Ceredigion, December 2016
In October, Creina and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, quietly, since it was term-time. As it was the pearl anniversary, I gave her pearl earrings, and she gave me a tin of oscietra caviar, the nearest equivalent in food terms, as Iíd never tasted it before. We ate it with mother-of-pearl spoons thrown in free by the supplier (metal ones are said to taint the flavour) and drank champagne. A few weeks later, it was my 60th birthday: my brothers and sisters-in-law came for the weekend, and we went to our favourite fish restaurant in Aberystwyth. My main present from Creina was an electric bike, to enable me to get out into the Welsh countryside without expending too much effort, and most of my other presents were bike-related. I have now ridden it twice, on glorious late-autumn mornings, and discovered that it is a mistake to switch the motor off on a steep hill (you start going backwards), that a couple of our local hills are too much even with the motor, at least till I get fitter, and that pushing a 25-kilo bike uphill is hard work. The extra power is a great help, though, and I love the freewheeling descents with frosty fields of sheep on each side and the brilliant blue sea ahead. I hadnít ridden a bike for more than thirty years, having been put off by one that used to shed its chain in the middle of nowhere, and had forgotten how much fun it can be. I arrive home with frozen ears and nose, and slightly wobbly on my feet.
My first collection of poems, Blizzard, also had an anniversary. Twenty years after its initial publication, Faber brought out a second edition, and I launched it with a reading at the university, accompanied by six talented students reading their own poems about snow. Meanwhile Faber have accepted my new long poem, The Mabinogi, based on the Welsh prose epic, and will publish it in June 2017. The other main literary event this year was a trip to Armagh, Northern Ireland, in July, to take part in the John Hewitt International Summer School. As well as reading I gave a series of poetry workshops there, and we were able to turn it into a holiday, exploring the Giantís Causeway and the Mourne Mountains. At the end of the week, we went south to attend the wedding of our friend Penny Shales to Kieran Slyne, which was held in the beautiful Roundwood House, some 60 miles southwest of Dublin.
Our beloved cat Miranda continued to have health problems this year, some of which we put down to old age. When her symptoms got more severe Creina took her to the vet and a blood test showed she had advanced diabetes. Treatment would have been traumatic and probably unsuccessful, so we decided euthanasia was the kindest option. We miss her a lot, and canít imagine replacing her: no other cat could be so affectionate and communicative. She would sleep on Creinaís feet, and crawl up between us purring in the middle of the night, sometimes ending up on my pillow. She never left or entered a room without a little mew to tell us what she was doing. A lifelong non-hunter, she was intimidated by the blackbirds in the garden, which eventually realized there was no need to flap around her sounding the alarm, as she was no threat. Miranda lived with us almost exactly fifteen years: a quarter of my life and half the length of our marriage.
In the New Year, I am moving to a half-time contract: in future Iíll only be teaching postgraduates as well as overseeing the creative writing course at the university. The arrangement is called Flexible Retirement, so half of me will be retired and drawing half a pension while the other half works and draws half a salary. The idea is to give myself more time to write, which is supposed to be part of my job anyway, but which I donít manage to fit in at the busier times of the year. We hope also to do more travelling in the future: there are readings, courses and residencies I could take advantage of, in addition to some of the holidays abroad we always talk about and hardly ever get round to. Our domestic life is increasingly musical, with Creina playing the piano in one room and me playing the ukulele in another, just far enough away that we donít confuse each other. I canít play anything as sophisticated as her Beethoven, but have mastered Greensleeves and am getting to grips with Scarborough Fair. The great thing about the uke is that it is so light and manageable; I can practise on it while waiting for my opponent to move in a game of online chess.