Monthly Archives: October 2016

Footnote: don’t rely on the easy route

This PhD is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in a life-long career of studying. And that’s as it should be, it’s the pinnacle of academic achievement. But there’s a part of me that feels like it’s also a game you have to learn the rules for if you really want to win. I have to learn the grammatical rules of acadamese, that’s all. Easy, really.

I signed off last week with my chickens well and truly accounted for in their eggshells. The euphoria of being offered the practice-based route to PhD lasted for a full eight days before the egg basket fell smack on the floor. I heard on Wednesday this week that I can’t transfer: something to do with a new Masters course they are also setting up. I’m not sure of the details or how that affects the PhD, I’ll find out in due course, I expect. However, every cloud, as they say…the word count for my critical element has been renegotiated on my behalf down from 50,000 to  approximately 25,000 words. Halved. That’s all I wanted anyway, so all’s good. If I get my head down and practice my academese,  I can do this. Amie’s response when I told her: ‘Well, that’s OK. You never take the easy way out of anything, Mum, do you?”

So this week I revisited the chapter I had sent off to Angelica and Antony. I read through Antony’s comments and actually they weren’t as negative as I had thought. I even had a couple of very positive remarks. I decided to do a cut and paste job. I cut out the bits that are unnecessary; I pasted them into a new document ‘deemed unnecessary’. I cut out the bits that need some work and pasted them into a new document, you guessed it, ‘needs some work’. Then I reread the bits that were positive and asked myself what was different about them. Mostly it was that they were explicitly related to my mother/daughter theme, not theory for its own sake; and that the statements were unambiguous. Academe doesn’t like ambiguity. Clear, bold statements relevant to the theme.  All the theory I put into the chapter was put there for a reason, but I hadn’t made that reason specific enough. So I spent some time relating it specifically to my research theme; and taking out the ambiguity of statements like ‘It was thought for some time…’ or ‘Many psychoanalysts agree that…’. Then I repasted it into the chapter. I spent a gruelling six hours yesterday adding footnotes and references. Angelica said I should get into the habit of adding these as I go along, and usually I do; and it’s excellent advice. But for this chapter, after my last failed attempt, I wanted to make sure I said what I wanted to say, so I just wrote. Now I see why that wasn’t a good idea: it’s quite difficult finding references after the event. From now on, referencing and footnoting as I go along. I can do this. I WILL do this! Anyway, I paid the latest instalment on the fees this week, so I can’t afford not to.

Also, I’m seriously considering changing my poetry focus from Jackie Kay to Pascale Petit; another suggestion by the team last week. I’d mentioned Pascale Petit’s maternal focus in her poetry in the chapter and Antony advised thinking about making her work a focus for my close reading as she has been less ‘studied’ than Jackie Kay. So I got out my copy of What The Water Gave Me, her collection of poetry inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo. The sequence of six poems ‘what the water gave me’ are a good focus set I think. I’m reading them with this possibility in view. Her collection Mama Amazonica  would be ideal. She read from it at her recent Poets&Players visit, but the collection isn’t out till September 2017 and that might be a bit late for me.

In other news, first the poetry side of life. On Tuesday evening it was our East Manchester and Tameside Stanza meeting at the buffet bar on Stalybridge Station. Check out our FaceBook page for up-coming meetings:

This week we had a writing workshop: three members prepared writing activities and we wrote to those prompts and shared our work at the end of the evening. We wrote from maps, from sound prompts and from the prompt of a simple phrase, ‘that was the turning point…’ The maps activity was interesting: to find two place names on an OS map, note the terrain between them then write the journey from one place to the other, imagining the places as people and the terrain as metaphors for their relationship. Interesting take on a maps activity that I hadn’t done before.

On Thursday morning we had a Poets&Players planning meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery. I considered driving into Manchester, but thought weekday parking might be a problem down by Whitworth Park: it’s handy for the hospitals and the University. So I caught the tram and the bus. I’m so glad I did. Oxford Road is a major roadworks, lanes closed and traffic diverted off the main route at Allsaints to take you behind the Aquatics Centre and the hospitals to find Oxford Road again at Whitworth Park. It’s a mess I wouldn’t have enjoyed driving. So I was at the Whitworth in time for a nice pot of rooibos tea before the meeting got underway. We finalised the details for our annual poetry competition. Michael Symmons Roberts has agreed to be our judge this year, so get your poems polished for that one. And we started planning our 2016-17 programme, always an exciting time. We have some good names in the mix as well, if they all accept our invitation. You can find updated information about the competition and the programme of events on our website

On Friday I went with Amie to Peterborough to visit my son, Richard. We didn’t leave until about 10.30: I had to be at her restaurant for a visit from the accountant to check out the quarterly VAT before we could leave so it was about 1.15 before we got there. He is packing his home into boxes at the moment, planning a move into a new house in the middle of November. We went into the city centre, had lunch in Wagamama, coffee al fresco at Carluccio’s, booked a table for our Christmas get-together there in December. We went back to Richard’s house, stayed until about 8.30. He made us vegan shepherd’s pies for supper before we left. We were home by 11.00. We listened to the new Alan Partridge Nomad CD en route. He puts in his footnotes as he goes along. So it was work really: I was  learning from him. Footnote: he is a very funny man.

So that’s another week done and dusted. I’ll be back at my desk later today, teaching myself acadamese, becoming fluent. Footnote: it will be worth it in the end.

No poem this week. Footnote: I just went into my ‘poems’ folder to see if there was one I could post, clicked on the ‘happy with these’ folder: there was one poem in there. One. Such is the life of a poet!



Rainbows, Buzzards and Acadamese.

I’m going to make a bold statement; and possibly a premature one, but I’m a risk taker. Here we go: this has been the best week of my PhD work so far. There, I said it.

I had my meeting with the team this week. I was feeling not a little trepidated (is that even a word?) when I boarded Metrolink for Manchester on Tuesday. I had sent my writing off to Angelica and Antony for their feedback, and I wasn’t feeling positive about it. Not insignificantly, my work had been negatively affected by my fall in the summer, so I hadn’t done as much, or as thoroughly, as I had planned. But I sent what I had achieved: about 12 pages.

I had an hour in the library prior to my meeting, a chance to finish a relevant chapter in Peter Gay’s biography of Freud; then across to the Geoffrey Manton building to meet with A and A. As usual, they were very supportive, but I knew I was in for a hard time when Antony began by saying ‘The Melanie Klein section was the best bit’; which, after all is like saying the rest wasn’t up to much. Melanie Klein starts on page 8, so that says it all, really. Damn it, academese is a language I have yet to learn: not enough academic rigour; don’t waste words on stuff that doesn’t need saying; make your language tight and unambiguous; get used to inserting footnotes (possibly on every page to back up statements you do make) as you go along; etc, etc. My face was dropping like a latex mask, I could feel it, throughout the meeting.

And then, Christmas came early! Antony, very guardedly–I think he thought I might be upset at the suggestion–mentioned a new route to PhD that is just coming into operation. It is called a ‘practice-based PhD’ and the critical element can be reduced to between ten and thirty thousand words, negotiable, the weighting heavily in favour of the creative side.  Still 80,ooo words, but heavily geared toward the creative element. ‘How would you feel about that?’ asked Antony. ‘I would feel as if my corsets had been well and truly let out,’ I said. I think even I can manage ten thousand words of acadamese, it would be similar to a lengthy assignment on a post-graduate degree. And to be able to concentrate on the creative aspect, wow, heaven. So I said yes, I would love to do that; he had already spoken to the administration who can’t see a problem with transferring; so I wait the final confirmation. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road to my next meeting at No. 70 with Jean Sprackland.

We met over coffee. I had sent Jean a set of poems and an old story I had written years ago to consider as the outline idea for a verse drama. The poems received positive feedback. Her favourite was ‘Spoons’, which I posted on here a few weeks back. She gave me positive and constructive feedback on the poems: some useful ideas for developing some of the early drafts. It’s such a privilege to have a good poet like Jean to be mentor to my writing.

Then we started to discuss the verse drama idea. The story would be a useful starting point but would need to be adapted to the theory I have been reading, notably to Jessica Benjamin’s ‘master/slave’ analogy in The Bonds of Love. It was in reading this book that I thought of my old story, recognising a good prompt for a verse drama. Jean thinks this is an exciting idea, and especially so in light of my intention to change routes to the PhD. A verse drama would be wholly appropriate to that route, being a substantial piece of work in itself. ‘How did I see the creative submission?’ she asked me. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it could be the verse drama plus a pamphlet sized collection; or it could be the verse drama alone, if it proved substantial enough.’ She suggested what I was thinking: that the verse drama alone would be the ambitious move: to really work on that as something relatively new and uncommon in poetry terms. So that’s what I committed to. I feel more excited than at any time since I began working toward the PhD: raring to go.

When I got home (about which, more in a minute) I contacted Amanda Dalton at the Exchange Theatre to ask if I could meet with her to discuss the idea, and in particular the technicalities like stage directions etc. She has agreed to meet me, and I am waiting for her to get back to me with dates. How kind and giving the community of poets is, for sure.

So, about that journey home from Manchester. I planned to go home, have a meal and go back into Manchester in the evening with my partner, Bill, for the Manchester Literature Festival/Poets&Players event with Ian Macmillan, Mona Arshi and the music trio, Blind Monk. I caught Metrolink at St Peter’s Square and congratulated myself not just on getting a seat, but on getting a forward facing seat. Life’s good, I thought. Smug: what’s that about pride and falls? As we rode into Victoria the message came across the intercom: due to a points failure, this service would have to terminate at Newton Heath and Moston; your tickets will be accepted on any service bus. So, at Newton Heath we were duly turned off the tram and told to make our own way home. I have no knoweledge of Newton Heath at all so I followed the other fifty passengers like a sheep up to Oldham Road, which I did recognise: we stopped at a bus stop opposite the Wing Yip Chinese supermarket. It was raining. It was cold. We were miserable. After fifteen minutes, a bus arrived. It was only going as far as Hollinwood: two grateful Hollinwood dwellers boarded. Another bus arrived. It was almost full, only room for two passengers. Another bus arrived. It was nearly full, only room for sixteen passengers. Unfortunately, I was number 17: I had my foot on the bus when his hand came up, sorry that’s all I can take. So we were at that wet and miserable bus stop for about forty five minutes. Eventually I caught a bus to Oldham. I even managed to get a seat. I couldn’t see a thing out of the misted up windows, had no idea where we were or where the bus would stop: thankfully, it stopped eventually at Oldham Mumps bus station, and we were assured the trams were working on Oldham side of the points failure so I was able to get the tram to Derker, where I had parked my car for the day. I got home in the end at 6.45: two and a half hours after catching the tram at St Peter’s Square, a journey that normally takes about half an hour. I was cold, wet, miserable; and my poor old back was sore. So, on the sofa for me with the hot water bottle. Bill cooked us a ready-meal and we missed Poets&Players altogether: it was too late to go by the time I got home. So I’ll have to wait for the videos. Apparently, it was a wonderful evening we missed: I don’t doubt it, P&P events are always events not to be missed. Damn you, points failure: you ruined my evening as well as my journey!

The rest of the week was fairly routine; except Friday, which was Spelks. Have I ever mentioned Spelks on here, how I love it? I think I might have, once or twice. This month it was at my house. It’s only three weeks since the last meeting and it crept up on me and took me by surprise. I said in an email to one of our group last weekend, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’ She replied, ‘I thought Spelks was this Friday.’ Aaaargh! It was. I hadn’t written anything for it. The activity was all about the view from a train, about journeys etc. So on Thursday evening, I thought I’d better make a contribution. I wrote a poem about the tram; about how the passengers always seem to have their eyes to a virtual reality screen when there are real and wonderful things to see out of the window. On Tuesday’s journey into Manchester, for instance, there was the most magnificent rainbow, possibly the fattest rainbow I’d ever seen, and I think I was  the only person to see it. So that’s what my poem was ‘about’ really.


As usual, Spelks was fantastic. All seven of us present with some wonderful poems from the prompt. I love this group. Bill very kindly took himself off to the cinema to give us the house to ourselves. We shared our poems, offered feedback, ate too much, drank too much and planned. We are making the last Friday of the month our Spelking day in future so that we are not grubbing round trying to find a date that fits in with everybody. Also we are putting together a pamphlet of our work to have available at Spelk readings: we are doing it ourselves at the moment, because we don’t know how it will go down with our adoring public. In all the planning, I forgot to pass on the next activity, so that had to go into an email later.

So that’s it, really. Another week done in my quest to fit a PhD into an already full life. The best week yet. I’m optimistic. But as anyone who knows me knows, I’m eternally optimistic. Actually,  I’m terminally optimistic.

Here’s my Spelk poem, drafted very quickly on Thursday evening: the honey buzzard over Manchester is entirely poetic licence and may have to be rethought! But there just might have been one; and the virtual passengers would certainly have missed it if there was!

On Metrolink To Manchester

what I’d like

is to not be  told in a voice loud as a lecture that she’s on the tram,

that she’ll be half an hour, that she’s had a shit day,

that dinner’s in the fridge, that the wine’s chillin’

no, what I’d really like

is to not know that she’s got everything except her toiletries,

that she’s bought a fucking lovely overnight bag,

that she’s bought six pairs of crutchless panties, two tassel bras

that she’s packing a jumper just in case

no, what I’d really like

is to not hear the tinny seepage from his badly fitting ear-buds

no, what I’d really like

is that he would sit so quietly I could hear his unspoken thoughts

as relentlessly as the tinny seepage from his badly fitting ear-buds

no, what I’d really like

is to be able to see what she’s reading on her Kindle,

to chat with her about plot, characterization, narrative arc

no, what I’d really like

is if they would all just raise their eyes for a moment

from the screens of their virtual worlds

to notice that majestic honey buzzard gliding the thermals,

the rainbow arcing  over Strangeways like a promise.

Rachel Davies

October 2016

Why do we get all this life…?

In the week I received into my inbox an email advert for Shirley Valentine, which is coming to the Lowry Theatre in mid-June next year. ‘Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it?” the advert asked? Good question, and definitely close to my philosophy for life. I have passed my last sixty-something birthday (in rather dramatic fashion) and I have a choice. I could dust off the sofa, watch Dom Littlewood on daytime television, eat rich tea biscuits with my weak cup of tea; or I could perform one last masochistic act and continue working toward a critical/creative PhD. Really, there is no contest. We are indeed given all this life, and it is increasingly precious as you get too old to take it for granted any more. But be damned if I’ll ever get too old to turn the telly off when Dom Littlewood comes on: I’ll never be that old!

So I’ve been reflecting on my first year as a PhD research student this week: how far have I come? A year ago I went to the university induction day for research students. It was exciting and terrifying, both. I came away from that event feeling as if this huge abyss had opened up in front of me and I had no way of seeing how I would ever negotiate a route to the other side. I had a vague impression of what I wanted to do toward my PhD, but, on reflection, no concrete idea; and certainly only a surface knowledge of the body of psychoanalytical thought I would need to be comfortable with in order to place the project in a theoretical framework. I had a better understanding of the poetry I wanted to read closely for the project; but not as deep an understanding as I’m going to need. I knew something of the poets, have even met two of them; but knowledge of the poets is not necessary: the poet is not the poetry; and it is the poetry I need to know inside out. So, a year ago I was, proverbially, up a creek without a paddle. This first year has been all about whittling oars.

And I have done a lot of whittling, on reflection. I have read more Sigmund Freud books than I knew existed this time last year. How hard it was when I started, trying to assimilate that theory to the educational and developmental psychology I learned as a teacher. But with each new book I read I built a body of knowledge, and a thirst for more books. I wrote a chapter on Freudian theory which won’t appear in the final work: it was really a letter to myself to show what I had learned; and that was a great deal. I moved on to Kleinian theory: possibly more relevant to my project of mother-daughter separation than Freud; and finally to Lacan. If I thought Freud was difficult, what about Lacan? He tantalises in his obscurity; but when the break in the cloud comes, oh my how revealing is that? So I have done a lot of theoretical reading in psychoanalysis. And in critical theory. Benjamin, Dinnerstein, Springnether, Chodorow: these were barely names to me a year ago; now I could have a fairly focused conversation about their ideas. I have written a chapter that has gone off to my team for discussion on Tuesday of this week. Still very much in first draft and wanting references etc., but I think it shows how far I have come in a year. And I haven’t even mentioned the progress in the creative side: the poems I have written and the thoughts about the verse drama that I am getting increasingly excited about. So, a year is a long time in academe: but I am a third of the way through my allotted time, and the ‘living shovel’ must keep digging.

This week the reading has continued apace: I’ve left the writing alone until I’ve had chance to discuss it with the team next week. I’ve been reading Jan Montefiore Feminism and Poetry. The title says it all. It’s about how women have been excluded from the canon, and the masculine tradition of poetry, for so long that they have needed to create a feminine tradition in which they can exist comfortably without the need to be derivative. Led by the second wave feminists of the sixties: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lord etc, they began to carve out a space for themselves. Of course, it can’t be that simple or the book wouldn’t have needed writing: you could just go to Rich and Lorde for your theory. Montefiore points to the gaps in each theory and shows how women have, historically and in modern poetry, carved out their own space within the male tradition, by using male forms and subverting them, or making them fit the feminine/feminist genre of poetry. A good example from my past reading, which Montefiore doesn’t use of course, of a woman poet subverting the male canonical forms would be Wendy Cope, for instance; and my own hero, Selima Hill often writes in the male beat of iambic pentameters: she subverts the form by breaking the pentameters across two or more lines.  Hey, look at me, understanding what I’m reading: I have come a long way in a year.

In other news, this week has been big on poetry. On Tuesday I went to the Cathedral poetry competition winners’ gala event at Manchester Cathedral. Rachel Mann, Cathedral poet in residence, organised the event and what a treat it was. Michael Symmons Roberts was there to present a lecture on ‘daring the depths’ in our poetry writing: more difficult than it seems in the shallow place that is modern life. It was a fantastic and interesting lecture: I was stricken by the way he talks from inside his subject: it is a place he is comfortable in. I want to be in that place with my research, but still feel as if I’m on the outside looking in, like a child with her nose pressed up against the window of Smyth’s Toyshop. But I am getting there: someone is opening the door so I can smell the plastic, I’ve got a foot on the doormat. After the Symmons Roberts talk there was a reading by Jo Bell, who was the competition judge this year; and then the prize winners and highly commended poets read their work. It was a great set of poems, showing what talent for poetry there is ‘out there’. It was a lovely night: and to top it off, Michael Symmons Roberts confirmed he will be our Poets&Players competition judge next year, so I went home drugged up on poetry and couldn’t sleep afterwards.

On Wednesday my contributor’s copy of The Interpreter’s House came, with my poem ‘What I remember of the kitten was…’ in there. It is always a buzz as a writer to see my work in print and I never want that to be any other way. It is lovely to be in this journal alongside other poets I admire: Julia Webb, Rebecca Goss, Paul Stephenson, Roy Marshall. I feel privileged that my poem sits alongside the work of these poets. Buzz, buzz, it’s the buzz that keeps me writing, and keeps me awake at night! Wednesday evening Bill and I went to the live screening of RSC’s King Lear, with Anthony Sher in the title role. Oh my, wonderful. I was a bit sceptical about Sher at first: his quiet voice seemed to lack the authority of the Lear at the beginning of the play; but he was terrific, his descent into madness was brilliantly portrayed. I love these live screenings; The Tempest will be the next one in January next year. Roll on, I say.

Other poetry stuff this week: on Friday, it was the performance and masterclass of the ‘Make an Aria’ project, MMU poets working in collaboration with composers from RNCM and Music Theatre Wales. What a fantastic day that was, such a learning experience. I didn’t know what was required of us at the rehearsal in the afternoon, so I made sure I had a copy of my text for the aria on my iPad before I left home in the morning. I didn’t need it: Laura, my composer, had brought the score with the text included. Now, music is a foreign language to me, one I only learned the rudiments of at school, so it was absolutely fascinating to hear the mezzo-soprano and the composer discussing what was possible from a performance point of view. I did manage to keep my place in the score during the rehearsal, so that was an achievement in itself, although of course I was following the words of the text more often than the music. There were subtle but valuable modifications to the  piece by the end of the afternoon. I met Bill for an early evening meal in Manchester before we went back to RNCM for the performance in the evening. Now, in my own mind, the rehearsal in the afternoon had been the masterclass; how wrong I was! During the performance we were asked to say a few words to introduce the context of our arias; then, after the performance we were required to stand before the quite sizeable audience to answer questions on the work. Oh, my, they didn’t tell us that when we signed up. Michael Symmons Roberts, the MMU academic input into the project, and Stuart MacRae from Music Theatre Wales posed the questions and suggested possible improvements to the finished pieces. Thankfully, it wasn’t as gruelling as it could have been: both inquisitors were very sensitive and gentle in their questions. ‘Lilith’, the aria for which I wrote the text, sounded well in performance, if a little melodramatic. I had the best day of the week on Friday, the afternoon and evening sessions were productive learning curves and contributed to my thinking in terms of the verse drama I’m considering. Another day when sleep didn’t come easily: poetry is a real upper!

Last night we went to the Exchange Theatre for the Maxine Peak performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. We were sitting on the very top row, in the gods; when I told her, Amie was convinced I would fall off and end up in hospital again, but I managed to hold on, got home in one piece. The start of the play was a bit disconcerting, though. In establishing Deep South accents to their normally English speaking voices the actors lost the clarity of diction a little bit and it was difficult to hear the words. But the ear gets used to inflections and strangenesses very quickly. It improved as the play went on, and by the half time break I was hooked. The second half was stunning; and frightening; and very uncomfortable. How woman’s desire is viewed differently from man’s. How Blanche Dubois is vilified for her sexual desire where a man would be congratulated as a bit of a lad. How, in order for her to be sexually active, a man must have been complicit, but this point isn’t made. We have seen only too clearly the double standards regarding sexual predation in the news this week. Would she have been sectioned for her sexual appetites if her story had been written today? Or if her story had been written by a woman? Or if she had been a man? Or would it even have been a story to write today? But in the context of conservative 1950s America, it was an interesting play.

Speaking of conservative America, we watched the Clinton/Trump debate earlier in the week. Oh, my! What a piece of work is (that) man! Can an excuse for a man like him really become the most powerful man in the world with his finger on the nuclear button? Will America really let that happen? The world has gone mad if he is elected.  I’m against all forms of violence, but I would go as far as to say let the CIA find another Lee Harvey Oswald before he brings us all to the brink.

I managed to fit in some more gentle exercise this week as well: I went back to the gym for  more treadmill walking and I even tried a couple of lengths in the pool but that really tested the shoulders in the area where the fracture is. On Tuesday I walked along the canal from Uppermill to Grandpa Greene’s in Diggle for a cup of tea. It was a lovely walk, just over two miles each way; and the tea was nice although the weather was typical autumn Saddleworth: mizzly moor-grime, that annoyingly wet rain. But the walk set me up for some in-depth reading when I got home. It’s good to know, and to have reinforced every day, the fact that I am getting over the summer trauma and bringing myself back to the woman I know and love. And by the way, my little car passed its MOT this week, so that’s me mobile for another year.

The life I have been given is indeed good; and very well used.

A Cappuccino a Day…

Last week was all about cake; this week has all been about cappuccinos. My phone line went down on Thursday of last week and it took BT until Thursday of this week to right the fault. A whole week without internet access at home, so I’ve had to go to coffee shops to gain entry to the virtual world. A cappuccino a day keeps the anger at bay. But only for so long. On Tuesday I went onto to track my fault only to find it had been resolved. I had had a message from BT to the effect that they had checked the line and their end was clear so they needed access to our property to check the line at our end. “Please do not reply to this voicemail“. That,  apparently counts as a resolution. I had no idea how the work would proceed so I clicked the ‘contact us’ icon and got into a chat room with Ranjiv. After going round in circles for several virtual minutes I realised that Ranjiv was working to a script and I was going to get no further forward with tracking my fault than I was when we started: an engineer needed access to our property to check the fault. I had no idea how an engineer would gain access, or when, or how long it would take to happen. On Wednesday when I tracked my fault I found our that the original fault was still resolved and a new fault had been reported on Tuesday. I realise that this is so they can fulfil their promise to have it repaired within two working days, but how dishonest is that? You couldn’t make it up. On Wednesday and on Thursday I couldn’t even get into the chat room again. Eventually, on Thursday morning I got home from the weekly shop to find a BT engineer up my pole checking the line: no message, no ‘arranging to come onto our property’. He found that the phone line had been snapped in two places by the wind (so I hope that doesn’t constitute our responsibility and our need to shell out £129.99 if it is our fault). He repaired the line, which meant coming indoors to make the connections and, voila, we have the phone back. More pressing, we have broadband back, if only intermittently at the moment. They assure me it will improve; I am sceptical of their promises and my fingers are crossed.

So, I sent my chapter off to the team on Monday from Costa in Tesco. I have arranged to meet all three of my team on 18th October. I hope the chapter is acceptable as a first draft: I realise it still needs a lot of work re referencing etc; but if it isn’t acceptable I don’t think I can do it differently. I might have to accept that I can’t do this thing; and I’m no quitter. So the next couple of weeks will be fraught with anxiety while I whip myself for my inadequacies. It’s always like this with me: the fear of under-achievement. A little self-confidence would be a blessing.

I also sent a synopsis of our operetta to RNCM (also from Tesco’s Costa!) The masterclasses and performance are on Friday this week so I can’t wait to see what Laura has done with my text to make it an aria; and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the other partnerships have made of the task.

I have given my reading a new start this week too. I have been reading Jan Montefiore’s Feminism and Poetry to take me into the next stage of the critical side of my research; the content is in the title! It is an authority on poetry criticism from a feminist perspective. I’m not far in so won’t make a fool of myself by saying too much at this stage. I also started to re-read Selima Hill’s Gloria, her selected poems up to 2008. I love Hill’s surreal poetry, her amazing and surprising juxtaposition of images. I knew I wanted to close-read her sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’ for my PhD, but I realised in re-reading this full selection of poems just how much the mother is in the background of her poetry. A fantastic realisation: I have read this collection so many times and am still finding new stuff in it.

Last weekend saw the inaugural Saddleworth Literary Festival. This was organised on a shoe-string budget and the contributors gave their time for free because they believe in Saddleworth and they want it to become a calendar event in the future. It had its teething problems: shoestring budgets mean limited advertising, so audiences were small; but they were appreciative and hopefully will spread the word for future years. The Spelks had a reading on Sunday afternoon. Only four of us could be there, but we read for our absent friends as well, so we were all seven represented. Our audience was small but appreciative. We were asked for publications, which we don’t have, so now we are discussing the preparation of a joint pamphlet for future readings. A Spelk-spouse makes books, so we are considering a truly collaborative publication: watch this space.

I went back to the gym this week for the first time since my July accident. I didn’t feel ready for my regular aerobics class, just a relatively gentle walk on the treadmill for half an hour; but I did it and it’s a start. I always moan about going to the gym, but oh my, how I miss it when I can’t go. I think aerobics is still a way in the future, but I can build up fitness with treadmill walks as well as walking in the great outdoors. When we went to read at the festival on Sunday we parked at Newbank Nurseries outside Uppermill and walked in along the towpath. I even negotiated the famous stepping stones across the River Tame at Uppermill, so that was an indicator of how much better my back is and how much more confident I am in staying upright!

On Tuesday I had to see the nurse specialist at my rheumatology clinic. It transpires I have ‘osteopenia’. Never heard of it? No, neither had I. It is a sort of osteoporosis lite; a precursor. The cortico-steroids I take for Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis are probably to blame. Of course, being ‘post-menopausal’ is the real culprit; how a woman’s ‘post-menopausal’ body doesn’t make all it needs to keep it healthy. I am heartily sick of hearing that hyphenated phrase every time I see a doctor or nurse; or optician or dentist or… Don’t they know I’m only thirty three inside? Anyway, the upshot is I had my first belly jab: a six-monthly subcutaneous injection of some alendronic acid drug to delay the effects of ‘post-menopausal’ bone degeneration that has, they think, caused two fractures in four years. The nurse was really helpful and informative, though. I am waiting now for a new DEXA scan to determine the rate of bone degeneration. Our NHS is wonderful: how much would all this be costing me if I had to pay up front for treatment?

I had a lovely surprise on Wednesday while I was doing the books at the restaurant. My younger son rang to say he was just leaving a meeting in Catterick in North Yorkshire and was going to call in to see Amie and me on his way home to Telford. That was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to a routine Wednesday. How blessed I am in my children. By the way, Amie’s Macmillan coffee event last week raised a tremendous £630; and the one at a friend’s house in Peterborough raised another £300+ so that’s nearly £1000 from the two cake-filled events I attended last week. How good is that? A drop in the ocean for what’s needed to ensure funding for this fantastic service, but quite a drop none-the-less.

So that’s it; another good week of poetry, PhD and life. Long may they continue; especially the last one on the list!

A silly poem to end the blog this week. A couple of years ago I went to the Christmas markets in Manchester with three friends. We called into a Costa for a coffee while we waited for the tram home. The young barista in there was uplifted by our sense of fun and said we reminded him of his grandmother (!). He brought us a plate full of chocolate flakes and marshmallows because of this and we all gave him an air-kiss and a hug to thank him for his kindness. I wrote this silly poem, three limerick stanzas, when I got home.


I kissta barista in Costa.

The Costa barista kissed me.

Then he brought chocolate flakes,

marshmallows and cakes

on a porcelain dish, all for free.

I kissta barista in Costa.

The Costa barista kissed me:

a passing delight

fading fast with the light;

in the dark of the evening I see

I should now take my coffee in Nero

or Starbucks or Java or Lavazzo.

Their baristas don’t kiss

but my lips would really miss

the kiss of a free pink marshmallow.

Rachel Davies

December 2014

A little self-indulgence and a lot of cake

in the week I came across a quote about blogging from poet Jo Bell: “If you’re just blogging about yourself and where you’ve been and what you’ve done, I’m afraid that’s like digital wanking—and you can quote me on that”. Ha, that made me laugh. So here I go with another self-indulgent orgasm!

This has been a week when life, PhD and poetry all coalesced in a satisfyingly balanced whole. All have featured equally, and that’s as it should be, although I’m learning that it’s difficult to attain. If only all weeks could be like this; or perhaps they can, perhaps I’m just not trying hard enough most of the time?

Well, on Sunday I did some work. I visited the chapter and did some tinkering but really added nothing new. I wrote three poems for Spelks; all complete rubbish, and that’s not false modesty. When I say rubbish, I am talking landfill. But at least I had written something fitting my interpretation of the task to take to our next meeting on Wednesday. I also used Bill’s Toshiba laptop to locate the toxic mother-daughter story on the back-up CD from 2007, so I was quite pleased with that. It took a surprisingly long time as the OU writing activities were saved as Activity 1, Activity 2 etc, so I had to trawl through them all before finding out it wasn’t actually an OU story at all, so I had to trawl on even longer. I located it in the end. In the afternoon, my friend Hilary sent me a piece of writing she had done for her MA: the life-story of an elderly woman in nursing home care. Oh my word, I was in tears reading it. It is as I always say: old people haven’t always been old; they have fantastic stories to tell of things they have done, in the war for instance, which would put modern day lives into the shade.

On Monday, I wrote the last Spelk poem to the month’s task. This was a poem based on a real or fictional character from the twenties. I chose to write about John the Savage from Brave New World. I love that novel, and it was fun to write the poem in his voice with its Shakespearean inflections. It was still a poor poem though, but I kept working on it until Wednesday and it was slightly better by then. Not my magnum opus though, by any means! On Sunday evening I picked Hilary up and drove us both to Fallowfield for the Verbose readings. Michael Conley, Rosie Garland and Rachel Mann were the headline poets. Rachel Mann read a fantastic set of poems. There was an open mic too, and Hilary read two of the poems from her MA portfolio. They went down very well—good stuff. Check out future Verbose events here:

Tuesday was a day for work, work, work. I had a haircut first thing then went to Tesco to find the ingredients for a vegan cheesecake for Thursday’s Macmillan coffee morning. I managed to find all I needed. I had a coffee in Costa so I could knuckle down to work and when I got home I added more words to the chapter. I sent a selection of my mother-daughter poems to Jean for comment and feedback along with the long-lost and relocated story to consider as a piece of dramatic art. And I arranged to meet Angelica and Antony to discuss the chapter so far. I heard back almost immediately: how good is technology when it works. I am meeting them on 18th October, so I’ll be sending the work-in-progress after the weekend. I explained my summer and its disasters; although I hate making excuses, I think this one was valid. And I still have a body of writing to discuss, despite this. I am a goddess!

I finished work about 3.00 p.m. then made my vegan cheesecake from a recipe I found online at this blogspot:

It looked good when it was baked, but of course I had no idea what it would taste like; although I did lick the bowl like a child and the mix did indeed taste like an authentic cheesecake. But the proof of the pudding…In the evening it was our East Manchester and Tameside Stanza meeting at the Buffet Bar on Stalybridge Station. We had an anonymous workshop this month but with only four poems: it transpires my group email only reached about half the members of the group for some reason. Technology, as I said earlier, is wonderful—when it works! But it was an enjoyable evening none the less, a small but effective group of poets. Check out our FaceBook page here:

On Wednesday first thing I visited my daughter, Amie, for coffee; I got to see her beautiful new kitchen, all clean lines and granite worktops. It really is lovely and makes the space look so much bigger. She was off to the Christie in the afternoon to see the oncologist and to get the results for last week’s scan. I went from her home to her pub/restaurant to do as much of the books as I could fit in before midday, then in the afternoon it was Spelks. Oh my, I love this group. We met at Rod’s this week. Although some of us had produced really worthwhile poems, my own retained the status of garbage; with the exception of John Savage, which they really liked for some reason inexplicable to me: it surprised me, because I still think it’s only slightly less crappy than the other three But that’s how it goes: we can’t step up to the mark on every activity, and this one didn’t find my g-spot (apologies Jo Bell!). About half way through the meeting, Amie rang to say her scan results were clear, so that was absolutely the best news of the week.

On Thursday I went to Peterborough with Amie to attend our first of two coffee mornings dedicated to Macmillan nurses. This one was at a friend’s house. I got up at six to decorate my vegan cheesecake as a mouse pie. So I took that and my two yummy plum pies and off we went. The car was packed with cakes Amie had made for the event. We arrived at about midday; the first wave of visitors was just leaving, but there was a steady stream of visitors all day. It was a lovely relaxing event in a very good cause. I’ve never seen so many different sorts of cake outside a baker’s shop. The vegans assured me the cheesecake was gorgeous. There was a raffle: I won a prize which I donated to Amie’s coffee morning at the restaurant next day. There was a game of spotting the coffee bean under the cup: I won that too, half the takings, which I donated back to the takings. I’ve not heard how much was raised yet; my internet has been down since Thursday so no messages to pick up but I’ll keep you posted.

On Friday we reported a phone line fault to BT. Apparently it will take two working days to repair. And of course, including the weekend that means at least four days without internet. But I can track progress of my fault online at Apparently. Except I don’t have internet access. Catch 22? I’m having to take my iPad out with me and find wifi access in cafés to keep in touch with the virtual world. Later on Friday, Bill and I went to the Macmillan lunch at Amie’s pub-restaurant. I had a small cheese pie with chips—although I think Amie doesn’t really understand ‘small’: it seemed enormous. I followed it with a slice of her tipsy fruit cake: good job I didn’t have to drive after! Phew, it was deliciously tipsy. She had baked oodles of cakes, along with members of her team and there was a huge array of cakes to choose from. It was a lovely event, very busy; again, I’ll keep you posted on the takings for Macmillan.

Friday evening was the launch of the inaugural Saddleworth Literature Festival. This is being organised on a shoestring budget, local (and some not so local) writers are donating their time to make it a success. The Spelks have a reading slot at 12.30 today in the Civic Centre in Uppermill, if you’re in the area. The festival ends today, but details here:

On Saturday: work. Lots of it. I settled to it at 7.45 a.m. and worked solidly until 11.30 on the chapter. I added a satisfying 700 words, so I have a 4200 word draft to send to the team ‘after the weekend’ as agreed. And of course, the internet is still down, so that will give me more time to work on it until it’s ‘up’ again. Hopefully it should be up and running again by Monday evening, Tuesday at the latest. How we do rely on it, how we do miss it when it’s not there. And to think that only about twenty years ago most of us were just beginning to recognise its potential, it was still so new. I stopped work at 11.30 because Hilary had asked if I wanted to go with her to Ilkely to a reading by Carol Ann Duffy and Mark Pajak. I said no at first: she was planning to leave at 10.30 and I really needed to get my head down to work; but she changed the starting-out time to midday and, fickle woman that I am, I was beguiled into accepting. It was a lovely afternoon. We had lunch at Betty’s Tearooms, as you all must when you go to Ilkley; we ‘did’ the charity shops: I found a brand new Seasalt waterproof jacket in Oxfam for £39.99, which I snapped up: I paid full price for one about a year ago, and I know how much they really cost! And then we went to the readings. Wonderful. Carol Ann had her musician, John Sampson with her and he played all kinds of strange and wonderful horns; then Carol Ann read from The World’s Wife which I love. Then Mark Pajak read; and lastly Carol Ann finished the event with a second reading. I wrote here about Mark when he read for Poets and Players a few months back. He is a very accomplished poet and a confident reader. He is apprentice poet in residence at the Ilkley Festival this year, so if you get a chance, do go along to support him and the festival. It is a very good festival, we try to go to some of the events every year. Check it out here:

So that’s it. Another full-on week. And I haven’t even mentioned the fourth thoracic once so it must be healing. All’s good with the world. I’m off to Costa@Tesco now to get it online!

There, I feel so much better for that, Jo!