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:

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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:

https://www.facebook.com/events/663300897164976/

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:

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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

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