All 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 boxes of it. I should know, I shifted all of them. I am a HEROINE. Peter says so. I am a heroine having a nice little quarter bottle of champagne.* I’m kind of assuming I won’t get out of bed at all tomorrow** because all my muscles will have gone paralytic*** as well as the ME saying, you did WHAT? Lie down,† but tonight I am aglow with virtue and a certain amount of astonishment. I’m still half spazzing with adrenaline so I thought I could tell you about how amazing I am.
Everything went wrong really early when I had a tech disaster over breakfast†† so I got up to Third House, to meet Atlas and his trailer, a good half hour later than scheduled. Fortunately Atlas is used to me.
It took two trips to haul all those boxes home††† and Atlas got all lugubrious the first time and said it might take three‡ whereupon I went into Frantic Action Mode and shoved a dozen boxes into Wolfgang, who is a bit tardis-like that way. We weren’t going to get our somewhat bedraggled loot‡‡ into the attic today so Atlas unloaded it onto a pallet of black plastic garbage bags on the paving in front of the summerhouse‡‡‡ and then we rushed back for the second load . . . well, ‘rush’ does not pertain to Atlas’ trailer, but he set out while I went back to the cottage for Pav and (a) got embroiled with a neighbour having a flap (b) WOLFGANG WAS MAKING A STRANGE NEW NOISE§ (c) got stuck behind a bicycle for about three miles.§§ By the time I finally arrived Atlas had nearly finished his plan for world peace and was just drawing up his list of world leaders to send it to.
When Atlas got the last of the second load into the back garden it was past his time to leave. So I was left looking at an Alp of book boxes. Peter told me helpfully that it might very well rain tonight. Not enough to do the garden(s) any good. Just enough to wet down boxes of backlist.
Tarpaulin, said Peter. Um, I said. And started carrying boxes upstairs. I meant to keep count, but I kept forgetting. Nearly a hundred. No, I’m serious. Over ninety but not quite a hundred. I think. Some of them were small. Not very many.
It took me quite a while. Atlas had sensibly put most of the biggest boxes in the bottom layer and by the time I reached it I had blisters on the middle joints of my little fingers and the insides of my arms just below the elbows. I was also cranky. I shifted about twenty of these last leviathans under the porch roof by the garden/sitting room door in the niches created by the bay windows. Everything else is in the attic. Oh, and yes, it is all going to fit. . . .
I think I’ll take another arnica.§§§
* * *
* It’s going to be a drunken, revelrous week: we’re taking Nina and Ignatius out to dinner on Friday as an INADEQUATE THANK YOU for everything they’ve done around the house move. Ignatius installed the much delayed splashback just this weekend. I hadn’t had a car^ all week so I finally rang the Hardened Glass People on Friday and my impression is that they went around looking under everybody’s desks till they found it. However, they did find it.^^ And Ignatius installed it. Hurrah hurrah hurrah. Tick one more thing off the House Move list. Only nearly as many things left on said list as there are boxes of backlist.
^ And they mended the thing they found+ but everything I took him in for is still there going zap whine roar moan.
+ Note to self: next time Wolfgang starts rattling like a nearly twenty-year-old car, ask them to check that there are no shock absorbers ready to fall off and go whirling down the road independently while Wolfgang and I blast away in a sudden, unplanned different direction.
^^ I should not have been driving on Friday—I told you it was a bad ME day—but God was looking out for me. He/she/it/they could have just not given me an ME day in the first place but I suppose that would be too easy.
** YAAAAAAY says the hellmob. MOVE OVER.
*** See, the champagne is therapeutic. Really. Absolutely.
† Yes, all right, don’t be so pushy, I need a pee first. I’ll lie down again in a minute, supposing the hellmob has left me any space. Bed sharing presently is a bit problematic because HALF the bed is still taken up with all the sheets and towels out of my airing cupboard. And have I mentioned that Atlas, my shelf builder, is GOING ON A FORTNIGHT’S HOLIDAY?
†† Most of my frelling kit at this point is ancient as tech goes, and while I hope the desktop—which is in fact the oldest of all—will soldier on for a while and possibly Pooka also, both the iPad and the laptop are frelling racing down that last long slope. Poor Raphael would already have the new stuff at least ordered and probably installed by now if I didn’t KEEP CHANGING MY MIND. There’s this vast horrible continuum of specs and . . . and . . . but the bottom line is that the Apple experiment has been kind of a bust. Pooka—who is an iPhone, for anyone who has forgotten (!)—is okay and I’ll worry about what to upgrade her to when she starts failing, but I have had it with the iPad refusing to play nicely with all the Microsoft stuff I’ve been living by for the last fifteen or so years. Fifteen or so years ago you could not get Apple over here, or at least no one would support it, so when I bought my first real computer it just was not an issue that all my American friends said Apple is better. And I loathe Microsoft but it’s what I’m used to and I can’t be bothered trying to learn a whole new ratbagging system which, from my experience with the iPad is not so blindingly marvellous thank you very much. My next tablet will run Windows. Sue me.
††† Which is not wholly a bad thing. I took the hellhounds along the first time and hurtled them in the farmland, splendidly riddled with footpaths, beyond the storage place—loading Atlas’ trailer with book boxes is not really a two person job—and then brought the hellterror the second time and hurtled her. The hellhounds aren’t what I’d call safe to stock, but they do know I won’t let them chase anything interesting. The hellterror got a little overexcited because she hasn’t had as many long country hurtles as the hellhounds had at her age but I’m still bigger than she is. And she was so beside herself about the game birds that she missed a perfectly good rabbit sitting in the middle of a stubble field.
‡ We did this today^ in case it Did Not End Well because his only other free day before his fortnight away is Thursday,
^ When I could have been having my first voice lesson after a way-too-long break. Summer holidays are overrated.
‡‡ Some of those boxes have been loaded and reloaded and written on and written over and written over the over so often they probably need new shock absorbers. And speaking of the disintegration of crucial parts I wish to remark again on the sheer bloody awfulness of British tape. I swear half the frelling boxes’ bottoms are falling out because the heavy packing tape has lost the will to live and started falling off like hair from a hellmob. Grrrrrrr.
‡‡‡ Which is full of Atlas’ tools and unfinished projects and leftover stuff from moving house. And I need to get it cleared out before the first frosts so I can get plants in there and the growlight back from the cottage’s sitting room. ARRRRRRRRRGH. Maybe I’ll lie down till January. No, March.
§ Which seems to have been something he picked up bouncing over back roads, which then clattered its way back out again. I HOPE. But I wasted about five minutes crawling around on my hands and knees trying to find . . . whatever.
§§ I HATE BICYCLES. I am not sane on this subject.^ I have many friends who ride bicycles regularly and I have at least two who frelling race. I HATE BICYCLES. If there isn’t room on a given road for a car to pass a bicycle it should be BANNED to bicycles.^^ They are a sodding hazard. And for example today there were I think eight cars behind this bozo going fifteen miles an hour—which is a perfectly good speed for a bicycle—before we could get past him. It regularly happens in the local equivalent of rush hour that #8 in the queue out of town will simply rocket on by the rest of us, white-knuckled with fury at our steering wheels ourselves, with the bicycle in the lead—and those adrenaline spikes when I’m waiting for all of us to die in a colossal pile up when a juggernaut comes over the hill and hits #8 on the wrong side of the road are very bad for me.
^ Consider yourselves warned. This is my blog. You want to argue about it, go elsewhere.
^^ Or to cars. But these two forms of vehicular transport are incompatible on shared road space. And I don’t want bicycles mowing down the hellmob and me on the pavement either.
§§§ You don’t have to be in pain already to take arnica. The likely prospect will do. If you know you’ve overdone it but you don’t know how badly . . . take some arnica. And maybe you won’t have to find out.
It is tragic the amount of fabulous blog material I’ve missed using the last five days or so. For example the BT landline engineer on Thursday had just finished telling me that it couldn’t be done because the wiring was too old, or possibly because it had been plastered over irrecoverably when I hired a small army to create an attic out of a large crawl space, or at least it couldn’t be done till 2017 because they were going to have to rewire Hampshire first,* or at very least it couldn’t be done that day, as scheduled, because they were going to have to import a special lorry with a special hoist which was presently in Belgium, or possibly Tanzania, with which to approach sufficiently reverently the overhead wiring from 1878 which was, of course, made out of string,** and, in 2014, can use all the reverence it can get. So he had just finished telling me this when his phone rang*** and it was his manager saying that his brother had rung from hospital WHERE THEY HAD TAKEN HIS FATHER AND HE SHOULD GO THERE NOW. Oh dear . . .
They sent me another engineer. Which is pretty impressive since this meant he would be working past closing time. And he was a little cranky about this—he says he rarely sees his two-year-old except on weekends—but he was in no way taking it out on me and I have total sympathy with cranky. And he found a hoist in, I don’t know, Berkshire or Essex or Norway or something, and it came*** and HE GOT THIRD HOUSE PLUGGED IN NOT ONLY TO THE TELEPHONE BUT TO WHAT PASSES FOR THE REAL WORLD ANY MORE, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN . . . well, at all, for the internet, but a number of years for the phone, because Third House had stood empty for quite a while before the heirs put it on the market. And then it hung around on the market for another while because it was overpriced and I kept walking past and fretting, having been in to the estate agent and discovered that (a) it was WAAAAAAAY out of any semblance of my price range and (b) in the estate agent’s opinion it was overpriced, and I should bide myself in patience.† And we know how that ended. And then I got my knickers in a twist about the ‘several hundred pounds to lay new phone line’ thing. Oh, and the great deal I was getting from BT? That they’d lay the new line if I’d agree to buy their broadband for two years? Is anyone amazed that it’s not all that good a deal? I get one connection. If I want, you know, extensions, I have to pay for them. I get one connection with one underfrellingpowered router with built in wireless THAT IS SO FEEBLE IT WON’T REACH TO THE OTHER END OF THIS LITTLE HOUSE, LET ALONE INTO THE ATTIC. ARRRRRRRRRRGH. So we have wireless broadband (mostly††) in the sitting room. Peter can’t even get it in his office which is about eight feet away. ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH.
BUT I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT MY PIANO.†††
I had asked Oisin and he’d said I should ask our mutual piano tuner about someone to move my darling, and the piano tuner clucked and said there was the less expensive option and the more expensive option and I said this is an old, heavy Steinway upright and I want her treated gently, and he said Sigurd of the Silver Doohickey was the bee’s knees of piano movers pretty much over the entire south of England but they were not cheap. I rang Sigurd and they quoted a price that didn’t seem to me, the owner of an old heavy Steinway upright‡, all that remarkable, so I said yes and, furthermore, since what they do is move pianos and are always galloping back and forth across the south of England they managed to find me a slot for today . . . the first working day after the rest of the furniture went.
I will also at present leave out describing the amount of hauling of little stuff, from the mews to Third House, that has been going on both before and since Friday, and the sordid appallingnesses thus implacably revealed‡‡. TODAY I was at the mews at 2 pm awaiting Cinderella’s coach with the reinforced suspension, the turbo jets and the crane.
This rather mild-mannered van rolled into the courtyard at 2:15. It was bigger than your average White Van Man van but looking at it you didn’t immediately think panzer division, although it did say SIGURD OF THE SILVER DOOHICKEY SPECIALIST PIANO MOVER on all visible surfaces. And three young laconic guys dropped out of it and strolled in a deeply cool manner to the front door. In hindsight I suspect they were waiting to find out if I was going to be a Fainting in Coils type who would need to be managed but my first thirty seconds’ impression was not particularly positive. Whatever. Sigurd is the best, these guys must know what they’re doing.
I started to come round to them when they viewed the situation calmly, and the mews is not exactly set up for the easy moving of old heavy upright pianos, and there had been a fair amount of drama from the gang who had brought her. One of these guys fetched one little skateboardy rolling thing and the other two started edging my darling out of her corner. The one with the most tats—who fetched the skateboard—acknowledged that he was a hired gun and the other two were the Real Piano Movers. They looked so, you know, normal. Until the bigger of the two simply LIFTED one end of my piano a good eighteen frelling inches off the floor so they could start working the skateboard under.‡‡‡ Eeeeeep.
Well, they loaded her up and slid her across the floor and DOWN THE HORRIBLE LITTLE STEEP FRONT STEPS with only a titanium alloy ramp and the two blokes to keep her where she belonged, and the third guy scampering around adding stability where requested. And while the two blokes waited for the third one to lower the tailgate ramp lift thing I said, I know there’s this mythology about heavy upright pianos and everybody thinks theirs is the heaviest, so, tell me, on a scale of upright pianos, where does this one go? And they laughed—a little breathlessly, I’m happy to say—and replied, this model is the heaviest upright Steinway ever built which is to say this is the heaviest upright piano ever built. A lot of full size concert grands weigh less than this piano, they said.
Oh. This probably explains why Sigurd was so careful to ask for model number . . . and why they had the third bloke along today. And I guess the van is the extra super reinforced concrete suspension Cinderella’s carriage.
So we trundled down to Third House and I, fool that I am, assumed that the worst was over, except for the part about how the sitting room would suddenly be Very Full of Piano once she was in. NEVER MIND. Atlas had cut back the clematis montana over the garden gate so you can actually get through without bending double and/or being strangled, and my piano and attendants came through with a flourish and swooped around to get a straight shot at the front door. My hero looked at the door, looked at me and said, you did measure the door, didn’t you?
MEASURE THE DOOR? IT’S A DOOR. LIKE ANY OTHER DOOR . . . I was literally clutching my head at this point.
My hero looked at the door again, shook his head and said, I don’t think it’s going to go through. They didn’t even use the ramp this time, they just kept picking her up over the steps. What do they feed these boys?
AND SHE DIDN’T FIT THROUGH THE DOOR.
They were still so calm. Well, this must happen all the time. Stupid clueless people who assume that one ordinary front door is like another ordinary front door. So they looked at the new situation—calmly—while I tried not to fall down in fits (or coils) and start gnawing on the outdoor furniture which looks very nice on the lawn here, by the way.
We’ll take the door off, said my hero. I think if we just take the bottom off§ we can bring the piano in backwards and swing it around inside.
Which is what happened. It was still a terrifyingly tight squeeze, and while they had her padded with blankets the frelling plastic door frame squealed unnervingly. BUT SHE CAME THROUGH THE DOOR THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. And they swung her around like doing the do-si-so—the so-called fitted carpet didn’t cooperate with this manoeuvre but along with the screwdriver as standard equipment for removing doors they’re also accustomed to what they call correcting the carpet—stood her up against the wall and . . . the sitting room is a trifle full of piano but it’s not actually as FRELLING SQUASHED LOOKING as I was afraid it would be. And the really great thing? Both the inner sitting room door and the outer door—the one that came off and that they put back on again because they are polite young gentlemen as well as major beefcake—into the garden OPEN ALL THE WAY. With like three-quarters of an inch to spare, both sides. Three quarters of an inch is all we need.
MY PIANO IS HOME.§§
* * *
* Which is probably true. There’s all this bluster about getting Hampshire super-fast broadband and the first swathe happens next year. Uh-huh. We’re in the swathe for 2017. And have I mentioned they’re building houses in this town faster than a hammer can fall on a nail?^ And that the broadband we have is grinding slowly to a dead halt as more and more people sign up? And let’s not even talk about traffic and parking and the way you sometimes can’t get through the centre of town on foot.^^
^Possibly because they don’t use hammers and nails in house-building any more. That’s so two centuries ago.+
+ Also because England deforested itself of suitable house-building trees more centuries ago than that. They may still use hammers and nails in Maine.
^^ Especially not with totally clueless four-legged companions. You’d think the hellhounds would have learnt to look both ways by now. Pav, eh.
** Copper-impregnated galvanized string. They don’t make string like they used to.
*** I’m beginning to forget what life was like before mobile phones. Not in a good way. I still consider Pooka back up not the main event. And maybe in retaliation she decided the end of last week TO BE UNRELIABLE FOR A FEW DAYS.^ So I’m leaving messages all over the landscape DON’T USE MY MOBILE USE MY LANDLINE and . . . I have two messages on my landline, neither of them important, and about twenty seven on Pooka, most of which won’t pick up. What is the MATTER with people?^^
My very best example however of the profound basic demon-possessed infuriatingness of mobile phones happened only this morning. I was out with hellhounds. Chaos had just Assumed the Position to have a crap at the edge of the pedestrian pavement. Mildly embarrassing, with people streaming by, but not a big deal. Not like it hasn’t happened before: we frelling live in the centre of town. I was focussed on him, getting my little black plastic bag out and so on, and glanced over my shoulder to check that Darkness wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t. AND DISCOVERED THAT HE HAD ASSUMED THE POSITION IMMEDIATELY IN FRONT OF THE DOOR OF THE BARD AND OPHARION.
And Pooka started barking.
And Peter’s favourite bridge partner’s wife walked by, started to say hello and burst out laughing.
Oh, and the person who was ringing? WAS SOMEONE I HAD TOLD TO USE MY LANDLINE. I told her I’d ring her back. That’s fine, she chirruped. I’ve rung her five? six? seven? times over the course of the rest of the day . . . and she’s never at her desk, in her office or on the radar. Possibly because her digital exchange says, ooooh, landline, how retro, and her assistant says, landline? We don’t want to talk to any clumsy vulgar landline, we don’t do string anyway.
^ Or more than a few. We don’t know yet. Raphael remonstrated with her briefly today but he had his hands full trying to bring the frelling BT frelling broadband frelling crap router to heel. Note: he failed.
^^ I’m not going to ask what’s the matter with Pooka. That way madness lies.
*** The driver doesn’t see his kids except on weekends either.
† PATIENCE? YOU’RE KIDDING, RIGHT?
†† I’m not even going to start on this epic. Raphael is coming back later in the week. Maybe then.
††† There were epics on Friday, of course, but our loyal movers—this is now the third or fourth, depending on how you’re counting, time they’ve moved us. We all call each other by name and say ‘hi’ in the street, you know? Small local family firms. Salt of the earth. Adore, adore—were fabulous. As they have always been fabulous.
‡ People go all faint when they see she’s a Steinway.^ As I keep saying, she was cheaper than a lot of mediocre new pianos and who wouldn’t have a Steinway if that’s the choice?? I’ve told you the story of how I bought her, haven’t I? Another of my epics.
^ The logo is usually covered up by my music rack.
‡‡ And that the chief reason I haven’t blogged before today is that I’ve either been racing around like a crazy woman or collapsed in a weepy little puddle of ME on the nearest horizontal surface, floor, ground, hellhound bed, hellhound(s), whatever. The ME is not exactly behaving itself, but I’m getting a certain amount of stuff done . . . and Nina and Ignatius are so golden. I don’t know what we’d be doing without them. They were here a couple of days earlier last week, they were here Friday, they had the temerity to take the weekend off^, were here again today and are coming back tomorrow.
^ Nina, who is clearly insane, booked some holiday to help her dad move and Ignatius has one of these all or nothing jobs and he’s in a mostly nothing phase at the moment.
‡‡‡ Let me say that I am glad to admit that I stopped finding young guys hot some years ago. They’re so . . . you know, young. I like the old beat-up ones that look like we might have stuff in common to, ahem, talk about. But I might make an exception for this chap. He is not that big and he’s not that bulky although you look at him and guess you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side in a pub brawl . . . but I’ve never liked the ripped gym-bunny look even when I was young. I had a serious case of the hots for my blacksmith, many years ago when I had a horse, because he had major muscles from USE, you know? The definition wasn’t much because he wasn’t doing gazillions of specialist curls but he was strong and I’ve always kind of swooned for strong, especially the easy-going, almost careless, strong-because-it’s-part-of-the-job-description kind of strong. Also, turned out, once I apparently wasn’t going to turn into a Fainting in Coils, today’s hero has a really nice smile. I hope his main squeeze appreciates him.
§ Here’s one of those big fat juicy ironies. I hated the old plastic door and have rarely been as happy as when Atlas finally got around to putting the wooden stable-style door in that I’d bought yonks ago but there’s only one of Atlas and Peter or I keep pulling him off one thing to do something else. But finally . . . YAAAAAAAY. NICE DOOR IMPROVING GARDEN SIDE VIEW OF NICE HOUSE not to mention Aura of Sitting Room Within. But if it had been the nasty old plastic door today the piano would have fit through it. Because of the frame that the old door left behind—and which would have been an expensive ratbag to replace—Atlas had to install the new door slightly, um, in. Thus narrowing the entrance/egress part of the deal. Which I’d never really registered. My bad. Uggggh. Disaster narrowly averted.
§§ And if this blog is a little less coherent than usual, well, forgive me, it’s been a rough week. . . .
You may have to wait another day (or two) for how I got to yesterday, including the two days on the sofa in a coma, the vague realisation* Sunday afternoon that I hadn’t actually eaten anything in about forty-eight hours which might be contributing to my extreme lassitude, etc.** The point is yesterday I was better.
It’s been hot this week and muggy with it*** but mostly it eases up and cools off in the evenings which have (mostly) been pretty fabulous in the long summer twilight. So I was attempting to take patient hellhounds† for the first half-decent hurtle they’d had in about six days. In a light-headed moment of madness I decided to take a look in on the rec grounds, where I never take hellhounds any more because of the other people’s dogs problem. Lo and behold, fate appeared to be being unnaturally kind: there was a game on, one of those sports involving men in shorts kicking a ball.†† Hurrah! I thought. That means people will be keeping their dogs on leads to keep them off the (unfenced) playing field.
You see where this is going.
We were skirting the edge of the game, and I was paying more attention to not getting hit by a wild ball than by what might be coming up on us from the outside. While the playing field is flat there’s a bunker type slope off it with a few trees marking the boundary and then a gradual hill in its original contours. So you don’t necessarily see what’s bearing down (or up) on you till it’s much too late for evasive action. Not that it would have done us any good in this case.
I turned around idly in time to see a brown-and-white torpedo, ahem, surging toward us. CALL YOUR DOG! I shouted, thus destroying in three syllables what my cheese-grater, broken glass and drawn-dagger sore throat had begun to recover from.
There was no human in sight.
I’ve seen this dog around town with its people. Joy. It’s local. It’s a half grown Staffie cross, I think, and it’s growing up big. Unless there’s a line of (presumably show) Staffies with longer legs, this one’s got something else in there. Mastodon possibly. It’s not aggressive yet, but give it time. It’s clearly growing up to be a thug. It sailed into the hellhounds with none of that piffling puppy posturing and Chaos, who is ordinarily happy to play with the most bumptious puppy, was . . . well, at first he was only nonplussed. I was more worried about Darkness, who is still pretty fragile†††.
A 12- or 13-year-old girl shambles up and makes a couple of ineffectual grabs at the Young Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Eventually, and this is now over a minute since this delightful meeting began, some idiot woman who has finally, I don’t know, got off her mobile phone and noticed her dog (and her daughter) have disappeared?, comes streaking up over the bank. Where has she been? And she proceeds to tell me that I should stand still so she can grab her dog. YOU SHOULDN’T LET IT OFF THE LEAD TILL IT’S OBEDIENT! I shrieked, thus setting convalescence and the possibility of my ever singing again‡ back by six weeks or half a millennium. She realizes, perhaps, that there is no reasoning with me—no, there isn’t—and attempts to concentrate on seizing her miscreant.
The whole episode took probably five minutes. This is a long time when it involves an off-lead dog out to make as much mayhem as its adolescent brain can yet conceive. The only bright spot—aside from the fact that it hasn’t fully grown into its obvious gift for malice—was that Darkness, probably because he was still drugged to the gills, was only unhappy, he wasn’t doing his full protective berserker thing thank you God.‡‡ Chaos, however, was increasingly freaked out, so Young Stay-Puft concentrated on him.
I didn’t think about it at the time—I was too busy trying to hang onto my distressed hellhounds in my own not too steady condition, and with this bloody woman telling me to keep still—but I’ve thought about it too much since. It wasn’t just the torpedo approach or the lack of puppy love-me moves. All the brute’s hair was up and its head was low and its look intent—and it singled out Chaos because he was providing more fun. In six months it’s going to be eating small children.
I despair. And after that adrenaline spike, I’ve been back on the sofa again—you were going to get the first somewhat-post flu bulletin‡‡‡ last night.
And my throat hurts.
* * *
* Very vague: you don’t think well in a coma
** Also, at sixty-one, you don’t have the bounce you did ten or forty years ago. You can just sleep—or coma—off a lot when you’re twenty, and then get up groggily at a strange hour, make a large platter of scrambled eggs, and be fine. At sixty-one you need a little more continuing support.
*** Speaking of producers of lassitude
† Let me also say that the hellpack have been brilliant this week. Granted hellhounds start hating the heat even sooner than I do but they do still like to get outside for a panting, oppressed and put-upon amble, and they’ve only been getting slow groping turns around the block for necessary purposes with me leaning on the trees and stopping at every bench—thank God there are benches both in the churchyard and the wide strip of green alongside the road to the mews.^ And the hellterror, bless her manic little heart, has been amazing. Now, also granted that she is highly self motivated and you can pretty much just let her out of her crate and stand back while she caroms off the walls, but even overseeing her is exhausting when you’re only about .05% of normal. I’m not even sure she got fed as often as usual. But she was always glad to see me and did not take advantage when I tottered outdoors with her—she could have had me over if she’d wanted to—and went cheerfully back into her crate^^ and was quiet for hours without complaint^^^. Like the man said, You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometimes well you just might find/ You get what you need.
^ I’ve had three dog minders, each one more disastrous than the last. I really don’t want to start the countdown to catastrophe on a fourth.
^^ suitably bribed
^^^ Except of course when someone came to the front door or the wind through the garden door made a funny noise or the dishwasher went click-clump as it changed cycles or the book you had been pretending to read fell out of your nerveless hands to the floor or she objected to the music on the radio+ or . . . whatever. She’s still a bull terrier. However she is also a bull terrier who shuts up when requested.++
+ She was right about this. It was Harrison Birtwhistle. I managed to assume verticality long enough to turn it off.
++ After only a little grumbling. Unless it’s clearly pirates and I’m just not taking the threat seriously enough.
†† I have no idea. Although there are several men in shorts kicking balls sports, I believe.
††† See: I do not want another week like this one, and, you may have to wait for the details of how I got to yesterday.
‡ I am really missing singing. It’s like missing a body part.
‡‡ Yes. I wish I knew why God doesn’t solve the off-lead dog problem that has very nearly wrecked my pleasure in having dogs. The hellhounds’ little peculiarity about food pales in comparison.
‡‡‡ Trust me there is plenty of material.
Bleagh. I’m frelling ill again/still. I hadn’t really finished getting over the thrice blasted stomach flu—which kept kind of circling back and biting me—and I’ve now got one of those sore throats where you feel like your throat was attacked by a cheese grater and then set fire to. Plus the shakes and shivers that tend to go with. Arrrgh. YOU KNOW THERE’S A DOWN SIDE TO ALL THIS INTERACTION WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS NONSENSE.* MORE GERMS.
I made it in to my third Sams duty shift last night, aware that all was not well internally but not having arrived at true graphic cheese-grater stage yet—and also you really don’t want to cancel at the last minute if you possibly can avoid it because last-minute Samaritan substitutes are a good deal rarer and more valuable than hen’s-egg-sized rubies, and just as the Street Pastors can’t go out unless there are at least three of them plus two Prayer Pastors back at base, the Sams office can only stay open if there are two duty Sams.
As it happens it was a very draining shift** but Pythia seemed to think I’d done well, and since she wasn’t shoving notes under my nose I’m willing to believe she did think so.*** Which is a bit of a ‘yaaay’ because however earnest and willing you are you don’t know if you can do it—do it over some of the range of human distress—till you’ve done it.
So apparently I am going to make a Sam. Knitting critter coats for Battersea Dog and Cat Rescue optional. Yaaay. †
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* Saturday night is the traditionally busiest night of the Street Pastors’ weekend, which runs three nights starting with Thursday, although some of the individually scariest stuff can perfectly well happen on non-Saturdays. As a Friday regular I was braced for the foaming hordes—also it’s summer so the weather and assorted festivals encourage the punters onto the streets—and it was sure busy but nothing too hectic. The most melodramatic aspect was the number of bottles and cans left around. WHY ARE PEOPLE SUCH SLOBS.^ There are a variety of views about this among Street Pastor groups and areas. We all pick up glass because of the potential danger if it breaks.^^ After that the edicts get a little less clear. We’re not litter pickers, we’re concerned about safety, so generally speaking we look for anything to do with alcohol. We’ll sully our hands^^^ to dispose of Guinness and Old Speckled Hen cans, but not Pepsi or Innocent Super Smoothie. And we pour out any contents of our hogsheads and firkins before we bin them—which means you want to find a grating on your way to your bin. On the grounds that drunk people will do anything, perhaps especially drunk teenage boys daring each other to greater feats of grossness, I am also one of those who picks up abandoned plastic ‘glasses’ that still have something that looks like beer in them.
Occasionally this may lead to a situation open to misinterpretation. Saturday night for some reason I got my eye in and was seeing cans and bottles that my teammates were walking straight past—usually there’s someone on a team who is struck by greatness this way but it’s never been me before.# I had just ducked aside to pick up a (empty) bottle of Cava and paused on my return to the main road to seize a half-full-of-something plastic glass. I turned around, looking for a grating and/or a bin and saw two gentlemen, rather the worse for wear, staring at me goggle-eyed. The Street Pastors are pretty well known around here and of course a Street Pastor on her beat is wearing logos of dazzling, unmissable blatancy. Can you drink on the job? said one of them in hushed, almost reverent tones. No, I said, trying not to laugh at the looks on their faces. I’m dumping these out. They watched me closely as I found my grating and then my bin . . . but I wonder if they went home thinking that they’d caught me at something and of course I had to pour my illicit beverage out once they’d seen me.
^ These are probably some of the same people that don’t pick up after their dogs. Hellhounds and I walked past a pile of dog crap in the middle of a BUS SHELTER today. How disgusting is that? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE.
^^ Each team also carries a flimsy little dustpan and brush for sweeping up broken glass. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to wield same on Saturday. Glass weighs, you know? And the poor little dustpan goes groan groan groan so you have to keep emptying it . . . so you hope that whoever drops a breakable object does so near a bin.+
+ I was also, on my hands and knees sweeping up glass, lavishly praised by passing coppers. Oh my misspent youth. I’ve become a little old lady who sweeps up broken glass in public places.
^^^ We also carry one-use gloves for anything really revolting.
# I can think of superpowers I would prefer. There’s a woman on my usual team who is so good at it I swear she draws cans and bottles to her, like the birds flocking to St Francis. At least bottles don’t crap on your head.
** Which is fine. It’s what we’re for. And while you-a-Sam may well end a call feeling ‘oh dear oh dear oh dear’ you also get to hope you made a difference . . . after all, this person picked up the phone^ to talk to a Samaritan . . . presumably because they wanted to talk to a friendly, empathetic, non-judgemental person. THAT’S WHAT WE’RE FOR. Make a note.
^ Or fired up their computer/smartphone for an email or a text
*** She has the lurgy also. Possibly we gave it to each other last week.
† Thank you God. Stamina is still an issue, but Pythia says that comes with practise and experience, which seems to me reasonable. If I were sitting quietly and solitarily at my desk and someone said Here. You now have three dogs, each of them seriously insane in its own individual way, and you have to walk them several miles every day as well as feeding, playing with, and generally interacting with them, including Long Yellow Rubber Pull Toy Things and sofas, including when you feel like the ancient compacted rubbish at the bottom of a dustbin-collection lorry, I think I might squeak a bit. It’s all what you’re used to.
You were due to get a blog post tonight and I have stomach flu. As these things go it’s mild* but it’s knocked my energy level over and squashed it flat, because that’s what happens when you have ME and some blasted interfering ‘acute’ comes along and joins the party.
Meanwhile I had my observation duty at the Samaritans last night—and was aware of feeling a little peaky** but that might have been tension level***—and I have my first official duty shift tomorrow. And I’m going. So let’s hope I can sit in a chair and speak in complete sentences, okay? I want to do this. And I don’t want my mentor to have to do it for me because I’m convulsing on the floor. Arrrrrrrgh.†
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* May it stay mild, thank you very much
** I’ve actually been peaky most of this week, the kind of peaky that makes me think ‘oh help the ME is getting worse I’m not going to be able to keep on floundering through as much stuff as I do if this is settling in to be the new system’—also PAIN. Golly. I really do not like pain and it makes me CRANKY^ and at my age it also makes me feel dangerously old. Having the intensification of the ME coalesce into something like stomach flu, which can reasonably be presumed will go away again, is actually a relief.^^
^ I would have been such a bad martyr. I wouldn’t have forgiven anybody.
^^ This is how acutes tend to manifest with me, that the ME gets worse and then as if spits out the acute.+ But of course during the run up I don’t think ‘oh I must be coming down with something’ I think OH WOE MY LIFE IS OVER.
+ Not everyone with ME follows this pattern but it is a common one.
*** There weren’t any ordinary people who just wanted a chat last night—yes the Sams get those although that’s not what they’re for—YEEEEP. The Sams really are the sharp end. Yeeeeeep. I was there mid-shift so I could watch the handover, the point being that there’s always someone available to answer a ringing phone and there’s always a debrief every shift with the admin^, so I had a chance to speak to four duty-shift Sams plus my mentor^^ plus yesterday’s admin head and I was saying yeeeeep and they were all saying sympathetically, well, yes. That’s what we do.
It has come up constantly from the first information evening when you’re still deciding whether to apply or not that the Sams support their people. What the Samaritans do is rough. And you can’t take it home with you or you won’t be able to do the job for long. Hence constant, structured checking from admin and colleagues that you’re okay.
The other crucial aspect of this is the Sams’ rule of ABSOLUTE CONFIDENTIALITY. The only people you’re allowed to discuss Sams’ callers with is other Sams. And I had a little taste of what this is going to mean in practise last night. Intellectually I totally get it and totally agree with it too—that’s what makes the Sams such a great resource. Have something that’s eating holes in you that you either have no one to discuss it with or you just can’t discuss it with friends and family? Ring the Sams. You can tell them anything, they’ll not only listen, it won’t go any farther. Terminally ill and want to talk about death but your family are all in denial? Ring the Sams. Suicidal from the break-up that everyone thinks is your fault because they won’t hear the truth about your ex-partner? Ring the Sams. Your dog died and nobody gets it that it matters? Ring the Sams.
But to engage, to empathise, as a Sam you do have to get alongside whoever you’re talking to. And you also have to put it down again when you put the phone down.
I’ll learn to do this—as I told my mentor I’m reasonably confident about the long term: short term is the yeeeeeep—but the new skill is not being able to talk about it. I’m a girl. When stuff gets to me I find a friend to talk it through with. It’s what girls do. I wrote a couple of emails to friends last night and I probably sounded pretty distracted because what I was chiefly thinking about was what I couldn’t say. ^^^ Grim stuff is undoubtedly more of a burden when you can’t ask a trusted friend to help you lever it off and lay it down.
^ The admin are all practising Sams too. They know what you’re doing, what life on the, ahem, line is.
^^ Whom I like a lot, by the way. I feel in safe hands with her: that she’ll catch me if I screw up but she won’t make me feel like a retarded liver fluke for screwing up.
^^^ It’ll be easier once I’ve made some friends in the Sams. The Street Pastors keep schtum too but since most of what we do happens in public and out on the street the lockdown isn’t as absolute. And I went into the SPs as one of four from St Margaret’s, the other three of whom were already my friends by the time I started doing duty shifts. Clearly I need to send that email to the other five trainees of my Sams intake saying, so what about meeting up for that beer then?
† What you guys really want to be hoping/praying/dancing around bonfires for however is that I’m sufficiently alive and functioning to tweak another chapter of KES and release her to the world Saturday night.