Seat covers, Lacan and the papal plums

Time flies. Tempus fugit. It was Sunday, now it’s Sunday again. It was August 1st, now August is more than half-way through. It was my birthday, now my birthday is a month past. The leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter. And my PhD deadline, which once seemed a comfortable age away, is on an unseemly rush over the horizon.

The good news is, I’m 61% through the edits of my thesis. Yes, I’m OCD enough to have worked it out. Last week I couldn’t get over the half-way mark because the half-way mark kept receding as I did more writing; but this week I have scaled the summit and I’m coming down the other side. I worked at it on Sunday, lots of reading; and reading always leads to more reading. Much of it was stuff I’ve read before, and although I’ve got the notes of my previous reading, I wanted to be sure of my material. It was more selective reading: relevant chapters and use of the index, whereas before I was reading cover to cover. I was reading and adding comments and supportive arguments into the thesis as I went along. Reading is an easier job when it’s targeted on a particular focus. I found a couple of academic articles online that I hadn’t read before and they proved useful too. I was elaborating on my section about women poets, their relative invisibility which reflected the general invisibility of all but a few outstanding women in the twentieth century. In order for women poets to be recognised, they had to form their own small presses and publishing houses. Sisters, doing it for themselves.

I missed my usual working day on Tuesday: I had planned to meet a friend for lunch. Janice is an old work colleague, we went on holiday to Kos together one year when both our love-lives crumbled. She’s had a bad time this year. Her partner has been seriously ill since Christmas, but at last he’s on the mend; so she felt able to take a couple of hours off and come out to lunch. We met in Uppermill, went to the Wagon, had a lovely lunch and lots of chat. It’s good to have friends you don’t see for months, then when you do meet up it’s as if you never took a break. Amie asked me on Monday if I’d be able to help cover the settle seats in the bar and restaurant sometime, so as I wasn’t doing academic stuff on Tuesday I agreed to go in on Tuesday morning before I met Janice. Amie had bought a plain grey fabric, easy to work with. We managed to get half the settles done, following a method of trial and error. The last time they were covered, the covers had been stapled into the wooden settles so we had to get all the staples out to save diners ripping their legs to shreds. It took a couple of hours, and we finished in time for customers arriving at midday. I went back on Friday to cover the seats in the bar: they were easier than the restaurant ones, less staples to remove, and we were done in an hour. They look good. She wants some new cushion covers now to set them off. How work always leads on to work.

Wednesday I went for a run at 7.00 a.m. It was a better day for weather than Monday. I altered my route a bit, dropped down from the Donkey Track to the road, making it a circular: about 2.5km again, still a slow pace, but pleased that I’d done it. The rest of Wednesday was taken up with PhD: reading, writing, redrafting paragraphs and sections, polishing the work. I read it all through from the beginning to make sure it flows well. There were some glaring errors in syntax, having added to and redrafted the text, but when I’d edited them out I was quite pleased with it. Saturday I had another full day on it. I was re-reading Lacan’s theory of the mirror phase in child psychology. Lacan is notoriously difficult to understand, slippery as an eel. I can’t grasp his words and make them make sense at all. Lacan represents acadamese at its most frightening: I’m a literal thinker and Lacan comes to meaning via the side-streets. But I worked away at it and made my own kind of sense of it, backed up by writers who write about Lacan’s theories to help and support baffled folk like me. I wrote all that up into the thesis as well, so that’s what took me well over the 60% line. I genuinely don’t know if I’ve made sense of Lacan or not, the kind of sense he intended; but I’ve tried to make it all make sense in my own context. I’m moving on; I’ll read it all through later today, when I’ve worked on the next section.

Friday I took my last run of the week. I ran 2.8km in a very satisfying pace: I achieved three personal bests: for the 400m, the mile and half mile; and a second best ever for the 1km; so that was a good run, I felt as if I was getting back to where I left off; I’m getting my fitness back. On Friday evening I met my friend Joan. We went for a meal in Café Istanbul in Prestwich, had a lovely meal: lentil soup followed by Imam Bayildi, a vegetarian dish of stuffed aubergines, all with lovely  Turkish flat-bread. Joan is recently back from Chicago where she’s been visiting her son’s family; so there were lots of photos and videos to be looked at: her beautiful grand-daughter, who is just two years old. Joan gave me, among other things, a collection of Robert Frost poems for my birthday. One of my favourite poets, I’ll enjoy reading that. It’s on my reading list for the Aberaeron holiday in a couple of weeks.

You might have noticed that ‘poetry’ is missing from this blog: large in its absence. I did have contact with Rebecca Bilkau in the week, the editor of the shared pamphlet that’s coming out in the autumn. We have a book cover now, and there will be some illustrations inside, including one of a daughter peeking at the papal plums. It’s all very exciting. The official launch will be at the Portico Library in Manchester sometime towards the end of October; and we already have a reading booked in for the Square Chapel in Halifax in January. All invites gratefully received. I’ve been asked to ask someone to write a couple of sentences in praise of my poetry for the book cover. I’ve asked Jean Sprackland. I haven’t heard back yet, Jean’s on holiday; but how good would that be? Hilary has asked Helen Mort, who has agreed. This book is about to happen!

So, I’m including the ‘papal plums’ as my poem this week, so you know what that refers to in the last paragraph. It’s in one of my ‘alternative mother’ poems, ‘Pope Joan’. She was a feisty mediaeval woman who disguised herself as a man in order to be who she wanted to be: a scholar. She was so successful, she was eventually elected Pope, and the Church didn’t know she was a woman until she gave birth in the street, on a Papal procession. I know, outrageous and unbelievable. She was dismissed as myth and fiction by the Church. But they designed a chair with a hole in so they could feel ‘the papal plums’ to make sure they had a man in post. Why would they do that if Pope Joan hadn’t been for real. I think she was real, anyway. Here’s my poem:

Alternative Mother #1

Pope Joan

Duos habet et bene pendentes

I learned the hard way the drawback
of lacking a pair, not to have them
dangling nicely.

After you dropped me on the street
between Vatican and Lateran Palace
they tied you to your horse’s tail
and dragged the life out of you.

They said you betrayed the Father
of Fathers. They said you delivered
a boy; but they thought you were a man,
so what did they know?

They erased you from Church history,
dismissed you as fiction and myth.
What need, then, to sit their new Pope
on the dung chair with the holey seat,
feel reassurance in the Papal plums.

Rachel Davies
2018

 

 

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