Personal News

Llandaff, November 2001

Once again there are three of us. As I write this, our new cat, Miranda, is asleep on the carpet outside the study door. In September, we went to the RSPCA animal shelter and were given a tour of the cages where abandoned cats were waiting for new owners while dogs barked endlessly in the pens next door. Miranda was five months old, black, and rather shaggy, with an enormous bushy tail that makes her look like the offspring of a cat and a feather duster. (When she's excited, the tail twitches and snakes about like an independent creature.) We had wanted a younger kitten, but two things made up our mind for us: first, and very important, she already knew how to use a litter tray, and second, when she was put back in the cage she kept trying to poke her paw round the door to stop it being shut, a picture we couldn't get out of our heads. When we got her home, she went straight behind the washing-machine, and only emerged several hours later, covered in cobwebs. But it didn't take her long to get used to us, and she was soon charging up and downstairs after a ping-pong ball, and playfully biting chunks out of my fingers. She likes to put her head and paws through the banisters and take a swipe at anyone passing on a lower level. At the moment she has an ugly shaven patch on her side where she has been spayed; it was some time before she forgave us for that, but now she is back to her energetic self and the problem is to stop her running up and downstairs in case she bursts her stitches.
    The year began with the launch of Dragons, which took place in the Norwegian Church, a picturesque white wood building in Cardiff Bay. The road layout in that area changes from day to day, and everyone, including us, got lost both on the way there and the way back to our house for the party afterwards. Later in the year, Dragons was shortlisted for the Forward Prize, the poetry equivalent of the Booker, which got me some attention, though I didn't win. I am presently working on two books, an adaptation of my thesis on W.S. Graham, and a new annotated edition of Graham's Collected Poems for Faber. When I get the chance to do any writing of my own, I am concentrating on short stories, in the hope of bringing out a collection of those eventually. Although I've written very few poems recently, I got two commissions over the summer. One was for a poem on money for a comparative literature conference in Swansea - as I'm no expert on the subject, I wrote about tossing a coin. The other was for the booklet to accompany a new issue of stamps, and I'm not allowed to discuss it as they haven't released them yet, but it was fun to do.
    In the spring, Creina took a job as a tourist guide at Cardiff Castle, a medieval building richly redecorated in neo-gothic style in the Victorian era. Creina has quickly become very knowledgeable about the building and its history. But the work was very demanding and monotonous, ushering groups of tourists along a prescribed route six or seven times a day, according to a schedule so fixed that a few minutes' delay would leave no time to grab a glass of water before the next tour. After a couple of months of this, she decided it was impossible as a day job, so she now does it on an occasional basis, which also means that she gets some of the more interesting tours at night or with special parties.
    Once again this year I went to Ty Newydd in North Wales for a week to teach on our MPhil in Writing. This time we decided Creina would come up and join me for a second week as a holiday. The centre gave me their holiday cottage for both weeks; it had a television, which meant I was very popular with students wanting to follow Tim Henman's progress at Wimbledon. The weather fell apart in the second week, but we still managed to visit Harlech and Beaumaris Castles, and take a train ride up Snowdon to the mist-shrouded summit and walk back down again (five miles of steep descent, and our legs ached for several days afterwards). At the end of the summer, we took a short break in Cheshire, where I revisited the scenes of my childhood. I lived in Alsager, near Crewe, up to the age of eight, and have hauntingly vague memories of the area. I enjoyed seeing it again, especially Mow Cop, the local would-be mountain. We also visited the Wedgwood factory, the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, and Chester, a delightful town with its half-timbered buildings and city walls - but we were even more taken with Hereford, where we stopped on the journey to look at the Cathedral and Mappa Mundi.

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