December 26, 2012

Merry/Happy Christmas






I asked for this, and Peter consulted Oisin about which one to get, and now Oisin is going to go through it and pick out the 50 or 100 most often sung and I’m going to LEARN THEM. (Tunes are mostly easy. Not as appalling as it sounds.) If I’m going to make a noise in church I want to make the RIGHT noise. I’ll recognise a few right noises as herein described . . . but not very many.

Although I did lie on the sofa covered with hellhounds (hellterror grumbling in her crate:  she’s still not too up on the concept of lying quietly in heaps) and sang carols out of my new hymnal while Peter took a break from present-tearing-into to attend to the DUCK.


::falls down laughing::

Someone sent me this with a note saying, I saw this and I had to* . . . Eat your hearts out, Southdowner and Olivia!!!!!**


* * *

* I thought it was going to be roses.

** Now I really am going to have to learn to knit socks.  On circulars or DPNs.  Because clearly that’s what will fit.  And it’s much too cute not to be a knitting bag, right?

Evolution of a Christmas tree


It’s been Christmas for several hours.  HAPPY CHRISTMAS.  But I haven’t got to bed yet so as far as I’m concerned it’s still Christmas Eve.*

Christmas tree at 6 pm Christmas Eve

Peter was doing extremely well.   I’d only got it out of Third House’s attic and brought it down to the mews at about 3:30.  And fed my assortment of creatures lunch [sic], bolted a few olives and yesterday’s brussels sprouts and hared off to ring bells at Forza for the crib service.    I came home via Third House again to get the rest of the stuff to, you know, decorate the tree.  There wasn’t room first run, with a car full of critters.

Stage Two.

Okay.  Tree’s up.  Now I wrap the stem/trunk/knobbly plastic central column with tinsel.  This hides the strange bare patches in real trees and the equally strange green tape used to hold fake trees together.  Also, I like tinsel.

Lotsa stuff. You want lotsa stuff to hang on your tree.

And yes, that’s dinner in a bowl on the right with chopsticks across it.

More stuff. Even more stuff.

And the next course of dinner on the table on the right.

Enough! It’s enough! I want to go to BED!


Between previous photo and this one there were three hurtles–one long hellhound and two short hellterror–plus midnight mass.   With lots more carols.  I’ve found that the answer to my ME-related inability to stand for very long is to sit in the back row and stand behind my chair and then lean on its back.  This frees up all those tight little anxiety cells so you can SING LOUDER.  During the passing-the-peace-around one of my neighbours said, I’m enjoying your singing.  –I’m not sure if this might be Britspeak for shut up, okay?  You’re bothering me.

Hellterror barricade.

The tree’s on a table this year in the fond belief that we can keep her off it.  But for the early everything-all-over-the-floor stages a lack of hellterror is critical.  That is in fact her crate on the left covered in an orange blanket (the green towel is covering the hole in the orange blanket).**  When she barks she gets her curtains closed.  She was barking at the thunder.  We’ve been having thunder, lightning, hail, and torrential rain.  Joy.  I keep reminding myself I’d rather have rain than snow–in a country where no one knows how to deal with snow–but I think less rain might be, you know, possible.   It would certainly be desirable.

Meanwhile I’m getting tired of climbing over the sofa.

And yes, of course I decorated the back of the tree too.

What kind of a cheesy scuzzball do you think I am?  I admit that if I didn’t have to have bells if there are bells to be had, I would bag the horrible little ropes of bells which TANGLE LIKE A !”£$%^&*(!!!!!!.  Which is why we don’t have lights.  Peter used to put the lights up and he hates lights . . . because of the whole untangling thing.  And I’m not going there.  I have enough things to melt down over.  Including, once a year, my two ropes of decorative mini-bells.

Our pair of Mythopoeic Fantasy Award lions made festive.

I haven’t finished draping the rest of the sitting room in tinsel yet.  TOMORROW.  I CAN DO IT TOMORROW.  I mean . . . later today.***


* * *

*All right, it’s Christmas and Christmas Eve.  I went to Midnight Mass–which is at 11:30–but the vicar said, yo, let me be the first to wish you Happy Christmas, as the big hand rolled past the twelve.  Which was still several hours ago.

** Behind the crate you can see a chair with presents on it.  Yes.  Other people get their presents wrapped before the last minute.  Before after the last minute.  Sigh.

*** It’s almost time for the monks’ morning prayer.  Hmmmm.  No, McKinley, get a grip, you have PRESENTS TO WRAP.  And you’ll enjoy the duck and champagne and mince pies and brandy butter more if you’ve had some sleep. . . .

Life on more than one level


All I want for Christmas is that my assortment of hellcritters stop acting like morons about each other.  Arrrrrgh.  The people at the pet shop say it took (variously) six or nine months for their old dog to get used to their young one.  NINE MONTHS?  Oh . . . dear.  I tell myself that at least the hellhounds have offered no violence to the hellterror—there are all these great stories people are eager to tell you about prying the puppy back out of the gullet of the old dog and how the bloodstains on the carpet have never come out—but there’s precious little evidence of an evolution of relationship going on chez McKinley-Dickinson.  Darkness still barks any time she’s running around loose, and gets positively frenzied if Chaos decides to go relate—and paaaaaaaanics if she comes anywhere near him.  He still bolts for the stairs as retreat of choice, but this isn’t going to work much longer.  She can now climb stairs but she’s not very good at it, so I can grab her before she gets very far—my style of puppy-raising is rather labour-intensive—I’m also waiting for the Puppy May Be Permitted to Climb Stairs release from Southdowner.  The stairs up to the front door of the cottage are little low things* and I have to snatch her up QUICKLY on our way back from a puppy hurtle because she knows there will be FOOOOOOOD as soon as we get inside.  But the indoor stairs at the cottage are tall, and turn 180° in about as much space as a twist of yarn and she hasn’t sussed them out yet.  But if she ever stood still you could see her legs growing longer and one of these days I will have stopped to pull dog hair out of my mouth and when I look up she’ll be at the top of the stairs.  Possibly I will be galvanised into rapid rearguard action by the screams of Darkness trapped.

But Chaos, while he is at least willing to engage the hellterror, is chiefly interested in her butt, and that has GOT VERY OLD.  MOVE ON, HONEY, MOVE ON.  And she will not learn that he doesn’t like being bounced on, and cannot resist trying to hook her forelegs either over or around his neck so she can suck on his face which he does not appreciate either.**  DOMESTIC ANIMALS.  WHOSE IDEA WAS DOMESTIC ANIMALS?  I’d like to have a little chat with that bright spark 40,000 years ago who thought that roast wolf-cub was a short-sighted use of resources.

Domestic animals do however serve to ground you.  I do not recommend the experience of your first Christmas as a Christian, at least not if you went the road to Damascus route and you’re old.  I feel like I’m made of oatmeal and wet string.***  I went back to the monks last night and sitting quietly in the twilight before the psalm-chant started was a little comforting.†  I went to two carol services today, one at Aloysius’ church†† and took Peter to one at Tabitha’s church.  I cried through the first one—fortunately I’d had the sense to sit in the back, because I suspected I might kind of lose it—you make very strange noises if you try to sing while you’re crying—and then both Aloysius and Osbert, the vicar, were at the door and you couldn’t escape without speaking to them first.  Maybe my red jeans made it look like my eyes were just reflecting their colour.  Snivel.

Aloysius and I have been pelting emails back and forth:  he suggests stuff for me to read and then I go what? †††  I mean, of course there’s going to be amazing amounts of stuff out there about a popular 2000-year-old religion but . . . golly.  And to the extent that I come from anywhere, I come, a little, from Zen:  I may have told you already that during one of the roughest periods of my life I was getting up at 5 am‡ to sit zazen with the local community.  There’s a meditative tradition in Christianity as well, which I knew nothing about.  I was gerbilling on in my last email about book tours—I thought I’d already told him what I did for a living—and being an introvert, and today he said:  I googled you.  You’re famous.  Oh.  Um.  Well.  But I went home to three hellcritters who chiefly wanted hurtling and attention—I’ll give you famous, what do you mean you don’t have TIME for a sofa?—and then Peter and I shot off to Tabitha’s gigantic, totally packed-out church, where I had to drop Peter at the door and go on a quest for a parking space . . . in Dorset.  It was still a no room at the inn experience:  we were out in the hall with the video link and I shamelessly brought out my knitting.  At least I didn’t cry.  Much.

I suppose I’d better get the tree and the Christmas stuff down from Third House’s attic tomorrow, hadn’t I?  And maybe wrap some presents?  Although I’d better also make time for a sofa.  Critters aren’t big into human religious ritual.  Hey, we’re performing our function (they say).  Remember?  We’re grounding you in a reality of refilling water dishes and picking up crap and dropping chicken crumbs for us to cruise for.

* * *

* For which I’m very grateful every time I take delivery on twenty-seven kilograms of the gold-plated kibble hellhounds get for their final meal—27 kilos being the cut-off point for free delivery.  Remember I’ve said that I can carry Chaos around if I have to, who is a pound or two under forty (eighteen kilos) but Darkness, who several pounds over, is a strain?  Yes.  Maybe I should be glad that they’re not big supper eaters.  But the delivery man pretty well invariably comes when I’m not there, which means he leaves the parcel behind the greenhouse gate.  And I get to schlep it down the TERRIFYINGLY steep greenhouse steps . . . and then groan my way up the cottage stairs which are at least short, even if there are ninety-four of them.

** I see teenage couples behaving a lot like this.  He’s a little old for her though.

*** How am I going to survive Easter?  I know the point is he rose from the dead, but . . .

† Although what is more comforting is that the monks’ rubber soles squeak on the floor, and sometimes one of them may SNEEZE AND BLOW HIS NOSE.  HOOOOOOOONK.

†† I know it needs a name.  But it has to be the right name.  There are a lot of female saints out there.  I haven’t found the right one yet.  Women’s history being what it is they were mostly abbesses or martyred.  Or both.  For Aloysius’ church I want one with a story.

††† Hands up anyone who knows what Hesychasm is without googling it.

‡ No, really.

KES, 59



I finished stuffing the odds and ends of my brief sojourn at the Friendly Campfire into plastic bags and my knapsack.  I would not grieve the artwork in cabin seven.  Why didn’t Serena put some of her stuff on the walls?  People might stay longer.  Although it might be a little like a Nobel prize winner being asked to write a jingle for a toothpaste commercial.  I wondered what Jan was like.  That Serena liked him was in his favor.  That he had dogs was probably in his favor.  That the neon campfires were his idea was not.

I put the glamorous red leather lead back on Sid and looped the handle over the bathroom door knob.  This was in theory so I could leave the cabin door open while I schlepped my gear out to the van without worrying what she was getting up to. I hoped this would not include chewing the corner off the bathroom door, since I hadn’t bought her any dog toys yet, while I was preoccupied with the tiresome limitations of vehicular three-dimensional space.  Of course she might well prefer the corners of bathroom doors even after I bought her some dog toys.  Some one or ones of Mom’s Ghastlies had chewed through the back legs of the living-room sofa without anyone noticing.  It went down, and over, on Thanksgiving, with a crash that had the downstairs neighbors howling for our blood, when Uncle Throgmorton sat down next to Aunt Daphne and Cousin Agatha.  My parents and I tend toward the lanky. The Throgmorton end of the family are more well-nourished.  I laughed till I was sick, and was sent to my room.  Unfortunately they let me out again later.  I could leave most of the shopping bags where they were to come out tonight with Merry, although the apples and the 127.9% minimum cocoa solids organic dark chocolate bars clearly had to come now to sustain me through the coming trials of box-hauling.   I brought in a couple of book boxes to make room on the van’s passenger seat.  I tried not to think about how much they weighed carrying them up the few short steps to cabin seven.  The second one popped open as I set it (laboriously) on the floor.  LEST DARKNESS FALL and THE CANTERBURY TALES were on top.  I have catholic tastes.

Sid was watching me a little too closely, but I didn’t see any splinters sticking out of her mouth.  The door was probably plastic anyway.  “Dog toys,” I said.  “With the dog food and the brush.  I promise.”  The doors at Rose Manor, I was reasonably sure, were wood.

The doors.  At Rose Manor.  The keys.  Oh black widow spiders and large rodents, I had to stop by Homeric Homes and pick up the keys.  And I had a remedial dog problem.  I stared blankly into space for a moment, and then pulled out my phone.  “Eats,” said Bridget’s voice.

“Um,” I said, reverting to my standard phone persona.

“Oh, hi,” said Bridget immediately.  “I understand you have an inadvertent dog.  Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “I was told there was cheering.  The adrenaline buzz in my ears meant that it was hard to hear much.”

“We’re all really glad the Phantom has a home.  Or has met her match, depending on how you want to look at it.”

“I’m not sure she’s met her match,” I said, eyeing my dog, who was having another scratch.  I hoped no one at the lab had got the new vat of Fleawhacker™ serum mixed up with the experimental let’s-party flea pheromones.  “Did Callie tell you about her previous owner?”

“Ah,” said Bridget.  “Well, let’s pretend she didn’t, because you’re new, and you should probably be broken in gently to the truth about small-town gossip.”

“Manhattan is just a lot of small towns shoved up against each other,” I said.  “Okay.  I won’t mention the broken leg and the devil dog.”

“Devil dog?” said Bridget.  “Ooh.  Exciting.  I missed that part.”

“Yeah.  Her previous owner seriously doesn’t want her back.”

“She doesn’t deserve her.” There was a noise in the restaurant and Bridget said away from the phone, “I can see you fine.  You’re going to give yourself repetitive stress injury and what if your face froze like that?”  She said to me, “I assume you need something.  I should to be working.”

“Yes.  Sorry.  Um.  I have to pick up the keys to my new house and—”

I didn’t get any farther because Bridget started to laugh.  “You’re more fun to watch than the TV.  No, you’re right, Homeric Homes is the clean and tidy end and Sally shouldn’t see the devil dog till she’s had a bath.  Maybe two baths.  Sure, bring her back to the courtyard again on your way and I’ll take my break early.”

“You’re a star,” I said.

“I know,” she said, and hung up.


Thrilling thrilling thrilling news


Never mind KHANS and SHADOWS and outtake stories to PEGASUS* . . . I may FINALLY have found a puppy for Pavlova to play with.  I feel as if the pavements are usually crawling with puppies . . . till I brought my clearly dangerous ENGLISH BULL TERRIER puppy home and now of course anyone sees us coming picks up precious Poopsie and runs in the opposite direction.**  Of the two puppies I had hoped I kind of had lined up for Pav duty, one of them is, thanks to less than resolute handling by his humans, turning into the brand of terror that gives terrors a bad name to people like me, and the other one . . . is twice Pav’s size and a WIMP.  Sigh.  He’s apparently heard that bullies inherited the biological niche vacated by sabre-toothed tigers a few millennia ago and is taking no chances.

But TODAY we met . . . well, it’s a Labrador, but it’s a cute Labrador, and not all Labs are ghastly, just most of them,*** and the one these people had before this one was smallish and gentle and looked like a Labrador instead of like a mutant Mack truck.  I’ve seen it around a few times previously but never when I had Pavlova with me.  But TODAY . . . it was pretty much a joke since we were in the churchyard and couldn’t let them off lead, although Pav at least was on her (baby-length) extending lead which gave her a little space for hucklebutting, which she desperately wanted to do.  The woman with the Lab kept saying, she’s so tolerant!, which may be the first time in the history of domesticated canines that that adjective has ever been applied to a bullie, although all it seemed to me was happening was that two puppies were having a heck of a time with each other.  The Lab’s a little bigger, but I think she’s also a little younger.  I said, hopefully, on parting, that perhaps we could get together in a garden with a gate and let them go for it some time.  Oh yes, said the woman.

Fingers crossed.

* * *

* And thank you for all the suggestions, including all you renegades contacting me by email.^  Thank you in particular for adhering to the spirit of the ‘twenty words or less’.  Of course as I write this I will hear an email ‘ping’ and when I check on it in the middle of some sentence I can’t think of how to end it will turn out to be a 3500-word outline of PEG II (since I’m obviously having trouble left to myself) including a choice of three possible outtake short stories, each painstakingly described in 500 words per, and including characters I’ve never heard of with odd names like Mary and John and a disco in the Caves.

But it seems to me one of the good things that has come out of the internet is some loss of the bad sort of innocence.  I get fewer we-are-twin-souls letters than I used to—and fewer suggestions that if I write up your great idea you’ll split it 60/40 with me—I get the 40%, which is generous really because of course the idea is the hard part and writing it up is just clerical.  Or maybe it’s that this blog radiates CRANKY and other, sweeter-natured authors are getting all the undesirables who used to mistake me for a kindly, compassionate human being.^^

^ Which is fine, by the way.  So long as you’re not telling me you’re coming to England to discuss the details of your fabulous ideas with me in person and can I put you up?, since you’re short of funds till DreamWorks buys our project, oh, and you’re allergic to dogs.

^^ I do still get the occasional You Arrogant Slime, I Have Never Read Anything So Heinously Self Absorbed as your blog/web site/that interview with Terminal Geek Knitting Magazine and I Will Never Read Any of Your Books Again,+ but I’m getting fewer of them. ++

+ Okay.  Whatever, but I think you should get out more.  Terminal Geek Knitting is pretty extreme.

++ I’m even getting fewer of the You Should Be Grateful to Your Readers (ie Instead of Making Them Pay for What You Do) to which my response has for some time been, very nice for those of you with a trust fund.  But these people have fallen silent probably only because they’re downloading pirate copies.  Sigh.

** Every time I’ve had a puppy—since the monster Alsatian of my childhood—I’ve wondered how people with giant-breed puppies cope.  Puppies aren’t supposed to go up and down stairs, for example.^  So, you have a Mastiff or a Great Dane and you live at the top of a flight of stairs?  On a cul de sac in a small town in Hampshire, England, say.  Does this mean I can only have small-to-medium, carryable dogs unless I move house?^^  I really don’t want to think about a flight-long ramp, although Atlas could probably figure one out.  And due to the natural frenzy level of a hellterror and the delicate sensibilities of hellhounds and hellgoddess, Pavlova spends a lot of her time crated^^^ and when I let her out I tend first to tuck her under my arm# and get her to the door as quickly as possible just in case the fervour of freedom puts undue pressure on her bladder.  Also, the initial joy-of-life hucklebutting is perhaps better worn off outdoors leaping tall buildings at a single bound.  When she comes indoors again she is less likely to jump on the kitchen table—but she’s a lot shorter than a Great Dane.  There’s less of her to have to repel.  And we’re having some altercations about STAYING OFF THE SOFA.

^ Southdowner or Olivia, WHEN CAN PAV FRELLING DO HER OWN STAIRS?  She can already get up a few stairs if I don’t nail her fast enough, especially if there’s a hellhound looking down at her from the top, although she still doesn’t like going down stairs and there’s enough of a hesitation for me to nab her.

^^ Or relocate headquarters to Third House.

^^^ Although the crate sits literally between the hellhounds and me, so she’s in the thick of things, and I’m sure there’s great entertainment value in watching me struggle for dominance over my laptop.  That could indeed explain a lot.  Hellcritters are all exchanging glances that mean ‘She can’t even control her laptop.  We certainly don’t have to pay a lot of attention.’+

+ Although having said that . . . I was starting to worry about getting NOWHERE with the walking quietly on loose lead trick, which is one of those necessary bits of training to have a dog that’s nice to have around, and Southdowner suggested a ‘halti’ harness

So yesterday we went into the pet shop and ordered one, and coming away from the pet shop yesterday . . . I got my first few steps of loose lead ‘walk’.  Today we shared a few more.  YAAAAAAAY.  Of course the moment I cancel my order she’ll revert to mini-bull-dozer.

But the thing that absolutely boggles my tiny mind is that she now almost reliably sits AND WAITS TO BE RELEASED while I scatter food on the floor in front of her.  We’re still negotiating ‘down’ a bit.  She lies down pretty well, but is inclined to slither around on her belly after bits of kibble that may have escaped.

# Yup.  I can still do that.  But it gets more exciting every day.  She has a spine like a bungie cord.  She can beat you to death with her tail while wrapping her forelegs around your neck the better to cover your face with kisses.

*** I don’t like terrors either.

« Previous PageNext Page »