My Christmas Eve morning brew
It’s Christmas Eve, the day that always seemed to last for ever when I was a child. My mother spent the day preparing turkey and veg for ten for Christmas lunch; it was a day that smelled of metholated spirit and burnt feathers. No, she wasn’t an addict! She had a small, blue bottle of meths with an insert like a tiny pair of forceps obstetricians use to deliver reluctant babies. She used to light this insert with a match and it burned with a blue flame. She used the flame to burn off the stumps of feathers after she’d finished plucking the bird. She was always busy on Christmas Eve, but it was the one day in the year I longed for bedtime in those days when I was ‘happy as the heart was long’, as Dylan Thomas said. My Christmas Eve this year will be very different from that; for one thing, I’m vegetarian so no plucked birds for us. For another, I won’t be entertaining ten people to lunch.
The PhD has had its day(s) this week; I’ve got loads of work done. I spent two full days working on the Pascale Petit analysis for the critical section. I really got lost in it. The work I did on holiday in September, and the review of her poetry I wrote for The North, all came in really useful and I’ve written nearly 4000 words already. I had an email from my Director of Studies, asking for a meeting early in the New Year: we’ve agreed January 9th. So I’ll be busy later today adding to the section and updating the plan of action so he has a mental picture of what the critical aspect of the thesis will look like by next September when I submit. I need to think about that plan too: 20,000 words isn’t many when you actually start to write them.
I’ve also been busy with the creative aspect. There are benefits to being a part-time insomniac. I’ve been awake by 4.00 a.m. most mornings this week and I’ve written four new poems in my series about women who weren’t my mother. They’ve come to the paper almost fully formed, which is a lovely feeling: they needed only a little revision. One of them was a ‘sevenling’. I’m really pleased with that one. One of them was inspired by Boudicca, an historical heroine of mine. My staff used to call me Boudicca—on account of my coming from the fens—when I slipped into fight mode to plead the school’s case against Ofsted or the LEA. I’ll post one of the new poems at the end of this blog, but it won’t be the sevenling. I’ve already sent a couple of them, including that one, off for consideration to an anthology of poems for the mental health charity, ‘Mind’.
It’s been a very good week for the PhD then; a brilliant week for poetry; and life had a big slice of me too. In the week I received notification of issue 59 of The North, which will include my review of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and The Huntress. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough in itself, I am also mentioned on the front cover: a ‘feature’ on the poetry of Pascale Petit by Rachel Davies. All I have to do is get a poem published in there and my ambitions are all fulfilled. That’s one New Year’s Resolution sorted then.
On Friday I drove us south again to visit my sister in Stamford, Lincolnshire, to deliver her Christmas present. We stayed for a couple of hours, had coffee and mince pies. Her son Nick called in while we were there, so that was good. We drove from Stamford to Bourne—only about eight miles—to spend some lovely time with a best friend, Jo and her husband Bernard. I’ve known them both since we all worked in a primary school together in Peterborough in the mid-eighties. She asked me to look after her baby—he’s nearly thirty now—on the day of her wedding to Bernard. I said I would if I could have a title: I’ve never been a bridesmaid but I was a bit old for that. So I was officially ‘Mother Superior’ at her wedding; nothing to do with holy orders though, just a punning recognition of a day’s surrogacy. It was, as always, lovely to spend time with them. We only get to meet up once or twice a year: Jo spends a lot of time in her little apartment in Goa since she retired. But meeting rarely means we always have lots to talk about when we do meet up. We left Bourne at about midday yesterday as they were preparing to drive south to Tunbridge Wells to spend Christmas with children and grand-children. Finding time to be with friends and families is the best thing about Christmas.
The drive home from Lincolnshire was better than we expected given the closeness of the day to Christmas. There were a couple of hold-ups on the A1; and I took the wrong exit and ended up in Yorkshire north of the M62. But St. Tim of the Satnav sorted us out and got us back on track. We left Saddleworth in thick, thick fog on Friday morning, could barely see the slip road to the M62 at J22. The roads were clear of fog from Huddersfield though; and when we got back to J22 yesterday: thick, thick fog again. I remember telling my grandson, Richey, on one foggy day in Saddleworth, that we were really in low cloud but he had no concept of how we could be in clouds because clouds belong up in the sky. I had to show him later how clouds were still sitting on the hills across the valley after the fog had cleared on our side. Yesterday the clouds were very low on Saddleworth: you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. But this morning I can see lights across the valley, so hopefully the fog has cleared for anyone driving home today. When we got home, we lit a fire in the wood-burner and we hunkered down for Christmas.
There, another good week; a few more steps along the lane to PhD. And now it’s Christmas Eve. Later today I’ll be going to a party my lovely daughter, Amie, is hosting for friends and family. I’ll be spending Christmas with people who are important in my life; and I’ll be thinking of family and friends who, for whatever reason, will be missing from my festivities. I’ll also be thinking of those people less fortunate than me, who won’t be spending Christmas with loved ones at all, or who won’t even know the difference between Christmas Day and all the other days in a year. Spare a thought for them, and have a lovely Christmas and a happy, successful and very creative New Year.
Here’s a new poem about a woman who might have been my mother; actually she was an aunt, my dad’s sister. She always came to spend Christmas with us. She was a remarkable and very lovely woman. My dad first taught me how to knit; but Aunt Mary taught me how to knit things. She was blind, but her knitting was intricate; and when I went wrong, she could feel her way through the pattern and find the mistake and put it right. This poem is dedicated to her.
You say there’s none so blind
as them as don’t want to see,
You buy me a scarlet coat
so I’ll stand out from the crowd,
knit me rainbow
socks on four needles,
teach me to feel the colours.
You show me how even
silent laughing can be loud
if you listen hard enough.
Your acres of bosom
are a perfect pillow for a story;
you tell me how bad stuff found you
but you survived it.
You tell me to be true to myself,
live in peace with others
but always be my own lover.
You say fingertips
are as useful as eyes, knuckles
as feeling as fingertips
for finding your way in the dark.
You’re beside me every time
I knuckle my way out of dark spaces.