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:

IMG_1148

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,
broom—mangle—muscle

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

 

 

 

 

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