August 25, 2015

Shadows is here!

YESTERDAY’S POST. Hurrah Grrrrrr etc.



This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago.   And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.

When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.

So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.


I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***



And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.

At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.

Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††

Note that it is still raining today. –ed.

* * *

Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.

The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that.  Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.

If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.

And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves:  Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.

I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .

I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems:   the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.

However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.

But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.

It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.

And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?

No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.

* * *

* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES

** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.

*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.

† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.

†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^

Okay, I forgot to do this.  Opportunity wasted.  Sigh. –ed.

^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.

^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?

^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.

+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.

††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.

‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.


‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.

^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.

§ The version with recitative is later

§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.

§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.

# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?

^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.

## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.

### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . .  there’s a word usage that really caught my ear.   Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.

~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.



Admetus, Peter and I went to the live cinema screening of the National Theatre’s EVERYMAN tonight—yes, the medieval morality play*, yanked into the present day and adorned with bad language and cocaine by Carol Ann Duffy, of whom I am a besotted and drooling fan**, and when I saw this play existed and that, furthermore, the National Theatre was going to live-screen it I WANTED TO GO.***

IT IS WONDERFUL AND AMAZING AND POWERFUL AND TERRIFIC.  GO IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE.  They do rescreenings for these live things some times . . . check your local listings.

* * *

* Which I read in college.  Hey, it’s shorter than Bunyan’s frelling PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.  Even us English majors have our limits.  Although I read most of Bunyan too.^

^ And I like Spenser, who usually appears on the same class syllabus.  Sue me.

* I admire both her poetry and her politics.  Generally speaking I remember a pressing engagement on the other side of the planet as soon as some arty type starts coming out in political activism like a rash, but there are a few who do it with aplomb, Duffy being one of them.  The fact that she’s hot on women’s and sexual and gender rights AND HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR WITH IT might have something to do with this.^

^ Also my wet-liberal tendencies are getting larger and meaner and shorter-tempered+ as my Street Pastor and Samaritan duty hours rack up.

+ Frightening.  Yes.

*** There followed several months of frustration.  I cannot BELIEVE the level of meatloafhood in many and possibly most arts and entertainment web sites.  ARRRRRRGH.  I think I only found out about either the play or the live screening because I’m on the NT’s STREET MAIL CATALOGUE LIST.  But you have to buy your tickets from your local cinema, supposing you can find the right local cinema, since the cinema list on the NT site will not match the local cinema’s information when, the NT link being dead or missing, you try your local cinema’s own web site.  This tarantella of frustration is further enhanced by the original performance site—in this case the National Theatre, but it is by no means the only perpetrator of this variety of on line crime—whining continuously in obtrusive pop-up boxes for your location so it can give you a personally tailored web site experience, and, when you cave and give it to them, and it is, let’s say, Hampshire, immediately offering you 1,000,000 cinemas in London.  THANKS EVER SO.  I KNOW IT SOMETIMES LOOKS LIKE THE ENTIRE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS A LARGE BEDROOM COMMUNITY FOR LONDON BUT SOME OF US REALLY LIVE HERE.^

Meanwhile . . . I could not persuade my local cinema to take my money and give me some seats for EVERYMAN, and since it’s a flapdoodling cinema chain, you can’t get a local human being on the phone—nor is the on-the-ground ticket office open during ordinary town-errand-running day hours—to tell you if it’s coming to your particular local.  The chain’s theatre local to a town 300 miles away is not really what you are after.  ARRRRRRGH.  So the NT web site went on saying it was here, and here went on saying Page Not Found.  So I finally threw up my hands^^ and bought tickets at a theatre in Greater Footling, which isn’t impossibly far from here.^^^  I didn’t find out that yes, indeed, EVERYMAN is coming to the local scion of national cinema glory until we walked in to see the Royal Opera House live screening of GUILLAME TELL~ there a fortnight ago, and saw large flashy posters for EVERYMAN on the walls.  AAAAAARRRRRRRRGH.

BUT THE STORY DOES NOT END HERE.  In the first place, there are two theatres belonging to this other incompetently head-officed and web-sited cinema chain, AND with nearly the same name, ie the Toadstool and the Toadstool Phoenix, both of them not merely in Greater Footling but the same end of Greater Footling and Greater Footling is not exactly a gazillion-citizen megalopolis AND BOTH OF THEM WERE SCREENING EVERYMAN.  Go figure.  Admetus had looked up how to find the Toadstool Phoenix and I had looked up the Toadstool, and there was a certain amount of frantic cross-checking yesterday.

Well we got that sorted and we even successfully arrived at the Toadstool~~.  Now my on line booking was, according to what I printed out to take with me, only a booking and we had to get there HALF AN HOUR EARLY to pick up the tickets.  Fortunately, having wasted time going in several wrong directions, we got there only about a quarter hour early . . . fortunately because the box office was not open.  The ticket machine did not show EVERYMAN.  The androids behind the snacks counter were only programmed to provide snacks.  The whole dranglefabbing complex was pretty comprehensively deserted and since there are 1,000,000 screens at the Toadstool Stepford we might still be there wandering hopelessly down identical corridors except the screen number was on my booking page.  We went there.  We decided we didn’t like the seats I’d booked—who can tell anything from a web schematic—and sat somewhere else.  Since there were only about ten of us perched randomly in a theatre that would probably seat 200 it didn’t matter too astonishingly.  And no one ever checked our booking, or asked for our tickets, or offered us a wet fish or a glass of Prosecco, or anything else.  But there must have been a Stepford minion pressing the button for the show to run, because it did run.  Yaaaaaay.

^ The worst offender in the web site visitor location category however is the frelling New York Metropolitan Opera.  I don’t know what the frelling doodah is going on with the Met Live this year—tickets should be on sale by now—and I can’t find a cinema anywhere around here that admits to screening it, including the one I’ve always used in the past.  But if you click through all the dazzle to the Met Live page on the Met Opera site, and ask it to find you your local cinema, it will ask you for your country and then for your city.  I clicked hopefully on Mauncester, which is even on the Met Live drop down menu of Hampshire cities . . . AND THE CINEMA LIST STARTS OFF IN AUSTRIA.  THEN GERMANY.  THEN . . . Belgium, I think.  I forget.  But you’ve scrolled down several pages before you ever get to the UK at all.  If they’re trying to impress me favourably with the number of cinemas worldwide that screen the Met Live this is not having the desired effect.

^^ There may have been language.

^^^ Especially when Admetus is driving.  Ahem.

~ The now nationally if not internationally notorious new ROH production of GUILLAUME TELL.  Yes, yes, William Tell, but Rossini was an Italian writing for the French opera, okay?  Whatever you call it it’s supposed to be Rossini’s unknown masterpiece, never put on because it’s five hours long and you’re only allowed to write operas longer than four hours if you’re Wagner.+  I was THRILLED when I heard that the ROH was going to do it, and QUADRUPLY THRILLED that they were going to live stream it and live stream it at a cinema close enough for me to drive to.  YAAAAAAAAAAY.  I bought tickets more or less the moment they went on sale and was enormously looking forward to it.  ENORMOUSLY.

The beginning of that week I got a text from Admetus saying, erm, have you seen the reviews for the opening night of GUILLAUME TELL?  I hadn’t.  The hot young director++ in his creative capacity as an enormous flaming asshole had decided that the bad guys’ bad-guy-ness—whatever else you do with it, the story is still basically about a bunch of locals being stomped by an invading army—needed to be heightened, and never mind that Rossini and his text provider actually took quite good care of making the bad guys bad in the libretto—and so staged an extremely graphic rape scene during the chirpy ballet+++ at the beginning of the third act.  A local woman is harassed and molested by a gang of the bad-guy officers . . . and then stripped naked, thrown on the banqueting table and gang raped.  BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE BRUTALITY OF WAR.

Opening night was booed so thoroughly that (according to reports) you couldn’t hear the music.  Quite a lot of ink, newspaper and virtual, was spilled subsequently (most of which you can still find on line if you’re interested) and I spent rather too much of that week reading reviews and feeling ill.  I almost didn’t go.  I don’t need to understand about the brutality of war, or about the gross inhumanity of man to man or men to woman# and I don’t think the first night reaction was anything about British parochialism, which is one of the things that was elitistly suggested.

They’d toned it down some## by the day of the cinema broadcast . . . but I did go, and that scene still made me feel physically sick and I almost walked out.  The only reason I finally went at all was because the reviews were also universal that it was exquisitely sung AND I WANTED TO FRELLING HEAR IT which is where we came in.  And it was exquisitely sung, and I in fact came home and ordered the CD with the same cast and conductor which gets about twelve stars in the Penguin Guide as well.  But for gratuitous, inappropriate, stupid, pretentious shock value, the rape scene takes some kind of gigantic toxic biscuit.  I’m also happy to say that the controversy did not put bums on seats around here:  I’d never seen the cinema so empty for an opera screening.###

+ I will probably never see Parsifal, partly because I’d be throwing rubbery carrots and small dead animals at the stage by the end of act two, but also because, supposing I hadn’t been ejected yet, I’d have pressure sores by the end of act twelve, or whenever it finally stops.

++ On whose head let there be a positive avalanche of small dead animals in an advanced state of decomposition

+++ French operas of that period apparently HAD to have ballets.  There are a lot of standard rep grand operas that seem suddenly and startlingly to come to a thundering [sic] halt for the ballet.  Good time to sneak out for another glass of Prosecco.  Especially if it’s GUILLAUME TELL under this director.

# Oh, and?  The actress does not—or at any rate did not—get a mention in the credits.  Several of us saw some further symbolism in this.

## After both director and ROH head did the blustery bit about artistic integrity and said they weren’t going to change a thing

### There was a lot of raging stupidity elsewhere in this production.  Why the freedom fighters took their shirts off—rarely a performance plus in a large group of opera singers—to smear themselves in blood and dirt before they went into battle was not clear, and went CLANG in a production that had more or less updated the story to the 20th century.  And there is a scene at the end that I’m surprised was even allowed, when the villagers’ children are stripped down to their underwear and bathed in a series of small tubs dotted across the stage.  Presumably it was to indicate Fresh Young New Beginnings, the bad guys having been against the odds seen off, but it was creepy in the extreme.

~~ Some of our wrong turnings tonight looked very familiar since Fiona and I had made them a while back when we tried to find the Toadstool.  We had of course complicated the issue by stopping at a yarn store first which for some reason Peter and Admetus were not interested in.  Men.  Sigh.


The HandleBards. No, really


If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO.  The HandleBards are a hoot.

Admetus and I went last night.  I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity.  I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†

What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††.  Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts.  But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY?  Beulah, peel me a grape.

You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem.  They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience†††  The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down.  Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured.  The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.

You also start laughing before the show even starts.  The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit.  From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur.  They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals.  Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡  Snork.

It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§  When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§  They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways.  May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go.  It was perfect last night.  Only one blanket required.

* * *

* Wrong country?  The UK is a great place for a holiday!  We have Stonehenge!  We have the British Museum!  We have skylarks!  We have lots and lots of rosebushes!  And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^

^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.

** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent

*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on.  You know, ON.  Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp.  A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first.  The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^  Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am.  And damp may come from a variety of sources.  I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.

^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema.  Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+  Scary.

+ Or 88.69 metres.

^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused.   She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.

+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep  but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.

# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed:  those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding.  Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.

##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.

† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob.  I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?

†† From our CHAIRS.  Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS.  Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.

††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.

‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole.  I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.

‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.

‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips.  I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle

§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works.  I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing:  given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises.  Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any.  But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground.  I hope they’re taking their vitamins.   And arnica for bruises.

^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.

§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.

§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^   But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^

^ And tea with cake.

^^ Although my roses are fabulous.

^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised.  So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay?  And pass it on.


A night to remember.* Or not.

Niall and I went bell ringing tonight.  Tower bells.  One proper substantial bell at a time YAAAAAAY.  Not handbells.  Two horrible little random bells at a time NOT YAAAAAAAY.

Long pause.



One of the things about method ringing on handbells is that it is SO FRELLING INSANELY HERCULEAN AND FORMIDABLE AND DEMANDING** that when you can finally ring something it’s like the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you*** and furthermore since in the process you have completely altered the structure of your brain there’s quite a good chance it will stick.†  Tower bell ringing is a ratbag of epic proportions, but in terms of learning the method line, handbells makes it look easy.

But there are important caveats about that easy.  First caveat:  you have to ring any given method often enough to gouge out a channel in your brain.††  Second caveat:  you have to be able to HANDLE the bell you are ringing ACCURATELY.  Which is the one thing—the ONE THING—that handbells has over tower bells in fatal adversarialness:  handling technique is not much of an issue with handbells.  You just shake the frellers.  Tower bells are mostly bigger than you are—usually quite a lot bigger than you are—and tact and adroitness enter the picture.  More or less.

And then there are mini rings.  Where the bells are buckets or flower-pots or large thimbles that say GREETINGS FROM GRIMSBY and you’re essentially ringing something handbell-sized only with all the style and paraphernalia of tower bell ringing.  I HATE MINI RINGS.  THEY’RE THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS.  Which is to say I suck at mini rings.†††

It was a mini ring tonight.‡

WHAT IDIOT INVENTED METHOD BELL RINGING ANYWAY.  After this it’s knitting all the way.  Starting NOW.‡‡

* * *

* We’re having a major storm out there with wind and rain and banshees.  Radio 3 has just fallen off the air with a crash and a whine^ and I’m contemplating with disfavour the prospect of getting the hellmob back to the cottage.  I tend to be a trifle top heavy because I’m carrying a knapsack full of misbehaving technology and the hellhounds are not only tall and long-legged but they don’t weigh anything because they don’t eat and will probably take off like kites the minute they’re out the door.  Which will be hard on my shoulders.  Even weightless hellhounds hitting the ends of their leads at speed tends to be painful.^^

^ And is now making intermittent gobbling noises

^^ There is a good deal of hellmob-derived pain around at the moment:  the hellterror is in full bloody [sic] streaming heat, and a good month early.  She wasn’t due even to start inspiring Darkness—who is the more clued in about these matters—to emerge from the backmost recesses of the hellhound bed, which is where he tends to remain when the hellterror is loose about the landscape, to investigate an evolving situation till about now, and never mind having already moved into the dripping [hellterror] and moaning [hellhounds] phase.  ARRRRRRGH.  I DO NOT WANT HER CYCLE GETTING SHORTER.  I CAN STAND IT EVERY NINE MONTHS.  NOT EIGHT MONTHS.  NOT SEVEN MONTHS.  NOT . . .

Meanwhile she’s not in a very good mood either.  Not only won’t I let her play with the hellhounds, and while Darkness tends to disappear into the shadows, torturing Chaos is one of her favourite games+, but she is at present only allowed to hang out in rooms with vinyl floors.  This means, for example, at the cottage she cannot come into the sitting room with me when I enter the Magical Dog Food Grotto to fetch a fresh tin or bag of something,++ nor can she accompany me upstairs to fetch the thing I know I brought downstairs a minute ago but can’t find.  Although this last is a rather desirable state of affairs given hellterror ebullience and the state of my floors as storage space.  Hellhounds negotiate, delicately, the many obstacles to straightforward passage from one room to the next.  Hellterrors spring and ricochet with abandon.  Those little bedspring legs certainly could clear the piles of books, magazines, All Stars, yarn, etc, but what’s the fun in that?  The most interesting effect however was when she knocked twenty hardback copies of SHADOWS downstairs.  Very, very interesting.  Very.

Nobody died.  That’s all you need to know.

+ Second only to hurling herself upon me in gladness and felicity when her paws are muddy and my jeans were clean a minute ago. #

# One of my many failures as a dog owner, as I believe I have told you before, is that it seems to me entirely reasonable that something only about twelve inches tall should want to jump up on you.~

~ Hey, she rolls over beautifully for little pieces of roast chicken.  What do you want, perfection?=

= She is a funny wee thing in a lot of ways.  As Southdowner told me what seems like forty centuries ago—and years before Lavvy got pregnant—you keep bull terriers because they make you laugh.  Bull terriers are also hungry all the time and to a dog, possibly especially a short dog, who is hungry all the time, almost everything looks like food.  Pav has learnt that I have an inexplicable dislike of her ingesting random bits of rubbish we meet out hurtling and we have reached a compromise about this which works reasonably well most of the time.  Something that is positively not edible, like a plastic bottle—she and Chaos share a passion for crunching plastic bottles between their teeth for the noise, but even Pav doesn’t seem to want to eat them—she will, on command [sic], when we stop by a trash bin, ‘drop’.%  If, however, her current prize is deemed edible, she will not drop.%%  But if I have lodged my protest promptly she will graciously not swallow either, but I do have to get down on my knees and frelling hoick it out of her mouth while she stands, unresisting, with the little evil eye twinkling away at me and the thought-balloon over her head clearly reading heh heh heh heh.  When the thus-removed substance is pizza or sandwich-end or similar, no big.  Yuck, but no big.  BUT SOMETIMES.  EW.  WHAT IS THAT?  EW.  EWWWWWWWW.  I swear she prances with several inches more boing per bounce after one of these encounters.

% And her resultant glow of fatuous virtue may last even a second or two.

%% What do I think she is, stupid?

++The Magical Dog Food Grotto contains only sealed containers of bull terrier ultimate desire, but she can tell the stuff’s in there somewhere.

** If there are any method handbell ringers out there reading this and shaking their heads in puzzlement because it is not difficult, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.  Indeed if you decide to join the forum so you can remonstrate with me—kindly of course and using words of one syllable as befits the case—I will not only instantly DELETE your comments with menaces and rude gestures but I will tell Blogmom to Ban You Forever^ plus a few years.

^ and your little dog too.

*** Chocolate?  Nope.  Champagne?  Uh-uh.  Perfect love?  Nah.  Hot fabulous lateral-orbitofrontal-cortex-exploding sex?  . . . Um.  Wait a minute.  Let me think.^

^ If I say handbells I will lose all credibility forever.  Such a dilemma.

† Sadly you will probably have to go through the brain-restructure thing with every additional method.  I can now (mostly, sort of) ring both bob minor and bob major AND MY SKULL HAS RUN OUT OF ROOM FOR ANY FURTHER EXPANSION.^  Planning permission for the new conservatory off the existing building will be denied.

^ Cambridge.+ Whimper.  Yorkshire++  Mega whimper.

+ Yes.  This is the name of a method.

++ Yes.  This is too.  Cambridge (minor, on six bells) and Yorkshire (which cannot be rung on fewer than eight bells) represent the PINNACLE of my handbell yearning, and I have about as much chance of attaining either of them as the hellhounds have of achieving weight-bearing lift-off on the walk home tonight and flying me there.#

# Long-time readers of this blog may feel they recall that some years ago I was grappling with Cambridge on handbells with some modest degree of success.  Yes.  Very modest.  I could get through about half a plain course on the front pair of bells.  This is like someone who wants to ride in the Grand National being able to sit in the saddle if the horse isn’t doing anything.

†† Tower bell ringing:  1,000,000,000,000 times, approximately.  This is a lot of hours out of your life.   Handbell ringing:  1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times, approximately.  Which is even more hours out of your life.  And that’s still only per pair of bells.  You can move around a lot easier from single bell to single bell in the tower^ than you can from pair of bells to pair of bells in handbells.  IT’S LIKE LEARNING A WHOLE FLAMING NEW METHOD, EVERY RATBLASTED PAIR OF HANDBELLS.^^  ARRRRRRRRRRRGH.

^ Barring little circumstantial details like the bell whose rope regularly jumps off its wheel, or the bell that has an interesting relationship with the corner of the church its rope hangs over so that on every backstroke the pew or the misericord or the flying buttress or whatever the doodah that is immediately behind you reaches out and whacks you one.  Keep your mind on your bobs under those conditions.

^^ All these diverse sub-methods do eventually meet up into one grand over-arching meta-method but that’s a lot of zeroes down that very long queue.

††† Niall can ring anything, including mini rings.  I have considered hating Niall, but . . . no.  He makes very good brownies, even if I do have to ring handbells to get any.  Also, I couldn’t hate him tonight, we went in his car.

‡ It wasn’t supposed to be a mini ring, of course, or I’d’ve stayed home.  I’VE BEEN BAITED AND SWITCHED.  I NEED CHOCOLATE.

‡‡ Maybe I’ll even finish this frelling two-years-and-counting scarf by this winter

A Day of Lows


Wolfgang and I managed to run over Peter today.

No, no, Peter’s fine*.  JESUS GOD AND ALL THE SAINTS.  I’m a freaking hysterical meltdown mess.  Peter seems to have thought it was FUNNY.  He thinks it’s FUNNY to be married to a CRAZY HOMICIDAL** WIFE.

We’ve had two beautiful spring days in a row.  I’ve been trying to hack out time for frantic gardening:  this is the time of year when I very very briefly believe that maybe THIS year I’m going to have the garden at the cottage in something almost resembling order for more than three seconds the end of April.***  I’m not expecting to attain a very close facsimile of order . . . just, you know, frothy ebullience caused by healthy plants doing what they feel like doing instead of what I had planned for them to do.  This does however require that the plants I planted thrive and the frelling weeds grow less fast than I yank them up.  The back wall is at present a jungle nightmare of last year’s skeletal goose grass, all of which will have seeded and seeded and seeded.

ANYWAY.  Peter and I usually go to the big library on Tuesday afternoon and have a nice cup of tea in the café, usually with two or three or eight books per while we decide what we want to check out and take home with us.  Peter felt that a fancy country garden with a café with outdoor tables was what he wanted today †† . . . and I brought Pav along for her first encounter with Montmorency’s Folly.†††

The last bit of drive is narrow and lumpy.  I wanted to let Peter off as close to the gate as possible, so I’d pulled in pretty hard against the end of the hedge so that other cars heading for the car park could squeeze past me.  He climbed out of Wolfgang and . . .

I know how slowly he moves these days, and I know the way that right foot turns out, and that it’s slower than the left foot.‡  I know these things.  I guess all I can say is that I was worried about getting out of the way before—ahem!—someone ran into us, and that I was preoccupied with cars coming up on my right.  I put Wolfgang into reverse and . . .

There was a colossal thud, and Peter disappeared from view.  AAAAAAAAAUGH.

And some helpful person came rushing over while I was hysterically turning Wolfgang off and slamming on the handbrake.  When I scrambled around to the other side I discovered my husband lying on the ground with his right foot trapped under Wolfgang’s left front wheel.

Not very far.  Peter was saying I’m fine, I’m fine, or words to that effect—I admit my memory is not totally clear on this point—but it was only his shoe, not his foot, that was being lightly crushed.  Now if I’d had any sense whatsoever I’d’ve told him to get his foot OUT of the shoe before I tried to roll forward, but I didn’t, I rushed back to the driver’s side—shaking like an aspen, I might add—while the Helpful Person said, Be careful not to roll backwards!

Ahem.  Do I have to tell you we were on a slight hill so that the moment I took the handbrake off we would roll backwards?  By this time the Helpful Person’s husband had turned up, why didn’t one of these people who wasn’t related to the man on the ground and wasn’t driving the car that had just knocked him over say LET’S GET THE SHOE OFF AND GET HIM OUT OF HARM’S WAY BEFORE WE DO ANYTHING ELSE?

But they didn’t.  And I spent a few seconds taking deep breaths, put Wolfgang into gear and . . . rolled forward perfectly.  Peter said later that the fender had caught him on that weak right leg as I turned the wheel to angle away from the hedge—having not adequately checked first that he was clear—and when he fell his right foot had . . .

I don’t remember much about the garden.  Pav enjoyed herself and thought rolling around on the courtyard gravel outside the café was an adventure, and while she was perhaps a trifle exuberant her only serious breakdown in . . . well, let’s not say manners, let’s say pretence of manners, was when I left her BRIEFLY tied to Peter’s chair to fetch sugar and silverware—Peter having brought me a fresh pot of tea—and you’d have thought I was leaving her in a basket on some convent steps with insufficient provisions.  This has nothing to do with emotional attachment, you realise:  it’s because from her perspective I was going toward a place that smelled more like food than where she was and leaving her behind.  A fine coloratura of protest followed.

I didn’t run over anybody else.  NEXT WEEK WE GO TO THE LIBRARY.

And you may have noticed the title of this post is ‘A Day of Lows’ as in plural?  Yes.  On any other day I would tell you how I spent over an hour on the phone to my American bank and they having confirmed that the wire had been sent, followed up shortly with an email saying it hadn’t, and that I have to do it all over again tomorrow.

* * *

* Believe me if he wasn’t I would not be writing this blog report of the incident.  I would either be in jail or throwing myself off a bridge.^

^ Having first left the hellmob in a series of baskets on the steps of the local . . . um.  We don’t actually have a local convent and I’m not sure how the monks feel about foundlings.+  I think really it’s a good thing I didn’t run over Peter very hard.

+ I do know that Alfrick does not like dogs.#  Which is his only major character flaw now that he’s given up smoking.

# Shocking.  Oh, no, wait, it’s probably the Franciscans who have to be soppy about animals.  I don’t remember if Benedict says anything about critters being your brothers and sisters.~

~ ‘Sister Death’ is pretty well known but apparently Francis also called his various illnesses and disabilities his brothers and sisters, which casts a slight shadow on his attitude toward our animal brethren and sistren.  This also makes the ME my evil twin, but I knew that already.

** Homicidal and incompetent.  Fortunately.

*** We are not facing the reality of the garden at Third House at all.^  Nina recently was saying kindly that she could come round some weekend afternoon and help me get the stuff out of its overgrown pots and into the ground.  Politely failing to point out that some of it has been in its (overgrown) pots for years.  I do usually manage to get the pots-in-waiting stuff fed, which is of course part of the reason some of it is quite so overgrown.  I’m sure garden centres sell their plants in flimsy plastic pots for reasons of price control, but if you have to CUT the plant out of its pot by the time you get round to putting it in the ground, flimsy is good.

^ I still haven’t got the attic any more sorted than ‘can fight way through from stairs to back wall’.+

+ Worse, I keep looking around and wondering if there’s ANY CHANCE I could bash out space for the green horsehair sofa, which is the one remaining oversized piece of furniture at the mews.  We’re supposed to be selling it.  It’s not grand, it’ll only fetch a ‘just about worth it to hire the van’ price, but it’s another of the old Dickinson family pieces and we got it restuffed and recovered as part of the New Wife thing when I first moved over here into the old house, and I am a sentimental cow.  Also I chose the green velvet it is now covered with, and the hellhounds and I have spent many happy hours on it.  Some of the upholstered old family furniture had seen a few more generations than was good for it, and as I recall I blanched and trembled at it in its earlier state.

† It will be worth it, trying to catch up with the wretched stuff^ if it has seeded really enthusiastically in my neighbour-over-the-back-wall’s garden, whose ugly shed roof ruins my view.  The problem with this plan is that the neighbour won’t care.  He’ll just hire another gardener.

^ At least it’s easy to pull up unlike most of the worst perennial weeds.  However because it is, as Peter used to call it, nature’s Velcro, you also come away from a weeding session looking like the Abominable Goose Grass Person and needing frelling hedge trimmers and possibly a flamethrower to get it off you again.  Also, however many huge green garden bags you have satisfyingly tamped full of the stuff, by the time you’ve squashed as many of these as you can fit into Wolfgang to haul off to the dump, and possibly sat down to have a cup of tea, it will all have grown back again.

†† It’s not like we don’t have plenty to read. 

††† Hellhounds have been round the edges of Montmorency’s Folly many, many times, but the rules about dogs inside the garden are discouraging^ and they would be miserable lying in the courtyard while we had our tea.  Pav, on the other hand . . .

^ And with the number of uncontrolled dogs and quantity of unpicked-up crap there is in this country I am not going to argue about this ruling.

‡ You Americans must remember we have right-hand drive in this country, so my passenger is getting out on the left, with his right side nearer the side of the car.

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