On Saturday we rushed down to the nursing home in Hitchin to see Winnie, Clarissa's mother. She had had heart failure, fluid on the lungs and a high temperature. In February she had had pneumonia and we were told to prepare for the worst within days, perhaps within 24 hours, but she recovered.
She recovered this time too.
She smiled when I talked to her and showed her photographs. She even said a few things that were genuine responses to prompts and questions and was perfectly conscious throughout, but her forehead was clammy. Clarissa and Hilary spent a long time talking to her. Then in mid afternoon we drove home.
Sunday was spent finishing some deadline work and preparing for Monday.
Monday: Into university early for teaching then straight out to reading by Anjali Joseph, Hayley Buckland and Meryl Pugh at Cafe Writers in Norwich. Very good and good to see them. Home late, not much sleep.
Tuesday: Again I go in early to teach in the morning then in the afternoon I come home, change and catch the train to London for the Stephen Spender Prize Giving first meeting Ugandan-born poet Nick Makoha, whom I had mentored the previous year. Home after midnight, four hours sleep, awake for three hours
Today, Wednesday morning: Extra-day in university for two meetings. I come home to work after 2pm, have a hot lunch and do some work, then lie down an hour to make up for the previous night. Not much sleep though. Just about to sit down for supper when there is another crisis in Winnie's condition. This time the nurses try to rouse her and she is not responding. We hang on the phone for doctors, nurses, family, half-packing the bag, checking the availability of hotel or guesthouse rooms, but now it seems there is no need to rush off. Winnie is responding again.
Clarissa (and I too) are against taking her off to hospital. Shuttling between ambulance and hospital, possibly with no bed available would be distressing for her. She is comfortable where she is, the nurses are very good. If this is the end it is a better one in a known comfortable place than in a cold hospital ward or corridor. But it might be just another crisis. She is a very strong woman.
But we might be rung tonight. It is very much knife-edge living for now.
In the meantime people are chasing me for deadlines, as ever. I usually meet my deadlines but they get pretty close these days. I make a lot of work for myself of course. People - I don't mean official students - are constantly asking me to read their work, comment on them or give them a quote - and of course I do. I would welcome such help if I were them, and I am fortunate to be in a position where people think it worth asking me. At the moment I would say my time is 50% teaching and associated matters, 20% translating, 20% other things for other people and 10% for my own work. I wouldn't say that is a lot worse than it has ever been, because my own work probably never added up to more than 20%, but it is not as it should be now. Fortunately I am high-octane and naturally productive in tight corners.
Nevertheless, I am not as young as I was and the teaching will stop.
Also, since I don't think I have said this here before, my next book of poems Bad Machine is Poetry Book Society Choice for the Spring. Hurrah!
Bloodaxe. Cover by Francis Picabia. Due out 24 January, 2013