Boondoggling

Yesterday I learned a new word. It’s a word that sits well on the tongue, tastes good. I learned the word from my son, Richard, who is an historian. I said I’d been in Manchester on Friday and saw a bloke sweeping up leaves outside a pub, a Sisyphean task in the high winds we were having in the wake of Storm Callum. ‘Boondoggling’, he said. He explained it, but I couldn’t remember the word five minutes later because it was unfamiliar. I kept thinking ‘cornswaggling’, another tasty word. I’d never heard of boondoggling. He texted the word to me and I googled it when I got home. It was first used by the boy scouts in the 1930s, apparently, to name plaited leather strips that were awarded as uniform decoration: a special kind of scout badge. Later it was coined to describe projects that were set up to employ the jobless during the Great Depression in America, jobs like making these Boy Scout boondoggles. It gained more general usage to describe any job that was deemed unnecessary, but kept the unemployed poor off the streets, e.g. greeting people off trains at the railway station; or sweeping up leaves in high winds. To boondoggle is to ‘spend money or time on unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects…While cost overruns are a common factor in declaring a project a boondoggle, that does not necessarily mean the project has no benefit. Overruns are common, even with successful projects…’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boondoggle
I’ve been thinking about my PhD. It has costs, both monetary and personal; quite high costs that will never be recouped in any related employment. It has over-run in the sense that I have undertaken part-time study in this last year to allow me more time to complete. It could be ‘fraudulent’: I have certainly suffered imposter syndrome most of the time I’ve been doing it. But it may yet be a ‘successful project’. Is my PhD a boondoggle then? I hope so, I like it even more now!

I haven’t been boondoggling this week though: the PhD is on the back burner until I’ve met with my team on Wednesday, the 24th. I’ve taken the opportunity to tidy my study now that the first redraft is complete and sent. It needed doing. Books piled on the desk, piled on the floor beside the desk; print-outs needing shredding—I filled a black bag and have some more to do today; and small stuff my feline P.A., Rosie Parker, persistently knocks onto the floor needed picking up and putting back where it belongs. I’ve seen a FaceBook meme that says ‘If the earth really were flat, cats would have knocked everything off it by now.’ That’s Rosie Parker, a flat earth adherent. We call her Eartha Kitty at times like that—you have to be a certain age to get the reference, perhaps. So, my study is recognizable as a workspace again, all ready for the next round of redrafting and editing. I’m running out of bookshelf space. I have my poetry books all alphabetically stored: signed copies on the top two shelves, unsigned ones, still alphabetically arranged, on the shelves below. I now have poetry books piled on the shelves in front of this system, waiting for room to be ‘systemised’. When I finish the PhD I can do something with my academic books—store them in the loft, sell them off, give them away; have a bonfire—to free up my other bookcase, and the poetry books can overspill into two bookcases. I’m drowning in poetry.

The week has involved preparation for our book launch on November 7th, 6.30 p.m. at the Portico Library in Manchester. I have tried several times to reproduce the book cover into my blog, but WordPress isn’t having any of it. However, Hilary has set up an event on FaceBook so if you’re a Facebooker you can click this link to see the flyer for yourselves: https://www.facebook.com/events/1742866915825614/
We also have a Saddleworth mini-launch on November 13th. It’s a Tuesday evening, and Amie has arranged to close the Black Ladd for the evening for our use. The restaurant will be closed after last orders at 5.00 p.m. on that day and we will host a reading from 7.00 onwards. The bar will be open and there will be snacks; so if you live in the area, or know anyone who does, or feel like a Saddleworth visit, spread the word. We want to fill the bar area with poetry lovers, and there are lots in the surrounding area. I’ll design a flyer for the event—in Word—that I will be able to copy into next week’s blog.

After Saturday’s Poets&Players event at the Whitworth I took the opportunity this week of a lull in the PhD work to update my evaluation spreadsheet. I spent a day and a half bringing it up to date and copying comments into my files. We have loads of wonderful and positive feedback which is great, but doesn’t show the way to development; so we ask as well for ways in which our events could be improved. Comments about sound reproduction, the mix of poets, sight-lines etc. are helpful in improving the experience. One respondent had asked for a tram-link to connect Piccadilly Station to the Whitworth so s/he could come more often. I hope it was tongue in cheek—we’re influential, but not that influential! I sent my evaluation analyses off to Janet Rogerson, our Chairperson, who is already preparing the Arts Council bid for next year’s funding.

Two highlights this week: yesterday Richard and two friends came to visit and we went out for lunch with Amie, Angus and the Cockerpoos. We walked into Uppermill along the canal: thankfully it had stopped raining by the afternoon. The stepping stones were a no-no though. They’ve been standing proud of the river all through this gorgeous summer we’ve had but yesterday, after Storm Callum, the river was a torrent and the stones were under water. We had a lovely meal in Muse then walked to Grandpa Green’s in Diggle for coffee. We arrived just as they were closing so we went to Amie’s for coffee instead. It’s always good to spend time with family; and yesterday I learned my new word.

The second highlight? Tesco are selling large tubes of orange Smarties for £1.00 a tube. Orange ones are my favourites, I can pick them out of a mixed pack with my eyes closed. So I treated myself to two packs—ashamed to say I’ve eaten them both, although I did give Bill a small handful. I’ll have to stockpile some for Christmas if they’re still there next shopping day. Well, I could be addicted to much worse substances.

A poem. It’s not a ‘mother’ poem: I do write other kinds! I sent two poems to the Stanza ‘Traditions’ competition. This is one I wrote some years ago and it involves cricket between England and Australia. That’s quite a tradition. We were in Sydney Cricket Ground when Glenn McGrath bowled his last ball for Australia. The atmosphere was electric, the noise unbelievable. And, icing on his cake, he took a wicket. I know, cos I was there!

Stumps
(McGrath’s Last Ball for Australia: SCG 02.02.07)

In these dying moments of the match
as you bend to a setsquare buffing the ball,
does your brain replay your international career:

the thousand or so leg befores,
catches behind, in the slips, in the deep,
all those middle pegs somersaulting to Gilchrist,
the dogged run chases wagging the tail?

Or do sixty thousand feet tracing your paces
on grandstand floors, hands drumming your beat
on chair-backs, voices rising in a tsunami of sound,
flush all thought before it?
A deafening noise, a roar of Thor

covers the ground, darkens the sky, places
a thunderbolt in your hand, lightning in your stride so,
as if in glorious slo-mo, you run up, plant your feet,
deliver the ball—it is, after all, just a ball.
It bounces short of a length.

Nixon thinks he’ll steal your thunder,
lofts it high over extra cover
where it seems to hover.
English voices join the noise

but on the boundary, buoyed by the tide,
Hodge stretches, hand open
and Nixon c Hodge b McGrath.

Rachel Davies
2007 (or later 😉

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