Malinslow, a name hard to say correctly after more than three beers, was famous for its annual poetry festivals and used to gather a decent supply of the well to do and a number of dishevelled brillianteens to listen to readings of original verse by some of the countries leading poets at the end of August each year. Sometimes bards from the States and other continents could be encouraged to attend by promises of large cheques and a decent lunch or two. Not bad for those used to living on the thin air associated with having your head in the clouds.
This year Sir Oswald Clarkson, a coal miner’s son from Lancashire, was the guest of honour and was booked to give the final reading and climax to the event. His seminal work, “Thoughts Toward a Conclusion” was still battling it out with steamy romances in the best-selling lists. Sir Oswald, a man of self confessed sensibility, had been brooding of late because his pen had run dry, his vocabulary had withered to a few monosyllables and , on the quiet, he was having some difficulty in maintaining the air of mysterious brilliance so necessary in preserving a decent profile in the world of cutting edge creativity. This ‘reading’ was a most welcome boost to his image.
Although his accent had mulled to the fruity purr of the media classes he maintained a faint Lancastrian edge to underline his status as the son of hard-working folk, No mean feat for someone who had lodged in a well healed area of London with a number of wives over the last thirty years. Indeed, his wives had provided the majority of the means which enabled him to sprinkle bon mots over the dinner tables of literati during that period.
So here we were then, with Sir Oswald facing a packed hall in the middle of Malinslow and peering down on the paper before him and the crowd ahead. The Duke of Brookshire, a trifle more bored than normal, had given a clichéd but thorough introduction to the bard and had done a reasonable job of raising Clarkson’s sensibility to fever pitch. Hush settled over the room and faces looked expectantly up at the lectern and the distinguished figure behind it. He raised his head and, peering over his bifocal glasses, began to read…
He then bowed to the audience and sat down. The Master of ceremonies, seated beside him and with a growing sense of bewilderment said “Hope ! ?”. “The truth is not long-winded” said the sage and with a pleasing air of mystery, leant down to gather up his bag. After a few moments it dawned on the assembled throng that this was it. The whole enchilada, nine yards, performance , cake, meal or whatever you like. He had chosen his word with care and now it was spoken. The silence struggled on for a few seconds and then a murmuring rippled through the hall. A failed dieter at the back of the room, with a temper shorter than some, shouted, “Outrage”. A less cultured voice from the front of said, “That was total crap”.
Sir Oswald, with commendable calm, a characteristic of the noted seer, paid no attention to the noise and, indeed, with his job done, seemed about to leave the stage. The Mayor, seeing the occasion collapsing into unrest, waved his arms in desperation. “Short and sweet” said the Duke, his morale rising. as a growing racket started bouncing off the walls. Pains across his chest stopped the Mayor in his tracks. He was having one of his panic attacks and heard his voice getting strangled in his throat. He leaned towards his deputy, his voice hoarse with pain and stress, and whispered “Stop his cheque. Stop his cheque”. “He only accepted cash” replied the embarrassed deputy. Five thousand pounds for a single word. That was poetry indeed.