November 30, 2008

Soggy Sunday

It’s disgusting out there–fine needle-like rain just above freezing*, and just enough wind to make sure it’s well driven into you–and it’s supposed to be like this for days.  Hellhounds are not amused**.  I am not amused.   It was only a day or a few ago that I was saying I only missed my contact lenses in the rain when my hands were full of reins or leashes, right?  So today, with my hands full of leashes and my glasses opaque with rain, I walked into a wild rose stem trailing from a hedgerow tree . . . serious bad language . . . and now have an interesting new rune engraved upon my forehead.***  I hope it’s a good one.  So the next time hellhounds and I are set upon by ghouls, zombies, vampires, or aggressive off-lead dogs and their terminally stupid owners, I can whap myself up longside the head and the rune will fire some dazzling lightning flash of sorcery and fry the frellers.  That little pile of ashes, officer?  Why, I have no idea.

            The day had got off to a bad start when, in my tediously continuing ME haze, I had trouble finding things like both legs of the same pair of jeans† but I was determined to show up for service ring because I knew we were due to be short.  We were too:  the two people already there in the tower were very glad to see me.  We were just about to start ringing plain hunt on three–which is in the seriously pathetic category–when two more showed up.  Whew.  Six is better, but five is the magic number.

            But the rain was already doing its bayoneting thing†† and I slouched down to the florist’s††† only because that’s what I do on Sunday mornings, it’s part of the Sunday morning mooch-and-potter ritual, to prove I still know how not to race-and-scuttle.‡  The florist was stoically putting out her buckets of flowers in the rain while I dispiritedly looked at what she had inside.  She suddenly appeared in the doorway carrying the sun:  an armful of daffodils.‡‡    Would you like some daffodils? she said.  Oh yes, I said.  I was going–  No, she said, I mean for free.  Would you like these?  Huh? I said.  I can’t sell these, she said.  They’re already open.  I’d much rather give them to you than throw them in the bin.

            Yes please, I said. 

* * *

 * I’m already tired of dragging frost-tender plants into the kitchen every night.  And it’s only November.  They’re probably not too thrilled about the Aga either. 

** Afloat, more or less, on a sodden landscape, hellhounds keep stopping to shake themselves, and turn to gaze dolefully at me.  Their look is pretty penetrating, speaking of penetrating, and there’s an Instant Translation Facility as it lances through my skull.  It says:  Bring back summer or we want to go home.  And have you hanging off my arm and growling or interpolating yourselves between me and some keyboard or other all afternoon?  I reply.  Think again.  Mush

*** And I’m about to find out if bloodstains on Goretex are permanent. 

† And from the right way around is a bonus.  See, girls learn to wear skirts that zip up behind.  The problem is not immediately obvious. 

†† You know how zippers, speaking of zippers, always seem like quite a good method of garment closure, till you’re walking into an icicle wind.  And the little flap that goes over the zipper, on my black leather jacket, does not close with Velcro.  What price, you know, cool

††† After the newsagent’s.  The newsagent’s is nothing about mooching and pottering.  It’s about Green and Black’s chocolate.  

‡ The ME and I are soulmates, we really are.  Sigh. 

‡‡ For oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood,/  They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude;/  And then my heart with pleasure fills,/ And dances with the daffodils.   Except please note the proper title is I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, but the only other copies I could find on line are nearly unreadable from flashing ads.  I don’t even like Wordsworth and I think he uses ‘dance’ and ‘dancing’ way too often in this poem, and never mind if he is trying for the common touch.  But I know what he’s talking about, and I read painfully too much of him in college^–I’ve told you before that being an English lit major marks you for life.  But much as I would like to vilify him as a ripper-off of humble creative womanhood, I can’t see Dorothy’s famous diary entry  as anything but a diary entry.  The poem, drat him, is his.

            And for anyone who really has time to waste, let me offer these two spectacles of what YouTube is capable of–I should have stopped scrolling down the Google list as soon as I found the text

 ^ Bowdoin was heavily into the whole Dead White European Male thing in those days.  I want to hope it’s pulled itself together somewhat since then.

Further Besieged by the Past


So there I was, this afternoon at 3 pm, sitting at the kitchen table at the mews, trying like a good girl to get on with PEGASUS*, and with Radio Three playing in the background as it mostly is, and suddenly . . . the Saturday afternoon World Routes programme was about AL ‘Bert’ Lloyd.  Anybody out there who was either listening–or trying to find, to listen to–folk music in the 60s and 70s will know Bert Lloyd. 

He was pursuing world music decades before the concept of ‘world music’ was being bandied about on indie radio stations or in muddy fields devoted to folk festivals.  I was late to the show myself:  I discovered Steeleye Span 

 and Silly Wizard** 

 and Fairport Convention 

 and The Bothy Band 

in the late 70s and early 80s–with a strong sense of wha’?  Huh?***–and by the time I knew to genuflect at Lloyd’s name he was already a legend.

            I’m assuming that the internet is the internet, so the BBC ‘listen again’ is available anywhere on the globe.  Anyone interested, this should be the link: 

And if it isn’t, and you really are interested (I was completely riveted, but that fresh swell of folk music thirty and forty years ago was hugely important to me, with my fairy-tale mind), go here: 

And find it yourself.


Meanwhile, some impertinent person (You Know Who You Are) emailed me about last night’s entry:  

And hey, now inquiring minds want to know–is your hair naturally straight, as then, or naturally wavy/curly as it appears today?  Or has it morphed over time? 

And the answer is . . . I haven’t done anything to it.  (Hmmph! †)  I was startled by how straight my hair was in those photos myself.  It’s been what I call fuzzy for a long time, and now it’s short it might even pass for curly.  I tend to avoid the past, and I’ve always avoided cameras††, so I’m not sure when anything happened.  I had curly hair when I was a baby, and curly enough hair to torture me with its uncooperativeness when I was a teenager.  Apparently I had a brief spell of extreme straightness in my early twenties.  Maybe it was all those hours belting down the highway with it streaming out behind me.  Which leads me to another protest:   I ALWAYS wore a helmet.  There’s no helmet in those photos because, uh . . . there’s no helmet in those photos.  Presumably I took it off for the purpose, and it’s just out of range somewhere.  Slightly a pity I didn’t sling it over the handlebars or something though:  it was a nice sparkly one. 

* * *

 * The ME may be slackening its grip slightly.^   But generally speaking I will sit in front of The Blank Page^^ in at least a symbolic manner even if I am in tying-self-to-chair straits.   When I was younger I used to say that I could produce story-words if I’m dead, drunk, asleep, or all three, it just takes longer . . . and mysteriously this is still true.^^^  Most of that mad-young-energy thing goes away with the youth^^^^ but I can still sit down and plug into the story-stream without a lot of fuss.  It’s what I do then that creates the strain.  But the thereness of Story is a big part of my argument that I don’t make this stuff up.  I started SUNSHINE toward the end of that first gruesome spell with acute ME, when I was still spending most of my time on the sofa, when I couldn’t walk my own dogs, when I couldn’t drive the car because that split-second awareness you need when you’re behind the wheel made me hallucinate.  Think about it.  Could I have made up that big complicated teeming story at a time when getting dressed in the morning exhausted me so much I spent the rest of the morning on the sofa?  It’s true I was starting to come out of it at that point, but if you’re asking me I wasn’t getting stronger and therefore able to create, SUNSHINE freaking wanted to be written and dragged me out of my torpor so I could. 

            Story–not a story, Story–is like a car or a horse or a flight of stairs.  It’s there.  It’s whether you can drive or ride or climb it that is the issue.  It’s more like a horse than a car or a flight of stairs though because of that liveness I also go on about every time I do my little star turn about the sheer reality of Story.  You have to be strong or braced or focussed enough to cope with it–and you have to learn the basics like posting to the trot and not falling off when there’s a threatening piece of cow parsley waving at you–but it gives you a tremendous amount back.  It’s a relationship, and like any relationship there’s negotiation and compromise.  And work.  And like a horse who’s tuned into you may uncomplainingly carry you on a bad day instead of insisting on your riding–because you’ve put in your hours on your relationship–a story may cut you some slack about things like daily word count when you’re a bit muddled from an ME bombardment. 

^ I cancelled Connie again today **SIIIGH** but I told Jenny I had some hope of Tuesday. 

^^ or, in this case, the Second Draft Page 

^^^ But ask me in another thirty years 

^^^^ The madness, in my experience, sticks around 

** Some book tour/convention or other I spent my daily unkinking/detensioning hours on the treadmill/rowing machine with an endless loop of The Queen of All Argyle on my little tape machine–it being so long ago that your personal music machine played tapes.  I can remember certain tours by what I was listening to while I sweated:  sometimes a single song, sometimes an album, sometimes a compilation.  For SUNSHINE, for example, it was Marilyn Manson’s Tainted Love.  I run really hard for Tainted Love. 

*** On one of my early tourist trips to England I spent a lot of time tracking down small obscure record shops and trying to buy all those Topic samplers.  Which I swear they only ever released about twelve copies each of.  And then hid ten of them. 

† Several decades ago, when I still had one or two lingering pretensions to being a blonde, one Maine winter when everything was grey, white, or taupe, I spent a few weeks pouring a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide–yes, the stuff you use to clean wounds with, not the stuff you buy at the beauty parlour–over my hair after I washed it.  It worked surprisingly, you know, discreetly, and at the time I wasn’t at all sure it was doing anything except making me smell like a well-kempt public loo.  One of those winters was also one of my tours of Alaska, however, and there are photos–somewhere–of me as a . . . blonde.  That has been my one foray into hair adjustment.

 †† As frequently observed, this blog has been a shock to the system in a lot of ways

Motorcycle Mama

Speaking of motorcycles from a long time ago. . . . 

A little while ago a friend I haven’t heard from in yonks and yonks and yonks* tripped over Days in the Life.  Just in time, I guess, to read my mention of my old A7 Kawasaki motorcycle simultaneously with being seized by a fit of clearing out old closets–the ones with the skeletons in them, obviously**.  And he emailed me two photos.  It has taken me ten days or so to get my head around these graphic emblems of the Paleolithic but it was obvious to me from the moment that my computer screamed INCOMING!  PHOTO! that I was going to have to post these. 

            I apologise for the fact that I’m not wearing the matching leather trousers, but that is the Harley jacket–which is in fact still upstairs in the attic.†  And the glasses mean that I’m only about twenty.  Twenty.  Jes–no, this is a family blog.  Crumbs, then.  CrumbsTwenty.  It’s hard to believe I was ever that young.††  But my eyes had deteriorated to the legally-blind-in-some-states stage which was making me nervous, and the rumour was that contact lenses would halt the malign degression and possibly even reverse it slightly.  So I bought contact lenses.  And then could not get along with them, anyhow, nohow.†††   But glory did they cost‡ and their existence haunted me, especially when I went back to college and went from having no money to having no money and owing the college thousands and thousands of dollars‡‡.  So I got the contacts out again and said I Am Going to Learn to Wear You, and I did.‡‡‡  But I graduated when I was 22 and I’d been in contacts at least a year by then.

            Scary, huh?  Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about my first motorcycle accident.   No, I am not going to show you my scars.

* * * 

* Barring a ‘happy birthday’^ to the then-recently-live web site, which was a bit like . . . hearing The Motorcycle Song on the radio for the first time in a quarter century.  Your Past Is Still Out There.  It’s one of the drawbacks of getting old, having more past.  Of course it’s also one of the advantages.  Very confusing thing, life. 

^ Fancy remembering the birthday of someone you knew decades ago.  Ah well.  He got an 800 on his maths SAT.  I got a 12.  

** Everybody had a motorcycle in those days.  We were all Arlo fans.  We were also all poor.  Something with a roof and a passenger seat suitable for your mother was well out of our price range. 

† It too has got old.  Like Arlo and me. 

†† Standard protest here:  Thank the gods it’s over.  I mean it though.  Not everyone does. 

††† This is a bit of a saga in itself.  This was back in hard-lens days, so adjusting to them took a while.  I didn’t adjust.  Went back, they said, oh, that’s because you’re a girl.  Girls take longer.  So I went away again.  I still didn’t adjust.  I went back.  They said oh, that’s because you’re very fair-skinned.  Fair skinned people take longer.  I went away again.  I didn’t adjust again.  Next time they said it was because I had hay fever.  Then because I had lots of other allergies.  Then because I was on The Pill^.  Then it was because I was living in Washington DC at the time, where the smog is so dense with particulate matter that you can hear it clattering against your motorcycle, and this is very irritating to sensitive eyes.  I think there were one or two other excuses^^ but I’ve forgotten.  I gave up, and went back to my (increasingly scratched and beat up) glasses.  

^ Do they still call it The Pill?  I was in that first generation of girls for whom it was already there when we needed it.  There was a little fuss and bother about the ‘parental permission’ thing but I solved that by dropping out of school and running away. 

^^ None of which they had seen fit to mention before I got out my checkbook. 

‡ See:  poor 

‡‡ For patronising the stuffing out of me because I was a girl.  I was a transfer student, but I was a member of the first graduating class that included women who had been there for all four years, so we were still a novelty.  Some bits of Bowdoin kicked and screamed more about the addition of women to the student population than other bits.  The English Department was pretty kicky and screamy.  But I digress. 

‡‡‡ But I was living in Maine.  So maybe it was the smog.

            Thirty years later my eyes said, Okay, bored now . . .  and I’m back in glasses.  It was nice while it lasted.  And in truth I only really miss my contacts when I’m out in the rain with my hands full of horse or hellhounds.



I dunno, maybe this is just not my time of year?  Have my birthday, fall into bottomless ravine, winter solstice, Christmas.  Barely got the hellhounds walked today–and I kept sort of looking up every few minutes and thinking, Where am I?  What am I doing?   Why am I doing it?*  Is this Kansas any more?**  I cancelled handbell practise this evening.  It doesn’t get much worse.***  But I have no brain and you need a brain to ring change patterns.†  And these sentences you’re reading now are g o i n g   d o w n   v e r y   s l o w l y.  Er . . . they are sentences, aren’t they?

            So I’ve been worrying what to give you.  I wanted some nice Thanksgiving jokes, but Thanksgiving does not seem to bring out the best in gag writers.††  This one is probably as old as children (before planes it was trains, and before trains it was stagecoaches, and . . . ) but I hadn’t seen it before and it made me laugh: 

And you certainly don’t want to miss A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, do you? 

Rampant nostalgia.  I saw the premiere 

It’s just one of those Thanksgiving things, like Alice’s Restaurant.  (If you haven’t discovered this already, type in ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ on Google and stand back.  Awful lot of us grey-haired sandal-wearers on the web, evidently.)   And here’s Wiki, for anyone who doesn’t know Alice (I was wrong about Charlie Brown, so, did Alice cross the Atlantic and/or Pacific?):’s_Restaurant 

And here . . . Arlo, you got old.  Like the rest of us.  I wonder if having your best-known, best-loved, signature song†††, the one that every audience you ever face is going to expect you to perform, twenty minutes long is better or worse than having it three minutes long?   Twenty minutes, you can still do something with it?  Pay attention, wiggle around, try a different emphasis?  Or three minutes . . . you can almost hold your breath for three minutes, or possibly just one long galloping exhale. . . . Professional singers have impressive lung capacity. . . . 

But for your true peak Thanksgiving viewing, here is this:

 View and weep.  With laughter. Thank you, Susan in Melbourne.  

But Thanksgiving is also about giving thanks, right?  Okay, brace yourselves:  Smarm Alert.  One of the charities I belong to is Amnesty International.  And the cover of their Nov/Dec issue I thought was beautiful and striking as well as whack-you-over-the-head-with-the-message, which approach I grant is generally tiresome, but when there’s stuff in the world like the stuff Amnesty is out there to try to stop, hitting people over the head is kind of necessary.  And I wasted a good half an hour trying to find a picture of the cover on their web site–never occurred to me it would be difficult;  wouldn’t you expect the cover of the current issue of their magazine to be prominently displayed?–and didn’t.  So here’s the book they’re advertising:

 And here’s a rather unsatisfactory photo of the magazine cover . . . which you may be able to tell is the cover of the book in a lot of different languages.  And those are babies floating down on parachutes.  And smiling. 

Happy Thanksgiving.  There was no pumpkin pie chez McKinley-Dickinson but the duck and claret‡ were superb

* * *

 * I am reminded of the t shirt:  Who are these children and why are they calling me Mum?

 ** No. 

*** Cancelling Connie again on Saturday will be worse.  If it comes to that, which it probably will.  But the crumminess about handbells is that there are only three of us.  I cancel, no one gets to ring. 

† This is change ringing handbells.  Carol tune handbells are Saturday afternoon.  I may make that.  I dunno though . . . it doesn’t require much brain or much strength but it does require standing up.  Maybe I can have my own music stand at sitting-down height.  I once went to a party in the middle of an ME attack.  It was right after Peter had moved into the mews and it was a mews party and it seemed important to put in a token appearance.  I had to sit down while everyone else was standing up.  I hated it.  I kept thinking about people in wheelchairs.  You get used to it if you have to–I hope.

            I think I’ve told that story to the blog before.  Well, you long-timers, get used to it.  It’ll keep happening:  I only have so much life.  And being short in a group of strangers–including one six and a half foot retired military chappie with the poker-back posture–really lingers in my mind. 

† If I’m still too enfeebled to go to home tower bell practise tomorrow I’ll have to hire a cab to take me out of town.  Listening to somebody else ring a quarter peal is one of my favourite things–especially from my garden on a lovely day–but listening to the bells when I should be there is the worst.  I suppose hiding out at the mews with the TV turned up high will suffice.  Classical music won’t do–you never know when a pianissimo might leap out at the wings at you.  And rock and folk won’t do because there is silence between tracks.  No, it has to be the TV.  TV only has LOUD, LOUDER, and ADS

†† I did rather like:  What is a turkey’s favourite song?   I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.   –But, as I say, I’m in a rather low state. 

††† Although personally I’d vote for The Motorcycle Song  

However this is not the original version.  But it gives you the . . . flavour.  Here are the original lyrics (well, they look original to me): 

‡  Whew.  That’s the second one.  Now I can go buy another couple of really good bottles for this Christmas, for The Man Who Is Impossible to Buy Presents For.

Thanksgiving Eve


My level of celebration goes something like ‘well I’m still alive’.*   It’s also Wednesday evening and I should be pulling on a bell rope.  Whimper. 

            However it’s the night before Thanksgiving and I am still alive and we’re having duck and claret tomorrow and I may even eat/drink some.  Whether it will be wasted on me remains to be seen.  As dreaded lurgies** go this one seems to be proving*** not that serious, which is the good news, but the ME is making it serious.†   

            But Thanksgiving Eve:  what a perfect excuse for a recipe

I used to love pumpkin pie.  Probably still do, if I had the opportunity.  The first blow to my pumpkin pie love was when I went off dairy.  Pumpkin was made to go with heavy cream.  Then I somehow managed to marry into a clan of people who don’t like pumpkin.  If I’d realised that pumpkin-aversion was a foundation gene in the British national character I might have thought twice.††  I’d still be willing to have a slice of a wicked, cream-filled pumpkin pie††† but I’d be eternally damned if I tried to eat an entire pie and I can’t quite face passing it out on street corners to the homeless.‡  The second and final blow has come with this menopause thing:  when you are only allowed 6.72 calories a day or it’s Whole New Wardrobe time, there isn’t a lot of room for pumpkin pie.‡‡  So I thought I’d indulge in a little nostalgia and post my Favourite Basic Pumpkin Pie recipe.  I have quite a few pumpkin pie and assorted sweet-pumpkin recipes;  if the dreaded lurgi lasts a while I may post a few more.

This is adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook which some of you will know/recall takes no prisoners in terms of light and waistline-friendly.‡‡‡ 

Pumpkin Pie 

3 biggish eggs

2/3 c brown sugar, packed down hard

2 c fresh cooked pumpkin (it’s really worth cooking your own, instead of getting it out of a tin, and it’s dead easy, you just have to remember to allow the extra lead time)

1 tsp ground ginger

1½ tsp gr cinnamon

½ tsp gr allspice

¼ tsp gr cloves

¼ tsp gr cardamom

¾ c heavy cream

¼ c half and half 

One-crust pie crust lining a deep 9″ pie plate (you are making your own pie crust, aren’t you?) 

Preheat oven to 425°F. 

Beat eggs till light.  Then beat the sugar in a little at a time–I do this by hand, crumbling and sprinkling with the hand that isn’t holding the spoon/electric beater.  You can do this quite quickly but I think it works better than just dumping a dense mass of brown sugar in your bowl and hacking at it.  Stir in pumpkin, then stir in cream.  Pour into your crust. 

Bake at 425° for 12 minutes, then reduce to 325° and bake for another 40-50 minutes till the filling is set.  (This is so dependent on your oven.  The original recipe tells you to start at 450° but 450° turns things black in my world.  Unless I want charcoal, I don’t go above 425.°)  I’m not a big fan of testing it with a knife, but the pie should be more or less all the same colour right through the centre,  no dark damp spot, and you can also tell if it’s done by touching near the edge lightly with a finger and then the centre.  They should have the same texture.  (Warning:  touch lightly and I mean lightly.  Not only will you make a mess if it’s not done–which is what I have against sticking a knife in it–but wet filling will stick to your finger.  Wet hot filling, comprenez?)  

The original recipe tells you to decorate with pecan halves.  This is very pretty, but I don’t (didn’t) do it.  I prefer to praline my pecans first:  they go a treat with pumpkin pie that way, although you hate yourself in the morning. 

* * *

 * I’m still alive and I don’t have toothache.  Well . . . let’s not exaggerate.  I have a lot less toothache than I had last Thanksgiving.  Last Thanksgiving I celebrated by having burning goblins banging stakes in my jaw.  

**   For any of you Americans unacquainted with the Goon Show.  Although I’ve always spelt it ‘lurgy’.  And please note reference to ‘cooties’ which made me laugh out loud.

 ***. . . she says cautiously 

† I really must teach the hellhounds to pull a cart. 

†† Naah.  There were other inducements.  Growing roses, for example, in a climate and a landscape that likes them.  And as a drooling Anglophile American I totally couldn’t resist marrying a man who talks like a BBC costume drama. 

††† Oh, and pumpkin cheesecake . . . Tragedy. . . . 

‡ And if they’re British homeless, they won’t want it either.  

‡‡ Chocolate is, of course, a food group.^  Pumpkin pie, unfortunately, is not.  There is no RDA for pumpkin 

^ ‘Food group’ is a silly phrase so I thought I’d look it up for whatever the scientific form is.  And got this on wiki:   Love the last line–if it’s still there when you go look.  Hi Lauren, how’s it going?  A tiny reminder of the basic wonkiness of wiki. 

‡‡‡ We could put Silver Palate and the original Moosewood together in a small room and take bets who would walk out still standing . . . bleeding butter from every pore.

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