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Ten-minute chat
  1. Ilse Pedlar, Vet, poet and Morris dancer

Abstract

Ilse Pedler writes poetry and was the first contributor to a newly published anthology of poems by vets and vet nurses. She works in mixed practice and has a diploma in homeopathy. She teaches Morris dancing in her spare time

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Tell us about your interest in poetry.

First, I'd like to thank Roy Batt whose idea the veterinary poetry anthology was and who did all the hard work as editor – without him the book wouldn't have happened.

I started writing poetry as a teenager, but most of it was rather overdramatic and I threw nearly all of it away. Then vet school, work, becoming a partner and having a family took priority. About four years ago I decided I wanted to write more seriously so I went on an Arvon Foundation poetry course. It was a life-changing experience. The tutors were amazing; so encouraging and enthusiastic. I was inspired to start writing in earnest and I joined a poetry group in Cambridge to get regular feedback. Since then I've had poems published in several poetry magazines and have been placed in a couple of national competitions. I'm working on getting a first collection together, but it's extremely difficult to get published these days; there are only a few specialist poetry publishers and it's a very competitive area.

Where does your inspiration come from?

People often think that because I'm a vet I must only write poems about animals, but I write about what affects us all; life, love, loss, as most poets do. Even if you start off writing about a dog, it usually ends up being about your relationship with your mother or something similar. Having said that, I do all the specialist pig work in the practice and I have written several poems about pigs.

How did you get interested in Morris dancing?

I started dancing in my first year at Bangor university where I was doing a degree in applied zoology. I was in the students' union bar one night when a couple of women came in and said: ‘We're going to do a dance for you, if you would like to have a go, come along to our first practice.’ One of them played a concertina and the other did this amazing athletic dance with jumps and intricate steps, totally in time to the music, and I was completely hooked. Since then I've danced with several sides across the country. I've danced in Canada, Holland and Ireland, as well as on the top of Snowdon and at the lowest point on the Fens; I've even danced in a telephone box, (probably due to beer if I'm honest). I also met my husband through the Morris, so it has a lot to answer for.

At the moment my local side is Baldock Midnight Morris, and I also dance with a national side called the Bunnies from Hell (yes, you read that right). We are all experienced dancers and practice once a year and dance at festivals in the summer. Morris dancing gets a bad press, but it is completely inclusive; we have teenagers, university students, mums and dads with young children and retired people in our team, and I can't tell you how much fun we have.

Isn't it mostly a male domain?

As for asking is it a male domain, shame on you! The short answer is, no. The longer answer is that no-one knows the origins of the Morris, but it's probably derived from the village dances that were held on feast days and holidays in mediaeval times. There were also troupes of dancers that travelled from town to town to entertain the crowds. These undoubtedly contained women as there is written evidence from the time. Also, in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, there is an oil painting of a troupe that clearly shows women dancing. The myth about women not dancing came about from Victorian times when a woman doing anything particularly enjoyable was frowned upon. It shouldn't be forgotten that, in the First World War, it was the women that kept the Morris dancing tradition alive in villages, with people such as Mary Neal and The Esperance Club.

It's funny the direction life takes you: veterinary medicine was a male- dominated world when I qualified 24 years ago and so was Morris dancing when I first started. I did occasionally wonder why I'd chosen a career and a hobby like that; maybe I just liked a challenge. Anyway, things change and what is inspiring and satisfying is developing new skills and keeping up with that change whether it's at work or in your personal life.

▪ My Constant Endeavour. Poems by Veterinary Surgeons and Nurses.

Edited by Roy Batt. ISBN 978 1 903746 99 8. 182 pages, paperback, £10, plus postage and packing. Copies are available from Mr Batt, e-mail: royalvet1{at}yahoo.co.uk

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