January 26, 2013

Critters and Walls


Skating librarian wrote

Whoa! You posted a lot earlier tonight. Well done. 

Yes, and then I haul everybody back to the cottage, go for another death-defying three-way hurtle, feed everybody sequentially, including eating an apple to calm my nerves, discover that my bed is covered with clean laundry dumped there hastily earlier in the day from the overhead airer in the bathroom which I need to do something with (preferably involving folding) if I want to sleep there . . . and half an hour later I find myself sitting on the floor reading a book I have no recollection of picking up, possibly covered with inquisitive hellhounds who think it’s odd I want to sit on the floor when there’s a perfectly good sofa downstairs* but hellgoddesses are whimsical creatures . . . and it’s silly o’clock again.

Most of this is just my life, aggravated by my lack of a sense of time, but there is one awkward fact which is that while the triple hurtle is clearly a good thing from a WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, GET USED TO IT standpoint, I am not going even to think of attempting it when there’s any likelihood of anyone else around till . . . some substantial amount of time and mayhem has passed.  This means after midnight.  And I’m still a little worried about tonight and tomorrow since weekend revellers are often out till silly o’clock.  At least they don’t usually bring their dogs.

Although if we were actually going out the door at midnight that would be very good.  I’m working on it.

How about a writing break with some puppy pictures and one of the former wall?

I’m totally failing to get a good photo of the ex-wall.  I thought of this too of course—BLOG MATERIAL.  I’M ALWAYS LOOKING FOR BLOG MATERIAL—but it just doesn’t look shocking in the photos.  If I were a jazzier photographer I’m sure there are ways around this, but you know how photos tend to flatten things out—and all that dorking around with aperture and shutter speed to jigger with your depth of field is beyond me in these over-complex digital days—the photos just look like an apple tree a little distance in front of a house with a slightly odd, raggedy-edged frame between the two.  I suspect my apple tree of being the heroine:  from the gouges in her bark on the wall side, some of the wall tried to fall my way and was resisted by a little apple tree.  I hope they don’t cut into any important roots when they start digging out the footing of the ex-wall.

What I wish I could do is post a photo of my neighbour’s garden before the event, and now.  On my side it’s the apple tree and a few climbing roses and two or three clematis, and a lot of pots.  I’ve got a couple of broken pots but I think all the plants are rescuable (if presently a little confused).  On her side she had a stone-floored patio area (although the house is on the far side of the rest of her little garden), a lily pond with walls about two foot high and a built-up flowerbed ditto, plus an urn and a couple of pieces of rather nice statuary.  It’s all smoking rubble now.  But even if I could explain the concept of a blog to her—she’s a trifle old-fashioned—I wouldn’t post before-and-afters of someone else’s misfortune, however outstanding the blog material.  If it had happened on my side, you bet.  But all I’ve lost is some wall.  She’s the one with the story to tell.

The hellterror, now, hellterror photos I can do.   Tomorrow night will be Hellterror Photo Night.  Because I want to try to get out of bed early enough Sunday morning again to ring service at New Arcadia . . . and because it’s RAINING and the RAIN is supposed to go on being RAIN including the appurtenant effect of DISPOSING OF THE SNOW AND ICE which means I could finally get out of New Arcadia for the first time all week AND GO TO MY MONKS’ SATURDAY EVENING SERVICE, which is the one with the half hour of silent prayer before.  Maybe I’ll finally get back to Aloysius’ church on Sunday too.  I’m suffering withdrawal. **

* * *

* There would be a perfectly good bed if it weren’t covered with books and laundry.

** In terms of sheer church-servicery St Radegund has a totally functional brief prayer service at noon most weekdays but I can’t seem to remember this, except at teatime or later.  At noon I’ve been sitting by the Aga with the iPad for some time, and the only way to resist awareness that the hellhounds are beginning to wonder when they’re going to get a proper hurtle is by focussing intensely on what I’m doing.  This does not allow for remembering church services.  Besides, hellhounds would probably insist on coming too.^

^ The hellterror should be still sleeping off breakfast.

Kent and critters


Today hasn’t been nearly as crummy as I expected after I read the forecast on my six weather apps and the Met Office and BBC weather web sites.  Oh, the weather has been crummy. . . . But apparently my life is not over as a handbell ringer with having successfully lurched through a quarter peal of bob minor on the 3-4.  I keep not having the surplus mental energy to buckle down to Cambridge on handbells, so Niall assigned us . . . which is to say me . . . Kent.  Kent is the standard way station on the road to surprise methods, of which Cambridge is usually the first learnt.  We’d had a stab at Kent before and I’d kind of half-learnt a plain course (maybe only third-learnt).  So I went back to my plain course this week and then out of the blue* frelling Niall emailed me the famous Three Leads of Kent touch.**  Now the point of a touch is that it scrambles the bells’ individual routes through the pattern, so if you’ve been learning the plain course and suddenly you’ve had a touch foisted on you . . . what happens is that one gets superimposed on the other and you can’t ring anything.  I was not looking forward to this afternoon’s meeting.  But . . . by the end of the session*** we were actually getting through to the end of the touch with only occasional gleeps, grunts and groans from yours truly.†

The wind through the kitchen was blowing in the wrong direction or something this evening while I was getting the hellhounds’ supper and the hellterror, incarcerated in her crate, was not going ballistic.  Ballistic is what the hellterror does whenever there seems to be critter food in the offing.  Hellhounds were milling about my feet and demanding dropsies†† which should have been an unmissable clue, but while her eyes were open she was curled up in her bed watching with no more than hey it’s the floor show interest.  This was so unlike her I went over to her crate to check that she was still breathing and wasn’t burning with fever or anything.  She was fine.  Maybe she had a stomachache?  I couldn’t remember seeing her gulping any unknown substance I failed to get away from her today . . . maybe I merely hadn’t seen her swallowing the flowerpot, the umbrella and the (empty) pushchair?

But apparently it was only that the wind was in the wrong direction.  When I turned the heat on under the chicken-and-stock pan and, presumably, the aroma wafted in her direction, she went off like a Guy Fawkes fireworks display, only with a wider variety of sound effects.  I allow moaning, whining and this offended-dowager snort that is perhaps a bullie thing because while all dogs snort, Pavlova is the first one I’ve heard who sounds like Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  I do not allow barking.  Barking causes the Blanket of Restraint to descend from above and engulf the crate.  I don’t know if it’s the dark or the muffling of interesting smells, but this usually quiets her down.  Tonight I was so relieved to have her doing her nut in standard fashion that I just let her get on with it.  By the time she’d woken up to circumstances I was nearly putting hellhounds’ bowls down, which meant I was nearly putting her bowl down, so she didn’t have time to break anything, like the crate or local eardrums.

It’s quiet in here now, the only sounds hellcritter snores and a little background Radio 3.  Maybe I should sing.

* * *

* A phrase that always gives me a little frisson of risk whenever applied in the general vicinity of a computer, prone as the species is to the Blue Screen of Death.

** A plain course has five leads, and is therefore longer than this touch.  Usually a touch is longer than a plain course but there are a few anomalies out there.  The Three Leads of Kent touch is one of them.

*** Which was allowed to run slightly long.  I wasn’t going to choir rehearsal because all the wet roads were going to start freezing after sunset.  Siiiiiiigh.

† Now I have to go back to the dratblasted plain course.

†† Us critter slaves have to derive our amusement where we can.  I have never, ever allowed dogs to mill about my feet while I’m getting their food ready . . . that was before the hellhounds, whose faintest interest in food is to be cossetted and indulged^.  So I now, and for some time, when they’re in the mood, have had two hellhounds who expect me to drop bits of chicken while I’m cutting it up to mix in with their dry kibble, since no dog in his right mind is going to eat dry kibble.^^  This means that as they see my hand moving in a their-ward direction, they put their noses down, because these scraps are dropsies.  After their proper meal, however, as all those dropsie-deprived dogs have done before them, they get two slightly bigger scraps, by sitting and politely taking them out of my hands.

When hellhounds are in Normal Dog Behaviour About Food mode—always very exciting to the downtrodden hellgoddess—as I’m putting the bits and pieces away after supper and hellhounds are still interested, I occasionally give them an intermediate scrap each.  This will be slightly larger than the dropsie morsels but slightly smaller than the official post-meal tidbit.  And as they see my hands moving them-ward . . . their heads start bobbing up and down like those psycho plastic nodding dogs as they try to guess whether this is a dropsie or a sitting-up treat.  I’m too anxious for this Supplementary Food Experience to be positive to let this go on for more than about a second . . . but it’s very entertaining for that second.

^ Not to say nourished.

^^ No one would ever accuse the hellterror of being in her right mind.

Cranky Nonfiction and a Night Off



Also:  cranky hellgoddess.  NOT IN A GOOD MOOD.  Tonight is the third night in a row that I’ve missed ringing on account of the drabble thribble quadruple blasted weather.  Monday night I probably wouldn’t have made anyway because of the (ongoing) drama of The Wall.  Last night . . . remember that Fustian invited me to ring in their next practise-night quarter peal attempt?  That was last night.  And I cancelled because of the weather.  The sleet-snow started early afternoon and just went on.  And on.  As it happens it went snowy-icy-melty all day and well into the  night and when I took my troika out at mmph o’clock the slush tended to have ice under it but the bare ground was bare.  I probably would have been fine, driving to Fustian, carefully avoiding slushy patches, but worrying about it would not have done my stamina or my concentration any good—and if I made it there and successfully rang a quarter I might well have gone off the road coming home from no greater provocation than the frelling ME.  So it’s just as well I stayed home.  BUT I’M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.

Today it started snow-sleeting again late this afternoon, pretty much the moment I went out with the hellhounds—who instantly went into We don’t waaaaaaaaant to mode, which doesn’t do anything good for my temper.  So I didn’t go to the abbey tonight either, and while, again, between dubious weather and the ME it was the right decision . . . I AM NOT IN A JOLLY CHIRPY HO HO HO MOOD.

So.  Book recs for nights off.  And cranky nonfiction suits my mood, although I’m indulging in a little pun-fulness about ‘cranky’ which can mean IRRITABLE as well as eccentric.  Anyway.

DRY STORE ROOM No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey, was a big deal over here a few years ago—one of those surprise best-sellers.  It does what it says on the tin:  it’s a picaresque behind-the-scenes at the London Natural History Museum, where Fortey worked for 35 years, retiring as senior palaeontologist.  It was published in 2008 and I read it a couple of years later because, well, because I like cranky nonfiction, and I like cranky natural-history nonfiction, and because I was frelling well overwhelmed with recommendations for the flapdoodling thing.  This usually puts me off but a quick browse through it at the bookshop brought me round swiftly.  If you like Fortey’s particular brand of dry, wry Britishness and mad (British) anecdote you will fall for this book in a big way.  Merrilee says that despite publishers hanging up gigantic sample wodges of their own books on their own sites us mere humble bloggers are still stuck with quoting only snippets, so let me try to find you a few sample snippets of what I mean.  He is discussing evolution, which he says is no longer a ‘theory’ any more than that the Earth goes round the sun is a ‘theory’, and whether you like it or not . . . ‘personally I like being fourth cousin to a mushroom, and having a bonobo as my closest living relative.  It makes me feel a real part of the world’.  Describing truffles he says:  ‘The edible properties of the truffle are not matched by their aesthetic ones, for most truffles look like some kind of knobbly animal excreta, which have been passed with not a little discomfort.’  In the wake of finding ‘ . . . earlier evidence of human occupation, up to seven hundred thousand years old . . . on the coast . . . of Suffolk.  This is at present the earliest occurrence of humans north of the Alps. . . . The Suffolk coast in winter is frequented by two kinds of people, both of whose sanity might be questioned by the population at large:  onshore fishermen and palaeontologists.  What they have in common is oilskins, an infinite capacity for hope and a certain camaraderie. . . .’   And so on.  Possibly even more riveting are his descriptions of colleagues.  I’m amazed he got away with it.  But it makes for stay-up-late, miss-your-stop-on-the-tube reading.

Ah—here is a legitimate excerpt, and about wild museum folk rather than pickled specimens too.  Read it.  If you like it, read the book.  Have fun.


KES, 63




I jingled like the villain in a cheap western as we walked down the corridor and turned back toward the Friendly Campfire.  Not spurs.  Keys.  Big curly spurs are romantic (as long as you don’t use them on a horse).  Keys are not.  I didn’t have a hand free to shut them up;  I was holding a bag of life-sustaining muffins in one hand and Sid’s lead in the other.  Halfway down Bradbury I stopped because the noise was making me slightly nuts, although this was mostly to do with the fact that I was in a mind-frame to be driven slightly nuts by almost anything.  Sunlight.  Breathing.  Moving into my new house.  Speaking of breathing.  I was taking little tense shallow gasps like someone expecting an ambush.  I set the muffin-bag on the sidewalk between my feet (Sid took no notice), put my freed hand in my pocket, grabbed the keys, and squeezed.  Nice keys.  Affable, amiable, benevolent, genial, companionable keys.  Keys to my new (affable, amiable etc) house.  I took a deep breath, willing my anxiety level to come back down out of the stratosphere again.  I took another deep breath and opened my eyes.

Well, I thought I opened my eyes.  I was standing on a rough track with a wood on one side and a lot of open grassy meadow on the other, and a big stream or a small river running through it.  I said something like, What, and Sid turned her head to look up at me.

Except it wasn’t Sid.  It looked a lot like her, tall and slim and sighthoundy—and it looked up at me the way she did—but it was golden, not black.  And unbelievably beautifully kept.  Not a long trailing hair out of place.  Her—somehow I was sure she was another she—golden back was dazzling, and the white toes on her front feet nearly blinding.  Even when I got Sid cleaned and fed up she was never going to look this good.  She was going to be a jeans and All-Stars sort of dog because she had a jeans and All-Stars sort of owner.  This one was silk and velvet, and I wasn’t even going to speculate about appropriate footgear.  I felt embarrassed when she did a Sid-wave with her tail at me.  “Oh, honey,” I said.  “I’m the wrong one.  Although I think you’re more topaz than honey.”  Topaz’s gaze carried on past me and she did Sid’s getting-taller trick.  I looked round nervously, hoping I wasn’t going to see Mr Melmoth again.  What I saw instead was an enormous black horse, the kind you see pulling sledges of cement blocks at county fairs and that you don’t believe can canter, except this one was cantering.  (I’d been to exactly one county fair, a day trip from horse camp one summer, but I remembered it extremely vividly, the pulling horses, the fried dough, and especially the throwing up after the Gonzo Jungle Gorilla Rage ride.  I think it was less the being shaken to pieces by gorilla rage and more the background roaring and screaming that did it.  Although I was contributing to the screaming.)

This enormous black horse was wearing an enormous black saddle, and an enormous black man was sitting in it.  They made a rather glorious picture—he sat the canter like an international Grand Prix dressage rider—and I looked at them wistfully:  they belonged to Topaz’s world, not mine.  They were on the far side of the river and I could not see them very clearly;  whatever the man was wearing, it was not standard riding gear.

I waited for them to canter on past.  But the man saw me, and to my profound embarrassment he drew his horse up, turned its head toward the river, and bowed to me.  They sure do teach them nice manners in this country, wherever it was.  Sheepishly I raised a hand in acknowledgement . . . and saw the burgundy velvet sleeve with the cream silk ruffle at the wrist falling back from my arm.

“Eeep,” I said, or something equally intelligent, and shut my eyes again.  Although of course I had never had them open.  Whatever this had been, it had been something about an oxygen-deprived brain getting a sudden over-stimulating deep-breath dose.  From here on I would be careful to breathe shallowly.

I opened my eyes again cautiously.  New Iceland reconstructed itself around me.  I could see the twinkle of neon in the Friendly Campfire’s office window.  I looked down.  Dilapidated leather jacket, bedraggled jeans, All Stars.  Bag of muffins.

And Sid.  “Hey, honey,” I said.  “I’ve seen your twin, and how totally gorgeous you’re going to be.  You’ll forgive me if I don’t buy the burgundy velvet with cream silk trim to set you off however.  No, wait, for you we’d need something pastel.”  Sid was looking at me attentively.  “I’m raving,” I said.  I let go of the keys in my pocket and picked up the muffins.  “Let’s go to the pet store and buy you some protein.”

News of Fresh Disasters


Last night the frell . . . I mean, the adorable clever obedient hellterror and I had just come indoors from our final struggle of the day for the Domination of the Young Canine Large Intestine and there was the most colossal ROAR—and the house shook.  I reverted, as one will do, to an earlier and more blizzardy era and thought eeep, I didn’t think we’d had enough snow for it to come off anyone’s roof like that, and I’m glad the hellterror and I weren’t outside when it happened.  There are at least three roofs that slope into my garden*:  my own, Phineas’, and the mini-cottage at the end of my detached neighbour’s garden.  I reopened the kitchen door cautiously and stepped out.  I couldn’t see anything unusual in the dark:  it just looked like my garden, covered in somewhat patchy and trodden-on snow.   I had to go back indoors briskly because Pavlova was terrorising Darkness again.**

By morning*** I’d forgotten about it.  Maybe the new proprietors of the Troll and Nightingale had had a visit from some of the old clientele.  And then coming back from hellhound hurtle one of my neighbours said gravely, I’m so sorry about your wall.


You don’t know? he said, his eyes opening wide and getting all shiny.

TELL ME, I said.

He pointed up the half-flight of outside stairs to my greenhouse.  That wall, he said.  Between you and Theodora.  It’s fallen down.

Yes.  It has.  There is a gigantic hole ripped out between my garden and Theodora’s, taking the back of my greenhouse with it, and crashing into what used to be her lily pond, of about ten foot square of (ancient) brick and flint wall. 

And neither of us had noticed.  In her case it’s a little niche-y place next to the mini-cottage and not in straight view of any of her windows, and in my case because my windows all look either front or back and this is to the side, and hidden by my extremely enthusiastic little apple tree.


. . . However, Noble Wolfgang, my seventeen-year-old scion of German automotive engineering, started at the first twitch of the key after three days sitting undisturbed in a snowbank.  Looking for the positive here.  I need some positive.  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

* * *

* Plus the Blight.  The Blight is on the top-ten list for the Ugliest Shed in the Universe, and it sticks up over my wall from one of the grand gardens on the main street.  I hate rich people.  The richer you are, the more selfish and careless of the hoi polloi you also are.  I’m sure there are exceptions.^  But none of them live around here.  I can pretty much tell what you’re worth by how much of a jerk you are. Grrrrrr.  And one of the non-exceptions has a blightingly ugly shed roof that ruins the view from my office window—but it’s at the far end of their garden so they couldn’t care less.  ‘Conservation area’ status—the nonsense that prevented me for several years from cutting down a 900 foot Leylandii at Third House that terrorised the neighbourhood every time there was a wind—only counts if the tourists can see it, whatever it is.  I’d be curious to know if my predecessor tried to stop them from building the Blight.  It was too late when I moved in.

^ Shovelling acres of money into good causes and new opera productions may get you into heaven, but it doesn’t necessarily make you kind and sympathetic to the lower classes.  There are some serious disconnect issues among the unnecessarily well-off.

** We walked home again as a quartet last night.  And I find there is a down side even to the potentially excellent possibility of being able to hurtle three hellcritters together occasionally, which is that Pavlova clearly feels that she is GAINING GROUND and SHOULDN’T SHE BE A FULL MEMBER OF THE BAND NOW?  No.  Next question.  —Moaning ensues.

*** I’m trying to roll myself forward so that morning has some practical meaning in my life again.  If I’m going to try to start ringing Sunday morning service at New Arcadia again (and, very tentatively, I am), and, more importantly, if I’m ever going to make it to Aloysius’ silent prayer group at 8:30 on Saturday morning—and if I’m going to try to make morning Mass at the monks once a week—I need to get up earlier.  A lot earlier.

I told you that Aloysius sent me home with an armful of books on Zen and Christianity, or even Zen Christianity.  One of the things everyone seems to say on all sides of all available fences is that you need a community.  The pure-Zen lot say the same, and I know my experience of sitting at the zendo in Maine supports that.  Granted that I started sitting zazen because I was having a very bad stretch of life, but however rosy and pink your personal circumstances, you are going to do better in company.^  Therefore it seems to me that Aloysius should be holding his silent prayer group at least twice a month, which means—if I’m going to go along and be ballast, because while I’m a very new Christian I’ve been sitting off and on for decades, and silent prayer is something I settle into with a grateful sigh of welcome familiarity—getting up not just early enough to go, but to have given hellcritters a token hurtle first.  See:  being able to hurtle all three together occasionally, like last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

^ I say this with all the teeth-baring resistance of the extreme introvert.

† Inspecting the damage and discussing what the *&^%$£”!!!! we do now with my equally unfortunate neighbour, etc, meant that I missed my voice lesson.

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