April 30, 2013

Yarn Shop Follies



I am going to amaze you.  Sit down and take a deep breath.

We got LOST on the way to the yarn shop.  There.  You’re amazed, right?

Have we ever not got lost on the way to the yarn shop?  Whichever yarn shop is on offer on a day Fiona and I are loose, together and dangerous?  Barring the little one which I have to go out of my way not to walk past on the way to the abbey*, so even I would probably have some difficulty failing to find it.  Fiona could try putting a bag over my head and spinning me in a circle. . . . That would probably work. . . .

I do feel that perhaps Fiona went out of her way to ensure we got lost today.  We’ve been to this shop before** and we both know it’s sort of  . . . that way.  Fiona apparently decided that this was sufficient.  I was a trifle taken aback that she hadn’t turned her possessed-by-demons—I mean her excellent, tactful and reliable satnav on but . . . the driver is god.  And I’m way too happy not to be driving.  And if there was a paper atlas in the car . . . when the ME is gnawing on me you really don’t want me navigating for you.***  So we set out for Opprobrium.  Turpitude is just beyond it.  Sort of.  It’s sort of suspended between Opprobrium and Prinkle-on-Weald in what is a very unhelpful manner†, rather Tir-nan-Og-like, there not really being any roads between here and there.  You have to kind of sneak up on it while whistling a little tune and looking in another direction—a bit like catching a slightly tricky horse in a too-large field.

So you are approaching Opprobrium and there are like fourteen roundabouts in the space of about fifty yards, each of which is bristling with sixty-seven road signs saying things like Tibet * —>5000 miles and London—>you want to turn around and go back the way you came and town centre—>MWA HA HA HA GO HOME.   There was a sign for Turpitude, but there were poisonous snakes and a lot of guys with swords, and we lost our nerve.  We took the town centre option.

Now I know Opprobrium a little, and I was under the semi-erroneous impression that Turpitude was roughly on the other side of it to the right, and that when we came out the other end there would be another sign indicating a road to Turpitude, and maybe this one would be free of poisonous snakes and big ugly guys with swords and maybe there would be fewer than nine-hundred-and-thirty-seven other signs to confuse us.††

No.  No sign.  No sign at all except to things like the recycling centre and Greater Footling which we knew we didn’t want.  We were most of the way to Surfeit by the time Fiona folded, pulled into one of those extremely dubious-looking parking areas off the motorway where you’re sure poisonous snakes and big ugly guys with swords and a bad attitude hang out, and turned her satnav on.†††  The worst of this is that when we did, in fact, get to Turpitude, and blasted Billy comes over all smug and says that we can thank him now because it was only possible with him and without him we would have been hopelessly lost, rather than throwing things at the windscreen we had to say YES BILLY WE KNOW BILLY SHUT UP BILLY.‡

And the yarn shop?  Because we wasted so much time on the road I didn’t have a chance to get into NEARLY ENOUGH TROUBLE.‡‡

* * *

* Fortunately it’s usually shut at standard bell ringing hours.  Woe for daytime weddings and other one-offs however.  And it’s even worse than that:  this little yarn shop likes dogs.  I’ve taken both hellhounds and hellterror ALTHOUGH NOT ALL AT THE SAME TIME in there and they smile and croon and whip out photos of their hellcritters.  So you can be having a perfectly straightforward alternative hurtle on a beautiful day when you felt like getting in the car and going somewhere else, maybe looking for otters on the river^, and suddenly, on the way back to the car park . . . yarn fumes.  And your hellcritters can’t save you.

^ Which seem to be pretty blasé about tourists going oooooh, and whose den or nest or lodge or what you call it is out of reach.

** We’ve been to pretty much every yarn shop in Hampshire at this point and may be forced to widen our range, perhaps into Doorstep and Suffix.  We particularly have our eye on Smite-the-Infidel in Wiltingshire, where there is a rumour of three yarn shops.  Be still our hearts.  Be terrified our credit cards.

*** Pride or, if you prefer, vanity, insists that I insert here that when I’ve got a few neurons firing I’m not at all bad with a paper map.

† I realise, having now got home again and looked at a paper map.

†† 67 x 14 – 1 = 937.  I think.  I hadn’t regularly done arithmetic in decades . . . till I started frelling knitting.  Now it’s like um, yardage?  Um.  How many?  Um.  If Wicked On Line Yarn Shop is having a sale of 17.5% off but the frelling skeins are only 82 yards long so I need a lot of them, how much is it going to cost to make that car cozy?  AAAAUGH.  Maybe I could knit it on bigger needles.  Better drape. . . .

††† We could have just gone to the yarn shop in Opprobrium.^  Or we could have taken a slight sideways sidle and gone back to the one in Frellingham.  But noooooo.  We had decided on Turpitude^^ and Turpitude was what we were going to have.

^ Yes we have.  I’m sure I blogged about it.  Opprobrium also has two old-books shops and we DROVE PAST ONE OF THEM today and Fiona with a swift, sure gesture hit the central locking on the car before I could get out.  Hey!  I bought TANGLEWRECK there!  It’s a good shop!

^^ sic

‡ I think I have told you Fiona’s satnav speaks in Billy Connolly’s voice.  I’m here to tell you that even a Scottish accent only gets you so far.

‡‡ Fiona did though.  Fiona has an amazing talent for yarn trouble.  And I did manage to buy a pattern for some yarn I’d bought a different pattern for and decided it wasn’t what I wanted but I really liked the yarn, and you yarnies out there will know how this story goes:  I’m one skein too short for the new pattern.

* WORDPRESS I BLOODY HATE YOU.  I have a beautiful arrow sign here and frelling WordPress is giving me a frelling a with an accent grave over it.  GO. AWAY.  So I guess I have to replace all my lovely arrows with stupid dashes. . . .^

^ Okay.  I may have recreated ARROWS.  ::holding breath::  ::punching PUBLISH button::+

+ Well . . . they’re not nearly as good as the original arrows. . . .

A question of bedtime


Last night at St Margaret’s the vicar, fresh from a ‘retreat’ with his Leadership Group, attempted to light a fire under the rest of us—possibly slouched down in our seats praying for the strength to keep our eyes open*—about what one thing we were going to start doing this week to deepen our relationship with God, make the world a better place, or generally become a bigger, gobblier holier-than-thou turkey.  And in our groups people were talking soberly about being more organised** about time for prayer and volunteer work and this or that course they have been meaning to go on*** and when it was my turn I said, Go to bed earlier.  So I don’t hit the floor already in a panic of lateness the next morning.  It’s a whole lot harder to do the contemplative prayer routine when the monkey mind is gibbering like a whole treeful of monkeys.

I got to bed early enough last night to be talking in nearly complete sentences by the time Atlas showed up to finish nailing the shelf up in my greenhouse this morning.  And I totally have to go to bed early tonight because Fiona and I are going to have a YARN ADVENTURE tomorrow.†

* * *

* Fortunately I’d caught a ride with Minnie.  Even Wolfgang might have found it a bit challenging keeping me on the road by yesterday evening:  I’d had a rotten night for sleep even for me, worrying.  It wasn’t all bad:  I finished another book for the Book Recs list.^

^ I kind of wasted that last hundred pages of LOCKWOOD by reading it in the bath, with all the lights and the radio on, hellhounds snorting in their sleep round the corner in my office and the hellterror moaning about injustice downstairs+.  It would have been much more effective if I’d been reading it Saturday night tucked up in bed with everything turned off but the bedside light and the demented robin singing to the streetlight outdoors.

+ As soon as go lie down’ conveys meaning, the hellterror will be allowed upstairs.  It will be a while.  It will be a much longer while before she’s allowed upstairs while I’m in the bath and at a disadvantage.  It is interesting, however, watching the Development of Relationship.  Puppies are adorable, as we all know, so we don’t kill them, and you have to hope that you develop a relationship before they stop being murder-resistingly adorable.  Ahem.  I’m also not so hot on the formal training thing—I can get away with this (mostly) because I’m home all the time and can encourage or mercilessly crush certain behaviours.  An awful lot of relationship is just being there.  And sometimes you get a break you not only didn’t earn, you had no idea what you were going to do if the problem didn’t just magically disappear.  I had no idea how I was going to oblige hellhounds—hellpuppies at the time—to LIE DOWN in their box in the car.  When we’d had the three whippets# both of us were still driving, and Peter drove and I Suppressed, till they got the idea.  Hellhounds just . . . lay down.  It was never an issue.  I have no idea.  Thank You God.

Hellterror is either going to learn not to gnaw the short strap that attaches her to the seatbelt or I will buy a few short lengths of chain.  I’m not, perhaps foolishly, anticipating a huge problem about this.  She’s not actually a big chewer, although she likes her thighbone of mammoth.##

But she is still the possessor of hellterror jaws.  And when you need to get something away from a puppy you generally need to do it fast, and unless you are carrying desiccated liver in your mouth, which I am NOT,### you don’t have time for fancy swapping routines, or let’s be blunt, I don’t have the coordination.%  So I was getting bitten and IT HURT.  Not to mention being bad for hellgoddess/hellterror relations.  Speaking of relationship.

Well, I did get a bit cleverer about tactics for getting stuff away from her, and, when there’s time, she is ALWAYS open to a bribe—and once she’s learnt that bribery is a possibility, she will often meet you halfway.  But I realised recently that she seems to have decided that I’m allowed to take stuff away from her.  There is sometimes a trifle of resistance.  And she can stab you with a look out of those little beady eyes that would bore through cement.  But if I am wearisomely DETERMINED to get something away from her . . . she lets me.


# Which were, all three together, small enough to fit in the box.  That was sixty-maybe-slightly-plus pounds of dog.  Two hellhounds are eighty-definitely-plus pounds of dog.  Even if the hellterror were a model of decorum~ there isn’t room for her in the box.

~ And not in season

## All those fancy expensive guaranteed-your-dog-will-LOVE-them Kong toys?  She spurns them.

### All other things being equal, which they are not, I need my mouth immediately available for yelling, which I suppose is not a show-dog-handler’s first priority.

% I’m frantically fishing in the wrong pocket anyway

%% It’s probably connected that she’s a surprisingly tactful accepter of treats from your bare hand.  You can give her a tiny fragment of kibble and she nails the kibble but not your fingers.  I hadn’t thought about this till I was giving her infinitesimal scraps of chicken the other night, having misjudged the amount of chicken available—all three hellcritters get a bit of neat chicken as dessert—and despite the significantly higher frenzy level for chicken as opposed to mere kibble—she was snatching the chicken without nicking my fingers.

I wonder if all that screaming when she play-bit me when she was tiny has an effect here?  It was a different situation with the hellhounds—they mostly taught each other how hard (not) to bite, and sighthounds are bred to bring things down, not to mangle them, as a fighting dog is (presumably) encouraged to do.  I also don’t have a problem with a dog mouthing me so long as there’s no pressure behind it, so all my hellcritters are somewhat accustomed to having bits of me casually in their mouths.

** ::weeps::  I was so standing behind the door when they passed out organizational skills.

*** Minnie’s taking one on teaching Sunday School to the tinies

† God created everything.  Therefore he created yarn.

Book Rec: Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud


This is a hugely enjoyable fantasy-adventure page-turner and first-rate post-flu cranky-convalescent distraction.  I hesitate to call it ‘horror’ since the squick factor is pretty low—low enough even for me—but it does have some very unfriendly ghosts.  Being murdered can do that to a person.  And on the subject of page-turning, I recommend you set aside enough time to read the last hundred pages in one go.  Once our intrepid ghost-stalkers enter the Red Room at Combe Carey Hall, the most haunted private house in England, you are not going to want to put the book down till the end.  I was given an ARC:  I notice the book’s not actually out till August.  But you can still put it on your TBR list.

The England of Lockwood & Co has a Problem:  ‘. . . Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago, and no one’s got a damn clue why. . . . you can find mention of scattered ghostly sightings cropping up in Kent and Sussex around the middle of the last century.  But it was a decade or so later that a bloody series of cases, such as the Highgate Terror and the Mud Lane Phantom, attracted serious attention. . . . At last two young researchers . . . managed to trace each haunting to its respective Source . . . and for the first time the existence of Visitors was firmly imprinted on the public mind.’  So far so conventional.  But (as I keep saying when I’m wearing my author hat) there are no new stories, only good, bad or indifferent retellings of old stories.  This is a good retelling.  The world-building does that excellent thing where the out-there goofballery of the set-up leads to clearly sensible and practical applications:    ‘We ducked out across the road, stepping over the open drain or “runnel” of running water that separated the pavement from the tarmac.  The wandering dead were known to dislike moving water;  consequently narrow runnels crosscrossed many of the great shopping streets in the West End, allowing people to walk in safety well into the evening.  Earlier governments had hoped to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive.  Aside from ghost-lights, the suburbs fended for themselves.’ Lockwood & Co are three kids—you’re washed up as a ghostbuster field agent by the time you reach voting age—Anthony Lockwood, the narrator Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins the library geek.  (This ‘modern’ London has electricity and telephones, but no computers and no internet.  If you want to do research, you go to the library, and Lockwood & Co’s records are kept in box files.)  And they have the Talent.

But things keep going wrong for them:  ‘Yes, the Mortlake Horror was driven out, but only as far as Richmond Park. . . . Yes, both the Grey Spectre of Aldgate and the entity known as the Clattering Bones were destroyed, but not before several further . . . deaths.’  Which is why Lockwood decides to accept an obviously crooked commission from the extremely wealthy and also extremely creepy owner of Combe Carey Hall.    And then of course things go even more wrong. . . .


KES, 76



Go Caedmon, I thought.  The kettle was making a tired little squeaking noise.  I poured almost-boiling water in the pot, swished it around, and then twiddled with the gas fire, trying to make it burn a little more enthusiastically.  Mike was clanking heavy cast-iron doors and muttering to himself.

“I’d ask you to show me how to use it only I don’t have anything for it to burn,” I said.  “Hayley’s coming out tomorrow night with—logs and stuff—whatever—and she’ll get me—it—the stove—started.  Tonight, eh.  I hope I find the blankets.”  And the pillows.


“From Homeric Homes.  Who rented this monst—I mean, this house to me.”  This dementedly way too dratblasted large house.  Complete with neighbor from the darkness beyond the stars.  What was I thinking of?  My eyes fell on Sid, who had finished her second helping of dog food and was thoughtfully contemplating the remaining fragments of the loaf of bread.  If I hadn’t stuck a pin in a map Sid might still be living rough.  I offered her the last half-slice of bread.  She took it daintily, swallowed it in a single savage gulp, and then started examining the corners of the kitchen.

Mike looked amused.  “Yes, I know Hayley.  My little sister went to school with her.  She was famous for ironing her gym uniform.  You’re supposed to, but she’s the only one who ever did.”

That sounded like the Hayley I had been dazzled by.

“She’s from around here so she has to know how to run a wood-burner but I wouldn’t have guessed she’d admit it, you know, to teach someone—er—from not around here.”

I wondered briefly what the local term for outlander was.  “Hidden depths, our Hayley,” I said blandly.  “Besides, I’m sure it would be bad for Homeric’s reputation if one of their tenants died of exposure.”  I wondered what Mike read in his spare time.  Car magazines.  Or Proust.  And Tolkien, of course.  Sid didn’t like any of the available corners and was making another circuit.  I’d better let her out.  What had I done with her leash?  I did not want her making unscheduled acquaintance with the neighbor.

“Hidden jump shots,” said Mike.  “Hayley was top scorer on the girls’ basketball team, junior year.  Really pissed my sister off, who is nearly a foot taller and only came second.”

I laughed.  Flowerhair now and again rescued one of those magical Keeper of Great Power objects stolen by the other team.  This kind of commission happens rather often in a serial-fantasy mercenary’s life.  She’d succeeded once by passing the (mummified) Heart of the Possum That Carried The World in Her Pouch among herself and her three confederates, as they ran like sixty down the long cavern where the thieves were celebrating their success by being off their heads with the local hallucinogen, which is why Flowerhair and her friends got away with it.  I’d been writing that one year when the Knicks were doing really well and every time I went over to Norah’s I had to listen to her husband, Jephthah, go on about it.  Jeph was mostly a really good guy but he had his blind spots.  I’d named the dumbest of Flowerhair’s accomplices Hpej.

Sid lay down, stiffly and bolt upright, looking like a cranky Anubis on a really bad hair day.  Okay.  Got it.  Someone else voting for blankets and pillows.  I hadn’t thought to buy a dog bed.  If I had we could both have slept in it.

“Do you have a flashlight?” said Mike suddenly.

“Huh?” I said, dragged out of remembering the walls of that cavern, decorated with extremely detailed illustrations of what the locals did to people who annoyed them.  Flowerhair, who hadn’t planned to grow up to be a mercenary, had had nightmares for a week, but at least that time she’d got paid.  “Not that I can—oh.  There’s one in the van.  Has something died in there?”  Mike was still standing in front of Caedmon.  He had one of the doors open and seemed to be staring into it disapprovingly.

“Hope not,” he said, grinned at me, chunked the iron door closed and left at some speed.  I heard the house door bang.  The ham sandwich must have been either really good or really bad.  I was thinking:  he carries book boxes without complaint and he has a great smile.  Serena, what’s not to like?

A few minutes went by and no more book boxes appeared at the top of the outside stairs.  Uh oh.  The ham sandwich had been really bad and he’d run away.  What was that noise?  A sort of thumping, scraping noise.  Oh, heartburn and dung beetles, here we go with the funny noises again.  Bang.  Squeak.  Thud.

Sid went and stood at the kitchen door, looking interested.  This was okay as far as it went, but we hadn’t actually met any cosmic horror yet (unless Mr Melmoth counted, which he might), so I couldn’t be sure I was reading my dog’s reactions correctly.

And then Mike appeared at the kitchen window.  He was carrying something.  It was definitely not a book box.

Fun with your dogs


So yesterday evening hellhounds spent crashed out as usual in the mews dog bed.  The system is that I then scrabble everything back into my knapsack and canvas briefcase-shaped object, let hellhounds out for a pee in the mews courtyard—they’ll have their final hurtle from the cottage—schlep knapsack, canvas object, and anything else that may have silted up over the course of the day into Wolfgang’s front seat;  encourage hellhounds to leap into the hellhound box in the back, having first removed Pav’s abominable falling-apart plastic carrying crate;  encourage hellhounds to get all eight feet into the box so I can get the crate back in, replace crate, fetch hellterror, encourage her to relieve herself, bribe her into nasty plastic crate with small handful of kibble, pick up anything hellterror may have produced, lock up, drive to cottage.  Reverse process. . . . **

We have one of our organic-grocery deliveries on Thursdays.  I let hellhounds out, had a fast look around for cats or rabbits or any other untoward distractions, and went back indoors to load my week’s fresh fruit into a carrier.  This took . . . maybe a minute.

When I went back out to put the fruit bag in the front seat with the rest of the stuff . . . there was only one hellhound waiting for me.

One hellhound.

One.  Hellhound.

I looked around.  It took me a good five seconds to panic.  I trotted down toward the archway and called Darkness’ name.  Nothing.  I trotted—rather faster—back to Wolfgang and Chaos, still standing there looking rather bewildered.***  I put Chaos on lead, picked up Darkness’, and pelted down the driveway toward the main road.

Last few times Darkness has been double-ended geyseringly ill, he has lit out for strange parts as soon as I put him out—but hitherto I’ve already been keeping an eye on him, and have managed to get a lead on him and go along when he sets off.  I’ve always had WARNING.  With one—appallingly notable—exception, he’s always been able to give me warning, ie to get him outdoors NOW.  Last night . . . he had eaten only two thirds of an already minimal dinner but, so?   He hasn’t been eating enough to keep a chipmunk alive for weeks†.  There was nothing about last night to make me take notice.

Till he disappeared.

I’ve never lost a hellhound before:  I’m paranoid, and I know how fast they are—and generally speaking their recall is pretty good, and I’m careful not to strain it.  I hadn’t allowed for Darkness having a geysering fit come on without giving me any SIGN.

Chaos and I were wandering around helplessly only a few minutes.  Probably less than five.  Well, maybe five.  I was by this time crying and screaming.  It was after midnight, it was dark, at least there was no one else around—no other dog walkers, no juggernauts on the roads—and that stretch of the main road is mostly parkland on either side, so my screaming was probably not heard by anyone but owls.  I had just turned to go back to the mews courtyard.  This is one of the basic emergency drills of a sighthound owner—your runaway will come back to where he last saw you to find you again.  So long as you keep your nerve and stay there.  Chaos and I had turned to creep back to the mews courtyard . . . when a bit of darkness detached itself from the rest, slunk through the gate ahead of us, and turned around to throw up at my feet.  At least that meant he stood still long enough for me to get his lead on.

Adrenaline spike?  If any of you saw a strange bright burning light in the sky last night emanating from a southern-Englandish direction, that would have been me, having an adrenaline spike.

Today has not been a very lively, awake day.  The hellterror’s more dramatic difficulties seem to have lessened, although she’s not entirely enjoying coming on heat.  She’s still showing no signs of flirting, but she’s licking those Weird Swollen Parts a lot in a kind of LIE DOWN AND LEAVE ME ALONE manner, and while she still wants her tummy rubbed I keep stopping to check that all those tiny but stiff little nubbles are only her nipples, and there are no ticks involved.  Hellhounds are . . . hellhounds, although there has been no further geysering.

I’m about to have to attempt to feed hellcritters for the third time today.  Whimper.  Score so far:  Chaos, one third lunch, one third dinner.  Darkness, no lunch whatsoever, all of dinner.  Pavlova, I’M FINE, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M FINE.  I’M ALSO STARVING TO DEATH.  YOU CALL THIS A MEAL? 

* * *

* We have in fact had a try with the clip-your-dog-harness-with-dog-in-it to the seatbelt apparatus.  It works fine.  Except for the part about the hellterror setting to with a will to chew the seatbelt apart.  Those hellterror jaws, crikey.  I’m surprised miners and engineers and things bother with rock drilling tools.  Put a bowl of dog food on one side of the mountain and a hungry bull terrier^ on the other and . . . stand back.  Gnar gnar gnar gnar crunch crunch crunch crunch. 

^ Bull terriers are of course always hungry.  It’s part of the breed standard:  little beady eyes, prick ears, roman nose, hungry.

** Yes.  I hate my commute.  It’s always been way too complicated^ but a manic hellterror and a hellhound who is still hoping he’s going to wake up one morning and she’ll be gone complicate matters.  The sheer logistics are a big fat pain—in both arms, shoulders and back, chiefly.  It would HELP A LOT if hellhounds could jump in from the other side, but that means making the extra height over the side of the box, and Darkness doesn’t always want to leap to seat level.^^

^ It’s a daily version of—you know how that last t shirt/woolly jumper you threw in your suitcase on a whim and that last book you threw in your carry-on before you got on the plane are the only things that prevent your journey from being an utter misery?  Yes.  Now imagine making those same final forty-six decisions every day.

^^ And thank you, Judith and Diane in MN and anyone else I’ve missed, for those links to Dog Travelling Strategies.  I’m looking very thoughtfully indeed at the folding stair.

*** Although ‘bewildered’ is one of his standard expressions.

† Although I believe all those small rodenty creatures have very high metabolisms.

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