January 31, 2009



Someone stole the black garbage bag pulled down over the anti-freeze cardboard box over the plastic airbags over the geranium and the rose out in front of my cottage.

            Go figure.

            I mean, steal?  A black garbage bag?  Two pounds for eight of ’em at the local ironmongers?  What?  But it was there last night and it wasn’t there this morning.  I remember pulling it well down over the pot and thinking since frost-protection is all about trapped air, this is quite a good idea even when I’m not worrying about cardboard in freezing rain and/or leaking gutters.*  And we had no wind last night, and I don’t think wind could have done it anyway, at least not without the help of something with hands.  And it can’t be a Ruination of the Neighbourhood protest because the cardboard box (with airbags spilling out of it) looks a lot worse without the bag.

            So this afternoon I stapled a new black plastic garbage bag to the cardboard box.  I stapled my hand of course too, but hey.  The thing is that the staples aren’t quite long enough for cardboard and garbage-bag plastic, so they don’t fold down properly on the other side:  which means I’m going to be raking myself on staple-ends till May.  And at present it looks like being May:  a nasty January is merely giving way to a repulsive February:  we have more truly disgusting weather coming, starting tomorrow and apparently reaching an apogee of horribleness by midweek, including all the usual varieties of meteorological villainy:  sleet, snow, freezing rain, frogs, locusts, boils etc.**  Joy.  Well, if anyone tries to steal this bag, I hope they rake their hands on staple-ends too.  The wages of sin.  Except that there will then be more staple-ends after I attach the next bag, and by May . . .

            But the real mystery is how anyone is going to make it through this footnote-maze of an entry. 

* * *

 * This is the notorious Baby Bird Gutter.  I don’t think I’ve told you this story yet.^  When I bought the cottage, I had to move in whether it was ready or not^^ but it was already really nice^^^ barring the Strange Lavender Grey Decorating Scheme.  I guarantee that colour was not a success even when it was new.  So the one thing I did do is change all the floor and wall covering:  yanked out the carpeting, put down fresh lino in the kitchen and bath, painted all the walls.^^^^  The floor guys were pretty fast.  The wall guys . . . the wall guys and I ended up with a relationship.  I knew all of them by name and who had kids and dogs and what their names were.  One day I came round to see how things were going and as I was leaving . . . I discovered a pitiful baby bird lying in the street right in front of where the Black Plastic Bag Geranium now lives.~  It only had about half of its feathers and it was making those sad little helpless gestures that lots of baby things make.  I don’t know, of course, but it didn’t look broken, and the peeping noises it was making sounded like misery rather than like physical pain–as if I knew the difference–and it must have weighed all of .002 ounces, and if you don’t weigh anything you can fall quite a distance without doing yourself any harm.~~  I stood there looking at it for about a minute, feeling my heart sinking away through my feet and dribbling into the pavement, and then looked up, and there was mum (or possibly dad) standing on the edge of the guttering where a few twig-wisps sticking out indicated the presence of a nest, and looking down.  Two tall stories up and over an extremely awkward half flight of stairs at the bottom.~~~ I finally went back indoors and said to the Wall Guys, um, is there any chance I could convince one of you to put a baby bird back in its nest–?

            And one of them did.  Sure, I was paying by the hour, but he’s the one figured out the Heath-Robinson ladder arrangement over the stairs so he could get up there, and then did, carrying a tiny baby bird in one hand, which he stuffed back into the gutter-pipe.  Mum (or dad) flew back in as soon as Sir Galahad had retreated down his ladder.   I want to believe I heard the sounds of rejoicing.

            I have no idea if it lived to grow the rest of its feathers and fly away, but of course I want to think it did.  I can say that I didn’t see it again, and I did see mum and/or dad flying in and out of that gutter-end for a fortnight or so longer.  A bird’s-nest there hasn’t happened again;  I hope my neighbour had her gutter mended. . . .  

^ If I have . . . you can skip it.  But I walk across that piece of pavement every day, and the Baby Bird Story lingers in my memory.  I can think of much more helpful things that could linger in my memory, but you do with what you get. 

^^ I know I’ve told you it’s taken over two years to find the builder–and then find the architect after the builder told me I couldn’t just put in a simple little attic floor–and then change builders (again)–and then find out the walls need footings–and then finally start the work at Third House.  However they have started.  I was over there after they’d gone home a couple of days ago and . . . yeep.  They’ve piled the furniture (and the books) in corners, peeled up the carpets . . . and dug enormous holes in the floor, accompanied by ripping out several of the interior walls.+  YEEP.  There’s a skip++ in the driveway that takes up the entire neighbourhood:  it looks like the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS when the mother ship has landed, only without all the pretty lights (or Francois Truffault).  And the little strip of garden between the house and the road is still full of large splinters that used to be walls and floors.  I may be relieved of my Queen Elizabeths yet.+++ 

            I tell myself that this is what builders do, this is what remodelling is like++++ but . . . jeezum crow I hope they know what they’re doing. 

+ Among other things this means that I can’t go up there for the odd spot of gardening right after I’ve had a cup of tea, because the bathroom walls are notable among the missing and the loo is baldly sitting there next to one of the Enormous Holes. 

++ Dumpster 

+++ Nah.  They’ll wipe out the nice little daylilies I put in last year, and the rose called Claret which I bought for the colour in spite of her being a hybrid tea and I don’t do HTs any more (much).  You can’t kill Queen Elizabeth roses.  When the biosphere is destroyed by a passing meteor, what will survive are cockroaches and Queen Elizabeth roses. 

++++ And another thing remodelling is like:  the plumber’s been round and he says Third House’s boiler is on its last legs and it would be less expensive to change it now while everything is torn up anyway.  It’s still expensive. 

^^^ For which read:  had an Aga.  And the tall walls, to get one more bookshelf in before you slam irrevocably into the ceiling. 

^^^^ Something no one thought to point out to me, and I was too dim to think of it myself, is that the 1,000,000 paint samples you brush on the wall create tiny little lumps or rough patches which the final paint job will not make disappear.  Fortunately most of these little arrays are now hidden behind furniture.  Most of them.

 ~ Emphasis on lives.

~~ There’s a wonderful essay somewhere called The Importance of Being the Right Size.  I read it around the same time as I read a Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown, but it’s not in that book, unfortunately.  I still have that book. 

~~~ The extremely awkward half flight of stairs I bump my #)(*&^%$£”!!!!! dustbins up and down every weekend for Monday garbage collection. 

** Tell me where the chosen people are and I’d be HAPPY to let them go in exchange for sunlight and the Fahrenheit mid-40’s!

Black and White

I was desultorily clearing off the top of my desk today* and unexpectedly turned up a page I’d torn out of TIME magazine a few weeks ago, that I was going to use as part of my Obama Run around the inauguration.  The page disappeared that weekend, of course, and I couldn’t remember enough about it to try and find the link–indeed I thought I’d pulled it out of THE WEEK and as Maren calmly and intelligently** pointed out to me a few weeks ago about something else, you don’t want to be looking for something in THE WEEK’s on line archive but in the archive of the periodical they reprinted it from.  Oh.  Duh.  Yes.  So I was obviously damned in this instance.

            But no.  It was in TIME.  And here’s the link. 


 And this is the bit I particularly wanted to say yessssss about: 

‘. . . The point is not just that Obama will bring globalism to America; in his name, his face and his issues, he’ll bring America back to the globe.

You could, in fact, say it is the questions that he draws from his experience that are as important as any answers he may come up with. How to make a peace between the black and the white inside him (or inside our cities and our country)? How to do right by our relatives in Africa without dishonoring the grandparents from Kansas who raised us? How to bring the modest Muslim school in Java together with Harvard Law School? The questions Obama has been thinking about all his life are the very ones that dominate the world today. . . .’

Here is the thing that I hope for the most in an Obama presidency–not a grand turnaround for the economy, not a cure for cancer, not a cheap and globally responsible alternative to fossil fuels . . . there are a lot of miracles to choose from.  What I want is what I personally would see as the greatest miracle of all:  that he can, on account of both who and what he is, a man of mixed race and heritage, pull us all together a bit more:  Americans and British, Iraqis and Afghans, Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, North and South Koreans, Patagonians and New Guineans, Tuvaluns and Liechtensteiners.  Because we’re all people first, and when the ozone, the polar ice, and the rainforests go, we’ll all go together.

          This is what worries me about the focus on ‘the first African-American president’:   it’s not that he’s not half black, of course he is, it’s that he’s also half white–or half something other than black, if you prefer.  He’s BOTH.  He is MORE THAN ONE THING.  He belongs to more than one tribe.  And you, me, Obama, the world, we can all be BOTH.  We can all be more than one thing, belong to more than one tribe.  In fact we should.

            I have a major thing about what I call ‘Othering’.  I’ve talked about it before in the far less dramatic terms of being a professional writer, some of whose readers more or less, or consciously or unconsciously, or worshipfully or hostilely, Other her:  make her something Other than what they are themselves, merely because she has written a book or books that the readers respond to in some way they find disturbing or inspiring.  I don’t like being Othered.  You can admire (or despise) someone without losing sight of the fact that they’re human just like you.  Excessive admiration makes me twitchy . . . and you wouldn’t believe some of the things that people who haven’t liked one or another of my books give themselves permission to say or write to me.  If they got it that I was a person just like them they wouldn’t do it.  They couldn’t.

            I’m neither a politician nor a philosopher, and it’s late*** and I’m tired†, but I wanted to show you the TIME article before I lose it again.  So pardon the plodding lack of a subtle development of my theme.  An awful lot of what goes wrong among human beings is that we think in terms of us and them.  We are apparently hardwired to do this:  and we badly need to short this system out permanently.  When all people of colour–or almost anyone who isn’t a WASP††–claim Obama as their own I sooo don’t want it to become another us and them situation–even if everyone-who-isn’t-a-WASP has been waiting a very, very long time for this moment and can hardly be faulted for wanting to revel in it.  And I understand us and them, although mine tends to run along gender lines:  did I want Hillary to be president partly just because she was a woman?  ††† You bet I did.  I’m frelling sick to frelling death of the gender wars:  of the particular imbalances and abuses of that Us and Them.  But I also know that the only way forward for men and women, just as for black, white, brown, yellow, red, chartreuse and plaid, is together.  And, you know, acknowledging who we all are:  different but the same.

            And no, I haven’t read DREAMS FROM MY FATHER yet. But it’s on the pile.‡

 PS:  Aren’t they ever going to get that dog?  What’s the hold up

* * *

* Actually ‘desultorily’ is highly inaccurate.  Clearing off the top of my desk requires a flak suit and serious back up:   I put the spiked collars on the hellhounds, and the face plates with the horns.   And then they get these little pelvic numbers like chastity belts, to balance the weight of the horns.  It’s all pretty complicated, which is why I don’t clear off the top of my desk very often. 

** These librarians, you know.  I bet she knows how to change a flat tyre, build a bookcase that doesn’t explode^, and create a distillery out of bits of lifeboat when she’s washed up on the shore of a barren island in the middle of the salty ocean.  And make fishhooks out of the paperclips she happens to have in her pocket. 

^ I know I’ve referred to McKinley’s Exploding Bookcase before.  I seem to do explosions.  I’ve mentioned McKinley’s Exploding Chocolate Cake too.

*** as usual 

† Aggravated in this case by the fact that there was a knock on the door this morning at eight–I had gone to bed at mmmphrty . . . uh . . . I wasn’t planning on getting up till nine or so–and it was my builder

†† There’s never been an overtly Jewish president either, although I believe there are quite a few semi-secret Jewish bloodlines that have put their feet up on the desk in the Oval Office.  And old people like me will remember the furore over John Kennedy being Catholic.  

††† Please note crucial presence of adverb partly in this sentence.

‡ Peter got it first.

Klutzim revisited

Sorry about the monster photo . . . or anyway it’s a monster photo on my screen . . . the SUV That Ate the Internet.*  Hastily writing to Blogmom . . . heeeeeeeelp . . .

But meanwhile, speaking of technology confounding me, as it does on a regular basis, my memory confounds me even oftener, and in combination . . . well.  I meant to ask about a fortnight ago that everybody who should have received a klutzim klub membership card** and never did . . . please email me again. ***  And I’ll send it again.  Or in some cases I may be sending it the first time.   I had graphic proof just a few days ago that I’m still not getting all the email that is sent to me.  Sigh.  We can only do what we can do.  A signed copy of SUNSHINE also disappeared between here and Australia only a couple of months ago.  That hurts.  But I don’t mind sending out a few repeat membership cards . . . and besides, I have another silly game I want to play with anyone who wants another chance at a free signed book.  I have a new set of Will Arrive Where Sent charms to glue on the envelope .  We live (sillily) in hope.

* * *

*I always knew SUVs were up to no good.   Oh, but I’m going to let this one live.  At least till the window melts.  That makes two:  this one–which may in fact be a proper truck which does things like haul hay bales to snowy furballs in far flung fields reached only by deeply rutted tracks protected by trolls, in which case I apologise–and Obama’s Black Beast.  Go Beast!  We like this one!  We want to keep him!

** Which membership cards, in case, with the passage of time, you’ve forgotten, look a lot like bookmarks with DRAGONHAVEN on one side and CHALICE on the other

*** Note that I’ve deleted all the klutzim requests–as I sent them out, you know.  So you need to send me your full name and address–and preferably a reminder of your particular claim to klutzimhood, although this is not required–all over again.

Real handbells and putative snow


It’s handbell evening again* and I was dazedly coming up for air after an intense stint on PEGASUS post-afternoon-hellhound-hurtle, and checking to see if my wrists were conformable to bell-shaking as opposed to keyboard-tapping flexibility . . .  and it’s frelling cold out there.  So I had to halt the serene and gradual recomposing of the crabby and rheumatic middle aged brain from creation of mellifluous prose to the bloody recall of hideous chains of pattern**  and dart outside hastily to wrap up a geranium*** and bring some fruit trees etc † indoors.

            I haven’t been paying attention to the forecast;  two days in a row that have not required the wrapping of geraniums has been enough for me.  But it’s now supposed to turn cold again . . . and we may have snow this weekend.   I object.

            And as if on cue Blackbear sent me this:i-hate-snow


 * * *

 * Last week Alicia pointed out that our gentlemen had already been ringing tower bells all day and were winding down^ with a few light touches of handbells.  This was an exaggeration.  Colin, who is retired^^, has a Thursday morning practise for anyone who feels like rolling up, and Niall takes days off work to coincide with ringing he wants to do, and he’d gone along to Colin’s regular Thursday morning practise.  But that’s only an hour and a half out of your day^^^.

            Today they had been ringing all day.  There was an ‘outing’ as these things are tenderly called, where a lot of bell junkies tear across a given bit of landscape, ringing in every tower they can get into.^^^^  And they went

            And people have been known to call me a bell fiend.^^^^^ 

^ Handbells!  How do I get myself into these things!  The overwhelming majority of really good tower bell ringers won’t touch handbells with a nine-foot clapper!  Or a ten-foot belfry beam!  There is a reason why

^^ I wouldn’t swear to it that he took early retirement so he could devote more time to bell ringing, but it wouldn’t surprise me 

^^^ . . . plus two hours out of your evening 

^^^^ This involves someone with organisational skills making advance contact with the secretaries of all the towers involved, so that the junkies can get in.  It is nonetheless a law of the universe that in any given outing, one tower secretary will have forgotten, and the door will remain locked and the bells unrung, and a lot of suffering addicts will be scattered across the cemetery clinging to gravestones+ and shaking uncontrollably. 

+ or parking meters, if it’s a town church 

^^^^^ I have been on the occasional outing. 

** The chains are spiked, of course, which explains the blood 

*** One of the many winter gardening tasks one can only do without gloves 

† Yes, the rose hedge is doing very well, thank you.   Although I wonder what it’s writing home.  Hi, everyone, yes, we’re all doing fine.  The grub’s good, there’s plenty of drink, the berth’s pretty comfortable and the flunky is attentive.  But the climate is bizarre. . . .

The ringing gods are kind


I went to what used to be Sacred Wednesday Bell Practise tonight for the first time in what may be as much as two months.  When I say the ME has been biting, I mean the ME has been biting, and by evening the idea of standing up is extreme, let alone raising my hands over my head to grab a bell rope.  Pity I have to eat*:  if I just lay around all day reading other people’s novels and watching reruns of BUFFY and WEST WING** I’d probably still have the energy to go ringing in the evening.***  Unfortunately I do have to eat, which means I have to get another book written.†  And by evening . . . well.

            I think I am better†† but I’m also just terminally bored with staying at home every night.†††  So I shut up hellhounds–Chaos in particular was not at all happy about the curtailment of what he has been coming to believe is the right to lie on the sofa with the hellgoddess, and if saaaaaaaaaad eyes could have done it, I’d’ve stayed home–stuffed my bell-method books in my knapsack‡ and leaped‡‡ into the car.

            Anyone else out there with self-worth issues will know what I’m talking about when I say that it was quite startling how glad the regulars were to see me:  made me want to keep looking over my shoulder to see who they’re so happy about.  The woman who usually carpools with Wild Robert said she’d missed me badly because there have been several Wednesdays when she was the only woman present, whereupon all the men start talking in Male-Brain Language.‡‡‡  Yes.  Shudder.  I too have been in the position of being the only tetra in a tank full of swordfish.  It’s okay as long as you keep moving, but show any sign of indecision and . . .

            But, as I say, the ringing gods were kind tonight.  While I’d been relieved last Friday at home tower practise to discover that I can still more or less stumble through most of what I used to be able to ring, I was kind of hanging on to the brittle edges of my crumbly memory with my fingernails:  I’ve been making it to more Fridays than I have Wednesdays these last two months, but maintaining my level of mediocrity requires more than one practise a week.  Tonight I was a trifle more centred, which is also to say there’s more memory left than the crumbly edges.  Whew.  This was fortunate too because as I’ve told you I tend to be one of the better ringers on Wednesday nights, as opposed to the slow pathetic one on Fridays.  And when I’m managing to hold my line while riot and babel are exploding all around me, it can be pretty funny§, and we had several goes of Grandsire and Stedman when only two or three of the six of us knew what we were doing.  Bang!  Crash!  Clatter!  There have certainly been nights when I have been contributing to the havoc rather than being a bulwark§§ of granite reliability, but tonight was, rather mysteriously, one of my granite nights.§§§

            Whew.  I am still a ringer.

            And now I’m going . . . to . . . b e d  .  .  .  . 

* * *

* The hellhounds would probably be delighted to give it up 

** And writing blog entries.

            Is anyone else suddenly enjoying WEST WING again now that we have Obama in the White House?  I’ve been pretty much unable to watch it the last four years–when He Who No Longer Must Be Named was returned for a second term I think I lost the will to live, or to watch American TV programmes.  Maybe this is why I never quite fully connected with FIREFLY:  I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch up with it till after Black November four years ago. 

*** You’ve all read The Spoon Theory by now, yes? 
http://butyoudontlooksick.com/navigation/BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory.pdf ^

Every time I have another acute ME attack I am reminded all over again of just how accurate this is.  You get up in the morning . . . slowly, because you suspect the news is bad . . . and count your damn spoons.  At least one of them and maybe (groan) more will turn out not to be a spoon at all, but a bit of crumpled tin foil, catching the light and deluding you into thinking it’s solid;  and occasionally if you’re very lucky you’ll find an extra spoon later on somewhere, unexpectedly, perhaps down the back of the sofa with the lint and the pennies.  But it wouldn’t have to be spoons you use to describe the phenomenon, it could be knives, forks, brass farthings, candlesticks, Nintendo Gameboys or old shoes.  The point is that physical and mental energy are finite.  Of course they are:  that’s why you have to get up from your computer occasionally and stretch, maybe go for a cup of coffee and think about something else for five minutes;  why you sleep at night;  why you have holidays.  But you don’t realise just how finite energy is till you have something like ME.  The quality of the limitations is different, somehow, than when you’re just ill, like with flu or something, and you tire easily;  or that’s how it is with me anyway.  When the ME is running my show I come to the end of the day’s spoons like falling over the edge of the earth.  It’s that absolute.  If I’m standing up with my hands over my head holding onto a bell rope at that moment, I have to stop and sit down, however embarrassing this is.  You will doubtless believe me when I say I go to some trouble to make sure this does not happen when I’m half an hour from the car walking hellhounds. 

^ It’s also in this blog’s ‘about’. 

† And another.  And another.  And . . . I’ll be paying off the advance money that let me buy Third House for decades.  Especially if I insist on keeping eating in the meanwhile. 

†† Although I met Jenny riding Connie this morning, while hellhounds and I were doing our ME-facsimile hurtle:  there was a sound of thunder and a flash of white . . . and a beautiful grey mare burst out of a side path just ahead of us.  I won’t say I’d forgotten how gorgeous she is, but the urge to tackle Jenny out of the saddle and gallop away was . . . except I’m standing there with my hands full of hellhounds thinking, I’m allowed to ride her.  I just need to be able to.  I may not be a true book person really:  I’ve read enough novels, I want to ride Connie.

 ††† Even with 1,000,000,000 TV programmes to choose from.  There are long gaps in my TV watching, so every time I sign back on after a month or a year Sky has added several dozen more totally useless channels, which merely make finding the few you do occasionally find something you want to see on, harder

‡ Which is probably futile when you’re ringing for Wild Robert, which I am on Wednesdays, since he has the dreadful habit of coming up with methods that aren’t in the standard method booksAaaaaugh.  Whereupon he will draw them on the blackboard and you’re supposed to . . . just read them off and say, yup, okay, got that, and grab your rope–which is what real ringers do.  If you’re learning a standard method you can go home and swot up–and indeed you’d better.  Then you can nonchalantly grab a rope next time, and at least have a try, and if he draws it on the board you don’t care.  Reading a change method off the blackboard is like sight-reading a piece of piano music:  Oisin knows my sight reading is bad, but he doesn’t know just how bad and I really don’t want him to know.  There’s nowhere to hide in a bell chamber. 

‡‡ Gently 

‡‡‡ Of which, as I think about it, drawing methods on the blackboard is a kind of annex, although there are a lot of women ringers who can do it too 

§ I’m not the conductor!  Not my problem!  Ha ha ha ha ha! 

§§ or a bell 

§§§ Even if I do have a nasty habit of initially importing bits of the last method into whatever we’re ringing now, with predictably dire results.  I can’t change memory chips that QUICKLY!

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