It’s 5.15 a.m. on a summer morning in Saddleworth. This week has seen one of the hottest July days on record, 38.1°C officially recorded at Cambridge, only just below the all-time record . News reporters speak of the record being ‘achieved’, as if it is something to aspire to, something to celebrate, the climate equivalent of Adam Peaty swimming 100m. in less than 57 seconds. This morning there isn’t a breath of wind and the rain is coming down vertically, beating through the leaves of the sycamore outside my window. The sky is spilling the water evaporated by the week’s heat. But temperature records aren’t achievements, they aren’t reasons for celebration. They are signs of humankind’s failure to protect the planet, signs of the way profit comes before care, so we rape Earth’s natural resources until she struggles to breathe. This morning she’s crying. Climate records are Earth’s cries for help. We ignore them at our peril.
I’ve been in a post-holiday blue period—you know that thing where you are constantly thinking ‘this time last week…’. I decided to get stuck into some more post-PhD spring cleaning. I made a start on the guest bedroom. I washed bed linen and curtains and pegged them out: this was the upside of the hot weather. They dried beautifully. I sorted out cupboards, made more donations to charity shops. Our house is on three levels. On the ground floor is a laundry and the garage; on the top floor our bedroom and study. The first floor is the living space: lounge, kitchen, dining room, bathroom; and the guest bedroom, which, due to its position and it’s irregular use, is a perfect dumping ground! This week I changed all that. The cupboard full of Christmas wrapping paper and old Christmas cards—cleared out. The wardrobe with all my head-teacher gear that I wouldn’t wear again if you paid me—cleared out. The cupboards above the bed with ‘spare’ bed linen that I’ll never use again—cleared out. I’ve filled black bags with stuff for charity shops or the town tip. There’s something exhilarating about having a good clear out, like you’re clearing out an unsatisfactory past life, something about yourself you don’t recognise any more, you’re making (another) new beginning. I think, to be honest, Bill gets exasperated with me when I’m on a roll: I can be a bit evangelical about it and he likes a quiet life. But if a job’s worth doing…and there were clothes in there that haven’t been worn in more than a decade. They belonged to a different woman. They had to go. He’s fine with that: it’s the bit where I make him make decisions about his own stuff that raises his hackles. But if you haven’t worn/used something in ten years, you probably don’t need it. He probably wouldn’t notice if I chucked stuff without asking him, to be honest; but that would just feel wrong. Wouldn’t it?
On Tuesday I watched the result of the election of the Tory leader and new Prime Minister. I have no time for Tories. I’ve voted Labour all my life, hoping some element of humanity will creep into politics and improve the lives of ordinary people, people who struggle to survive. Tories personify profit before people; their policy of austerity has hit hardest the poorest people in the country while the rich and powerful have contributed nothing. People are dying in the streets, literally, but that’s OK because the Rees-Moggs and the Sussexes have had their million pound mansions refurbished at the public expense. But Boris Johnson? Really? In his speech at the podium outside 10 Downing Street—appropriately dubbed ‘Clowning Street’ by one newspaper—following his audience with the Queen, he talked of uniting Britain under his leadership. Two points to remember:
1) He was one of the Tory tribe who broke Britain in the first place. The EU referendum was a bit of a public school wheeze, a way of keeping the Tory party alive in the face of pressure from UKIP. In the spirit of the Eton debating society, someone had to support the ‘Leave’ side of the debate and Johnson did it, although his political history shows he had no passion about Europe one way or another; and his face on the morning of the result showed clearly what vision he didn’t have for his spurious and narrow win.
2) What leadership? He has proved himself time and again to be unreliable, untruthful, lazy, vicious, self-serving, racist, misogynist, bumbling—anything for a laugh. This is your new leader, your new prime minister. I won’t say my prime minister: he is not prime minister in my name. I just hope it proves to be the shortest premiership on record: that would be one record well worth celebrating.
Last week I talked about the S. J. Parris Elizabethan detective novels I’ve been reading. I was quite scathing about her style of writing. I stand by my impression of her books as being a frothy while a bit heavy on historical detail: well researched but the research grafted on, feeling extra to the story. This week I finished the second one I started on my holiday. So what did I do next? I ordered some more to my Kindle. I know, I’m fickle. But she leaves you just knowing there is more to the story, an extension still to come. Bruno’s lover escapes the law and he is distraught; but you sense they’ll meet again somewhere in another book and I found myself wanting to know where, and how it goes when it happens. Yup; I guess I did get lost in the world of her books after all. I’ll not read the follow-ups yet, as I’ve started reading Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s WW1 memoir. I’ve only just begun, about three chapters in, so I won’t comment yet, but the 2015 film, with Alicia Vikander as Vera, was brilliant and made me want to read the book. I’ll keep you posted. Bruno and Sophia can wait.
Poetry has had a very small part of me this week. I’ve collected poems for my Stanza anonymous workshop. We meet at the Stalybridge Station buffet bar on the last Tuesday of the month, 7.30 to 9.30 p.m. This month we’re having a critical feedback session when members send me new poems which I send back in an anonymous document to read and think about before the meeting so that we’re ready for constructive and honest feedback. I’ll be sending the anonymous document out later today. I’ve also booked myself onto a Mark Pajak workshop in Nantwich in October, with an open-mic session in the evening. If you fancy it, details are here: https://allevents.in/nantwich/writers-day/200017689818736?ref=event-more
I found out about two more People’s Poetry lectures in the autumn too; these are the brainchild of Carol Ann Duffy, just one of the grass-roots initiatives she instigated as Poet Laureate, and they’re organised by the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University; although the vision is for them to appeal to an non-academic audience. Last year there were lectures by Gillian Clarke (Dylan Thomas), Michael Symmons Roberts (W.H. Auden) and Andrew McMillan (Thom Gunn). They are wonderful: accessible, insightful, entertaining. This autumn’s lectures are by Sean Borodale (Sylvia Plath), Jean Sprackland (Elizabeth Bishop) and Moira Egan (Marianne Moore). Details are here: http://www.manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/eventsPerhaps I’ll see you there?
There you have it: another busy week in the long wait for the PhD viva on September 6th. I’m trying to stay calm, but I’ve never enjoyed interviews. I keep telling myself I’m too old to care now, my life doesn’t depend on the outcome. But when you’ve worked hard for something, it means a lot. Breathe Rachel, breeeeeathe!
A poem: I wrote this one in Coniston when Hilary and I were going through all our old notebooks to find hidden gems. I’m not claiming this as a hidden gem, I’m claiming it as a forgotten possibility that I found in my old notebook search. I can’t remember the stimulus for it, what inspired me to write it. But I quite enjoyed coming across it, dusting it off, giving a new lease…
The films I like are realist
I want to see Cromwell’s warty face,
God tucked into his breastplate,
I want to see sweat breaking out
on the brow of a foppish king.
I want to see a model army
ranked for battle, horses steaming,
smell their heat, taste the blood, feel
the death or glory.
I don’t want to see Margaret Lockwood
designer dressed, cupid’s bow
and beauty spot, 1940s hair,
an unlikely highwaywoman
breast heaving breathily
for the leading man with the thin moustache
and the crooked smile
because girls must learn
all a woman needs
is the notice of a handsome man.
I want that leading man to run off
with the inn landlady, Margaret
to feel the pain,
get over it, grow strong
find her own way to make the world.
I want it real, reel by reel,
I want to believe in it, right
up to the rolling credits.