It’s our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Even if only one of us is here to celebrate it.
But I didn’t want you to think that I have been totally unvisited by the Christmas Spirit. Indeed there was an unexpected assault of Christmas Spirit a day or two before Christmas. We each reeled back from the encounter stunned. I think the Spirit was misled by the presence of Christmas trees. Yes.
I think this is your first glimpse of the Lodge? Downstairs it’s a long skinny essentially-one-room, the sitting room, which this is, the narrow end facing the street, and a long skinny added-on-as-civilisation-entered-the-mod-con-era kitchen at the back end, behind me as I take this photo. I have yet to convince the hellmob that this apparent raceway has not been appended to our regular habitation for the specific purpose of providing them with an indoor exercise arena. The hellhounds can be suppressed after a minute or two.** The hellterror, not so much but I’m working on it.*** Yes, that’s my piano, murkily in the background. Draped with tinsel.† These are actually the Boxing Day presents for other people, but still, you know, PRESENTS.†† MANIFESTATION OF CHRISTMAS SPIRIT.
And these are MY presents at the cottage. Which if the truth be known I still haven’t opened.††† See: Sigh. I’m thinking maybe on the 7th, when the memorial service anniversary is over with too.
At least the shortest frelling day is PAST for another year. Daylight is GOOD. I’m looking forward to MORE of it. ‡
* * *
* Yes. This should have gone up last night. You’re getting used to this dorky new system, aren’t you? I hope?
* Breathing counts as celebrating^, right? Plus another few kilos of Brussels sprouts?^^
^ Well okay I celebrated. I bought yarn at one of the gazillion on line New Year’s sales that are happening right now. I need yarn, of course. Like I need more books. But it’s PRETTY.+ And I spent less money on new yarn than it would have cost Peter and me to go out for a nice dinner, especially an especially-nice dinner ON OUR TWENTY FIFTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY.
+ That’s what yarn is for, right? To be PRETTY? Oh . . . knitting. That too.#
# Stash Beyond Life Expectancy. Ahem.
^^ I have a hellterror at my feet in a daze of bliss. SHE WAS PERMITTED TO LICK THE GOOSE PLATTER.+ I thought she might die of joy.++ She’s asleep now, dreaming, no doubt, of this indescribable peak experience and wondering if it will ever happen again. Well, yes, next year, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise.
+ The really interesting part of the operation was cramming all the frelling bones in my slow cooker. Someone on the forum said she wants to try spatchcocking a goose. Good luck honey. Let us know how that goes. I was wrestling the already cooked and stripped carcase and thinking THIS BLOODY BIRD HAS BONES LIKE A RHINOCEROS WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SLENDER HOLLOW BONES OF BIRDS SO THEY CAN FRELLING FLY? Okay this is a big fat bred-for-the-table domestic goose and maybe it waddled. Maybe there are mini kitchen chainsaws for spatchcocking large fowl. In a tasteful assortment of decorator colours and a free pack of cocktail sticks with every purchase. I’m sure Jamie Oliver can spatchcock a goose. Daniel Craig can spatchcock a condor. With a cocktail stick.
I did eventually attain a sort of splintery origami and got the bones crammed into the crock pot. This should be very intense stock. Meanwhile the bowl of goose scraps looks pretty fine. Goose. Mmmmm.
++ Darkness was upstairs crashed out on the only (relatively) clear space of floor in my office, but Chaos was about six inches away in the hellhound crate and so far as I know he didn’t even blink. Any normal dog would, first, recognise the sounds of a plate being put on the floor in dog reach and, second, if he was of two minds whether it was worth investigating, would have further recognised the tiny broken moans of inexpressible ecstasy the hellterror was making.#
# Would she have objected to sharing the bounty? I doubt it. I’ve told you she’s surprisingly good at maintaining her assigned space at the bottom of the hierarchy and I’ve discovered this year, and while I wouldn’t trust her without my evil eye upon her, when the hellhounds are having a No We’re Not Eating This Week spell she will leave their untouched food alone. I find this nothing short of miraculous.~ But if Chaos had come to join in the goose-platter fun what she would have done is gone into hyperdrive to nail all the good bits before Chaos, in his mild, ambling manner, finished getting his head around the situation.~~
~ Mind you there is a lot of yearning. She will also, when it gets to be Too Much, go stand by the bar stool that is my desk chair in the kitchen, under which is where, when by some arcane magic the hellhounds have deigned to eat after all, I put their bowls because this is where and ONLY where she is allowed to slurp out the crumbs.@ We arrived at this compromise after some nerve racking experimentation. She feels that the state of ‘crumbs’ begins at about two-thirds of a full bowl. THEY’VE HAD THEIR CHANCE. IT MUST BE HER TURN. Um. No. To give her credit, she took my strictures about this in good part. She was pretty sure it was too good to be true. . . . But for a stomach on legs she does very well.
@ There are always crumbs with the hellhounds.
~~However. The latest development in inter-critter relations and hazards to hellgoddess sanity is that Chaos has developed a taste for cheese rind. I’ve been saving these from the beginning because I knew the hellterror would totally get off on cheese rind (yes). But I’ve told you that Chaos occasionally checks that I’m not dropping anything too interesting on the floor for the hellterror.@ So a few days ago I tried him on a bit of cheese rind. You could see the synapses fire and the eyes focus. Yes. So now when Chaos gets under my feet—and just by the way THERE IS NOT ENOUGH ROOM for both a hellhound and a hellterror to mill around me in the chopping-board corner between the sink and the Aga—I have the interesting challenge of trying to provide cheese rind for both participants.@@ That is, each participant. I know, I know, I could frelling train her to sit and wait—because she does both sit and wait, as when I’m putting food in her crate, the drooling and the trembling are her permissible artistic augmentations to this scenario—but that takes it to a whole new frelling level, and meanwhile Chaos would lose interest and there would be language. So at the moment—remember that Pav can count to four?—I sprinkle hers at a tiny distance and make the fourth one just a little harder to find and while SHE’S LOOKING FOR THAT FOURTH SCRAP SHE KNOWS THERE IS A FOURTH SCRAP, I formally offer Chaos his single, larger scrap which he accepts and chews thoughtfully. When I get it right, he swallows just as Pav races back round the counter-corner and slams into my leg.
REMIND ME WHY I HAVE DOGS.
Because they make me fun to watch.
@ He just wasn’t in the MOOD for a goose platter. He hadn’t eaten his supper, of course, but when I went to bed—the hellterror safely crated for the night—he was busy extracting the tiny shreds of goose buried among the kibble and tinned food.= Darkness usually goes along with the schmooze of human-food scraps mixed in with the dog food although you can see him doing the canine equivalent of eye-rolling. Not Chaos. Prehensile lips, that dog.
= Yes I know the old dog-training chestnut that you only leave the food down half an hour and if the dog doesn’t eat it you pick it up again and it thus learns that it must eat when you say so. And I reply to this: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Whoever this joker was, he never dealt with sighthounds.
@@ With reference to how inconvenient critter intelligence can be, I’m waiting for her to figure out that I stop dropping apple, carrot and broccoli stem and start dropping cheese rind if Chaos is there too. I can imagine the conversation:
Pav: Pssst. She’s chopping stuff. If we go hang out we can get cheese rind.
Chaos: I’m sleeping.
Pav: No you’re not. Cheese rind. You LIKE cheese rind.
Chaos: Mmmm . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
Pav: CHEEEEEEEEESE RIIIIIIIIIIIND.
Chaos: [Does the hellhound opening one eye thing] Hmmm?
Pav: CHEEEEEEEEEESE RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND.
Chaos: Oh. Oh. Yeah. Okay. [Floats to feet because, since he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t weigh anything, and drifts after earthbound hellterror toward resigned hellgoddess]
** And yes, you are also glimpsing a tangled riot of dog bedding blankets at the foot of all those boxes of backlist.
*** The additional complexity of the situation is provided by the fact that Damien lives next door and the hellmob tend to give voice when they are freaking out, and I don’t want to add to the already sulphuric fires about critter vocalese at the Lodge. At the cottage, while racing back and forth from kitchen and sitting room does occur with the occasional hunting cry^, I allow one or two audible manifestations of having a good time before I tell them to shut up. I can afford to allow a little brief indulgence at the cottage, where the only next-door critter in residence is Smiley, who doesn’t take my mob seriously.^^
^ It’s a huge red mark against any hunting dog, including sighthounds, that they bark on track of quarry. Just by the way.
^^ and I’m CAREFUL to keep it that way.
† One of the things about going from a Very Large House to a series of ever-smaller houses is that you have PLENTY OF THINGS LIKE TINSEL FROM WHEN YOU HAD 1,000,000 OF HALLS TO FESTOON.^ I am busy promising myself^^ that when I take the trees down again^^^ I will sort through the 1,000,000,000 boxes of Christmas decorations that I still seem to have although I SWEAR I had a good clear out at the mews. I. SWEAR.
^ I had a bad moment winding tinsel up the stair uprights however. I have a short stretch of open stair railings at the cottage—and we had them at the mews, not really at Third House—but not since the old house has the stair been centrally located, and the railings at the cottage are pretty much invisible under a heavy infestation of knitting project bags. Winding tinsel up the balusters at the Lodge I had one of those flashbacks. . . .
^^ Ha hahahahahahaha
^^^ February? May?
†† And the worst? The absolutely, unbelievably WORST? Signing the gift cards ‘love, Robin’. Just Robin. Robin, all by herself.
††† Friends who delivered gifts in person, I opened these, sure. Because the friends were there. Also one or two utterly mysterious parcels in the post. Some of these ‘deliver to another address’ web sites need to work on their gift card supply programme.
‡ I could do without this winter weather. Or I could do with a town council that takes its responsibilities seriously. You know, like gritting the frelling ROADS? I made the mistake of coming home from morning Mass by the back way last week—and this was past ten-thirty, for pity’s sake, because I’d stuck around after to pester monks—and was fishtailing all over the flipping doodah road. And I didn’t make it to Mass at all yesterday because my cul de sac was black ice and getting the hellmob hurtled was quite challenging enough, Wolfgang stayed in his stall. So to speak. And while the furries and I are out slithering^ I keep seeing sand trucks speeding by with large signs attached to their rear ends declaring SPREADING. I have yet to see them doing anything but ripping about the landscape promulgating misinformation.
So far the main roads are not too awful. I have a lot of late shifts at the Sams to get to and from safely, thank you. And while Wolfgang is a noble fellow, they don’t make yaktrax for tyres. And snow tyres in southern England should be overdoing it. I hope.
^ This weather makes it harder to convince them that the Lodge is not their private gym.
It probably began with the second delivery of parsnips. I love the winter veg season. The first Brussels sprouts of the year are cause for celebration every autumn—I mean this was going on even before my eating habits moved to the lunatic fringe*—and all those orange and yellow squashes and rooty things, mmmmmmmm.** So it’s like, yaaay! Parsnips! I’m also still a little subject to New England holiday habits, even though I bailed on Thanksgiving years ago, and MUST HAVE sweet potatoes and parsnips at Christmas. MUST. HAVE.
And then there’s the way my Jewish-mother gene*** bursts into terrifying life as soon as I’m expecting to feed anyone. Else, I mean, than me, and three variously food-friendly furries. And we were going to be SIX for Boxing Day. SIX.† This is my idea of a GANG. And I’m seriously out of practise. When we were still catering for real gangs back at the old house it was mostly Peter’s show and that was the way it was and if you got in the way you would be mown down.†† As a special treat I was occasionally allowed to cut up the Brussels sprouts or produce a platter of New England sweet potatoes.††† And I think I’m the one who started putting chestnuts in the sprouts.‡
ANYWAY. SIX FOR BOXING DAY LUNCH. And I may have got a little carried away. But it was an accident that I ordered parsnips twice. I already had a wall of parsnips at the back of both my little refrigerators‡‡ from the first delivery and then there was a noise like the approach of the 7th Panzer Division and a shout of INCOMING‡‡‡ and I (foolishly) opened the front door to see what was going on . . . AND WAS IMMEDIATELY BURIED IN PARSNIPS. Ha ha ha, I thought, digging myself out with difficulty, and beginning to weave the excess into fencing panels for when Damien gnaws his way through the current barricades. Ha ha ha, this’ll make a good blog post.
Ha ha ha.
So Christmas Day here was about cooking. And chopping and chopping and chopping AND CHOPPING because I was not only producing Brussels sprouts with chestnuts (of course) but also a broccoli and pine nut salad and roast root veg which is to say PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS and two colours of sweet potatoes, how glamorous is that? To give my knife-friction blisters a break I went next door to feed Phineas’ cat. Have I really never given the ex-hellkitten a name? If I have I can’t find it. So let’s call him Smilodon. So I went next door to see if his food dish needing topping up yet, Phineas having left early in the morning.
And I couldn’t get in.
The back door into the conservatory, which is the one I use because that’s where Smiley’s dishes are, is a sticky old so-and-so flaming doohickey doodah general arrrgh. It’s not like I haven’t had trouble with the malingering whatsit before. But it was resisting very robustly. And furthermore seemed to be stuck in the middle which is not the usual modus operandi of a door with a bad attitude. I eventually Became Suspicious and with great difficulty since my genetic modifications are very limited and old fashioned, extruded an eyeball on a stalk so I could see around a corner, and, yes . . . the ghastly object WAS BOLTED ON THE INSIDE.
Great. Hey, Smilodon, feel like going FERAL for the weekend? Pull down a nice mastodon for tea? . . . I didn’t think so.
I spent about twenty minutes wandering around Phineas’ house looking for a way in. When you want someone to have carelessly left a window open DO THEY? They do not. And the door between my garden and his conservatory has been nailed shut since before I moved in. ARRRRRRRGH.
Smiley, meanwhile, is winding around my ankles going MOAN! MOAN! MOAN! HUNGRRRRRRRRY!
I went back and looked at the frelling door again. And then I turned around, since if there were going to be scars I’d rather they were not on my face, took a deep breath . . . and put my foot through one of the glass panes. CRASH.
Having checked that my foot was still fully attached at the ankle (yes), I put my hand carefully through the jagged hole and unbolted the door. And frelling CHASED SMILEY AWAY while I swept up the glass. ARRRRRRRRRRGH. I’ve been feeding Smiley when Phineas is away for how many years? I’ve never had the front door key—I had the kitchen door key when Smiley was a baby—I don’t even know if Phineas has a mobile, let alone its number for emergencies. There have never been any emergencies! If Smiley ever needed a vet, I’d just take him to the vet!§
I left him chomping in an enviably carefree manner at his topped-up dish. Never mind, I thought, stalking back to the cottage. It’ll make a good blog post.
Meanwhile the goose was roasting away like anything, by the sound of the fat streaming into the pan. And you’re supposed to drain off the fat periodically so it doesn’t burn, right? Well, my little Aga oven actually goes back quite a way even though sideways you could barely squeeze in a wicked witch with an apple in her mouth, so I was, after all the ‘biggest oven in Hampshire’ thing about the Lodge’s ridiculous cooker, roasting my Christmas goose at the cottage. And this kitchen was small before I added this laptop and two or three piles of books and papers, yes? I have NO counter space. So when I take things out of the oven, I balance them on one or the other of the Aga burners. Whose lids are slightly . . . domed. Not very. You can, in fact, balance stuff on them. I do it all the time. Not heavy roast goose however, sloshing with fat.
And the pan slid off the burner lid and poured boiling-hot goose fat down my leg.
It’s not a question of having time to react. There wasn’t anything I was going to be able to do before it was too late. So I stood there feeling it torching its way through my jeans leg and thinking (a) how am I going to hurtle the hellmob with only one functioning leg? (b) No, it’ll be all right, I will take handfuls of cantharis§§. (c) eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
The important background information here is that when I rolled out of bed that morning I got dressed immediately because I needed to start doing stuff. Usually I hang around in my nightgown till the caffeine starts to work. It was INSANELY WARM yesterday and I’d known it was going to be, the night before, so I reminded myself that I was not going to put on my long johns because I would be too hot. But I got dressed on autopilot, and the long johns were donned because it’s frelling December. And I was definitely too hot, because the jeans were heavy denim and the long johns were thick, but I couldn’t be bothered to strip off again and remove them.
So I was in fact appropriately accoutred for pouring boiling hot goose fat down my leg. By the time it hit me it was merely unpleasantly warm, and when I examined the damage later my skin is a little reddish, and a little tenderer than usual.§§§ IT’S FINE, I said at the time, shaking with shock—it had not been a delightful half second, while my life thus far as fully bipedal flashed before my eyes, waiting for the third-degree burns—shoving the pan back on top of the Aga and wedging it there, because I still had half a pan of goose fat to drain off. IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.@
I then successfully drained off the remaining seven buckets of goose fat, and, having distributed these above hellterror reach around the downstairs of the cottage, stood looking at the crispy brown object of my painful exertions. Hmm, I thought, it’s getting very dark. I’d better put some tin foil over it. And you read the title to this post, yes? ALL of the title, not being distracted by the boiling goose fat and the breaking and entering?
I had no tin foil.
How did this happen??? I never use it so I always have it, you know? It’s one of those basic facts of life, water, air, brassicas, hellmob, dusty roll of tin foil in the back of the cupboard. NO. NO TIN FOIL. AAAAAUGH.@@ And it’s Christmas Day, even the hard core shops are closed. Well, Peter had had some. I checked the relevant [sic] drawers at the Lodge. No. No tin foil. Okay, there used to be one of those super-super long rolls of foil@@@—and I have no idea where it came from, we’ve possibly been carrying it around since we left the old house—that lived on the top of the kitchen cupboards at Third House. I remember seeing it still there after I’d moved (nearly) everything else out, because what was I going to do with/where did I have ROOM for a super-super-super long roll of foil?? So I went up there to see if it was perhaps still there . . . no. Of course not. That would be too easy. Meanwhile I was putting the goose back in the oven for fifteen minutes and then taking it out again, again, because I was pretty sure—I thought—maybe—no, I had NO FRELLING IDEA, it probably needed a little more cooking, but I didn’t want that lovely breast skin to burn. Although all this mad temperature variation couldn’t have been doing the quality of its final presentation any good at all. So I have NO FRELLING IDEA how long it finally did take to cook—a lot less than the cough-cough roasting instructions said however. Which is not going to be helpful if I ever do this again.$
ALTOGETHER NOW: IT’S OKAY, IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.
PS: I did eventually find a roll of tin foil, in the bottom of a bag under the sink, full of rubber gloves and washing up liquid, where I was looking for batteries which were also not in the drawer where batteries, if this were a sane, rational world, would be. The goose was long out of the oven by then. And there were no batteries.$$
Oh, and? The goose was pretty good. Really. And I was glad to see everyone. And none of them flinched unduly about the food.
* * *
* The very healthy lunatic fringe, but I’ll spare you any more rants on that subject till the holidays are over. Maybe I’ll try to make you feel even worse about Detox January. I am the hellgoddess, after all, even if my brief has changed radically over the years.
** I even look forward to winter cabbage. This is probably certifiable. My current craze is kale chips. You shred a lot of kale [sic], spread it out on a baking sheet, shake some olive oil and salt over it, and bake till it gets crunchy. It’s greasy! It’s salty! It’s crunchy! And yes, okay, it’s still a brassica, but people who turn pale . . . green at the idea of cabbage have been known to like crunchy kale chips. You can get these commercially—which is how I discovered them—but Large Generic Snack Producers tart things up so they can charge you more money. They’re way better fresh. And the recipe is all over the internet.
*** Hannah, who is Jewish, says that of course I have Jewish blood. All the best people do.
† In fact we were only five, but that’s because I kept forgetting the sixth wasn’t coming. She was supposed to come.
†† But I took over the baking. And anyone who got in my way would be mown down.
††† Add brown sugar. No, more. No, more. Now butter. No, more. No, more. Now the maple syrup. YES. MAPLE SYRUP. MORE. WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND MORE? I also used to produce very scary eggnog. There was a lot of ‘more’ involved.
‡ One of my Boxing Day guests carefully separated hers out and piled them at the edge of her plate. You can’t win them all.
‡‡ Have I told you that I MANAGED TO JAM THE GOOSE IN THE REFRIGERATOR AT THE LODGE? Are you impressed? I am. Very.
‡‡‡ Hey, I suck at military history, okay? But James Mason was cute and I watched a lot of MASH because you did, although I was never a Hawkeye fan.
§ Well. ‘Just.’ Cats aren’t as cooperative about this as dogs. Not that Chaos can be called cooperative and the hellterror . . . erm. But I’ve taken one or two cats to the vet rolled up in emergency bath towels in the absence of anything more appropriate.
§§ I told you this story years ago: homeopathic cantharis is a brilliant burn remedy.^ I had managed to seize, like firmly, the handle of an iron skillet that was and had been in the oven for some time . . . and heard my flesh SIZZLE. I took a few cantharis . . . and ended up with a painless little red mark.
^ I will remind you however that no remedy is 100%. Like arnica for jet lag—works a treat for about 80% of the people who try it. For the other 20% there are other things to try. There are other things to try for burns too.
§§§ I also decided that with the day I was having I was not going to change my jeans till the goose was out of the oven permanently and as much else as possible was over with.^ This meant that I had an ecstatic hellterror attached to my leg for the rest of the evening^^. When she wasn’t trying to lick holes in the floor or eat the mat that lives in front of the Aga. As I fended her off to scrub the floor—the mat went in the washing machine—you could see the agonised thought bubble: But! But! But! But!
^ In effect five minutes before I had to bolt out the door for late duty at the Sams. Christmas Eve night had involved bolting out the door at another Christmas-prep-no-NOT-all-the-presents-are-wrapped last minute to go to midnight Mass at the monks’.+ Where it was not a heaving, claustrophobia-inducing mob, but I still ran away from tea and hanging out with monks AND A RELATIVELY SMALL BUNCH OF STRANGERS afterward. Sigh.
+ The second old folks’ home did eventually get sung to. And I rang the afternoon Christmas Eve service at Crabbiton. Have I mentioned lately HOW MUCH I HATE GROUND FLOOR RINGS? Which Crabbiton is. And we need a better barricade. We have just a rope across what I think is the narthex, where the bells are, the opposite (long) end from the apse and altar, which only works with people who acknowledge its purpose as a barrier. This does not include toddlers who can go STRAIGHT UNDER the rope and see no reason why they shouldn’t. I was both terrified and angry and am going to discuss with poor Felicity when she gets back from hol.
^^ Since the main strike zone was my thigh I’m afraid I abrogated my obligation as a responsible dog owner because watching her attempt to reach nirvana was too much fun to terminate. Inconvenient, but funny. And I felt I could use a laugh.
@ Also: less goose fat. What am I supposed to DO with 1,000,000,000 litres of goose fat?^
^ ROAST A LOT OF PARSNIPS.
@@ If I’m going to make a habit of Christmas goose, which I might, I’ll have a flat tray already wedged in place on the top of the Aga next year. But I need to REMEMBER that goose cooking instructions are never helpful the way I need helpful. I remember this from when Peter and I were engaging with geese at the old house. Standard instructions keep trying to make it sound like a goose is kind of a big chicken. It isn’t. It cooks differently. That thick fatty skin doesn’t go loose and floppy when it’s done, it locks in place like armour, so wiggling a leg isn’t indicative. And you don’t get clear juice running out of the leg when you stab it the way you do with a chicken, maybe because there’s too much fat in the way. I finally decided this one was done because the leg and breast were no longer feeling thickly padded the way they should do, which suggested that most of the fat was now in a bucket on a chair and the goose was about to crinkle up into goose jerky.
@@@ suitable only to persons roasting boars’ heads in restaurant-sized ovens, maybe I’ll try that next year at the Lodge. Ha ha ha ha ha.
$ I am planning to streamline this process somewhat for next year. Including checking for the presence of tin foil while the shops are still open.
$$ THE UTTERLY NITWITTY THINGS THAT GET TO YOU. I was looking for batteries because I needed a kitchen timer and the one at the Lodge I wanted to use was dead. When I finally managed to pry the back open the old battery had started leaking, which is never a good sign about whether the gizmo in question is recoverable. I fetched a new battery from the cottage and plugged it in and . . . the timer still didn’t work. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. This is The Kitchen Timer I remember from the old house—the one that was there when I arrived twenty-five years ago, the one with the brain-piercing SHRIEK which while I frequently wanted to stomp it for this, is exactly what you WANT in a kitchen timer and the modern wimpy ones, the ones that murmur politely, ahem, you perhaps wanted to be told when x number of minutes had passed?, which the new ones mostly are, are not nearly as satisfactory. If I could remember to look at a clock when approximately the right amount of time has passed I wouldn’t need a timer, would I? I need a timer that says: YO. YOU. YES YOOOOOOU. OR ELSE. This one is not a beautiful object—it’s what I suspect used to be white plastic, faded to dirty cream, with a black plastic face. It doesn’t look like anything that would have lasted—with its shattering klaxon intact—for a quarter century. But it has. And as a tiny integral background VERY LOUD NOISE it’s part of my old life. The one that’s gone forever. . . . And I had a complete, totally unexpected, frelling MELTDOWN about the fact that the timer that Peter had set 1,000,000,000 times over the last quarter century HAD DIED.^
Turns out I had put the battery in the wrong way around.^^ I put it in the other way around and IT LIVES. I was making myself crazy last night—having brought it back to the cottage for a little bonding—using it timing making a batch of kale chips. Every time it went off CLANG CLANG CLANG BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEP I went AAAAAAAUGH THAT WRETCHED THING HAS BEEN MAKING ME CRAZY FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS . . . thanks, honey. Nuts? Moi? Brazil, cashew, hazel, almond, walnut and Robin.^^^
^ I can’t discard scraps of paper he’s written on either. Grocery list? Keeper. Labels on folders of tax papers that are now old enough I can throw them out? I shred the papers. I save the folders.
^^ Not entirely my fault. Battery beds are almost as maddeningly variable as those blasted button batteries, although the battery itself is an ordinary one.
^^^ Someone on FB told me that her husband developed claustrophobia after their daughter died.+ I’ve now heard from a few other people who’ve had claustrophobia as part of the grieving process. This is a comfort—a cold one, but still a comfort. I’m ‘okay’ with the fact that grief sucks sucks SUCKS and I am not surprised it keeps knocking me over and making me bleed. But I’m still capable of worrying—a little—that my perhaps somewhat eccentric mental balance, cough cough cough, could be genuinely overset. I don’t believe in ‘misery loves company’, I’ve said this before—misery wants to know the world is chirping along without her, so she has something to hope for, that she can rejoin it some day. But misery occasionally is grateful to hear that other people have reacted to misery in similar ways.
+ This is almost more awful than I can grasp. In fact it is more awful than I can grasp. Note that one of the things major trauma does to you is make you aware of the limits of your imagination. We ‘knew’ Peter was due to die before me. It didn’t make it any easier, but it doesn’t feel like the order of the universe has been breached.~ No parent should have to see a child die. I know it happens. I know people it has happened to. It’s still inconceivable.
~ Yes it does. It’s still different. It’s your personal universe.
I rang for the carol service yesterday at Old Eden* and ran away from the evening (carol) service at St Margaret’s.** Today I’d signed up to SING*** at two old-folks’ homes, overslept†, went haring around like . . . someone with a hellhound after her††. . . made it to the first engagement with at least a minute to spare AND DISCOVERED A SIGN ON THE DOOR SAYING THE CAROL SERVICE WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE THE RESIDENTS ALL HAD FLU. ARRRRRRRRRGH. And, you know, no one told me.††† Although poor Buck was very apologetic when I rang up to ask if THE SECOND ONE WAS STILL ON. It was. So I sang.‡ And we’re rescheduled for the first one on Friday, if enough of the denizens are capable of being propped up in chairs by then. Tonight I was sidled up to by one of my fellow singers, who said, You are coming to sing in town on Saturday morning‡‡, aren’t you? Um.
It’s been a gigantically hideous week. Today’s the first day I haven’t felt like pease porridge cold, ninety days old, and rejected by rats in favour of tea leaves and old tyres. I’m not going to give you the gruesome details because it’s too depressing and I prefer not to drag myself back into pease porridge cold mood, but Third House went nova in a particularly local-solar-system-destroying way last Monday and, speaking of solar systems, I am so signing up for that first generational planet-ship to Alpha Centauri, AWAAAAAAAAY FROM HEEEEEEEEERE, assuming they want a few old hags for variety. And then of course there was last Friday. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. I went to Mass three times last week because I needed all the help I could get, but the most important one was Friday, of course, because Peter’s in the monks’ death book, what-you-call-it, liber mortuorum, something, that won’t be it because I haven’t got a clue, anyway, on the anniversary of death they read out the names at morning Mass, and I was going to be there, see: need all the help I could get.
AND THEN MY ALARM CLOCK EXPLODED THE NIGHT BEFORE ARRRRRRRGH. Well, my 24-hour kitchen timer, which I use for an alarm clock, because it turns out I’m slightly more reliable about deciding when to get up by having to add up the hours. And I was just setting it and it went HICCUP GLEEP BLAAAAAH, did a little palm-of-hand dance and died. And of course I didn’t have the right spare batteries.‡‡‡ Fortunately, and perhaps ironically, as a result of clearing out Third House I have more clocks than I know what to do with and not all of them are at the Lodge. So I had three lined up on my shelf because I had no idea if any of them were the least bit accurate and climbed into bed wondering when any of them would go off. As it happens it didn’t matter because I didn’t sleep, which was a good thing WHEN THE FIRST ONE WENT OFF TWO HOURS EARLY. No, stop laughing, I had set it correctly. It just had its own ideas. And the one that worked beautifully? Peter’s old bedside alarm clock. Whimper.
Life goes on for us the living. One way or another. And tonight, coming home from singing at the old folks’ home, I was even gladder than usual to be fallen on by a hellmob.§
* * *
* Seven blokes and me. Which felt very odd. I think in the upper echelons of bell ringing it’s still more guys than gals—gender-specific nerdism—but at my level of semi-competence I’d’ve said the male-female ratio is relatively level, although it varies from tower to tower. When I was a kid I totally wanted to hang out with the boys because, barring all the frelling sports stuff, they had much more interesting adventures than the girls.^ See any of my rants about reading books about boys because they’re the ones who went out and did things while the girls stayed home and pined beautifully. Nice for some. Arrrrrgh. Anyway. The world has changed somewhat in some of the right directions^^ or maybe I’ve just learnt better ways of finding people to hang out with, but I now feel like an alien species when I’m stranded with a lot of men.^^^ Even nice bell-ringing men.
^ Make up and fashion, for example. Except for a few years in college of way too much eye make up+ I’ve never been able to give a flying figment about what Hannah calls products although the fact that I’m allergic to most of them contributes to the aversion. And having been a skinny tomboy kid I boiled out to serious overweight during most of my adolescence and about halfway through my twenties. This was also back in the days before any manufacturer paid attention to clothing in the larger sizes, you were more or less expected to wear a tent and shut up. Furthermore I was an inconvenient shape: none of that lush, sexy female hips and breasts and thighs thing, I was a beach ball on little toothpick legs. ::Shudder:: So, fashion? I wore a tent and shut up.
+ It was the era, okay? You had to look like you ran into doorways with your face a lot. Plus major eyelashes. I had an unexpected epiphany when I got out of spectacles and into contact lenses and my eyelashes grew about a sixteenth of an inch, which is a lot for eyelashes. I’m now back in glasses and my eyelashes have reverted to stubby.# But they keep the insides of the lenses dust free.
# I wonder if eyelashes can have split ends?
^^ Except for the voting in of presidents and one or two other negligible things. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.
^^^ Although speaking of fashion . . . I know there are men who not only pay attention to what they’re wearing but can bring themselves and their virility+ to wear COLOURS++ but I don’t think any of them are bell ringers.
+ which is a sexual-orientation-bias neutral word, okay?
++ Black, brown, grey and navy blue ARE NOT COLOURS. I wear all of them myself# but ONLY WITH COLOURS.
# I learnt to wear brown because Peter used to keep giving me brown stuff. He eventually learnt about black and pink but he got the ‘sparkle’ part before he got the ‘black and PINK’ part and I’m going to wear it if it’s sparkly, you know?
** Which was PACKED OUT again. I knew—well, I could predict—that it would be—if it was full to the rafters for a mere confirmation with a presiding bishop, what chance a carol service having elbow room to knit in? I suppose I was hoping for the best because there had been two carol services already.^ I don’t know if this is one of weirdnesses of grief or merely advancing age and crankiness but I really am into the genuinely claustrophobic range. Pressure headache, sweaty palms, racing heart, creeping terror. Ugh. Also my usual props were absent. I don’t know if the choir would have had me, they have a few people who can actually sing and may have standards, but I didn’t try to join because I knew I didn’t have time or driving-Wolfgang energy to make it to rehearsals. So I wasn’t singing with the band/choir and not only was the church wedged with bodies—I could have always sat on the floor in the aisle—but it was too dark to knit.
^ No. I wasn’t hoping for the best. I wanted to be able to say I had tried.
*** I still had my knitting in my pocket. There are occasional virtues to having the pocket linings in your ancient black leather jacket shredded out. Means you can get fourteen-inch needles in a six-inch pocket, because the pocket now plunges to the seams. Okay, they stick out a little at the top. Not that much.
† I’ve been having a bad go with insomnia, even for me.
†† Hurtle! Hurtle! We want our HURTLE!!! We don’t CARE about little old people or Christmas carols!
††† Given that I’ve been saying for four years now that I was going to come carolling^ it’s not entirely surprising that I was either not even on the official list or if anyone saw my name there, laughed hollowly and passed on.
^ Hey. It’s not a good time of year. Peter had his first stroke three years ago as well as shaking the dust of this earth off permanently this time last year. The other two years’ absence were probably the ME. That it’s the ME is always a good guess. Sigh. It’s amazing I have any friends left. Three of us, including Fiona, made it to Maddy Prior and her Carnival Band’s regular Christmas show last week, and Fiona said proudly that we’d finally defeated the gremlin, since this was the third+ time we’d tried and the first time we made it. Never tease the ME gremlin. I cancelled seeing the National Theatre’s live-cinema broadcast of NO MAN’S LAND the next night because I could barely stand up.
+ Possibly fourth. I’m holding out for it only being the third.
‡‡ Old people’s homes. Oh dear. I remember, I remember. I was chiefly reminded of how much Peter hated Rivendell. I did wonder if it was such a great idea to sign up for this duty, but I figured I’m singing in the band and it would be okay. It just about was . . . and a few of our audience smiled. And there were mince pies, even if I couldn’t eat any.^ Also I was helpful. Uziel had brought his keyboard but various bits of wiring at the home didn’t work as planned so he had a Heath Robinson arrangement which involved him chasing his footpedal around the floor to the detriment of keeping us on pitch. So I stood in front of it and was jabbed by an ill-mannered extension-cord housing for the duration . . . but it was worth it.
^ It’s funny what nails you. I’ve been off sugar most of a year now and have been fascinated to discover that things like the little inner leaves of cabbages are sweet. CABBAGE? Who knew? Well, you’re not going to know if you’re still putting 1,000,000,000 spoonsful of sugar in your pitch-black morning tea, and while sweet little green leaves are very nice, it’s a fairly stiff price to pay. Most of the time I genuinely don’t notice the price—I like all the brassica family, and I’m wholly converted to green tea—and while there’s certain stuff I miss, I don’t have CRAAAAAAAAAAVINGS, and trust me, I know what cravings are+, so I must be doing something right. But I am shaken every week at the moment, making up the order for one of my organic grocers, by the presence of a particular variety of gooey, teeth-achingly sweet, several-chocolate brownies, that I hadn’t yet figured out how to duplicate at home the celestial heights of the commercial ones, when I Stopped All That. Fortunately they’re seasonal, so they’ll go away again after New Year’s. I can perhaps remind myself at this point that I like COLOUR and cabbages are green.
+ Cravings are chemical, you know? Like my chocolate craving got a whole lot worse with menopause. It’s worth remembering that if you’re having a rough time with one—it also gives you something to research on Google, if you want to. The amount of health stuff out there is dazzling—a lot of it is crap, of course, but I think you kind of learn who to believe or at least to try the advice of, eventually, although developing that kind of instinct or grounding takes a spectacular investment of time. I assume you don’t have to ask me how I know this.
‡‡‡ GLORY GLORY BUT I HATE THE PROLIFERATION OF BUTTON BATTERIES. There are 1,000,000,000,000,000 different kinds and every gizmo you owns that wants them wants a different kind.
§ Pet me!^ Feeeeeeed me!^^ HURTLE me!!!!^^^
I can’t believe he won. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BELIEVE THAT DONALD TRUMP IS AMERICA’S NEXT PRESIDENT.
I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t BELIEVE he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe he won. I cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot cannot cannot cannotcannotcannot cannot believe he won.
I can’t believe it.
I can’t believe it.
I can’t believe it.
I went to bed at about 5 am stunned and staggered and wretched with what was obviously happening in America, watching the states turn red and the little lines crawling toward ‘win’, Hillary’s much too slowly and Donald’s much too fast. When I finally got up again very late in the morning I did not race to my computer or turn on the radio because I didn’t want to hear it. As long as I didn’t know it officially maybe it hadn’t happened. But I had a day’s appointments to confirm and when I turned Pooka on and hit the text button, the condolences and expressions of horror and despair scrolled well past what I could read on the opening screen.
I can’t believe he won. I can’t believe it. I’m wearing all black for the death of my country. My ex-country. I don’t want to be an American any more. If Brexit throws me out of England I’m moving to Australia. I want to lose this accent. I don’t want to sound like an American. I don’t want to be identifiable as a member of the country that voted Donald Trump into the White House, even if I’m not one of the guilty. I remember the heady rush after Obama was voted in the first time—that after cringing through the George Dubya era as an American in England it was okay to be an American—it was something to be proud of, being an American, where we’d just voted in an intelligent man with principles and ideals and oh-by-the-way his dad was a black Kenyan and his wife could punch her own weight as a career woman and his partner.
I can’t believe Donald Trump got anywhere near the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. I kept waiting for someone to pull it together to push back.
I’m an on-line GUARDIAN subscriber, and I hope there are enough of us to keep the GUARDIAN going. This arrived in our inboxes today from Katherine Viner, the editor-in-chief:
It was a terrible night for women, for Muslims, for Hispanic Americans, for people who believe climate change is a real and present danger, for people who believe women have a right to abortion, for men and women who object to sexual harassment of the most brutal and obvious kind, for disabled people, for black people, for Jewish people, for gay people, for progressives, for liberals, for people who believe Barack Obama was born in the USA, for a free and independent media working in the public interest.
There’s no doubt that the election of Donald Trump as US president is one of the biggest events of our lifetimes, and like the outcome of the Brexit referendum, could be one of the most important stories in the history of the Guardian. Our [people] in the US and around the world have been working round-the-clock to bring you the fastest updates, engaged reporting and video, deep analysis and thoughtful commentary. We will redouble these efforts in the coming weeks and months. We want to understand why America voted for Donald Trump, and hold him to account for his words and actions.
What she said.
However. With caveats. There will be no forum thread for this post. I don’t want to talk about it. I wouldn’t expect there to be a lot of Trump voters reading this blog but if there are any I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. Please do not, as has happened before when I’ve explicitly said that I don’t want to discuss something, rush to explain, because if only I’d listen to you . . . I’m not going to listen to any excuses for voting for Donald Trump. Full stop. If you email me I’ll delete you. I’ll be reading TIME magazine and the GUARDIAN—yes, I’m a wet liberal, so what else is new?—for all they can tell me about the potential global catastrophe that is Donald Trump in the White House, but I want my information at barge-pole-length distance, with journalists doing the dirty work.
And of all the possible reasons for ending a long blog silence, this has got to be one of the worst. But I couldn’t not say that I’m utterly, utterly, utterly shaken and shocked and appalled. And to say to all you other Hillary-ites out there, oh, God, I’m so sorry. Hands across the water, tears of blood, etc. Hannah and I have been texting all day—I mean all day, starting at 2 am GMT.
Knitting has become such a refuge for me—even if, when things feel painfully worse than usual, like now, I keep having flashbacks to knitting at Peter’s bedside. And [insert banner-waving here] I finished something for one of these Christmas charities that give hand-made stuff to poor kiddies. And so today—when I’m not texting Hannah again—I keep defaulting helplessly to um, wait, what can I KNIT to make it better? Then my mind goes blank and I look wistfully at my empty, twitching hands. However the hellmob is always happy to go for another hurtle, and since I sing a lot of mournful songs anyway I’m not sure they notice that I’m sounding even more dirge-like than normal today.
I have a half-done post from . . . yonks and eras ago. Before—oh, let’s see—visitors, bronchitis, visitors, food poisoning and visitors. And how when what there is left of my hair post-menopause started falling out in handfuls, my fingernails were breaking past the quick, and my legs went all funny, that I realised that possibly I had taken the detox thing too far. And? I’m no longer a vegetarian. Sigh. I should have recognised the warning signs—I’ve crashed and burned as a semi-vegan twice before; third time is not the charm—but it’s so easy to blame everything on the ME. As a slavering carnivore my energy levels are picking up again nicely, thank you. My fingernails need cutting again and my hair is starting to grow back in, although whether it grows back in enough remains to be seen. And as I’ve said several times during this gruesome and miserable year, I have no intention of giving the blog up, I’m just having a few interim motivational problems.
I can’t believe he won.
I got caught talking to Peter for the first time the other day. That I know of, I mean. I’ve been talking to him in the churchyard, of course, since the unnecessarily grand ashes box went into the ground, what, is it three weeks ago now? Even if it’s no more than hey, how’s it going, as some hurtle-shift or other passes at speed because I’m late, as usual, for the next thing, whatever it is, I still take a loop off the main path to say hello and check how the current rose is doing.* So half the town may already be aware that the Dickinson widow chats to her husband, but then, she’s a little loony, maybe it’s being an American?**
But the first time I noticed being caught talking to Peter was a few days ago. When I told this to a friend she said drily, who was more embarrassed? Well, at the time, I would have said the honours were about even *** but by the time I was taking the hellhounds and my red face briskly in the opposite direction I was thinking wait a minute. This is a churchyard. This must happen all the time! People talking to their departed beloveds† in cemeteries!†† Meanwhile I’d better get used to being caught because it’s going to happen again. And again. My friend suggested that part of my discoverers’ shock was just that this was happening immediately off the main, well travelled, path through the churchyard—there’s perhaps an unconscious assumption that people who are going to speak to the dead are going to do it in the tucked-away parts of churchyards. And this churchyard has tucked-away places. I originally thought I’d want to have him in one of those, but I changed my mind.††† I like him where I’m going to walk past him every day. And my friend—who knew Peter—agreed. That’s the path he walked on every day to go buy his newspaper.‡ And he was always interested in what was going on, what people were doing. It’s a good spot.
* * *
* This is supposed to be a CAPTION.
* Some day it will NOT be a rose. Some day. Not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not next week either. Although if our little village florist ever had really fabulous sunflowers the day the current rose needs replacing I might well go for a fabulous sunflower . . . which would probably look very peculiar in the plastic spike-vase . . . eh. The unexpected confusions of looking after a grave. But it’s not like it’s something you think ahead about. What I Will Do If I Ever Have An Important Grave to Look After. We even knew that the statistical probability was very strong that I would be looking after his grave some day. Did we think about it? No.^ Also, you don’t get cut clematis the way you get cut roses—clematis are just not a cut-flower plant. And Peter being a clematis man leaves me free to do my worst. Which means roses. And maybe a sunflower once a year.
^ There is an argument that Peter knew perfectly well that I would buy a spike-vase and put roses in it, and didn’t see the need to say anything.
** The country that has elected Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for the presidency, greater, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding, shrieking proof of national looniness is not possible.
I’m also a fantasy writer of course, but I don’t think most of the locals pay this any attention. My being an American is in your face—or your ear—the minute I say anything. Most of them don’t task me with Trump, however. Maybe they can see the blood in my eye if they unwarily attempt to bring politics into the conversation. Maybe they just realise I must be a liberal, I wear All Stars.
People are funny though.^ There are people I would have expected to phone me occasionally or put a postcard through the door or something, saying ‘thinking of you, hope you’re doing okay’ or thereabouts. I don’t need casseroles^^ and I don’t go to parties^^^ but contact might have been nice. Which in some cases isn’t happening. Oh. Okay. It’s not like I don’t have friends who are keeping a close eye on me^^^^. The cold draught I constantly feel is about absence of Peter, not absence of friends and friendly support.^^^^^ And some people I would not have expected to take an interest, do. Still. Odd.
^ Make a note.
^^ Which would almost certainly be full of things I can’t eat anyway
^^^ Except I am going to one on Wednesday. A cocktail party. A large cocktail party. I have clearly taken leave of my few remaining senses. But it’s being held at the beautiful old country house where we had Peter’s memorial and I want to go back there for the first time since then and get it over with. And it is a beautiful old country house with glorious parkland, and I shall wear All Stars and having had my token glass of . . . mineral water and said hello to at least three people, I shall go for a walk before Wolfgang takes me home.
^^^^ YES I’M EATING. But as I’ve said before, eliminate meat, sugar and alcohol—and butter, my one remaining dairy product—and it suddenly becomes surprisingly difficult not to lose weight. Especially if you were a serious sugar junkie, which I was.+ Aggravated in my case by the fact that I’m an ex-fat person who learnt to deal with the fact that I gain weight easily and had what I thought was an ineradicable addiction to chocolate and other sweet things, including remarkable amounts of sugar in my remarkably strong black tea, AND champagne. So my mindset for the last forty years has been the ‘push yourself away from the table while you’re still hungry I mean NOW’ thing to make room for the sugar and the chocolate and the butter and the champagne, and a cemented-in for additional security mindset is HARD to change after forty years. So I keep having these conversations with myself that go, wait, you’re not going to eat ALL those nuts, are you? Nuts are VERY HIGH CALORIE. —YES. EAT THE NUTS. EAT ALL THE NUTS. YOU CAN FRELLING USE THE CALORIES. Wait, no, no, you aren’t going to eat an entire avocado, are you? YES. I AM. I AM GOING TO EAT AN ENTIRE AVOCADO.
+ And yes, I thought I was going to endure the tortures of the damned, eliminating sugar. I didn’t. I get a little WISTFUL# sometimes but major cravings and all that? Nope. My body I guess was just ready. It’s a lot more of a grown-up than the rest of me.
# You know what I really miss? Being able to treat myself. A hard afternoon sweating through the ‘two for one’ table at Waterstones and I want a sit-down and a cup of tea before I go home. Green tea is now fashionable enough that it’s usually not too difficult finding a tea shop that serves green. But I can’t do the sticky cake any more. And it’s not the cake I miss nearly so much, it’s the treat. If you follow me. At least if I go with someone they can have the sticky cake and the shop needn’t feel it’s wasting its table on me.
^^^^^ WHICH I TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY, GROVELLINGLY APPRECIATE. This directed at anyone reading this blog who is wondering sadly if I’m ever going to acknowledge their card/letter/email. Yes. You’re on the list. Eight months is nothing, I’m afraid, to a disorganised, ME-riddled loony.+
+ I probably shouldn’t admit this, but speaking of disorganised loonies, yesterday I discovered a little cache of letters I wrote in . . . March. That ahem didn’t get sent ahem. Sigh.
*** I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing that I’ve never seen them before. It’s tourist season and it’s a pretty churchyard. I was adding local colour. And the hellhounds are very decorative. If I want an actual chat I take the hellhounds. Pav isn’t so great at hanging out. Although she has recently taken to hucklebutting like a dervish in the little clear space in front of Peter’s grave, which I hope he is finding entertaining.
† Of whatever kind, variety, relationship or flavour
†† It happens in the graveyard where Miri’s grandfather is buried, in Hellhound.
††† And fortunately the vicar agreed. Thank you, God. Thank you, lovely vicar.
‡ My little cul de sac is kind of around the corner from the churchyard, although it’s a short corner. Third House really is slap on the other side of the churchyard from the centre of town. Have I told you that one of the weirder comments from a potential house buyer was that she really liked the house ‘but it was too near the churchyard’? What? She reads too much Stephen King or something?