June 30, 2009



None of the emails I’ve sent in the last two days went out.  Did you get that?  None of the emails I’ve sent in the last two days went out.

I got suspicious when I had an email from Merrilee wanting to know why I wasn’t answering the phone at the cottage when I’d emailed her this morning to please ring me at the mews.  So I went investigating the back cupboards of Outlook, because it won’t tell you these things,  and . . .

None of the messages I’ve sent in the last two days had gone out.  They’re all sitting there with the same FRELLING error message

This might make a jolly sparkling uproarious blog post . . . if I were in the frelling mood.  But I’m not.  Can you say ‘really really really bad day’?

It’s still hot.

Tomorrow, you know, the day I’m supposed to be going to the opera, is still on to be The Hottest Day of the Year.  I haven’t been to the Grange before, so I don’t know just how outdoors it all is, but I do know it’s based around another of these big old country houses open to the public, this one more of a literal wreck than usual—Peter and I went there once, when it was still just a romantic ruin—but those are certainly tents people are eating under, in the photo on the opening screen, and you park in a field*, so there’s quite a lot of outdoors involved.**

. . . But this is when it starts getting interesting.

We had a hot slow dawdle this morning.  We have had hot slow dawdles before.  I’m terrible in the heat.  The hellhounds are worse.  What was it Robert Frost said about the world ending in ice rather than fire?***  The hellhounds are from that place.  But we’ve had hot slow dawdles before.  Today Darkness came home, lay down for a while . . . and then threw up five times in an hour† and when taken outdoors, which is what he seemed to be requesting—at which point I figured the news was about to get even worse than mopping the floor five times††—had the streaming yellow squirts.

There’s a short loop around the mews, out to the road and curl around through another bit of the old estate, and back onto the mews drive again.  I don’t do it very often because it’s only about a ten minute walk, and the hellhounds and I specialize in distance.  But in this case I thought we’d come back that way.  Today as we turned onto the curl we were sharply addressed by an ugly old woman with one of those faces that brings to mind what your kindergarten teacher used to say to you when you were sulking, What if your face froze like that?  This nasty old cow’s face did.  And she told me we were on private property.  Now, I’m quite capable of walking on dubiously unpublic property, but usually only if I know the farmer or it’s one of those places everyone does walk and you figure there’s safety in numbers.  This was genuinely news to me.  But we live at the mews, I said, nonplussed—the gate opens on the drive.  The gate is for our private guests only, snarled the old bat.  I was extremely sorry that Darkness did not choose that moment to have another yellow squirt.  Preferably over her shoes.

It was after this that I got back to the mews, was wondering why Merrilee wasn’t ringing me, got her message, and . . .

To sum up.  I have various people mad at me for yelling at them.†††  My email is working again, for the moment:  apparently‡ Outlook had decided—nine months or whatever it is since Blogmom set up @robinmckinley.com—that it wanted authorization.  It didn’t tell me it wanted authorization or anything:  it just stopped sending my emails, and kept its error message hidden close to its chest.  I believe ‡‡ I have resent all the blocked emails—including one or two that will probably make more people mad at me for being late, and for not realizing that the fact they hadn’t answered meant that they can’t have got mine.  I hate organized people.   I’m supposed to notice someone hasn’t answered by return electron? 

Have I mentioned that it’s still hot?

And Darkness still has the streaming yellows.  I have my hellhound minder lined up for tomorrow night and everything—and Peter has said he’ll cancel bridge and stay home if that would help—but if Darkness is no better tomorrow, I won’t be going to the opera.  I’ll be at home shooting electrolytes down his throat.  And damning the universe.  Anyone thinking of contacting me about anything, you might want to wait at least till after tomorrow’s blog entry, unless perhaps you’d like to join in a chorus of universe-damning. . . .

* * *

* They want you to dress as if . . . you were going to Buckingham Palace to see your husband gonged.  What are you supposed to do about your shoes?  Hire a footman to carry your pink diamante heels^ to the door of the theatre, and take your plimsolls back to the car?  

^ I wish.  

** Especially for anyone foolish enough to be going alone.  There is no provision for loners at this lovely-evening-out-opera-experience.  For frell’s sake, I can’t be the only person who is an opera nut and/or within (relatively) easy driving distance and who, at those prices, doesn’t want to drag a husband or a friend along merely to save herself from the Awful Stigma of Being Seen Alone in a Public Place Having a Good Time?  You can’t book a single seat at a table;  you can’t order a meal for one;  you can’t even order a picnic for one;  they don’t sell champagne by the glass—or even by the half bottle, although it still takes me two days to get through a half bottle unless Peter helps—but they’ll sell you a single ticket for an extreme amount of money and you’ve still got something like an hour and half’s interval to eat your supper in.  I feel like the little match girl.^  I am planning to go back to Wolfgang (in my plimsolls) and eat a pack of Organic Roast Cashews, which are my idea of hard rations, and almost worth eating supper in a car to have an excuse for^^.  I am debating taking a quarter bottle of champagne in an ice bucket in an insulated cool bag.

^ Only hotter.  Dying in the snow right now sounds pretty good.

^^ But not very often, in these menopausal days, when half a cashew is at least an eighth of a pound on the scales the next morning.

*** http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/fire-and-ice/

† At which point I rang the vet, who said wipe his feet in cold water to help him cool off.

†† Four times.  I didn’t get there fast enough the fifth time, and he threw up in his bed.

††† And the even more distressing truth is that I don’t care as much as I should.  I wasn’t blaming them.  I was damning the universe.  I am fifty-six years old and have regrettably little self control?  Fine.  Anything you like.    

‡ According to Computer Men, who are among those who are mad at me. 

‡‡ But belief is a chancy freller

My OBE-winning husband


 It is much too hot.  It was 91 in my garden this afternoon, according to my maximum-minimum thermometer, when the hellhounds and I had panted back to the cottage from the mews in what should have been the cool of the evening but was reading 86 on the as-it-happens thermometer.  Note that both the max/min and the as-it-happens are in the shade.*

            I have blown what few unmelted brain cells I had available today on PEGASUS, so how fortunate that the pertinent issue of one of the Hampshire newspapers that interviewed Peter arrived today.  And yes, I have already phoned the journalist Amanda Barnes to ask permission to quote her friendly and positive article on my blog.  She was amused.  She also said yes.**


 ‘A tall, elderly, bony, beaky, wrinkled sort of fellow with a lot of untidy grey hair and a weird hooting voice***’ is how Peter Dickinson describes himself.

            But I think this author, who was appointed OBE this month, is selling himself short.

            With two Whitbread Book Awards, two Carnegie Awards (and shortlisted nine times!), two Phoenix Awards, on the shortlist of three for the first children’s laureate, and over 50 books under his belt, Peter Dickinson is at the top of his game.  Even at 81 years old.

            His ‘game’ is literature.  Whether it be crime novels and science fiction or children’s writing and poetry, Peter has excelled at them all.  His achievements will be recognised as he goes to Buckingham Palace later this year for his appointment as OBE.

            ‘I never “became” an author,’ said Peter.  ‘I was never taught at school how to write a story.  I had my last English lesson aged 11.’

            . . . Peter was clearly bound for a career in writing even though it seemed unlikely when he turned up for his first job interview covered in blood and dirt after being run over by a tram.  He got the job and wrote for Punch magazine for 17 years.

            His inspiration for writing ‘comes from nowhere’ as he says.  But perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking it comes from everywhere when you listen to his anecdotes of a funny looking history teacher who waddled into his life and set off his fascination for ancient history or his tales of playing with baboons in his school playground where he grew up in Africa.

            But like all great storytellers it is not what has happened to Peter, but the way he tells it that translates into captivating literature.

            “My first book came from a dream,” he explained.  “I had a nightmare and I lay awake telling it over to myself in order to put the story to sleep.  I found myself telling an interesting story!”

            The dream became The Weathermonger, a children’s story.  It was published in 1968 with Skin Deep, his first adult book, which won the CWA’s Gold Dagger while the other became a television series.

            Since then he has gone on to write over 50 books spanning 40 years.  Peter’s writing still appeals to readers young and old and he attributes this to setting his novels historically.

            ‘I have set books in the past which means I do not have to keep up with the way more modern people talk!’ he said modestly.

            But his novels are not just set back to his own time as a child but often set in quite different worlds.  Take for example one of his most accomplished works The Kin—a set of four stories about homo sapiens travelling through Africa 50,000 years ago.

            Peter certainly inhabits a different world to most people.  With a thoughtful gaze and a cheeky glint in his transparent blue eyes†, it is clear that whatever daydream he is playing out in his mind is far more interesting than what you or I might see.††

            Indeed, sharing his vagabond thoughts  was one of the only ways to keep his children quiet on long car journeys many years ago when his family regularly travelled between Hampshire and London.

            ‘I used to tell the children stories in the car to stop the boys fighting in the back seat,’ he remembered.  ‘There was a particular pub we passed that was when I started the story.  That way it gave me a few moments to think of something!’

            Peter has clearly been an inspirational father to his four children (two daughters and two sons), two of whom work in writing or publishing.

            The author is married to his second wife the American fantasy writer Robin McKinley with whom he occasionally collaborates.†††

            He spends his days as a ‘seriously keen gardener’, playing bridge and, of course, writing.

            ‘What I would like is to be shortlisted for the Carnegie one more time,’ he said teasingly about his next ambition.  ‘That would make it a round ten!’           

* * *

 * Please do not feel compelled to write in to say, It’s 111 in the shade here!  91 is way too hot for me.  I used to tell Peter that if he lived in a two-up-and-two-down on a paved-over housing estate in the city^ I’d’ve still married him, and I meant it.  I’m not at all sure I could say that I’d’ve married him if he lived somewhere that it routinely hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. 

^ There would indeed have been certain advantages if I’d never discovered gardening. . . . two rose catalogues arrived last week.  Moan. 

** I’ve also made a few tactful corrections of howlers.  There may be more that I missed.  Or felt came under the heading ‘oh well, interviews are like that’. 

*** I have described him to American friends as sounding like he just stepped out of a BBC costume drama. 

† Okay, I’ll let the cheeky glint pass, but transparent blue eyes??? 

†† Speak for yourself.

††† It would be less occasional if she would get her butt in gear.

Opera in July


It’s too hot.  Although not as hot, I understand, as it’s going to get later in the week.  It will probably reach ‘insufferable’* on Wednesday.  Why Wednesday? you ask.  Because I’m going to see Norma** on Wednesday.  July is a heavy month for opera:  I’m going to see three.  How . . . profligate.  The last one is our end-of-July-anniversary Glyndebourne blow-out for the third year in a row:  this year we’re going to see L’Elisir d’Amore***.  It was that or Rusalka† and I am just not in the mood for another watery woman sacrificing everything because she loves a man who doesn’t know her name, like that jerk Hans Andersen’s little mermaid.  Rusalka does at least get to kill the ratbag with a kiss†† at the end but she’s still cursed to be a demon of death.†††  Great.  Swell.  Jolly.  Not what I want for my met-the-bloke-I-married-almost-twenty-years-ago anniversary.  And while an awful lot of grand opera ends with a dismaying body count‡, Rusalka is based on genuine Slavonic legend, and I take my fairy tales seriously.‡‡

            But Norma comes first.   Norma comes on Wednesday, the hottest day of the year.‡‡‡  I think I told you about irritably cruising the Grange Opera site§ a month or so ago, too late as usual, and wondering for the twelfth or so year in a row why I’m not on their mailing list when I’m a registered, card-carrying§§ opera goer who lives in Hampshire, and discovered that they had one ticket left for Norma.  So I bought it.  It meant I got to see it and I didn’t have to drag poor loyal Peter to see it too, who is already bracing himself for Glyndebourne.§§§ 

             . . . And I have now wasted an extraordinary amount of time listening/watching different web clips of the arias that appear in the footnotes, and I have to go to bed early enough to get the hellhounds out tomorrow morning early enough, before they turn into hellslugs in the heat.  I will just mention in passing that we were—briefly—ten for service ring this morning, and even after two of us sloped off to sing in the choir there were eight to ring down in peal.  We have been lately so rarely eight, let alone eight who can conceivably hold together to ring up or down in peal¤, I’d forgotten how thrilling the noise is when it works, and it worked this morning.

            This is perhaps why I spent most of the afternoon writing a canon¤¤ for Oisin.  

* * *

 * With a PING as the thermometer bulb explodes.  It’s very sad there are no mercury thermometers any more.  So you can’t snap them very, very carefully and play with the mercury.  I’m aware that mercury is fabulously toxic, which is why there aren’t any mercury thermometers any more^ but it was fun while it lasted.  The day in seventh grade when we chased mercury around the lab counter is pretty much all I remember of the year in science class.  And no, there were voices in my head telling me stories before I had handled any mercury.  Although the mercury may have enhanced the effect.^^  

^ At least I don’t think there are, are there? 

^^ Like absinthe.  Although according to Wiki among others ‘Its psychoactive properties . . . have been much exaggerated.’  Damn.  Another illusion ruined. 

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_(opera)

For some reason the synopses available on the web for this one are even sillier than usual.  Wiki has in this case the virtue of brevity.  But what it leaves out is what is to me the most interesting part of the plot:  when Pollione’s latest girlie, Adalgisa, finds out that he’s betraying Norma to seduce her, she sides with Norma.  This is not what usually happens in stories written by men about women fighting over them.  And Norma and Adalgisa’s duet is one of the best things several hundred years of opera has produced.  Say I.


*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27elisir_d%27amore  Yes, I know the plot is ridiculous, and when you say that Adina and Nemorino deserve each other you don’t necessarily mean it in a good way—but it is supposed to be funny, which Wiki seems to have missed out.   It works a treat in a good production—we saw one where Dr Dulcamara made you laugh so much you missed some of the music—given your ability to sink into the Opera Mood.  I love L’Elisir, but it’s not one of the operas I’d take someone to for purposes of conversion.

            And while you’re there anyway, you might click on Enrico Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima.  It’s short and straightforwardly melodic and highly hummable.  You too can scare your boss/neighbours/people standing too close to you on the tube by singing Italian opera.


†† This is actually wildly moving in a good production, even for us snarly feminists.  Oh, well, particularly for us snarly feminists.  But we’ve never wanted to eliminate men.  We just want to be people too.  Which includes equal pay for equal work, okay? 

††† Is this better or worse than just dying and getting it over with?  Discuss.  Note:  I would far rather have dinner with Dvorak than Andersen. 

‡ In Verdi you can almost tell who’s going to die by who does the most singing. 

‡‡ Most disturbing factoid about Rusalka:  its most famous aria, Song to the Moon, inspired Somewhere over the Rainbow. 


This one is a bit more challenging to hum.  (Somewhere over the Rainbow is easier.)  But it also has a glorious melody, the kind that if you give it the chance will haunt the corners of your mind.^  If you non-opera people are going to give this a go, let me recommend you turn it on and then keep on knitting your Kent Treble Bob socks^^ or doing the washing-up or what-have-you:  watching an opera singer in concert is not particularly edifying.  If you want the full opera experience, including the wholly implausible nightgown and the strange ritual arm movements then there’s:


But don’t get excited about the ‘with lyrics’:  they’re in Czech. 

^ Wait, wasn’t that a song by Glen Campbell? 

^^ Thanks, everyone, but you didn’t really think I wouldn’t go home and look it up myself, did you?  The shiver of something-or-other however is that since the last time I remembered/read what it was they were ringing, I’ve got to the borderland of Kent myself:  Wild Robert has dragged me through it a couple of times, as he dragged me through Stedman for months and months.  The problem is that we haven’t got a Kent band anywhere I ring regularly so at the moment the border is as far as I’m going to get.  Where is Lord Peter when you could really use him?  Or do I have to live in the Fens?

            Oh, and that’s not real handbell ringing.  Real handbell ringing is when you ring a bell—a different bell with a different way through the method—with both hands. 

‡‡‡ Second hottest will be the 27th, when we go to Glyndebourne.  It’s all that damned seminar organiser’s fault:  the one who invited Peter to come give a presentation that week in Boston.  Why couldn’t it have been a seminar in April or September, when the weather’s better for celebrating twenty years later? 

§ http://www.grangeparkopera.co.uk/ 

§§ No, really.  You get loyalty cards, like at the supermarket. 

§§§ http://www.glyndebourne.com/

I’m enough of an opera nut that I find it difficult to imagine anyone not knowing what Glyndebourne is.  You may not want to go, but you have to know what it is.  It’s like not knowing what the Statue of Liberty is, or Trafalgar Square, or Mt Everest. 

 ¤ You don’t want to bet on me 

¤¤ Wait!  Grab that prebendary!  He’s trying to run away!

Performing, Practicing, and Pink Elephants

Guest blog by blondviolinist

Robin has asked me to write a post about how to deal with stage fright and performance anxiety. If you’re wanting “Five Easy Steps to Stress-free Performing!,” then I’m afraid this is the wrong post for you. Performing is a learned skill… you have to practice performing before you will be comfortable and play well while performing. I’ve been playing in public for well over half my life, and still learn more about performing every time I do it.

There are at least two aspects of performance: the physical and the mental. I’ll talk about the physical aspect first.

Many amateur musicians always practice at the same time of day. This means their bodies always feel approximately the same when they are playing their instruments. (In case you hadn’t noticed, your body feels and acts differently at 7 am and 4 pm.) Say your normal practice time is mmmfffff time at night. Chances are that neither your lesson nor your public performances will be at mmmfffff time at night. Even without performance nerves, your body will feel differently when you get ready to play at your lesson or a public performance, and it may not even be ready to play music. This happens frequently in music performance classes in college. A student will get up to perform, play poorly, and then say something along the lines of “I haven’t had a chance to eat…. it’s really cold in here… I haven’t had a chance to play my instrument today… it’s really hot in here, and my hands are all sweaty.”

If you are experiencing performance nerves on top of the unfamiliar time of day, playing a familiar piece can become suddenly and startlingly unfamiliar. There is a mind-body spiral that happens during stage fright: the performer become emotionally frightened, which sets off a fight-or-flight response in the body: the heart rate goes up, the blood moves away from small muscles into big muscles, and there is a surge of adrenaline. A player who isn’t used to playing when their body is in a fight-or-flight attitude will then become more nervous “Oh, no, I’m getting nervous! I don’t play well when I’m nervous! This is going to be bad!” The negative mental talk causes more anxiety, which heightens the body’s fight-or-flight reaction, which heightens the mental anxiety. As you can see, it’s nasty spiral. As a teacher, one of my first goals with anxious students is to stop that spiral, so that when my student feels the results of fight-or-flight in their body, they respond mentally with “That’s ok, I know how to play when I’m nervous.” This shuts down the spiral, and leaves only a useful amount of nerves. (Yes, nerves are good. They heighten awareness and concentration.)

So how do you practice in such a way that you won’t be blindsided by the completely different feel of your body when you perform?

1. Practice at different times of day and night, especially as you get closer to performance. Play for five minutes right after you roll out of bed. Practice right before you eat, or right after you eat. Practice for a few minutes right after you come home tired from work. Practice when you’re feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

2. Do a set of jumping jacks, or run up and down stairs, then play through your solo. This helps you get used to playing with a raised heart rate and sweaty hands.

3. Visualize the performance situation clearly enough to get nervous, then play. Find several different friends to perform for, who will be nice but still make you get nervous.

4. During all of these different exercises, make sure you play the same way you will play during performance. In other words: Don’t. Stop. No. Matter. What. Happens. Keep playing, beginning to end, no matter how many mistakes and flubs you make. I have students all the time who are shocked when they make mistakes in performance, when I could have told them they would make that mistake… they’ve always stopped and restarted right at that measure, and have never practiced playing it through! (Why don’t I tell them? Well, I do, eventually, but sometimes they need to make the mistakes first, so they listen when I tell them how to solve the problems.)

Now, on to the really tricky part of performing: the mental aspect.

If you’ve ever played in front of people and gotten terribly nervous, stop for a moment right now and try to remember what was going through your mind.

No, admit what was really going through your mind:

“Ack! Missed that note. I practiced that passage for forever! Why couldn’t I get it? Is that Curtis sitting in the front row? Drat, I need to concentrate… what was that last musical phrase I played? Oh, my teacher is going to KILL me for not using vibrato on that note. Wonder what happens if I totally blow this performance? Ok, focus: count… One and Two and Three and… oooh, that was really out of tune. And what IS my pianist doing? Doesn’t she play here? Did I miss a measure? Oh, crap! We’re a measure off. Get… back… on… Whew. Ok, back on. These shoes are really uncomfortable… shouldn’t have worn such high heels. Focus… and I fumbled that. Curtis is totally not going to like this performance. I’m going to have to call him tomorrow. No, not talking to Curtis, or my teacher, or anyone EVER again. Tricky passage coming up… C#, G-natural, C#… whew. Ok, this next part is easier. But the earlier part still stank. Maybe Curtis won’t remember it. My teacher will, though. RecitalFAIL, right here and now. Hmm, that note sounded halfway decent. Why can’t I pay attention to the piece? I like this piece. My fingers are still cold, though. Move, fingers!!! Wow, last note already? Well, that’s over.”

That’s what my mental chatter often sounds like when I’m performing. (Well, except for the bit about Curtis. I made up Curtis.) Almost none of that chatter, however, helps me to play well. Most of it pulls my attention away from the music. Even the repeated self-commands to “Focus” only hinder me from truly focusing on the music. The obsessive critical play-by-play mental commentary on my performance is extremely destructive.

This is one major difference between performing and the way most of us practice 95% of the time. When I am practicing for the sake of learning notes and perfecting technique, mental criticism can be good. I need to hear the sound that is coming out of my instrument, notice what is working and what is not working, and change the things that aren’t working. When I am performing, however, the mental criticism is disruptive and unhelpful. I need to be living in the music: the harmonies, the rhythms, the direction of the melody, the emotional expression. Any mistakes that happen need to be cast aside: they are in the past, and I need to live in the present moment of the piece. This type of mental attention to the music doesn’t come without effort and practice, however. So just as I practice the notes and the technique, I must also practice the type of mental attention that I need to use when I am performing. This is what many musicians forget.

But how do you turn off the mental critic? You use the “Pink Elephant Principle.” We music teachers for years have told our students “Don’t worry about what the audience is thinking. Don’t think about any mistakes you have made.” This is about as effective as telling someone not to think about pink elephants. Once you tell someone not to think about pink elephants, it is practically impossible for them to stop thinking about pink elephants, though they have probably gone for entire months of their lives without ever once having thought about roseate pachyderms. Make the suggestion, tell someone specifically what not to think about, and immediately her mind will be fixated on the object she wants to avoid. This is what happens when we tell ourselves or our students not to think about the audience, or about mistakes. By bringing up the subject, it immediately becomes the obsessive center of mental activity.

There is one way to stop thinking about pink elephants, however. You deliberately choose to fill your mind with something else: purple giraffes, blue weasels, the imports and exports of South American countries. When you’re performing and your mind starts to go in negative directions, you want to fill your mind with things that will help you to play instead of hurting your performance. That means you need to have a game plan: when you start thinking about the audience’s response, or about the mistake you made three measures ago, you need to have somewhere specific for your mind to go. This mental escape hatch needs to be interesting enough to fill your entire mind, so you no longer have space to think about your teacher, Curtis, or pink elephants.

I have several of these mental escape hatches I use on a regular basis:

1. Listening to my sound coming back to me from the room. When I am in a large hall, the sound coming from my instrument right under my ear is different from the sound being reflected to me from the walls and ceilings. Listening to the sound of my instrument as it reverberates in the space takes quite a bit of mental concentration.

2. Listening to how the sound of my violin fits into the sound of the piano (or orchestra, or string quartet.)

3. Paying attention to the feel of my bow as it touches the string… feeling every millimeter of contact. Sometimes I do the same thing with my left hand… feeling the string as it vibrates against my finger, feeling the smoothness of the wood under the tips of my fingers. This intense concentration drives away thoughts of other things.

4. Hearing the musical line and where I want to it to go, and being intensely physically present in the shaping of that musical line with the pressure of my bow, the sweep of my right arm, and the movement of my left hand.

There are many other possible mental escape hatches, and it takes experimentation to find out what works best for you. But it is important to discover what helps you to be completely present in the making of music, and what helps you to block out the white noise of the voice in your head.

None of these techniques will instantly make you a better performer. But they are tools that can help you develop into a musician who is less and less frightened by performance situations, and is actually able to enjoy the opportunity to give to others your own delight in the music.

(P.S. It has been many years since I have read the book, but many of my ideas about how to deal with performance anxiety come from The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey.)



I went to bed last night still wretched about Mike and got up this morning feeling emotionally hung over.*   At least it rained.   I woke up at one point and listened to the hammering on the roof.  Thursday night rain is especially welcome because it means I don’t have to water the garden(s) on piano-lesson-and-Sacred-Home-Tower-Bell-Practise day, which is always quite fraught enough, especially when I’m trying to finish a novel.

            Because of Mike** I didn’t get to the piano yesterday.  I usually come away from my music lessons on fire with enthusiasm and work like mad through the weekend.  If I’m going to miss a day it’s usually early in the week, when the weekdayness of weekdays has penetrated even my case-hardened free-lance sensibility.  I never miss Thursdays because they are the day before Fridays, when my music lesson is. 

            So I got the hellhounds out really early† this morning so I could get down to the mews and the piano really early.  I’ve been rewriting A Study in Arrgh–which I had written rather expeditiously one end-of-week a while back when Finale unexpectedly went on strike for some damn reason††:  pencil, manuscript paper, and only me as playback programme.  I had been pleased with it at the time but Oisin suggested a certain lack of coherence . . .   this week I’ve reworked it so thoroughly that barring the first few notes of the first theme there’s barely any of the original left. 

            And hey, are you ready for this?  I even put the dynamics in:  you know, the louds and the softs and the funny words like ‘legato’ and ‘cantabile’ and ‘rit’.  Oisin has been suggesting with some increasing force that I really need to be thinking about dynamics.  All right all right. †††   Dynamics.

            So he played it through once and said ‘hmmm’.  And played it through a second time and said ‘hmmm’.  And then he played it a third time and said, this is the best and most coherent piece you’ve written so far.  Well done.  And when you get the dynamics written in properly‡ I would like a copy please.


            Life is worth living again.‡‡ 

* * *

 *Southdowner kept saying, he is not your fault or your responsibility!  But it’s a little hard not to feel responsible (and at fault) when you were the chief conspirator in his acquisition.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  

** . . . Because of Mike I didn’t tell you that southdowner had brought Lovely Rosie again, brought her straight in to this tiny cottage kitchen, and the hellhounds were like oh, hey, long time no see.  Well, more or less.  Chaos was like, visitors, cooool,^ and Darkness, by the end of the afternoon was actually caught in the act of waving a play-eliciting paw at her.  He changed his mind at once of course–you could see him trying to pretend it hadn’t happened–well my goodness, what is that paw doing out there?  If he’d been a cat he’d’ve licked it in a that’s-what-I-meant-all-along manner.  But it looks good for three-way silliness and mayhem at Third House’s garden the next time Lovely Rosie is in the area.

            Because it is against the law of the universe for a good thing not to have a down side^^ . . . I’ve told you that Darkness, who’s both the responsible one and the bright one, had been starting to show some rather worrying signs of defensive aggression because of the number of times we’ve had aggressive off lead dogs attack us.  He’s been better lately–which may be Rosie again–but he still tends to drop back and bark in a ‘I don’t want to worry you or anything but that may be a sabre-tooth tiger approaching’ way at certain dogs.^^^ 

            Today we were setting off through the last of the village toward the high country on one of our standard walks, and saw coming toward us, still at some distance, an idiot woman with her double pushchair accommodating two children I regretfully assume contain her genes, and her two frelling off lead dogs.  We’ve met this assortment of warm-blooded wildlife before.  We are not good friends.

            There was a footpath I wasn’t planning to take opening off on our left, and we went that way.  Hastily.  Hoping that Ugly Small White Dog and Ugly Red Medium-Sized Dog would decide we were too far away to bother with.  But no.  After a minute Darkness and Chaos dropped behind me, and Chaos started his, Ooooooh!  Dog!  Dance.  I turned around, the better to crank them in, and discovered that Ugly Small White and Ugly Medium Red were nearly on us. ^^^^   And I was concentrating on Chaos, who’s the one who’s going to get bitten, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but Darkness striding out in front of both of us and barking and growling in a Be off, villein! manner . . . and Ugly White and Ugly Red looking nonplussed and falling back.

            At this point we were able to beat a tactful retreat.  And Darkness, sweetie, I appreciate your good intentions, but don’t do it, okay?  Jeez.     

^ Southdowner says Chaos reminds her of Fotherington-tomas in Molesworth.+  Hmmmmmmm.  

+We all know Molesworth, yes? http://www.stcustards.free-online.co.uk/


^^ See:  giving people cocker spaniel puppies.  Even experienced dog people who are longing for cocker spaniel puppies.  This is what I keep running up against:  what the hell happened

^^^ Not that his criteria make any sense to me.  Maybe he’s trying to keep me amused.  May I suggest a nice soft-shoe shuffle instead? http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8743093514089004757 

^^^^ Had I heard any attempt on the part of Idiot Woman to call these menaces to society?  I had not. 

† Early is of course relative, but relative to hellhounds’ expectations it was early enough that they were still mostly horizontal and hadn’t begun milling and murmuring yet.  Hey!  She’s putting her shoes on!  Quick!  Get up and look impatient! 

†† Union representatives are negotiating for greater respect.  Good luck.  I keep reminding myself how grateful I am Finale exists.  And I am.  But . . . 

††† So today he said, oh drat.  That means I can’t make it up as I go along.  –The man is never satisfied. 

‡ I didn’t have time to learn how to do it on Finale, so I’d printed it off and wrote it in in pencil.  This also allows for simple erasures as opposed to technological ones, so not a bad idea anyway. 

‡‡ We will pass more swiftly over Sacred Home Tower Bell Practise this evening.  After three hours of . . . sitting at the piano, since ‘composing’ is only a percentage of time also taken up by head-scratching, foot-waggling, finger-tapping, muttering, watching sleeping hellhounds, and getting up to make superfluous cups of tea.  Very like writing fiction, in fact.  It may be less the familiarity of making stuff up that enables composing than the familiarity of the creative fidgets . . . anyway, after three hours of this, an hour of music lesson, and another three hours of PEGASUS I was pretty fried by the time I lurched off to the tower.  But we had a triples band available for the first time in yonks and yonks–triples being eight-bell methods–and I yearn to be able to ring Grandsire triples, especially since Grandsire triples is pretty much this tower’s default position.  And Edward, who I think forgets that I learn only by grind, and that my extra grinding tends to be at six bell towers, promptly called a touch.  I’ve only ever rung a plain course like three times in my life, and at widely spaced intervals, and I predictably made a total hash of it.  This is not surprising, but it would be nice to have been brilliant for a change.  I don’t do brilliance:  I do grind.  Yes, I know, I am capable of quite good grind:  CHALICE, DRAGONHAVEN, SUNSHINE, etc.  And A Study in Arrgh.  But . . . I’d mind less if I thought I had any chance of a triples band every week for long enough for my gift of grind to serve its function.   

            Aaaaaaaand we will pass even more quickly over Oisin’s monstrous suggestion that I might like to write a canon. ^   He mwa ha ha has with extreme relish.  And I still have to get back to my just a little thing for the organ, speaking of Oisin and mwa ha ha ha has.   I’ve been noticing while I’ve been back on two-hand one-keyboard piano stuff lately that occasionally I miss the pedalboard.  Gak.

^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_canon

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