May 19, 2014

Summer is icumen in*


Poor Nadia emailed yesterday that she had tonsillitis**,  so I phoned Atlas and asked him to bring his trailer today, Monday being his usual McKinley-Dickinson day, and I’m usually having a voice lesson.***  But now that I’m NOT letting Third House, the garden is again mine.#  So I thought I might send some of the botanical overflow from the cottage to Third House, whose borders are nothing like full since the awful truth is that living in three houses is Not Really Practical.  Ahem.  At least not unless you have staff which is not one of the options here.  And while Atlas to cut the grass is great## if you have a garden because you like gardening you don’t really want someone else doing all the fun stuff, which is basically everything but mowing lawns.###

The trailer is about eight foot by four, if you're wondering.

The trailer is about eight foot by four, if you’re wondering.

Atlas, grinning hugely, said, So, Robin, what are you going to do with all the SPACE?  –SPACE?  WHAT SPACE?  You can still only get out the kitchen door at the cottage carefully.  You can barely tell anything’s changed.  Especially after I spent the remainder of the afternoon at the cottage, potting up and potting on.~  Things race out so, this time of year, with summer icumen and all.  I also found, not to say unearthed, a good Wolfgang’s boot-load of plants that should have gone up in the trailer.  Except there wasn’t room.  Tomorrow.  I can take them up tomorrow ~~.  Tomorrow I may teach Fiona the basics of gardening.~~~

* * *

* And I wish the cuckoo would sing, they’re getting rarer and rarer.  When I moved over here twenty-odd years ago they were dead common.  They’re now dead rare.  I hope they don’t finish this progression to dead dead.

** It’ll be good when everyone’s immune system adjusts to kids-in-school germs.  Stella still goes down with everything on offer and generously passes about half of it on to her mother.  And there’s Renfrew to add to the germ-factory joy in a couple of years.

*** It is really very annoying that the world does not revolve around me, so I could schedule everything to suit my convenience.

# All right, I’m going to have to share it with Peter.  Our garden.  Not some random rent-paying stranger’s garden.

## I used to the mow the little lawns–ie with a hand mower, not some snarling sit-on behemoth–in the walled garden at the old house AND IT’S ABOUT THE MOST BORING THING EVER.

### Almost everything.  Battling perennial weeds with roots to China is also a major ratbag since I won’t use chemical -icides.

~ I need more potting compost.  Sigh.

~~ Okay, so I buy too many plants like I buy too much yarn and too many books and music and . . . but I have a serious dahlia problem this year. Which is that I think all of last year’s are still alive.  And of course I ordered more, because attrition can be expected to run anywhere from about 60% to 100%.  Little green dahlia leaves in one of last year’s pots are usually cause for excitement and celebration not a blank look of disbelief and a muttered, another one?

~~~ First you buy your Royal Horticultural Society/Victoria & Albert Museum kneeler, with the fabulous William Morris or Redoubte rose print, and then you need your pink gloves^. . . .

^ They’ve started making pink hand tools but so far the ones I’ve seen appear to be for people who don’t actually . . . plan to use them.  Hmmph.  Who wants tools that don’t do the job??  Decorative tools?  Spare me.  Although I’m just as happy not to spend top-end prices on another pair of secateurs.  If Felco comes out with pink secateurs I’m in trouble.

In which Life Sort of Replicates Art


. . . wherein dropping your music all over the stage is like not getting killed because your enchanted sword, your equally enchanted bracelet-shield and your mighty war-horse have you covered, not to mention a regiment of Falcons coming to your aid.

Because St Margaret’s is short of musicians cough cough cough cough and are not fussy about the quality of their volunteers and because (almost) Any Fool Can Sing and I’m certainly somewhat less of a fool and more of a singer than I was two or three years ago, I’ve been signing myself up on the rota to sing every other week.  Tonight was one of my microphone nights.

Not till yesterday—there’s kind of a lot going on*—I suddenly thought OH MY NEON STROBING WHATSIT, I HAVEN’T HAD THE PLAYLIST FOR SUNDAY YET.  I scrambled on line to check who the music leader for the evening was—Samantha—and discovered . . . that my name wasn’t on the rota.  It’s there for a fortnight from now but not for tonight.  ARRRRRGH.  SOFTWARE HATES ME.  Not that this is news or anything.**  But they were still short of singers, so I emailed Buck. . . .


Buck emailed back that they’d be glad to have me, and forwarded Samantha’s music-leader email from earlier that day—yesterday—saying that SHE HADN’T DECIDED YET.  But that her final choice would PROBABLY be from AMONG THE FOLLOWING 1,000,000,000 possibles. . . .


I arrived tonight already beginning to hyperventilate and found Buck and Samantha arguing about key signatures.  Samantha is an alto and always wants stuff pitched extra low.  Okay, I can bellow, but there are two or three notes in the middle where I can’t get much noise either from chest or head voice . . . and of course those are the two or three notes most used in tonight’s selection . . . which Samantha was still swapping around.  Fortunately Janey was there too;  I might very well have been reduced to making fish mouths if I hadn’t been standing next to someone singing what I was supposed to sing—Samantha is up at the front of the stage as leader, she’s no use.  Practise started late and got bogged down in key signature changes and esoterica like bridges.  Hey, you sing one verse, and then you sing another verse, and then you go on to the next song, okay?  It’s not like it’s Mozart or something.†

But because we kept coming adrift over superfluities like what the guitar or the keyboard was supposed to be playing we didn’t get to sing everything and raced over two songs saying oh we don’t have to practise those, we know those and I’m saying NO WE DON’T.  I DON’T KNOW THEM and they’re saying OH YES YOU DO.  YOU’LL REMEMBER AS SOON AS WE START.  And I’m saying GLEEEEEEEEP.

So I’m in a weakened condition when I totter off the stage to fetch my standard cup of Crimson Glory tea†† and then sit down for a moment before the service begins, and on my way to the kitchen I am WAYLAID by the Greeter Steward Person who (among other tasks) usually has the perhaps less than happy duty of ensnaring readers:  there are two (Bible) readings per service and therefore two readers are necessary.  Wouldn’t you like to do a READING tonight? she said.  Erm.  Well, I don’t mind, and—as mentioned on these virtual pages several times previously—the thing about getting involved with a church community is that you want to be careful to pitch in on the stuff you don’t mind doing or sure as eggs is eggs [sic] you’ll get nailed for stuff you do mind.  So I said yes.

I managed to miss the band intro because I was still staring at the floor from my chair during opening prayers and I look up and everybody else is on stage and they’d already begun by the time I stumbled up the frelling stair and grabbed my microphone.  Since the first song is one of the ones I don’t know nobody was missing much.†††

Janey and I were sharing a music stand which would be okay except for the part about how it’s not quite wide enough.  Our sheet music is in plastic covers, and three-pagers fold out, and the music stand is only two pages wide, and the plastic covers are floppy.  So I cleverly borrowed a stiff notebook to widen the music stand a bit so we could see all three pages at the same time, since sometimes you go back to the beginning for the next verse, you know?  Arrrgh.‡  And for the last song, which was a three-pager, I was delicately arranging it and then twisting the stand slightly so Janey could see it too and I managed to drop all the rest of the music all over the stage in a snowstorm of pages AAAAAAAUUGH KILL ME NOW.   So we finish the final song of the set and I’m on my hands and knees frantically scrabbling up pages . . . have I mentioned that the Bible readings come immediately after the singing?  And that I was doing the first reading?

I flung the music back on the stand, fled for my chair—usually sitting in the back of the congregation is fine—and Bible, and shot for the front again where Buck, who did not know who was doing tonight’s readings, was fiddling with the microphone stand and said laconically, in typical Buckminster manner, Hey, I was getting worried.

I read.  I didn’t drop the Bible or get my tongue twisted and say ‘—-’ or ‘—-’ inadvertently.

Not a whole lot else happened.‡‡  I didn’t fall down or throw up or knock over anybody else’s music stand for the final song at the end of the service.  I even got up on stage more or less on time.  But I don’t think the Falcons would have bothered rescuing me.

* * *

* I’ve told you Fiona is coming back this Tuesday to help me further whack Third House into inhabitable condition.  The problem with this is that I need a clue what to ask her to doAside from the standard Oxfam run with the several million more slightly used books in the boot, making her car hunker down like an American moonshine runner.

** And this programme in particular has decided that I am devilspawn and every time I open it it assigns me a Small Blue Flashing Escort Box with Special Powers that follows me around and messes with what I’m doing.  Because you can’t be too careful with devilspawn.  What I want to know is if as we approach Sunday fortnight my name will disappear from that rota too.

*** I write fantasy for a living, you know.  Lots of signs and portents in fantasy.  I like signs and portents.  In fantasy.

† Singing from the front does help my attitude toward Modern Christian Worship Flapdoodle I Mean Music but it hasn’t exactly revolutionised it.


When I started going there, St Margaret’s didn’t have any herb tea bags.  What is the MATTER with these people?!  So I brought them a box of Crimson Glory.  Nobody seems to drink it but me.  I brought them a second box a while back.  The tea ladies see me coming and bring out The Red Box.

††† I should perhaps elucidate that there are two kinds of songs I don’t know.  The ones we practised—not enough—and the ones we didn’t practise.  At all.  Tonight’s first song falls into the first category.

‡ Also one of the songs I half know is too much like another song and it’s one of those with no music at all, just a lyric page so I kept trying to sing the other melody and . . .

‡‡ Except one of the admin—one I don’t usually have much occasion to talk to—made a point of coming up to tell me how well I’d read.  Snork.  It’s Paul, hectoring the Corinthians for immorality.  I can do ranting.

KES, 131



The vision faded;  the clouds were just clouds again.  You wondered if you’d imagined the horses, the riders, the bare-legged woman;  but you and everyone around you were on their feet, all staring in the same direction, beginning to move from stiff, amazed attention, but as if still caught in a dream.  Several people frowned down at whatever was in their hands as if they couldn’t remember why they were holding it.

You looked around, wondering who had shouted Defender!  Old Lamos was still motionless, staring up at what were now only wind-restless clouds, but with an expression of such defenceless, heartsick longing that you had to look away.  There was a half-darned sock in your hands;  you shifted one hand tentatively and were promptly stabbed by the invisible needle.  You hissed through your teeth—just like Dumain—but it gave you an excuse for the fact that your hands were shaking.

The colonel was suddenly there, standing by the fire, weaving her hair into a thick plait and tucking it down her collar—you were sure her hands never trembled.  “We’re riding out,” she said.  “Get your kit together and do it fast.”  The firelight stained her face and hair an ominous, flickering red, struck red glints off her chainmail and laid dark stripes that might have been fresh blood across the leather undercoat.  She could have been some warrior goddess who would protect and save them all without their having to move from the fireside.

But she wasn’t.  She was their colonel, tough and loyal and quick-witted, but only human like the rest of the company.

Everyone began dragging—or, in some cases, fumbling—their things together, their mending, their dice and knucklebones, their whittling, while everyone’s heads filled involuntarily with all the stories they’d ever heard about the Black Tower.  The stories slowed them down, made them clumsy, even the old soldiers, maybe particularly the old soldiers, because they knew the most stories.  Lamos was finally moving, his expression fading to something resembling ordinary weariness, or the ordinary oppression of spirits everyone felt at the Black Tower.  Barolan, who had been with the colonel for nearly as long as you’ve been alive, looked worried and grim.  When the colonel turned her head you could see the scar of the wound that had almost killed her:  it was Barolan who’d carried her out of the battle that day and (so the story went) held the edges of the wound together till there was a surgeon free to stitch it up.  She’d’ve bled to death in a few minutes else.

Barolan’s hands never shook either.  But he wasn’t at ease tonight.

“No-ow?” quavered a voice.

“No, yesterday!” said the colonel briskly, but she could have snapped or given the owner of the voice marks for extra duty—you thought it might be Yoza’s voice, Yoza, who had very bad dreams at the Black Tower—but she didn’t.  Even the colonel, whose hands never shook, understood about the Black Tower, although she did tend to close down the story-telling sessions when they got morbid.

You were remembering some of the morbid ones as you rolled up your darning (having carefully secured the capricious needle) and stuffed it into the saddlebag at your feet.  The story that said the black giant as tall as the sky never spoke because he had no mouth—no throat, no voice—but that the whistling of his sword was as loud as a storm wind, and because he moved as silently as if he had no feet as he had no voice, sometimes you thought it was only the wind—and then you were dead.

There was wind tonight, although it wasn’t storm wind.  But it was probably enough to disguise the approach of a silent lethal giant.

There was another story that the grey almost-nothingness that surrounded the Black Tower (which you had to ride through to get to it, and on that ride there was always something behind you even if you were last in the column, and you and all your friends were trying not to be last in the column, and the horses were all twitchy and skittery and if there was a wind you were expecting to die without warning) was the black giant’s battlefield wasteland.  That he killed so savagely that the blows of his great sword weakened the walls of the world.  That here, where the empty broken land stood testament to his ferocity, there were open wounds in reality’s skin, and their world might bleed to death;  that it was this, in some manner, that their duty patrols were to prevent, although exactly how you had no idea.

Everyone was ready in a surprisingly short time, fetching the rest of their gear, tacking up their horses and leading them to the forming-up area in front of the Black Tower.  The horses should have been drowsing and unwilling to go to work at this hour, but they were awake and alert and eager to leave their stalls, although the stabling was better at the Black Tower than most of their other regular billets.

When you arrived on the meeting ground, the colonel and Barolin and Lamos were already there, staring again at the sky.  The clouds piled up higher and higher and then broke and spilled away from each other in a very un-cloud-like manner:  which way was the wind blowing?  Was it blowing from another world through a rent in the skin of this one?

The rest of the company gathered and stood in silence for a moment—silence except for the wind.  But the wind wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear Barolin clear his throat and say, “Where to?”

You thought Lamos muttered something, but you weren’t sure.  The clouds were roiling, twisting together once more, but this time, when they splintered and scattered you saw the bare-legged woman on her horse again, but they weren’t standing at the head of a company, but alone, terrifyingly alone, and surrounded by enemies.  You watched in astonishment and admiration—no, reverence:  you’d never seen anyone fight as this woman fought, her sword slicing through those who would stand against her like a scythe through standing corn, her left forearm moving so quickly that the wide shining bracelet she wore deflected any blow the might have reached her.  She and her horse clearly knew each other very well;  he was instantly responsive to her legs and seat, the reins loose on his neck as she cut and parried, and he reared and struck, swerved, kicked, and bounded into the air, lashing out with his hind legs.

But she was all alone.  Where were her companions?  Both she and her horse were wet with sweat and blood—not, you thought, all of it their enemies’—even a war-goddess and her war-horse would tire eventually.

“There,” said the colonel calmly.  “The Defender needs us.”

The Incredible Shrinking Living Space


Third House has shrunk.  I should have realised that the shiver in the aether when Peter said ‘okay’ Saturday afternoon was reality contracting.  Oh, and the books on Third House’s shelves have all reproduced.  In fact I think most of them have had litters.  Arrrgh.  I didn’t notice immediately, I was too busy dancing the fandango* and telling Third House we’re finally going to live in it.**

The red-shifted or Dopplered or whatever mystery of physics describes what happens to a house you’re about to start living in*** became dreadfully clear, however, when Fiona† showed up Tuesday morning†† and we tackled the surprising amount of stuff left over from last autumn when I was clearing out toward handing it over to the letting agent.†††  ARRRGH.  Fiona‡ had already agreed to come for a day and make me by her presence GET THE FRELLING FRELL ON WITH IT, when I still thought I was going to be letting it.  But we’ve been haemorrhaging money on storage since last autumn:  get your butt in gear, McKinley.  So I told Fiona that she was to keep repeating:  NEVER MIND. NEVER MIND.   JUST PUT IT IN A BOX AND PICK UP THE NEXT THING.

The angle of approach to the eventual goal has altered, but the merciless bottom line is still that it’s Too Much Stuff and Too Little Space.  But at least it’s our too little space again.

And you know the most amazing thing?  Fiona the B is coming back next Tuesday.‡‡  To do it all over again.  Which includes the fact that doing it all over again is necessary, sigh.  Now if only I could figure out a way to sic her on BT. . .

* * *

* If houses can shrink, I can be two people and dance a fandango

** It’s a nice house.  It should be lived in.  Aside from housing shortages^ I have felt bad for however many years I’ve owned it that I’m/we’re not doing it justice.  At the same time I was pretty discouraged about the prospect of letting it—very sensible, should have done it years ago, but it’s my house.  I want my books on the shelves (and the floor) and my drawing table in the attic.

^ Which I don’t in fact feel very guilty about since one of the many governmental scandals that resurface when there’s nothing newer and hotter to develop migraines over is the number of council houses that stand empty because the local council can’t get its act together to have them set to rights.  This would be less of a scandal if a lot of those local councils didn’t prefer to build new ones . . . which will need repairs shortly.

*** Usually they wait till you start unpacking your 1,000,000,000 boxes, but the situation here is unusual.

† Hereinafter to be known as Fiona the Blessed or possibly Fiona the B.

†† Well . . . um . . . it was still nearly Tuesday morning.  Fiona the B had some silly story about a flat tyre.  I had my usual silly story about non-eating hellhounds and going to bed so wound up I was humming like a gyroscope.

††† Unfortunately the need to do stuff like find out why the toilet tank erratically leaks^ and finally placate the ratblasted TV licensing mob who have suspected me of malfeasance for nearly a decade now^^ and enter into *&^%$£”!”!!!!!!!! negotiations with *&^%$£”!”!!!!!!!! BT^^^ has not evolved in the slightest.

^ and all you DIYers out there, no, it’s not that you just have to difflegag the dorgummer, because if it were the obvious thing(s) Atlas would have done it.

^^ She owns TWO houses and she doesn’t have TV in EITHER of them??  A likely story.

^^^ Jaccairn

Yeah for Peter moving closer! Does this mean you’ll have to resume discussions with BT about the phone line?

Snork.  The things you people remember.  Yes.  BT claims there is no phone line to the house despite the fact that it’s an eighty-year-old cottage in the middle of a several-hundred-year-old village+ and there’s a phone jack in the kitchen.  And that if I want a phone line put in for the first time in eight hundred and fifteen years (approximately) it’s going to cost me a lot of money because they have to start with the Roman aqueduct.++  But Peter has said diffidently that he really does feel he would be happier with a landline . . . and I need my internet.  And even Peter uses email+++.

Pam Adams

I’m sure the hellterror will be happy- another pair of hands to pet her all day long.

???  The hellpack and I are at Peter’s mews more than we’re at the cottage.  We sleep at the cottage# and the hellgoddess imbibes her morning caffeine at the cottage.  Then we schlep down to the mews—pausing to pick Peter up in front of the grocery store because post-stroke he can walk one way into town, not both ways.  I usually try to hurtle critters back to the cottage for a spell in the afternoon to garden, do the laundry, shovel the accumulation of whatever off the stairs, etc.  I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO NOT HAVING TO COMMUTE ANY MORE.  As real commutes go it’s piffle, but it’s just far enough that you can’t nip back for something you’ve forgotten, and whatever you want is probably at the other house.  Hence the whole gruesome business of two knapsacks, three hellcritters and Wolfgang, every frelling day, no weekends and no holidays.  And you’ve still brought the wrong coat.


I love it when procrastinating on something big like renting out Third House turns out to be a huge blessing.

Ha.  Indeed.  Although I wish I’d merely procrastinated about turning the CLEAN SHINY EMPTY FULLY MOD-CONNED### HOUSE over to the nice rental agent rather than having stalled at the gee, wasn’t this supposed to have gone into storage/what about ALL OF THESE BLASTED BOOKS? phase.  Not to mention the overflowing toilet cistern.

Mrs Redboots

That sounds better! So does that mean you will sell your place, too, and move into Third House with Peter?

Good golly no.  Third House is LITTLE.  And littler than it was a week ago too, before Peter said ‘okay’, see above.  It only had two bedrooms to begin with and one of them is now mostly staircase on account of the No You Can’t Do What You Want to Do with Your Own House building-reg disaster of putting a weight-bearing floor in the attic for the 1,000,000,000,000,000 boxes of backlist.  Couldn’t one of us have been a chef or a horse trainer or something?  My idea was an attic like at the cottage, which is finished, with a Velux window and a fitted carpet and everything, but you get in and out by something more like a ladder than a stair, and removable.  That would No Longer Be Allowed### Because Building Regulations Have Decreed That a Weight-Bearing Floor Means Living Space and You Can’t Live in Something You Can Only Reach By Ladder.~  As I found out when I hired my architect.  So I now have Living Space I can’t stand up in (it’s still an attic) and a second bedroom that you could maybe get a single bed in.  Maybe.  If you don’t mind rappelling in from the doorway.

Or, if you and the hellhounds are staying put (although the hellhounds will have lots more garden to roam in, which means lots more lovely photos!!!), is it a lot nearer and more convenient?

Yes.  In the first place it’s a BUNGALOW so the only stairs are to the backlist and Peter has staff (that would be me) to fetch and carry.  In the second place it’s across the churchyard from my cottage instead of at the other end of town and in the third place it’s a short level walk to the shops instead of half a mile and a hill.

I am SO LOOKING FORWARD to having that garden again.  I stopped letting the hellpack play there when I decided to let the house so I’d be used to the loss by the time I gave it over to the agent.  But I was really dreading walking past it—and it’s slap on one of the basic hurtles from the cottage, there’s no way I could not go that way some of the time—and seeing other people and, probably, other people’s dogs in it.

We haven’t started using the garden again because I’m a bit preoccupied with getting on with the house.~~


Less stress for everyone, I hope, and YOU GET TO KEEP THIRD HOUSE!


No bothering with renters! You could put the backlist back in the attic! …Well. If it doesn’t immediately fill up with Peter’s things.

The backlist has to go into the attic.  WE ARE GOING TO GET ALL OUR STUFF OUT OF STORAGE.  I was staring at the walls at the cottage this afternoon and thinking, okay, I can put another bookshelf up there.  There’s still a terrifying amount of stuff to deal with, one way or another.  The only reason I haven’t just run away from home and joined the space programme~~~ is because I keep reminding myself that the mews, while it has the most floor space of our three little houses it has the least storage.  It pretty much has no storage aside from some unsatisfactory crawl spaces.  What you see is what there is.  Which is bad enough.

Skating librarian

Great news … It would seem your life will be much less complicated and Peter’s much safer. 

That’s the plan, yes, thanks.

+ Granted that telephones were rare in 1200.

++ Start what with the Roman aqueduct?

+++ And google at least twice a year.

# Theoretically we sleep at the cottage.  We at least assume a recumbent position at the cottage.  The hellpack, by the snoring, sleep pretty well.  Me, not so much.

## Including a frelling landline phone and broadband at a speed not less than that attained by a dead muskrat.

### The attic in the cottage was done up by my predecessor.  I’ve been there a decade (!) and it was a few years old when I bought the cottage.

~ Tell that to Lothlorien’s elves.

~~ But I did buy an extra tray of snapdragons today.

~~~ Aside from there being no space programme to join, and that they don’t take clueless retirement-age-approaching women whose only degrees are BAs in English lit.

‡ the B

‡‡ I’ve told her the cattle prod is optional















* * *

* He said, When I sell the mews we can buy a new car!  I said, I don’t want a new car!  I’ll just run it into things!  I’m dangerous at less than 5 mph!^

^ Hate those frelling pillars at the Mauncester multilevel car park–the ones with the bulges below the driver’s line of vision!  HATE!

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