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:

IMG_1065.JPG

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:

https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-9109-Three-poems-by-Daniel-Sluman#.V-diyjs4mu4

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

 

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