August 31, 2012

KES, 39



“Shapes are interesting,” said Serena.  “And I wouldn’t be looking around on the floor of Mike’s garage if I didn’t spend so much time there waiting for you.”

“Sob sob grief,” said Gus.

“And I have only one boulder,” said Serena.  “It is a very good boulder, and it was worth hiring Ed and his winch to move it here.”

“Even if Ed now crosses to the other side of the street when he sees you coming.”

“Even if,” agreed Serena.

I had picked up a little wooden—something.  It was a little curled-up wooden something, with its nose under its front paws.  It might be a puppy.  I smiled at it.  Its spine was maybe three inches long, and as graceful as a swan’s neck.

“Oh yeah,” said Serena.  “I also dick around with woodworking a little.”

“Language,” said Gus delightedly.

“Sorry,” said Serena.  “Having someone in here actually looking at my stuff is bringing my ancient boho tendencies out of retirement.  I fool around with woodworking.  My siblings clubbed together a few years ago and got me a set of tools and I didn’t want them to feel unappreciated.  The siblings, I mean, not the tools.”

“No, you meant the tools,” said Gus.

“My siblings are wonderful human beings,” said Serena.  “They invite my son over for dinner and weekends and holidays, and expose him to normal life.”

“Aunt Anise is not normal.”

“We won’t go there,” said Serena.  “Although I do not dispute you.”

There was a distant, somewhat forlorn ping.

“Ah,” said Serena.  “Dinner calls.”

“I’m starving,” said Gus.

“How unusual,” said Serena.  “There is also broccoli and walnut salad.”

Broccoli?” said Gus in horror.

Serena sighed.  “You’re not that starving, right?  I picked up some of Ryuu’s French beans in soy sauce for you, okay?”

“Okay,” said Gus without enthusiasm.

I was last out the door.  It’s hard, leaving Aladdin’s cave.  (Note to self:  it was time Flowerhair met a genie.  A female genie.)  I was standing on the threshold having a last look when there was a funny noise.  Click, it went.  Tuk-tuk-tuk-tik-click.  It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was extremely clear and definite.  I looked around, startled, for the piece of old car that had unexpectedly hot-wired itself.

“Well, well,” said Serena, who had come back to stand beside me in the doorway.  “You are exalted among mortals.  You not only got the comprehensive cold spot experience, you’re now receiving the gremlin endorsement code.  Not many of our visitors do.  Nobody from my family.  None of Gus’ friends.”

“Not Mike,” said Gus, “who really wants to.”

“Poor Mike,” said Serena.  “We’ve told him it’s a mechanical noise, and he’s inclined to take it personally that it won’t perform for him.”

“He thinks he could identify it,” said Gus.

“Which is probably why it won’t play,” said Serena.  “At least he doesn’t just think I’m having an attack of artistic temperament.”

“Mom,” said Gus.  “You got this house cheap because everyone knows it’s haunted.”

“Sort of,” said Serena.  “The locals don’t like it and incomers are mostly looking for a romantic lake retreat.  We’ve got the campground and trailer park on one side and a sort of mini industrial park on the other.  This house was already cheap.  It was just a little cheaper.  And an artist moving into a haunted house, and corrupting her son’s innocent mind?  Please.  So we don’t make an issue of it.”

Tick, said the gremlin.

“Nighty-night,” said Serena, and gently closed the door.

“You leave a bowl of milk out for the hob,” I said thoughtfully, as Serena pulled a heavenly-smelling dish out of the oven, and Gus took plates out of a cupboard.  “I’m not sure what you do for a cold spot and a—er—gear shaft.”

“We do the best we can,” said Serena.  “Aaugh.  Gooey.  I’m too hungry to wait, and it’ll cool faster on our plates.  The coat rack in the hall is right next to the cold spot, and the black velvet cape is there for it.  Nobody wears it.  And there’s a bowl of nuts and bolts and old keys and broken-off bits that are—er—interesting shapes of themselves, in a corner by the bay window.  I wouldn’t want to say that anything ever moves them around.  But I wouldn’t want to say nothing ever does either.”  She took a large bowl and a small cardboard box out of the refrigerator and put them on the table, the box in front of Gus.  “I hope,” she said to me, “that you do not think broccoli is evil?”

“I love broccoli,” I said.  “It’s my favorite vegetable.”

Gus, reluctantly opening his box, gave me a look.  It said, middle-aged women are all alike, and not in a good way.

“Favorite green vegetable,” I amended.  “Sweetcorn comes first.”

“Sweetcorn to die for, around here,” said Serena.  “August and September, every farm stand has truckloads of it.  And it’s all fabulous.”

“Excellent,” I said, giving myself a little more broccoli just to watch the expression on Gus’ face.  “I knew there was a reason I was moving here.”


A few of my favourite things, part 3 – guest post by b_twin

(Part 1 -link)

(Part 2 -link)

Part 3:

Castles & Ruins

History was always one of my favourite subjects in school. Getting out there and into some textbook history is so amazing. And staring at castles and ruins and all that stonework just gives me goosebumps. An active imagination can be very useful also.

Here are a handful of (the hundreds of) shots I took when I visited the UK.

~ Lindisfarne ~

The little tidal island of Lindisfarne  – “Holy Island” – sits on the Northumbrian coastline not far from Bamburgh Castle. It was an important place for centuries and features figures such as St Aidan and St Cuthbert in its history. The ruins of the 12th Century Priory are here as well as a small fortress constructed in the 16th Century.

Lindisfarne Priory


Lindisfarne Castle

The day that we visited, it was a glorious day with a mild breeze – not bad considering it is notorious for its poor weather….

(Movie buffs may recognise Lindisfarne Castle as the “Mont St Pierre” in the 80s tele-movie ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour.)


~ Bamburgh Castle ~

One of the royal residences of the ancient Kings of Northumbria. The gale coming in off the North Sea seemed so fitting and made for some bleak atmosphere.

Bamburgh Castle - front entrance


Bamburgh Castle - internal walls (built at different stage to entrance)

Side-note: The Victorian-era stables were… interesting!

Bamburgh Castle - Victorian-era stable



And still in Northumbria —

~ Chillingham Castle ~

Chillingham Castle - courtyard

Not actually a ruin, although it was derelict about 50 years ago. It’s a small baronial castle – and we stayed there!

Chillingham Castle - exterior


~ Whitby Abbey ~

Further down along the coast is another well-known Abbey ruin: Whitby Abbey.

Whitby Abbey on a summer day

Perched high on cliffs overlooking the sea it must have been a pretty tough place to live and work. The remains of the Abbey (destroyed by not only The Dissolution but also bombs during the World Wars) attract a lot of visitors and yet they still seem to hold a vast serenity.

Whitby Abbey - upper walkway

(Have I mentioned I have a “thing” for doorways….? Probably a blog’s worth of pics. ;-) )

Again, I was absolutely blessed the days I visited (I stayed overnight in the Youth Hostel next door). Very pleasant weather – apparently you are “supposed” to get gale force winds and dull overcast weather!! I didn’t miss them a bit.


~ Rievaulx Abbey ~

One of the many victims to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Rievaulx is tucked away in a secluded Yorkshire valley.

Rievaulx Abbey


Rievaulx Abbey - inside the ruined church

Rievaulx Abbey is similar in many ways to Fountains Abbey. Just a little harder to get to and so a few less tourists. It certainly has a different atmosphere. At the time I felt almost like Fountains had lost its soul and was just a shell – magnificent nevertheless but still only a shell. Whereas Rievaulx still had the soul of a place of worship but that it was abandoned – and lonely. Maybe there was something in the Yorkshire water… ;) In any case, I found I preferred Rievaulx and its haunting grandeur.

~ Fountains Abbey ~


Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey



One of the things I love about visiting castles, especially, is to see the evidence of fortifications and the everyday functionality of the structures.

~ Pickering Castle  ~

A small baronial fortress tucked away in the Yorkshire countryside.

Pickering Castle - illustrating the "long drop" sewerage system!


Pickering Castle - approaching the Sallyport (internal)


Pickering Castle - External view of the Sallyport


~ Stirling Castle ~

Stirling has some good examples of defensive architecture still visible.

Stirling Castle - inside the wall, approaching a guard station

Going through the wall into one of the guard rooms.


Stirling Castle - remains of gate hinges and barricading mechanisms

Early “combination lock”? hehe Jokes aside, that’s set up for some serious lumps of wood!

Stirling Castle - defensive structures now become gardens :)


And finally, a birds-eye view of the “front door” to Warwick Castle:

Warwick Castle - Barbican and Gatehouse

Makes our “security screen doors” looks pretty inadequate!!


There are many, many castles in the UK – in varying states of decomposition – and I’ve really only been to a handful. This means that one day I will have to try and get back….



Spiders etc.


IT’S GIGANTIC FRELLING SPIDER SEASON AGAIN.  ARRRRRRRGH.  IT’S NOT EVEN SEPTEMBER YET!  ARRRRRRRRGH!  But I’ve just dumped my second-in-two-days asteroid-sized spider outdoors muttering to myself I know you’re a house spider I don’t care it’s either outdoors or SQUISH.*  It’s not even cold yet you have plenty of time to find some OTHER household to infiltrate before winter.  Although I don’t think something that size can infiltrate.  Like trying to introduce rhinoceroses by osmosis.  No.  Not going to work.  I saw this vast creature out of the corner of my eye as I was bent over SHADOWS.  It threw a strange, spiky SHADOW. . . . AAAAAAAAUGH.

           Those made-for-purpose spider catchers are always TOO SMALL.  Are they trying to make you think that the only spiders you will ever need to catch are SMALL?   Is this some kind of reverse psychology?   Oh, it’s a spider, well I’ll just get my proprietary spider catcher and scoop the sucker up, it’s just an OPTICAL ILLUSION that the spider is BIGGER THAN MY HEAD . . . AAAAAAAAAAUGH. 

            When I see a spider that is clearly bigger than my head I do not assume that I am suffering some strange optical delusion, I assume that it is BIGGER THAN MY HEAD and behave accordingly.  Behaving in an appropriate manner involves a spare door and a medium-sized yurt, and you clap the yurt over the spider and then slide the door carefully so you don’t hurt the spider UNDER the yurt, thus trapping it between the two, and then you stagger desperately toward the door to outdoors, being OBSESSIVELY MINDFUL of the need to keep the yurt pressed in a vise-grip to the (as it were, unhinged) door . . . now entire theses have been written on the best way to get a yurt seamlessly crushed to a door through a door, and I wish to point out that it is a great deal easier if you have had the forethought to lay in a stable door for these occasions, so that you can use one half of it instead of the full rectangular array of a standard door . . . anyway.  You contrive to get outside with your prize and are ignoring the burning in your hellhound-honed shoulder muscles and the faint quiver in your wrists, totter a step or two down the courtyard . . . to release the thing in front of the neighbour you don’t like.  Psst! you hiss at it as it perches confused in the gravel.  That way! 

* * *

* And the truth is that some of my selfless generosity to spider kind is that I don’t want to squish anything that large.

^ In my defense I don’t kill little spiders either.  I don’t like killing things.  I am a wuss, but I’m also kind of consciously and actively a wuss.  I’m a meat eater but I try not to kill things+ unless I have a reason.++   Even if they have too many legs.+++

            There’s been a conversation going on on the forum about Jared Diamond’s GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL.   This book by a very weird piece of serendipity was literally next in the audible queue for listening to on Pooka while hurtling after I finished THINKING FAST AND SLOW, my doubts about that book’s reliability being what started the conversation about GUNS.  And . . . I’m not all that far into GUNS yet.  But what I am taking to be the assumption that the way human civilisation—make that ‘civilisation’—works is that you figure out a way to produce enough food surplus to start adding specialists like warriors and kings to your society and then you go look for some other less ‘advanced’ or organised or just smaller society, and kill them basically because you can . . . SO DEPRESSING I’m not sure whether I’m going to get much farther.  Human being?  No, I don’t want to be one.  I’d like to come back as a carrot or a liver fluke or something like that please.  Part of what makes it so depressing is that Diamond doesn’t seem to feel the need to say anything about it—maybe he does later?  Maybe I was fending off the matched set of Rottweilers++++ while he addressed this point?  Is this just human nature and the inevitable loop—or vicious circle—of history?  Whimper.  Diamond also mentions (blandly) that horses are the single most important military advantage of any army through the ages till World War I, which is still (barely) less than a century ago and I’m like . . . horses?  Yes, all right, I’ve read this or something like this before, but it doesn’t make me hate it any less.  Horses are prey animals and basically too biddable for their own good, which is why we’ve been able to make such inexcusable use of them.  To use a prey animal that eats grass for a living and has been bred and trained to want to please you to kill people is just totally horribly WRONG.

            Sorry.  I must not be in a very good mood.  I think the situation with the hellhounds is getting to me, and playing with adorable puppies who are going to have to grow up and go out into this Morons with Dogs world isn’t helping. 

+ Things do of course include broccoli and carrots and soy beans, but even vegans have to eat something. 

++ ‘Existence’ is sufficient reason for death if you’re a house fly or a mosquito however.   

+++  Hee hee hee.  You haven’t read SHADOWS yet.#  Too many legs.  Spiky shadows.  Hee hee hee hee. 

# Nearly.  NEARLY.  Yes, I know, I’ve been saying this for weeks.  Still.  Nearly. 

++++ SPEAKING OF FENDING OFF ROTTWEILERS.  Today @radmilibrarian tweeted THIS ENTIRELY FABULOUS LINK, Space Etiquette for Dogs:  arrgle arrgle arrgle arrgle.  As I tweeted back to her, you, which is to say I, get to feeling so embattled that the very fact of this poster, which means that someone out there GETS IT, is a relief in itself—someone other than me and my friends and various people on the forum who have posted about their similar experiences of Morons# with Dogs.  Not that this is the least bit of help the next time you meet a moron with a dog—and it does not address the aggressive off lead dog problem, but it’s still good for morale, and mine is pretty much bumping along the bottom about my dog plight at present. 

            I think I may have only realised yesterday, talking to southdowner after the Visitation of Puppies, but I have pretty well officially gone into Bunker Mode with the hellhounds after they unexpectedly added a third dog to their Most Loathed list:  this is, of course, also a dog that has offered them major discourtesy in the past . . . but I don’t like the declaration of war business, and three dogs that my sweet lovely hellhounds will go ferocious for is three too ******* many, and that doesn’t cover that if I don’t have them on short lead at the outbreak of hostilities they’ll pull me over.  Eighty-plus pounds of hellhound in full burst could uproot a small continent.   THAT’S.  JUST.  GREAT.  So . . . at present we’re hurtling almost totally in town on pavement, where it’s least likely we’re going to meet aggressive dogs, either on or off lead—although, because Morons with Dogs are amazingly moronic sometimes, it’s still not a sure thing.  This is not my idea of true hurtling—true hurtling involves fields and trees and stumbling through tussocks and getting lashed in the face by brambles and so on—but unfortunately I think it’s our best option at the moment, till the hellhound reactivity level drops somewhat.  A lot.  Which is also to say that I hope it will.  We’ve had bad seasons for aggressive dogs previously, but this is the first time that Chaos has joined Darkness in saying NO MORE MR NICE GUY.  I used to hate it that Chaos would just stand there and squeak a little when some bloody asshat of a dog would roar up and bite him, but this is worse.

            At least I can listen to books on Pooka as we stomp grimly around town.  But I think maybe I need more cheerful books.## 

# More reasons to come back as a carrot or a liver fluke.  Just sayin’.  

## Okay, you need a laugh too?  @cambridgeminor tweeted this today:  Bic for Her pens.  Because of course us girls need special writing implements.  Do not read while ingesting anything you don’t want to spit all over your keyboard.


Oh the adorable


So I was badgering poor southdowner because she’s my contact and I don’t want to annoy Olivia because she’s the one with the puppies.*  I wasn’t sure today’s meeting was going to come off because it is of course a little ridiculous . . . and then I got a phone call from Olivia who said, Southdowner says you’re in New Arcadia.  I used to know somebody who lived there.  It’s not that far out of my way**.  If you’ve got somewhere away from your own dogs*** I can bring them, I’ll swing past you on the way home.

            Gibble gibble gibble, I said.  Yaaaaaay.  Third House.  I’ll give you directions.

            I got a text from her that she was running late†, so after our hurtle hellhounds and I went down to the mews as usual and engaged in our usual afternoon activities.††  I was just beginning to feel a trifle anxious that I hadn’t heard any more from her when I flipped open Pooka . . . AND DISCOVERED TWO TEXTS DECLARING HER ARRIVAL TWENTY MINUTES AGO.  AAAAAAAAAUGH.†††

            So I went boiling up there and . . .

Her eyes are open and she's looking at YOU.

But not all that open.

Southdowner says bull terrier noses are all pink at birth and then the little black spots accumulate.

I dare you NOT to look like a fatuous twit with a double handful of fluffy puppy.

I chose this one because in some of the other ones I look worse.

Lapful of puppies. Oh the adorable.


Clearly they find long rides in cars and/or hellgoddess laps pleasingly soporiphic.

Olivia says that Southdowner says this is also an unusually mellow litter for bull terriers. She tried not to look smug as she said this.

I reported this conversation to Southdowner who laughed sardonically and said, they’ll get worse later.


Lapful of puppies redux.

I want to live forever surrounded by smiling puppies.

Whether or not they have future-Crufts-winning profiles.

Upside down. Yaaay.



So is Olivia sizing you up for the next litter in a couple of years’ time? 

Erm.  She’s actually talking (clearly and distinctly) about breeding Lavvy again next year because she’s such a brilliant mum and these puppies are (I’m told‡) exceptionally gorgeous and Lavvy is old-ish (five, I think) for a first-time mum so if she’s good at it better get on with it.‡‡

            And Lavvy herself is, of course, so charming it hurts.‡‡‡  Which wouldn’t have anything to do with it.§ 

* * *

* That would be puppeeeeeeeeeeez. 

** This is a relative measurement, but probably everything in the entire south of England looks close to everything else to someone from Tiptoe on Cludge, which is the far side of Birmingham.  

*** Unweaned puppies aren’t vaccinated yet, so you’re trying to keep them away from other dogs.  One of my most hideously vivid memories of hellhound puppies—almost as hideously vivid as the digestive mayhem—is the MONTH I had to keep them effectively indoors, before their last lot of vacs.  Baby things are cute so you won’t kill them?  Yes.  

† Which is a good thing, between my chronic lateness about everything, the Wee Hours Hurtle and the fact last-thing-before-bed supper is, and has now been for several months, the hellhounds’ worst meal^ . . . if we don’t get some aspect of this sorted soon, by January I won’t have seen daylight since October. 

^ Don’t even ask about breakfast.  I gave up on breakfast YEARS ago. 

†† This would include the Lunch Ritual which today required two location moves for Darkness and three for Chaos, as well as Finger Plumping and the addition of Encouraging Morsels.  Gaaaaaaah.  The real reason I find bullies charming?  THEY EAT

††† Technology.  It hates me.

^ And the worst of it?  I didn’t even offer her a cup of tea.  I went straight from AAAAAAAAAAAUGH to AWWWWWWWWWWW and didn’t have another intelligent thought till after poor Olivia left.  Probably gasping curses in my general direction. 

‡ Southdowner, who has seen them several times, says they’re going to grow up to be stunning.  Oh.  Um.  Southdowner—whose ear I bent extremely after this afternoon’s adventure—was trying to tell me even I could see the line of the nose and the breadth and angle of the jaw blah blah blah blah.  Sure.  I noticed that immediately.

^  Awwwwwwww.  Puppeeeeeeeez. + 

+ Nothing like guinea pigs.    And the noises they make are nothing like guinea pigs either.  Nothing.

‡‡ Also while I agree that pounds and shelters are heaving with animals that already need homes and that breeders need to think twice, three times, and probably ninety-two times before they decide to breed^ . . . I also believe strongly that good bloodlines for good dogs need to be kept going.  ^^ 

^ And the sooner puppy farms are closed down forever the better 

^^ Which might mean, for example, if I found myself buying into this particular Crufts-winning-family bull terrier madness, that I might be asked to keep whoever s/he is unfixed in case someone wanted to breed her/him back into the gene pool.  

† She has the successful snake-oil merchant’s ability to make you feel YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE AND HER BEST FRIEND.  It’s not even necessary to produce cheese, raw liver or a dog biscuit.  How amazing is that.^ 

^ Especially in a bull terrier.    

‡‡‡ It?  It what?

KES, 38




Aladdin’s cave.

One end of the room had two crunched-up, comfortable-looking sofas and two big saggy chairs crammed around a low table invisible under its load of papers, magazines, remote controls and a surprising number of sets of headphones, an impressively huge flat-screen TV, a fireplace with a woodstove with a glass front, so you could watch the fire if there wasn’t anything on TV, and an enormous basket of firewood.  The other side. . . .  

There were paintings and pencil sketches taped or pinned to the walls and curtains, and canvases, notebooks and portfolios leaning against baseboards and chair and table legs.  There was a lot of color.  There was what looked like an orange and rust and gold and green knitted boa constrictor hanging from the ceiling in loops.  It was surrounded by a shining pegasus (whose wings I would swear moved), several species of dragons and ditto of bats made of wood and wire and paper and fabric (that I recognised.  There might be other, genie-sourced materials I didn’t know) and I thought one or two of the bats might be furry sprites.  On the nearest wall, as I stood dumbstruck just inside the door, there was a cluster of flower drawings, pinned up haphazardly and overlapping, only some of which I could put names to:  roses of all colors;  daffodils both standard and nonstandard;  big shaggy yellow and white daisies mixed up with tall black-eyed susans;  blue pansies;  maroon and mauve petunias;  a huge lavender clematis with purple bars down its petals . . .  and a pen-and-ink drawing of a girl sitting beside a stream, with her long hair trailing in the water.   It was all black and white except for a wash of pale streaky blue that made the stream really run.

There was a big bay window with a window seat (decorated with pencils, pens, a tray containing bottles of ink, an open sketchbook, a mug of pipe cleaners and what I took to be one of the flying critters in an early stage of existence) at right angles to a long wall with French doors.  I remembered Serena telling me that the reason she bought this house was for the way the sun came in the living room.   It would be a different magic in daylight, but magic it certainly was.  As I walked a couple of steps farther in, things twinkled:  eyes flashed, there was a glittery heap of something half hidden behind the farther windowseat curtain that looked like it was made of netting and sequins—and the pegasus’ wings did move.  I was relieved that the boa constrictor did not.

The long table in front of the French doors looked like it probably could be cleared off enough to put plates on, but it also looked like this hadn’t happened in a while.   There were six chairs, and three of them had stuff on them:  more books, more notebooks;  strips of fabric, what looked like bunches of Chinese take-out chopsticks held together with rubber bands, a spool of green wire, what might be silver chenille yarn, a jar of buttons, another of pebbles, a vase of paper flowers, an iPod and another pair of headphones.  There were three dented candelabra sitting on paint-spotted newspaper on one end of the table.  One of them had already begun turning into something else. 

My mouth was dangling open.  I shut it. 

Gus had collapsed on one of the sofas.  He said, “This is her small, neat, well-organised space.  You should see the barn.”

“It’s not a barn,” said Serena.  “It’s a shed.  And it gets cold in the winter.  I haven’t moved out there yet this year, is all.”

“It’s a barn,” said Gus.  “You can still see where the old stalls were.  And you can’t watch TV from the shed.

Serena grinned.  “True.  I am less motivated to move since Gus’ sixteenth birthday present was installed.  The headphones, by the way, are so that Gus and friends can watch Ultimate Zombie Gross Out Body Part Bingo and I don’t have to know about it if I don’t turn around.  The headphones were part of the deal.”

“Body Part Bingo is awesome.  And I had to help pay.  I had to help pay for my own sixteenth birthday present.”

“You are tragically exploited.  It is very sad.”

I had wandered over to the table and was peering at various intriguing enigmas.  “Feel free to fondle,” said Serena.  “If I were a museum I’d have ‘please touch’ signs up.  If you break anything it won’t matter.  I’ll find something else to do with it.”

The metamorphosing candelabrum looked like it was going to become something tree-ish, with tiny dangling yellow fruits and delicate clusters of leaves.  I touched one gently.

“FIMO,” said Serena.  “I couldn’t do without FIMO any more than I could do without my sketchbooks.  And yarn.  And glue.  And string.  And toothpicks.  And junk store junk.  And the complete works of Steeleye Span.”

“And pieces of old cars,” said Gus from the sofa.  “And logs that were supposed to go in the woodstove.  And boulders.


Next Page »