I’m sure you’ve seen the scene in the 1953 film of H.G.Wells’s War of the Worlds where the ‘Martians’ – who look surprisingly like the motorway lights at the Hollinwood junction of the M60 and walk like two legged harvest spiders – are walking through town shooting up anything that moves; and everything moves because the town-folk are running for their lives, making them easy targets. Anyway, there they go, shooting for the gold medal when their knees, or what constitutes knees in a harvest spider version of a motorway light, just give way and they start to topple. Pole-axed. Down like skittles. Has there been a human fight-back? Oh no! Microbes. The Martians have caught the common cold, a killer they haven’t encountered on Mars.
This week I know just how they felt. I have developed the king and queen of colds. Pole-axed like a Martian. And that is why my blog post is a day late. I slept for ten hours on Saturday night (that’s about three nights’ sleep for me in one go!) , woke too late to write it in bed as usual; so I took my MacBook downstairs meaning to write it sometime during the day. But I dozed my way through most of Sunday as well, so it didn’t get written. And now, having hardly slept at all on Sunday night, here I am writing the blog post that has been being composed in my mind all night. I’d like to thank Kim Moore for this: this week, in her ‘Sunday Poem’ blog she referred people to my blog if they were considering doing a PhD: it was reading my blog that had encouraged her to apply. I had thought I might leave the blog this week and write a double-header next week, but when I read Kim’s blog, I thought I had better actually write a blog this week in case people popped over to read it. Actually, I don’t think I could have passed a whole week without writing it, really, because it has been going through my brain like an ear-worm.
Anyway: this week has been a mix of PhD, poetry, life and microbes; especially life and microbes. On Monday I was fine. I took my daughter, Amie, for her regular check-up at the Christie: it was all good.
On Tuesday, I should have been meeting Jean Sprackland to discuss the verse drama, but poor Jean is also battling microbes so the meeting was delayed until this coming Tuesday. I had the first signs that I was catching a cold, but I wasn’t bothered: it’s just a cold, I told myself, and caught Metrolink to Manchester to meet Rachel Mann and Kim Moore in the Eighth Day Cafe on Oxford Road. We are all three at different stages of the PhD: Rachel is coming to the end of hers; a real academic, Rach can pull sound advice out of the air. I am trying to be an academic and finding it incredibly challenging. Kim is at the stage of preparing her RD1 to get her proposal registered with MMU. It was good to chat over cups of tea and realise that I have come a long way in a year, but still have a way to go. And good to be able to reassure Kim that RD1, which seems to have all your dreams hanging on it at the start of year one is actually only a hurdle to jump, and doesn’t prescribe your next three years. Most productive of all was the discussion around acadamese: I told them I haven’t learned the language yet, that I was reading Martin Kratz’s thesis, because I know he struggled at first. His thesis shows he became fluent very quickly! I still didn’t think I could write with that level of apparent obscurity. They referred me to Katrina Naomi’s PhD thesis, which I sought out when I got home. It restored my faith: here is a (successful) thesis written in accessible language: I could understand it, it was interesting and readable.
Yesterday I messaged Katrina via FaceBook to tell her how helpful her thesis had been to me, how refreshing it was to read accessible acadamese. She said my message had cheered her up no end, made her week! One of her supervisors had told her her thesis was like she was chatting to someone in the pub. So what’s wrong with that? Why should academe be so hot-house, so elitist? Why shouldn’t the folk in the pub also have access to academe. I shall feel stronger about defending my own accessible language after reading (Dr) Katrina’s thesis and having my virtual chat with her. The community of poets, eh? It has served me more than once this week.
Wednesday and Thursday was all about pre-Christmas visiting: sister and best friend in Lincolnshire. Two wonderful days with no PhD to bother me, the microbes becoming progressively aggressive, but still nothing I couldn’t cope with. I even drove home all the way from Lincs, a first long drive since my fall in July. I wouldn’t have liked to attempt it without Bill in the co-driver’s seat; and we took a break half-way for coffee; and I needed hot water bottle therapy when I got home. But at least I know now that I can do it, I know where my limits are: I wouldn’t have wanted to drive much further, but at least I know I can take myself south to visit my sister if I need to.
On Friday I should have had a day full of things to do. First thing was a visit to the dental nurse for my lovely cat, Rosie Parker. She has to have a scale and polish in January (!), a price tag of about £200, more if she needs a suspected extraction. I got home from there feeling dreadful and cancelled everything else in my diary: the usual Friday bank run, lunch with two lovely friends, Hilary and Penny. I sank on the sofa looking like a Victorian melodrama heroine and felt thoroughly sorry for myself. I did what I always do when life smacks me in the teeth: I watch crime drama on the telly. This time it was Shetland, I hadn’t realised it was written by Anne Cleeves, inventor of Vera, my favourite detective. I lost myself in Shetland for two or three hours. In the afternoon Hilary brought me some fresh pineapple to help the voice and to return my paper trimmer that she had borrowed to make her set of Spelk pamphlets. I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon sewing a few more: we had about 25 to take to Saturday’s event.
Saturday I felt awful: no voice to speak of, or with; and the ‘Spelks meet Sounds of the Engine House’ event in the evening. I was determined to go as I had been the Spelk instrumental in getting it off the ground; and already two of the six couldn’t make it. So I dosed up with Lemsip Cold and Flu capsules and Halls Soothers and at 4.00 p.m. I met up with Penny and Keith in Coriander Restaurant in Chorlton. After a lovely meal and a couple of beers we made our way to St.Werburgh’s Church for the event. It was a lovely evening: a sublime mix of poetry and music. Ben Gaunt and Eve Harrison are alumni of Royal Northern College of Music; I met Ben through the link MMU has with RNCM in the first year of my MA and we have collaborated several times since then. My favourite part of the evening was a setting of Matthew Fitt’s poem ‘Kate O’Shanter’. Kate is the wife of Robert Burns’s anti-hero, Tam O’Shanter, and the poem puts her side of the story. Eve had commandeered an actor (male) to play Kate and to read the poem: he wore a shocking orange wig and bright lipstick, and that was just the right degree of grotesque. It was really funny, but the piece was brilliant. I wish it was on YouTube so you could click a link but it isn’t, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I also enjoyed Ben’s short, avant garde piece based on Paracelsus’s weird ideas about the body being made up of a combination of salts, sulphur and mercury.
I was the first Spelk to read; I wasn’t sure how far the voice would go, but I managed to read about five short poems before it failed me and I handed on the baton. All four available Spelks read sets of poems to be proud of; and we sold the grand total of zero pamphlets; but that didn’t matter. The audience was more music than poetry, I think, and we had very positive feedback. I fell asleep on the tram on the way home, fell into bed feeling awful and slept for ten hours. So I am back where I started, really: at the end of a hard week. Things, as the Labour Party campaign song in 1997 assured us, can only get better. Well let’s hope this time it turns out to be true!
I don’t have a poem to leave you with this week, but I’ll try harder next week. I still have some microbes to kill. See you next Sunday.