I am going to amaze you. Sit down and take a deep breath.
We got LOST on the way to the yarn shop. There. You’re amazed, right?
Have we ever not got lost on the way to the yarn shop? Whichever yarn shop is on offer on a day Fiona and I are loose, together and dangerous? Barring the little one which I have to go out of my way not to walk past on the way to the abbey*, so even I would probably have some difficulty failing to find it. Fiona could try putting a bag over my head and spinning me in a circle. . . . That would probably work. . . .
I do feel that perhaps Fiona went out of her way to ensure we got lost today. We’ve been to this shop before** and we both know it’s sort of . . . that way. Fiona apparently decided that this was sufficient. I was a trifle taken aback that she hadn’t turned her possessed-by-demons—I mean her excellent, tactful and reliable satnav on but . . . the driver is god. And I’m way too happy not to be driving. And if there was a paper atlas in the car . . . when the ME is gnawing on me you really don’t want me navigating for you.*** So we set out for Opprobrium. Turpitude is just beyond it. Sort of. It’s sort of suspended between Opprobrium and Prinkle-on-Weald in what is a very unhelpful manner†, rather Tir-nan-Og-like, there not really being any roads between here and there. You have to kind of sneak up on it while whistling a little tune and looking in another direction—a bit like catching a slightly tricky horse in a too-large field.
So you are approaching Opprobrium and there are like fourteen roundabouts in the space of about fifty yards, each of which is bristling with sixty-seven road signs saying things like Tibet * —>5000 miles and London—>you want to turn around and go back the way you came and town centre—>MWA HA HA HA GO HOME. There was a sign for Turpitude, but there were poisonous snakes and a lot of guys with swords, and we lost our nerve. We took the town centre option.
Now I know Opprobrium a little, and I was under the semi-erroneous impression that Turpitude was roughly on the other side of it to the right, and that when we came out the other end there would be another sign indicating a road to Turpitude, and maybe this one would be free of poisonous snakes and big ugly guys with swords and maybe there would be fewer than nine-hundred-and-thirty-seven other signs to confuse us.††
No. No sign. No sign at all except to things like the recycling centre and Greater Footling which we knew we didn’t want. We were most of the way to Surfeit by the time Fiona folded, pulled into one of those extremely dubious-looking parking areas off the motorway where you’re sure poisonous snakes and big ugly guys with swords and a bad attitude hang out, and turned her satnav on.††† The worst of this is that when we did, in fact, get to Turpitude, and blasted Billy comes over all smug and says that we can thank him now because it was only possible with him and without him we would have been hopelessly lost, rather than throwing things at the windscreen we had to say YES BILLY WE KNOW BILLY SHUT UP BILLY.‡
And the yarn shop? Because we wasted so much time on the road I didn’t have a chance to get into NEARLY ENOUGH TROUBLE.‡‡
* * *
* Fortunately it’s usually shut at standard bell ringing hours. Woe for daytime weddings and other one-offs however. And it’s even worse than that: this little yarn shop likes dogs. I’ve taken both hellhounds and hellterror ALTHOUGH NOT ALL AT THE SAME TIME in there and they smile and croon and whip out photos of their hellcritters. So you can be having a perfectly straightforward alternative hurtle on a beautiful day when you felt like getting in the car and going somewhere else, maybe looking for otters on the river^, and suddenly, on the way back to the car park . . . yarn fumes. And your hellcritters can’t save you.
^ Which seem to be pretty blasé about tourists going oooooh, and whose den or nest or lodge or what you call it is out of reach.
** We’ve been to pretty much every yarn shop in Hampshire at this point and may be forced to widen our range, perhaps into Doorstep and Suffix. We particularly have our eye on Smite-the-Infidel in Wiltingshire, where there is a rumour of three yarn shops. Be still our hearts. Be terrified our credit cards.
*** Pride or, if you prefer, vanity, insists that I insert here that when I’ve got a few neurons firing I’m not at all bad with a paper map.
† I realise, having now got home again and looked at a paper map.
†† 67 x 14 – 1 = 937. I think. I hadn’t regularly done arithmetic in decades . . . till I started frelling knitting. Now it’s like um, yardage? Um. How many? Um. If Wicked On Line Yarn Shop is having a sale of 17.5% off but the frelling skeins are only 82 yards long so I need a lot of them, how much is it going to cost to make that car cozy? AAAAUGH. Maybe I could knit it on bigger needles. Better drape. . . .
††† We could have just gone to the yarn shop in Opprobrium.^ Or we could have taken a slight sideways sidle and gone back to the one in Frellingham. But noooooo. We had decided on Turpitude^^ and Turpitude was what we were going to have.
^ Yes we have. I’m sure I blogged about it. Opprobrium also has two old-books shops and we DROVE PAST ONE OF THEM today and Fiona with a swift, sure gesture hit the central locking on the car before I could get out. Hey! I bought TANGLEWRECK there! It’s a good shop!
‡ I think I have told you Fiona’s satnav speaks in Billy Connolly’s voice. I’m here to tell you that even a Scottish accent only gets you so far.
‡‡ Fiona did though. Fiona has an amazing talent for yarn trouble. And I did manage to buy a pattern for some yarn I’d bought a different pattern for and decided it wasn’t what I wanted but I really liked the yarn, and you yarnies out there will know how this story goes: I’m one skein too short for the new pattern.
* WORDPRESS I BLOODY HATE YOU. I have a beautiful arrow sign here and frelling WordPress is giving me a frelling a with an accent grave over it. GO. AWAY. So I guess I have to replace all my lovely arrows with stupid dashes. . . .^
^ Okay. I may have recreated ARROWS. ::holding breath:: ::punching PUBLISH button::+
+ Well . . . they’re not nearly as good as the original arrows. . . .
So yesterday evening hellhounds spent crashed out as usual in the mews dog bed. The system is that I then scrabble everything back into my knapsack and canvas briefcase-shaped object, let hellhounds out for a pee in the mews courtyard—they’ll have their final hurtle from the cottage—schlep knapsack, canvas object, and anything else that may have silted up over the course of the day into Wolfgang’s front seat; encourage hellhounds to leap into the hellhound box in the back, having first removed Pav’s abominable falling-apart plastic carrying crate; encourage hellhounds to get all eight feet into the box so I can get the crate back in, replace crate, fetch hellterror, encourage her to relieve herself, bribe her into nasty plastic crate with small handful of kibble, pick up anything hellterror may have produced, lock up, drive to cottage. Reverse process. . . . **
We have one of our organic-grocery deliveries on Thursdays. I let hellhounds out, had a fast look around for cats or rabbits or any other untoward distractions, and went back indoors to load my week’s fresh fruit into a carrier. This took . . . maybe a minute.
When I went back out to put the fruit bag in the front seat with the rest of the stuff . . . there was only one hellhound waiting for me.
I looked around. It took me a good five seconds to panic. I trotted down toward the archway and called Darkness’ name. Nothing. I trotted—rather faster—back to Wolfgang and Chaos, still standing there looking rather bewildered.*** I put Chaos on lead, picked up Darkness’, and pelted down the driveway toward the main road.
Last few times Darkness has been double-ended geyseringly ill, he has lit out for strange parts as soon as I put him out—but hitherto I’ve already been keeping an eye on him, and have managed to get a lead on him and go along when he sets off. I’ve always had WARNING. With one—appallingly notable—exception, he’s always been able to give me warning, ie to get him outdoors NOW. Last night . . . he had eaten only two thirds of an already minimal dinner but, so? He hasn’t been eating enough to keep a chipmunk alive for weeks†. There was nothing about last night to make me take notice.
Till he disappeared.
I’ve never lost a hellhound before: I’m paranoid, and I know how fast they are—and generally speaking their recall is pretty good, and I’m careful not to strain it. I hadn’t allowed for Darkness having a geysering fit come on without giving me any SIGN.
Chaos and I were wandering around helplessly only a few minutes. Probably less than five. Well, maybe five. I was by this time crying and screaming. It was after midnight, it was dark, at least there was no one else around—no other dog walkers, no juggernauts on the roads—and that stretch of the main road is mostly parkland on either side, so my screaming was probably not heard by anyone but owls. I had just turned to go back to the mews courtyard. This is one of the basic emergency drills of a sighthound owner—your runaway will come back to where he last saw you to find you again. So long as you keep your nerve and stay there. Chaos and I had turned to creep back to the mews courtyard . . . when a bit of darkness detached itself from the rest, slunk through the gate ahead of us, and turned around to throw up at my feet. At least that meant he stood still long enough for me to get his lead on.
Adrenaline spike? If any of you saw a strange bright burning light in the sky last night emanating from a southern-Englandish direction, that would have been me, having an adrenaline spike.
Today has not been a very lively, awake day. The hellterror’s more dramatic difficulties seem to have lessened, although she’s not entirely enjoying coming on heat. She’s still showing no signs of flirting, but she’s licking those Weird Swollen Parts a lot in a kind of LIE DOWN AND LEAVE ME ALONE manner, and while she still wants her tummy rubbed I keep stopping to check that all those tiny but stiff little nubbles are only her nipples, and there are no ticks involved. Hellhounds are . . . hellhounds, although there has been no further geysering.
I’m about to have to attempt to feed hellcritters for the third time today. Whimper. Score so far: Chaos, one third lunch, one third dinner. Darkness, no lunch whatsoever, all of dinner. Pavlova, I’M FINE, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M FINE. I’M ALSO STARVING TO DEATH. YOU CALL THIS A MEAL?
* * *
* We have in fact had a try with the clip-your-dog-harness-with-dog-in-it to the seatbelt apparatus. It works fine. Except for the part about the hellterror setting to with a will to chew the seatbelt apart. Those hellterror jaws, crikey. I’m surprised miners and engineers and things bother with rock drilling tools. Put a bowl of dog food on one side of the mountain and a hungry bull terrier^ on the other and . . . stand back. Gnar gnar gnar gnar crunch crunch crunch crunch.
^ Bull terriers are of course always hungry. It’s part of the breed standard: little beady eyes, prick ears, roman nose, hungry.
** Yes. I hate my commute. It’s always been way too complicated^ but a manic hellterror and a hellhound who is still hoping he’s going to wake up one morning and she’ll be gone complicate matters. The sheer logistics are a big fat pain—in both arms, shoulders and back, chiefly. It would HELP A LOT if hellhounds could jump in from the other side, but that means making the extra height over the side of the box, and Darkness doesn’t always want to leap to seat level.^^
^ It’s a daily version of—you know how that last t shirt/woolly jumper you threw in your suitcase on a whim and that last book you threw in your carry-on before you got on the plane are the only things that prevent your journey from being an utter misery? Yes. Now imagine making those same final forty-six decisions every day.
^^ And thank you, Judith and Diane in MN and anyone else I’ve missed, for those links to Dog Travelling Strategies. I’m looking very thoughtfully indeed at the folding stair.
*** Although ‘bewildered’ is one of his standard expressions.
† Although I believe all those small rodenty creatures have very high metabolisms.
Some things may be looking up. No, no, nothing about ARCs and books scheduled for publication in September*. Both hellhounds ate lunch today for the first time in weeks. Of course then we had an unexpected meltdown about dinner, arrrgh. However, eating was eventually accomplished at dinner as well . . . and then they got all cranky about Pav getting bits of chicken for afters too. Guys. Your neurosis is showing.
But I was thinking despairingly today . . . I may not only be starting to hope strenuously that Pav doesn’t get too big to pick up**, I may spend my declining years specialising in dogs that are small enough to pick up.*** It is the simple truth that Other People’s Dogs are starting to undermine my delight in my own dogs. Yes. It’s that bad.
I think it was two days ago I was giving Pav a last quick sprint around the centre of town. It was after dark and New Arcadia is not known for its heady night life. There were only a few people on the street. Two of them were standing talking to each other outside the Troll and Nightingale. Between them was a lying-down dog.
I am paranoid, but like the old joke goes, even paranoids have real enemies. This dog was just lying there but I knew I didn’t like the look of it, and I had taken note that it was not wearing a lead. I think we’ll not worry about it, I said to Pav, and picked her up. I then strolled out into the street, so we would be passing Ominous Dog at a little distance instead of possibly invading its private space by passing it on the, you know, public pavement.
We hadn’t even come level with it when it LEAPED to its feet and came barrelling straight at us, barking and snarling with all its hair up. OH GREAT. THIS IS GREAT. I REALLY GOT UP THIS MORNING SAYING PERHAPS TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE. I yelled, which is what I usually do in these situations, bellowing is less embarrassing than shrieking and if by any chance the human involved is going to do anything this is a SUGGESTION THAT THEY DO IT NOW.
They never do, of course. In this case as I yelled I swung around, on the theory that fewer dogs will attack a human than will go for the hellterror in the human’s arms, and Toxic Purulence Dog swerved off at the last minute, circled around us and came up behind me again. I don’t suppose I did feel its hot breath on the back of my neck but I felt as if I was feeling its hot breath on the back of my neck. Not a small dog. Just by the way.
Its human said, Awwwwwww, he just wants to say helloooooooo.
Words failed me, which is just as well. You can neither argue nor reason with these troglodytes—and in this case I guess there is more going on than mere denial. This guy’s getting off on his evil dog, in some weird passive-aggressive way. Toxic Purulence Dog eventually peeled away and left us alone, and I, even more eventually, put Pav back on her own feet.†
I was out with Pav after dark again tonight†† but we were at the other end of town. We were walking past one of the sports grounds which was all lit up because they were playing one of those men-in-shorts-kicking-balls games. I therefore couldn’t see much into the dark beyond, but I was pretty sure I was seeing . . . an off lead dog and a human. I picked Pav up. As we got closer . . . IT WAS TOXIC PURULENCE DOG AGAIN. How did we get so lucky? And it ran straight at us††† while its human said, Awwwwww, now, Uncle Wiggly‡ . . .
It swerved off again, a little sooner this time. Small favours. I tracked it going down the other side of the football field and thought, we’ll just take an extra loop around the hedgerow so we don’t all arrive back at the car park at the same time.
I was nonetheless looking around like Ripley in Aliens as we got close to the car park and . . . saw a large familiar-looking dog just jumping into a car. ‡ We lingered a little longer before venturing to cross the tarmac and . . . violent, hysterical barking broke out from the car we’d seen. I risked looking over my shoulder and . . . yup. Toxic Purulence Dog. Slightly muffled by being behind a closed window.
Here’s the really incredible bit. The troglodyte lowered the window so Toxic Purulence Dog could jam its head and shoulders through the opening and scream at us. I wondered in a cool detached way if TPD was actually going to get out and come after us again. . . .
What is the matter with people?
* * *
* SHADOWS’ official pub date is the 26th of September, if you want to draw a big red circle on your calendar. I Remember the Good Old Days when authors got their first copies weeks before the rest of the world did. Now it’s the other way around. With pre-orders and things readers who are not merely enthusiastic but organised may have your book in their hot little hands weeks before your publisher’s warehouse sends it to you.
** I can’t think of Pav as ‘small’ however. She’s just . . . low slung. She’s so frelling solid.^ When I think of a small dog, I think of the sort of critter that you’re afraid of breaking if you pick it up wrong or hold it too tightly. It’s not merely a question of weight: Pekinese are solid little beggars. Bichon Frises, in my admittedly limited experience, are not, although they may weigh half again to twice what a Peke weighs. While I’m not going to try dribbling Pav like a basketball^^, I’m quite sure she’d bounce and come up smiling.^^^
^ Even if she’s too thin.+
+ . . . mutters: she is not too thin.
^^ and am only occasionally tempted . . . STOP EATING THE CARPET. STOP EATING THE SOFA. STOP EATING THE HELLHOUNDS’ BED. STOP EATING YOUR LEAD. STOP EATING MY JEANS/SHOELACES/SOCKS. STOP EATING . . .
^^^ Love the bullie grin. Just saying.
*** My second to last dog will be a Yorkshire terrier. Then I’ll get one of those mobility scooter things and have an extra-large basket put on the front in which can ride a mini-bullie and a small whippet.^
^ Hazel, at nineteen pounds, all of which was leg and spine, curled up on your lap beautifully. Pav, at twenty-seven pounds, doesn’t fit in your lap at all, partly because she’s a rectangular solid and doesn’t bend very well.
† Pav was all, Okay, that was fun and exciting! What’s next? I was shivering with adrenaline and had to sit down for a minute. No, no, no, said Pav. Sitting down is not fun and exciting. Perhaps if I eat your shoelaces you will be aroused to take an interest.
†† I spent most of the afternoon IN THE GARDEN. Which I will probably tell you about tomorrow. (*&^%$£”!!!!!, etc.
††† And Pav sat up Very Straight and said, Ooooh, this is fun and exciting! —She’s been freaked out a couple of times by big dogs rushing up to her, even big friendly dogs. I would love to know what she’s thinking when we’re having an encounter while I’m carrying her. As I’ve said many times, she’s very, very good about being carried, because of all that holding when she was a baby; picking her up is, in fact, a good way of telling her to calm down; nine times out of ten she collapses instantly.^ But what she is thinking while Armageddon is racing toward us? ‘I’m taller than he is’? ‘Nobody goes up against the hellgoddess and lives’? ‘Wheeeee’?
^ The tenth time, of course, there is major blood loss, and you feel as if you’re holding onto a small exploding galaxy.
‡ Not Its Real Name
‡‡ I hope I’m imagining it that the troglodyte waved at me.
I took Pav to the vet yesterday. Since our little episode with unspeakable substances in the South Desuetude churchyard a few weeks ago, she’s had a funny spot on the top of her head. There had been a stain there after our adventure and I had rubbed rather hard when I got her home and into the bathtub. My first thought was a soap allergy, and the first time the vet saw her about a fortnight ago he said that was possible, but keep an eye on it.
I’ve kept an eye on it. It’s begun insidiously to spread, and there are little crusty bits.* Eczema? My next thought was that this was a late bad reaction to the final puppy jabs—she’s six months old, and that’s a classic time for a late backlash. It hasn’t been bothering her any—it’s apparently not even itchy—so aside from giving her the obvious homeopathic detox remedies, in case it was to do with the inoculations, I’ve been leaving it alone.
And then Southdowner texted me last week that she was coming this way, could she stop in and how was Monday? Great, I said, let’s meet at the abbey for evensong after my voice lesson.** Of course she wanted to see Pav: I am merely the gateway for the viewing of Pav. Oh what a beautiful puppy, said Southdowner, even if she does have a funny patch on her forehead. Southdowner had never seen anything like the funny patch either, so I agreed that I’d take her to the vet and ask them to culture it, whatever it is.***
Meanwhile the hellhounds are going through a Not Eating phase. ARRRRRGH. STRESS. STRESS.
Here I thought Pav would enjoy the vet—she loves strange places and strange people and strange experiences. But apparently some recent trauma was hanging heavily in the air† and she spent the entire episode trying to crawl inside my shirt. When we got into the examining room she started backing up the wall, which made me all nostalgic for Holly, whose trick that was. The vet said that The Patch might be adolescent hormones—but that he agreed a culture was a good idea. So I trapped Pav, something I’m extremely skilled at from the exigencies of trying to greet three hellcritters simultaneously with a minimum of mayhem, the vet got his scraping, and Pav and I went for a nice restorative hurtle by the water meadows.
It’s Bacterial Overgrowth of Unknown Origin. I am very fond of this vet—who’s been at this surgery for as long as I’ve been in England—because he has a rare combination of skills: He wants you to know as much about the situation as he does, none of this I Am the Expert, Now Shut Up and Do What I Say, he allows you to have your own experience and to frelling well know your own critter (‘look, he/she is off, I can’t tell you how, I just know it’), and he will do his level best to support you in any responsible decision you make about your critter—including, for example, putting Rowan to sleep on a Sunday afternoon.†† So when I came back today for results and drugs, he showed me the culture and told me what all the different fuzzy bits were . . . and I’m afraid chances are the reason whatever this is got hold is because I scrubbed so hard. I probably broke the skin I was trying to clean and let the bad bugs in.
Sigh. However. We have drugs. And the hellhounds ate dinner.
* * *
* This is some of the reason why there haven’t been hellterror pics lately. It’s not a great weeping sore and people don’t cross the street to stay away from us. And in a photo you can’t really see what you are seeing: it looks a bit like a few pixels have failed and a small spot on her forehead is breaking up. But it makes her look imperfect and that is not allowed. Also she’s enough bigger and faster that she’s a lot harder to take photos of, I keep forgetting to ask visitors to take some, and I haven’t addressed the problem yet.
** This is not the best idea I have ever had. I was high enough, so to speak, after contending with Dido, that I managed to listen to that heavenly, and professional, choir, without either bursting into tears or setting fire to my music. But it was a trifle scourging. I’ve done this a few times—gone to evensong after my voice lesson—but it’s curiously worse when you may actually be getting somewhere in your own embarrassingly negligible way. If you’re a wombat watching a thoroughbred horse race you can just look at those pretty shiny long-legged creatures and think ‘wow’. If you’re a 13.2 hand cob, which is to say a little short square horse, it may be harder on morale.
*** There’s been at least one puppy drama you haven’t heard about because it lacerated Olivia’s feelings so badly and I know she keeps an eye on the blog for Pav sightings. Last time she was down she didn’t bother with any of the niceties like ‘hi, how are you’, but snatched Pav up immediately and looked at her teeth. All four puppies two or three months ago had their bottom teeth growing up inside their upper teeth because their lower jaws were too narrow. If this was a permanent situation it could be bad, like corrective dentistry and expensive and traumatic mucking about bad. It would also mean that none of the puppies would be bred, because this is a significant enough design fault that no responsible breeder would risk passing it on.
I was of course delighted to be let off the show circuit thing, but I felt more than a little wistful about no longer having the possibility of breeding Pav some day in the far distant future. She is so pretty^ and sweet and she is amazingly mellow for a bull terrier^^ and all these generous and comprehensive traits are so exactly what you do want to pass on.
Southdowner was distressed about the narrow jaw situation too: Lavvy is of her breeding and (according to Olivia) more or less took Olivia by the ear while she was helping her choose a stud, and said This one. So she felt responsible as well as involved. We won’t worry about it now, she said (especially to Olivia, who was throwing herself around and declaring that she was never, ever going to breed a litter again and furthermore she was giving Lavvy away and moving to a dog-free atoll), let’s see what they’re like when they’ve grown a little more: puppies do go through some weird phases.
I think Southdowner waited a good thirty seconds before lifting Pav’s lip to check her teeth . . . and then grinned all over her face. I knew that the teeth met better than they had when Olivia had looked but I’m not sure what I’m looking at and wasn’t sure if all was well or not. All is now well. Crufts next year, said Southdowner, still grinning.
. . . Southdowner also says that Pav won’t grow that much more—but that she’s too thin and I need to feed her more. Yeep. Here I thought she was elegant and svelte. Bullies don’t do elegant and svelte, said Southdowner severely. Bull terriers are supposed to be chunky little granite boulders on little short legs. Feed her more. Oh. Well, she’ll like that. Southdowner also says that I can certainly go on carrying her as long as I can go on carrying her: that as far as Pav is concerned, she’s a lap and/or under-the-arm dog. And as previously observed, she dangles extremely well.
^ Sic: you just need to get your bull-terrier eye in. Of course I’m also intemperately biased, but she is very pretty.
^^ I was reading an article in a dog mag at the vets’ yesterday about bull terriers. In the first place the photos were all of inferior bullies, and in the second place the text is all about stubborn. Well, bullies are not Trainability Machines like border collies, but border collies have other drawbacks+ and STUBBORN? At least they EAT. Sighthounds are stubborn and you can’t even frelling bribe them.
+ See: SHADOWS
† I asked Southdowner about this and she said, absolutely. It’s not just that dogs pick up stuff that we don’t—a frightened critter releases fear pheromones.
†† In a long by dog standards life of frequent vet-necessary emergencies, all of Rowan’s happened on weekends. Including the final one.
I’m just back from the monks. Always an adventure. I can’t remember if I’ve told you that I’ve finally figured out that the way to convince my superego, who is a cynical old ratbag who lives entirely in her head*, that the forty-five minute commute is worth it in an arranging-your-life way** is to go early enough to do at least some of my daily ‘sit’ before the service starts. I know I’ve told you before that sitting in that space, in the monks’ chapel, is amazing, all by itself, chanting and being hit in the face with holy water not required.*** I’ve always picked up the whatever-it-is in old, much-prayed-in churches: call it numinousness, if you like.† I assume it’s why people sneak into church to pray rather than staying at home: one space is not like another††. It’s why I find most cathedrals overwhelming, not always in a good way, and back before last 12 September††† it didn’t feel very welcoming: it felt much more like a giant boot about to stand on me. The monks’ chapel is big enough to hold intensity, but not big enough that I feel the force of gravity multiply as soon as I walk in the door, or maybe it’s just that here I’ve found the atmosphere that supports rather than stomps me. But that intensity does help you—well, it helps me—focus, and focus is not one of my natural talents. So I go early, when I can, and sit, and focus.‡ It’s like sitting in company—which is another support thing‡‡—even when there’s no one else around.
So I arrived half an hour early and slipped in, preparing to wrap myself up in my blanket, put my gloves back on, and sit in the friendly (if cold) near-dark till the monks filed in a minute or two before the service began and turned on the lights.
They were already there. Sitting in their long pews. In the dark. What? Now, I wobble easily, and I’m convinced that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong, and that goes several times with bells, whistles and incense as I fumble my way into becoming a practising Anglican. So while it was not a moment out of Rosemary’s Baby or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or similar I still had a mega wobble as I emerged from the hallway into the dark chapel and found the pews on either side of the altar full of black monk-shaped shadows.‡‡‡ Waaah! Eeeeep! I shouldn’t be here! I’m doing something wrong! But it wasn’t on the service sheet on their web site that there was a stretch of silent contemplation before Tuesday evening prayer! Nor did it say, clueless members of the public should stay home!
I crept to my usual place. I wrapped myself in my blanket as quickly and quietly as I could and sat down. Nobody told me to go away. I admit that my focus was less good than sometimes. But I could still feel the atmosphere winding itself around me like another blanket and saying ‘there there’. And a minute or two before the service started the abbot got up and did turn the lights on . . . and a couple more people emerged from the monks’ guest space to sit in the congregation with me, thank you very much God, one of my several horrors is of being the only person on the lay side at some random weekday prayer, although one of my lesser and, over time, diminishing horrors was finally faced today, which is that I was the only woman present. Eh. I was so busy worrying that I was DOING IT WRONG by being there at all that I forgot to be stressed by being the only woman.
The abbot still threw holy water at me at the end of the service. So it must have been okay.
And then I drove home in the spitting snow and sleet and merciless continuing fanged wind and met two gigantic lorries out gritting the roads. Sigh. So it’s a good thing I got my holy in tonight, I may not be going anywhere tomorrow, including to Forza bell practise.
* * *
* Poor thing. No wonder she’s cranky. When she signed on for this job I’m sure she was hoping for a more nourishing intellect than mine.
** To give the old bag credit she doesn’t argue with me about God. The Road to Damascus thing is blisteringly convincing to anyone present, including your box-ticking, ledger-sheet and graph-paper-minded superego, whether she likes it or not.
*** I love the smack of holy water. Just by the way. It’s the reality of it. It’s WATER. As well as all the symbolism it carries with it, including that it’s an abbot who’s throwing it at you. I’m still pretty freaked by taking communion, which is probably an auxiliary reason why I can’t quite get myself out of bed in time to go to Mass with the monks. If I can get to the New Arcadia bell tower on Sunday morning I can frelling well get to the monks on some other morning. Although the New Arcadia bell tower doesn’t require any driving. If I can ring epic frelling touches of Grandsire doubles inside on Sunday morning I can DRIVE to the monks some other morning. I’m working on it.
† If you can stand it. But according to Merriam-Webster online, numinousness is the noun form of numinous.
†† Also it’s a lot harder to convince yourself you should stop wasting valuable time and do the washing-up/hang the laundry/mop the floor/water the houseplants if you’ve escaped your material reality to sit in church. Religious experience has rather more in common with my life as a twitchy, easily distracted, guilt-prone writer than I might have expected.
††† Today is my six-months’ half-birthday as a Christian, as a friend pointed out.
‡ I may be Knitting Lady at various bell towers but I am Blanket Lady at the monks’. If this frelling dratblasted weather continues I may start taking two blankets. One of the monks seems to have a permanent cold. I feel there should be supplementary blankets with the capes and habits and scapulars and cuculae and things.
‡‡ Hence relentless nagging of poor Aloysius.
‡‡‡ With optional sneezing.