July 31, 2013

Mostly Audiobooks. And a little ranting.




So especially since Peter never writes me guest blogs any more and what are husbands for, anyway?, I thought I would borrow his new post for his site . . . about audiobooks.


And, yes:  tricky, the selection process for readers.  . . . Oh, frell, I do have things to say about audiobooks.  But not tonight.  THERE’S THIS CHAPTER . . . **

* * *

* Never mind which chapter.  And never mind what’s happening.  I realise it would come as a shock if the truth about being a writer were ever revealed to the public at large:  you all know that we go to bed late^ and get up very very late^^ and then hang around in our dressing-gowns eating chocolate and drinking champagne and/or very very black tea^^^ and occasionally going into a trance during which the Muse dictates the next chapter(s) of our WIP(s).  Which is why we all have boundless time and energy for superfluous pursuits like gardening, singing, bell ringing, knitting, reading other people’s books and keeping our rather too many dogs magnificently fit from lengthy daily hurtles.^^^^  You know all that, right?  So the idea that a writer might work too hard would make you helpless with laughter, right?  That by the end of a day with too much bending over the computer in it she might feel like wet cardboard and/or something a hellterror has been chewing is totally alien to your rich understanding of the authorial life?  . . . Sigh.

^ Ahem

^^ If this meant I was actually getting some sleep I’d be all for it

^^^ Balance is very important to the creative spirit

^^^^ And because the Muse dictates, thus taking all that exhausting responsibility off our shoulders, we never ever get in over our heads with some competing creative endeavour, even a little one.  Say, doodling.  And what about all those songs I want to write?  —I should not, in fact, be taking voice lessons or playing the piano:  but in the first place, try and stop me, and in the second place, I’m pretty awful+, which is kind of its own defense.  Both my drawing and my song-writing might just conceivably get somewhere if I had the spare brain and heart energy to put into them.

+ Yesterday’s voice lesson:  siiiiiiiiigh.  Clearly I shouldn’t have said out in public that singing for Oisin last Friday hadn’t been too bad.  You’d think I could get away with not too bad, wouldn’t you?  Nooooooo.  On Monday Watching the Wheat wasn’t too bad.  But then Linden Lea . . . was too bad.  SIIIIIIIGH.  I froze up for some reason and started doing my patented vocal impression of fingernails on a blackboard.  Arrrrrgh.  Nadia suggested I take notes, the next time I sing well, that’s ‘well’, at home, of what I’d done to get there, and we’ll try and replicate it next week.  I was thinking about that today.  First, have had a voice lesson recently.  Yesterday is good.  Have sung at least enough to preserve that ‘sung in’ sensation yesterday evening.  Sing like a mad thing today whilst hurtling your variety of hellcritters.  Learning new lyrics is good because it takes your mind off worrying about the quality of the noise you’re making.  Have fun.  Oh.  Yeah.  This is why I’m doing it, isn’t it?  It’s not like I’m planning on starting a band# or auditioning to sing Mrs Lovett.##  But the point is I tend to do my best singing at home in the rush following Monday’s voice lesson, even if the lesson itself was not of the finest.  By Thursday I’m starting to slip, which is the other part of why I have this ingrained habit of bottling out of singing for Oisin on Friday.  Then it’s all downhill over the weekend till a fresh new Monday.  Feh.###

# A sort of Steeleye Span tribute band with a few extras.  There Is A Tavern in the Town.  Copperhead Road.  Che Faro Senza Eurydice.

## Although I’m going to learn The Worst Pies in London.  If there were some fool willing to be Sweeney, we could learn A Little Priest.

### Hmm.  Well, there are a couple of things I do at home that I don’t do for Nadia.  I mean that I’d be willing to admit to . . .

** And if I’m still alive at the end of it I want to sing.

Tired. Also of watering.



I AM SO TIRED OF WATERING.  TIRED.  WATERING.  OF.  ARRRRRRRRGH.  We were supposed to have thunderstorms over the weekend.  We were supposed to have TORRENTIAL RAIN!  We were supposed to have sporadic downpours, some of them heavy, today!

WE HAVE HAD NONE OF THESE THINGS.  We had two minor bursts of real rain which according to my rain gauge total a little under a quarter inch.  This is not entirely negligible . . . but NEARLY.  I heard some distant thunder while I was at the monks’ Saturday evening.  Nothing else happened.  And we do really, really, really need rain—anything that isn’t a garden tended by a (possibly) obsessive and irascible gardener is brown.  I HATE WATERING.  WATERING ISN’T GARDENING.  WATERING IS A BORING BORING BOOOOOOOORING TIME SUCK.  And while you’re wasting all your gardening time lugging cans of water* around the jungle that you had so laboriously somewhat brought under control is rioting freely again.

Side stair at the cottage.  Blooming.

Side stair at the cottage. Blooming.


That pink rose in the upper slightly left of centre?  Geoff Frelling Hamilton

That pink rose in the upper slightly left of centre? Geoff Frelling Hamilton

Snarl.  I took advantage of a rose sale last winter.  I wrote all over my order NO SUBSTITUTIONS.  They sent me a sub anyway**.  This one.  Grrrrrrr.  So, okay, climbing pink rose.  I’ll live.


Blah blah blah Geoff Hamilton blah blah blah

Blah blah blah Geoff Hamilton blah blah blah


Love love love sweet peas.  Only buy the smelliest ones.  The scent engulfs you as you start up the front steps.

Love love love sweet peas. I only buy the smelliest ones. The scent engulfs you as you start up the front steps.


Now let us discuss my amazing year of volunteer snapdragons.  These little guys are growing out of ROCK.

Now let us discuss my amazing year of volunteer snapdragons. These little guys are growing out of ROCK.

I do splash some water around and there’s a little trash soil from crumbling mortar and what falls out of my pots, but they’re basically growing out of ROCK.

See the little green fringe all along this level?  There are some on the opposite shelf too.  THEY'RE ALL SNAPDRAGONS.

See the little green fringe all along this level? There are some on the opposite shelf too. THEY’RE ALL SNAPDRAGONS.

And they’re all frelling thriving, in their miniature way.  Ordinary garden snapdragons, which are a lot bigger of course, are also thirsty.  Geraniums will put up with a surprising amount of drought:  snapdragons won’t.  First they wilt and then they develop mildew.  And this year’s astonishing crop of volunteers must be all garden offspring, and first generation so far as I know, unless snapdragon seed lies in the ground/mortar/flint shelf until suitable conditions occur, like decades-old poppies waiting for the plough.

This one's growing out of a BRICK STAIR.

This one’s growing out of a BRICK STAIR.

It’s certainly enough to make you a really untidy gardener for the rest of your (gardening) life.  Especially if you’re that way inclined anyway.  But this one is clinging to the few grains of soil in the unswept-out whorl of the rubber stair treads.

Actually there's two of them.  The first photo is from about ten days ago.  This one is today.  Nice of them to be sequential, don't you think?

Actually there’s two of them. The first photo is from about ten days ago. This one is today. Nice of them to be sequential, don’t you think?


Front step again, about a week later, and from a slightly different angle.

Stair-side front of cottage again, about a week later, and from a slightly different angle.

But I’m not exactly wasting my time with all that dratblasted watering, am I?

 * * *

* The problems of Hosepipe Management in something the size and intensity of planting of the cottage garden are debatably worse than just gritting my teeth and bowing to the inevitability of can haulage.^  I do use a sprinkler occasionally but by the time I’m thinking about it we’re probably into drought conditions and it feels illegal even if it isn’t.

^ I can do a fair amount of damage with my big feet when I stagger in the wrong direction, but on the whole I leave fewer swathes of destruction carrying watering-cans than when I’m trying to cope with a frelling+ hose.  Also with a dingleframping++ hellterror about the place you have to roll and/or hoick the thing out of reach every time you’re finished using it or at least before the hellterror is loose again.

+ Didn’t some polite newcomer on the forum recently ask where ‘frelling’ came from, that she’d used it in company and got stared at?  RAISE YOUR CHIN AND TELL THEM IT’S A PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE COINAGE FROM FARSCAPE.  You can google it.  And I should pick up ‘dren’ while I’m at it.

++ And sometimes, when I’m feeling somewhat pent and fraught I just make something up.  The presence of a hellterror can make one feel pent and fraught rather easily.  Ask Darkness.

** When I protested they told me I could send it back.  Uh huh.  Sure.  That’s totally practical.

Circum-training the American West: part 1, guest post by abigailmm


It’s not Machu Picchu at dawn, and it’s for sure not CathyR’s gorgeous pictures of Venice. But they do say quantity is its own form of quality, and when you have travelled over 6000 miles by train, you have seen a heck of a lot of scenery. Even if the way you have to share most of it is with pictures taken through a train window with a cell phone.

For ten years, since I had to cancel attendance at my 30th college reunion at the very last second, I have been planning to make the 40th. Then I broke my ankle last year. Also my family ataxia*, which I had been hoping was not in my genes, showed up after all. So getting to Pomona was looking a bit dicey. However, I ascertained that a 15-day Amtrak rail pass was affordable, meaning airports and rental cars could be avoided. And as the registration deadline approached, I went for it.

The Amtrak Texas Eagle leaves Dallas at noon, and makes slow progress south. Unlike in days of yore, the passenger train has no priority, and waits any time the freight schedule has a hiccup. Eventually, in the middle of the night in San Antonio, it hooks up with the Sunset Limited out of New Orleans and proceeds west across west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to get to Los Angeles at dawn, 30 hours out of San Antonio. The previous stop, Pomona, California, was mine, a fairly short cab ride from my hotel.


trinity bridgenifty newish bridge over the Trinity River in west Dallas at the start
brazosapproaching the Brazos River in central Texas — on May 1 the countryside’s still greenish


w tx dawndawn in west Texas


Sanderson txSanderson, Texas. Wonder who decides which little wide places in the road get train stops?


desertwest Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. They sort of ran together, but the red-flowered Ocotillo is definitely in Arizona. The center photo (N.M.?) has a small barrel cactus in the right center foreground.There was a longish stop in Tucson near sunset; I got off and found a Subway for supper.


baldyFor four years of my life Mount Baldy was my compass, defining north. I was briefly confused, when I came out of the Claremont Lodge in daylight**, which way to head to campus. Then I saw the  mountains and all was clear.***

farm stand and hiveSome of the students# have an Organic Farm, with a farm stand on Friday afternoons outside the student union.  Notice the hand at the left holding a small jar of honey. Later I toured, and was given a lovely sweet sticky taste of comb just out of the hive.

When I attended Pomona at 18-22, I didn’t have the gardening experience to appreciate that everything blooms, all the time! My botany professors never had any problem producing whatever plant family they needed for lab that week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoses and Dianthus at the Student Union – the Coop.  And eucalypts are everywhere.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalso the bikes breed…


class of 68As the Parade of Classes got organized, the Class of ’68 put our Class of ’73 to shame with their protest signs.##


to be continued – over 4000 miles to go

– – – –  – – – – – – – – –  – – –

*  Inherited ataxia is a late-developing cerebellar condition that, in my case, messes up my speech and my balance.

**  having checked in about 5:30am

*** The air was clear too, they have improved the smog situation in 40 years. Back then, there were lots of days when you couldn’t SEE Baldy.

# When I attended my 20th reunion in ’93, all the students looked like babies to me; this time they seemed like normal young folks. I guess then I was still feeling a little like a student myself, and now I know I aren’t one ;-)

## If you’re puzzled by the right-hand sign, the Pomona teams are the Sagehens. Cecil Sagehen is their mascot, and his fighting yell is, of course, “CHIRP!”

KES, 89



His gaze locked with Serena’s briefly and the ambient local temperature went up about fifty degrees.  Then he was walking away and it was April in New Iceland again and my nose was cold.  “Nice guy,” I said experimentally.

“Don’t you start,” said Serena.

“Ah?” I said.  “Start?” I added, preparing to back away quickly if she took a swing at me.

She sighed.  “I have to go back to work.  You’re not going to get the story out of me today.  But yeah.  Nice guy.  Lorraine’s, you turn left out of the parking lot here, a block back on Dane, right on McIntyre, and it’s next to the craft shop which, last time I looked, had fuzzy purple acrylic yarn in the window.”

“You know,” I said, “there’s a theory that some of the dinosaurs were really bright colors.”

“Okay, purple,” said Serena.  “But fuzzy?”

“Art creates its own reality,” I said, thinking about attack mushrooms and mummified possum hearts.

“You are so from out of town,” said Serena.  “Go away before I forget how to be polite to strangers.”

“Yes ma’am,” I said, and picked up Sid’s lead.  I wouldn’t be able to hang around for Lorraine’s cross-examination if I had a dog tied to the parking meter or lamppost outside her door.  The three of us straggled across the parking lot together.  At the curb we paused.  “Good luck,” said Serena.  She hesitated.  “You have my phone number too.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “The memory of that pear and ginger crumble will keep me strong and brave.”

She grinned.  “That’ll be because the pears were picked by a crack troop of apprentice ninjas.  Apparently fruit-picking is a really good way of practising your shuriken technique.  So they tell me.  Let me know how it goes with the new house and everything.”

“I will,” I said.  Especially the everything. But I didn’t say this out loud.

She hesitated again.  “This would be a bad time to make a joke about things that go bump in the night, right?”

“A very bad time,” I said.  Feelingly.

“You aren’t buying milk for a hob, by any chance, are you?” said Serena.

I didn’t say anything.

“Okay, you write fantasy for a living, maybe you just think in terms of milk for the hob, moving into a new house.  And the old military dress sword you bought at a garage sale because it looked like it might be enchanted is leaning against the wall next to the front door.  So maybe you don’t already have reason for thinking Rose Manor has—or needs—a hob.”

“I don’t have a sword,” I said.  “And I didn’t pack the chef’s knife because it was too big and threatening-looking.  Pancakes are good.  Scrambled eggs.  Hamburgers.”   The Manhattan penthouse hadn’t had a hob.  It had had Joe the Doorman.  You didn’t put milk out for him.  You gave him a whopping bonus at Christmas.  I hoped a rural hob would get by on milk.

“I kept telling myself that I was getting a nice house cheap because it was haunted,” said Serena after a pause.  “I did waste some time trying to avoid the cold spot in the hall, but it didn’t like being avoided and not knowing where it was going to be was worse than just walking through it.”

“Did the ticking thing in the living room ever . . . do anything else?”

“No,” said Serena.  “But I have a son.  It’s easy to blame funny noises on resident offspring and their friends.  When he was little he used to roar a lot.  Now he’s older he mainly just collides with things.  Including the floor he’s walking on.  His friends have similar talents.  And feet.”

“At least I have a dog,” I said.  “Maybe I could teach her to roar.”

“At least you have a dog,” said Serena.  She and Sid looked at each other.  I saw out of the corner of my eye Sid essaying a small tail-wag, and I saw Serena’s face soften, not unlike the way she’d looked at Mike when he said he’d told JoJo they can always use a good mechanic.  Good.  Maybe she’d forgive all of us if Sid and Gus hit it off a little too well.

I could feel the seconds ticking by.  It was a tickly sensation like spiders walking on your skin.  It was not a pleasant tickly sensation—like spiders walking on your skin.  JoJo had taken the van back to Manhattan.  I was stranded here—with my new house, my new vehicle and my new dog.  My first night as a resident had begun.

I was probably staring blankly into space, thinking about spiders.   Serena touched my arm.  “It gets easier.”

I looked at her and tried to smile.

“I know I keep saying that.  I’m going to keep saying it till you don’t need to hear it any more,” said Serena.

“Okay,” I said.

“The hob’ll like the milk,” said Serena.  “Us rural creatures are simple folk.”

This was so close to what I had been thinking I really did smile.  And tried not to let my heart sink as Serena climbed the steps to the office door, leaving us behind.

It was nearly dark already.


Happy 22nd



Days lurch and trundle their own frelling way.  We were going out to dinner tonight because it’s our (first) 22nd anniversary* and I know I got up late** but somehow the day GOT AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAY from me . . . and having brought the hurtling second shift home and discovering I had TEN MINUTES to get dressed to go out, came pelting panting back downstairs again eleven minutes later . . . and Pooka started barking.***  It was the taxi service saying that the taxi despatched to convey us had broken down and it would be at least another fifteen minutes before they could get another one to us.  Oh.  Frell.  I could have hurtled farther.  I could have done more watering.†  I could have worn something more interesting.  Meanwhile Peter had already left the mews to go stand in the road, waiting to be picked up, and hadn’t taken his mobile with him.  If the wind had been just slightly more in the right direction he would have heard me cursing his name without any technological enhancement necessary.  I rang the restaurant.  I paced the floor.  I kept covering up the frelling hellterror’s crate because she responds to jumpiness in the hellgoddess by barking and only Pooka is allowed to bark in this household.  And uncovering her again because it’s too hot to leave her swaddled for long.††

But it’s cooled off a lot, for the moment.  I took a fetching little jacket with me to the restaurant . . . and then it was UNBELIEVABLY HOT in the restaurant.  Arrrrgh.  It’s not that we didn’t know it’s not air conditioned, it’s our standard top-end††† restaurant and we go there two or three times a year.  But there was no cross-ventilation despite open windows and the fans were dragging their blades through the thick air like stirring custard.  Even our teach-Robin-to-play bridge hands were possessed by demons.  Fortunately it was a small table so when they brought our food we had to clear the cards away.

But the champagne was gloriously cold.  And twenty-two years is twenty-two years.  And worth celebrating.‡  Yaay us.

* * *

*The second one is in January.  This is our the-meeting-that-counts anniversary, when I went to pick up my slight acquaintance, that rather odd fellow, Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine, airport, having offered to show him a bit of Maine.  Saw him walk through the door^, blinked once or twice and went, oops.  The rest is history.  Six months later we got married.

^ It’s a small airport, or it was in those days, and you just walk across the tarmac from your plane to the door beside the luggage carrel, where if you’re very very lucky your luggage will eventually appear.

** When do I ever not get up late??  Note that virtuously not reading off the iPad^ and adhering dutifully to hard copy is not having any effect on the sleep deficit.

^ Although I have bad news:  I bought a waterproof envelope thingy for Astarte . . . and it works just fine.  So I can lie in the bath and read digitally.  Rats.  Mistake.  Although if I’m going to make a habit of it I’m going to have also to buy one of those horrible cross-bath platform things to rest her on:  an iPad weighs, after the first ten minutes or so.  But the Horrible Cross-Bath platform things are usually crappy cheap wire and hideous.  We had one at the old house which Peter wouldn’t let me get rid of, like he ever read in the bath, or drank tea/coffee/whisky or burned a candle or whatever the frell you put in all those stupid pockets, and I was THRILLED to get rid of it when we moved.+  Maybe they’ve improved.  Maybe I can just use a plank or something. . . .

+Hey.  You take your thrills where you can find them.

*** Yes, my iPhone ringtone is a barking dog.  The hellterror reacts less often than she used to.  I may not have to change it after all.  Meanwhile my landline is dead.  I have no idea.  Siiiiiiigh.  I really hate BT.  They’ve been dorking me around for as long as I’ve lived here, although dead is a little extreme.

† We’re supposed to have torrential rains tomorrow.  That must be making everybody in this area who’s planning to get married tomorrow wildly happy.  Including the party I’m supposed to be ringing for at Forza.  I will probably get a lot of knitting done waiting for the bride, who left her umbrella in Berkshire and has gone back to retrieve it.  When it’s time to go to my monks, I go, whether she’s arrived yet and been rung for or not.

†† Also, the more she’s out of her crate, the more she thinks she should be out.  And while I can knit or write emails with her loose about the place, I can’t work with her cruising for excitement.  But this means that every time a hellhound comes out of his crate, at will, for a stretch or a drink or a mosey, there is an eruption of protest from another corner:  Hey!  His door is open!  My door is closed!  My door could be open too!  In fact I’m sure it should be open!  I’m sure you just haven’t noticed that it’s inappropriately closed so let me draw your attention to this unfortunate fact so you can RECTIFY it at your EARLIEST CONVENIENCE!  Let me rephrase that:  at your earliest!  Never mind the convenience part!

††† And while we huddle around the bottom of that top end, it still caters to people who want to spend £150 on a bottle of champagne to go with their single caviar canapé for £65.

‡ And furthermore I sang for Oisin today.  No, I haven’t, in yonks and yonks.  Possibly not since the hellcritter digestion crisis began.  I didn’t need the extra dratblasted strain.  The problem with Oisin, as I keep saying, is that he’s not only a professional accompanist, he’s a friend, and I don’t like torturing my friends.  Nadia, this last week, said that if he were someone else I’d just find different excuses.  This is, I think, only about half correct . . . but still.  Probably half.  So I took some music along today and after Oisin scraped himself off the floor where he had fallen in astonishment . . . It was not too bad.  I lost less of my voice from terror, cowardice and not-good-enough-ness than previously.  Nadia keeps reminding me there’s anywhere from a six month to a (probably) eighteen month lag between what I can do in a lesson with her tweaking me and anything or anywhere else, and poor Oisin counts, in my tiny snivelling mind, as performance, and with my personality?  Performance?^

But it was not too bad.  I can probably even do it again. . . .

^ Remind me why I think I want to join a choir I can make some difference to?

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