Monthly Archives: May 2018

We all have our mountains to climb

One day this week I watched Ben Fogle, on BBC Breakfast, talking about his successful Everest attempt. Sir Edmund Hilary famously said he climbed Everest ‘because it was there’. Ben Fogle climbed it because he had wanted to do it since he was a child: it was his childhood ambition. He did it to show his own children, and anyone else who would listen, that you should always try what you want to achieve, not let anyone make you believe you aren’t that person. We all have our personal Everests, he said, and we should all try to conquer them. I decided that that is exactly what I’m doing with the PhD, conquering my own personal Everest. It’s a personal challenge: I don’t need a PhD for my career, I’m doing it because it’s there. Will I reach the summit, plant my flag, take selfies; or will I suffer altitude sickness before the summit and have to come down early? The jury’s still out on that one.

 I’ve been a bit hampered this week: I wrote so much while we were away on our Line Break I had a bad bout of writer’s cramp by the end of the last workshop. This developed into tendonitis, so I wasn’t up for writing much at the start of the week. I read instead: Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty (London: Faber and Faber 2018). I downloaded it to my Kindle Paperwhite and sat in the garden in the lovely warm sunshine to read it. It’s very good; and very useful to my own research: the historical blame that mothers have suffered from society; and the personal blame mothers suffer at the hands of their own offspring. Motherhood is a loaded state. I did write up a couple of the poems from Line Break onto my MacBook, but I gave the wrist tendons a rest, and doses of ibuprofen, until mid-week.

On Monday evening I went with Hilary to MMU’s Business School for a very good poetry reading event. Kim Moore was one of three MMU Creative Writing students who read at the start of the event. The headliner was the New Zealand poet, Hera Lyndsay Bird. Her poetry is funny, edgy, very entertaining. She is a confident reader and performer. It’s so good to hear poetry and humour mixed, and mixed so well. My favourite was ‘The Da Vinci Code’, a prose poem about ‘the first day of the Italian Renaissance’. You can find it on her website, here: Of course, I had to buy her books after the reading: she has a full collection, Hera Lyndsay Bird(Penguin Books 2017); and a Laureate’s Choice pamphlet, Pamper Me To Hell & Back (Smith/Doorstop 2018). She signed both books; and illustrated her signings with stylized animals. She’s unusual, a breath of fresh air for poetry.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Arena bomb, I had to go into Manchester to meet my study support team. There were embroidered or knitted hearts strung along railings from Victoria Station to St Anne’s Square, just as there had been a year ago; the hearts came from around the country in a visible show of strength and solidarity. It was a sad day, but a joyful one too. Hilary sang in one of the choirs at the commemoration event in Albert Square in the evening, an uplifting and defiant concert. I walked from St Peter’s Square to All Saints campus on Tuesday morning. The sun was shining and it was hard to imagine the horror of a year ago. I wore my bee brooch with pride and there were I (heart) Manchester and bee tee-shirts everywhere. Manchester people are the best.

My meeting was at 11.30; I had time to return a book to the library beforehand. The meeting was very positive, which I needed. We agreed the integrated thesis I had submitted is ‘the first draft of the finished thesis’—yay! It still has a long way to go, but the team had annotated it to show where it needs development or additions. I came away feeling as if I’d taken a step forward. The end is a pinprick at the end of a very long tunnel: I’m never going to be an academic, I’ve learned that much about myself. But I left the meeting feeling as if I might just reach the summit of my personal Everest, and that’s all I hope for.

In the evening I went into Manchester again, with Bill this time. I had two tickets for an unusual reading at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. It was one of the ‘Writers at MMU’ events featuring two Georgian poets, Salome Benidze and Diana Anphimiadi. Their work has been translated into English by Helen Mort and Jean Sprackland respectively, with the support of the Georgian poet Natalia Bukia-Peters, who is now based in Cornwall. The event was hosted by the London-based Poetry Translation Centre. We heard the poems read, first in English then in Georgian. It was a good experience; Georgian is a Kartvelian language, a language of the Caucasus. It has its own script, neither Roman nor Cyrillic, closer to Bengali or Gujarati really, which is beautiful; it looks as if it was knitted, a very looped script. It reminded me of a time before I could read, when English script must have been as undecipherable to me, black loops and swirls on a white page. I immediately wanted to start to decode it; but of course I can’t because I don’t have the language. Here’s an image of Georgian script I found via Google:


and example of Georgian script: I’m sorry, I don’t know what it says

Again, I bought both pamphlets and had them signed. Salome signed in English; but Diana signed my pamphlet in her native Georgian Script, which was lovely.

Friday was Whit Friday, Saddleworth Band Contest day. We went into Manchester early for the bank and a bite to eat at the Café at the Cathedral—formerly Propertea—before getting home and hunkering down. You don’t want to be out too late in your car on Band Concert day in Saddleworth because roads are closed and the area is in a siege of brass band celebration. We could hear the bands playing all evening from the relative comfort of our living room. Unfortunately, the weather chose to break on Friday, bringing rain, wind and cold to Saddleworth; but I’m sure that didn’t stop the die-hard brass band fans from having a good time. There were lots of pictures on Facebook, anyway.

Saturday I had a long list of PhD jobs to do: RD9 record of the Tuesday meeting; arrange a meeting with Michael Symmons Roberts for my annual review; get together a selection of new poems to send to Jean Sprackland for my next creative support meeting; write a couple of new poems to go into the mix.

IMG_1347 my cat, Rosie Parker, not helping

I wrote two ‘couplings’, a form originated by Karen McCarthy Woolf, which entails taking a piece of prose, lineating it as if it were poetry, then using those lines alternated with lines of your own poetry, responding to those ‘prose’ lines, to make your poem. I searched out a letter from my grammar school headmaster to my parents offering condolences on the death of my brother. He got their initials wrong on the envelope, using my brother’s initials in error; and in the same week as the letter was sent, I was given a Saturday detention for not handing in my homework. So guess what my coupling is about! Roald Dahl never invented a more child-unfriendly school than my old grammar school.

I’m including my other ‘coupling’, a poem I first drafted on our Line Break last week. It has lines from Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (London: Vintage 2014). It is a critique on Coventry Patmore’s ‘The Angel in the House’, a cringe-worthy piece about a woman’s role in life being the unassuming, obedient domestic goddess behind the man doing the real work in the world. Sack that for an idea!


Angel In The House

 She is conjuring trick
pulling time from her hat
a reptile
luscious, an unsucked fruit
a fallen angel, a griffon,
Madonna or whore
from the pages of an illuminated bestiary.
Halo or vulva, an enigma
something bright and distant
a red light or a candle flickering
like gold falling through water,
                        sunlight refracting. She is
a broken marionette
                        a reaction
of wings legs and light, splashed feathers
                        dashed perfection, a contamination
wearing jesses
                        her ring a choker, her dresses a prison
and the man holds them
and the man holds her
                                    and the man pulls her strings

 Rachel Davies
May 2018

The uplifting pause of a Line Break

I’m going to enjoy writing my blog this week.The sun shone some warmth on these old bones and I spent the week with two lovely poet friends, Hilary Robinson and Polly Atkinson, on our Line Break week. We were reading and writing poetry and generally having fun. Cayton is a small village between Scarborough and Filey, and it was here we spent the week, in a small cottage in the grounds of Killerby Old Hall.

I got up on Sunday morning and started my Couch to 5K challenge again! I wasn’t looking forward to it; I’ve been putting it off. But it was much easier this time around and I have to admit to quite enjoying it in a masochistic sort of way. I ran three times this week: Week 1 ticked off (again). I’ll be starting Week 2 later this morning. I went for a swim after my runs in Cayton, all before breakfast.

Sunday morning we had a workshop led by Polly, three-hoursof writing poetry to prepared prompts, including a list of five furniture words to get into one poem; a retelling of an Emily Dickinson poem using the cut-up words of the original; and a writing activity from one of those folded paper fortune-telling toys we made as children, like a section of an egg box that you put on your fore-fingers and thumbs then open and close to find your fortune in words, numbers and colours. We finished the workshop at 1.00 p.m. and that was when our online shopping was delivered from Tesco. After we’d stored the shopping we took a walk to Cayton Bay to see the sea. Hilary bought a kite from a beach shack, which we took to lots of places but never got to fly because we never found a long enough stretch of beach when the tide was out. It was a steep climb down to the sea front at Cayton Bay, which meant a steep climb up again after. Luckily some kind town planner had allowed a pub to be built at the top of the climb so we stopped for an al fresco pint of cider. The sun was lovely, even on that first day. I cooked us a chilli-con-Quorn for tea, with plenty for a second meal later in the week. We spent the evening reading aloud from the numerous poetry books we brought with us. I went online and bought us train tickets to York for Monday.

On Monday we called a cab and caught the train from Seamer Station to York. It was a planned visit: I had prepared small tasks for us to undertake while we were there. One was to record small snippets of conversation we heard while we were out. We got our notebooks out on the train. Do you know how hard it is to hear people talking on a train? Not because of the noise of the train, or because they whisper; they just spend so long on screen devices that no-one talks anymore. Mostly we spent the forty-five-minute journey noting things we saw from the train windows. We arrived in York at about 11.00, made our way via quirky boutiques to the Castle Museum area. The first job of the day was to visit the ‘Shaping the Body’ exhibition, about the impact of fashion on (particularly women’s) bodies. It was a fascinating, interactive display; but to get to it we had to pass through several other exhibitions first: York through history; the changing domestic scene; the development of the chocolate trade in York. The fashion exhibition was fascinating though; I was struck by how (particularly women) have courted death in maintaining a ‘look’: the use of arsenic, mercury and other deadly substances in fabric, the dangerously constrictive use of corseting. And all for the sake of being the woman a man imagined a woman to be, Madonna or whore. We left the Castle Museum at just after 1.00 because we had a visit to Jorvik planned at 14.40 and we needed sustenance. Luckily, just outside Jorvik is a Carluccio street shack, so we stopped for a sandwich and a Peroni: very civilised. It was easier to hear snippets of conversation here too. Bill paid for our tickets to Jorvik, bless him, because I couldn’t make up my mind on Jorvik or the ‘Shaping the Body’ display when I was planning the day out, and he thought we should do both. I’m so glad we did. We’d all been to Jorvik before but it’s such a good experience we enjoyed it all over again. Last year it was reopened, refurbished after the York city floods. We had the task of making notes of things that particularly appealed, including any language we heard. We finished our York visit with a walk around the ancient streets, and an al fresco brew before dining at Betty’s. We caught the train home about 9.00 in the evening after a lovely and very full day.

Tuesday: I started the day early by prepping writing activities based in our visit to York; then day two of running and swimming; breakfast, then my workshop on a theme of old keys. I incorporated our York visit into the writing activities. We worked for three hours with a short break then shared our writing at the end of the morning.  In the afternoon we took the bus into Scarborough. We stopped for a pint and a plate of chips while we decided what we wanted to do. Hilary knew of St Martin’s On The Hill church, which has stained glass windows by several eminent pre-Raphaelite artists. She found their website which said the church was open until 4.00 p.m. on Tuesdays so we made our way there. Believe me, it is indeed on a hill; it was a steep walk up to the church. When we got there the notice on the door announced that it closed at 2.00 p.m. So, update your website! We didn’t get to see the stained glass after all. And it would have been a lovely day to visit: the sun was shining relentlessly, it would have lit up those windows, given them life. We caught the bus back to Killerby Old Hall and Hilary cooked tartiflette, which we enjoyed with crusty bread and a crisp dry white. Lovely. In the evening we played a word game, ‘Pass the Bomb’, over another crisp, chilled white.

Wednesday it was our planned visit to Whitby; I drove us there and we found a Park and Ride. A bus was waiting so we took a short cut to the bus by shinning under a three foot fence: too high to get over easily; also too low to get under easily, apparently. I got stuck, then couldn’t get out for laughing and needed my friends to pull me out. But we made the bus with time to spare: so we could have taken the path! Hilary had planned a leaflet with things to look for while we were there. We visited another museum, in Patten Park. We had a brew in the Alice-themed  café downstairs: all playing cards, white rabbits and mad hatters, then  we visited the museum exhibitions; we used our student cards for concessions which always causes amusement among cashiers because we are all late-sixties, early seventies age. Some people just don’t know when to give up! We had to find the most unusual exhibit in the display and write something about it. I found a ‘sea bishop’ hiding among the seahorses: a sea bishop is a con that fishermen made from dead seahorses to sell to gullible tourists. I also found a small set of dentures—although they contained about ten incisors, so not good replicas of human teeth—made from walrus tusks; and a ‘hand of glory’, the mummified hand of a hanged felon that criminals kept as a charm against ending up on the gallows themselves. We fancied a chippie lunch, but the chippies all fry with beef dripping and Polly and I are vegetarian, so we settled for an un-Cornish pasty. We had the left-over chilli for tea when we got home. In the evening we read poetry and had an early night: it’s hard work enjoying yourselves.

Thursday morning, early, I picked up an e-mail from my Director of Studies. I sent him nearly 16000 words of my thesis, integrating some of the creative and the critical work into one whole, as we’d discussed. He attached a NAWE document (2018) the gist of which, he said, was that the creative and the critical elements should be ‘separate but inter-related’. After my initial reaction, which was to panic, I read the document myself and didn’t see that message in it at all. I highlighted several passages which seemed to me to be advocating integration. I went out for my run, adrenalin pumping so strongly that I actually ran an extra 50 or 60 metres in the same time as Tuesday’s run. I emailed Jean when I got back to the cottage, because Jean and I have always discussed integrating my poems into the thesis. Antony’s email nagged the back of my brain all day. After breakfast, it was Hilary’s workshop, lots more lovely writing prompts including exploring the form Karen McCarthy Woolf calls the ‘coupling’, where you take a few lines of prose text, lineate them as if they were poetry then alternate them with response lines of your own poetry. That was interesting and I have thought of several ‘couplings’ I can write for my portfolio. Hilary’s workshop concentrated a lot on forms of various kinds, which I always find quite liberating: I can often write to a tight form when I can’t think of anything in free form. We also wrote a memorial poem to someone or something. The hard part is thinking of your subject, and it took a few minutes of pencil-sucking before I settled on Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, the French police officer who offered himself in exchange for hostages in a terror siege at a supermarket in southern France. I was quite pleased with it, although the subject is distressing. That was our last workshop and we all had writer’s cramp by the end of it. In the afternoon we took the bus into Filey, walked around the shops, went down onto the beach, not wide enough or windy enough for Hilary’s kite, and looked for fossils—we found some in large stones—shells and sea glass. We tried to find chips, but beef dripping again, so we had to settle for a half of cider and a bag of crisps. I heard back from Jean, whose reading of the NAWE document coincided with mine, so I don’t know what DoS is getting at. I’ll find out, no doubt when I meet him on Tuesday. Polly cooked a lovely vegetable biryani for tea and we nattered till late in the evening.

Friday was our last planned visit, to Robin Hood’s Bay. We took the bus, sat in the front seat upstairs for lovely views across the North Yorks Moors. Driving down into Robin Hood’s Bay was a bit hair-raising from that viewpoint though, like a free roller coaster ride. Polly had planned activities for RHB: we sat among its quirky narrow streets and wrote: Hilary wrote a poem about how difficult it would be to conduct an illicit affair living in each other’s pockets like that. We visited the Old Lifeboat Station, a small interactive museum. I wrote a poem about Polly working the wind machine in there. We visited the mosaics on the old sea wall, a commissioned piece involving local primary school children.

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Photographs courtesy of Hilary Robinson

I would have loved to have been involved in that project. And, at last, we found a chippy that cooks in oil, so we had a box of chips sitting in their outside space, looking out over the bay, watching blackbirds feeding on dropped chips. Polly made another biryani, the first one was so good and we took our time over the meal. It was after ten o’clock when we cleared up.

Saturday we packed up and left. Roll on next year’s Line Break.

I’ve gone on long enough so I won’t post a poem: I haven’t had time to write them up yet anyway. Next week you can have a poem from Line Break. Right now, I have to go out to start Week 2 of my run.

3 brilliant poets, a rheumatologist, a thesis and a long drive

I’m away again. I can’t say much about it because there’s not much to say at the moment: it’s a small village somewhere on the east coast between Scarborough and Filey. I and two friends arrived last night, just had time to find a local Morrison’s, buy a pizza and a bottle of wine and hunker down. We’re here for a week of reading, writing and finding poetry, sight-seeing and generally having a good time. I’ll tell you more next week when we’ve had time to explore.

That’s next week. This blog is about this week because it’s been a huge week: poetry, PhD and life; lots of each. Firstly, it was Bank Holiday weekend with lovely weather and record temperatures. On Sunday I went to visit my sister in Stamford: it was her birthday on Tuesday and she has just retired so we took her out for lunch to celebrate both events. Sunday involved cake.

Monday was another lovely day; but I didn’t see too much of it because I was writing poetry, getting onto the MacBook poems I had scribbled in my journal at the two workshops I’ve attended lately, led by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Clare Shaw respectively. I like this, when you turn your scribbled thoughts into something that begins to look like, and be, a poem. I spent a morning working then went out into the garden with a cup of tea to enjoy some sunshine. Bill was gardening. I love hard work, as my Aunt Mary used to say, I could watch it all day.

Monday evening was The Group at Chapter One Books in Manchester. Hilary and I had a very sensible meal in Bundobust and then went to Group feeling very self-righteous. I took one of the poems I’d worked on in the morning. It was about The Fens, the area in East Anglia where I was born and grew up. I’ve just looked for it on my MacBook and can’t find it anywhere: even the search facility isn’t helping. I have no idea where it’s gone. I’ll have to type it up again, then, when I get home: luckily I have  the printed version. There were five of us at The Group and some jolly good writing, as ever: three poems and two short stories.  I received good feedback on my poem, useful ideas for developing it based around the draining of the sea. I’ll work on it again one day soon. That’s the good thing about being a poet, that working and reworking until you have the poem that deserves to be written.

Tuesday was a huge day for work. I’d given myself this one last day to work on the thesis before sending it off to my Director of Studies. I reread the whole thing, re-ordered some of it—again—and added some more poems and reflection on those poems. By the end of the day I had almost 16000 words to send off. I hesitated for a long time before pressing ‘send’; but I did, and it’s now with the team. I’ve asked for some positive feedback this time before the inevitable criticism and need for development: my time’s running out and I don’t want to come back from another DoS meeting, at this late stage, feeling unworthy. I always concentrate on the negatives so I’ve asked for some positives to think on. I heard back from my Director of Studies almost immediately. We are meeting on Tuesday 22nd, the week I get home. Angelica also sent me details of a new book she’s been reading, Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, which sounds just up my street so I have that on my list of books to read when I get home. She also sent me a link to Rose’s London Review of Books review of six books on motherhood:’ve brought that away with me to read. I don’t think all of it will be relevant, but it will be interesting and some might be useful to the research and lead me to other reading. So it’s done, sent and waiting to be read and discussed. Think of me next Tuesday.

Wednesday was an unusual day. I had an appointment to see the rheumatologist, Dr Klimiuk, about my ‘ugly sisters’, polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA). I’ve mentioned these two auto-immune diseases on here before. I was diagnosed with the former in December 2013: I woke up the morning after the gym with pains in my thigh muscles. I thought at first it was just post-exercise stiffness and ignored it for a day or two. When it didn’t go away after a fortnight I thought I might have pulled a muscle and so I went to the doc thinking I might need some physio or something. She ordered blood tests, which surprised me: blood tests for a pulled muscle? The results showed high levels on anti-inflammatory markers in the blood samples. Diagnosis: PMR. The treatment, Prednisolone, is also a diagnostic: if it works within three days it is PMR; if it doesn’t work it’s something else. After three days I felt as if I’d been oiled: the pain was gone. This weird complaint that I’d never heard of until I got it affects about 25% of people, mostly but not exclusively, over 50; mostly but not exclusively women. Eighteen months later I developed GCA, PMR’s ugly sister that affects about 20% of PMR sufferers: how lucky am I? The dosage of Prednisolone was increased dramatically and I’ve been reducing it gradually ever since, desperate not to need it any more. It’s a wonder drug for sure, but it has its drawbacks as all medication does. For me it was the tremor in the hands: you don’t want to be sitting beside me when I’m eating soup! I’ve taught myself to eat soup with my left hand since PMR. But the last Sunday in April I took my last Prednisolone tablet, I hope. On Wednesday I saw the rheumatologist for a progress report. Apart from a bit of stiffness in the arms first thing in the morning, which only lasts about an hour, I’ve been fine without the Pred. Apparently the adrenal glands, which produce the body’s own anti-inflammatory steroid, cortisol, stop working while you’re on Pred, they shut down. Because I’ve been on it for nearly 4.5 years—the usual treatment is for twelve to eighteen months—my adrenals might have permanently given up trying to wake up and work independently. So I have to have tests now to see how idle the adrenals are. Imagine them, pulling a sicky every morning then lying back on the sofa of my kidneys with a tinny and a bag of crisps and Sky films on the telly. If they don’t get back to work soon, it could be small doses of Pred ad infinitum. (insert miserable faced emoji).

Thursday we went into Oldham for the live screening of National Theatre’s Macbeth. Starring Rory Kinnear and Anne Marie Duff, it was set in some post-apocalyptic modern state where the rule of law had broken down. It was brilliant, I loved it. The witches were particularly spellbinding, if you’ll pardon the pun. The set was dark, post conflict destruction. The witches were ethereal, one minute you could see them, next minute hear them but they’d disappeared. It was really well done, very spooky and convincing. It’s one of my favourite Shakespeare plays anyway, but this production was brilliant. I don’t think everyone agreed with me: the couple next to us left after ten minutes, the people in front gave up at the interval. They all missed a treat in my opinion. I love the creative ways directors make Shakespeare new and relevant to modern day stories.

Friday, Hilary and I went to Leeds to see Simon Armitage reading. We caught the train, ate totally unsensibly in the Leeds Bundobust, and took the twenty-five-minute-slightly-uphill-all-the-way-walk to the venue at the Workhouse Theatre on Leeds University campus. You know Simon Armitage is going to be brilliant, and we weren’t disappointed on Friday. He read some old favourites; and also from his new collection, Flit, about his work in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where he imagines YSP as ‘Ysp’, a small, central European country that he lived in for a year. The poems are funny and clever. The book is beautiful: hard-backed, containing his poems alongside artwork. Of course, I had to buy it, and another beautiful hard-back-with-artwork collection called Cemetery. He signed them both at the end of the evening. It was lovely that he remembered me from the days when he was one of my tutors on the MA in Creative Writing at MMU.

Saturday was another day full of poetry and life. The afternoon was taken up with the Poets & Players competition celebration event. Arian Sadr gave a virtuoso performance on the Persian drums: how can he do that with only ten fingers? I suspect he has two extra hands hidden up his sleeves. He was mesmerising. Pascale Petit, our judge, presented the prizes; the prize-winners and commended poets read their poems and then Pascale gave a wonderful reading from Mama Amazonica to end the afternoon. I bought a new copy to replace the copy she signed for me in Birmingham, that I have read to death in my PhD work. So now I have a pristine copy that I can keep in perfect order. I also got your copy signed, Emma. After the event, I drove Hilary and Polly to this cottage in the damp east of the country, about which I can say nothing at the moment because we only arrived about 7.30 last night. We have an exciting week full of poetry to look forward to. I’ll tell you all about it next week, no doubt. Meanwhile, here is one of the poems I wrote up on Monday. It’s the poem I wrote for the Karen McCarthy Woolf workshop for Poets & Players in April; it features the ‘Ghost Tree’ sculpture by Anya Gallacio. I mentioned the sculpture in my blog on 22.04.18 and included a photo in that blog post. Here’s the poem I wrote at the workshop:


Ghost Tree

after the sculpture by Anya Gallicio, Whitworth Park

 I like you best in winter when your stark form
is practised by other trees in the park.

Did you know
your stripped bark channels
the rainwater you don’t need, to refresh
snake fritillaries growing at your feet?

You are the sun’s fierce heat,
the birds who won’t find shade here.

Your branches reach upward and outward
screeching a symphony of tree-speech:
a silent prayer, your gift of mimicry.

You are the mirror we hold up to ourselves.
We kid ourselves we are also worshippers,

want to protect those sylvan sprites who ride
your slides. There’s no way in though,
no home in you. Rough-sleeping tree spirits,
move on, move on.

You’re just a decoy, a false promise.
You never dress in summer green.


Rachel Davies

April 2018

Superwomen and a Greenpeace fundraiser

I’ve had notification of the annual review process this week. This will be my last review. Three years seems a long time when you start out on this journey, but oh my, it rushes past you like a train. I’ve transferred to part-time for this last year to give me a bit more time, but still the sand is running out rapidly. I think I’ll get it done, I’m not worried about that. But will it achieve a PhD? That’s for next May; this year I need to just knock on and get it done.

And I have been knocking on this week. I’m quite pleased with my little self; which is not necessarily a good thing. The old proverb ‘pride come before a fall’ is a true one in my experience. I meet my team in a few weeks for feedback on the work I’ve been doing, so I won’t get too pleased with myself until then. I meant to work on the thesis last Sunday, but a nagging headache when I got up didn’t go away with a couple of paracetemol so I decided to leave brain work and do my ironing instead. Later in the day, headache a distant memory, I watched the Manchester Utd match against Arsenal, Arsene’s last visit to the Theatre of Dreams. I’m proud of the warm welcome Utd fans gave him as he came out onto the field: he has been a long-time committed and hard-working manager of Arsenal. Utd fans are the best.

I did get down to some work on Monday morning though. I had two laptops running: the Black Ladd laptop was installing a latest version of the Sage software the accountant had sent me. I was a bit worried about this process: the accountant said it didn’t need pass codes etc to install, but I remember what a pain the original installation was, so I was sceptical. But it went without a hitch. It’s a long job waiting for a programme to install, so I had my thesis laptop on my knee, working on it at the same time: this woman’s a Superwoman! I was mostly changing the position of work I’d already done: I woke up just knowing some of the poems I’d included needed to be in an earlier position, for instance. I was right. I moved them to the place I’d thought of and the whole thing read better for it. So that was the kind of job I was doing to the thesis on Monday: cut and pasting pieces, removing some quotes into footnotes because I felt they broke the flow.  I didn’t add work, but I was pleased with the work I’d redrafted. When the Sage software installed at last, I had to work out how to install the back up of my accounts that the accountant had sent after going through them for the quarterly VAT. Again, Superwoman! I worked it out: it took a couple of unsuccessful attempts, but I did it in the end. Sage all up to date and running well and the thesis improved: I call that a good morning’s work.

On Tuesday I got down to the thesis with renewed vigour. I was at my desk for 8.00 a.m. I’m really enjoying this integrated approach to the writing. I’ve been thinking some theory, analysing some of Hill’s or Petit’s poetry to back-up the theory then including some of my own poems to illustrate what I’ve written about their work. It’s not perfect, but I keep working on it and polishing it up a bit. By lunchtime I had increased the word count to 14000 words. I told my Director of Studies I’d send him 16000 words in the summer. It’s summer already. My plan is to work on it for two more days, then send off whatever I have next week prior to going to Scarborough for a writing week. That way I won’t have to drag it along to work on in the early hours. I can concentrate on adding to the creative aspect while I’m away.

Wednesday was all taken up with my little job at the Black Ladd. It went well, but there was a lot to do, catching up with work I didn’t get done while I was in St. Ives. I’m determined to be up to date before I go to Scarborough, so I worked until late afternoon. That’s the problem with the new tax year: so much added work setting up the year’s standing orders etc. By the time I left work everything—even the filing—was up to date. Next week should be easier for it. On Thursday life got in the way again. I had a dental appointment at 8.00 then we took Bill’s car for its MOT and annual service. I met Hilary in Uppermill for coffee afterwards, to plan our route to Eccles for the Greenpeace reading on Friday. Yes, OK, it was an excuse. We took our coffee al fresco: it was a lovely morning. After lunch Bill had the bad news from the garage. He knew he needed work on the brake pads; but the salted roads in winter had taken their toll on the undercarriage and springs and the bill for potential work would be £2400. Ouch! He has a service plan with Pentagon though, which comes with discounts on any work that needs doing, so the discounts reduced that by half, which was heart-warming. Thatcher used to do that, didn’t she? Give you a huge figure for costs, then when it only came to a big, not a huge, figure, you’d think you’d got off lightly as taxpayers. Well that’s how Bill felt on Thursday. The work’s being done next week.

Friday was the best day of the week. It involved poetry, which is always a good day. Hilary and I went to Eccles, where Ann Heathcote had organised a poetry event to raise funds for Greenpeace. She was angry and desperate after watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet earlier in the year; we all were, but she did something about it. She enlisted Clare Shaw and Kim Moore to donate their time to the evening. Clare ran a poetry workshop in the early evening: Hilary and I both went. It was good stuff; I think I may have some poems. In the evening Clare and Kim both read; it goes without saying, they were brilliant. There were musicians: the thirteen year old violinist was an inspiration and the woman who sang Portuguese songs: what a voice! I’m sorry I can’t remember their names and the publicity can’t be accessed, but they were brilliant. There was an open mic as well: Hilary and I both read. We took copies of the hand-stitched pamphlet we’d made of our poetry and sold them on the night; all proceeds to Greenpeace. Our pamphlets added £33 to the pot. There was a tombola with signed poetry books that Clare had cadged from her poet friends; there was a raffle with wonderful prizes that Ann had begged: poetry books, stationery, afternoon tea, Waterstones tokens, bottles of booze. It was such a good night. And all the money taken went into the pot. The Eccles Masonic Hall venue was donated too; and they offered to top the fund by 5%. Altogether the event raised £1317.47: what a brilliant result and a brilliant evening. Thank you Ann for organising it. You are a Superwoman too. Your hard work really paid off. It was well after midnight when we got home, too buzzed up with poetry to even think of sleeping.

So, Bank Holiday weekend: they’re all bank holidays when you’re retired. Saturday I was back at my desk; another really good day on the thesis. I also checked all my footnotes to make sure they made sense. When you take a ‘cut and paste’ approach it can mess with your referencing so I checked them thoroughly. I think they are OK now; and I used the Style Guide so I think they are all present and correct and in the house style. I will have a substantial piece of work to send to the team next week. Which will be in very good time for the annual review. That will be my next big job: preparing the documentation for that. Well, what else have I got to do?

Later today I’m off to Stamford to see my sister. It’s her birthday on Tuesday. She retired last Tuesday, so we’re taking her out to lunch to celebrate both events. I hope she enjoys retirement as much as I do. It really has been the best time of my life: just a shame you have to be an old bugger before you get to indulge. So, I don’t have a poem this week. I have lots of drafts of poems from workshops I’ve been on lately, but nothing I want to share yet. Sorry. I promise to try harder next week, but Bill has just got up, so I think it’s time to get moving. I won’t get to Stamford if I sit in bed redrafting poems all day!


Have a good week.