monotonous heat of July.  Dragonflies flit round Sir John’s pond in Walpole Park, potatoes and blackberries put out their surprisingly pretty flowers, bumblebees bumble around looking a bit like regular bees who have let themselves go, and all the world is at peace on an endless Sunday afternoon when the church clock does indeed stand at ten to three.

Alas, this week’s workshop eschewed the prospect of meeting plein air across the road, and so the picnic of poesy was instead spread across the lawn of the Library.  Opening up the hamper was Roger Beckett, who has been thinking about star-gazing despite it being close to the longest day, while Pat Francis has been handing round the greaseproof-wrapped sandwiches and musing on the driftwood of language in a poem she says she found inside a bottle.  Peter Francis meanwhile poured out the Thermos into plastic beakers as he compared the glorious sunset to stained glass windows, and Doig Simmonds started up a shaggy dog story about the one that got away as he tore open the crisp packet and placed it centrally on the rug for all to dip in.  Alan Chambers passed round the pork pies as he highly recommended a Summer exhibition at the Tate, alas from many years ago but clearly still vivid in his memory, while there has been no Summer slacking from Daphne Gloag as she polishes her prologue of possibility and polishes-off the first of the chocolate fingers.  Owen Gallagher then took a calm workmanlike approach to dividing the Victoria sponge evenly between all present, and took it as a cue to praise the white-van denizens who keep our world painted, oiled, and weeded, before Martin Choules gave a brief ode to a big fish and a finger-wag at a lizard as he gathered in the paper plates.

Of course, Walpole Park used to be the grounds of Pitzhanger Manor, and maintaining it fell to Eliza Soane.  Not literally maintaining it, of course, she barely knew one end of a trowel from a wheelbarrow, but overseeing old man Haverfield the Younger as he pottered about rotating the sunflowers and fluffing up the hydrangeas.  Officially, it was her husband who drew up the grand plans for the plantings in strict accordance with architectural principals, but it fell to Eliza to be his clerk of works and make sure that things got done.

But then, at least in the garden, she could avoid those damnable poets and their mooning around a daffodil by any other name.  She was not such a wilting violet herself to blush at the thought that all of her bower’s pretty blooms were no more than the plants waving their willies in the air, even if she were far too sensible to ever say so, but she did have a natural mistrust for any poet who boldly claimed that their ‘luve’ was like ‘a red red rose’.  Aye, Rabbie, she knew just what you meant.

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