Later today, I’ll be making the final submission of my thesis to the University, with all the attendant proformas completed. So I can truly say, using that old cliché, that tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of my life. It’s strange how that has simultaneously become the situation in another area of my life too: Amie successfully sold her business at the Black Ladd this week, in order to buy a fish and chip shop in partnership with her sister-in-law. So the volunteering job I’ve had for more than twelve years, doing her books for her, is now redundant. What will I do with all my extra free time?
contemplating future goals
Really, this week has been taken over by the hand-over of the business to the new proprietors. I’ve been passing on my (very limited) knowledge of ‘doing the books’; seeking out invoices and other relevant information to help them get started with suppliers; handing over the several Excel spreadsheets I’ve designed to help me with VAT, casual wages etc.; passing on complements slips, gift vouchers etc. that are only relevant to the Black Ladd business. I’ll be sad, but strangely relieved, not to be needing these things again. It’s been a hugely successful business, started just before the turmoil of the 2008 financial crash. When restaurants and pubs were forced to the wall in their droves, Amie’s vision of good home cooking and simple hospitality ensured her survival. She’s also survived the personal trauma of serious illness thanks to the wonderfully supportive team she’d built up and so now the time is right to take on a business which will, hopefully be less demanding, with a partner who’s also a close friend. Obviously, I wish them huge good luck and continuing good health. Yesterday, Bill and I spent the day at the Black Ladd, clearing Amie out of the office to make room for the new regime. We had four shredders on the go, dispatching old invoices etc. A shredder is a metaphor for endings; but also, I think, for new beginnings.
In other news, this week I finished reading Katie Hale’s debut novel My name is Monster (Canongate, 2019). I met Katie a few years ago at one of Kim Moore’s writing weekends in Cumbria, and know her as a very good young poet: last year she was shortlisted in the prestigious Manchester Poetry Prize. So when I heard she’d published a novel I was hooked and wanted to read it. I won’t give any spoiler alerts, but I will say it’s a dystopian novel about the last human survivor of Armageddon: there has been nuclear war and ‘the sickness’, which is hinted at as the result of bacterial warfare that has killed the world’s population. The book begins with one woman, christened Monster by her father, as the sole survivor. Her given name brings to mind Frankenstein’s ‘creature’ in Mary Shelley’s astounding and wonderful book, that part where he’s wandering the world to escape from Frankenstein who wants to destroy him. I must admit, when I began reading Katie Hale’s novel I did wonder how she would make a whole novel of one woman’s survival, but she does and it’s a really good read. In terms of the plot, there are probably huge loopholes and ambiguities for a scientist reading it; but I’m not a scientist. I read for entertainment; and I was entertained. And having recently finished Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I was enthralled and disturbed by a different version of a frightening dystopia. I need to find something a little less frightening, a little more uplifting to read I think. I’ve started to read a William Boyd novel now, Waiting for Sunrise (Bloomsbury Press, 2012). I’ve never been disappointed by William Boyd, so I have high hopes for this one, set in Vienna at the start of the First World War. I’ll keep you posted.
Knowing there will be official forms to complete, I’ve been keeping a close eye on my MMU emails this week for news of the system for resubmission of the thesis. On Tuesday I logged in only to be told I needed to change my password. This is an annual event but this year it seemed spurious as I’m so close to the end of my need for the password. None-the-less, I didn’t want to be locked out of my account at this crucial stage, so I obliged. I stayed with the Apple generated password as I knew I wouldn’t need it for long and my MacBook would remember it for me. Unfortunately, when I tried to log on again with my new password, MMU wasn’t having any of it. I couldn’t get in! I clicked on the ‘forgotten your password’ link hoping to be able to change the password to something I would remember for myself; but on clicking the link I was advised to contact the student hub. Aaaagh! computers and digital technology are wonderful when they work for you, but when it all goes pear-shaped… On Thursday I was going into Manchester anyway, so I decided to go earlier than planned so that I could visit the student hub at All Saints campus, Geoffrey Manton building. I successfully changed my password with the hub staff’s help, and now have a password I can remember without any help from my petulant MacBook. The email about re-submission eventually came through on Friday, with me wondering how I was ever going to find time to resubmit amidst all the turmoil of the business handover. I decided I need to concentrate on the pressing nature of the handover. I did take time to read through the thesis to make sure there aren’t any typos etc—I found a couple—and it’s good to go later this morning.
I was really in Manchester on Thursday for the People’s Poetry Lecture. I met up with my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson, in the Refuge Bar at the Principal. The lectures are in an upstairs room. This is a brilliant series of lectures to appeal to poets and non-poets alike; and they have been really high quality events, contemporary poets presenting poets who have inspired them on personal and professional levels. On Thursday the lecture was presented by Jean Sprackland; her subject was Elizabeth Bishop, a favourite poet of mine as well. The theme of Jean’s lecture was Bishop’s feeling of ‘unbelonging’ following a traumatic childhood in which her father died, her mother was incarcerated in a mental hospital where she subsequently died, all happening when Bishop was a young girl. She never saw her mother again after the incarceration and as a result Bishop was uprooted from a home and family where she felt loved and secure to relocate with her father’s family, where she wasn’t happy. Jean gave a convincing account of how this traumatic phase of her life gave rise to the feeling of not belonging anywhere, a recurring theme in Bishop’s poetry and personal letters. It was another excellent lecture; and it was good to see Jean and lots of other poetry friends there. Hilary and I shared the lift with Carol Ann Duffy, who joked she was sharing the lift with ‘the PhD people’. I pointed out that she was sharing the lift with ex-PhD people and she called me Dr Davies. It’s the little things…There’s another ‘people’s lecture’ tomorrow evening, if you want to give it a go; Moira Egan on Marianne Moore: http://www.manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/events/the-peoples-poetry-lectures-moira-egan-on-marianne-moore
I can’t wait.
So that’s it, another week with lots going on. We’ve had fireworks night this week, which this year feels like a metaphor for the state of the political climate. One week into an election campaign marked by lies, damn lies and (misinterpreted) statistics; scurrilous misinformation; cruel and insensitive posturing; and already I’m wondering when Guido Fawkes is going to resurrect himself and come back to save the day? So I’m going to leave you with a ‘remember, remember’ poem about the only fireworks party we were ever allowed in my childhood. I think I was about nine on this particular November 5th:
All The Excuse You Needed
You tell us horror stories from your life as a nurse
but we grind you down slowly until at last you give in.
We go with dad to Ken Harker’s, choose our legal bombs.
We waited years for the velvety darkness of this Fenland night.
Excited, we tie Guy Fawkes to the stake then
light the bonfire we’ve been building for weeks,
chuck scrubbed potatoes into the flames, hold mugs
of piping hot soup in gloved hands. Our eyes soar
into a universe reformed by a super-cluster of new galaxies
from that first rocket. But of course, dad knows better
than the Fireworks Code, spurns the tight lidded biscuit tin,
cuts the safe distance from the blaze, lights blue touch-papers
without retiring. Do you actually see that fire imp jump
the short arc from blaze to fireworks box? Our fireworks all
go up together, the spectacular display a symphony
of terrifying booms and whistles and we miss it all,
that constellation of colour, its spinning wheels, its horizontal
rockets, its jumping jacks because we turn our backs,
run for our lives. From this day forward, we’ll wonder
what those fireworks might have looked like because
this is all the excuse you needed.