Monthly Archives: October 2017

Family, microbes and the occasional witch.

Some weeks you have to push hard to get any PhD work in. This has been one such. It has been a week with family; and a week of fighting off the microbes. But I have managed some constructive work too.

On Sunday I continued to concentrate on the creative side of the work. I did some more submitting of poems. I sent to The Interpreters House; and I bit the bullet and took Michael Symmons Roberts’s advice and sent some of my ‘mother’ poems to Rialto. I don’t hold out much hope: it’s a serious publication; but they’ve gone and I haven’t had an immediate rejection, so I’ll take that as a positive. However, they do say on the website that it could take three months to make a decision, so I’ll just forget about them now and wait. Unfortunately I heard very quickly from TIH: almost return of e-mail. I had sent the poems as separate Word docs; the website specifically asks for poems to be sent in a single document, so I was asked to resubmit following the submission guidelines. I’m very grateful to be given the chance to resubmit. I administer online entries to our Poets&Players annual competition and I get really annoyed with people who ignore the submission guidelines. So I was very embarrassed to have done that myself: I apologized profusely, resubmitted as per the guidelines and made a mental note to be less irritated when P&P is open for entries next year!

On Monday I had lunch with Amie and Richard. Richard is a teacher and it is his half-term break so he came up to the miserably moor-grimed north and we went out for lunch. We took a lovely walk into Uppermill from Delph along the route of the old Delph Donkey railway line. Signs of autumn everywhere, obviously, which included some stunning bracket fungi similar to this one, only darker, like an Oreo biscuit. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate in Muse in Uppermill: they allowed us to take Amie’s dogs inside, which was lovely of them.

On Monday evening, after Richard had returned to the Flatlands, Bill and I went into Manchester for the first of the latest season of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends readings at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It was lovely to meet up with several poet friends. These are lovely events: CAD hosts the readings and reads a couple of her poems followed by MA students of the MMU Writing School; then the evening completes with a poet of national/international standing giving a reading. At this event Keith Hutson, MA student, presented a radio play he has written about the stormy relationship between the fifties/sixties comedians Hilda Baker and Jimmy Jewel. It is a short two-character play and it was very good. Keith writes a lot about iconic music hall performers, he’s a bit of an expert; the play is an extension of this poetry interest. The national/international poet this time was Andrew McMillan, who joined the Writing School as a lecturer this term. I love Andrew’s poetry, so sensual, physical. You can read about his work here:

On Tuesday I had a head-cold brewing. I did some PhD work. The two don’t necessarily mix well. I decided to stay with the creative aspect until I’ve had a chance to discuss my ideas for the critical aspect with the team. So I got out the ‘how-to’ books for ideas for poetry. I went to one of the books a friend had sent for my birthday: John Redmond’s How To Write A Poem. It is a book about looking at different emphases in poetry: multiple voices, point of view, who is being addressed, scale and vista etc. Each chapter is short, with examples of well—and lesser—known poets; and each chapter includes a writing prompt. I read a couple of chapters, but didn’t get around to using the prompts. I kept dozing off over the reading, so I gave up at lunchtime and pampered myself on the sofa with some old episodes of crime dramas: Morse and Vera. There’s nothing like a good crime drama for a bit of escapism when you’re feeling below par, I find. My younger son, Mike, rang for a chat, so that was nice. He called me Nurse Ratchett for my unsympathetic treatment of Bill’s knee injury in my blog last week, which made me laugh. Apart from a ‘clonking’ Bill can feel when he walks, said knee is on the mend. He managed the walk into Uppermill quite well on Monday anyway, although I did have to collect him in the car for the return journey.

On Wednesday and Thursday the cold really made its presence felt. I went about my usual routines, but I was glad to get back to putting my feet up. On Wednesday I had an email from Antony, my Director of Studies, asking if we could meet on November 14th as next week is ‘employability week’ at MMU, whatever that means. Then on Thursday I had an email from The North asking the ‘prose writers’ for a short biography to accompany the pieces we had written. I had submitted a revised version of my Pascale Petit review more than a week ago; so I hope the request for a biography means they have accepted it, although I’ve had nothing to say so. I asked the question when I sent my biography off, but still not heard officially. What do you think?

Friday morning was taken up with a visit to Oldham Royal Hospital. Bill was given an appointment for the fracture clinic last week when he presented to A&E following the injury to his knee; although there was no fracture, the A&E doctor pointed out that it was really an ‘acute orthopaedic’ clinic and she wanted to be sure from an expert that there was no lasting damage. We arrived with plenty of time, were seen early and were on the road again before the actual time of his appointment, so that was good. Unfortunately the doctor we saw was a hand expert and couldn’t really tell Bill much about his knee that we didn’t know already: arthritis was present. So he advised contacting his GP and getting referral to a knee specialist. Who knew there were specialists for every joint in the human body? So the drama of the knee injury, like all the best soaps, is to be continued. And no, I’m no more sympathetic than I was last week, Mike. I think it’s probably an ex-nurse thing.

Yesterday I decided I would work a bit more on the critical side of the PhD to see if I could put together enough of a chapter to send to Antony and Angelica prior to the meeting in a couple of weeks. I’m very aware of the time constraints of this, my final year. So I went back to my theoretical reading: re-read the Lacan bit about the mirror stage (I understand the concept, but his writing is really inaccessible) and I did a library search, so now I need to visit the MMU library to borrow a couple of books. I checked them out on Amazon, but they were about £20 each; so I’ll borrow first and buy if they are indispensible. I started to re-read Jessica Benjamin The Bonds of Love too, which has a good chapter on mutual recognition, which is really what Lacan’s mirror stage theory is about, I think. So, a good morning’s work, by which time the head-cold was making itself felt again. I called it a day, stopped for lunch and watched Man U beat Spurs 1-0 to secure their second place in the Premiership table.

That’s it, then: another week done. I really need to knock on, so this week I’ll have to defeat the microbes or learn to live with them. Sympathy? No, I don’t want sympathy. I want to be microbe free: we all know what the common cold did to the Martians in War of the Worlds: they can be tricksy little buggers.

On Tuesday this week it’s Halloween, so I’ll leave you with a poem about my Grandma: not a real one, I didn’t know the real ones, but the one I wish I’d had. I invented her to fill the grandma gap. I hope she did exist, I quite like her. And it’s a sonnet, one for the portfolio.


Grandma was a white one

She flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:
heated seat and pillion, power assisted
bristles. Her coven wasn’t impressed though,
snubbed her at the crossroads, turned their backs,
cast her out. Jealousy’s the new ducking stool
she said, helping herself to anything she fancied
from life’s cauldron without so much as a couplet.

She didn’t chant the old hubble-bubble, just
threw in a word or two, a wow phrase, a strong verb,
the merest pinch of an adjective.
She wrote each stanza as if it was her last.
Fly where you’re not wanted, that’s
what she taught me. Come down in a mess
of family, reinvent them like you mean it.


Rachel Davies

Cake, cider and Paperchase; oh, and Poetry.

This has been one of my favourite kinds of weeks, when poetry takes the driving seat.

On Sunday I was at my desk straight after breakfast, revisiting the review of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and The Huntress. I took out the more academic passages, included a couple of the (shorter) poems and précis-ed other passages to keep within the advised word-count. I sent it off just before a late lunch, advising the editor, Suzannah, that I haven’t sought permissions from the publisher, Bloodaxe, to use the poems. I haven’t heard anything since, so I’m hoping no news is good news and they are seeking said permissions prior to publication; although I’m a terminal optimist, so what do I know? Anyway, fingers crossed.

On Tuesday, I was at my desk early again. I decided to work on the review to turn it into a PhD thesis chapter. I spent most of the morning doing lots of reading about mirrors, how we learn who we are in the mirror of others’ reactions to us. Obviously lots of stuff in Lacan—which I can almost understand—and in Bowlby, which is much more reader friendly. But in other theorists too; so I got carried away with the index searches and reading—that’s so easy—and didn’t get any writing done all morning.  In the week I came across this blog-spot that outlines the difficulty of actually starting academic writing, a difficulty I can relate too: it spoke to me entirely:

I had a break for lunch then back to my desk for the afternoon.I decided to grasp the nettle and start writing. By the end of the day I had a page and a half re-written with academic references. I think I’m pleased with it; but then it occurred to me that it’s a minor change of direction and may need to involve the Hill chapter as well so I sent an email to The Team to set up a meeting to discuss it. I won’t be sending them anything, because I don’t think I’ve done enough to warrant them reading it yet, but I do feel I need to talk to them. I’m waiting to hear.

On Thursday Bill slipped on some wet leaves on the steps outside our front door and twisted his knee. He didn’t seem in too much pain, thankfully. In the afternoon I sent off five of my ‘mother’ poems to an online journal, Riggwelter. This is a journal with editorial links to Three Drops in a Couldron, so I was hoping I would be successful. I’d heard they have a fast turn-around but even so I was pleasantly surprised to hear within two hours that they had taken ‘Her Hands’ for publication in the December edition.

When I came home from Slimming World in the evening, it was raining for Noah in the wake of ex-hurricane Ophelia. I opened the front door and a big fat frog flopped into the foyer out of the rain, then realising it had got itself into an alien situation it didn’t like much, it flopped out of sight under a chest I keep by the front door. I called Bill to help; his knee was beginning to stiffen up and it was ‘clunking’ when he walked. He limped downstairs but managed to get down on his hands and knees to coax the frog out from its hiding place so I could coax it into the wet outdoors again. Bill said he thought he should take himself to A&E. I wasn’t so sure. I hate giving four or five hours of my life to waiting in A&E unless I’m certain we have an emergency on our hands and I didn’t feel he had done sufficient damage to call on the time of the already overstretched resources of the NHS. But I’m notoriously unsympathetic of illness and injury so what do I know? We agreed that mid-evening probably isn’t the best time to go—waiting times are ridiculous— and decided to get up early and go in the morning if it wasn’t any better. So, Friday saw us getting up at 6.00 a.m. and heading off to Oldham Royal for a check up. Really, our NHS is wonderful and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. We were seen very quickly by the triage nurse, and quite quickly by a doctor who didn’t think any huge damage had been done but would order an x-ray just in case. It transpires there is no fracture but a good deal of arthritis, which we knew already as Bill is currently on a physio course for that very thing. However, he was referred to the acute orthopaedic clinic in a week to get a final check. We were two hours there altogether; two hours I couldn’t really afford, if I’m selfishly honest. So when he asked me to drive him to Werneth so he could call into said physio clinic to explain why he wouldn’t be there today I gave him a firm ‘no’: the telephone has been invented for just such a conversation and I had places to be.

I went to the Black Ladd to do the tills after I dropped him off at home. Then I wrapped the Apple watch 18th birthday present we (Amie, Richard, Michael and I) had bought for her stepson, Ben. I left it on the desk for Amie. Our cars crossed at the gates as I was leaving and she was arriving for work. I went home to drop the car off, and realised I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I made some quick toast before leaving the house and the Walking Wounded and catching the bus to Oldham Mumps to pick up the tram to Manchester. I left the car at home, because Hilary and I have devised a new ‘thing’: a cider, cake and Paperchase day. We met up at about mid-day. We had a lovely day starting with coffee and cake to warm us up; then Paperchase: one of our favourite shops. There are three floors of Paperchase in Manchester. We started at the top and worked our way down methodically. We saw everything: beautiful stuff, quirky stuff, stuff I want to own whether I need it or not. But we didn’t buy much in the end, we just looked. We didn’t want too much shopping to carry around with us. We each came out with a notebook and that’s it; but we’ll be going back soon for more, I don’t doubt. We moved onto the cider part of the day: into the Slug and Lettuce on Deansgate for a pint, then to afternoon tea in Patisserie Valerie. We called into the other Slug and Lettuce on Albert Square for another cider. Despite the wintry weather we sat outside. It was here we met up with David and Bill—yes he’d limped his way into Manchester on bus and tram to meet up with us for the evening event. We had tickets for the Michael Symmons Roberts reading at the Central Library. This was a Manchester LItfest event—more good stuff here:

Michael was reading from his latest collection, Mancunia. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. The day before the reading, it was announced that it’s on the shortlist for the T S Eliot prize: I’m guessing that won’t be its only accolade this year. The reading was wonderful, only minimally interrupted by a crying infant and much worse, her mother constantly rummaging loudly in a paper carrier bag to find something to placate the child. As well as Michael reading, there was input from Cesare Taurasi, a cast member from the recent TV screening of Michael’s Men Who Sleep In Cars. He read one of the poems; and another was incorporated into a film of old Manchester, with Michael’s voiceover. It was a wonderful night, and a perfect finish to a (mostly) good day. Of course, I bought Mancunia and got Michael to sign it.

Saturday I gave over almost entirely to the creative element of the PhD: as I’m waiting to discuss the critical side with my Director of Studies it didn’t seem a good idea to work any more on that. I spent the whole day revisiting my portfolio of poems to polish some of them for a pamphlet. By the end of the day I had sent off 30 pages of poems to the Indigo Dreams pamphlet competition. I’m quite pleased with them; but when I hit the ‘send’ button, I can always think of something I should have done differently to improve at least one the poems; but that’s just submission for you. There, they’ve gone and there’s nothing more I can do for them until the results are announced. Fingers crossed for them then.

Saturday evening it was Ben’s 18th birthday meal at Fresca in Delph. Oh, my! 18! How quickly time flies. I have known him since he was two: a lovely, kind, shy boy and here he is learning to be a man. Amie had organised a birthday cake in the shape of a VW camper van: Angus and Ben often go away in their own camper van, so it was a lovely cake to choose. After the candles had been blown out Ben, this lovely shy young man, got up to make a speech to say how happy he was that his family had come along to make his birthday special. We were all so proud of him. Happy birthday Ben.

Here’s a poem about a sloth that I wrote at the Mark Pajak workshop in Nantwich last week. We had to write down everything we knew about a sloth, a kind of brainstorm. And then write the poem without using any of the things we had written down, which liberates (or forces?) you to invent new ways to say what you want to say. Anyway, here it is, my poem ‘Sloth’.


 I could love one who lost
two toes in evolution,
couldn’t see the point of a full set.

I could love one who views the world
hanging from the branch of a tall tree,
the undershrub his ceiling
the sky his forest floor.

I could love one who is a philosopher,
ponders the energy of predator and prey
and arrives at the ergo of leaves.

I could love one who is no couch potato:
downtime is a vocation, sleep
a full-time job.

I could love one who is named
for a human failing
yet smiles at the irony of it.

Rachel Davies
October 2017



Poetry. PhD. Life.

This week has had a bit of everything in magnificent balance.

Sunday was spent mostly travelling back from Swindon. We had an open return ticket so we didn’t have booked seats; we thought it wouldn’t be a problem on a Sunday; and it wasn’t, on the train we caught from Swindon just before 12.00. We had seats together around a table. But this leg of the journey was only short. The train from Cheltenham Spa to Manchester was ram-packed: we eventually found seats beside each other, but they were on either side of an aisle. We were only able to move to seats together after Birmingham. We arrived in Macclesfield without incident. And there we stayed for an hour and a half: there had been a death on the line in Levenshulme and so no trains were being allowed into Piccadilly until the incident was cleared. I was reflecting on the sadness of someone being so desperate that the railway line was the answer. A fellow passenger thought only of the inconvenience to herself: surely there was more than one line into Piccadilly she said. We are human, but some of us have little humanity! We crossed the road from the station for a pint and waited for the next train to Manchester.

Tuesday I gave entirely to the PhD. I copied my Pascale Petit review into a second document and investigated how I can use it to form the beginning of a chapter of my thesis. Obviously it needed to be more in depth, more academic authority, more theory, more analysis of more poems. It needed to be ‘more’. I also reread the Selima Hill sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’ to see if there was evidence of masks and mirrors in her work to make that an over-riding theme of the thesis. Obviously, ‘masks’ would be eminently arguable, because I see her ‘sister’ as a version of herself in this sequence; so the whole piece is ‘masked’ by the identity of the sister. I need to discuss this idea with my support team: I must set up a meeting soon. I also trawled the index of several of the main theoretical authorities I have been reading for references to masks or mirror; and found a surprisingly satisfying range. This could be a rewarding aspect of the work, I think.

Interestingly, later in the day I had an email from the reviews editor at The North, a response to my Pascale Petit review submission. ‘It’s an interesting piece and reads very well,’ she said, but the editorial team felt ‘it was more of an academic essay than a review.’ Given the issues I have had with academic language, this made me laugh out loud. I wondered what my Director of Studies would say about it if I were to send it to him as it stands: not academic enough, I suspect. However, Suzannah at The North suggested some edits to make it more acceptable for publication, and that’s what I’ll be doing later today. If I can get it back to them by tomorrow, and it is more in the house style, I think it will be in the next issue. Watch this space (again).

On Tuesday evening we went into Manchester for the live screening of the National Theatre’s (Benedict Cumberbatch’s) Hamlet. Oh my, how good was that? It was by far the best version of Hamlet I have seen in my entire life. He was brilliant, the production and direction was brilliant. Hamlet’s soliloquys were delivered with other actors on the stage: the lighting put Hamlet in the foreground, the other actors in the background, acting in slow motion as if time had stopped while we were given access to Hamlet’s thought processes. It was just wonderful; except for Gertrude’s announcement of Ophelia’s death. I love the first line of that speech: One woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow. But when she goes on to describe how Ophelia died it all becomes too melodramatic; and I wonder, if someone observed all that dying, why didn’t they take action to pull her out of the water. But that’s just me, perhaps, being a literal thinker. There will be another live screening at the Printworks in Manchester this Tuesday coming; if you are in the area, I do heartily recommend it, you won’t regret it. It was an iconic performance.

On Wednesday, the prizewinning poems, including my ‘Chiggy Pig’, were up on the Battered Moons website:

On Thursday I received my first Christmas present of the year. Yes, I know it’s only October; but I help at a Slimming World group on Thursday evenings and it was the Christmas launch this week with offers on the purchase of a twelve week ‘Countdown’, a prepaid twelve week session of commitment; and that twelve weeks takes us right up to Christmas Eve. Our Slimming World consultant gave all her helpers a Christmas card and present to get us in the spirit. I won’t open it until Christmas though. Probably not. Maybe. My own ‘weight loss journey’ this week was a disaster, after last week’s jaunts to London and Swindon, so I have my work cut out to do better this week. And that particular commitment was blown out of the water straight away on Friday when I met my friend Joan and we went out to eat in a new restaurant in Prestwich. Oh well; still the rest of the week to work on weight loss. Except on Saturday I went to a Thai restaurant in Nantwich with Hilary, had a lovely Thai curry lunch; and then scones with jam and cream for tea. Probably not a good Slimming World week then.

We were in Nantwich for the Words and Music Festival, organised by our friend Helen Kay, among others. A workshop in the morning, led by the brilliant young poet Mark Pajak was absolutely fantastic. He gave us a way of looking at poems of violence as timelines; which gave us an opportunity for backstory, or ‘what happened next’ poems of our own. He will be running an online course for the poetry school along similar lines in the spring I think; but there is nothing for 2018 on the Poetry School website yet. I really enjoyed it; and as a little light relief, we had an activity involving a sloth—nothing violent involved in this activity—and I wrote what could become a passable poem. In the afternoon we went to a reading by Carol Ann Duffy, and she was at her brilliant best. She read from The World’s Wife and Bees, poems I’ve heard several times; but she also read from Rapture. I haven’t heard her read from this collection so it was a new experience. And she called the sonnet ‘the little black dress of poetry’; which quote I must get into my chapter on the sonnet: it’s too good a quote to waste!

In the evening it was an open mic session of (mostly local) poets reading their own work. Hilary and I both had a five minute slot and I read some of my mother poems as well as the poem I wrote at the Poetry Business writing day, about being seventy: I included it in my blog ‘Masks and Mirrors’ on October 1st. I love open mic sessions, because poets of all abilities get an audience; and it is so good to reflect on the buzz people get from writing creatively. Any creativity is definitely good for the soul.

So, wow, another wonderful week. Is there any other kind?

Here is one of the new ‘mother’ poems I read yesterday. I don’t know if it’s about my mother, or about her daughter; but I really like it, whatever. It came from a prompt in one of the many books I took away with me to Zakinthos in September.



She came from a long line of Amazons
who could catch a flying fuck
and make a poem of it.

She came from the bloodline of Boudicca
her hair the flames that would ignite Rome.

She came from the flatlands
where the North sea is a lament
calling itself back through cuts and dykes.
She turns with the tide.

She came from the soil, grew
wild as bulrushes, untamed
as the brambling hedgerows, fruitful
as a codling orchard.

She came from the confluence of love and hate,

She came to you as gift. Unwrap her slowly.


Rachel Davies
September 2017

Trains, Chiggy Pigs and Celebrity Spotting

Such a week I’ve had this week. This blog began two years ago at the start of my PhD, as a reflection on how a PhD will push its way into an already busy life, and grow alongside all the other busy-ness of a retired workaholic. Well, the simple answer this week is: it hasn’t. PhD has had its nose well and truly disjointed by other aspects of my life. It’s strange, isn’t it, that I go on holiday and pack PhD to come with me, work for two hours a day while I’m away, get loads of work done; and yet on a week when I’m at home and should be able to work on it for hours I haven’t been able to fit it in anywhere, except the small amount of reading I’ve managed in bed. So, apologies to PhD, I’ve been slacking; but oh my, what a brilliant week I’ve had!

On Sunday last week I joined the anti-Brexit march in Manchester, where the Tory Party was holding its annual conference at what used to be GMex. We marched past the back of GMex, but weren’t allowed within a shout of the front for security reasons: understandable, but annoying non-the-less. So hats off to Simon Brodkin, the P45 delivery man, for breaking the security barrier! On Sunday an estimated 35,000 of us walked through the streets of Manchester, from All Saints Park to Piccadilly Gardens, with trumpets, banners, flags and slogans, letting the world know what we thought of the pig’s ear that is Brexit (I still hate that word, even if it has made it into the OED). ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ was my favourite shout of the day: there is something liberating about being able to shout a slogan within a huge crowd that you wouldn’t dream of shouting in your normal walks around the city streets on your own. This was my second ever demo and I loved it.

Monday I tried and failed to do the domestic thing and bring the ironing up to date. Ironing is the one thing that still annoys the 4th thoracic vertebra, and I had a seriously sore back after only a few items. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I bought a new ironing board cover and couldn’t work out how it fitted: that ‘asbestos’ plate that the iron rests on wouldn’t fit back into its space. So I spent thirty minutes working that out before I even started ironing; and when I had eventually beaten it into submission and succeeded in reassembling the ironing board, the back was sore already. So I ironed a couple of things and then gave up and let the hot water bottle hug the pain away. I was fit enough for the aerobics session on Monday afternoon, but I left before the weights and floor work of the second half.

On Tuesday, I had an appointment with the rheumatologist about my evil auto-immune triplets: polymyalgia rheumatica, Giant Cell Arteritis and osteopenia. It was all good news though. I wanted to reduce the cortico-steroids in a bid to come off them altogether. Dr Klimiuk checked the blood results: all pleasantly normal. He asked about symptoms: nothing to report. So he has given me permission to reduce by 1mg a month until I’m off the Prednisolone altogether by next summer. If the symptoms return at all, I can increase again (being terminally optimistic, I’m ignoring this last as an irrelevance!) This reduction is a huge positive, as anyone who has taken this drug for any length of time will appreciate. I’ve been taking Prednisolone since December 2012. It does a wonderful job on the pain levels; but it comes with other issues, not least of which for me has been the shakes: you don’t want to be sitting next to me when I’m eating soup! So, that appointment took up most of Tuesday morning. I decided to go into Manchester after it to pick up the train tickets for our trip to Swindon at the weekend.

Wednesday morning, more NHS. I had an appointment with my GP for the subcutaneous abdominal injection of Denusomab, a drug to assist the assimilation of Vit D and calcium to protect the bones in osteopenic/osteoporotic patients. In a past life—six months ago—that would have been done by the nurse specialist at the same time as the appointment with my rheumatologist. But, presumably in a cost-cutting efficiency exercise, that part of the treatment has reverted to GP surgeries, so now, instead of one visit, it takes up three mornings and the time of three busy professionals instead. The injection itself doesn’t take long, but it takes up a disproportionate amount of time in the process. Firstly, some weeks back, I had to order the prescription for the drug, take it to the pharmacy who informed me it would be sent back to the surgery to be stored in their fridge. Then, last week, I had to have the blood tests to evaluate how successful it was being in assimilating the said Vit D/calcium into my body; then I had to go again to the surgery for the actual injection. All this on top of the appointment with the rheumatologist. This very convoluted process replaces the original one visit/all done at the rheumatology clinic. How is this improving efficiency? Answers on a postcard, please.

The rest of Wednesday was taken up with bringing the restaurant books up to date after my recent holiday.

Thursday was a big work no-no; I went with Amie to London. This was my Mothers Day present: yes I know Mothers Day was in March, but we were going to the theatre in the evening, and the tickets were my gift from Amie and Richard. We travelled first class on the train to Euston, which was an experience. I don’t agree with the classist attitude of ‘first class and plebs’ that exists on our railways; but it was nice to avail ourselves of it when the price sank into our price-range. When we arrived in London we took the tube to Covent Garden then did the touristy thing, walking around Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Regent Street. We seemed to walk for miles so we got the underground back to Covent Garden—Sky News’s Adam Bolton shared a lift with us—and had an early evening meal at a lovely bistro there before taking the underground to Hammersmith to meet up with Richard. We went to see Ricky Gervais in his show, ‘Humanity’. I know Ricky Gervais is a ‘Marmite’ act: you either love him or hate him. We love him. He was at his controversially satirical best in this show. He was supported by Doc Brown, who, I found out later, is the brother of the novelist Zadie Smith: a talented family. The two comedians were brilliant; but oh my, the audience was appalling. People were in and out of their seats throughout the performances, coming in late, going off to the bar to refill their glasses; and not quietly either. Is there some new trend that says you don’t have to consider the performers any more when you visit the theatre? I thought you got to your seat in time for the start and you stayed there until the interval; and you stayed there again after the interval until the end of the show. Some of the audience on Wednesday had missed that part of their upbringing, then. Piers Morgan was in the audience, and he was one of the nicest people there: it shows how bad some of them were!

We took the train back to Peterborough from Kings Cross and stayed over at Richard’s house before coming back to Manchester on Friday. Then on Saturday I was on the train again, with Bill this time, to come to Swindon for the Battered Moons competition celebration event. We changed trains at Cheltenham Spa, spotted Tom Daley and Tristram Hunt on the platform: this has been a big week for celeb spotting. The competition readings were last night: I’m writing this blog from my hotel bed. I met up with some old poetry friends: ‘Quiet Compare’ Sarah Dixon was there volunteering at the Poetry Swindon festival, of which this event was a part; Rachael Clyne, whom I met at a poetry week in St Ives earlier this year; and Julia Webb, a poet friend from Norwich, whom I met in York at the Stanza Reps meeting about four years ago. And there were new friends to meet as well, like Christina Newton, the wonderful woman who organised the competition and the reading event; and Malika Booker who was the competition judge and whom I missed when she read for us at Poets&Players a couple of weeks ago, so it was lovely to hear her read and now, of course, I must buy her collection; and Dalgit Nagra, whom I sat next to all evening and who is one of the loveliest men I know. I introduced myself and told him he short-listed a poem of mine in the Ilkley competition about four years ago. At that Ilkley celebration event—I got two free tickets for being on the shortlist—he introduced his Ramayana to the world; he had an Indian dancer there to interpret the words in dance, it was wonderful. Ramayana is still my favourite Dalgit Nagra work, I love it. To cap a wonderful evening, I had lots of lovely feedback from audience members on my commended poem, ‘Chiggy Pig’; and to ice the cake, I think I may have been invited to read at next year’s Cheltenham Festival: watch this space! I was high as a kite after the event when we came back to our hotel for a big glass of wine and ate the remains of our train picnic because we hadn’t had time to fit a meal into our day!

So that’s it; a wonderful week but the PhD is sulking because I shut it out. Don’t worry, I’ll be working that particular treadmill again this week: it won’t be ignored for two weeks running. I think I’ve said more than enough. I won’t leave you with a poem this week, but instead I’ll leave you with a link to the Battered Moons website, where you will be able to read all the winning poems, including ‘Chiggy Pig’, when the website is updated. This was a well-run competition, and a lovely event to celebrate the winners. If you like to write poetry, you should consider an entry next year.


Masks and Mirrors

It’s been another busy week—is there any other kind?

On Sunday I first-drafted the review of Pascale Petit’s The Huntress and Mama Amazonica. I have concentrated on her themes of ‘masks and mirrors’ in both collections. Then I reorganised it and made a second draft. I sent this off to Hilary Robinson to read and for advice and feedback.

On Monday morning I drafted a new poem in bed. It was the writing workshop at Leaf on Portland Street—we’ve been tasked to come up with a name for the group—in the evening, and I was concerned I had nothing new to take. So I wrote a poem about my mother, from one of the prompts in the many books I bought before my holiday. This prompt was to take the opening phrase, ‘I come from…’ and make this the start of every stanza. I adapted this to ‘She came from…’ and drafted my poem. I was rather pleased with it. So I took it to Leaf in the evening, and it was well received. I was given some constructive and useful feedback too; so now it is an even better poem. It was a lovely evening, as always, with some seriously good writing to discuss. I love the generous community of poets.

Tuesday saw me in Manchester bright and early for a day’s work at the MMU library. There were two books on the psychology of masks I wanted to read. Both were on a two week loan only, so I decided to read them in the library. The first one by Christopher Monte, Beneath the mask: an introduction to theories of personality (1999 Orlando Harcourt Brace College) was a big fat brick of a book, so I didn’t want to have to take that one home to read. It was the first one I tackled. It turned out to be a kind of résumé of various theories of masking from other psychological theorists. It would probably not be an acceptable book on the bibliography of a doctoral thesis, but it gave me lots of academic references to check out in more focused academic works: Jung, the Freuds, Winnacott, Karen Horney etc., so it was well worth the effort of reading the relevant chapters.

But oh my, MMU library was a distracting reading environment on Tuesday. The noise in there! Mobile phones going off, students answering them, library staff showing around freshers to introduce library systems. It was like trying to read in a market place. So, when I’d done all I could with Monte, I decided I’d take the other book, A L Strauss’s Mirrors and Masks, to read at home. I left the library and, it being a lovely day, I sat in All Saints Park to eat my butty before going home. The park was full of young students, crowded around a huge red ‘welcome’ installation, having lunch, chatting, getting to know new friends. A middle-aged woman was in there with a bag of peanuts, feeding a grey squirrel from her fingers: the squirrel was taking the nuts from her fingers with his little hands, very tame. It was good to watch. After lunch I went off in search of coffee and spent an hour reading the Strauss book in a Costa coffee shop, which turned out to be quieter and more conducive to reading than the library. I think the book is rather too sociological in its tenor, and, published originally in the fifties, is probably ‘old hat’ for a scholarly read. But I’ll stick with it for a bit, see what it has to offer.

On Tuesday evening it was our monthly Stanza meeting. This session was a writing workshop. Three members, Pat, Linda and Hilary had prepared writing prompts and we wrote poems from the prompts. Pat’s activity involved looking at, smelling, feeling and tasting a prickly pear. I saw these growing on huge cactus-like succulents in Zakinthos; they looked spectacular on the plant; but oh, my, they are a different thing to eat. Pat loved them; I think it’s fair to say she was the only member who did. To me, they were tasteless; or at least they just tasted ‘green’, the way grass might have done if I’d been eating that. The seeds were like indestructible little bits of grit. They were good to look at though. And the poems they inspired were worth a read. I won’t be having prickly pear in my fruit salad any time soon, though. The other activities? Linda’s involved a poetry form I hadn’t come across before, a ‘Quennet’, named for its inventor, the French oulipo poet, Raymond Queneau. It is a truncated form, using staccato adjectival phrases in a prescribed format. Hilary’s activity was a variation on the golden shovel. All-in-all it was a good night.

On Thursday people kept wanting to stick needles in me. I had blood tests first ahead of my next appointment with the rheumatologist about the Polymyalgia Rheumatica, Giant Cell Arteritis and Osteopenia triptych that has taken over my body. I’m hoping to reduce the corticosteroids again next week, fingers crossed. The second needle was in the hands of the lovely pharmacist in Uppermill’s Well Pharmacy: the annual flu vaccination. He is such a gentle man. We go there every year: no appointments necessary, no queueing up and totally NHS approved. I recommend him to anyone who will listen.

By Friday I had the feedback from Hilary on my ‘Mama’ review. It took a while for it to pass through the ether with all the comments in tact, but we managed it eventually. As a result, I wrote an additional paragraph before submitting it to The North for consideration. I have already had a provisional ‘yes’, so I’m hoping they will like it and include it in the next edition. Watch this space. I enjoyed writing it, whatever the outcome, and it’s a start on the chapter I’m planning for the thesis, so it won’t be wasted by any means. I’m really ready to get my teeth into the chapter now, and am considering redrafting the Hill chapter to bring more cohesion around masks and mirrors to the whole thing. Will this thing ever be finished to my satisfaction?

And lastly, Saturday. Yesterday was the Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield. Hilary and I left Saddleworth early to get to Sheffield in time for coffee before the event. It was lovely to see poetry friends there: Pam Thompson, John Foggin, Keith Hutson, Janet Lancaster and several others; also lovely to meet new people. The writing prompts were varied and stimulating as ever and the standard of writing was high. I love these writing days: if you are interested in poetry, I’m sure you would like them too; details here:

I took my aeroplane poem, the one I wrote about fellow passengers en route to Zakinthos. I received some really constructive feedback from most of the group; I also took a verbal kicking from a young female poet who thought it was sexist, prejudicial and ‘a snobby attack on single mums.’ Ouch. I can see why she might think that; but it was all inspired by actual events, so hardly prejudicial, I think. I’ll look at it again in the light of her feedback and decide if she had a point; but I’m not inclined to change a good rant just in the interests of political correctness; that would knock the life out of it.

So, a poem from yesterday’s Poetry Business workshop. We were asked to write about something that had ‘arrived’: a parcel in the post, a package for a neighbour, that kind of thing. I wrote about ‘seventy’ arriving. Here’s a first draft:



Seventy has arrived.
It knocked on the door, then waltzed in
uninvited, as if it had been expected.

Seventy has arrived
and taken over the lounge
with its greetings cards, its balloons and bunting,
its ‘seventy years young’ badges,
its ‘you don’t look a day over…’
its fire hazard birthday cake.

Seventy has arrived
and you, hot on its heels,
kicking it into submission with Doc Marten’s
salted and peppered with glitter
that settles on the ground like moon dust
as they walk.

Seventy has arrived
and the bee tattoo is its music.
Play it again.


Rachel Davies
September 30th 2017