April 25, 2013



It’s been another fabulously gorgeous SHIRTSLEEVE day and . . .

. . . I’m not in a very good mood.  In the first place . . . yurk, where do I start ‘in the first place’?  Okay, top contenders for ‘in the first place’:

1. Speaking of fabulously gorgeous shirtsleeve weather WE’RE GOING TO HAVE FROST AGAIN OVER THE WEEKEND.  And I have several brand-new trays of snapdragons and diascias sitting around waiting hopefully to be planted.  As well as a few dahlia tubers that have been planted in pots* and will therefore join the frelling kitchen queue this weekend . . . Not to mention the petunias, begonias, geraniums, hippeastrums, sweet peas etc that have been out there a while already, when they aren’t cluttering up the Winter Table and the kitchen floor.  And if I don’t get my glads in soon they won’t bloom till . . . after the first frosts this autumn.

2. Hellhounds are eating about one meal in three.  Sort of.  It’s hard to tell because I’ve cut back to about half rations . . . and they’re still playing a sort of hopscotch game the rules of which are opaque to me, where one of them may eat one meal/day while the other one doesn’t eat at all, or one of them will eat one third of this meal and two thirds of the next while the other one finishes the first meal and has two and a half mouthfuls of the next.  Their ribs look more like toast racks every day.   And as I have just been telling Darkness, who ate none of his lunch and has deigned to eat about two-thirds of his (half-size) supper, if I weren’t worrying about their making themselves ill, I’d just frelling let them starve themselves into a citation from the RSPCA. Fine.   Let the RSPCA try and get the little ratbags to eat.  How am I supposed to know:

(a)   When they’re just being total little scum-sucking ticks and

(b)   When they’re going to go over the line into making themselves ill?

I want to know BEFORE we reach (b), okay?  Meanwhile the recycled kibble levels are getting extreme and eventually you have to throw it out.  £££££££.  Not amused.  Not amused at all.

3. The hellterror has the runs.  No, she has the fountains. 

3b. The hellterror is also coming into her first heat.  JOY.  I don’t know if these two items of interest are in any way connected.  I have known bitches who suffer bowel irregularities while they’re on heat but this is a little . . . ultimate.  Hellhounds are not, fortunately, the slightest bit interested in local hormonal mayhem—at least not so far, but she’s not in full, you should forgive the term, torrent yet either—and maybe the first puppy heat causes maximum internal uproar and minimum exterior captivatingness?  Dunno.  But if she’s planning on having excretory melodrama every heat, she’s not going to keep her ovaries long enough to have a litter.  Stay tuned.

The good news, such as it is, is that none of this is bothering her in the slightest.  She’s the same manic little furball as usual.

4. The ME is biting me.  Hard.  Still.  All this sunny shirtsleeve weather in the garden has been lovely, and the whole sudden change of season thing stuns normal healthy people too, and it may take them a few days to find their summer rhythm**.  And the plants don’t care if you’re moving kind of slowly.***  But. . . . 

4b. I’ve officially quit the Muddles . . . again.  Damn.  But I haven’t got the stamina for those two and a half hour rehearsals and I feel a little less than enthusiastic about exposing my never-a-strong-point lungs to that air in that church when I’m coming off flu;  furthermore there isn’t time for me to learn the music, now, before the next concert.  I don’t know what I’m going to do about singing;  I am NOT giving up my voice lessons, but it feels dumb and silly not to be doing something with what I’m (theoretically) learning, and at my level of ability that’s some kind of undemanding group.  And undemanding-group choices in this area are limited.

4c. Having cut back significantly on the amount of time I spend on the blog† . . . I probably haven’t cut back enough.  I don’t like the feel of this go of the ME:  I don’t like the glint in its steely little eyes.  I think that look it’s giving me is telling me that the Muddles is only the beginning.  I think I am going to have to do more hacking and hewing.  This is sure to hit bell ringing . . . especially because of all the driving to this and that tower, and driving is always my most obvious weak point.  At least the blog I can do on the sofa/kitchen table/bed.

Maybe I can knit more.

Maybe I can READ more.

But . . . sigh.††

* * *

* Large pots.  Dahlia tubers tend to be large.

** Especially if it keeps going away and dropping everyone back in their fleeces and flannels again.

*** Yoo-hoo!  Over here!  Don’t forget us!  We’re hungry/thirsty/an impenetrable jungle too!

† And GREAT GROVELLING REPEATED THANKS to all you guest-post providers who help with this.

†† And I am NEVER going to try to write an outline on Microsoft Word again.  ARRRRRRRRGH.  I can hardly wait to see what WordPress does to my attempts to outflank bloody Word’s idea of how to write an outline. . . .


It’s alive!



::happy dance::  Happy happy happy happy, happy happy DANCE!

. . . Er.  Well.  In its small but in-my-face way, the wall story has been rather TRAUMATIC.  Now . . . I’ve already had the other piece of that wall rebuilt by Atlas, I think the first year I was here;  opposite that now entirely replaced wall is Phineas’ house, the third wall of my garden is my house and the fourth wall . . . I hope that wall stays up because I’m pretty sure those neighbours and I would have difficulty seeing eye to eye about things.  Ahem.  Life in a small town.  It’s wonderful.  Here’s to walls.  YAAAAAAAAY.  WAAAAAAAAAAALL.

A grand, a magnificent wall.

Hellcritters and I took a fast sprint to a local(ish) garden centre this afternoon.  The point about taking critters along, aside from giving them a change of scenery, is that they FILL UP THE BACK SEAT so there’s a limit to the damage I can do.**  Also we went late, so I didn’t have a lot of time to look around before the shop closed.  I needed compost:  my little all-the-plumbing-in-Hampshire garden is putting Westland’s frelling shareholders’ children through university, I buy so much frelling compost for all my pots.  And while I was there I was going to look for snapdragons.***  Which means going into the plant area.  Noooooooo . . .

I did very well.  I bought three trays of snapdragons . . . rather too many little diascias† because they come in such good colours, a few pulsatillas†† which is another of those can’t-kill plants that keep dying on me, a pansy or two, a couple of hanging-basket liners and . . . a King Edward flowering currant.†††  Which will grow seven or eight foot before it’s done.  Arrrgh.  It’s just . . . well, I have no self-control.‡  And we had a flowering currant at the old house which I loved, and it’s been on my list of Things to Replace for . . . eight years.   And it called my name, okay?  How are you supposed to walk away from something that knows your name?‡‡

And I got home and realised I should have bought more compost.

* * *

*Which is to say before Souvenir de la Malmaison went in.  Generally speaking you worry about your plants when someone is stomping over their beds and digging ditches through their roots and filling those ditches up with cement and so on.^  In Souvenir’s case you worry about anyone loose in her vicinity, however well defended with spades and scaffolding.

^ I would be very sorry to lose Golden Spires+ and Brother Cadfael++ but at least I could replace them.  I’m holding my breath about my apple tree.  Not only is it some kind of old—I’ve been here eight years and it was already stooped and wrinkly when I arrived—but I have no idea what sort it is, so I couldn’t replace it, and it produces fantastic apples.  It’s leafing out now.  So far so good.

+ http://http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Strongly-Fragrant-Climbing-Rose-DREAMING-SPIRES-/390568966654?pt=UK_HomeGarden_Garden_PlantsSeedsBulbs_JN&hash=item5aefb979fe

++ http://www.davidaustinroses.com/english/showrose.asp?showr=1157

** Actually there isn’t.  This wretched garden centre delivers locally.

*** Individual colour snapdragons.  Major pet peevemixed trays of bedding plants so you have no idea what you’re getting till they flower.  So you plant a mixed tray of snapdragons/busy lizzies/begonias/bedding dahlias/whatever under your old-fashioned lavender-pink roses and they come out scarlet and orange.  THANKS EVER SO.


†† http://www.bluebellcottage.co.uk/plants/PUL100-Pulsatilla-vulgaris-Pasque-flower

††† http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=5242

‡ However I flatter myself I’m not a complete fool.  http://www.manufactum.co.uk/terracotta-tile-clematis-root-protector-p1443402/

What.  The.  Frell.  I’m supposed to spend twenty-three quid on a broken pot?  I have DOZENS of broken pots sitting around waiting to be recreated as further-broken-up bits in the bottoms of other pots.^  If I wanted to do it that way I could erect an Eiffel Tower of terra cotta pieces. Furthermore, what a waste of opportunity:  most of my clematis have clusters of littler pots of things like geraniums and pinks protecting their roots from sunlight.  When there is sunlight, of course.  Feh.  Oh, and burying terra cotta in the ground?  That is so doomed.  ‘Frost resistant’.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

^ I know, they’ve proved it at least annually for the last several decades that shards in the bottoms of pots do not improve drainage.  Well, yes and no.  They do prevent the drainage holes from getting blocked.  They also weigh the pot down:  most pots flare from the base.  Tall thin pots do well to have a nice stabilising layer of stones or pottery pieces in the bottom.  And when you’re potting on I’d much rather untangle overexuberant roots from loose shards than from impacted soil—plus you have a smaller rootball to transfer.  I still put something in the bottoms of pots before I put the soil in.

‡‡ And there’s always Third House.  Third House’s garden has several Largest _____ You’ve Ever Seen which began life with me at the cottage.

Sunlight etc



Today is the first really warm, shirtsleeve weather day we’ve had.*  With, you know, blue sky and sunlight and the whole thing.  It’s extremely confusing.  You grope automatically for your woollies and then you stand there staring at them bewilderedly.  You’re afraid to go outdoors with any fewer than six layers and a duvet-sized scarf.   All that bright light is oppressive.**

I figured it out in time to spend most of the afternoon in the cottage garden.***  In my shirtsleeves.  Although I didn’t get much gardening gardening done.   Yes.  Atlas was here on Monday AND I HAVE A GREENHOUSE AGAIN.  Not a greenhouse the way Alicia has a greenhouse, BUT I HAVE A FUNCTIONING POTTING TABLE.†  And I found my blood, fish and bone†† and a trowel I haven’t seen in years and a distressing amount of stuff I’m sure I never bought . . . and of course the greenhouse at present looks worse than it did when I started.

Tomorrow. . . .

* * *

* And the hellhounds aren’t eating.


Query – do you really feed your hellhounds 3 times a day? Suddenly worried that my more pups really ARE starving to death instead of lying through their pearly whites….

It would be more accurate to say that I offer them food three times a day.  Whether or not they eat it is an appallingly, traumatically open question.  But because of their querulous digestions, not eating tends to make them ill, so the more they don’t eat the more they won’t eat.^  They also find food threatening so offering it to them any time but normal known scheduled meal times will cause consternation, outrage and a knock-on refusal to eat during the next scheduled food-related situation.  So having three presentation opportunities built into the system is to help me.  We are in a very bad spell of not eating right now AND IT IS MAKING ME CRAAAAAAZY.  The worst of it is that they were already well into no-food mode when the weather started having little stabs at springlikeness, and warm weather always gives them the appetite of a dead cockroach or a knitting needle, neither of which are noted trencherpersons. . . .

The hellterror eats more or less constantly.  Of course she gets three meals because the hellhounds get three meals—even if she weren’t a trifle excitable about food I wouldn’t not feed one dog when the others are getting officially fed—but she also receives a casual half-handful of kibble or kibble equivalent pretty much every time she goes back into some crate or other.  It means she goes but it also means she’s happy to go . . . and will solicit going-back-into-crateness if she feels she’s been out long enough and is getting hungry.  Why she doesn’t weigh eleven stone I have no idea.  All that hucklebutting I suppose.



Although I have moved the hellterror crate off the table   onto the floor … neither she nor I is totally happy with the new   arrangement.

Think about a ramp. I have one of these:
for my Suburban. Nice until the dogs grow up enough to be confident enough (and their bones are mature enough) to get in and out.

Snork.  You are so not grasping the size of my kitchen.  If I had a ramp in there, all the hellcritters and I would have to leave.  Also I quite like having a kitchen table again.  The problem is that Pav likes being high up.  Including being carried.

Also . . . maybe you have to start them young?  I would get a ramp for Wolfgang for when Darkness’ back is giving him gyp, but neither Darkness nor Chaos will use the old half-door Peter found for us to practise on.  It’s perfectly stable, and wider than a real ramp would be.   Nooooooo.  And they turn into india-rubber dogs if I try to pick up one of them or a part of one of them and put it on the ramp.


wriggly twenty-eight pound parcels

(*snort*) You have it so easy…    Your karma demands that you fall in love with a giant breed puppy next…

How are giant breeds’ attitude toward FOOD?  If you guarantee it WILL EAT . . . sure.  I’m sure I need to be raising a giant-breed puppy when I’m eighty.  I’m already thinking that if I’m blisteringly stupid enough to want more sighthounds again some day . . . I’m definitely going to adopt a greyhound, because when I go to the rescue place and fill out all the paperwork and get cross-examined about my suitability as a dog owner and then they ask me what I want I will say one that eats.  It can have three legs and one eye and be nineteen years old and need a ramp to get into the car . . . if it eats I’m happy to give it a home.

Diane in MN

Pav will be thirteen months old and BEGINNING TO SHOW SOME SENSE. Er . . . right?

Well, hope springs eternal, but we generally figure puppies are puppies until they’re two.

Yes, that’s true of smaller dogs too.  Whippets and whippet-based lurchers need two years before you want to think about making any assumptions.  But they can BEGIN to show some sense before then.  And Pav is slightly less manic than she was seven months ago.  Slightly.  The cottage kitchen is way too small for any kind of significant rioting, which has meant that the only way all three of them can be loose in it is when I’ve got Pav in a body lock.  She is now capable of cruising for as much as ten minutes before anyone hits flashpoint.

Because of Alicia being here poor Pavlova was in her crate more than usual yesterday so HA HA HA HA I’M SO FUNNY as a special treat I let her help me garden for about half an hour this afternoon.  But even as I was fishing her out of the compost bucket and preventing her from eating the roses^^ and discouraging her from helping me dig holes, I was thinking, this is still a lot better than it would have been even a month ago.  I wouldn’t have tried a month ago, even if we’d had any weather that might have made me want to.

^ Sighthounds are famous for being bad eaters.  There certainly are sighthounds that tuck in like . . . like, say, bull terriers.+  But believing food to be optional is a common sighthound trait.

+ And a fat sighthound is a sorry sight.

^^ She frelling targets roses.  There can be half a dozen plants immediately at hellterror height and she goes for the roses.

** Vitamin D?  Oh, I take pills.

*** I failed to inveigle Alicia into walking the Three Evil Sisters’ gauntlet yesterday.  She barely came out into the garden at all and turned around and fled back indoors again at the earliest opportunity.  Hmmph.  Just because her garden is a marvel of neatness and organisation and advance planning and a functioning greenhouse is no reason to be haughty.

†  Now my back will start to hurt, you know?  It’s been remarkably patient with all the bending and squatting and kneeling.

†† http://www.interhort.com/products/tr_101011_fish_blood&&bone_25kgs.php



A few days in Venice – city of canals, guest post by Cathy R


I visited Venice for the first time in March, on a photography group holiday, and absolutely loved it!

Several hundred photos later, here are just a very few that I thought blog readers might like to see. This post is mainly water and canal based – appropriately enough, for a first post about Venice!


The Grand Canal – a truly magical waterway. And a very busy one.


This guy seems pretty nonchalant about it all.


Narrow, enticing side canals, often too narrow for powerboats.


Dozing in the late afternoon sun …


Most of the gondoliers were in these traditional stripey tops and hats.


Gondola detail.


The Rialto Bridge, with a bustling fruit and fish market on the right bank – more photos of which later.


Canalside buildings dating back to the 1300s. Often shabby, peeling and decaying, but utterly picturesque and romantic.


In a city of water, what better way to see it than from water level? We had a fantastic day kayaking. Paddling along the Grand Canal was utterly magical.


My little camera met its maker, unfortunately, shortly afterwards. I dropped it into the puddle of salty water on my spray deck (whilst trying to quickly get out of the way of an oncoming gondola and panicking in a most unbecoming manner!).


Fortunately our guide, Rene, had a waterproof camera and took loads of great shots of us both, this one included. Kayaks go where other boats can’t!


What a superb day.


Wow wow wow wow wow.  –Ed.



Warm Sunday


It’s been another beautiful spring day . . . we’ve had an actual SPRING WEEKEND, what’s gone wrong?*  The gods of anarchy must be off playing golf on Betelgeuse or something.  I hurtled hellhounds over to Old Eden and there were lots of dazed, blinking people on the footpaths wondering what had hit them and like feeling the air for, I don’t know, incipient sleet or something.  Nobody except official card-carrying Ramblers** actually carry maps any more—the dazed and blinking are all carrying their smartphones.  Some things don’t change however:  I was asked for directions three times*** by people staring bewilderedly at their smartphones, and my directions in each case began with some version of ‘first you turn around’.

* * *

* Alicia

My greenhouse is also full of small green things yearning to be outside in the ground. I keep telling them to wait a bit yet or they’ll get a nasty chill and then it would be tears before bedtime!

Also?  Also?  My greenhouse is full of buckets of sand and teetering pre-avalanches of all the stuff that used to be on shelves on the other wall which are not only a cataclysm waiting to happen in their own right but I can’t find anything that I know used to be there and I can’t REACH anything on the shelves behind which (theoretically) should be still more or less as they were before the Wall Trauma began.  Not to mention the risk to life and unbroken limbs that negotiating passing through the greenhouse is at present.  And furthermore I haven’t heard from Atlas.  If he doesn’t come tomorrow and put my shelves back up I may move to an eighth-floor flat.^

But because I am smarting from the jolly description of your splendid greenhouse with its rows and rows of nurtured and pampered seedlings I will just mention in passing that I’ve been tying up the Three Evil Sisters and a short person could probably now walk down that path unmolested.^^  I do not lose gracefully.  It behoves everyone to remember this.

^ And teach the hellcritters to use litter boxes.


Argh, you are making me want to garden. Stop making me want to garden! My poor apartment has nowhere for plants to go!

Windowsills.  Window boxes.  You’re getting no sympathy from me.  There’s a gizmo out there I almost bought a couple of years ago that was called something like Indoor Garden and it was a big tray thing with a grow-light built in over it so the whole deal was free-standing and you could put it anywhere you could plug it in.  They were advertising it for short veg—lettuce and herbs, say—you could probably grow some prone tomatoes.  Or you could just buy a grow-light and hang it over your kitchen/dining table.+  This option is no longer available to me because I have a hellterror (and only one table).++

Right outside my door gets pretty much no sunlight,

Begonias.  Fuchsias.  Camellias.  Foxgloves.  Ferns.  Hostas.  Heucheras.  I could go on a long time, you know.

and all the usable garden space has been claimed by tenants who have been there longer than I. All I have managed is to wodge in a few pots for tomatoes in the front lawn, and I know one of my neighbors at least is quite resentful of them.

Offer him/her a tomato?

+ There may be fancy (read:  expensive) grow-lights out there but the ones in my price range have to hang close to what they’re shining on.  Hence a table.  This also prevents you from walking on your seedlings and constantly clanging into the wretched grow-light.  The winter I had mine in the sitting-room at the cottage I had bruises.  Okay, more bruises than usual.

++ Although I have moved the hellterror crate off the table# onto the floor . . . neither she nor I is totally happy with the new arrangement.  Her view isn’t nearly as good down there, and it’s a small dark kitchen anyway—and she is still Mayhem on four little furry feet so she has to spend any time I can’t keep an eye on her in her crate.  When the Winter Table comes down## I’m going to try shoving the hellhounds’ crate around a little and see if there is any alternative.  I have already blocked off two cupboards in my small kitchen by the fact of having the first frelling critter crate.  Siiiiiiigh.

Also . . . when I had her on the table, she used to BURST out the door and fly into my arms, oof.  And . . . she misses being carried.  Especially in the mornings when we haven’t SEEN EACH OTHER FOR AT LEAST SIX HOURS.  She’d launch herself out of the floor-level crate and immediately start scrabbling up my leg and crying.  So now I get down on the floor when I open the crate in the morning, she bounds gladly into my arms . . . AND THEN I HAVE TO STAND UP CARRYING A FRELLING HEAVY HELLTERROR.  She’s very happy.  She hooks her front paws over my forearms, licks my face, and beats my ribs with her tail.  It’s interesting about tails.  The hellhounds’ tails are long and whippy and they sting if they whack you.  The hellterror’s tail is short and muscular and it’s like being thumped with a truncheon.

But you only have critters at all if you’re demented, so superfluous carriage of wriggly twenty-eight pound parcels is all in the day’s adventures.###

# I didn’t do it sooner because I WAS WAITING FOR SPRING.  She’s only a puppy, she’s not large, there’s only one of her and there are DRAFTS down there.

## Which is apparently not going to be any time soon.  I had everything and its best friend indoors again last night . . . and I believe we are going to repeat this delightful cotillion tonight.  ARRRRRRGH.  When my [tender] dahlia cuttings arrive I am so dead. ~

~ I always order way too many dahlia cuttings.  Even years I’m being pretty good about plant orders . . . I order too many dahlia cuttings.

### Feh etc.

^^ Alicia is not short.  But she’s shorter than I am.

** http://www.ramblers.org.uk/

Yes, I am, because they lobby for stuff like keeping footpaths open, but I’ve never been on a group walk.  I’m thinking about it now however because I think the hellterror would enjoy it, as the hellhounds would not.

*** Person walking dogs is usually a good bet for local pedestrian directions, by the time I open my mouth and my American accent falls out it’s too late, and before they start edging away I’m usually already giving them quite decent (local pedestrian) directions.  It’s when they say things like ‘London’ or ‘the Taj Mahal’ that I have to stop and think about it first.

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