Referenda and a right laugh

Well, that was the week that was! Highs and lows; highs and chasmic, abysmal lows.

On Sunday, I went to Sheffield to meet an old schoolfriend and her husband. We met more than half a century ago – how scary is that to write – when we were both 11 and starting grammar school. I’ve mentioned the Demon Headmaster before, and when we get together we like to come up with new atrocities that were perpetrated on us. Apparently, we were the two of five hundred or so students in the school who were charged, found guilty and punished for marks that appeared on the lovely clean walls of our new school. We were singled out as the ‘markers’ and made to pay by missing lessons and being incarcerated in the school library (unsupervised) for a couple of lessons. Now, I didn’t remember this, but what I am pretty sure of is ‘it wasn’t me your honour’. Not because I wasn’t capable of marking the school walls; but because if I had it would have been on Banksy proportions and have carried some political message to the oppressive establishment.

O.K. I don’t mean to get political, but messages to the oppressive establishment slides me nicely into Thursday’s referendum. I sat up until 3.00 a.m. to watch coverage of the result. When I went to bed, ‘Remain’ were marginally ahead. Being a fully paid-up insomniac, I was up again at 5.00 a.m. and ‘Leave’ had collared the night, a predicted win of 52% to 48%; and that pretty much is what happened by six o’clock when the win was officially declared. I voted to remain in the EU, so it could be said I was desperately disappointed with the result, and spent Friday comfort eating and wondering how many points I could get for emigration to Australia as a pensioner prepared to write a few sonnets for the government if it would raise my profile. Of course, I recognise the democratic right to vote ‘Leave’; but I hate all that ‘Leave’ stands for. Throughout the day, social media was full of feeling: ‘Remainers’ decrying the state of the nation, calling for second referenda, offering virtual chocolate to their similarly beleaguered friends, ‘Leavers’ accusing us of being bad losers and giving us the virtual middle finger. I went to bed on Friday night feeling thoroughly down-hearted and spiritually broken.

Saturday brought new optimism; imagine my surprise when the first thing I read was that Farage had admitted that the promise of funding redirected from EU to NHS ‘was a mistake’ and probably wouldn’t happen; followed by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan admitting that ‘Brexit’ (I hate that word) promises of curbed immigration probably won’t happen either. The two cornerstones of ‘Leave’ campaign propaganda revealed as lies: great big, monumentally big lies. And here we have Scotland calling for a second independence referendum, the United Kingdom in danger of disintegration, the pound at its lowest level since the Jurassic period, the PM resigned,  scurrilous leaflets posted through the doors of Polish workers in Huntingdon and extreme right-wing posters with the legend ‘Rapefugees are not welcome’. Add to that the fact that many ‘Brexit’ voters (I so hate that word) had contacted the Electoral Commission to change their vote, they didn’t mean it really, and you have a situation that would be farcically funny if it wasn’t so desperately sad and frightening. And what has it all been about? The whim of a few public school boys who thought it would be a wheeze to shake up those upstarts in Brussels. Well Johnson, Gove, Farage, IDS, you made this mess, you can either sort it or spend a couple of hours in the library without supervision until you’ve paid for your dishonesty. Who knows where this will lead now. But I do feel sorry for those ‘Leave’ voters who voted in the best interests of the country as they saw it. And I feel sorry for the ‘Remainers’ who were defeated; we were all robbed, by rank dishonesty, of our democratic right to an informed vote. Electoral fraud in my book; justice should be served.

Those two events spell it out, really; how life can be  brilliant and it can also be crap. Unfortunately, life has curtailed my will to work: for the first time in my life I have been feeling ‘what’s the point if I’m planning to be a poet in Australia?’ But, of course, we terminal optimists have an incredible ability to bounce back from despair to something more positive and I have. Well, nearly. So yesterday I got down to working on my writing plan and sent it off to my Director of Studies in preparation for our meeting on July 4th. Also in the week, I received the promised Amazon token for attending last week’s focus group meeting. I immediately went on to Amazon and bought two more books: a Winnicott and a Bowlby, which promise to take my reading down new and relevant paths. The Bowlby arrived yesterday and I am very excited about it: it is readable, which is always a bonus when you’ve been reading Lacan; and it is even more relevant to my research project than I suspected when I ordered it. So life is not all bad.

On the poetry front, I have been sending poems out to various journals and competitions this week. Refining poems for publication is always a joy and a conundrum. I sent last week’s blog poem, ‘Like Penelope’ to Rebecca Jane Bilkau at Beautiful Dragons press. She loved it; except for a comma at the end of one line: was that comma really necessary given that the thought carried onto the next line (enjambment as we poets call it)? Now, that comma had been in and out like a fiddler’s elbow so I advised her to take it out and be done with it. That is what editing poems for publication is like: picking nits.

Later today, well just after an early breakfast actually, I am hitting the road for Kendal Poetry Festival. I have a Hilda Sheehan workshop at 10 o’clock, followed by a Fiona Sampson talk about Mary Shelley and then a reading by Fiona and Greta Stoddart. The festival was organised by my friend Kim Moore, so I just know it will be brilliant; I’m excited for a day of poetry. So I must get myself in gear and leave you with my poem.

This week’s poem is so new it’s still cracking its shell to escape. The political events of the last few days haven’t been conducive to creativity; but I have fulfilled my pledge to write a new poem for my PhD portfolio every week. I sat up in bed last night at 11.30 writing this, so I guess they don’t come much newer than that. It is inspired by the tablespoon my mother used to rap our knuckles with if we misbehaved at mealtimes. It’s a sonnet about those times as children when you know there are severe penalties for laughing, but you can’t stop laughing anyway. And why should you?


What I remember about the spoon is

how it was her crowd control at mealtimes

how she held it upright in her hand,

it’s handle to the table-top, how it tapped

a rhythm like a slow drum


how when we laughed we knew the spoon

would greet us with a firm handshake,

a spoon shaped bruise would raise itself

on the back of our hands, how we tried

not to laugh but it was a contagion


how you tried to drown your laughter

in a cup of tea but one snort spread tealeaves

across your face like freckles and we laughed,

laughed so much we knew. Here it comes now


Rachel Davies

June 2016





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