November 29, 2009

Girls Who Do Things

Obviously this is a part of the previous/following post.  But the more times I enter the wondermark drawing*, the better my chance to win. 

So as someone who has built her entire career on writing stories about Girls Who Get Off Their Behinds, Stop Wringing Their Slender Hands, Get Out of that Skirt and Do Stuff, clearly this is the wondermark that must sit at my elbow**, and it was very thoughtful of a friend of mine to give me a signed copy of this particular strip for my birthday: ***

 * * *

* You are paying attention, aren’t you?

** And whisper to me, yes you are too old for spandex

***Yes, you’ve seen it before.  So?  Great literature is worth rereading.^

^ Modesty forbids. . . .

A Shameless Attempt at a Free Book 

Life has been a little complex lately* or I’d have had a hack at it sooner.  Do we all know and revere David Malki?  We do?  Then please note, all you bloggers and librarians, that you still have one more day to get your entries in.** 

I think this is the strip that 4,236,002 people sent me the link to to get me started, I having confessed I did not know David Malki and the wonder that is wondermark:  *** 

And this one is a great comfort when I have been receiving more than the usual number of emails telling me that I write wickedness and lies/puerile bilge and piffle/that SUNSHINE has to have a sequel because that is clearly not an ending when the pages run out of the first one: †  †† 

And last but not least, on the dangers of treating books carelessly which, of course, no one here would do: ††† 

* * *

* Peter is brilliant^ . . . except that I’ve got stomach flu^^ and Peter has instantly gone into Caretaker Mode.  I’m fine!  I mean, I’m not fine, but I’m fine!  I can make my own cups of tea!^^^  I can complain!  I can also lie on the sofa with hellhounds without prompting!  Watch me!  No, don’t watch me, go have a nice lie down yourself, like you’re supposed to!! 

^ Actually he’s not brilliant.  He and his face have utterly failed in the task of turning refulgent blue and scintillating purple and coruscating yellow in response to nasal surgery.  I mean, come on, what’s the point+ of having your sinuses reconfigured if you can’t even scare small children for a week or so afterward?  Not to mention appear to give your wife some excuse for having a complete nervous breakdown as a result of supporting you through your terrifying ordeal.++ 

+ Or, if you prefer, the edge 

++ Trying to remember Reese Witherspoon’s name for the Guardian crossword Wednesday night at the hospital nearly killed me.  Reese Witherspoon.  Give me a break.  I could do June Carter Cash. 

^^ Or something with symptoms congruent with a case of stomach flu.  There is more reason just now than the sheer incredible beastliness of the weather+ for going on brief sprints with hellhounds.  Gah.  Weariness of body, mind and spirit.  I didn’t make it to service ring this morning.  So it’s serious.++ 

+ The Aral Sea has dried up?  All the water has fallen on Hampshire.  If we made a very long bucket brigade we could return it. 

++ The only bright spot is that approximately the only things that don’t upset my stomach at the moment are strong black tea~, champagne and chocolate.~~  This is nearly as big a favourite as the bibliophibian.  I visit it regularly.  I drink a lot of tea.  Do not drink your tea as you hit that link.  I’m warning you. 



**  No, wait.  Rats.  More entries.  Less chance of my winning.  Never mind, guys.  Forget I said anything.  Go study quantum physics or something.  You don’t really want to enter the drawing. 

*** Yes.  I have the t shirt.  If I’d been thinking ahead I’d be wearing it so I could make my annoyingly alert and healthy husband take a photo.  If it weren’t for the sleet and the howling gale and so on and the fact that even crouched over the electric fire chafing hellhounds all over my body I’m still cold.  Maybe next year Malki can come out with wondermark Shetland pullovers. 

† It’s going to be in neon letters of fire or letters of neon fire or something big and flashy at the end of PEGASUS that no!  Yes!  This one really ISN’T finished!  I know!  I’m working on it!  It’s not a sequel, it’s just the rest of the story!  Give me a minute/month/year!  And I’ll bet you Taittingers to cold, stewed Lipton’s that I still get accusatory mail about it. 

†† Although I don’t have a cool chair that goes up and down.  Mine only goes sideways when I kick it in a rage of creative insurrection. 

††† Okay, just one more:

Hey, I totally understand.

Guest post by Maren

Joan of Arc


I’m a natural skeptic, and a folklorist. Those are the only explanations I can offer as to why for most of my life I assumed that the stories we all know of Joan of Arc must be mythical and/or improvable. An illiterate teenaged shepherdess was suddenly inspired to chop off her hair, travel through occupied territory, convince the Dauphin to let her lead his army, and end a five-month siege where veteran commanders had failed? In 1429? Riiiiiight. It sounds, I dare say, rather like some Fantasy novels with which we are all familiar.* I supposed that in reality, Joan was probably a figurehead at best, and her story was embellished after her death. The first inkling that I was entirely wrong came when I read an excerpt from her heresy trial record for a college French class. She more than held her own throughout the weeks of questioning, deftly avoiding self-implication despite prosecutorial tricks and in the absence of adequate legal counsel. In fact, the only charge on which she was actually convicted (and for which she was executed) turned out to be cross-dressing, since there were plenty of witnesses for that one.

Joan’s original motivations remain largely mysterious to academia. She maintained until her death that she was guided by the voices of three saints** who first spoke to her in her hometown of Domrémy: Michael (patron saint of France), Margaret, and Catherine (both of whom were gruesomely martyred like Joan would be). The voices convinced her that she was the last hope to save France from English occupation, as the rightful French heir (the Dauphin, Charles VII) was holed up in Chinon and on the brink of surrender. In the first of a series of astounding persuasions, she pestered a local official until he agreed to get her an audience with the Dauphin and to send an escort with her to Chinon.

In between Domrémy and Chinon, however, was the territory of the English-allied Burgundians. It was at this point that she cut her hair and put on men’s clothes in order to lessen the chance that she would be sexually assaulted if captured. The journey was apparently uneventful; along the way, she rested in the neutral town of Auxerre, where I came across her statue in the Cathedral Saint-Etienne:

The base says: “Joan of Arc, on her way to Chinon, stopped in Auxerre on Sunday, February 27, 1529 [sic]***, and came to pray in this cathedral.”

In Chinon, she was able to secure her audience with Charles without too much difficulty, but convincing him to send her into battle took a bit longer. This is all that’s left of the hall where they first met. (I have my own picture of it but as it’s not terribly impressive in itself I seem to have neglected to scan it.) One story that probably is mostly myth is the famous recognition scene, which would have taken place here. Eyewitness accounts confirm that Joan did recognize the Dauphin instantly, even though he was not particularly finely dressed or otherwise distinguished from his courtiers; in later years, however, that simple fact morphed into a tale of Charles deliberately testing her by disguising himself.

In any case, Joan hung around Chinon until Charles was sufficiently convinced that she really might be just what France needed. Just to be certain that she wasn’t a witch or a heretic, he sent her to Poitiers where she was thoroughly questioned and examined by university theologians. Having passed that test as well, she was sent on to Tours to have her armor and standard made.

The armorer and Joan’s temporary residence were both located in what was then Tours’ main commercial street, called simply Grande Rue. Several centuries later, the town was Haussmannized—a broad north-south boulevard was cut straight through the warren of little haphazard streets, such that perpendicular Grande Rue lost much of its importance. At some point it was renamed Rue Colbert, and many of its half-timbered houses escaped “modernization” long enough to become fashionable again. Today it is a lively pedestrian street filled on the ground floor with antique shops and small family-owned restaurants serving almost every cuisine imaginable, and on the upper floors with apartments…including the dorm-room-sized one where I lived in 2003-04. YES. I lived on the same street as Joan of Arc. The location of the armorer is well-marked with an old sign extolling the armed maid, but exactly which building she stayed in has been lost to history. It totally could have been mine.†

Newly equipped in Tours, Joan proceeded directly to nearby Orléans with the intention of lifting the English siege that had held there for five months. She succeeded in less than a week, despite the decidedly unhelpful local duke who excluded her from a war council and tried to thwart her aggressive strategy. Every May 8 thereafter, Orléans has commemorated her victory with a parade, which in more recent years has expanded into a days-long festival. There’s also a Joan museum in the house where she stayed, and multiple monuments to her around town. I was there shortly after Christmas, which explains the flocked trees and the garlands:

After Orléans, Joan was suddenly given more credence by her fellow soldiers and the Dauphin, who made her co-commander of the entire army. They set about winning back occupied towns along the Loire so that Charles could get to Reims, where French kings were crowned; the coronation finally took place there on July 17. With the new king in place, Joan and the army now set their sights on occupied Paris, but their luck ran out as they remained locked in a stalemate for several months.

On May 23, 1430, over a year after joining the army, Joan was captured by the Burgundians during a battle for the town of Compiègne. Her family could not afford to ransom her, and Charles offered no help. Eventually the Duke of Burgundy sold her to his English allies, who proceeded with the heresy trial I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Even though Church law called for the defendant to be given a legal advisor, Joan was on her own during the months of questioning in Rouen. Despite numerous additional failures to observe their own laws, the judge and interrogators were unable to trick her into implicating herself. Finally they convicted her on the cross-dressing charge and forced her to sign an abjuration she couldn’t read under threat of immediate execution.

Joan never gave up hope that she would somehow escape or be rescued. In fact, she did attempt to escape several times, once even jumping from a 70-foot tower. As we know, however, she never succeeded and help never came. On May 30, 1431, at 19 years of age, she was burned at the stake in Rouen.†† That morning she took Communion and asked for a cross to be held before her so she could see it as she died. Several Englishmen who were present at her execution later admitted to sharing the fear of damnation felt by King Henry VI’s secretary Jean Tressard, who said, “We are all lost, for we have burnt a good and holy person.”

Joan’s charred body was exposed to the crowd so no one could say she’d escaped; then she was burned to ashes so there would be no relics. Her remains were thrown into the Seine. About 20 years after her death, once the war finally ended, the Catholic Church gave her a retrial where she was declared innocent and a martyr. She was popularly regarded as a saint almost as soon as she died, but her official canonization didn’t come until 1920. In France, she is also a beloved national heroine and has been co-opted by politicians of all stripes††† since the Revolution of 1789.


The book that I consulted for this post is Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses by Régine Pernoud, originally published in 1962. It is very thorough and includes letters that Joan dictated, much of the trial transcript, and eyewitness accounts of her execution. There are many more recent biographies listed here as well. The Wikipedia article itself is pretty accurate and well-sourced as of 11/21/09.

*Obviously this post is the “Girls Who Do Things” bit that I promised last time.

**I am not religious, but I find the saints explanation at least as plausible as any of the theories about her voices that have been advanced from a secular standpoint. Schizophrenia? She was lucid and calm throughout the trial, while the voices continued. Malnourishment-induced hallucinations? She may have been as hungry as any other peasant back in Domrémy, but she was usually well-fed while she was leading the army, and the voices continued. I also firmly believe she did not have it in her to lie.

***Someone was off by a century! If you look closely, I think they did try to correct it. Everyone pause here to give thanks that your typos are not literally set in stone.

†Yes, it was that old. I had one partially exposed beam, of which I was very proud.

††I’ve been on that spot too, about ten years ago with my high school French classmates. Unfortunately that was before I cared much about Joan, so what made the greatest impression on me at the time were the masses of hydrangeas you can see in the background here. Right next to the execution site is a daringly modern church named for her.

†††Unfortunately, the most recent of these is the far-right anti-immigrant Front National, which holds her up as “proof” of Gallic superiority.

Blazing NHS


Peter and I had a blazing* row this morning.

            About the NHS.

            Other couples fight about sex, money, in laws, who left the cap off the toothpaste tube, and who does the dishes.**  We fight about the National Health Service.***  Right.  Um.

            Peter had told me while he was still in hospital that I was welcome to blog about it, and he mentioned it again as we were fighting our way out of Zhar and Lloigor’s tentacles† . . . I mean the car park.  Just don’t abuse the NHS, he said.

            Okay, I said. 

            This is where opinions diverge.  By Peter’s standards, I did.  By my standards, I didn’t.  My bottom line is, has always been and I predict will remain, I am very glad the NHS exists.  You—whoever you are and wherever you live—must have some form of nationalised care.  Must.  Have.  The fourteen-ring circus about this lately while Obama has been trying to push through health care reform in the States, which I would like to think is now mostly over but probably isn’t, has completely done my head in. ††  There should be no question about whether, only about the details of the thing and how it’s going to work and who’s going to administer it. †††  Gaaah. 

            However.  While I’ve had some very good encounters with individuals working for the NHS—most recently, for example, with the nice young doctor who diagnosed my Post Vitreous Detachment—my overwhelming experience of the NHS is that it contains way far too many arrogant idiots, including, in at least two cases, big important vainglorious consultants who were in a position to do me serious damage through sheer frelling not listening because They Are Doctors and my experience of what’s wrong with me is irrelevant.  I could tell you stories, as I said last night, only I’m not going to.‡   I’ve heard several more stories of medical arrogance and idiocy since I brought Peter home from the Royal Free, barely twenty four hours ago, including one just this afternoon about something that is going on right now that makes me so angry all over again that I almost want to have another blazing row with my husband. 


            This morning Peter said that I should say something on the blog in praise and support of the NHS.  I said it was my blog and if he wanted to write a guest post I’d think about publishing it.  But that I would say that he thought that the NHS got more right than it got wrong, and that his experience is a case in point.  This is the polite part of the email‡‡ he sent me this morning:  

I had several free visits to my local doctors, and we weren’t getting anywhere, so I asked to see a specialist.   I got an appointment within a month, was seen in about ten minutes of arrival, had a thorough examination with high-tech equipment by a friendly young junior surgeon who spent plenty of time on me  and then sent me home with free medicine; which didn’t do the trick, so he decided I’d better have a scan.  I had that in a fortnight, pretty well as soon as I showed up, then a few days’ wait to give him time to look at the result.  I went in again, and he showed me what was happening behind my face, slice by slice; all the cavities blocked solid, a bone out of place (result of a long-ago smash), polyps that the drugs hadn’t shifted, etc, etc and told me, much to my surprise, that my trivial little complaint would need actual surgery, with a general anaesthetic, and I’d have to come in for an overnight.    That was brilliant too.  The senior surgeon did the job.  I had a baddish night, but the nurses were attentive to my needs, cheerful even in the small hours, and to those of the other guys in the wards, two of whom were having a much worse time than I was.‡‡‡       

Good.  Excellent.  Excellent twice.  First and foremost that this is my husband we’re talking about, whom I remain stubbornly fond of despite his sometimes bizarre beliefs in the way the world and its organisations behave, and second because I want the NHS to work.  I totally believe in national health care.  But I believe the system we’ve got at present in Britain needs a lot of revision.

             . . . Peter has just made coffee in my peppermint tea strainer.   Ewwwwww.   Aaaaaaaugh.  Can this marriage be saved?§   

* * *

 * Well.  Peter doesn’t blaze.  I blaze.  But it was recognisably a row. 

** Peter is happy to do the dishes.  He just doesn’t do them well enough.  He says that Americans have a hygiene fetish.  I say the British think that washing-up is a ritual activity which has nothing to do with getting things clean

*** Artists are all weird. 

† It’s a stupid waste to have a Great Old One—for example Zathog—designated as The Great Confuser when it’s merely an orange-purple humanoid monster.  You want something really unfathomably dire and ghastly, I recommend the car parking situation at a 120-year-old hospital. 

†† I’m too old still to be this naïve about people.  Evidently not.  I thought when Hillary was cut up into Congressional canapés for daring to put a lot of work into a paper on health care reform while her husband was president it was about Hillary and the perceived role of the First Lady.  I was sorry that people being damfool about capable professional women^ was going to slow down obviously necessary health care reform. 

^ Ambitious?  Sure.  And your point would be? 

††† [violent oversimplification alert

‡ About the only one suitable for a family blog is my ex-GP who ‘didn’t believe in ME’. 

‡‡ I have attempted to iron out the spelling.  Peter is an appalling typist. 

‡‡‡ I will add in my own experience that Peter had his little bottle of arnica out on his bedside table and none of the nurses nor the (Indian^) doctor who came to check on him had any problem with him using it.  Although I will add that this is by no means an NHS-wide phenomenon, and the NHS’ frequently witch-hunt attitude toward us alternatives is one of the things I have against it as the head of practical and practising medicine in this country.

            I was also apologised to by two different nurses about the mix-up over who was phoning whom and at what time yesterday afternoon. 

^ There’s a very strong living tradition of homeopathy in India 

§ Yes, Peter did read this before I posted it.



I brought Peter home from hospital today.  We’re having scrambled eggs for supper.  Well, the eggs are duck eggs, so it’s not just any old scrambled eggs.  And sausages.*  And kale with garlic and soy.  This last is compliments of Alastair, who is here to help wrestle Peter into submission.  Peter is not one of your amenable, mild-mannered, let-other-people-cope patients.  When I first brought him home this afternoon he was sitting down having a cup of (tepid**) tea and instructing me how to strip a chicken. 

            I’ve been doing this for half a century, okay?  You behave, or I’ll take you back to hospital.***     

            This had been scheduled quite a while back but in the first place I’ve been ignoring it as emphatically as possible because even straightforward minor surgery† gives me the whimwhams big time and second . . . I wasn’t going to blog about it till I had him home again†† and everything seems to be okay.†††

            He went in yesterday morning at the CrackOfDawn.  and fortunately he had already booked the taxi before he told me what time he had to be there.  Yeep.  Surgery was midmorning and he, his very own self, rang me late morning, sounding like he had the head cold of head colds—as if he had two walruses or a manatee stuffed into his sinuses—but indubitably Peter, round from the anaesthetic and looking for trouble.  They almost sent him home yesterday ‡ but his outraged nose wouldn’t stop bleeding so they decided they’d better keep him overnight, which had been the original plan. ‡‡

            I went in yesterday evening during visiting hours‡‡‡ and he was busy reorganising the ward.  He was a rather alarming sight at first glance since there was blood everywhere, but the nurses assured me he was doing fine and they had an Emergency Medical Hologram§ in a cupboard if they needed one.  I was there about an hour and a half before he (imperiously) sent me home on the grounds that he was boring me.  Sigh. §§

            So this morning I rang up to check that I was still bringing him home at eleven, and I wasn’t.  We’ll ring you, they said, around one o’clock.  So hellhounds and I went out for a hurtle§§§ and came back, and I had a cup of (hot) tea and made one of my mixing-bowl-sized salads and . . . waited for the phone to ring.  And waited.  And consulted with poor Alastair, who was himself waiting to leap into the car and drive hundreds of miles as soon as we were perfectly sure that Peter was, in fact, coming home today.

            At two o’clock my nerve broke, and I rang the hospital.  Oh, they said, we have it here that you’re coming in at one o’clock.  And no one, apparently, had noticed that I hadn’t.  Sigh. 

            So then we got to wait around some more& while the hospital pharmacy thought about dispensing the drugs that are going to keep Peter flashing like a neon sign for the next month, and then, finally . . . I brought him home.&&

            He looks like he went head-first through a windscreen.  There is still blood everywhere.  Other than that he looks, sounds, and feels remarkably like himself.  A little tired maybe.&&&  Thank the gods.  And the NHS.  It’s fashionable to knock hell out of the NHS . . . and I could tell you stories . . . but I won’t.  The NHS certainly needs a major overhaul and gets a lot of scary stuff wrong . . . but the bottom line, and I speak as an American who sweated twenty years as a free-lancer in a country without a national health service, is it exists.

            Alastair’s kale, Peter’s sausages, and my scrambled eggs were all excellent. 

            I’ve had worse Thanksgivings.##           

* * *

* Peter doesn’t actually like turkey, which I consider a crime against nature^, and we have this argument every year about turkey, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We used to have goose for one of these, but goose now costs approximately a million pounds per leg and a quarter million per wing and even six months’ worth of rendered goose fat isn’t quite worth it.  This year we bagged Thanksgiving but guilt is good:  I am going to have a turkey for Christmas and Peter isn’t going to argue about it or I’ll remind him how he wrecked my Thanksgiving.  With help from the NHS which isn’t hugely interested in strange American holidays.

            And . . . I love scrambled eggs.  In my eighteen-course Last Meal, scrambled eggs would figure. 

^ Unless you’re a vegetarian, of course, in which case it’s the other way around 

** No hot anything for 48 hours, including washing.  Tepid tea.  Tepid coffee.  Tepid baths. 

*** I assume nurses are given special training in Dealing with the Imperious. 

† To fix, we hope, a permanently blocked and recurrently infected sinus 

†† And chained to the bedpost as necessary 

††† Although he was solemnly telling Alastair and me that if he starts gushing blood we’re supposed to take him immediately to A&E.^  Aaaaaaugh.  So much for starting to calm down and relax.  And why didn’t they tell us we might need ice packs?????  The British don’t believe in ice cubes.  Which is another story.  But you need a run at the possession of ice packs in this country. 

^ Accident and Emergency 

I can imagine the conversation at the nurses’ station:  Can’t we get him out of here?  Okay, is there some other department we can put him in? 

‡‡ In ‘my wife who can’t strip a chicken properly after 57 years’ mode he was in the process of deciding that he couldn’t come home a day early because I couldn’t cope.  Arrrgh.  Look, I’ve got the ankle cuffs right here.  And the leather straps.  I’d be happy to have you home a day early.^  Hellhounds have had a good riot this morning, I can whomp them around the loop of the drive at intervals tonight, and Alastair will be here tomorrow.  No, no, said Peter, we need Alastair.^^   What if you had to strip a chicken?^^^  

^ Mwa ha ha ha ha 

^^ This is one of those moments when the whole blog alias thing gets extremely silly.  We tried to hire a nurse because the hospital said Peter can’t be left alone for the first 48 hours after he gets home+ which is tricky with only one of me and hellhounds besides, and if he had come home spacey from the anaesthetic I’m not strong enough for much close grappling.++  My advice:  Don’t need to hire a nurse.  It’s a freller.  Eventually Peter in desperation asked a Family Member.  Who will rejoice in the name of Alastair for our present purposes. 

+ They’re afraid he’s going to make himself some hot coffee 

++ Every now and again life does come down to sheer brute strength.  And the ME laughing maniacally and cracking the whip kind of drowns out my efforts to argue. 

^^^ I emailed Alastair last night saying that he was going to have to come whether Peter needed him or not because Peter had decided I needed support. 

‡‡‡ Which is a whole other saga.  The Mauncester Royal Free hospital is an old brick Victorian pile, which has sprouted in all directions in a scary Cthulhuan sort of way—I know those ells and annexes move around when you turn your back on them^—and I’d probably still be wandering around the periphery moaning and wailing if I hadn’t met a nurse coming off shift who told me how to find the Hambottle Wing which was disguised as Aphoom-Zhah and/or a recycling centre. 

^ And entire car parks disappear 


§§ First I had to call the car park into being again from nonbeing and Zushakon 

§§§ In sunlight.  Yes.  SUNLIGHT.  I did a little more cavorting than usual, perhaps, if somewhat hampered by mud.^  And it didn’t last.  By lunchtime it was raining again.  

^ Singing the bits of ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ that I could remember 

& Although at least I could tell Alastair, “Gallop, for Aix is in sight!” 

&& And if he spills his tepid coffee on the sofa, where he is presently lying in state, I will kill him.  

&&& And longing for hot coffee. 

# And all of Peter’s nurses were smiling.  They teach them smiling too in the Imperious seminar. 

## Like the one I spent in a snowdrift on the Pennsylvanian Turnpike.  Speaking of stories.

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