Peter had a second stroke on the 7th of September.
I’ve got that far writing you a catch-up blog, and stalled, several times over the last two months*. Life-changing events of the negative sort perhaps often have that effect: This is what’s happened. Noooooo. And your mind goes blank again. As mine keeps doing.**
He was in hospital for not quite a fortnight*** and then went straight into a care home which is where he still is and where I wearily and dejectedly hope he stays. We’ll call it Rivendell: that’s the sort of name care homes have, and its real one is almost as silly.† He’s still Peter and he can still open one eye where he’s snoozing on his bed and put you right about a Shakespeare/Bible/Kipling/Housman/Hardy quote without fully waking up, but he is terrifyingly frail. Terrifyingly. Through Admetus’ kindness we’ve inherited Alcestis’ folding, fits-in-the-boot-of-your-car wheelchair, three-wheelie walker thing†† and flashy red-leather disabled badge holder. We use all of them regularly.
This was not the plan. But the plan went south twelve years ago when Peter and I left the old house back in Warm Upford, because he was beginning to feel his age. Plans change. I don’t really know what the plan is now. Get through today. Get through tomorrow. Get through next week. . . . †††
As you can imagine morale is not high. And there’s a lot of sheer business detail that someone has to attend to. The brunt of it falls on me of course but all four of Peter’s kids are pitching in enormously. This isn’t helping my staring into the endless dark at 3 am but it does mean that my mental and physical leaky-sieve qualities are not a disaster. It also means that the three relatively local kids take him for proper outings. He’s in Rivendell because it has by far the best reputation in the area, but it’s pretty much at the stretch of my ME-oppressed daily commuting distance. I can take him to tea in Mauncester‡ and we’ve reinstated our lovely weekly library visits which involve books AND tea than which it does not get better‡‡ but that’s about it. But Peter is presently having a comprehensive tour of all the local hot spots we never got around to visiting because we live here, compliments his indefatigable children.
My life is on hold‡‡‡; no bell ringing, no voice lessons, no Sams, no Street Pastors, no . . . whatever I used to do. Some of it with Peter. I may be forgetting.§ Except for Peter. I remember Peter.§§
Ask me about my life in, oh, say six months. Although I’ll try not to leave it that long before I post again.
* * *
* And started this one a week ago. It originally said ‘almost two months’.
** I suppose I could try blaming the ME. It does have its uses. I’d rather not have it as a scapegoat and dustbin but as long as I do have it I might as well make it work for its keep.
*** And was about ready to steal a cardboard box and live on the street to get out. This seems to me a healthy, sensible attitude toward being in hospital. If you need it you have to lump it but it’s not a fun time for anyone. AND. THE. FOOD. Dear frelling subgod of food. You’d think that with a lot of sick people under your roof you would be deeply concerned with getting the best possible nutrition into them, wouldn’t you? Instead so far as I can tell hospitals go to Central Nutritional Casting and order someone who can fill out a balance sheet and lives on Snickers bars. And our local hospital, at whose table Peter has failed to feast on occasions previously, is far from the worst in this regard.^
^ Very slightly in their defense—very very slightly—he was on soft food for about the first week which limited the initial range. But, you know, after that? Um, say, SALAD? What would that be again? Something with mayo and macaroni perhaps? A serving of broccoli consists of one finger-sized floret cooked just short of disintegration point. If they could harness the precision skill needed for this feat they could probably send that settlement party to Mars.+ How do they expect anyone to get WELL on this stuff? It’s not like they need to fill beds. They need to unfill beds.
+ We liked THE MARTIAN. Just by the way. Our local cinema had a refit just in time to make Peter comfortable in the admirable new sofas at the back. I will, however, indulge in a rant about disabled access some other time.
† Or maybe sillier.
†† I think these are dead cool. There are a gazillion different styles—Admetus says Alcestis really enjoyed trolling catalogues and the internet for precisely the right make and model. But they’re all like a kind of souped-up shopping trolley. This one has a basket, a bag and a tray.^ And brakes, for when you’ve got your shopping trolley a trifle overloaded with all the fresh stuff you’ve been MISSING while you’ve been in hospital^^ and there’s a slope. I realise it wouldn’t be cost effective but I wish ordinary shopping trolleys had brakes. My most memorable wheeled and brakeless moment was probably one afternoon chasing a trolley full of champagne^^^ down a long car park toward Wolfgang and flinging myself sideways against the handlebar to get the thing to turn in at the appropriate bay.^^^^
^ Pav would fit in the basket. I don’t suppose she’d stay there.
^^ Lettuce doesn’t weigh much but almost everything else does. And even lettuce weighs a surprising amount when it’s on its own core and isn’t just loose leaves.
^^^ Well. Cheap fizz. On sale.
^^^^ That experience may be the source of one of Wolfgang’s dents. But it’s a small, delicate, charming dent. And none of the bottles of fizz exploded.
††† I am so not thinking about Christmas. We’re going to a lavish high tea^ at one of these country house nobody-ever-lived-like-this fantasy places for my birthday with several of the family.^^ If this is fun we may do it again for Peter’s birthday. Peter, as you may imagine, is not feeling enthusiastic about birthday celebrations.
^ It makes me a little cranky that now that gluten-free has become a fashion accessory almost everyone curls their lip when you ask about availability. On the other hand for those of us who discovered years before it became cutting edge style that gluten-free is a very good idea when we’re under stress it’s nice that there now is availability. What it is to be ahead of the frelling curve. Like the ME: as I’ve snarled here many times before, I’d had it eight years or so before the NHS decided it existed. Thanks. Now get away from me with those drugs.
^^ If I can convince someone else to do the Rivendell-tea-Rivendell drive I will have a glass of champagne. At Rivendell I can hit the cranberry juice and sober up before I have to drive home.
‡ Bright spots include finding a fabulous new tea shop with good tea and gluten-free.^
^ Although . . . guaranteed weight-loss diet? Go vegetarian+ a month or six weeks before your husband has a second stroke, while you’re still learning what you can and can’t eat and of what you can what does and does not taste good or sit well in your stomach++, and if you’re dairy free also (yes) most of your new options are lower-cal than your old, and you may absent-mindedly find yourself with a plate of something you don’t eat any more and then can’t be bothered replacing it with anything, because who feels like eating when your husband has just had a stroke?
+ It’s a long story. Tell you some other time.#
# It’s game-bird season and I’m feeling a little wistful. Also. Christmas without turkey. Golly.
++ Which in my case is possessed by demons so this is always an interesting gauntlet to renegotiate. <mixed metaphor alert> If you had a gut like mine you too would indulge in mixed metaphors when attempting to describe it. Not too graphically.
‡‡ Yes, okay, champagne. But not when I’m driving.
‡‡‡ Barring the hellmob of course. They’re all yo, we want our hurtles, we want our food,^ we want our hanging out, we want our lying in heaps together. They are of course aware that Something is Wrong—if for no other reason than that the majority of our hanging-out time no longer occurs at Third House—but critters are admirably single-minded and this does provide valuable grounding when you’re pretty much off your face. Also the advantages of warm fur during the 3 am bleak-staring phases cannot be overstated.
One of Rivendell’s not-so-minor advantages is that they’re critter-friendly. There are a lot of dogs that visit, now including the hellhounds.^^ There are a couple of bull terrier fanciers however who are waiting for me to have a good moment to bring the hellterror in. She takes more advance planning and my advance-planning function is a little unreliable at the moment.
^ All right, the hellterror wants her food. But I think the hellhounds would miss the lively and interesting interactions with the hellgoddess if she didn’t regularly produce food for them to despise.
^^ I’m so used to the staff liking dogs that when the hellhounds rushed one of the carers who came to check on Peter the other night it didn’t occur to me that she would do anything but greet them in the manner to which they have become accustomed and the poor woman had palpitations. Oops.
§ My poor garden. . . . ^
^ I suppose I should say ‘my poor floors’ and ‘my poor dusty and grimy shelves’ and ‘my poor heaps of unsorted gubbins in all the corners and against all the walls’ but housework has never been a major centre to my existence. Although it’s true that when the gubbins start extruding long tentacles and chasing you from room to room, um . . .
§§ Story writing? No. Which may also be why I feel so, I don’t know, hollow?
. . . yesterday. I’d been Street Pastoring Friday night* so getting out of bed Saturday (ahem) morning (ahem) was a somewhat protracted business.** I eventually came downstairs*** and was fallen on by the hellmob† who feel that six hours is plenty of time to be without the fascinating, stimulating and all-providing hellgoddess.††
And before I go on with this story I want to make it very clear that I had had an adequate amount of caffeine . . .
I have three eggs for breakfast every morning.††† I make excellent scrambled eggs‡ and this also means that if I—er—don’t get around to eating for the rest of the day I’m still good to go.‡‡ I have NO IDEA how it happened, except that I must have put the pan carelessly down on the edge of the cooker while I reached for the bowl. Possibly to do with sleep deprivation. Even caffeine can only do so much.
AND THE BLOODY PAN LEAPED OFF THE COOKER, DID THREE CARTWHEELS MIDAIR‡‡‡ AND PLUNGED TO THE FLOOR WHERE IT FRELLING BOUNCED. Who knew that a heavy copper pan COULD BOUNCE THAT HIGH?
I had scrambled eggs—scrambled eggs that had just had their butter stirred into them a moment ago—EVERYWHERE. I mean EVERYWHERE. I’m starting to feel hysterical again just remembering. The eggs that landed on the front of the Aga itself were instantly welded into place because the front of the Aga is HOT, you know? The fronts of the white cupboards were suddenly a shiny mottled yellow. I had eggs on my computer, eggs on the piles of books and magazines§ to either side of it, eggs on the glass panes of the cupboards above the counters, eggs on my knitting bag . . . eggs on the FAR SIDE OF THE KITCHEN ISLAND, on the table I can no longer get the leaves up of because there are too many hellcritter crates, and on the glass front of the bookcase that stands next to the table. There are probably eggs in the geraniums on the windowsills too, but it’s a bit of a jungle in there and if there are eggs they can just stay there.
Meanwhile, back at ground zero . . . my kitchen was built by a cowboy. I have no idea where my predecessor found him, but I hope she put him back where he can trouble no one any further. Since I have a cowboy mentality when it comes to housework this is mostly not that big a problem. I curse the drawer that doesn’t open except when it shoots out and falls to the floor, but mostly I can ignore the fact that it has big gaps at the top and on both sides, and that the handle doesn’t fit flush to the front. I can also ignore that the cowboy was either drunk or high when he put in the footings for the Aga§§ UNTIL I’M TRYING TO CLEAN SCRAMBLED EGGS OFF EVERY SURFACE IN THE KITCHEN. A heavy copper pot can cannonball its contents with amazing force. I had greasy scrambled eggs inside that frelling drawer, having slammed through the cracks; I had scrambled eggs jammed under the not-flush handle. I had—and, in fact, still have, since I see no way of getting them out—scrambled eggs puttying up the gaps in the Aga footings . . . I had scrambled eggs inside the oven-shaped space in the Aga that contains the gas feed and the striking mechanism and the spigots because there are vents in the top of the door which the eggs came through. I had eggs sliding down Jesus’ tummy on the brand-new icon I have hanging on the front of one of those glass-paned cupboards§§§. I had eggs dripping off the overhead ceiling beam.
I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen.~ And whining. And then I made myself more scrambled eggs and I ate them. ~~
* * *
* And I got STOPPED BY THE FUZZ ON THE WAY HOME. Hee hee hee hee hee. They must have been bored^—or poor Wolfgang has that look of minor criminal delinquency. I saw a car pull in behind me and I couldn’t see it was cops but I am happy to say that late at night any car that pulls in behind me is guilty until proven innocent of being cops, and I drive accordingly. At 4 am after being on your feet strolling the city for six hours you might be forgiven for BEING A LITTLE TIRED.^^ I had about decided this car was not cops since it had followed me all the way through town and out the other side and I hadn’t had any near encounters with trees or anything. But they still pulled me over, one of them ambled out and asked—politely—if I was lost or if perhaps . . . I had had one or two down t’pub earlier? No, I said cheerfully, I’ve been Street Pastoring, and I waved the sleeve of my jacket, lying on the seat next to me, at him. Oh, Street Pastors, he said, carry on. I spared him pointing out that he’d just spoken to me not an hour before on a street corner . . . but the anonymous thing about a uniform? The SP logo is like a great big HARMLESS sign and I think cop gaze slides right off us. Not the other way around, you will note. But I’m still getting used to chatting amiably with The Man. Or, occasionally, Woman.
^ I’m happy to say that in this area at 4 am, when the final Chinese/Thai/Indian takeaway/kebab shop/Subway sandwiches has closed after the last club+ has closed, things are pretty quiet. Except for the occasional random old lady serially hurtling a hellmob. The cops’ve stopped her too, as you may recall.
+ Yes we have those too. No, really. You want vices? We got vices. It’s just most of them go to bed pretty early.
^^ I would be useless at shift work—like cops—and with the ME the only reason I can do Street Pastoring at all—or all those late Sam duties—is because I stay up late anyway. Just not quite this late+ and there’s less walking involved++, although what walking there is on an ordinary McKinley late night includes liberal use of small plastic bags.
+ Um. Usually
++ Or chatting to people, which is much more tiring.# I like carrying the knapsack, despite the weight of a full frelling thermos, because then I can concentrate on the hot-drinks service and conversation can be honourably limited to ‘vegetable, chicken and vegetable or hot chocolate?’ Mind you wrestling with thermoses that don’t open, plastic bags of paper cups that have no entry point, packets of soup that won’t tear and the regular dismaying disappearance of all the spoons, it usually takes an entire team to get a hot drink made anyway. I suspect many of our regular homeless don’t want the drink but they enjoy the show.
# Answering the phones at the Sams is different. They rang you. You didn’t wander up to them wearing a silly hat.
** I’ve got the standard post-late-Sam duty system reasonably well banged out but I’m still working on post-SP. I have two major problems about getting to bed before the morning news on Radio 3^: the first is this three dog drill. Pav is totally down on bodily functions. You take her out, she does the necessary and she can’t wait to get back indoors again BECAUSE THERE WILL BE FOOOOOOOOOD. Hellhounds . . . Chaos has to crap at least twice^^ every time he sets foot across the threshold and Darkness has to find the PEEEEEEEEEERFECT spot. He can shuttle around a patch five foot square for five minutes . . . and then CHANGE HIS MIND and be obliged to LOOK ELSEWHERE. And the pee-marking . . . they may have to pee several times and from several different directions on a single tree, dustbin, bus stop, wall^^^, pole, etc. Although watching them trying to get it RIGHT with a pole is pretty funny since their aim isn’t all that great, and . . .
And the other thing is that I come back from any late duty STARVING. And more so after following flaming hellhounds around on their eliminatory QUEST. And eating is, you know, time consuming, since you’re not going to gag down six brownies and an onion^^^^ at the kitchen sink, are you? You’re going to want to consider your choices and then sit down and enjoy your selection, and maybe get out a book to read or a little knitting and . . .
^ the sound of which produces an OH FESTERING FESTERING reaction, especially if I’ve fallen asleep in the bath again
^^ I am not merely paying for the makers of biodegradable plastic crap bags to send their children to college, I am also funding their tropical rainforest holidays in Maine and sun and surf holidays in Tibet+. ARRRRRRGH.
+ Both of these options are EXTRA EXPENSIVE for what you might call the obvious reasons
^^^ Walls come in extents, you realise. A self-contained extent from a peeing-dog perspective is anywhere from three-quarters of an inch to about two foot. Sigh.
^^^^ Well I hope you aren’t
*** There may have been moaning
† I am DELIGHTED TO REPORT THAT the hellterror is off heat again YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. Although the hellhounds are still checking. Hellterror is all, you want my butt? I am delighted you want my butt! Here is my butt! HERE IS MY BUTT! HERE IT IS! HERE! ARE YOU ENJOYING MY BUTT? IT’S A NICE BUTT, ISN’T IT? MAYBE YOU’D LIKE TO TICKLE MY TUMMY TOO? OR I COULD JUST MUG YOU. —Remind me why I have dogs.
†† Getting your dogs on your peculiar schedule is easy. But all those bright little expectant eyes when you crawl through the door at three or four in the morning is perhaps not the perfect solution. When are they going to invent a dog-walking robot?
††† All right so it’s not necessarily morning. It’s the first meal of the day, okay? Unless you count the nosh at 5 am.
‡ Possibly almost as good as Sunshine’s. Almost. After all, she’s a professional.
‡‡ There could be some connection here with why I am often starving at three or four in the morning. But post-menopausal metabolism, you know? The frelling eggs are an indulgence. I could maintain weight on a carrot a week, I swear. A small carrot.^
^ I am not thinking about Niall’s brownies. I am not thinking about Niall’s brownies. NOT. +
+ However I am apparently ringing at Old Eden tomorrow night, where ringing up those bells is like running a flag up a flagpole where the pulleys are all frozen and the flag is the approximate size, weight and momentum resistance of the Albert Memorial. Who needs a gym subscription?
‡‡‡ During which I wrung my hands and did not make a grab for it because it had only JUST come off the hot plate and I employ a heavy copper-clad steel pan because I can use all the upper-body strengthening devices I can get AND it cooks divinely not least for its HEAT RETAINING PROPERTIES.
§ You mean not everybody eats surrounded by books and writing implements of various applications, or keeps current reading material on the kitchen counters?^
^ There would be more on the floor except, you know, hellterror. No she doesn’t eat paper but she does carom off it.
§§ It’s a reconditioned one so it’s possible that whoever did the reconditioning also supplied the footing. This is not an encouraging thought. Fortunately the Aga herself is a star and I wouldn’t be without her. Long time readers may recall I’ve said that all my friends fell down laughing when they found out I’d bought a house with an Aga in it since I had clearly bought it for the Aga. Ahem. I deny this charge. Although I admit the presence of an Aga may have been a tipping point.
§§§ A few weeks ago, when the real world was beating me up unusually hard, I met my monk on my way into the chapel on Saturday night and he asked me how I was. I burst into tears. The end of that conversation included Alfrick suggesting I buy myself a suitable icon and start poking my problems into the little cave with the skull in it at the foot of the cross.^
^ First you have to find a reproduction that doesn’t chop the cave off because it’s all for tourists anyway and they won’t care. Good grief. Or I should probably say God bless. I finally found a nice shiny working Catholic repro of an icon. I don’t recall however that you’re supposed to baptise your new icon in scrambled eggs and I was a little worried that the cheap varnish was going to peel off, but it seems to have taken no harm.+
+ This is a monologue for another night, but having been raised, supposedly, to be a generic Protestant . . . generic Protestants so miss out on the evil-papist [sic] ritual objects like icons and rosaries. Maybe I’m just unusually mired in earthly matters# and/or old to be this young, but I find the props tremendously helpful and supportive. We are living in this world with bodies in three mortal dimensions##. I belong to the school of thought that it’s not all about transcendence.
# two hellhounds with chronic diarrhoea and a hellterror with a fabulous butt can do this to you
## and hellcritters. I think hellcritter bodies exude an extra dimension or two. Possibly hellterrors have a special Butt Dimension which could explain a lot.
# Small mercies: the hellterror had been recrated^ before the excitement. She did, however, have lovely buttery scrambled eggs for breakfast. She did not care that they’d spent a few minutes on the floor or were seasoned with tears of rage and despair.
^ For an excess of butt-related activities
~ It’s still speckled yellow. But it’s less speckled. .
~~ Today, however, has been better. We went to a ROSE GARDEN.
Have I told you I’ve gone back into therapy because I Am Not Coping with Reality Very Well Right Now?* I went in for an assessment a while ago but it took them some time to find a slot for me.** I’ve seen Metis a few times now and like her—if ‘like’ is quite the word you want to apply to your shrink—and have some hope that she’ll crack me open like whacking off the top of your soft-boiled egg with an egg-spoon.*** But it’s still early days. Yesterday she taught me a relaxation technique. Chiefly it served to demonstrate that I do not relax. Nadia could have told her this. Sigh.†
But weekly therapy meetings are one more thing on the schedule. And in the last fortnight I seem also to have been to three concerts†† and not merely done my standard weekly Sam duty but the frelling occasional-required long overnight duty which reduces you to a little pile of sticky ashes even if you’re healthy††† plus picking up an extra (late, not everyone’s favourite time of day for some reason) duty when someone went down sick at the last minute.‡
And of course there’s still monks. And singing.‡‡ And the hellmob. And the garden, which is booming into early summer. And bell ringing, although tower ringing has taken a hit the last fortnight due to all the other excitements. But handbells . . . it’s Friday. There were handbells.‡‡‡
* * *
* I’m an American, we believe in therapy. And my best friend is a New Yorker and everyone in Manhattan is in therapy, it’s a civic ordinance. You want to live there, you need to sign up with a therapist before you try to find a place to live. Your rental agreement or your mortgage application will have a query on it something like ‘Are you currently actively engaged in seeking self-development by way of a professional relationship with a psychotherapist whose name appears on this year’s list of Persons Licensed to Charge More Than $1000 an Hour which you gladly disburse for the Privilege of Discovering What a Hopeless Dolt You Are?’ You need to be able to fill in the ‘yes’ box. Residents of the Tri-State Area are given a tax rebate for being in therapy, although it doesn’t run to $4000 a month. Hey, what do you want, healthy, well nourished children and a car that runs^ or greater self awareness?^^
^ All the festering DRIVING involved in my proliferating life-enrichment programmes is a pain. It’s worth it but IT IS A PAIN. And while I’m both a careful and a law-abiding driver I do kind of yell a lot. I had a Classic Robin Moment on my way to my last voice lesson. I was late, of course, because I’m always late, and I got stuck behind this moron going thirty-five miles an hour in a SIXTY MILE AN HOUR ZONE. I was not doing my singing voice any good in my description of his heritage and his likely future. Then we hit town—I’ve tried going the back way and all that happens is that I get stuck behind tractors, and that doesn’t do my singing voice or my blood pressure any favours either—and the slow wiggly main road was made even slower and wigglier by the plethora of frelling LORRIES parked on it while they unloaded shoes and sausages and hammers and mattresses into all the frelling shops. So you and your soon to be overheating car are ducking back and forth from one single lane to the other, depending on where the latest lorry is parked and you are getting later and later for your voice lesson and CRANKIER AND CRANKIER. Now, despite my malevolent views of other drivers, I’m quite the—ahem!—Samaritan about letting other drivers in, especially in a situation like this one where we’re all suffering. Well I’d got stuck behind the final lorry and no one was letting me into the other lane. Guess who finally did. Yep. Thirty Five Miles an Hour in a Sixty Mile an Hour Zone Man. I waved gratefully but I hope he doesn’t lip-read.
^^ Note that Metis’ practise does not charge £646 an hour. Trust me, I would not be there.
** It’s a group practise. I imagine them sitting around at their admin meeting and saying, okay, we have an axe murderer, a pathological collector of HP Lovecraft t shirts^, someone who thinks they’re Napoleon/Marie Stopes/Edward Cullen and a writer with writer’s block . . . and a chorus of voices reply eagerly, I’ll take the axe murderer! I’ll take Lovecraft, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is the best novel of the 20th century! I’ll take Marie Stopes! . . . Silence. I am fully booked, says the person remaining. I totally must shampoo the cat, and then sort the contents of the kibble bin by size. Fluffy is so particular. I can’t consider taking on a new client till someone else has been desperate enough to take the wri—I mean, probably not till next year.
*** Personally I scramble my eggs. But Peter does the egg-spoon trick.
† Note to self: Metis and Nadia must never meet.
†† If Jackie Oates http://www.jackieoates.co.uk/live-dates/ comes anywhere near you and/or you have a friend who is willing to do the driving, speaking of driving,^ and unless you are one of these poor sad creatures who doesn’t get good folk music, go. And listen especially closely to the newly arranged and adapted 21st-century lyrics to A Cornish Young Man, which are delicious.
^ Fiona and I found a new yarn shop. I was doing pretty well+ till I made the mistake of checking out the sale bin again. I had thought on the way in that the Yarn Pet percentage might be a little perilous but at that point I had a whole shop to be endangered by and adrenaline was running high. And I then managed (mostly) to resist the breathtakingly gorgeous single-skein small-local-indie-dyers gauntlet, chiefly because I have some self-protective resistance to spending more than a New York City shrink’s hourly rate on a one-off that there isn’t even enough of to make a scarf. A fichu maybe.++
AND THEN I WENT BACK TO THE FRELLING SALE BIN. Alpaca is evil. Especially when it is mixed in big fat fluffy skeins with merino. You can frelling hear it purring when you cradle it in your arms.+++
+ I say nothing about how Fiona was doing
++ If you’re small and flat-chested.
+++ Dogs purr too, you know. At least every dog I’ve ever had purrs when it settles in your lap. Whether it fits in your lap or not.
††† And/or stay up late and don’t do mornings anyway. Although some annoying person^ has pointed out that I do do mornings, I do a lot of mornings, I just do the, you know, little end.
^ I never name names on this blog but this particular person is very annoying about handbells.+
+ What do you mean you can’t ring handbells tomorrow, the next day, the day after that and three times on Madnessday? —GO AWAY. YOU’RE RETIRED. SOME OF US ARE STILL WORKING FOR A LIVING# AND FURTHERMORE MAY POSSIBLY DO OTHER THINGS IN THEIR SPARE [SIC] TIME THAT AREN’T HANDBELLS. ##
# Or at least staring despairingly at an empty computer screen regularly.
## Aren’t . . . handbells? this person murmurs brokenly.
‡ And this potent sacrifice was absolutely worth it for the barrage of brownie points thus accrued. I can probably spill scalding coffee on the director/the fancy new computer/the delicately poised for heightened reactivity electronic fire alarm and no one will say anything.
‡‡ Your Body Is Your Instrument I Wish I Had Taken up the Guitar When I Was a Teenager Like Everyone Else Did. Nadia told me the last time I was beating up Batti Batti O Bel Masetto to skip the allegro, which has all those frelling runs in it AND goes up to a high B. Last time, as I recall, I did leave it alone. This time I was idly leafing through it again when a little light went on and I said, Hey! It’s a B flat! I can (usually) get to B flat! —So, occasionally, late at night^, when my voice is feeling all relaxed^^ and warm and willing I sing the allegro. I can’t frelling sing and play the piano at the same time, but I do have a finger poised to hit that B flat to make sure I’m hitting it, if you follow me. I usually am, in my squeaky un-self-confident and death-defying-not-in-a-good-way way^^^.
And next time through I can’t hit G. I can always hit a friggleblasting doodahing G, give me a flapdoodling BREAK. Yes, I can always hit a G, except right after I’ve hit an A sharp/B flat and my voice says NO WE DON’T DO THAT and shuts down. That’s SHUTS. DOWN. Arrrrrrgh. And then it’s back to Edwardian parlour ballads till it forgives me. ARRRRRRGH.
^ Or in a little morning hour
^^^ Yes I can hear the unglefrakking difference when Nadia manages to persuade me to float down from above a note rather than ramping up at it from underneath like a guerrilla attack on a dangerous enemy. Sigh. Sometimes I’m very flat indeed. Sometimes I just . . . sound like I’m attacking an enemy I’m terrified of.+ SIGH.
+ I also indulge in a concomitant worry that St Margaret’s will decide they’re not that desperate for singers at the evening service.
‡‡‡ And brownies. I had told Niall firmly that if there were no brownies I would remember a prior engagement. What prior engagement? said Niall suspiciously. Well, I forget, I said, there are brownies, right?
Today was Alcestis’ 58th birthday.
Would have been. She died a little over a week ago.
Peter and I often go out to dinner either the 3rd or the 26th of whatever month it is*; occasionally both, like this month. January is frequently a sod; serious deluges of champagne are often required in January. Last year, after Peter’s stroke in December, pretty much bathtubs full of the stuff were prescribed and dutifully consumed. And this year. . . . I’d remembered that Alcestis’ birthday was the end of January somewhere; I’d forgotten it was today till Admetus reminded me. Peter and I clinked our glasses tonight and drank to Alcestis. Who is dancing joyfully in the sunlit fields of the Lord . . . which means fuck-all to me right now.
The funeral is on Friday.
That’s the worst, of course. I miss her. Remember I said in the Not a happy new year post to make time for your friends, life is shorter than you think? It’s not like I didn’t know Alcestis’ time and life were running out all last year, but the habit of ‘oh next week is soon enough’ is hard to sodding break. I am so glad now for all of those evenings I spent knitting and chatting with her the last few months; I wouldn’t have not done it for anything, now that it’s all over—now that she’s gone. But it also makes me miss her worse. Because I’d FINALLY got in the habit of going round to see her regularly. And enjoying her company. And remembering why I liked her so much: for her dry humour, her empathy, her astonishing breadth of practical knowledge about the world; if you wanted to know something about pretty much anything, chances were that Alcestis could tell you something you could use and suggest where you might look for more. She’d been a scientist and a science teacher, and teaching came naturally to her, whether it was basic physics or how to pluck a chicken.** And yet months would go by, before she fell ill, when we’d run into each other in town and say ‘oh yes we must get together’ and then go our separate ways for more months. Why are humans so STUPID? Because I’m far from the only person who treats their friends like this. There’s always going to be time. But there isn’t.
So. Sorry for the long blog silence. There’s still a lot of staring blankly into space—and several other WHAAAAAAT? unexpected crises, mostly unsuitable for a family-friendly public blog, but I will mention the evening this past week, having just been knocked sideways by one of said crises, I managed to leave my diary in Mauncester I CANNOT LIIIIIIIVE WITHOUT MY DIARY I can barely remember to breathe without checking in my diary first*** and having phoned to be sure that I had left it where I thought I had, and they said they’d keep it safe for me, I leaped into Wolfgang to drive back to fetch it . . .
. . . and Wolfgang wouldn’t start. AAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I spent most of the next DAY schlepping in to Mauncester on the frelling BUS and hiking to the far end of town TO PICK UP MY DIARY. While Wolfgang was towed off to the garage. I got him back today: hellhounds and I had a very nice walk over hill and under milkwood to Warm Upford to pick him up, with a shiny new starter motor under his bonnet.† And all that stumbling over tussocks gave me an appetite for champagne, duck confit and a big fat chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce tonight at the pub. It was a very good confit, and an excellent brownie. But the brownie wasn’t as good as Alcestis’.
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The news isn’t all bad, if you will permit me to range now into the frivolous. Niall, who can smell weakness, and has his own unique ideas about cheering people up, seems to have inveigled me into RINGING FRELLING HANDBELLS AGAIN. HOW DO I GET INTO THESE THINGS.†† Furthermore I seem to have become a semi-regular fourth with a particular group, Niall, Jillian, who was starting to learn handbells shortly before I more or less stopped, and a gentleman who has not appeared on these virtual pages before, whom we will call Spenser. I’ve rung tower bells with Jillian many times—although she’s a good ringer and I’m not—I only know Spenser by reputation. The fact that he’s not only a good tower bell ringer but also an organist and therefore has developed the Extra Brain Lobes for keeping track of several manuals AND a pedal keyboard or whatever you call them means he is beautifully pre-programmed to learn frelling handbells swiftly and accurately and I will HATE HIM SOON. But right at the moment he and I are about level in the Struggle to Master Bob Major.
I’ve spent most of my handbell career thus far on six bells, mostly ringing bob minor. ‘Plain bob’ is where everyone starts. If you’ve only got three handbell ringers there are a lot of other more complex six-bell methods, but when you first make the step up to major—eight bells, four ringers—you’ll go back to plain bob. This time plain bob major. Counting to eight is hard—which you have to do, every dorgleflamming row, to keep yourself in your place in the pattern. And ‘seven’ has too many syllables in it. OnetwothreefourfivesixSEVENeight. Ruins your rhythm.†††
Jillian at the moment is our weak link. Not her fault, she’s been ringing less time than I have, Spenser is just talented, drat him, and Niall is, well, Niall. Niall conceived of the daring plan to swap Jillian out some day that isn’t our regular meeting so that Spenser and I can have the thrill [sic] of ringing with two good steady ringers and see how far we get. I could see the quarter-peal light going off in Niall’s evil little eyes‡. We were fixed for this past Wednesday, with Melinda as our fourth. Melinda would be one of my favourite ringers—despite her reprehensible excellence on handbells—if I saw more of her; she’s the one got me going to the extra tower practise at Fustian, which stopped happening some time this last year when I haven’t been ringing anyway. After Alcestis died I told Niall I am NOT trying for a quarter peal on Wednesday. Both my stamina and my focus are zero for the present and the immediate future. That’s okay, said Niall in his blandest possible manner.
I should frelling know better by now.
You can see where this is going. We rang a couple of touches and first I and then Spenser—and bless him for not being perfect—crashed and burned. So we started over. No big; we were getting good practise with Melinda there. But then we started to steady down—Melinda is a lovely, equable, consistent, low-tension-transfer ringer.‡‡ Aaaaaaand we didn’t crash and burn. For a few minutes. For a few more minutes. For . . . that ratbag Niall is going for a quarter.
We rang a quarter. Spenser’s and my first quarter of bob major.
And that’s for Alcestis too. Makes a change from glasses of champagne. ‡‡‡
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* Our wedding anniversary is 3 January; our lightning-strike meeting anniversary is 26 July.
** She was also an excellent—and self taught—knitter. She half-blinded herself knitting the Plain Dark Pullovers that are all the Standard British Male will wear, for Admetus. And the sweater I knitted^ about three-quarters of, those last evenings of knit and chat, is hanging on the back of a chair at Third House and every time I see it I catch my breath. I should finish it. I know. At some deep superstitious level I think I’m still hoping if I don’t finish it I’ll get a few more evenings with Alcestis. Sigh.
^ which is for me and is about as far from plain and dark as it is possible to get.
*** Drink champagne, yes. Eat chocolate, yes. Breathing, I may need reminding.
† He now leaps six feet off the ground when you turn the key in the little hole. BRAAAAAAANG. NEXT STOP MARS.
†† A pathetic insufficiency of counter-obstinacy. There is NOTHING ON THE PLANET as persistent as Niall in pursuit of handbell ringers. And he’s such a polite, quiet, gentle person . . . most of the time. Not about handbells. Be glad you don’t live in New Arcadia. He’d get you too.
††† One of the additional reasons I will never graduate to twelve on handbells, aside from the spectacular absence of necessary brain support, is because of having to count a row that has a three-syllable number in it. Seven is bad enough. ELEVEN? Are you frelling JOKING? I can just about manage plain hunt in the tower on twelve, because tower bells go so much slower you have half a chance to squeeze those extra syllables out. Frelling handbells go a frelling lick. Well-rung handbells sound like the louder, more musical version of someone running their thumb over the edges of a pack of cards. That’s how fast it goes.^
^ Not with me however. Handbells rung with me in the group are . . . stately. There are people who won’t ring with me because I’m too slow. Trust me, I don’t want to ring with these people anyway.
‡ If he’s part bull terrier that would explain a lot.
‡‡ There are other handbell ringers I won’t ring with because just being in the same room with them winds me up. But I suspect they feel the same about me.
‡‡‡ Okay, I should finish that sweater.
The friend I’ve been visiting in hospital?
It won’t be long now.
I hate this. This is a stupid system, this life thing. She’s younger than I am, by the way. And another friend—another good friend—who is also younger than I am—has just been diagnosed with . . . well. Not with blue skies and happy fluffy bunnies.
Life sucks. And then, as we know, you die.
So, that’s been my holidays.* Let’s call her Alcestis—the friend who’s dying—although in the damned myth some god or godling usually comes along at the last minute and saves her, and so far as I know my friend’s Admetus wasn’t in any danger. She’s been ill for a while, and in and out of hospital, but they’ve known for a while they aren’t going to turn this one around, it’s going to get her, and sooner rather than later. And she’s been slipping—also for a while—but the last three weeks or so the slope has suddenly got steeper. Although we knew this was going to happen too.
I’ve been through this before, of course, but it doesn’t get easier, losing people—watching them slide away from you, and you can’t do a bloody thing except sit by their bedside and breathe. Be there, stunned and clueless and disbelieving. Everyone who is trying to comfort you says, oh, being there counts! That is what you can do! I guess. But it’s throwing rose petals in the abyss. Except it’s not even rose petals. It’s dead toads or dandruff or anthrax or something.
Alcestis is in a specialist unit and it’s too far for me to drive, and I’m dependent on Admetus to give me a lift—but he’s a friend too, and they’re neighbours. I blast over there five or ten (or fifteen) minutes later than I said I’d get there, and he does the driving. I like to imagine that having someone in the car with him sometimes—he’s quite the taxi service, is our Admetus, bless him—is maybe a bit comforting, or grounding, or something. I have really NO IDEA how he’s doing. He’s a BRITISH MALE. I assume he’s still eating, although he’s got awfully thin and he wasn’t exactly portly to begin with. The unit Alcestis is in will feed a spouse or one other designated person for the big holidays, and they came round with the New Year’s Day dinner menus today while I was there doing my sitting and breathing thing—and in my case knitting: my knitting is not improving with practise—and I was looking at Admetus looking at the menu and wanted to say to the nurses ‘make sure he eats too, okay?’
It’s a nice place, as far as places where people go to die are ever nice. The nurses are kind and thoughtful and engaged: they’re all over Admetus as he comes in, and a couple of them even recognise me. There’s free tea and coffee (okay, and a donation box), and a big lounge-sitting-room-waiting-room space with comfy chairs and tables and books, and a computer with a selection of all-ages games. They keep Alcestis clean and comfortable. She’s just barely there any more and . . . drifting . . . farther . . . away.
Today the doctor took Admetus aside and said that hopes/plans to be able to send Alcestis home after the holidays, when they’d be up to full staff strength again for the amount of home care she’d need, were, barring miracles, permanently shelved and that . . . the unit is set up for a spouse or partner to spend the night there: he might want to know that. He might want to consider. . . . When we got back to New Arcadia tonight he gave me the domestic fauna care drill and he’ll text me if I need to step in. There was a little austere hilarity at the outrage the capybaras, sugar gliders and wallabies are going to feel at being put abruptly on my schedule rather than Admetus’. He gets up at about 6 a.m. most mornings. I suppose I could go round and feed and do a quick sweep last thing before I go to bed. . . .
They’re rerunning the last night of the Proms on Radio 3 tonight. Last night of the Proms live was mid September, and Alcestis was still alert and walking (slowly) and interested in the world and having opinions about the books she read.
And to everyone who is reading this: make time to get together with your friends, and do stuff, or just hang out, drink tea, loan each other books. Or if geography is against you—and I know a lot about that—talk on the phone, email, text, Skype. Stay in touch.** Time is a whole lot shorter than you think.
Tonight’s glass of champagne is to you, honey, Alcestis, my old friend.
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* Another thing about holidays is the way people go on them leaving their social-welfare charities short-handed. And falling prey to the common philosophy of wretchedness that if you can’t do anything for you and yours maybe you can do some damn thing for a stranger, I’ve picked up a few extra shifts here and there to the extent that I’ve had one or two lectures from older hands about taking care of myself. OH SHUT UP. Okay, yes, I know, and I appreciate the concern and understand why they’re having a word, but I’m at least conscious of what I’m doing and as soon as the holidays are over with I’ll revert to being the volunteer-organisation version of assistant bottle-washer. But whatever your flavour of belief^ or disbelief, the end of year holiday season and all the jolly consumerism, I mean family and friendship and togetherness, tend to magnify anything that’s less than fabulous in your individual life, so social services get a bit strained. The less than fabulous would include me and mine of course. But being a do gooder at least means you have somewhere to put some of the sorrow and frustration.
^ Although just by the way the tendency for Christmas to be presented in Christian churches in all its blue-skies-and-fluffy-bunnies splendour MAKES ME CRAZY. YO. THAT KID YOU’RE WORSHIPPING IS GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY IN THIRTY-THREE YEARS+ AND THERE’S A CRUCIFIX HANGING OVER THE ALTAR, YES, EVEN AT CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY TO REMIND YOU OF THIS TINY FACTOID?? As one might say, Jesus. There’s a dark despairing edge even at Christmas, a shadow behind the joy. Welcoming this baby should break your heart, and if it doesn’t you’re not paying attention.++
+ Or about four months, depending on how you’re counting. This is only my third Easter coming up and I already want a year off.#
# I think I said that last year. Easter is hard.~
~ And it has nothing to do with fluffy bunnies, chocolate or otherwise.
++ Some of the carols get this right. When I’m experiencing a worse than usual brain failure day, the verse I can never forget is from We Three Kings: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ breathes a life of gathering gloom/ Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone-cold tomb. Elsewhere it refers to King and God and sacrifice. Um, yeah. Stay with it. And Christmases like this one for me, it’s exactly like my monk said: he died also so none of us ever has to suffer alone.
I still think it’s a total fucker of a system. When I get to heaven# I’m going to start a petition.
# And remember we all do, eventually, whatever ‘heaven’ turns out to be and whatever petitioning options there are.
** Which I’m doing a lousy job of with everyone else in my life. Because I’m too sunk in being bad company. Sigh. Do as I say, not as I do, okay?