April 30, 2010

Hail and farewell


Did you know that Peter Porter died?  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/apr/23/peter-porter-obituary


I am nowhere near as good on modern poetry—hell, on poetry, full stop—as an unrepentant English major* who dotes on, oh, say, Yeats, Auden and Frost, to name the first three that drift to the surface, should be.  And an awful lot of Porter is, well, hard.  But I think either of these ought to make you want to read more:


And down at the bottom of this page, Sleeping with the Alphabet:  http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article389448.ece

Because I’m usually sitting down at 11 pm or so pretty well mind-blown and urgently fishing for details of the day just past that I can ridiculate** in a blog entry it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to salute the passing of even a great poet.  But as it happens my Peter was playing bridge tonight*** so when I got in from bell ringing† I turned radio three on although it was 9:15 which meant Invisible Talking Heads.  Peter will put up with classical music but neither of us will put up with the other’s talking heads (Peter listens to a lot of radio four when I’m not around).  And the Friday night arts programme was doing a tribute to Peter Porter.  And they read this poem aloud:


I don’t myself think it looks like much lying cold and still on the page—for one thing it makes all of us raised on poetry that rhymes and scans start to hunch our shoulders and snarl a little—and if your eye scans ahead too easily, as mine often does, the satire will look blunt and awkward, and you’ll spoil it.  But get someone to read it to you and it’ll give you gooseflesh.††

            I’m sorry he won’t be writing any more of his gnarly, difficult, surprising, funny, wounding poems.  And I’ll probably do that useless thing now of going back to reread him, having been reminded of how good he is by his death, by his going away from us. 

* * *

* Well.  I’m pretty repentant about the years wasting my time and first the taxpayers’ and later my own money in a series of so-called educational establishments.  But I’m not repentant about what made me an English major.  I am what made me an English major.  

** I don’t mean ridicule—or mock, or tease—I mean ridiculate. 

*** First time since he’s been ill.  Yaaay.  He came home exhausted.  Not so yaaay. 

† Yes, you’re all dying to hear about my first tower practise as Ringing Master, aren’t you?  Well, nyaaaaaah.  I’d been sweating this a bit^, trying to decide what I might reasonably manage to hold together, depending on what troops showed up, or didn’t.  Basically all you have to do is order people around, and let them do all the work, but the point about Ringing Mastery is that if there’s any fallout, you as Ringing Master have to catch it and clean up after it.  So you shouldn’t call for Bristol Maximus if you’re only ringing plain bob doubles yourself. 

            I had a very tentative plan of action^^, and was nervously hoping that people wouldn’t turn out in force as a gesture of solidarity, which sort of thing ringers are quite capable of:  we have a few rotten cads and arrogant swine, but mostly we’re ludicrously supportive for sheer practical reasons. 

            And then we had a frelling Bristol Maximus^^^ evening.  The first few of us had just about got the bells up—under my constantly-deferring-to-Vicky guidance—when all these accidental, non-local Amazing Heroes and Heroines of Ringing started pouring up the ladder—GAAAAH!  I’M NOT GOING TO TELL THESE PEOPLE WHAT TO RING!!!!—and the moment Edward’s head emerged through the trap door I fell on him feverishly and asked him to take over. 

            Which he did. 

            And I got to ring a touch of Grandsire Triples with a minder, whom I needed, and a plain course of Stedman Triples . . . and I did not get offered the treble for Cambridge Major^^^^ but I kind of wish I had. 

 ^ When I had the opportunity.  Computer Man B+, let’s call him Gabriel,++ was here for almost three hours.  This computer is still fatally, blood-thunderingly, whimsically slow, and it’s a three day weekend and therefore Computer Men won’t be back till Tuesday to Try Stuff.  However . . . my newly snorting, ground-pawing, souped-up RaspBerry is working . . . but only because I had the paranoid, life-saving notion to have a Computer Man around when I put the new SIM card in.  You break it out of its little cardboard frame, you open your phone gizmo of choice, you take out the old SIM card, you put the new one in. . . .

            Okay.  Here is an terse, abbreviated list of what went wrong:

            The phone didn’t work.  The internet connection worked brilliantly.  But the phone—the reason for the upgrade, so I never had to worry about leaving the phone on all the time and Peter could press his speed-dial button any moment day or night and the thing would blast me where I sat/lay/crawled/hurtled.  The phone didn’t work.  You got a robo voice saying, This number is not available right now.  Please leave a message . . .

            Upon application to the paperwork, it was observed:  The SIM card is described as not needing to be activated.  You don’t have to do anything but stick it in the phone.            

            They spelled my name wrong.

            They spelled my address wrong.

            They got the phone number wrong. 

            Both customer service numbers on the paperwork were wrong.

           When I finally got onto a human being, she immediately dumped me—because of course this was another wrong number—back into still another robo system.  This one insisted that I enter my phone number before it could possibly begin to aid me.  I did this three times—using the phone number on the paperwork that came with the new SIM card—because no, I do not have my mobile phone number memorised because I never use the thing, and this one looked all right.  It was close.

           It wasn’t close enough.  Each time the robo voice came back on and said, this number has not been recognised.  Please enter your . . .

           After the THIRD time, I didn’t do anything.  USUALLY a robo system under these circumstances will give you a human being again.  Not this time.

           After about twenty seconds’ silence, the robo voice cleared its throat and said coolly, We cannot continue this call.  And frelling hung frelling up.  FRELLING.

            At this point I was screaming words even I didn’t know I knew.  And Gabriel, fortunately, being made of True Heavenly Steel Or Something Like That, took the (landline) phone away from me, rescued the RaspBerry from being hammered to death against the floor, chained me to a convenient ring in the wall+++ and got out the brazier and the magic herbs.  From where I hung, yanking on a link occasionally to see if there might be a weak one, I had the opportunity to discover that the phone number on the new paperwork looked quite reasonably familiar—it was out by one number.

            Gabriel eventually ensorcelled a human-like being to talk to him.

            The SIM card needed to be activated.

             They have me listed as having some other contract than the one I agreed to over the . . . the phone a week ago.

             And . . . I having said, a week ago, I can keep my old number, can’t I, and the then-I-thought-nice-friendly-helpful-woman-but-whom-I-now-understand-is-a-foul-member-of-the-forces-of-entropy said, of course . . . Gabriel fortunately had the presence of mind to check and . . . no.  Down at the bottom of the label on the throw-away small plastic bag that the SIM card came in—it is NOWHERE ON THE ACCOMPANYING PAPERWORK—in little tiny almost illegible print except that my secret weapon is that when I take my glasses off I can see how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin as long as they’re no farther than .0000001 millimetre away from the end of my nose—is the new phone number.  Which Gabriel then politely requested them to change.

             The RaspBerry’s phone now works.  On the old number.  But I’m a century older.

 +Computer Man A was obviously correct, the operation to separate them was a success.  Neither of them even limps much.

 ++ He has mentioned reading this blog occasionally so I think I’d better move away from my great joke of calling Computer Men after demons.  So we’ll make Computer Man A Raphael.  Asmodeus, by the way, has moved on to conquer larger empires.   I believe he was last seen wearing a crown and heading west. 

+++ Makes you wonder about the previous owner, doesn’t it? 

^^ Defer constantly to Vicky 

^^^ My little bitty joke.  We have eight bells.  Maximus requires twelve bells.  But we had twelve ringers capable of maximus. 

^^^^ I’m learning Cambridge minor inside.  Six bells.  Eight—major—is a whole new world.  Like Grandsire Triples (seven bells with tenor behind) from Grandsire Doubles (five bells with tenor behind).  And I’m so gruesomely out of practise after the last few weeks I’m very glad we did not want to waste our extra ringers on a Cambridge minor band.

††  It’s probably read aloud on YouTube somewhere, but in this computer’s present insalubrious condition I’m not going to make myself rampantly crazier trying to find a video that runs well enough to decide it’s a good performance or not.

A Really Stupid Day


 I HAVE JUST WASTED NEARLY HALF AN HOUR TRYING TO MAKE THIS STUPID FRELLING COMPUTER DOWNLOAD A JPEG OF THE NEW TRADE PAPER CHALICE COVER.  AND THEY’VE SENT IT TO ME TWICE.  AND IT CRASHED ME BOTH TIMES IT CAME IN—the second time while I was in the process of writing to Merrilee telling her how much I hated my computer.  It ate the email too, of course.

            I have Computer Men coming tomorrow and very high on the list of evil dragons*** that need slaying is the fact that broadband at the mews more nearly resembles a fraying piece of green garden twine that’s been holding onto a throbbing and hyperactive branch of Souvenir de la Malmaison since last year and is beginning to giiiiiive† than anything to do with an information superhighway.

            It’s been a really stupid day.  Full of three-dimensional boring-ality.  It began with getting up EARLY, which is always boring, and roaring, in more ways than one, out to the garage in our old village—since there is no garage in our new one*—to have Wolfgang’s power-steering fluid topped up so he would stop roaring, and disturbing the neighbours at mmph o’clock when I’m turning around under their bedroom windows in the courtyard at the mews and then making the tight 90-degree turn at the top of my cul de sac at the cottage.  CREEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGH.   The best thing of all about this is that the roaring is now worse since they FIXED it** a few weeks ago.   So we have to take it back.  Some day.  When they have time.  We missed our first chance that week I was driving to the hospital every day.  Real world = sucky.

            Stopped for a hurtle on the way home.  Was set upon by Jack Russells.  I hate terriers.††  Banged hellhounds up at the cottage and shot off to Mauncester to see the dentist.  A day can’t possibly get better than a trip to the dentist.†††  We’re now drawing up the new battle plan.  Which I have to take seriously unless I want to live on oatmeal and soup for the rest of my life.‡ 

            Then I went in search of rimless glasses frames.  Isn’t this the most exciting blog entry you’ve ever read?  Is your pulse rate dangerously elevated?‡‡  I’m really sorry.   Well, I got my new glasses prescription weeks ago but they’re being totally hopeless about rimless frames, so I decided on a sortie of my own.  Gah.  So, I found a shop with walls of rimless frames . . . all of them rectangular.  I want oval.  Is it so much to ask?  Apparently it is.  Also, aren’t little old people still expected to want wire rimmed and rimless?  Or aren’t they granny glasses any more, as they were in my youth when I was wearing them anyway?‡‡‡  But the thing about little old people’s eyes is that we need several different prescriptions, for very close, close, the computer screen dammit, medium distant, distant, and oh, jeez, that’s a hellhound disappearing over the horizon.  These can now all be packed into a single pair of glasses but you need room to do it in.  Otherwise you will spend all your time at the osteopath’s getting your neck unstuck from having to hold it perfectly rigid to see through each particular tiny narrow band of distance you want from moment to moment.  So not only are all the rimless spectacles rectangular, the lenses are also all about half an inch high.  Gaaaah.  I finally found ONE pair of oval rimless glasses (shut away in a drawer where I wasn’t supposed to be looking) whose lenses are somewhat larger than your thumbnails . . . and then it turned out that you can have an almost-free second pair and I got all excited because (a) I don’t think I’ve ever had a pair of back-up spectacles in my life and (b) I keep hearing about shiny pink and rhinestones and I wanted some shiny pink with rhinestones.  And then . . . they were really disappointing.  They were not a very good pink and the rhinestones were pathetic.   So I had to get normal.  Sigh.§

            Then I whooped back to the cottage again to sweep up hellhounds and descend on the mews to meet with the Panic Button Man . . . and found the mews courtyard entirely full of scaffolding and ladders and whistling tattooed bloke-shaped total jerks who couldn’t care less that they were occupying six parking spaces surrounded by brick walls.  ARRRRGH.  Where’s a Jack Russell when you have someone who really needs to be bitten?  So we got out the crane, and cranked the Panic Button Man in through the bedroom window. . . . And we now have a Panic Button system.  Peter was remarkably tractable about it—I was expecting a lot more argument§§—but the Panic Button Man himself said that about eighty percent of his buttons are sold for the peace of mind of everybody but the person wearing the button.  And my new SIM card has arrived, so not only will Peter be able to ring me at any time day or night with the punch of a single pre-set speed-dial button, but I’ll be able to tweet from the middle of a field.  Riveting headline stuff§§§:  Just heard my first cuckoo of the year.  Just saw a purple-spotted triple-breasted yellow-bellied prang, they’re rare you know.  Just saw the hellhounds, oh, oh no, I’d better— 

* * *

* which is idiotic, since New Arcadia is about five times bigger.  The old village is a garage, a pub, and about three and a half houses.  And a village hall the size of your spare bedroom.^  Twenty years ago, when I first moved over here, and before the world had been taken over by whatever it is that the world has been taken over by, we had a post office with a shop.  The shop sold milk, newspapers, and really ugly cheap jewellery.  I think the proprietors’ ne’er-do-well brother in law travelled in wholesale cheap jewellery for a while.  There’s no other explanation.

 ^ You don’t have a spare bedroom?  Yes, about that size. 

** £££.  Just by the way. 

*** As opposed to nice dragons.  It’s important to differentiate. 

† That photo of a small green rosebud the other day . . . the reason why it’s so starkly and splendidly clear is because this is a branch that is determined to bar the path and . . . mostly it does.  I am permanently scarred about the scalp and forehead from the thing’s attentions.  I tied it up again the day I took that photo, but I know it’s out there right now trying to hook a thorn through the string, so it can start sawing.  

†† Southdowner’s bullies are not terriers.  I don’t care.  They’re not. 

††† Where I paid sixty quid for fifteen minutes’ chat.  WHAT? 

‡ No.  I think even tea, champagne and chocolate would get old after a while, if their only companions were oatmeal and soup. 

‡‡ Although that may be the fourth mug of dark Spanish roast you just drank 

‡‡‡ In spite of John Lennon.  I feel about the Beatles rather the way I feel about Shakespeare.  All right, all right!  Go have your hissy somewhere else! 


§§ I was prepared for a lot more argument.  I was going to threaten him with rose bushes.  Gods know I have a few to spare. . . . 

§§§ Like this blog entry


Well, go on, click it.


In which I talk about all those normal writer things I never talk about here.



I’m almost afraid to admit it in case it goes away.  I’m still slightly loopy from the anaesthesia* and energy level is still running about 60%** . . . but I’m better.  Clearly.  I mean I’m almost . . . cheerful.

            And more to the point in a writer’s blog, even a writer’s blog about hellhounds, bells, roses, composing, and Converse All Stars, I’ve had the first good day on PEG II in . . . I don’t want to think about how long, but I guess it’s about a month.  First there was something wrong with Peter but we didn’t know what, and then he really got ill, even if we still didn’t know what it was, and then he went into hospital, and then he came home just in time for my tooth to morph into a small bicuspid version of Kali the Destroyer.

            I’m even better in time to take some advantage of this astonishing run of glorious weather.***  This means that I wrung out my brain like an old sponge this morning at the computer, and this afternoon I was outdoors planting roses.†  And by now at almost-midnight I have not only had it, I’ve had it for some time.

            So I’m going to post some spring!  Spring!  Spring! photos.  And then I’m going to bed.  I’m hoping†† to do it all again tomorrow. . . .

There’s this huge tree that leans over the churchyard where hellhounds and I hurtle every day.  This is what it looked like about a fortnight ago.

And this is what it looked like this afternoon.  Last year I missed this shot.  This year I’ve been watching. . . .

Lambs are late this year.  There are still hardly any around.  (You all know that lambs and mums get numbers painted on them, yes?  So if ewe 34 goes berserk, you look around for lamb 34 and get them back together.  But that’s what the blue is.  Unromantic but practical.)

I love the way the late afternoon sunlight gives the white wool a golden edge.  Gilded sheep.

Mama blackbird.  Also late.  When I saw Dad taking worms and small wiggly things with legs to a specific corner of the garden, I was expecting a nest full of babies.   I’ll probably still manage to miss most of the action.

And a small fleet of ducklings.  At this age they tend to streak around in what I assume is a predator-confounding frenzy.  Getting five in the same frame is good going. 

But what’s really amazing is that ten days later she’s still got all nine of the ducklings she started with.  Either this year’s foxes are unusually slow or she’s found a really good lay-up.

And a first small green rosebud.  They’re beginning to pop up furtively here and there.  This is Souvenir (de la Malmaison).  Souvenir doesn’t do furtive.

* * *

* How do I know it’s the anaesthesia? 

** Which is still a lot better than 30%.  Hellhounds think so too.  They’re really bored with dragging me along by the scruff of my neck. 

*** Mind you, it is possible to complain.  I get awfully tired of watering.  The stuff in the ground can mostly cope so far, but I am Beleaguered by Pots and they all need watering.  At least in April things stay watered a little longer.  Watering during a drought in July turns into a painting-Forth-Bridge situation.^

^ This from Wiki, in case any of you aren’t familiar with the phrase: ‘”Painting the Forth Bridge” is a colloquial term for a never-ending task, coined on the erroneous belief that, at one time in the history of the bridge repainting was required and commenced immediately upon completion of the previous repaint.’  Scroll down about halfway here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forth_Railway_Bridge 

† No, not the one I bought yesterday.  It’s in a pot, it’ll last a little while.  I went up to Third House and dug up a couple of the heeled-in ones and brought them back to the cottage to plant them in pots.  This will probably not seem like abnormal behaviour or anything . . . and you’re right, it isn’t.  That’s the problem.  Third House’s patio is already full of roses in pots brought there from the cottage, which have outgrown their accommodation and are waiting to go into the ground.  There’s only so many years I can keep doing this. . . .

†† Pleeeeease, Better Fairy

Another Monday. Yeep.


The day did not get off to a good start.  I had just briefly bobbed to the surface of wakefulness and was semi-luxuriously burrowing back under the sunlight-blocking pillow* when the phone rang.  Eight-thirty Monday morning and the phone rings.  BRRRRRRRRRAH!  BRRRRRRRRRAH!   Have you noticed the way the phone is loudest when you’re not quite asleep?  If it has to come after you into the pit of sleep it doesn’t really get loud till the gigantic drooling purple tentacled train is about to run you over as you trip and fall down on the burning track, and are almost grateful when it turns out only to be the phone.  But when you’re just drifting off and . . .


            I tend to have hit the floor running before any semi-conscious decision about to-answer-or-not-to-answer has been made.  But my phone machine doesn’t pick up till after nine rings** so I might as well:  I’m not going to sleep through it.*** 

            Nice way-too-chirpy lady who clearly had been mainlining some kind of super-caffeine† wanted to know if the SEVERAL HUNDRED POUNDS OF GAMBLING DEBTS ON MY CREDIT CARD were my transactions.


            Last time I had my card cancelled it was for a couple of movie tickets, and while it could have been Insta-Hacker who reaches into the virtual bank vault every time he buys something the way the rest of us reach into our pockets, I think it could just as easily have been wetware input error.  In this case . . . I’ve been hacked.  Gleep.

            I didn’t get back to sleep.  I have, however, after the Alp-sized adrenaline spike subsided, rather failed to wake up today either.   Peter and I are both feeling a trifle frail and convalescent†† and it’s also a 26th.†††  So we decided we’d have an outing.  I’m afraid that the first thing that always occurs to us as prime outing material is something to do with plants.  Never mind we just went to a garden centre a few days ago.  There are lots of garden centres around here.  We went to another garden centre.‡  And . . . I’m a poor sad shaken thing—gambling debts!  I can’t bear watching people gamble on TV!‡‡—and I did need some more little terra cotta pots.‡‡‡  I also needed comfort and succour and—and—

            Yes!  I bought a rose!  I confess!  —I have a dozen left at Third House, heeled in, waiting to be planted from last autumn, and . . . I bought a rose!   But only one!  That counts for something!§

            I also bought a nice pale-yellow epimedium§§ to go with the dark pink one I already have, and a corylus contorta§§§ because . . . because it’s cute and I fancied it, and because it’s one o’ they damn structural things.  It looks good in winter when it’s dropped its leaves, because of the grapevine-twistiness of its branches.  And I let myself get talked into the idea that if I keep it in a pot it’ll grow slowly.#  I’ll post a photo so you can see my twirly grapevine structural object, when I get it put somewhere. 

            And now I’m going to bed early before I get into any more trouble.  And I’m going to unplug the phone. 

* * *

 * Burrowing carefully so as not to disturb quiescent ex-teeth 

** Which is approximately how long it takes to get down from the attic, which is where I usually am when the phone rings.  Except when I’m asleep. 

*** When I remember I unplug the phone.  I didn’t remember last night.  Just as well really.  Yes, all right, I am telling you. 

† It’s a special GM formulation created by the military to maximize their training investment in carefully-selected individual soldiers who can scare the enemy to death by high-speed gibbering if they run out of ammunition.  It also has certain corporate applications, as for people who are going to ring up credit card holders and tell them that they seem recently to have purchased nine elephants and a rhinestone Cadillac and were these their transactions?  It helps them withstand the screams without psychic damage. 

†† Yesterday when I rang him before I took hellhounds for their morning hurtle he wasn’t there.  I panicked, of course, the way you do about someone who was in hospital eight days before for unexplained blackouts, shot hellhounds and self in Wolfgang and ambulanced down to the mews, sirens yowling.  He was there when we got there.  Where were you five minutes ago when I rang? I said.  On my bike, he said, pleased with himself:  I went up to get the paper. 

††† You remember we celebrate 3rd s  and 26ths when we want to celebrate something?  26th July being the day I picked him up at the airport in Bangor, Maine, looked at him, and said to myself ‘oops’.  And the 3rd of January is our wedding anniversary.  

‡ At least this time it was honest.  The other day it was about Peter’s dustbin.  The new dustbin is very nice, by the way.  

‡‡ Supposing I ever watched TV any more.  At the moment I can’t watch it because the screen comes up, We’re sorry, but your second-level fluglemonster has expired.  You got the new one in the post last week, what did you do with it?  Peter and I both think the other one lost it.  Meanwhile someone has to ring up Sky and grovel, and contact with Sky is always surreal and labyrinthine.^ 

^ I wonder if they build hospitals? 

‡‡‡ I’ve pretty much given up on the big ones.  I’m tired of replacing them every year.  I swear they get up on their little tiny feet and chase after frost pockets.  I think cracking is the terra cotta pot version of The Rapture. 

§ Peter, at the check-out desk, manifested heavy surprise:  That’s a rose, he said.  Shhhh, I said. 

§§ This one:  http://www.findmeplants.co.uk/plant-epimedium-x-versicolor–2530.aspx 

§§§ http://ow.ly/1DmAe  or


# Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  Being a responsible gardener is not aided by the fact that depending on which expert you consult, it grows to anywhere between six and fifteen feet.    There’s kind of a lot of difference between six and fifteen feet.   That’s like half a dozen roses and being able to get out the back door.

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