Do you ever think a plan is a bad idea and you should give it up and try something else? Going to MMU library last weekend was a bit like that. I planned to go on Saturday, but thankfully I checked the opening times for the summer, and on Saturdays the library is closed; but it is open on Sundays from 11.00-17.00. So I settled for Sunday. I got to the tram stop to find that there was (another) problem at Cornbrook and the trams were only going as far as Exchange Square; well, that’s OK, it’s a bit further to walk, but I can walk from there. The first tram to arrive was only going to Monsall; and anyway, it wasn’t in service. I decided that if the second tram was also going to Monsall I’d get in my car and go home again, leave the library for another day. But the tram arrived and it was going to Exchange Square. So I got on. At Newton Heath the driver announced he had been ordered to terminate at Monsall, but there was another tram behind, we could all get on that. So, we all disembarked at Newton Heath, hoping to get a seat on the next tram. Of course, we didn’t: we were packed in like sardines in tomato sauce, it was hot, sticky, uncomfortable and four stops to endure. I got to Exchange Square wondering why I’d bothered. I thought of getting straight on the next tram home; but I needed to go to the library and I’d already wasted an hour getting to Manchester. I did what any sensible person would do: I went to Salvi’s for coffee and cake while I decided. I decided to walk to the library.
It was past midday when I got there. The job I wanted to do was a quantitative analysis of the number and percentage of women represented in anthologies of poetry through the centuries. I know, a plum job but someone has to do it. I chose six anthologies—all edited by men—from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Guess what? There are more male than female poets in all of them—I bet you hadn’t guessed that, had you? An inequality of about ten to one. In one of the anthologies there were no women poets at all. In one, there were as many men called Thomas as there were women! That did surprise me, and that sentence is in the thesis. I ate my butty at my desk and worked until about 3.30, then walked back to Exchange Square only to find out that trams were back to normal and I could have caught it at St Peter’s Square. Ho, hum. Some days are just sent to try us. At least I got the job done.
On Wednesday I continued the analysis with three general anthologies I have on my bookshelves at home, and the results were much the same; even the one anthology I came across that’s edited by a woman; even the Bloodaxe one for goodness sake: Bloodaxe, who boast on their website about their commitment ‘to inclusion and diversity in British poetry’. Shocking! I wrote up my findings into the thesis.
I had a lovely day on Tuesday: poetry, friends and cider. What’s not to like. I took the bus to the tram stop–so I didn’t have to drink and drive, kids. I nearly didn’t catch it though: a car was parked just before the bus-stop, and despite me waving my arms like a football fan, the bus went straight past: I had to run 50 yards to catch it. The driver apologised: he didn’t see me for the car. Come on! I’m not that small! Anyway, I met Hilary at Mumps tram stop and we went to Piccadilly to catch the train to Crewe—oh, Mr Porter! We had time for a coffee in Carluccio’s at Piccadilly and we inveigled a plate of biscotti out of the lovely waiter. We were in Crewe by about midday. We went to the Lifestyle Centre, where our poetry friend Helen Kay had an exhibition of ‘Poetry, Dyslexia and Imagination’. It is a brilliant display: poems by men and women who have struggled with dyslexia all their lives, some I have known on the MA course and didn’t suspect for a moment they were dyslexic. There was art work to support the poems. There was history on display: did you know that Flaubert (Mme Bovary) was dyslexic? I didn’t even know dyslexia was recognised that long ago: apparently, it has been recognised as a condition for two hundred years. And how far we haven’t progressed in that time. Thank you, Helen, it was a wonderful display. It is a project for Helen’s MA in Creative Writing at MMU; in my opinion it has ‘distinction’ written all over it. We watched poetry videos on a wonderful little Bluetooth gizmo, where you just put the dvd-cover looking thing on a special board and it reads, loads and plays on screen. How have I lived my life without this gadget?
Helen recommended The Big Apple for our lunch so we walked into the town centre. We were apprehensive at first: The Big Apple looked like a transport café, but the options didn’t seem huge: we couldn’t find anywhere else that served food, so we went in. We had burger and chips: my burger involved Stilton cheese, which is a favourite. We ate while we listened to songs from my youth: ‘It’s my party’; ‘Will you still love me tomorrow’; ‘Lipstick on your collar’. We sang along like the old buggers we are. It was wonderful. We went into the Cheese Hall for a pint of cider to celebrate Hilary’s graduation a couple of weeks ago. We left the pub at about 5.45, went off in search of a bus to get us back to the station; we’d walked to the station without finding a bus. I saw on FaceBook a couple of days later that Crewe is planning a make-over in line with Liverpool’s prior to its being granted European City of Culture. I don’t know Crewe well, but on Tuesday’s showing, a make-over would be good. The town centre is quite depressed. But the Lifestyle Centre is impressive; and we had a lovely day overall.
Saturday I was at my desk by 8.00 working on the thesis again. It’s a Sisyphean task, rolling that thesis uphill to watch it roll down again; at least that’s how it feels. I just start thinking I’ve done loads and it’ll get easier, but then I realise I’ve only worked on a couple of pages even though it’s taken all morning to do it. It keeps being ‘half way through’; but half-way moves as I do more work. I wonder if I’ll ever reach the end sometimes. But I’ll be there later today, working away at it, showing it who’s boss. Trouble is, it already knows who’s boss—and it ain’t me!
Oh, and running. I have been running again this week even though I am still doing Prednisolone cold turkey and I’m dosed up on paracetemol and ibuprofen. I’ve only managed about 2k so far, but in very satisfying times; I’ve made a good start back.
So; a poem.
Listening to all the songs from the fifties and sixties in The Big Apple café on Tuesday reminded me of a poem I wrote the first time I went to Zakinthos for a holiday. We were on the midnight aeroplane, along with thousands (seemed like) of Club 18-30 revellers. They were clearly post-A levels and out for a good time. The girls had tee shirts with the legend ‘I ❤ Zante’: when they turned round: ‘In Zante without panties’. No, really. It was too good a tee shirt not to put in a poem. It reminded me how times have changed: these young folk going to Zante to celebrate being over school. We piled into boyfriends’ cars and sped along the new M1 to Watford Gap services for a frothy coffee—how sophisticated were we—and listened to ‘It’s my party’ on the juke box. Ah, carefree days. It set me to planning another poetry sequence involving things we got up to that our mothers knew nothing about and would have been horrified if they had. Anyway, here’s the poem. It was one of the poems on a BBC Radio 4 programme in 2012: ‘Ruth Padel’s Poetry Workshop’, featuring writing groups around the country. The programme visited our Stanza at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. Poetry, eh? Always something going on!
Here’s the poem:
I (Heart) Watford Gap
their tee-shirts say I (heart)Zante
and on the back, In Zante without panties
and I think of that trip after our results,
being driven at speed in boyfriends’ cars
along the new M1 to Watford Gap services
for frothy coffee, feeding the jukebox,
Lesley Gore singing ‘It’s My Party’,
the boys calling us their birds and us
preening our feathers and chirping to be fed
how we used to before we read de Beauvoir
and Greer, before we burned our bras.
And I smile to think of the legend
I (heart) Watford Gap on a sixties tee shirt
but that was how we severed the school tie,
cut the umbilical cord, nearly grew up.
(August 2018 version)