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



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