Working Holiday…

Doing a PhD doesn’t mean you can’t take a holiday: I proved that this week. I took the PhD with me, worked in the early hours before breakfast and left the rest of the day for relaxation. Well, I am an early riser, before breakfast is the best time for me; you’ll have to find your own best time.

Slow down, Rachel. Be methodical. Firstly, I can report that I am recovered from the nasty microbe that laid me low last week. I have eaten lots of biscuits and mint humbugs this week to give me energy; don’t think for a moment I enjoyed them, they were medicinal! It seems to have worked. We have walked quite a lot this week and the energy levels were high. I think the sugar helped settle the stomach too. In that really hot summer of 1976, I caught infective hepatitis swimming in the north sea off Heacham. The doctor prescribed barley sugar to suck to settle down the angry liver. It worked then; and I think it worked on the stomach this week. That’s my scientific opinion and I’m sticking to it. Pass me a humbug.

OK, so on the ‘life’ front: we went from my grandson’s birthday celebrations in Telford to Pembrokeshire to live the week in a tiny cottage near Saundersfoot, a small village called Pentlepoir. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. But it was adequate as a base for getting out and about in Pembrokeshire. Over the course of the week we did lots of touristy things. We walked into Saundersfoot, about 2.5 miles each way. It was a lovely walk, spring was out in all her finery. We saw primroses, violets, celandine, anemone, even the bluebells were beginning to break their buds. The birds were singing love songs, the sun was warm. It was the perfect upper after the illness of the week before. We sat in the sun on the lovely sandy beach feeling like real English holiday makers. I wanted to wear a knotted handkerchief but Bill insisted I buy a sunhat like everyone else. We walked to the sea’s edge, saw crabs, even a hermit crab, before going for a huge ploughman’s lunch in a local pub. On another day we went to St David’s, the smallest city in the UK: it’s really a village-city but the cathedral is gorgeous, next door to a monastery ruin. I bought myself a new tunic in Window on Wales. On Friday we took a ride in a first class carriage on the steam railway at Gwili. It reminded me of train rides I took as a child: not that we travelled in a first class compartment then; and we didn’t travel by train much at all; but I remember a trip to London with the school when I was about 8. I don’t remember why we went or what we did when we got there, but I do remember how my lovely white ankle socks got filthy black in the air vent at the bottom of the carriage. It reminded me of iconic films of the time too: Brief Encounter and The 4.50 From Paddington.  In the afternoon we visited the museum of speed at Pendine Sands.

We didn’t leave poetry behind on our visit though: we went to Laugharne, a poetry pilgrimage to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse and writing shed. That was fascinating. A video installation said he wrote 75% of his poetry between the ages of 16 and 20: how fantastic is that? Of course he drank himself to death with 18 whiskeys at aged 39; and his best piece (in my opinion), Under Milkwood,  was the last piece he wrote. We bought the CD of the iconic Richard Burton reading; sorry, I really don’t like Dylan reading his own work: that tiresome ‘poet’s voice’. Feel free to disagree. We ended our visit with tea and Bara Brith on the terrace looking out over the estuary.

I took my MacBook and Freud books on holiday with me. I’m an early riser and I was determined to do a couple of hours of work a day before holidaying. I managed it; even on the day we came home. I got up about 5.00 a.m. each morning, made sure there were biscuits, I brewed coffee and worked. On the first couple of days I worked on my Freud chapter, taking care of the edits: I had printed off a copy before we came so I could read hard-copy and ‘mark’ it with a red pen. I edited it on screen. I added a further 1000 or so words: it was more than 4000 words when I emailed it off to Angelica and Antony to read prior to our meeting on Tuesday next week. It is still very much first draft; all the time I am reading I am seeing ways I can improve on what I’ve written. I have read The Ego and The Id  while I’ve been away, re-read it taking notes to cement my understanding. I need to revisit my Freud chapter again now and redraft: add to what I’ve already written as well as to write some more. I wonder if it will ever really be finished. It will soon be time to move on to post-Freudian feminist reaction, so I’ll have to finish with Freud soon, but I have enjoyed reading him so much; and learned loads. And in a holiday of 6 days, I managed about 12 to 15 hours of work; that left me the rest of the days to enjoy the holiday, knowing I wasn’t getting too far behind.

On the poetry front, I wrote a mother/daughter poem. I set myself the task last week of writing a  poem a week to my research theme. I managed that this week despite being on holiday. I don’t think it’s a particularly good poem; it could certainly be better than it is, but I did it. It’s a poem about birth, written from the new-born daughter’s point of view. It sort of begins to explore the myth of penis envy; but it needs work. It’s my blog poem for this week. Feel free to comment and offer suggestions.

The poem:




This is how I like to think it happened:


that I slip into the bright lights of the delivery room,

blink, fill my lungs and yell;

that you lay back on the mattress, exhausted,

laugh at the strength of my voice;

that the midwife cuts the umbilical cord, says

     you have a healthy daughter

that you weep tears of joy,

hold out your arms say

     a daughter is a gift;

that the midwife wraps me in a dressing sheet,

puts me into the crook of your arm,

that you look into my face,

smell my hair in that instinctual way

of an animal recognising its own offspring

that you touch my cheek

as if you’ve known me all your life

as if you can’t believe we’ve met at last.

that you whisper you’re beautiful

as your breasts tighten and swell.


This is how I think it really happened:


that I slither into the bright lights of the delivery room,

blink, fill my lungs and yell;

that you lay back on the pillows, exhausted

laugh at the strength of my voice.

that you ask How is he; that the midwife

wraps me in a dressing sheet, says

     you have a beautiful daughter

that she offers me to the crook of your arm.

that you take me but hold me at arm’s length

without the contact of skin on skin,

that you recognise without scenting

that I am decidedly not yours

that you tell the midwife you will bottle feed,

say you need to sleep

that she takes me from you, puts me in the crib,

wheels me out;

that I learn from day one

how to get by without a penis.


Rachel Davies

April 2016


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