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.
Morale is not high. I won’t say it’s at an all time low but it is not high. I am not, as you will have surmised, Street Pastoring tonight; I’ve been obsessively following Hampshire weather reports all day—those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen a few RTs on the subject*—and when the wind started up mid-afternoon right on gindlefarbing schedule** I sighed a heavy sigh and emailed Fearless Leader that I was staying home tonight. I’m being a good responsible citizen, ratblast it, the cops keep tweeting ‘if you don’t HAVE to go anywhere STAY HOME.’*** I don’t even know if there was enough of a team left to go out; I know we’d lost more than just me.
I’m not quite sure what I have done today besides get wet to the skin† in the company of various (wet) hellcritters and feverishly look for more weather reports.††
And listen to the wind. I am not looking forward to the last hurtles of the evening.††† The rain is coming in sideways, in this wind, like spears, and I swear the points have been sharpened. May we at least continue to have electricity. And hot water. And an Aga to dry and re-dry and re-re-re-dry wet critter towels.
I hope we don’t lose any more trees.
* * *
* And anyone who hasn’t seen the photo of the Winchester Cathedral crypt ISN’T PAYING ATTENTION since it’s a big favourite with the media at the moment for a symbol of South England Under Water: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-26186875 ^
^ Mind you, the cathedral was built on a marsh, so there’s a certain amount of hoisting by own petard going on, as it has gone on for the last thousand years. Very sturdy marsh, that one. And surprisingly forgiving of large piles of stone. Maybe it was less of a marsh in the eleventh century.+
But we in New Arcadia are NOT built on a marsh and we object to all this superfluous water cluttering up the place. There’s nowhere to put anything down. Like a dog, for example.
+ The cathedral was also a good deal smaller to begin with. They kept adding bits on.
** Why can’t the frelling meteorologists be wrong about something you’d LIKE them to be wrong about? How many times have you got caught in rain/sleet/hail/yeti invasion because the weather report was for clear and mild and since you wanted it to be clear and mild you were a little foolish? Arrrrrrgh.^
^ Of course over here it’s a major piece of cultural history that the meteorologists—and one TV presenter in particular—missed the Great Storm of 1987, worst in three centuries, and forecast a little wet weather and some wind. La la la la la. Hope everyone had their small dogs and children on short leads.
*** Alternating with a tweet saying PLEASE DON’T TAKE CLOSED ROAD SIGNS DOWN THEY’RE THERE FOR A REASON. Duh. Good grief. I will certainly go have a look down a closed footpath^ but in daylight at walking speed you can see before you get into any difficulties, and you also won’t stall out if water gets up your tailpipe. You may have to carry your short-legged companion through the swirly bits.^^ But take closed road signs down?! At very least, if you’re going to be a sovereign idiot, put the sign back after you’ve driven through it toward your fate.^^^
^ Although Pav and I had an epic hurtle this morning because we went down to the river and turned the other direction and it never occurred to me we’d be able to keep going. . . . I now have a pair of yellow All Stars that will take a week to dry out. At least I remembered the plastic bags over my socks today. Practise makes perfect.
^^ I do know that currents can be dangerous. Trust me, I’m timid.
^^^ Oh yes and when you have to ring up to be rescued be sure and mention that you drove through a closed road sign so they can put you at the bottom of their list.
† I have two raincoats and they’re both sheeting wet.
†† Well I’ve done some knitting. Got some lovely big fat gauge 100% merino wool on insanely cheap sale and then bought a set of 10 mm needles when I discovered that that is approximately the ONLY size I haven’t already got, 10 mm being the recommended needle size for this yarn, and I was already trying to decide whether I was going to make this pullover or that pullover out of it^ since I’d bought this book on sale a little while ago, as I settled down to make my swatch. I like making swatches. It doesn’t matter if something goes wrong, it’s just a swatch. Which is why my swatches never go wrong. I save going wrong for the pattern.
AND I DON’T LIKE THE FABRIC ON THESE NEEDLES. THEY’RE TOO BIG. THE FABRIC IS TOO OPEN AND LUMPY.
So now I get to start over with 9 mm and 8 mm and . . . just by the way . . . with finding a new pattern. There probably is a way to adapt a bigger gauge pattern to a smaller gauge—isn’t there?—but in the first place it would require MATHS and would be beyond me and in the second place . . . I’d run out of yarn. SIIIIIIIIIIGH.^^
^ I’m really good at starting projects.
^^ Furthermore I think I have to make a cardigan.+ I was just thinking this morning that my two woolly brown cardigans are the sand end of brown and I need a chestnut end of brown. This yarn happens to be chestnut.
+ Deep v neck. Less yarn. Three quarter sleeves! Less yarn! Cropped!
††† I have a cranky hellterror underfoot as I (try to) write this blog. She’s forgotten our epic hurtle early today and WANTS MORE ACTION. She couldn’t get back indoors fast enough however when I took her out for eliminatory functions and indoor action is limited.^
^ Especially since she’s still a little too interesting to hellhounds+ so I am forced to stimulate her brain by long down which tends to need fairly regular upkeep.++
+ Who still are not eating enough to keep one-third of a slow elderly hamster alive.
++ No, lie down. No. Lie down. No. Lie DOWN.#
# She actually is at the moment. Don’t anyone breathe loudly or make any sudden gestures.
In theory I’m supposed to be Street Pastoring tomorrow but . . . I doubt it. Increasing amounts of Hampshire are under water and we’re due to have not only more torrential rain tomorrow but possibly the worst gales yet. Even uni students, one hopes, will have the sense to stay home. They may not have a choice: most of the campus is a lake. I’ve already told Fearless Leader that if the driving looks iffy I’m not coming, and there have been various emails among the team about who can and can’t get out through the current floods; not everyone can; and it’ll be worse by tomorrow night.
Another of the big old trees—that used to be part of the fancy drive to the Big Pink Blot and are now a strip of parkland running beside the main road through New Arcadia—went over in the latest windstorm. That’s three this winter. It’s a longish strip but it’s not that long; the gaps show. There have been big branches down too, making more gaps, including in the old wall where they struck. But the ground the trees are standing in has become marsh. One of the short leg-stretch-and-a-pee hurtles from the mews is down one side of the trees, next to the old park wall, and back on the pedestrian pavement next to the road. We stay on the pavement lately; even Pav, the smallest and lightest of us, squelches; and some great hulking human like me, and with only two feet to spread the weight, forget it, I need a diving bell. Hellcritters are willing to venture onto the quaking bog in pursuit of smells; but they tend to prance back to me and the pavement shaking their feet and looking disgusted. I wouldn’t have expected a hellterror to care about mud and while the hellhounds with their longer legs have a more impressive prance, Pav’s message is the same: ugggh.
If it doesn’t dry out soonish—which it shows no sign of doing—the trees are going to rot where they stand, and then they’ll all come down. The civic daffodils are trying to come up—it rather amazes me they’ve got this far—but a lot of them are blind.
Hellhounds and I went down to look at the river today. The river path has been impassable for a while and we’d already stopped going there as often as we used to because I’d got very very tired of being mugged by off lead idiots. I mean their dogs. But your average off lead idiot doesn’t want to get his/her designer wellies dirty so I thought it was probably worth the risk, seeing how far we could go.
Well the ducks are sure happy. The bit of river we were splashing along beside isn’t running amok so we forded the feeder streams* and kept on. There are some houses on the river bottom, poor things**, and I don’t think the sandbags are going to save their fitted*** carpets.
And then hellhounds and I rounded a corner and came to the shores of The Sea. When Peter and I first moved to New Arcadia there was a stretch of the river path that was outrageously badly kept—for a town two of whose important constituents are wealthy retired Tories and businesses dependent on visitors—and EVENTUALLY the town council stopped whining and ordered enough hard core and blokes to shovel it that the path became quite serviceable, thank you very much.
Well. It’ll all be to do again when—when, I’m assuming, not if—The Sea retreats. I don’t know how deep it is but from my memory of what it used to look like . . . Pav, at least, would have to swim, and I think you’d need waders, not wellies.
We took the footbridge past one of the sandbagged houses† and looped around by the road. When we got back to the river we had a really exciting ford to cross, with the water crashing over the path, and Chaos wanted me to believe that it would carry him away†† but I heartlessly pointed out the stout fence preventing this happenstance and we gained the far side without incident††† and toiled back up the hill toward town. That roaring sound you hear . . . is the new New Arcadia Victoria Falls, another smoke that thunders. Golly. And standing on the far side of the river the spray still fogs up your glasses. It used to be a picturesque little local millrace.
I’d better get back to the cottage. We’re going to try to make a sprint for the farmer’s market tomorrow morning before Armageddon returns. Which means I should go to bed, you know, cough cough, early.
* * *
* To Chaos’ horror. I’M NOT CARRYING YOU. COME ON.
** We actually looked at one when it was up for sale some few years ago, before I bought Third House. Brrrr.
*** Wall to wall
† And were divebombed by a black cocker spaniel . . . a friendly black cocker spaniel, fortunately, and while it looked full-grown it was presenting as a puppy and couldn’t get enough of the hellhounds who were happy to return the compliment. Modified arrrgh. I thought it was going to follow us back onto the main road ARRRRRRGH whereupon in good conscience I’d’ve had to go back, knock on the door, and say something between clenched teeth to whatever off lead idiot answered, but it got timid at the end of its stretch of path. I looked back worriedly a lot though.
†† If you’d eat you’d weigh more and be harder to wash away.
††† When they dry out, my pink All Stars will probably be a lot cleaner. Choosing footgear for this kind of expedition is problematic. I can’t walk any distance in wellies—they’re perfect for clomping around gardening or mucking out stalls but not hurtling—and hiking boots have their uses in wet grass and ordinary mud but fording foaming rivers is not their thing and once they get soaked they stay soaked. All Stars are actually my footgear of choice for this, although I put plastic bags over my socks first when I remember. When I remember. I didn’t remember today.