I set fire to my hair the other night. Oops.
It was very exciting for a second or two. I smelled that unmistakable frying-hair smell at the same time as I felt something odd happening on the top of my head—at the same time as Ruby, across the restaurant table from me, screamed, and we were descended on by several staff—at the same time as I jerked upright and away from the innocent candle sitting in its little dish next to the salt and pepper and a random flower in a vase. I managed to burn my hand too by slapping at my hair while grabbing my heavy linen napkin* and whacking it down over my head a scant inch or two in front of Ruby diving across the table with hers.**
So I have a tiny frizzly patch on the crown of my head. My hair hasn’t been itself since menopause*** and while frizzle is never a good look I haven’t had a good hair day in about a decade and there is no effect† for it to ruin.
Don’t do bereavement, everyone. It sucks on so many levels. I’ve broken so much china I’m tempted to buy evil planet-destroying off-gassing melamine and get it over with. Apparently I’m branching out into self-arson.
Ruby was here nearly a week.†† We hung out. We talked and talked and talked and talked AND TALKED AND TALKED. We got through a surprising amount of therapeutic champagne.††† We had high tea at a tea shop that understands proper British high tea. Scones, clotted cream, the lot. It’s surprising how few self-described tea shops do any more. We made a special excursion to Winchester Cathedral because of the shop where you can get EVERYTHING branded with the Winchester Cathedral logo: tea mugs, tea towels, tea bags, candles, pencils, note pads . . . chocolate. Ruby had to go home with gifts, after all. I bought a Winchester Cathedral eraser. It’s shaped like a book and it’s PINK.‡ We went round to Niall’s and made her ring handbells.‡‡ We slogged across a lot of soggy Hampshire countryside with an assortment of hellcritters. She’s another of my oldest and dearest friends.‡‡‡ And it was GREAT having her here.§ Except for the part about her going away again. Sigh. . . . .
* * *
* It had never occurred to me before that restaurants provide heavy linen napkins just in case any of their customers are recently bereaved idiots who may set fire to themselves. If I’d done this at home I’d have had to hit myself with a hellhound.
** Staff were presumably approaching with a fire hose or possibly an order for committal to the nearest residential facility. Fortunately they restrained themselves.
*** SOME DAY I MUST change that mini icon photo of me with short hair that appears everywhere. I had short hair for about a year and a half when menopause made so much of it fall out I was seriously thinking about wigs. But I couldn’t stand being fussed over having it cut every month or so UGGGGGGGH and after a while I just stopped having it cut which meant it . . . er . . . grew long again. I’ve never had a lot of hair but it has just enough wiggle—I won’t dignify this by calling it curl—that it looks thicker than it is. If I had any pride now I’d keep it short, but enough of it grew back in, still slightly wiggly, when I stopped having it cut that I’ve let it be long again, which it had been since my sophomore year of high school. AND AT LEAST THIS MEANS NO ONE BUT ME IS MESSING WITH IT.
† Note however I had gone bolshie earlier in the evening when we were dressing up for our night out. I wore my black denim mini.^ Yes. I’m sixty-three years old. Sue me. With heavy black tights I don’t even scare the horses. Over Sixties of the World Still Wearing Miniskirts, UNITE. Cross dressers welcome. So long as you respect the heavy black tights obligation to society.
^ With the fabulous black and white rhinestone belt Peter gave me. Sigh.
†† I meant to write the official Three Houses blog before she arrived but various things got in the way, things like all the frelling emergencies that have been waiting, till you’re distracted by the final illness and death of your brutally, constantly, stunned-ly missed husband, to rain down on your head like—er—flaming arrows. The letter from the water board, for example, informing me that they have PROOF that I’m Niagara flipping Falls and are charging me accordingly^ and the letter from another brisk and competent branch of local government telling me that the loft conversion at Third House was never properly inspected—HOW MANY YEARS AGO WAS THAT AND THEY’RE ONLY JUST NOTICING?????—and they want all the paperwork I haven’t seen since I wrote the final cheque to the builders LIKE I CAN FIND ANYTHING RIGHT NOW, plus things like the ginormous wodge of paperwork from Her Majesty’s Customs, Revenue and Red Hot Poker^^ Service that arrived a few days ago and starts off saying ‘I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and I understand that there is a lot going on for you right now, including the six-inch-thick stack of paperwork included with this letter which must be filled out in triplicate in the next forty-eight hours or I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog(s) too.’
^ Yes. I’m metered. Life in town. I remind myself that Peter has a point about being walking distance of the shops and that I need to shut up and deal. But I am not Niagara Falls. Unless the hellterror has learnt to turn the taps on when I’m not at home. I wouldn’t put it past her.
^^ There seems to be a slightly fiery theme to this post. Hmmm.
††† I said therapeutic and I meant THERAPEUTIC. Yes.^
^ And it was the BEGINNING of the evening when I set fire to my hair. I was still ABSOLUTELY SOBER. Which I admit is not comforting, but not much is at the moment. Comforting, I mean.
‡ I went into Idle Browse Mode the way you do in a shop when you’re there mostly for the person you’re with, and I saw something—I don’t even remember what it was any more—and thought, oh, that’ll amuse Peter!, and I had my hand out to pick it up when I remembered. . . .
‡‡ Hee hee hee hee. Well, she liked Niall’s brownies.
‡‡‡ Oldest is relative. She’s younger than I am. But the friendship is old.
§ I took her to the monks last Saturday. Even by the monks’ standards last Saturday was AMAZINGLY COLD. AMAZINGLY. She got in Wolfgang^ afterward looking like someone who had been found under an ice floe in Antarctica having lost all hope of being found before the ice worms got her. She’s now very impressed with my commitment to my faith.^^ And she’s known for decades that I’m in the top category of dangerously nutso so no surprises there.
^ Who has a new bumper. I was carless for a week, RIGHT BEFORE RUBY ARRIVED+, after he SPECTACULARLY failed his road test—more oops—like I didn’t know he was going to, since Her Majesty’s Division of Road Rage has no sense of humour or practical reality and was going to object to the bumper tied on with wire. And they did object, or at least the bloke with the clipboard did. IT WORKS FINE, TIED ON WITH WIRE. I think I told you some creepazoid slammed into me in the hospital car park early last autumn and my only thin wispy comfort (although comfort is not the word here either) was the thought that they were probably as crazy and frantic and clueless as I was myself at that point.
But the bumper, unfortunately, was only the beginning. And they wouldn’t let me have him back till they’d mended him. And it wasn’t till they finally DID let me have him back and the mechanic was going through the list with me that I realised it was all little stupid crap. Expensive little stupid crap, but still little and stupid. WOLFGANG LIVES.++
+ Hellhounds and I walked out to Warm Upford the evening before the morning I was picking Ruby up at 11:30, to fetch the car I needed to pick her up with. We didn’t know till the day before that if the final obscure replacement parts would arrive in time. And I hate suspense.
++ He’s also officially 20 years old this year. I know I tend to exaggerate& about things but calling him my 20-year-old car for the last couple of years hasn’t been exaggerating. I’ve just been rounding up.&&
& ::hums a little tune::
&& Warning: I’ve started saying that I was with Peter for a quarter century. That’s less of a round-up than you think: we missed our 24th wedding anniversary by a few days under a fortnight. But if you count from the end of July—the famous weekend in Maine—and which we tended to count from, he died five months after our 24th.#
# I said to Alfrick at some point~ when I was at the abbey weeping wildly~~ that while I had told Peter I wanted our 25th wedding anniversary together~~~ if I wasn’t going to have that, 23 years (and eleven and a half months) was somehow more interesting than 24 years. Alfrick said immediately, of course. Twenty-three is a prime number. —Which is what Peter would have said. And agreed with.
~ I don’t think I’ve told you this before. But when I say that my memory, always pretty dire, is into the seriously frightening category@, believe me.
@ I broke yet another plate a day or two ago. Maybe I’m manifesting some three-dimensional metaphor about having a broken cash flow? Or maybe I’m just trying to cut down on the amount of STUFF I need to deal with?% I feel there are better ways to perform this latter function.
% And the little/Daughter of Third/Gwendolyn house’s name is the Lodge. Niall, who if he weren’t a polite reserved British bloke would fall down laughing every time I refer to the difficulties and disadvantages of owning THREE houses, especially about having no money and getting really bad deals when you try to trade bricks or light fixtures for dog food=, said a week or two ago, so what does that make it? The gate house, the lodge? YES. THE LODGE. IT IS THE LODGE HOUSE. It does, after all, front on the main road; the cottage is tucked away up the cul de sac behind.
= ESPECIALLY the light fixtures at Third House that I never got round to replacing. Remember the plastic baronial hall candelabra? Brrrrrrrrrr.
~~ The real purpose of a spiritual adviser is to provide the box of tissues since the advisee will have already used all of hers up. There have been meetings with Alfrick recently when I got through most of a loo roll. The abbey tissue boxes are ridiculously small. Yo, Central Ecclesiastical Supply Co Ltd, LARGER TISSUE BOXES.
~~~ It’s not like I’m not going to remember, next 3 January, even if I meanwhile have been kidnapped by some beefcake pasha out of an early Mozart opera. I’ll remember, and Peter won’t be there.
^^ So am I. I am generally speaking the modern first world’s coldest human.+ I am cold all the time except briefly during heat waves when I’m too hot. Ruby is not in my league. But she does live in New York City++, Town of Large Overheated Buildings, and it amused me a lot the way she clung to the Aga.
+ I’m known colloquially at the monks’ as The Blanket Lady.
++ One of the reasons I am not planning to move back to the States#, aside from the fact that Hampshire is home and that only moving out of Third House is already making me feel like I’m trying to obliterate Peter, is because the highest population density of my old friends is in New York City and I don’t want to live in a big city again.
# I am carefully not saying ‘I will never move back to the States, I can’t IMAGINE moving back to the States again’ because that kind of thing attracts undesirable attention. Turning Christian maybe should wipe out your commitment to negotiating with fate and subcontractor gremlins, but it probably won’t. My own feeling about this is that God is essentially unknowable so why take chances about where the lines are? There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio etc.
When I started writing this Radio 3 was playing Beethoven’s Fifth. About a week ago a bunch of us handbell ringers sloped off after practise to go hear some fire-breathing orchestra detonate Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. They played some other stuff first—very well too—and I noticed that two of the six double bass players were small, slight women* but mostly I had my head down over my knitting. Knitting is my default these days.** And it was (mostly) okay. Change of air. Change of scenery. Change of people. All good things (mostly). My three companions were chatting away cheerfully about music during the pauses while I went loop-wrap-pull, loop-wrap-pull.***
And then the orchestra went dah dah dah DAAAAAAAH and I . . . lost it. WHAM. Small intimate train wreck. Wept copiously all over my knitting. Swallowed one hand and half a box of tissues in an attempt not to sob cacophonously . Wanted a bag to put over my head so as not to blind everybody else in the theatre with the dazzling redness of my eyes.
I don’t even know why Beethoven’s Fifth. It wasn’t Peter’s favourite or anything. But (several of) Beethoven’s symphonies have been somewhat guilty pleasures for me for most of my life. Beethoven’s symphonies—maybe especially the Fifth—are so . . . obvious. I love, oh, say, Messiaen, but I have to be feeling like a grown-up to listen to him. Small children and dogs like Beethoven’s Fifth.† I first fell under its spell when I was a small child†† And I think what happened is that I found myself staring down the long††† unravelling skein of years during which I have listened many, many times to Beethoven’s Fifth and . . .
I know this is a Stage of Grief. I hope it will be over soon. The grief won’t be over soon—you don’t get over the loss of someone you loved, that’s a no-brainer—but this not being able to go out in public without being frelling likely to make a scene is a colossal bore as well as a vicious circle since the more you don’t go out the more likely you are to melt down when you do . . . and the more likely the depths you will plumb while you’re sitting at home staring at the walls will get depthier.‡
So I do go out. I’m going to see a live-streaming LA TRAVIATA this Thursday. It’ll be great. I can cry when she dies . . . .
This is a Stage of Grief. I know this.
* * *
* I assume they have finger, and possibly arm, extensions to get around the half a mile of those strings.
** It’s certainly my default in public.^ My default at home is mostly a milling hellmob wanting to know when something interesting is going to happen. Now that we’re spending all our time at the cottage^^ which has very limited floor space due both to original square footage and the whole Things in Corners When There Are No Corners and the Rooms Are a Lot Smaller Than They Were Before There Were Bookshelves on All the Walls etc, this question is more urgent than it used to be.
^ WHAT AM I GOING TO DO about that frelling frelling FRELLING Jesus is my totally creepy boyfriend Modern Christian Worship NOISE? I got through church this past Sunday for the first time without suffering comprehensive disintegration followed by bolting for the door and sitting in Wolfgang in the dark till I could frelling drive.+ But it wasn’t a good or a holy uplifting time. GAAAAAAAH. Sermons about the glory and beauty of life are bad enough but the singing . . . . The long view is that I want to get back on the singing rota—St Margaret’s have no standards, fortunately and would be happy to have me back—because even before 16 December++ I’ve found the power ballad to God thing a trifle testing, and up on stage ‘leading’ cough cough cough turns it into a performance and I can flip the ‘performance’ switch+++ and the emotional manipulation factor is thereby dimmed. BUT I need to reach a tipping point of self-control before I risk it. The performance apparatus will stretch, gouge and support only so far. It’s maybe like a hammer to thud a few nails further in. But it won’t abracadabra a frame to clamp you together. ++++
+ I can’t remember now if it was last week or the week before that it was helpfully raining so I could sit in Wolfgang with the wipers going and nobody could see me chewing on the steering wheel.
++ Although I effectively stopped going to church after 7 September. I was at Rivendell on Sunday evenings, like every other evening, and I still can’t get out of bed in the mornings when most people go to church. Well, I can get up, but I can’t get sane and plugged together enough to drive a car, even a very well-mannered# car like Wolfgang before noon. Two or three in the afternoon is preferable.
# which is to say lacking in youthful pizzazz and top end precipitancy
+++ Just so long as there’s at least one guitarist to hide behind
++++ MIXED METAPHOR ALERT. And now I’m going make it worse by telling you how the necessary planks are still holding up bird’s nests back in the forest somewhere. I am trying to tell you I am nowhere near the tipping-back-into-prudence-and-rationality# point.
# Not perhaps that prudence or rationality were strong points before.
^^ Oh, and?, she tosses off lightly, have I mentioned that I’ve bought another house? A . . . you should forgive the term . . . third house? I have spectacular cash flow problems that may result in a failure to buy dog food soon+ BUT I OWN THREE HOUSES.++ Briefly. Poor Third House goes on the market as soon as I can finish getting it cleared out. New House needs a name. Second Third House? Fourth House Minus Two? Daughter of Third House? Seventh Cousin Twice Removed of Third House House? Numerical Confusion I Never Could Count House? Gwendolyn?
+ This will delight the hellhounds of course. The hellterror, not so much.
++ It’s a long story. Next blog post.
*** I’m not going to say clickety-clack because I don’t clickety-clack. I use wooden needles, not metal, and I’m slow so I might as well be silent too.
^ Not that this saves me from, for example, the stitch I dropped and then picked up again incompetently when I was knitting in bed one night and heard . . . the unmistakable sounds of a member of the hellmob downstairs throwing up. There is now a HOLE.+ I will sew it up during the seaming stage which, as we all know with McKinley knitting productions, never happens.++
+ In the knitting. Not the hellmob. Or the kitchen floor. The hellmob are all remarkably resistant to being left in a box by the side of the road. They tend to climb out and follow me home again.
++ Which will be embarrassing in this case because it’s the latest in my attempts at a baby blanket. ONE OF THESE DAYS I’LL ACTUALLY FINISH ONE. Before the kid goes off to uni.#
# All right. Before the kid goes off to uni may be too much to ask. By the time its first baby is born perhaps.~
~ But I still won’t have seamed it up and woven the ends in.
† The hellmob prefer LA TRAVIATA. But they’re okay with Beethoven’s symphonies.
†† And doubtless I was a dog in a previous life.^
^ I know Christianity doesn’t do reincarnation. WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.
††† Long long long. One of the tangential horrors of the current presidential-election follies is that these bozos are my age.^ These scary creeps are my generation. Forty years ago my generation were going to SAVE THE WORLD, especially from the politicians—and the politicians’ policies—of our parents’ generation. Same old same old same old I DON’T NEED ANY ADDITIONAL REASONS TO BE UTTERLY DEPRESSED.
^ Ted Cruz is an infant.
‡ Also you are so unlike the self you used to be or thought you knew, blither blither quackety quack quack, and this current self is so exasperating and unseemly and difficult to manage^ that you, or anyway I, do find myself trying to ‘manage’ it/me like you might manage any other intractable problem. What frelling works? Avoidance? Confrontation? Drugs? Handcuffs and a soundproof dungeon? Chocolate? I haven’t found what works yet.
^ And liable to mood changes so supersonically fast, as you might say breakneck, you give yourself whiplash.+
+ It’s not that there aren’t good minutes#. There are just so many more bad ones.
# Getting sworn in as an ornamental laic doohickey by my monks was a good minute. Actually it was several good minutes in a row. Even if they did occur at EIGHT FORTY FIVE FRELLING O’CLOCK IN THE SUPER-FRELLING MORNING.
One day at a time is a good idea when you’re a little more plugged into the concept of ‘day’. I was planning to post another piece from the memorial last night, but I’d had a really nice day out with a friend* followed by supper at a pub** and when I got home . . . home was darker and colder and emptier even than usual since 16 December, despite the presence of a hellmob who were more than happy to join me on the sofa for some mutual support*** and I couldn’t face posting more remembering-Peter stuff. This evening I got home from my interview at the abbey to become an Ornamental Laic Doohickey appended in some mystic and numinous manner from the monkish community†, firmly opened my laptop and addressed myself to the next memorial piece and . . . realised I needed to ask its author a few questions before I posted it and he didn’t get back to me by return electron what is the MATTER with the man.†† My sensible alternative was to hang some photos—there were posters full of photos at the memorial service, most of them patiently loaded and tweaked into available digital format by the tireless Philippa—but I can’t face that right now either.†††
So you’ll have to make do with this for tonight. Tomorrow is another day. For better or worse.
* * *
*Fiona. We went to a YARN SHOP. That was a no-brainer, wasn’t it? But it’s a yarn shop that specialises in small indie spinners and dyers where if you see something you like BUY IT IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE IT WON’T BE THERE IF YOU GO AWAY FOR A CUP OF TEA TO THINK ABOUT IT AND COME BACK HAVING DECIDED ‘YES’. The problem with going in there even having decided in advance to kill on sight—er—I mean snaffle and stuff in basket on sight is that these frelling itsy bitsy indies—I mean the tinies, doing it in their kitchen sinks^, seem only ever to produce one middling-sized skein of anything. Which does make for a highly engaged day out, scampering around the shop looking for something that complements the single unique skein you have fallen in love with, which alone has about enough yardage^^ for a bow tie and one earring. This matching trick is likely to be impossible however because you’ve got to get the same gauge—the thickness of your yarn—and the mix of fibres similar if not identical between or among your skeins or your knitting will come out a gnarly ramshackle mess.^^^ This odds-against pursuit also goes some way to preventing you from buying more yarn than will fit in the car.#
^ You can tell what mum or dad is dyeing by the colour of the food on your plate. Orange meatloaf. Green bread speckled with dazzling yellow pumpkin seeds. Red peanut butter. Pink brussels sprouts. All finest wholesome vegetable dyes of course. That’s probably beet juice in the peanut butter and maybe in the brussels sprouts too.
^^ or meterage
^^^ Fiona, who has been at this scam a lot longer than I have, is also a lot braver. I keep looking at the percentages of stretchy (wool, etc) and non-stretchy (cotton, silk etc) and wanting them to match if I’m going to try to knit them together, and sometimes frelling teeny indies don’t even give you the percentages, so you have something that says wool/silk and something else that says wool/silk but THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY PERILOUSLY DIFFERENT and then you see something that says wool/silk and something else that says alpaca/cotton and they actually look pretty similar and you’re sure you’re losing your mind as you’re kneeling weeping on the floor when Fiona drifts by says, no, feel it—rubbing various yarns briskly between her fingers—it’ll be fine. She also has some INSANE ideas about holding double a 4-ply yarn that matches your unique skein of 8-ply colours in paradisical perfection, to make up the weight. AAAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHH. Maybe she could do this without inadvertently stringing herself and three local hellcritters from the rafters but I’m not going to risk it.
# It’s probably a good thing Fiona has a small car.~
~ I have ANOTHER yarn day out planned with ANOTHER friend. This however will be to a serious, sober yarn shop and I shall go armed with a LIST. As Fiona and I were agreeing yesterday, when you go into a random yarn shop you buy . . . random yarn which goes in your stash. If you have a PROJECT in mind . . . of course you have to buy yarn for it because your stash is . . . your stash. You don’t knit from it. Of course not.
** I think I’ve told you that the Troll and Nightingale used to be the brawlers’ pub, the presence of which haven of misbehaviour in deeply staid New Arcadia used to amuse me to an unseemly degree.^ Well it got a refit a year or three ago and has blossomed into quite the many-petalled flower of the art of the gastropub. I’m a tiny bit nostalgic for the bad behaviour of yore, but mostly I’m happy to have another option for a glass of fizz and some food to hold it down within walking distance. New Arcadia is so well off for foodie pubs that you can choose your atmosphere by your mood of the moment and you can indulge in a permanent snit with one of your locals and still have plenty of alternatives. For a cranky person the availability of a righteous snit that doesn’t cost anything in pleasure or convenience is as delicious as . . . well, Niall’s chocolate brownies, say. Anyway. The Troll and Nightingale wasn’t expecting much business on a wet Tuesday night in January and were understaffed and service was SLOOOOOW. But Fiona and I just got on with our knitting. Knitting rules.^^
^ except when the spilling into the street and the tops of their lungs and breaking furniture+ thing was happening very late at night on a summer evening when your windows are open. I won’t say I would be trying to sleep, but if you’re propped up in bed on six pillows in the wee hours reading, part of the pleasure of the entertainment is the you’re-the-only-one-awake silence.
+ You probably know it’s actually quite difficult to break furniture that hasn’t been Hollywoodised for filming scenic altercations, but it can be done.
^^ Even if I did have to rip that multiply-damned sleeve out again. I would suspect myself of not wanting to finish the last project I’d started while Peter was still alive but since I never finish anything anyway this seems superfluous to requirements. I’ve done a lot of knitting since 7 September because it keeps me off the ceiling^ and pretending to be calm and sane, knitknitknitFOCUSknitknitknit, but I think it’s all lying around waiting to have some kind of finishing element applied. Mostly this involves weaving in ends and sewing up seams but I’m also experimenting with making bags for handbells which require felting. Oh, and I made an adorable scarf with my last two skeins of indie yarn.^^
^ Unless of course I’m trying to knit with a double strand of 4-ply to match the every-two-rows swap with the other single-indie-skein of 8-ply.
^^ You’re allowed to knit randomly out of your stash. You just can’t knit planned projects.
*** And snoring. The hellterror is a redoubtable snorer.
† The monk who is Master of Ornamental Doohickeys said to me kindly that signing up was a significant thing to do at a crisis or turning point in one’s life. Oh. I thought Alfrick was just stampeding me into something he thought would be good for me.
†† Possibly he has a life? Some people do I believe.
††† The posters themselves, at my request, were handed over to me at the end of the memorial, and they are leaning up against a corner in the cottage sitting room. I want them, I just don’t want to look at them quite yet.
I can’t get my head around the widow thing. I’m what? Peter’s what? No, no, no, it’s a bad dream. It’s a shit-sucking multi-tentacled toxic-spiked nightmare. At heart level I know he’s gone gone gone gongegonegonegone gone: it’s why I don’t seem to be inhabiting my body, I look at my hands on the keyboard or picking up the chopsticks to seize some broccoli* and think, what? What are you? Whose are you? I’m pelting down the pavement*** after the hellhounds and thinking, whose legs are these, that still work so well? If Peter can’t hurtle any more, why was I left behind?
Intellectually I’m still arguing about the gone gone gone. My body knows. I can hardly type because my fingers may still bend and strike but they’re crying too, and crying ruins your aim. I’ve broken three dishes in about ten days—one of them a favourite, and it’s out of print, whatever you call it for china, and I can’t replace it. I don’t break dishes. That’s Peter’s job.
Every day I get out of bed and am surprised that I can. And then wonder why I’m bothering. Well, I have to. I have to let the hellmob out.†
The truth is that Peter hasn’t hurtled in years. He still used to come with us sometimes on the shorter afternoon hurtles when the hellhounds were young and frelling inexhaustible†† but his long long tramps over (muddy†††) Hampshire countryside had stopped by the time we moved into town. Being walking distance of the shops, Peter said, was his idea of growing old gracefully. And he did keep walking to the shops, even if he got a little slower, and a little slower, and eventually he was walking with a stick. But he was still moving along. . . .
And then the first stroke, two years ago.
The last two years have been sodding bloody puking awful. Even though I can only afford to admit it now. Now that it’s all over.‡ I don’t know how common this is, but I’ve always been someone who when things are bad, helplessly bad, and the only thing to do is endure, I shut down, and get on with it as best I can. Admitting the unbearable is unbearable does not help. So I don’t. Didn’t. I joined the Street Pastors and the Samaritans partly because God told me to‡‡ but partly because I could do fuck-all for Peter, and maybe I could have a dab at slapping a plaster on someone else’s mortal wounds.
And? I pretty well haven’t written a publishable word since Peter’s first stroke. It took a few months to catch up with me—that I essentially wasn’t coping—but the proof is pretty stark. And I’d better start writing soon or retrain as a grocery store shelf re-stocker.
Life sucks and then you die. Or your beloved husband does, after being yanked around by fate and the devil for a couple of years.
I have various friends keeping a sharp eye on me. I rang frelling handbells this afternoon because doubly-frelling Niall is triply-frelling relentless.‡‡‡ Half a dozen of my St Margaret’s friends came to the memorial service and mobbed me after the talking part and before the champagne to discuss how and when I was going to start coming to church again, since I haven’t for . . . about four months. Since the 7th of September. I want to start coming, I said, but I can’t face all those people asking me how I am. We’ll come fetch you! they said, more or less in chorus. And we won’t leave your side for a moment! So there was discussion of tactical defence manoeuvres . . . and one of them, whom we will call Rosamund§, is going to drive to New Arcadia and pick me up, and about four of the others are going to GUARD THE BACK ROW against our arrival. I’m going to bring my knitting!§§ I may not do anything but crouch in the back, cry, and knit! I said. That’s fine, they all chorused—including Buck, whose sermon I will be knitting through.
Whatever. Okay. I guess. Sigh. And you all are probably going to tell me I still have to finish PEGASUS.
I’ve got permission to hang the other memorial pieces, by the way, which will follow in due course. And the six minute limit? Thanks for all your protests on my behalf, but we were trying to cram a lot in in an hour. It was actually a pretty spectacular show. Peter would have loved it . . .
So, I’m crying again.
* * *
* Yes I am eating.^
^ And broccoli is my fifth food group, with black tea, champagne, chocolate and apples.
** It’s kind of funny that knitting is soothing when it seems to be being performed by someone else’s hands, but I’ll take what I can get in terms of soothingness.
*** The wettest December on record is morphing seamlessly into the wettest January. I’ve got standing water in my little garden^, which is on the top of a hill and less than a spade-blade length down is full of builders’ rubble which ought to be good drainage, for pity’s sake, even it’s a little short on plant nutrients. Hannah is coming over next week bringing, she told me, her hiking boots, and I’m wondering if I should tell her not to waste the space: out in the countryside it’s scuba gear^^ or nothing.^^^ We can splash down assorted quaint medieval cobblestone streets in Mauncester. Supposing the road between here and there doesn’t flood out. I seem to have mislaid Wolfgang’s water wings.^^^^
^ This severely displeases the hellmob.
^^ No, a bathysphere. With a strong headlamp.
^^^ If I told her not to bring them the sun would instantly nova and turn us into a desert. I guess she’d better bring them.
^^^^ The hellterror may have eaten them.
† Into the paddling pool
†† Okay, so at least I haven’t been trying to quench two young inflammable hellhounds every day these last four months, and the hellterror, given about four foot in all seven directions^ can hucklebutt herself into a state of pleasant nap-taking collapse. Am I supposed to be GRATEFUL?
^ Up, down, back, forth, in, out and AAAAAUGH
††† All right it hasn’t always been muddy, the last not-quite-quarter-century^ but right at the moment it feels like it has.
^ Our anniversary was 3 January+ but we also celebrated 26 July, which was the beginning of that weekend in Maine
+ Tolkien’s birthday. Yes. I’ve told that story somewhere on this blog.
‡ He wanted to go. He absolutely, totally wanted to go. But I wasn’t ready to let him go. He won.
‡‡ I’m not going to argue about this. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God^ is going to have no clue why the unsainted hell your faith is a comfort to you in bad times, when God could flapdoodling well sort it, whatever it is, if he/she/it/they blinkety-blankety well wanted to. I can only say that faith really is your bulwark and buttress and rock of ages and so on, and I’m not entirely sure I would still be getting out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have Jesus and his Mum^^ to scream at.
^ And I’m not going to argue about this either: as Alfrick says, we’re all going to have some surprises when we get to whatever heaven is, all of us, the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Shintos, the Buddhists, the shamans, the wiccans, the pagans, the everybody else, and the agnostics and the atheists. Especially the atheists.
^^ That would be God, not Mary, although Mary is good too. Although I have my own ideas about what she thought she was getting into with Gabriel. I mean, she was a teenager, right? And Gabriel was cute.
‡‡‡ He’s also responsible for chivvying me into ringing a quarter peal in Peter’s memory a few days after Peter died and before the madness that is funeral and memorial service arrangements had closed me down completely. It’ll be good for you, Niall said. It will not! I said. Jumping off a bridge would be good for me! No, no, no, Niall said. Think of the hellmob. For better or worse all my friends know to remind me of the furries at critical moments.
§ Who is another of Alfrick’s devoted admirers, by the way
§§ I took a certain amount of teasing for the fact that I had my knitting with me at the memorial service. I had bought my Good Black Leather Shoulderbag some years before there was any question of knitting needles, and they stick out the top. Yo, I said, if I go to pieces, I will want my knitting.
MY APPLE TREE FELL DOWN. FELL. DOWN.
This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago. And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.
When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.
So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.
. . . Oh. Oh dear. OH BLINKETY BLINKETY BLINKETY. ALSO ARRRRRGH. AND BOO-HOO THAT’S MY TREE.
I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***
And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.
At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.
Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††
Note that it is still raining today. –ed.
* * *
Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.
The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that. Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.
If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.
And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves: Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.
I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .
I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems: the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.
However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.
But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.
It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.
And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?
No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.
* * *
* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES
** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.
*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.
† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.
†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^
Okay, I forgot to do this. Opportunity wasted. Sigh. –ed.
^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.
^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?
^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.
+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.
††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.
‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.
‡‡ Which seems to be saying something like I NEVER TOLD YOU YOU CAN NEVER SIT DOWN, SLEEP, OR EAT CHOCOLATE SLOWLY AND THOUGHTFULLY. BELIEVE ME, YOU WOULD KNOW IF I HAD.
‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.
^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.
§ The version with recitative is later
§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.
§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.
# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?
^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.
## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.
### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . . there’s a word usage that really caught my ear. Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.
~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.