It’s the time of year for reflection. My annual review for the PhD is due, always a time for looking at how I’m doing with the study; but also a time to reflect on other aspects of life. When I started this blog I wanted to see how a PhD could possibly fit into an already full and busy life. Nearly two years in, I’m happy to say that it has fitted in very nicely. Nothing that is important to me has been usurped and yet it has had its due. I’ve had a good week this week: family, friends, study and poetry, all contributing their share. And however bad any week gets, I can always reflect on the fact it will rarely be as bad as Theresa May’s week this week.
So, family: last weekend my son Michael was staying with us, so on Sunday morning we met up with Amie and her partner, Angus and we all went out for an enormous breakfast. We were still full from dinner the night before; food was probably the last thing we needed. But breakfast isn’t always about food and this one was about spending time together, like the symbolic breaking of bread. We had a really pleasant couple of hours in each other’s company. We got to meet Amie’s newest family member, Sonny, the nine-week-old cockerpoo, who is settling into the family very well, good friends with his older ‘brother’, Cooper. I managed to get a tiny piece of PhD work in later in the day: Jean sent me a very supportive paragraph to contribute to my annual review. And I sorted through my portfolio to decide on a poem to take to the workshop at Leaf on Monday.
Monday: the Christie for Amie’s latest check-up. Happy to report all was good: routine scan booked and next check-up in September. In the evening it was the workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. I’m beginning to really like this workshop; it happens every fortnight, no writing involved, but feedback on writing we have already done. I took a poem I wrote in Anglesey about darning and received some constructive advice about voice, about letting the poem tell the reader how darning is a waste of time for the narrator. This is a portfolio poem, I think, so any advice is really welcome.
Tuesday I had a meeting with the support team for the critical element of my PhD. It was Antony’s birthday, so perhaps his celebratory mood was why I came away feeling it had been my most positive meeting with him and Angelica since this work began. I always seem to concentrate on the negatives in these meetings, a throw-back to unhappy memories of grammar school; for instance, the time I had sent about twenty pages to the team and Antony said ‘I liked that bit on page 8’; which also seemed to me to say I didn’t think much of the rest. Of course, when I get home and reflect on the meetings, I know they aren’t as bad as the feeling I take away from them, and reading through the feedback I can always see positives I didn’t pick up in the meetings. But this meeting on Tuesday was different. I came away with the feeling that perhaps I really can do this. I had useful feedback along with advice on how to develop what I had done so far. I even got a tick or two from Antony in my analyses of Selima Hill’s poetry; how a tick can lighten your burden when you’re doing your best, even now, at my age. Teachers everywhere, remember this! I came away from the meeting with a long booklist for the summer and–albeit small–positive vibes.
Bill came to the meeting with me; obviously he didn’t come into the meeting, I left him downstairs in the atrium while I was talking to Angelica and Antony. When I found him again, we went off to Proper Tea for lunch. I collected a ‘heart for Manchester’ from Exchange Square when we went to get the tram home. Manchester has received almost a million hand-made hearts: crocheted, sewn, knitted by supporters from around the world and they have been strung along the route from the Arena to the impromptu public shrine in St Anne’s Square. The public are being encouraged to take one of the hearts home, a reminder that there is more good than evil in the world. It is good to reflect on that at these times, with two terror attacks in as many weeks, when evil seems to prevail. The love Manchester has received from around the world has been truly uplifting.
On Wednesday I had to catch Metrolink into Manchester at such an early hour, my bus-pass was useless. It was a shock to have to pay. I was in MMU by 9.45 ready to get started on a useful mini-course, ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’. This is a support course for post-graduate research students on writing your thesis. Anyone who reads this blog spot regularly knows I need all the help I can get. I love writing, it is an art I am good at; but I have met my match in academic writing. That’s why I was so gratified by the meeting on Tuesday: I really felt I was getting somewhere. Antony and Angelica felt I was getting somewhere. So, this course seemed designed for me. I met some lovely people from other disciplines, all within the Arts and Humanities faculty. I was working with a sociologist/criminologist researching youth gang culture and an architect doing a research project on the effect of HS2 on the environment in rural Cheshire. It’s easy to get blinkered in your own research and I love to meet other research students in areas other thanpoetry. It puts my own work into perspective. I am doing this as a personal challenge; some others are doing professional projects that may have national implications. The best advice I took from the day was from a young man doing some work in criminology. One of his department colleagues, who had done a PhD in the past said, ‘remember, it’s only a bloody PhD.’ Yes, it is. Only a PhD. Cut it down to size, knock it into shape! This course will be held over four sessions and will involve practical homework around developing a part of our theses. Before next Wednesday I have to write a ‘dust-cover blurb’ for my research project to explain it to the group in one paragraph; and I have to decide which part of the thesis I want to develop within the group. That’s an easy decision: the section focused on the sonnet.
I had to go into the Black Ladd at lunchtime to do the books in the afternoon. I worked until about 5.00 p.m and managed to get it all up to date. It helped that there wasn’t a bank statement to reconcile, that cut the workload a bit. I cadged an onion from Amie for the ratatouille I wanted to make for tea. I had the other ingredients but was out of onions. Of course, this onion was a catering pack: I felt like the Queen holding the orb as I carried it to the car! It has served me for three meals so far, and I’ve only used half [insert smiley face emoji].
Thursday, of course, was Mrs May’s big day, the day she would surf to victory on a wave of public acclaim and an increased majority in The House, thereby completely demoralising Jeremy Corbyn in the process, raising her street-cred and putting any opposition completely on the back foot. I won’t get political; that’s not what this blog is about. But it is about my life, so I will say I went to vote, as I always do. And I voted Labour, as I always have. The exit polls were interesting, suggesting a reduced majority, possibly a hung parliament for the Tories. But exit polls are notoriously wrong. I stayed up to watch the results coming in until 2.00 a.m. and they seemed to support the exit polls. I was awoken at 5.00 a.m. by my phone buzzing: messages from both sons excited by the election results. I had to get up and see for myself. The hung parliament was a reality; May had scored the most spectacular own goal in the history of goal scoring. Yes, ultimately she won the election but on a vastly reduced majority: it was indeed a hung parliament. And now she has to get into bed with the Northern Irish DUP (which will bring its own challenges) to secure a majority in the House. Never has a victory looked more like a defeat; and never has a defeat felt more like a win. Cornyn’s Labour party secured even safe Tory seats like Kensington; and Canterbury, which hasn’t been anything but Tory since Chaucer, went over to the Labour fold! Extraordinary for a party that was 20+ points behind the Tories in the opinion polls at the start of the campaign. This was a week I was proud of our democracy: the people spoke and the politicians were forced to listen. Who knows where we go now; but I suspect we won’t be hearing the ‘strong and stable’ mantra any time soon.
On Saturday I was at last able to give a full day to PhD. I wrote RD9s for the meetings with Jean and Antony/Angelica; I redrafted one of the poems I discussed with Jean, a nonet I wrote for NaPoWriMo in April. Jean liked it as a concise form and as a story; but she felt it needed more backstory to fill the reader in on what might be going on. So I drafted an inverted nonet to start the poem to provide that backstory, I hope. The trick is to show, not tell and I hope I achieved that. You can decide for yourself: it is the poem I am including to end this week’s blog. In the evening I went out for dinner with Joan. I’m telling you this because Joan likes a mention! It was my turn to go to hers in Crumpsall this month. I had to find a route through Oldham to Manchester as the roads were closed around my usual route for the Parklife festival at Heaton Park, North Manchester: security is paramount in the light of recent terror. I got to Joan’s no problem, we had a lovely meal at Glamorous, a Chinese restaurant close to Oldham Road. But I did get a bit lost on my way home. Tim, my friendly satnav, kept trying to take me through the closed streets toward the motorway. I was relieved to see a sign for Sportcity and knew how to get home from there; so I was really, really relieved to eventually find myself on Oldham Road and familiar territory.
That’s it then; another week. Here’s the redraft of Painted Lady; I hope you like it. I hope I haven’t beaten you about the head with backstory; I tried to be subtle and join it to the original without the seam showing. I’d be happy to know what you think.
so you played
hard, tankards of
Whitbread, toss of darts.
She didn’t do pubs, watched
at that window for hours for
your drunken home-coming. You were
a summer day, she made of snow so
that face powder and blood-red lipstick
you gave her for her birthday said
more about you than it did
about her. Did you want
your Bull and Butcher
tart for a wife?
She was worth