Monthly Archives: September 2016

The question ‘why’ and yummy plum pie

I’m finding it a challenge to realise that we’re nearly at the end of September, how time is slipping through my fingers: I’m stuck somewhere in July in my mind! I’ve been reflecting a lot this week on why I am doing this PhD. Why am I putting myself through three years of agony, the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced? I don’t have to do it, my life doesn’t depend on it, I don’t need it for promotion at work: I’m at the top of my favourite profession, retirement! So why have I just signed on for the second year, why am I doing it? I’ll return to this question later.

I have been getting back in the groove this week, spent the weekend doing some more with my chapter. At the moment, because my last attempt  at writing resembled an under-graduate essay, I am asking myself in my writing what exactly it is I want to say to communicate my point of view, so I am writing in my own words to my own argument. I shall go back later and insert quotes and references. Of course, I am referring to my reading notes in this process but not actually using the quotes I saved, just using the gist to inform my own words. I’m finding this easier, more liberating. So I am getting together a satisfying chapter to discuss with my team sometime in October.

And I’ve been doing some more thinking about my verse drama idea: it’s like a little worm in the back of my mind, it won’t stop nibbling. Towards the end of my other favourite profession, Headship of a Greater Manchester primary school, I undertook a BA Literature with the Open University – I know, I’m a bit of a masochist, I didn’t need to do that either! But one module was a writing module: Start Writing Fiction I think it was called. Anyway, while I was on holiday recently I read a Jessica Benjamin book, The Bonds of Love. It shows how love can become a master-slave situation, how one partner in the relationship can dominate and the other be dominated to such an extent that without that role – being dominated – s/he (the ‘slave’) is effectively annihilated. The slave’s reliance on that subordination is such a strong self-image that without it s/he has no sense of selfhood at all. It reminded me of a short story I wrote for the Open University course, about a toxic mother-daughter relationship, and in the week I looked out my back-up CD with the story on. It would be ideal as a blueprint for my verse drama: it would fit the mother-daughter theme perfectly, and could be easily related to the theoretic reading in the reflection section. Unfortunately, my MacBook Air doesn’t have a CD player, so I now have to work out how to get the story from the CD to a USB device so that I can re-read it. I’ll be solving that problem later today.

So, work continues at a moderate to slow pace; but it continues and that is very satisfying. Things can only get better. But ‘life’ has had a big slice of me this week as well. On Monday, the nicer side of life allowed me to have lunch with two lovely friends, Hilary and Penny. We sat in the conservatory of Muse in Uppermill and spent two relaxing hours eating, drinking coffee and catching up on our lives since we last met. I love being a lady who lunches, but the problem with lunch is, it comes in the middle of the day, so it messes with any plans to settle to some work. The morning is spent getting ready for it, the afternoon is almost over by the time lunch is done. So no work on Monday.

On Tuesday, a less pleasant side of life intervened. My daughter was diagnosed with malignant melanoma just over two years ago. 2014-15 was lost in lots of surgery and pain: MM is not just a question of removing the mole and it’s sorted, as I might have thought before she was diagnosed. It is cancer; and it affects lives like any other cancer. Her cancer cells had entered her lymph system, as evidenced by the cells detected in the inguinal lymph glands, which were removed in the need to stop the cancer spreading. As a result she has to have six-monthly scans to check for evidence of metastases. Her first scan was in December 2014; I wrote a poem about it, which I’ll post at the end of this blog. Her June scan this year revealed a ‘shadow on the lung’. Probably nothing to worry about – how can you not – she was told it could be an infection and she was asked to come for a follow-up scan in September to check out the demise or progress of the shadow. Tuesday was the day of the follow-up; so the two of us set off for the Christie at 7.15 on Tuesday morning to make sure we beat the traffic in time for her appointment. She will probably get the results next week when she goes for her oncology clinic appointment; until then, I’ll have anything crossed that will cross. So that was Tuesday and no work done again.

On Wednesday, the pub/restaurant business calls on my time. I was all done this week soon after lunch so I went home, had a brew and a bit of hot water bottle therapy: sitting at the desk takes its toll on the fourth thoracic. Then I went out to Tesco to buy plums. I started making Yummy Plum Pies on Tuesday night. On Monday I had par-stewed the plums for the pies, and on Tuesday night I made the pastry. Unfortunately, in the twenty four intervening hours, the plums had started the process of fermentation, so I chucked them in the bin. Tuesday evening, plum pies with no plums! So I went to buy plums on Wednesday. Why the need for plum pies at all? Well…

… a few weeks ago, I went with my daughter and my elder son and two other friends to Hunstanton. When my children get together they often do this nostalgia thing where they pile the guilt on for the deprivations of their childhoods – all good natured banter, I hasten to add. This particular conversation in a café in Hunstanton revolved around how ‘we never had puddings when we were children’. I reminded them of the Yummy Plum Pies I used to make for Sunday lunch, but they couldn’t remember. We spent some thirty minutes on this conversation, talking about mouse pie, a birthday speciality I used to make and so on. When we went to pay the bill the waitress said she was reluctant to take our money because she had never heard such an entertaining conversation in her café before. Anyway, the friend with us on the day has invited us to her Macmillan Nurses coffee morning on Thursday in Peterborough, so my daughter and I are going. ‘You could bring a Yummy Plum Pie, Mum,’ writes daughter on the FaceBook thread. Lots of smiley face emoticons from daughter and friend followed . So, Yummy Plum Pie it is then. I made two on Wednesday evening. Oh, my, they smelled good straight from the oven, but I managed not to slice them. They are in the freezer waiting for Thursday. Here’s a photo taster:


Wednesday: no work added!

Thursday I had an appointment with my rheumatologist. I see a rheumatologist for the Polymyalgia/Giant Cell Arteritis autoimmune disease. In this appointment we had long conversations about bone health. The Prednisolone I take can weaken the bones in post-menopausal women and lead to osteoporosis. Having had two fractures in the last three years, this was a trigger for a discussion about bone health. I have had two Dexa scans in the last two years, both satisfactory; however, there were elements in the latest scan that could indicate a weakening of some bones so I am to have another Dexa scan to see if that position has deteriorated. I also got to see the X-rays of my spine, the first time I’ve seen them. The fracture is very obvious, the fourth thoracic vertebra completely collapsed in on itself. Dr Klimiuk thinks it would be impossible to determine if it was an ‘historic’ fracture without an MRI scan, but given the pain I have experienced – am still experiencing – and the history and nature of the fall, he also thinks I did it on when I fell in July. I need no convincing at all: I felt it snap!

So, Thursday and no work added. Or on Friday when I was just guilty of prevarication; however on Friday I did manage to find the Open University CDs in my ‘filing system’, so that’s a bit of a contribution. I hope I manage to access the relevant storyline. I also did some more of my ironing which always takes its toll on the fourth thoracic, so hot water bottle therapy after and Bill to come up with dinner. It was Chinese take-away, very nice but hardly conducive to my commitment to Slimming World. Ho hum!

Saturday it was Poets&Players at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Pascale Petit ran a workshop in the morning, which was wonderful. We worked from art, accessing one of the exhibitions in the gallery for one of the tasks. I wrote two drafts that might become poems, one of which could quite easily become a portfolio poem, so the morning was useful and enjoyable in equal measure and could have contributed inadvertently to PhD work. In the afternoon Pascale read from her forthcoming collection, releasing lots of new poems out into the world like newly hatched butterflies. Her writing really is fascinating, how she combines personal experience with family history. It was a great reading. Daniel Sluman also read. I didn’t know his work until yesterday: check him out, it is wonderful:

I bought Daniel’s  Nine Arches Press collection The Terrible and asked him to sign itHe looked incredibly like my lovely grandson too, so that was a bonus! Coco Inman from Chethams Music college provided the ‘players’ aspect, giving us a virtuoso performance on the violin. It was a lovely afternoon, so good to see lots of our regulars in the audience along with new devotees too. I met up with a friend from our Creative Writing MA days and we went for coffee and catch-up after the event, so a lovely rounding-off to the day.

And here we are, full circle again: how the weeks do fly by and it’s Sunday again, early hours, I’m writing my blog. So, back to the question I began with: why am I doing this PhD at all? My life is clearly full of stuff: I’m hardly bored or lonely am I? I don’t need a PhD on a professional or a personal level really; except I do. It is a personal challenge: I don’t want to set Academe alight with my intellectual prowess; I just want to set myself the challenge and work towards it. Achieving PhD status would be wonderful, but it is not everything. The journey is all.  Some days lately, particularly since the accident in July, I feel as if my body is an alien, as if it is ganging up on me, failing me in important ways. I used to be a nurse, so I have very little patience with illness: I have seen how debilitating real, serious illness can be so I have never indulged myself in being mundanely ill. But since July my body has been screaming ‘You will sit up and take notice now’; and I’ve been screaming back ‘Bog off, you can’t define me!’ But there are days when it seems as if it can indeed define me, if I were to give in and let it. The mind, however, that is a whole other kettle of fish. The brain is alert and craving: it needs feeding to keep it alive. PhD is the last  mountain in a horizon of several degrees in my personal and professional CV. I’m climbing it, as Sir Edmund Hilary said, because it’s there. Personal challenge, personal gratification. And, of course,  that Tudor bonnet has a certain sartorial appeal!

Enough. Here is the poem I wrote after my daughter’s first scan. She has to drink a radioactive cocktail prior to the scan. She’s worked through all the flavours and none is less foul tasting than any other. She calls it the worst cocktail bar in Manchester: here’s the poem.

The Worst Cocktail Bar in Manchester

 Waitresses dressed as nurses come to the tables,

greet you cordially, take your cocktail order: Strangled

Gland, Corpse Reviver, Black and Blue, Lacy Legs.


You consider Lacy Legs, but settle for Black and Blue.

You knock back two glasses, pull a face, wait 15 minutes,

take a chaser. You look around, see people downing


orange cocktails, yellow. One woman sips white liquid

like breast milk. You pour another glass, retch, hold

your nose, keep it down. Something in it smells


like aniseed but not quite. You swear you’ll never drink

Pernod again. You save the last shot for just before the scan.

Really, you say, this is the worst cocktail bar in Manchester.


You try not to lick your lips, begin to feel the blood heat

coursing. On the way home you ride with the windows down.

I ignore the December freeze, keep my gloves on.


Rachel Davies

December 2014


One direction: and I’m not a fan.

I heard a news report on BBC radio this week that the stock answer to ‘How are you?’, is no longer ‘I’m fine thank you, how are you?’ but ‘Oh, busy!’ Because busy, apparently, makes us feel successful and achieving and that in turn makes us feel good about ourselves. So, how am I? Well, this week I’ve been busy and ill in equal measure. No, not ill exactly, just not feeling well. Just not myself. I’m not me any more, I feel as if I’ve been taken over by aliens, as if my body is a battle field. I just don’t have time for all this body-battling.

On Sunday my daughter drove me to Telford to visit my son and his family. I took two Tramadol before the journey, prophylaxis really, just  because my back had been sore the day before and the car ride is nearly two hours. Oh, my! Big mistake. I’ve had a recurring waterworks infection since Easter that came back while I was in Minorca and I ignored it thinking if I didn’t make eye contact it would just sidle off. It didn’t sidle anywhere and on Sunday it got fed up with being ignored and mixed itself with the Tramadol to remind me that it would be noticed. I felt sick in the car – I’m never car sick. We took a comfort break at Knutsford Services and got ourselves a coffee and some polo mints and I felt a bit better then. I had a lovely day with the family, we discussed a celebratory holiday next summer to celebrate my seventieth and my daughter’s fiftieth, even made a loose decision about where we would go. But I never lost that weird feeling of being someone else; of literally not feeling like myself. On Monday I made an emergency appointment at the surgery and got antibiotics for the plumbing. It’s as bad as it gets, the Doc said, as she dipped Clinistix in my little sample. I told her getting old sucks and she said, ‘Unfortunately, life only goes in one direction.’ Which did less than nothing to cheer me up. But a double dose of antibiotics and I was feeling better within twenty four hours. The underlying problem to all this is that I take corticosteroids for Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis, ugly sisters in an autoimmune condition. The Prednisolone subdues the autoimmune system so that it stops attacking my healthy tissue; but because it subdues the autoimmune system it is harder for the body to fight off infection. Catch 22.

However, you can’t keep an old dog down and after a day feeling sorry for myself on Monday, and buoyed up by the positive effect of the antibiotics, I drove myself to Uppermill on Tuesday morning for my fortnightly haircut. A bit of pampering is sometimes all it takes. I felt so much better when I got home. I spent some time booking a poetry residential in St Ives in February, details here:

I’m really looking forward to this one: Kim Moore and David Tait as tutors, what’s not to like? I spent some time prepping the evening meal before going out after lunch to Manchester. The good news is, Poets & Players were awarded an Arts Council England grant this year on first application. This is a group that organises high quality poetry and music performance events at the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road in Manchester. Check us out here:

I am on the organising committee for P&P. We were elated to get the grant because it took three applications last year, so to be successful at the first attempt was a wonderful bonus. But. We, the committee members, had to sign personal information forms before the grant can be processed so Janet Rogerson sent out the forms with a rota for getting it to all members of the committee before being sent off in time for the deadline. Of course, being poets, practicalities are not always our strong point and somehow the system broke down and had to start again. On Tuesday I met Shirley Nicholson, fellow committee member, so that we could both sign before she sent it recorded delivery in time for the deadline later this week. We met in one of my favourite cafés, ProperTea by Manchester Cathedral. Lovely to spend an hour over tea and toast with a like-minded friend; and we did some provisional planning for forthcoming events while we were together. If you haven’t been to ProperTea yet, check it out, details here:

Wednesday was my day at my daughter’s pub/restaurant. I do her books; and I’d been away from them for three weeks, so there was a lot to do. I got there at 9.00 and it was after 5.00 before I left; but all is up to date and it should be easier next week. I had asked Bill to put jacket potatoes in the oven. Unfortunately we had a short power cut on Tuesday evening: big, big storms over Manchester disrupting supplies. The clock on the oven had switched itself off.  The oven won’t work without the clock. Bill didn’t know how to set the clock. I am always telling him to play with technology to learn what it can do; so he took my advice and tried to set the clock. Bless him, he used every knob on the oven to try to set that clock. In the end he managed it, but he had set it to the timing device, which neither of us use normally. So, when I got home from the pub I made myself a brew and used the hot water bottle to ease the aching back while the potatoes were cooking. Bill prepared the whole meal, which made a nice change: he’s no chef. But when it was served, we couldn’t switch off the oven because it was still in timer mode! Oh my, Bill and technology – lethal mix!

Thursday was all about shopping for food and getting Jimbo to the vet for his annual health check and immunisations. I have two cats, house cats who never go outdoors. They have the run of the house, so I always think going to the vets should be a bit of a treat for them, a sort of excursion. They have different ideas. Having battled Jimbobs into the cat carrier he did that anxious panting thing that cats do and cried loudly all the way there. Thankfully he forgave us as soon as he was on home ground again. I suppose being house-cats, they are a bit agoraphobic, perhaps. But, hopefully, that’s his outings for another year. I was back to Slimming World in the evening – I haven’t been for 9 weeks, since the accident, so it was with some trepidation that I mounted the scales. I had put on 4lbs since my last visit so that was a bit of a result after six week of Bill’s cooking – if it doesn’t have oven chips it’s probably a take-away! – and three weeks staying in hotels. Back on it now though. I’ve been a target member for nearly six years and I know if I didn’t go regularly I would need to join again because, basically, I love eating! I know my limitations and an hour and a half a week is a small price to pay for feeling good.

Friday was bank day and a quest for a page-a-day academic year diary for the pub bookings. How difficult are they to find in September? But I did track one down in Ryman and the good news is, I got to use my student discount card as well. The rest of Friday was taken up with watching Andy Murray battling Juan Martin del Potro in the Davis Cup semi-final, another heroic match. Murray beat del Potro in the Olympic final, but he couldn’t repeat that achievement in Glasgow. And the evening match was lost too, so GB have it all to do now if they want to retain the cup. They have to win all three remaining matches; and del Potro looks unbeatable at the moment. In the evening we went out for a meal with a friend. We went to the Lime Tree Indian restaurant in Prestwich. Fine end to a weird week.

So, what does all this rambling about my week really tell you? Think about it. I promised I would force myself to start work this week. Is work mentioned above? Not a jot, not a tiddler, not as much as a comma or a full stop. Up until the weekend, I have done nothing towards my PhD at all: feeling too poorly at the beginning of the week, prevarication and avoidance towards the end of the week. And too tired by bedtime to even read in bed. So on Saturday I gave myself a jolly good talking too. After breakfast I came into my office, set up the MacBook and began. I printed off what I had already written and did an editing job. I realised that some of what I had written was really for a later chapter, so I cut it and pasted it into another document to save for another time. I redrafted what was left and wrote another thousand words. So yes, I have started. I am back on it with a vengeance. And I’ll be writing some more later today. Sometimes it’s hard to discipline yourself when you are not feeling 100% and other aspects of life too readily get in the way: don’t beat yourself up about it. Just take your time, look after yourself and get back to it when you can. That’s what I have learned this week.

After all, life only goes in one direction: and the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about!

Stairs, tears and facing my fears

This has been the second week of our Minorcan holiday. Mostly it has involved lots of reading and a couple of visits to Ciutadella, the nearest old town to our resort.

First, the reading. I finished reading Dinnerstein The Rocking of the Cradle. My reading of her thesis is that  the problems of modern life, the human blindfold race to extinction, is the result of female led caring; that women care for the children while men ‘build the world’. This keeps us all in a state of perpetual childhood, playing out our designated roles; girls become women, become carers of children; boys become men, go out into the world to continually rebuild it. Passive, stay-at-home girls experience this activity-in-the-world vicariously via their men. If the infant-caring role was shared by both genders, she claims, the traditional split in gender personality would not develop. The book concludes with a chilling chapter on how this split is completely f*****g up the world post-Hiroshima as men have to big-up the frightened, Oedipal boy in their psyche while wasting the talents of half the population who could bring a new vision to the mission.  Of course she was writing this in the seventies and things have changed some in this respect. But really, there is still a long way to go in my experience.

I started to read Sprengnether The Spectral Mother. This is an intelligent critique of Freud’s failure to recognise the mother in human psychological development.  She shows how the mother is a shady character in the background of his theories but he refuses to see her; or rather he ignores her presence because she gets in the way of Oedipus, castration theory and penis envy. I think Sprengnether is an admirer of Freud on the whole, but sees this blindspot in his thinking as a serious shortcoming; and as a possible symptom of his own psychological issues and latent homosexuality.

Ah, the old days when I used to get through six or seven ripping novels on a holiday like this without having to think too much about them.

We took the service bus into Ciutadella, pronounced Seeyou-tadaya, a couple of times in the week. The buses run on time and are modern and comfortable. Except when they drive over ‘sleeping policemen’ or other bumps in the road. The suspension on the bus was a bit hard and the fourth thoracic felt every bump. But oh my, it was so worth the discomfort. Ciutadella is a gorgeous little city. Its Cathedral is welcoming and has no dress code for visitors as churches in some Mediterranean towns do. Our tickets to the Cathedral admitted us to a convent as well: ‘left out of the door, then left again, then right’. We never found it. But we did stumble into an ongoing church service in a building we assumed was the convent on account of the cross on its roof; it was a parish church, the service being read in Menorquin. When we left the church, we walked the cobbled streets, looked in the quirky little shops, did some gift shopping – and a bit of sale shopping for me. We found the harbour and climbed the town walls to get a good view of it and of the old fortress walls. Minorcan invasion has been attempted lots of times in its history but has never succumbed, the brave Minorcans have always resisted the invaders. We had an al fresco lunch, a huge vegetable paella for me, and shared a litre of Sangria in the sunshine in a square shaded by pine trees. The bus took a longer route back to Santandria as it completes a circular route, so we got to see a lot more of the local area during the journey; win win.

We came home on Friday, had to be up at 5.30 to catch the airport transfer. From the front seat of the coach we watched the sun rise like Professor Fate’s big red balloon. I tried to capture it on my iPhone, but of course all the phone camera saw was a light in its lens. The airport has sorted out its systems superbly and we were through check-in and security in a pleasantly short time. The flight home was comfortable – well as comfortable as you can dare to hope on a package tour flight – and the landing was the softest landing I ever experienced. We were home and unpacking by two o’clock in the afternoon.  I love going away, but I really love coming home and restoring my life to normal. So I put a load of washing in and looked forward to getting down to work – i.e. writing – on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning arrived and after breakfast I started to get myself together for work, then a most extraordinary thing happened. Since the accident I had been sleeping in the guest room on my own, worried about having my back knocked in the night by Bill’s thrutching about in bed. So, I went into the guest bedroom to collect some personal and work belongings and I was overcome by the most overwhelming sense of sadness. I just burst into tears. I can’t explain this even to myself, so don’t ask. I know it wasn’t to do with the holiday being over, because I was glad to be home. I think it was being in that room and facing what it meant to be there before the holiday, with its connotation of pain; that is to say it was some kind of delayed reaction to the accident, something I had to get off my chest. And of course, I think I might have been tired from the flight the day before; but it wasn’t conducive to work, that frame of mind; so I ducked out, concentrated on the laundry and pampered myself with a pot of rooibos and an episode of Vera. No, I know it’s not going to get the work done, but I’ll be hard on myself in the week and really knuckle down. Promise. I’m not someone who normally needs to talk herself into work, it comes naturally to me. Then my lovely daughter rang while I was in this depression and that cheered me up no end. She is taking me to visit my son and his family in Telford tomorrow. My grand-daughter has had this wonderful idea that it would be good to take a family holiday in Cornwall next summer to celebrate my seventieth and my daughter’s fiftieth birthdays, so we’ll be doing some planning for that tomorrow I expect. Does Perranporth know what’s coming, though?

On Saturday afternoon, I drove my car for the first time since the accident. We went to do a week’s shopping, to stock up on sensible, fat-restricting foods, so I reversed my neglected car out of the garage and drove to Tesco, Bill in the passenger seat.  I scared the whits out of  him by doing an emergency stop, the NHS test of readiness to drive. The fourth thoracic survived the stop, so that’s another step on the road to recovery; although when we got home I had to pop a couple of pain-killers so I think it will be short journeys only for a few weeks until I can do it without recourse to Tramadol! It felt good to be behind the wheel though. I have two Batchelor degrees and two post-grad degrees but I always say the driving test is the best qualification I ever took.

And when I think how nervous I was to do it at the time. Who was it said we have nothing to fear but fear itself? Roosevelt, I think. Anyway, I used to be phobic about escalators once until I forced myself to face that fear and step on one in M&S, Ashton-u-Lyne. I stood at the foot of that escalator for ages, plucking up the courage, until security staff were looking suspiciously at me so I had to act. I remember that awful tingling under the soles of my feet as I stepped on; I ride escalators anywhere now, even those long reptilian ones in London’s underground. The point of this is that I am becoming a bit ‘stair-phobic’ since my fall, especially faced with hard and unforgiving stairs like stone steps you sometimes come across in the street. I get to the bottom of the stairs and my face remembers how the stairs in Costa rushed up to meet it and I recoil at the memory. But I will beat that one too. I’m a tough old bird, I can do this!

So that’s my week in brief; well relatively brief. I haven’t got a poem to post this week but I have been giving a lot of thought to my idea of a verse drama while reading Dinnerstein and Sprengnether. It is beginning to look to me like an exciting idea, one worth developing. I need to speak to Jean Sprackland in the autumn; and possibly to Amanda Dalton at the Exchange Theatre if she can spare the time to offer some advice. I’ll leave you with that thought; and I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Have a good week, whatever you are doing.



Manuel Moments and other distractions

I used to be married to  a man who was a career bigamist; that is to say, he was married to me and to his job. I was never his Number 1 Wife in this arrangement; and his job definitely won out in the end when he left me for his secretary. I suppose when your Number 1 Wife is your job, it helps to have your P.A. on hand 24/7. And I’m telling you this, because…? Well, when we were first together we lived in a little house that had no spare capacity of space at all. He used to say, ‘I can’t work here,’ and I thought he was just being a narcissistic divo; and of course he was. Obviously. But I have attained a certain sympathy with him this week. I am in Minorca, in a small apartment in Santandria. It is lovely and I feel very relaxed. I brought my MacBook away with me to do some writing every morning before breakfast. But I CAN’T WORK HERE! On holiday, I like to sit on the balcony and watch the sun come up while I get down to early work; but here the balcony is just wide enough for a plastic garden chair, leaving enough knee room before the balcony rails to make Thomas Cook Airlines look positively spacious; and it’s overlooked by the balconies on the other side of the passage.  And indoors just doesn’t do it for me, work-wise. The dining table always seems to be covered with the detritus of holiday, not a conducive space for work. I worried for the first week; then I thought there is no sense in worrying, I just can’t work here. So I am leaving the writing until I get home. I know what I want to write, so it is just a case of getting down to it in my own office space.

In the meantime, I am getting lots of lovely reading done. I have read Colm Toibin’s On Elisabeth Bishop, a masterclass in writing about poetry. It includes chapters with Thom Gunn, another of my favourite poets; and Marianne Moore; and of course, Robert Lowell; all in the Bishop context. I enjoyed reading it. I have also finished Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love and almost finished Dorothy Dinnerstein’s The Rocking of the Cradle. Both interesting and relevant reads, and not a little scary in the context of the mother-child relationship. So I haven’t been entirely idle on this holiday, and I have three or four more good books to lap up while I’m here, all PhD relevant.

Of course, I’m on holiday, so it hasn’t all been about work either, although I have been less active on this holiday than any in living memory. At the start of the week, my back precluded too much exercise: I hoped I might get a bit of gently swimming done, but the pool always seems to be full of junior Rambo impersonators with water canons; the latest game seems to be to find new and inventive ways to jump/dive into the pool, for instance, like a crab or like a drunkard; it’s funny to watch, but I can’t imagine how I would feel if one of the Ramboes dived onto me while I was trying a gently swim, so I have stayed out of the pool. We have been for a couple of short walks but mostly soaking up the rays on the sun-beds, which is doing my back no end of good. And there is a lovely old olive tree to provide shade when the sun is too fierce. Of course, the lack of exercise is making sleep elusive: it is 3.00 a.m. UK time here as I’m writing this; but I am a part-somniac at the best of times, so I find ways to use the time instead of stressing about it. Like writing my weekly blog. When this is done, I shall go back to the reading.

We have been exploring the local restaurants in the evenings. This is a small resort, so there aren’t too many to explore. But on Wednesday we had a wonderful Manuel moment. We ordered our meals and they came to the table. We started to eat. Bill was about to fork in his third forkful when the waiter came and pulled the plate from under his knife and fork. ‘Is not your meal,’ he said, and placed a second plate in front of him. This plate seemed to have steak strips on. ‘But I ordered lamb,’ says Bill. ‘Si,’ says Manuel, putting his hands to his head to make horns of his forefingers.  ‘Lamb. Is lamb.’ OK!

On the poetry front, on one sleep-deprived early morning I put together a collection of my ‘mother/daughter’ poems to enter a pamphlet competition. I love online entries, so easy, so convenient. I think they made a reasonable collection, but of course, after I’d pressed ‘submit’ I could see immediately how they could have been improved. That’s always the way. We writers are perfectionists; and our written pieces are our offspring. We send them out into the world and immediately want to run after them and bring them back to a safe place. Well, they’re out there now; let’s see if they can earn their living.

Lastly, as the theme of my PhD research is mother/daughter based I will just tell you that Wednesday 31st August would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Unfortunately she died in her seventies of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, bless her. But I wished her happy birthday anyway; people don’t go away when they die, do they? They live on in our hearts and our memories, just as they were when we last saw them.

My poem this week, probably the last one for a while, is the third Spelk poem from last week, written in memory of my mother and how hard she worked to raise seven children in very difficult circumstances. Being her centenary this week, it seems fitting to remember her in this poem.  I took a line from the Alice Oswald poem ‘Body’ (Falling Awake), and used it as the title of this poem. ‘Body’ has some amazing imagery, and some fantastic lines and phrases: this one describes the badger as ‘the living shovel of itself’. I love that line, took it, changed the pronoun and made it a poem about my mother’s hard life.


With the living shovel of herself

she shovelled soap flakes into cauldrons of boiling water

she shovelled the public faces of her humiliation into the suds

she shovelled the east wind into the billowing sheets

she shovelled the sloughed skins of generations into the garden soil

she shovelled the potatoes that grew in the sloughed skins of generations

she shovelled salt into vats of boiling water

she shovelled potatoes, onions, and cheap cuts of meat into the vats

she shovelled three meals a day into the gaping maws

she shovelled days of waiting, nights of tears, years of wondering why, centuries

of watching it all pile up on the shovel of herself.

With the living shovel of herself

she cleared the path to her own grave.

With the living shovel of herself

she shoveled earth onto her own dead self.


(After Alice Oswald)

Rachel Davies

August 2016