Not counting poor Third House I now have three gardens: the four-burner Aga size behind the cottage, the hall cupboard large enough for one unlined raincoat and a pair of All Stars if you pile one on top of the other size behind the Lodge, and a ragged grassy square about the size of the palm of my hand* in a corner between two ancient, falling-down sarcophagi in the churchyard twenty seconds from my front door. Since Peter was a clematis man I’m eyeing the sarcophagi and wondering if anyone would mind if I planted a clematis next to the gravestone–there will be a gravestone eventually–and tossed it over them as it got going. One each possibly. I’m afraid to ask what the rules about churchyard planting are since I’m sure I won’t like them.
I do have photos from yesterday but I think they may be maudlin. If I decide they aren’t maudlin I’ll think about posting them next 26 July. This one is probably maudlin too but I’m incapable of believing that a photo of a red rose is ever inappropriate**. Something I didn’t tell you yesterday because I was already too deranged is that I threw my wedding bouquet in the bottom of the hole before the box went in.*** My bouquet was the one a-little-bit sad thing about our wedding: we left for London almost immediately after the registrar finished declaring us husband and wife so I only had it about two hours; we’d only picked it up on our way to the registrar’s office. But I knew I wanted to dry it so I could keep it, so I hung it upside-down in the kitchen before we left, and it was toast by the time we got back.† It’s been sitting in a particular china pitcher for the last twenty four and a half years but I knew I wanted to bury it with him.†† Although that empty pitcher is now very eye-catching.
I wanted to say one more thing about all of this. I’m not mythologizing–much. I’m telling you the truth–my truth–about death and grief the way I have always tried to tell you the truth about anything I write here: but all public blog truths are consciously selective truths and I’m a professional writer. Peter was not a perfect human being and you already know with knobs on that I’m not a perfect human being. In some very important ways we were a gloriously, life-enhancingly, ridiculously well-matched couple. In some other very important ways we didn’t get on at all. Everyone is a control freak about something, and our control freakeries did not integrate well. And I’m stubborn, but I have nothing on Peter; I keep remembering that I called him ‘monolithic’ in my memorial piece. Yes. I’m (ahem) volatile and (ahem) reactive, not to say overreactive, um, yes, let’s say overreactive, and Peter was a proper British gentleman who reverted to type under stress. As I grieve I am not remembering a halcyon, glittering marriage with twinkling stars and fluffy bunnies–NO BUNNIES–with twinkling stars and dancing centaurs with rhinestone-studded hooves††† that went on and on in days full of unbroken golden sunlight‡ and the smell of roses, even in January. And the last two years were grim. But we loved each other and we did our best. And I miss him horribly.
* * *
* I have big hands.
** Or a pink rose, or a white rose, or . . .
*** I’d been expecting some little cardboard number, just something to transport the ashes to the ground where they could become one with tree roots and earthworms, but it was this disturbingly classy wooden box with a plaque with his name on it. Eeep. It looks like the kind of thing you keep on the mantelpiece to discourage visitors. If ash receptacles were discussed when we were first arranging the funeral, including indecorous details like the practical disposal of a dead body, I completely spaced on it, but I’m doing a lot of that. We got the British-made woven-willow coffin right, and the flowers, and that’s what counts to me.
† We had dinner at a blisteringly grand restaurant in Knightsbridge that doesn’t seem to exist any more and I kept looking across the table and thinking, you mean I get to keep him?, spent the night at the Ritz, yah hoo whammy^, spent another night in London to go to the opera^^ and then drove to Cornwall for the rest of our honeymoon. I’ve told you this story, right? Peter said, so, where would you like to go for the honeymoon? France? Italy? Japan? Er, I said. Cornwall?
^ They give you a bottle of complementary champagne if you say you’ve just got married.^ I still have the bottle. You’re not surprised, I hope.
^ I assume they check? Otherwise this system seems to me rife with possibility of misuse by the champagne-loving crowd who can afford the Ritz’s prices. Spend £1,000,000,000 on a room and get a £50 bottle of champagne FREE!
^^ Turandot, because that’s what was on, not because I wanted to see Turandot, the plot of which makes me chew the wallpaper particularly hard. I’m reasonably sure I’ve done a Turandot rant on these pages. But, you know, opera, on your honeymoon. Yessssssss. Hey, it wasn’t me! Peter suggested it! Because he was lovely and adorable and kind and thoughtful when he wasn’t being totally frelling impossible.
†† Note that dried flowers as they get older and frailer, because I didn’t treat these with anything that would make them last, become increasingly undustable, and removing sticky cobwebs? Forget it.
††† You may have guessed I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
‡ This was happening in England after all.
Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous day when I picked up that slightly-known-by-me, undeniably mad but equally undeniably fabulously talented British writer Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine airport, for a weekend of playing tour guide to someone who’d never been to Maine before. I was usually pretty good at this, and Maine is very show-off-able, nearly all year long,* but Peter was a somewhat daunting prospect. In the first place he was PETER! DICKINSON! and in the second place . . . I knew Peter well enough—anyone who ever met him for thirty seconds knew him this well—to know that he would need to be kept amused. Long afternoons relaxing in a lawn chair getting through the home-made iced tea and chocolate-chip cookies was not going to appeal.* Mind you, he was totally capable of amusing himself, but this could also be disconcerting. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that when I presented him with lunch that first day, he looked at the two or three kinds of bread, bowl of fruit, salad, and assorted cheeses, spreads and nut butters, with total dread and dismay and said, That’s not lunch! Where are the shops? I’ll go buy something. *** But have I told you—and forgive me if I have—the first words out of his mouth when he came through my front door for the first time, and I had opened my tiny hall closet† to hang up his coat, he peered into it and said, would you like me to build you a shelf? And I could do better than those coat hooks.
That was twenty-five years ago today.
Today was his interment.
I can’t remember how much of this I’ve told you already, and if I look back at this year’s blog posts it’ll just make me cry. I’ve cried enough today. You will remember that he died just before Christmas, and the memorial service was early January. Those of the family likely to want to be there for the interment agreed that there was no hurry, that waiting for better weather was a good idea. I’d originally wanted it in April, when spring is clearly here and the bluebells are out, but I couldn’t find a date that enough of us could come—‘us’ being chiefly Peter’s four kids and his retired-dean-of-Salisbury brother, who would also do the saying-a-few-words thing—and then I kind of lost heart. As I’ve told you both morale and energy have been in short supply since the middle of last December. May was passing and people were away in June and . . . I suddenly thought of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We used to celebrate both the 26th of July and the 3rd of January, which was our wedding day, but I think if anything we took the 26th of July more seriously because it was so utterly improbable that what happened did happen, and I’ve been living in England twenty-five years the end of this October and answer (sometimes) to ‘Mrs Dickinson’. I blinked a few times and thought yes. It’s going to be the 26th of July. And I hope people can come, but if they can’t, the interment is still going to be the 26th of July. I’m the widow. I’m pulling rank.
As it turns out it was a good date for nearly everybody. Butterfly-netting the local vicar was a little more demanding because of the way vicars work twenty-six hours a day and rarely answer phone calls. I finally had the critical meeting with the gravedigger yesterday, but at least it happened, and there was a suitable small square hole for a little box of ashes waiting for us today at noon.††
I’ve been obsessing about today increasingly for about the last fortnight and yesterday afternoon decided that I was going to make myself even more entirely crazy and go to early Mass this morning because I needed that sense of the presence of God that the abbey chapel gives me either like a warm eiderdown or a heavy blow to the head, I’ve never quite decided which.††† What a gift somewhere that offers daily Mass is: you have an inconveniently timed crisis? It’s okay. Go to Mass. It’s the spiritual version of kissing and making it better: it doesn’t really, but it does too, somehow. And there’s that wonderful sense of leaning on someone, or Someone, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. Your own griefs and responsibilities don’t go away, but you do get to lean.‡
I’d also decided that if I was going to wedge this in, and still get home in time to eat something‡‡ and hurtle the mob I was going to have to go in my party duds. Which today included sparkly bracelets to the elbows (nearly), a pink cashmere cardigan, the flowered Docs and the Liberty’s rhinestone belt I wore to the memorial service and my old black denim mini. Yes, I’m sixty-four‡‡‡, and I wore my forty-year-old denim mini. This occasional reversion to wild youth§ is getting more and more embarrassing, of course—it became officially embarrassing when I turned fifty which is now a long time ago—AND I DON’T CARE. Peter liked me in my minis§§, and it’s not like I do this often. And 400-denier black tights cover a multitude of the sins of age. But I am not thinking about what the group of little old conservatively dressed people at the abbey on retreat§§§ must have made of this vision in their midst, especially when it sat up front and cried like a river in spring flood through the entire service. Gah.#
So. Well. The little box was lowered into the little hole.## Our local vicar did us proud, entirely without prompting or input from me###, and had put together not only a thoughtful brief ceremony, but printed out programmes with a photostat of Peter’s CITY OF GOLD on the front. And Peter’s brother said a few words too which made me cry harder.~
We all retired to the Questing Beast for lunch~~ which put off the awful moment of coming home to . . . loneliness. With the interment it’s really, really all over, somehow. And I bunged the hellhounds~~~ into the back of Wolfgang and we went off to Warm Upford: I’m not sure if this was misty, romantic remembering or self-torture, but we walked from Montmorency’s Folly to the ridge behind the old house and through the meme field from Peter’s poem—and also, I didn’t think about this until we were already out of the car and hurtling, but we were recreating backwards most of the walk Peter took me on thirty years ago when I visited him and his first wife, which was the proximate cause of his visiting me in Maine five years later.
The hellhounds and I had a lovely walk. Late summer in the glorious Hampshire countryside.=
And then we came home again and I took the hellterror on a long hurtle== by the river, remembering that Peter had brought me through New Arcadia from Heathrow===, on our way to what was soon to be my home too, after our life-exploding weekend in Maine, when I came over for a week to see what I was getting into. . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. . . .
Maybe I should go to bed.
* * *
************************************ NOTE THAT THIS WOULD HAVE GONE UP OVER AN HOUR AGO IF MY SO CALLED COMPUTER HADN’T GONE INTO FREE FALL.
* Winter is usually fine, if you have four wheel drive and good nerves, but barring March, when everything that has been frozen for the last four or five months melts, and it is not a pretty sight. Or smell. And black fly season. Black fly season is . . . worse than whatever you’re thinking. Zombies and vampires are so overdone. One of these horror writers needs to do something with black flies. Stephen King even lives in Maine.^
^ Although he may have done black flies and I missed it. I’ve only read a few of his books—out of Maine-author solidarity, although I doubt he’s ever heard of me—because they ARE TOO SCARY. And gross. I don’t do gross either.+
+ SUNSHINE’s climax isn’t even close. The only reason it looks yucky is because most people come to it having read BEAUTY or SPINDLE or . . . pretty much anything else I’ve written.
** Aside from the fact that this was not going to appeal to me either. Nor did I have any lawn chairs. Nor any lawn. And my quarter-acre^ was overshadowed almost entirely by the magnificent old maple tree in the front yard and several house-high boulders in the back. And lilac hedges down either side.
^ Which is a TINY plot in Maine and a HUGE garden in southern England. Granted we had two acres at the old house, but here at the cottage my garden is about the size of a four-burner Aga, and the garden at the Lodge is about the size of my hall cupboard in Maine. See below. Or above, depending on how you’re coping with the footnotes.
*** I married him anyway.
† Well, it was a tiny front hall. Two of us standing in it was kind of a feet-and-elbow fest. Now add a cavorting whippet.
†† Yes of course I went round—with hellhounds—last night and checked. I walk through that churchyard two, four, six times a day anyway, because it’s the nearest pleasant bit of grass for the hellmob. We’ll be walking through the churchyard to visit Peter just like we used to . . . like we used to . . . no I’m still not cried out yet.
††† Both St Margaret’s and St Radegund’s, here in New Arcadia, where Peter is now buried, have the presence of God too, but God is, for me, especially vivid and almost tactile at the abbey chapel. I don’t feel thumped in either St Margaret’s or St Radegund’s.
‡ Someone who is better at prayer than I am can of course get the same effect at home. I do pray at home^ and I am aware of God listening, but it’s a lot easier at church, where the church-space supports your tiny personal prayer-space.
‡‡ I can’t face more than tea and apples when I first lurch out of bed in the morning. The next thing on the menu these days is a Green Drink. I will spare you the ghastly details. It’s Very Healthy, and it’s another of those things that as your taste buds change you actually want to drink. Which is kind of frightening. I AM NOT GWYNETH PALTROW. NOT.
‡‡‡ Some of you will remember I start calling myself the age I will turn in November the summer before, so by the time I get to my birthday I’m used to it.
§ Some of you will also remember the black leather mini at Forbidden Planet a few years ago.
§§ Yes, his vision had been deteriorating for a while. And your point would be?
§§§ I say ‘little old’ but they’re probably frelling my age, they’re just doing it with more dignity. Dignity is overrated. And I brought my little cropped black leather jacket^ to drape over my knees. I am not lost to all propriety. Just most of it.
^ Which is about the same vintage as the skirt. Ah, those were the days. I’m so glad they’re over.
# Some of this was sheer relief and gratitude that I got there. On the way, arriving at the turn-off from the main road AND THE ROAD WAS CLOSED. NOOOOOOOOOOO. I NEED TO GET TO MASS AT THE ABBEY! I TOTALLY NEED TO! Fortunately Wolfgang reminded me that we know another way^. We weren’t even late, although we may have been slightly out of breath.
^ There were a few ‘diversion’ signs but they were mostly invisible in the hedgerows, badly placed behind other signs or missing at crucial intersections. More mild entertainment than, you know, directions for an alternate route.
## And had all that deluge earlier cried me out or anything? OF COURSE NOT. I am pleased to say however, that one other of our company at the interment, whom I will not embarrass by naming, is also a weeper, so at least I didn’t have to do the whole soggy thing alone.
### Our local vicar is a sweetie. I feel a bit guilty for belonging to another church five miles away—which is a confounded nuisance on bad-ME days as well—but this is a political decision, and nothing against the vicar here.
~ These began: ‘Here we return these ashes to the quiet earth from which they came. They were formed of star dust and spun for a few short days into a life that dreamed and sang, that loved and wept, and died. . . .’ They’re all writers in this family.
~~ Where there was almost nothing I could eat, of course, but that’s why I needed to eat some of my Funny Food beforehand. And they did have green tea and lettuce.
~~~ Thank you, God, for the hellmob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
= Full of excellent smells, the hellhounds wish me to point out.
== I anticipate being decaying vegetable matter^ tomorrow. Never mind.
^ Oh, the wormery? Seems to be working fine. I guess. Still rather enigmatic. But it does add that touch of pink to my kitchen décor. One thing however: the bumf that comes with assures you that the worms can’t get out. Wrong. Not many+ and not often, but every two or three days I come downstairs to find a confused worm dawdling across the kitchen floor, or, more likely, under one of the dirt-catcher mats THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAN HA HA HA HA HA HA, which I am learning to check, while I’m waiting for my (green) tea to steep. I think most people keep their wormeries in the garden or this interesting situation would be More Generally Known.
+ Unless they’re congregating under the washing machine, the refrigerator, or one of the hellmob crates, in which case I don’t want to know.
=== Where he had lost the car in the multi-storey car park . . .
I had the best working morning today—you know, story-words on computer screen type working morning—that I’ve had in yonks.* So I thought I’d write a blog post to celebrate.
A lot of my long silences here are just . . . long silences. One foot after the other days** when getting the hellmob even semi-hurtled is the height of my ambition or capacity.*** But some of it, on evenings when brain function is still just about discernible, is not knowing where to start. I’m still programmed to be doing this every night, I just haven’t the time, the energy, or the morale. And I don’t do the graceful summary thing.† I’m missing the wetware interface for graceful summary. So, ahem and apologies, Footnote Delirium ahoy.
But, you know, a good writing day? This deserves some banner-waving affirmation. Maybe I’ll even do it again tomorrow. The story-writing that is. I’d probably break if I wrote a blog post two nights in a row.
Meanwhile . . . hello and whatever and I hope you’re all well and thriving and reading great books out there in on-line land.
* * *
* I’ve been working for a while now, but an awful lot of days it’s more, um, ‘working’. I have lots of days where I write three words and delete seventeen. You have too many days like this you have a bigger problem than when you weren’t ‘working’ at all.
** Sometimes no farther than the sofa, where the feet stop one-after-anothering and cross themselves on the armrest, the hellmob pummels the inert human body into some less than satisfactory semblance of comfy rumpled bedding^, and silence reigns. Except for the soggy pop of gloomy human thoughts exploding, and the hellterror snoring.
^ Fortunately they are mostly tolerant of badly-placed knees and ribcages.
*** Also the way I eat now takes AMAZING amounts of preparation. GOOD GRIEF. Anyone trying to maintain a mostly fresh-organic-fruit-and-veg diet had just better bring her laptop into the kitchen and get it over with because she’s going to be in the kitchen most of the time anyway. In my case this is even more challenging than for someone who has, bless them grrrrrr, a real kitchen rather than a blip with a few cupboards. My only half decent countertop is now my desk. Arrrgh. It’s quite useful to have a sink full of dirty dishes: balance your chopping board on top of it and, lo, counterspace. Arrrrgh. And? And? Why has the British Appliance Agglutination decreed that all electric flexes on countertop appliances should be no more than three inches long^ ??!!??? In this kitchen this means that every time I decide to get my juicer^^ out it’s a major schlep of STUFF . . . mostly onto the floor, so it’s a very good thing that the hellterror has decided that stuff on the floor is not automatically interesting, unless, of course, it smells of foooooood. Chaos, who likes to lie near the Aga occasionally, will sometimes lay his head delicately on a well-placed and –balanced pile of books, magazines, rough drafts, notebooks shedding Notes to Self, prayer plans and private, idiosyncratic modernisations of applicable Psalms+++ and business letters I’m trying to forget. Disturbing a sleeping dog is, of course, not to be thought of, so on these occasions I get a stiff neck, a warped shoulder and a crick in my spine leaning over the sleeping dog to get at the frelling juicer, three inches away from the wall. You’d think the noise of the thing would wake him up and move him on but . . . nooooooooo.
^ ‘eight centimetres’ doesn’t even sound that much longer
^^ Juicing. The faffiest flapdoodling faff of all GOOD FREAKING DOODAH GRIEF. And the FOOTPRINT of your average juicer?! Sixteen hellterrors or a small bus. Unfortunately I’m developing a, you should forgive the term, taste for juicing. Not only, if you get it right, is a barrowload of fresh raw juice an amazing hit+, but if you got a little carried away at the chance-found organic farmer’s market stall or the offers from your on-line organic grocery delivery gang that week, you can always juice your superfluity.++
+ Especially for those of us who can barely remember what chocolate is any more.# Your taste buds really do change. A few months AC## and raw carrot-apple-beetroot-sweet-potato### juice is so frelling sweet you’re sure it must be bad for you.
# In case of accidents, I’ve passed my stash on to the monks.
## After Chocolate
### Raw sweet potato. Yes. Parsnip is supposed to be good too but it was out of season by the time I started getting goofy over juicing.
++ Also there are now worms. Hungry worms. I’ve been threatening a wormery for a while now, as I’ve probably mentioned here: I don’t have room for a compost heap, or several compost heaps, since you have to rotate them#, at either the cottage or the Lodge or the cottage plus Lodge, and I’ve always had a veg-trimmings problem, even before I went doolally in the alkaline-paleo-vegan direction, and with juicing I now REALLY have a problem, and our local recycle guys get cranky if there’s too much kitchen detritus among the rich plunder of triffid-lash nettles, evil creeping buttercup and taking-over-the-universe ground elder.##
BUT I’ve been saying, I’ll buy a wormery later. I’ve got enough going on and besides I can’t afford it, I’ve got all these vegetables I have to buy every week plus lorryloads of hellmob food.###
Meanwhile I am mysteriously on the hot list for ringing weddings this summer. Stay with me here, this is not a non sequitur. My energy levels, including the number of neurons firing in my brain, at any given day/hour/frozen stalactite of time, are both unpredictable and unreliable, and while I haven’t yet missed a wedding by being too wombly to drive to the tower, there have been weddings when I prayed for the rest of the band to be beginners so no one would expect me to ring methods.#### I made a bristling . . . um, compost heap . . . of a couple of pathetically basic methods at a couple of weddings and was totally ready to fall on my sword, except that ringers who are willing to ring weddings must be in short supply around here at the moment or they wouldn’t be asking me in the first place.
So there was a wedding at Crabbiton##### a few weeks ago. And Wild Robert was running the band. And I should be used to his taking-no-prisoners habits by now, but IT’S A WEDDING. Feh. He drove us through methods I can’t ring recognisably on practise nights and I crawled home that night brainlessly high with my preposterous success###### and too exhausted to be sensible. So I bought a wormery. Of course. As you do.####### I’ve even rung enough weddings to cover the cost.
Hey. It’s PINK. No, really. I might not have bought it if it had been a subdued, business-like colour. But PINK? It looks very cute sitting next to the kitchen sink, except for the tripping-over-it, the-kitchen-door-only-opens-halfway part. I also have no idea whether it’s working or not, except for the fact that it smells nice when I open it to throw in some more apple cores and herb stems and armfuls of post-juicing sludge.
# SIGH for the beautiful, built-by-Atlas wood-framed compost heaps at Third House. SIIIIIIIGH.~
~ Note that Brexit is a catastrophe. Including that the real estate market just hit bottom and frelling splattered. You may remember I am trying—I wildly and hysterically need—to sell Third House? But that’s a post for another day. Preferably when I’m feeling stronger. Preferably after the time machine unspools us back to the Wednesday before Really, Really Bad Thursday and this time we stay in the EU, thank you very much. And I’ll think of something else to write a blog post about.=
= No a female Prime Minster is NOT worth it. Especially when she’s another thrice-blasted Tory.%
% I’m also having one of my American moments about the speed at which we acquired a new PM. I’m sure this must be illegal somehow. And the Queen is in on it.
## I almost forgive enchanter’s nightshade for being an ineradicable festering-festering ratbag weed for the excellence of its name.
### What I want to know is why, when the hellhounds don’t eat, we seem to get through SO MUCH dog food. ::Eyes the hellterror::
#### Also, stage fright. If you bollix it up on practise night, eh, it’s practise night. If you bollix it up for a wedding EVERYONE HATES YOU, except the bride, the groom, and the wedding party, who don’t notice. But how many frelling weddings have I rung over the years? I still get stage fright. And open ground floor rings are my deepest, bursting-galaxies nightmare, because everyone comes down to your end and leans on the barrier rope and stares at you and PROBABLY TAKES PICTURES. WITHOUT ASKING, OF COURSE, BECAUSE YOU’RE PART OF THE MULTI-MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT. Crabbiton is a ground floor ring.
##### See: ground floor ring. See: stage fright.
###### Wild Robert is a sorcerer. It’s the only explanation.
####### In the old days I’d’ve had to wait till the shops opened the next day, by which time I might have reclaimed my common sense, or cast an eye over my bank balance. On line shopping is also a Borg invention. Or possibly a critical factor in turning the human population into mush-minded proto-slaves, primed and ready for the return of Cthulhu.
+++ The ranting, miserable-sod ones of course. ‘Heal me, o God, for my bones are troubled.’
† The WHAT? What was that word before ‘summary’? Keep it away from me, I have sensitive skin, I’m sure it would burn.^
^ And, not speaking [of] the e-word, it’s also guaranteed that the day I put on clean jeans will be the day the hellterror and I have the kind of adventure which requires I pick her up and rest her muddy feet on my hip to ensure our best odds for survival. ARRRRRRGH. We met two women with five loose dogs—five large loose dogs—on the barely-one-thin-person-wide river path a few days ago, and the women were so profoundly engaged in their conversation that the hellterror and I had pied-pipered their flock of hairy, oversized rats some considerable distance before they even NOTICED. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.#
# And two days ago the hellhounds and I were walking across one of the little rec grounds in town when an idiot woman with a terrier on a lead and a spaniel off lead came through the gate. Hellhounds and I, a good thirty feet away, paused warily . . . and the gorblimey spaniel came hell-for-leather at us, barking and snarling, and circling closer and closer and closer . . . CALL YOUR [*******] DOG, I said, and Ms Porridge-Brain said something like, oh now, Sweetbuns, that’s not necessary, in this placatory voice, and Sweetbuns of course ignored her entirely, making little rushes and snatches at my dogs and me.
So I kicked the bugger.
Ms Porridge-Brain melted down. I melted down right back at her. He was only protecting me! she yelled in outrage. PROTECTING YOU? YOU ARE THIRTY FEET AWAY AND HE WAS [*******] THREATENING MY DOGS, I yelled back. HE IS OFF LEAD AND MINE ARE ON LEAD. The exchange may have deteriorated from that high point of communicatory clarity. And I’m still angry.
. . . Um. Not a good way to end a blog post. Um? La la la la la la la. . . . I’ve just memorised the lyrics to ‘Lord of the Dance’, I could sing . . .
Part of the problem is that I don’t know what to say to you—to the blog. The Blog Persona, already crumbly at the edges since Peter’s first stroke, disintegrated when he died. It was based on a few simple facts including that I was married to a lovely mad Englishman named Peter. You yank a cornerstone like that out from under a house—even a fairground funhouse*—and it goes down with a crash.
I assume I will bolt together a new Blog Persona out of scavenged fragments of the old—like Peter building the kitchen at the old house out of bits scrounged from the tip and the side of the road waiting for dustbin pick up**—although the broken funhouse mirrors may be a problem. But while both blog and I are a trifle moribund . . . it’s hard to know what to say, to demonstrate signs of life. I don’t much want to hammer you with my bottom line, which is I go to bed every night bewilderedly aware of not having seen or told Peter about my day, and that I’m not going to see him or tell him about my day tomorrow either, nor twist his arm to come to the opera with me, or say that I’ve discovered a new tea shop and we should give it a try. I never come home from any outing without wanting to tell Peter about it, and I still haven’t managed to stick a sock in the instinct that says, as I’m riffling through the local paper or reading the notices outside the village hall, oh! Peter might enjoy that!***
It’s not just the idiosyncratic, not to say aberrant, I that writes the blog. All of I doesn’t feel like myself any more. None of me feels like myself any more. I feel like someone else. Someone I’d rather not feel like. I didn’t realise the fairies went in for late-middle-aged changelings.
And just by the way I still can’t read his books. I was granted a stay of execution while we were pulling the memorial service together but since then just looking at a favourite dust jacket gives me the wombles. I’m probably going to have an interesting time when I can finally spare Atlas from building shelves at the Lodge and hacking back the jungle at Third House† and he can put up the shelves he’s already built on the One Remaining Blank Wall at the cottage, which is due to contain as many of my copies of Peter’s books as a single wall can hold.
But all of this is not to say there isn’t life-continuing stuff going on, it’s just that it’s all going on through a filter of Peter.††
For example, long term readers of this blog, who are therefore well aware that I think SHAKESPEARE IS OVERRATED, will be fascinated to hear that I signed up to read a sonnet at the Shakespeare Sonnet Gala this past Saturday the 23rd of April 400th anniversary yatta yatta yatta, run by some muscular local poetry society that puts on festivals and generally makes iamb pentameteric trouble in the area. I can’t remember how I happened to fall over the web site advertising that they were looking for 154 ordinary members of the public to read 154 sonnets but I did. First I laughed a lot and then I thought, you know, even though it’s Shakespeare, I like the idea of involving the hoi polloi with high literature, especially because one of the things that makes me a little crazy is that Shakespeare was writing for the hoi polloi, will you stop making him some kind of ornament to academe? So I signed up.†††
This epic occurred at the big central library‡. They cleared out the fiction section‡‡ so we were plonked down in the middle of everything with stacks on one side of us and the café on the other, and people streaming back and forth along the usual passageways, which is the way live poetry events should be, you know? It wasn’t quite a flash mob but it was maybe a close relative.
Most of us readers were okay. I was okay. If the RSC had a talent scout in the audience I was not on his/her short list but I was okay.‡‡‡ I didn’t have to go home and drown myself.§ I left during a break, and while I was stuffing my KNITTING back in my knapsack a woman came hesitantly up to me. Are you Robin McKinley? she said.§§ Yes, I said, blinking in surprise. What are the chances that in a group of thirty or so random British readers one of them would know my name? Dismal.
I just wanted to tell you I love your books, she said. And so does my daughter.
Suddenly, standing there clutching my knitting, Shakespeare seemed like a really great idea. You’ve just made my day, I said to her. I’m glad I came.
* * *
* Not the frelling TV show, which is way after my time.
** ARRRRRRGH. MEN.
*** What age I’m remembering him at varies. I almost immediately reverted to thinking of him when he was young and lively—so ahem about the age I am now ahem which is not young AHEM and at the moment significantly unlively as well—when I’m just thinking of him—sorry to be unclear, any of you who’ve been through it^ will know what I mean. My cornerstone Peter is the young [sic] one. The one I talk to in my head is the young one. But a lot of the looking-for-outings instinct is recent, and immediately after the, Peter might enjoy that!, is the, can I do it alone or do we need a third person to come too in case the ground/parking/seating/gargoyle raids are worse than I expect?
^ It being not merely the death, but the hideous decline and death of someone so inextricably and intrinsically mixed up with your molecules that you can’t really imagine living without them, even if you are, somehow, breathing and so on.
† Which is still not officially on the market, although it’s occasionally being shown unofficially, but we’re getting there which is to say it’s now cleared out enough that I’ve rung the housecleaning service . . . which is not getting back to me, festering festering festering ARRRRRGH.
†† Also . . . the ME is well beyond mere ratbaggery and has plunged into the flamingly demonic. As I keep saying to people who want to know how I am, I don’t have good days and bad days I have good minutes and bad minutes and I never know when I’m going to be in the middle of a sentence and my mind will not merely go blank but shut down, lock itself up and pull the plug. Or that I’m out hurtling over the countryside and not merely have to stop to lean against a tree, but sit down, put my head between my knees, and wonder if I’m going to make it back to Wolfgang. Or if I care. No, wait, the hellmob would care. One of the first things I did after Peter died was stop carrying Pooka with me everywhere because why? Being attached at the hip to my iPhone was a Peter-related emergency thing which was no longer an issue. But I’ve started taking her with me again^ just in case I am an emergency one day. Grief with ME: avoid.
But this whole quadruply-cursed journey of the Effect of Grief and Trauma on Physical and Mental Health deserves a post all by itself. Short form: I’m off ALL SUGAR AND ALCOHOL. No CHOCOLATE!!!^^ NO CHAMPAGNE!!!!!
It doesn’t bear thinking about. So mostly I don’t think about it. Pity I can’t instruct my mind to shut up and lock itself in a cupboard on demand.
^ Erm. When I remember.
^^ So, please note, you kind people who keep giving me chocolate . . . the monks are delighted.
††† If you’re interested, they gave me # 101. I went for snarky, since himself is being snarky, and I can relate to being snarky at one’s dratblasted Muse.
‡ Where Peter and I used to go every week. Our best, most reliable regular outing. Sigh.
‡‡ And stashed it in the theatre. Snork.
‡‡‡ The best reader I heard—I listened to about thirty sonnets, I think, whilst knitting frantically^—was a tiny little old lady who wandered up on the dais like she was thinking about her next cup of tea and sauntered through her sonnet like having a conversation with a friend. It was one of those moments when what all those rudely mechanical actors are prating on about How to Perform Shakespeare suddenly comes to life. You really can make Shakespeare sound like a conversation with a friend. If you’re really good. Which, just by the way, I think most professional actors, including the Famous Shakespearean Ones, are not. They eat the scenery unforgivably and make me want to throw things and scream.
^ The kid’s due NEXT WEEK. I’m not going to make it. I’m four-fifths done! Plus the frelling sewing-up, however, which is sure to manifest unpleasant surprises.
§ I did however have to sit through the cream-faced loon of an introducer saying how nice it was to hear people with different accents doing Shakespeare. BITE ME.
§§ This is not as nuts as it sounds. I had signed up and was on the list as Robin McKinley Dickinson, not only because I have no idea what I’m going to do with my name in the long term but also because Peter was the Shakespearean in this household.
§§§ And if I’d had my wits about me I’d’ve asked her^ what else she’d been reading lately that was good. I’m always in the market for books to read like I need more books. Like I need to go to the library every week and check out more books. Still. I would have asked her if I’d thought of it in time.
^ Because she looked nice. Like someone you could have a cup of tea with and a good wrangle about books.+
+ As anyone who has ever been to a book convention or belonged to a book club knows, further common ground cannot be carelessly assumed with someone who merely happens to like the same books you do. Or possibly that you wrote.
# Although of course I wanted to go home and tell Peter. . . .
So last 7 September Peter had a second stroke.* And he was clearly much weaker than after his first, and while he did regain some strength, he stayed very frail. He moved to Rivendell. There were some discussions between us and among the family about bringing him ‘home’ with 24/7 care; I was against this—as Peter knew—I way preferred having him somewhere with 24/7 medical care on the premises** and also the constant relentless cycle of staff shift changes*** is a boost—a pathetic boost but still a boost—to morale and energy levels. You know that all that professional cheeriness is professional but it still has an effect. I was nearly as depressed as Peter, even if I could stand up and walk without a steadying hand†. And Rivendell has big open well-lit corridors suitable for people in wheelchairs or walking frames and Third House . . . doesn’t.††
I also felt that while the fashion lately seems to be that people should stay in their own homes if at all possible, coming back to Third House where he used to be able to live independently and wouldn’t be able to any more would be a complete downer—and while the focus is on Peter, the ‘complete downer’ part would include me too.†††
I did suggest day visits back to New Arcadia and Third House but he wasn’t enthusiastic—I assume for some of the same reasons that coming ‘home’ with 24/7 care was less than attractive—and the twice (? I think) we tried it were not a success. A nice sticky cake at a tea shop was a much better outing.‡
If it had been entirely up to me I would have put Third House up for sale immediately and get it over with. But—ahem!—I may be slightly known for rushing into things. I was talked into keeping it a little longer and seeing how things went. And, okay, miracles have been known to happen.
Miracles, as we know, did not happen.
But I wanted to be able to take Peter somewhere that wasn’t professionally run, whether it was Rivendell itself or all the tea shops within Wolfgang’s and my limited driving range. I couldn’t take him home to my cottage; there’s a steep half-flight of stairs up to the front door. Even if I cleared off the thick accumulation of plants in pots on the steps he’d never manage it. Also, assuming that I would later if not sooner sell Third House, I needed ground-floor access for my piano.‡‡
MEANWHILE, the little house, not yet christened the Lodge, had been on the market most of last year. Real estate is funny. This is a desirable area and another house within a thirty seconds’ walk of me went indecently quickly for way too much money recently. And we’re all getting slavering come-hither notices through our mail slots from estate agents saying ARE YOU THINKING OF SELLING YOUR PROPERTY? YOU SHOULD BE, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE WE WANT TO SELL IT FOR YOU. PLEASE RING AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE SO WE CAN DO A VALUATION . . . which will be for a lot more money than the house finally goes on the market for but they don’t mention that and ruin their jolly frolic. But the Lodge is really rather small and most people want at least enough room to swing a hellterror.‡‡‡
I have a bit of history with the now-Lodge. The woman who lived there when I first moved into my cottage was very kind§ and I liked the house itself on sight. When she died I even tried to buy it. McKinley the Real Estate Magnate. Only I failed. But that turned out to be a good thing because I bought Third House later instead. Sigh. Full circle time, bleagh. Spinning in circles just makes you dizzy till you throw up.
So: tiny house. Diagonally across the street—the twisty, potholed, one-lane-wide-with-close-crowding-brick-and-flint-walls-to-emphasise-this-feature street—from me. Barely a second house at all.§§ It’s more the summerhouse at the end of your garden with a full kitchen and occasional traffic problems and not nearly enough rose-bushes. I talked it over with Peter. And he agreed to loan me some of the money from the sale of the mews—remember the mews?—so I could buy the Lodge before someone else woke up and bought it out from under me (again), and I could pay him back after I sold Third House.§§§
Then he died.
I was by then committed to the sale and I don’t know if there’s a ‘compassionate withdrawal’ option in the TOTALLY perverse and screwed-up British property law. But I still wanted the house, to the extent that I wanted anything at that point. My cottage is blinkety-blankety well jammed, never mind that I couldn’t get my piano up the stairs or past the chimney breast, and I was going to want to keep more of Peter’s gear than a whippet-shaped paperweight and a bottle of champagne, which meant I needed somewhere to put it. So I stumbled along, signing my name wherever someone told me to sign my name, and bought another house. Which is why I presently, unwillingly, own three houses.
And this blog post is now at least twice as long as it should be.# I don’t know that I was ever going to get on with clearing out poor Third House toward selling it very quickly but under the circumstances that I am obliged to do it## it’s been going very slowly indeed—rather like getting this post written. But spring is trying sporadically to arrive and it will make all of us feel better, right? That’s one of the things spring is for. Doodah doodah. And I am coming to the end of the clearing-out.### And I will get on with my life.
I keep saying I’m going to post sooner next time. One of these days I’ll be telling the truth. . . .
* * *
* ::starts crying:: It’s not corn-cracker crumbs^ that’s going to do for this laptop, er, ultrabook, it’s being cried on.^^ My tear ducts are going to need replacement soon too. Or a medal for loyal service under intolerable circumstances. Or both.
^ Maize and rice seem to be the only cereal grains I can eat without risking dire reprisals. And I don’t LIKE rice crackers.+
+ Note that I didn’t eat any of Ruby’s high tea. Scones? Clotted cream? Instant Death. But I can still admire.
^^ Crying makes your eyes blur. So you lean forward. Over your keyboard.
** 24/7 care furthermore which has had at least theoretically enough sleep each shift to be able see what they’re looking at, or hear a client buzzer go.
*** See: have had enough sleep
† And there were days when a steadying hand would have been a good thing. Or at least taller dogs.
†† Also . . . I worried kind of a lot about getting one of those 24/7 live-in home-care people that Peter and I could bear to have around TWENTY FOUR FREAKING SEVEN.^ At a place like Rivendell, a staff member you don’t much care for, hey, she’ll be off in a few hours and you may not see her again till next week. Or he, but the staff is mostly female.^^
^ Also—for any of you who haven’t been through this mill—they’re not 24/7. They get at least a couple of hours off every day which isn’t a big deal in your schedule—I spent increasing amounts of time running around doing stuff, Peter’s last two years, out of despair and helplessness, but I was still at Third House more than I was at the cottage—but it’s a big deal in your sense of responsibility. Also your standard, even-remotely-within-budget 24/7 home care person has no more medical training than you do. This would not have done anything good for my already chronic insomnia.
^^ This might make me testier except that most of the admin are women too.
††† Like putting up with the 24/7 carer would be an issue for me too.
‡ And for some of the same reasons as Rivendell was a better choice: because of all that public professional bustle and chat. At Third House the walls tended to close in. Peter and I were/are both introverts which is only a good way to be when you’re not depressed out of your tiny minds and having to resist the urge to crawl into your hole and pull it in after you. That last two years, resisting meant Peter played a lot of bridge. I went out and joined stuff.
‡‡ And SOMEWHERE to put a gazillion boxes of backlist, both mine and Peter’s. Not to mention all those other, other people’s books that are accustomed to being out on shelves. The shelves at the cottage are FULL and we’re not even going to discuss the piles on the floor. I’m tallish and thinnish and have long legs for my height . . . I can negotiate.^
^ The hellterror is a bit of a problem. Her little bedspring legs certainly can take her cleanly over book mountains. She just doesn’t see why she needs to do it that way. It’s so much more dramatic to approach these obstacles in bulldozer mode.
‡‡‡ The hellterror is also in favour of this. She likes the view from my arms because the hellhounds are a lot shorter than she is.
§ It was also amusing, after having lived in a nine-bedroom etc house, to have a visitor who thought the cottage was large. Her stories of my predecessor were even more amusing.
§§ People keep asking me, puzzledly, why I don’t sell both Third House and the cottage and buy one house that is the right size? The short form is that the cottage has been my increasingly-necessary bolthole for the twelve years we’ve lived in town and I couldn’t bear to leave it now nor any time in the foreseeable future. Also I like the Lodge and the hellmob and I walk past it a zillion times a day and it feels like part of the family.^
The slightly longer form is that I won’t find that house in the centre of New Arcadia where I am now. In hindsight I lucked into the cottage because the previous owner wanted to sell and it needed some updating^^. And real estate in little old Hampshire villages has gone completely nuts—or even more nuts—in the last dozen years. A quiet cul de sac^^^ just off the frelling centre of frelling town? How perfect is that? I’m keeping it. And while the Lodge does front on the main road it’s end-of-terrace because of the cul de sac, which means I have one wall that is not common, to put my piano on^^^^ and to sing at.
^ I keep having to remind myself that it now is part of the family.+
+ The house on the other corner of the cul de sac—so opposite the Lodge—has also recently sold and that makes me very sad because it’s part of the family too and I was friends with the humans who lived there and I will miss them and I don’t know if I’ll be friends with the new inhabitants or not. I never had any delusions of buying it however—in the first place that family had lived there forever and you don’t think about people who have been somewhere forever selling up, and in the second place it is LARGE. Even if I wanted all that space, which I don’t, I couldn’t begin to afford it.
^^ Which I haven’t done of course. Fresh paint on the walls and I’m in.
^^^ Although there are going to be problems with the Lodge’s common-wall neighbour’s little mega-yappy frelling hysterical dog. I’ll worry about that later. Or maybe I’ll just let the hellterror eat it. —Dog? I’ll say. You’re missing your dog? I have no idea.
^^^^ Yes I know you’re not supposed to put a piano on an outside wall. It’s better than being AUDIBLE. When my piano tuner comes I will ask him if I should do something like hang a RUG on the wall behind the piano. I still have lots of rugs from the nine-bedroom country house with the gigantic front hall, despite several of the family gallantly adopting a number of them.
§§§ I wish I could tell you even some of the saga of The Buying of the Lodge. It is full of excitement and suspense . . . and morons. Especially morons. Morons who might conceivably take umbrage^ if I told my version even though it is the true version.
Well, here’s just a teaser: for various reasons, including the fact that I was out of my mind for about six weeks from the beginning of November to the middle of December, the whole rubbishing business of the sale went on and on and on and on and the moron-to-person-possessing-at-least-semi-functioning-brain percentages were not in the non-morons’ favour.
Peter had wanted to see the new STAR WARS and since I’d been sure it would be booked out weeks in advance I’d bought the tickets yonks before, for the two of us and some random family members. The tickets were for Christmas Eve Eve. I declared I was going to go anyway because I didn’t want to blow off the last thing scheduled that I was supposed to do with Peter, and Georgiana said she’d keep me company. We were going to Peter’s and my favourite restaurant afterward for supper and to raise a glass.^^
The film was the film was the film.^^^ Georgiana and I both dove for our iPhones as soon as we were sitting down in the restaurant—having ordered our fizz—because this is the modern world and that’s what you do, and because I was expecting the confirmation of the sale and the news that I was now the proud possessor of three houses^^^^ and Georgiana was worried about one of her in laws who was in hospital.
I had a phone message. It had arrived at 4:58 pm on the 23rd, so just as everything shut down for a week over the holidays. And the message was that some creepazoid farther up the ‘chain’ [see: capricious and degenerate English real estate law] had thrown all his toys out of the pram and declared he wasn’t selling after all, the chain, therefore, had disintegrated and my purchase of the little house was off.^^^^^
And Georgiana’s relative had just gone into intensive care. We got through kind of a lot of fizz that night.
^ I can’t actually imagine any of them reading fantasy authors’ blogs, but you never know.
^^ I don’t have to tell you that this glass would contain fizzy liquid, do I?
^^^ Not a rabid STAR WARS fan, sorry. And it kind of lost me in the first reel-equivalent when the English-rose complexioned sweetie was presented as living as a scavenger in a desert. Although I did like it when that—ahem!—iconic object came roaring up out of a sand-dune [NO SPOILER! NO SPOILER!] when she and her new confederate are trying to escape.
^^^^ And heavily in debt for the privilege.
^^^^^ I believe that everyone else involved—they let me off, which was kind of them, since I wasn’t really up to the full screaming, kicking and punching thing—went to this guy’s house swinging long lithe bits of heavy metal in a significant manner and told him you want broken chains? We can show you broken chains. However it was arranged, the sale was back on in the new year.
# For symmetry it should probably be three times. Um . . .
## Including that I now owe the estate the repayment of that loan.
### Of the house. Then I have to start on the garden and the shed and the summerhouse. AAAAAAAUGH. But the estate agent can start showing it as soon as the house is clear and the heavily-armoured cleaning service has been around obliterating all traces of humanity. And caninity.
Nor are we going to discuss the unpacking of the Lodge. At least I’m good at jigsaw box-and-furniture arrangement, and Atlas, who is building the bookshelves, is used to me.