Manchester, united.

How can I mention my week without mentioning the appalling events in Manchester on Monday. And that is the last thing I want to mention, because I don’t want to give that event more air-time than it has had already in the national and international news. My thoughts are all with the families of those killed and maimed by this act of barbarity; and with those who have brought a ray of light into the darkness of Manchester with their random acts of kindness; like the two homeless men, Stephen Jones and Chris Parker who rushed  to help the injured; the taxi drivers, predominantly Muslim, who drove, without charge, those caught up in the blast; the hundreds of Muslim children who marched from Cheetham Hill to the Arena in a remarkable–and under-reported–show of solidarity with the young people affected by the blast; the people living in the vicinity of the Arena, and the hotels, who offered shelter and safe space for survivors; and, of course, our wonderful emergency services for the work they did under appalling conditions, with no thought for their own safety. These are the things I will concentrate on, not the shameful act of a handful of fanatics misguided in their ideologies.

Hilary and I travelled through Manchester Victoria on Monday evening, an hour and a half before the bomb was detonated at the Arena. It was peaceful and ordinary railway station. Salman Abedi might well have been there, waiting for his opportunity, waiting for the concert to end to do his worst. But to all intents and purposes, it was a normal Monday in Manchester. We had been to the writing workshop in Leaf on Portland Street. We travelled into Manchester together and went to Tampopo in Exchange Square to eat before the workshop. We amused the waiter by asking for the 20% student discount on our meal. I love the surprise on the faces of the young when old folk like us ask for student discount thinking it’s a joke; and then we produce our student cards. 20% discount on the meal: a bonus; the look on the waiter’s face: priceless! The mix of poetry and prose writing at the Leaf workshop was interesting as ever. I took a poem about a woodlouse which was well-received. Rosie Garland gave me the Devon colloquial name ‘chiggy pig’ for a woodlouse, and that is the title of my poem now. It was a pleasant evening in the company of writer friends. We’ve been tasked with thinking of a name for the group before the next meeting on June 5th; so far my creative juices haven’t come up with any ideas.

I learned nothing at all of the bomb until I woke on Tuesday morning, when I also learned of the closure of Manchester Victoria Station and the area of Manchester around the Cathedral. I was due at the university for a meeting with my PhD support team on Tuesday morning, and despite the replacement bus service from Central Park, I could see travel into Manchester was going to be severely delayed. I contacted my Director of Studies and we postponed our meeting until the first week in June. So I was at a bit of a loose end on Tuesday. I know the sensible thing would have been to settle to work; but my head was in entirely the wrong place for work. I was crying for my wonderful adopted city. I decided to distract myself for an hour. I went out for coffee and to do some boring food shopping. When I got home I sent some poems off to competitions; I had to do something productive with a very bad day.

Wednesday: a little ray of sunshine in Stockholm. Manchester people are the best in the world and nothing portrayed that more eloquently than this wonderful logo

It dominated the Manchester fan banners at the event in a wonderful display of solidarity. And of course, Manchester Utd won the cup, providing a piece of good news for the City in an appalling week.

On Thursday we went into Oldham to pay the balance on the price of our September holiday. We were there for the minute’s silence, which was held nationally in honour of the victims of Monday’s attack. And then I was in tears all over again to stand with people from all Oldham’s diversity in an act of communal grief it is difficult to find expression for. Terrible things happen in the world, often in the name of religion or of some other warped secular ideology; but good people standing in solidarity against those terrible things is a very moving experience. I have seen the minute’s silence observed many times in the week at sporting events and in town centres; and it has always been observed absolutely. As long as there are good people in the world, good will prevail.

Yesterday was the highlight of a bad week. Hilary and I went to Sheffield for the Poetry Business Writing day. Peter and Ann Sansom run these writing days every month, details here:
Keep an eye out for the next one; I can’t give you dates for the June workshop because Peter and Ann are committed to other work at the end of the month and they are hoping to arrange an earlier date, possibly the 10th; but I know for sure the July writing day is on July 29th and it is firmly in my diary. The writing exercises are interesting, mostly using published poems as springboards. I tried to concentrate on my mother-daughter theme yesterday and make the activities serve that; as a result I think I may have three or four more embryonic poems for the portfolio that will prove worth working on. And I was home in time to watch the FA cup final, so that was a bonus. No vested interest this year, Man Utd weren’t involved. But it was a good match and a bonny result for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal after a troubled season.

A poem this week to take us away from the pain that is Manchester, back to my native fens. I wrote this at a Poetry Business writing day in 2014, so it seems apposite to post it this week. Go safely, everyone, and go well.

The Fens
(after Andrew Grieg)

It’s the way that huge sky sits on the land,
compressing it like a wafer. It’s the way

the land responds, breathing in deeply
filling its chest with ripe wheat and plenty.

It’s the way the dykes mark the borders
of vast fields, carry the sea back to the coast,

breed eels. It’s the way the shire horse
remembers past harvests, when the air

was smoky with the dust of threshing.
It’s the way a thunderstorm in summer

is an event, how you count the seconds
between lightening and thunderclap

even though you can see the storm
for miles. It’s the way Billy Day eats

bread and cheese with his penknife,
says dang that wahsp, it stang me.

Rachel Davies


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