October 31, 2008

Comfort Food


It has been another . . . less than optimum . . . day. 

I woke up too early–thus the week after the clocks change–and lay there worrying* till I inadvertently fell asleep again** whereupon I overslept.

            The phone rang, and it was Asmodeus,*** who wanted to drop off my new all-in-one printer/scanner/fax, which is going to Revolutionise My Life or at least give me back a little shelf space†, and I was barely out of bed and not at my best and most brutal, and I acquiesced to this.  By the time the hellhounds and I were out caroming over the countryside I realized this was a mistake, because right at the moment the last thing I want is another new gizmo to get used to, but Asmodeus was supposed to ring me before he started, so that’s okay, I’d ring him when I got back, and tell him to wait and send Gizmo X on Monday when Computer Men are coming back anyway.  Then the hellhounds caught a grouse†† and Darkness ducked out of his harness.†††  And when we got home again, my little street was blocked by an SUV sitting in the middle of it with all its doors open while its contents stood around chatting to my over-the-road neighbours who would be very nice people except for their taste in friends, who run to SUVs and cluelessness, and who in this instance looked very startled at the impertinent fact of my existence.   

            And by the time I fought my way to my front door . . . there was Asmodeus waiting for me, standing on the top step with a Large Cardboard Box.  It’ll only take five minutes! he said.

            The first thing that happened after he left is that I couldn’t find the ‘off’ switch.

            Then I turned on a computer–any computer–and started making lists of the things that don’t work.  Some new, some old, some familiar, some strange. . . .

            I need comfort food

And, as it happens, I received this by email from b_twin_1 a few days ago: 

I gave you chocolate before but I forgot that in your time it was the 26th.

And given the issues you are having accessing the forum…. (::sigh::) 

So here’s a special risotto that includes your favourite drink: 

Champagne Risotto:  http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/6811/champagne+risotto 

            She and I share bafflement that the original poster seems to think this modest recipe would stretch to feed 20. . . . Twenty what?  Flower fairies?  Chihuahuas?  People who don’t like risotto?  Menopausal women?  She also said:  personally I don’t add cheese to risotto . . . .  which in my cheese-denied state I seized upon and said that I made non-cheese risotto myself but I’d always assumed it was Fake Risotto and, rats, if I were going to post it I’d have to figure out the quantities, because I tend to Add Stock Till It Looks Like Risotto and meanwhile could I post her Creative Use of Champagne Risotto?  Whereupon, bless her, she sent me this: 

Sure you can use it for a post.

If it makes you feel better I never put cheese in risotto while I am making it because Mum has such issues with dairy.  Sometimes I will put cheddar on it as I am serving it for myself but lately I haven’t been bothering. 

Ever had that thought when you are in a restaurant that yours is better. 

Yes.  Frequently.  It’s one of my excuses for not going out to dinner.  The best thing about going out to dinner is getting dressed up.  Now, this is a skirt, and these are shoes-that-aren’t-All-Stars.  Those of you with office jobs will not appreciate how exciting this is. 


I do have a Lazy Cow’s method (should it be Lazy Ewe in my case??) 

What, not even a house cow? 

 for risotto.   ;)  It involves a wodge of butter and whatever is in the pantry/fridge. 

(Following the Lazy Cow Cooking Principles) 

B-Twin-1’s Risotto without the Cheese.

All done in under half an hour….


Start with –

1 wodge of butter (oh okay, you want a measurement … about 1-2 tbs)

1 spanish onion

2 cups Arborio rice

4 cups chicken stock, hot

Herbs – I usually use parsley, oregano, garlic  (and whatever I feel like grabbing from the drawer or garden) 

Additions –

(whatever is in the fridge)

Vegetarian option = Pumpkin or Mushroom

Non-vege option = Bacon or Chicken (pre-browned or cooked) or cooked gourmet sausages (our butcher does some great gluten free pork  or lamb & rosemary ones)

Broccoli / Peas / Corn 


Take a heavy based saucepan/pan (I use a cast iron Chasseur) and toss in the finely chopped onion (and fresh garlic and bacon if that is what you are using) with the butter. 

After the onion starts to soften I add the herbs.  Then I put in the rice and swish that around a bit to heat up and get coated with butter. 

I then add the chicken stock.  All in one hit.  But it is HOT (ie. just off the boil).  Stir that all around and put the lid on the Chasseur. 

When the liquid starts to simmer I toss in all the veggies and anything else.   Then I put the lid on.   And turn the heat down very low.

I stir it maybe once or twice in the next 10 minutes or so.  It varies a little each time as to when it is “done” but it is usually about 15 minutes.  I look for it to have absorbed the liquid but still be “slippery” looking and not gluggy.  Gluggy means too much liquid or too long.  

Easy huh? ;) 

Yaay easy.  Easy is good.  I love pine nuts, so I will put slightly toasted‡ pine nuts in at the last minute in a herby risotto and–further on the lazy domestic stock front–a couple of tablespoons of hummous stirred in with your couple of tablespoons of pine nuts will totally make this a main dish, although if I’m planning on hummous I’ll probably leave the onion out.  (I use an enameled cast iron pot:  easier to clean if I get it wrong, and it sticks.

I went and had a further prowl at www.taste.com.au/recipes after this: 


caught my eye, in the sidebar to the Champagne Risotto.  Which put me in mind of tea food, and what I could serve Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi when I have them round‡‡  So I had a look for scones: 


And I’m a trifle old-fashioned, having learnt scones from Constance Spry and Nell Beaton–fizzy lemonade, feh–so I pass over a lot, but these look good, and very like something I make (if I can put oatmeal flakes in something, I probably will): 


There’s also a recipe for Savoury Scones which specifies ‘tasty’ cheese.  As opposed to the other kind I guess?  ‘Another scone, vicar?  Would you like the kind with the tasty cheese or the really nasty purulent cheese?  I find that the nasty is very good for your moral probity, and if you concentrate you can get one down in two bites.’ 

* * * 

* About everything, of course.  Peter, hellhounds, me, PEGASUS, the American presidential election, the global economy, whether IE will ever stop crashing, and whether Yog-Sothoth will ever make it through the barrier between that universe and this one. 

** Thanks to being computer-bereft yesterday while Computer Men performed arcane and sorcerous acts, I’m nearly finished with Peter’s new ms, and I’m at the place when the hero has cause to return to the dark scary hidden booby-trapped maze that runs through the walls of the palace, and . . . aaaaaaaugh.  Bad dreams.  Bad.  

*** I’ve been resisting naming Head Computer Man Asmodeus, but he keeps going on about how long we’ve been together, AKA how many damned computers and associated gadgetry he’s sold me over the years because I’m too dumb and gullible to live, and I ask you, what kind of a colleague would a Hellgoddess have but a demon? 

Shelf.  Space.  Shelf!  Space!  SHEEEELF SPAAAAAAACE–! 

†† Oh gods.   

††† OH GODS.   

‡ Slightly toasted makes all the difference.  Do it.  You spread ’em out in a single layer in a heavy saucepan or skillet–I use my little iron scrambled-eggs skillet–put it on medium heat, shake occasionally, and watch it like a normal dog watches a bowl of dog food.  It’ll go from nothing to too brown in the twinkling of a wandering eye.  But if you turn it on low it takes forever. 

‡‡ I feel that having them one at a time would be a better idea, but I’m not sure if the Time Travelling Admin will allow this.

Further Experiments in Blog Usage

Thanks to all of you who’ve commented to Phony Entry (which I guess I won’t take down after all because it’s too confusing, and besides then what would we do with the forum thread???  The Mysterious Missing Entry . . . Another Myth of the Web).  Computer Men were here for something like five hours and I’m a wreck.  I feel as if I’ve been invaded or something, or at least had a complete body/country/galaxy transplant.  One of the reasons I like my Computer Men is they’re easy to have around;  I don’t feel as if I have to fumigate, or count the spoons, after any of them leave.  But somehow having Global Changes made to all my computers simultaneously–even in a good cause–is curiously unsettling. 

            Shortly after they left I managed to make IE crash again however and the web site email isn’t working.  ARRRRRGH.  Why is it too much to ask just to have a few basic things work?

            However I’m still on my mission to be able to use the blog and the forum the way I want to, so I’m going to do some cutting and pasting of comments and then post the result . . . and see what horrific bungle ensues. . . . I’m compiling a list for the Computer Men.  I wonder if whoever answers the phone tomorrow morning at Computer Man Central will scream and run away when he hears my voice? 

 From Frost

J Meadows says: 

^^^ I’ll learn to live without Finale. Mozart did it. Beethoven did it. Verdi did it.

Are you sure? *says nothing else about the time-traveling composers* 

OOOOOOOOH.  I mean, squee.  Does this mean I can meet them for tea?  Where?  How?  Do they like scones and clotted cream?  Whom do I get in touch with?  (Whom do I bribe?  Gods, what do I have to bribe with?  Somehow I think signed first editions of my entire backlist won’t quite do it here.  Not to mention that I don’t think I have my entire backlist in first editions.  You don’t think of these things when you’re giving them away fresh out of the box.)  

As it is I just want someone’s guts on a plate. I don’t know whose, but I’d be willing to start with some unknown Word programmer responsible for large choking wads of spurious code.

Indeed. I will start assembling your army. (They don’t call me warlord for nothin’, you know.) We’ll get right on that destroying Word programmers thing for you.

 Fabulous medals await you, with dingle-dangles and sparkly bits.  And a certificate worth free armour polishing for life, speaking of sparkly bits.  Dazzle your enemy with your refulgence so you can get close to him and cut his head off quickly and easily!

I hopehopehope things get sorted out on the computer front tomorrow. You have suffered greatly for your blog readers. 

YES I HAVE.  This is another of those things they don’t tell you when you sign up, like ‘say, do you know about campylobacter and permanently deferred maturity and the smell of tripe?’ when you go look at your litter of puppies.  (Darkness is allergic to tripe, however, in a howling-at-4-am sort of way, so that’s one down.) 

Scosborne says: 

I wouldn’t TOUCH a Harley, thank you very much. I had Harley leathers because a quarter century ago they were the only motorcycle leathers going. I had a Kawasaki motorcycle. Harleys were going through rather a bad patch in my motorcycle days: I believe they’ve improved since.

Haha, I’m very sorry for suggesting it! I’m no fan of Harleys myself, and if you are curious, I hear that they still leak oil and have sundry other issues. Kawasaki makes some lovely naked bikes, and I’ll probably buy one when I’m ready to move on from my Nighthawk (but shhh! don’t tell her – she’s still my baby). Was yours cruiser, sport, or standard -style? (yes, I need more details, of course! Just pretend you’re at a Tim Hortons parking lot on a Wednesday evening and we’re all standing around checking out each others bikes). 

Was it a what?  Yeep.  What it chiefly was was over thirty years ago.  I’m not sure there was that much variety back then.  This is it, but mine was blue:


1968 Kawasaki Avenger A7

350cc rotary disc valve twin, 40.5 BHP at the time of production most powerful engine per cc. The rotary disc valves were exotic at the time, the preserve of the race track, they make the engine very tractable with a lot of low down torque. Race developed injectolube oil injection to main bearings as well as cylinders. Dry weight 329lb, Standing quarter claimed 13.8 sec Top Speed 105 -115mph. Back in 68 there was nothing in its class that could touch it. It was a match for the Brit 500s and most 650’s and a few 750’s.


Limited sales in the UK as they were relatively expensive and not supported by a dealer network. As a result they are not well known and few people have ever seen one of the early models.

It was hot in its day.  Mine had also been rebored for racing which meant it was even hotter yet, in a lot of ways, not all of them good.  Ah, well, I should post about this obviously.  Tales of the Bad Old Days, Thank the Gods They’re Over, But They Do Make Good Stories.

 Diane in MN says: 

You are a brave woman to take two young dogs out on flexi leads. I know they don’t weigh as much as mine–young Teddy came in at almost 57 pounds today, by the way–but there are TWO of them. 

Yes there are.  And I noticed some time ago that the two of them together weigh better than two-thirds what I weigh, and that’s aside from their zero to sixty in .000007 second sprint capacity.  I’ve probably mentioned this before:  when they’re getting going from a standing start the first few bounds are nearly kangaroo.  It’s extraordinary.  It’s another one of those things–like watching a good rabbit dog in full zigzag–that doesn’t get boring.  It’s incredible the first time.  It’s incredible the 1,000,000,000th time.  Even when your shoulders are bracing for the shock.  Those second-fractions between lift-off and hitting the end of their leads both compress and exteeeeeeeeeend in a similarly incredible way.

            They are mostly pretty good, I must emphasise.  They know their names, they know ‘wait’, they know NOOOOOOO.   It’s just those moments they aren’t good that stick in the mind.  And damage the flesh. 

 That maniac lunging and jumping etc. is *so* not fun when you, the two-foot, are on the end of the lead. The Alpha Bitch does it–she’s 3 1/2, and it’s not about age, it’s about attitude–and it can be a near-death experience for me.

Yes, and she weighs what, 135 pounds?  It’s not I who’s the brave one. 

When you find the trick to perfectly well-behaved and obedient hellhounds, be sure to post it–I would really like to know!

 Believe me, I won’t be able to get it up fast enough. . . . Right after my patent goes through of course. . . . If I copyright it and sell the secret, I can redo both kitchen and bathroom in Third House as well as the loft conversion.  And the carpets.  And the light fixtures.  And the front door.  And some patio furniture.  And . . . 

AJLR says: 

Shoulders being such a key part of one’s structure makes any wrenching a hindrance for almost every activity. Do you find comfrey tablets help the recovery, I wonder? 

Arnica first, and then ruta or rhus tox as necessary.  Arnica did it in this case.   I know homeopathic symphytum for bones more than bruises and strains, and I don’t know the tablets.

Robin wrote:

Have you–well, you other gardeners–ever noticed the way most gardeners seem to live in frost pockets however? I used to have this vision of a sort of aerial heat-diagram of any given piece of domesticated landscape where it’s all rosy red except for the gardens which are oases of blue.

Yes! With particular cold spots that move, depending on where there is the plant one is most worried about being hardy enough…

 Yes!  Frost can smell bubblewrap too, and horticultural fleece, the way mice smell freshly planted bulbs! 

And she also says: 

Perhaps it would be a good idea to have padded klutz club membership cards? 

Snork.  I will tell my publisher, for PEGASUS. 

. . . That reminds me, the second lot of membership cards have only very (embarrassingly) recently gone out.  Thanks to all those post offices they keep closing down there are nightmare queues at the few that have remained open and I’m not good at queues, nor at going back later . . . and later still . . . and again the next day.  I should now finally have enough stamps for the third and at the moment final round . . . and anyone who doesn’t mind waiting till approximately she forgot she’d put in for one, is still eligible to send in an appropriate klutz tale and receive her very own card.  Unpadded, I’m afraid, but maybe we’ll upgrade future editions.

            Maybe I should have a time challenged club next, er, time.  That would be everyone who reads this blog, yes? 

ConverseRider says: 

Well, during the “winter” it can get pretty cold out there at night. I came home one night and my knees hurt so bad from the cold I couldn’t move them. 

Thank you for reminding me of one of the things I don’t miss at all. 


But, I was still riding. So I guess, yes, we can ride all year.Summer is brutal, though. Imagine sitting at a stoplight in all black in 90 degree 90% humidity. Blagh. Don’t get me started on the thunderstorms.



Indeed.  And I was wearing full (black) leathers.  And in Washington DC where lifting a corner of the humidity so you can crawl under it weighs more than your bike, and you can tear handfuls of it out of the atmosphere and throw it at people like slushballs.  The Dunwich Horror is just District of Columbia humidity with little short legs. 


From Food Ritual: 

Diane in MN says: 

‘I also told him about the Food Ritual. And he said he didn’t have a clue.’Obviously he has never been afflicted with a Bad Eater. Ritual is where you end up after Diet Modification and Adding Interesting Stuff to the Dish have failed. I have performed the bowl-moving and hand-feeding rituals, but the really REALLY annoying one was dumping the food into a plastic bag to throw it out, getting a look that said “But that’s my BREAKFAST and I’m HUNGRY,” dumping the food back into the bowl for one last try, and watching the dog eat it.



Snork.  Oh dear.  I haven’t tried that one yet.  The line I won’t go over–except with a really, really, really sick dog–is hand-feeding.   That’s where I figure I’m being taken for a nice ride round the perimeter.

‘I may, meanwhile, have moved Darkness’ bowl once or twice, but Darkness is probably jerking me around for a giggle’
I’d guess the probability is about 95%. He’s had two years to figure out how to do it successfully and with a minimum amount of effort.



Yes and no.  Remember where these guys came from;  overall they have much longer healthier spells now than they did two years ago [THAT SOUND YOU HEAR IS THE HELLGODDESS KNOCKING ON WOOD], but Darkness still has colic (what I assume is colic) occasionally–and the result of the visit to the vet yesterday is something to try to calm their guts down;  what they’re producing out the other end is still erratic, and the vet could feel some inflammation in their abdomens.  Darkness, however, is the one capable of being devious, and he’s competitive with Chaos.  (Chaos is more possessive of me.)  I don’t think Chaos is capable of guile;  I think, as I said in the post, that he’s genuinely bonkers.  He’s also the one who has always had whatever it is–call it campylobacter–overall the worse, although he’s also the nervier, more reactive to everything (except possibly tripe) dog.  He has history with food.  It has, many times in the last two years, bitten him back, and his nerve is bad.  Darkness, when he’s feeling relatively well, merely feels that if Chaos gets his bowl moved around, he should too, and I think this is fair.

Also, if Chaos–as this evening–has one of his renegade moments and just eats, if I leave Darkness’ bowl alone he’ll come back and eat too.  Fun with the Hellgoddess is doubtless on the agenda but it’s not the only item.

‘So my total shrieking paranoia about the way dogs eat everything, and the nastier the better, and especially when they’re out on walks, is my default position for the next fifteen years!’
Yup. I myself sound like I have a tape loop running when I’m out with the dogs: “Leave it! What’s in your mouth? Don’t eat that!” until we go in, and unfortunately not directed solely at the puppy.



Indeed.  Mine goes more, NOOOOOOOOO!  NOOOOOOOOOO!  NOOOOOOOOO!   

‘Remind me again why I wanted dogs?’
Well, it’s an empty house without a dog in it, right?



 Yes.  How do they do that?

  ::sigh:: It sounds like they’re doing better, though–hopefully they will stay well, and who knows, eating regularly might even become a HABIT. ::crosses fingers::

That’s the plan. . . . Hey, Jodi, cross some ferrets, please!

 Lucy Coats says: 

I think, Robin, that you’ve been COMPREHENSIVELY HAD by those bad bad dogs. Chaos and Darkness–hellhounds indeed! And yep, they are jerking you around. I know this, because I’ve been there and done that and am no longer doing it

Um.  No, you don’t know.  See above.  I don’t know what your dog’s history was but my hellhounds have reason to fear food, especially Chaos.  It may be his general reactivity that is also why he’s had the campy (generally) worse than Darkness.  But he spent the first year and a half of his life or so on the edge to such a degree, presumably as a result of the stress of the infection/overgrowth/whatever it is/was that one missed meal would knock him down:  you could see him losing his sparkle and his coat going dull, and that has made me pretty freaking reactive too.  Furthermore they both had the appalling tendency to, having stopped eating, refusing to start again.  If they missed a meal they were less likely to eat the next one, not more.  Remember also that we’ve never had an absolute diagnosis–campylobacter is probably the problem.  But they’ve had chronic diarrhea–and I mean the getting you up at 4 am with frantic howling, rushing outdoors and geysering variety–chronic vomiting and chronic sudden terrifying mood and energy collapses since I brought them home at eight weeks old, and every time I’ve taken them to the vet for an unusually bad spell of this the vet has found their guts more or less inflamed.  Of course they’re funny about food.  If anything I should be amazed they’re not worse. 

Krystolla says: 

I wonder if dogs have the same sort of problems that zoo animals do — they don’t want to just eat, they want to *hunt*. If the bowl of kibble somehow ran across the field and needed to be thwarted it would be much more interesting. Most dog breeds have a whole thwacking lot of breeding towards jobs they aren’t asked to do anymore but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. 

Yes.  This is the sort of thing that haunts me in a spoilt bourgeois wanting-it-my-own-way/ wet liberal knee-jerk wanting it both ways, way.  Domesticated animals are so an invention of humanity for humanity’s convenience.  I think it is generally accepted (although I could be wrong about this) that dogs have been bred to (to some extent:  hellhounds take it a trifle far, perhaps) remain immature all their lives because it makes them easier to handle by humans.  I also think animals are happier when they have a job or a purpose or something of the sort–I was very struck by this when I went fox hunting:  those horses and those hounds know that this is what they’re for.  It’s not only human hunt staff that was put out of work by the hunting act here.  And I’m not sure that being my companions is an honest life’s purpose for my hellhounds.  But that’s what they’ve got.
So maybe the hellhounds need an afternoon of lure coursing to make dinner exciting, and picky labs need a good swim. And if you’ve got Norwegian lundhunds you need to find some cliffs for them to climb, heh. 

I’m grateful to be spared the lundhunds, then.  I’m not good at heights. 

Handyhunter says: 

One of our dogs wouldn’t eat unless someone else was eating first. She’d wait until the human(s) in the room sat down and started eating. 

Yes.  This is a pack thing.  Top dog eats first.  It’s a useful reinforcement of status if you feel you want one, and you also do get very submissive bottom dogs who won’t eat till you’ve eaten first.  We did this for a while with the whippets when we were having adolescent acting-out problems.  I admit I haven’t bothered with the hellhounds:  they know I’m the guv’nor, and eating something myself has no effect on Chaos in a non-food mood. 

Susan in Melbourne says: 

Mankind likes to think that he rules the world – those of us with pets know better.
We had a life or death situation with feeding our cat, Hector, when he was an adolescent. He developed crystals in his urine, and thus a blocked urethra, necessitating endless visits to the vet. There was no real explanation for what causes it, and the only long-term treatment was to put him on a special diet food, only obtainable at great expense from the vet.
Now, Hector was a meat man. Dried food? Pfft! Tinned food? Pfft! Dried or tinned mixed with liver? Pfft!
We found ourselves in the untenable situation of having to say that we just cannot afford to keep paying hundreds of dollars to the vet for emergency treatment, so he was literally going to have to learn to eat this food or it would be all over.
A monumental battle of wills followed.
Hector: (with pitiful look) But I don’t LIKE it!
Me: Tough
Hector: I won’t eat it.
Me: Starve then!
He got thinner and thinner, and we were in daily fear of being arrested by the RSPCA, but the vet kept saying that no cat will starve itself to death, and he was right. Hector eventually cracked, and started to eat a bit more at each meal, and now five years later is a good trencherman who tucks in with gusto twice a day.
What a relief! He totally ruined one summer and cost hundreds of dollars, but it was worth the trauma in the end.

Terrifying.  The despairing mantra I used ironically when the hellhounds were at their worst was ‘a hungry dog will eat’.  No it won’t, if it thinks food will give it a stomach-ache, or if it has a stomach-ache already. 

Southdowner says: 

I wonder if the ‘need someone else eating nearby’ element is something to do with pack behaviour?

a lot of it seems to be about competition spurring appetite; and many new puppies are reluctant to eat after leaving the litter where meals were usually a race to get the bottom of their bowl before a faster eating sibling finished and came over to “share”
some dogs don’t like being left and manage to “train” their owners to “stay – good person – stay!” while they eat…

I do want to put a word in here for choosing your neurosis.  Domestication is a funny situation to begin with, and a domesticated animal is to some extent a warped animal.  And we’re all neurotic, us humans, one way or another–or choose a less loaded word than neurotic, if you prefer: We’re all a little odd–your critters are going to have their little ways just as you do.  If it’s a little way that doesn’t get in your way too badly, why not?  It’s a bit like letting your dog win at tug of war occasionally.  Maybe if you have a very dominant breed you mustn’t do this.  I’ve never gone in for very dominant breeds, although I’ve let both Alsatians and Dobermanns win occasional tug of wars and I still have all my body parts.  Why not?  Let him or her have a little space, have a little way, have it his way occasionally.  Again, maybe it’s different with very hierarchical breeds, where the ranking in the pack must be exactly expressed at all times, but some of us get away with being lazy.  I’m usually in the kitchen doing the washing-up or banging on a computer when my hellhounds eat;  if they wanted me to stick around it wouldn’t be a big deal.  In fact, they don’t care:  they eat if they eat and they don’t if they don’t. 

            The real trick, it seems to me, is figuring out which little ways strengthen the bond between/among you, and which don’t.  I think a certain amount of making me laugh, for example, is worth a certain amount of disobedience and/or bruises, and I believe that this actually does contribute to the sense of partnership.  It’s not all about being the boss.
and one of my dogs has her own little food ritual, where she won’t eat out of a bowl, but has to have 1/3 or 1/2 of her food tipped onto the floor, and the rest given when she’s finished the first portion. Sigh. She’s 10 or 11 now, a shaggy rescue so I forgive her, but it is very odd! Then she’ll go and scarf up oddments left in other bowls if it was a meal she particularly enjoyed (compliments to the chef) so it’s not as if she’s scared of bowls. 

Yes.  Chaos will sometimes, having begun the evening convinced I’m trying to poison him, get into the swing of the thing enough that by the end he’s going around licking the bottoms of both bowls in turn, several times.

Phony entry

Okay.  An entire regiment of Computer Men have been labouring over my computers for hours and hours and I’m exhausted just lying on my bed in the room next door reading Peter’s new ms* and listening to the clicks and mutters. 

            But they have, in theory, got Various Problems Sorted.  It’s now up to me to make something crash, if I can.

            Hence a phony entry. . . .

            Anybody who actually reads this, which is to say it gets posted, and before I take it down again,** which I probably will . . . a lighted candle would be appreciated.



* Yes, it is taking me this long to read it.  Wasting time struggling with computers/blog/forum takes a lot of time.  And I’m not going to give up riding Connie.  And the hellhounds are, you know, immutable.

** Although somebody with IE has to read it, so we can find out if it’s there or not.  Right, begging emails going out in a minute.   First I have to go on pressing buttons in a brisk I-dare-you sort of way.


We had our first proper frost last night.  We’ve had furry white lawns and car roofs at least twice before, but the tiny walled garden at the cottage usually hangs on a degree or two longer than the rest of the outdoors.*  Back at the old house we were in a frost pocket** so any hint of a frost and we were out there cutting dahlias for a last big indoor hurrah.***   Here in town frost is a much more sporting proposition.  But last night when I went to bed at [errrmmmumblemm] the temperature did seem to be dropping rather purposefully, so I put my leather jacket† over my dressing gown and crept out to cut down as many dahlia flowers as I could reach without tripping over anything:  hellhound, mousetrap, boa constrictor, etc.

When I got up this morning I opened the bathroom window and peered out without my glasses which was pretty stupid, except that even not being able to see anything I could see that the dahlias were black and drooping.††  It’s interesting how tender is tender:  the dahlias are history, but the geraniums and osteospermums are still going, as are the chocolate cosmos and, even more surprising, the petunias.

Hellhounds and I had to race out to get ourselves walked before I rode Connie, and it was cold out there.  I am turning into such a wuss with advancing years, including more and more of those years spent in southern England, where you get to complain if there’s, say, ice on the roads, or a hard frost that goes on for days.†††  I’m not too convincing as a tottery little old lady yet, but I can complain like one.  But frost does give the sky that sharp startling blueness that most of the time we don’t have here:  even the skies are gentle and homely in southern England.  Hellhounds, of course, are sharp and startling all the time‡, and frost only winds them up worse:  if I were an indifferent-to-cold mathematician I could amuse myself by creating the equation that would tell me to a fine accuracy how cold it is by the number of times hellhounds attack each other on lead which they are absolutely not allowed to do. Chaos who is, of course, the worse offender, has pretty much perfected the Turbo-Charged Stealth Dive.  I would probably have faultlessly obedient hellhounds‡‡ if they didn’t make me laugh so much.

I had a lovely lesson on Connie‡‡‡, and doing nothing but walk, trot and canter.  No fancy shoulder-ins, no half passes, no flying changes §:  just fine-tuning the basics.  Well, aiming for fine-tuning the basics.

Hellhounds had managed to pull me over again a couple of days ago;  I think this is only the second time they’ve done it without some help from the terrain.  We were walking down the main street and they’d got a little behind me.  This is why I try not to let them get behind me, because when they suddenly see something exciting§§ my lightning-fast thumbs on the brakes need to know their time is come (again).  I have no idea how I escaped major injury:  pavement is, you know, hard, but since the boffins have changed their minds and decided that walking is weight bearing exercise after all§§§ I at least ought to have bones of tungsten steel.

I did get a slightly wrenched shoulder out of the episode–the other shoulder–and I’ve spent the last two days thinking, I am going to ride Connie in the bridle she likes anyway, and I did.  And I think that’s why the fine-tuning was working.  It is so interesting when something your teacher has been saying for months finally happens for you:  and Connie is so much a horse who gives you what you ask for that you know if aren’t getting it, it’s you.

But I’ve told you before about the astonishing proliferation of body parts that besets you as soon as you’re trying to organise yourself to ask a horse to do specific things from your seat on her back–both your body parts and hers–and some of them are invariably getting away from you.  One of the things I can’t adjust to fast enough is the difference in the way she goes from one direction to the other.  Every horse has a stiffer side, but it’s pretty marked in Connie (I’ve told you Jenny assumes it’s the result of the injury that scarred her neck, leg and hoof).  She can do beautiful work in both directions, but you have to help her, and you have to help her differently to the left than the right.  And today Jenny was saying (as she has said before), Never mind the inside rein!  Hold the outside rein firm and move her around the corner with your legs and seat!  And I did.  Beam.  And I pretty well guarantee that it’s partly because our communication at the front end with the gentler bit has clicked us into some greater integration::  horse and rider as jigsaw puzzle.  We’ve put a few more pieces in.

And then I came home and changed out of grubby riding clothes and into grubby gardening clothes and went straight back out and started cutting collapsed black dahlias down while my conscience said, Stop that at once!  Go sit at your desk now and get on with PEGASUS!  And my arms and legs said, Whimper.  Don’t we ever get to sit down

* * *

* And a degree or two is still something to conjure with in southern England.  In Maine frosts tend to be rather decisive.

** Have you–well, you other gardeners–ever noticed the way most gardeners seem to live in frost pockets however?  I used to have this vision of a sort of aerial heat-diagram of any given piece of domesticated landscape where it’s all rosy red except for the gardens which are oases of blue.

*** If the update of WordPress ever stops hating me and I can post photos again^ I may post a few of these.^^  Meanwhile recent photos to be posted are stacking up.  I should have given you Orange Horse while I could.  Well, Computer Men–a brace of them!–come tomorrow to start stripping out my computers toward the New Streamlined System.  We live in hope.  Gods do we live in hope.  Or we would have moved to an atoll by now.  One with nice warm weather and no electricity, no telephones, no broadband . . . no cars, no barbed wire.  I can let hellhounds off lead!  Once a month a ship will come bearing supplies, including street mail.  Twice a year a piano tuner will briefly disembark.^^^  Oh, and there has to be enough soil to grow rose-bushes.  I’ll have chickens^^^^ for eggs and fertiliser.

^ Let alone stop incessantly crashing.  If this had happened eight months ago I’d be thinking about binning the blog.  As it is I just want someone’s guts on a plate.  I don’t know whose, but I’d be willing to start with some unknown Word programmer responsible for large choking wads of spurious code.

^^ Also supposing I can find them.  I have boxes of photos of the garden at the old house.

^^^ I’ll learn to live without Finale.  Mozart did it.  Beethoven did it.  Verdi did it.

^^^^ inside a hellhound proof fence

† No not the Harley jacket.  My fake pilot but real leather jacket which I wear almost as devotedly as I wear All Stars, although there’s only one of it.  And in response to some of the posted comments that I still haven’t tried to answer due to a sufficiency of computer catastrophe elsewhere, I wouldn’t TOUCH a Harley, thank you very much.  I had Harley leathers because a quarter century ago they were the only motorcycle leathers going.  I had a Kawasaki motorcycle.  Harleys were going through rather a bad patch in my motorcycle days:  I believe they’ve improved since.

†† Suffolk Punch is, or anyway was, huge.  A triffid among dahlias, only friendly.

††† In Maine, of course, you had a hard frost that lasted approximately five months.  I was on the coast:  it’s worse inland.

‡ Although rarely blue

‡‡ I would what?  What have I been drinking?

‡‡‡ I don’t really always have lovely lessons on Connie.  Connie is always lovely of course, but I’m not.  I can be a right hopeless halfwit who shouldn’t be allowed near a horse except possibly for stall-mucking.  Fortunately both Connie and Jenny are patient and good-natured.

§ We did a few flying changes off our own bat on Saturday.  Ahem.  One of them was even with Jenny in the ring, teaching another rider.  And she didn’t tell me to get off her horse, go away and never come back or anything.  Maybe she didn’t see.

And possibly in my defense today, it’s so beautiful^ I wanted to ride outdoors again because there are going to be a lot of long grey winter weeks when you have to ride indoors.  But the outside arena is both lumpy and slippery.  Just doing a circular circle is a challenge.

^ It was. It was sleeting for the hellhounds’ afternoon walk.

§§ I asked the vet yesterday about their, ahem, extreme behaviour about Exciting Things, especially other dogs–and in fact they presented a graphic demonstration of this latter with his next patient–and he said, don’t worry about it, they’re still puppies.  What are they, two years old?  Give them till they’re four.  —Four??!??

§§§ Good grief

¤ Hey, I made a large pot of ******blaaaaaaaack****** tea, just shut up and drink it.  The advantages of a small house.  The Aga is three short steps from the garden door, so I leave my cup of tea on it, and come back in periodically and have another gulp of hot tea.

The Food Ritual

We went to the vet today.  When I got back from London last night I took my shoes and stockings [sic] off, made myself a cup of peppermint tea and thought, Great.  Tomorrow I can have a nice ordinary day and get lots of PEGASUS done and maybe a little Lyke Wake.

I have to learn to turn the page of my diary over sometime before Sunday night:  it’s a week at a glance, as you will have surmised.  Generally I feel that the week in residence is quite enough to deal with, but Sunday Night Shock can be severe.  Also Peter’s younger daughter has been here for a long weekend, and I’ve barely seen her.  I went round today to have a cup of [blaaaaaack caffeinated morning] tea before I shot off for points south and east — this is my lovely homeopathic vet, but he’s a commute — and it wasn’t quite a case of Hi, I’m Robin, I’ve been married to your dad for quite a while, you may have seen me about the place . . . and then again you may not.  Furthermore she did most of an afternoon’s work in Third House’s garden yesterday while I was gallivanting in London, so if we’re keeping score it’s Daughter 3 Wife -587.  I think maybe I won’t keep score.

But it was a beautiful day today after the grey slop of yesterday, and hellhounds have to be walked one way or another, so we stopped both on the way to and the way back from the vet and walked over territory we don’t get to very often.*  In between we got tangled up in the roadworks that I swear are all over Hampshire at the moment and have been all summer — I think it has nothing to do with road mending, or gas and power lines.  It’s all a huge psychological study of frustration.  How much not getting where they want to go will the average driver of the average car put up with before they snap?  How is Hampshire doing compared to Norfolk or Yorkshire?  I’m feeling pretty snappish, thank you, but I only live here.  I’m an American.

Anyway.  The vet thought the hellhounds were looking rather well.  He says that it may not be that the campy flares up so much as that they get re-infected:  we already know they’re susceptible, although we still don’t know why.  Great!  Swell!  So my total shrieking paranoia about the way dogs eat everything, and the nastier the better, and especially when they’re out on walks, is my default position for the next fifteen years!  GREAT!  I’m so HAPPY!   Meanwhile he’s prescribed a remedy that will, we hope, strengthen their grisly little digestive systems toward resisting onslaughts of campy, or anything else that comes along, waving its tentacles and gnashing its curious and revolting mouth parts.

I also told him about the Food Ritual.  And he said he didn’t have a clue.

They’re both eating, for them, very well.  Emphasis on the for them. We still have tricky meals** and rituals.  I think at present Darkness’ rituals are mostly to do with not wanting to be left out of having a ritual, and I therefore put up with a slightly higher level of nonsense from him than I would if we didn’t have Chaos around.  I think Chaos is genuinely nuts.

If they would eat in their bed I’d be happy to feed them there:  I don’t care.  I just want the food to go down.  But they won’t.  Putting them back in their bed is the last resort and usually it works.  Usually.  But you can’t do it too soon.  And you have to get them out of their bed first.  So I call them out, using my best bright cheerful headmistress voice.  You know normal dogs want to eat.  Normal dogs look forward to their meals.  Normal dogs come and cluster round your feet while you’re putting dog food in bowls, and dance and possibly even whine a little when you put it down, and then fall on it and gobble.  These guys are so world-weary they look like an Erté poster*** and they heave themselves out of their bed with a ‘beluga caviar again‘ look on their faces.  Darkness goes to his usual corner and sits, and if he’s feeling especially gracious and benevolent he may actually eat when I put the bowl down.  Ordinarily, however, by the time I’ve put Chaos’ down — Chaos may need to be told several times to get out of his bed, and does things like sit with only his front feet on the floor:  see, I’m out!  Some of me is out!  That counts!† — when I look back, Darkness will have moved away from his bowl, sat somewhere else, and be watching me alertly, because what I’m now supposed to do is pick his bowl up and put it down in front of him again.  This is the nonsense referred to above:  I do this.  Sometimes two or three times.

Meanwhile . . . Chaos sits, has his food bowl put down, and then stands up  humpy-backed and tail-tucked and vultching†† abundantly.  You have to let this go on for a while — several minutes — if you rush the ritual it does not work.  After several minutes while he does Horribly Put Upon and Poor Little Match Dog etc, I pick the bowl up again (I may, meanwhile, have moved Darkness’ bowl once or twice, but Darkness is probably jerking me around for a giggle), and move it across the kitchen, and put it down again and . . . he more or less immediately starts eating.


Sometimes we have to move on to the Action of Last Resort, which is putting him (occasionally them) back in their bed whereupon they (usually) fall up their food like ravening fiends, or like normal dogs.  But usually having moved the bowl several feet across the kitchen floor is sufficient.

If I put it down first in the standard second position that doesn’t work.  The food bowl must be moved. It’s like you can’t feed them in their bed to begin with:  they’ll just lie there doing their Erté poster imitation again.  And I’ve left it up to an hour too and they’ve just gone back to sleep.  And if they eat too late they won’t eat their next meal. . .

Remind me again why I wanted dogs?

* * *

* We did a figure of eight, more or less, with a particular house in the centre where the loops meet.  It was having work done on it, scaffolding up and builders crawling over it like nuthatches^.  We went past it going in one direction . . . and then came past it again going in the other direction three and a half hours later.   I hope the builders were impressed.  I tried to look nonchalant.

^ I was going to say beetles, but THE BEETLE is a little off putting [see yesterday’s entry].  These were not very nuthatchy builders however.  Much more like beetles.

** I’m considering trying to get a new Olympic sport recognised:  it will be called Egg Walking and while it will be open to any country who can put a team together, and people with terrifying in-laws and sadistic bosses may do well, the winners will be the feeders of hellhounds

*** Although the flotsam of well-chewed dog toys is a little corrosive to the high-fashion ambience

† No it doesn’t.  And there have been eras when I had either to close the crate door (at the cottage) or turn the bed over (at the mews) to stop him from going straight back in the moment I’d stopped insisting on his getting OUT . . . nor would I want to guarantee, sadly, that we have left that era behind for good.  At this point I would say that he’s sufficiently trained to know he’s not allowed back in his bed, it’s not that he’s had a radical rethink of his attitude toward food.

†† You remember vultching, yes?  Snoopy on the top of his doghouse?  I made the mistake a while back of assuming that our English contingent would not know Peanuts and was swiftly put right.  So, vultching.

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