Nothing if not feisty

I did it. On Sunday I printed off a copy of the thesis, poems included. I sat in my study going through it with a nit comb, looking for typos and grammatical errors. I found a fair few. I don’t see them when I read on screen, they’re so much easier to spot on paper. I worked on it all day. Correcting errors in some of the poems led to a bit of editing; one poem that I’ve never been entirely sure about I re-drafted completely. I worked on it all day Sunday and again on Tuesday. By the end of Tuesday it was finished. I saved it on the USB drive, put it safely in my purse and felt free. And a bit sad. But mostly unbelievably released. Since Wednesday I’ve been practising life beyond PhD.

On Wednesday, I took the thesis into Manchester to the bookbinders, ready for the final submission to MMU for assessment. I’d saved it to the USB drive as a Word document. When I eventually got to the front of a very long queue—it’s the summer term, lots of students having theses/dissertations bound for assessment—the girl said I should have saved it as PDF file: Word files can reformat on different computers. She said I could check on one of the computers at the back of the room to see if the formatting had changed. If it had I would need to save it as PDF on the computer I had it stored on, my own computer. When I checked, it looked OK; except now it ended on p. 168: the contents list ended on p. 167, so somewhere it had acquired an extra page. And here goes Sisyphus again, pushing that rock. Luckily I’d had the foresight to take my MacBook with me, so I sat in the bookbinder’s waiting area, resaving the thesis on my MacBook as a PDF file. I promoted myself to the front of the queue when I’d done and the girl saved the file on the shop’s computer. I’ve ordered three copies in black buckram binding with gold lettering. They’ll be ready to collect on Tuesday coming, when I’ll take it to MMU, along with the USB stick and submit the work for assessment.

There have been days in the last four years when I didn’t think I’d get to this point. At times the job has seemed too big, like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been a long and difficult journey but I’ve reached the end; well, almost: I still have to submit it successfully; and I have the final assessment about twelve weeks from now. But the reading, writing, editing, redrafting, rewriting, revisiting, re-rewriting, re-re-re-editing is done. I am done. Bill and I went for lunch to celebrate after I’d dropped it off for binding.

In other news, my iPad cover split this week along its magnetic strip. I tried unsuccessfully to glue it back together, so while I was in Manchester on Wednesday I called in at the Apple store to buy a replacement. So now I’m £45 poorer, but I have a lovely new, bright red cover for my iPad. It’s almost like having a new iPad. Except cheaper. This is how I rationalise spending a massive £45 for the new cover: a new iPad would have cost considerably more. And it looks new. So…

Friends keep asking me what I’ll do now the PhD is nearly done. When I say ‘nothing’ they don’t believe me. ‘You’ll do something,’ they say. ‘You’ll sign up for another degree before long.’ NO. I won’t. I’ve reached the summit of my personal Everest, I have nothing left to prove. So for the rest of this week I’ve been thinking about what I will do post-PhD. And the first thing, the thing I promised myself all along, is to give the house a jolly good spring clean. Something has to go when you do a PhD; the time commitment means you can’t keep doing exactly the same stuff as you did before you started. I was determined poetry wouldn’t suffer: what would be the point of doing a PhD in poetry if poetry was going to be the thing to miss out. So the thing to go had to be some other aspect of my life. Housework was number one on the list. I’ve done some, obviously. Practically, it’s hard to see how you could do none at all for four years. In return for me doing her business paperwork, Amie pays for a cleaner to come in for a couple of hours a week. She concentrates on the lounge, kitchen, bathroom etc. And that’s wonderful, a load off… But the house hasn’t had a really deep clean for four years. This week I’ve put together a plan of attack, one room at a time. I’m going to be starting with the kitchen, cleaning out cupboards, chucking stuff that’s out of date, sending surplus plates, dishes etc. to the charity shops. I’ll start when I come back from Coniston towards the end of May. It’s been four years: I’m in no hurry to get started. This week, before I go to Coniston, I’ll finish putting together my plan of attack. It’s almost doing the work. Nearly. Planning is an important stage, after all. Isn’t it?

On Saturday I came south to Peterborough with Amie. We came to visit my son Richard and a friend, Maria. We all went to Hunstanton, a Norfolk seaside town, yesterday. The weather was lovely, clear blue skies and hardly a cloud, just one or two, low down near the horizon. We went to an amusement arcade and spent too many 2p coins on those machines that push coins and prizes off down the shoot, if you place your coin in exactly the right spot. Which of course, you rarely do. I did win a few coins—extra goes on the machine—and a tiny stick of Hunstanton rock. I also had a couple of spins on the wheel of fortune. I won 500 and then 1000 prize tokens. A little boy was watching me collect the 1000 tokens, his eyes were saucers: it did look an impressive amount of tickets spewing out of the machine. He asked his mum if he could have a go. I saw him a few minutes later. He was so excited: he’d also won 1000 tokens. I was happy for him. We changed our tokens for a magic set, including a top hat. We went to a fish and chip café for tea, and Richard entertained us with magic tricks while we waited for our meals. Were we impressed? Don’t give up your day job, son!

So I’m writing this from a hotel room in the Great Northern Hotel in Peterborough. It’s a three-star listing, same as the Britannia Hilary and I stayed in in Birmingham in February; but it’s as different from that Birmingham hotel as Christmas cake is from dry bread. I have a huge bed, a long, long desk area; there’s a sitting area near the window; there’s a bath and shower that I’m fairly confident won’t flood the rest of the hotel room. The décor is lovely. This is what a three star hotel looks like in the real world: the Britannia was definitely from an alternative universe. Richard and Maria are meeting us here for breakfast at 9.00 a.m.

In other news, we heard from Kei Miller this week, with the entry codes and titles of the winning poems for the Poets&Players annual competition. Kei was late sending the results, and has had to pull out of the celebration event for personal reasons; which is really sad, because sharing the stage to perform your work alongside a leading big-name poet is part of the prize; but it can’t be helped, these things happen. With only one week to go before the event, we didn’t see how we could find a suitable replacement in time for the event on the 18th; so we’ve been forced to cancel, with apologies to our winning poets and our regular audience. The names of the poets and their winning poems will be on our website by Saturday May 18th, so watch out for news: https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2019/We’re planning to incorporate the winning poets/poems into our next event, which will be on September 21st. I’ll post details nearer the time. In the meantime, please pass on news of the cancellation of Saturday’s event. The workshop with Keith Hutson will still be going ahead in the morning, so if you were planning to come to that, please do. I believe there are still one or two places left on the workshop if anyone else wants to come. And the P&P committee will be having a lunchtime meeting in the Whitworth café to discuss the rest of this year’s programme so if you’re coming to our workshop we might see you there.

Lastly, huge congratulations to Simon Armitage, who was revealed this week as the new Poet Laureate, taking the baton from Carol Ann Duffy. Simon was also one of my tutors when I did the MA in Creative Writing at MMU a few years back. I know he’ll be a great successor to Carol Ann, who has done a wonderful job in promoting poetry at grass roots level, making poetry an accessible art form. I know Simon will do a great job in carrying that particular baton.

I’m getting a real taste for life after PhD. In the old cliché, this is the first week of the rest of my life. So far it’s pretty satisfying.

A poem. It’s one of my ‘Alternative Mothers’: a favourite of mine from literature, Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’. When I wrote this I intended to invent a feisty daughter for a feisty mother: the Wife of Bath is nothing if not feisty. But as I wrote the poem, the daughter came through as really bitter and abandoned. Robert Frost said something about if there was no surprise for the writer, there’d be no surprise for the reader. This poem was a surprise to its writer from the outset. I feel so sorry for this abandoned daughter, living out her life in a convent, cut off from society, an embarrassment and a shame to be hidden away. I love the Wife of Bath; but she’d have made a hellish and selfish alternative mother, I think.

 

Alternative Mother #3
Alysoun, Wife of Bath

I’m your secret but not your shame,
clearly. You had me in this motherhouse
when you were just a girl. Now I’m
your skeleton closeted in a catacomb

and you’re married off, no questions asked,
to some old bloke firing blanks, so no more
birthing cramps for you, no heirs to share

the takings and I’m stuck here
suffocating for your sin while you take
your choicest quoniam to the market place,
making sure your remedies for love bring
no more secrets. It’s just me then, enduring

 

Vigils,                         Lauds,                       Nones,

Vespers,                                Compline,

 

The Great Silence.


Rachel Davies
2018

 

choicest quoniam’= a woman’s sexual organs. A modern derivative might possibly be ‘quim’.

 

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