Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous day when I picked up that slightly-known-by-me, undeniably mad but equally undeniably fabulously talented British writer Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine airport, for a weekend of playing tour guide to someone who’d never been to Maine before. I was usually pretty good at this, and Maine is very show-off-able, nearly all year long,* but Peter was a somewhat daunting prospect. In the first place he was PETER! DICKINSON! and in the second place . . . I knew Peter well enough—anyone who ever met him for thirty seconds knew him this well—to know that he would need to be kept amused. Long afternoons relaxing in a lawn chair getting through the home-made iced tea and chocolate-chip cookies was not going to appeal.* Mind you, he was totally capable of amusing himself, but this could also be disconcerting. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that when I presented him with lunch that first day, he looked at the two or three kinds of bread, bowl of fruit, salad, and assorted cheeses, spreads and nut butters, with total dread and dismay and said, That’s not lunch! Where are the shops? I’ll go buy something. *** But have I told you—and forgive me if I have—the first words out of his mouth when he came through my front door for the first time, and I had opened my tiny hall closet† to hang up his coat, he peered into it and said, would you like me to build you a shelf? And I could do better than those coat hooks.
That was twenty-five years ago today.
Today was his interment.
I can’t remember how much of this I’ve told you already, and if I look back at this year’s blog posts it’ll just make me cry. I’ve cried enough today. You will remember that he died just before Christmas, and the memorial service was early January. Those of the family likely to want to be there for the interment agreed that there was no hurry, that waiting for better weather was a good idea. I’d originally wanted it in April, when spring is clearly here and the bluebells are out, but I couldn’t find a date that enough of us could come—‘us’ being chiefly Peter’s four kids and his retired-dean-of-Salisbury brother, who would also do the saying-a-few-words thing—and then I kind of lost heart. As I’ve told you both morale and energy have been in short supply since the middle of last December. May was passing and people were away in June and . . . I suddenly thought of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We used to celebrate both the 26th of July and the 3rd of January, which was our wedding day, but I think if anything we took the 26th of July more seriously because it was so utterly improbable that what happened did happen, and I’ve been living in England twenty-five years the end of this October and answer (sometimes) to ‘Mrs Dickinson’. I blinked a few times and thought yes. It’s going to be the 26th of July. And I hope people can come, but if they can’t, the interment is still going to be the 26th of July. I’m the widow. I’m pulling rank.
As it turns out it was a good date for nearly everybody. Butterfly-netting the local vicar was a little more demanding because of the way vicars work twenty-six hours a day and rarely answer phone calls. I finally had the critical meeting with the gravedigger yesterday, but at least it happened, and there was a suitable small square hole for a little box of ashes waiting for us today at noon.††
I’ve been obsessing about today increasingly for about the last fortnight and yesterday afternoon decided that I was going to make myself even more entirely crazy and go to early Mass this morning because I needed that sense of the presence of God that the abbey chapel gives me either like a warm eiderdown or a heavy blow to the head, I’ve never quite decided which.††† What a gift somewhere that offers daily Mass is: you have an inconveniently timed crisis? It’s okay. Go to Mass. It’s the spiritual version of kissing and making it better: it doesn’t really, but it does too, somehow. And there’s that wonderful sense of leaning on someone, or Someone, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. Your own griefs and responsibilities don’t go away, but you do get to lean.‡
I’d also decided that if I was going to wedge this in, and still get home in time to eat something‡‡ and hurtle the mob I was going to have to go in my party duds. Which today included sparkly bracelets to the elbows (nearly), a pink cashmere cardigan, the flowered Docs and the Liberty’s rhinestone belt I wore to the memorial service and my old black denim mini. Yes, I’m sixty-four‡‡‡, and I wore my forty-year-old denim mini. This occasional reversion to wild youth§ is getting more and more embarrassing, of course—it became officially embarrassing when I turned fifty which is now a long time ago—AND I DON’T CARE. Peter liked me in my minis§§, and it’s not like I do this often. And 400-denier black tights cover a multitude of the sins of age. But I am not thinking about what the group of little old conservatively dressed people at the abbey on retreat§§§ must have made of this vision in their midst, especially when it sat up front and cried like a river in spring flood through the entire service. Gah.#
So. Well. The little box was lowered into the little hole.## Our local vicar did us proud, entirely without prompting or input from me###, and had put together not only a thoughtful brief ceremony, but printed out programmes with a photostat of Peter’s CITY OF GOLD on the front. And Peter’s brother said a few words too which made me cry harder.~
We all retired to the Questing Beast for lunch~~ which put off the awful moment of coming home to . . . loneliness. With the interment it’s really, really all over, somehow. And I bunged the hellhounds~~~ into the back of Wolfgang and we went off to Warm Upford: I’m not sure if this was misty, romantic remembering or self-torture, but we walked from Montmorency’s Folly to the ridge behind the old house and through the meme field from Peter’s poem—and also, I didn’t think about this until we were already out of the car and hurtling, but we were recreating backwards most of the walk Peter took me on thirty years ago when I visited him and his first wife, which was the proximate cause of his visiting me in Maine five years later.
The hellhounds and I had a lovely walk. Late summer in the glorious Hampshire countryside.=
And then we came home again and I took the hellterror on a long hurtle== by the river, remembering that Peter had brought me through New Arcadia from Heathrow===, on our way to what was soon to be my home too, after our life-exploding weekend in Maine, when I came over for a week to see what I was getting into. . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. . . .
Maybe I should go to bed.
* * *
************************************ NOTE THAT THIS WOULD HAVE GONE UP OVER AN HOUR AGO IF MY SO CALLED COMPUTER HADN’T GONE INTO FREE FALL.
* Winter is usually fine, if you have four wheel drive and good nerves, but barring March, when everything that has been frozen for the last four or five months melts, and it is not a pretty sight. Or smell. And black fly season. Black fly season is . . . worse than whatever you’re thinking. Zombies and vampires are so overdone. One of these horror writers needs to do something with black flies. Stephen King even lives in Maine.^
^ Although he may have done black flies and I missed it. I’ve only read a few of his books—out of Maine-author solidarity, although I doubt he’s ever heard of me—because they ARE TOO SCARY. And gross. I don’t do gross either.+
+ SUNSHINE’s climax isn’t even close. The only reason it looks yucky is because most people come to it having read BEAUTY or SPINDLE or . . . pretty much anything else I’ve written.
** Aside from the fact that this was not going to appeal to me either. Nor did I have any lawn chairs. Nor any lawn. And my quarter-acre^ was overshadowed almost entirely by the magnificent old maple tree in the front yard and several house-high boulders in the back. And lilac hedges down either side.
^ Which is a TINY plot in Maine and a HUGE garden in southern England. Granted we had two acres at the old house, but here at the cottage my garden is about the size of a four-burner Aga, and the garden at the Lodge is about the size of my hall cupboard in Maine. See below. Or above, depending on how you’re coping with the footnotes.
*** I married him anyway.
† Well, it was a tiny front hall. Two of us standing in it was kind of a feet-and-elbow fest. Now add a cavorting whippet.
†† Yes of course I went round—with hellhounds—last night and checked. I walk through that churchyard two, four, six times a day anyway, because it’s the nearest pleasant bit of grass for the hellmob. We’ll be walking through the churchyard to visit Peter just like we used to . . . like we used to . . . no I’m still not cried out yet.
††† Both St Margaret’s and St Radegund’s, here in New Arcadia, where Peter is now buried, have the presence of God too, but God is, for me, especially vivid and almost tactile at the abbey chapel. I don’t feel thumped in either St Margaret’s or St Radegund’s.
‡ Someone who is better at prayer than I am can of course get the same effect at home. I do pray at home^ and I am aware of God listening, but it’s a lot easier at church, where the church-space supports your tiny personal prayer-space.
‡‡ I can’t face more than tea and apples when I first lurch out of bed in the morning. The next thing on the menu these days is a Green Drink. I will spare you the ghastly details. It’s Very Healthy, and it’s another of those things that as your taste buds change you actually want to drink. Which is kind of frightening. I AM NOT GWYNETH PALTROW. NOT.
‡‡‡ Some of you will remember I start calling myself the age I will turn in November the summer before, so by the time I get to my birthday I’m used to it.
§ Some of you will also remember the black leather mini at Forbidden Planet a few years ago.
§§ Yes, his vision had been deteriorating for a while. And your point would be?
§§§ I say ‘little old’ but they’re probably frelling my age, they’re just doing it with more dignity. Dignity is overrated. And I brought my little cropped black leather jacket^ to drape over my knees. I am not lost to all propriety. Just most of it.
^ Which is about the same vintage as the skirt. Ah, those were the days. I’m so glad they’re over.
# Some of this was sheer relief and gratitude that I got there. On the way, arriving at the turn-off from the main road AND THE ROAD WAS CLOSED. NOOOOOOOOOOO. I NEED TO GET TO MASS AT THE ABBEY! I TOTALLY NEED TO! Fortunately Wolfgang reminded me that we know another way^. We weren’t even late, although we may have been slightly out of breath.
^ There were a few ‘diversion’ signs but they were mostly invisible in the hedgerows, badly placed behind other signs or missing at crucial intersections. More mild entertainment than, you know, directions for an alternate route.
## And had all that deluge earlier cried me out or anything? OF COURSE NOT. I am pleased to say however, that one other of our company at the interment, whom I will not embarrass by naming, is also a weeper, so at least I didn’t have to do the whole soggy thing alone.
### Our local vicar is a sweetie. I feel a bit guilty for belonging to another church five miles away—which is a confounded nuisance on bad-ME days as well—but this is a political decision, and nothing against the vicar here.
~ These began: ‘Here we return these ashes to the quiet earth from which they came. They were formed of star dust and spun for a few short days into a life that dreamed and sang, that loved and wept, and died. . . .’ They’re all writers in this family.
~~ Where there was almost nothing I could eat, of course, but that’s why I needed to eat some of my Funny Food beforehand. And they did have green tea and lettuce.
~~~ Thank you, God, for the hellmob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
= Full of excellent smells, the hellhounds wish me to point out.
== I anticipate being decaying vegetable matter^ tomorrow. Never mind.
^ Oh, the wormery? Seems to be working fine. I guess. Still rather enigmatic. But it does add that touch of pink to my kitchen décor. One thing however: the bumf that comes with assures you that the worms can’t get out. Wrong. Not many+ and not often, but every two or three days I come downstairs to find a confused worm dawdling across the kitchen floor, or, more likely, under one of the dirt-catcher mats THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAN HA HA HA HA HA HA, which I am learning to check, while I’m waiting for my (green) tea to steep. I think most people keep their wormeries in the garden or this interesting situation would be More Generally Known.
+ Unless they’re congregating under the washing machine, the refrigerator, or one of the hellmob crates, in which case I don’t want to know.
=== Where he had lost the car in the multi-storey car park . . .
I can’t get my head around the widow thing. I’m what? Peter’s what? No, no, no, it’s a bad dream. It’s a shit-sucking multi-tentacled toxic-spiked nightmare. At heart level I know he’s gone gone gone gongegonegonegone gone: it’s why I don’t seem to be inhabiting my body, I look at my hands on the keyboard or picking up the chopsticks to seize some broccoli* and think, what? What are you? Whose are you? I’m pelting down the pavement*** after the hellhounds and thinking, whose legs are these, that still work so well? If Peter can’t hurtle any more, why was I left behind?
Intellectually I’m still arguing about the gone gone gone. My body knows. I can hardly type because my fingers may still bend and strike but they’re crying too, and crying ruins your aim. I’ve broken three dishes in about ten days—one of them a favourite, and it’s out of print, whatever you call it for china, and I can’t replace it. I don’t break dishes. That’s Peter’s job.
Every day I get out of bed and am surprised that I can. And then wonder why I’m bothering. Well, I have to. I have to let the hellmob out.†
The truth is that Peter hasn’t hurtled in years. He still used to come with us sometimes on the shorter afternoon hurtles when the hellhounds were young and frelling inexhaustible†† but his long long tramps over (muddy†††) Hampshire countryside had stopped by the time we moved into town. Being walking distance of the shops, Peter said, was his idea of growing old gracefully. And he did keep walking to the shops, even if he got a little slower, and a little slower, and eventually he was walking with a stick. But he was still moving along. . . .
And then the first stroke, two years ago.
The last two years have been sodding bloody puking awful. Even though I can only afford to admit it now. Now that it’s all over.‡ I don’t know how common this is, but I’ve always been someone who when things are bad, helplessly bad, and the only thing to do is endure, I shut down, and get on with it as best I can. Admitting the unbearable is unbearable does not help. So I don’t. Didn’t. I joined the Street Pastors and the Samaritans partly because God told me to‡‡ but partly because I could do fuck-all for Peter, and maybe I could have a dab at slapping a plaster on someone else’s mortal wounds.
And? I pretty well haven’t written a publishable word since Peter’s first stroke. It took a few months to catch up with me—that I essentially wasn’t coping—but the proof is pretty stark. And I’d better start writing soon or retrain as a grocery store shelf re-stocker.
Life sucks and then you die. Or your beloved husband does, after being yanked around by fate and the devil for a couple of years.
I have various friends keeping a sharp eye on me. I rang frelling handbells this afternoon because doubly-frelling Niall is triply-frelling relentless.‡‡‡ Half a dozen of my St Margaret’s friends came to the memorial service and mobbed me after the talking part and before the champagne to discuss how and when I was going to start coming to church again, since I haven’t for . . . about four months. Since the 7th of September. I want to start coming, I said, but I can’t face all those people asking me how I am. We’ll come fetch you! they said, more or less in chorus. And we won’t leave your side for a moment! So there was discussion of tactical defence manoeuvres . . . and one of them, whom we will call Rosamund§, is going to drive to New Arcadia and pick me up, and about four of the others are going to GUARD THE BACK ROW against our arrival. I’m going to bring my knitting!§§ I may not do anything but crouch in the back, cry, and knit! I said. That’s fine, they all chorused—including Buck, whose sermon I will be knitting through.
Whatever. Okay. I guess. Sigh. And you all are probably going to tell me I still have to finish PEGASUS.
I’ve got permission to hang the other memorial pieces, by the way, which will follow in due course. And the six minute limit? Thanks for all your protests on my behalf, but we were trying to cram a lot in in an hour. It was actually a pretty spectacular show. Peter would have loved it . . .
So, I’m crying again.
* * *
* Yes I am eating.^
^ And broccoli is my fifth food group, with black tea, champagne, chocolate and apples.
** It’s kind of funny that knitting is soothing when it seems to be being performed by someone else’s hands, but I’ll take what I can get in terms of soothingness.
*** The wettest December on record is morphing seamlessly into the wettest January. I’ve got standing water in my little garden^, which is on the top of a hill and less than a spade-blade length down is full of builders’ rubble which ought to be good drainage, for pity’s sake, even it’s a little short on plant nutrients. Hannah is coming over next week bringing, she told me, her hiking boots, and I’m wondering if I should tell her not to waste the space: out in the countryside it’s scuba gear^^ or nothing.^^^ We can splash down assorted quaint medieval cobblestone streets in Mauncester. Supposing the road between here and there doesn’t flood out. I seem to have mislaid Wolfgang’s water wings.^^^^
^ This severely displeases the hellmob.
^^ No, a bathysphere. With a strong headlamp.
^^^ If I told her not to bring them the sun would instantly nova and turn us into a desert. I guess she’d better bring them.
^^^^ The hellterror may have eaten them.
† Into the paddling pool
†† Okay, so at least I haven’t been trying to quench two young inflammable hellhounds every day these last four months, and the hellterror, given about four foot in all seven directions^ can hucklebutt herself into a state of pleasant nap-taking collapse. Am I supposed to be GRATEFUL?
^ Up, down, back, forth, in, out and AAAAAUGH
††† All right it hasn’t always been muddy, the last not-quite-quarter-century^ but right at the moment it feels like it has.
^ Our anniversary was 3 January+ but we also celebrated 26 July, which was the beginning of that weekend in Maine
+ Tolkien’s birthday. Yes. I’ve told that story somewhere on this blog.
‡ He wanted to go. He absolutely, totally wanted to go. But I wasn’t ready to let him go. He won.
‡‡ I’m not going to argue about this. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God^ is going to have no clue why the unsainted hell your faith is a comfort to you in bad times, when God could flapdoodling well sort it, whatever it is, if he/she/it/they blinkety-blankety well wanted to. I can only say that faith really is your bulwark and buttress and rock of ages and so on, and I’m not entirely sure I would still be getting out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have Jesus and his Mum^^ to scream at.
^ And I’m not going to argue about this either: as Alfrick says, we’re all going to have some surprises when we get to whatever heaven is, all of us, the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Shintos, the Buddhists, the shamans, the wiccans, the pagans, the everybody else, and the agnostics and the atheists. Especially the atheists.
^^ That would be God, not Mary, although Mary is good too. Although I have my own ideas about what she thought she was getting into with Gabriel. I mean, she was a teenager, right? And Gabriel was cute.
‡‡‡ He’s also responsible for chivvying me into ringing a quarter peal in Peter’s memory a few days after Peter died and before the madness that is funeral and memorial service arrangements had closed me down completely. It’ll be good for you, Niall said. It will not! I said. Jumping off a bridge would be good for me! No, no, no, Niall said. Think of the hellmob. For better or worse all my friends know to remind me of the furries at critical moments.
§ Who is another of Alfrick’s devoted admirers, by the way
§§ I took a certain amount of teasing for the fact that I had my knitting with me at the memorial service. I had bought my Good Black Leather Shoulderbag some years before there was any question of knitting needles, and they stick out the top. Yo, I said, if I go to pieces, I will want my knitting.
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 . . .