Monthly Archives: November 2016

Prevarication as a Work of Nature

I’m a student and prevarication is a concrete and impulsive thing. I often ‘just have to read this HP sauce bottle before I start work’. But this week prevarication has been on an apocalyptic scale, and I haven’t instigated any of it.

On Monday we went to the gym in the afternoon, as we do most weeks. On the way home it started to rain. It became the kind of rain where you couldn’t see the road through the windscreen, so we should have been glad to get home at last; except when we got home, the hamlet was in darkness; we were living in a localised power cut. I got out some tee lights and lit up the lounge with soft candlelight, then my lovely daughter rang and invited us to her house, where there was power and we could at least be warm and have a brew. So she collected us on the main road at the top of our lane. We walked the couple of hundred yards through rain and wind, iced needles stabbing and piercing, our breaths being sucked from our lungs. We were soaked in the time it took to reach the main road. Even opening the car doors was a strength test against the wind. We drove down through the village. The roads were deep rivers by now; the force of the standing water ripped Amie’s number plate from her car. And then gridlock, as cars leaving the harsh weather on the M62 at Junctions 22 and 24 all converged on the crossroads at Denshaw. The road to Delph was completely blocked so we turned round to find an alternative route. It took us 45 minutes to do the ten minute journey. Amie left us at her house and went back to clear up her flooded business: it took her and her staff till the early hours of Tuesday morning to clear the water; they worked again on Tuesday morning to prepare the place for a limited opening at Tuesday lunchtime, a testament to their hard work. Our power came back after five hours and Amie came to take us home again, by which time the roads had almost cleared.

Tuesday I had earmarked as a day for PhD work. I intended to make a serious start on preparing a plan for the verse drama in readiness for a meeting with Jean Sprackland early in December. But hey ho, another power cut on Tuesday morning as I was about to start. We had no heat, no light, no means to make a brew. So we lit the fire in the lounge and hunkered down. The study was too cold for work; and I can’t work in a room with someone else so working in the lounge wasn’t an option for me. Prevarication was taken care of: I didn’t even have to get the sauce bottle out to distract me from work on Tuesday. It was well after lunchtime before power was restored, too late to make a start on work; so instead of working toward PhD, we watched Mark Rylance as the BFG. Brilliant film, by the way; and I only felt a little bit guilty.

On Wednesday we went to the Opera House in Manchester for ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’. This was a birthday present from my son, Richard. It was a fabulous production: sort of Shakespeare meets Noel Cowerd with a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan in the mix. We had lovely seats in the second row of the circle. The stage sets were fantastic. This is the view from our seats:


It made up for what had been a disastrous birthday in July, the day of my spine snapping fall. And he gave me ‘Much Ado…’ tickets as well, so we’ll do it all again this coming Wednesday. I love live theatre, and these are two Shakespeare plays I don’t know well at all, so a real treat.

Friday it was our monthly Spelkfest. I think you probably know how much I love Spelks. We had a wonderful poetryful afternoon hosted by Keith Lander. As well as sharing our poetry, we took time to plan an event we have coming up on December 10th, Spelks Meet Sounds of the Engine House, an evening of contemporary music and poetry. You can find details on the Facebook events page:

We worked to my prompt from last month, to use ‘remembering’ as inspiration for November: ‘remember, remember’, Remembrance Day, or just our own memories. What fantastic poems came from that: some political around war and armistice; some concerned with memories of firework nights from childhood; some just memories of family and friends. I will be posting a childhood bonfire memory at the end of the blog this week: it fits my mother/daughter theme as well, always a bonus at the moment, and it means the week wasn’t entirely lost.

Another Spelks’ day on Saturday when we all went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the ‘Not Vital’ exhibition. Fantastic. We all took our notebooks to draft poems inspired by the artwork, which was wonderful. Here is a picture of Spelks reflected in a sculpture of the moon:


It looks from this photo as if it was a wet day: it wasn’t, that’s the sculpture, a huge stainless steel sphere. It was a lovely crisp winter’s day, dry and bright. We were very lucky, and there were fantastic watercolour fog patches down in the valleys on the drive there, even though it was clear as a bell over Saddleworth Moor: that doesn’t happen often! The Exhibition was wonderful, mysterious, thought provoking: a row of five heads, as tall as me, in wonderful polished stainless steel, looking like the decapitated heads of  Darth Vaders; a gorgeous snowball in a glass orb; a video installation ‘The Disappearing House’. All fantastic and all fodder for poems to be worked on.

So that’s it for the week: a sad lack of PhD work; but it wasn’t all lost. I heard officially that the critical element of my submission has been reduced to 20,000 words; so that was reassuring. I read a Facebook post from a fellow PhD student who wrote ‘I have started writing my thesis. After three hours I have ten lines but they are beautifully referenced!’ Someone had replied, ‘Write crap and make it beautiful was the advice a tutor here gave me for academic writing – worked for me!’ So I am right: it is vital to make it as obscure as possible in order to confuse and confound. I have been reading Martin Kratz’s thesis this week and he has made it beautiful and shown me a way: and I know he found academic writing very difficult at the outset, so there is hope for me yet. Antony asked me for my RD1 submission and related proformas to pass to a new PhD research student in the week, so at least I got that bit right, presumably. I’ll get there; I can do this. And I’ve had a wonderful week despite lack of progress, so I’ll knuckle down later today to make up for that lack. I’m meeting Jean on 6th December and I need to have something to discuss with her before then.

So, my poem: a memory of the only bonfire night party we had when I was a child. My mum used to be a nurse and she held on to the horror of bonfire night injuries as an excuse not to let us have fireworks. As a nurse myself, I understood later in life; but it seemed harsh at the time. Here’s the poem, polished thanks to feedback from my Spelk friends on Friday:


All The Excuse You Needed

What I remember of that Bonfire Night is

how you always told us horror stories from your life as a nurse

how we ground you down slowly for years until you finally gave in

how we all went with him to Ken Harker’s to choose legal bombs

how we tied Guy Fawkes to the stake

how we waited for the velvet darkness of that fenland night

how at last we lit the bonfire we’d been building for weeks,

chucked scrubbed potatoes into the flames,

held mugs of piping hot soup in gloved hands

how our eyes soared into a universe reformed by a super-cluster

of new galaxies from that first launched rocket

how he knew better than the Fireworks Code

spurned the tight lidded biscuit tin, shortened the safe distance

from the blaze, lit the blue touch-paper but rarely retired

how an athletic fire imp jumped the short arc

from blazing fire to fireworks box

how the fireworks all ignited together, a spectacular display

we only heard, a symphony of terrifying booms and whistles

how we saw nothing at all of that constellation of colour,

its spinning wheels, its horizontal rockets, its jumping jacks

how we all turned our backs and ran for our lives

how for years we had to make do with imagining

what that display might have looked like

because this was all the excuse you needed


Rachel Davies

November 2016

Uber Fans, Poetry Addiction and the First Snows of Winter

On Saturday Live this week, (BBC Radio 4), there was a discussion about people who have done extraordinary things as fans. If you are an obsessed fan of something, if you have done extraordinary things in pursuit of your obsession, ring in, the presenters said. I didn’t hear too much more, because I was driving to a friend’s house at the time of broadcast, and I arrived soon after the start of the programme. This week, though, Hilary and I could have justified the phone call: we could have rung in as Uber Fans of poetry.

It has been a poetryful week. Poetry has been the starter, main course and pudding. Poetry has been the air I’ve breathed. Poetry, poetry and more poetry.

On Monday I met with three friends, Hilary, Penny and Polly, in Manchester Art Gallery to plan our next poetry retreat, our Bitching Week. Every year we hire a holiday cottage, plan poetry writing workshops, read, write and share poetry. We take it in turns to run workshops every morning, we do sightseeing every afternoon, write poetry in our spare moments, share poetry, ours and other poets’, in the evenings. Next year we are going to Anglesey in a cottage practically on the beach at Trearddur Bay. All booked and waiting for us early in May. Something to look forward to in the dark, cold winter.

On Tuesday I spent the day reading Selima Hill’s sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’ in  her collected works, Gloria. I was looking for evidence of the psychological presence of the mother: I’m pleased to say, in close reading it is even better than I thought. Mother is there in abundance if you look for her. I wonder if you can find anything you want to in poetry if you look hard enough. After all, it’s not just the poet’s creation you are reading; you are bringing your own experience, and your interpretation of that experience, to the reading of the poetry. What you bring to the reading colours the work you are reading so that poetry is a shared experience between poet and reader. I spent the best part of Tuesday reading Selima; the joy just keeps growing. She is wonderful.

On Wednesday, after I had finished the books at Amie’s restaurant, I went into Manchester. I was planning to meet two PhD friends for tea, cake and PhD chatting, but one of us was taken into hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery on Tuesday morning. I’m happy to report that she is home and mending as I write, so no doubt we’ll meet up soon. I decided to spend time in the MMU library, doing some necessary reading. My Director of Studies had recommended I read a recent poetry-based PhD thesis to get the music of that Acadamese into my head. I found it in the British Library’s online resource, downloaded it to my MacBook, brought it home to read in the comfort of my own study. Oh my, I don’t think I will ever be able to write with that level of authority and (say it) obscurity. This is my problem: I am a creative writer. I write poetry that is accessible, that the reader can identify with. I’m not Geoffrey Hill as a poet, I don’t want to confound, I want to communicate. It seems I have to learn to confound; at least in the critical aspect of the research. Well, thank goodness that aspect has been cut to twenty thousand words: if I try really hard I might be able to get close to fluent Acadamese in that space. It is the hardest thing, though.

While I was in the library, I first-drafted two poems for our next Spelks session on Friday of next week; not thrilled with them, but they are there to work up. At about 4 o’clock I met Hilary and her husband, David. We went for a meal together then went on to Waterstones on Deansgate for the launch of Keith Hutson’s debut pamphlet Routines, inspired by his favourite music-hall performers. He shared the stage with Helen Mort, Mark Pajak and Carole Bromley, so it was a wonderful night of poetry readings; and Carol Ann Duffy was in the audience: not many poets can say that of their debut launch. Keith is an MMU Creative Writng MA student: Carol Ann was there in her capacity as Professor of the Writing School. Anyway, I met another PhD research student, Andrew Forster, at the launch. We were briefly discussing progress in our work. He said he had found a book that needed reading: when he read it the author had taken twenty ways to say the same thing, each way more obscure than the last. So it’s not just me then. Obscurity is a thing prized by Academe. We have to confound or fail: is that the deal? Andrew said he hadn’t even started doing any writing yet, so I felt better again then: at least I’m practising my Acadamese, trying to become articulate and fluent.

On Wednesday night I had an anxiety dream. I am going to relate it in broad detail here: I am booked for a twenty minute reading slot following a meeting of PhD research students at MMU. I get to the lecture theatre where the reading is to take place. Billy Letford is Master of Ceremony for the reading. The preceding meeting has over-run, eating into my reading time. Billy gives me the nod and I start to read. I have prepared a dozen poems I want to read in the twenty minute (now fifteen minute) slot. I read one poem, no problem. At the start of reading the second poem, an advert comes over the tannoy,  an annoying jingle that completely obliterates my poem. When the advert has finished, I start poem no. 2 again, and complete it in a nervous voice. I look in my folder for poem 3, but it is missing, replaced by some complicated piece of writing I don’t recognise or understand; the same for poem 4. I begin to panic, apologise to Billy, locate poem 5 and start to read it. ‘That’s it, time’s up,’ says Billy as I get to the end of the first line of poem 5. I am embarrassed, humiliated, angry. But worse: he comes up to me at the end, whispers in my ear ‘I won’t assess you on that reading.’ Which is tantamount to saying ‘that was crap’.  Oh, Billy, haven’t you done enough damage, putting the idea of a verse drama into my head? Get off my case and leave me alone! And oh, the power of dreams. It unsettled me all day on Thursday.

And the point is that on Thursday I was booked for a twenty minute reading slot as guest reader for Black Cat poets in Denton. Hilary and I went together, she had an open mic slot. I had the folder of my poems, all marked up with post-it tags in the order I wanted to read them, just as in my dream. I had prepared a selection of poems on my mother-daughter theme, and a selection of poems from a sequence I wrote about malignant melanoma after my daughter Amie was diagnosed two years ago. When it was my turn to read I opened the file at the first poem and began to read. I felt nervous, as I always do when I read my poetry to an audience. I used to be a headteacher, talked to conferences without any nerves at all:  it was a professional thing and I was confident in my subject knowledge. But reading poetry is a different ball-game: it’s personal, it’s sending bits of yourself out there to be chewed over, enjoyed or spat out by an audience. It is nerve wracking for me. So, the nerves showed on reading the first poem, but I got into my swing by poem two. Poem three and four were in the folder  where they should be and I’m pleased to say the reading was nothing like my dream. It went well, I think; the audience were appreciative. Preparation is all: I had organised the poems into a good order, rounded it off with two poems about imaginary grandmothers, following a poem inspired by my own grandson’s temper tantrum, which I’ll post at the end of this blog.

Friday: snow. Huge flakes of snow, storybook stuff settling and sticking on the lane from our house. Bill dug us out, only to see the lane disappearing under another covering of snow. We had to cancel a visit to Amie’s first thing, and a trip into Uppermill, postponed both until the weather improved. We were due to go out for lunch with friends, our table booked for two o’clock. It didn’t look promising. At one o’clock we decided to chance our arms and Bill drove up to the Oldham Road to get us to the tram stop at Derker. Bad idea. Oldham Road hadn’t been gritted, cars were coming down off the motorway and sliding and slipping around on their way to Oldham. A Mercedes had stalled and blocked the driving lane completely. We eventually got around it, pulled into the lay-by about two minutes walk from home, abandoned the car in the lay-by and walked home again.


This boded ill, because I was due to be at the Portico Library in Manchester for the launch of the Beautiful Dragons anthology Not a Drop at 6.30 in the evening to read my poem inspired by the Ionian Sea, along with several other poets who had work in the anthology; including the friends I should have been meeting for lunch. Anyway, we had almost given up Manchester as a bad idea when the sun came out at about two o’clock; we had seen a snow plough/gritting lorry on Oldham Road as we walked back from the lay-by; so we decided to give it one last try. The good news is, we made it: too late for lunch, unfortunately, but Hilary and David caught the same tram into Manchester and we met up with Penny and Keith in Exchange Square. First stop, the gluhwein bar in St Anne’s Square where we chatted with a lovely group of people from Edinburgh via Stockport who took a photo of us while we drank our gluhwein, whose value is greater than diamonds; and costs nearly as much!

We made it to the reading at the Portico too, where we met up with other poet friends, including fellow Bitch, Polly. The readings were lovely, all poems inspired by the seas of the world in a gorgeously produced anthology. And Anna Percy, who also read at the launch,  invited me to read at Stirred Poetry in Manchester in the spring, so all good. If you would like to see more, or even buy a copy to support this wonderful small press, you can do that here:

The snow had all but gone when we got home: just some sticking to the verges and in the lea of the wind. On Saturday Hilary and I went to Sheffield for a New Writing North event concerned with putting together a pamphlet of poems. The roads seemed to be clear so we decided to chance our arms on the A635 from Greenfield to Holmfirth, over the Saddleworth Moor. Not the best idea we’ve had all week, because it started to snow again en route and the road quickly became hazardous over the moor, especially at the highest point where Oldham meets Yorkshire. But Hilary drove like a goodun and we made it to Sheffield with time to grab a coffee before the start. It was a useful event, some good advice about submitting work to magazines, competitions etc; and submitting pamphlets and collections for publication. It included details of the new round of Northern Writers Awards, which is open for application from November 30th until February next year, details here:

So now you see the power behind the title: we are indeed Uber Fans who have struggled through blizzard and anxiety dream to indulge our obsession for poetry. It was all worth it. There’s nothing like a fix of poetry if you’re a poetry addict.

So here’s my poem for this week, inspired by a temper tantrum my grandson had when he was younger: one of those moments in life when you wish you could turn the clock back and do it differently. As poets, we can do that; so I did it for him, I pressed rewind on his life and undid the damage. (This poem was first published in ‘Obsessed With Pipework’ No. 62, Spring 2013.)


Press Rewind


and the crack in the smoky glass repairs itself

into a perfect screen. The memory stick

flies backwards from the black hole, crosses the room,

touches down in your outstretched hand. Your shock

turns to red-faced temper, growls like an angry wolf.

You replace the memory stick on the desktop.

Your mum takes back everything she said

about leaving the console, going with her to the shops,

switches on the PlayStation, walks backwards from the room.

Your anger relaxes to something calmer, sweeter,

the controller finds its way back to your hand, you sit,

put your feet up, reset you face into perfect concentration,

play Call of Duty backwards for three hours,

walk backwards to the bathroom, retrieve a pee,

walk backwards to your bedroom, get into bed.


Rachel Davies












The Community of Poets II

I thought, on June 24th, that humanity had plumbed the depths of stupidity when the UK voted to leave Europe. How wrong was I? This week has proved that. In a monumental act of white supreme stupidity, half the voters of USA voted to make Donald J Trump their next president amid promises of building a dividing wall between USA and Mexico and refusing USA entry to Muslims. The fact that he is a self-styled woman abuser– oh, not alleged, he admitted it; it was ‘locker-room talk’, — made no difference. America would rather have a mysogynistic, xenophobic, Christian fundamentalist white supremacist in the White House than a woman. This from the ‘Land of the Free’! Both our referendum and the US presidential election have proved to be the trigger for racist polemic and abuse from extreme right wing groups who saw the election results as giving them permission to put their warped views into practice. Why? Because both elections were won on arguments of ‘us and them’; the perceived and peddled threat of ‘the other’. I am sick; and I am angry; and I fear for the future of humanity. We are a troubled race.

Enough. Humanity is what it is. I have been busy with PhD stuff this week; my studies have dominated my week. I have continued reading Chodorow, skimming those chapters that seem to be less relevant, reading deeply those chapters that resonate. I ordered five books second-hand from Amazon based on Chodorow’s referencing. This reading business never ends! I also finished reading Armitage’s Odyssey. I really enjoyed it but it was also research for my own verse drama.

As far as my verse drama goes, I contacted Amanda Dalton again at the Exchange Theatre. Unfortunately she is off work at the moment so I won’t be able to meet up with her to discuss my drama planning as we first thought. But she has agreed to enter into an email discussion about it, so I sent her an outline and a couple of initial questions about style and stage directions. How kind of her to agree to correspond despite not being so well. The community of poets, eh? I can’t say enough good things about it.

Last night I heard back from the team about the writing I sent them. A much more positive response this time, so that is reassuring. I think I’ll keep going! They have advised me to concentrate on analysing the work of my chosen poets now and come back to this piece of writing when that job is done. I have decided (I think) on Pascale Petit and Selima Hill as my two focus poets. So this week I shall start reading and rereading their work with an eye to my theme.

In my poetry life, I have been invited by Scott Fellowes to read at Black Cat Poets in Denton on Thursday evening. You can find a link to the Black Cats FaceBook page here:

There are open-mic slots available on the night, so do come along if you are in the Denton area, it would be good to have your support. I am also, with lots of poet friends,  reading at the Portico Library in Manchester on Friday; just one poem each for the Beautiful Dragons anthology Not a Drop, an anthology of poems about the world’s seasBeautiful Dragons is a small press which compiles collaborative anthologies,  the brain-child of the editor, Rebecca Jane Bilkau. Each poet has just one poem in the anthology, until all the seas of the world are included. My own poem was inspired by the Ionian sea, and the Penelope/Odyssyeus myth. I have included the name of Greek suitors so I must practice before Friday to make sure I get the pronunciations right without stumbling over them; particularly Demoptolemus who tends to get stuck in my molars. So, Portico Library, Friday evening, 6.30 p.m. A huge number of poets in a very short time; real value for money. You can find a link to the Beautiful Dragons FaceBook page here:

In other news, the dishwasher engineer came and declared the circuit boards kaput. Apparently there are two; he couldn’t determine which one has blown so he has ordered both; they (or it?) will be fitted on Monday. It’ll be good to have my old friend back; Fairy liquid definitely doesn’t do what it says on the tin: my hands absolutely do not ‘feel soft as my face’. And that’s a fact.

Saturday marked seventeen weeks since my catastrophic fall. I am happy to report that I am recovering nicely. My back is still sore sometimes, most notably over the left shoulder blade, most often in the morning or following extra activity; and it is difficult to lie on my left side in bed. But mostly I am back to my bouncy, rubber self. I only need a hug from my hot water bottle once in a while. I am thinking I might try my aerobics class soon: that will really be the chequered flag of recovery for me.

Flu jab: sorted. At my local pharmacy. No queuing. In and out in minutes. Brilliant.

A poem: this is the poem that was a winner in the Fermoy International Poetry Competition in 2014 and earned me a long weekend at the Fermoy Poetry Festival. What a wonderful weekend that was. If you see adverts for this competition, do give it a go. A small explanation of the poem: when my sister found her first boyfriend our mother said to her ‘Boys only want you for one thing.’ My sister’s response? ‘Well tell me what it is then, and I’ll give it to them!’ Oops.


Ten Things My Mother Should Have Said To Me


You are every bit as interesting, funny, beautiful

and precious to me as your brother


When I made your brother, I was an apprentice;

by the time I made you, I had perfected my art.


I ate three slices of the Victoria Sponge

you brought home from domestic science.


Boys will love you for the way you consider them your equals.

They will love that you can change a light bulb, fix the car,

redecorate the lounge, cook a nourishing meal and do all this

while reading Ulysses.


Mostly boys will adore you because you have the ability

to make them laugh. And because you are adorable.


Trust your boyfriends, sex will be the last thing on their minds.

When it is on their minds, it will be an expression

of how much they love you for your drive, personality,

intelligent conversation and well developed sense of humour.


Don’t be afraid to show the world you care.


Caring will sometimes cause you pain but don’t worry,

I will always be there to hug the hurt away.


There is no age restriction on hugging.


Hug your children every day. When they are too far away

for a real hug, hug them tight in the arms of your imagination.


Rachel Davies





Now hands that do dishes…

When I was a young teacher, the school caretaker said to me once, ‘there used to be 52 weeks in a year when I was a boy!’ I know what he meant now. Where does time go? It was only last week we were celebrating Easter and now, here we are listening to the fizz and boom of fireworks. And they’re singing ’tis the season to be merry’ on the telly! Normally, time flying only matters from a mortality perspective, but now, I have only one and three quarters years left of PhD time. I have to knock on!

And I have tried knocking on this week. I revisited the cut and pasted, footnoted chapter and did a complete redraft. I am happier with it but still think it lacks the advanced fluency of Acadamese to be acceptable. I have sent it to Angelica and Antony for advice so I hope I might have a bit of positive feedback to keep me going. The thing about Acadamese, though, is that I see in it the Emperor’s New Clothes. When I am reading, I sometimes come across passages that are so obscure they defy understanding. And they also, I suspect, defy criticism. No-one in Academe wants to appear like the first minister of Hans Christian Andersen’s story and actually say it doesn’t make any sense, so they nod sagely, approve it and pass  on. Or am I just being a tad cynical? I don’t think I’ll ever be so fluent in Acadamese that I’ll achieve that level of fluent obscurity: is that something I should be aspiring to though? [insert confused faced emoticon].

I have also done lots of reading. I’ve started looking forward to the next section which will be a reflection on feminist criticism of psychoanalysis. I have done reading toward this section during the year, notably when I was on holiday, so I already have a good grounding. This week I have been reading Nancy Chodorow’s Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory. Not far in, and some passages of obscure Acadamese that require rereading to wring out the meaning, but an interesting take at the beginning on the same theory as Dinnerstein’s Rocking of the Cradle, of the consequences for society of the (almost exclusively) female nurturing of infants; that male children have no early carers who are ‘like them’ to give them a role model in caring; and they don’t get to see their role models fulfilling their designated role of worker outside the home either, so men grow up not knowing what masculinity actually looks like; and women grow up with a role model of carer and nurturer, not seeing any alternative. I love all this; but I also have to keep an eye on my theme and decide what it’s contributing to that.

On the creative side, I have continued to read Simon Armitage’s Odyssey for some research into verse drama. Use of vernacular speech, characterisation through dialogue, minimal stage directions, movement back and to through time; these are all good tools to apply. I’m growing ideas like weeds at the moment. Soon I’m hoping a beautiful hardy perennial will break the soil and flower. [Question to self: can this paragraph double as my poem this week? Insert smiley faced emoticon.]

Poetry this week. I was invited to go and see Simon Armitage do a reading on his home turf this Friday. The reading was in the Mechanics Institute in Marsden, Simon’s native Yorkshire town. All proceeds went to the ‘library alteration fund’; isn’t that a wonderful way to interpret a refurb? It really means proceeds went to ensure the library avoids public spending cuts.  Anyway, Bill and I met two friends, Penny and Keith at the Mechanics and made sure we were early enough to get good seats. Simon read for forty minutes, an interval of about twenty minutes to refresh glasses at the bar, then another reading of twenty minutes. Bless him, he was full of cold and his voice was definitely waning by the end. But he kept it oiled with Budweiser and made it through to the conclusion.  I have known Simon since he was a lecturer at our wonderful Writing School at MMU when I was doing my MA. I have heard him read on many occasions, including a great performance of The Death of King Arthur at the Globe Theatre, Simon being the narrator and actors acting the principal roles. So I’m a bit of an Armitage groupie, but he never lets me down; and Friday’s performance was one of his best ever: a lovely mix of humorous and serious poetry; rhyme and free verse; poetry and prose; micro-fiction. Even Bill loved it, and he only tolerates poetry because it is important to me. It was a foul night driving over the Pennines through thick, low cloud on Friday, but oh my, I’m so glad we did.

Friday lunchtime I met with some friends, Hilary and Penny, for lunch. I tried to be good and stick with the weight-loss regime, but they force-fed me scone with home-made raspberry jam and clotted cream: resistance was futile. We met to get down to some serious planning of our annual writing retreat which we call our Bitching Week. We fancy Anglesey next year, in early May. We hire a [fairly luxurious] cottage and take it in turns to run writing workshops in the morning then do the sightseeing bit with an ear for the poetry of it in the afternoon. We take turns to cook dinner and eat out a couple of times. This will be our fourth year; we love it. There are usually five of us; this year there will only be four: one of our number has moved to the North East and her involvement will be a problem. So, four go bitching: watch this space. We haven’t quite booked it yet, but we are close. It needs a full meeting of the four to make final decisions and pay the deposit. Bring it on.

So, PhD and poetry are both alive and thriving. Onto life: all is good except the dishwasher decided to go on strike this week. I’m having to wash pots by hand which I’m not happy about. I always say if I didn’t have enough room for an oven and a dishwasher in my kitchen the oven would have to go. I thought initially that we’d had the dishwasher for about eighteen months. We had to replace almost all our white goods during the last eighteen months: you buy them together and they die together. However, when I consulted my old journals I found it was still three weeks inside its 12 month guarantee, so that was good. You see how a love of writing can save you money? I keep a mundane journal every day, recording the boring day-to-day facts of life’s journey along with the few jewels you claim along the way. So, an engineer is coming on Wednesday to repair the fault. Until then I’ll have to continue to wash up by hand. Bleugggh!

And that’s it for another week. Except I can’t let Bonfire Night go by without a memory of my old cat, Manjo. How he hated fireworks, especially those that made shrill, whistling sounds. He used to do this weird commando crawl across the living room and find a place to hide under, usually the sofa, until the mayhem stopped outside. He would flop to his belly, then drag himself along on his forepaws, just like Clint Eastwood in that film…Remember, remember: animals don’t like fireworks as much as humans. They are distressing and frightening; and there is something tasteless in remembering men who were hung, drawn and quartered or burned at the stake, isn’t there? Something primitive about celebrating that kind of cruelty? I know I sound like an old bugger: I am. But really, we pet lovers have to put up with this firework thing now until after New Year and it’s not fun.

Rant over. It’s two years since I was on a Kim Moore workshop week in St Ives. We had a beach party on October 30th to see in Halloween. It was a lovely, balmy night and so peaceful. I have such happy memories of St Ives; and I’ll be doing it all again in February. Well, probably not the midnight beach party bit at that time of year; but with Kim, you never know. I think there are still a [very] few spaces left on February’s residential so if you fancy it, I can promise you you won’t regret it. Kim and David Tait, both alumni of the Writing School, will be running the workshops and Kim [who is now enrolled at MMU again for PhD] announced this week that Penelope Shuttle will be one of the guest readers. So what’s not to like? Check it out here:

and ring the hotel to book. I’m posting a poem I wrote at that October residential in 2014. It’s a favourite of mine. See you next week.


To St Ives a Love Poem

 Even though the future sits at your feet like a black dog

and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of sea mist


and your shoreline roars at the passing of summer

and your white horses rise on their hind legs


till your fishing boats get seasick; even though your trees

shed tears like baubles and your shops drip gifts like rain


and your cobbled streets and narrow alleys wind

around me like a clock and your posters announce


Fair Wednesday as if all the other days are cheats

and your bistros display fish with eyes wide as heaven,


scared as hell and your railway bridge yells

do what makes you happy and it feels like a tall order;


even though your choughs are impatient for pilchard

your huers won’t see today from the Baulking House,


still, you open your arms and kiss my cheeks in welcome.


Rachel Davies

October 2014