August 26, 2011

Chinese Cresteds and Giraffes


Note:  the following is my usual nightly flippancy.  But I’m lighting candles for all of you watching Irene come closer and closer.

* * *

The first thing to say about audiobooks is . . . there aren’t nearly enough of them*.  And, while I’m on the subject, here’s an Ask Robin that comes up again and again and again—and I have answered it before but maybe if we can get it into the archive loudly enough people will start finding it there—or at least I can stop feeling guilty for failing to answer the steady stream of queries.

            Audiobooks—like ebooks—tend, or anyway have tended, to be your publisher’s concern.  Usually your standard book contract includes that you’re selling your audio- and e- rights as well as the 3D with pages option.

            This is changing.  Sigh.  Generally speaking, and despite the amount of work it all is, I think that this being on line and a human being among other on-line human beings and producing something, in my case a blog and some tweets, is a good thing for those of us with some public profile—although this is of course going to vary with the kind and intensity of that profile.  But the techno-whizzy stuff that makes this direct communication possible makes other things possible too.  Sitting at home with your typewriter was at least simple.

            Merrilee is busy trying to sort out the perilous shambles of my thirty-plus years of book contracts containing frequently vague, muddled, and un-foresightful language about non-dead-tree editions.  She thinks I might have something useful to say about both audio- and e- sooner rather than later.  Meanwhile . . . anyone reading this . . . please don’t ask me again.  I’ll tell you here as soon as I know anything.

            The next thing to say about audiobooks is that I downloaded my first digital masterpiece onto the freshly polished up and fully functioning Pooka for this morning’s hellhound hurtle and . . . twenty minutes later my earphones died.  Siiiiigh.** 

* * *

Sometimes you get a break you don’t deserve.  But then there are a lot of breaks you probably should have had and didn’t*** so you might as well enjoy one that comes along dressed up like a birthday present.  I’m still diabolically short of sleep† and working too hard and by this evening post-hurtle and time to go to tower practise I very nearly phoned Niall and cried off.  I didn’t only because I know how short-handed we usually are;   I told Peter if enough people turned up I’d come home early.  There were five to begin, so I couldn’t leave;   a sixth turned up and then I really couldn’t leave, because none of us were beginners so we could ring minor.  My first break of the evening occurred when Niall, who is curiously deaf to pleas of tiredness, called for St Clements, which has way too many dodges on the front and way too much weirdness at the back and furthermore you have to make places in the middle.  It’s one of the methods I’m supposed to know how to ring because he and Colin drag me through it on handbells occasionally.  GAAAH.

            And then . . . I actually did ring it.  What?  How did that happen?  How mysterious.  How gratifying.  It was only a plain course, but even a plain course was clearly beyond me tonight.††    Niall and I were just entering into negotiation on the subject of Cambridge††† when Colin and Anthea showed up, which made eight—which meant I still couldn’t leave (gently glowing from my St Clements triumph) because now we could ring major.

            I admit I got myself into this one.  Niall called for plain bob major and I shuffled my feet a little and asked if I could ring inside.  Of course! they all chorused.  It’s practise night!  So I grabbed the two and trembled.  Now, old ringing hands will tell you in an attempt to be reassuring that all the plain bob methods are exactly alike, you just keep adding bells on the back end.  Ahem.  This is exactly alike like a hairless Crested Chinese Dog is like a giraffe because they’re both mammals.  It is true that the basic structure is the same—but the basic structure of the Chinese Crested and the giraffe is the same too.  The devil is in the details.

            I know what the line is to bob major.  I know what the calls mean, and if one of them knocks you off your perch, I even know (theoretically) what you should do next.  Theory is great.  And in practise you have one-third of a second to get your bell to go ‘dong’ in the right place.  Just before we pulled off Colin, who was conducting, looked at the clock and said, I don’t think we quite have time for a quarter peal.  I had my mouth open, but Amy, next to me, got in first:  No.  Better hadn’t, I added.  I’ve only ever rung a plain course a few times—I’ve never rung a touch at all.  Ahhhhh, said Colin.

            I would have been doing well to stagger through a short first touch on a good night, when I was awake and had some brain left.  I only ever learn anything by grind, and I haven’t anything like ground bob major to a fine tilth.  But . . . every now and then you get a break you don’t deserve, and maybe Niall has a point about ringing handbells (eventually) having some (positive) effect on your tower ringing—and maybe all those hoary old veterans comparing Chinese Cresteds to giraffes aren’t totally out to lunch either—and we had a good band tonight.  We rang a long hot, terrifying touch, during which I was frequently convinced there were at least sixteen ropes bobbing up and down—especially as the temperature in the ringing chamber rose—and Colin was taking no prisoners, and some of the calls did knock me off my perch.  And once or twice I had to be dragged out of the thickets and pointed back in the direction I was supposed to be going.

            But I did it.  Twenty minutes of frelling bob major.  And to think last week I was complaining about twenty minutes of mere bob doubles.‡ 

            Yaay me. 

* * *

* shouts Over 50,000 titles!  Which, if it were your personal choice of 50,000 titles, would be an overwhelming abundance of riches.   But when it’s 50,000 of somebody else’s choice of titles, including a lot of categories you have zero interest^ in, suddenly it’s not a lot of titles.  And some of the omissions are astonishing:  no Stephen Jay Gould?  What?  No Patrick Leigh Fermor?  And why are the only two William Dalrymple books heavily abridged?  The only E Nesbits are some spooky short stories, and a dramatised RAILWAY CHILDREN.  (They do get extra points for having even one Edward Eager—and six Marguerite Henrys.  No Walter Farley though.)

            There aren’t even categories for poetry and music.  If you search ‘poetry’ it offers you 217 titles . . . which do not include Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore or W H Auden except glancingly in one or two anthologies;  poor Sylvia Plath is interesting mainly for her life;  there is zero mention of Robert Lowell or Jane Kenyon.

            ‘Music’ as a key word only produces 188 hits, and the first one is Soul Music, Discworld #16 . . . 

^ Business:  over 3000 titles.  Erotica:  over 1000 titles.+  Sport:  to my surprise, only 350 titles.  Still, that’s 350 titles I don’t want to listen to. 

+ I know.  I’m so old and boring.  It’s very sad. 

** I never did tell you about my surreal experience of trying to join audible, but it’s now muddled up in my ME-dazed, sleep-deprived mind with Pooka’s spectacular descent into sin.  Maybe it was audible’s fault.  

*** Dogs that eat, say. 

† Although I snarled when my alarm went off, turned over and . . . slept till noon. 

††  Please do not let him have any ugly ideas about calling a touch.  

††† Quote:  NOOOOOOOOOO 

‡ Bob doubles has a mere five working bells and a nice steadying tenor-behind.  Bob major has eight working bells and no tenor-behind.

Due to the exigencies* . . .


. . . of hellhound digestion I haven’t had anything like enough sleep in three or four nights—last night further exacerbated** by the . . . er . . . exploits of Pooka.  Gabriel, true to his word, rang me first-office-thing this morning, which was only about four hours since the last time I’d gone back to bed, and the first time I’d gone to bed wasn’t that long ago either.***

            I had just enough time to take hounds for a hurtle . . . well, stagger . . . among the raindrops† before Gabriel turned up in full archangel regalia.††  Meanwhile, Pooka, having crashed last night with a charge of about 60%, had self-immolated to red line brink of destruction when I plugged her in this morning just to see if anything had happened overnight.  Yes.  Apparently we were here as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.  Gah.  She started demanding to talk to iTunes and I said, not till Gabriel gets here, sweetie. 

            The good news?  I have a functioning imp of horror—I mean, iPhone, again.  The bad news?  Not everything came back.  Settings have disappeared.  Texts and phone messages have disappeared.  I won’t know if any aps have disappeared, I suppose, till I look for them and they’re not there.  I know they should still be in the back-up on the laptop—but the laptop has one or two interesting new issues too and Outlook has eaten half my address book again.  Gabriel has no idea why whatever it was that happened, happened.††  But he couldn’t do all the diagnostics he might’ve because the broadband at the cottage is the pony and trap version of Warp Seven.  And the pony is lame.  We spent the hours waiting for stuff to load (or to refuse to load) discussing important world events‡ and the weirdness of being as dependent on all this inexplicable technology as most of us are these days‡‡—you may not have the book you want, but at least you know how to use the book you have:  Open.  Turn pages.  And said pages are unlikely to drop out overnight, or the ink suddenly to turn invisible. 

            I think I’ll spare you the description of tonight’s handbell session. . . .             

* * *

* There are other ‘ex’s that would apply here.  But maybe not in a family blog. 

** Speaking of ex- words. 

*** This is of course very bad for anyone but it’s seriously surplus to requirements for those of us with chronic ratbaggery in our lives like ME.  I tend to go the dizzy-and-hallucinating route.  If you hold up three fingers I’ll say ‘five hellhounds’.  No, make that ‘five hellhounds—eeeeep.’ 

            But speaking of ME, several of you tweeted or emailed me links to your papers’ reports on this story.   This is from the Guardian/Observer:   And since the link, for some reason, doesn’t give you much of a clue, the headline reads:     Chronic fatigue syndrome researchers face death threats from militants:  scientists are subjected to a campaign of abuse and violence.  And I’m all, What?  This is from last weekend, and I meant to blog about it, but I’ve been too . . . ahem . . . tired.  But . . . what?  We ME-ers have enough problems juggling our lives with our energy levels, I would say that a useless vendetta is a damn poor choice for limited resources—and furthermore ::gross oversimplification alert:: projecting rage and frustration at what’s happening to you on the people who, very possibly bumblingly and wrong-headedly, are looking for answers shows at best a lack of self-awareness . . . and ::soapbox alert:: there is never any excuse for abusive behaviour.^ 

             I’m less than a fan of most of what gets called the scientific method, and don’t get me started on standard medicine.  Remember that I got my ME diagnosis several years before the NHS finally, reluctantly, and with much audible foot dragging and dissention in the ranks, declared that ME/CFS was a real ailment and we weren’t all just malingerers who should pull ourselves together and stop whining.  I received a lot of patronising and/or dismissive advice from several NHS clowns before I stopped wasting my time listening.  But I still am, or would be, grateful for any crumbs of evidence or diagnosis that the lab coats may throw us.  Where I do get extremely testy is when some blinkered swanker starts declaring This is what you MUST do.  If you do it you will be CURED and if you don’t do it it’s because you are a whining malingerer.  Oh yes and if you do it and you’re worse it’s your fault.  Thanks ever so.  I’ve ranted to you before about the gradated exercise treatment plan—apparently it does help some people.  But it’s far from the master strategy it was originally presented as—and I learned early on in my life with ME that the very worst thing I personally could do is force myself to do something when my body is saying ‘no’.  That’s the absolute bottom line—listen to your own body—and the fastest way for anyone, medical expert or average neighbourhood blowhard, to alienate me is to assume they know more about what’s wrong with me than I do—or that my practical experience is irrelevant. 

            That said . . . what the sad nutters in this article appear to be objecting to is the suggestion that there is a psychological element to ME.  Pardon me, but duh.  Of course there frelling is.  We’re all one critter, you know?  Mind and body.  You can’t separate them, and you shouldn’t try.  I’ve ranted about this before too.  I can perhaps guess where some of these people are coming from—anyone in the UK, for example, whose diagnosis is over about eight years old had to live through the whining-malingerer era—and perhaps a bit like making same-sex marriages/civil unions legal hasn’t made everyone think they’re a good idea, making ME/CFS an official medical diagnosis hasn’t made everyone stop thinking we’re whining malingerers.  But there’s always rubbish and frustration in your life somewhere.  Someone with ME merely has a label for some of it.

           But easy for me to say, perhaps.  I am mostly functional, more or less, and you learn to negotiate the sudden-collapse tightrope if you have to.  Some of it is that I’ve figured out what works for me, and I adhere to this with a deathlike grip.  Some of it is just that I have a mild case—or anyway that what kept me on the sofa for eighteen months was amenable to being moved on into a mild case.  A lot of people aren’t so lucky:  @radmilibrarian on Twitter sent me this link: 

           I admire people like him and Laura Hillenbrand enormously:   they’re on the sharp end of the ME spectrum.  But they still have lives. 

^ ‘One man wrote he was having pleasure imagining that he was watching me drown.  He sent that every day for month.’  Um.  A trained professional scientist who doesn’t know about the ‘block sender’ button on her email programme does not fill me with confidence for the results of her work. 

† Drought?  There was a drought?   I love southern England.  It’s so boring.  No earthquakes or hurricanes either.  I hope. 

†† Flaming sword.  Jeans.  Pockets full of gadgets.  He has an Android. 

††† Next time, don’t upgrade, he said.            

‡ I introduced him to Treasures of Montezuma.  He introduced me to Death Worm. 

‡‡ He claims to remember life before computers.  I don’t think he’s old enough.



I have a dead iPhone.

I am hysterical.  No, I am beyond hysterical.

I was going to write you about being a critter person. 

I try to reread last night’s blog while I’m trying to get the brain going in the morning.  Hang laundry, wash dishes, pay a few bills, water a few plants, lock Godzilla back in the closet*, recall the gashadokuro, bury superfluous bodies in shallow unmarked graves, whatever most urgently needs doing before the neighbours call the police**, then hurtle hounds . . .   Anyway.  After the hound-hurtling I usually approach my desk seriously.  There’s probably a story-in-progress waiting for me there.***  But during the first cup of strong black tea I usually reread last night’s blog, looking for the more easily corrected humiliating errors.†  This morning I read the blog and thought, this woman is entirely mad.  Well, yes.††  But relationships with live critters generally are a bit strange—although I include humans in the category of live critters—and a lot of the weirder manifestations look weirder yet if you haven’t been through it yourself.†††  I was going to pursue this fascinating topic for some paragraphs and then I was going to finish with some photos of Penelope’s new chicks.

And then this evening, having sorted through 1,000,0000,000 blurry pictures of very small adorable  chickens, I turned on iTunes‡   And, having successfully and entirely without incident downloaded 42,891,603 updates‡‡ while Raphael was here yesterday making Astarte talk to the laptop, I decided I might as well download the update for the iPhone itself, since there was sure to be conflict between a non-updated system and a lot of shiny freshly-sharpened cutting-edge aps.‡‡‡  The update duly downloaded and at the moment of installation . . . Pooka’s screen went black and ‘Robin’s iPhone’ disappeared from the laptop screen. 

None of the easy, obvious things like unplugging and restarting have any effect at all—although restarting the laptop made the internal Gogmagog insist on spending forty-five minutes byte-counting, so something discernably unfriendly must have happened.§   I’ve even dared so far as to try a couple of the things that the mostly entirely useless don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you supposed troubleshooting guides on the Apple site suggest.  Nothing.  Dead iPhone.  HOOOOOWWWWWWWWWL.

I sent Raphael an email and left a message on his mobile, saying, I don’t know what you check first in the morning, but PLEASE RING ME ASAP I HAVE A DEAD IPHONE.  This was about nine o’clock tonight.  About an hour later I remembered that he went on holiday today. . . .

He answered.  It’s ten o’clock at night, the man is on holiday, and he answered.  He really is an archangel.

He’s already contacted Gabriel—who apparently doesn’t have evenings and holidays either—who will fit me in tomorrow sometime.  Technology may be the devil§§ but there are archangels. §§§

* * *

* Made more difficult by possessing no closets.  

** I have a new neighbour.  He moved in yesterday.  The jury’s still out.^  I missed the removal van so I can’t tell you if there are seven-foot opal-eyed idols or a piano or not.  You could get an upright on the one long wall in the sitting-room but any seven-foot opal-eyed idols are going to have to recline.^^

 ^ He probably feels the same about us.  My ex-neighbour told me proudly that they were sure he’d fit right in to our little community on the cul de sac.  Snork.  Which side?  The distressingly posh, or the hellhounds, hellgoddess, bat army, attack rosebushes and Godzilla side?

            Maybe he’d like to learn to ring handbells. 

^^ Unless of course it’s a very short idol with seven feet. 

*** Infinitely scarier than Godzilla. 

† The big fat errors are just going to have to stay there—this daily blog thing is enough of a cow.  

†† I appreciate the restraint that forum members are maintaining on this delicate topic—not that my mods aren’t poised to take down the errant—but new readers may have missed the bit about the hellhounds’ digestions being trashed by a bad first two years.  I don’t like dogs that don’t eat, it makes me neurotic, but I am pathological about these guys for cause.  

††† On dog training:  my first dog was an Alsatian.  I didn’t do a very good job of training her, but she was dead easy to train, I was just a twit.  And I thought all dogs were like this just bigger or smaller or hairier or whatever, and therefore all aberrant behaviour was 100% the result of lazy negligent human training practises.  I wonder how many Alsatian owners look at the hellhounds and . . . 

‡ For those of you blessedly iPhone-free, it’s the computer link-up site.^  It chiefly exists to sell you stuff.  

^ And yes, it’s the dumbest name going.  It’s not only tunes.  It’s everything.  Books, aps, films, support—ha—accessories, news, whatever.   It’s lately added a social network . . . No.  Go away.

‡‡ Including one wrecking my favourite weather ap.  What were these ball-bearings-for-brains thinking of?  Well, clearly they weren’t thinking.  They were going click-click-click-click-TILT.   

‡‡‡ And my least favourite weather ap already has another update.  It’s my least favourite because it throws out aps the way a kid with measles throws out spots.  And after you’ve failed to download the first forty or so it seizes up on you and won’t work till you update it. Frell the freller. 

§ What is that peculiar sulphuric smell? 

§§ Give me a hellhound any day.  They’re at least warm and furry.  Have I mentioned that they’re still/again not eating without considerable input from me?  And I wonder why I’m a little on edge.

^ Actually . . . I don’t wonder.  I don’t wonder at all.  And . . . story in progress?  Kill me.

§§§ I don’t pay these boys^ enough.  I can’t afford to pay these boys enough.  I just bought an iPad.  My idea of a splashy night out is a pint at the pub and my knitting.

^ Their ages together may approach mine.

Life with Hellhounds: the soap opera



I am very short of sleep.  Why, you might ask, am I very short of sleep?  Because I FORGOT that one of the reasons my days keep running later and later and later has something to do with . . . hellhounds. 

Diane in MN wrote a few days ago, in response to this in a blog post:  

I put the food down, they looked at it and . . . there was an instant slump and a backing nervously away, looking uneasily over their shoulders and exchanging anxious glances. I let this go on for thirty seconds or so and then took pity and put the bowls back in their corner. Back in the corner and CORRECTLY ALIGNED. Then they fell on it like ravening fiends.

I once tried to feed Teddy–this was after . . . he was eating regularly–out of a differently-shaped bowl. He gave it one look and fled. ::HEADDESK::

There’s a cartoon by Charles Barsotti that perfectly illustrates this trauma. This is not fiction, folks.

(I don’t trust multiply copied links, so here it is again:) 

No, it is not fiction.  But ah, but would it were even that simple, which Diane among others could affirm . . . that it isn’t.  One of my guys’ many peculiarities is that there are levels of eating and not-eating.  If they are briefly attaining the heights of normal dogness they will even eat in the middle of the floor.  They had one of those moments last night at dinner.  They came roaring out of the dog bed when I did my phony ‘oh goodie look here’s dinner’ chirrup.  And while I looked on in stunned amazement, they swallowed everything on offer in about thirty seconds.  Wow.  Spectacular. 

            This is, however, a highly unusual sighting—approximately equivalent to a takahe in a Hampshire garden.  Usually hellhounds don’t bother coming into the middle of the floor in the first place.  Usually I have to caaaaaall them as they press themselves into the shadows in the back of the dog bed.  Sometimes calling degenerates into ordering, as a hellgoddess might order a superfluous hellslave to jump into the (nearly) bottomless ravine and be eaten by basilisks.  Darkness comes out first, slinking and reluctant, and collapses in his Food Corner, where the wall with the piano on the other side of it meets the refrigerator.*  Lately, in a new manoeuvre to drive me farther around the twist than I already am,  he has taken to having a casual but thorough stretch—front first, then rear, then a full-body shake—the whole process takes a good minute—before finally resigning himself to putting his back to the wall and facing the dreadful approach of the Food Bowl.

            At this point Chaos crawls out of the dog bed, very nearly on his belly, head, ears and tail flattened in full please-don’t-beat-me-I-am-a-poor-abject-creature posture.  He usually hides behind my chair and stares at me hopelessly—portrait of loyal dog desperate to please cruel, incomprehensible owner—as I set THE BOWL OF FOOD down in front of him. . . .

            They may eat.  They may not.  If they don’t, it’s a question of how long I wait before I . . . move the bowls.   I discovered this stratagem by accident, trying to find the correct alignment, since in my life with dogs I’ve met quite a few who demand their bowls to be in the RIGHT PLACE, rather like people who will only eat their hamburgers with ketchup.**  I have no idea what’s going on in the labyrinthine hellhound minds, but I have learnt from experience that if they haven’t eaten after several minutes in one location, they aren’t going to.  And so, rather in the nature of using an egg-beater on the slush in the freezer trays so you will end up with ice cream instead of a brick, I interrupt the hardening process and move them. 

            Generally speaking we have two positions:  In Bed and Out of Bed.  On an only mildly dysfunctional day, this is enough.  If we start Out of Bed, they will suddenly decide to eat after all when they are put In Bed.  Or vice versa.  Sometimes it takes a third move:  in-out-in is usually more successful than out-in-out but it varies.*** 

            Sometimes it takes a fourth move.  Sometimes . . . and at about this point I start looking for fresh locations.  But this is a tricky gambit—especially in small houses with limited floorspace.  You can’t just cavalierly pick up hellhound food bowls and march them into another room.  Well . . . you can do anything you like with the bowls, but the hellhounds will be at the back of the dog bed again and it will take a winch to get them out.

            Where was I?  —Why I am short of sleep.  Night before last, after eating both lunch and dinner with relatively little faffing around, I was expecting no particular flapdoodle for post-midnight supper.  Wrong.†  But that was Sunday night, after the Quarter Peal That Wasn’t, and I wanted to go to bed.  I had a voice lesson to pull myself together for.  So I said to myself, it won’t kill them to miss a meal. . . .

            Well, it didn’t kill them.  But in the morning Darkness had what I call colic, which is that his stomach makes loud, horrible noises, he is clearly not his best and won’t eat.  He was lethargic on the morning hurtle, and his evacuations were not pleasing.  Of course he wouldn’t eat lunch.  Fortunately my voice lesson was later than usual yesterday which gave me time to argue with him.  This involves descriptions of the hearth-rug I am going to make of his skin, moving him in (and out of) fresh corners where usually only the spiders hold sway, and working my way through the short list of homeopathic remedies I’ve compiled over the years, one of which sometimes works.††  Yes.  He ate.  Finally.

            Last night when they both refused to eat their late supper again there was no way I was going to go through all this again.  So I was up till the frelling birds††† again.  Yes.  They ate.  And I slept through my alarm and woke to the sound of Atlas knocking on the door, I having told him I would be up at an almost normal hour this morning.

            Hellhounds have been blithe and jolly—and eating—so far today.  So far.  I’m going to start late supper earlier tonight.‡

Maybe I’ll wait till tomorrow to tell you about my surreal experience of trying to sign up with audible.‡‡   By tomorrow I should also know if it worked.  

 * * *

* Need I mention that YOU MAY NOT OPEN THE REFRIGERATOR WHILE THE HELLHOUND IS EATING.  But you knew that, right?

            I admit I’ve never tried playing the piano.  For some reason I feel this is not an experiment worth making. 

** Back in the days when I ate either hamburgers or ketchup, I was one of them. 

*** This may be more apparent than real anyway.  Traditionally their best meal is dinner.  Dinner usually starts Out of Bed because I still naively feel that eating Out of Bed is the paradigm we are still striving for.  But because lunch tends to be a loaded gun pressed to my forehead anyway I usually start them In Bed. 

† I know they do this deliberately.  I know this.  

†† My impression is that what works is two-phase:  first I have to make the colic go away, and then I have to convince him to disturb the pleasant new sensation in his belly with that dangerously insurrectionist substance, food.  I should be able to do this with one remedy, but I haven’t found that one remedy yet.  Dosing critters is a ratbag because they can’t tell you what’s going on—but you can usually see the critter cheering up when something works. 

††† Possibly including a takahe 

‡ On the last forum hellhound blog thread there’s been another conversation about dog training, and clicker training always comes up.  Yup.  Clicker training is great, if you have a critter that will respond to anything as a reward.  My guys would prefer not to eat at all, so treats are out^ and their favourite toy is me.  One of the good things about hellhounds as companions as that they don’t require a lot of stimulation—sleep, hurtling, and quality petting time are all that’s necessary—but there’s always a down side.  

^ To the extent that they like any foodlike matter they quite like liver, and I briefly had hopes of desiccated liver.  Nah.  



Some guarded chirping


Every now and then, after fate has trodden on your favourite chocolate brownies* you go to the corner store for loo rolls and find that they’re having a half-price sale on Taittinger’s.**  Today’s voice lesson was really kind of exciting in a little tiny down-here-among-the-wood-lice*** way. 

            I’ve been toiling and thudding on with Sebben Crudele, convinced, among other things, that I’m getting nowhere†.  Oh, Italian.  Oh . . . Italian.  I am the woman who still sounds (nearly) as American as she did when she stepped off the plane twenty years ago to stay.  Linguistic adaptability is not my forte.  Which may help to explain why my Italian remains staunchly as it might be spoken in . . . southern Montana.†  I even seemed to be going backwards:  those of you with the fortitude to be paying attention to my encounters with Nadia may remember that I claimed to have figured out that it’s all about vowels, and you tack the occasional brief consonantal hiatus at the edges of syllables occasionally.  And then I frelling lost this again, and languiiiiiiir†† in particular was coming out languirrrrrrrr.  As I am known to say:  arrrrrrrrgh.  I’m fond of rrrrrs.  Dangerously fond, evidently.

            Meanwhile another song that Blondel had flung at me had begun intruding on my practise sessions.  Sebben crudele, I would begin . . . Caro mio ben.  Wait.  Wrong song.  Go away.  But it kept humming itself in the back of my mind while I was singing Suzanne and Gypsy Rover.†††  So eventually I fished it out and had another look at it.  Hmmm.‡ 

            I don’t know, maybe being overwhelmed by Italian by adding on a second frelling song sort of loosened the grip of the ‘no-no-no-can’t-can’t-can’t’.  It’s not that my Italian got better, exactly‡‡, but it did start becoming less of a frelling barrier.  Match up the funny syllables with the notes and just get on, okay? 

            Meanwhile I had been carefully sparing myself endless morale-diminishing re-hearings of that amazing young woman on YouTube singing Sebben Crudele, but when the languirrrrrr started ruining my day I decided drastic measures were called for—and I listened to her three times straight through, like taking your cod liver oil in one big gulp‡‡‡.  And—languuuuuuiiiir!  Of course!  How could I not have got that—!

            I went to my lesson today feeling, if anything, a bit sheepish.  The mountain strained and produced a mouse§ and all that.  And one of the stupidly frustrating things about learning to do anything is that as soon as you do start learning it . . . you develop something to lose.  Frell.  I used to go into Nadia merely looking forward to forty-five minutes of teacher-magic.  Now, while she still gets noises out of me I can’t get out of myself at home, I want the work I’m doing to show.  And I’m not at all convinced that it does.§§

            Today was, furthermore, complicated by the fact that—it’s school hols or something—I was Nadia’s only student, and she’d come out without most of her music . . . including her Italian Arias book.  So I had to sing without the piano.  Good, she’d say.  Do it again, and sound like you mean it.§§§

            And you know . . . I did, a little.  I’m not ready to sell tickets or anything but . . . I was a person singing a song today, for Nadia. 

* * *

* Read = quarter peal

** I wish I had a corner store like this. 

*** What?  You don’t know Cantata for 1,007 Wood Lice, Two Organs, and a Squirrel?

† Ie, normal sort of week’s practise.  The other things include that I am a prat, that poor Nadia really needs the money to go on giving me lessons, and that the reason Chaos comes and stares at me when I sing is that he knows he could do it better.^

^ Or possibly that he longs to alleviate the terrible pain I am clearly in. 

† And if there is a large Italian-American community in southern Montana, my apologies. 

†† The basic translation that you find everywhere for Sebben Crudele, which appears to be one of those songs that everyone sings, is dire^.  I don’t know if a proper poet has ever tackled it—or if he/she has, if the result is under copyright somewhere—or if the original Italian is also dire, and it’s just a bunch of syllables to hang some tuneful anguish on and never mind.  But this translation, while no more graceful, lets you see what the words you’re singing mean, and I agree that you want to know this.^^

            You have to scroll down a ways.  This is your tiny on-line Nadia.   Although in the pronunciation guide you need to cut that first ‘b’ on Sebben.  Seh-behn.  Speaking of consonants. 

^ ‘with the patience of my serving’?  What?  

^^ . . . Good grief. 

††† Suzanne because it’s all on about three and a half notes, the way Leonard Cohen songs usually are, bless the boy.  And I love his lyrics^, speaking of real poets.  Gypsy Rover . . . well, because I’ve loved it for pushing fifty years and because it turns out to be surprisingly easy to fool around with when your teacher has started nagging you about dynamics.  Don’t know why Gypsy Rover particularly.  But of the dozen or twenty or so songs I sing more or less regularly when I’m not practising for my lesson^^, it’s the one that I can most easily twiddle so the individual lines not only feel like they have some shape and (cough cough) direction, but I can make the verses differ one from another—without feeling that I’m just jerking some poor innocent song around.  This may be nonsense—I may be just jerking a poor innocent song around—but at least it gives me a chance to think about this stuff. 

^ Even if he is perhaps just a trifle obsessed with sex.  At least his sex is interesting, says the woman who has just thrown another urban fantasy against the wall for having a long detailed graphic sex scene without naming any embarrassing body parts.  ‘He was heavy and thick’.  Really?  Don’t you want an intelligent one? 

^^ The Voice Is A Muscle and Needs Exercise Like Any Other Muscle 

‡ Do any of you real singers out there, or any of you attentive art-song listeners, think that the standard piano accompaniment to Caro mio ben makes the rather plinkety-plonk piano of the notorious Italian Art Song book—where Sebben Crudele appears with twenty-odd of its mates—sound like Chopin? 

‡‡ Or for that matter, inexactly 

‡‡‡ It amuses me a lot that when I was a kid I was the only one I knew who was still forced to take cod liver oil . . . and now fifty years later cod liver oil is totally hot and trendy among the nutrition mafia.  Yes, I take it—again.   

§ Or possibly a wood louse 

§§ Yes. Normal, says Nadia briskly. 

§§§ There was also a terrifying conversation about how a C# may be more than a C#.  Oh gods!  I said.  You’re going to try to talk to me about equal temperament tuning!  Yes, she said.  The voice is not a tuned instrument.  We do not have to compromise.  We can adjust to each individual note. 

            The funny thing is that away from the piano I could hear that there was something wrong with my C#.  I thought I was just going flat.  Well, you are, a little, said Nadia.  But that’s because that C# needs to be a little sharp.  Which, since you’re singing it, you can do.

            AAAAAAAUGH.  —So much of this, as I have said before, said to Nadia today, and will say again to both of you, is that there’s so frelling much to remember.  As soon as I remember one thing six others go to the wall.  Sixteen.  Sixty.  Just singing frelling exercises, as soon as I’m trying to loosen/balance/ground one thing something else stiffens up/refuses to play/flies away.  Remembering and managing:  the whole your instrument is your body thing . . . does everything make my voice seize up?  Well, yes, more or less.  Could I absolutely not sing last night after our failed quarter attempt?  You bet.  Was it only that I was tired?  No.  I’d like to say yes, but . . . no.

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