December 31, 2008

The Glad Game


(*&^%$£”!!!!!  And &^+=[[[[::@#???!!!!!!  And furthermore ((*$:>{¬`”}!!!  And did I mention #~@?†¤§‡$%!!!!!!! 

Now, does everyone remember the Glad Game?

The point is that if you are a fantastically annoyingly, insanely upbeat little moron, you can find something to be glad about in every situation.  Brrr.  The very idea makes my blood run cold.

            It is, nonetheless, one of the standards I aspire to*, if a trifle erratically.**  And a few weeks ago b_twin_1 had the brilliant idea to start a Pollyanna Game thread on the forum, which I’ve been thinking I should contribute to only what with one thing and another I haven’t frelling felt like, all right?

            It is however now New Year’s Eve when we’re all supposed to be making lists for the New Year.  I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution list in decades:  I think New Year’s resolutions are shortcuts to screwing yourself up worse although I daresay there are people for whom they work admirably.***  But I do believe in stopping occasionally to find good in things and people and situations, and New Year’s Eve is a good time to be finding good.

            So.  I have flu, the local global warming variant is getting ever more severe†, and the Gaza strip is no nearer peace than it was decades ago and certainly no nearer than it’s been since everything blew up worse two years ago††.  And I’ve just spent most of two hours on the net trying to find a sun-spectrum plant light to hang in my sitting-room.  Which is where we came in:  (*&^%$£”!!!!!   Etc.  Although some of that time is probably due to having less brain than usual to pursue ever-vanishing plant lights through internet mazes.

            And I’m going to play the Glad Game.  Deep breath.

            Okay:  there are sun-spectrum plant lights out there.  There are apparently, in fact, kind of a lot of them, which turned out to be part of the problem, all of them with fascinating technical descriptions rather similar to (*&^%$£”!!!!! only with more numbers, more like:  (*&^%$£”!!!!!237B.  And furthermore I’ve bought one.  And I’m glad.†††  And I’ll be glad next autumn to have the thing already on hand, to get it strung up in Third House’s little shed thingummy and be ready.‡

            And I’m glad to have plants, including tender ones in a hard winter.  And a garden.  Two gardens.  And I’m glad of the surprising number of things that are out there apparently thriving in this awful weather‡‡:  you never saw anything having a better time than the hardy camellias, although I hope they’re not going to get silly about trying to open any time soon:  Jingle Bells has been known to throw out the occasional flower in January.  And my snowdrops are coming up.  That’s always exciting because you can see something actually growing this time of year, when there doesn’t seem to be any daylight, just greyness and dark.

            But, speaking of daylight, the shortest day is a week behind us.  The days are getting longer.  I’m glad.   

            And I’m glad of hellhounds, one of whom has just joggled my elbow in a I-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing-but-you’ve-been-doing-it-without-reference-to-hellhounds-for-too-long-and-you-know-you’re-still-ill-and-we-think-you-really-should-lie-on-the-sofa-for-a-while-and-conserve-your-strength way.  I’m glad they’re beautiful and deranged because I like beautiful things and sighthounds are affordable which original Turners and Hokusai prints and Kelmscott Press first editions aren’t, and what would I do with sane dogs?  We’d be a horrible, and probably rather disturbing, disappointment to each other.

            And I’m glad of Peter, who is sitting a few feet away around the curve of this kitchen table, banging on his own computer and muttering, who puts up with my banging on my computer and roaring really surprisingly well given his British upbringing and natural proclivities.‡‡‡

            I’m extremely glad of the crack in my skull where the stories come through.

            And I’m glad of my roses, which will be back again in about four and a half months, which isn’t really any time at all, and of my bells, which by this time next week I may even be ringing again, and of Connie, who was transported in company to go for a lovely gallop on a beach yesterday and in this weather frankly better them than me;  and I am extremely glad of Oisin, and his composing non-lessons, and of my beautiful, speaking of beautiful things, piano, and even of frelling Finale, which at least does try to behave according to its own somewhat obscure and whimsical rules and which is indeed enabling me to get on with the composing with a lot less recourse to terminal rage at my own pianistic incompetence.  I’m glad (if a trifle frustrated) of having too many books to read:  but how luxurious is that?

            I’m glad of all my friends, old and new, young, ancient, and middle-aged, of various species and bodily constructions, and sexual, racial and political persuasions.  And if I wish sometimes that the balance were a little more on the near and a little less on the far, the present situation does mean that pretty much any hour of the day or night I need to talk to someone now I probably can.   

            And . . . the Glad Game says you can find something to be glad of in every situation.  Okay.  I’m glad of this flu.§  I’m glad to have spent several days lying on the sofa because I never do lie on the sofa unless compelled by circumstance, and I like sprawling with hellhounds, and I’ve been positively revelling, which is indecent really, in catching up on back issues of my homeopathy journals which have been mounting up rather.  This began merely because I was reportising, as it’s called, for Peter’s and my flu§§, but the homeopathy’s been shoved into the background more than I’ve been happy with the last few months and, yes, it’s been great lying on the sofa hour after hour reading old journals.  (Slowly.  And very slightly out of focus.)  And I could make it out that I’m glad that I’ve seen a few films that suggest to me I’m better off not seeing films, so I can stop worrying about everything I’m missing.§§§

            And I’m glad of this blog.  Which as all regular readers know was forced on me by my publisher and agent, and I get a lot of mileage out of being ill-used.

            I dropped out of homeopathy college for the second time on account of the ME what is coming up three years ago this July.  About a year later I asked an astrologer I had some cause to know was good at her business to draw up a chart for me.  She said that the biggest, most dramatic change going on in the next few years was all about groups.  Groups? I said.  I don’t do groups.  I don’t like groups.  I don’t understand groups.  Groups make me nervous.

            Groups, she said.  Get used to it.  Of course both of us at the time thought it meant I was going back to homeopathy college in the autumn.  I didn’t.  But the next autumn I started this blog.

            Thanks guys.¤           

* * *

* I am perverse and foolish.  You should have figured this out by now.  

** As for example when the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars, especially on Tuesdays if the wind is in the east, the Gflytch are minding their own business on Venus, and I flaming well feel like it. 

*** Yaay for them.  Fortunately you can’t see the expression on my face as I type this. 

† And I hate standing around watching things/people die 

†† Speaking of standing around and watching things/people die.  And Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the Congo, and Uganda. . . . 

††† I’ll be even gladder when it arrives, if it turns out it will hang in my sitting-room.  Said sitting-room is superbly equipped with a very large, very robust ceiling beam from which to suspend it, so this should be an all systems go operation.  We live in hope.  As well as gladness.

‡ And it’ll be ready, because I have Atlas–who will also be hanging it from my sitting-room ceiling next week, I hope.  I am very glad of Atlas, a demigod of all aptitudes, with an entire workshop in the boot of his car. 

‡‡ And all this frost does mean we aren’t going to start the growing year with an uninterrupted reproductive overrun of slugs and aphids.  Which is a very good thing to have to be glad of. 

‡‡‡ He also makes great soup.  This is an important consideration in a spousal figure for someone who is regularly pinned to the sofa by some damn thing or other.^  And scrambled eggs.  And he washes all the lettuce for my monster-mixing-bowl salads, which I eat for lunch every day of my life except when I’m ill.  He also orders the Green & Black’s by the box from the local health food store.  And I’ve already told you he has the gift thing scoped. 

^ Not counting hellhounds. 


§§ And please note that we got different prescriptions because while it’s the same flu we had it differently.  Including that Peter is getting over it a lot faster than I am.  But before anyone out there goes snark, snark^ . . . keep in mind that I have ME.  And that I still write stories, compose music, ring bells, ride horses, hurtle hellhounds, etc.   Yes, it’s true, there’s a homeopathic remedy out there that would cure the ME, if either I or any (other) homeopath I’ve ever consulted could find it, but I’ll take what I can get–gladly–which is rather a lot really. 

^ which of course you won’t today, because it’s New Year’s Eve and we’re playing the Glad Game 

§§§ I wouldn’t mind getting up off the sofa again some time soon however. . . . 

¤ And remember what I said about Gaza?  I’m glad for Daniel Barenboim.   I don’t care how microscopic a drop in a tank-sized bucket it is, what it also is is hope.

And in another part of the forest, I’m glad for this fellow:

With a sad acknowledgement that sometimes the tale is better than the telling.  But in this case, story-teller that I am, I will say that the tale is what counts.  It’s another microscopic drop!  I don’t care!  The only way we’re ever going to fail to destroy this planet is if all of us submicroscopic droplets agree to go in the same bucket, and no kicking or punching!



I am tired of (a) this weather  (b) this flu.  Due to a combination of the aforementioned I now have about a dozen plants that have been huddled on the sitting room floor at the cottage for the past four days, wondering what’s going on and if the Great Sun Eating Jackal that their mothers warned them about has come in this their generation and if so what are they supposed to do instead of photosynthesis?  Hot cross buns?  Ravioli?  I am not going to bed any earlier* but I am getting up later, and when I finally get vertical enough to totter downstairs**, release hellhounds and peer at the thermometer it’s still only barely above freezing . . . and it never really gets above barely above freezing, and the longer my tender things in pots stay in a 60°F room the less likely they are to adapt readily to a sudden assault of 33°.  One of the osteospermums is in fact flowering, the daft creature, although the flowers are not at all surprisingly small, it’s quite surprising enough that they’re flowers.  Maybe it could pass the secret of hot cross buns on to the others. 

            Peter, who is recovering from the flu***, sort of half-drat him, I mean, it’s a good thing one of us is more or less functional but I ALWAYS get things worse, has offered to go round to the ironmongers’ tomorrow and ask them about sunlight-spectrum lights for plants.  I remember fifteen or so years ago when I wanted to set up a tiny greenhouse in one of the outbuildings in the old house it was like nobody had ever thought of such a thing before and trying to find suitable lighting for a non-commercial enterprise was very nearly impossible.††  Since then it’s become a commonplace, I think, but I don’t think it’s a commonplace to have a plant light strung up in your sitting room.  If this particular curious local variety of global warming is the ice floe of the future however I really am going to have to rig up the summerhouse/shed at Third House by next winter.  Meanwhile . . . I can’t face the extra effort of toting a lot of heavy plant pots outdoors for about half an hour and then toting them all back indoors again:  carrying two full dog bowls††† at the same time two feet across the kitchen twice a day is enough. ‡

            It could just warm up.  But it’s not going to.  Sigh.  And you will have an ultimate new demonstration of CRANKY if I not only lose all the stuff that sat sunless on my sitting room floor for too many days AND the geraniums and dubiously tender clematis I’m still wrapping up every night from repeated bashing with Styrofoam and cardboard–or from more degrees of frost than Styrofoam and cardboard can handle–AND various perfectly hardy things in pots instead of the ground that couldn’t stand quite that much frost through the pots and which I hadn’t bothered to swathe in bubblewrap because we don’t get hard frost for more than a day or two and some years we don’t get that.‡‡  Gardening perhaps exists to make our domestic fauna seem less baffling and confounding–? 

* * *

 * The problem with the end of the day is that it’s the end.  You absolutely don’t have to be thinking about the next thing, about what you should be doing, etc.  And who doesn’t want to extend that lovely^ feeling for as long as possible?  Say just another chapter?  Maybe especially when you’re ill and have cancelled your life till further notice anyway?

 ^ If delusory.  Morning is closer than you think.  In fact morning probably happened a couple of hours ago. 

** or, possibly, given these stairs, horizontal enough, backache being a prominent symptom 

*** This is the full-body influenza experience too.  I’m used to flu that, you know, specialises.  If there were more actual fever involved I’d be making paranoid jokes about typhoid.  

† And before anyone is so ill-advised as to suggest that if I calmed down a little perhaps I wouldn’t stress myself into collapse so often, Peter is possibly the only person on the planet who, when in a high tear, can make me look calm.  So that fish won’t fly.^ 

^ Nyah. 

†† It seemed logical at the time.  We didn’t have a greenhouse and we did have all these outbuildings.  But it was worth the struggle in the end not merely for getting the geraniums and chocolate cosmos through the winter–this was before I’d developed my osteospermum craze–and the seedlings started^, but for the sight of that bright unnerving light blasting through the cracks.  Straight out of the X Files and in your own back garden. 

^ This was also the era of my experimenting with growing roses from seed 

††† And remember we’re talking about hellhounds.  Who eat a scrap of chicken and then have to rest from the labour.  ‘Full’ bowls are relative. 

‡ Although the truly tiring bit is the drama following upon my putting the bowls on the floor and calling the hellhounds.  Note ‘calling’.  No of course they don’t boil out of the dog bed, ears and tails up and tongues lolling delightedly.  Darkness usually comes with little worse than a world-weary sigh, but Chaos tends to crawl out on his belly, every line of his body saying, No!  No!  Not food!, and his eyes bottomless with anguish. 

‡‡ Most years the evil weather fairies sate themselves with a perfectly calculated frost (1) to take out the magnolias (2) to take out the wisterias.  I can’t remember if I had a frost problem with the magnolia last spring or not, I was busy wrapping it up against pigeons.  And the new little wisteria at Third House probably won’t flower right away, although it’s one of these new cultivars that may flower as early as they get into the ground, so I figure it won’t try to flower unless there’s a frost due.


Okay, let’s try this again.  Blackbear has sent it to me in its own little file so IN THEORY I can stick it in a post like a photo. . . .

Another vague fluey post


Hellhounds: Good boys! Snuggle up now 

I’m glad the hellhounds are there to radiate love to you both 

Good Doctor Doggies! Take good care of your humans! 

The hellhounds look so sweet cuddled around you! 

Hellhounds, you know your duty!

No, no, no, no!  Wrong, wrong, wrong!    This is not sweetness or snuggliness or Sympathetic Care of the Fallen!  This is classic, steely-eyed OPPORTUNISM, as those of you with domestic animals yourself should know!  (Several in the above litany were overcome with sentimentality on this occasion!  I KNOW you have furry unscrupulous exploiters of your own!)   Hellhounds couldn’t care less how well (or not) I’m feeling except as it impinges on THEM!  Take for proper walks, tick!  Be threatened with food regularly twice a day, tick!  Be permitted on the sofa for hours and hours and hours, instead of just lying in the boring dog bed, right, how do we tick THIS box more often????  

Get well soon, or you will be squeezed off your couch by your adoring acolytes.

Yes, well, that’s what the camp bed is for.  This is a far less satisfactory hellhound sofa than the old one is/was–but the sofa that was the TV watching with appendent whippets sofa at the old house is now at the cottage because it’s shorter.*  This sofa at the mews is longer, but it’s an old hard horsehair one with a camber and you tend to slide off it–my sofa is a modern sofa where the angle tips you helpfully into the back of the sofa and encourages you to flop.  I think the Victorian one was meant to discourage visitors from staying too long.  

That couch looks seriously wide; perfect for being sick while cuddled up with hellhounds.
I’m envious. I’ve spent exactly two weeks being sick and I’d love something that wide on which to curl up with my Mastiff.

As I say, there’s a camp bed involved.  Of course I’m the one who ends up on the camp bed. 

I am amused to see, however, that the hellhounds follow classic animal companion behaviour and have got between you and the back of the sofa, so you get gradually moved further and further towards the edge. 

Chances are hellhounds would do this anyway–the whippets didn’t have enough body weight to wedge me away–but I ‘trained’ them early on to, ahem!, lie on me instead of beside me, and we nestled in the nice little valley at the back of that sofa in our hairy, hummocky way, and were very happy, except when Hazel developed too many elbows and most of them were in my eyes.  The new generation, after a few episodes of cascading and outraged hellhounds, I started escorting firmly to the back, behind me, where I could frelling pin them.  The sad truth is that a sofa isn’t really a sofa without an exploitative animal or two, so necessary catering must be arranged.  The thing that makes me grasp briskly a few hellhound legs and turn them vertical however is when they brace said legs against me and shove.  There are limits. 

Sending big snuggly get well soon wishes, and hoping that you don’t get pushed right off the edge of the sofa by those two naughty hellhounds (who are looking so innocently at the camera!)

I consider this their heh heh heh look.  And you’ll notice that they have a preference for lying at right angles to the back of the sofa.  We would all fit on (barring a few long extraneous legs) if they’d be so kind as to lie parallel

And now, this is far too good a story to leave languishing in the comments.  From Blackbear in response to Peter’s ferret story:

When I was in college, back in the Land Before Time,

Feh.  Barely medieval.  I went to college in the Land Before Time. 

I decided that I needed an iguana.

 Of course.  I understand completely. 

I’ve always liked reptiles, and as iguanas are one of the few lizards that are more or less completely vegetarian, they’re a practical choice for a dorm room than something that eats live food. (Never mind, of course, that they grow to be 5 feet long and stronger than Hades, and that they don’t always have the best temperament. This was not one of my finer moments in the planning-ahead department.) I acquired a baby iguana, built him a cage, and took him off to college with me in my junior year. I fed him stuff I’d stolen from the salad bar in the dining hall, and he responded by trying to bite me every time I put my hand in the cage.Now, as I lived in Indiana, but went to school in New York, there were issues of practicality when school vacation rolled around. I couldn’t leave him in the dorm, I didn’t have anyone sticking around who could take care of him. But you can’t take an iguana on an airplane–even before 9-11, which now restricts your carry-on reptiles to 3.5 oz–and I couldn’t see putting him in the check-through, as the baggage area on a plane isn’t kept heated. But I am nothing if not resourceful. I got some muslin from the costume shop


COSTUME SHOP??  Some day I want to see your complete CV. 

where I worked, and sewed myself a little drawstring bag which was large enough to put my iguana in, if I folded him a bit (he was about 15″ long at the time, and half that was tail.) I got a cardboard box as well; the plan was for him to travel in the box for most of the trip, but to go in the drawstring bag, around my neck and under my sweater, when I had to go through the x-ray checkpoint. Wouldn’t want the security staff looking at their little monitor and seeing a lizard skeleton illuminated inside the box, after all! So there I had it, a foolproof plan. 

Uh . . . yeeep.

Yes, well, you see the problem with the word “fool proof.” Things were fine on the bus from Poughkeepsie to LaGuardia, he was quiet in the box, which I’d rubber-banded shut. In the bathroom at LaGuardia, I managed to get him out of the box and into the bag without too much trouble, because it was December and he was cold from the bus ride. Put the bag around my neck, put my sweater back on, and strode confidently to the security checkpoint. No problem. Except, due to my usual tendency to cut things a bit close, it was already time for boarding the plane and I didn’t have time to return him to the box before I had to get to my gate. Still, he was behaving himself, and I figured why mess with success? I boarded, got seated next to a gentleman in business attire, we took off, and all was well…. until the iguana warmed up.At first I just felt him kind of moving around under my sweater, and I tried to ignore it. Then a particularly energetic sort of thrashing started, and my sweater began heaving outward like that poor dude in Alien. I clapped a hand to my chest, shot a nervous sort of smile at the guy sitting next to me, and as soon as he looked away, I pulled out the neck of my sweater and looked down to discover that the little wretch had worked his head and one arm out of the bag and was flailing madly around to try to get the rest of himself free to wreak havok at 10,000 feet. So I kept my hand firmly planted on my chest like Fred Sanford having a heart attack (“I’m comin’, Elizabeth! It’s the big one!”) til I could unbuckle my seat belt and rush for the bathroom with the box in my other hand. By the time I got there he’d managed to squirm another arm and most of his body out of the bag; I whipped the bag off my neck, crammed it into the box, snapped the rubber bands on, and proceeded to almost have a real heart attack right there in the lavatory. When I finally made it back to my seat, the dude next to me was fairly convinced I was crazy, or smuggling drugs, or both. The lizard and I both made it home alive; but it sure wasn’t fun for either of us…


 AND WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF SCHOOL VACATION, WHEN YOU HAD TO GO BACK TO NEW YORK???  And how do you sex an iguana (since you so lavishly call it ‘he’)?  And what was his eventual fate?  If you’re going to tell these stories. . . . 

. . . I am reminded of a tale current at Bowdoin College when I was there, concerning one of the frat houses.  I assume things have not changed so much that any behaviour on the part of frat boys can be considered truly surprising-?  And it may be an urban myth but I’d rather believe it.**  The story was that one year someone had a boa constrictor as a pet.  And during one holiday the system for keeping it looked after broke down, and it spent a fortnight or so in the cellar at the frat house untroubled by any human custodian.  Come the beginning of the new term, someone went down to the cellar . . . and found himself being grappled by a very hungry, very determined young boa constrictor:  it was only four, five feet long, so it wasn’t really going to be able to kill a human, but it was sure going to have a good try at the first food it had seen in a while.  My sympathies, of course, are with the snake, especially in this case when it had cause for feeling a trifle testy.  I tend to kind of like snakes in a hesitant sort of way, and I like the big, slow-moving ones better than the little nippy ones that suddenly charge over your bare foot.  I’ve met boas a few times on pat-the-critter zoo days and similar and they seem to me to have more of a recognisably-present-and-paying-attention gleam in their eyes than most reptiles, who mostly give the impression of being entirely alien.  Some day when I just give up on the idea of ever going anywhere again I’m going to have a budgie and a boa constrictor.  As well as hellhounds.

 And now I’d better go lie on the sofa again before I get importuned into a relapse. 

* * *

* And then there’s the story of how it almost didn’t fit through the door. . . . 

** And before you all pile on to tell me that every college with frat houses has this story, okay, but I did hear it from someone who claimed to have been there when it happened. 


I want a medal.   

Then you shall have one!

I don’t know if this is going to copy and paste or not, but Blackbear, a woman of many arcane talents, has created a Hellhound Walking Medal, and if this doesn’t work, you can see it in all its glory in the thread on Peter’s ferret story.

Seriously dead person


Now Peter has the dreaded lurgy too.  I am actually keeping the hellhounds walked*.  Beyond that there’s a lot of horizontal sofa work**.  But there’s only one really good lying-down sofa at the mews so he’s upstairs lying down while I’m downstairs with the TV*** lying down so we can’t really respond to each other’s moans.  This might not be such a bad thing really.

Lying down hellgoddess with attendant happy hellhounds.  Taken yesterday when Peter was still ambulatory.  You will note an excess of hellhounds all jammed into the Single Best Spot.  But the real news is that Peter did not cut the top of my head off.  Hmmm.  So, I have to be sick and supine–?

 * * *

 * I want a medal.  This is, of course, roughly speaking and not quite arrived, my central horror:  not being able to walk the hellhounds.  Because there isn’t anybody else.  Especially not during the holidays.  But I am able.  Just.  I am however still trying to decide whether having the weather freezing is a bad thing–this is how bronchitis turns into walking pneumonia–or a good thing–short-haired thin-skinned hellhounds don’t mind being shortchanged on outdoor hurtle time. 

** And hellhounds have adjusted to this so quickly that as I feebly sit at the kitchen table, which is my usual afternoon/evening position^, tapping out a flimsy blog-entry place-holder,  they’re lying in the dog bed glaring at me. 

This is how hellhounds want to spend their time. 

^ Except when I’m at the piano

 *** Which is a mixed blessing.  We’ve got satellite, for pity’s sake, and there’s STILL nothing to watch.  I think something weird happens between the time that the film critics write rave reviews of recent theatre releases and those same films get put on TV and hey presto become silly and boring.  It’s a conspiracy.  I haven’t figured out what the conspiracy is about yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

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