So my pale blue and white floral cotton jeans are in the washing machine. Today I’m wearing a pair of pale khaki light cotton jeans. Why do clothing manufacturers seem to think that small children stop being sticky and dogs stop having muddy feet and we all stop being clumsy just because it’s SUMMER? Pastels are overrated. At least below the waist. I even used a proper mop on the kitchen floor this morning before I let the menagerie out on the theory that at least I won’t get dirty knees from kneeling on it. Until everybody has gone out into the courtyard and tramped what they find there indoors again which is why kneeling on my kitchen floor generally produces dirty knees. I was playing our standard morning maniacal tug of war with the hellterror* AND DISCOVERED A SPOT OF BLOOD ON MY PALE KHAKI LEG. . . . And could find no trace of bloodshed on either the hellterror** or me. So clearly it was just a random drop of blood coalescing out of nothingness by the irresistible attraction of a pair of clean pale khaki trousers. Sigh. Washing machine and spot remover.
Then while I was chopping veg for the hellterror’s breakfast*** I was gazing out the window while the hellterror in question twined around my ankles like a cat, hoping for dropsies. And lo and behold there was daddy robin and two fledglings variously perched on the suet feeder. Daddy robin can just stretch his neck through the squirrel-discouraging wiring to reach the fat-with-dead-bugs slab, yum—I think I’ve told you before that the wire cage is supposed to let small birds through but my resident robin is about half the size of a hellterror. Of course by the time I got the hellterror fed—once you are clearly getting a hellterror meal you had better not stop till this task is completed†—and could fetch my camera the robins had left the feeder and were sprinting about the garden, but I’m glad to see that there was some baby-robin action here this year, and the way they were behaving I suspect the nest is tucked into my jungle somewhere. The parents scorned my greenhouse after all the excitement last year with the wall falling down and the weeks of strange men and barrowfuls of mortar. Enough to put any reproductively-minded robin off I’m sure. Maybe next year. I have a bit of greenhouse shelf permanently sacrificed to the possibility of a bird’s nest.
But the truly tragic photo op miss was a couple of days ago at the mews. Wolfgang and I drove in to discover Peter’s next door neighbours staring fixedly at the brick wall the mews, and Peter’s cottage as number one, is built against and out of, and which is covered in roses. Wolves? I inquired hopefully. No, no, they said, a song thrush is shepherding her just-fledged babies on an excursion.
Sure enough there were three little floppy-fluttery things and mum having a shrieking meltdown. And as I stopped to watch, one of them took waveringly to the air, zigzagged vaguely for a second or two, decided that I had a safe, tree-like look about me . . . and landed on my butt. A baby bird weighs zilch but I felt its wings, and I could feel the faint scrabbling as it got at least one foot in my hip pocket.†† Mum was having a total heart attack in the shrubbery and the neighbours were going off in conniptions. Har de har har. The fledgling got its breath back and decided a spot of mountaineering was in order and started clambering up my back. I bent over because I’m a very nice, cooperative tree. It was a hot day and I was wearing a very thin cotton tee shirt and the tiny claws prickle. Peter heard the commotion and opened the door, Fledgling A launched a dive off my back . . . and Fledgling B, not to be outdone, took to the air in its turn and flew through Peter’s door.
Whereupon we had shrieking mum in the shrubbery and shrieking baby frantically boomeranging around the front hall and trying to cram itself into nonexistent cracks in the stairs. You know how you’re always afraid of hurting them?††† So it took me several tries to get hold of it in a way I thought wouldn’t damage the little idiot—and I remember Penelope, who was a bird ringer in her day, saying that if you get them gently but firmly around the body with their wings trapped and just their heads sticking out, they’ll quiet down. WHY? But this one did just that—teeny heart going so fast it was nearly a buzz—and I’m muttering, Don’t die of shock! Don’t die of shock!, and I put it carefully down on the top of the water butt, which is quite a substantial space if you’re not much bigger than a bumblebee, and mum yelled at it to stop messing about and come home, and it did. The third fledgling had spent all this time staying obediently put in the shrubbery and it’s not going to have any stories to tell its grandchildren.
However nobody whipped out their smartphone and took a picture. But I can at least tell you about it.
* * *
* Speaking of photo ops. I should figure out a miner’s-helmet camera deal so as to get a close-up shot of bull terrier playing tug of war, with the little pointed ears flat back in intensity, the little forehead furrowed in concentration, the little evil eyes gleaming and the jaws of death clamped for glory around the Yellow Rubber Thing. It is an awesome sight.
** Who was of course happy to be rolled around for examination. All rolling and rubbing is good to a hellterror.
*** She gets veg in her meals because it means more food. If I was just giving her wet food and kibble there would be less food. More food is always good, like rolling and rubbing is always good. Rules of life if you’re a hellterror are blissfully simple.
† Hellhounds of course would be saying, mount an expedition to the Antarctic before we get fed? Great. Don’t hurry back.
†† Usefully pre-flattened by hellterror hind feet.
††† I’ve told you about trying to catch an escaped lamb, haven’t I? This was out in the wilderness with no obvious farmer to apply to. I tied the hellhounds up at one end of the fence and started driving it toward them, assuming that it would not want to go that way and I could get hold of it. I did get hold of it—mum on the other side of the fence having an ovine heart attack, which seems to be the fate of mums—but lamb skin is vastly bigger than the lamb, like puppy skin, I was afraid of hurting it . . . and it got away. I did find a farmer to tell however.
Yesterday was a veeeeeeeery bad ME day and while I did go bell ringing at Crabbiton in the evening it was chiefly because the tower captain is a trifle fierce and has extracted promises out of her regulars, including recent vague wandering semi-alive, semi-conscious and semi-skilled dorks like myself, to let her know if we’re not coming. If I’ve genuinely got something legitimate on, that’s fine, I know it and I can say so. But on stupid bad-energy days I keep hoping I’ll start to improve any minute* and then the minutes trickle past and trickle past and on a bad day I’m not too plugged in to the whole time thing either and then suddenly it’s HALF AN HOUR TILL BELL PRACTISE AND I DIDN’T TELL FELICITY I’M NOT COMING SO I HAVE TO HURTLE A FEW HELLCRITTERS AROUND THE BLOCK FOR A PEE AND THEN PELT OFF TO PRACTISE.
Today has been better, but hellcritters might be permitted to feel a trifle aggrieved at their summary and abbreviated hurtling yesterday. Peter wants to go to the farmers’ market on Fridays, so I bring the hellhounds and we have a nice nonstandard hurtle while Peter buys stuff. That was them. They were happy to come home and flop. I then contemplated the hellterror (who was in my lap at the time) and decided she should have an adventure, so I took her out to one of the countryside walks none of us goes on any more because of the Other People’s Dogs problem. Pav is very nearly the perfect companion for such an excursion—not quite perfect, there is no perfect when the world is full of idiots and their dogs—because she’s a bull terrier the average moron shudders away from her and makes a more concerted grab for his/her manic off-lead danger to society than he/she would for a mere pair of lurchers/longdogs/large whippety things. No one is afraid of a mild-mannered sighthound. Anyway. If the OHMIGOD IT’S A PIT BULL** WE’RE GOING TO DIIIIIIIIE thing doesn’t work, I can pick her up. We had several occasions of each this afternoon.
We managed to have a good time anyway. But here’s the amazing thing: I wore her out. I WORE OUT a hellterror. By the time we got back to Wolfgang she was throwing herself belly-down into the long grass by the side of the track and trying to convince me to carry her the last stretch. No. You can walk. You know there’s foooooooood waiting back at the car—she always gets a little handful of kibbly treats to convince her that climbing into her travelling crate is a good thing—oh, right, fooooooood, she said, and deigned to totter the rest of the way after me.
It took her all of lunch and a half hour’s nap to recuperate. . . .
* * *
* This is not quite as daft and irresponsible as it sounds. As often as I not I start coming out of an ME haze with a surprisingly graphic sense of my energy running back in, like pouring water into a pitcher. Sometimes it’s more like fog lifting. Sometimes it happens faster and sometimes slower and sometimes it’s like WHAM and sometimes it’s pretty subtle—it might occur to me that I could stop playing Triple Town^ and concentrate on something for example.
^ I CANNOT FRELLING BELIEVE I’VE GOT RE-ADDICTED. The beastly [sic] game is so last year. Or last two or three years, I mean, ago, I think. But I was trying to wean myself OFF all the unblessed word games I was playing too much of+. And I turned the frelling ninja bears off and suddenly, whammo, I’m frelling playing frelling Triple Town again.++
+ Especially the ones with the really dark background colours so you can get eyestrain while you waste your time? What a great system.#
# Apparently it never occurred to the designers that old people might want to play their finglegartmore games.
++ And doing a lot better for some reason. It’s not just lack of ninja bears. Maybe it’s the boomerang result of Wild Robert trying to teach me to call real touches of Grandsire doubles. I can call the cheating touch, where you just call yourself in and out of the hunt every other lead, and all you have to keep track of is how many calls you’ve made so you yell THAT’S ALL at the right moment.# Wild Robert, who is a fiend in human disguise##, wants me to learn to keep track of all the bells and where they are in the pattern so I’m calling from awareness rather than a memorised pattern. I get this###—it’s the difference between real conductors and people who have memorised a few patterns—but that doesn’t mean I can do it. Triple Town is just a frelling computer game. Arrrgh.
# Which I never do. I usually manage to count my calls accurately but then it’s like, Here? Here? Do I call an end here? —No, you call half a lead ago and now we’re ringing an unscheduled plain course while you feel foolish. CALL NOW BEFORE WE RING FORTY-SEVEN MORE PLAIN COURSES WHILE YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT IT. Sigh. I was not snorfleblasting made to be a conductor.
## And I’m sure he keeps his good humour about teaching an endless array of hopeless dorks by setting those of us with victim mentalities impossible challenges because we’re fun to watch.
### I was thinking last night—blearily—that this conducting nightmare is not totally unlike learning the Samaritan mindset—what the trainers call ‘your Samaritan head’. You can grasp in principle all kinds of things about offering emotional support, no more and no less, and the minute you’re dropped in a role-play to practise what you’ve just so-called learnt, your frelling mind goes frelling blank. WHAT DO I SAY NOW. I am going to be very glad to get my first genuine duty shift over with . . . so it is over with and I can stop frelling obsessing about it.~ The thing about conducting a touch of change ringing is that the worst that happens is a really bad noise that the neighbours may complain of and you decide to stay home henceforth and do more knitting, which is quieter and involves fewer rope burns~~. With the Samaritans . . . you may actually hurt someone’s feelings. Eh. Well, no one was holding a gun to my head when I went along to the info evening, and then along to the flushing out the secret Klu Klux Klan members first-cut evening, and then the interview and now the training. . . . And it’s fascinating. It’s not cheerful—if everyone were cheerful we wouldn’t need Samaritans—but it is fascinating, and clearly worthwhile, and I’ve always been a (cranky) wet knee-jerk liberal and I’m now a (cranky) Christian wet knee-jerk liberal and although the Samaritans is comprehensively and categorically not a religious organization, still, God told me to do it so I can shut up and get on with it. Yes sir/madam.
~ Which the trainers say is dead common and not to worry about it. Try not to obsess, but don’t worry about . . . obsessing.
~~ It is very hard to give yourself a rope burn, bell ringing. Just by the way.
** Bull terriers are not pit bulls. Also just by the way.
It rained in torrents the last two days* and then today, when it was supposed to rain in more torrents, it cleared off and was gorgeous—and everything green** and rooty that had sucked up lake-sized draughts promptly shot up another couple of feet. Atlas mowed Third House’s lawn last Monday and I swear it’s chest-high again. But I really have to take some new photos because the ones from a fortnight ago that I still haven’t got round to posting are like last century. Meanwhile I seem to have got a little distracted by footnotes again.***
* * *
* . . . well I think it was approximately two days. Between being brain-destroyingly short of sleep and going to bed after dawn, the days kind of smush together.
** Not necessarily green green. If you’re a copper beech you’re deep maroon.^ If you’re a black-leaved dahlia you’re, um, black. Or anyway a very dark green.
^ Love copper beeches. LOVE.
The hellhounds had had a good hurtle around Mauncester Friday morning so I took the hellterror with me to Warm Upford in the afternoon to top up Wolfgang’s fuel tank since it’s a frelling Bank Holiday weekend frelling frelling again FRELLING NO VOICE LESSON TOMORROW FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING. About two miles beyond Warm Upford on the road to Prinkle-on-Weald there’s a huge old estate that’s been mostly turned into a conference centre or similar. They’ve left the landscape alone, bless them, and various outbuildings and the astonishing old stable block, which is a kind of miniature palace, are still there pursuing new careers. When we lived at Warm Upford we used to hurtle the previous generation out there pretty often, and back in my running days my two main loops—one five miles, one seven—began there. Before I lost my nerve and Darkness his temper about off lead dogs I used to take the hellhounds out there occasionally, but I can’t now remember the last time we hurtled there.
Part of the landscape that the conference centre has left alone is the old avenue to the Big House . . . lined with copper beeches. There are a lot of copper beeches around here, including the one that hangs over Third House’s garden from the churchyard+, but this is the only proper avenue of them that I can think of. It is dazzling in its splendour—especially this time of year and especially-especially in a good rain year because beeches are shallow rooted—at least it is if you are crazy about copper beeches. Friday I parked under the tree I used to park under to go running, about halfway down the avenue, and it was like MY OLD FRIENDS! HOW YA DOING??
Also, the hellterror was beside herself with delight. I swear there were about eight hellterrors, all of them HURTLING. Do all short dogs have pogo-stick legs? BOING. BOING. BOING. She met her first horse—up close, I mean, being ridden past, not at a distance in a field++. And she did not bark. I was very proud.+++
+ Mine mine MINE. Never mind where the roots are. MINE.
++ She also met her first horse crap. Horse crap = dog chocolate. Ewwww. Sigh.
+++ Today every nincompoop with a dog was out with it. Bank Holiday Sunday the end of May in glorious weather—hopeless. But us rain-or-shine regulars are grimly out there too. The hellterror and I were attempting to walk past a bench upon which were two women with dogs and one dog-free bloke. The dogs were large. The women were medium. The bloke was small. The dogs had that superior look that often goes with largeness, to which the hellterror took exception. Well I’m kind of with her there. Walking past quietly on a loose lead was out of the question, but we could at least walk past in a series of short controlled hops with a minimum of sotto voce comments about the heritage and personal habits of the unnecessarily large dogs. I was bent over with some fingers hooked through her harness the better to continue the conversation—she does listen, the little evil eye rolls back toward me with that but-they’re-LARGE-and-SMUG-you-can’t-expect-me-to-IGNORE-them look—but she has a somewhat non-existent attention span# so I have to keep reminding her that she did agree to be polite. And the bloke says, you training him?
In the first place HER HARNESS IS PINK. I’m aware of the cultural dorkiness that says that all dogs are he like all cats are she. And, okay, never mind the vagina and the prominent nipples. HER HARNESS IS PINK. In the second place WHAT DO YOU THINK, POTATO FACE? I usually walk all bent over with my hand hooked through my short-legged dog’s harness murmuring sweet nothings in her pointed ears for the entertainment of the teeming Bank Holiday hordes.
# I have to tell you again however our late-night training sessions are a hoot. There are now several things she does pretty well but our default is that she sits and gives me a paw. Whenever we start getting tangled up in some dumb thing I’ve failed to explain successfully in hellterror language, we revert to sitting and offering a paw. Because these sessions involve fooooood the lack of attention span disappears under an avalanche of greed, and she has a full-body offering of paw(s) I find hilarious. What I really want to video however are my attempts to teach her to roll over. She is, of course, a total ham—I think this is in the bullie gene map—and if I’m laughing, as far as she’s concerned, she’s doing it right. Especially if she gets chicken/cheese/apple for it. But I haven’t got enough hands to run a video camera too.~
~ Especially since I think I may have broken a finger. I can’t even remember what I was diving for, last night, in my clumsy, sleep-deprived state, but my hand slammed into a chair instead and there was this tiny nasty snapping noise. Oops. I took about half a bottle of arnica and I can still type—this is not coming to you via voice-recognition software, no—but the finger has turned kind of a funny colour= and it’s (yelp) rather sore and I don’t think I want to hold even a small video recording device in that hand. If it gets no worse I’ll just let it sort itself out but there may be a hiatus in bell ringing. How long does it take a small finger bone that is probably cracked, not broken, to heal?
= Rather copper beech coloured, in fact.
*** I keep telling you I need sleep. I. NEED. SLEEP. Sigh . . .
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.
Hellhounds and I took a turn by Soggy Bottom today to see how it’s, um, flowing . . . and the personhole covers over the storm drains have been shoved off by the pressure of the water driving up through the inadequate apertures. It’s almost as good as a play, or it would be if we didn’t live here: the little round-headed jets of water boiling up through the holes, and this great wave sluicing out through the gap where the personhole cover has lost its place. Three of these rush together with the naked overflow from the ditch and, well, hurtle down Soggy Bottom toward the raging torrent that used to be a ford over a quiet little Hampshire stream that the locals call a river. If I’d been in wellies rather than All Stars* I might have been tempted to leave hellhounds dry-footed in Wolfgang and slosh down in that direction and see how far I could get. The lake by the Gormless Pettifogger is deep enough that the person approaching as Wolfgang and I paddlewheeled through stopped, apparently aghast, at his shoreline . . . and turned around. Oh, come on, it’s not like you’re driving a Ferrari with zero-point-four inches clearance.**
It rained today. Of course. It’s Tuesday. It rained yesterday. Of course. It was Monday.*** It’s going to rain tomorrow. Of course. It’s Wednesday.
HAVE I MENTIONED RECENTLY HOW TIRED I AM OF RAIN?
* * *
* Well I wouldn’t be in wellies rather than All Stars but I used to have a spare pair of (ordinary black^) wellies that lived in the, ahem, boot. It occurs to me to wonder what I’ve done with them. Maybe I’ve just forgotten giving them to the itinerant mage in exchange for . . . for . . . well, I certainly didn’t trade them for a rain stopping charm.
^ From the days when you could only get black or child-of-the-earth green wellies
** I saw an SUV—the kind you need a stepladder to get into—turn around at the edge of a large puddle some time recently. I laughed so much I nearly ran off the road.^
^ She’d probably heard the rumours that giant squid from the centre of the earth were using southern England’s floods to lurk in wait for their favourite snack, SUVs. No, no! Relax! It’s a ridiculous rumour put about by people who don’t have anything better to do than retweet silly urban myt—SLURP.
*** Monday had even less to recommend it than the rain. I got to Nadia’s and discovered she wasn’t teaching this week either. ::Sobs:: I wrote it down wrong in my diary; I knew she wasn’t teaching last Monday, but this Monday I thought if I didn’t hear it meant she was, when it was if I didn’t hear she wasn’t.
Fortunately I had hellhounds with me so throwing myself off a cliff^ wasn’t a good plan because neither of them can drive Wolfgang to get themselves home.^^ So we went to the farm supply shop and bought compost and fertilizer^^^. I was wearing singing-lesson-day clothes, not going-to-the-farm-store-in-the-rain-day clothes#. I considered asking one of the stalwart young men to heave the nasty bags around for me but while, generally speaking, I’ve got over the extreme feminism of my youth when asking a bloke for help was SELF BETRAYAL##, I still occasionally get all tough/stupid virago with bare-able teeth and (metaphorically) bulging muscles. I slung the frelling bags myself. And while I managed to keep my cute little cropped cardi safe, my jeans were goners.
And then I destroyed another pair of jeans today, getting the blasted bags up the stairs### to the greenhouse ARRRRRRRGH. This shouldn’t happen at home. I have a lovely pair of gardener’s chaps, which snap over your belt and around your legs and heroically repel mud (and thorns). But in one of the monsoons of the last few months, when the rain was not only coming in sideways but from a funny direction, EVERYTHING IN THE GREENHOUSE GOT SOAKED. Which I didn’t realise till later. I’m still unearthing little quagmires in corners arrrrrrgh. The chaps are still drying out. I think they’re resuscitate-able. Please. I have no idea where I bought them and google is not forthcoming.
^ Which are in short supply in most of south-central England. At the old house when circumstances conspired I used to threaten to drown myself in the pond, of which we had two, and both Peter and Third House have ponds here. But somehow drama-queen drowning doesn’t hold the appeal it does when not drowning is a daily goal and preoccupation.+
+ Dentist from R’lyeh has been driven out of his large glamorous multi-storey office by floodwater. I’m not laughing ::mrmph:: really I’m not ::MRRRMMFFFF:: Being from R’lyeh and all you’d think he’d be fine with a spot of drowning, wouldn’t you?
^^ They like the central heating+ and the soft bed out of the rain. THE FOOD DOESN’T INTEREST THEM AT ALL.
+ Or the Aga
^^^ Which is to say cow crap. Organic cow crap. I prefer it to chicken—which is the other common commercially-available one+—because it smells less. I admit I don’t know how the plants feel about it. They’d probably say they were missing an essential element without the pong. Like dogs adore tripe. TOO BAD. I don’t know how long I can go on with Pav’s dried pigs’ ears either. She doesn’t eat them fast enough.
+ When I had a horse we made our own critter-crap fertilizer and it was lovely.
# I have enough trouble fighting with my wardrobe every morning. I get dressed once. I do not change for anything less than serious festivities that include Taittinger’s or the Widow, and not merely Prosecco.
## I don’t entirely fault my young self for this attitude. Back in the early 1800s or whenever it was I was young, blokes offering, or responding to requests for help tended to do it with a gloss of patronage.+ Men have died for less. I would know.
+ Not that this doesn’t happen now. But either it happens less, or I hang out with a better class of bloke than I used to.
### The only young man who lives on my cul de sac is slenderer and more willowy than I am and so far as I can tell he doesn’t do the adrenaline-rage thing that enables slender willowy people to do things they can’t. I wouldn’t be so unkind as to ask him to help me with large muddy bags of compost and other even less salubrious substances.