A week off-piste

Some weeks, life just takes over. This has been one such; although I have carried my Kindle through everything that tried to get in the way, so I wasn’t entirely work-free.

On Monday Hilary and I went into Manchester for the launch of Amy McCauley’s collection Oedipa (Guillemot Press, 2018), a feminist retelling of the Oedipus myth, imagining all the characters as women. It was an entertaining evening, starting with music: two ex-RNCM students with zither-like instruments and a clarinet. Kate Davis, whom I first met when we were both MA students in creative writing at MMU, shared the launch, introducing her new collection The Girl Who Forgets How To Walk (Penned in the Margins 2018). Kate was recently awarded an Arts Council grant to develop her performance skills, and she performed some of the poems, themed around a child living with polio. It was an interesting part of the evening; I took one of her books to read the full collection. Next Amy performed from Oedipa. As usual, Amy’s presentation was interesting, different parts of the room being given to different voices in the collection. The evening ended with two poets having a poetry fight on stage, which was a fun—if slightly belligerent—way to end a poetry launch.

On Tuesday I did manage some work on the thesis, systematically developing arguments. It is a slow process, but a worthwhile one. I worked in the study, but it is in the roof space, and gets very hot in this summer weather, so I took plenty of tea-breaks in the garden with my beloved Kindle for company. This week I finished reading Ariel Leve’s An Abbreviated Life (HarperCollins 2016), the extraordinary account of her relationship with her mother; Moyra Davey’s Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood (Seven Stories Press 2001); and almost finished Tillie Olsen’s Silences(The Feminist Press, 2003), showing how, historically, women have found the road to publication to be an impenetrable path. Actually, seeing all my reading written down, that’s quite a lot of work, isn’t it, for someone who thought she’d been off-piste for a week?

Wednesday I had to go to Oldham’s Integrated Care Centre for an unusual blood test that lasted about two hours: I had my Kindle with me. Several syringe-fulls of blood were taken, and I thought of Tony Hancock at the blood donation clinic complaining he’d have an empty arm. I should know in a week or two if the adrenal glands have woken up after being laid off by four and a half years of Prednisolone medication. Apparently they can forget how to produce the body’s own cortisol after a sustained period on corticosteroids. I hope they are rumbled as lead-swingers and forced back to work soon, because the alternative is low-dose Prednisolone for life, and I really don’t want that. I took my empty arm to the Costa and filled it up with a cappuccino and a cheese scone. Stress is always released with a cheese scone.

On Thursday it was Rosie Parker’s annual check up and injections at the vet. She’s a very canny lady, and as soon as she smells the pet carrier she finds somewhere to hide. On Thursday her hiding places included behind the sofa and under the side tables in the lounge and under the trolley in the kitchen. This latter was by far the most effective space as she was tucked away under work surfaces and refused all cajoling to come out. I had to pull out the trolley to spook her into running for it, and she resumed her former position behind the sofa and under the side tables. It took us a good fifteen minutes to eventually catch her and get her into the cat carrier and secure the lid; we only had a very few scratch marks. The good news is, she is healthy and has even lost a little weight since last year; the bad news is she has a slight gum problem around her lower incisors so we need to get her to the vet’s again in 5 months time for a further check. I look forward to that, then. She returned to her cat carrier in the surgery as if it was her favourite place in the world! A bag of her favourite dental health biscuits and the consultation saw off nearly £90. It’s a good job I love her.

The new fast fibre hub arrived on Friday. That is to say, BT delivered it to the wrong address, despite my spending half an hour on the phone on Thursday to tell them they had the wrong address on the invoice. It was delivered to a house further down the lane. Luckily, I used the package tracking facility and found out it had been left at Delph PO, because the folk at the house down the lane were out when it was delivered and it was there that Royal Mail left the collection card. But I had the text message and the parcel tracking info, so the lovely lady at Delph PO let me take the package. I set it up immediately—the fast fibre contract starts on Monday—and immediately I could smell burning. I checked the plugs and the hub and all seemed well, but I could definitely smell burning. It was only then I remembered I’d put two eggs to boil on the hob before we went to the PO. One had exploded all over the hob, and the saucepan was burned. OOOPS!

I’ve kept up the Couch to 5K challenge, running on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Normally I run at about 7.00 a.m. but on Wednesday I had to run in the afternoon because of the timing of the blood test. Oh my, it was hot for running; but I did it. I ran for 28 minutes at a time and completed the penultimate week of the challenge. This week I have three thirty minute runs to look forward to and the challenge is complete. The running won’t be, though; I still have to work up to the full 5K: by the end of next week I’ll be running about 3K, but that’s a long way on from the 7×1 minute runs I started out on. And without Laura on my case, urging me to ‘keep running until the end’ I can please myself, run at my own pace, build stamina, speed and distance. Hilary and I have challenged ourselves to a 10K next year. Watch this space!

Saturday was as far off piste as you can get. I went with Hilary to a henna workshop at Chapter One in Manchester. There were six of us on the workshop, run by the lovely Neeka Tank. You can find out more on her FaceBook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/Designsbynn/photos/pcb.1053432338147663/1053432174814346/?type=3&theaterWe got to practise on paper first, designing patterns with pencil and then using the henna cones, learning how to control the flow of henna paste, learning tricks for making unshaky lines, learning the traditional meaning behind some aspects of henna design. Later we got to practise on each other’s hands. There are photographs on the FaceBook link above, of the six of us working and showing off our hennaed hands. It was a lovely and very different afternoon. We came away with a goody bag which included tee lights, henna cones and a small bag of Skittles. I spent some time in the evening eating Skittles and making a henna design on my foot. The henna cones can be re-frozen and used again any number of times within six months, so get used to me being hennaed in the coming weeks.

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The henna design Hilary Robinson made on my hand

In my poem this week I have viewed the Cambridgehsire fens as a woman, an alternative mother: this is, after all,  the land of my birth. Very different from the Saddleworth landscape I live in now, it has its own beauty, and fenland skyscapes are legendary. I wrote this at a workshop recently, I think it was on our Line Break week in Scarborough in May. I definitely took it to The Group and have revisited it in line with feedback.

Alternative Mother # 19
The Fens

 If landscape has mountains, forests,
a river forcing its course to the sea
she is no landscape.

If her horizon is fourteen miles away
your eyes will see for fourteen miles
across drained sea-bed.

If goddesses reach down to touch her soil
there is nothing between their fingers
and her fecundity.

Her sky though, look at her sky,
high and wide as heaven!
She celebrates all the literature of skies,
their cumulonimbus poetry,
their war and peace.

Rachel Davies
June 2018

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