Very few people realise exactly what being a poet entails. They assume that it’s all sipping wine and eating sugar pasties and dropping the occasional cultured quip into the conversation. Of course they realise that poems don’t write themselves but still, they seem to think that our lives are easy.
They don’t see half of it. Admittedly there are times when I am working where I can just sit back and let the event flow around me. This is a sign that I have everything in hand and that the apparently endless planning has at last paid off. Alas it is rare that this happens. I have to work with the tools I have and these are normally the household staff of my patron.
Ideally they would grasp the spirit of the occasion and come up with something witty and spontaneous. Alas, bitter experience has taught me that spontaneity needs to be carefully planned. Thus those involved must practice their scripts and delivery until they are both word perfect and apparently natural.
So I’ve known cases where I’ve had to work with three downstairs maids, spending half an hour with each, until I had one who could master the lines, ‘Will that be all Master Steelyard,’ (but delivered with just the right tone) and ‘I’m afraid we have none in the house, will mineral oil suffice?’ I wanted them to not only master their lines, but say them naturally without sounding laboured.
Even when the event is ready, the hard labour doesn’t stop. There is the stress of the event. Who dislikes whom and is preparing to make a scene? Who is partaking too enthusiastically of the fortified wine on an empty stomach? Who wishes to dance to the music that only they can hear?
Guests have to be cajoled into good behaviour, humoured into civility or at times blackmailed into sullen acquiescence.
And finally the event is over. It comes to a triumphal conclusion, the hostess is delighted. There is the babble of happy chatting and laughter as the guests, a very pleasant night behind them, summon their sedan chairs or carriages and disappear into the night. Exhausted the hostess retires to bed.
So who cleans up?
I know some poets who disappear with the last of the guests. I wouldn’t advise it, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of your patron’s domestic staff, and you will have to work with them again. You want them to regard you as a friend.
Some domestic staff will merely do what is necessary to stop anything staining or creasing irredeemably, before making for their own beds. If the lady of the house is not going to be abroad before noon, then there will be adequate time next morning to deal with things. Not only that but clear headed and refreshed after a good night’s sleep, the work does better.
But in some households, for a miscellany of reasons, the tidying up has to be done then and there. Perhaps the lady’s husband will be returning tomorrow? Perhaps she has other guests expected in the morning? Whatever the reason the house must be returned to its pristine majesty and if you’re wise, you’ll stop and help the staff achieve it.
Even this can go wrong. I hold up Timpton Lumber as an example of how. Now whilst he is a mediocre poet and a dubious friend, at least Timpton understood how to work with a Patron and her household. I remember one time he was organising an event for Madam G…. Ah but I will not mention her name.
Madam had only two members of staff, and only one who lived in. So at the end of the affair Madam retired to bed. Not only that but on the entirely spurious grounds that she too would have to be up before dawn, the cook also retired to bed. Finally the scullery maid, who up until that point had laboured valiantly, was collected by her husband. That worthy pointed out that it wasn’t safe for a woman to be alone on the streets at that hour so he was taking her home.
So Timpton was left to do everything. He washed and stacked all the crockery and cutlery, swept the carpets, carefully cleaned up any stains and finally got the house back as it should be. By this time it must have been only an hour or so before dawn.
Unfortunately as he was finishing he dropped a tray with a clang that reverberated around the house. This woke the lady of the house who hurried down stairs to investigate. Timpton was tiptoeing out of the house with a candle in one hand, when suddenly he beheld a terrifying apparition on the staircase.
Remember he had only seen Madam ‘prepared’ for the public. Her hair would be perfect, her face made up, her figure pulled in or pushed out as necessary by her foundation garments.
This ghostly figure on the stairs looked nothing like anybody Timpton had ever met. He screamed and fainted.
Hastily Madam dragged him to the front room and handed him over to the cook who had been awaken by the screams. Madam then went and washed and dressed properly. Finally she regally came down stairs to find Timpton, still weak and shaking, being spoon-fed brandy by the cook.
Timpton still tells the story of the ghost he saw, although those of us who know the cook might have told a different story. But a gentleman might know, but a gentleman doesn’t tell.
But he remembers, oh yes, he remembers.
And I’ve also remembered to remind you, don’t miss out on your chance to stun your friends with your literary aspirations. Lambent Dreams is still available for the discerning to purchase for a mere 99p