Fiona and I had a Yarn Adventure today. And about time too: we haven’t seen each other since November. Life: what a ratbag.
Admittedly there is usually a high gremlin count when Fiona and I get together but today they weren’t half trying. We were going to set off at two, which in our case usually means before 2:30, well, maybe, if we’re lucky. Fiona usually texts me as she leaves the house*.
No text. Well, whatever, and we got on with hurtling and then with feeding me**.
Still no text. Prepare to feed critters, since I was going to put it down as I left. Sometimes this intrigues hellhounds sufficiently to stimulate them to eat.
Still no text.
Dither. Feed critters.***
Okay, now I’m worried. I have checked Pooka several times. Nothing.
I’ve hung the laundry and washed all the lunch dishes† which is of course nicer to come home to but WHERE IS FIONA?
Pooka barks, and I make a slightly dish-soapy dive for her. I have the feeling my texts aren’t getting through, says Fiona’s voice. I HAVEN’T HEARD ANYTHING FROM YOU SINCE LAST NIGHT TILL THIS PHONE CALL.
Well, I’ll be there in three minutes, she said. And as she rang off, Pooka chirruped and SEVEN MESSAGES POPPED THROUGH. ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH.
The day improved from there however. Our chosen yarn shop was having a MOVING TO NEW PREMISES sale and . . .
I’ve been wanting FEARLESS KNITTING for yonks but, you know, it persists in being full price. The dark auburn yarn is Debbie Bliss Winter Garden which I have also wanted for yonks but it’s too frelling expensive, and the green and gold down front is Louisa Harding Grace Hand Beaded which etc. And the other stuff is just . . . um . . . shiny? And when a pattern book only costs £2 you only need to like one pattern in it. . . .
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* This text will read ‘I’m running a little late because . . .’ Mind you, if she’s not running late, I’m in deep trouble.^ Today’s non-arriving text however informed me that her car had broken down and she was negotiating to borrow her parents’.
^ The hellhounds would like this. It might mean I didn’t have time to FEED them before I left. The hellterror, of course, would chew her way through the front door and come after me if I tried any such thing but I wouldn’t DARE. Also feeding the hellterror is easy. Open nearest tin, throw contents in general hellterror direction, add a handful of kibble if you’re feeling persnickety, and don’t stand too close or she’ll eat the toes off your shoes. The hellhounds . . . it starts with cutting up the chicken scraps SMALL ENOUGH that Chaos, in particular, who has prehensile lips, can’t just hoover up the chicken, and you need to stir the kibble in really well because any that has not been touched by the magic chicken-stock wand will be instantly rejected as dry and tasteless and beneath delicate hellhound dignity.
Unfortunately for them, however, I had allowed time for the careful creation of appropriate hellhound comestibles. It didn’t work though. They still didn’t eat it.+ That look in Chaos’ eyes says: if you didn’t mix it in so well I’d’ve at least eaten the chicken.
+ Do I have to bother to tell you that the hellterror ate hers? No? I didn’t think so.
** Moans of protest from the hellterror who is, furthermore, sitting on my feet, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten her. YOU JUST ATE BREAKFAST TWO HOURS AGO. YOU ARE NOT STARVING. Also, sitting on my feet is counterproductive. You are heavy. You are obviously getting plenty to eat.^
^ I was out hurtling hellhounds recently.+ People frequently stop us to be goopy over them. Mostly their admirers stick to telling me how beautiful they are, but occasionally someone wants to find it funny that we’re all skinny and leggy. Hellhounds are also now quite grey in the face so we’re all skinny, leggy and old. But some dork came up to us the other day and was in grave danger of rupturing himself over the sheer hilarity of owners who look like their dogs.++ I stared him in the eye. I have a bull terrier at home, I said. I did not mention the ‘mini’ part. He stopped laughing and edged away prudently.
+ In my life I can always say I was out hurtling hellhounds recently. And hellterror.
++ I wondered what his frelling problem is. I have no idea, of course, but he was a big flashy maybe forty-ish dork, and looked a bit like someone who was maybe rolling into midlife crisis and in a mood to be snarky about some post-menopausal hag who is refusing to stay home with her TV and her memories but is out cluttering up the pavement wearing jeans, All Stars and long hair, and walking her dogs like she thinks she still has a purpose in life. I don’t like big flashy forty-ish dorks who think looming over me and being scornful is a fun thing to do.#
# Speaking of testosterone poisoning, yesterday I was creeping up the hill to the mews in Wolfgang, which little journey is another of those absolutes in my life, going at 30 mph which happens to be the speed limit. And I was passed by five motorcycles. FIVE. Streaking past, whing whing whing whing whing. What the what the what the I can’t even. And there is all this bushwa about how cars are supposed to be careful of motorcycles. I don’t know if this is nationwide or just around here, but there are posters all over the landscape saying THINK BIKE. How about if BIKERS think at all? I’ve been a motorcyclist, as long-term readers of this blog know, and it is absolutely true that people driving cars can be amazingly stupid and dangerous about bikers and this is a large part of the reason I stopped driving a bike while I still had all my body parts intact . . . but the frelling majority of the motorcycle accidents around here are caused by male bikers being assholes: yesterday at least I was only going 30. Being passed by some dinglenut on a 60 mph road that is only just two lanes wide with hedgerows on either side . . . going around a curve? Yes. I have.
*** Ecstasy of the Hellterror.
† Except, of course, hellhound bowls, since they haven’t eaten anything.
Peter’s had another fall.
I went to the Easter Vigil at the monks’ last night and it wasn’t over till after eleven—and then they fed us tea and cakes.* So I got home late and it took me forever to wind down** and eventually went to bed late even for me.***
I’d left Peter a note that I wasn’t going to make our 11:30 pick up—since the stroke he walks into town to buy a newspaper, he’s old-fashioned like that, and I appear with Wolfgang and a backseat full of hellcritters at the appointed hour and take all of us down to the mews. My note said that I’d ring him.
I rang him at 11:30, after about half an hour of evolving wakefulness, swearing and caffeine, and said I could be at the pick-up point at 12:30. I’m not coming, he said. What? I said. I’ve had a fall, he said: It’s okay.
IT’S NOT OKAY. WHY DIDN’T YOU ******* RING ME.
I knew you went to bed late last night, he said. I didn’t want to bother you.
AAAAAAAAAAAUGH. WHY DO I TAKE POOKA TO BED WITH ME? WHY DOES SHE LIE ON THE EDGE OF THE BOOKSHELF RIGHT BY THE BED HEAD, RIGHT NEXT TO MY ALARM CLOCK, SO I CAN’T POSSIBLY NOT HEAR HER IF SHE RINGS?† LIKE, IF YOU GET IN TROUBLE AND COULD USE MY HELP?††
It’s okay, said Peter. I’m fine.
Well . . . as falls in the bath when you’re eighty-six years old go, yes, he’s pretty healthy. He still looks like an extra from one of the battle scenes in BRAVEHEART. Meanwhile I was down to sing at St Margaret’s tonight†††, it’s Easter, and—I’ve told you this, haven’t I?—the Master of Music, whom we shall call Mr Bach‡, has decreed that there shall be no more than THREE singers, so if one of us doesn’t show it’s a bit conspicuous. So I viewed my gory husband‡‡ with disfavour‡‡‡ and declared I was going to church as scheduled.
Aloysius had sent us our list of six—six—songs gallantly early in the week, which chiefly gave me time to freak out.§ Also there have been one or two other things going on. And then I got there tonight and after having a brisk lesson in being a roadie (‘plug that in there—and that in there—and that in there’§§) I discovered that what we were performing only bore a genetically modified family resemblance to the YouTube links. Arrrrrgh. Oh, and I’d’ve made a hole in the line up if I’d cancelled? There were only two of us singers. ARRRRRGH.§§§
But there were big handfuls of chocolate eggs on all the little café tables that we gather around at the evening service. Eat up, said Buck. I don’t want any left. Hey, singing in front of an audience burns a lot of calories.# And there was roast chicken when I got home.
* * *
* Banana coconut cake to die for, just by the way. I’m going to ask Alfrick if there’s a recipe.^ There was also hot chocolate for anyone who can deal with dairy. Siiiiiiiigh.
^ Alfrick’s a good cook. Experienced in producing lavish spreads for mobs with varying dietary requirements.
** Christ is risen, you know. The Anglicans raise him Saturday night which is fine with me—I’m not invested in the three days thing, I want the Friday part over as fast as possible—plus driving. That the Saviour lives is exciting enough but driving a car really winds me up.
*** . . . Never mind.
† That is, barks.
†† And it’s worse than that. He fell in the bath. The bath apparatus the NHS physios tried to set up didn’t work with him in this bath, so they took it away again. And he has insisted on going on having his bath in the morning when I’m not here rather than the evening when I am. It was clear I wasn’t going to win this battle and purposeless bloodshed does not appeal, so I let it go. Even knowing it was an accident waiting to happen, it’s not like I could lock the bathtub when I left at night. But . . . he fell in the bath having spent most of half an hour trying to get out of it first. He fell in the bath having spent most of half an hour trying to get out of it with HIS phone within easy reach.
I’m running away from home to join a convent.^
^ Also, the Nightmare of Hellhound Digestion continues.+
+ And by current indications Darkness is planning on dragging me all over Hampshire again later tonight. Joy.
††† I know Easter is supposed to be pretty epic, but . . . it is. And bouncing between St Margaret’s and the monks for the last few days has rendered me even more la-la-la-la than I would be anyway: if you’re going to engage with the Easter story, it’s going to rip you up pretty extensively, and I’m old to be learning graphic new skills.
Generally speaking I find St Margaret’s less embarrassing because it’s less formal. But in the can’t-take-me-anywhere category . . . Good Friday at the monks includes the abbot and some candle-holders and incense-swingers doing an abbreviated Stations of the Cross which finishes with everybody else queuing up to genuflect and kiss the cross that was sequentially unwrapped during the Stations. My turn: I managed the genuflection without killing anyone but I misjudged the bending-forward business and managed to impale my face on the sticky-out bits of the cross. Wounded by God. Good . . . grief. Fortunately the cross was being held by two stalwart young men, possibly in expectation of someone like me, so no damage done. Except to my face, of course.
At least I managed to cross myself a couple of times at more or less the right moment without poking myself in the eye—or in my neighbour’s. I’ve made a few hopeless attempts to find out what the actual system is at a high-Anglican service but since it apparently varies from church to church and priest to priest anything google might be able to teach me would turn out to be wrong. It would also be helpful if the actual order of service books produced BY the monks for their attendees were frelling accurate. And why does everyone else in the congregation seem to know which bits to ignore?
‡ PDQ. I am not a fan of a Master of Music who limits singers to three.
‡‡ Head wounds BLEED. Also he’s on Warfarin. Whimper.
‡‡‡ Georgiana was here this afternoon, and in a family notorious for its bossy women we may be the two bossiest. And Peter stood up to both of us with aplomb and dispatch^ so he probably is okay.
^ Including things like chaining himself to the railing rather than be taken to A&E.
§ Also . . . I rather like one of them. Oh God I am losing my musical integrity.
§§ I think the church’s bass amp is about as old as I am.
§§§ Tonight’s other singer, Janey, who has been singing at St Margaret’s for many years, said, somewhat grimly, in response to my craven desire for sheet music, that learning any given song is of limited usefulness on the night since every leader performs it differently. She picked up the lyric-only sheet of our first song. This one, she said. Aloysius plays it one way. Buck does it another. PDQ does it yet another. Samantha another. Are there any other leaders? They do it differently too.
# And my husband seems to have hidden the GIGANTIC chocolate egg another branch of the family brought us on Saturday. I have to get my ellipsoidal chocolate fix somehow.
## Although the Darkness situation is still outstanding. And I’m trying to decide if I should wake Peter up before I leave and make sure nothing new has swollen or developed bruising and his pupils are still the same size as each other.
ONE TWENTY SEVEN
Silverheart’s light went out like a bonfire that had had a bucket of water thrown over it—there was even a burning smell. I let my aching arm drop; my mouth fell open of its own accord. Mr TS wrenched his horse away from Monster, standing up in his stirrups and shouting. I could guess that the rustling, hustling noises around me now were of the people I’d seen forming up . . . to do what? There was a somewhat similar shout and seethe on my left—Galinglud, perhaps, if Mr TS was Tulamaro.
But no one shouted at me. No one told me what to do. Nobody told me to follow them. The muted but urgent noises were leaving a little empty space around me. I didn’t know where Murac was and it seemed . . . unsuitable, somehow, to turn and look. What if he was right there, staring at me? What if he wasn’t? I put Silverheart carefully back into her scabbard and straightened my back. I knew what was supposed to happen: I could recognise a story reaching its climax when I saw it. I just wished I was seeing it the usual way: from a desk chair, staring at a computer screen, my hands clamped around a cup of tea, and my vocabulary having just run away to join the circus.
Only the faint vibration through the reins as he tongued his bit and a silky-rough lash across my bare legs when he swished his tail told me that Monster was maybe a trifle worried also. But he stood perfectly still, ears pricked. Adventurer’s horse. Warrior’s horse.
I wanted to say something funny or throw-away, like oops, or oh well. But I didn’t have the heart. I hate letting other people down. I’m still haunted by Norah’s second daughter’s tenth birthday, when I’d promised her a hot-off-the-press copy of ZOMBIE MACAROONS, published by the tiny indie house that occupied a corner of my then-publisher’s giganticonormous offices . . . and forgot. I got it to her the next day, but it’s not the same, is it? Especially when you’re ten.
It somehow wasn’t making it any better right now that I was pretty sure no one in my immediate vicinity was ten years old today.
Monster swished his tail again.
I was supposed to say something memorable and heroic, wasn’t I? But with my vocabulary cleaning up after the performing elephants nothing occurred to me. And my range of available quotations was limited. Even when you’re curled up in your own bed with Joe the Doorman on guard downstairs and the need for heroism is limited it’s noticeable that Tolkien is short of valiant women. ‘But no living man am I!’ drifted apologetically across my mind: Eowyn had never been a satisfactory heroine because of that whole seeking-death-because-of-unrequited-love thing to which I had had a strong ‘spare me’ reaction even at the age of eleven. “ ‘Beneath the Moon and under star/ she wandered far from northern strands, bewildered on enchanted ways/ beyond the days of mortal lands. . . .’ ”
‘Bewildered’ was certainly apropos.
I sat there, breathing, listening to my ragtag army lining up behind its useless Defender. I had one hand on Silverheart’s hilt, one hand pretending to hold Monster’s reins. I could feel the faint throb of my heartbeat in my throat, in my bare thighs against the saddle flaps, in the thin skin of my wrist and forearm inside Glosinda’s firm but gentle grasp. My heart didn’t seem to be beating nearly as panic-strickenly fast as it should be, I thought. Maybe it was tired of the whole ‘about to die’ situation. About to die did seem to be grinding on rather.
Let me go out trying.
There were quite a few figures marching through the Gate, toward us, by now. Some of them were on horseback. Or on something-back.
I pulled Silverheart out of her scabbard again, with a satisfying ringing noise. She understood her business: she flared up immediately, lighting the harsh ugly empty slope in front of us. The front ranks of the marching figures were disconcertingly outlined in gold, and I saw several swords drawn in answer, although none of them shone with their own light.
Let me go out trying.
“YAAAAAAAAAH!” I howled, wrapped my legs around as much of Monster’s barrel as I could reach and squeezed. Warrior’s horse, Defender’s horse: his rear end dropped and his hind legs drove us forward as if he was longing to plunge into battle. You don’t expect a horse his size to be able to sprint; the only reason I didn’t topple off the back end when he barrelled downhill toward the approaching troop was because I had a good handful of mane in my non-sword-holding hand. And, faintly through the drumming of my huge horse’s huge hooves, the wind in my ears and the banging of my own heartbeat, I heard a YAAAAAAAAH behind me, and the clamor of another company—of my company—sending its horses into a gallop.
I told you it had been reissued: http://robinmckinleysblog.com/2014/02/13/dont-i-keep-trying-to-reinstate-short-wednesdays/ Almost any of Peter’s books, if you mention it suddenly and catch me off guard I will probably say, Oh, that’s one of my favourites! But in Emma Tupper’s case I’m telling the truth.
Here’s a new review by its very own republisher: http://smallbeerpress.com/not-a-journal/2014/04/16/reading-like-its-1971/ *
I was already distressingly near to grown up by 1971 and wasn’t hanging out in kids’ book sections any more. I knew about Peter Dickinson, but I knew him for his rivetingly bizarre murder mysteries. It would take several more years and a job at the children’s division of Little, Brown (as it then was), for me to learn what I had been missing. L,B had the back catalogue of its colleague Atlantic Monthly Press on its shelves too . . . including Peter Dickinson’s kids’ books. Including Emma Tupper.
If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to be told a third time, do you?**
* * *
* I wish I’d grown up on a Scottish loch side. ^
^ I’m keeping the five years in Japan though.
** Makes a good gift too.
Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night—so what else is new—last night was however aggravated by shooting awake every time a hellcritter sighed or got up to scratch its bed into a more salubrious shape. Siiiiiigh. There have been no further outbreaks today . . . although the night is young* the current digestive miscreant, having eaten his dinner, looks pretty crashed out. . . . That sound you hear is me crossing my fingers till they squeak.
More baby plants showed up in the post today and the Winter Table is full. There hasn’t been a proper frost in town this month I think, but baby plants, having been intensively reared in massive great commercial greenhouses, are fragile little creatures and you can’t just whack them in potting-on pots and plonk them outdoors. You have to ‘harden them off’ as they say which in practise, since my greenhouse is full of stuff and I have no earthly room for a cold frame, means that if we’re having a run of chilly nights I have to bring them indoors every evening and back outdoors again every morning.** Arrrrgh.
So, where was I, in my not-very-good-mood way last night? Aside from the prospect of a lot of moving of plant trays back frelling indoors while trying not to trip over the hellterror***, there had been a certain supernumerary force to my rushing outdoors into the garden yesterday afternoon†, aside from the latest stack of baby-plant-containing cardboard boxes arriving in the post, which, yesterday, was pretty well an avalanche. ††
What is it with people.
I regularly receive requests via email for help with the frelling papers people are writing about me and/or my books.††† The vast, catastrophic, overwhelming majority of them ask me the same blasted questions‡ . . . most of which would be answered far beyond the scope of any seventh or eleventh grader’s term paper requirement‡‡ with only the most cursory glance at my web site, let alone doing a little diving via the ‘search’ facility or the ‘topics’ list on this blog. I’ve ranted this rant to you before—several times in fact—how can all these jokers even arrive at my public email address WITHOUT HAVING NOTICED THE SUGGESTIONS THAT THEY READ THE FAQ FIRST. OR THE GENTLE REMINDER THAT I’M, YOU KNOW, BUSY AND THAT ANSWERING QUESTIONS TAKES TIME. But they do. In their relentless marching regiments they do. Yesterday I received a follow up from someone who clearly thinks that saying please and thank you is enough. Reading the FAQ is not necessary. This person is capable of writing me a sheaf of long, complicated questions and putting a note in their diary to follow up . . . without ever looking at the FAQ. First contact in this case included a plug from the kid’s teacher,‡‡‡ telling me how wonderful the kid is—and this kid may very well be wonderful, but they nonetheless need to learn to do their homework—and how (the teacher continued) my thoughtful informed answers were going to help this student chart their course through college and into their chosen career of professional writer. PLEEEEEEEEEEZ. This follow up, unannotated by the teacher, generously offers to answer any questions I may have. . . . §
Standard caveat begins here: Of course I want people to read my books. I need people to buy my books so the hellpack and I can keep eating. And I love fan mail: I looooove it when some reader takes the time, speaking of time, to tell me that they enjoy my books. A really warm and/or clever and/or funny fan letter (or forum comment or Tweet or dreaded-Facebook post) makes my day, and sometimes my week. But I will never learn not to mind that a lot of people out there don’t recognise me as a human being essentially like themselves with a life—and, furthermore, inevitably limited expertise even in my professional domain—and behave accordingly.§§
Today I got a fresh request for help on a school project. This one addresses me as ‘Mrs McKinley’ so I don’t have to read any farther to know that this person hasn’t made any attempt to do their homework. . . .
* * *
* as I count young. But how can ‘one’ or ‘two’ or even ‘three’ not be young?^
^ Unless you’re a hamster.+
+ And you’re talking in years, not hours. A three-hour-old hamster is young. And one o’clock in the morning is MORNING and last night is dead. So—wait—‘the night is young’ has to start at like two o’clock in the afternoon. . . . Nights are never young . . . Hey, I’ve just invented a philosophy.#
# How did I get into this? And where’s the door?
** Given when I am staggering out of bed lately, they’re going to get distressingly etiolated if the nights don’t warm up soon so that I can leave them outdoors to greet the dawn and all those distasteful hours immediately following.
*** Who is very interested in people rushing back and forth in a purposeful way. Hellhounds know to crush themselves in the back of their crate and not stir till it’s all over.
† Well, I’d been outdoors kind of a lot already: it was such a glorious day I took both critter shifts^ on country walks which was self-indulgent but . . . fun.^^
^ A little old lady said to me yesterday, every time I see you you’re walking a different dog. There are only three, I said, but I mostly walk them in two shifts. Oh, said the little old lady, and I could watch the thought process in her expression: first she accepted the answer to this question that had been puzzling her and then, moving right along, this little old lady being a quick thinker, I could see the woman is mad dawning in her eyes.
^^ And since I won’t leave critters in a car because of the dog-theft problem, it’s also very time consuming.
†† Also aside from the fact that Outlook decided not to let me in yesterday afternoon. No. Won’t. And I don’t like your password any more either. Bite me. —ARRRRRRRRGH.
††† We’re already in trouble: the books are the books, they’re there, you don’t need me, and chances are very good that if you’re going in for literary criticism I’ll think your penetrating insights bear a strong family resemblance to mouldy root vegetables^, and you’ve got no business writing about me at all.^^
^ You know, really mouldy, when they’ve gone all squishy
^^ Yes, I read biographies. Your point would be?
‡ When’s the last time I got a blog post out of an interesting question from someone writing a paper on me? Exactly.^
^ Although the kid who wanted to know what it was like growing up with all those half-siblings made me blink a bit. I wonder who they thought they were writing about?
‡‡ And with luck will so derail under- or post-grad thesis topics that the students will decide to write about something else
‡‡‡ ie an adult with adult responsibilities. Plugs from teachers aren’t that uncommon, but they always depress me more.
§ The fact that this was the first email Outlook let through after Raphael told me how to make it behave was not destined to improve my attitude.
§§ You don’t walk up to a doctor at the supermarket and ask them to diagnose the rash on your leg. You don’t write a letter to a lawyer asking them what their daily schedule is and how and why it makes them a better lawyer. You don’t tell a blacksmith you want to borrow their tools because anyone can shoe a horse if they have the right hammer.