Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sun, sea and sangria and work

I’m writing this from sunny Santandria in Minorca. Yes, I’m on holiday again; and as usual, I have brought my work away with me. This has been a week of poetry and PhD annual review.

Monday was the deadline date for our ‘Make an Aria’ project, in which I worked with a composer from RNCM to plan an operetta scenario around the theme of ‘immigration’ and to write one aria, placed somewhere in the scenario. We decided to write to the theme of sexual exploitation in immigration, loosely planned an operetta ‘Lilith’ and wrote our aria towards the end of our scenario, which we left unresolved. Our aria is a sad and distressing song of Lilith’s exploitation at  the hands of someone she considered a friend. I wrote the text, handed it over to my composer, Laura, to set it to music. This Monday was the deadline for submitting it to the RNCM staff who organised the project in collaboration with Music Theatre Wales. We were one of seven or eight pairs of poets/composers involved in the project and our arias will be performed at RNCM in October.

Monday was also the day for the first year annual review of progress in my PhD work. I met with Michael Symmons Roberts at Manchester Metropolitan University to discuss my own report of progress and the report submitted by my Director of Studies. The review went well. Michael raised a concern that I may be setting my parameters too wide by looking at the work of four women poets and suggested I limit this to two, using the other two as ‘background noise’. I agree with him. He suggested I concentrate on Jackie Kay and Selima Hill, both of whom have been less analysed than Plath and Bishop, and that sounds good advice in the light of the need for ‘an original contribution to knowledge’ that PhD requires.

Michael asked about the creative aspect of the research: he was concerned about my posting an early draft poem on my blog every week, wondered if that was a good idea given the need to show proof of publication at the final assessment. I explained that this was a means to get me writing poetry for the project on a regular basis as I had been concerned that the critical side was taking priority, the creative side very much in the back seat. He was concerned that any feedback I receive on the poems might be considered as influencing the ‘original work of the poet’ aspect; but poems are often workshopped before publication, so I thought this was less of a concern. He advised perhaps giving myself a time lag between early draft and more polished poem, say a month from first draft, to post a more complete poem.I know publication on the blog excludes them from entry into competitions, but I suppose I always considered the poems as being part of a pamphlet or small collection rather than individual publications, so that makes a difference to the publication restrictions too. I have had two of the poems published individually so far though, one of which was written as a commission for an anthology; I did ask the editor’s permission to place that on the blog and permission was granted as long as I promised to acknowledge the anthology and the publishing house, which I did. Really, publication is a tightrope walk, isn’t it?

Michael was also concerned that I might be taking too much time from PhD work to keep up the blog but I reassured him that I normally write it at 4.00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, having prepared notes the previous evening; that it really wasn’t taking any PhD time at all. He was happy with that, and I do think my blog postings will prove useful when I am writing the review of the creative aspect of my PhD work later on. The last issue we discussed in detail was the possibility of my writing a verse drama around the mother-daughter theme as part of, or even as, the portfolio. This idea came from a conversation with Billy Letford last week at the poetry carousel. He asked us what our poetry fantasy would be, and I said to write a modern verse drama that would be performed in a significant space. At the time it was just that, a fantasy, but the more I thought about it over the weekend, the more it seemed to be an idea worth investigating for the PhD project. Now, Michael is no slouch where verse drama is concerned, as anyone who knows his work will appreciate, so I felt I was getting the best advice available on this. He said in principle it wouldn’t be a problem because it would be poetry; but reminded me that it would also need all the necessary elements of drama: characterisation, conflict, resolution etc. It’s an idea I am considering at the moment, very much in the early stages; but I will discuss it again with Jean Sprackland in the autumn when we meet to discuss some of my portfolio poems.

So, the annual review went well overall, and I am able now to enrol for Year 2. If it’s true there’s no rest for the wicked, I must have done some truly evil things in my life! The rest of Monday was spent picking up Euros for our holiday in Minorca; and buying swimsuits that wouldn’t irritate the sore back: most of my existing swimwear ends just where the back is most sore. How expensive is swimwear? No change out of £100 for three!

On Tuesday I had a less full-on day of poetry with our monthly Spelks meeting. I think I may have mentioned once or twice in passing how much I love Spelks? This is my favourite group: seven poet friends who meet regularly to share poetry, eat food and drink wine. This week we met at Polly’s house and the hospitality was wonderful. The poems this time were written to a prompt from Penny. We read and reread Alice Oswald’s poem ‘Body’ from her latest collection Falling Awake. This is a poem about the exact moment of a badger’s death: amazing poem with some exciting and memorable images. We were asked to write three poems: one an instinctual response to the poem; two, to take a line from the Oswald poem and make that the title of a poem of our own; three, to take a line from our own poem and make that the title of a third poem. I wrote the first poem in Grange at the carousel last week, but couldn’t write the other two, didn’t know where they were going to come from; until Sunday morning when both poems arrived in quick succession, almost as complete articles needing little redrafting. That doesn’t happen often; and both are written to the theme of my PhD project, so how good is that?

The rest of the week was spent preparing for the holiday: doing ironing ready for packing, which is a huge challenge with a fractured spine. Bill would willingly do my ironing for me, but I’m a bit OCD and I know he wouldn’t do it to my liking and I don’t want to be ungrateful so  I just prefer to do it myself!  Then the actual packing, which I always leave to last minute. I keep a ‘holiday list’ on my iPad Notes, so that helps no end: I edit it depending on where I’m holidaying. So, Thursday evening saw me throwing my bits into a suitcase ready for a 2.00 a.m. start to the airport. Apart from a quick heart-stopping panic when I lost my boarding card in Security, the journey to Santandria went without hitch, and I am soaking up the rays, and not a little sangria, while having work constantly on my mind. I packed three books that need reading, and my Kindle which has at least three more relevant books; also my MacBook: I intend to press on with the writing before breakfast every day, when I get in my stride. So what is a holiday apart from being able to do what you want? And what I want most of all is to finish this PhD! (insert smiley face emoji)

That’s it then: another good week that has left me feeling very positive and determined. It is hard work but, as Aunt Mary used to say, ‘I love hard work, I could watch it all day.’ Except watching isn’t enough, Rach, get on with it, get it done!

I will post one of my Spelk poems this week, but I will give Michael’s advice serious consideration in future, so it might be the last poem for a while. The poem I am posting is the third poem in the sequence of tasks: I took a line from my second Spelk poem and used it as the title of this poem, ‘The Path To Her Grave’. It is a poem that seems to sum up my mother’s life as a home-maker and housewife in mid twentieth century England. Those early romantic notions that came with meeting the handsome farm labourer she fell in love with, and her subsequent marriage to him, were soon dispelled as she worked hard without pay, brought up seven children in harsh conditions, cooked, clothed, laundered and sometimes laboured on the farm too. Hard times, reflected I think in this poem. No wonder I rarely remember her smiling, bless her. At Spelks, Rod pointed out how the final, longer lines could be sung to ‘These are a few of my favourite things’ and I can’t read it now without bursting into song! So thanks for nothing, Rod.


The Path To Her Grave

these were her way markers:

the dreams she woke up from

and romance that failed her

and promises forgotten

and ambition deflated

and potential unrealised

and success unrecorded

and sunshine in his laughter

and life in his shadow

and brooms hoes and mangles

and knitting and nappies and billowing bedclothes

and hogweed and nettles and bouquets of thistles

and vipers and tigers and soul-eating maggots

and give me and give me and give me and give


Rachel Davies

August 2016



Poetry, poetry and, erm, more poetry

This week has been all about poetry and PhD; so the best kind of week. I spent Sunday and Monday trying to  do some ironing to get things ready for a few days away.  I couldn’t do much, my back was too sore, so I kept having to take time out with the hot water bottle; but I did iron what I needed to pack my case. On Monday I bought a fabulous new weekend bag using a gift card birthday present from my sister. I found the bag in TK Maxx, all bright coloured flowers and frivolous. It was this bag I packed for going away.

From Tuesday to Friday I was in Kent’s Bank, Grange over Sands at Abbot Hall Hotel for a poetry carousel organised by Kim Moore. Penny Sharman collected me at 9.00 on Tuesday morning and drove us both there. It was a lovely day, but a drive slowed by traffic on the M62 which is being upgraded to a ‘smart motorway’; I always imagine a motorway having to pass its entry exam when I read that. Anyway, we arrived in Grange about 11.30 and went for a coffee. I bought us lunch as a thank you for the lift. We got to Abbot Hall about 1.15 but couldn’t book into our rooms until 2.00; so we sat in the garden with other poets enjoying the lovely sunshine. I love these events where I meet up with old poetry friends and meet new ones: the community of poets is a very special thing.

The carousel started with introductions at 3.30. Do you understand the concept of a poetry carousel? I’ve only heard of them through ones Kim has organised and I don’t know if she invented the concept or not. Anyway, the course participants are divided into four groups and four wonderful poets all run one workshop each, once for each group. This carousel had rides by Clare Shaw, Billy Letford and the Dutch poet Tsead Brunjia, and of course Kim herself.

The first workshop ran from 4.00-6.00 on Monday afternoon; I was in Tsead’s workshop first. Tsead writes in Dutch and Fresian, a northern-Nederlands dialect. He began by reading us some of his favourite Dutch and Fresian poetry. We had translations into English, which were then read by course members. But it was lovely to hear them read in their original tongue, even though I didn’t understand them. The musicality of them was strange and enticing on the ear. We then had forty five minutes to write a response to one or two of the poems. I reread the poems and chewed my pen for about thirty of those minutes, having no idea where a poem was going to come from. Finally, with just ten minutes to go I had a vision of a wombat I saw once in the spotlight of a midnight drive in Tasmania. I called on that experience to respond to a poem about becoming an animal. I’m quite pleased with it; I always write best under the pressure of deadlines.

After our evening meal Tsead and Billy performed their own poetry for us in the lounge. They are very different poets, but both readings were masterclasses, confident and entertaining. A wonderful evening. I was glad to take to my bed though, the full-on day had taken its toll on my sore back.

The next day, Wednesday, after enough breakfast to feed a family of five for a week, we went to our second workshop. I went to the one led by Kim, ‘Illuminating Moments’. It was concerned with those moments in our lives that don’t seem significant at the time, but assume a kind of significance later in life. We read poems on that theme by a variety of published poets and then wrote our own poems in return. I came away from Kim’s workshop with three poems worth working on. In one of them I explored a moment in my classroom as a nine-year old pupil when the teacher humiliated a child by trying to get him to say ‘the’ properly; the child substituted ‘th’ for ‘v’. It was painful but I didn’t realise its significance until last Wednesday. When I was a teacher, and particularly after I became a headteacher in a primary school, people often asked me what you need to be a teacher; I think they had in mind maths and English GCSE for instance. But I always said ‘remember what it feels like to be a child’ and I realise now, that response came from watching poor Barry Bedford’s humiliation when I was just a child.

On Wednesday and Thursday afternoons the course tutors held one-to-one tutorials for any course members who wanted them, a generous use of their time. But I opted not to partake: I spent my afternoons in my room, catching up on PhD writing or reading. I got a fair amount of writing done either in those afternoons or in the early mornings before breakfast. I also read a great deal, all PhD reading: is there any other kind at the moment? So on Wednesday afternoon I had cuddles from my hot water bottle, a lovely way to relax the sore back muscles, watched some Olympics and worked on my PhD. I met up with Penny and another friend, Louise, for dinner. On Thursday afternoon I decided I couldn’t waste all that lovely August sunshine by staying in my room, so I took an hour with my hot-water bottle and writing indoors then went out to the garden with a cappuccino and sat in the sunshine with my Kindle and Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love. I’ve read it before, it’s a good read; I’ve put it on my Kindle ready for my hols in Minorca next week, but I made a start on the first chapter about intra- and inter-subjectivity and the ‘master/slave’ analogy of domination and submission. Fascinating stuff. I was joined on my garden bench by a very friendly robin, a young one I’m guessing, who sat on the back of the bench very close to my head and let me get a lovely photo of him/her:


After dinner on Wednesday we had readings by two published poets, Helen Farish and Helen Fletcher. I much preferred the work of Helen Farish: her presentation was confident and engaging, her poetry thoughtful and original. Helen Fletcher has just had a first collection published and she is less confident in her presentation. This detracted from her poetry for me, a valuable lesson to learn for anyone reading their poetry to an audience: show the audience you really believe in your work or you can’t expect them to believe in it either. I know from personal experience what nerves can do to a poetry reading, so I sympathise with her.

On Thursday my morning workshop was with Clare Shaw. Her workshop was inspired by natural disasters and I wrote three more poems here; one of them I have adapted for my blog poem this week, about which, more later. Thursday evening, after dinner, Kim and Clare read their poetry. Both very accomplished readers of their own work, it was an engaging evening. It was rounded off by Sarah Lightfeather Dimock, a course member, and her guitar-playing husband, giving us a duet of country music. It was brilliant, Sarah has a wonderfully mellow voice, deep in her throat, warm as maple syrup. I was ready for my bed by 10.30. But of course, I couldn’t sleep: good poetry and performance does that to me. So I watched some Olympics, had cuddles from HWB and made myself a hot chocolate. Still no sleep, so at 2.30 a.m I gave up trying and wrote a Spelks poem for our Spelkerama next week.

Friday morning we packed up, checked out and went to our last workshop. Billy’s workshop was based in journal writing. We talked about journals and what we put in them. We wrote a typical journal entry, then were asked to write the same entry in the voice of a ‘character trait’. I, appropriately, was given the scenario of someone who had had a fall (!) and lost their capacity for experiencing fear. It was a good way to get us to think of voice in our work. We read lots of different poems and discussed how these all related to ‘journal’. Interesting. After a last lunch we hit the road for home. Friday was very wet, so it wasn’t a pleasant journey: lots of standing water, motorway spray and ridiculously inappropriate (dangerous) driving. It was nice to be home and be mollycoddled by Bill for the evening.

On Saturday I made sure my annual review file was up to date for the meeting on Monday: I included in it the latest poems I’ve been writing to the project and the latest version of chapter 1 to date. I also wrote two more Spelk poems for next week’s Spelkfest. Our task this week was to respond to ‘Body’, a poem from Alice Oswald’s collection Falling Awake. This is a wonderful poem about the actual moment of death of a badger; wonderful imagery, original and surprising phrases like ‘the simple heavy box of his body’ and ‘the grin like an opened zip’. Not for nothing has Oswald been called our greatest living poet. Anyway, I had already written my first response while I was away. The second and third activities involved taking lines from the poem and using them as the title of a new poem of our own. I was gripped by the wonderful line ‘with the living shovel of himself’; I changed the gender of the pronoun to enable a poem for my portfolio: you have to take your opportunities where you can. Perhaps they will become blog poems in future, but not this week: they haven’t been seen by Spelks yet so they are under wraps until Tuesday.

The blog poem this week is one I wrote while I was away. I wrote it on Clare’s ‘natural disasters’ workshop, a memory of my dad being called out of the house one night in 1953 when King’s Lynn was flooded by the North Sea. I have imagined it was my mother who took my dad’s place: she probably would have done if she had been born in an era when women weren’t chained in the home. So here it is, my mum driving through the dark to rescue flood victims in 1953 King’s Lynn:


1953 and I’m five and a half.


A midnight knock at the door.

My mother, somewhere on the edge

of my sleep-fogged ears talking to a voice

I don’t know, my father fussing

like an element of a dream.


Mum leaves the house,

joins other women from the village,

drives into the night to Kings Lynn,

then just a way marker for me en route

to Hunstanton beach.


Kings Lynn, centuries ago reclaimed

from water, has tonight been inundated

by the North Sea surging along the mouth

of the Wash, calling in the debt.


My mum worked all night, rowing,

rescuing, carrying to safety people

whose homes were toys bobbing

in the bath.


Of course, I knew nothing of this then.

I just put my thumb back in, turned over,

was asleep again before she’d left the house.


Rachel Davies

August 2016



Culture vultures and gold medalist spectators

I’m late with the blog this week: I stayed up to watch the track and field ‘Super Saturday’ athletes. Jess Ennis-Hill is a legend, a role model who has shown you can be a mother and a successful career woman in the same life. And as for Mo Farah, brilliant: he fell down in his race, bounced up again and still won gold. Bed at 3.00 a.m. and I slept like a log till half past seven, a long night for me! I meant to write my blog poem in bed last night, but I had to write it this morning when I woke up; more about that later.

It’s been a busy week: is there any other kind? I’ve continued reading Jacqueline Rose The Haunting of Sylvia Plath. I’ve started rereading the bits that are of particular interest to my research. I have tried to download some necessary books to my Kindle to allow me to take a library away with me when I go to Minorca in a couple of weeks. However, the books I need most aren’t on Kindle so I have downloaded Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love and three books by or about Sylvia Plath. I’ll just have to smuggle one or two books into my suitcase!

I managed to sit at my desk on Tuesday for about three hours so I continued with my writing; that’s going well, I feel as if I am getting the voice right. Three hours was enough before my back complained, but I am away next week for a few days on a poetry carousel organised by Kim Moore, details here

and I intend to take my MacBook and continue writing in the wee smalls hours at the desk in my hotel room.

I received an email with information about my annual review with Michael Symmons Roberts, which is scheduled for August 22nd, a week tomorrow. It was nice to read the last sentence of the report from my Director of Studies to the effect that I have made good progress and he has no concerns about me passing this interim assessment. Rather more worrying (or not!) to read in the first sentence that I am coming to the end of my second year of study. Err, no, only the first year. Does that mean I’ve made even more progress than he gives me credit for as a second year researcher? No? OK, I was always a glass half full kind of a girl. Other good news this week: one of my portfolio poems has been accepted for inclusion in the autumn edition of The Interpreter’s House magazine, so that is some small sort of thermometer for the creative side of the work.

I had my first full day back at the desk in my daughter’s pub/restaurant this week too, so that is another marker that my body is mending. I am glad to be up to date with her books, especially as I’m away again next week and then a fortnight’s holiday so I only have one week in the next four to keep up with the work. I’ll have to do a big catch up when we are back from the Balearics.

This week the tumble dryer went into melt down; the thermostat gave up the ghost. It is ten years old, so of course it’s obsolete. The replacement part the repair man brought out with him has three fixers (apparently) and we needed one with only two fixers which they don’t make any more (of course they don’t). So we went out on Thursday in search of a replacement dryer. I’m sorry if this offends some of my green readers: I do hang out my washing whenever I can, but I live on the edge of Saddleworth Moor and rainy is our default position, so a tumble dryer is a necessity if I don’t want wet clothes hanging on all the radiators for the rest of my life. We found the dryer we want and it was delivered next day. No we didn’t go to a multinational trading place; we went to a local discount outlet. Excellent service.

My body is definitely on the mend. I took another picture of my facial bruising this week:


Compare this with three weeks ago, a week after the fall


and you will see the improvement immediately. The back is still a bit sore, but nothing like as painful as it was even a week ago. So I’m definitely mending. My plan is to get off the opioids before they bring out the sangria in Minorca. Now there’s a plan! Yesterday I revisited the site of my fall at the foot of the stairs in Costa. Since the fall I’ve had flashbacks of those stairs coming up to make contact with my face: I’ve found myself crying out with the shock of the impact, so I have a very small insight into the effects of post-traumatic shock. I wanted to revisit the stairs so I can have a more positive experience to fall back on (pardon the pun). It was surprisingly hard to do it: I really didn’t want to climb those stairs with all the nasty associations; but I did it. And despite the jelly legs that lasted for a couple of hours after, I think it was the right thing to do. This is me, slaying that particular dragon:



I managed to negotiate the stairs without falling, so that was an improvement in itself. Funnily enough, we were off to the Exchange Theatre again, as we were on the day of the fall. I wanted to go in to book tickets for ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ starring Maxine Peak, to be performed in October. We managed to get two seats, but only on the upper tier, so if you want to see it, get booking now. I was pleased to see in the winter programme that another ‘Carol Ann Duffy and Friends’ is due in January and February 2017, so I’d better get booking for that too. I love the Exchange Theatre, one of my favourite performance spaces. I’ll be a real culture vulture in October/November: I have tickets for Mozart’s requiem at the Bridgewater Hall, thanks to my lovely daughter; and tickets for my birthday from my lovely son for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, both at the Opera House; and now ‘Streetcar…’ Lovely jubbly, bring it on!

So, it’s been a busy week, as I said at the beginning of this blog post. On top of everything there has been sport: England v Pakistan in the Test Match; the Olympics: I’ve really got into rowing, synchronised diving and track cycling. I was never good at sport, but I am a gold-medalist when it comes to spectating. Last night’s track and field fest was the highlight of a very good sporting week. And on top of all that, Manchester United won the charity shield; and they play again this afternoon, so I’ll be watching that one.

Now, on to the poem, which I only wrote in bed this morning. I feel the need to write some of my portfolio poems in the mother’s voice: I have written lots in the voice of the daughter but I am finding it difficult to write in the voice of the mother, despite being a mother myself. I don’t want to draw on my experience as a mother, because that isn’t what the project is about: it is focused on the daughter as writer, the mother inhabiting the writing of the daughter. So I have had to find a route into the mother’s psyche. Here, I have imagined her fantasising about trading places with the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova: to be out there on her own, outside the guilt of motherhood. I’m not sure if it works, but here it is anyway:


Being Valentina Tereshkova

If I’d been Valentina Tereshkova I’d have taken

a wrong turn at Ursu Major and kept falling

through blackness. I’d write my thoughts down,

make poems of them no-one will ever read,

pull the plug on communications home,

get drunk on privacy


and as I spin through space I’ll hear you all

crying at the loss of me, you’ll probably

make me a hero, cry until your eyes are deserts,

clap until your hands are numb

and all the while I’ll be bouncing

from black hole to black hole

like a happy pinball

and no-one will blame me.


Rachel Davies

August 2016




Some of life’s challenges…

I’m getting my life back, slowly. I have made a slow start on the writing this week. It’s still uncomfortable to sit at my desk for long: thank goodness for laptops. I’ve not managed a page a day, but at least I can see where I’m heading, and I’ve dipped my toe. I’ve done lots of reading: Jacqueline Rose ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath’ is a good read, deep but interesting. I like that the title is ambiguous: is it Sylvia Plath being haunted; or are we being haunted by her? Either interpretation will do. It is about how the writing we read has been altered, not just by her own redrafting, but by the choices her husband and mother made in the editing of her late collections and her letters and journals. In life she was a complex figure; in death she has become an icon.

I was talking to a friend in the week. She is doing an MA in creative writing and poetics. She is having a conversation with herself about whether to enrol for the second (final) year of her course. She did well in her first year but doesn’t believe she understands what it’s all about. I encouraged her: she’s come so far, a shame not to finish it now. She said ‘why do I need an MA anyway: it’s not for career development or anything’ (she’s more or less my age). I know what she means, I feel the same about this PhD; which surprised her. Why do we want to do these things? For their intrinsic value, obviously; but mostly for the sense of personal achievement, for the laying down and accepting of a challenge. It’s what keeps me going. I hope it will keep her going too. And her graduation will be another good excuse for a party.

I visited my GP again early in the week. I still have a lot of pain in my back. Like me, he thinks the X-ray report ‘doesn’t make any sense’. He thinks I sustained the compressed fracture of that vertebra when I fell. He tapped the spine and the worst pain was over the fourth thoracic, the site of an ‘historic’ compression fracture. I don’t do things by half: if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, my old Aunt Mary used to say. I asked for a second opinion, but it would cost about £1000 for another X-ray, a scan and a consultation, which I’m not prepared to pay: there is nothing they can do even if it is a new fracture. The treatment would be the same: keep moving, keep taking the painkillers and wait for it to knit. Ho hum. He ordered tests to rule out osteoporosis.

I went back to work at my daughter’s pub/restaurant this week, just for a couple of hours. Bill took me as I’m still not driving. I can’t drive until I can do an emergency stop and as riding over bumps in the road is painful (and this is Oldham we’re talking about) I think that will be a week or two yet. I got the most important stuff sorted and collected other stuff to bring home for homework. Bill collected me at about lunchtime. We had a bowl of soup before we left. When I was ill as a child, Mum always made me tomato soup; so tomato soup is real comfort food to me. We had tomato soup: my daughter is upholding a family tradition, then! Oh my, it was good.

On Thursday, another step forward in my recovery. I had a haircut. Now that might not seem a big event in itself, but my hair grows like grass. Normally, I have it cut every fortnight to let it know who’s boss. Because of my accident, it has been five weeks since my last trim. The barnet had joined Spectre, was making a bid for world domination, was beginning to fill the house with its bulk. OK, over-reaction. But it was such a good feeling to get it off. I couldn’t do a shampoo, that would have involved the fourth thoracic in a painful backwards bend over the sink. But the bulk of the wig has gone. And in five weeks, I had a lot to talk about with Karen.

Later on Thursday we heard that our Poets&Players bid for Arts Council England funding had been successful on the first application, thanks to the combined hard work of Janet Rogerson and the rest of the committee. This was fantastic news: it took us three goes to get funding last year. So that means we can continue to mount our free, high quality readings at the Whitworth Art Gallery for another twelve months. Our next event, from current funding, is on September 24th. Pascale Petit will be running a workshop in the morning (I think all places are filled), and then reading her poetry in the afternoon, supported by Daniel Sluman. You can find details here:

In October we work with Manchester Literary Festival to bring Ian MacMillan to Manchester. Details of that event closer to the date.

On Friday it was the ‘reveal day’ for the Sky Arts project I wrote about in July. Fellow Bitches Hilary, Penny, Louise and I presented at the gallery for lunch and then reported to the Sky Arts reception desk at 1.30 as requested. It has to be said, time management isn’t a strong skill at Sky Arts. Our start time had been, over the last three weeks, variously 2.00 p.m., 3.00 p.m. then 1.30 p.m. We turned up on time: the project got underway at about 2.15 in the end. We had to present in the same clothes, with the same hairdos as on our first visit; they wanted to film it all as if it happened on the same day. Outfit and hairstyle wasn’t an issue. The bruised face threatened their continuity somewhat though! On Thursday, after my haircut, I went into Boots in Oldham to buy face make-up. I haven’t used a foundation since I was experimenting with make-up as a teenager: I hate the cloggy feel of it on my skin. But there seemed no other way to disguise the bruising so I grasped the nettle. I asked one of the ‘beauty consultants’ for some advice. She sat me down and offered to do a trial run. She used some kind of light meter to decide my skin tone: warm ivory, apparently. Then she covered one side of my face to hide the bruising, so I could compare sides. I loved that she didn’t ask how I came by the bruising at first, although I knew she must be curious. She gave me a lesson in diplomacy when she asked if I’d had ‘some kind of surgical procedure on my eyes’. Ha, nice one. I told her what had happened and why I needed to disguise the bruises. ‘If you get the part,’ she said, ‘can I be your make-up artist.’ I didn’t disillusion her. ‘If I get the part,’ I said, ‘you can definitely be my make-up artist.’ She did a good job: the bruising disappeared. I bought whatever it was she used. It has to be said, I didn’t make such a job of it on Friday as she had; but from a camera distance, you would have had to know there were bruises there to spot them under the slap.

We were asked to ‘mill around’ the gallery, discussing the paintings among ourselves. We milled for forty-five minutes. There’s only so much milling around you can do before you’re all milled out; so after forty-five minutes we asked permission for a comfort break and escaped to the cafe for a brew and a snack. We had to be back in planet Sky for the big reveal at 4.30. It was pure reality television, where they announce that they are going to announce the winner and then leave the audience hanging for what seems like hours to build the excitement. At last the fake was revealed. It was… ha, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. We are sworn to secrecy (I asked permission to tell you this much) until the programme is aired early next year. I can tell you that a couple of us got it right and now we wait to hear if we are invited to round two in Oxford, all expenses paid. Unfortunately, it’s on the same day as my annual PhD review, so I sort of hope I won’t be invited back; but part of me thinks it would be nice…

On Saturday my back was suffering from too much ‘doing’ over the preceding three days, so I hunkered down on the sofa with my hot water bottle and Selima Hill’s poetry for company. Did I tell you how much I love her poetry. If she lived close-by, she could definitely join the Bitches. I was reading her sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’; I just love it, so much hidden meaning. Anyway, on Saturday evening I was recovered enough to go out for dinner with another friend, Joan. It was my first evening outing since the accident. I didn’t cover the bruises, but they are fading rapidly on their own. Lovely meal at the Black Ladd, my daughter’s place. Lemon meringue pie to finish. In bed on Saturday night I wrote my poem; really it is an old poem I brought out of mothballs and revamped. Still not sure about it but you can have it anyway. Will it make it to the portfolio? Possibly not; it depends how desperate I am at completion time! Here it is:



 A space a long stride wide opened

between what she said and what you heard

so you waited—you were good at waiting.


You set down planks, inched toe to heel,

picked up clues from what she said next,

gradually bridged the gaps. To sum up,


her lips spoke one thing but her body

sent a different missive. You learned words

were air, insubstantial for weight-bearing.


It took years to brave the leap across that gap.

Her white-haired winter

and like a snow-woman in summer

all that’s left of her is an evaporation.

You’d swap it for a certainty.


Rachel Davies

August 2016