THE FOLLOWING IS COLOUR-CODED. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE HELPFUL. HA HA HA HA HA. BUT THE FOOTNOTES BELONG TO THE TEXT COLOUR, OKAY? THEY’RE NOT ALL AT THE BOTTOM.
* * *
I have started and restarted and re-re-re-restarted this blog post any number of times in the last fortnight and become variously distracted and imbroglio’d** and then at blurglemmph o’clock decided (again) that sleep was possibly more crucial than getting it finished. And in terms of immediate preoccupations late on a Saturday night, like, now, I have another voice lesson on Monday, and it might be quite a good idea if I went to it WITH SOMETHING TO SING, especially since Nadia recently said briskly that I should increase my practise time and never mind that I think that being the Mad Singing Lady out with the hellmob counts.*** A fortnight ago, after this alarming statement, I came home and rootled anxiously through my extraordinary amounts of sheet music, 99.3% of which is pure and unsullied and the remaining .7% is dog-earned, written on, liberally tea†-spotted and only half-learnt. But: Mozart. When in doubt, Mozart.
Which pertains to some of the following. The problem is that both verb tenses and footnotes get a trifle provocative . . . not to say hopelessly confusing . . . when written on the run over a period of time. Even I can become only so disastrously tangential over the course of one evening. . . .
Therefore the following may be even more incomprehensibly non-linear than usual. I know. Mind boggling. I’ll wait if you want to fetch smelling-salts (or Scotch) to have at hand before you make any attempt to engage with this misleadingly text-shaped object. Good luck.
* * *
* I am reading H IS FOR HAWK^ and T H White is kind of on my mind.
^ So are you, right? Everyone is reading H IS FOR HAWK.+
+ Which is a very good book. But since everyone is reading it nobody needs to be told to read it. Everyone should be reading MS MARVEL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms._Marvel_(Kamala_Khan) which is spectacularly wonderful in so many ways. Now, everyone may be reading this too and it may just be that I am humiliatingly out of the loop# but even I had heard of H IS FOR HAWK before I made a pact with Hannah that we’d both read it so we could talk about it and I had not heard of MS MARVEL till I tripped over raving, lunatic mention of it on some drooling feminist blog or other and thought oh, okay. A Muslim kick-ass comic-book heroine? Yep. I’m totally there.
I’ve just been saying to my monk I am so ratblasted TIRED of the gender wars. And turning Christian has thrown me into a whole seizure of fresh front lines about this since, of course, the origins of Christianity ARE HEAVILY FRELLING PATRIARCHAL and we’re still fighting this battle two thousand years later. I don’t care what the Ephesian thugs say, or that frellwit Paul##, the head of me is me and not some up-himself bloke.
But if you’re a woman in a male-biased society you can’t, you know, pass. You’re a woman all the time. You’re up against it ALL. THE. TIME. When I was younger I had only two settings about this: ON. And OFF. My younger ON was extremely, um, draining, so I would periodically flip the switch and lapse into a black leather, studs and pink All Stars haze of apparent submissive femininity, and if any testosterone dingdong wanted to assume the wrong thing so long as he kept it to himself I would not endeavour to hand him his balls on a plate.### Because it was all going to change, you know? It was going to CHANGE.
This runs parallel to my foolish assumption that by the time I was the age I am now we’d’ve got the available heroines in books thing sorted.~ My generation of writers was going to sort this. I wasn’t too surprised~~ about the initial deluge of OHMIGOD A HEROINE WHO ISN’T WET AND HOPELESS about Harry in SWORD . . . I’m depressed out of my tiny aging mind that forty years later I’M STILL GETTING THESE LETTERS. Or emails. There are more genuine heroines out there . . . but there aren’t enough. THERE AREN’T ANYTHING LIKE ENOUGH. And the unconscious—or anyway I hope the doodah it’s unconscious—chauvinism about men’s and women’s writing . . . don’t get me started.~~~
But the point is I didn’t think the gender wars would have come so not far in the last forty-odd years. I’M BORED. I’M BORED WITH ALL THE STUPIDITY. And I’m driven spare by being dropped about two thousand years back in social-equality time . . . WOMEN IN THE MINISTRY SHOULDN’T EVEN BE A PHRASE LET ALONE AN ISSUE.
Oh, and on the unassailable perfection and clarity of Scripture, here concerning the sacrament of marriage? https://bobcargill.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/biblical-marriage.jpg
. . . At least having just had a state-of-the-world tantrum at my monk I was a little bit extra warm. Afterward I went to the monks’ chapel for the Saturday evening silent contemplation before the prayer service. It’s the middle of May, it’s shirtsleeve weather, I didn’t bring my blanket, how cold can it be in shirtsleeve weather, I NEARLY FROZE TO DEATH. Next week I bring the blanket. And the monk who calls me Blanket Lady may rupture himself laughing.
## I should add however that I have a curious soft spot for Paul, ranting nincompoop that he often is. I sure never used to: he and that toadwart Augustine were two of the flaming angels keeping me out of the holy green room. But I empathise with the shock of Paul’s conversion experience even if I hadn’t been torturing Christians before I had my own shocking conversion experience. I see a lot of his more distressing extremes as overcompensation. I haven’t ever killed anybody so I can overcompensate less.
### I also had a black boyfriend. Speaking of passing and not passing. I could at least jam a fireproof lid over my real attitude and put on a skirt and some pearl-pink lipstick. If you’re a black man over six feet tall hanging out on the streets of America? Pass? Forget it.
A bit like being a Muslim in a Christian-centric society, perhaps.
~ I’m not going to say ANYTHING about the rest of the arts/media. Film, for example. ARRRRRRGH. And the Tate’s summer issue devoted to female artists didn’t do a lot for me either.
~~ Beyond the—continuing—surprise that strangers read my stories.
~~~ Looking on the bright side: the current award-sweeping literary phenomenon, H IS FOR HAWK, is written by a woman.
** Including, but not exclusively, such activities as Twitter, texting, emailing, ordering pink All Stars,^ reading, frantically channelling all that sappy riotous green spring enthusiasm in the garden before the leafage takes over and the hellmob and I can’t get out of either door without a machete, learning more diabolically frelling methods for handbells, Samaritanning, force feeding the blasted hellhounds, plus long bluebell walks and a curious spasm of concerts. You know how when you book your cultural enrichment programme ahead your diary looks EMPTY? And then suddenly you find you’re going to fifty-six performances in eight days. Oops.
^ I WAS DOWN TO MY LAST PAIR OF PEPTO-BISMOL PINK ALL STARS! PANIC STATIONS!+
+ And while I was at it I bought a pair of turquoise with red and yellow flowers. They were on sale, there was a pair in my size, it was meant.
*** Well, it does count. It’s just that it counts in terms of coming home all warmed up and ready to practise rather than wasting a lot of time whining about having no voice and what there is of it sounds like a broken buzz saw. And, unlike singing folk songs and Edwardian parlour ballads to the trees and bluebells, whining is not a good way to warm up.
† And probably tear-
* * *
If I had any sense I’d break this up into two or even three posts. There’s enough frelling wordage. But if I do that I’ll just not get any of it up AGAIN while I try to tidy up the edges. And fail. So that when I finally do start posting it’ll be EVEN MORE CONFUSING.* So don’t read it all at once, okay? It’ll keep. So will the Scotch and the smelling salts.
* You wouldn’t want me to WASTE any of it would you?^
^ . . . Don’t answer that. Please.
* * *
I have rung handbells four times in the last forty eight hours.* I am brain fried. I am crazy.**
But it’s a useful displacement activity. I also went to an entirely fabulous ‘operatic singing masterclass’ recently enough for my head still to be ringing like an, ahem, bell: Nadia has mentioned singing masterclasses and festivals and summer schools before that I might be interested in attending as an audience member but they tend to be held in unsuitable places.*** I had all but given up the intriguing fantasy of sitting in the audience at a singing seminar listening to people who can really sing being enlightened and inspired to sing even better and being personally crushed with despair and futility† and swearing to stick to KNITTING hereafter.
Nadia had told me some of the things to listen out for but had also warned me that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to hear either what the tutor heard or what changed for the singer. It wasn’t going to matter: it was still going to be a delicious and varied concert by a lot of clever skylarks and nightingales showing off like mad. But as it happened I did hear. This was a lot of why it was all so edge-of-seat fascinating. In a lot of cases I could even guess what the tutor was going choose to work on.
And on balance, and surprisingly, it was more inspiring than it was crushing. Probably because the stuff that all these talented, fancy people need to work on is still the same stuff that pathetic, talent-free dorks like me also need to work on. It’s all the same stuff. We’re all still human beings making music. Even if they are the shiny dancing racehorses and I’m the three legged Thelwell pony.
* * *
* It’s all Niall’s fault, of course. How the cross-eyed bindlestiff did I get sucked back into this frelling vortex of HANDBELLS? And I’m now contributing to the cacophonous plague: I was talking it up to Vidhya and Ceridwen^ and they were foolish enough to express an interest so Niall and I showed up like a plague of locusts two Saturday mornings bearing handbells and large, toothy grins.^^ Friday evening has been the standard New Arcadia handbell gathering for several years and I used to be a pillar of that community and recently have been becoming more pillar-like again.^^^ Saturday afternoon began as a one off with Niall finding a steady experienced fourth for Spenser and me to ring with, but of course there are no one offs with Niall about handbells.
Sunday evening was demonic. Niall knew I was going to church in the afternoon^^^^ and so he said Mwa hahahahahaha, now, as it happens, Titus and I are minus a third ringer tonight and since you’re free. . . .
And so today, Monday, I stayed as far away from all bells and frelling change ringing bell METHODS as possible, right? Right. Yes. Absolutely. I went tower bell ringing. At Glaciation. Haven’t been there in yonks. It hasn’t got any warmer. And it took me three tries to get through a frelling single in Stedman doubles SIIIIIIIIIIIGH.^^^^^
^ They’re significantly younger than I am+ and I was probably trying to convince them that getting old doesn’t necessarily mean creeping++ sanity and sobriety+++ and that indeed the pink All Stars are a true reflection of my inner being.++++ Plus bell ringing and singing opera really, really badly. Really badly.
+ As, mysteriously, increasing numbers of people are
++ you know, like fungus
+++ We were down t’pub at the time. Just by the way.
++++ Including the muddy pawprints. SIIIIIIIGH. I have a spectacular new pair of REALLY REALLY HOT NEON PINK All Stars# which I was foolishly wearing today hurtling the hellterror by the river and we met an OBVIOUSLY DANGEROUS OTHER DOG## and in tearing her away from her legitimate prey I received major mud activity over most of one leg of pale blue denim and a generous speckly blast worthy of Jackson Pollock over one All Star. Sigh.###
# I was down to my VERY LAST PAIR of basic Pepto-Bismol pink. EEEEEEEP. Had to lay in a couple of spare pairs in case of accidents.~ The problem with this excellent plan is that there are two Basic Pinks presently on offer on line. So I bought one of each, right? One of them proves to be the Pepto-Bismol. The other one is NEON.
~ Invasions of sneaker-eating aliens, etc. It doesn’t do to be unprepared.
## Clearly a sneaker-eating alien disguised as a harmless terrestrial dog. Pav is very clued in about these things.
## But the alien slunk away swearing to lead a virtuous life hereafter and convert to donuts.
^^ It remains to be seen if they’re still speaking to me.
^^^ Possibly caryatid-like. I identify with that grim stalwart expression of carrying something too large and heavy. On your head. Learning frelling bell methods, especially in the geometrically-horrifyingly-enhanced handbell version of said methods, is really very like carrying a large building on your head.
^^^^ Because I am stupid and have a big mouth. Usually I go in the evening and it’s a funny thing but Christ wins over handbells.+ But this Sunday afternoon was a special ‘remembrance’ service for friends and family lost in the last year. I was going for Alcestis and it seemed to me only polite to invite Admetus. It never occurred to me he’d say ‘yes’. And when I picked him up HE WAS WEARING A TIE. I DIDN’T KNOW ADMETUS EVEN OWNED A TIE. I nearly jumped out of Wolfgang and ran away.
+ Although when the Jesus Is My Boyfriend song selection is at its worst my mind may just drift to Sunday evening handbells.#
# It wasn’t The Little Drummer Boy, you know. It was The Little Handbell Gang. I’m not at all sure the baby smiled either. And it seems to me very likely that Mary said Get these people out of here.
^^^^^ BUT I DID IT. It still counts.#
# Edited to add: I’ve done it since too. So it still still counts.
** Although I believe these two attributes are frequently found in the same trembling zombie-eyed victim.
*** Most places are unsuitable. I don’t drive on motorways, I don’t drive for more than about forty-five minutes to get to anywhere at all, and I have a hellhound that needs a pee about every four hours.^ Six on a good day. I have the impression that the hellmob goes into a state of suspended animation when I leave them all behind: nothing is going to happen till she gets back. This is useful in bladder control terms. If Chaos is keeping a hopeful/suspicious eye on me as I twitch around the house muttering to myself he will need to go out in four hours.
But this is somewhat limiting. I keep looking at live-opera schedules and homeopathic seminars and sighing heavily. Because I have so little to keep me busy at home, you know. But I am not going the dog minder route again ^^. So I might as well stay home and practise my repertoire. And continue the tragically hopeless quest for a homeopathic, herbal, behavioural or any other multiply-damned remedy that doesn’t include either barbed chains or hard drugs, that will make the hellhounds eat voluntarily.^^^
^ Bless his pointed little middle-aged prostate but he made it through the masterclass. They’d frelling printed the frelling tickets wrong: I thought I was going to have just enough time to, you should forgive the term, hurtle back home and let everyone out during the break, but not a hope. I tried to convince myself either to miss the first singer after the break or leave before the last but I was too totally riveted by the show. I told myself that it wouldn’t be the absolute WORST thing that ever happened if I came home to a puddle on the floor. Or on the wall.+ I leave them locked up in the kitchen at the cottage: there should be a limit to the amount of damage they can do.
Anyway I arrived home to dry floors++ but Chaos was very glad to see me.
+ Ewwwwww. I can’t remember ever noticing that come-ons for house paint ever mention urine resistant.
++ And walls.
^^ ::breaks out in a cold sweat of terror::
^^^ Eat? says the hellterror alertly. FOOOOOOOOD??
† Which is no doubt why I came home and fished out Mozart, since several of the Singers with a Fabulous Future sang Mozart. Knot those self-flagellation straps. More knots. Even more knots. We will have blood.
Sorry everyone. I’m just so freaking tired.* It’s been a somewhat action-packed week/ten days/fortnight/century. The good news is that I haven’t knocked Peter over with the car again recently. YAAAAAY. But we’ve had three lots of visitors** and assorted emergencies.*** And Niall and I seem to be teaching more people to ring handbells.
Also, it’s definitively spring. The weather is still jerking us around† but the primroses are flowering like mad—AND MY SNAKESHEAD FRITILLARIES YAAAAAAAAAY—and the early pansies, and the early tulips and there are daffodils and hellebores everywhere as thick as marmalade on toast and it is unmistakably SPRING. So I’m out there frantically potting up little things that keep arriving in the post†† . . . and occasionally I’m also potting up things that I stuck in some perlite because I was REALLY IRRITATED that I or a member of the hellmob or some discourteous frelling typhoon broke off a perfectly good branch of something or other and if I sliced it up in pieces and stuck them in perlite . . . well, they’d die, of course, but at least I’d’ve tried.
Occasionally they live. I now have five abutilon megapotamicum. If they’re happy, they can get to eight foot. The original one—the one that got blown off the kitchen window shelf and snapped off a long limb—is getting on for six foot. It’s a terrific plant—it flowers all year. But FIVE of them??? This is just possibly superfluous to requirements.
And now, if you’ll excuse me again, I have to go sing something: voice lesson tomorrow.††† I’m supposed to be learning Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise . . . but it’s in four sharps, and I don’t like sharps, and it’s all foolhardy lines of unusual intervals—these blasted great composers are so frelling unpredictable—and he keeps flatting and/or double-sharping things that in some cases don’t have a black key there anyway AND YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THIS STUFF and . . . my brain hurts.‡ I may be leaning on YouTube a little more than I should be. Was that a chromatic scale when you strip out all the persiflage or wasn’t it? No. It wasn’t. That would be too easy. Quack. Quaver. But possibly the most annoying thing . . . Nadia told me I can just miss out the line with the high C in it—unless it’s a C flat which would make it some kind of B, and I occasionally have a high B—and I was wibbling along with YouTube and not thinking about it . . . okay, maybe the singer I was yodelling with had knocked it down a semi-tone or so but I got to the end and thought . . . wait a minute. I sang that line.
Haven’t been able to do it again of course. Your body is your instrument. Your instrument is a gibbering neurotic nutso. Sigh. . . .
* * *
* I’m reading a nice restful book^ in which our heroine winds up briefly hospitalised and is driven mad by having nothing to read, and when a sympathetic nurse loans her a copy of HELLO! magazine . . . she reads it as a desperate alternative to ripping her sheets into long thin strips and using broken clothes-hangers as knitting needles^^. And I read this with a feeling of cold deep horror and thought again THIS IS WHY MY KNAPSACK WEIGHS MORE THAN A HELLTERROR. It’s my phobia about being trapped somewhere WITH NOTHING TO READ.^^^ And given the number of times Peter has closed his hand in a door—never mind the serious stuff—and we’ve spent several unscheduled hours in A&E/Emergency, I am not being paranoid I am being practical.
^ THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths which is the second in her murder-mystery series about Ruth Galloway who is a forensic archaeologist. And which are fabulous. Ceridwen loaned me the first one and when I read it in about forty-eight hours+ laughed in an evil and knowing manner, and loaned me the second.
+ despite not being able to read it in the bath because it belonged to someone else and IT WOULD NOT BE GOOD IF I DROPPED IT. I have quite a few paperbacks with curly pages . . . and I barely have a knitting magazine that doesn’t have curly pages.
^^ Okay, I made the extreme knitting alternative up, but personally I might have gone for it over HELLO!
^^^ Or knit.+ Granted most knitting weighs considerably less than three paperbacks and a fully charged iPad,++ and I don’t think they’ve started commercial production of ununseptium needles, possibly because they would be a trifle unstable as well as heavy, and my knitting doesn’t need any help in instability, but the Scarf as Big as the Universe sure takes up a lot of space. I keep being tempted to take it OUT of my knapsack and finish it at home where it can have its own room+++ but I know this way madness lies. I would just have the 1,000,000,000th unfinished woolly object lying around somewhere for me to trip over in the middle of the night.
. . . But starting NEW woolly objects is fun. Especially during that early halcyon period before you’ve made any really ghastly errors that you can’t figure out how to fix.
+ I actually went to an AGM recently.# WITH MY KNITTING. THANK YOU, GOD, FOR KNITTING.
# Reasons not to join things: the dreadful possibility of an AGM.
++ Note that I take my charging cable with me everywhere too. Just in case.
+++ Mind you in my house it would be sharing that room with 1,000,000 other yarn projects, 1,000,000,000 books and 1,000,000,000,000 All Stars. Plus assorted miscellaneous items.# But the rooms at the cottage, while small, are all larger than a knapsack.
# The miscellaneous-item problem is worse than usual at the moment because the American government in its wisdom~ decided that I had to re-prove that I live here and have lived here for quite some time and so you find salient documentation of ten-plus years ago, especially less than a year after a major house move when everything that CAN be shoved into the back of an attic HAS been shoved into the back of an attic including gruesome old paperwork. My tribulations began with the question which attic?, but more or less climaxed with insane-even-for-me tottering piles of everything all over my office floor at the cottage. Sigh. Which, the adrenaline of panic having worn off, I have no enthusiasm for sorting out and putting away again.~~
~~ Putting away WHERE? %
% Er. ‘Putting away’?
** NECESSARY HOUSEWORK. NOOOOOOOOO. Failing this activity would certainly be a way of ensuring that people don’t come back, but unfortunately anyone who gets as far as being invited to stay is probably someone I want to come back which leaves me in a terrible predicament. I keep trying to teach the hellhounds to pull the hoover. And the hellterror to mop the floor. Nobody does much about the cobwebs. Or the dust.^
^ Ways to Tell What I Am Really Truly Currently Reading: it’s not dusty.
*** See *, ^^^, +++, # above
† If I put long johns on in the morning^ I will be hot and cranky at 3 pm. But if I don’t put long johns on^^ I will be cold and cranky at . . . 3 am.
^ Oh all right, when I get dressed. There are drawbacks to sleeping in something you can answer the door in, because you can also put your gardening apron and your wellies on and do some gardening—just while your tea steeps, you know. Today this innocent activity led to my realising I was due to ring handbells in an hour while I was still in my nightgown equivalent and hadn’t had breakfast/lunch or hurtled any of the waiting hurtlables in this household.
I was late for handbells. Never mind. This fresh victim is catching on way too quickly and will be ringing Surplice Maximillian while I’m still trying to sort out the details of Basic Stupid. Which I have been for the last . . . decade. Siiiiiigh. And Niall is, I fear, only too accustomed to me being late for handbells. He may have a much-punctured dartboard somewhere with my face on it but . . . he doesn’t let even lumpy, brain-fogged semi-handbellers escape without a struggle. AND HE’S PUT AN AWFUL LOT OF HOURS INTO ME OVER THE LAST DECADE. I think I’m doomed. No, I know I am. But so is he. However as he throws darts at my face I’m sure he murmurs to himself, If I can teach her to ring handbells I CAN TEACH ANYONE.
I’m a good thing, really I am. Really. I set the standard. Ahem. . . .
^^ When I get dressed
†† More, or sometimes less, suitably attired. Hey, what’s wrong with a simple cotton jersey dress with a BLUE HILL MAINE sweatshirt over, a muddy apron and hot pink wellies?
††† Okay, I am now loud. When do I get to the hits the right notes part? I went off and stood in a corner and sang into the wall again tonight at church. I’m assuming God doesn’t mind, but the congregation might.
‡ It’s not just handbells.
I had an appointment with Dentist from R’lyeh on Friday*, the second in a fortnight.** I knew that being pumped full of anaesthesia twice in slightly less than fourteen days was not going to go down well with the ME*** but you want to get it over with, you know? ‘It’ being death, taxes, anything to do with dentists and being tour guide for the friends of friends of friends who were told to look you up and whose idea of casual chat with a stranger doing them a favour is to complain about women bishops, Obama, and your fashion†/career††choices.
I have therefore spent the weekend in a daze of chemical hangover.††† That no doubt explains why having made it to church, because Wolfgang knows the way, I was actually inquiring about the job‡ vacancies Buck was haranguing us about. Because I’m so fuzzy-minded I can’t remember that I already have too much socially engaged yatta yatta stuff to do. There’s a meeting tomorrow night about this apparently. Maybe I can forget to go.
* * *
* I now have uniformly smooth grey front teeth rather than furrowed speckly brown ones! Yaaaay!
** We’ve been bonding over our mutual first ownership of terriers. A Whole Other Life Form, we concur. I got distracted by the ‘bull’ thing and the grin, and he has a preteen son who wanted his own dog, not a part share in one of the (several) family dogs, and went for a little manic hairy thing. The paw marks on the ceiling take some getting used to as does the robust response to the hearing of burglars at inappropriate hours.^
^ ‘Inappropriate’ being a mutable term. During socially sanctioned inappropriate hours I’m available to suppress the little varmint. It’s when she wants to disembowel the mailperson at 7 or 8 am that I get a little testy.
*** Which is also why I will not have my teeth whitened, and the grey will stay grey. There are chemical sensitivities I don’t have to find out all the fascinating details of, and elect not to.^
^ The Appalling Perversities of Bodies. It’s not enough that my multiple chemical sensitivities are probably one of the sources and maintaining causes of my ME but my frelling metabolism burns through anaesthetic with the speed of an exuberant hellhound after a frisky young rabbit, so the frelling dentist has to keep slugging more into me. ARRRRRGH.
† ‘You could hire a tailor to replace the [disintegrating] lining of your leather jacket^ and wearing Converse All Stars is very bad for your feet.’^^
^ Yep. I could. And I probably will as soon as the lining rots away from the bottom hem, so all the stuff that has fallen through the holes in the pockets and now resides lumpily in the gap between lining and leather starts falling to the ground and being lost forever.
Fortunately my last lot of interesting companions for an afternoon never saw Wolfgang. Wolfgang would have given them life-threatening palpitations. I met them at the train station in Mauncester, guided them to the obvious photo ops in the obvious picturesque bits of town, and put them back on the train again.+
+ You know what really rankles though? That I can never think of anything clever and quelling to say at the time. I just suck it up like a dope and seethe like anything later on.
^^ I’m really tired of being told that All Stars are bad for my feet. I’ve been wearing them for forty years+, three to seven miles a day for most of that time and my feet are in pretty good shape thanks awfully. Some of the rest of me, not so much, true, but I doubt it’s because of lack of cushioning and arch support in my All Stars. The properly-engineered-shoe argument reminds me of the other one that says that you can’t just walk three to seven miles a day you have to belong to a gym and have a personal trainer create a specific exercise programme for you. No. You don’t. It’s not in the contract.
Now some of my best friends belong to gyms, have personal trainers and don’t wear All Stars because they hurt their feet. I feel sorry for them about the All Stars++, but it’s all what works for you.+++ I have a hellmob. We go hurtling together. It works for us.
++ Personally I do not wish to envision a life without All Stars.
+++ Although in the absence of gym membership I need to keep ringing tower bells to maintain upper body strength.# Although lifting the hellterror out of harm’s way on a regular basis counts for something.##
# Over-ringing does serve a purpose. It also burns calories. Wild Robert, who is built of toothpicks and super glue, can ring the 1,000,000,000 pound abbey tenor with one hand. And does occasionally to be annoying. But rumour has it he doesn’t eat, so he doesn’t need to burn calories, let alone go home and comfort himself with chocolate after he’s screwed up a simple touch of a simple method on a well-behaved modest-sized bell. SIIIIIIGH.
## Chiefly mental anguish.
†† ‘Have you ever written a REAL book?’
††† I was supposed to ring frelling handbells again yesterday. I seem to have got myself ambushed into this semi-regular extra Saturday in which Melinda and Niall try to chivvy Spenser and me into ringing quarter peals. Apparently this is what handbell ringers do. They don’t just, you know, ring handbells, they get together and rack up stuff they can put on their life list. Quarters. Full peals. Shudder. I told Spenser and Niall Friday night, during our usual, ordinary, low level, lots of wrong notes just-get-together-and-ring handbell session with Gillian or Gemma, that I had been badly dentalled and wasn’t likely to be up to much the next day. Spenser said he was chiefly interested in practise and didn’t actually care about quarters, which is how I feel about it, and Niall is an obsessive crazy so never mind what he may or may not have said. And Melinda, who seems so normal,^ would already have rung one quarter that day^^ and would probably bear the disappointment of not getting a second.
Well my brain kept blanking out and we kept crashing and burning. As predicted. Spenser and I had swapped pairs of bells too so I didn’t even have relative familiarity to plug the gaps. It wasn’t all bad: both Spenser and I felt we were getting useful practise.
Now as it happens the monks were holding a bingo night for prospective oblates or something and my usual Saturday night contemplative service wasn’t on. I had told the assembled bell crowd that I didn’t have my usual time constraints and so of course Niall suggested we have one more crash and clang at the frelling quarter after our tea break. I was already tired and getting stupider with multiple failures. . . .
Yep. We got it. And as I wrote to Alfrick later, God once again proves to have a funny sense of humour.
^ She babysits for her grandchildren! It doesn’t get more normal!
^^ One of the Super Surprise Delight Domineering Demented methods. The kind of thing where I can’t even read the line, let alone imagine ringing it.
‡ Volunteer. Things like chair-straightener and crucifix-polisher and cable-winder and tea-and-cake producer. But these apparently harmless if time-consuming occupations have fancy names like Dapifer and Manciple and one has the suspicion that the moment one had said ‘okay’ the task list would turn out to be seven single-spaced pages of deviant Anglican jargon meant to intimidate and enslave. Or they’d have more volunteers.
This one: http://www.metopera.org/opera/la-donna-del-lago-rossini-tickets [If the link dies at the end of the season: LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]
In the first place it was fabulous. I’m enormously glad I went. The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**
In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close. REALLY SILLY PLOT. REALLY REALLY SILLY. REALLY. SILLY. I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.*** We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †
In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.
I admit I wasn’t expecting this last. I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.†† I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role. I mean a kilt role. It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena. Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt. It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡
But I get ahead of myself. The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡ He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of. I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you? Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business. She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her. That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding. HONEY. YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§. I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL. I think. The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained. Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers. After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece. Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back. Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~
I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music. I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.= But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft. It does not have to be this daft. It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo. But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&
Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king. Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom. He’s the king. What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him? I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum. And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know? And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty. Uh huh.
But the king is supposed to be a good guy. Well, I think. I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other. Tahiti. Guam. But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no! I’m in love with the other mezzo! And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day? Well, yes. Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing. Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm. But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her? A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?
I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented. So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved. And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . . um, you gave me. You’ll see the king, the random guy says. Grandly.% So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT. She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.
Okay, whatever. Cue general rejoicing. The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy. And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.
I’m glad I went! The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%% I just wish—um—I just wish—um!
. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink. Um. Again.
* * *
* How Christianity Ruins Your Life. My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks. The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^ I have not figured this out yet. ^^ There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England. Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons. For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it. ARRRRRRGH. And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval. There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t. Way too self-indulgent somehow. Because of course I am never self indulgent. Ever. About anything.+
+ Choooooooocolate. Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)? And we’re not even going to mention yarn. # Or All Stars. ##
# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~ Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent. Personally I just call it dangerously insane.
~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault. I go to bed late.
## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently. I’m still in mourning. But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.
^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services. Only one a week seems, you know, careless. Unprofessional. For a bunch of monks.
^^^ Royal Opera House. Which is one of my problems. The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards. When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count ’em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice. The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards. And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly. Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming. Some of those memories linger. Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers. I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.
Anyway. The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not. Yet. I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.
+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.
++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to. And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.
** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box. Are there coloratura baritones? I don’t know.
*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible. There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.
† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott? Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?
†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.
††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying: and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^
^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING. YAAAAAAAAY. Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey. He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.
‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona. And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.
Just for the record, they kiss. Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^ Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black: which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare. Yessssss. But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo, Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well. Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets. Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors. Just by the way.
^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really. But the story on stage is het.
‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR. Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats. Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them. But he is a bloke.
‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.
‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern. Not in a good way.
§ HE’S IN PLASTIC LEATHERS. IF HE WERE A GOOD GUY HE’D BE WEARING A KILT.
§§ WHO IS WEARING PLASTIC LEATHER.
§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.
^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke. I can deal with this. The plastic leathers must go.
~ Um, why? The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur? Surely? Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^ And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?
^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines. Don’t Rebecca me. She only looks good in comparison.
~~ And leaving him there? What?
~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands. IT NEVER RAINS THERE. NOOOOOOO.
= The tenors are fine. And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time. But . . . give me one of those mezzos. Please.^
^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again. Had a voice lesson today. . . . No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.
== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage. Pav is taller than this bloke.
& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing. I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.
&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.
&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?
% Trying not to take a cheap shot here. But grandly is not Florez’ metier.
%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing. Sigh. Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?
Wasn’t I saying something not all that long ago about having been sort of half-planning without thinking about it, because thinking about it would make me sad, to slip unofficially out of bell ringing? It’s not like I’m good at it or, even if I practised eight hours a day every day as if I were in training for the Olympics or Norma for the Metropolitan Opera, would I get good at it.* Nobody is going to miss me beyond method bell ringing’s chronic shortage of hands on ropes.**
Okay. That was then. Now has gone rogue and bolted in another direction. I seem to have rung some kind of frelling bells five days out of the last eight. If you wanted to be cruel you could say I’ve rung bells nine days out of the last twelve. I wonder if heroin addicts feel like this after they’ve been clean for a while? The old buzz? That fluttering feeling*** behind the eyes† or in the base of the throat?†† The sense of being helplessly ensnared by a grinning, many-clawed obsession. Going har har har har har GOTCHA. Look on the bright side. I don’t have to worry about finding a reliable source of clean needles.
I can’t even (entirely) blame Niall†††. I went to South Desuetude entirely on my own recognisance. Sonar Fweep was my idea.‡ And I’m sure Old Eden was good for my character as well as my muscular redevelopment, tonight‡‡, after tinkling carelessly on the little light well-mannered bells at Crabbiton for . . . ahem . . . several weeks in a row now. Ringing at Old Eden is ploughing rough tussocky ground. Ah yes, plain bearings. Joy. Creak.‡‡‡
I’M NOT RINGING ANY BELLS TOMORROW. OR WEDNESDAY. Er. I think I will maintain a tactful silence about Thursday. And Friday. And I forget if I’m ringing on Saturday. . . .
* * *
* Any more than singing eight hours a day would make me a Norma. Sigh. At the moment I would probably settle for NOT being late for my voice lesson every frinkblasted week. I was supposed to predict that everyone on my end of Main Street was going to be getting their bathrooms replaced today and there would be epic numbers of OPULENT PERSONAL CARE SPACE REFIT lorries casually half-parked on the margins on BOTH sides of the road so unless you were a very thin bicycle you COULDN’T GET THROUGH?
I am also finally beginning to realise that I have a new(ish) tactical problem. I think I told you^ that as this horrible winter started dragging itself toward spring I let Aloysius^^ put me back on the singing rota at St Margaret’s. This means that on my service-singing weeks I’ll have spent the last two or three days of that week frantically cramming for service singing, since that week’s music director won’t have sent out the playlist till Thursday if we’re lucky. As it happens I was down to sing this week—that is last night—which was a special service and there were going to be LOTS OF PEOPLE THERE^^^ so I was a tiny bit more anxious than usual that I should have SOME clue about the stuff^^^^ we were performing.
This means however that by late Sunday night, when, even on a non-special-service singing Sunday, I’m exhausted and my mind is full of the detritus that results from classical training coming in explosive contact with Jesus Is My Boyfriend, and I’m trying to reengage with the former the results can be a bit bizarre. Even aberrant. And my voice lesson is on MONDAY. I was singing Panis Angelicus^^^^^ better on Wednesday than I was today. Sigh.
^ ?? One of the things about blogging every day was that I probably had told you things and therefore didn’t have to try to remember if I had. Remembering comes under the ‘Norma’ and ‘bell ringing’ category of personal excellence, ie Not Going to Happen.
^^ Aloysius is LEAVING. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. . . . Okay, pulling myself together now. I know this happens with curates and I even knew it was due to happen to Aloysius soon but . . . WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. I may be a grown up as a human being+ but I’m a baby as a Christian and Aloysius has been First Contact++ about a lot of stuff.+++
+ And a grown-up twice Aloysius’ age, as I may have mentioned before because it haunts me.~ At least I’m only seven years older than Alfrick.
~ I told him not long ago that it was hard sometimes learning stuff from children.# He took this in good part. I’m trying not to believe that he took this in good part because he’s a priest, and priests are obliged to take cranky remarks from elderly parishioners kindly and tolerantly. It’s in the small print in the Priest Contract: Be nice to the grouches God has blessed you with. You can afford to be nice because you’re a priest and you know God will sort them out later.##
# I suspect it’s even worse for those of us who were precocious in our own youth. Don’t be precocious. It will just make you crankier later on.
++ You can’t have a father figure half your age, right?
+++ My monks, for example, speaking of Alfrick. I could still be going ‘oooooh . . . monks . . . . scary’ and driving hastily past the monks’ gate, which has a large sign by the turn-in that says WELCOME, if it weren’t for Aloysius.
^^^ MAJOR EEEK. Till it occurred to me, hey, the more of them there are the less likely any of them can hear me. +
+ Also we had a drummer last night. Our usual drummer is actually a good drummer which might be considered regrettable in our usual raggedy-andy line up. But any drummer will be wildly over-miked so the rest of us can pretty much do anything we like and no one will know. Maybe I should try singing Bellini.
^^^^ Sic. I am still not a fan of Modern Christian Worship Music.
^^^^^ Corny? Sure. The good kind of corny.
** Or on short leather straps if you happen to ring handbells. I don’t know anyone who rings methods on handbells, do you? Especially no one who rings frelling quarter peals on frelling handbells. Which I may have done for a second time recently. On one of those nine days out of twelve. But then I don’t know me. I don’t want to know me. Crazy obsessed people make me nervous.
*** Which is not about getting your out-of-practise hands tangled in a bell rope.
† No, that’s your brain going NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
†† Which is a matching AAAAAAAAAAAUGH trying to get out.
††† I may try.
‡ It was one of Wild Robert’s erratic seminars. And I needed Niall to drive that far. There was a motorway involved.
‡‡ Fortunately in terms of mental integrity it was mostly plain hunt for beginners. Nadia just about killed me today.^ In the nicest possible way of course. But Monday is not usually my best evening for an optimum bell ringing experience. And story-in-progress tonight? After, furthermore, last night’s heroic service sing? Not a hope. Might as well write another blog post.
^ Niall is not the ONLY Master of Mwa hahahahaha in my life.
‡‡‡ My shoulders. Not the bell frames.