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.
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.