Here’s a question for you: if you have become a sort of vegan-paleo-alkaline-raw-foodie person, what the jolly doodah do you eat coming off a savage bout of stomach flu? And I mean savage. It only lasted about six hours, thank you God, but I was a double-ended geysering hellhound in all ways except fur, long pointy nose and long tail for the duration. I was certainly walking on all fours because I couldn’t stand up: the world spun quite amazingly, and my heart was going about four hundred beats a minute. Throwing up always makes my heart race* but it usually slows down again. In this case it went on trying to shake me off the bed.
I crept downstairs at one point because there was quite a lot of moaning going on: the urgency had come upon me very suddenly and I hadn’t got the hellmob out for any more than a bit of grass on the street corner—my garden has no grass, except the stuff that flies over the wall and colonises my potted plants, and dogs need grass. Ask any dog. But I’d been going about indoors briskly doing stuff because I had a friend coming today, Saturday, I am describing the scene from yesterday, Friday, and, okay, I could have done some housework earlier in the week but . . . well, in the first place I didn’t, because I don’t, and in the second place since the floor needs sweeping/hoovering again approximately the minute I unplug the blasted hoover and jam it back into its current corner** because my resident fur factories are never off line, there’s not a lot of point of trying to do it ahead of time. I’ll just have to do it again. Which is inefficient, right? There were still fresh fur eddies in the draft from the door this morning when I brought my friend home Sigh.
And then, you know, there’s all that other stupid stuff that housework consists of.*** And I’d been hoping to get back out into the garden again—did I tell you I have hauled two entire Wolfgang loads of garden detritus off to the dump? Chiefly consisting of nettles, but other weeds and some rose-prunings did appear.† This is only the beginning. And, erm, it’s already frelling August.†† I was going to get my garden sorted this summer.††† And I had a friend coming! I didn’t want to lock the kitchen door and hide the key and say offhandedly, oh, you don’t want to go out there! ANYWAY. I crept downstairs at one point when the moaning was reaching something of a pitch, opened the garden door, left it open, which I never do unless I’m there to supervise,‡ and crawled back upstairs again.
Well, I didn’t get out into the garden. I also missed my appointment with my estate agent to discuss the Letting of Third House. I missed Friday afternoon handbells. When I could finally stand upright again I just about managed to do a quick stiff-brush thing on the stairs, which, due to a little backlist-box problem, won’t really accommodate a hoover at present. And I hurtled the mob. Not nearly well enough, according to the mob, but I told them they were lucky to get out at all. And I had COOKED green beans for supper and they stayed down. Yaay.
And it was great to see my friend today. This is someone I haven’t seen in years because we’ve both been having adventures—not all of hers have been desirable either—but she’s the kind of friend you just pick up with again like you saw each other last week. I even ate lunch successfully. And took her for a hike over gorgeous late summer Hampshire countryside without falling down.‡‡ And drove her back to the train where we promised not to lose touch again. But I’m way too brain dead to work tonight, so I thought I’d write a blog.
* * *
* Things You Would Be Very Happy Not to Know About Yourself
** I have still not found the perfect storage space for a hoover, which is an awkward, bulky object, in this house with no storage AND covered in bookshelves on all the walls and piles of books in front of all the bookshelves. There’s the attic, of course, but if it disappears into the attic I really WILL never use it again. Haul it up and down my narrow little rail-free ladder stairs and back up again? Never happen.
*** As I have often said before, I don’t hate housework^, I hate the time it takes.
^ Except hoovering. I HATE hoovering. I’d rather be on my knees with a Patented Pet Hair Remover and a stiff brush. Which is indeed what I usually do.
† Note that you can still be stung by a nettle that has been frelling dead for a frelling week, lying on the ground waiting to be bagged up. I assume I don’t have to tell you how I know this. Also, nettles hide. As I say, most of eight gigantic bags of green stuff were nettles.^ I TOOK OUT A LOT OF NETTLES.^^ But the minute I go back indoors again and look out my kitchen window THERE ARE NETTLES. I just blitzed that area! I exclaim in outrage. No. You didn’t. Hahahahahahahaha, say the nettles.^^^
^ Although the last bag or two contained quite a lot of this small variegated-leaf tree put in by my predecessor, so it is no doubt rare and admirable and I don’t appreciate it properly. Phineas, my poor neighbour, came hesitantly up to me about a week ago and explained humbly that this thing had colonised the roof of his conservatory to the extent that he was beginning to worry about said roof maintaining its present desirable state of leakproofness, not to mention that my tree was shutting out the sunlight to the dismay of the huge planters of geraniums that live in the conservatory. Oops. Now it’s true that my garden has become even more of a jungle the last year or two but slightly in my defence in this case this is a very enthusiastic tree+ and since it was growing forward over its end of my garden in a very liberal manner and I can’t actually see over the wall to Phineas’ conservatory roof I had no idea that it was doing exactly the same in the other direction. Arrgh. I’ve hacked it back some, but more is necessary, and first you have to get THROUGH the stuff on my side to reach the stuff on the other side, which involves being poked in the eye, clawed, strangled, hair-yanked, and the delightful experience of repeated disgorgings of scratchy leaves down the back of the neck. ARRRRGH.
+ It must be part nettle
^^ And I have the scars to show for it. According to some of the Birkenstocks-and-beards natural medicine sites, nettle stings are good for rheumatism like bee stings are. I’m allergic to bee stings, so that’s out. I’ve been on the anti-rheumatism diet for about twelve years because it works, but I was thinking, if I keep a corner of my (tiny) garden sacred to nettles, if I went and rolled in these occasionally could I eat a tomato? Sigh. It would have to be a very good tomato.
^ The really bizarre thing is that I’m kind of fond of nettles. All part of my yen for self-torture I suppose. But a lot of weeds just make me snarl: creeping buttercup. SNARL. Ground elder. SNARL. And Japanese anemone. EXTRA SNARL. You gardeners are about to tell me that Japanese anemones are lovely, graceful and entirely desirable garden plants. No they’re not. They’re frelling takeover frelling thugs. THEY’RE WEEDS. Like frelling crocosmia, another so-called desirable garden plant. Rip out where seen. I don’t actually want a lot of nettles around—they, you know, sting, and they aren’t exactly beautiful—but maybe I’m just remembering that the presence of nettles means you have a nice healthy garden, that they’re good for butterflies, that you can eat nettles+, or that as an herbal tincture they’re useful for a lot of what ails you. But whatever. I kind of like them. This doesn’t stop me tearing them out. And getting stung spectacularly because when they’re cross, and pulling them up does tend to make them cross, they will sting you through your clothing.++
+ You can eat ground elder too but I’d rather not. Nettles are pretty reasonable, and I positively like nettle tea.
++ Reasons to be glad you’re wearing glasses instead of contacts: being lashed across the face by the eight-foot nettle you didn’t notice when you were pulling up some little ones at the eight-footer’s ankles. Owwww. Also, nettles across the scalp? Um, if it’s good for rheumatism, will it make your hair grow?
†† How did that happen? May was last week.
††† I think I say this every summer. This summer, however, I’m here all the time. On the other hand, this summer, I’m spending a lot more time lying on the floor in a state of ME stasis than usual. There’s just about enough floor space left in the kitchen for me to lie down on it, if I contort a little. The problem with lying on the sofa is that the hellmob expects to join me, and there are days when I can’t face being lain on by a hellmob with twenty-four or forty-eight elbows attached. If I lie on my bed, as previously observed, there will be moaning, but if I lie on the kitchen floor, it’s like, oh, hi, and we can all kind of curl up together. The hellterror is especially pleased because generally speaking she is expected to keep her attentions to herself since she is very . . . attentive. But remind me to tell you about my shrinking kitchen floor.
‡ The creativity of dogs, when presented with a garden, is much undervalued. Especially by the owner of said garden. Who furthermore will be cleaning up the kitchen floor of uningestables experimentally ingested.
‡‡ Granted I’m perfectly capable of falling down without any help from stomach flu aftermath totteriness.
It started raining in the five minutes between bringing hellhounds in, taking my raincoat off because it’s HOT and it’s not raining, and furthermore it’s not SUPPOSED to rain, this slender pause including hastily checking that my next organic-grocery delivery is not too deranged, because my deadline was midnight and I tend to get a little carried away about how much I’m going to put through my juicer* this week and probably needed to halve my beet order and quarter my carrot order**, and taking the hellterror out. I was so not expecting it to be raining we were halfway to the main road before I realised I couldn’t see out of my glasses*** and my hair was sticking to my scalp. By which time I couldn’t be frelling arsed to go back† so we went on: the hellterror doesn’t like the rain any more than the hellhounds do, and as soon as nature’s demands were satisfied I’d be dragging her on for a bit of exercise for exercise’s sake while she tried to head for home††. We were in no danger of drowning. In an increasingly sodden state we passed under an awning where another damp, un-raincoated figure was addressing himself to his smartphone. Calling a friend for a lift in bad weather doesn’t work when you’re hurtling your domestic fauna. Hey, great weather, he said. It started raining in the five minutes between taking the first dog shift indoors and taking the second shift out, I said. He grinned (maybe his friend had with the car had said yes. Maybe he was placating the crazy old lady with too many dogs). Life is like that, he said.
* * *
*This should have gone up last night but I am having Extreme Computer Problems, to the extent that I really don’t know what to do. Raphael was just here today, bringing my supposedly-mended ultrabook back and taking away the seriously insane old laptop that I’d been using in its absence and I can still barely make this one do anything. If this post is not up to standard I can plead extenuating circumstances. –disintegrating ed
* My juicer and I are no longer best friends. When Alcestis first demonstrated hers she gave me beet, apple and carrot juice, and her juicer, which is the same one I then went home and bought^, calmly and elegantly chomped the doodah out of what she put through it, and produced a sparkling cascade of perfect juice. Mine, when presented with a series of hard things like apples and beets and carrots and sweet potatoes^^ has a tendency to buck like a rodeo bronc and spew a thin spray of juice through its not-quite-blast-proof joins. Beet juice STAINS. The bucking also tends to slam it backwards into the row of books which adorn the edge of my one ex-usable countertop, which has become my desk, which is not popular either. I now wrap the freller in dishtowels and hold on while it’s juicing. There tends to be language.
^ This was three or so years ago, when Alcestis was still walking and doing things like her own juicing, and I still thought my money problems were no worse than usual.
^^ Yes of course I cut them up. Am cutting them up in smaller and smaller pieces too.
** I’m still experimenting with how much raw cabbage I can hide inside the (raw) beets, the (raw) carrots and the (raw) sweet potatoes. I get a little lip-curly at these shiny fashion-conscious smoothies for health!!!! sites that suggest you slip in two or three raw spinach leaves with your mango, your banana, your pineapple, your yogurt and your half a cup of honey and you’ll never know they’re there! I like raw spinach. All rational people like raw spinach.^ You want hard core, I suggest raw cabbage. I, one of whose food groups is broccoli, still prefer it steamed long enough to get rid of the brassica bite. And cabbage . . . I’m not sure how this works out in terms of comparative quantities and proportions^^ but I can make one medium-sized cabbage disappear in a quart of juice—I drink a pint and put the other pint in the refrigerator for the next day. According to the purists you should juice every day because all the freshiest freshness goes away almost immediately. I think these people have staff. I could use a second pair of hands to keep the frelling juicer under control.
^ All right, all right, most rational people. I say nothing about cooked spinach.#
# And yes, spinach can be cooked in ways that are not slimy and disgusting. But what a waste.
^^ I spent way too much time this afternoon, when I should have been writing MMMPH or MMMMPH or AAAAAAAAUGGGGHHHHH, trying to put together a hellmob food order, now that I have made a thing of beauty# of the canine larder corner and discovered that I’m all out of stuff I thought I had lots of and have tins and bags and bales and boxes of stuff I keep buying because I can’t find it so I think I’ve run out. Arrrgh.## I use several different critter-supply sites because I really get off on making myself a drooling psycho hag, and because any faint quiver of interest from the hellhounds in a food or food-related substance and I’m on line researching. And every site lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently AND every frelling brand of frelling critter food lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently I HATE MATHS I HATE MATHS and let’s not even approach the extremely embattled topic of INGREDIENTS LISTS.### But Pooka was smoking from iPhone calculator overuse, and that’s only the numbers I think I can translate enough to plug them in to see how or if they talk to each other.
# Pink, purple and turquoise plastic beauty. There’s also a rather nice table half buried in there which I keep thinking I should extract and put somewhere it can be admired, instead of ruining its delicate profile by making its legs into a pen for 15-mg bags of kibble, which are, you know, dumpy. But when I say put somewhere, where, exactly, do I mean?, put somewhere.
## Next time: goldfish.
### I don’t want to know how fabulous and wonderful your flaming whatsit dog food is! I want to know WHAT’S IN IT! I want to know EXACTLY what’s in it!!! One hellcritter’s hypoallergenic is another hellcritter’s owner getting up three times in the night and it should have been four times! It also pitches me into rabid meltdown mode when I’m looking at an ingredients list and it has fu—fugging CORN SYRUP and/or SALT in it. WHAT THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING FRELL. Let’s force our dependent critters to develop the same stupid harmful addictions that we’ve given ourselves. Dogs don’t know from sugar! Don’t freaking TEACH THEM. Also . . . WHY??? Neither the corn syrup nor the salt is going to be a substantial enough part of the treat, since it’s usually treats that are toxic-ified up this way, to make a profit difference to the manufacturer, so WHY??? I get it, kind of, that baby food is often spiced and sweetened and salted up because mums taste it and might think it’s too bland for their precious darlings who are going to grow up to rule the world and need to get a head start on the corporate dining thing, but DOG FOOD? Okay, I tried Alpo when I was a kid~, but generally speaking we DON’T taste our dog food, do we? DO WE? Especially (let’s say) the dried, smoked, salted and sugared . . . um, leftover innards and genitalia of critters whose more-admissible-in-polite-society parts do mostly land on human dinner plates? ARRRRRRRRRRGH.
~ This could perhaps explain a lot. How many of you out there tried Alpo when you were kids and have grown up Strange?
*** My new glasses, just by the way. I’ve needed a new prescription since I got the first ‘come in for your eye test and discover you’re turning into an octopus’^ reminder letter last autumn but there were other things going on, and after Peter died my eyes went completely doolally and I didn’t want to buy new glasses and need another new prescription a fortnight later. Especially not at these prices. But by this summer I could barely see out of the old ones and there were some Terrifying Moments when I’d ripped my glasses off and laid them down somewhere while I got on with something held immediately under my nose because my close, I mean very close, I mean very very close, vision is still pretty good . . . and then couldn’t find them again. My glasses, I mean. And I am definitely in the category of not being able to see well enough to look for my glasses unless I’m already wearing them. More Interesting Reasons Why I’m Always Late for Almost Everything,^^ Franticly Patting the Floor for Possibly Fallen Spectacles.^^^ However, this being able to see again thing takes some getting used to. I keep making little jerks at my face every time I get the knitting out or open a book, because of course I need to take my glasses off. Erm. No, I don’t. I also keep trying to peer over them when the new, functional close-work strip is at the bottom of the lens, resulting in some very interesting neck-cracking up-and-down comportment.
^ Well, I’ve always had very light-sensitive skin, and lots of stuff gets worse as you get older.
^^ Except Mass with the monks. I may tear in seconds before the priest and server process . . . but I’m there.
^^^ Also, Another Excellent Reason for Having a Small House, although in These Circumstances Not Small Enough.
† Plus a dispiriting replay of the huge tragic eyes from Chaos, who has recently decided that every time I take the hellterror out it’s a personal betrayal. SHE’S LIVED WITH US FOUR YEARS AND YOU ALWAYS GO OUT FIRST. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM.
†† FOOOOOOOOOD. She only gets fed immediately on return occasionally, but she doesn’t want to make a mistake if it’s one of those days.
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 had the best working morning today—you know, story-words on computer screen type working morning—that I’ve had in yonks.* So I thought I’d write a blog post to celebrate.
A lot of my long silences here are just . . . long silences. One foot after the other days** when getting the hellmob even semi-hurtled is the height of my ambition or capacity.*** But some of it, on evenings when brain function is still just about discernible, is not knowing where to start. I’m still programmed to be doing this every night, I just haven’t the time, the energy, or the morale. And I don’t do the graceful summary thing.† I’m missing the wetware interface for graceful summary. So, ahem and apologies, Footnote Delirium ahoy.
But, you know, a good writing day? This deserves some banner-waving affirmation. Maybe I’ll even do it again tomorrow. The story-writing that is. I’d probably break if I wrote a blog post two nights in a row.
Meanwhile . . . hello and whatever and I hope you’re all well and thriving and reading great books out there in on-line land.
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* I’ve been working for a while now, but an awful lot of days it’s more, um, ‘working’. I have lots of days where I write three words and delete seventeen. You have too many days like this you have a bigger problem than when you weren’t ‘working’ at all.
** Sometimes no farther than the sofa, where the feet stop one-after-anothering and cross themselves on the armrest, the hellmob pummels the inert human body into some less than satisfactory semblance of comfy rumpled bedding^, and silence reigns. Except for the soggy pop of gloomy human thoughts exploding, and the hellterror snoring.
^ Fortunately they are mostly tolerant of badly-placed knees and ribcages.
*** Also the way I eat now takes AMAZING amounts of preparation. GOOD GRIEF. Anyone trying to maintain a mostly fresh-organic-fruit-and-veg diet had just better bring her laptop into the kitchen and get it over with because she’s going to be in the kitchen most of the time anyway. In my case this is even more challenging than for someone who has, bless them grrrrrr, a real kitchen rather than a blip with a few cupboards. My only half decent countertop is now my desk. Arrrgh. It’s quite useful to have a sink full of dirty dishes: balance your chopping board on top of it and, lo, counterspace. Arrrrgh. And? And? Why has the British Appliance Agglutination decreed that all electric flexes on countertop appliances should be no more than three inches long^ ??!!??? In this kitchen this means that every time I decide to get my juicer^^ out it’s a major schlep of STUFF . . . mostly onto the floor, so it’s a very good thing that the hellterror has decided that stuff on the floor is not automatically interesting, unless, of course, it smells of foooooood. Chaos, who likes to lie near the Aga occasionally, will sometimes lay his head delicately on a well-placed and –balanced pile of books, magazines, rough drafts, notebooks shedding Notes to Self, prayer plans and private, idiosyncratic modernisations of applicable Psalms+++ and business letters I’m trying to forget. Disturbing a sleeping dog is, of course, not to be thought of, so on these occasions I get a stiff neck, a warped shoulder and a crick in my spine leaning over the sleeping dog to get at the frelling juicer, three inches away from the wall. You’d think the noise of the thing would wake him up and move him on but . . . nooooooooo.
^ ‘eight centimetres’ doesn’t even sound that much longer
^^ Juicing. The faffiest flapdoodling faff of all GOOD FREAKING DOODAH GRIEF. And the FOOTPRINT of your average juicer?! Sixteen hellterrors or a small bus. Unfortunately I’m developing a, you should forgive the term, taste for juicing. Not only, if you get it right, is a barrowload of fresh raw juice an amazing hit+, but if you got a little carried away at the chance-found organic farmer’s market stall or the offers from your on-line organic grocery delivery gang that week, you can always juice your superfluity.++
+ Especially for those of us who can barely remember what chocolate is any more.# Your taste buds really do change. A few months AC## and raw carrot-apple-beetroot-sweet-potato### juice is so frelling sweet you’re sure it must be bad for you.
# In case of accidents, I’ve passed my stash on to the monks.
## After Chocolate
### Raw sweet potato. Yes. Parsnip is supposed to be good too but it was out of season by the time I started getting goofy over juicing.
++ Also there are now worms. Hungry worms. I’ve been threatening a wormery for a while now, as I’ve probably mentioned here: I don’t have room for a compost heap, or several compost heaps, since you have to rotate them#, at either the cottage or the Lodge or the cottage plus Lodge, and I’ve always had a veg-trimmings problem, even before I went doolally in the alkaline-paleo-vegan direction, and with juicing I now REALLY have a problem, and our local recycle guys get cranky if there’s too much kitchen detritus among the rich plunder of triffid-lash nettles, evil creeping buttercup and taking-over-the-universe ground elder.##
BUT I’ve been saying, I’ll buy a wormery later. I’ve got enough going on and besides I can’t afford it, I’ve got all these vegetables I have to buy every week plus lorryloads of hellmob food.###
Meanwhile I am mysteriously on the hot list for ringing weddings this summer. Stay with me here, this is not a non sequitur. My energy levels, including the number of neurons firing in my brain, at any given day/hour/frozen stalactite of time, are both unpredictable and unreliable, and while I haven’t yet missed a wedding by being too wombly to drive to the tower, there have been weddings when I prayed for the rest of the band to be beginners so no one would expect me to ring methods.#### I made a bristling . . . um, compost heap . . . of a couple of pathetically basic methods at a couple of weddings and was totally ready to fall on my sword, except that ringers who are willing to ring weddings must be in short supply around here at the moment or they wouldn’t be asking me in the first place.
So there was a wedding at Crabbiton##### a few weeks ago. And Wild Robert was running the band. And I should be used to his taking-no-prisoners habits by now, but IT’S A WEDDING. Feh. He drove us through methods I can’t ring recognisably on practise nights and I crawled home that night brainlessly high with my preposterous success###### and too exhausted to be sensible. So I bought a wormery. Of course. As you do.####### I’ve even rung enough weddings to cover the cost.
Hey. It’s PINK. No, really. I might not have bought it if it had been a subdued, business-like colour. But PINK? It looks very cute sitting next to the kitchen sink, except for the tripping-over-it, the-kitchen-door-only-opens-halfway part. I also have no idea whether it’s working or not, except for the fact that it smells nice when I open it to throw in some more apple cores and herb stems and armfuls of post-juicing sludge.
# SIGH for the beautiful, built-by-Atlas wood-framed compost heaps at Third House. SIIIIIIIGH.~
~ Note that Brexit is a catastrophe. Including that the real estate market just hit bottom and frelling splattered. You may remember I am trying—I wildly and hysterically need—to sell Third House? But that’s a post for another day. Preferably when I’m feeling stronger. Preferably after the time machine unspools us back to the Wednesday before Really, Really Bad Thursday and this time we stay in the EU, thank you very much. And I’ll think of something else to write a blog post about.=
= No a female Prime Minster is NOT worth it. Especially when she’s another thrice-blasted Tory.%
% I’m also having one of my American moments about the speed at which we acquired a new PM. I’m sure this must be illegal somehow. And the Queen is in on it.
## I almost forgive enchanter’s nightshade for being an ineradicable festering-festering ratbag weed for the excellence of its name.
### What I want to know is why, when the hellhounds don’t eat, we seem to get through SO MUCH dog food. ::Eyes the hellterror::
#### Also, stage fright. If you bollix it up on practise night, eh, it’s practise night. If you bollix it up for a wedding EVERYONE HATES YOU, except the bride, the groom, and the wedding party, who don’t notice. But how many frelling weddings have I rung over the years? I still get stage fright. And open ground floor rings are my deepest, bursting-galaxies nightmare, because everyone comes down to your end and leans on the barrier rope and stares at you and PROBABLY TAKES PICTURES. WITHOUT ASKING, OF COURSE, BECAUSE YOU’RE PART OF THE MULTI-MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT. Crabbiton is a ground floor ring.
##### See: ground floor ring. See: stage fright.
###### Wild Robert is a sorcerer. It’s the only explanation.
####### In the old days I’d’ve had to wait till the shops opened the next day, by which time I might have reclaimed my common sense, or cast an eye over my bank balance. On line shopping is also a Borg invention. Or possibly a critical factor in turning the human population into mush-minded proto-slaves, primed and ready for the return of Cthulhu.
+++ The ranting, miserable-sod ones of course. ‘Heal me, o God, for my bones are troubled.’
† The WHAT? What was that word before ‘summary’? Keep it away from me, I have sensitive skin, I’m sure it would burn.^
^ And, not speaking [of] the e-word, it’s also guaranteed that the day I put on clean jeans will be the day the hellterror and I have the kind of adventure which requires I pick her up and rest her muddy feet on my hip to ensure our best odds for survival. ARRRRRRGH. We met two women with five loose dogs—five large loose dogs—on the barely-one-thin-person-wide river path a few days ago, and the women were so profoundly engaged in their conversation that the hellterror and I had pied-pipered their flock of hairy, oversized rats some considerable distance before they even NOTICED. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.#
# And two days ago the hellhounds and I were walking across one of the little rec grounds in town when an idiot woman with a terrier on a lead and a spaniel off lead came through the gate. Hellhounds and I, a good thirty feet away, paused warily . . . and the gorblimey spaniel came hell-for-leather at us, barking and snarling, and circling closer and closer and closer . . . CALL YOUR [*******] DOG, I said, and Ms Porridge-Brain said something like, oh now, Sweetbuns, that’s not necessary, in this placatory voice, and Sweetbuns of course ignored her entirely, making little rushes and snatches at my dogs and me.
So I kicked the bugger.
Ms Porridge-Brain melted down. I melted down right back at her. He was only protecting me! she yelled in outrage. PROTECTING YOU? YOU ARE THIRTY FEET AWAY AND HE WAS [*******] THREATENING MY DOGS, I yelled back. HE IS OFF LEAD AND MINE ARE ON LEAD. The exchange may have deteriorated from that high point of communicatory clarity. And I’m still angry.
. . . Um. Not a good way to end a blog post. Um? La la la la la la la. . . . I’ve just memorised the lyrics to ‘Lord of the Dance’, I could sing . . .
Soooo, everyone remember my Niagara Falls leak? The water company—we will call them Sludge & Ganglion—sent me a letter last November, while I was a trifle preoccupied with my dying husband, saying that I had a humdinger of a puncture somewhere in the system and they were proposing to put my water bill up to £1,000,000,000.07 a month, unless of course I wanted to do something about it? As I say, I was preoccupied, but early in in January, I was at the bank, whom I don’t think I have named in these pages, much as it deserves a name, something like Ordure, Funk & Weltschmerz, anyway, I was at the bank starting to deal with post-death and probate issues. The woman who was trying to tease out into its component bits of blither and doodah the latest utter festering mess of the sort that Ordure and Funk’s vast groaning technology specialises in, said, Golly, the water company hates you, doesn’t it? Because, as it turns out, Sludge & Ganglion had gone ahead and started charging me £1,000,000,000.07 without making any further attempt to contact me. Thus getting our relationship about this matter off to a really great start when I rang up and SCREAMED.
Fast forward through the sixteen engineers and the woman back at base* who (apparently) kept sending orders for engineers to attend me and my leak. When I finally said I HAVE HAD SIX HUNDRED ENGINEERS, COULD WE STOP SOON PLEASE?, she said, you have? I have had no notification. The next time one comes, she added, would you please tell me? —thus demonstrating that Sludge & Ganglion’s internal communications are as fabulous as their customer relations.
Anyway. All seven hundred and twelve engineers’ tea leaves and Ouija boards agreed that the leak was my problem, not theirs.** I have about as much faith in their diagnosis as I do in the latest Elvis sightings in bags of gladioli bulbs with pompadours, but my options are limited. Whereupon began the epic search for a plumber who would touch the job of re-laying pipes and rerouting my water supply.***
Plumber eventually found, not without stress, misery, and the application to friends and acquaintances who have lived in this area for generations and are related to plumbers, and then weeks and weeks of nagging followed while I tried to convince him that NOW is an excellent time, ahead of the kamikaze S&G leak-mending squad and/or the next monthly bill for £1,000,000,000.07. At least he answers his emails. He just doesn’t say what I want to hear.
This past Monday I got a sudden email saying he’d be here Wednesday. Erm, wha’, eh? I mean, GREAT. WEDNESDAY. I’ll tell the woman In Charge of My Case who likes sending engineers, and whom no one tells anything.
Oh, and? I have to clear one entire wall of my kitchen because they’re frelling going to run those new water pipes first up the front of the house† and then indoors along the skirting board. This beats peeling up my floors by a substantial margin†† but it is still not ideal. And clearing that wall involves the washing machine, the refrigerator, the hellterror’s crate and her in it since I’m certainly not going to have her underfoot with plumbers with soldering irons kneeling at hellterror level AND A SIX FOOT BY THREE FOOT BY TWO FOOT††† TALLBOY CHEST OF DRAWERS, every micron of whose drawers are crammed, as I’m sure you will believe, with stuff. And the sitting room—and the stairs, and the upstairs hall, and my bedroom and office—are also CRAMMED, with boxes of further stuff from Third House.‡
But never mind the rest of the house. Calling what my kitchen looks like at present the result of a global cataclysm only hints at the scene.‡‡
So. Wednesday. Plumbers were TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATE.‡‡‡ You know in this modern world of mobile phones there’s not a huge amount of excuse for not ringing and keeping people waiting for you abreast of the situation???? Plumbers like their mystery I guess. These plumbers eventually arrived. Plumbers drilled holes, making moon-crater holes in my plaster which I assume Atlas can mend, laid slender, relatively tactful copper pipes, and made horrible pongs with their soldering.§ Of course they didn’t finish, so they were coming back Thursday to finish the job.
They were only forty-five minutes late on Thursday. Yaay. They finished all the pipe-laying, pong-making and crater-provoking, and collected respectfully around the meter in the street for the Big Moment, when they turned off the water while they diverted the whatever-the-turkey so the water would now flow through the new, please God leak-free, pipes.
I was indoors, but I heard the sound of the voices in the street change from plumbers going about their plumbing to bemusement and consternation. At which point I clocked that there was a new voice added to the throng, that of my semi-detached neighbour, Phineas.
They had turned his water off too. BECAUSE MY METER IS A JOINT METER, WHICH SLUDGE & GANGLION HAD NEGLECTED TO MENTION, PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY ARE EVIL CULPABLE IDIOTS AND HADN’T NOTICED THIS CRUCIAL PIECE OF INFORMATION OR POSSIBLY HADN’T FELT I NEEDED TO KNOW. AND? AND THIS MEANS THAT THE PLUMBERS HAD JUST COMPLETED EIGHT HUNDRED QUID’S WORTH OF WORK, including collateral kitchen wall damage§§, WHICH IS NOW MOST PROBABLY UTTERLY USELESS, AND THEY HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN, WHICH IN THIS CASE MEANS DIGGING UP MY GARDEN, LOOKING FOR THE JOIN WHERE THE WATER SUPPLY SEPARATES.
Work re-begins on Monday. I may have run away to Tashkent by then. I think the hellmob might enjoy Tashkent. I’m not up for enjoying anything right now.
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* And the jolly jolly jolly merry go round of the official Sludge & Ganglion robot email sending me a phone number that didn’t work^ thus putting me back at the BOTTOM of the frelling queue again trying make contact with the correct cabal of the customer persecution unit.
^ ‘This phone number is currently out of service. So sorry for any inconvenience’
** Just by the way, if you don’t have house insurance that will cover it, Sludge & Ganglion will provide one free leak mend. THANK YOU GOD FOR PETER MAKING ME GET COMPREHENSIVE HOUSE INSURANCE THAT COVERS STUFF LIKE PERSONAL MANIFESTATIONS OF NIAGARA FALLS. The mere idea of letting a gang of S&G’s buffoons loose in my house might cause heart failure in someone who hadn’t given up chocolate and champagne and whose mighty leafy-green-vegetable-fuelled strength is unassailable.^
^ I hope.
*** The leak itself has been declared essentially unfindable, because they would have to drag my house out by the roots and hold it overhead while they fossicked down through the cellar’s worth of builder’s rubble under the ‘ground’ floor of my house which is up a flight of stairs, to actual ground level. As I have probably said on these literal pages before, if I ever found myself with more money than sense^ I’d hire someone to cut a door-shaped hole in the genuine ground floor outside wall of my house at the foot of the stair, yank out all the builder’s rubble and give me a cellar.^^
^ A lot more money than sense. Amassment of sense is not a good measure of largeness in my case.
^^ I could keep BACKLIST in my cellar.
† So decorative and beautifying. Also, while it’s lagged—by a large brown plastic hangar that is really eye-woundingly beautiful: maybe I can grow a Virginia Creeper over the thing, rose bushes have way too many gaps for satisfactory coverage—if the extreme-weather theory about global warming comes to southern England I could be in a lot of disagreeable frozen trouble.
†† Which is what happened to one of my ghoulish informants. AND THE FLOORS HAVE NEVER BEEN THE SAME AGAIN, he finished with relish.
††† And speaking of the criticalness of size, I still don’t have a refrigerator and freezer for the Lodge. The gaps for these, both little under-counter items, are quite small, or perhaps under-counter appliances have grown since the two-owners-ago remodelled the kitchen, and my choices are limited. And the ones I want are out of stock. And have I mentioned recently^ that I have people coming to STAY at the Lodge in . . . about a fortnight? Who may conceivably want to, you know, eat, or at least have somewhere to keep a bottle of milk since I won’t have the nasty stuff in my house. Although that’s chiefly because I don’t have room. I’m still schlepping up to Third House for my second organic grocery delivery of the week because my little under-counter-sized^^ fridge at the cottage can’t hold an entire week’s worth of mad vegetarian’s dark leafy super-powered greens. Which use of Third House’s facilities is, I might add, a deeply depressing business, a kind of whoring: I don’t love you, but I will use you(r refrigerator). If I had more money than God has angels I would keep Third House, and the lovely new attic with the view down the garden . . . I could rent it while I figure out what I’m doing with my life, no, no, no, we are NOT THINKING ABOUT THIS.
Third House is now officially on the market. The housecleaners came and did the hey-wow-scouring thing last week. But it’s still not frelling empty, and both the cottage and the Lodge are FULL. Meanwhile on cue the real estate market has died, while everyone worries about whether we’re going to stay in or get out of the EU, and what that will mean to little things like the economy. And real estate values. Guys. You do still have to live somewhere.
^ No, because I haven’t mentioned anything recently
^^ It’s not, strictly speaking, under-counter because it is the counter
‡ Including awful awful awful amounts of backlist. Never mind that I am a collector and a hoarder. It’s the backlist that makes my life unsupportable. Ha ha ha ha, sway-backed creaking floors anyone.
‡‡ This is one of those occasions when you’re way better off with dogs as live-in companions than humans. This way there’s only I pacing the floors and moaning like an unquiet ghost . . . no, wait, there are no floors available for pacing. Perching on my kitchen stool above the battle zone, wringing my hands, dorking at the keyboard and moaning like an unquiet ghost. The hellmob do not care. This is so fabulous I almost care less. I did think the hellterror might object to being exiled into the sitting room, especially since her crate is now kind of Gollum’s cave at the bottom of the Misty Mountains, but she’s all, is there FOOOOOOD? My crate usually has FOOOOOOOOD. There’s FOOOOOOOOD? Then I am cool. The hellhounds, of course, love everybody, including kneeling plumbers with soldering irons.^
^ I signed up for the 1-2 am slot of the forty-hour Pentecost vigil at St Margaret’s Thursday night. I took the hellhounds with me since I am a little twitchy about being all alone in an open, lit-up church in the middle of the night, but in fact if anyone of dubious provenance wandered in the hellhounds would want to be best friends. However I was very glad of them when the 2 am vigilante did not show up and—hey, you know, it’s a vigil and it doesn’t count if no one’s there—I stayed on, with sleeping hellhounds—er, heavenhounds—keeping my feet warm WHY ARE CHURCHES ALWAYS SO COLD—I don’t suppose Jesus would have minded if I got down on the floor with them and draped them more comprehensively about my person, but I didn’t. However I was wondering if Buck would kill me if, when the 3 am person didn’t show up either, I went round to the vicar’s house behind the church and knocked on the door. Then Buck showed up as the 3 am person. With a very, very, very large mug of coffee. And I went home. Yaay. Alight with holiness. Well something kept me awake for the drive.
‡‡‡ Meanwhile I was supposed to be meeting the estate-agent photographer up at Third House, having let the plumbers in to the cottage, but there were as yet no plumbers to let in. So I rang the estate agent and asked for a favour, that one of them meet the photographer . . . and then I sprinted round the block with the increasingly cross-legged hellmob and arrived home to a phone message that the photographer was going to be late, and when I rang the estate agent who was supposed to be waiting at Third House already, he wasn’t answering his mobile AAAAAAAUGH so I then sprinted up to Third House with hellhounds, who thought we were having a really splendid adventure, AND HE WASN’T THERE. AAAAAAAAAAAUGH.^
^ I also had a long-previously-booked probate-and-taxes appointment with the accountants that afternoon AND a meeting of the local alternative-practitioners group in the evening, who were going to be talking about homeopathy, and who were allowing unconsecrated members of the public past their august portals for some reason. But the point is I don’t have days like this.
§ Hellhounds withdrew to the back of their crate and made snorting noises.
§§ And the tallboy will no longer fit in its corner, but has to sit a couple of inches farther into the room. In a room this small containing a tallboy this large this is a pivotal strategic consideration. There was language and maybe a few tears.^
^ And yes, I had to take all the (full) drawers out to move the sucker.
POSTSCRIPT: And as I, perhaps unwisely, have been putting my kitchen back together again since the cataclysm should be over in here and the next area to be sacked and ravaged is my garden, I discover that the new location of the tallboy means that the hellterror’s crate no longer fits where it used to go, and if I push it back so the door opens wide enough that her little square self fits through and I can get my shoulders in to change bedding and sweep . . . the back end jams against the fuse box and the WASHING MACHINE DOOR WILL ONLY OPEN HALF WAY.