February 24, 2012

Update . . .


YAAAAY.  I may be the proud future owner of a copy of JAPANESE COOKING:  A SIMPLE ART by Shizuo Tsuji after all.


Robin, have you tried emailing the seller directly and offering to pay the difference in shipping via paypal? Might be worth a try. 

I had already written to her last night before I posted the blog, thinking, as you say, that it can’t hurt, since she was nice enough to write to me in the first place and tell me why it had been cancelled.  But I hadn’t thought of PayPal, which makes everything so much easier,* and I mentioned it today, when she wrote back with options.  I’ve just said ‘yes’ to one, so . . . tentative YAAAAY.  Mind you, I’m doing my insane thing.  The postage is going to cost about three times what the book does** and I don’t know anything about the book except what a nice lady on Days in the Life’s forum said plus a few random amazon reviewers, than which there can be nothing more unreliable in this world and several imaginary/fictional/quantum*** ones as well, probably including the one in SHADOWS†.  And I only plugged back in to Japan and Japanese a few weeks ago, when www.audible.co.uk had a sale on language-learning books and I, who had been worrying about Takahiro, who clearly has secrets, thought, ha ha ha ha ha, I bet they don’t have Japanese . . . but they did.

            But, you know, a cookbook . . . that’s harmless.  It’s harmless, right?††  I already know I like Japanese cooking††† and everyone has to eat

* * *

 It has been mostly a rather gruesome day.  I had to get out of bed at AN UNHOLY HOUR‡ to take Peter and me to our rescheduled appointment to be hammered and pummelled by our massage lady, Tabitha.  I hurtle hellhounds while Peter is bludgeoned into submission and then it’s my turn.  It feels so good when it’s over.‡‡  Then we had to race home ‡‡‡ so I could do a little of my own hammering, on a keyboard, before it was time to dash back to the cottage for handbells.  Gemma wasn’t there so it was just the boys and I and they were trying to make me conduct.  They’re such sneaks.  They approached the question obliquely, which is to say we attempted some unconducted touches, which means you all have to agree in advance when the calls are, so you do them at the same time and to the same pattern.  And then you just ring the touch without anyone saying anything.  Well, all conducting is is remembering where the bobs and singles are! they said gleefully.  So you can call wronghomewrongplaintwelvefortysixtruffledoodahhome!  It’s easy!  And I’m the Emperor of Japan.

            And then there was Muddlehampton Choir practise, the experience of which was made additionally harrowing by the fact that it was colder inside St Frideswide than it was outside.  And I guess unfunny throat problems are endemic among amateur choir singers since no one batted an eye about my having missed the last approximately twenty practises to mine.  I was expecting us to be working on the music for the wedding, since that’s in April, but instead we started on John Rutter’s Five Childhood Lyrics which is supposed to be on the playlist for the summer concert in July.  What’s the rest of the programme? I asked.  Oh, we don’t know, was the reply.  Um.  Oh.  And, furthermore, the frelling lyrics end on a sustained top A for the sopranos. 

            I wonder what Colloquial Icelandic just, you know, looks like? 

* * *

* Including doing startlingly and unexpectedly well when you have this fabulous/deranged idea about running an on-line sale/auction 

** Still cheaper than the only UK copy I saw, but I’m now wondering if there’s an automatic mark-up from what you’d pay in the shop to cover postage shortfall.  UK postage is like something out of a Kurosawa film:  bloody and surreal.  

*** Which may or may not involve cats which may or may not be alive. 

† Which is pretty frelling unreliable.  

†† This discussion will pass rapidly by the 1,018 dictionaries, grammars and assorted how-to-do-Japanese-stuff books I seem to have collected recently.^ 

^ Oh for godssake.  As I am writing this blog entry, amazon has just sent me an email offering me special discounts on language learning books.  Including . . . wait for it . . . Colloquial Icelandic.  I wouldn’t kid you about this. 


There.  See?   Blech.  I’ve probably got inadvertently put on a ‘people who like learning languages’ list.  I DON’T LIKE LEARNING LANGUAGES.  THE ONLY LANGUAGE I’VE EVER LEARNT SUCCESSFULLY IS ENGLISH.  I had years and years of French in school . . . and can barely say . . . um.  My three words of French have been overlaid by my twelve (new) words of Japanese. 

            But I was thinking about this as I lay on the sofa covered in hellhounds and books on Japanese yesterday.  They do warn you (in books on teaching English speakers) that it’s going to take you—you the real language students as opposed to fluffbrains who happen to have had a Japanese character pop up in a book they’re writing—two or three times the number of hours and pints of blood to become fluent in Japanese than it would to become fluent in a romance language.  Feh.  Well, I don’t have the threat of needing to become fluent hanging over me, so I can dispense with that one immediately.  And living five years in the country leaves a mark.  But there’s at least one more thing—or two—what did I hate, hate, hate worst about trying to learn French?  Irregular frelling verbs.  Irregular frelling verbs.  And really, conjugating the suckers at all, regular or triple gonzo.  Also declensions.  Hate.  Japanese has two irregular verbs.  Two.  How wonderful is that.  And two verb tenses:  past and everything else.  That’s all.  How wonderful is that.

            But then you look at the written language.  AAAAAAAAAAAUGH.  Something like ninety-two symbols in the two syllabaries—plus 2000 kanji.  Two thousand.  And that’s only the beginning.  That’s only scraping you over the base literacy line.  Maybe French declensions aren’t so bad after all.  Except . . . I love kanji.  I think they are totally, absolutely and scintillatingly cool.  Never mind I can’t do them.  Can’t remember them, can’t write them, can’t make sense of them.  I could never do French declensions or conjugations either.  But I never loved them. 

            Meanwhile.  I found myself helplessly and involuntarily writing a tiny extra bit of a scene today in which the important stuff happens in Japanese.  It’s only about twelve words, but it has to be the right twelve words.  I may have to take it out again.^  Or run away to sea.  Or, of course, learn Japanese.^^ 

^cassbag16, if you are reading this, look at your DMs. 

^^ I’m sorry, but bell ringing and singing were there before you.  

††† At least certain extreme aspects of Japanese cooking.  As a kid in Japan you went up to one of the street vendors and pointed—although I personally never developed a taste for the blindingly salty, powerfully dead and rubber-crutch-textured dried fish and seafood—and back in the States once the Americans discovered sushi that was all I ever wanted.^ 

            But I did have a favourite Japanese cookbook and . . . I have no idea why I got rid of it.  The problem with being a hoarder is that when you are finally compelled to throw stuff out^^ you tend to do a really lousy job.  It was something about Japanese rural cooking or Japanese cheap rural cooking and it had recipes for stuff like feeding ten people on a handful of rice and one medium-sized shrimp. 

^ But I’ve always liked tofu.  And miso.  And tempeh.   And chopsticks.

^^ Say when you are moving from a house with nine bedrooms, five attics and an assortment of outbuildings to two houses with three bedrooms between them.  Although it was longer ago than that.  Probably when I moved over here which is twenty years in which to have forgotten even its title. 

‡ That would be . . . 8:30.  I mean, you know, a.m. 

‡‡ She was nicer to me when my ME was worse.  Hmmm.

‡‡‡ In our glorious and resplendent sixteen-year-old MOT-passing car

More Japanese


Well I’m NOT buying the book on Japanese cooking because they frelling CANCELLED my order.  And you know why they cancelled  it . . . ?

            I got the flat official notification from amazon first and assumed it was just that it had been sold to someone else fifteen minutes before I’d ordered it.  In the used-book world this happens all the time, of course, because there’s usually only ONE copy available.  But then I received an email directly from the bookshop.  They’ve cancelled it because the book is TOO BIG AND HEAVY to ship overseas:  the postage is prohibitive.

            What the frelling hell has gone wrong with the world, and specifically the international postal system, that we can no longer ship books ANYWHERE in the world?*  We’re talking total screaming meltdown here, epic tantrum, total refusal to accept reality and the status quo.  There’s a lot I don’t like about our modern world** but some things are supposed to be SACRED.  Ready availability of shipping for the written word is supposed to be one of them.***

            Meanwhile . . . I came to the end of my beginners’ Japanese audiobook on Pooka today.  They have a web site, but I bought it from audible.co.uk: 


And I got to the end, pressed the button and . . . ahem . . . started over at the beginning again.  I have nothing to compare it to, of course, since I had (maybe) ten words of Japanese going in†, but it seems to me a very good introductory course.  It kept my ricocheting interest††, at any rate, and I’m not the easiest audience.  It gives you native speakers doing little as it were real-world conversations using the vocabulary for that lesson and then an American fluent in Japanese and a Japanese native speaker who teaches it having little chats with each other about Japan and Japanese as they do a breakdown and reiteration of what you’re supposed to be covering.  You can’t—well, I can’t—possibly absorb the amount of information they’re flinging at you†††, but I found you can at least grasp it, so you would have a hope of memorising/inward-ing it if you put the necessary time in.  

            There are gleeps and lacunae of course.  But I liked that the teachers sounded like real human beings with a clue about what people need to know to use the language, and I liked that they try and tackle a bit of informal language and slang, and that they spend a lot of time trying to give you an idea of what the differences in the cultures are that are going to have immediate impact on you trying to speak Japanese to the Japanese.  Overall I recommend it—with the caveat that I have no way to check how accurate the information is.   But most of the little stuff, the inconsistencies and confusions that have tripped me up, I’ve been able to look up in—ahem—hard copy books I’ve bought.‡

             Two things remain awkward.   One of them is that if you go to innovative language learning dot com‡‡ and try to download your programme notes . . . well, I had problems, and I’m still having problems, although when I’ve emailed them they’ve answered, and I hope they will this time too.  And the notes themselves are a little messy, although some of that may be The World vs. The Printer interface which in my experience is always more or less aggrieved.‡‡‡ 

             The second problem . . . arrrggglllrrrrrggggaaaugh.  The second half of your lessons follows someone who is supposedly an American businesswoman through a trip to Japan.  Okay, I get it that they want a native Japanese speaker playing this woman—or let me say she sounds like a native Japanese speaker—so that us clueless learners are hearing Japanese as it should be spoken.  This is fine.  And I’m willing (mostly) to swing with some of the inconsistencies this tends to throw up—the stuff she knows (she says ‘um’ in Japanese, for example, which according to the lesson notes is ‘ano’ although it’s not in my dictionary) is a little erratic.  But the actress playing the role does it in this breathy hysterical little-girl manner that is UNBELIEVABLY ANNOYING.  Not to mention that it makes her sound not at all like a businesswoman—especially, let’s say, an American businesswoman who might conceivably be trying her hardest to appear cool and professional in a country a trifle still notorious for being traditional in terms of gender roles.  ‘Ashley’ is so annoying that . . . I may not make it through the second half of the programme again.  I’ll have to go back to quantum physics or something. 

* * *

* And while we’re at it, note that this is, or would have been, coming from the States, and postal rates are worse in the UK. 

**Starting with, oh, just at random, the relentless and persistent ads for losing belly fat and wrinkles, for whitening your teeth, and the latest range of bad judgement and missing the point that is the New New Twitter.  I even like Twitter.  But it is run by aliens who don’t like humans and are in a bad mood all the time. 

*** However my beginner’s kanji book did arrive.  Yeep yeep yeep yeep.  

† I now have at least twenty.  Unfortunately they’re not the twenty I need for SHADOWS.  

†† I will, I hope, pick up another 2% on this second go-through. 

†† Barring incidents of aggressive off-lead dogs 

††† Sometimes you do wonder who’s making the editorial decisions.  There’s a lesson toward the end where an American visitor stays with a Japanese couple at their home.  We’ve already been told firmly that if you visit someone you must take a gift.^  This woman does not appear to have brought a gift for her hosts.  The two teachers chat about this at the end of that lesson.  Why didn’t someone just write a gift into the script? 

^ This is one of those things that was true fifty years ago.  From my extremely unreliable memory, the thing that has changed the most is formality levels—which is echoed by some of the recent forum comments. 

‡ Which I’m not giving a live link to because it has an OBTRUSIVE voiceover introduction that I can’t see how to turn off 

‡‡ All right, I’m old fashioned.  I wanted them on PAPER so I could write notes in the margins.  I understand how to write notes in the margins on PAPER.

Gods and slang


Another day when by the time I am facing The Horror That Is The Blog again* I have no brain with which to harry and feint.  I haven’t even done anything today.**  Except SHADOWS of course.***  


I love how your worlds are built and the slang that helps build them. I admit, it took me until my third reading of Sunshine to realize (through the words people used to swear) that Christianity didn’t exist in that world- or at least never became popular.

No, no!  That’s not it at all!  I’ve been meaning to respond to this . . . since last autumn when someone at Forbidden Planet asked me something similar, and I’m glad of a forum comment to prod me.  But this is a good example of how dangerously different the writer’s eye view may be from the reader’s.  I had two purposes in having people swear by odin and thor and kali and carthage and by gods instead of God and so on in SUNSHINE—first because I did want to spread the net a little wider:  this is a world where there are more active religions jostling for place in an alternate America than there are in the world we live in.  But I didn’t leave Christianity out deliberately—I didn’t mean to leave it out at all.  But I didn’t realise the extent to which I’d, um, obscured its presence.  Because the subsidiary reason for the other gods is that ‘thor’ and ‘kali’ aren’t swear words—in this world.  It should have been ‘thor’ and ‘kali’ and ‘christ’ but ‘christ’, in this world, is rude.  And, believe it or not—says the woman who used the c-word in SUNSHINE and no one is ever going to let her forget it†—I prefer only to cause fury and outrage either when I mean to or when I haven’t got a choice.  Thor and odin and kali look like swear words and perform the function of swear words without causing the swear-word reaction in this-world readers.

            This is also on my mind because while the slang differs in detail, the exact same thing is happening in SHADOWS.  They swear by gods and hells just as Sunshine does.  (But not by thor or kali.)  If I ever did write that sequel to SUNSHINE I’d put jesus and christ back in—yes, no init cap, because none of the other gods are—and brace myself.††  I used the c-word last time.  How much worse could it be?††† 

* * *

* Another really excellent reason for 36-hour days is that the frequency with which the blog presents itself to me to be written^ would be cut back by 50%.^^

^ With a demeanour rather awfully like a hellhound feeling that a hurtle is overdue. 

^^ At least I think that’s what I mean.  The fact that I read Prof Stewart’s mathematical prodigies in the bath, and laugh, doesn’t mean I can do any of the stuff.

 ** Well I did take redelivery of the Laptop Monster.  Remember the new laptop I bought . . . something like two months ago?  And that Raphael and Gabriel have been hosting hot and cold running engineers for about the last six weeks because Large Nameless Stupid Computer Company is too anal retentive simply to give me a new one and get it over with?  I remember ranting about this here not long ago.

            So it came home (again) today.  It’s still shiny and silver and large and weighs too much.  It also, allegedly, no longer discharges its battery by 50% overnight.  So, should I join Lovefilm for my 3-month free trial^ and test the freller out?  I asked the angels to strip some of the stuff off this old laptop so it’s not straining at the limits of its hard drive any more—can’t say I’ve noticed any improvement in speed however—since I am, on mature^^ reflection, just not going to change ungleblarging operating systems mid-final-draft.  Life is harrowing enough.   But that still leaves me with a large shiny silver object to do something with.

^ I’ve got some kind of extreme voucher here somewhere.  

^^ Gabriel was wearing a kidney belt and—bending himself over the back of a chair because sitting down was Not Good for his sciatica—said well, you know, when forty is rushing up on you.  Tell me about it, I said, I turn sixty in November.  Both of them successfully managed to look surprised, but then Raphael blew it by saying ‘I wouldn’t put you a day over forty-one.’.  Snork.  Have I mentioned that our service contract is due for renewal? 

*** I also ordered a ‘like new’ copy of Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji as recommended by Jacky on the forum.  I went and looked it up on amazon and it gets like twelve stars from everyone.  Only it’s not available.  Well, frell this for a lark.  So I hit the ‘abebooks’ button and found a nice clean cheap copy on the east coast of America since there don’t seem to be any on this side of the pond.  Feh.  This is the second time I’ve done the abebooks button-pressing thing in three days.  I am bad.^

            The first time was about looking at kanji.  I’ve been reading this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Read-Japanese-Today-Practical-Languge/dp/4805309814/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329871721&sr=8-1

which makes those diabolical little squiggly things—and kanji are the seriously squiggly, borrowed from Chinese ones, as opposed to the comparatively straightforward katakana and hiragana syllabaries^^—actually look friendly and comprehensible.  No mean frelling feat.  And before anyone climbs all over me again about Going Too Far, kanji are one of the stronger memory-flicks from my five years as a child in Japan.  Kanji tell stories.  The problem with Read Japanese Today is there’s no INDEX and also no stroke order—one of the fifty-year-old books I’ve hung onto about the Japanese language is an extremely intimidating list of the 2000 or so basic kanji you need to know if you’re going to read Japanese, and while it scares the living daylights out of me, I find that to decipher the squiggles I seem to need to know how you build the suckers, line by line.  And the First Two Thousand has changed in the last fifty years.  So I’m reading my Japanese Today and trying to find the squiggles in my old book and going wait, that’s not the same.

            Also, I want fewer than 2000 to grapple with, even in my slithery dilettante way.  So I looked up kanji again on amazon, and the book that includes how to write the first few hundred kanji that got twelve stars was not available.  (Which is probably why I didn’t order it in the first place.)  So I hit abebooks and . . . 

^ I also have trouble remembering that books cost money.  I mean, I do know they cost money, I just feel that book money shouldn’t count when you’re figuring out how not to run out of money before you finish something that someone will pay you for. 

^^ Clearly one of the additional purposes of kanji is to make you think you can learn katakana and hiragana at least.



† And the reason why, as I’ve said as many times as it has come up, is because there are no casual slang words for female genitalia.  There is no ‘dick’ equivalent.  Dick isn’t a word you use with your gran, I know, but it doesn’t make averagely crass people come out in hives the way the c-word does.  In Sunshine’s world, that word is the dick equivalent. 

†† Which is to say there will probably be ‘jesus’ and ‘christ’ in ALBION.  I won’t know till I get there.  

††† Don’t answer that.

Your Body Is Your Instrument, Chapter 412


I sustained another emotional body blow this weekend and OF COURSE my voice decided to have a hissy fit.  But it was a new kind of hissy fit.  I opened my mouth cautiously to start doing warm ups which include singing things like Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes which always requires singing the first line again after my voice figures out what key it’s in and where the frelling tonic is.*  I also sing a lot on ‘ah’ rather than words because it’s one less thing to worry about.  Rather to my surprise I seemed to be making a reasonable amount of noise.**  So it took me till I was trying to practise Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring to discover that as soon as I was trying to learn something . . . I was totally, fantastically, diabolically FLAT.  Not every note and not precisely the same amount of flat, or even I with my limited skills might have been able to adjust, just . . . flat.  Is there no end to the humiliations of Your Body Is Your Instrument.***  Apparently not.

            So I went in to my voice lesson today all bent round in a knot of self-abasement—particularly because I’d freaked myself out so badly on Jesu that I didn’t want to sing it for Nadia at all—and told her that I was all flat and horrible and was there a particular piece of the carpet she would like me to gnaw on as penalty?  And she said, because she is (a) an excellent teacher (b) bird-witted or (c) on drugs, flat?  Oh, but that may be a good sign.

            It may be what?

            I was so surprised she wasn’t garrotting me with a handy piece of clothesline for being the least ept of her students with the most ridiculous excuses, that I’m afraid I missed the details of her justification of this extraordinary statement.  It has something to do with the fact that as some bit of you changes, other bits of you have to adapt.  I’ve also been having these funny glitches which really do sound like I’m jumping my sprockets, when a note will suddenly flare like a bad radio signal, or, as Nadia suggested, a horse throwing a buck.  That’s great, she said.  Never mind what it sounds like. 


            No, she repeated, it’s all good.  You’re loosening up serially.  This is normal.†  All the pieces will come back into alignment, I promise. 

Muddlehampton Choir practise this Thursday.  I’m frelling petrified.†† 

            I did however ring a touch of Stedman doubles including The Bad Super-Wiggly Coathanger single tonight at South Desuetude.  Although it took me two tries.  And we will cast a veil of SHADOWS over my St Clements†††. . . . 

* * *

* I do a lot of what you might call pre-warming-up out hurtling^ and doing stuff like hanging laundry and washing up^^.  

^ I lead such a rich, full life.  I also listen to my Japanese podcasts out hurtling+.  Which of these deeply absorbing sub- or super-activities wins as that hurtle’s, or that stretch of that hurtle’s companion depends almost entirely on location and population density.  Now that I’m getting louder I have to examine my surroundings with even greater care for anyone who might conceivably hear me. 

            On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to snap off singing when there is a sudden surge of Aggressive Off Lead Dog(s).  I am so negatively conditioned that a gorgeous sunny Sunday—as yesterday was—makes my heart sink at the prospect that everyone and his/her/their Aggressive Off Lead Dog(s) will also be out enjoying the unnaturally beneficent weather and the glorious countryside.  We had a particularly redolent example of this yesterday.  We were heading back toward civilisation (?) again.  As we neared the road I could see a mob of people strolling along it . . . and at least one dog.  Off lead.  On the road.  Now this is a little back country road, but it’s quite a busy little back country road and it has some very nasty blind corners on it.  Hellhounds are not only on lead but on short lead when we walk along that road.  As the dog came opposite the footpath gate we were heading toward it stopped.  And looked toward us.  Thoughtfully.  It’s a frelling Staffordshire.++  I love Staffies, and many of them are sweethearts, but they were bred for fighting, for godssake, and even the ones that are totally sweet and gentle with people may very well be dog-aggressive.  Hellhounds and I stop.  Dog continues to stare at us thoughtfully.  I was about to squeak—speaking of situations that shut your voice down—something at the humans like ‘please call your dog’+++ when one of them glanced over his shoulder and said, oh, come along, Attila dear.  Which Attila, of course, ignored.  Attila, on the contrary, began to amble in our direction.  It is remarkable—often as I have had the opportunity to observe this effect—just how much of your life does flash before your eyes in those few seconds before battle is engaged. 

            Hellhounds and I began backing up, very slowly.  This usually does work with a dog that just wants to puff himself out a bit and prove what a hard boy he is, and footpaths are usually neutral territory.  It worked in this case.++++  After the dog had backed us up far enough to prove that we were afraid of him—and I always figure it’s a bad sign when hellhounds are willing to slink away from another dog—about the fifth time that Mr Microbe Brain called him, he went.  But a disobedient (aggressive) off lead dog on a busy road.  Dear frelling gods. 

            Anyway.  I missed a lot of my podcast during that little episode.  I had to turn it off till my heart rate and brain waves returned to something resembling normal.  And then I had to zap it backward a long way. 

+ As I USED and eventually WILL AGAIN listen to physics and maths (and history and biography#).  There isn’t anyone out there who also uses audible.uk on her (or his) iPhone and can tell me how to listen to more than one book without losing her place in either one or annoying the app into de-downloading the files?  

# No, not fiction.  I read fiction anyway.   Having brisk, leg-propelled blood circulating in my brain is an opportunity not to be missed to get it to learn something. 

++ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staffordshire_Bull_Terrier 

+++ I’m so polite.  We were once being pursued by a large male Labrador—precisely the fashionable style of large rectangular object with a head that looks like a four-slice toaster that has bloody ruined Labs—and I had already said, followed by shouted, PLEASE CALL YOUR DOG to no response whatsoever.  At about the point when my leg was going to disappear down its slavering jaws as I attempted to fend it off the hellhounds I screamed CALL YOUR G*DD*M DOG! and the woman, who had been watching the show without making any faintest gesture or attempt to recall her Panzer division suddenly snapped to attention and said, Don’t swear at me! 

++++ As it did with Panzer, above. 

^^ Doing the dishes in American.  

** This breathing from your gut thing is fabulous for your singing.^  I’d said to Nadia a fortnight or so ago that I thought it was interesting that this had suddenly opened up at pretty much the same time as my throat had, in the aftermath of quitting my tower.  And she said that while there was undoubtedly a connection, from her vantage as teacher, she’d been expecting it to happen around now—that things do happen to a somewhat predictable pattern.  OH DIRE FATE I’M PREDICTABLE.   

^ Barring the relationship with your neighbours aspect.  

*** But singing is fun, gods help me.  This has indeed begun to plait itself into another cosh to beat myself with.  Nadia can still get a better noise out of me than I can at home without her help.  But because Nadia doesn’t think I’m hopeless I have something to lose in my lessons, so I do, maddeningly and involuntarily, go in there week after week slightly braced.  Bracing doesn’t do your singing any good at all.  So I can hear, sometimes, especially a song I also sing purely for fun, like my folk songs, and haven’t sung much for Nadia, that I am singing less freely for her than I do for the hellhounds.  Today it was Down by the Salley Gardens.  ARRRRRGH


†† Nadia said, I don’t suppose you’d consider . . . just enjoying it? 

††† Which I’m going to have to ring on Thursday on handbells.  ARRRRRRRRRRRGH.



There was a PUPPY.

            Of course that’s why I agreed to sacrifice my Sunday evening away from SHADOWS.*  Niall had rung up yesterday saying that he’d just heard from Jasper, their usual Sunday evening third, that he was contagious [convincing sound effects, I understand, were deployed here], and could I be persuaded to free Sunday evening to ring handbells with Niall and Titus?

            I was out hurtling when the message came in, and after I got back it took me about half an hour to consider the matter.**  By the time I’d rung back Niall had already rung Caitlin, since time was short and I might have a manticore-vanquishing scheduled, and Caitlin had already said yes.  That’s great! said Niall to me.  Now we can ring major!  Titus should ring more major!***

            And we did ring major.  It was rather . . . exciting.  Moan.  Well, I mean, we did ring major.  We rang quite a few plain courses and staggered through most of a few touches, although these latter tended to find all the bells but Niall’s swapped around to baffling and unseemly locations.  (You can’t have been doing parallel five-six down!  I was doing five-six down!  No, you were making seconds and dodging at the back!  Well, maybe I should have been, but I can assure you I wasn’t!)  And then Titus sat back and said his hand needed a rest, and that the three of us should go ahead and ring a quarter of bob minor.  I don’t do quarters! I said.  Oh, go on, said Titus, you can get your name in The Ringing World.  Niall, whom I do know not to trust by now, said, oh, don’t worry, we’ll start with a 120 [this is a short touch].  I wasn’t at all surprised when we were clearly not doing a 120.  And we went on, and we went on, and I was already tired because I had done a sizable whack of SHADOWS before I came out† and I was totally losing it . . . and then, having gotten through most of the freller, Niall called us round because he said he’d lost track, and so we lost it.  I just need more practise conducting quarters, said Niall.

            Fortunately there was a PUPPY.

            It’s still only about the size of my hand although it’s thirteen weeks old, because it’s a Jack Russell/Border terrier cross.  Little terriers are not generally my favourite thing in the whole world but . . . a puppy.  And of course it liked me because I smell of its friends and relations.  So I had a puppy on my lap during tea while everyone else had cake.††  And it’s no doubt because of the puppy that I seem to have agreed to do this again next Sunday evening. . . .  

* * *

* Well, no.  I’d entirely forgotten about the puppy.  Niall, who is not a big critter person, had mentioned there was now a puppy, but I have Things on My Mind^ and since I had no immediate expectation of meeting it this fascinating fact was allowed to slip into the . . . er . . . shadows. 

^ Mind?  Things? 

** Voice One:  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Ringing with Titus^ is terrific practise and last Thursday’s handbells were cancelled because two of us were unavailable!

            Voice Two:  No!  No!  I have to keep on with SHADOWS!  I have to keep on with it every minute!^^

            Voice One:  If I keep on with it every minute I will melt and run through the cracks in the floor!

            Voice Two:  You are an irresponsible feather-brained flibbertigibbet!

            Voice One:  Thank you!  I’m ringing Niall now to say yes

^ He’s the one who had a stroke fifteen or so years ago and has only one functioning hand.  So he rings both bells in one hand, held in a cross shape, so his hand—and the bells—go in four different directions depending on which stroke of which bell he’s ringing.  This is more confusing than you can begin to imagine for the rest of us.  Especially because he rings the treble and the two, and everyone learning handbells learns to depend on knowing where the treble is.  If you can ring something with Titus successfully, you can REALLY, REALLY RING IT.  We’re a spiffing crack troop, we with-Titus ringers.  Serious upper-level super-surprise ding-dong doo-dah million-peal handbell ringers have been known to burst into tears when attempting to ring with Titus, and to have urgent appointments in Nevis when invited for another opportunity to do so. 

^^ That I’m not hurtling, singing, ringing tower bells, writing the blog, studying Japanese or reading maths+ in the bath.  Or—sigh—doodling.++ 

+ Or, possibly, Peter Dickinson, after pulling out GLASS SIDED for the blog the other night.  In the conversation on the forum about where to start if you haven’t read him before, I don’t think anyone has mentioned EMMA TUPPER’S DIARY yet?  I would add my voice to those who have suggested THE KIN, THE ROPEMAKER, THE BLUE HAWK and TULKU.  I also have to remind you of CHUCK AND DANIELLE (which was in the auction/sale merely because I love it so much) which is the littler-kids’ book about Danielle and her whippet, which I think is totally darling, and I would think so even if it weren’t based on one of our previous generation of dog-hair factories, because I am a critter person.  Peter himself has a particular soft spot for THE DANCING BEAR which is about a slave and his dancing bear in Byzantium in 558 going after his master’s daughter, who has been stolen by the Huns who killed her father.  But speaking of his murder mysteries, which is where we came in, I want to mention THE LIVELY DEAD which has always been a favourite of mine because of the heroine, who is very much a (grown-up) girl who does things:  the first line of the book is ‘Bending to adjust the claw of her crowbar against a joist, Lydia saw the man’s feet.’  The copyright is 1975:  back in 1975 you didn’t have women who do major house renovations, as Lydia does, let alone also have a strong happy relationship with a non-standard bloke like her husband (she also has a nice non-standard son).  It would have been so easy to make Lydia a ball-breaker and Richard a wuss, and that’s not what they are at all.  I may have to reread that one after I finish SLEEP AND HIS BROTHER. 

++ I had an email yesterday or the day before from a new blog reader wanting to know if there was any hope for someone who hadn’t been paying attention last autumn and longed for her very own doodle(s).  There are, of course, a good many people still wondering if there’s any hope for people who were paying attention (and money) last autumn.  Yes to both questions.  The little pile of doodles on the other desk in my office is beginning to mount up—slowly, I admit.  But I really am going to do NOTHING BUT DOODLES for as long as it takes to catch up as soon as something possibly resembling the finished SHADOWS is off my desk for long enough to concentrate on anything else.  As I’ve said before, the one-offs like the musical composition, the commissioned cartoons and, for that matter, the knitting, will still take a little longer after that. 

            Meanwhile Blogmom has found a gizmo so that we can—eventually—have a permanent doodle box on the blog.  But she’s not going to put it up till I’ve fulfilled last autumn’s orders.  Check back in . . . um . . . I think someone on the forum suggested 2017 as my new deadline. . . .   

*** On the way there Caitlin, who has two young sons, and I, who have two hellhounds and an assortment of refrigerator magnets that say things like ‘housework is evil and must be stopped’ and ‘a mind is a terrible thing to waste on housework’, agreed that Jasper’s flat is the cleanest domicile we have ever visited and we slightly suspect him of not being human.  That might also explain the extreme precision of his handbell ringing. 

† Points out Voice Two smugly 

†† My stress-reactive digestion has been more often in a bad mood than a good one for months.  I’ll be glad to have both SHADOWS and doodles off my desk(s) for a whole assortment of reasons.

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