Monthly Archives: September 2018

A fortnight in seven days…

Even by my standards, this has been a busy week. Poetry, PhD and Life have all been large. I worked on the thesis on Sunday and on Tuesday, continuing the redraft and editing jobs. I separated the thesis and the poems: I found on Wiki images a great picture of teeth hanging on string, perfect for my title Dreaming of Pulling Teeth, so I copied that—no credit asked—as my cover pic. However, WordPress won’t allow me to reproduce it here. I prepared a list of contents and checked out every reference to the poems in my thesis—what a good idea it was to write them in red in the first place, knowing the page numbers would change radically in the edit and I’d need to locate them easily. Finally, on Tuesday, I sent the thesis and the collection off to my team. Because I’d done a lot of cut-and-pasting on the thesis, I deleted the annotations as I went along, so I also sent the previous annotated version—thank goodness I’d saved it when I started work on it—with my responses showing how I’d addressed my team’s advice. Sending it off was like letting out your corsets—I can relax a bit now. But I’m already thinking of other poems I can write to include in the collection.

The portfolio of poems includes a section on ‘alternative mothers’ and the next one will be dedicated to Polly Myalgia. It reared its ugly head again this week. This is a painful auto-immune disease I’ve been suffering for about four and a half years. It’s been treated with the cortico-steroid, Prednisolone. At the end of April, I had a little ceremony when I took my final Pred tablet, so pleased was I to be off it. By the time I saw my rheumatologist in mid-May, the tops of my arms were already a bit stiff and I suspected it was returning; but blood tests for anti-inflammatory markers were only slightly raised, so I stuck with ibuprofen rather than returning to the steroids. By August the stiffness was a nuisance, so I requested a repeat blood test: normal result. I continued to take painkillers and ibuprofen morning and night with no real benefit. A feature of Polymyalgia is that it’s at its worst first thing in the morning and improves throughout the day, and this was happening. This week the pain and stiffness were so bad I contacted the rheumatology clinic again: I had an appointment booked for December but didn’t feel I could wait for two more months. More blood tests and a thorough medical examination and I was diagnosed not with Polymyalgia again, but a ‘spinal issue’ involving trapped nerves, dating back to the fractured fourth thoracic vertebra in 2016. The thought is that the Prednisolone was masking the problem while I was taking it and it’s only since I stopped taking it that the pain has been given permission to make a nuisance of itself. Mostly the problem is in my left shoulder, which has very restricted movement, the right one less of a problem. This all makes sense because when I suffered the fracture, the pain and bruising was predominantly over the left shoulder blade; for more than a year I couldn’t lie on my left side in bed. I’m to see a consultant, probably in the coming week; it’ll probably involve steroid injections directly into the shoulder joints. Ask me how much I’m looking forward to that!

Thankfully, there were other good things on the poetry front this week. On Tuesday evening it was our Stanza meeting. We had a writing session: Hilary, Pat and I took writing prompts for members to write poems, and we shared the poems at the end of the evening. My activity involved writing acrostics but disguising them so they didn’t seem like acrostics. Hilary gave me a lovely book for my birthday, Lost Words, containing some of the words that were removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary to make room for modern technology and social media related words. The words are surprising in their commonness: conker, fern, blackbird, bluebell to name just four. The poet has written acrostics for each word and the book is beautifully illustrated. I used that as stimulus for my activity. Hilary brought a prompt where we had to invent a set of rules for old women to live by: as we were all ‘old women’ at the meeting, that was a good fun activity which brought some lovely poems. Pat’s activity involved photos as stimulus. Pat had been to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset during the summer and brought lovely photos of fossils she’d seen ‘lying around’.

Also concerning poetry, the final proofs of our joint pamphlet Some Mothers Do… arrived from Rebecca Bilkau, the editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. The cover is indeed beautiful: I’ve been trying to get a copy to include in my blog but it all came as PDF and I can’t seem to copy it to my photos. Hilary sent me .docx versions she’d made, but I’m in a hotel room in London this morning and the wifi is limited so I can’t access my email except by G4 on my phone, which isn’t very helpful under the circumstances. Perhaps I’ll be able to do it from the train on the way home. Perhaps. Fingers crossed. There’s a flyer based on the front cover, with details of the launch: here are details of the launch and as soon as I can, I’ll bring you the front and back covers and the flyer in glorious technicolour.

The Launch of Some Mothers Do…
6.30pm Wednesday 7 November 2018
The Portico Library 57 Mosley Street Manchester M2 3FF
Be there, or we’ll tell your ma…

The Portico Library, though, with all the gravitas our poems deserve, obviously! Please come, if you can. There’ll be wine and nibbles, poetry, entertainment and everything. What’s not to like?

And finally, here I am in London. We travelled down on the train early yesterday morning, taxied to our hotel to drop off our overnight bag—I don’t feel up to being jostled on the underground yet—and walked the short distance to the Duke of York’s theatre for the matinée performance of King Lear, with Sir Ian McKellan in the title role. We stopped for lunch at a lovely café, La Roche, opposite the theatre and were in our seats for the 13.30 start. Oh. My. Word. It was wonderful; and McKellan by far the best Lear I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in my time. He was wonderful. I was sobbing by the end, as he carried the dead Cordelia in on his back. Sinead Cusack was brilliant as Kent, Danny Webb as Gloucester; and if you read this blog regularly you’ll know my fascination with TV detective series. Two of my favourite sergeants were in the cast: Claire Price—from Rebus—as Goneril; and Anthony Howell—from Foyle’s War—as Albany. It was such a treat, a birthday treat from my three children. Every year I say ‘that was the best birthday ever’; but this was by far the best birthday ever, ever. I am blessed.

Finally, a poem I wrote in that year of anxiety when my daughter was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma from a mole on her shin. The mole was removed, biopsied, identified as malignant and four years of treatment and ongoing monitoring began. I’d been reading Jane Yeh’s The Ninjas and I had that music in my brain when I wrote this. The rhyme scheme and rhythm gives it an illusion of humour, but it becomes sinister, unlike malignant melanoma which is just sinister. I’ve included it in my portfolio with a set of poems inspired by being the mother of a daughter. Here it is:

 The Moles

Their moleskin pants are designed by Molinari.
They buy their Rayban shades at Sunglass Hut.

They mine the soil in nice suburban gardens
to use it raising hills on grass well cut.

They use white sticks in subterranean tunnels,
in daylight, leave them in the brolly stand.

They carry a brace of useful on-board shovels
so they’re ready for retirement castles in the sand.

They give their name to tide-breaks, whistle-blowers
and pigment patches that could be beauty spots

except sometimes the patches turn psychotic.
They grow and grow like porridge in magic pots,

they grow and grow till molehills seem like mountains:
big bad-ass moles make ugly beauty spots.

They ride down shinbones like a sledge on snowdrift,
a game psychotic moles dig more than soil,

then when they’re bored, they turn to Hammer Horror.
Using Ultra-S-F-X to summon ghouls

they spook the likes of leukocytes and lymph nodes,
blow raspberries on the blades of surgeons’ knives.

They know they’re marked so you should see them party!
High on shots of morphine, they live their lives

like a dance macabre under theatre lights.
Moles won’t give up the dance without a fight.


Rachel Davies







A Dream of Pulling Teeth

I had to re-register for my final year of the PhD this week. I tried to do it from home, but I needed my password; and of course, MacBook remembers the password for me so I don’t have to. This is an example of ‘pharmakon’: the thing that contains in it both benefit and harm. In remembering the password for me, MacBook allows me to forget it. Which is wonderful until I need to remember it, then it’s a bummer. I tried to change the password so I could re-register, but no could do. So on Tuesday, when I went into MMU library I called at the student hub for assistance. They changed the password to something easy so I could access my account and when I got in and registered for next year, I changed the password to something I could remember. MacBook remembered it. I’ve forgotten it already!

It’s been a long week. I’ve got lots done. I’ve been so, so tired! On Sunday I finished the job of editing my thesis. I finished the ‘red pen’ reading and then edited the errors out on screen. It took all day. One thing I noticed, a nit-picking thing, was my inconsistency in inserting footnotes: the number should come after punctuation in the text. So many times I’d put in the number before the full stop. Talk about needles and haystacks! I noticed some more yesterday after the editing was complete: the Forth Road Bridge of edits.

I was back doing the books at the Black Ladd on Monday. Holidays are wonderful but there’s no-one to do your work for you while you’re away, so I had three week’s worth of invoices to process. Amie pays them all when I’m on holiday but they still have to be input into the Sage software. It took all day to do everything, and still the bank statements to reconcile. I left them for next week. By 6.00 my brain was fried.

On Tuesday I went to the MMU library. I returned all the books I took on holiday and checked a couple of references I hadn’t made a complete note of. And I found the Jacques Derrida book I needed. Oh my! Philosophy eh? Once upon a time, I used to love grappling with pure thought, but I think the brain isn’t as agile as it used to be. He’s slightly more accessible than Jacques Lacan, but it’s a contest! I was there to check out ‘pharmakon’: see the first paragraph, above. I think I get the gist. I’m glad I didn’t have to read the book from cover to cover; one chapter was plenty. While I was in the library I completed my registration for next year. Registration required the completion of a questionnaire: personal details etc., but also details of support for employment. I don’t want employment, I’m very happy in my retirement, and in being a full-time poet. After the sixth slightly different question about the kind of job I saw myself doing post-study I simply wrote ‘I’ll be lying on a sunbed reading rubbish; it will probably involve wine.’ After answering ‘retired’ in the first question, shouldn’t there have been an option to go straight to question 32? Bureaucracy! But I am registered for the final year. That sounds so good I’m going to write it again, in upper case: THE FINAL YEAR! By May, all this pain will be over. I’ll miss it when it’s done, I’ve learned so much about the nature of study, about myself, about mothers and daughters—about the ‘pharmakon’, obviously. But it’s been, as it should be, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ll be glad when it’s behind me. Sun beds, rubbish reading, wine and poetry beckons.

On Wednesday I went with Amie to Peterborough to visit a friend. We went for lunch in Carluccio’s. We hoped to meet up with Richard as well while we were there, but he had a parents’ evening at school so he was working late. I’d better mention Michael or I’ll get an earful of sibling rivalry when he reads this! He doesn’t live anywhere near Peterborough so unfortunately meeting him wasn’t an option. We called to see my sister in Stamford on the way home. She retired in May having worked for a couple of years beyond retirement age. She looks well and happy. She’s enjoying retirement so much she wishes she’d done it years ago! I always say retirement’s the best job I’ve ever had. We’re both fortunate in decent pensions though, that helps.

Thursday we had to take the cat to the vet for his annual health check and vaccinations. Cats are canny creatures: as soon as he saw the pet carrier he hid himself away. As long as he was contained in the lounge it wasn’t too bad: behind the settee, under the side tables, nothing too daunting there; although how he managed to squeeze himself between those two magazine racks on the bookshelf is a mystery. But as soon as the door was opened he made good his escape and hid behind the desk in the study, in the loft space under some shelves. That was clever: he needed serious coaxing to get him out of there. We tried putting him in forwards, backwards, any way imaginable; but he’s such a strong cat: 10kg of pure muscle and he beat us. I was just about to ring the vet to cancel when Jimbo gave up and walked in under his own steam. When we got back from the vet I put a scratching board with catnip in the carrier and left it in the lounge as a cat cave. He’s spent most of the weekend in there. I wonder if it’ll be easier to get him in next time I need to take him to the vet?

Saturday I was back at my desk again. I went through the thesis print-out seeing where I could lose some words. So far I have 22400 of the 20000 I need for completion. Given that I still have to write a conclusion, you can see my problem. So I’m looking for economies, as they say in business when they want to sack someone. I’m looking for words to lose. Précis isn’t going to cut it, so I’m going to be looking for passages of text that are surplus to requirements today. That’s hard. It’s all there because it fits the bill. I’ll have to be the axe-woman. I’ll have to have a psychopathic ruthlessness and cut, cut, cut. By the end of the day I want to send what I have to The Team for discussion. There might be a glass of wine in it tonight, if I achieve what I’m hoping to.

On the poetry front, we have a preview of the cover of our joint pamphlet, Some Mothers Do…It’s lovely, a bit of edgy, modern art on a stunning blue-green background. I heard from Kim Moore with the jacket blurb early in the week; it’s very positive and uplifting; thank you Kim. It’s there on the back cover along with Helen Mort’s blurb for Hilary and space for Tonia’s, which isn’t in yet. This is getting real, and exciting. We are planning our launch now. We will probably be launching in Manchester at the beginning of November; there could be a Cheshire launch in Chester; and Amie has kindly offered the Black Ladd for a local Saddleworth launch so that’ll be good. I still need to discuss this with the other poets involved.

So, a poem: this is a poem I wrote some time ago to a writing exercise. It’s an ekphrastic poem; that is to say it took its stimulus from three separate paintings. I can’t remember what they were, I have a visual memory of the paintings, but can’t remember artists or titles, I’m afraid. But the poem is so whacky I don’t think it matters. The last line is a reference to Freud’s dream analysis: he linked a woman’s dream of pulling her teeth out with giving birth, particularly to boy children, I believe. I know, don’t ask! I’ve decided to use that last line as a title for the collection: ‘A Dream of Pulling Teeth’. What do you think? I’m rubbish at titles so I’m open to changing my mind.


The goat herd, brought here
by the old nanny, found me.

He said I floated downstream for days
with only the black mouser always ready
to jump ship, Time crawling in our wake.

An ancient prophecy says leave your girls
without protection or breast, a daughter
will be the death of a mother.

I like to think she lay awake nights
wondering where I washed up

but really I suppose she slept happily
dreaming of pulling all her teeth out.


Rachel Davies

Home again, jiggety jig…

So that’s it, the holiday’s over. The family went home last Sunday, and although they’d only been with us since Friday evening, the cottage felt empty without them. It was nearly lunchtime by the time they all left. I should have known I wasn’t in the frame of mind to watch Goodnight Mr Tom on the telly in the afternoon: it’s always a weepie, but on Sunday there seemed so many more scenes to reach for a Kleenex.

I kept up my two hours a day of working before breakfast this week. I was checking my reading notes and writing them into relevant sections of the thesis. I panicked at one stage because I wanted to check out a quote I’d written from an Elizabeth Grosz book: p. 39, I’d written in my notes. I found the book, skimmed p. 39, couldn’t find the quote; read p.39 from beginning to end, couldn’t find the quote; checked the key word from the quote in the index and checked out all the references in the book and still couldn’t find the quote. It was only then I realised I’m looking in the wrong book: I had two Elizabeth Grosz books and sure enough, there it was on p. 39 of the right one! Durrh! That wasted a half hour of study time; but it was worth checking. The rest of my working time was productive enough and I was pleased with the progress I made. Yesterday, my first day at home, I printed the thesis off to read it properly. I can’t read it closely enough on screen, I miss simple typos that are easier (for me) to pick up on paper. I wanted to do a red-pen editing job, find mistakes and places for further development, see how it hangs together as a piece after all the cut-and-pasting I’ve done. Here’s a photo of my personal assistant, Rosie Parker, keeping a watchful eye on the printer from the relative security of the waste paper recycling basket!


The rest of the week we did touristy things. We had a day in Cardigan on Monday, visiting the Castle. It’s not a big castle, just a few remaining stones and parts of castle walls and towers that haven’t been plundered for local building projects. The castle itself was finally destroyed by the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, so there’s not much to see, but the walk around the grounds is pleasant, and the views of Cardigan from the castle walls are lovely. An eighteenth century manor house was built in the castle grounds, which I believe became the official residence of the Lords Lieutenant of the county of Ceredigion, and which fell into disrepair on the death of the last owner. The manor house was purchased by the council late in the nineties, and is now home to an exhibition about the castle and its restoration. The most impressive exhibit is a giant cardigan, knitted in parts by local townsfolk and assembled at the castle. It tells the story of Cardigan: cable knit is a key feature, reflecting the town’s maritime history, the twists of the cable stitch representing the rope used in rigging on the ships. Cardigan Castle boasts the birthplace of the Eisteddfod, and a giant poet’s chair stands in the grounds, a perfect photo opportunity for a visiting poet:


Tuesday was a Very Wet Day. We decided to hunker down indoors and have a reading day, so I used it as a day for even more PhD work. On Wednesday we visited the gardens of Sculptureheaven at Rhydlewis. This is a privately owned garden, no entry charge. It is very new age, mystical stuff. We had a go at water divining. The ‘sculptures’ are mostly plaster moulded artefacts, but there are some lovely wood carvings. The history of the site is interesting. It was bought by a couple from Bristol who developed it from rural desolation into the beautiful gardens and grounds you see today. We had tea and small sample cakes in the tea rooms, still no charge, but a donation requested for the mine clearance charity, The Halo Trust. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours.

On Thursday we went to Llandovery to see the feeding of the red kites. One morning last week we had a pair of red kites swooping over our holiday cottage, looking for food: I felt very privileged to see them. So when I discovered a red kite feeding centre in an internet search we just had to go. We spent a couple of hours in Llandovery, which was plenty, then drove down seriously narrow and underused lanes to the feeding station. We took our places in the hide. The ‘show’ began at 3.00 p.m. but the kites, and the local buzzards, used to this daily ritual, began circling about ten minutes before. The man entered the small field with his bucket of flesh and started to hurl it around the field. He left to get a second bucket and then the kites started to come in for the feast: about fifty kites all swooping and diving for meat. One or two stayed on the ground devouring their ‘catch’ but mostly they swooped and dived, flew off clutching gobbets of meat in their talons. There were red kites and buzzards providing a fantastic aerial display, joined by  cheeky magpies and carrion crows, in it for a free lunch. It cost us just £3.00 each, the best value we had all week. It was a tremendous experience. Red kites were down to endangered numbers, only five breeding pairs left in Wales, until the conservation project saved them. There are now about 2000 breeding pairs in Wales, we were told. How successful is that?

On the poetry front, I sent my set of poems for the three-poet Dragon Spawn pamphlet to Kim Moore this week for her ‘couple of sentences’ for the jacket blurb. Poor Kim was poorly on her recent holiday, and then run off her feet with the Kendal Poetry Festival, which I was sorry to miss because I was in Wales. It’s a great festival if you can fit it in next year. So I waited until Monday to e-post the set to her. I’m waiting to hear from her about the blurb; but I did hear from Rebecca Bilkau, the Beautiful Dragons editor who is compiling the pamphlet, Some mothers do... She wanted to e-discuss the poem ‘Boudicca’; she felt I’d over-used ‘anger’ in the poem and suggested some possible alternatives, one of which was ‘ire’. For some reason I can’t rationalise, ‘ire’ is one of those words that make me laugh out loud. It sounds too tame a word for the kind of fury it purports to describe, and I told Rebecca as much. We agreed on ‘rage’ as an alternative. Later in the day I had another email from her questioning something I’d put in my poem about the fieldfare for the next Beautiful Dragons anthology, Watch the Birdie. She said she was reluctant to suggest alternatives after suggesting ‘ire’: she wrote ‘ire, ire, pants on fire’,which made me laugh out loud again. I think we’ve reached agreement on the fieldfare too.

On Friday I drove home from the Welsh coast, in pouring rain most of the way. There was a serious road closure at Machynlleth, and I had to confuse Tim Satnav by redirecting us via Dolgellau and Bala. It took Tim a while to catch up but he got the gist eventually. And coming home via Bala, we had an opportunity for lunch at that lovely little roadside café beside the lake. It was glorious despite the rain that didn’t put off the canoeists and wind surfers we watched as we ate.

So that’s it, holiday season over for another year. The next time I take a serious holiday my PhD will be a thing of the past, for good or ill. I have eight months left to complete and submit. Head down and work, work, work…

I’m including a poem I wrote on a Greek holiday a few years back. We went to Kefalonia and on a day visit to the fishing village of Fiscado the heavens opened and rain poured down the streets. We were in a taverna where Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 3 was playing, a surprising change from the ubiquitous bouzouki music. The sight of our young tour rep cadging a black bin liner to wear as a mackintosh will stay with me for a long time; as will our aging coach companions stripping down to their underwear in an attempt to dry out: some things you just can’t unsee!  Enjoy.


Vivace Maestoso

 Boats rock on harbour waves
and the taverna serves horiatiki
and village wine al fresco, when
the sun gives up and hides its face
and the sea chops around yachts
trying and failing to hang on.

Then rain.  Great water bombs of drops
exploding on pavements, evaporating
as they touch the ground. Rain.
Gathering its forces, organising itself,
falling to earth like rocks, breaking. Rain.
A wall of water, vertical, solid, grouping

on the path, turning street to river.
Rain pouring from the taps of clouds,
hissing, fierce. Rain, lightning,
spontaneous applause of thunder.
And you, wearing a black bin liner.
And Beethoven taking shelter in the bar.

Rachel Davies

Woman’s work…

Hello from rural Ceredigion. I am writing this from my bed in our holiday cottage three miles inland from Aberaeron. It’s isolated, quiet, relaxing. Although having said that, a lot of cars have been slowing down as they drive by this week, looking intensely at the house: either the owner has asked the locals to make sure we’re behaving, or we are on the route of a car rally/treasure hunt. We’ve taken to raising our glasses to them as they look in; and received smiles and waves back.

I’ve kept up my promise to myself to do two hours of work every day. I’ve read all the books I brought with me; well, the relevant chapters anyway. Next week I start writing that reading into the thesis. The first morning I sat at the dining table in the conservatory; but the chairs are not comfortable, not conducive to work; so now I sit in the lounge on the sofa with my books and MacBook around me and work from there. It’s not as good as my desk, but I’m managing. And it’s close to the kitchen for mugs of tea. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done. I’ve got visitors at the cottage this weekend and they are amused that I’m reading books with titles like Sexual Subversions and a book on female fetishism. Really? If only they were as titillating as they sound! But on the whole I’ve enjoyed my work this week; and I’m ridiculously happy that I’ve stayed on target, even though staying on target is mostly what I do. My bedtime reading has been Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, which I’m enjoying more than I thought I would when I started it. I’m always suspicious of memoirs of childhood, suspicious how much is ‘memoir’ and how much fiction. But as the book progresses, I’m struck by the way she questions herself about her early life, questions the bourgeois values of her upbringing. I’m reading her adolescent angst at the moment. Fascinating woman.

Of course I’m on holiday, so it’s not all work. I’ve eaten too much, drunk too much and, this weekend, laughed a lovely amount. In the week Bill and I have been to the National Trust property at Llanerchaeron, a sixteenth century farmhouse that was extended to a manor house in the 18thcentury. It’s about two miles from here. The old farmhouse reminded me very much of my childhood: the tools in the scullery, the built in copper where the laundry was boiled. We had one of those in an outhouse where mother boiled the sheets and nappies on Mondays; and on other days dad boiled potatoes as pig-feed. The theme of the walk around the house revolves around the strong women who have been involved in its history. That was interesting, because is showed how some women struck out against the patriarchal role they were expected to fulfil as dutiful daughters, wives and mothers. In the 18thcentury one of the women gained a legal separation from ‘her scoundrel of a husband’, stayed on in the house and raised her children alone; well, no doubt with the help of several servants, but what courage to successfully seek separation at a time when women were deemed the property of their husbands. Another of the women fell in love with the owner of Llanerchaeron as a teenager but her parents wouldn’t give permission for her to marry ‘beneath her’ socially. She refused to marry any of their ‘suitable’ suitors and eventually mummy and daddy relented—after seventeen years!—and agreed to her marrying the man she loved. The dowry she brought with her enabled the happy couple to commission the architect John Nash to develop and extend the house into the manor house it is today. I loved the cupola at its centre, allowing natural light to flood in; and the house’s curved walls and doors. I picked out my study, ready for the day when I can afford to buy it from the National Trust. Here is a photo of some wonderful bracket fungus I found growing from a felled tree as we walked around the grounds:


We took a steam train ride from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge on Wednesday, along the Rheidol Valley. The journey is an hour long through spectacular views that made up somewhat for the uncomfortable seats. Thankfully, we chose not to sit in the open carriages at the front of the train because the weather wasn’t brilliant: no rain, but a fair old wind. Those carriages had wooden benches; at least ours had some minimal padding on the seats. But we still had numb bums by the time we reached Devil’s Bridge. Lunch, a brew, then a bum-numbing ride back to Aberystwyth. I’m not particularly a steam train fanatic, but Bill is and it was a good experience.

I’ve only run once this week, not as much as I intended but it was a good run up and down undulating roads, nearly 2k. I’ll try to do better this week but I can’t make promises: I’m a fair weather runner and there has been rain here. If the mornings are fair next week I’ll run again.

This weekend my daughter Amie, her partner Angus, my sons Richard and Michael came to visit. They arrived Friday evening and will be heading home today. It’s been a good weekend, lots of laughter. Yesterday we went into Aberystwyth for a look around. We took Amie’s two Cockerpoos to the black sands of the beach. The weather was wet, windy and cold but it doesn’t matter when you’re enjoying yourselves. We called into M&S for food for an evening buffet and the evening felt like Christmas: party food, wine, chat. I’ll be sorry to see them leave today, but they all have work tomorrow. And so do I of course!

Kim Moore has agreed to write the jacket blurb for my contribution to the joint Dragon Spawn pamphlet Some Mothers Do…I asked Jean Sprackland, but because she is the creative mentor for my PhD portfolio she felt it might compromise us both as  perceived favouritism; disappointing but understandable. So Kim has agreed to be my blurber. The poem this week was written on one of Kim’s carousel workshops a couple of years ago and remembers how hard my mum worked as a farm labourer’s wife. It was unpaid work, but hard for all that. The old copper at Llanrchaeron reminded me of this poem:

 And This Is Also Work

We never see him.
He’s always out doing
whatever it is men do.

She’s the one teaches us
what work is—up at dawn,
porridge simmering on flame,

hot suds—cracked hands,
iron heating on range,

as power; carrying, bearing,
suckling, midnight nursing.
She even works the farm—

butter churning, potato picking,
beet singling, cleaning eggs
for market. He’s told her

she can keep lash eggs
in lieu of wages. She does
what she has to do.

Rachel Davies





Ask A Busy Person…

There’s an old saying that if you want a job doing ask a busy person. Busy people can always fit in a little bit more busy-ness. This week, I’ve been meeting myself coming round corners, I’ve been that busy. There’s something of obsessive compulsion about me, I realise that. For instance, every morning before I get up I do a puzzle on my iPad. It’s a silly puzzle, joining coloured dots together, it’s called ‘Flow’. Sometimes it’s ridiculously easy, sometimes ridiculously hard. But I’ve done it every day for almost two years. I can’t not do it because it will break the streak and I’ll be back to day one. So it’s the first thing I do every day. It wouldn’t matter if I went back to day one really, would it? But it would matter to me. I quite like this compulsion in my make-up. It illustrates my determination: I’m not a quitter. I keep going, keep on keeping on. The PhD has been a saga of keeping on keeping on. I have come close to giving up a couple of times, but it is the same drive that makes me do ‘Flow’ every morning that keeps me going with the PhD. I don’t give up.

This week I’ve worked like stink on it. On Sunday I did a very scary thing. I came to a place in the thesis where my DoS had written a note recommending moving a fairly lengthy section up, closer to the beginning: he liked that section and felt the external examiner should be able to read it early on, to get a good impression of the work from the start. So I cut and pasted a huge swathe and moved it up about twenty pages. I had the foresight to save before and after versions, just in case it didn’t work out. I was inordinately stunned by the process, it seemed a huge change. I saved the work and walked away from it. I’d worked all day anyway so it was time to stop. I decided to leave the reading of it in its new situ until my next working day, Tuesday: on Monday I was at the Black Ladd doing the books for my daughter’s restaurant.

So, on Tuesday I went for my early morning run. It was my only run this week: even busy people have to let stuff fall by the wayside sometimes, I’m not Superwoman! I was at my desk by 9.00, first job to read the rearranged thesis. It wasn’t scary at all; in fact, I’d had an idea in bed, when I was planning my day, that it would benefit from moving up even further, very close to the beginning, So, first Tuesday job, I cut and pasted it again. I actually like it where I’ve got it now. It flows well, with minimal editing. Of course, I carried on with writing to the notes from the team, so I spent the rest of Tuesday addressing those. I checked out some books on Amazon, but even second hand copies were ridiculously expensive, and no guarantee of receiving them before we came on holiday on Friday, so I decided I needed a library day on Wednesday. I did an MMU library search from home and found most of the books I needed, so Wednesday saw me catching the early tram to Manchester. I don’t normally like working in MMU library: it can be incredibly noisy and I must have silence to work, no distractions. But in the summer recess, it is a quiet little haven of study; one or two determined folk there working, but nothing distracting. I found the books I was looking for. I worked with a couple of the big ones there: read, took notes, copied pages onto my iPad to read again later. The rest I brought home with me to take on holiday: a little ‘light’ holiday reading. I called at Waterstones on my way home: I’d ordered a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter online: Angelica recommended it as a good read and the library didn’t stock it. It wasn’t one I, or indeed the young man in Waterstones, had come across before: he added it to his own reading list. That book is probably my lightest holiday reading this year.

Thursday was about getting ready to come away. I have two lovely cats who have the run of the house but I don’t let them outdoors at all. Holidays would be a real problem if it wasn’t for my friend, Nat, who loves animals and has a dog-walking/pet-sitting business. She comes in every day, twice a day, to feed them, clean their litter trays and spend time with them so they won’t be lonely. She’s a  gem; she’s also quite house-proud, an adjective no-one could randomly fling at me; so I spent Thursday cleaning up, so I could pretend we don’t always live in a state of chaos. It was early evening before I got around to actually putting anything into a suitcase. Mostly it went in unironed: I packed my travel iron, I’ll have to iron stuff as I need it. Well, something has to go, even for an obsessively busy person. And ironing still hurts the Fourth Thoracic I fractured a couple of years ago; so it’s no bad thing to do a piece or two at a time.

Friday morning I got up early to finish getting ready to come away. Bill still hadn’t packed his case: so I left him doing that while I went to do the tills at the Black Ladd to help Amie out. When I got home we packed the car and hit the road. We called at the bank in Oldham en route and were heading out of Oldham towards Ceredigion by midday. It was a four and a quarter hour drive to Cardigan Bay, and the little cottage we have rented for a fortnight. Thank heaven for satnav; we found it without a problem. We stopped about half way for a sandwich: a fat, doorstop of a cheese sandwich; so it was 5.00 p.m. before we got to the cottage. We  had a brew, unpacked and convinced our heads they weren’t still travelling. Then we travelled some more, into Aberaeron to an Indian take-away for our evening meal. A bottle of Sauvingon Blanc to wash it down and we were ready for bed by ten o’clock.

Saturday morning I was up at 6.00, doing the ‘Flow’ puzzle, obviously: day 632! Then I was at the dining table wading in on the reading pile. I’ve promised myself two hours work every day while I’m here, mostly before breakfast so I’ll still have the day to holiday. But if I need to work during the day I can: Bill is very supportive and quite happy to read his Kindle in the garden while I work.

So that’s it: another busy week; a week closer to completion. On the poetry front, it was our Poetry Society Stanza on Tuesday evening. Due to the holiday season, our numbers were down again: only four of us. We took poems on the theme ‘Tradition’ we’ve written for the Stanza poetry competition:
The closing date is a week tomorrow. There were some brilliant poems on Tuesday evening, so I hope we all do submit. I’ll be putting finishing touches to mine this week and it’ll be winging its way electronically to the judge, the wonderful poet, Penelope Shuttle.

Friday would have been my mum’s 102nd birthday.  I’m going to include a poem about her this week; difficult to choose because most of my poems at the moment are about her, one way or another. This is a poem I wrote in recognition that she wasn’t just my mum, she was a woman in her own right, with her own ambitions and desires. It was hard being an intelligent woman when I was a child: you were socially programmed to be a wife and mother; other ambitions were thwarted. When she was a young woman it was a competitive market to get into any profession: she entered  nursing, but she had to give it up to look after her own mother in her last illness: the lot of the eldest daughter. And women were usually disqualified from work in many professions as soon as  they married, so returning to nursing wasn’t an option. It was a bit like Gilead really. A woman’s job was to produce the next generation, particularly male children, and rear them as responsible young people, able to take their place in the social hierarchy. Mum hated it: she had nine children altogether and only one of us had tried hard enough to be a boy. This poem is my realisation of how hard domesticity was for her.


The Bat And Not The Ball

what if being loveless was protection
a carapace a breastplate a firewall

not disappointment at a missing member
not a statement about lack of love at all

for years it hurt to see you couldn’t see me
like the worn out pushchair waiting in the hall

I sulked because you tried hard not to know me
while you were as strange to me as Senegal

and what if I didn’t notice all you wanted
was for once to be the bat and not the ball

and consider this    what if chopping onions
turns out more rewarding than a smile


Rachel Davies