January 27, 2015

26 January 2015

Today was Alcestis’ 58th birthday.

Would have been.  She died a little over a week ago.

Peter and I often go out to dinner either the 3rd or the 26th of whatever month it is*;  occasionally both, like this month.  January is frequently a sod;  serious deluges of champagne are often required in January.  Last year, after Peter’s stroke in December, pretty much bathtubs full of the stuff were prescribed and dutifully consumed.  And this year. . . . I’d remembered that Alcestis’ birthday was the end of January somewhere;  I’d forgotten it was today till Admetus reminded me.   Peter and I clinked our glasses tonight and drank to Alcestis.  Who is dancing joyfully in the sunlit fields of the Lord . . . which means fuck-all to me right now.

The funeral is on Friday.

That’s the worst, of course.  I miss her.  Remember I said in the Not a happy new year post to make time for your friends, life is shorter than you think?  It’s not like I didn’t know Alcestis’ time and life were running out all last year, but the habit of ‘oh next week is soon enough’ is hard to sodding break.  I am so glad now for all of those evenings I spent knitting and chatting with her the last few months;  I wouldn’t have not done it for anything, now that it’s all over—now that she’s gone.  But it also makes me miss her worse.  Because I’d FINALLY got in the habit of going round to see her regularly.  And enjoying her company.  And remembering why I liked her so much:  for her dry humour, her empathy, her astonishing breadth of practical knowledge about the world;  if you wanted to know something about pretty much anything, chances were that Alcestis could tell you something you could use and suggest where you might look for more.  She’d been a scientist and a science teacher, and teaching came naturally to her, whether it was basic physics or how to pluck a chicken.**  And yet months would go by, before she fell ill, when we’d run into each other in town and say ‘oh yes we must get together’ and then go our separate ways for more months.  Why are humans so STUPID?  Because I’m far from the only person who treats their friends like this.  There’s always going to be time.  But there isn’t.

So.  Sorry for the long blog silence.  There’s still a lot of staring blankly into space—and several other WHAAAAAAT? unexpected crises, mostly unsuitable for a family-friendly public blog, but I will mention the evening this past week, having just been knocked sideways by one of said crises, I managed to leave my diary in Mauncester I CANNOT LIIIIIIIVE WITHOUT MY DIARY I can barely remember to breathe without checking in my diary first*** and having phoned to be sure that I had left it where I thought I had, and they said they’d keep it safe for me, I leaped into Wolfgang to drive back to fetch it . . .

. . . and Wolfgang wouldn’t start.  AAAAAAAAAAAUGH.  I spent most of the next DAY schlepping in to Mauncester on the frelling BUS and hiking to the far end of town TO PICK UP MY DIARY.  While Wolfgang was towed off to the garage.  I got him back today:  hellhounds and I had a very nice walk over hill and under milkwood to Warm Upford to pick him up, with a shiny new starter motor under his bonnet.†  And all that stumbling over tussocks gave me an appetite for champagne, duck confit and a big fat chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce tonight at the pub.  It was a very good confit, and an excellent brownie.  But the brownie wasn’t as good as Alcestis’.

* * *

The news isn’t all bad, if you will permit me to range now into the frivolous.  Niall, who can smell weakness, and has his own unique ideas about cheering people up, seems to have inveigled me into RINGING FRELLING HANDBELLS AGAIN.  HOW DO I GET INTO THESE THINGS.††  Furthermore I seem to have become a semi-regular fourth with a particular group, Niall, Jillian, who was starting to learn handbells shortly before I more or less stopped, and a gentleman who has not appeared on these virtual pages before, whom we will call Spenser.  I’ve rung tower bells with Jillian many times—although she’s a good ringer and I’m not—I only know Spenser by reputation.  The fact that he’s not only a good tower bell ringer but also an organist and therefore has developed the Extra Brain Lobes for keeping track of several manuals AND a pedal keyboard or whatever you call them means he is beautifully pre-programmed to learn frelling handbells swiftly and accurately and I will HATE HIM SOON.  But right at the moment he and I are about level in the Struggle to Master Bob Major.

I’ve spent most of my handbell career thus far on six bells, mostly ringing bob minor.  ‘Plain bob’ is where everyone starts.  If you’ve only got three handbell ringers there are a lot of other more complex six-bell methods, but when you first make the step up to major—eight bells, four ringers—you’ll go back to plain bob.  This time plain bob major.  Counting to eight is hard—which you have to do, every dorgleflamming row, to keep yourself in your place in the pattern.  And ‘seven’ has too many syllables in it.  OnetwothreefourfivesixSEVENeight.  Ruins your rhythm.†††

Jillian at the moment is our weak link.  Not her fault, she’s been ringing less time than I have, Spenser is just talented, drat him, and Niall is, well, Niall.  Niall conceived of the daring plan to swap Jillian out some day that isn’t our regular meeting so that Spenser and I can have the thrill [sic] of ringing with two good steady ringers and see how far we get.  I could see the quarter-peal light going off in Niall’s evil little eyes‡.  We were fixed for this past Wednesday, with Melinda as our fourth.  Melinda would be one of my favourite ringers—despite her reprehensible excellence on handbells—if I saw more of her;  she’s the one got me going to the extra tower practise at Fustian, which stopped happening some time this last year when I haven’t been ringing anyway.  After Alcestis died I told Niall I am NOT trying for a quarter peal on Wednesday.  Both my stamina and my focus are zero for the present and the immediate future.  That’s okay, said Niall in his blandest possible manner.

I should frelling know better by now.

You can see where this is going.  We rang a couple of touches and first I and then Spenser—and bless him for not being perfect—crashed and burned.  So we started over.  No big;  we were getting good practise with Melinda there.  But then we started to steady down—Melinda is a lovely, equable, consistent, low-tension-transfer ringer.‡‡  Aaaaaaand we didn’t crash and burn.  For a few minutes.  For a few more minutes.  For . . . that ratbag Niall is going for a quarter.

We rang a quarter.  Spenser’s and my first quarter of bob major.

And that’s for Alcestis too.  Makes a change from glasses of champagne.  ‡‡‡

* * *

* Our wedding anniversary is 3 January;  our lightning-strike meeting anniversary is 26 July.

** She was also an excellent—and self taught—knitter.  She half-blinded herself knitting the Plain Dark Pullovers that are all the Standard British Male will wear, for Admetus.  And the sweater I knitted^ about three-quarters of, those last evenings of knit and chat, is hanging on the back of a chair at Third House and every time I see it I catch my breath.  I should finish it.  I know.  At some deep superstitious level I think I’m still hoping if I don’t finish it I’ll get a few more evenings with Alcestis.  Sigh.

^ which is for me and is about as far from plain and dark as it is possible to get.

*** Drink champagne, yes.  Eat chocolate, yes.  Breathing, I may need reminding.

† He now leaps six feet off the ground when you turn the key in the little hole.  BRAAAAAAANG.  NEXT STOP MARS.

†† A pathetic insufficiency of counter-obstinacy.  There is NOTHING ON THE PLANET as persistent as Niall in pursuit of handbell ringers.  And he’s such a polite, quiet, gentle person . . . most of the time.  Not about handbells.  Be glad you don’t live in New Arcadia.  He’d get you too.

††† One of the additional reasons I will never graduate to twelve on handbells, aside from the spectacular absence of necessary brain support, is because of having to count a row that has a three-syllable number in it.  Seven is bad enough.  ELEVEN?  Are you frelling JOKING?  I can just about manage plain hunt in the tower on twelve, because tower bells go so much slower you have half a chance to squeeze those extra syllables out.  Frelling handbells go a frelling lick.  Well-rung handbells sound like the louder, more musical version of someone running their thumb over the edges of a pack of cards.  That’s how fast it goes.^

^ Not with me however.  Handbells rung with me in the group are . . . stately.  There are people who won’t ring with me because I’m too slow.  Trust me, I don’t want to ring with these people anyway.

‡  If he’s part bull terrier that would explain a lot.

‡‡ There are other handbell ringers I won’t ring with because just being in the same room with them winds me up.  But I suspect they feel the same about me.

‡‡‡ Okay, I should finish that sweater.

A Little Light Relief

 

 

 

 

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2015/01/the-pop-quiz-at-the-end-of-the-universe-robin-mckinley

 

 

They had a little trouble with my footnotes for some reason.  Do you know ANYONE ELSE who has EVER had a little trouble with my footnotes?  ::hums a little tune::  They also left out the hellterror in the intro, which I will do my best to prevent her from finding out or she would hunt them down and eat . . . all their sandwiches.  And their shoes.  And possibly their desks and their computers.  Certainly their mobile/cell phones.  And their coats.  And . . .

Highlighting missing footnotes in pink which saves getting HOPELESSLY ENTANGLED in explanations.  And a couple of nonessentials I’ve kept in just in case there are any OCDs out there# who are worried about the accuracy of the footnote sequence. 

* * *

*  I like footnotes.  I’m not sure I can think without footnotes any more.  I never was good at joined-up thinking.  . . . Yes, Tor has provided a lovely long list of questions to choose from, but way too many of them are based on a knowledge of pop culture, and my idea of pop culture is Bryn Terfel singing Sweeney Todd.  I have to answer what I can.^

^ Also, that ratbag David Tennant has already pinched All Stars for his Doctor Who incarnation, so I can’t answer the one about what my Doctor Who signature costume element would be. 

** I don’t remember yesterday too well, let alone blogs or interviews from years ago.  I can safely guess yesterday involved dog walking^ and eating chocolate however.

^ Known in this household of three four-legged fur factories as ‘hurtling the hellmob’.

[*** See answer 3, below:  this refers to frelling]

† hellmob = two whippet/deerhound crosses, one mini bull terrier

[†† Also see answer 8, below:  this is about getting what you want]

††† But about getting what you need, that’s why I grew up to write about heroines.

‡ You don’t know Creeping Jane?  http://mainlynorfolk.info/joseph.taylor/songs/creepingjane.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKIECgIW1rA

 Speaking of heroines.^

^ They could have given her a more gallant name however.

‡‡ I can so imagine Diana getting into automatic writing though.  Given her sense of humour I don’t entirely envy the person chosen as channel but . . . ::waves pen hopefully over blank sheet of paper^ and looks around::

^ I suppose there’s no reason you couldn’t channel onto a computer screen but it’s so, you know, realistic.  Who wants to be ordinary about Channelling from Beyond?+  I feel there should be long flowing skirts involved too.  If you’re a bloke you can wear a tabard or something.

+ Especially not channelling Diana Wynne Jones, who had epic conflicts with her technology.

‡‡‡  Horses aren’t pets.  And neither are dragons^.  Neither is Narknon [BLUE SWORD], although I suppose Fourpaws [ROSE DAUGHTER] is—just.  Majid in SHADOWS is not.  In my experience Maine coon cats rarely are.

^ And Lois [DRAGONHAVEN] as a baby was a NIGHTMARE.  Not ideal at all, unless you have a dangerous martyrdom complex.

§  And CHALICE and SUNSHINE are essentially Beauty and the Beast too. Oops. Well but it’s such a good story.  I don’t want to give it up too soon.

* * *

# Who, me?

Not a happy new year

 

The friend I’ve been visiting in hospital?

She’s dying.

It won’t be long now.

I hate this.  This is a stupid system, this life thing.  She’s younger than I am, by the way.  And another friend—another good friend—who is also younger than I am—has just been diagnosed with . . . well.  Not with blue skies and happy fluffy bunnies.

Life sucks.  And then, as we know, you die.

So, that’s been my holidays.*  Let’s call her Alcestis—the friend who’s dying—although in the damned myth some god or godling usually comes along at the last minute and saves her, and so far as I know my friend’s Admetus wasn’t in any danger.  She’s been ill for a while, and in and out of hospital, but they’ve known for a while they aren’t going to turn this one around, it’s going to get her, and sooner rather than later.  And she’s been slipping—also for a while—but the last three weeks or so the slope has suddenly got steeper.  Although we knew this was going to happen too.

I’ve been through this before, of course, but it doesn’t get easier, losing people—watching them slide away from you, and you can’t do a bloody thing except sit by their bedside and breathe.  Be there, stunned and clueless and disbelieving.  Everyone who is trying to comfort you says, oh, being there counts!  That is what you can do!  I guess.  But it’s throwing rose petals in the abyss.  Except it’s not even rose petals.  It’s dead toads or dandruff or anthrax or something.

Alcestis is in a specialist unit and it’s too far for me to drive, and I’m dependent on Admetus to give me a lift—but he’s a friend too, and they’re neighbours.  I blast over there five or ten (or fifteen) minutes later than I said I’d get there, and he does the driving.   I like to imagine that having someone in the car with him sometimes—he’s quite the taxi service, is our Admetus, bless him—is maybe a bit comforting, or grounding, or something.  I have really NO IDEA how he’s doing.  He’s a BRITISH MALE.  I assume he’s still eating, although he’s got awfully thin and he wasn’t exactly portly to begin with.  The unit Alcestis is in will feed a spouse or one other designated person for the big holidays, and they came round with the New Year’s Day dinner menus today while I was there doing my sitting and breathing thing—and in my case knitting:  my knitting is not improving with practise—and I was looking at Admetus looking at the menu and wanted to say to the nurses ‘make sure he eats too, okay?’

It’s a nice place, as far as places where people go to die are ever nice.  The nurses are kind and thoughtful and engaged:  they’re all over Admetus as he comes in, and a couple of them even recognise me.  There’s free tea and coffee (okay, and a donation box), and a big lounge-sitting-room-waiting-room space with comfy chairs and tables and books, and a computer with a selection of all-ages games.  They keep Alcestis clean and comfortable.  She’s just barely there any more and . . . drifting . . . farther . . . away.

Today the doctor took Admetus aside and said that hopes/plans to be able to send Alcestis home after the holidays, when they’d be up to full staff strength again for the amount of home care she’d need, were, barring miracles, permanently shelved and that . . . the unit is set up for a spouse or partner to spend the night there:  he might want to know that.  He might want to consider. . . . When we got back to New Arcadia tonight he gave me the domestic fauna care drill and he’ll text me if I need to step in.  There was a little austere hilarity at the outrage the capybaras, sugar gliders and wallabies are going to feel at being put abruptly on my schedule rather than Admetus’.  He gets up at about 6 a.m. most mornings.  I suppose I could go round and feed and do a quick sweep last thing before I go to bed. . . .

They’re rerunning the last night of the Proms on Radio 3 tonight.  Last night of the Proms live was mid September, and Alcestis was still alert and walking (slowly) and interested in the world and having opinions about the books she read.

And to everyone who is reading this:  make time to get together with your friends, and do stuff, or just hang out, drink tea, loan each other books.  Or if geography is against you—and I know a lot about that—talk on the phone, email, text, Skype.   Stay in touch.**  Time is a whole lot shorter than you think.

Tonight’s glass of champagne is to you, honey, Alcestis, my old friend.

 

* * *

* Another thing about holidays is the way people go on them leaving their social-welfare charities short-handed.  And falling prey to the common philosophy of wretchedness that if you can’t do anything for you and yours maybe you can do some damn thing for a stranger, I’ve picked up a few extra shifts here and there to the extent that I’ve had one or two lectures from older hands about taking care of myself.  OH SHUT UP.  Okay, yes, I know, and I appreciate the concern and understand why they’re having a word, but I’m at least conscious of what I’m doing and as soon as the holidays are over with I’ll revert to being the volunteer-organisation version of assistant bottle-washer.  But whatever your flavour of belief^ or disbelief, the end of year holiday season and all the jolly consumerism, I mean family and friendship and togetherness, tend to magnify anything that’s less than fabulous in your individual life, so social services get a bit strained.  The less than fabulous would include me and mine of course.  But being a do gooder at least means you have somewhere to put some of the sorrow and frustration.

^ Although just by the way the tendency for Christmas to be presented in Christian churches in all its blue-skies-and-fluffy-bunnies splendour MAKES ME CRAZY.  YO.  THAT KID YOU’RE WORSHIPPING IS GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY IN THIRTY-THREE YEARS+ AND THERE’S A CRUCIFIX HANGING OVER THE ALTAR, YES, EVEN AT CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY TO REMIND YOU OF THIS TINY FACTOID??  As one might say, Jesus.  There’s a dark despairing edge even at Christmas, a shadow behind the joy.  Welcoming this baby should break your heart, and if it doesn’t you’re not paying attention.++

+ Or about four months, depending on how you’re counting.  This is only my third Easter coming up and I already want a year off.#

# I think I said that last year.  Easter is hard.~

~ And it has nothing to do with fluffy bunnies, chocolate or otherwise.

++ Some of the carols get this right.  When I’m experiencing a worse than usual brain failure day, the verse I can never forget is from We Three Kings:  Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ breathes a life of gathering gloom/  Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.  Elsewhere it refers to King and God and sacrifice.  Um, yeah.  Stay with it.   And Christmases like this one for me, it’s exactly like my monk said:  he died also so none of us ever has to suffer alone.

I still think it’s a total fucker of a system.  When I get to heaven# I’m going to start a petition.

# And remember we all do, eventually, whatever ‘heaven’ turns out to be and whatever petitioning options there are.

** Which I’m doing a lousy job of with everyone else in my life.  Because I’m too sunk in being bad company.  Sigh.  Do as I say, not as I do, okay?