Big birthdays and books

How fast three years flies past you while you’re busy doing a PhD! Three years seemed a long time when I signed up for this. I could have taken six years doing it part-time; but my seventieth birthday is only four weeks away; if I’d taken six years to do it, I was aware I’d be nearly 75 by the time I was finished; 71+ seemed old enough to hang my books up. But now, only twelve months left to get it done to leave me time for some polishing of the script. Tempus just keeps on fuging, as Reggie Perrin used to say.

This week, a good week. Saturday was my son Richard’s birthday, so on Sunday Amie, Bill and I went to Peterborough to take him out for a lovely lunch with some Peterborough friends. We had a lovely day. I mentioned over lunch that I would like a commemorative Manchester Bee tattoo, just a small one on my inner wrist. Richard said he would buy me one for my birthday. So, to celebrate my 70th birthday I’ll be visiting a tat parlour for the first time in my life . I’ve never wanted a tattoo before, but I love the little bee; and you’re never too old for a new experience. Watch this space.

Tuesday I started working on the PhD. I did my homework for the ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’ course, focussed on writing the thesis. I wrote a blurb to explain my thesis in one paragraph; not an easy task, but it really concentrates your mind. It clarified what exactly it is I’m attempting in this piece of work. I feel as if I hovered above it and saw it as a whole for the first time, and got some clearer idea of what it’ll look like as a finished piece. And that seems to have made it more manageable. I also had to make a plan of a piece of writing I am committed to having completed in draft by the end of the course on July 5th. I have chosen to develop the sonnet chapter in line with the target I set myself after my meeting with Angelica and Antony.

On Tuesday evening we went into  Manchester for the Feminisms in Public/Bad language readings at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I read some of my mother-daughter poems and Hilary read some of her MA portfolio centred around relationship breakdown. It was a lovely night altogether and I got very positive feedback on my poems after. Kim Moore read first, and then Nic Royle; Mark Pajak, Natalie Burdett, Zafar Kunial were also involved; these are the poets/writers I know from the MMU Writing School. I didn’t know Sue Fox before this event: she is a lecturer in Film and Media studies; but oh, my! what a visceral reading from her about women’s desire. I don’t know her work at all, but I sort of want to read her ‘transgressive novel’ The Visceral Tear having heard her read on Tuesday. One for the holiday perhaps. Here’s a photo of me reading my set at IABF:

IMG_0767

Wednesday morning it was the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course. I picked up a coffee en route and I was first to arrive, closely followed by Myna Trustram, the lecturer who has organised the course. It was lovely that she said how much she had enjoyed my reading on Tuesday evening: I hadn’t even realised she was there. I was partnered with two different course members this week: another sociologist/criminologist who is doing research into the Manchester ‘Street Angels’ who support vulnerable groups in the city centre; and a visual artist doing research into ‘film as fabric’. So many new things to learn in the world; I’ll never be done learning. We shared our ‘homework’ and had a short time to do some work towards the writing task; but I don’t write well in a roomful of people. I need an empty building, not just an empty room. So if fleshed out my plan of action in that time. I was put in touch with a book by Rowena Murray: Writing Your Thesis which has practical advice and writing activities on doing just that. I have since downloaded it to my Kindle. A useful read to anyone swimming in the deep water of thesis writing.

On Saturday I settled at my desk to a good work session. I had a plan of action; I stuck to it. First I sent out my Stanza mailings: next Stanza on Tuesday 27th June, 7.30-9.30, Britannia Inn, Mossley. Details here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

Next, I checked my MMU emails and found my way around ‘Skillsforge’, the online facility for uploading records of meetings, annual reviews and final assessments, anything to do with the work, and ultimately submitting the thesis. As a result I found the message about my annual review: Michael Symmons Roberts will be conducting my review, so I got in touch with him for a date we can meet. How lucky am I to be closely and personally involved with two top UK poets in the course of this PhD. Whatever the outcome, I will never be sorry I gave it a go.

Next, I went through the writing I sent to my team last week and edited it in line with Antony’s comments. I did an MMU library search for work on ‘the sonnet’ and downloaded a couple of journal articles via Jstor, a fantastic facility for students to access work from home. I think they will both be useful. I also searched for the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, by Jeff Hilson, an anthology recommended by Antony. I was able to access the introduction online and I enjoyed reading it so much I’ve bought the book. It wasn’t available as a Kindle book, unfortunately; but that’s probably just as well, because Kindle does mess with the formatting of poetry. So I’ll have to wait for it to be delivered to my door.

Well, that’s it for this week; a good week towards the PhD. I’ve concentrated on the thesis writing, tried out some of my poems at the Feminisms reading and received positive feedback, both on the night and the next day; and I’ve spent more money on books. Without books we may as well all be dead anyway, so that’s a good way to stay alive!

Today it’s my daughter Amie’s birthday. I won’t say how old she is, but in August we’re having a family 120th birthday celebration. She’s in Northumbria with her partner, her beloved dogs and some lovely close friends this week; having a week-long birthday celebration of her own. I hope she’s having a fantastic time, she deserves it. A couple of years ago I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She is the least ‘consumerist’ person I know and she said she didn’t want anything. Then she said, ‘just write me a poem’; so I did. It’s a poem about the night she was born. I think I probably posted it to mark her birthday last year as well, but that’s OK. It’s her birthday and her gift. And every year since she’s been born I think of that woman in the next bed, thinking of the baby who was born the same night. Here it is. Happy birthday, Amie.

Just Because

…all my life I wanted to meet you and because you were
late by three weeks and the cocktail I drank while I waited,
nervous, for you to arrive slid down my throat like orange
frogspawn while I gagged over the stainless sink and

because when you did come you chose the secret hours
for our bonding and  because you came with a name
so I felt as if I’d known you all my life and because
meeting you made me feel I had achieved something,

like the first woman ever to do it so that I was too high
to sleep after and  because back in the ward in the
next bed was a woman more aware than me of the way
the sand runs quickly and because I noticed her empty
crib, grieved her empty womb, I just wanted to say…

 

Rachel Davies
June 2014

 

Own goals and inverted nonets

It’s the time of year for reflection. My annual review for the PhD is due, always a time for looking at how I’m doing with the study; but also a time to reflect on other aspects of life. When I started this blog I wanted to see how a PhD could possibly fit into an already full and busy life. Nearly two years in, I’m happy to say that it has fitted in very nicely. Nothing that is important to me has been usurped and yet it has had its due. I’ve had a good week this week: family, friends, study and poetry, all contributing their share. And however bad any week gets, I can always reflect on the fact it will rarely be as bad as Theresa May’s week this week.

So, family: last weekend my son Michael was staying with us, so on Sunday morning we met up with Amie and her partner, Angus and we all went out for an enormous breakfast. We were still full from dinner the night before; food was probably the last thing we needed. But breakfast isn’t always about food and this one was about spending time together, like the symbolic breaking of bread. We had a really pleasant couple of hours in each other’s company. We got to meet Amie’s newest family member, Sonny, the nine-week-old cockerpoo, who is settling into the family very well, good friends with his older ‘brother’, Cooper. I managed to get a tiny piece of PhD work in later in the day: Jean sent me a very supportive paragraph to contribute to my annual review. And I sorted through my portfolio to decide on a poem to take to the workshop at Leaf on Monday.

Monday: the Christie for Amie’s latest check-up. Happy to report all was good: routine scan booked and next check-up in September. In the evening it was the workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. I’m beginning to really like this workshop; it happens every fortnight, no writing involved, but feedback on writing we have already done. I took a poem I wrote in Anglesey about darning and received some constructive advice about voice, about letting the poem tell the reader how darning is a waste of time for the narrator. This is a portfolio poem, I think, so any advice is really welcome.

Tuesday I had a meeting with the support team for the critical element of my PhD. It was Antony’s birthday, so perhaps his celebratory mood was why I came away feeling it had been my most positive meeting with him and Angelica since this work began. I always seem to concentrate on the negatives in these meetings, a throw-back to unhappy memories of grammar school; for instance, the time I had sent about twenty pages to the team and Antony said ‘I liked that bit on page 8’; which also seemed to me to say I didn’t think much of the rest. Of course, when I get home and reflect on the meetings, I know they aren’t as bad as the feeling I take away from them, and reading through the feedback I can always see positives I didn’t pick up in the meetings. But this meeting on Tuesday was different. I came away with the feeling that perhaps I really can do this. I had useful feedback along with advice on how to develop what I had done so far. I even got a tick or two from Antony in my analyses of Selima Hill’s poetry; how a tick can lighten your burden when you’re doing your best, even now, at my age. Teachers everywhere, remember this! I came away from the meeting with a long booklist for the summer and–albeit small–positive vibes.

Bill came to the meeting with me; obviously he didn’t come into the meeting, I left him downstairs in the atrium while I was talking to Angelica and Antony. When I found him again, we went off to Proper Tea for lunch. I collected a ‘heart for Manchester’ from Exchange Square when we went to get the tram home. Manchester has received almost a million hand-made hearts: crocheted, sewn, knitted by supporters from around the world and they have been strung along the route from the Arena to the impromptu public shrine in St Anne’s Square. The public are being encouraged to take one of the hearts home, a reminder that there is more good than evil in the world. It is good to reflect on that at these times, with two terror attacks in as many weeks, when evil seems to prevail. The love Manchester has received from around the world has been truly uplifting.

On Wednesday I had to catch Metrolink into Manchester at such an early hour, my bus-pass was useless. It was a shock to have to pay. I was in MMU by 9.45 ready to get started on a useful mini-course, ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’. This is a support course for post-graduate research students on writing your thesis. Anyone who reads this blog spot regularly knows I need all the help I can get. I love writing, it is an art I am good at; but I have met my match in academic writing. That’s why I was so gratified by the meeting on Tuesday: I really felt I was getting somewhere. Antony and Angelica felt I was getting somewhere. So, this course seemed designed for me. I met some lovely people from other disciplines, all within the Arts and Humanities faculty. I was working with a sociologist/criminologist researching youth gang culture and an architect doing a research project on the effect of HS2 on the environment in rural Cheshire. It’s easy to get blinkered in your own research and I love to meet other research students in areas other thanpoetry. It puts my own work into perspective.  I am doing this as a personal challenge; some others are doing professional projects that may have national implications. The best advice I took from the day was from a young man doing some work in criminology. One of his department colleagues, who had done a PhD in the past said, ‘remember, it’s only a bloody PhD.’ Yes, it is. Only a PhD. Cut it down to size, knock it into shape! This course will be held over four sessions and will involve practical homework around developing a part of our theses. Before next Wednesday I have to write a ‘dust-cover blurb’ for my research project to explain it to the group in one paragraph; and I have to decide which part of the thesis I want to develop within the group. That’s an easy decision: the section focused on the sonnet.

I had to go into the Black Ladd at lunchtime to do the books in the afternoon. I worked until about 5.00 p.m and managed to get it all up to date. It helped that there wasn’t a bank statement to reconcile, that cut the workload a bit. I cadged an onion from Amie for the ratatouille I wanted to make for tea. I had the other ingredients but was out of onions. Of course, this onion was a catering pack: I felt like the Queen holding the orb as I carried it to the car! It has served me for three meals so far, and I’ve only used half [insert smiley face emoji].

Thursday, of course, was Mrs May’s big day, the day she would surf to victory on a wave of public acclaim and an increased majority in The House, thereby completely demoralising Jeremy Corbyn in the process, raising her street-cred and putting any opposition completely on the back foot. I won’t get political; that’s not what this blog is about. But it is about my life, so I will say I went to vote, as I always do. And I voted Labour, as I always have.  The exit polls were interesting, suggesting a reduced majority, possibly a hung parliament for the Tories. But exit polls are notoriously wrong. I stayed up to watch the results coming in until 2.00 a.m. and they seemed to support the exit polls. I was awoken at 5.00 a.m. by my phone buzzing: messages from both sons excited by the election results. I had to get up and see for myself. The hung parliament was a reality; May had scored the most spectacular own goal in the history of goal scoring. Yes, ultimately she won the election but on a vastly reduced majority: it was indeed a hung parliament. And now she has to get into bed with the Northern Irish DUP (which will bring its own challenges) to secure a majority in the House. Never has a victory looked more like a defeat; and never has a defeat felt more like a win. Cornyn’s Labour party secured even safe Tory seats like Kensington; and Canterbury, which hasn’t been anything but Tory since Chaucer, went over to the Labour fold! Extraordinary for a party that was 20+ points behind the Tories in the opinion polls at the start of the campaign. This was a week I was proud of our democracy: the people spoke and the politicians were forced to listen. Who knows where we go now; but I suspect we won’t be hearing the ‘strong and stable’ mantra any time soon.

On Saturday I was at last able to give a full day to PhD. I wrote RD9s for the meetings with Jean and Antony/Angelica; I redrafted one of the poems I discussed with Jean, a nonet I wrote for NaPoWriMo in April. Jean liked it as a concise form and as a story; but she felt it needed more backstory to fill the reader in on what might be going on. So I drafted an inverted nonet to start the poem to provide that backstory, I hope. The trick is to show, not tell and I hope I achieved that. You can decide for yourself: it is the poem I am including to end this week’s blog. In the evening I went out for dinner with Joan. I’m telling you this because Joan likes a mention! It was my turn to go to hers in Crumpsall this month. I had to find a route through Oldham to Manchester as the roads were closed around my usual route for the Parklife festival at Heaton Park, North Manchester: security is paramount in the light of recent terror. I got to Joan’s no problem, we had a lovely meal at Glamorous, a Chinese restaurant close to Oldham Road. But I did get a bit lost on my way home. Tim, my friendly satnav, kept trying to take me through the closed streets toward the motorway. I was relieved to see a sign for Sportcity and knew how to get home from there; so I was really, really relieved to eventually find myself on Oldham Road and familiar territory.

That’s it then; another week. Here’s the redraft of Painted Lady; I hope you like it. I hope I haven’t beaten you about the head with backstory; I tried to be subtle and join it to the original without the seam showing. I’d be happy to know what you think.

 

Painted Lady

 You
worked hard
so you played
hard, tankards of
Whitbread, toss of darts.
She didn’t do pubs, watched
at that window for hours for
your drunken home-coming. You were
a summer day, she made of snow so

that face powder and blood-red lipstick
you gave her for her birthday said
more about you than it did
about her. Did you want
your Bull and Butcher
tart for a wife?

She was worth
so much
more.

 

Rachel Davies
June 2017

About staying positive

I woke up this morning to news reports of yet another terror attack in London. Besides the three terrorists shot dead at the scene,  six members of the public were killed and several injured in the attack. So much hate in the world; and we’re here for such a short time. When will it ever end?

I settled down to some work for the PhD on Sunday and Monday this week, after a rather lax couple of weeks. I concentrated on the creative side, the part of the work I feel most comfortable with. I wrote up the poems I drafted at the Poetry Business on Saturday; three of them are good to include in the portfolio. They are still early drafts, but have real potential. Next I pulled all my portfolio poems together from the various Mac files I had them stored in. I was gratified to see I have about fifty poems; this was genuinely a surprise to me. I printed them all off to do a red pen job on them. I also looked into other poem files, wondering if other stuff I have written in the past could fit the theme. All in all I found around seventy poems that can be adapted to fit the portfolio with very little work. And another ten that are peripheral but that I can use as springboards for other creative work. I’m planning golden shovels, pantoums, villanelles, sestinas from words, phrases, lines of my own poems. I made a start by writing a golden shovel from my own prompt: not a good one, but an experiment to see if it can be done. Of course, it can. Even bad poems you have written and squirrelled away can prove useful; recycled poems may be the way forward in ‘white page’ anxiety. It felt good to have such a creative contribution to the PhD. I am increasingly aware that this is going to be the bulk of the work and it may have to be exemplary to counter weaknesses in my critical input. I really believe this! At the end of last week I found out I have been invited to read some of my work at a ‘feminisms’ event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on June 13th; most of my contribution will be PhD, mother-daughter poems. Come along if you’re in the area on the night: it’s a great line-up of poets, I’m delighted to be included; details here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/feminisms-in-public-and-bad-language-present-an-evening-with-mmu-writers-tickets-34904685855

On Tuesday I had a family day. My son Richard is a teacher and this was his half term break. He visited on Tuesday; we met at Amie’s house for lunch. We would have been eating out under other circumstances, but Amie has just become the proud mummy of a second Cockerpoo, Sonny. Her first, Cooper, is about eighteen months old and stands about two feet high; Sonny looks like a bit dropped off him, tiny by comparison. But oh my, he can hold his own in the play fighting they engage in. He is adorable; I even forgive him for leaving needle teethmarks on the toggles of my Seasalt jacket! He is just eight weeks old and came to stay on Sunday, so Amie didn’t want to leave him alone to go out, hence we ate in. We had a lovely day together: family days are always a treat.

On Tuesday evening it was Stanza. For the first time we met at the Britannia Inn in Mossley. There were only three members there this week, attendance affected by the Bank Holiday, I suspect. We were reading and discussing the poetry of Fiona Sampson. It was a good session, even with so few members. Fiona’s poetry isn’t easy on the page: the lack of most punctuation gives no help to the reader; I like that, because often phrases can look forward to the next line or backward to the last and it’s up to the reader to make the choice where the link belongs. It’s good to hear the poems read aloud too; that helps give them music and meaning. It was a very pleasant couple of hours, doing what we like best. We were welcomed at the Britannia, we will be meeting there again late this month; June 27th, keep in touch via this link:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

On Wednesday I went to my job at the Black Ladd quite early; I needed to get finished by lunch time, and I was. After a light lunch I caught Metrolink into Manchester for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at the Eighth Day cafe on Oxford Road. It was a lovely day for the walk down Oxford Road and I was ready for the pot of rooibos when I got there. In  April I had sent Jean some poems to discuss: my sonnet crown and three ‘formed’ poems that I had written for NaPoWriMo, a golden shovel, a nonet and a pantoum. I had also sent the sonnet crown to Rachel Mann, who is coming to the end of her PhD at MMU. She had sent me some feedback on Tuesday so I was interested to hear what Jean would have to say. I was pleasantly surprised by both sets of feedback. This was the first time I had written a sonnet crown: I didn’t even know there was such a thing at Christmas! I enjoyed writing it as a dialogue between a mother and a daughter, stimulated originally by a Spelks’ activity at the Manchester Art Gallery. I knew it was very early draft when I sent it to Jean; I had worked on the first sonnet in the sequence and I was pleased with this but I was unsure about the rest. So imagine my delight when Jean liked it. Yes, it needs a lot more work in terms of the distinct voices of the two characters; and Jean advised I need to ensure a ‘volta’ in each sonnet, no matter how slight, but she thinks it is worth working on. She also thinks I could usefully write a couple more sonnet crowns, perhaps a couple of daughters in dialogue about their mothers, or vice versa. So I think I have opened up a route to more work as well as perfecting the crown I have written already. Jean’s feedback was very much in line with the feedback I received from Rach, so that was gratifying too. Of the other poems I sent her, the feedback was also positive and she thinks formal poems are also a way forward. She loved the pantoum, which pleased me because I was particularly pleased with that one as well. She couldn’t think of anything to say that would make it a better poem than it is; which is gratifying too, because I have entered it into a couple of competitions, so I won’t say too much about it, only that I hope the judges like it as much as Jean did! We discussed briefly how I felt the critical element of the PhD was progressing and I said I was less confident about this aspect; I’m a good student but I’m not an academic. I’m doing this as a personal challenge and I have started to see the critical side as more about the journey than the destination. I am enjoying the work but don’t know if it will ever be good enough to warrant a doctorate. But it is only a small part of the whole: the creative work is 75% of the product, so I have made up my mind it might have to be the aspect that pulls me through in the end. She suggested not seeing this as two separate aspects, but to try to integrate the creative and the critical, writing some theory and some analysis and incorporating some poems of my own inspired by that aspect of the critical work. I like this idea: I’ll be discussing it with Antony and Angelica on Tuesday this week.

On Wednesday evening I met Hilary Robinson in Manchester. We had a meal at Bella Italia then went into St Anne’s Square to see the floral tributes to the victims of the Manchester bombing. Oh my, St Anne’s Square is normally a bustling shopping square but on Wednesday it was so quiet and reverential, lots of people there paying their silent tributes to the victims. It was incredibly moving, and I was in tears again reading the written tributes among the flowers, particularly those from children. The smell of flowers was overpowering, even just approaching the Square. Balloons, flowers and written tributes as far as the eye could see.

After our visit to the Square we went to Waterstones for the launch of Rosie Garland’s latest novel, The Night Brother. It was a lovely event, Rosie in contest with a group of hell’s angels revving their bikes at the traffic lights outside. I’m pleased to report Rosie won that particular battle. She is such a good performer of her work, I have decided The Night Brother will be sun-bed reading for the holiday in September this year.

Thursday, another family day when I drove to Stamford to meet my sister for lunch. It was her birthday in May and I hadn’t had chance to visit until this week. Retirement isn’t just the best job I’ve ever had, it seems to be one of the busiest too! Who knew retirement would be so demanding! We had a long afternoon together, it was good to see her.

Friday disappeared in personal business and shopping. I visited Sonny while Amie was at work, had a cup of coffee with him, kept him company for an hour, allowed him to nibble the toggles on my jacket. Saturday, Mike visited for the weekend. We ate at the Black Ladd in the evening: Amie had to work, but at least we got to meet up after she had done cheffing–is that even a word? We are meeting for breakfast later this morning before Mike drives back to Andover.

So that’s it, another week on the journey to PhD. It has been about the creative side this week and I find that really positive. When I am involved with the critical work I question why I ever embarked on this at all; but when the emphasis is on the creative, I know why I did. I am a creative writer; I’m not an academic. I may not get a PhD out of all this work, who knows until that decision is made in my 2018 assessment; but I will be giving it my best shot, and I will have a cracking set of poems from the past three years work. I’ve decided I’m too old to stress about it, I’ll just relax and enjoy the ride.

When I was trawling through my poems for work that could make a contribution to the PhD portfolio, I came across this poem I wrote for the christening of my best friend Jo’s granddaughter, Madeleine. It won’t fit the portfolio as it stands, obviously, but it is an idea I thought might be worth recycling, this idea that we are all part of our own history, that our names are not words just plucked out of the air, they often have their roots in the past.

Naming Madeleine Daisy Vee

 Daisy and Vee are packing crates for your history;
Madeleine is a gift of love and yours alone.

Before you were a flush of joy on Emily’s cheek
or a spark of pride in Andy’s eye, before Sebastian

touched the swell of you and smiled to be introduced,
before Sebastian was Sebastian or even a suggestion

of a longing your mother nurtured, before your father
joined his life with your mother’s in a Cotswold church,

before that tentative first date when two young people
opened their eyes to how the future could be, before

those two people searched and found each other, before
Gigi and Taid were Gigi and Taid, were just mum and dad,

before Gigi and Taid were even mum and dad, when Gigi
was a daughter and called her military father Vee for Vater,

before Gigi and Taid were flushes on their parents’ cheeks,
fleeting thoughts in their parents’ hearts, before your world

was filled with mother, father, brother, Gigi, Taid, almost
a whole century before all of this, a man you never met

looked at a woman you never met and said
Daisy’s a lovely name. That’s when your naming began.

Rachel Davies
July 2013

Manchester, united.

How can I mention my week without mentioning the appalling events in Manchester on Monday. And that is the last thing I want to mention, because I don’t want to give that event more air-time than it has had already in the national and international news. My thoughts are all with the families of those killed and maimed by this act of barbarity; and with those who have brought a ray of light into the darkness of Manchester with their random acts of kindness; like the two homeless men, Stephen Jones and Chris Parker who rushed  to help the injured; the taxi drivers, predominantly Muslim, who drove, without charge, those caught up in the blast; the hundreds of Muslim children who marched from Cheetham Hill to the Arena in a remarkable–and under-reported–show of solidarity with the young people affected by the blast; the people living in the vicinity of the Arena, and the hotels, who offered shelter and safe space for survivors; and, of course, our wonderful emergency services for the work they did under appalling conditions, with no thought for their own safety. These are the things I will concentrate on, not the shameful act of a handful of fanatics misguided in their ideologies.

Hilary and I travelled through Manchester Victoria on Monday evening, an hour and a half before the bomb was detonated at the Arena. It was peaceful and ordinary railway station. Salman Abedi might well have been there, waiting for his opportunity, waiting for the concert to end to do his worst. But to all intents and purposes, it was a normal Monday in Manchester. We had been to the writing workshop in Leaf on Portland Street. We travelled into Manchester together and went to Tampopo in Exchange Square to eat before the workshop. We amused the waiter by asking for the 20% student discount on our meal. I love the surprise on the faces of the young when old folk like us ask for student discount thinking it’s a joke; and then we produce our student cards. 20% discount on the meal: a bonus; the look on the waiter’s face: priceless! The mix of poetry and prose writing at the Leaf workshop was interesting as ever. I took a poem about a woodlouse which was well-received. Rosie Garland gave me the Devon colloquial name ‘chiggy pig’ for a woodlouse, and that is the title of my poem now. It was a pleasant evening in the company of writer friends. We’ve been tasked with thinking of a name for the group before the next meeting on June 5th; so far my creative juices haven’t come up with any ideas.

I learned nothing at all of the bomb until I woke on Tuesday morning, when I also learned of the closure of Manchester Victoria Station and the area of Manchester around the Cathedral. I was due at the university for a meeting with my PhD support team on Tuesday morning, and despite the replacement bus service from Central Park, I could see travel into Manchester was going to be severely delayed. I contacted my Director of Studies and we postponed our meeting until the first week in June. So I was at a bit of a loose end on Tuesday. I know the sensible thing would have been to settle to work; but my head was in entirely the wrong place for work. I was crying for my wonderful adopted city. I decided to distract myself for an hour. I went out for coffee and to do some boring food shopping. When I got home I sent some poems off to competitions; I had to do something productive with a very bad day.

Wednesday: a little ray of sunshine in Stockholm. Manchester people are the best in the world and nothing portrayed that more eloquently than this wonderful logo

It dominated the Manchester fan banners at the event in a wonderful display of solidarity. And of course, Manchester Utd won the cup, providing a piece of good news for the City in an appalling week.

On Thursday we went into Oldham to pay the balance on the price of our September holiday. We were there for the minute’s silence, which was held nationally in honour of the victims of Monday’s attack. And then I was in tears all over again to stand with people from all Oldham’s diversity in an act of communal grief it is difficult to find expression for. Terrible things happen in the world, often in the name of religion or of some other warped secular ideology; but good people standing in solidarity against those terrible things is a very moving experience. I have seen the minute’s silence observed many times in the week at sporting events and in town centres; and it has always been observed absolutely. As long as there are good people in the world, good will prevail.

Yesterday was the highlight of a bad week. Hilary and I went to Sheffield for the Poetry Business Writing day. Peter and Ann Sansom run these writing days every month, details here:
http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/workshops/writing-days
Keep an eye out for the next one; I can’t give you dates for the June workshop because Peter and Ann are committed to other work at the end of the month and they are hoping to arrange an earlier date, possibly the 10th; but I know for sure the July writing day is on July 29th and it is firmly in my diary. The writing exercises are interesting, mostly using published poems as springboards. I tried to concentrate on my mother-daughter theme yesterday and make the activities serve that; as a result I think I may have three or four more embryonic poems for the portfolio that will prove worth working on. And I was home in time to watch the FA cup final, so that was a bonus. No vested interest this year, Man Utd weren’t involved. But it was a good match and a bonny result for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal after a troubled season.

A poem this week to take us away from the pain that is Manchester, back to my native fens. I wrote this at a Poetry Business writing day in 2014, so it seems apposite to post it this week. Go safely, everyone, and go well.

The Fens
(after Andrew Grieg)

It’s the way that huge sky sits on the land,
compressing it like a wafer. It’s the way

the land responds, breathing in deeply
filling its chest with ripe wheat and plenty.

It’s the way the dykes mark the borders
of vast fields, carry the sea back to the coast,

breed eels. It’s the way the shire horse
remembers past harvests, when the air

was smoky with the dust of threshing.
It’s the way a thunderstorm in summer

is an event, how you count the seconds
between lightening and thunderclap

even though you can see the storm
for miles. It’s the way Billy Day eats

bread and cheese with his penknife,
says dang that wahsp, it stang me.

Rachel Davies
2014

 

A Week Away: the comedown

That awful anticlimactic feeling when you come home after going away. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my home. But going away, especially when it involves poetry and friends, is such an adrenalin high that the coming home really is a comedown; a kind of poetry cold turkey.

Sunday I spent doing the laundry, made a fuss of the cats, went shopping for food. You know, all those things that reinstate your space in the domestic sphere. On the way back from the shops I took some things that she’d left in the car back to Hilary and we had a coffee together. I got my car washed and waxed. I had meant to dedicate some time to PhD but my head was in the wrong place. So I concentrated on getting back into home. I watched Manchester Utd lose the last game ever at the old White Hart Lane site. I also watched Wayne Rooney score the last goal that will ever be scored there. I’m excited to see the new Spurs stadium next year: my son’s friend Ray, hospitality manager at Spurs, has been working on the development of the site.

Monday it was my great-grand daughter’s sixth birthday. Oh my, how time flies. She had a lovely day, as all childhood birthdays should be. I remember getting up on my birthday mornings and feeling taller by a year. Yes, I felt taller, as if I’d grown a bit as well as grown up a bit. I made a big saucepan full of butternut squash and ginger soup on Monday morning, to get me back into some kind of healthy eating after the excesses of last week. I fell asleep on the sofa at lunchtime and woke up too late to go to my aerobics class. What’s going on? I’m a part-time insomniac. It’s the post-holiday comedown. So that was two days of the week wasted and it’s only Monday!

Tuesday I gave myself a good talking too and did eventually get down to some work. I’ve been worried that my Selima Hill chapter is thin on theory. Before I went away I had read it through, colour coding it in themes and theoretical content. On Tuesday I did a cut and paste job to put all the theory in one document to ‘weigh’ it. I decided it did need developing; perhaps in a discrete introductory chapter that I can then refer to in the analytical chapters. It wasn’t quite as thin as I suspected, but it could do with fattening up a bit. Of course, I saved the original chapter as it was and saved the cut-and-pasted version as a separate document. I’m meeting with my study team on Tuesday, so I’ll see what they have to say before I proceed with a separate chapter; but I definitely feel the need to  put the theory on a high calorie diet and so I began re-reading the theory books to get started. I also managed to download a PhD thesis that Antony had recommended which concentrates on Selima Hill’s poetry. I began to read that. It convinced me that my theory does need some work.

Wednesday was my day at the Black Ladd, doing Amie’s books. With two week’s worth of work to catch up on, that didn’t leave much time for anything else. In fact, I worked until about 3.45 and still hadn’t finished. I had to go then because Bill and I had tickets for Twelfth Night at the Royal Exchange Theatre. We went into Manchester on the wonderful Metrolink. We got off at Exchange Square, which is so convenient; went to a little Italian trattoria in Exchange Square. Salvi’s is a small, family owned restaurant; a deli at entry level, the restaurant is downstairs. It is worth finding. I asked for gorgonzola cheese to start: oh, my! Two big slabs, one creamy as brie, the other firmer, more like Stilton. Both were little bites of heaven.

We went from Salvi’s to the Royal Exchange, about five minutes walk. I picked up the tickets from the box office and we had a coffee before the performance. Wow, Twelfth Night, Fantastic production. It was in modern dress; the yellow stockings and cross-gartering became a luminous cycling outfit, all lycra and close-hugging. Sir Andrew Aguecheek was one of my favourite characters though: appropriately long and thin with straggly red/blond hair. Such energy from that performance. Unfortunately, the run is finished now; but the next production is Jane Austen’s Persuasion: details here if you’re interested:

https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/the-theatre-tickets

Twelfth Night is a play I know like the back of my own hand. I’ve seen it loads of times; loads of different interpretations. I studied it for O-level English more than half a century ago; but no-one told me then what a fantastically funny plot it has. We didn’t get to see it performed–for some inexplicable reason we went to see Macbeth instead; which was wonderful, but a whole other ball game. I was too buzzing from it to sleep when I got home. In fact I didn’t sleep at all; can you get jet-lag travelling from Anglesey to Saddleworth?

On Thursday we did the weekly shop then I went into the Ladd to finish what didn’t get done on Wednesday; so now it’s all up to date ready for a new beginning this coming week. Friday we walked into Uppermill along the canal to visit the bank and to enjoy an al fresco coffee in Java. It was a lovely morning, the sun shining, the bluebells on the far bank reflected in the canal. We saw lots of male mallards but no females: I suspect they are on nest duty. But on the walk back we did see one female with six or seven ducklings close to the far bank. She had her work cut out keeping them all together; mini-mallards spilling out all over the place. In the afternoon I managed to stay awake in order to get to the gym for my pilates class. Pilates was recommended to me by the rheumatology nurse as good exercise to counter the slightly stooping posture resulting from the fractured fourth thoracic. Oh, my! It looks so easy; it feels so hard! I used muscles I didn’t know I had; and I’ve been feeling them ever since.

Yesterday, Saturday, I was at my desk by 8.00 a.m. I prepared my timetable of work for the next couple of weeks to give myself some direction. It will involve theory, I think, but I need to wait until I’ve spoken to the team on Tuesday in order to concentrate that where it needs to be. I don’t want to waste time running down blind ginnels. So I decided to concentrate yesterday on the creative side. I was reading Selima Hill again while I was away in Anglesey; and I’ve started to re-read Pascale Petit’s The Huntress in readiness for an analysis of her work when Mama Amazonica is published in the autumn. I thought about ‘the golden shovel’ I learned about during NaPoWriMo in April. This is a device for writing your own poems using a line from a favourite poem, then using the words of that line as the end words of your poem. I chose a line from Pascale Petit and wrote a golden shovel. It’s actually not bad! I tried again with a line from Hill: poem number two, acceptable. Altogether I wrote four poems yesterday morning using this device. I think they may be worthy of the portfolio; but I’ve put them away for now. I’ll bring them out in a couple of weeks to see if they still do it for me.

In the afternoon, I met Hilary in the local garden centre for coffee. She is also working to complete her MA portfolio, so it was a bit of mutual down-time. And that’s my week: a week of anti-climax, a kind of holiday jet-lag, sleep disruption (which doesn’t take much) and getting back on the bike. I’ve got my meeting this week and my timetable, which can be edited after the meeting. So I’m on my way again. PhD is a relentless slave-driver: I can’t afford many weeks like the last two, when it has been pushed aside. It will have its dues; I will pay it respect from now on; promise.

I’ve got a poem this week from our Trearddur workshops. We were sent out into the garden on a treasure hunt to look for clues and one of the clues I found was a skein of grey darning wool. It sparked this little poem. Amazing really, that there’s a poem in anything if you look hard enough.

 

No-one darns anymore

We were taught to darn a sock
in domestic science—we called it domski
like it was a Russian conspiracy.

And perhaps it was, a way of making us all
good Babushkas. A wooden mushroom
was tucked into the heel behind the hole

to keep the hole taut for sewing. Threads—
the warp of a loom—drawn across the hole,
then the weft woven with a needle and wool

until the hole shrank and withered
under warp and weft.
Well done, an average pass.

Now move on to making a patch
over that tear in your skirt.

No-one darns any more. It’s a shame
we ever did. Life’s too short and after all,
there are cheap replacements in TKM.

 

Rachel Davies
May 2017

A Week Away: Part the Second

It’s 4.30 a.m. I can hear the rain on the roof. Even by my entrenched insomniac standards, I have had a poor night’s sleep. And Bitch Week is over for another year. I am not happy.

We had a good week: workshops, poetry, international travel and friendship. We started our workshops on Sunday, the day we discovered the dishwasher at the cottage wasn’t working. Penny rang the owner who said she would send a local maintenance man: she lives in Chester so couldn’t deal with it herself. We asked that he visit in the afternoon as we were busy with poetry in the morning. Polly prepared the writing activities for Sunday, which included some pieces we could only write using questions. That was interesting, and influenced later tasks when questions were no longer a requirement.  Unfortunately, after the first activity, the ‘local maintenance man’, Mike, turned up to investigate the problem with the dishwasher, completely disrupting the flow of the workshop. He hummed and hah-ed in the kitchen for ten minutes and declared ‘no idea what’s wrong’. A local appliance repair man would come the next day. Back to the poetry. A ‘treasure hunt’ to look for clues as writing prompts was fun; the hunt took us into the garden on a lovely summery day.

In the afternoon Penny, Hilary and I went for a walk to visit three or four small coves, including a sandy beach. Penny bought us all ice creams. It was whipped ice cream, which I’m not too keen on, but the ice cream man assured us it was whipped Cornish ice cream and the best in the land. It wasn’t, it was whipped ice cream: frozen emulsion paint. Thank goodness Penny asked for 99s; at least the chocolate flake was OK. We walked down to the sea: Penny and Hilary paddled but it was too cold for me. It was my turn to cook dinner on Sunday; I made a pastitsio with lentils instead of meat. It was good. In the evening we read the writing we had drafted at the workshop in the morning. There were some good pieces, worth working on. We were ‘plum tuckered’ as they used to say in the old westerns, and we were in bed by 9.30.

Monday: Penny’s workshop. She prepared a variety of activities using poetry as prompts. For one, she chose runner-up in the National Poetry Competition as stimulus for our own writing:  Caleb Parkin ‘The Desktop Metaphor. It was good to read it together, and interesting to use it to inspire writing of our own. It’s not an easy form to emulate. Her last activity involved a little children’s book she had bought us all about being naughty. We really enjoyed the poems we wrote based in our analysed ‘naughty’ types. On Monday afternoon, after the morning workshop, we went into Trearddur for lunch at the Black Seal, a lovely restaurant close to the sea. We chose a window seat; the food was lovely and we decided to revisit on Wednesday evening when we planned to eat out.

On Monday evening we had dinner cooked by Hilary: a vegetable chilli, rice, tortilla chips and home-made guacamole. Delicious. After dinner we spent a pleasant evening reading from collections of published poets we had brought with us. Lovely to read Greta Stoddart’s  Alive Alive O, among others, as I was due to introduce her to Poets&Players on Saturday afternoon; it really whetted my appetite for that. Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets was in the mix; Helen Ivory’s The Secret Life of Clocks and Rita Dove’s Mother Love. There were anthologies too, giving us a wider access to poets. It was a really enjoyable evening. That night I didn’t sleep well at all. I was still buzzing with poetry, plus excited for Tuesday’s trip to Dublin.

We were up early: a taxi was booked for 7.30 to take us to the ferry port. We were practically the first there. A bus transported us to the ferry then stayed on board to transport us to the Dublin terminal at the end of the voyage. We found seats at a table by the window and went off in search of breakfast. We found an abandoned newspaper on a table, and Polly picked it up to read. She tore out the puzzle page for me to do the sudoku page: the easy one I completed in one-touch sudoku; the difficult one I messed up completely and didn’t have a rubber to put right my mistakes. Hilary and I were just starting on the word puzzles when a man came and asked us if we had bought the newspaper. We said no, we’d found it on table. Turns out he had left it there to reserve the table. What? Who does that–a newspaper to reserve your place? Newspapers are always left on public transport. He wanted it back. He was thoroughly unpleasant, despite our apologies, took his newspaper back, including the torn-out, half-completed puzzle page, and glowered at us every time our paths crossed on the remaining trip. We just put on our best feminist, confident ‘you-can’t-intimidate-us-you-tosser’ attitude, which pissed him off even more. I half hope he loves doing sudoku and I’d spoiled his day.

We pulled into Dublin–do ships ‘pull in’?– at just after midday: it was a sailing of about 3.5 hours. We caught the express bus to the city centre–€5 return. Our first visit was to Trinity College to visit the Book of Kells. Wonderful. The mediaeval illustrations and symbolism, the amazing manuscript. It is a fantastic exhibition, if you are ever in Dublin. My favourite, though, was the much smaller Book of Mulling, written in the late 7th Century in Irish Minuscule Script. Beautiful. The Long-room Library, upstairs from the exhibition, is fantastic; something like 2,000,000 books in there. As Polly said, if you started reading them when you were 5, you couldn’t get through them all if you lived to be 100.
IMG_5405

Hilary and me through the Brian Boru Harp, which became the national symbol of Ireland. Photo by Polly Atkinson.

From Trinity College we made our way to the Molly Malone statue on Suffolk Street. She is indeed beautiful. She stands opposite O’Neill’s Pub, famous haunt of political dissenters, including W B Yeats. We had our first pints of Guiness and ate a late lunch. From there, Polly and I took the short walk to the Post Office. This was the site of the Easter Rising, 1916. The building was badly damaged in the uprising, and was rebuilt in the 1920s, reproducing the original building. It was good to be there, at the site of the political struggle which ultimately resulted in the partition of Ireland into the Protestant North and Catholic South. It did lead to peace as well, until the eruption of The Troubles in the sixties. We took lots of photos, then went to visit the dapper James Joyce statue across the road.

James Joyce, O’Neill’s Bar and Molly Malone.

Hilary and Penny decided to visit the Temple Bar shops instead of coming to the Post Office and we agreed to meet back at O’Neill’s at 5.30 for another Guiness before getting the bus back to the ferry terminal at 6.45. Polly and I were standing on Westmorland Street looking to the map, finding a route to O’Neill’s when a lovely woman stopped to ask if we needed help. She was emblematic of the wonderful warmth we took from the Dubliners all day. We chatted for about fifteen minutes: she was a librarian and told us about some of Dublin’s ‘hidden gems’ to visit if we come again. They include a library built by a Catholic for Catholics at a time when libraries were only available to academics and Protestants, which generally meant the same thing. Apparently the library has ‘cages’ for the readers to prevent them from stealing the books. Definitely on the list for my next visit. This woman was also a poet and helps to organise the Listowel Poetry Festival, which includes a poetry competition; too late for this year, but one to look out for next spring. You can find details of the festival here:

http://writersweek.ie

The ferry ride home was calm and comfortable. We put in to Holyhead just about midnight and our lovely taxi driver was waiting for us as he said he would be. We were home by 12.45 a.m. having had a fantastic day.

Wednesday we’d given ourselves a free day to recover from our trip. I did some PhD reading: Juliet Mitchell Feminism and Poetry; and I wrote a long entry in my journal about the Dublin trip. I sat in the garden at the cottage for part of the morning, but it was so hot I had to escape the sun and go indoors. We were blessed with the weather all week. In the evening we ate out at the Black Seal as planned, a lovely meal; in bed by 9.30 to catch up on sleep we missed the day before.

Thursday, Hilary had planned writing activities, practical and fun ones involving black-out poetry, among other things. She kicked off with one of those ‘automatic writing’ pieces that always produce surprises. She and I went to Morrison’s in the afternoon and had lunch while we were there: an afternoon tea involving two quarter sandwiches, a scone and butter and a pot of tea for £2.50, how cheap is that? I filled my car up in Tesco’s filling station to save time on Saturday morning. Polly cooked a delicious biryani, Hilary and I added veg samosas and onion bhajis we’d bought in Morrisons, so we had a real Indian feast. We just chatted through the evening.

Friday was my workshop. I prepared an Oulipo workshop with activities involving N+7: identifying the nouns in a poem then exchanging them for the seventh following noun in the dictionary. We also rewrote one of the short poems we had written earlier in the week, using words that didn’t contain an ‘e’, challenging but fun. Relaxation, packing up to leave in the morning, then a chippy tea and chatting late into the night. It was a good day.

Saturday we packed the car and came home. I gave Polly a lift because she was coming to Poets&Players with us in the afternoon. Penny drove home alone: she couldn’t make P&P, she was visiting in Hebden Bridge. We left the cottage at about 10 a.m. and dropped Polly off in Chorlton about 12.30. Hilary and I had lunch at the Whitworth Gallery with the P&P committee members and the poets, Greta Stoddart and A B Jackson. Cheryl Pearson joined us later. Oh, my what a wonderful afternoon. The ‘players’ were Liam Byrne (saxophone) and Andy Hulme (guitar). Cheryl Pearson read from her about-to-be-launched pamphlet Oysterlight. A.B.Jackson was a consummate performer of his work. I had the pleasure of introducing Greta Stoddart, who was wonderful as ever. It was a splendid afternoon of music and poetry, our last event until the autumn. We are starting to think Arts Council bid for next year’s funding. How quickly that comes around.

It was good to be home after a week away. The packing is all waiting downstairs to be dealt with, there will be laundry, there will be ironing, the downside of going away; but there will also be poems to work on. I say, bring on next year. I can’t wait.

Here’s the poem I redrafted using no words that contain the letter ‘e’. The original was the poem I wrote in Penny’s workshop about my analysed ‘naughty type’: I was Miss Catastrophe–I can’t think how that happened!–so the title had to change for a start.

Miss Clumsy

It wasn’t my fault.
It was how that chair shot out in my path.
It was how stairs form a switch-back.
It was how doorsills caught my foot.
It was how that cup saw you through doors.
It was how that sofa lost a yard of width at night.
It was how soap jumps from the soapdash, slick at foot.
It was how cars do rough wanion*.
It was how that branch said it was strong: it wasn’t.
It was how I had too much toddy in my mug.
It was how that drinking trough didn’t look dirty.
It was how that pot had a wonky bottom.
It was how a pyracantha struck my tights.
It wasn’t my fault,
you told us to do it.

‘wanion’: old English word for revenge

Rachel Davies
May 2017

A week away, part the first

I’m writing this from sunny Anglesey; well, I don’t know if it’s sunny because it’s 5.00 a.m and only just light, but I’m nothing if not optimistic. It’s certainly lovely though. With three friends, we’ve hired a cottage here for our annual Bitch Week writing retreat. That is to say the bitch Spelks have gone on tour: the dog Spelks don’t join us for this one. We spend the week doing writing exercises in the morning–we take it in turn to run a workshop–then doing the sightseeing thing in the afternoon. I’m not going to tell you what’s planned–that’s a story for next week. Suffice to say, here we are.

Poetry has been ascendent this week, but the PhD has had it’s share too. And football. On Sunday  I had to rush into Manchester to return books to the library at MMU before the fine was due. Oxford Road was eerily empty: it’s usually teeming with people but this was Sunday morning, early, and hardly anyone about. A quick schlepp down to All Saints, drop off the books, schlepp up again, grabbing a coffee in Pret en route to Metrolink and I was home again before Utd v Swansea. Rooney gave away a free kick close to the end to lose a one goal lead and two valuable points. Bah!

In the evening we watched a television drama of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with Holiday Grainger and Richard Madden. I did enjoy it; I did. But the play is not the book. I was a young nursing student when Lady C went on trial for obscenity in the sixties. Of course, an illicit copy was passed around the nurses’ home with all ‘the best bits’ dogeared for  easy reference. We drooled over every eff word and sex act. But I read the love letter from Mellors to Connie at the end and I couldn’t pass it on to be drooled over any more. I loved it; I kept it. I don’t know whose copy it was to begin with, but it was mine at the end. I still have it on my bookshelf at home, fifty years later. It became my springboard for other DH Lawrence books; and then his poetry. I love his work. And my own mum and dad’s story is a bit of a DH plot itself: landed gentry daughter marries farm labourer and is disowned by her father; so I sort of related to his books. The TV play had them riding off into the sunset at the end in (presumably her) Rolls Royce and the love letter, even the need for the love letter, wasn’t referred to. So I did enjoy it as a piece of drama; but it wasn’t entirely DH. Ho hum.

On Monday I got down to some serious PhD work: I was at my desk before 10.00 to finish my analysis of Selima Hill’s sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’. So the incomplete chapter I sent off to Angelica and Antony last week is now complete; at least I have done all the work; at least I have analysed all the poems. You see, it never ends. I printed it off to read: I find screen reading difficult, don’t see the glaringly obvious, only what I mean to see. So I read my printed copy. I’m not happy with it. It feels disorganised in some way, not concise or clear enough. I need to do some serious redrafting. So on Tuesday morning I went into Oldham to buy myself some new highlighters and colour pens and read it for common themes and repetitions. I need to get it in a more economic order, I think. A bit of cutting and pasting. I’ll save it as Mark 2 though, so I retain the original in the event of a balls-up!

On Monday I went with Hilary to a performance workshop with Rosie Garland ahead of our reading on Wednesday evening. Rosie is a consummate performer of her work, so it was good to have some insight and tips from her. She ran an interesting workshop, lots of discussion about body awareness, relaxation, voice projection, use of the mic etc. Practical stuff. At the end we read our sets to each other for feedback, taking on board some of Rosie’s advice in the performance. It was a good workshop, thank you Rosie. When I got home I sent off a poem to the Poetry Society Stanza Competition. This year it’s judged by Jean Sprackland and the theme is ‘Forecast’. I wrote an apocalyptic poem at Steve Ely’s poetry workshop a couple of Saturdays ago and that seemed to fit the theme. A bit of editing and I sent it in. I’m not expecting it to be a winner, but its a free competition for PS and Stanza members and it needs our support.

Tuesday I should have gone to Peterborough with my daughter but at the eleventh hour our trip was cancelled due to the quite serious illness of the mother of a friend we always meet for lunch. We postponed our visit until later in May so that gave me a buckshee day to play with. Of course, I used it for PhD work; all my spare time, and a lot of my planned time, is PhD time. Commitment to a serious body of work requires a huge demand on time. I feel guilty these days if I do anything that takes me away from that. That’s my excuse for leaving the housework, for instance; there’ll be time enough for a good spring clean when I get this next eighteen months behind me. The fact that any excuse to leave the housework is a good one is not an issue. There was a time in my life I would have felt guilty for leaving the housework to do the studying, but not now. Older and wiser.

Wednesday the usual sanity of doing the books. It’s a day in my week when life is kind of ordered, and I’m glad of it. The precision of figures, the unambiguity. All up to date in readiness for this week away. In the evening Hilary, Bill and I went into Manchester for the performance event from Amy McCauley’s writing workshops from Leaf on Portland Street. The workshop was at the Sandbar off Oxford Road, opposite All Saints Park. It was a good event, music to kick us off from two RNCM students, then the Leaf members all read some of their work. It was a good mix of poetry and prose. The acoustics were difficult, as performance in the back room of a pub often is: a lot of noise from the bar next door. But I enjoyed hearing everyone’s work. I read a set from my mother-daughter portfolio, a couple of them quite recent from NaPoWriMo. Hilary read a set from her MA portfolio too. It was a good night.

Thursday, ‘Star Wars Day’ [May the fourth be with you] was spent ironing to get ready for packing to come away. Ironing is seriously bad for T4 and I have to do it in short bursts with rests and stretches and Hot Water Bottle therapy in between. It’s only the posture that sparks it off, I’m sure the break is healed; but it hurts no less for that. In the evening Man Utd beat Celta Vigo 0-1 in the away leg of the Europa Cup semi-final, so that’s a step closer to the final. Sometimes it looks as if the old Utd flair is coming back. C’mon!

Friday was a serious day of getting ready to come away: the ironing finished and the packing done. The iPad packing list proved a real boon again, makes the job so much easier. I spent the afternoon preparing my writing workshop for next Friday. I won’t say too much and give it away, but it’ll be different and [hopefully] interesting. I’ll tell you next week. This year we have a spare workshop day, so we are taking Kim Moore’s idea of ‘put a poem in your pocket’. The idea is, we each take a published poem we admire, a copy for each of us. I have chosen Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Invisible Ink’ from her collection The Bees. We read and re-read these poems until we make a connection with one of them. We live with that poem all week, reading, sleeping eating with the poem under the pillow, until we feel able to write a response to the poem with a poem of our own. I’m particularly affectionate to this idea. The last time I did it with Kim my poem won first prize in the Wells Competition 2014 🙂

Yesterday, Saturday, we arrived in Trearddur Bay in two over-stocked cars. The four of us met up in the Sea Shanty cafe for lunch. We let ourselves into the cottage at 2.30, unpacked, went to a local Tesco for provisions, then opened the wine and settled in. Hilary cooked a lovely tartiflette for supper. We laughed a lot. Poets eh? Friends eh? Where would we be without them? This is the view from our first floor balcony at the cottage:

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Oh, yes, I think I can get some work done here.

No poem this week, I’m not organised enough. Hopefully there will be something from the week for next Sunday. I’m planning early morning PhD editing as well as walks along the beach; and I’ve brought my own PhD library with me to catch up on some re-reading to strengthen the theory in the chapter. It’s going to be a good week.

 

Rooftop Protests, Spelks and the Grim Reaper

Poetry and life have had a big slice of me this week; the PhD has been pushed to the periphery, although it has been a productive periphery.

On Sunday I was early at my desk putting the disparate parts of the Hill chapter back together in a readable whole. I worked for about four hours, quite pleased with the results, but still with a couple of footnotes to check.

I also put together the anonymous poems document for Stanza. Every third Stanza we have an anonymous workshop when members submit poems to me by a deadline and I put them all together in a common font style and size with no acknowledgement to the poets. We agreed this format to facilitate a more open discussion of the work without the sanction of considering the poet’s personal feelings in the feedback. I send the document to all those members who have submitted poems to give them chance to read the poems and make comments before the meeting. I had eight poems submitted this month, so it promised to be a good meeting. That done, I worked on two poems for our Spelk session on Friday. The task this month was to work from a newspaper article: not to write a poem about the article, but to use just the words in the article to make our own poems. I followed the letter of the rule for the first poem I wrote, but found it extremely constricting. I wasn’t happy with the tight poem that resulted. On Sunday I decided to work with two forms I had discovered on Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook page. Still working from the newspaper, I took a sentence from one article and planned a ‘golden shovel’, the form that uses the words of the sentence as the last words of each line of the poem. I took another sentence and used it as the stimulus for a pantoum. I’ll post this poem at the end of the blog. I was much happier with the constraints of the form but the freedom to use other language besides the language of the article, I think it produced better poems that felt more like mine.

In the afternoon we watched ManU beat Burnley, three points that were much needed in the quest for a place in the Champions League next year: still a way to go in that quest, but every little helps.

Monday I wrote the ‘golden shovel’ poem I had been planning the day before, a poem about packing for a holiday. It’s a bit of silliness, but I’m quite happy with it. I meant to do some more work to the Hill chapter on Monday but I was quite late up, with writing in bed; and on Monday I have early lunch to allow me to leap around the gym without throwing up, so I didn’t have time to settle to it, really. Aerobics in the afternoon was good, but T4 was moaning by the end of it. I just tell it to get over itself and I go off in search of coffee.

Tuesday I had a haircut in Uppermill first thing, then I had to go into Manchester to meet Shirley, a colleague on the Poets and Players committee. She asked me to collect her Beautiful Dragons anthologies at the launch last week, which I did. However, I forgot to take them to the P&P event at the Whitworth as agreed, so we met up on Tuesday so I could hand them over. We met at ProperTea, the café by the Cathedral. I love the ritual way they serve tea there, and their Polish rye toast is the best ever: it has caraway seeds in, so a lovely delicate flavour. I had it with honey. Shirley had a slice of chocolate honey cake: Proper Tea get their honey from the Cathedral when they can. There are a million bees in hives on the roof of the Cathedral, how impressive is that, bees surviving in the city? We talked long and hard about poetry; and I remembered to hand over the books.

I went from ProperTea to the MMU library to collect a book I’d reserved, Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (I always want to say ‘pleasure dome’, unsure if it’s a nod to Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Frankie Goes To Hollywood: I’m pretty sure it’s a Freudian slip though!) When I got there, the book wasn’t on the reserved shelf so I had to go in search of it on the library shelves. The only copy they had was available on a one-week loan; so I have to go into Manchester again later today to return it before it costs me money.

When I walked along Oxford Rd. toward the library, there was some kind of rooftop protest happening at the old Corner House by Oxford Rd. station. Three or four men were up on the roof, the police had a cordon around the area and there was quite a crowd in attendance. By the time I walked back, the cordon had been extended, and the traffic was being held up. It transpires that the men had been squatting in the building, had been recently evicted and were making their protest against homelessness in the city. Power to their elbow, I say: homelessness, rough sleeping, is a huge blot of shame on the UK in the twenty-first century. It has grown and grown in the last five years. The divide between haves and have-nots in this country has never been so wide. I always have a pocket of change to hand out when I go into the city. And to those people who say ‘they will only spend your money on drugs’ I say ‘when I give it to that homeless person that money is their money to do with as they wish. If I was forced to sleep on the street, I might want something to take the edge off too.’ Well, I hope their protest made people sit up and take notice for a while. Certainly there was quite a sympathetic crowd there and it made the local television news; but I shouldn’t think it will make any difference in the great scheme of things. Mostly, I suspect, the homeless are socially invisible.

On Tuesday afternoon I read the anonymous poems (although of course I knew who wrote them because they came to me) and made comments and discussion points on them. At 7.00 p.m. I collected Hilary and Penny and we went to the Buffet Bar for Stanza. There were eight of us this month, so that made a good discussion group; the discussion was interesting and helpful. It was a good meeting.

On Wednesday I went to the Black Ladd as usual to do the books. I had to go early as we were catching a train to York soon after 2 o’clock. I managed to get all the work done before we went. I parked my lovely new car close by Greenfield Station: I felt a bit anxious leaving it there overnight, but it was fine. We arrived in York just before 4.00 and decided to walk to the hotel, about a mile we reckoned; and a mile it might have been had we followed the map correctly. We crossed the river, as the map suggested; but we hadn’t realised there was a choice of rivers. We crossed the Ouse and we should have crossed the little Fosse, so we were completely in the wrong direction. We eventually found ourselves on the map again and put ourselves in the right direction, only to miss the hotel altogether and walk past it by a mile: its signage wasn’t high viz. Thankfully the hotel was lovely. We stayed at the StayCity hotel, which was only built last year so it was new and clean. It was next door to a Co-op so we bought ourselves a bottle of chilled Gewürztraminer and had a much needed glass of wine. We were in York for the Danny Baker ‘From Cradle to Stage’ show at the Grand Opera House and we decided to eat after the performance. Amie had bought the tickets for herself and her partner, but he wasn’t able to go so she’d asked us if we’d like the tickets. It has to be said, before Wednesday I wasn’t Danny Baker’s biggest fan; but oh my, it was entertaining. The show started at 7.30 and didn’t end until 11.30, just Danny Baker talking about his life, his memoirs and the televised version. It was funny, nostalgic and interesting. He talked for four hours with just a short interval; which was impressive enough if he hadn’t been treated in 2011 for mouth and throat cancer. What an achievement. Of course it was too late to find anywhere to eat by the time it finished, so we went back to the hotel and had a sandwich and a hot chocolate.

We came home on Thursday. Unfortunately, when I produced the tickets for the train attendant, I’d bought day returns by mistake instead of the open returns I meant to buy; but he let us off, bless him, as did the attendant on the second leg from Huddersfield. I suspect it was helped by the fact we had senior rail cards: they were being indulgent to two oldies with impaired faculties, but it was good of them; they didn’t have to accept two out-of-date tickets after all. We went shopping when we got home and in the afternoon I made a saucepan full of pasta sauce for the lunch I was planning for Spelks on Friday. In the evening we watched ManU hold out for a draw against City, so that was a good result; not as good as a win would have been, but considering Fellaini had a rush of blood to the head and head-butted Aguero, and was rightly shown a red card, it was a good result.

Friday. Spelks. I love Spelks, but you know that already. We met early this month, at 11.00  a.m. because Hilary had to be at the RNCM in the evening for the annual Rosamund Prize event, a collaboration between MMU poets and composers from RNCM. The Spelk task this month had been set by Rod and I wasn’t the only one who had found it constrictive, including Rod himself. But the other Spelks had more or less stuck to the rules and produced some reasonable poems. It was a good session. I had made pastitsio for lunch and we ate too many nibbles and drank too much wine, but it was a lovely meeting as ever. Poetry, friends, food and drink: what’s not to like! Of course, because it was my turn to host, I should have prepared the stimulus for the next event and I completely forgot. But we aren’t meeting until June so I’ll get the activity to them by email in the next couple of days. Doh!

Saturday I had a really productive day with the PhD work. I read the Freud (pleasure dome) and finished the putting together and reference checking of the Hill chapter. I sent it off to Antony and Angelica for discussion at our next meeting. I also sent the sonnet corona and three other poems off to Jean Sprackland for discussion when we meet again toward the end of May. So it was quite a productive day and I was pleased with what I accomplished. I also wrote a dreadful poem for NaPoWriMo, so I am completely up to date with that challenge, even though most of the poems were eminently forgettable. The three extra poems I sent to Jean were all NaPo poems though, so some good did come of it. Just one more poem to write today and that’s it, the end of April and NaPo month.

Well, here’s the poem for this week. Yes, it was an April NaPoWriMo poem. I wrote it last Sunday, following Steve Ely’s workshop on Saturday for Poets&Players. The workshop looked at the work of Emily Dickinson, so it involved a lot of death references and funerals, and you can see the legacy of that in this poem about the grim reaper. It is a pantoum, using a short sentence from a Guardian article: ‘These are all such timely warnings’. Here are details of a P&P workshop on May 13th, lead by the lovely Greta Stoddart: there are a couple of places left, if you’re interested:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1381945521826511/

Harvest

Remember, what you sow he reaps.
Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning.
You can’t help muttering in your sleep.
These are all such timely warnings.

Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning:
life’s watery, distant, thin and cold
and these are all such timely warnings,
while you think you’re too young to grow old.

Life’s watery; distant, thin and cold
in the muddy earth, despite the coffin.
While you think you’re too young to grow old
death’s wintry fingers reach there often.

In the muddy earth, despite the coffin,
you can’t help muttering in your sleep.
Death’s wintry fingers reach there often,
so remember what you sow he reaps.

Rachel Davies

April 2017

PhD, poetry and playing hooky

This week I have finished my sonnet corona for the creative element of the PhD, worked on the critical element of the PhD, been to two and a half poetry events, met up with lots of poetry friends and acquired a new-to-me car. Even by my standards it’s been a full-on week. I feel sorry for people who say they’re bored now they’re retired. Look at your options: boredom isn’t one of them.

On Sunday I got started late on my work. I made a huge plateful of pancakes with berries for breakfast and took my time eating them while I watched Andrew Marr so by the time I started, my head wasn’t in the right place for the critical element. Instead I prepped my work timetable for the week and then concentrated on the creative element. I wrote the fifth sonnet for the corona, in the daughter’s voice. Later in the day I had added the sixth, this one in the mother’s voice. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the two distinct voices, but I can work on that when I get the first drafts done. I left the sixth one on a good line for rounding back to the first line of the first sonnet to complete the crown. I’m reticent to tell you I abandoned work in the afternoon to watch Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-0 at OT, because it shows you the limits of my commitment to work. It was a fantastic match. In the evening I booked a hotel in York for next Wednesday. My daughter, Amie, had bought tickets for Danny Baker’s ‘From Cradle to Stage’ but her partner couldn’t make it so she asked if we’d like to go instead. I booked us a studio apartment in the centre of York for £80.00 for the night: I call that a bargain.

Monday was a big and dedicated PhD day. I worked on the Selima Hill chapter, putting all my disparate redrafted bits together in a whole. It’s taking shape. At 4.00p.m. I met up with Hilary to go to Amy McCauley’s writing workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. This turned out to be the ‘half’ a poetry event I mentioned in my opener. We decided to get off the tram at Exchange Square and eat in a small, family run Italian ristorante there. Unfortunately, we lost track of the time, and when we picked the track up again, it was ten past six and the workshop had started at six; so we decided to workshop our own poems, take a leisurely coffee then go home. So sorry, Amy, we played hooky from your workshop: another first because, much as I hated school, I never once skived off then. When I got home, I booked train tickets to York: I found out there is no parking at the hotel I booked. York is very aware of its environmental responsibilities and discourages traffic in the city centre with excellent park-and-ride facilities. So we are going by train and taking the walk from the station when we get there.

Tuesday I was at my desk by 8.15 for another good day at the Hill chapter. I have a problem with the theoretical input even now. If I put too much theory into my argument, it feels like digression from what I’m really wanting to say; too little and the writing feels undernourished. Do I put explanations in footnotes or in the body of the work? Oh, this academese has always been a foreign language to me. I’ll decide at the next redraft, when I have it all put together in a finished draft of the whole chapter, I think. I’ll have spoken to Antony and Angelica again by then, so I’ll talk to them about it. After three hours of work on the Hill chapter, I changed tack and wrote the seventh and concluding sonnet for the corona. I printed off the whole thing and read it aloud, always a good way to listen to any inconsistencies in the rhythm etc. I was quite pleased with it as a first draft. It still needs some work on the distinct voices of mother and daughter, perhaps some idiom to distinguish them, but I’m pleased overall. It’ll be interesting to see what Jean Sprackland thinks of it when I send it to her next month. I’ve got time to do a bit more redrafting before then though.

Thursday it was the Manchester launch of the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology at
No. 70 Oxford Road. Hilary had organised the venue, in one of the lecture theatres there: it was intimate and comfortable. There were about fifteen of us ‘dragons’ there: other launches are taking place around the UK. But it was lovely to meet up with poet friends and share in the community of poets again for a celebration of some wonderful work. The anthology is called The Bees’ Breakfast. It has a poem celebrating every county, and a few cities, in the UK. I chose my native Cambridgeshire as my inspiration and wrote a short poem about the fens, centred around the man who became my stepfather and who was fenland through and through. I’ll post it at the end of the blog. You can find Beautiful Dragons publications here:

http://www.beautiful-dragons.com/Beautiful_Dragons/Contact_buy.html

Please check it out and support them if you can: Rebecca Bilkau is the editor and works unbelievably hard on these collaborations. Some fantastic poets are involved as well, so you’ll get real value for money if you decide to buy. After the launch we all spilled out into the Thirsty Scholar for a celebratory drink. The community of poets served me yet again: Anna Percy and Rebecca Bilkau talked to me about my PhD work; they were really supportive and I thank them for it: we all need some support to keep us going. Rachel Mann also offered to read my sonnet crown, bless her. I love my poetry friends.

Friday was the pick-up day for my new car. I’ve been running on adrenalin all week thinking about it: not just about having it, but actually buying it. In all my half a century of adulthood (?) I’ve only bought four cars on my own and I find it extremely stressful: the knowing if I’ve done the right thing, if I really need a new car, if I’ll need the money for something else as soon as I’ve spent it, if, if, if…But at 2.00 p.m I went to the Pentagon dealership and took possession and oooh! it’s loverly! Here is a photo of the red, glittery bits that show in the paintwork when the sun shines on them: I know, a really blonde reason to buy a car, but just look at them and tell me you wouldn’t have been beguiled too:

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This all brings us round to yesterday, Saturday. I had a wonderful day of poetry. It started with a workshop at the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road organised by Poets&Players. Steve Ely ran the workshop: it was based around the poetry of Emily Dickinson. We read, discussed and wrote poetry. I have a couple of embryonic poems from the workshop which I’ll be working on at home. Steve’s workshop was well organised, interesting and enjoyable. After a communal lunch with the committee and the competition winners, it was our competition celebration event. Oh my, what fantastic poems Michael Symmons Roberts had chosen as winners: Sharon Black in first place with ‘Post Op’; Ian McEwan in second with ‘Poem with this cow in it’; and Pam Thompson in third with ‘My life as a bat’. It was fantastic that all the prize winners could attend, especially as they came from the south of France, Bedford and Leicester; and they all read wonderful extra poems to go with their winning work too. I had the great pleasure of introducing Michael Symmons Roberts to our audience; and Li Liu, dressed in her wonderful costume creations to enhance the music, provided the ‘player’ element with her cello and Bach Cello pieces. It was a fantastic afternoon in wonderful surroundings of the south gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park, on a lovely summery day:

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A lovely day and a wonderful week. I love my life. Here’s my poem from the Beautiful Dragons anthology The Bees’ Breakfast. 

 

Ted

Sometimes dreams can be nightmares.

He wanted most of himself to be buried, to become
an enrichment of the fenland soil he loved so much,
his heart and lungs to be thrown in Whittlesey Wash
to feed the eels he knitted his nets for.

Oh, he was generous. He gave me some peonies once,
dug up from his garden. He shook the soil off though—
that soil’s worth three thousand pounds an acre he said.
I looked for the smile but there wasn’t one.

One night his skeleton grew out of the earth like a myth.

 

Rachel Davies

April 2017

 

 

Golden Shovels and the community of poets

I’m a bit late with the blog this week. It’s been a bad week for sleep but even by my standards, the early hours of Saturday were just weird. At 1.30 a.m. we were woken by a woman outside our bedroom window, wailing into her phone. ‘But I love you so so much, I just want you back. My family says I should tell you to f*** off, but I just want you, please, come back…‘ etc etc. I have no idea who she was: we live on a fairly quiet country lane and you would only want to be out there if you were meaning to be there. After a five-minute wail, her heels clicked off down the lane and she was gone. My initial response was anger at being woken up. I wanted to shout down to her to stop being so needy and kick him into touch; but when she’d left I kept wondering who she was, why she was there and if she got home alright. And then I was angry all over again that she’d put that concern on me. In the history of insomnia, that is a pretty unique wake-up, I think; but it might be the subject of a poem some day.

So, the week in brief. PhD, poetry and life have all made their demands this week. Timetabling is working well for me. I have spent a lot of time putting the Hill chapter back together in order to send off to Angelica and Antony later in the month. Angelica has been putting lovely pictures of her working week in Mainz in Germany this week so I don’t think she needs it just yet: a good thing; it still needs some work. I’ll be back at it later today. I have been working on my sonnet corona this week as well: I promised Jean she would have a sight of it before the end of May, so still a month to work on that. Four of the seven sonnets complete and fairly polished. It’s hard to get two distinct voices into a dialogue; but vital to get that right.

Poetry has had a big space in the week, it being National Poetry Month. I’ve continued to write a poem a day: some of them have been rubbish, but there are some little gems in there too, worth keeping to work on in more leisurely times. One or two have been mother-daughter themed poems, which might be incorporated into the portfolio when I put the PhD work together next year. The real joy of NaPoWriMo is that, under its pressure, I am managing to write a poem every day. I always thought I could only write in my study–my ‘room of one’s own‘. But I have learned that I can even write poems while I’m watching telly in the evening; or when I stop work for a cuppa. They fit themselves into my spare moments, I don’t have to make huge spaces and times for them. True, they are not all worthy, but they are ‘poems’ and I am managing at least one a day.  Will I keep up this pressure after May 1st? Who knows; but I might.

I joined Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo FaceBook page at the end of March. She posted thirty prompts for poets to use if they needed a kick start with their poems. I have used some of the prompts; they’re good starters. But through that page, I have learned new forms I didn’t know about and that has helped me to write poems when ideas were lacking. I think I wrote about the pantoum last week: a form I vaguely knew about but hadn’t used before. This week I learned about a nonet and a Golden Shovel. Yes, really. Had you heard of them? I hadn’t; but I have now, and I have them in my NaPoWriMo repertoire. I wrote a nonet about a birthday gift my dad asked me to wrap up for my mum when I was a teenager. The nonet is a nine-lined poem (no surprise there then); but the first line must have nine syllables, the second eight and so on down to one syllable for the last line. I quite like the poem: I might post it at the end of this blog. But its shape offends my OCD: it all comes down to the point of that final syllable and it looks unstable, top heavy. So now I’m thinking I could write a reverse nonet, that stands on its nine syllable last line; or a specular nonet, that writes down to one syllable and back up to nine, like a mirror. See? There’s no end to poetry once it gets into your system.

Oh, and the Golden Shovel, you ask. No I’d never heard of one of them either. Now I’ve written two. You take a line of poetry you really like and use the words of the line as the last word of each line of your own poem; so if the line you start with has six or ten words in you write a six or a ten line poem. I took that wonderful line from Plath’s ‘Morning Song’: ‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch‘ so my own poem became a nine-liner about watching my mother make a Victoria sponge. Your own poem doesn’t have to be along the same content as the original; your poem can be about something completely other. I guess the words in the line you choose might influence the content of your poem to some extent, but not necessarily so. Form can be very liberating when you are stuck for a beginning. Yesterday morning on Breakfast I saw a report about an elephant hospital in Thailand: they make prosthetic limbs for elephants traumatised by land mines. How sad is it that that should even be a thing? I thought of humankind having dominion over the animals and this seemed the worst possible example of how we abuse that trust. I tried to write that poem, but it wasn’t until I was in bed last night, approaching midnight, that I found a line by Pascale Petit that gave me my ‘in’: ‘that tight smile as if you’re tunnelling into the sun’ and the Golden Shovel gave me my poem. It needs some work, but it’s there in the shadows. The Golden Shovel is another example of the community of poets; or of what Carol Ann Duffy describes as poets all dipping into the same ancient stream. I love poetry; did you know?

Life has had its fair share of me this week too. On Tuesday I went to look at cars. I have had my eye on a Vauxhall Mokka for some time, decided I would buy one as a birthday present to myself later in the year. I asked Bill to come with me to the dealership just to look, just to work out my options. Yup, I bought one. Yup it’s brown–I can hear you shouting You bought a brown car? What were you thinking? I would have been shouting that before I saw the macadamia brown of the Mokka: I thought it was black when I saw it on the forecourt, until the sunshine showed the red glitter in its paintwork and I was hooked. My new-to-me Mokka 4×4 is brown and I’ll be collecting it before the weekend, hopefully. Lovely number plate too: VO16UUZ. Can’t wait.

On Wednesday I went to a meeting of the PMR-GCA north west branch. This is a support group for sufferers of Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis, the auto-immune conditions that I have dubbed the ‘ugly sisters.’ This was the first I heard of this group and I’ve been being treated since December 2013! I didn’t hold out much hope of it as a support group: I joined a FB support page at the beginning of my encounter with the ugly sisters and it seems to me it’s just a forum for proving you are suffering worse than anyone else; and I can’t be doing with that, being terminally optimistic. So I went to the meeting at the Victoria Hotel in Hollinwood expecting the worse and thinking I’d sit at the back and make good my escape if I couldn’t bear it. But actually it was quite helpful. A rheumatologist from Oldham Royal was there to answer questions from the floor and it was interesting overall. I’ll give it another chance to disappoint me in June!

Saturday my son Richard and his friend Ray came to visit. Amie, I and they went into Manchester for lunch at San Carlo in King St West. It was a lovely meal and I’m guessing I had a month’s supply of Slimming World syns in the dessert alone: a mile-high strawberry pavlova. I love spending time with my wonderful children; a shame Mike couldn’t be there: he had to work. He was missed.

So; if you have chocolate today, enjoy it. If you are a Christian, have a peaceful and life-affirming Easter. If, like me, you don’t subscribe to the religious meaning of Easter, have a lovely weekend anyway, and a perfect and productive week next week. Here’s my nonet ‘Painted Lady’. I discovered that by centre justifying it I’m happier with it standing so precariously on that one syllable. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to reduce the spacing on WordPress so it’s a bit longer and thinner than it is in Word, but here it is anyway:

Painted Lady

That face powder and blood-red lipstick

you gave her for her birthday said

more about you than it did

about her. Did you want

your Bull and Butcher

tart for a wife?

She was worth

so much

more.

 

Rachel Davies

April 2017