So. Um. I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today. I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today. IT WAS ONLY ON SIX BELLS AND I WAS ONLY ON THE TREBLE. Still. I rang a quarter peal. At the abbey . . . *
Today kind of began last Friday. Gemma and Niall and I were ringing handbells, and Gemma and Niall were saying, and you’re going to come to New Arcadia tower practise with us after this, RIGHT? And I was saying, well, no, I’m not. The old tower politics are beginning to re-emerge from the shadows and show their teeth and while I’m delighted to realise how little of it matters any more, still, life is short, and I think I’ll stay home and polish the goldfish or knit or something. No, no, they said, come on, it’ll be fun, it’ll be fine. So I finally said, I wasn’t going to come to tower practise and therefore I haven’t given the hellhounds their evening hurtle yet. But I will listen, and if you’re short of ringers I will hustle hellhounds home, take them out again after practise, and come along.
They were ringing five. Five is marginally okay on Sunday morning when you’re usually short, but it’s pretty sad for a practise, especially when one of the ringers is a beginner. Sigh. So I hustled only mildly outraged hellhounds home again** and went along to the tower. And it was fun because Niall likes torturing us with peculiar methods.*** I also wished Niall and Gemma luck, because they were trying for a full peal on Saturday—yesterday—Gemma’s first.† I texted Gemma later saying to let me know how it goes, if she feels like it.
I didn’t hear from Gemma yesterday, so I thought, uh-oh.
Now tower practise is open, while Sunday service ringing is usually done by members of the home band. This is standard. But there’s also a feeling that if you attend a practise regularly, if you’re a low-level ringer who is using the practise for your benefit, you owe that tower something. If you can’t ring at their Sunday service because it’s at the same time as your own, you can at least say ‘yes’ if they phone you some day and ask you to ring for the vicar’s dog’s birthday on Saturday. I’ve been ringing Sunday afternoon service at the abbey because that’s when they’re short of ringers and I don’t like getting up in the morning. But that leaves me hideously available for, for example, New Arcadia morning service.
Never mind that the hellhounds are going through a serious anti-supper phase which means I’m catching up on a lot of old magazines at mmph o’clock in the morning. Given the somewhat touchy situation at New Arcadia, if I went to practise on Friday, I’d better frelling show up on Sunday morning.
Well, with me, we were six, so I was serving a useful purpose. Fine. Paying your dues is a good thing. And Niall told me they’d lost their peal yesterday. I’m sorry, I said.
But I went home feeling limp and soggy. It’s very muggy, I’m short of sleep, and bell-ringing, as I keep saying, is a demanding and complex skill . . . especially on Sunday morning. I had just settled down with a nice cup of tea and a new knitting magazine when Pooka started barking at me. I assumed it was Peter with a weather report††.
It was Gemma. What are you doing this afternoon? she said. How would you like to ring a quarter peal at the abbey?
WHAT? I said. ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY FREAKING MIND? —or words to that effect. I’m not the most reliable ringer at my best, and I’m a nightmare on the abbey bells.
Well, we can’t find anyone else, said Gemma, at the last minute like this, and you’d enjoy it, it’s a nice friendly band.
Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.
The thing is, Gemma went on, you know we lost the peal yesterday? Well it was for [insert standard celebratory life event here] and we were thinking, we could have a go at just a quarter . . . but we’ve only got five ringers.†††
Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.
We need you, said Gemma.‡
Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh, I said. Okay. Put me on the treble. I should cause the least damage there.
. . . We got our quarter. We did have to stop and start over—not my fault! Not my fault!—and there were a few hedgerows along the way that Albert had to drag people out of‡‡ . . . but the treble actually managed to hold her line when not everyone else was holding theirs.
And then Gemma invited us back to her house for tea.§ And somehow, I can’t imagine how, we found ourselves ringing handbells. And even more astonishing and inexplicable, it appears that Gemma and I have arranged to drive to Albert and Leandra’s house in Greater Footling on Wednesday so that we can ring more handbells.§§
I thought that August was going to be a desert of non-ringing.
* * *
** They possess such touching faith that I’ll make any shortfalls up to them. And I did. We went out for another walk while everyone else went to the pub. Never mind. It was a lovely evening and it turned out Peter had put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge at the mews.
*** Catch hold [of your rope] for Marmalade Zanzibar Fruitcake minor!
You can also torture your beginner much more effectively when there’s six of you, which is a proper method-ringing number. You ring on five if five is what you’ve got, but it’s a little bogus.
† I will never ring a full peal—I know, famous last words. But I pretty well can’t, I haven’t got the stamina. It’s three-plus hours of non-stop ringing, and the person with ME who folds in the last quarter-hour will be justifiably unpopular.^ It’s not that peal attempts aren’t lost all the time—they are: bell ringing is a complex and demanding skill, and maintaining your concentration for that long is difficult—but you want to start out with as much on your side as possible. I’m a bad risk. Also I can’t imagine not having a pee for three-plus hours.
Niall hasn’t given up on trying to persuade me to ring a full peal on handbells however. They go a lot faster than tower bells, you can sit down . . . and you can keep your legs crossed as necessary toward the end.
^ I realise this is poor-spirited but ringing a full peal doesn’t actually sound like a good time to me.
†† Saying, approximately, Get out NOW before the rain starts.
††† The peal had been eight. But not everybody wants to get back on the horse that threw them the very next day.
‡ Note that I have a strong suspicion that Gemma was doing a little boost-Robin here. It’s perfectly true that you are likely to have trouble coming up with a scratch band at the very last minute on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in August^ to spend forty-five minutes in a dark, hot, clammy ringing chamber getting blisters from sweaty hands on sweaty ropes . . . but it’s not impossible. I’m sure they had already gone through a lot of better ringers who turned them down. I doubt I was their last hope.
^ . . . during the Olympics
‡‡ You know how I keep banging on about the 3,211 bells at the abbey. It was very funny deciding which six bells we were going to ring . . . although some of this was my fault and I shouldn’t laugh. Albert had been planning on using the very frontest front six, but the two littlest bells are REALLY LITTLE and I’d yank my poor little thing right out of the belfry, because I overring anyway but the more nervous I am the more I overring. So Albert said, okay, fine, and we ended up ringing something middle-ish which actually sounded rather nice, nicer, I think, than if we’d been on the tinkerbells.
‡‡‡ Don’t tell . . . but it was fun. In spite of the almost-blisters.
§ And I ate about twelve pounds of gorgeous fresh cherries. I adore cherries, and the season for fresh ones is about six hours long.
§§ Bob major!^ Yaaaaaaay!
^ Four people/eight bells
I wait breathlessly for the decision on the MGB. I realize it would be more practical to get rid of it…but practical isn’t much fun.
…my vote’s for fun now. Driving to the Abbey for ringing in an MG would be…enormously helpful to the writer’s mood.
Diane in MN
Because the hellhounds won’t fit in the back seat! I said.
In our young days, my husband had a Fiat 124 Spyder ragtop with one of those pretend back seats in it–the kind someone’s two-year-old child might fit in if she was small for her age–and we had a Lab/Shepherd mix and a Great Dane who BOTH rode in it. That would have been, oh, 200 pounds of dog. And they couldn’t squirm around, which was a very good thing. You may need to rethink the bit about the hellhounds.*
Yup! I vote for fun now, as well. You’re still amazed at yourself ringing at the Abbey every time you approach it – without any disrespect to the loyal and faithful Wolfgang, wouldn’t it feel even better and more exhilarating to be driving to the Abbey in the MGB?!
practical isn’t much fun.
AGREED. Also, I looked up pictures. It’s a PRETTY car. I’m just saying.
About a dozen emails:
KEEP THE MG.
YOU PEOPLE AREN’T HELPING AT ALL, YOU KNOW.
1. My All Stars are deeply practical. They are also fun.
2. EMoon, you ratbag, you are a writer so you know these things.**
3. THEY MUST HAVE BEEN EXCEPTIONALLY WELL TRAINED, OBEDIENT AND MELLOW CHARACTERS. None of which would apply to the hellhounds.
4. I thought about this. There is that spectacular view as you come over the hill into town. But the thing that really caught my feeble and easily distracted attention is the idea of parking in the close.*** Generally speaking only archbishops and the queen are allowed to park in the close. But us bell ringers are also granted special dispensation. Hmmmmm. Descending gently through the maze of the old town and penetrating at last to the, you should forgive the term, cloistered abbey grounds . . . as I said, hmmmmm.
5. It’s a very pretty car. It looks a lot like this: http://www.oselli.com/items/226?back=%2F There’s a reason they’re a cult car. Aside from the excuse to wear motorcycle leathers without driving a motorcycle.
Not that I’m against motorcycles, although I think it’s unlikely I’ll ever have one again.† An MGB will still cruise happily at speeds that the cops will pull you over for, and the boot may be small, but it’s bigger than panniers on a motorcycle, big enough for a haul home from supermarket/garden supply/old bookstore.††
And, speaking of bell ringing, as I so often am . . . I seem to have rung twice today. This is one of those things that I promised myself (and possibly my husband) that I would never develop a habit of doing: ringing more than one Sunday service.††† Well, it’s not a habit . . . yet. But I knew that Penelope was away, and Penelope is one of the core group of New Arcadia Sunday ringers. So I went along again this week. And . . . as I was strolling toward the tower in plenty of time I was thinking a little drily that if I’ve stopped not going, if you follow me, I’m going to hate sitting in the kitchen drinking tea on a Sunday morning I’m ringing in the abbey in the afternoon just as much as I’ve hated putting a pillow over my head and pretending to go back to sleep these last six or seven months. Feh. I got into this whole mess again after I quit ringing twelve years ago when the ME knocked me over because I’m now two garden walls over from a bell tower and can’t frelling HELP hearing them ring. Okay. I’ll worry about the habit thing later. Next week. Or the week after. Or the week after that. Edward is away for three weeks, so they’re going to go on being short. . . .
Oh, and it’s our first beautiful day since about . . . March. And as I was driving into the abbey I was thinking it would be a great day to be driving the MG. Robin, will you please think about something else?‡
And on our first beautiful day in about a year and a half we had a turnout of twelve which is very good for a Sunday afternoon. We rang Grandsire Triples for me‡‡ (seven bells plus tenor-behind) because the peons need to be kept cheerful (so they’ll keep coming back) and then the fancy guys rang Stedman caters (nine bells plus tenor-behind) which is almost beyond my tiny mind to grasp the implications of, if I ever really ring Stedman triples (seven bells of this twisty volatile nightmare method with tenor-behind) I will be very happy, and then we rang plain hunt on all twelve because that’s the only thing their twelfth ringer—me—can ring on twelve. And they put me on the treble. I hate trebling‡‡‡ for a lot of bells. It brings out all my frelling performance anxiety. But Scary Man was on the two and he didn’t yell at me . . . much . . . maybe he was tired. . . .
* * *
* Diane in MN continues:
GODS. The things one does when one is culpably young and even more culpably stupid. This was before I discovered single malt, however.
And if your youth was like mine, it was before you could AFFORD single-malt, too.
YES. Remember Thunderbird? Ripple? Cold Duck? Ewwwww. It amazes me my attitude toward booze wasn’t permanently ruined by these early experiences. And I’m pretty sure I’ve told the blog that I was put off champagne for about twenty years by a traumatic encounter with cheap rosé.
** One of the things I found myself telling Colin on Thursday was that while driving was and still is the ordinary daily activity that is probably the most conspicuously restricted by my ME^, one of the things I remember the most vividly about the summer of the year after I started getting up off the sofa again after the eighteen months of acute horizontality, was wandering around the back roads of Hampshire, at about 20 mph, in the MG, with the top off. Clearly it was a better summer that year.^^
^ which is really more to say that it’s harder to disguise with smoke and mirrors. I’m good at smoke and mirrors—my old friends who also read the blog might call it more Jekyll and Hyde—but driving/not driving is not terribly susceptible to guile and subterfuge.
^^ Although I still have the heated gloves and the Harley Davidson black leather chaps+ from my one winter of bell ringing with the MG. Put the top back on? What would I want to do that for? As soon as you put the top on it’s just a car.++
+ I’m failing to find a good on-line picture. But mine are the proper full length kind: legs with a belt to hold them up. They zip up the sides. They are very cool. If you’re into retro biker chic. With the pink All Stars an onlooker could injure him/herself laughing. There are ladies’ leather chaps# but twelve years ago when I was looking the only full-length ladies’ chaps were really cheezy. This is mysterious to me: a woman connecting with a road surface at high speed needs good quality leather between her and it just as much as a bloke does. Anyway, for other reasons concerning heat retention, I bought blokes’.
# I’ve even seen a rumour of pink ones
++ Also the claustrophobia, when you’re used to the top off, is kind of extreme. Headroom in old MGs is not too generous.
*** I’m not sure abbeys have closes. But it’s a close-like space, and since the Dissolution I daresay closes have grown up around ex-abbeys. The early 1500s is a long time ago.
† Although I totally fancy a Vespa. http://www.uk.vespa.com/#/vespa/UK/uk/Model/Vespa-LX/Vespa-LX-125-3V ^ It’s probably a good thing they don’t come in pink.
^ I don’t really see the point of a 300cc Vespa. If you want a real engine, why don’t you buy a motorcycle and get it over with?
†† We are not discussing the transportation of hellhounds.
††† Of course there are loonies in places like London where it’s cough-cough feasible, who spend their Sundays sprinting from one tower to the next and knock off half a dozen before going home to the Sunday roast.
‡ All else being equal, which it never is, if I were doing her up to sell her, I could probably afford it. If I’m doing her up to keep her . . .
‡‡ Scary Man has this infuriating habit of shouting Listen to your bell! when I start going astray. If I could frelling hear my frelling bell I would be a much better ringer.
‡‡‡ The treble is first. It all begins with you. There are various arguments about who ‘really’ sets the pace or the rhythm. The stronger argument is that the tenor does for the simple reason that it’s the biggest bell and the rest of us have to make space. But the treble is still first—and totally exposed. Ugggggggh.
I am skronking a blog entry together here even later than usual, having been working on SHADOWS till a depraved hour, having also decided this afternoon that it was over time to do you my fabulous Second Nest photo essay . . . and always forgetting that photo blogs take JUST AS LONG as text blogs because of all the choosing and cropping and rechoosing and recropping and fussing and making lists and changing my mind. I fuss slowly. In this case complicated by the fact that I have extraordinary numbers of . . . ahem . . . not totally excellent photos to fuss over.
Now this is the first nest, and you see that it was not divinely situated for photo taking. I could see it fine–and I can tell you there are five baby robins in there–but since I didn’t want to shoot off the flash in their little fluffy faces I was a bit stymed on the photo front.
Now this is the second nest, beautifully open to sunlight and photography . . . except for the little fact that it’s over my head behind a wall of pots and paraphernalia and that I took this and all the following photos (and a great many more you are spared) standing in a highly precarious manner with my feet on two loose bits of timber propped up on bricks and holding the camera at full arm’s length pointing down to where I know the nest is, on the far side of the aforementioned wall, and my other hand frantically grasping anything it can, to keep me (relatively) steady for shutter-clicking. The things I go through for this blog.
By the way, to give you some idea of scale, the width of those upside-down pressed-compost pots leaning on the edge of the nest is two and a half inches. Baby robins are very small.
You may remember I discovered the presence of the nest when I dropped some of these pressed-compost pots on sitting mama robin’s head. I had to clear them away without being able to see what I was doing either, and these last few were inadvertently left behind. And then when the photos revealed their presence I was afraid to try to move them because I didn’t want to freak anybody out. Mum and dad remained dubious about me (despite all the mealworms) but the kids were so used to this ticking black rectangular thing swooping down at them from overhead every day (just about the time the mealworms arrived, in fact) that I could probably have decorated the nest with ribbons and pinwheels and they wouldn’t have batted an eye. Although I’m sure mum and dad would have disapproved.
They are all mouth at this age–with its beak open you feel like you can see the back of a baby robin’s skull, not just its throat–on these tiny wavery little necks.
Feed me, revisited. They’re even beginning to make some effort about feathers.
I think it’s only four. But there are always slightly more bulges than four robins decently need, and I never saw them live directly either–just the photos. Maybe the fifth one is shy. Note beaks still as big as their heads.
If you look carefully in the gap in the centre, you will see a tiny little red head, its eye clearly staring suspiciously at the photographer.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . .
I rang my first ordinary Sunday service at the abbey this afternoon. Chirpity chirpity, etc. And I did not humiliate myself.* Quadruple chirpity. Sextuple chirpity. Icosahedronic chirpity.
I didn’t tell you this last night because there’s a limit to how much gruesome suspense I’m willing to share. Gemma has kept on telling me that the abbey is always short at Sunday afternoon service, and that last week, for example, they almost didn’t ring at all because only four ringers turned up—apparently they have a status to maintain, and with eighty-seven bells refuse to countenance minimus**—and then Wild Robert, who I believe shows at the abbey most Sunday afternoons except when he’s in London practising for the national twenty-six-bell demolition derby, arrived in the nick of time***. Indeed Wild Robert told me a similar story about Sunday afternoon at the abbey a fortnight ago. And then after the reification of the overgoddess last week I was thinking, okay, McKinley, they didn’t need you but they let you ring, when are you going to start paying your way† by showing up for ordinary service ringing?
Dither dither dither dither dither. The other side of service ringing is that you don’t get to do it till you’re ready. Till you can, you know, ring. Which I’m not showing really rampant signs of being able to do at the abbey (yet). I’m clearly improving, if raggedly, but . . . but if they’re that short-handed we could ring frelling call changes.†† Dither. Dither.
So last night, Saturday night, at the last possible minute for Sunday, I wrote—emailed—Ulrich, saying that I felt I should wait till I was asked but Gemma keeps telling me the abbey needs ringers for Sunday afternoons and while I’m finding ringing at the abbey a steep learning curve if/when they think I might be more of an asset than a liability . . . I could maybe come along.
Then I spent the rest of the evening twitching wildly every time my email pinged.††† But by the time I went to bed last night at seriously mmph o’clock‡ Ulrich had not answered. He could have clutched his forehead and reeled away from his email with a cry of dismay . . . or he could have a life and been out doing pleasant things on Saturday night. But apparently my Sunday afternoon was to be free to keep on with SHADOWS.‡‡
I was staggering around, perhaps rather late, this morning, grappling with difficult issues like tea and underwear, and I had Astarte on the kitchen counter. And she pinged. I stared at her with a wild surmise. That email ping could have been any number of people. It could have been my homeopathic mailing list. It could have been someone wondering where I was and why I hadn’t answered their last (a lot of choice here). It could have been first contact with a sentient alien species.
It wasn’t. It was Ulrich. Please do come along, he said.
So I did.‡‡‡
And I wasn’t brilliant.§ But I was okay.§§
* * *
* This is me, right? I don’t say ‘I did well’ or even ‘I did pretty well’ or even ‘I didn’t do too badly’. I say ‘I did not humiliate myself.’ Siiiiigh. I wonder if I could ask for a positive attitude for my sixtieth birthday?^
^ I could ask.
** Four bells. Remember that method ringing is about jumbling up the order, but that a bell can only move one place each row. There’s not a lot you can do with only four bells. People have been known to ring full peals on four bells . . . but they’re madder even than the usual run of method ringers. At New Arcadia, however, if there are four ringers for Sunday service, they ring minimus.
*** Which is not to say that he hadn’t been to London. He had. In several locations. Wild Robert spends all day on a train on Sundays, punctuated by bursts of ringing. By the time he gets to the afternoon ring at the abbey the edge, I believe, is wearing off, and he’s almost ready for the new week, which contains things other than ringing.
† I’ve said all this before but I’ll say it again because it’s important. Bell ringing lives and dies on a huge amount of volunteer effort. A huge amount of volunteer effort. Being a paid-up member costs you about £7.50 a year and if you are a cheap s.o.b. your church will pay your sub for you. The rest is the hours that you and the other ringers put into it. All those millions of hours ringing teachers put into teaching people to ring—most of whom will drop out again before they become useful ringers—are all gratis. All those hours the bands around those learners put into ringing for the learners to bounce off of are all gratis.
But we need bells to ring. Bells are housed in churches^ and maintained by church admin.^^ And we pay for the enormous privilege of having bells to ring . . . by ringing services. Ordinary Sunday services, and anything else the priest or semi-sacred minion or congregation member asks for—reification of goddesses, weddings, funerals, births of grandchildren, first official contact with sentient alien species^^^, whatever. It’s what we’re for. And yes, there are lots of ringers who don’t honour this unwritten contract, but they are all slime moulds.
And personally, as someone who needs endless practise grinding to frelling LEARN anything, I get anxious about payback pretty quickly.
^ There are, I believe, a few Catholic churches with method bells, but the overwhelming majority of method ringing goes on in Anglican church towers. I think this is true world-wide as well as the UK, but then method ringing as it is done in the UK is a British invention and British art form, and it tends to show up only in (chiefly) English-speaking ex-colonies: USA, Australia, South Africa. The UK and particularly England however is the only place there are lots of bell ringing towers.
^^ With occasional help from ringer-driven Bell Funds, especially when major work needs to be done. Churches haven’t been wealthy since Henry VIII. Ha ha.
^^^ I’m looking forward to this one. Perhaps they’ll compose a new method, like they have for the Olympics+. Spock Royal. Aeryn Sun Surprise. Vorlon Vector Double Spliced.
+But don’t get me started.
†† I’m not looking forward to call changes at the abbey. The ringing chamber, as I keep moaning, is gigantic, and the sound-carrying is dire. As it is I’m just about guessing when there’s a sharp barking noise during a touch that it’s the conductor shouting ‘bob’ or ‘single’. Now all I have to do is figure out which. Call changes are dependent on the conductor calling EACH change. Which means you have to be able to hear them. But call changes mean that people who haven’t learnt any methods^ can still ring.
^ Or are too panic-stricken or intimidated to remember them
††† It does this kind of a lot. I belong to a distressingly lively homeopathic list.
‡ I have many wicked friends who want the worst for me, and introduce me to evil computer games. I’m also rereading CHARMED LIFE for the umpty-mumbleth time, but I’m trying to read it as slowly as possible, which leaves me easy prey to evil computer games. Aaaaaugh.
‡‡ Speaking of aaaaaaugh. AAAAAAAAAAUGH.
‡‡‡ Note that I wasn’t sacrificing a good gardening afternoon or anything. The gale didn’t merely knock all my rosebushes over, it drove water both under my front door and through the stable-door crack in the middle. I hope the baby robins are hugging the ground. The hellhounds and I, attempting to hurtle, remained earthbound chiefly because they hated the whole situation so much that they became little anvils at the ends of their leads.
§ Brilliance, with me and bells, is not an option.
§§ I was half grateful and half amused, watching Og figuring out how best to handle me. He called an easy touch of bob minor while I was ringing inside. I rang the tenor-behind for Stedman doubles—at a tower that isn’t the abbey I can ring Stedman. And we finished with rounds on the back six, which was kind of a hoot. The last four bells at the abbey are all seriously, INCREASINGLY huge. I’ve told you about ringing rounds on forty-six, where you pull off and then have to wait till it’s your turn again, because there are so many bells that have to go first. In a way the effect of waiting is more pronounced when you’re ringing only the back six because it is only six, but the pauses between the big bells are so marked. I was, of course, on the treble. Dong . . . dong . . . . . . . dong . . . . . . . . . DONG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DONG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DONG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DOOOOOOOOONG.
But it was also useful, this afternoon’s ring. I’m finding my feet at the abbey. I hope.
Peter found this in a drawer a few days ago. He wrote it yonks and yonks ago*, for a magazine, and neither of us (!) can remember (!!) seeing it in any less ephemeral form, so he said yes, I could have it for the blog, since he hasn’t written me a guest blog in, like, years. Even if you’ve read it before, you probably haven’t read it in yonks either, and I like it, and it’s my blog.
And I badly need a night off, so tonight’s the night (as they say). I’ll tell you tomorrow about ringing at my old tower.**
The Third Dormouse
Anna lived on a farm with her father and mother and three brothers. One day soldiers came. They said they were soldiers, but really they were just robbers. They drove all the farm animals away while Anna and her family hid in the desert beyond the fields.
When they had gone Anna’s family went back to the farm and worked in the fields, which were full of melons and corn.
“At least you can’t drive melons and corn away,” said Anna’s father.
The melons grew and the corn grew and they harvested them and brought their crops into the barns for the winter. While they were harvesting the corn Anna found a dormouse with a hurt leg.
“Can I keep it until its leg’s well?” she asked.
“Perhaps,” said her mother, not thinking.
“Will it go to sleep for the winter?” said Anna.
“Perhaps,” said her mother, not thinking.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” said Anna.
“Perhaps,” said her mother, still not thinking.
So Anna took it home and called it Perhaps. When it started to get sleepy she made it a nest in a pocket of her knapsack, which her mother had told her to keep packed with anything she wanted in case the soldiers came again.
They did. They were different ones, but still just robbers. This time they took all the stores they could carry and burnt the rest. They burnt the barns and the house too. Hiding in the desert Anna and her family watched the flames.
That night they slept in a cave. In the middle of the night Anna had an odd sort of dream. It was just a voice saying in her head “Go to your Grandad’s.”
When they woke up next morning Anna’s mother said “I heard a voice in the night, telling us to go to Grandad’s.”
“So did I,” said all the others.
“It must be Him up There telling us,” said her mother.
“It will be a dangerous journey,” said her father, “because of the soldiers.”
But Him up There had told them, so they set out, carrying their knapsacks. The soldiers were everywhere, fighting each other and burning and stealing and murdering, but they didn’t seem to notice Anna’s family trudging quietly along. It was very strange.
At last they came to the valley where Grandad lived. The soldiers didn’t seem to have noticed him either. He was busy building a big boat.
“Ah, you’ve come,” mumbled Grandad with his mouth full of nails. “High time too. The others will be here any moment.”
“What’s going on?” said Anna’s father.
Grandad took the nails out of his mouth.
“It’s Him up There,” he said. “He’s sick of all this murdering and robbery and stuff, so he wants to wash the whole lot out and start over. But we’ve never gone in for any of that in our family, so he’s letting us stay on and help him. That’s what the boat’s for. The grown-ups can give me a hand with that, and the kids will have to look after the animals. Grandma will tell you what to do, kids.”
“Can I look after the dormice?” said Anna.
“It’ll be more than just dormice,” said Grandma.
Next day Anna’s two uncles and her two aunts and her nine cousins arrived, and the day after that the animals started streaming in. Tigers and bats and mongeese and lizards and wombats and rattle-snakes and tree-frogs and sheep and moles and porcupines and warthogs and . . .
Anyway there was a list, and Grandma checked them off as they came. Two of everything.
Yes, two dormice. They were very yawny and cross because they’d been woken out of their winter sleep.
“What would happen if there were three of something?” said Anna. “I mean, if you took an extra warthog aboard because you were sorry for it?”
“Him up There wouldn’t like it,” said Grandma. “He was very definite. Two of everything he said. One male, one female. No more, no less.”
“But what would he do?” said Anna.
“Strike us with lightning, I shouldn’t wonder,” said Grandma. “Or plague. Or send a sea-beast to gobble us up. You can’t tell with Him up There. Mysterious ways are what he moves in, and no mistake. Anyway, you’re doing the rodentia, so you’ll be too busy to ask any more questions.”
And that was true. The rodentia were the agoutis and the bamboo rats and the bandicoot rats and the beavers and the birch mice and the cane rats and the capybaras and the cavies and the chinchillas and the chipmunks . . . all the way through to the viscachas and the voles and the white-footed mice and the wood rats.
And, yes, the dormice. They weren’t any trouble. They curled up in opposite corners of their cage and went straight back to sleep. Anna couldn’t tell which was the male and which was the female, so she called them Possibly and Maybe. She didn’t tell anyone about Perhaps, in case they made her leave it behind. It was still asleep in the pocket of her knapsack, so she just hoped it didn’t count.
The sky darkened, thunder rolled round the hills, Grandpa banged the last nail in and everyone went aboard. Grandma stood by the gangplank and checked the animals off as they passed. The only one she missed was Perhaps, asleep in Anna’s knapsack.
TO BE CONTINUED***
* * *
* On a typewriter. Remember typescript? Which is bumpy under your fingers, and the ‘d’ or the ‘a’ or something is a slightly crooked, and the quote marks are straight up and down and there’s only caps and underlining, no bold and no italic? And you make corrections by painting over them, or by cutting and pasting pieces of actual paper? Nostalgia.
** Nobody died.
***I know. Famous last words. But this story exists.