December 10, 2016

Never underestimate a hellterror in pursuit of FOOOOOOOOOD

Note that writing, or writing at, a blog post over the course of several days plays to my weaknesses, which is to say I keep adding just another little sentence.  Just a little sentence.  Or footnote.  Cough cough.  And I am NOT at this point going to try to untangle this unwieldy sucker into two blog posts* or it’ll be another week before I post it, by which time it will be THREE posts long.**  –ed. 


Pav can count to four.

The hardliners among you, tut-tutting at this shameless anthropomorphising, are welcome to think of another explanation for what I’m about to describe. But as it happens I’ve also been reading Franz de Waal’s ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE* and shouting YES! about three times a page so what a good thing I don’t read on public transport.**  One of his big points being that we should consider the possibility that we aren’t anthropomorphising, we are acknowledging that animals are clever and adaptable and share more intellect and intellectual skills for problem-solving with us than we’ve previously tended to want to acknowledge, us humans being unchallenged rulers of the known universe and all, and we’re the only animals who feel empathy and use tools and so on, RIGHT?  Anyone who agrees with that last can stand in the Naughty Corner with a pointy hat on.***

So I’m going to say that Pav can count to four, and if you don’t like it, it’s a free virtual country, and you can go away and read up on late-breaking news about Avogadro’s number or something equally worthy.† But this tale of canine computational capacity goes like this. . . .

I am turning into such a softie in my old age partly I think just because age tends to motivate you in one direction or another—change, change, change!  All change!††—and partly because the current generation of four-foots and I have been increasingly our own little unit as Peter got frailer and frailer and now of course They’re All I Have.†††  Also I feel a bit guilty about Pav whose position at the bottom of the hierarchy must be enforced one way or another because as a hellterror she’d run all of us if she could, and the hellhounds wouldn’t put up much of a struggle‡, and the fact that she’s mostly really good about this makes me feel more guilty because . . . because I’m like that.  No previous furry generation has ever been allowed to GET UNDER MY FEET when I’m cooking, but when I was first grappling with the hellhounds’ food issues I was so frantic for ANY sign of interest in food that I let them mill around underfoot when I was stripping chicken carcases etc.  The hellterror of course took to this activity immediately and has tended to generalise in a way that wouldn’t occur to the hellhounds, and because therefore this also gives her and me a chance of Additional Interaction that doesn’t involve hierarchical issues‡‡, I’ve paid more attention to the dropping-bits-of-food scenario with her.

Mostly what I drop is bits of veg or apple. And because canine guts are shorter than ours because said guts are built in expectation of meat not fibrous stuff that takes more transit time to do the critter any good, I chop these bits up tiny. And to keep it interesting I sprinkle them around the floor rather than just plopping them as a wodge where I’m standing.‡‡‡  And the hellterror races around gobbling them up BECAUSE THEY MIGHT GET AWAY IF SHE DOESN’T EAT THEM FAST ENOUGH.

I started dropping four snippets a while ago for no particular reason except that it was easy and meant I could keep doing what I was doing without thinking about it.§  And it slowly dawned on me that she had learnt to look for four, count ’em, four, snippets.  So I started experimenting.  I dropped three in a group and the fourth one at a distance.  She found all four.  I spread all four out§§ and she found all of them.  I put the fourth one down silently while she was otherwise occupied.  She still found it, because she was looking for it.  But if I put a fifth snippet down silently when she’s engaged elsewhere, she does not find it.  Because she’s not looking for it.§§§

God help me if I only put or drop three.  First she hunts around in increasing disbelief and outrage and then she stalks over to me and plants one heavy forepaw on my foot.@ I have mentioned before how leaden a mere one-quarter of the footage of a thirty-pound dog can be.  Intentionality is all.  At this point I need to drop that fourth snippet immediately or she will hold out for a brand-new batch of four.

Your beloved and absent-mindedly patronised domestic critters are bright little munchkins. Be careful what you start with them . . .

* * *

* Especially after I already had to print this one out to have half a chance of matching text to footnotes. I do not guarantee that I was successful.  Moan.

** Actually this one is already up to three-post length. If you’re counting.  But why would you be counting?

* Thank you, Gryphyn, for telling me about it. I’m a huge long-time fan of de Waal^ but I don’t keep up with new releases so it might otherwise have been a while before I discovered it.

^ Peter got me started on him.+ Any of you who have read one or more of Peter’s chimpanzee books++ will understand why Peter found his work fascinating.

+ Siiiiiiiigh.

++ POISON ORACLE is probably one of my top half dozen Dickinson favourites. I say ‘probably’ because as soon as I started to list them there’d be more.

** I knit. Of course.  You knew that.  I can’t read, I’d be motion-sick in no time.  Especially since I like sitting on the top of double-decker buses, which sway. Another great reason to learn to knit.  Something to do when the view from the top of your bus is cement factories and car graveyards.  There aren’t a lot of these in Hampshire but there are definitely stretches where you would rather be looking at your hands and that really pretty yarn you feel quite smug about buying on sale.^  Especially now that I’m old, and if I ever frelling got around to it, could get a free Old Person’s bus pass, and then think of all the extra knitting I would get done.^^  I might have a nervous breakdown about the way the official bus schedule has nothing to do with when buses actually arrive or leave but I could probably learn to swing with this.^^^  Possibly in time with the swaying of the bus.


+ No.  I don’t pick up dropped stitches well.  I don’t understand why naturally lumpy yarn like Rowan’s Thick ‘n’ Thin isn’t enormously popular.  It hides errors so much better than the all-one-size stuff.

^^ When I’m not peering over fences at people’s laundry, dogs, half-finished patios and lumpy tarpaulins over the half-taken-apart motorcycle they’re going to restore this year, this year, really they are, busted basketball hoops and bent jungle gyms.  Occasionally there’s a flawless hidden gem of a garden but mostly people’s lives behind impenetrable fences look . . . like mine.  Although I know better than to think I’m ever going to learn to do anything constructive with a motorcycle, so minus the motorcycle, although I can do the lumpy tarpaulin, and for the half-finished patio read the still unrehabilitated courtyard after my poor plumbers dug up most of it looking for that leak.+  I don’t do basketball hoops and jungle gyms but I can find substitutes.++  Dogs and laundry, definitely.

+ Did I post a photo of the busted pipe fitting?# Maybe it only looks spectacular to me.  It’s just a short bulge of pipe with a tap coming out of the middle. And a large cracked hole through the threads at one end.##

# Yes I could check. I’m not going to.  I have no desire to glance back at anything to do with this horrible year.

## I don’t think I told you that my apple tree produced spectacularly this year? I was worried because it’s had Niagara running through its roots for the last thirty years~ and fruit trees are thirsty beggars.  We had decent rainfall this year—and I remembered to throw some water on it now and then when the rain stopped—but it won’t have had anything like as much water as it’s had in years past.  And not only did it do very well but the apples were larger than usual.  Maybe the absence of Niagara made the June drop more effective?  I have no idea.  Now I’ll worry that the real effects won’t show up till next year.  Like I’ve been waiting for the real effects of having the wall fall down and some blasted human mucking about below ground level to lay a new wall right where its roots are, for the last several years.  Granted it falling over last autumn counts as an effect but the point is IT’S STILL PRODUCING MAGNIFICENT APPLES.  It is a gallant object.  And I hope it doesn’t mind that Niagara has moved to North America.

~No I have no idea how old it is, but I believe it was put in early in the previous owner’s tenancy, which would mean getting on thirty years. And while it’s small as trees go it is admirably gnarly, the way aged apple trees should be.

++ A few years ago garden centres started selling these fabulous big plastic buckets in GREAT COLOURS. Turns out the narrow (plastic) handles rot off after about one winter outdoors.  I have kind of a lot of these because you can’t frelling move them around without handles but the bucket part is still perfectly good so I can’t possibly throw them out.

^^^ I’m learning perforce at the minute because I keep having reasons I need to go in to Mauncester or Zigguraton AND IT’S CHRISTMAS. IT’S THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING CHRISTMAS SEASON WHEN EVERYONE ON THE PLANET PLUS ROCKETLOADS OF TOURISTS FROM THE OUTER REACHES OF THE GALAXY ARE OUT SHOPPING AND STICKING UP THE ROADS AND PAVEMENTS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE. I keep wondering if the rest of southern England, Great Britain, the world, the solar system, blah blah blah is EMPTY because EVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE? It must be the Borg again.  But why they have it in for a little wodge of Hampshire I have no idea.  I have to keep telling Wolfgang it’s not that I don’t love him any more+ it’s that unless he wants to add perching on flagpoles to his list of accomplishments, finding a parking space is more than our lives are worth, and throw in the lives of two hellhounds and a hellterror to the balance, since they wouldn’t want to be left behind if we soar unexpectedly heavenward.++  I had a Samaritan seminar Saturday AFTERNOON. Can you conceive of anything more horrible than a Saturday afternoon in December in the ultimate Christmas shopping hub? AAAAAAAAAUGH.  No.  Trust me.  You can’t.  PTSD.  I may have to go back into therapy to recover.+++  And the bus station is at one end of town and the Sam seminar was being held at the other end of town.  Uphill.  Just by the way.  And even with my two-ton knapsack as battering ram++++ I had trouble crashing through the frelling ambling crowds.

+ Do I or do I not take him to the monks’ at least twice a week? YES.  I DO.

++ I keep telling you Wolfgang is a member of the family. And furthermore he’ll be clean in heaven.  Although I’ll probably ask to keep the herb Robert tucked under the edge of the bonnet as a special favour.

+++ Have I mentioned that I’m kind of claustrophobic? You’d never know it, looking at this house, which gives normal people claustrophobia,# but LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE? SWEATY BREATHLESS TERROR. Confirmation Sunday recently at St Margaret’s and the bishop came.  I’m used to small groups at the evening service and the church was COMPLETELY PACKED OUT.  I nearly ran away.  I would have run away, except I was singing with the band.  I was singing with the band because if I don’t sing with the band I cry.  If I hadn’t been singing with the band I could have run away.  If I’d started crying I would have run away.  How many ways can you mess yourself over and ruin a perfectly good evening.

# I’ve got some bloke, recommended by my accountant, coming on Monday to explain to me slowly and in words of one syllable what I have to do about the mortgage for Third House, which I need to take out to pay back Peter’s estate for the price of the Lodge, which wasn’t supposed to come up because Third House was supposed to sell. Anyway.  The bloke has an office in Mauncester but he lives in New Arcadia so he suggested kindly that he could visit the feeble ME-riddled spastic-brained widow at home.  There was a long pause on my end of the phone and I could hear him wondering what he’d said wrong.  Um, I said finally.  I don’t do housework at the best of times, these are not the best of times, and I can just about fit through the door despite press of all the stuff from Third House cluttering up the place.  And I’m thin.  Also there are three dogs.  Three lively enthusiastic dogs.  With a sales pitch like that how could he resist.  So he’s still coming here.  You might want to pray for him.

++++ You wouldn’t think knitting would weigh that much. Even plus an iPad and a book.  YES.  A BOOK.  HARD COPY.  I used just to travel everywhere with a book.  Now I travel everywhere with an iPad and a book.  Of course.  Certainly.  With a rich and varied choice on my Kindle app.  But I’d still rather read a book. And I’m not the only one who does this, am I?

*** But do read the book. Indeed read anything by de Waal.  I wish he’d been around when I was a kid and was labelled ‘fanciful’ for thinking that critters were more than furbots with hard-wired instincts instead of motherboards.^  I read Konrad Lorenz, of course, who was a lot better than nothing but . . . well, there are a lot of ‘buts’ around Lorenz but I didn’t know about any of them when I was first reading him.  I was just thrilled by someone who took animals seriously without dissecting them first.

^ Not that motherboards were around when I was a kid either.

† I was very cast down when Alex Bello’s new book is fiendishly difficult mathematical puzzles. I might as well be trying to read Sanskrit.  Or Japanese, which I would like to be able to read.  I blogged about ALEX IN WONDERLAND, didn’t I?  Which I loved.^  I’ve got his second one on the bedside table cough cough cough cough^^ but I keep flinching away from it because I mostly still drag and shove myself through the Difficult Bits by a combination of listening and reading text, and Audible, drat them, haven’t recorded ALEX THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.

^ After a slightly rough beginning. I find, with my old English major’s bias, that popular science style has to be learnt and fitted into for a Tolerable Reading Experience very much like the style of bulging Victorian quadruple-deckers, Dickens and Eliot et all, has to be learnt.  I started reading the bulgy Victorians pretty early—they told stories after all and I’m into stories—so I wasn’t so aware of learning to roll with Dickens’ off the wall approach or Eliot’s super-frelling-thoughtful approach+ until I was in school with people who couldn’t stand any of it no way no how.  But I grew up knowing that I was hopeless at maths and so discovering popular maths and hard science has come late and . . . alarmingly.  The bit that I understood, ie use of the English language, seemed to me either patronising or over-subjective (you’re the AUTHOR.   Get OUT OF THE WAY of the STORY you’re telling), and it took me a while to climb over this obstacle.  I think in hindsight Bello’s first book is what finally did it for me.  You can’t stop me now on pop sci books . . . but for pity’s sake don’t ask me to EXPLAIN any of them or their contents.++

+ Mind you, MIDDLEMARCH is on my top ten list of best books of all time. You still have to settle in for the ride.

++ And I still frelling hate the standard practise of describing what every interviewee is wearing and what the colour of their hair is and whether they have a nice smile. I DON’T CARE. SHOW DON’T TELL. ANYTHING IMPORTANT WILL COME OUT IN THE TELLING. ARRRRRRRRGH.

^^ The ‘bedside table’ being a pile of books which happens to climb up to high-mattress-level on the bed, which is unfortunate during bedsheets-changing attempts since it’s way too high and tottery to stand up without leaning.  Against the, you know, bed.

†† And no whining

††† And a little patch of ground in a local churchyard, marked by a rose in a plastic vase.

‡ What? they’d say, opening one eye. Oh, they’d answer themselves, closing the eye again.

‡‡ Although Chaos does come and check suspiciously that I’m not dropping anything interesting, if Pav and I seem to be having too good a time.

‡‡‡ Yes. This means that food prep takes forever and that my endless complaints about needing to wash my frelling kitchen floor every frelling day^ are partly my own fault.^^

^ Which I don’t do, of course. Nobody has died yet.

^^ I mean, having three dogs is my own fault but I could contain their food in bowls.+

+ Sort of.  Since the hellhounds tend to flip these over with their noses when they wish to indicate that this is not their day for eating.  There is LANGUAGE when they do this.

§ This includes PLOTTING which tends to make me pretty stupid in the real world.^ It’s when the plotting is going badly that we practise lying down, rolling over and offering our paw. She does not seem to want to learn to sit back on her haunches with her forepaws in the air no matter how many times I demonstrate.^^ Hellterrors are such square-ended little buggers this ought to be easier for her than me but hey.

^ I have the scars to prove it.

^^ This is a JOKE, okay? Trust me, she learnt to roll over without my demonstrating.  There isn’t room in this kitchen for me to demonstrate rolling over.  Especially now with an extra table and a wormery taking up floor space.

§§ MORE frelling floor to wash

§§§ I wonder sometimes about her nose. But then I don’t suppose raw veg and apple smell like much to an apparatus evolved to locate meat.

@ And yet, speaking of comprehension, she knows she only gets two bits if they’re dried liver crumbs^ or Fish4Dogs stars^^ or—her new passion—the rinds off my goats’ and sheep’s cheese

^  I split one in half.  Look at that price.




Something to hurrah about in a cautious, low-key, not-attracting-fate sort of way


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.

* * *

* 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 . . .

A night to remember.* Or not.

Niall and I went bell ringing tonight.  Tower bells.  One proper substantial bell at a time YAAAAAAY.  Not handbells.  Two horrible little random bells at a time NOT YAAAAAAAY.

Long pause.



One of the things about method ringing on handbells is that it is SO FRELLING INSANELY HERCULEAN AND FORMIDABLE AND DEMANDING** that when you can finally ring something it’s like the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you*** and furthermore since in the process you have completely altered the structure of your brain there’s quite a good chance it will stick.†  Tower bell ringing is a ratbag of epic proportions, but in terms of learning the method line, handbells makes it look easy.

But there are important caveats about that easy.  First caveat:  you have to ring any given method often enough to gouge out a channel in your brain.††  Second caveat:  you have to be able to HANDLE the bell you are ringing ACCURATELY.  Which is the one thing—the ONE THING—that handbells has over tower bells in fatal adversarialness:  handling technique is not much of an issue with handbells.  You just shake the frellers.  Tower bells are mostly bigger than you are—usually quite a lot bigger than you are—and tact and adroitness enter the picture.  More or less.

And then there are mini rings.  Where the bells are buckets or flower-pots or large thimbles that say GREETINGS FROM GRIMSBY and you’re essentially ringing something handbell-sized only with all the style and paraphernalia of tower bell ringing.  I HATE MINI RINGS.  THEY’RE THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS.  Which is to say I suck at mini rings.†††

It was a mini ring tonight.‡

WHAT IDIOT INVENTED METHOD BELL RINGING ANYWAY.  After this it’s knitting all the way.  Starting NOW.‡‡

* * *

* We’re having a major storm out there with wind and rain and banshees.  Radio 3 has just fallen off the air with a crash and a whine^ and I’m contemplating with disfavour the prospect of getting the hellmob back to the cottage.  I tend to be a trifle top heavy because I’m carrying a knapsack full of misbehaving technology and the hellhounds are not only tall and long-legged but they don’t weigh anything because they don’t eat and will probably take off like kites the minute they’re out the door.  Which will be hard on my shoulders.  Even weightless hellhounds hitting the ends of their leads at speed tends to be painful.^^

^ And is now making intermittent gobbling noises

^^ There is a good deal of hellmob-derived pain around at the moment:  the hellterror is in full bloody [sic] streaming heat, and a good month early.  She wasn’t due even to start inspiring Darkness—who is the more clued in about these matters—to emerge from the backmost recesses of the hellhound bed, which is where he tends to remain when the hellterror is loose about the landscape, to investigate an evolving situation till about now, and never mind having already moved into the dripping [hellterror] and moaning [hellhounds] phase.  ARRRRRRGH.  I DO NOT WANT HER CYCLE GETTING SHORTER.  I CAN STAND IT EVERY NINE MONTHS.  NOT EIGHT MONTHS.  NOT SEVEN MONTHS.  NOT . . .

Meanwhile she’s not in a very good mood either.  Not only won’t I let her play with the hellhounds, and while Darkness tends to disappear into the shadows, torturing Chaos is one of her favourite games+, but she is at present only allowed to hang out in rooms with vinyl floors.  This means, for example, at the cottage she cannot come into the sitting room with me when I enter the Magical Dog Food Grotto to fetch a fresh tin or bag of something,++ nor can she accompany me upstairs to fetch the thing I know I brought downstairs a minute ago but can’t find.  Although this last is a rather desirable state of affairs given hellterror ebullience and the state of my floors as storage space.  Hellhounds negotiate, delicately, the many obstacles to straightforward passage from one room to the next.  Hellterrors spring and ricochet with abandon.  Those little bedspring legs certainly could clear the piles of books, magazines, All Stars, yarn, etc, but what’s the fun in that?  The most interesting effect however was when she knocked twenty hardback copies of SHADOWS downstairs.  Very, very interesting.  Very.

Nobody died.  That’s all you need to know.

+ Second only to hurling herself upon me in gladness and felicity when her paws are muddy and my jeans were clean a minute ago. #

# One of my many failures as a dog owner, as I believe I have told you before, is that it seems to me entirely reasonable that something only about twelve inches tall should want to jump up on you.~

~ Hey, she rolls over beautifully for little pieces of roast chicken.  What do you want, perfection?=

= She is a funny wee thing in a lot of ways.  As Southdowner told me what seems like forty centuries ago—and years before Lavvy got pregnant—you keep bull terriers because they make you laugh.  Bull terriers are also hungry all the time and to a dog, possibly especially a short dog, who is hungry all the time, almost everything looks like food.  Pav has learnt that I have an inexplicable dislike of her ingesting random bits of rubbish we meet out hurtling and we have reached a compromise about this which works reasonably well most of the time.  Something that is positively not edible, like a plastic bottle—she and Chaos share a passion for crunching plastic bottles between their teeth for the noise, but even Pav doesn’t seem to want to eat them—she will, on command [sic], when we stop by a trash bin, ‘drop’.%  If, however, her current prize is deemed edible, she will not drop.%%  But if I have lodged my protest promptly she will graciously not swallow either, but I do have to get down on my knees and frelling hoick it out of her mouth while she stands, unresisting, with the little evil eye twinkling away at me and the thought-balloon over her head clearly reading heh heh heh heh.  When the thus-removed substance is pizza or sandwich-end or similar, no big.  Yuck, but no big.  BUT SOMETIMES.  EW.  WHAT IS THAT?  EW.  EWWWWWWWW.  I swear she prances with several inches more boing per bounce after one of these encounters.

% And her resultant glow of fatuous virtue may last even a second or two.

%% What do I think she is, stupid?

++The Magical Dog Food Grotto contains only sealed containers of bull terrier ultimate desire, but she can tell the stuff’s in there somewhere.

** If there are any method handbell ringers out there reading this and shaking their heads in puzzlement because it is not difficult, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.  Indeed if you decide to join the forum so you can remonstrate with me—kindly of course and using words of one syllable as befits the case—I will not only instantly DELETE your comments with menaces and rude gestures but I will tell Blogmom to Ban You Forever^ plus a few years.

^ and your little dog too.

*** Chocolate?  Nope.  Champagne?  Uh-uh.  Perfect love?  Nah.  Hot fabulous lateral-orbitofrontal-cortex-exploding sex?  . . . Um.  Wait a minute.  Let me think.^

^ If I say handbells I will lose all credibility forever.  Such a dilemma.

† Sadly you will probably have to go through the brain-restructure thing with every additional method.  I can now (mostly, sort of) ring both bob minor and bob major AND MY SKULL HAS RUN OUT OF ROOM FOR ANY FURTHER EXPANSION.^  Planning permission for the new conservatory off the existing building will be denied.

^ Cambridge.+ Whimper.  Yorkshire++  Mega whimper.

+ Yes.  This is the name of a method.

++ Yes.  This is too.  Cambridge (minor, on six bells) and Yorkshire (which cannot be rung on fewer than eight bells) represent the PINNACLE of my handbell yearning, and I have about as much chance of attaining either of them as the hellhounds have of achieving weight-bearing lift-off on the walk home tonight and flying me there.#

# Long-time readers of this blog may feel they recall that some years ago I was grappling with Cambridge on handbells with some modest degree of success.  Yes.  Very modest.  I could get through about half a plain course on the front pair of bells.  This is like someone who wants to ride in the Grand National being able to sit in the saddle if the horse isn’t doing anything.

†† Tower bell ringing:  1,000,000,000,000 times, approximately.  This is a lot of hours out of your life.   Handbell ringing:  1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times, approximately.  Which is even more hours out of your life.  And that’s still only per pair of bells.  You can move around a lot easier from single bell to single bell in the tower^ than you can from pair of bells to pair of bells in handbells.  IT’S LIKE LEARNING A WHOLE FLAMING NEW METHOD, EVERY RATBLASTED PAIR OF HANDBELLS.^^  ARRRRRRRRRRRGH.

^ Barring little circumstantial details like the bell whose rope regularly jumps off its wheel, or the bell that has an interesting relationship with the corner of the church its rope hangs over so that on every backstroke the pew or the misericord or the flying buttress or whatever the doodah that is immediately behind you reaches out and whacks you one.  Keep your mind on your bobs under those conditions.

^^ All these diverse sub-methods do eventually meet up into one grand over-arching meta-method but that’s a lot of zeroes down that very long queue.

††† Niall can ring anything, including mini rings.  I have considered hating Niall, but . . . no.  He makes very good brownies, even if I do have to ring handbells to get any.  Also, I couldn’t hate him tonight, we went in his car.

‡ It wasn’t supposed to be a mini ring, of course, or I’d’ve stayed home.  I’VE BEEN BAITED AND SWITCHED.  I NEED CHOCOLATE.

‡‡ Maybe I’ll even finish this frelling two-years-and-counting scarf by this winter

I have spent all day . . .


. . . doing STUFF.  You know, stuff.  FINALLY got the laundry from three days ago actually hung up to dry.*  Well.  To finish drying.  It’s mostly dry already and golly is it ever wrinkled.**  I fought my way to the countertop in the kitchen next to the Aga where I sit every morning and have my tea, and where the pile of unread magazines gets taller and taller and taller.  I threw out with a sigh of relief all the catalogues saying Great bargain!  Order on line by midnight 31 March! ***  I swept the floor.†  I took delivery of 1,000,000,000 baby plants ARRRRRRGH THIS FRELLING WINTER IS GOING ON FOREVER WE HAD ANOTHER FROST LAST NIGHT THIS IS THE SOUTH OF BLOODY ENGLAND AND IT’S THE FIRST OF BLOODY APRIL.††  I’ve run out of floor space to bring in tiny geraniums and tiny dahlias and tiny begonias and tiny chocolate cosmos every frelling night††† and that’s before today’s influx of petunias.

It’s been a seriously mad ten days or so.  And I haven’t even got started. . . .  Maybe I can get back to the blog tomorrow and continue the fascinating story.  Or maybe Friday.  Or next Gammelfug day.

* * *

* This involved getting the laundry that’s been hanging for about . . . um . . . a week, down off the airer dangling from the bathroom ceiling and . . . gasp of astonishment . . . folded.  Now let’s say I have four—let’s say pink—socks.  These of necessity comprise two pairs.   You are with me so far?  They were bought at the same time from the same shop and are the same brand and the same size.  So tell me why three of them are a pair and the fourth one is clearly odd?

** I have found that the trick with unhung laundry is to get it out of the washing machine and into my open-weave-with-lots-of-holes-where-the-wicker-has-broken basket and stir it up a couple of times a day and it won’t help the wrinkles but I won’t have to rewash it because it’s started to smell a little peculiar.  If you leave wet laundry in the washing machine for three days it will definitely smell peculiar.   Ask me how I know this.

*** I put into another pile, with a guard rail around it, all the envelopes that say, Do this immediately or the world will end and you will die, love, HM Revenue and Customs.^

^ Now I am not a fan of all those government departments on both sides of the Atlantic that steal+ my money but I FRELLING WELL HATE TECHNOLOGY A WHOLE LOT WORSE.

Okay.  I know I’m a screw up but I so have help.

About twice a year I have to import money.  I earn very little in the country I live in so what there is of it accumulates in America and then I haul it in chunks over here.  First obstacle:  my Maine bank wasn’t answering my emails.  UM.  PEOPLE.  YOU HAVE MY MONEY.  They hadn’t told me my contact of the last twenty-five years had retired nor was anyone watching for rogue emails that might be coming in to her asking for little things like international money transfers.  Gibber gibber gibber gibber gibber.  Okay.  Made contact with some new unfortunate who sounds young so maybe she won’t retire for a while.  And after comparatively few failures I got the necessary fax sent and acknowledged.  Then I had to make confirmatory contact by phone.

This has taken something like ten days.  It’s true I should have smelled a rat sooner but I am used to things going wrong and . . . what was happening never occurred to me.  MY IPHONE IS EDITING THE *&^^%$%$£””!!!!!!! NUMBER.

I’m going to say that again.  POOKA, MY IPHONE, IS EDITING PHONE NUMBERS.  Not satisfied with merely destroying three-quarters of my contacts list, we are MOVING ON TO MORE CREATIVE FORMS OF HARASSMENT.

. . . I had had a comprehensive all-tech-wide meltdown a month or so ago when Raphael had to reinstall nearly everything.  One of the many, many things that went wrong was that Outlook ate most of my contacts which I have since been laboriously reinstalling a few at a time, including some of the oldest, like my American bank, which have been on Outlook since before I had a mobile phone.  And apparently in some fabulous Apple update or other that came with the reinstall the iPhone was told to put in the random British zero . . . even when the address is American and the hapless human has put in the country code because she knows she’ll forget.#  The random British zero appears between the country code and the area code and is not at all conspicuous. 

After several days of ‘this number has not been recognised’ and choruses of beeps, clicks and whistles I finally decided I must have punched the number in wrong so I pulled out my paper address book.  No, it was right (still not noticing the villainous zero because the iPhone also controls the spacing).  So I frelling wiped the number and poked it in again thinking there might be one of those invisible tech bug things that was going HA HA HA HA CHOMP off stage.  And this time I finally SAW the sodding phone adding the zero.  AND IT WON’T LET ME DELETE IT.##

At the frelling moment I have my bank’s phone number memorized.  But after the initial fury wears off I’m not GOING to remember to omit the superfluous ratblasting zero . . . and I can’t hit the auto button at all of course.

And presumably this is affecting ALL MY AMERICAN PHONE NUMBERS????  Somehow I haven’t wanted to check.

So meanwhile I finally successfully rang my bank.  AND THE FAX IS NOW TOO OLD AND I HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN. 

It may be very useful that the hellhounds would rather not eat at all, and I’m a postmenopausal woman, I don’t need food . . . Pav is going to be a little distressed, the next fortnight or so, till I finally get my money transferred and can afford to buy food again.  Maybe Peter will throw Pav a crust from time to time.

# Actually I tried it without the country code and it still puts in a zero.  It’s possibly more conspicuous without the country code but that’s not the point.

## I have, of course, emailed Raphael.  I was HOPING he was going to say, oh, yeah, that’s a known glitch, press the zurgle button and tell it to flamboodle the dorkomart and it’ll be fine.  That’s not what he said.  He said, what?

Kill Steve Jobs.  Oh, wait, phooey, that won’t work.

+ If they put more money into organic farming and non-fossil-fuel energy sources and less into weapons development and finding new ways to avoid letting people have their civil rights I would feel a little better about this.

† I should have washed it, but let’s not get carried away.

†† No fooling.

††† Not to mention scraping hellhounds off the ceiling when the eaves at the cottage insist on wailing like women who have lost their demon lovers.^  One salient difference between hellhounds and hellterror:  hellhounds try to wedge themselves under (or over) the front door to get away from the kitchen door that is making that terrible coming-to-get-us^^ noise.  The hellterror trots interestedly straight for the kitchen door and puts her nose to the corner that is causing the row.  She did me a favour, in fact, because it seemed to me, standing up at human height, that the noise was coming from the top corner, not the bottom one, but wedging the top didn’t do much.  But it turns out I can just about stop the ululation with a well-placed dustcloth around the bottom corner  . . . but try closing the door accurately on said well-placed dustcloth with the wind hammering at the other side.  Without involving fingers and even more noise. 

^ This winter is not only endless, the frelling storm winds come from the wrong direction.

^^ 1 + The inspiration for Chuck was the previous generation of course, but the hellhounds’ whippet blood is well to the fore when the eaves are howling.

+ It’s on Kindle.  You can download it and read it right now.

Blurry weekend


I had an appointment with Dentist from R’lyeh on Friday*, the second in a fortnight.**  I knew that being pumped full of anaesthesia twice in slightly less than fourteen days was not going to go down well with the ME***  but you want to get it over with, you know?  ‘It’ being death, taxes, anything to do with dentists and being tour guide for the friends of friends of friends who were told to look you up and whose idea of casual chat with a stranger doing them a favour is to complain about women bishops, Obama, and your fashion†/career††choices.

I have therefore spent the weekend in a daze of chemical hangover.†††  That no doubt explains why having made it to church, because Wolfgang knows the way, I was actually inquiring about the job‡ vacancies Buck was haranguing us about.  Because I’m so fuzzy-minded I can’t remember that I already have too much socially engaged yatta yatta stuff to do.  There’s a meeting tomorrow night about this apparently.  Maybe I can forget to go.

* * *

* I now have uniformly smooth grey front teeth rather than furrowed speckly brown ones!  Yaaaay!

** We’ve been bonding over our mutual first ownership of terriers.  A Whole Other Life Form, we concur.  I got distracted by the ‘bull’ thing and the grin, and he has a preteen son who wanted his own dog, not a part share in one of the (several) family dogs, and went for a little manic hairy thing.  The paw marks on the ceiling take some getting used to as does the robust response to the hearing of burglars at inappropriate hours.^

^ ‘Inappropriate’ being a mutable term.  During socially sanctioned inappropriate hours I’m available to suppress the little varmint.  It’s when she wants to disembowel the mailperson at 7 or 8 am that I get a little testy.

*** Which is also why I will not have my teeth whitened, and the grey will stay grey.  There are chemical sensitivities I don’t have to find out all the fascinating details of, and elect not to.^

^ The Appalling Perversities of Bodies.  It’s not enough that my multiple chemical sensitivities are probably one of the sources and maintaining causes of my ME but my frelling metabolism burns through anaesthetic with the speed of an exuberant hellhound after a frisky young rabbit, so the frelling dentist has to keep slugging more into me.  ARRRRRGH.

† ‘You could hire a tailor to replace the [disintegrating] lining of your leather jacket^ and wearing Converse All Stars is very bad for your feet.’^^

^ Yep.  I could.  And I probably will as soon as the lining rots away from the bottom hem, so all the stuff that has fallen through the holes in the pockets and now resides lumpily in the gap between lining and leather starts falling to the ground and being lost forever.

Fortunately my last lot of interesting companions for an afternoon never saw Wolfgang.  Wolfgang would have given them life-threatening palpitations.  I met them at the train station in Mauncester, guided them to the obvious photo ops in the obvious picturesque bits of town, and put them back on the train again.+

+ You know what really rankles though?  That I can never think of anything clever and quelling to say at the time.  I just suck it up like a dope and seethe like anything later on.

^^ I’m really tired of being told that All Stars are bad for my feet.  I’ve been wearing them for forty years+, three to seven miles a day for most of that time and my feet are in pretty good shape thanks awfully.  Some of the rest of me, not so much, true, but I doubt it’s because of lack of cushioning and arch support in my All Stars.  The properly-engineered-shoe argument reminds me of the other one that says that you can’t just walk three to seven miles a day you have to belong to a gym and have a personal trainer create a specific exercise programme for you.  No.  You don’t.  It’s not in the contract.

Now some of my best friends belong to gyms, have personal trainers and don’t wear All Stars because they hurt their feet.  I feel sorry for them about the All Stars++, but it’s all what works for you.+++  I have a hellmob.  We go hurtling together.  It works for us.

+ Yeeeep.

++ Personally I do not wish to envision a life without All Stars.

+++ Although in the absence of gym membership I need to keep ringing tower bells to maintain upper body strength.#  Although lifting the hellterror out of harm’s way on a regular basis counts for something.##

# Over-ringing does serve a purpose.  It also burns calories.  Wild Robert, who is built of toothpicks and super glue, can ring the 1,000,000,000 pound abbey tenor with one hand.  And does occasionally to be annoying.  But rumour has it he doesn’t eat, so he doesn’t need to burn calories, let alone go home and comfort himself with chocolate after he’s screwed up a simple touch of a simple method on a well-behaved modest-sized bell.  SIIIIIIGH.

## Chiefly mental anguish.

†† ‘Have you ever written a REAL book?’

††† I was supposed to ring frelling handbells again yesterday.  I seem to have got myself ambushed into this semi-regular extra Saturday in which Melinda and Niall try to chivvy Spenser and me into ringing quarter peals.  Apparently this is what handbell ringers do.  They don’t just, you know, ring handbells, they get together and rack up stuff they can put on their life list.  Quarters.  Full peals.  Shudder.  I told Spenser and Niall Friday night, during our usual, ordinary, low level, lots of wrong notes just-get-together-and-ring handbell session with Gillian or Gemma, that I had been badly dentalled and wasn’t likely to be up to much the next day.  Spenser said he was chiefly interested in practise and didn’t actually care about quarters, which is how I feel about it, and Niall is an obsessive crazy so never mind what he may or may not have said.  And Melinda, who seems so normal,^ would already have rung one quarter that day^^ and would probably bear the disappointment of not getting a second.

Well my brain kept blanking out and we kept crashing and burning.  As predicted.  Spenser and I had swapped pairs of bells too so I didn’t even have relative familiarity to plug the gaps.  It wasn’t all bad:  both Spenser and I felt we were getting useful practise.

Now as it happens the monks were holding a bingo night for prospective oblates or something and my usual Saturday night contemplative service wasn’t on.  I had told the assembled bell crowd that I didn’t have my usual time constraints and so of course Niall suggested we have one more crash and clang at the frelling quarter after our tea break.  I was already tired and getting stupider with multiple failures. . . .

Yep.  We got it.  And as I wrote to Alfrick later, God once again proves to have a funny sense of humour.

^ She babysits for her grandchildren!  It doesn’t get more normal!

^^ One of the Super Surprise Delight Domineering Demented methods.  The kind of thing where I can’t even read the line, let alone imagine ringing it.

‡ Volunteer.  Things like chair-straightener and crucifix-polisher and cable-winder and tea-and-cake producer.  But these apparently harmless if time-consuming occupations have fancy names like Dapifer and Manciple and one has the suspicion that the moment one had said ‘okay’ the task list would turn out to be seven single-spaced pages of deviant Anglican jargon meant to intimidate and enslave.  Or they’d have more volunteers.

Next Page »