Years ago, when I was a class teacher in Peterborough, the headteacher I worked for read a poem in assembly one day. It was this time of year, the start of November. The poem was a long list of ‘no’—no light, no sun, no leaves on the trees, etc—and its last line was ‘November’. I think of that poem every year; but I can’t remember any more of it than that, and I can’t remember who wrote it, either. I’ve tried Google, but I don’t know enough of it to be useful. Do you know the poem, the poet, where I can find it? I’d love to hear from you if you do. It’s 5.30 a.m. and November is happening right now outside my window. The rain is lashing, the wind fighting the trees; these are the only sounds I can hear. Perhaps I should be writing my own ‘November’ poem.
Oh my, I’ve had a good week; except Sunday, which was a day of good intentions, paving the road to hell. I meant to do some work. I needed to do some work. I didn’t do any work. I prevaricated so long, had one more pot of tea, watched Andrew Marr, stayed out of Bill’s way while he repaired the under-cupboard lighting in the kitchen, stroked the cat—all those really important things you have to do before you can get down to work. Then I looked at the clock on the telly screen and it was nearly lunchtime already. Oops. When I went into the kitchen to make lunch I realised the telly clock was still showing BST; I didn’t realise it required a manual change over. I altered the clock; finally I gave up on work.
But it wasn’t a disaster, because I dedicated Monday to work instead: the best, most productive day I’ve had for some time, one of those days when you can see the wood among all those trees. I had agreed with Amie that I would dog-sit her two Cockerpoos, Cooper and Sonny on Monday, along with her sister-in-law’s Lassa Apso, Bella. I went to her house on Monday morning, early, with a bag full of books and technology, determined to work all day. Amie and Angus went to a family funeral in Thirsk. The dogs were a bit excitable at first but they soon calmed down. Bella, who is nearly as old as me in dog-years, was a bit nervous being left with a stranger and two boisterous young dogs, kept leaving little puddles on the kitchen flags, bless her. I took the boisterous ones out for a walk just before lunch: they pulled me up the lane, then pulled me back down again. It was exhilarating! The rest of the day I worked. I did so much systematic reading, real preparation for the theoretical framework for the next chapter of the thesis. I re-read Lacan on mirror-stage theory; I read Winnicott and Bowlby; I re-read Benjamin. I took copious notes; I even made a note of books I needed to find in the MMU library. I worked for about five hours all together, and felt really satisfied when I finished.
On Tuesday I packed a healthy lunch and headed for Manchester to MMU library. The problem with going into the library, it’s a big expenditure of time for little reward. It takes a couple of hours of travelling to get there and back, and I’d rather spend that time working. That’s why I prefer to buy my books; but the Winnicott book I wanted was £20 second-hand from Amazon, so the library it was.
I found the books I was looking for and had another morning reading: Winnicott Playing and Reality; I read the chapters I needed in the library and although I didn’t feel I had achieved anything I didn’t know already from reading about his theory in Benjamin, at least now I had a first-hand reference, always a Brownie point in a PhD bibliography. I ate my lunch in the social space beside the library: it wasn’t a day for picnics; then I went back to search for a couple of other books, and although I found them, I didn’t feel they contributed anything to my work. I went home.
On Tuesday evening it was our Poetry Society Stanza. We had agreed to dress up for Halloween and read ghostly, witchy poems for the occasion. I don’t really like Halloween. In the religious calendar it’s the eve of All Saints Day, ‘the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed’ (Wikipaedia). But it has become a capitalist money-making machine and ‘celebrations’ bear no resemblance to this religious remembrance. Not that I’m religious at all; I’m really not. But I’m no capitalist either. So normally I leave Halloween to those who don’t mind being given one more opportunity to be ripped off by billionaires. But this year we agreed to dress in our Halloween costumes and read scary poems. So I borrowed a witch’s dress from Hilary, who was away in the Antipodes and couldn’t be with us, and bought my own witch’s hat and headed for Mossley. In the event, there were only two members present. Several members had been laid low by microbes and sent last minute apologies. Just Pat and me, then. Pat, who is an artist, had made a most glorious witch’s cloak with papier maché skulls and all sorts hanging from it. She won the fancy dress prize for sure. But although there were only two of us, we had a lovely evening reading the poems we’d brought: the witch’s speech from Macbeth, obviously; Jane Yeh’s ‘The Ghosts’; I took along an anthology of poems about the Pendle Witch Trials from a project I was involved in with Clitheroe Stanza in 2012 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the infamous trials and I read a couple from that. Luckily we both took lots of poems and our readings and discussions lasted all evening. It’s always good to have time to enjoy poetry.
On Wednesday it was my usual day doing the books at the Black Ladd. After lunch I picked up the post from the shelf where the staff leave it and there was a parcel with my name on. Often, when I buy online, I have parcels delivered to the pub because I don’t have to worry about missing the delivery: there’s always someone there to receive the post. But I couldn’t remember ordering anything online recently. So I took a sneaky look inside. It was a pair of Ugg gloves. I rang Amie. Yes they were for me. When I was dog-sitting on Monday, I’d left my old Ugg gloves at her house when I went home. One of the gloves has a hole in the forefinger. I’ve repaired one of the fingers, but this is a wide hole, big enough to need a patch. I’ve been meaning to replace them this year when the winter stock is in the Ugg shop, but haven’t got round to it yet. Amie had been going to send me flowers for to say ‘thank you’ for dog-sitting, but seeing the state of my gloves she’d decided to replace them for me. ‘It’s only like three bunches of flowers,’ she said. Bless her heart. So now I’ll try to repair the unrepairable gloves and donate them to a homeless woman next time I’m in Manchester.
On Friday I had a message from Hilary, who is currently enjoying a holiday in Tasmania. Lemn Sissay is coming to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham in January, did I fancy it? We both saw Lemn at Wenlock Poetry Festival a couple of years ago: he is such an entertaining reader. I first heard him read some years ago at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. He was recording ‘Why I Don’t Hate White People’ for Radio 4. It was fantastic. At the Coliseum in January he will be presenting his one-man play, ‘Something Dark’. So of course I fancy it; I bought five tickets: for Hilary and me and our respective partners and for Hilary’s sister Cath. It should brighten a cold January day.
Yesterday I completed the systematic reading I’ve been working away at all week. So later today I’ll be at my desk again, writing it all into the chapter on ‘masks and mirrors’ for the thesis. I’m looking forward to getting down to writing: it always feels good to have something productive to show for your efforts.
So, it’s November 5th, the night we all remember Guy Fawkes and his friends who tried to blow up Parliament while it was in session in 1605. We light bonfires topped with his effigy, we ignite fireworks to simulate the gunpowder he planned to use. Of course, he wasn’t successful; so what we really ‘celebrate’ is the disembowelling of a group of terrorists. We are a strange bunch. Here’s a memory of bonfire night from my childhood. We didn’t ‘do’ fireworks: my mum was a nurse and knew only too well the damage fireworks can do. But one year she gave into pressure and let us have fireworks. It didn’t end well!
All The Excuse You Needed
you told us horror stories from your life as a nurse
but we ground you down slowly for years until you gave in
so we all went with Dad to Ken Harker’s to choose legal bombs
how we waited for the velvet darkness of that fenland night
how we tied Guy Fawkes to the stake
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 blue touch-papers and didn’t retire
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