I have in the past mentioned the ‘Society of Minor Poets’. Every year we put
on an entertainment for the elderly and the children in the Ropewalk area.
Yet whilst we might do our bit to feed these folk once a year, for some, the
rest of the year can be a hungry time. So we did think to do something about
How, might you ask, can a group of poets who can barely feed themselves,
look to feeding others?
It’s a good question and frankly it’s one we struggle to answer. But we felt
that as we knew hunger so well, there was nobody else better placed to help
others cope with it. Now in our hall, (which was in better days, a dried
grape and carpet warehouse,) we have what might pass as a kitchen. No lady
would admit to having anything so basic in her home, but there is a cauldron
which hangs over a fire, and there are ovens built into the fire surround.
Indeed there is even a counter which runs down one side so that food can be
served to people who then take their plate through to the main hall to eat.
So provided we have managed to find fuel for the fire to heat the cauldron,
and have something to put in the cauldron, we can produce a meal. To be
fair, the meal is often porridge. In part this is because we have got good
contacts with some of the racing stables and livery barns and we pick up
quite a lot of grains that aren’t really good enough for feeding to
expensive horses. We long ago gave up trying to make porridge from only one
grain, and our regulars will have long discussions after they finish their
bowl as to the proportions of wheat, oats and barley.
Still we get by and when we minor artists sit and eat with our guests, it’s
not merely a nice gesture of solidarity. A good bowl full of porridge can
set a poet up nicely for a day tramping the streets trying to woo new
In theory we would like to have sponsors to help fund our good work. Yes
people do drop in with food for us, but it is all somewhat hand to mouth.
Eventually we realised we needed real money, because the roof needed fixing.
When I say it needed fixing, what I mean was that on wet days we didn’t put
buckets out to collect the drips, we used baths. Then waste not, want not,
some of our guests would bring their own towels and have a bath before their
meal. Apparently rain water collected in such a manner isn’t as cold as you’d
think and works wonders for the complexion. Be that as it may, on some wet
mornings you’d get seven or eight of them splashing merrily whilst we put
their clothes to warm for them on racks in front of the fire.
Eventually I prevailed upon the other minor poets to let me approach
Mistress Bellin Hanchkillian. If we impressed her with the work we were
doing then she could afford to pay for the roof to be fixed. So I invited
her to come and see what we did.
She graciously announced that she’d be delighted to look around and a date
Now at this point people started to panic. Somebody asked me, “What if one
of our drunks insults her?”
Another person told me that they felt that she might take one look at the
hall and decide that it was beyond saving, and refuse to have anything to do
with it. Others felt we ought to do our best to make a good impression, so
she would regard us as a cause she could feel proud to support.
The week leading up to her visit was, frankly, a descent into madness.
Everything was scrubbed, the inside of the building, the kitchen utensils
(such as they were) and our clients. One elderly widower had six baths in
five days, and at one point stood naked and shivering as various ladies
frantically washed, darned and then ironed his clothes.
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