March 31, 2013



Last night was lovely.

I’m also functioning [sic] on about four hours’ sleep, so if I degenerate into blah gurgle griggle frud bloob zoofan dorg, please avert your eyes politely and try again (cautiously) tomorrow.*

. . . Um.  What was I saying?  Oh.  Yes.  Monks.  I did not leave quite as early as I prefer to so I was concentrating on the video game that is driving on little twisty back country lanes as fast as is reasonable and not too hard on the tyres, and it took me a few minutes to register that the funny pale flickers against the windscreen were not very small owls but . . . snow.  SNOW.  NOOOOOOOOOO.

I drove on.  There may have been some imprecations.

When I arrived—this was nine p.m. so full dark—the little abbey was blacked out and there was a bonfire in front of the chapel with dark shapes milling around it.**  Not all of them were monks.  Having asked one of the monks tending the fire what was going to happen, and receiving the unhelpful response that he wasn’t sure himself†, I sidled up to a woman in an ordinary coat††, ie no dog collar, and asked her.  She looked at me with what I am pretty sure, despite the fact that I could barely see her, was sympathy, and explained . . . that the monks’ paschal vigil is more or less straightforwardly to the Anglican pattern, just a little more elaborate.†††  And finished by saying that she was the wife of one of the oblates, that she would never have had the nerve to come by herself at first, but the monks really were welcoming‡, to follow her if I liked and don’t worry.

So the abbot emerged eventually with satellite monks with [electric] torches, and read some stuff‡‡ and then we all trooped into the church, had our individual candles lit, and went and stood in the pews . . . if you’ve ever stood in a group of people all holding candles in the dark, you’ll know how magical this is.  And I’m telling you, it’s worth being a Christian for the moment when the abbot throws up his hands, says, Alleluia!  He is risen!  —and all the lights come on.

There were a lot of readings‡‡‡ and a lot of hymns§ and a lot of prayers and a lot of Pauses for Silent Reflection.  And a ‘homily’ which in my generic-Protestant ignorance I would have called a sermon.  And the first communion of Easter, which happened at about 11:30 Saturday night but my informant says that anything after six p.m. counts as Easter.  Oh.§§  And when the abbot raised his hands for the final blessing he began by saying that while it was not merely the middle of the night but worse than that because of the clock change, we were all invited to the common room for tea and coffee.

So I went, I and my blanket, and my new friend, Corey, whom I genuinely liked a lot, and it’s a ratbag that I won’t see her often because they live too far away.§§§  I haven’t hung out with monks in a long time, and several of them made a point of coming up to me and saying they were glad to see me every week (usually) at Saturday night prayer—I and my blanketAll right with the blanket.

The funny thing is . . . after all the high drama, I’m longing for a simple little prayer service again.  I may try to go tomorrow since all my usual Monday distractions are cancelled for the Bank Holiday.#

But first I need SLEEP.

* * *

* Whose bloody stupid idea was it to allow the frelling clocks to go forward on Easter Sunday when the Christian-church-going wodge of the population may be going to late service Saturday night??  I assumed it was some bureaucratic idiocy, and I suppose it is, but it’s a passive rather than an active one:  clocks go forward the last Sunday in March, and Easter occasionally happens this early.  I think this blasted hopeless government could do something genuinely useful for the first time and pass a mini-bill that on years that Easter is the last Sunday in March the clocks go forward some OTHER Sunday.

** What is it that is automatically scary about monks?  Is it just the black robes?  But nuns aren’t as scary (unless possibly you went to Catholic school)?  Or was reading M G Lewis’ THE MONK in high school a mistake?

† He was a visitor.  I couldn’t see any of our monks.  They were probably in some chancel closet, hastily banging out the last few lines of the script, and swearing at their printer.

†† Who complimented me on my blanket.  I should have brought one, she said.  News flash:  I have made a breakthrough in living with attending services at Chilblain Abbey.  I wore my sheepskin house slippers last night.  They aren’t, in fact, house slippers, they’re sort of Ugg boots before there were Ugg boots, or at least before Ugg boots became a major fashion icon a while ago.  But they’re sheepskin, the leg is six or so inches high so well over your ankle and the draft-leaky cuffs of your jeans, and they have proper rubber boot-tread soles, so you don’t look like you’re wearing your house slippers.  If I weren’t thick as a post I’d have thought of them before, but . . . I’m used to thinking of them as house slippers.  I still needed my blanket.  Further news flash:  there was someone else there with a blanket.  Only one that I saw but still . . . ANOTHER PERSON WITH A BLANKET.  Another woman, furthermore, with long hair^, although she didn’t stick around afterward so I could rush up and embrace her as a sister.  Which is maybe just as well.

^ Yes, I need to change my thumbnail photo.  My hair grew back out again years ago.

†††  She also uttered the disconcerting phrase ‘Anglo Catholic’.  Well.  Hmm.  Whatever.  My monks support women priests and that’s my bottom line.  I was just saying to a (real) Catholic friend that I may respond to the bells and smells approach because I find the additional three-dimensional stuff very grounding.  Getting walloped off your donkey on the road to Damascus is disturbing and religion has an awful lot of la-la-la stuff in it by definition.  Getting hit in the face with holy water is reassuring.  There, you’re real, it says, and therefore, by extension, so is this.  Whatever it is.

‡ It is in the Rule, but this lot do give the impression they mean it.

‡‡ Before electric torches, what?  Was the celebrant’s assistant allowed to light a candle early?  Did the celebrant have to have everything he said off by heart?  Did they redesign the liturgy after the advent of battery-operated lighting?

‡‡‡ I realise this is normal, but the Bible frelling baffles me.  But . . .  but . . . but . . . but . . . ?

§ And the woman on my other side from my new friend carries a tune even less successfully than my husband.  I didn’t realise this was humanly possible.  The people sitting in front of us turned around a couple of times and I just barely prevented myself saying, It’s not me!  It’s not me!

§§ I’m all in favour of keeping the dead part as brief as possible but that makes the ‘three days’ about thirty-six hours.  Okay.  Fine.

§§§ I’ll see him more, and I liked him too, but sometimes you want another girl.  Sue me.

# Unless it starts snowing again.  After freaking out those of us who were driving last night, it stopped.  But Corey says that the monks often have snow when no one else does.  As miracles go, I can think of preferable ones.  How about a warm floor-level draft in the chapel?

KES, 72*



Rather shakily I let go of Sid, who sat down and had a thoughtful scratch.  I rinsed and filled my kettle and put it on the now calmly-burning flame.  I groped in the pocket of my leather jacket—which I’d taken off a couple of book boxes ago but was considering putting back on—found my house keys—my house keys!—and opened the back door.   The air had that magical post-storm smell which was a little reassuring:  maybe it hadn’t been King Kong.  Or Cthulhu.  I looked out across my garden (my garden).  I thought I was facing the lake but I wasn’t sure;  there were trees in the way.  But boiling off in that direction was a large black cloud that seemed to be moving faster than either the wind or any of the other clouds.

My kettle began to sing.  I went back indoors, warmed the smaller teapot and a mug that said 1987 Best in Show Hyacinth River Dog Show.  That had been Chan Three.  She was a much better natured dog than Chan Two but she didn’t win as much.  I added three big pinches of tea and water and put the tea cosy over.  Imagine.  I’d packed the tea cosy in the same box as the teapot, the tea and several mugs.  Anyone would think I’d been paying attention, those last few days in Manhattan.

A restless movement from Sid caught my eye.  I looked at her.  She looked at me, gave a tiny wriggle and sat.  “Dog food,” I said.  “Absolutely.”   I found one of the sample bags of kibble and a tin of chicken and giant gorilla in gravy.  I started opening drawers.  The silverware drawer contained six bent spoons, two forks whose tines looked like false eyelashes and three blackened silver-plate knives.  I sighed.  The best of my old flea-market silverware from the pre-Gelasio era was in one of the boxes.  I’d better find it before tomorrow night.  You could eat pizza with your fingers but the salad a healthy modern nutritionally-correct young woman would expect to be served with it was problematic.  Maybe I could do something artistic with a fruit bowl if I didn’t find the silverware in time.  There was a can-opener in with the black knives.  In the cupboard above the cutlery drawer there was an assortment of tired-looking dishes and a Pyrex brownie pan whose corners needed cleaning.  No, make that excavating.  I scooped out the chicken and giant gorilla into the brownie pan with the second-least-bent spoon, saving the best one for my tea, and mixed in a big handful of kibble.

I set this down in front of Sid, expecting her to suck up the lot in a flash of blinding speed.  She was still sitting.  She bowed her head to look at this feast, and then raised her head and looked at me again.  It was an accusing look.  It said, Dog food!!!  “Yes, dog food, drat you,” I said.  “You’re not a dog, you’re a silhouette of a dog, you have to eat.”  I pulled out the rest of the cheese, broke off a chunk, and buried it in the chicken and gorilla.  Sid stood up, carefully extracted the cheese and swallowed it.  I tried not to hold my breath.  She sat down, sighed, and began to work her way through the rest of it.  I rinsed out her new water bowl, filled it, and put it down next to her.  She was eating now as if she was enjoying it in spite of herself.  That was something I was repressing remembering about both Salukis and Deerhounds:  they were not great eaters.  I was used to Ghastlies, who ate anything that would stand still long enough for them to grab hold of (including sofa legs).

My tea should be ready.  My mug was still warm;  I dumped the water back in the kettle, and poured my tea.  This was Brandyleaf Extra Superlative that I used to buy from a tiny cramped shop in an alley off St Mark’s Place;  I’d found it by accident on one of my pilgrimages to Trash & Vaudeville and it became an even stronger draw than T&V’s studs and spandex.  I’d bought extra the last time I went, knowing I was leaving Manhattan soon.  It had a web site;  I could order more Brandyleaf Extra Superlative any time I wanted it.  But it wasn’t the same. . . .

Oh, dung beetles and pond scum.  I was crying again.  I gulped my tea so that scalding my esophagus could provide an excuse for the tears in my eyes.  Sid had finished her . . . um, let’s call it lunch . . . and was licking the encrusted corners of the Pyrex dish thoughtfully.  Before I made my next batch of brownies I’d take a knife to those corners, or possibly a blowtorch.

I was indulging a distracting little fantasy about having fresh brownies to offer Hayley tomorrow night, with the pizza and the fruit bowl, when both Sid and I heard a sound outside.  It didn’t sound like deinonychus or attack squirrels.  Or King Kong.  It sounded like a fairly large, van- or pick-up-type vehicle turning into my driveway, stopping, having its handbrake hauled on . . . and then the sound of a door opening.

* * *

* Saturday night KES going up early because I’m on my way to the paschal vigil at the monks’.  Er.  Wish me luck. 


Good Friday



I added a third pair of (wool*) socks and a goose down vest** to my monk-visiting wardrobe today and was almost warm.  I noticed a lot of heavy winter coats in the audience but I’m still the only one with a blanket.

It’s halfway to Easter, the way I’m counting; I know it’s Holy Week and I think the special services began the beginning of the week too, but I began yesterday, with Maundy Thursday—partly out of funk, and known lack of stamina.   Out here in the ordinary-real world we had actual sunlight, which was rather shocking.***  Also I’m not used to driving to the monks in daylight—the main service today was at 3 pm—and was quite startled by how normal the village their abbey is on the edge of looks.  There should at least be a sentry tower and a portcullis somewhere, even if the portcullis has rusted open and the sentry moonlights in IT.

I’m a little less freaked today now that it’s finally here, although the monks’ reading of the Passion was a little too evocative—three of them, taking the different parts, all three of them together as the crowd shouting Crucify him!  Crucify him!, sharp and vivid as the Royal Shakespeare Company, yeep—and although he stays dead for another day.  Number two monk took the service today but the abbot gave the ‘homily’.  He stepped up to the lectern rubbing his hands together and said in opening, Yes, it is cold.†  And then went on to tell us briskly that it’s Good Friday because it’s good news and we are not allowed to mope.  Oh.  I was thinking that Easter always comes up some time in your first year and that shaky new Christians ought to be sent to the Shaky-New-Christian hermitage for the week, which is deep in the countryside and has no internet access and there are fabulous walks, an extensive library, and plenty of blankets on the beds.  Next year, when you’re stronger, then you can go through Easter.  Without moping.

I also went to St Margaret’s meditation service tonight, which was rather gentler:  just readings, and a few silent minutes between, for you to think your own thoughts.  I tried to concentrate on the ‘good news’ part.  And I am, God help me, at least going to turn up for the start of the monks’ paschal vigil tomorrow night.  It starts at 9 p.m. which I assume means it lasts at least three hours, till midnight?  What happens when I need a pee?  Speaking of ordinary reality.

* * *

* I have to be wearing at least two pairs of cotton socks to bear wool socks, since I’m of the AAAAUGH IT’S SCRATCHY TAKE IT AWAY school of wool wearers, which drastically limits my choice of footgear^ but wool is so beautifully warm.  I wear mostly wool cardis and pullovers by choice—over at least two cotton turtlenecks—because of the WARM.  It is a cruel fate to be cold-blooded and allergic to wool.  I’m just grateful that (apparently) my hands can bear to knit it.  I’ve been told by a number of people that it is worth investigating wool that hasn’t been through the standard commercial processes and chemical dyes.  First Cardi, which has been sitting unfinished in its plastic bag for months while I fail to engage with trying to figure out what the frell the DIAGRAMLESS pattern is unhelpfully on about, is made out of theoretically organic wool and friendly nontoxic dyes.  If I ever finish it I’ll experiment with wearing it over only one cotton t-shirt.^^^

^ And with feet the size of mine one does not go up a size very willingly, even to accommodate extra pairs of winter socks.+  Goliath?  Two sizes smaller than me.  Jolly Green Giant?  Three sizes smaller++.  Paul Bunyon?  Little fairy feet, compared to mine.

+ This is aside from the question of finding shoes bigger than my usual.  Goliath wore sandals.

++ Don’t let the curly leprechaun toes mislead you.

^^^ I’m about to rip out the entire back of something I was . . . making for someone else.  SIIIIIIIIIGH.  I should stick to leg warmers.  Meanwhile the yarn site I have dropped the most money on over the last two years is having a THIRTY percent off sale for favoured customers, which is to say those of us who have a bad case of Ooooh Shiny and no self control.  Get thee behind me Satan and take the internet with you.

** I got rid of nearly all my winter down-filled stuff when I moved over here.  What a silly person.^  Two winters ago—the same winter, I believe, when I discovered the wonders of Yaktrax—I bought myself a new down vest.  Now all I need is the quilted trousers and the battery-operated Radiator Boots.

^ The monks would have felt right at home in our old house.  But it was bought by people with money and probably has underfloor heating and an Aga in every room by now.

*** Insert video of chilly sweet pea seedlings doing a fandango

† My blanket and I were at the aisle end of the second row.  Some upstart was in my seat^ when I got there so I was farther forward than usual.  It was only after I’d sat down that it registered that there was no one in the front row.  Paaaaaanic.  There is sure to be something unknown and Eastery that the congregation will be expected to file forward and do and I won’t know how.

Let me put it this way:  I assume I will eventually run out of things to do wrong.  That Shaky-New-Christian hermitage can also have lessons on stuff you’re expected to know how to respond to.

^ Given that the monks, as monks will, have about eighty-seven+ prayer services every day she may be a regular attendee and think of it as her seat

+ You understand that this eighty-seven is like the ninety-two bells at Forza?  I am very slightly prone to exaggeration.




It is brutal out there.  Even the hellterror was willing to scamper back to the house early, although it’s always difficult to tell with the hellterror, since she knows when I put her back in her crate she gets a handful of FOOOOOOOOD which salves the wounded (hyperactive) spirit.  I went to the Maundy Thursday [Anglican] Mass at the monks tonight** and I took my sitting-still-in-the-cold blanket because I went early, as usual, for a little silent contemplation before the service began.  I was expecting there to be a proper congregation today but I wasn’t expecting the jugglers and the dancing elephant.***  The lights were already on when I arrived and monks in an assortment of party frocks were rushing around setting up.  I wrapped myself in my blanket and prepared to practise focussing despite distractions—it takes a lot of concentration to ignore a dancing elephant—but even by the time the service started I was thinking, I don’t believe the heat is on at all.  I know they don’t have a lot of money, maybe they turn their central heating off on the Ides of March and if that means frost on the soup and hypothermia in the congregation, so be it.  During the standing-up bits I was hoping we could sit down again—and I could rewrap my blanket—before my knees started audibly knocking together. †

It also went on rather a while.  This would have been fine—and Easter is the biggest event in the Christian year, bigger than Christmas, so you’re expecting services to be a little extra elaborate††—if it weren’t for the creeping frostbite.  I should have brought a bigger blanket.  I should have brought a duvet.  I should have brought a self-heating dog.

And then at the end the monks get various things up on poles and platters and march firmly down the aisle and out of the chapel—chanting all the while—and we get up and follow them.  Good thing someone has been here before and knows the drill.  It’s not like the monks’ web site has any useful information like what happens during service.

So we all troop out of the church and into the DARK and the FREEEEEEEZING COLD and I wrap my blanket around my shoulders,  praying for a miraculous sirocco, and we file into a tiny little chapel away from the main block of the abbey.  I don’t think the monks’ abbey is all that old, but this hidey-hole looks like something the desert fathers might have used (speaking of siroccos).  Perhaps it is, and was brought, stone by stone, from Egypt in Early Gleep A.D.   The monks set up the bits of whatever they’d brought and then left us there.  Not having realised there was going to be Silent Contemplation built into this service, I’d been attempting to be pious for about two hours at that point and when various other cravens starting creeping out . . . I crept out too.  And went home to feed hellcritters and reassure my husband I hadn’t taken holy orders.   And to warm up.

And this is only the beginning.  I’ll go back for service tomorrow—I’m pretty freaked out about Good/Black Friday:  I know he rose and everything, but they still killed him and he still died—and then Saturday night there’s a vigil.  I might sign on for the vigil if I had the faintest clue what it entailed. . . . ††

* * *

* And apparently this bloody weather is going to last another three weeks.  Mid April and HARD FROST every night?!?!?  Even in Maine by mid-April you can expect some nights to stay above freezing.  I finally potted up my sweet peas today, poor things, they’ve been living on the edge the last ten days or so—or off the edge, when the cardboard box they arrived in disintegrated at an inopportune moment and I had sweet pea seedlings all over the floor.^ Unlabelled sweet pea seedlings:  the plastic cell-packs are labelled, not the plant plugs, which all look alike.  Arrrrrgh.  I originally assumed that this weather would go away within a day or two, so I took the lid off but left the seedlings, in their teetery plastic trays, in the nice stable flat-bottomed box.  I hadn’t realised how much run off there had been from watering them till the cardboard bottom fell out.  ARRRRRRGH.  Anyway it’s really been too cold to put greenhouse-raised tender seedlings outdoors even during the day and the sweet peas have spent a good deal of time in the kitchen sink, to no one’s satisfaction.  Or propped up against the kitchen door, which is at least glass—the sink doesn’t get a lot of sunlight—with a towel against boreal drafts and my wellies holding the teetery plastic packaging upright to further general dissatisfaction.^^  I am grateful that I decided to cut my losses early—the only things I can reliably get through the winter indoors are geraniums, with an honourable mention for begonias^^^—so I left most things where they were,# jammed my windowsills, and had a relatively cope-with-able commuting indoor/outdoor jungle this year.  It’s about to become not cope-with-able however, since it now includes a large tray full of dazed sweet pea seedlings## . . . and another box of tender plants arrived today.

I’m trying to tell myself that nurseries need the space they’re freeing up by sending you your plants at the scheduled time, however undesirable that schedule has become.  What I’m really thinking is you morons.  Most of us don’t have greenhouses## and we don’t want to see this stuff till we can start hardening it off to live outdoors. 

^ Fortunately the hellterror was in her crate.

^^ Including putting them back in the sink any time the hellterror is loose.

^^^And a dishonourable mention to so-called hardy fuchsias.  I lose ’em every dratblasted winter+ so this winter, ha ha ha ha ha, I decided to bring a couple of ’em indoors.  They’re doing great.  Hey.  Guys.  You’re supposed to be hardy.  You’re supposed to live outdoors over the winter.  That’s live. 

+ Don’t talk to me about drainage or I will become violent

# And by some bizarre miracle a few snapdragons are still hanging on.  I doubt they’ll survive another three weeks of this however SIIIIIIIGH.

## Which spent SEVERAL HOURS OUTDOORS today during a BREAK IN THE CLOUDS THAT WAS ALMOST SUNLIGHT.  On the shelf under the kitchen window—speaking of life on the edge—which should be almost warm, with the Aga throwing heat at the glass from the other side.

### Greenhouses you could actually grow stuff in, anyway.  Mine gets almost no sunlight.  It’s a sort of glass-paned tool shed.  Makes you wonder what was on my predecessor’s mind when she sited it there.

** I might add that the day did not get off to a good start when I was woken up three times by parcel-delivery people demanding signatures for parcels that did not need signing for.^  Each time this happened I reset my alarm because I seriously need some sleep, with the result that I didn’t get up till nearly . . . um . . . late.  I was wakened a fourth time by the hellterror taking noisy exception to some other dog barking in the neighbourhood.  Moan.

^ Including first-pass page proofs for SHADOWS.  Ugggggggh.  That parcel is even marked DOES NOT NEED SIGNATURE.  We have been here before . . .

*** Or the Spanish Inquisition, but then nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

† At least I didn’t—or anyway I think I didn’t—mess up taking communion tonight.  Arrrrgh.  It’s all very well as Aloysius says that Anglicanism is big and comprehensive enough^ that there’s a niche somewhere for almost everyone, but this also means that the way service is run may differ spectacularly from one church to the next—and I don’t know what the frell I’m doing anyway.  So you get the run-down in a brisk, no-nonsense, nothing-to-be-afraid-of way from some long-time Anglican friend and then you go to the monks and yaaaaaaah.^^

^ Except about women bishops

^^ I was talking to Gemma about this.  Gemma is Catholic.  She says that one of the things she likes about Catholicism is that Mass is said the same everywhere.  You don’t have to worry about it.  You can pitch up in England or France or Outer Mongolia, and if it’s Catholic Mass, you’ll know where you are and what’s going on.

†† Possibly including jugglers and dancing elephants

††† It’s too late to ask the monks:  they’re being silent till Easter, and Aloysius doesn’t know.

Slightly Blurry Photos of a Gigantic Hellterror and Friends

The big courtyard at the mews is almost never empty.  The car jigsaw usually runs to about nine, and if some resident is so imprudent as to desire the attendance of someone who drives a van or (horrors) a lorry, negotiations of the most delicate nature are required, and probably the services of an astrologer are hired as well.  So yesterday when IT WAS EMPTY I couldn’t resist.  You didn’t get these photos yesterday, however, because the one of herself and Chaos sparring made the Funny Patch* on her head look like a remake of Attack of the Mushroom People, so I asked Blogmom to fuzz it over a little**, and she couldn’t do it right away.

Gigantic hellterror. Try tucking one of these under your arm of a morning, when hellterror is AWAAAAAAAAKE and you’re not.

You can also see a shadow of the cranky, supercilious uncle face on Chaos.

She’s not this big, she’s BOUNCING.

Although it creeps up on you, that your puppy is growing.  I mean, of course you know she’s growing, it’s what puppies do.  Also she WEIGHS MORE than she used to, when you snatch her up away from the ravening jaws of some off lead thug.  Oh, he just wants to play! says the BRAINLESS IRRESPONSIBLE owner.  I know what playful dog body language looks like.  This isn’t it.  Although the snatching up in such cases is made dazzlingly easy because your adrenaline level just rocketed.  Which means that five minutes from now you’re going to have to find something to sit down on–draping your gigantic hellterror over your knees, so she can’t find any distressing substances to eat while you’re seeing stars.

Also note snarky uncle face.


There isn’t a mean bone in her entire hyperactive little body (also the hellhounds simply have the legs on her, although she has an impressive sudden-little-dashes facility) and mostly she plays with Chaos because he will play with her.  But it has not escaped her attention that Darkness is fun to tease.

I’m not sure who’s winning.

But I don’t think they care.

The dynamic hasn’t really changed. Chaos plays with her. Darkness WORRIES.


Hey! Wait for me! I got DISTRACTED!

Fortunately hellhounds are pretty good about turning around and coming back when the hellgoddess hastily sucks in her breath and SCREAMS.

You know, Darkness, you might even ENJOY playing with her.

You could maybe give it a try some time.

The fabulous hellterror tummy. Admired by all.

Woosilly woosilly woosilly woosilly.  Or thereabouts.



Maybe he’s worrying about how gigantic she’s getting.

* * *

* Which is diminishing nicely, and should be gone in another week or so.

** No, of course I don’t know how to do it myself.  I can crop.  That’s ALL I can do.


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