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.

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