A Two Hundred And Twenty-Second Anniversary

          Yesterday was my last day as an RLFF.  I’ve been an RLFF for three years, and I have revelled in it.
          Many people, I find, don’t know what an RLFF is.  I didn’t myself three years ago.  When I explain that it stands for ‘Royal Literary Fund Fellow’ they ask what the Royal Literary Fund is.  Again, I have to admit, I had never heard of it until a writer friend suggested I apply for a place.  Since then it’s seemed that almost every writer I know or meet either is, or has been, an RLFF.
           The Royal Literary Fund is A Very Good Thing, especially if you’re a writer.  It’s a charity which exists to support and encourage writers, and boy, does it!
           According to the RLF website, the idea of a fund to ‘relieve distressed writers’ had been on the mind of the Reverend David Williams for some time.  Then he heard that a writer, wonderfully named Floyer Sydenham, had – somewhat less wonderfully - died in debtors’ prison.  So on the 18th May 1790, Reverend Williams held the first meeting of the RLF committee, and invited subscriptions.  As this blog goes up on Saturday May 19th 2012, that means it took place almost exactly 222 years ago.  There should be celebrations of more two-hundredth and twenty-second anniversaries.
          The Rev sounds like an engaging character: a ‘dissenting minister’ who often quarrelled with his congregations, so it seems they were quite dissenting too.  He published, ‘Sermons: Chiefly Upon Religious Hypocrisy.’  I bet that got a bit of dissent going.  He strongly supported the French Revolution, corresponded with Voltaire and Frederick the Great, was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and Garrick, and one of the first to subscribe to the Fund was the Prince Regent, so it's clear Williams’ acquaintanceship was wide.
          To further demonstrate his good eggery, the grants made by the Fund were, from the beginning, never limited by nationality, sex, religion or politics.  A writer, Williams obviously felt, was a writer was a writer, whether wearing breeches or petticoats – which, I think, was quite unusual in his day.
          The Fund raised money from subscriptions, donations and legacies.  Understandably writers have been generous, with Rupert Brooke, G K Chesterton, Arthur Ransome, A A Milne and Somerset Maugham all contributing.
          The Fund has stepped in to help Coleridge and Chateubriand, Thomas Love Peacock, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Mervyn Peake, among others.  It also helped Robert Burns’ widow and James Boswell’s daughter.
          The RLF’s Fellowship Scheme is slightly different.  It was set up in 1999, and was made possible by the sale, to Disney, of rights the Fund held in A A Milne’s work.
          The scheme recruits writers ‘of literary merit’ and pays them to be on campus at UK Universities for two days a week.  Any student wishing to improve their writing skills can visit the RLFF, for advice and tuition.
          I love the RLF.  For a writer, the work is pure fun.  A constant stream of interesting people come to your door – you don’t even have to go out and find them.  They bring with them essays on all sorts of subjects, from Romeo and Juliet and the visual language of The Third Man, to solar heating engineering; from PhD work on art installations, or the conflict between the RAF and farmers during WWII, to the ethics of social work, Fuzzy Mathematics, how fashion in saris is diverging in the UK and India, Criminal Forensics and – especially interesting, this - the proper management of ‘artists’ who, it seems, don’t respond well to standard management techniques.  Who would have guessed?  But I didn’t know it was being studied.

          Still, there you are - the writer learns as much or more than they teach.
          The RLFF’s job is to help these interesting people solve the problem of how best to express their subject in words.  It’s great fun, even though it can be hard work.  (I often needed therapy after a session of Fuzzy Maths.)
          As an employer, the RLF is the most generous, understanding and respectful one I have ever known.  Its contract stipulates that the writer will spend a certain number of days on campus, seeing students; but the way that time is managed is entirely up to them.  And if no students come? - Well, the RLF stoutly maintains that this is in no way the writers' fault, and they are free to get on with their own work.

A distressed writer
          The Fund frequently reminds the writers that they are not employed by the host university, and the host cannot demand or dictate anything.  In any dispute, the RLF comes fiercely to the defence of the writer, with all the vim of a dissenting preacher sniffing hypocrisy.  David Williams would be proud.
          I am proud to have been an RLF Fellow; and I am proud to be, for the next year, an RLF Advisory Fellow.  I regret to say that, due to the recession, I think the scheme is fully booked for the time being – but I would recommend to any writer finding it hard to make ends meet to arm themselves with knowledge of the RLF – and to drink to the memory of David Williams, dissenting preacher and good egg.

          Blott solved it, eventually.  The answer is: hysilophodon.
Mr and Mrs Adam Price

          Here it is, folks, the wedding of the century (as far as I'm concerned.)  The photo above really doesn't do justice to how beautiful Pratibha (Patti) looked, as she entered the room where the ceremony took place.  She glittered and sparkled almost from head to foot, from the tiara to her beautifully sequined and gold embroidered slippers.  (Which she showed to everyone, later, on the lawn outside, by cocking up one leg, in case we missed them.  It's easy to see why her family affectionately call her 'Muni' or 'little girl'.)

          Nor does it do justice to how handsome and smart my two brothers looked in their dark suits and button-holes (Andrew was best man) or how smart Davy looked in his grey suit and shiny shoes.  (I looked a scruff as usual, and didn't even have the beflowered hat, as Andrew and Davy declared it OTT and I left it in the car.)

          After the ceremony, we went to another room, where an Aarti was held, a Hindu blessing, with Patti's grandmother and mother presiding.  A tray of lighted candles was held and moved in circles before figures of the gods Shiva, Derga and Ganesh, while the company sang, unaccompanied but most beautifully.  Anyone was welcome to go forward and hold the tray with Adam and Patti, and many guests did, whether Hindu or not.  Afterwards nuts were shared out among the guests, and we passed our hands over the flames before touching them to our eyes and smoothing them over our head.

          It was a lovely day and, as Adam and Patti first met and fell for each other twenty years ago, before parting, and then meeting again - it's about time!

          Here's the sonnet what I wrote, at Patti's request -

A Sonnet on the Marriage of Master Adam Price and Mistress Pratibha Garala

The Wise teach that for all that happens there is a 'Why' -
A lesson that must be learned, a debt that must be paid.
We may wish only to sit down and cry,
But we should listen and learn what the World has said.
Pay attention!  Learn that lesson fast! -
For Time moves swifter than an eyelid's flutter,
And in that blink of darkness two decades have passed
And twenty summers died, while we had other
Cares.  So when a twist
Of the path bring two lost ones home,
When eyes again meet and, as so much wished,
Hands once more clasp, and loneliness is done -
Then we should celebrate and loudly praise the Wise,
For if a debt has here been paid, Pratibha is the dearest Price!

Rough Winds Do Shake...

          A brief blog this week - the Blott brother gets married tomorrow, and I have to sort out a wedding outfit, sew flowers on me hat, rehearse the sonnet I shall be reading, that sort of thing...
           Looking at the weather, I think we'd be better kitting ourselves out in wetsuits, or possibly arctic gear, but I'm sure neither Adam nor Patti will let it bother them a bit.
          So, to my brother and my new sister: here's wishing you the very best, for Sunday and for the future!

          But Adam still managed to draw a Blott: -