The evening meal is finished, the dishes cleared away. Only bowls of fruit and dishes of
salted nuts remain, scattered between the glasses and the open bottles of wine. Moving to
the lounge seems too much effort; they agree to share favourite poems and snatches of prose
around the table. The main lamp is turned off and they read by the soft light of candles and
wall-sconced lanterns. Somebody reads an extract from Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure and
heads nod in silent agreement. There are selections of Auden and Larkin, and some more
modern offerings too: Armitage, Polley, Oswald.
The mood lightens with the consumption of alcohol. There is a comic poem about
residential courses, the lecherous tutor making the most of the opportunities offered by his
adoring audience. The participants chuckle; several have been on courses like that, they say.
How fortunate we are to have a female writer-in-residence. One recalls a poetry course spent
in a remote country house, and the difficulty of avoiding the attentions of the distinguished
poet. No names are mentioned, but the description is faultless and the mannerisms familiar:
the lean physique, the floppy blond hair swept back by slender, well-manicured fingers.
The wine and conversations flow on. In the pitch-black window the course leader
smiles at the woman sitting next to her, slides her hand further up her thigh, squeezes gently.
The woman smiles back.