If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO. The HandleBards are a hoot.
Admetus and I went last night. I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity. I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†
What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††. Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts. But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY? Beulah, peel me a grape.
You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem. They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience††† The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down. Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured. The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.
You also start laughing before the show even starts. The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit. From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur. They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals. Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡ Snork.
It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§ When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§ They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways. May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go. It was perfect last night. Only one blanket required.
* * *
* Wrong country? The UK is a great place for a holiday! We have Stonehenge! We have the British Museum! We have skylarks! We have lots and lots of rosebushes! And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^
^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.
** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent
*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on. You know, ON. Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp. A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first. The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^ Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am. And damp may come from a variety of sources. I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.
^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema. Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+ Scary.
+ Or 88.69 metres.
^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused. She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.
+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.
# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed: those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding. Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.
##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.
† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob. I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?
†† From our CHAIRS. Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS. Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.
††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.
‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole. I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.
‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.
‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips. I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle
§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works. I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing: given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises. Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any. But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground. I hope they’re taking their vitamins. And arnica for bruises.
^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.
§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.
§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^ But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^
^ And tea with cake.
^^ Although my roses are fabulous.
^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised. So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay? And pass it on.
Peter has asked me, several times and a little anxiously, over the last few days, if I was up for going out on my birthday. YES. I MEAN, I DON’T KNOW IF I’M UP OR NOT BUT I’M GOING.*** NEVER MIND THE FOOD, I WANT MY CHAMPAGNE.
The food was good too.†
That’s our tablecloth because I thought I wouldn’t shoot off my flash in the face of the lively and interesting family party at the next table and waited till I got home where the crashed-out hellmob don’t care. But I recognise our table on my birthday because of the flowers waiting for us. Peter goes in to the florist’s next door and says ‘pink’. Since we go to this restaurant every year the florist is probably learning to recognise him.
Although, speaking of going to the same restaurant, regular blog readers will probably recognise the mirror frame in the ladies’. [Oops. I’ve edited it out. Next year.] But they have installed an OBNOXIOUS NEW LIGHTING FIXTURE that is unromantic in the extreme and that my peculiar posture is trying to disguise.
She’s sixty-two today, you know. She might want a lot of Vaseline on the lens.
And my favourite present. Remember I went to a Spectacular Yarn Fair last March with Nina, who felt she wanted to start knitting again? SHE MADE ME A RUFFLY SCARF. She is golden.
. . . Although Peter is giving me a sat nav finally if I can frelling figure out which one to order. I thought I had it all sorted—this is what I belong to WHICH? for, you go to their site, you are driven mad by the pop ups and the repeated demands to log in which you have already done, you read the reviews and you make an informed choice—and then I promptly fell, as into a large vat of ill-set custard, into a lot of customer reviews saying NO NO NOT THAT ONE. Whimper. Maybe I could just have Natty Bumppo on retainer.
Oh, and if you suspect you are seeing a knitting bag in the upper left hand corner of the photo, you are. It says: come to the Dark Side, we have yarn. I think Fiona may have given it to me. It contains the famous 12 mm needle project that I am advised I need a very large crochet hook or possibly a telephone pole with a hole punched in one end to weave in the ends with.
Notice knitting needles sticking out of fancy leather going-out-to-dinner bag.†† Ahem. I’m so used to carrying vast swathes of my life around in my ordinary daily knapsack–which as a result weighs a TON AND THREE QUARTERS and people not eternally preoccupied with the terror of being caught somewhere without enough to read/do tend to make remarks–that when I have to wedge myself for a few hours into a Fancy Going Out to Dinner Bag there are AWFUL DECISIONS TO BE MADE. In fact I don’t usually take my knitting to restaurants because (a) the light isn’t good enough and (b) I’LL PROBABY SPILL SOMETHING ON IT but the iPad goes as standard and it happens that most of what I’m presently reading is on e- and therefore I had space ordinarily taken up by hard copy AND THE KNITTING WON. Furthermore I now have this deeply cool little (pink) narrow-beam light that Peter gave me for reading the prayer service in the frelling dark at the monks’, which would work just as well clipped to a napkin in a restaurant as to my collar in an abbey.
And now maybe I’ll knit a few rows and go to bed. If the bed starts whirling when I turn the light off I will turn the light back on and knit a few more rows. Garter stitch is great when you’ve had too much champagne.†††
* * *
* I saw Alfrick last night and told him it was my birthday today. So I got a happy-birthday email from him saying, Glad to see you last night while you were young. —There’s nothing like^ a monk for that unique and astonishing degree of professional kindness and sympathy and profound insight into the human condition. I’ve noticed it often with Alfrick. BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH.
** With apologies for another KESless Saturday. Friday night Street Pastors was . . . stressful. You know if Hampshire is going to become the latest seething hotbed of excitable youth and popular with the feuding lout faction I’m frelling going to retire. I didn’t sign on for all this commotion. I signed on to stroll around passing out hot drinks to the homeless and flipflops to the overly high-heeled. I can deal with a certain amount of off-the-wallness, both drug- and alcohol-related and/or the results of social-services failures. I didn’t sign on to get involved in the stuff that the cops are for. That’s what the cops are for. Also, of course, I’m still barely frelling walking post-stomach-flu, and this has a certain dispiriting effect. But yesterday was mostly another lost day, although talking to Alfrick was good in spite of his sense of humour.
*** You come too, like the poem says. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173534
† And seems to be staying where I put it, which is an important point.^
^ Champagne is of course noted for its stomach-soothing effects.+
+ What I want to know is if I start drinking only about eight hours after I got up in the cough-cough morning does that make me a LUSH? Except this early (cough-cough) in the day approach to sin and heinousness does give you extra time at the other end to take your hellmob out for supernumerary hurtles to wear sin, heinousness and 12% alcohol off again.#
# ::pours a second pot of peppermint tea into the internal cauldron::
†† Some clever helpful person is going to say ‘circulars’. I HATE CIRCULAR NEEDLES.
††† Non, je regrette rien.
This is a really interesting article anyway full of stuff I need to check out but don’t miss the last paragraph.*
And thanks for all the happy chirping noises about last night’s news.**
Is it a bad thing that I already own The Blue Sword as an e-book? I would NEVER knowingly get a pirated copy of anyone’s book. That would be BAD! The e-book that I have looks very professionally done. I’m confused! I’ll have to get another copy (a legit? copy) of the e-book when it comes out.
You’ve probably got one of the ones that were briefly and in the publisher’s mind legitimately available a while ago. When said publisher had it politely pointed out to them that in fact what they were doing wasn’t totally pure and square and holy they were very embarrassed. They were so embarrassed it’s taking a while to winkle them out from under the bed, convince them that All Is Forgiven, and persuade them that we really want to do it again, just the right way this time, okay?
Well, I’m conflicted. Congratulations for the e-books. But I’ve already bought them in old fashioned, space gobbling, real book style. What excuse do I have to buy an e-reader?
Good heavens. Have you never found yourself standing in an endless queue and wished you’d brought with you that really good book you were reading but it’s large and heavy and you were only going to be gone ten minutes because there are never any queues this time of day? Or equivalent? E-editions are pretty much a scam that I’m allowing myself to be gorgleblorged by because of the Library in Your Knapsack thing. I wouldn’t dream of having keeper books only in e-format. I just have more editions of stuff I’ll want to read again.
And as Lenni says you don’t have to have a dedicated ereader. I have the Kindle app on my iPad. If you’re portable-tech-free you have a slightly more epic struggle with your conscience ahead of you but . . . well, I’ve told this story many times before, but I only bought my first computer because the office shop could no longer get parts for my IBM Selectric I typewriter. I forget why I let myself get gorgleblorged*** by the idea of an iPad† but I use her constantly, however often I want to throw her against the wall for her tantrums about Microsoft.
I can’t wait to be rescued from a long wait somewhere by pulling up a comforting favorite story on my phone.
Yes, exactly. But I am fascinated by you people who read on your phones. My eyes can do it but, dunno, my brain can’t. It’s like people with little tiny writing. My hand can do it BUT MY BRAIN CAN’T. I have big sprawly handwriting. I guess I must have big sprawly eyes†† too. I was actually going to buy the next size down of tablet for portability reasons next time but then I thought about the pleasantness of reading double page spreads like a REAL book on the iPad . . . and then I read about the iPad Air which weighs about two butterflies and a feather and I thought, fine, I wasn’t seriously planning to downsize my knapsack anyway.
* * *
* Thank you, Gomoto^, although why one of my American readers was faster off the mark than any of my English ones . . . is one of those little mysteries of the modern global-internet world.
^ Also Rachel on the forum, but her post went up later, and I also don’t know which side of the pond she’s on. Or even which pond.
** One person out in public on Facebook and a few people more privately on email have said that they aren’t buying anything of mine till I produce the second/third/ninety-seventh/final volume of PEGASUS. It’s not always easy to tell tone of voice from a stranger in print, but I have the impression that these declarations are typed in some dudgeon, possibly high. What people choose to do with their disposable income is up to them, of course, including whether or not they buy books and if they do buy books whose books they buy. But just in case this has slipped anyone’s mind . . . I’m not not producing PEG II, III and LXXXIX out of any disturbingly perverse desire to alienate readers. Um, why would I? I need to keep eating.^ Also I’m a storyteller by blood and bone; I don’t exist in my own mind let alone anyone else’s if I’m not telling stories. I would love to have PEG II already out and PEG III being wept over by final-stage copyeditors^^ and myself be contemplating writing that story about the bottle of sentient champagne. But I’m not.^^^ I’m not because PEG II is moving approximately as quickly as it’s going to take all those plate tectonics to bring Africa back to West Quoddy Head. I’m not happy about this.# But it’s not up to me—rather like producing my books in e-format isn’t up to me. You can, of course, nag me, about ebooks## or PEG II or LXXXIX, but it won’t produce any results except making me miserable.### Control freaks seriously don’t like things to be out of their control. And storytellers hate not telling stories.
^ And buying other people’s books.
^^ Tears of joy, mind you. Supposing it ends with III, which is to say it better had or I may become a full-time professional practising homeopath after all, not everybody is going to be spectacularly happy in all ways after the climax but this is still a McKinley story and there will be some kind of a big shiny hurrah somewhere near the end.
^^^ Except at my 3 am equivalent which is about when most people are heading off to work, or the local builders are arriving and turning their frelling radios on to the Maudlin Pop Drivel station.+
+ I keep forgetting to check if U2 are trying to break into my iPhone.
# In fact I am wildly, frantically frustrated and crazy over it. Just by the way.
## Including, inevitably, what goes wrong, because things will go wrong.
### You can’t make a horse win a race even if you’ve bred, fed and trained her perfectly. You can’t make a rosebush cover herself in huge fabulous flowers+ ditto. And horses are horribly expensive to keep and rose-free rosebushes are mostly pretty ugly. It goes like that sometimes.
+ Unless you’re a character out of ROSE DAUGHTER
*** Or ‘sandbagged’ if you prefer
† NO NOT COMPUTER GAMES. COMPUTER GAMES ARE THE DEVIL’S SPAWN.^
^ Yes of course I play several. I might not be so outraged if I played them a little better.
†† And a big sprawly brain. If it were tidier I might be getting on with PEG II quicker. Sigh.
One of the nasty little surprises awaiting me at Third House* was the FRELLING BOXES OF OLD PAPER FILES. Crushed frelling boxes, just by the way, since they’d got mixed up with the backlist. But when Atlas was loading up his trailer to take backlist to the storage unit last autumn I asked him to set anything that wasn’t book boxes aside. And then life happened and the last few months Atlas has seen more of Third House than I have.**
It’s quite amazing how much STUFF is left after you’ve emptied a house. Curtains. Rolled up rugs. Bits of china you never liked and hadn’t decided what to do with. BOOKS THAT MUST BE SORTED. It’s also quite amazing how many old files I seem to have. Speaking of things that need sorting.
Twenty or thirty years ago when I was buying filing cabinets in Maine you could get black ones. Or grey ones. Or black. Or grey. Or . . . I bought black. But I did not love them, and I left them behind because standard British paper is longer than standard American paper and it wasn’t going to fit in standard American filing cabinets. I had a gorgeous old wooden filing cabinet at the old house, its only drawbacks being that it took ten strong men and a team of eight Shire horses to move it and that the drawers kept falling off their rails. It then declined to fit through the door at Third House. MORE ARRRGH. So I sold it, and put the files in cardboard boxes. Which I was going to deal with. Later.
Well. It’s later. And I have to WEDGE everything I had sprawled all over Third House into the attic because the ground floor is now Peter’s.***
I went on line. I searched for two-drawer filing cabinets, because they have to fit under the eaves that make the attic a living space for people who like crawling around on their hands and knees. COLOURED FILING CABINETS. COLOURED FILING CABINETS. Be still my heart. So I bought a PINK one. Of course I bought a pink one. Two pink ones is so obvious however so I bought a yellow one.† Yaaay.
Except that the on line description says ‘self assembly’. Golly, I thought, nuts and bolts. But I have my secret weapon, Atlas, so, fine. I ordered. And I had them delivered to the cottage because of the whole WHAT DO YOU MEAN DELIVER TO AN ADDRESS NOT ATTACHED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD AND OF COURSE WE AREN’T GOING TO TELL YOU WHEN WE’RE ARRIVING SO YOU CAN GET UP THERE TO ACCEPT DELIVERY. WHICH WE WON’T LET YOU HAVE ANYWAY BECAUSE IT’S NOT THE ADDRESS ATTACHED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD thing.
I don’t know what the self-assembly part is but two filing cabinets arrived today. I looked at them and my heart sank. I wasn’t at all sure even one of them lying on its side would fit in Wolfgang’s boot.
Wolfgang, my hero.
* * *
* That’s aside from the fact that we’re going to have to RIP OUT BOOKSHELVES to get Peter’s desk into his office. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE. What is wrong with it is that the second, smaller bedroom is now a staircase with a little angular wodge of semi-usable space around it. Arrrgh. Building regs^ ARRRRRRRGH. And Peter is so inconvenient as to have a LARGE desk. Why can’t he just balance his laptop on his knee? Feh. Half a wall of bookshelves has to go. Misery.
^ For anyone who wasn’t reading the blog then: I wanted to put a WEIGHT BEARING FLOOR in the attic for all the BACKLIST. As soon as you put in a weight-bearing floor the Building Regulation Goons are all over you. A weight-bearing floor means living space, never mind you can’t stand up in it. Or that it’s going to be full of boxes of books. Living space means you have to have a proper staircase. Good bye, second bedroom.
** Mowing the grass, propping up the frelling FRELLING boundary fence so next door’s evil little ratbag terrier doesn’t keep getting through and crapping all over my garden,^ taking over the garden shed with boy tools.
^ Evil little spiky-haired ratbag terriers are an entirely different, monumentally inferior order of being from, you know, bull coughcoughcough terriers.
*** This happens to involve carrying all 1,098 crushed boxes of files up the stairs to the attic again.
† I probably need three or four. I’ll worry about that LATER.
You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Anyone who lives in bluebell country, however, can tell you that it’s pretty difficult to miss bluebell season—if your bluebells are happy they spread enthusiastically. The wood I took most of this year’s photos in was drastically cleared out at one end some few years ago—they were dorking around with pylons and super-cables and things. The bluebells had only started colonising that area and that stopped them flat. But except for a narrow chop-through most of the trees were left standing and the bluebells regrouped and made another sortie . . . and they are now dazzlingly winning. That bluebell wood is a good, I don’t know, my sense of size is about as reliable as my sense of direction, sixty or eighty foot longer than it was twenty years ago.
I know bluebells are generally endangered or at least under pressure by deer, hikers, global warming and the Spanish invader, but as I’ve said before (at least once a year), not around here.* Around here they are ebullient and thriving—and may they remain that way—even if they are total thugs in your garden. One of my rose-beds at the old house was taken over by bluebells. It was a tending-to-be-dry border in strong sunlight, for pity’s sake, a few bluebells couldn’t possibly hurt, they’ll be too busy struggling to survive. You’ll be sorry, said Peter. He was right. I went through and dug out buckets of the wretches** one year and I had bluebells in that bed the next year anyway.
I have bluebells in my garden(s) now. But I guess I’d better be nice to them. Just in case.
* With the possible exception of the Spanish bluebell. But I’m not sure I can decisively tell the one from the other: proper English bluebells bow over farther and farther as their flowers open. A very rounded-over bluebell is definitively English, but a more sticky-up one may still be English if it’s early in its flowering. The Spanish bluebell photos I’ve seen look more like Scilla than like bluebells: proper bluebell flowers are graphically and unmistakably tubular.^ The bluebell woods around here are (a) fairly out in the sticks, to the extent that Hampshire is ever out in the sticks^^ and (b) old, so they have a good chance of being pure; also Spanish bluebells apparently don’t have much smell, and our bluebell woods are nearly eye-wateringly fragrant. Particularly strong this year too, I think, possibly because of all the winter rain.
^^ which to a Maine girl isn’t very
** I couldn’t face hauling the lot up to the ridge, but I couldn’t face putting them all on the compost heap^ or the bonfire either, so I took some away and threw them around in the wild where they had a chance to engulf more woodland. I’ve told you this story, haven’t I? This blog is too old. I’ve told most of my stories at least once.^^ Since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers or dig up bluebells bulbs I was terrified I’d be discovered and someone would leap to the wrong conclusion.
^ Yep. We had bluebells growing in the compost too.
^^ Except KES, of course.