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


4 thoughts on “Manuel Moments and other distractions

    1. Thank you Janet. I am enjoying the sun. We are going into Ciutadella on the service bus today so that will be gentle exercise. The back is improving all the time: just one tramadol a day now, at night 🙂

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