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.
Today was Alcestis’ 58th birthday.
Would have been. She died a little over a week ago.
Peter and I often go out to dinner either the 3rd or the 26th of whatever month it is*; occasionally both, like this month. January is frequently a sod; serious deluges of champagne are often required in January. Last year, after Peter’s stroke in December, pretty much bathtubs full of the stuff were prescribed and dutifully consumed. And this year. . . . I’d remembered that Alcestis’ birthday was the end of January somewhere; I’d forgotten it was today till Admetus reminded me. Peter and I clinked our glasses tonight and drank to Alcestis. Who is dancing joyfully in the sunlit fields of the Lord . . . which means fuck-all to me right now.
The funeral is on Friday.
That’s the worst, of course. I miss her. Remember I said in the Not a happy new year post to make time for your friends, life is shorter than you think? It’s not like I didn’t know Alcestis’ time and life were running out all last year, but the habit of ‘oh next week is soon enough’ is hard to sodding break. I am so glad now for all of those evenings I spent knitting and chatting with her the last few months; I wouldn’t have not done it for anything, now that it’s all over—now that she’s gone. But it also makes me miss her worse. Because I’d FINALLY got in the habit of going round to see her regularly. And enjoying her company. And remembering why I liked her so much: for her dry humour, her empathy, her astonishing breadth of practical knowledge about the world; if you wanted to know something about pretty much anything, chances were that Alcestis could tell you something you could use and suggest where you might look for more. She’d been a scientist and a science teacher, and teaching came naturally to her, whether it was basic physics or how to pluck a chicken.** And yet months would go by, before she fell ill, when we’d run into each other in town and say ‘oh yes we must get together’ and then go our separate ways for more months. Why are humans so STUPID? Because I’m far from the only person who treats their friends like this. There’s always going to be time. But there isn’t.
So. Sorry for the long blog silence. There’s still a lot of staring blankly into space—and several other WHAAAAAAT? unexpected crises, mostly unsuitable for a family-friendly public blog, but I will mention the evening this past week, having just been knocked sideways by one of said crises, I managed to leave my diary in Mauncester I CANNOT LIIIIIIIVE WITHOUT MY DIARY I can barely remember to breathe without checking in my diary first*** and having phoned to be sure that I had left it where I thought I had, and they said they’d keep it safe for me, I leaped into Wolfgang to drive back to fetch it . . .
. . . and Wolfgang wouldn’t start. AAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I spent most of the next DAY schlepping in to Mauncester on the frelling BUS and hiking to the far end of town TO PICK UP MY DIARY. While Wolfgang was towed off to the garage. I got him back today: hellhounds and I had a very nice walk over hill and under milkwood to Warm Upford to pick him up, with a shiny new starter motor under his bonnet.† And all that stumbling over tussocks gave me an appetite for champagne, duck confit and a big fat chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce tonight at the pub. It was a very good confit, and an excellent brownie. But the brownie wasn’t as good as Alcestis’.
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The news isn’t all bad, if you will permit me to range now into the frivolous. Niall, who can smell weakness, and has his own unique ideas about cheering people up, seems to have inveigled me into RINGING FRELLING HANDBELLS AGAIN. HOW DO I GET INTO THESE THINGS.†† Furthermore I seem to have become a semi-regular fourth with a particular group, Niall, Jillian, who was starting to learn handbells shortly before I more or less stopped, and a gentleman who has not appeared on these virtual pages before, whom we will call Spenser. I’ve rung tower bells with Jillian many times—although she’s a good ringer and I’m not—I only know Spenser by reputation. The fact that he’s not only a good tower bell ringer but also an organist and therefore has developed the Extra Brain Lobes for keeping track of several manuals AND a pedal keyboard or whatever you call them means he is beautifully pre-programmed to learn frelling handbells swiftly and accurately and I will HATE HIM SOON. But right at the moment he and I are about level in the Struggle to Master Bob Major.
I’ve spent most of my handbell career thus far on six bells, mostly ringing bob minor. ‘Plain bob’ is where everyone starts. If you’ve only got three handbell ringers there are a lot of other more complex six-bell methods, but when you first make the step up to major—eight bells, four ringers—you’ll go back to plain bob. This time plain bob major. Counting to eight is hard—which you have to do, every dorgleflamming row, to keep yourself in your place in the pattern. And ‘seven’ has too many syllables in it. OnetwothreefourfivesixSEVENeight. Ruins your rhythm.†††
Jillian at the moment is our weak link. Not her fault, she’s been ringing less time than I have, Spenser is just talented, drat him, and Niall is, well, Niall. Niall conceived of the daring plan to swap Jillian out some day that isn’t our regular meeting so that Spenser and I can have the thrill [sic] of ringing with two good steady ringers and see how far we get. I could see the quarter-peal light going off in Niall’s evil little eyes‡. We were fixed for this past Wednesday, with Melinda as our fourth. Melinda would be one of my favourite ringers—despite her reprehensible excellence on handbells—if I saw more of her; she’s the one got me going to the extra tower practise at Fustian, which stopped happening some time this last year when I haven’t been ringing anyway. After Alcestis died I told Niall I am NOT trying for a quarter peal on Wednesday. Both my stamina and my focus are zero for the present and the immediate future. That’s okay, said Niall in his blandest possible manner.
I should frelling know better by now.
You can see where this is going. We rang a couple of touches and first I and then Spenser—and bless him for not being perfect—crashed and burned. So we started over. No big; we were getting good practise with Melinda there. But then we started to steady down—Melinda is a lovely, equable, consistent, low-tension-transfer ringer.‡‡ Aaaaaaand we didn’t crash and burn. For a few minutes. For a few more minutes. For . . . that ratbag Niall is going for a quarter.
We rang a quarter. Spenser’s and my first quarter of bob major.
And that’s for Alcestis too. Makes a change from glasses of champagne. ‡‡‡
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* Our wedding anniversary is 3 January; our lightning-strike meeting anniversary is 26 July.
** She was also an excellent—and self taught—knitter. She half-blinded herself knitting the Plain Dark Pullovers that are all the Standard British Male will wear, for Admetus. And the sweater I knitted^ about three-quarters of, those last evenings of knit and chat, is hanging on the back of a chair at Third House and every time I see it I catch my breath. I should finish it. I know. At some deep superstitious level I think I’m still hoping if I don’t finish it I’ll get a few more evenings with Alcestis. Sigh.
^ which is for me and is about as far from plain and dark as it is possible to get.
*** Drink champagne, yes. Eat chocolate, yes. Breathing, I may need reminding.
† He now leaps six feet off the ground when you turn the key in the little hole. BRAAAAAAANG. NEXT STOP MARS.
†† A pathetic insufficiency of counter-obstinacy. There is NOTHING ON THE PLANET as persistent as Niall in pursuit of handbell ringers. And he’s such a polite, quiet, gentle person . . . most of the time. Not about handbells. Be glad you don’t live in New Arcadia. He’d get you too.
††† One of the additional reasons I will never graduate to twelve on handbells, aside from the spectacular absence of necessary brain support, is because of having to count a row that has a three-syllable number in it. Seven is bad enough. ELEVEN? Are you frelling JOKING? I can just about manage plain hunt in the tower on twelve, because tower bells go so much slower you have half a chance to squeeze those extra syllables out. Frelling handbells go a frelling lick. Well-rung handbells sound like the louder, more musical version of someone running their thumb over the edges of a pack of cards. That’s how fast it goes.^
^ Not with me however. Handbells rung with me in the group are . . . stately. There are people who won’t ring with me because I’m too slow. Trust me, I don’t want to ring with these people anyway.
‡ If he’s part bull terrier that would explain a lot.
‡‡ There are other handbell ringers I won’t ring with because just being in the same room with them winds me up. But I suspect they feel the same about me.
‡‡‡ Okay, I should finish that sweater.
The friend I’ve been visiting in hospital?
It won’t be long now.
I hate this. This is a stupid system, this life thing. She’s younger than I am, by the way. And another friend—another good friend—who is also younger than I am—has just been diagnosed with . . . well. Not with blue skies and happy fluffy bunnies.
Life sucks. And then, as we know, you die.
So, that’s been my holidays.* Let’s call her Alcestis—the friend who’s dying—although in the damned myth some god or godling usually comes along at the last minute and saves her, and so far as I know my friend’s Admetus wasn’t in any danger. She’s been ill for a while, and in and out of hospital, but they’ve known for a while they aren’t going to turn this one around, it’s going to get her, and sooner rather than later. And she’s been slipping—also for a while—but the last three weeks or so the slope has suddenly got steeper. Although we knew this was going to happen too.
I’ve been through this before, of course, but it doesn’t get easier, losing people—watching them slide away from you, and you can’t do a bloody thing except sit by their bedside and breathe. Be there, stunned and clueless and disbelieving. Everyone who is trying to comfort you says, oh, being there counts! That is what you can do! I guess. But it’s throwing rose petals in the abyss. Except it’s not even rose petals. It’s dead toads or dandruff or anthrax or something.
Alcestis is in a specialist unit and it’s too far for me to drive, and I’m dependent on Admetus to give me a lift—but he’s a friend too, and they’re neighbours. I blast over there five or ten (or fifteen) minutes later than I said I’d get there, and he does the driving. I like to imagine that having someone in the car with him sometimes—he’s quite the taxi service, is our Admetus, bless him—is maybe a bit comforting, or grounding, or something. I have really NO IDEA how he’s doing. He’s a BRITISH MALE. I assume he’s still eating, although he’s got awfully thin and he wasn’t exactly portly to begin with. The unit Alcestis is in will feed a spouse or one other designated person for the big holidays, and they came round with the New Year’s Day dinner menus today while I was there doing my sitting and breathing thing—and in my case knitting: my knitting is not improving with practise—and I was looking at Admetus looking at the menu and wanted to say to the nurses ‘make sure he eats too, okay?’
It’s a nice place, as far as places where people go to die are ever nice. The nurses are kind and thoughtful and engaged: they’re all over Admetus as he comes in, and a couple of them even recognise me. There’s free tea and coffee (okay, and a donation box), and a big lounge-sitting-room-waiting-room space with comfy chairs and tables and books, and a computer with a selection of all-ages games. They keep Alcestis clean and comfortable. She’s just barely there any more and . . . drifting . . . farther . . . away.
Today the doctor took Admetus aside and said that hopes/plans to be able to send Alcestis home after the holidays, when they’d be up to full staff strength again for the amount of home care she’d need, were, barring miracles, permanently shelved and that . . . the unit is set up for a spouse or partner to spend the night there: he might want to know that. He might want to consider. . . . When we got back to New Arcadia tonight he gave me the domestic fauna care drill and he’ll text me if I need to step in. There was a little austere hilarity at the outrage the capybaras, sugar gliders and wallabies are going to feel at being put abruptly on my schedule rather than Admetus’. He gets up at about 6 a.m. most mornings. I suppose I could go round and feed and do a quick sweep last thing before I go to bed. . . .
They’re rerunning the last night of the Proms on Radio 3 tonight. Last night of the Proms live was mid September, and Alcestis was still alert and walking (slowly) and interested in the world and having opinions about the books she read.
And to everyone who is reading this: make time to get together with your friends, and do stuff, or just hang out, drink tea, loan each other books. Or if geography is against you—and I know a lot about that—talk on the phone, email, text, Skype. Stay in touch.** Time is a whole lot shorter than you think.
Tonight’s glass of champagne is to you, honey, Alcestis, my old friend.
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* Another thing about holidays is the way people go on them leaving their social-welfare charities short-handed. And falling prey to the common philosophy of wretchedness that if you can’t do anything for you and yours maybe you can do some damn thing for a stranger, I’ve picked up a few extra shifts here and there to the extent that I’ve had one or two lectures from older hands about taking care of myself. OH SHUT UP. Okay, yes, I know, and I appreciate the concern and understand why they’re having a word, but I’m at least conscious of what I’m doing and as soon as the holidays are over with I’ll revert to being the volunteer-organisation version of assistant bottle-washer. But whatever your flavour of belief^ or disbelief, the end of year holiday season and all the jolly consumerism, I mean family and friendship and togetherness, tend to magnify anything that’s less than fabulous in your individual life, so social services get a bit strained. The less than fabulous would include me and mine of course. But being a do gooder at least means you have somewhere to put some of the sorrow and frustration.
^ Although just by the way the tendency for Christmas to be presented in Christian churches in all its blue-skies-and-fluffy-bunnies splendour MAKES ME CRAZY. YO. THAT KID YOU’RE WORSHIPPING IS GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY IN THIRTY-THREE YEARS+ AND THERE’S A CRUCIFIX HANGING OVER THE ALTAR, YES, EVEN AT CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY TO REMIND YOU OF THIS TINY FACTOID?? As one might say, Jesus. There’s a dark despairing edge even at Christmas, a shadow behind the joy. Welcoming this baby should break your heart, and if it doesn’t you’re not paying attention.++
+ Or about four months, depending on how you’re counting. This is only my third Easter coming up and I already want a year off.#
# I think I said that last year. Easter is hard.~
~ And it has nothing to do with fluffy bunnies, chocolate or otherwise.
++ Some of the carols get this right. When I’m experiencing a worse than usual brain failure day, the verse I can never forget is from We Three Kings: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ breathes a life of gathering gloom/ Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone-cold tomb. Elsewhere it refers to King and God and sacrifice. Um, yeah. Stay with it. And Christmases like this one for me, it’s exactly like my monk said: he died also so none of us ever has to suffer alone.
I still think it’s a total fucker of a system. When I get to heaven# I’m going to start a petition.
# And remember we all do, eventually, whatever ‘heaven’ turns out to be and whatever petitioning options there are.
** Which I’m doing a lousy job of with everyone else in my life. Because I’m too sunk in being bad company. Sigh. Do as I say, not as I do, okay?