[This was supposed to go up last night, of course. Technology is so not my friend. And today has been complex.]
Wolfgang died.* Waaaaaaaaaaaah.
And it’s Saturday night, I can’t ring the garage till Monday.** I’m wild-eyed, hair-sticking-out terrified that it’s the kind of serious that means ‘not worth mending in a twenty year old car’. I DON’T WANT A NEW CAR. And that’s aside from my interesting cash flow problem, which is to say lack of flow. I own three blinging blanging doodah frelling houses, but keeping the hellmob and me fed*** is much more unpleasantly exciting than nourishing and jolly. I like my excitement in stories. I like food† just to be there.†† NEW CAR??? Not in this reality. So, okay, after last Tuesday I wouldn’t at all mind being transferred to some other reality. . . .
I finally got some sleep last night.††† I hadn’t had anything even close to resembling sleep since the beginning of the week—I’d had a late Sam shift and then I stayed up watching the returns ohGodohGodohGodohGod when the world as I thought I knew it ended Tuesday night. It’s very hard to sleep when the world is a suddenly stranger and scarier place—I’d never thought it was exactly safe, but I thought there were some limits—and there’s an evil asshole about to destroy the country of your birth.‡ Friday I even blew off handbells. Shock. Horror. I did go, but I fell apart at the tea break and spent the rest of the evening knitting.‡ And scowling.‡‡ Hey, there were four ringers without me, and major (eight) is a lot easier than royal (ten). I WAS DOING THEM A FAVOUR. Especially because Niall makes me ring inside.‡‡‡ So maybe it was the handbells that broke me. Whatever. I came home and slept.
And so managed to scrape myself out of bed in time to go to morning Mass. I had decided that God was just going to have to forgive me for a week I didn’t make it to morning Mass, if she wanted me at morning Mass she could have made Hillary win.§ The problem with Saturday morning Mass is that I will then turn around and hare back out to the abbey for the Saturday night prayer service with the half hour silent sit beforehand§§. Twice in a day and it’s like I can begin to discern tatty black robes swishing around my ankles.§§§ But Wolfgang and I toodled home after the night service, and I was feeling as mellow as I ever do, especially since last Tuesday, and I had just backed into our parking space and I was throwing the clutch out to roll forward a few inches so that I could still get at my bins and my garden shed and the clutch pedal shot into the floor and stayed there.
* * *
* It has so not been a good week.
** Okay, I could ring the garage. But no one would answer.
*** Especially since all of us but the bullie have stringent dietary constraints. Pav only requires that she be able to get her mouth around it. When this proves to be an item of hellgoddess clothing there is domestic drama.
† and books. And yarn
†† The bullie is with me on this. The hellhounds would much prefer food not to be there.
††† Meanwhile I have another half done post, this one about my Realio Trulio Finished Knitting Project^, but the project will stay finished so I can come back to my unfinished blog about it later.^^
^ It’s about as dead boring as a Knitting Project can be but it is finished. Which makes it automatically glorious and fascinating within my knitting life.+
+ I have now reverted to the feltable wool that is going to become a series of grotty little bags, the important one being destined to carry super long knitting needles. Does anyone else have needles that are too long to fit in any standard knitting needle containers?# I suppose I could just stick them in a vase but most of my vases are full of dried roses from various occasions.## But between needing a bag pole-vaulting pole length and not being sure how much the thing is going to shrink when I felt it, people keep mistaking the long thin item coiling off my lap for a scarf. Several scarves. Several Doctor Who scarves.
There are two reasons I’m back to my felting-in-their-future bags over all the other unfinished knitting projects lying about the place. The first one is that I really like rectangles. I really, really like rectangles. You know, no shaping, no frelling counting. You just knit. And knit. And knit.###
The other reason is that I do a lot of knitting after morning Mass, when you can sit around with a cup of tea and chat with monks and anyone else from the congregation desirous of caffeine and possibly a little time to slot back into normal life.#### And, aside from all the jokes about knitting long johns for monks#####, one of the monks, whom we will call Aloysius, has decided that I never finish anything and demands proof that this is not true. Uh oh. So, I figured, felting might disguise some of my inevitable irregularities, if I’m going to have to pass the object in question around to an assembly. An assembly of jocular monks. I mean, I’m not exactly reliable, even on rectangles.
# No, of course not. Everyone but me knits on circulars. Uggggggh. SOMEBODY (else) must knit on super-long straights OR THEY WOULDN’T SELL THEM, right?
## Yes. I save empty champagne bottles too~. And one or three bottles that once contained spectacular reds. Including my first experience of Vieux Telegraph, which put Peter’s beloved strong, leathery French reds~~ on my, you should forgive the term, radar. That was on our honeymoon in Cornwall. Sigh.
~ Some of these are also full of dried roses.
~~ I AM NOT GOING TO TOUCH the whole Rhone/Bordeaux/Burgundy/claret thing. Among other reasons because I don’t understand it. But Peter could pick out one of these gorgeous items from the brambly, brain-stabbing boscage of a wine list while I sat back contentedly and waited for my glass to be filled.
### Yes. I’m a process knitter. More finished objects would be nice, but it’s the knitting that’s important. Although the fact that my finished objects tend to be pathetic may have something to do with my attachment to process.
#### If going to Mass doesn’t rattle your cage, you’re not paying attention.
##### Which would be a VERY GOOD THING in that chapel, but it would be kind of a pity to cover up the orange, yellow, pink, purple, blue, scarlet and lime green wool I’m using. If they’d agree to raise their hemlines an inch or two . . . it doesn’t have to be a lot . . .
^^ With dead boring photos.
‡ [with vast reluctance this rude and ribald footnote concerning a prominent evil asshole has been excised for fear of legal reprisals SIIIIIIIIIIIGH.]
‡‡ Knitting when I’m brain dead could have some impact on why my FOs tend to be pathetic. I’M A PROCESS KNITTER. SO WHATEVER.
‡‡ I’m still in black. I could do this for quite a while. When I was younger and less haggard I wore a lot of black, and I Never Throw Anything Out. So I still have . . . a lot of black. I’d forgotten. I’m quite glad to see some of it. Perhaps not all at once.
‡‡‡ All right, ringing ‘inside’ is more fun. You know, like walking across Niagara on dental floss is fun. The first pair (. . . of bells) and the last pair are usually the easiest of any method—‘easiest’ being relative, there is NOTHING ABOUT handbells that is easy, except maybe the sitting down in the warm part, which is the single thing that handbells have over tower bells, which tend to occur in gelid towers—and the inside pairs are the ones that dance the hokey cokey with your brain and leave you with footprints on your grey matter.
§ I have a great idea! Let’s all pray that the electoral college vote to DO AWAY WITH THEMSELVES, AND HILLARY WINS RETROACTIVELY ON THE POPULAR VOTE.
§§ It’s a ratbag that Saturday night tends to be popular for live entertainment. Three of us went to KISS ME KATE last Saturday and it was very, very well done . . . and I’d forgotten how frelling ANNOYING it is because I only remember how great the tunes are. I should have stayed home and gone to the monks.
§§§ Okay. Black is good.
£ Also, who wants a new car when their old one is kind and thoughtful enough to break down in his own driveway? Aside from . . . £££££££££££
* * *
SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I spent an hour on the phone to the RAC^ this afternoon trying to extricate myself from being the add-on to Peter’s membership, siiiiiiigh, the things that frelling ambush you, I hadn’t wasted a single thought on the likely status of my RAC membership all this year, till last night. And as so often this year dealing with Corporate Great Britain, the individual human beings were friendly and helpful^^ BUT THE ADMIN IS A NIGHTMARE. But they eventually beat their data base into submission and sent me a person. The person was about seven feet tall, eight feet wide, covered with tattoos, and looked like he probably juggled blue whales before breakfast. EEEEEEEEEEEEEK. He was also very nice. He said ‘broken pedal box’, whatever the doodah that means, but it sounds less threatening than ‘whole new clutch assembly’ which was what I was afraid of, because that was going to be the moment when everyone, beginning with the guys at the Warm Upford garage who have kept Wolfgang on the road the last twenty years, tell me helpfully that it’s not worth it for a twenty year old car. LET ME GO ON THINKING THAT ‘BROKEN PEDAL BOX’ IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE. And Mr Tattoo DROVE Wolfgang out to Warm Upford with a note from me to stick through the garage office door for Monday morning. He DROVE Wolfgang without a clutch. Gibber gibber gibber, I said . . . and then it occurred to me that once in days very, very much gone by, I knew how to drive an elderly, persnickety vehicle without a working clutch. And the person who taught me this interesting skill—this being about thirty years before internet searches—may be reading this blog. ::Waves::
Stay tuned. And anyone of a praying persuasion, pray for Warm Upford to say ‘no problem.’ I’ll worry later about the six weeks that it’s going to take to import the last in existence new pedal box for a twenty-year-old Golf from Viti Levu. I might have to start taking daytime Sam duties, when the buses are running. No! No! Anything but daytime duties!
^ I have no idea what RAC stands for, but they’re the UK Ghostbusters+ of broken-down cars.
+ Who you gonna call?
^^ Um, mostly. I think one of them had had a late Samaritan shift last night and hadn’t had enough sleep.
Not counting poor Third House I now have three gardens: the four-burner Aga size behind the cottage, the hall cupboard large enough for one unlined raincoat and a pair of All Stars if you pile one on top of the other size behind the Lodge, and a ragged grassy square about the size of the palm of my hand* in a corner between two ancient, falling-down sarcophagi in the churchyard twenty seconds from my front door. Since Peter was a clematis man I’m eyeing the sarcophagi and wondering if anyone would mind if I planted a clematis next to the gravestone–there will be a gravestone eventually–and tossed it over them as it got going. One each possibly. I’m afraid to ask what the rules about churchyard planting are since I’m sure I won’t like them.
I do have photos from yesterday but I think they may be maudlin. If I decide they aren’t maudlin I’ll think about posting them next 26 July. This one is probably maudlin too but I’m incapable of believing that a photo of a red rose is ever inappropriate**. Something I didn’t tell you yesterday because I was already too deranged is that I threw my wedding bouquet in the bottom of the hole before the box went in.*** My bouquet was the one a-little-bit sad thing about our wedding: we left for London almost immediately after the registrar finished declaring us husband and wife so I only had it about two hours; we’d only picked it up on our way to the registrar’s office. But I knew I wanted to dry it so I could keep it, so I hung it upside-down in the kitchen before we left, and it was toast by the time we got back.† It’s been sitting in a particular china pitcher for the last twenty four and a half years but I knew I wanted to bury it with him.†† Although that empty pitcher is now very eye-catching.
I wanted to say one more thing about all of this. I’m not mythologizing–much. I’m telling you the truth–my truth–about death and grief the way I have always tried to tell you the truth about anything I write here: but all public blog truths are consciously selective truths and I’m a professional writer. Peter was not a perfect human being and you already know with knobs on that I’m not a perfect human being. In some very important ways we were a gloriously, life-enhancingly, ridiculously well-matched couple. In some other very important ways we didn’t get on at all. Everyone is a control freak about something, and our control freakeries did not integrate well. And I’m stubborn, but I have nothing on Peter; I keep remembering that I called him ‘monolithic’ in my memorial piece. Yes. I’m (ahem) volatile and (ahem) reactive, not to say overreactive, um, yes, let’s say overreactive, and Peter was a proper British gentleman who reverted to type under stress. As I grieve I am not remembering a halcyon, glittering marriage with twinkling stars and fluffy bunnies–NO BUNNIES–with twinkling stars and dancing centaurs with rhinestone-studded hooves††† that went on and on in days full of unbroken golden sunlight‡ and the smell of roses, even in January. And the last two years were grim. But we loved each other and we did our best. And I miss him horribly.
* * *
* I have big hands.
** Or a pink rose, or a white rose, or . . .
*** I’d been expecting some little cardboard number, just something to transport the ashes to the ground where they could become one with tree roots and earthworms, but it was this disturbingly classy wooden box with a plaque with his name on it. Eeep. It looks like the kind of thing you keep on the mantelpiece to discourage visitors. If ash receptacles were discussed when we were first arranging the funeral, including indecorous details like the practical disposal of a dead body, I completely spaced on it, but I’m doing a lot of that. We got the British-made woven-willow coffin right, and the flowers, and that’s what counts to me.
† We had dinner at a blisteringly grand restaurant in Knightsbridge that doesn’t seem to exist any more and I kept looking across the table and thinking, you mean I get to keep him?, spent the night at the Ritz, yah hoo whammy^, spent another night in London to go to the opera^^ and then drove to Cornwall for the rest of our honeymoon. I’ve told you this story, right? Peter said, so, where would you like to go for the honeymoon? France? Italy? Japan? Er, I said. Cornwall?
^ They give you a bottle of complementary champagne if you say you’ve just got married.^ I still have the bottle. You’re not surprised, I hope.
^ I assume they check? Otherwise this system seems to me rife with possibility of misuse by the champagne-loving crowd who can afford the Ritz’s prices. Spend £1,000,000,000 on a room and get a £50 bottle of champagne FREE!
^^ Turandot, because that’s what was on, not because I wanted to see Turandot, the plot of which makes me chew the wallpaper particularly hard. I’m reasonably sure I’ve done a Turandot rant on these pages. But, you know, opera, on your honeymoon. Yessssssss. Hey, it wasn’t me! Peter suggested it! Because he was lovely and adorable and kind and thoughtful when he wasn’t being totally frelling impossible.
†† Note that dried flowers as they get older and frailer, because I didn’t treat these with anything that would make them last, become increasingly undustable, and removing sticky cobwebs? Forget it.
††† You may have guessed I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
‡ This was happening in England after all.
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 . . .
So last 7 September Peter had a second stroke.* And he was clearly much weaker than after his first, and while he did regain some strength, he stayed very frail. He moved to Rivendell. There were some discussions between us and among the family about bringing him ‘home’ with 24/7 care; I was against this—as Peter knew—I way preferred having him somewhere with 24/7 medical care on the premises** and also the constant relentless cycle of staff shift changes*** is a boost—a pathetic boost but still a boost—to morale and energy levels. You know that all that professional cheeriness is professional but it still has an effect. I was nearly as depressed as Peter, even if I could stand up and walk without a steadying hand†. And Rivendell has big open well-lit corridors suitable for people in wheelchairs or walking frames and Third House . . . doesn’t.††
I also felt that while the fashion lately seems to be that people should stay in their own homes if at all possible, coming back to Third House where he used to be able to live independently and wouldn’t be able to any more would be a complete downer—and while the focus is on Peter, the ‘complete downer’ part would include me too.†††
I did suggest day visits back to New Arcadia and Third House but he wasn’t enthusiastic—I assume for some of the same reasons that coming ‘home’ with 24/7 care was less than attractive—and the twice (? I think) we tried it were not a success. A nice sticky cake at a tea shop was a much better outing.‡
If it had been entirely up to me I would have put Third House up for sale immediately and get it over with. But—ahem!—I may be slightly known for rushing into things. I was talked into keeping it a little longer and seeing how things went. And, okay, miracles have been known to happen.
Miracles, as we know, did not happen.
But I wanted to be able to take Peter somewhere that wasn’t professionally run, whether it was Rivendell itself or all the tea shops within Wolfgang’s and my limited driving range. I couldn’t take him home to my cottage; there’s a steep half-flight of stairs up to the front door. Even if I cleared off the thick accumulation of plants in pots on the steps he’d never manage it. Also, assuming that I would later if not sooner sell Third House, I needed ground-floor access for my piano.‡‡
MEANWHILE, the little house, not yet christened the Lodge, had been on the market most of last year. Real estate is funny. This is a desirable area and another house within a thirty seconds’ walk of me went indecently quickly for way too much money recently. And we’re all getting slavering come-hither notices through our mail slots from estate agents saying ARE YOU THINKING OF SELLING YOUR PROPERTY? YOU SHOULD BE, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE WE WANT TO SELL IT FOR YOU. PLEASE RING AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE SO WE CAN DO A VALUATION . . . which will be for a lot more money than the house finally goes on the market for but they don’t mention that and ruin their jolly frolic. But the Lodge is really rather small and most people want at least enough room to swing a hellterror.‡‡‡
I have a bit of history with the now-Lodge. The woman who lived there when I first moved into my cottage was very kind§ and I liked the house itself on sight. When she died I even tried to buy it. McKinley the Real Estate Magnate. Only I failed. But that turned out to be a good thing because I bought Third House later instead. Sigh. Full circle time, bleagh. Spinning in circles just makes you dizzy till you throw up.
So: tiny house. Diagonally across the street—the twisty, potholed, one-lane-wide-with-close-crowding-brick-and-flint-walls-to-emphasise-this-feature street—from me. Barely a second house at all.§§ It’s more the summerhouse at the end of your garden with a full kitchen and occasional traffic problems and not nearly enough rose-bushes. I talked it over with Peter. And he agreed to loan me some of the money from the sale of the mews—remember the mews?—so I could buy the Lodge before someone else woke up and bought it out from under me (again), and I could pay him back after I sold Third House.§§§
Then he died.
I was by then committed to the sale and I don’t know if there’s a ‘compassionate withdrawal’ option in the TOTALLY perverse and screwed-up British property law. But I still wanted the house, to the extent that I wanted anything at that point. My cottage is blinkety-blankety well jammed, never mind that I couldn’t get my piano up the stairs or past the chimney breast, and I was going to want to keep more of Peter’s gear than a whippet-shaped paperweight and a bottle of champagne, which meant I needed somewhere to put it. So I stumbled along, signing my name wherever someone told me to sign my name, and bought another house. Which is why I presently, unwillingly, own three houses.
And this blog post is now at least twice as long as it should be.# I don’t know that I was ever going to get on with clearing out poor Third House toward selling it very quickly but under the circumstances that I am obliged to do it## it’s been going very slowly indeed—rather like getting this post written. But spring is trying sporadically to arrive and it will make all of us feel better, right? That’s one of the things spring is for. Doodah doodah. And I am coming to the end of the clearing-out.### And I will get on with my life.
I keep saying I’m going to post sooner next time. One of these days I’ll be telling the truth. . . .
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* ::starts crying:: It’s not corn-cracker crumbs^ that’s going to do for this laptop, er, ultrabook, it’s being cried on.^^ My tear ducts are going to need replacement soon too. Or a medal for loyal service under intolerable circumstances. Or both.
^ Maize and rice seem to be the only cereal grains I can eat without risking dire reprisals. And I don’t LIKE rice crackers.+
+ Note that I didn’t eat any of Ruby’s high tea. Scones? Clotted cream? Instant Death. But I can still admire.
^^ Crying makes your eyes blur. So you lean forward. Over your keyboard.
** 24/7 care furthermore which has had at least theoretically enough sleep each shift to be able see what they’re looking at, or hear a client buzzer go.
*** See: have had enough sleep
† And there were days when a steadying hand would have been a good thing. Or at least taller dogs.
†† Also . . . I worried kind of a lot about getting one of those 24/7 live-in home-care people that Peter and I could bear to have around TWENTY FOUR FREAKING SEVEN.^ At a place like Rivendell, a staff member you don’t much care for, hey, she’ll be off in a few hours and you may not see her again till next week. Or he, but the staff is mostly female.^^
^ Also—for any of you who haven’t been through this mill—they’re not 24/7. They get at least a couple of hours off every day which isn’t a big deal in your schedule—I spent increasing amounts of time running around doing stuff, Peter’s last two years, out of despair and helplessness, but I was still at Third House more than I was at the cottage—but it’s a big deal in your sense of responsibility. Also your standard, even-remotely-within-budget 24/7 home care person has no more medical training than you do. This would not have done anything good for my already chronic insomnia.
^^ This might make me testier except that most of the admin are women too.
††† Like putting up with the 24/7 carer would be an issue for me too.
‡ And for some of the same reasons as Rivendell was a better choice: because of all that public professional bustle and chat. At Third House the walls tended to close in. Peter and I were/are both introverts which is only a good way to be when you’re not depressed out of your tiny minds and having to resist the urge to crawl into your hole and pull it in after you. That last two years, resisting meant Peter played a lot of bridge. I went out and joined stuff.
‡‡ And SOMEWHERE to put a gazillion boxes of backlist, both mine and Peter’s. Not to mention all those other, other people’s books that are accustomed to being out on shelves. The shelves at the cottage are FULL and we’re not even going to discuss the piles on the floor. I’m tallish and thinnish and have long legs for my height . . . I can negotiate.^
^ The hellterror is a bit of a problem. Her little bedspring legs certainly can take her cleanly over book mountains. She just doesn’t see why she needs to do it that way. It’s so much more dramatic to approach these obstacles in bulldozer mode.
‡‡‡ The hellterror is also in favour of this. She likes the view from my arms because the hellhounds are a lot shorter than she is.
§ It was also amusing, after having lived in a nine-bedroom etc house, to have a visitor who thought the cottage was large. Her stories of my predecessor were even more amusing.
§§ People keep asking me, puzzledly, why I don’t sell both Third House and the cottage and buy one house that is the right size? The short form is that the cottage has been my increasingly-necessary bolthole for the twelve years we’ve lived in town and I couldn’t bear to leave it now nor any time in the foreseeable future. Also I like the Lodge and the hellmob and I walk past it a zillion times a day and it feels like part of the family.^
The slightly longer form is that I won’t find that house in the centre of New Arcadia where I am now. In hindsight I lucked into the cottage because the previous owner wanted to sell and it needed some updating^^. And real estate in little old Hampshire villages has gone completely nuts—or even more nuts—in the last dozen years. A quiet cul de sac^^^ just off the frelling centre of frelling town? How perfect is that? I’m keeping it. And while the Lodge does front on the main road it’s end-of-terrace because of the cul de sac, which means I have one wall that is not common, to put my piano on^^^^ and to sing at.
^ I keep having to remind myself that it now is part of the family.+
+ The house on the other corner of the cul de sac—so opposite the Lodge—has also recently sold and that makes me very sad because it’s part of the family too and I was friends with the humans who lived there and I will miss them and I don’t know if I’ll be friends with the new inhabitants or not. I never had any delusions of buying it however—in the first place that family had lived there forever and you don’t think about people who have been somewhere forever selling up, and in the second place it is LARGE. Even if I wanted all that space, which I don’t, I couldn’t begin to afford it.
^^ Which I haven’t done of course. Fresh paint on the walls and I’m in.
^^^ Although there are going to be problems with the Lodge’s common-wall neighbour’s little mega-yappy frelling hysterical dog. I’ll worry about that later. Or maybe I’ll just let the hellterror eat it. —Dog? I’ll say. You’re missing your dog? I have no idea.
^^^^ Yes I know you’re not supposed to put a piano on an outside wall. It’s better than being AUDIBLE. When my piano tuner comes I will ask him if I should do something like hang a RUG on the wall behind the piano. I still have lots of rugs from the nine-bedroom country house with the gigantic front hall, despite several of the family gallantly adopting a number of them.
§§§ I wish I could tell you even some of the saga of The Buying of the Lodge. It is full of excitement and suspense . . . and morons. Especially morons. Morons who might conceivably take umbrage^ if I told my version even though it is the true version.
Well, here’s just a teaser: for various reasons, including the fact that I was out of my mind for about six weeks from the beginning of November to the middle of December, the whole rubbishing business of the sale went on and on and on and on and the moron-to-person-possessing-at-least-semi-functioning-brain percentages were not in the non-morons’ favour.
Peter had wanted to see the new STAR WARS and since I’d been sure it would be booked out weeks in advance I’d bought the tickets yonks before, for the two of us and some random family members. The tickets were for Christmas Eve Eve. I declared I was going to go anyway because I didn’t want to blow off the last thing scheduled that I was supposed to do with Peter, and Georgiana said she’d keep me company. We were going to Peter’s and my favourite restaurant afterward for supper and to raise a glass.^^
The film was the film was the film.^^^ Georgiana and I both dove for our iPhones as soon as we were sitting down in the restaurant—having ordered our fizz—because this is the modern world and that’s what you do, and because I was expecting the confirmation of the sale and the news that I was now the proud possessor of three houses^^^^ and Georgiana was worried about one of her in laws who was in hospital.
I had a phone message. It had arrived at 4:58 pm on the 23rd, so just as everything shut down for a week over the holidays. And the message was that some creepazoid farther up the ‘chain’ [see: capricious and degenerate English real estate law] had thrown all his toys out of the pram and declared he wasn’t selling after all, the chain, therefore, had disintegrated and my purchase of the little house was off.^^^^^
And Georgiana’s relative had just gone into intensive care. We got through kind of a lot of fizz that night.
^ I can’t actually imagine any of them reading fantasy authors’ blogs, but you never know.
^^ I don’t have to tell you that this glass would contain fizzy liquid, do I?
^^^ Not a rabid STAR WARS fan, sorry. And it kind of lost me in the first reel-equivalent when the English-rose complexioned sweetie was presented as living as a scavenger in a desert. Although I did like it when that—ahem!—iconic object came roaring up out of a sand-dune [NO SPOILER! NO SPOILER!] when she and her new confederate are trying to escape.
^^^^ And heavily in debt for the privilege.
^^^^^ I believe that everyone else involved—they let me off, which was kind of them, since I wasn’t really up to the full screaming, kicking and punching thing—went to this guy’s house swinging long lithe bits of heavy metal in a significant manner and told him you want broken chains? We can show you broken chains. However it was arranged, the sale was back on in the new year.
# For symmetry it should probably be three times. Um . . .
## Including that I now owe the estate the repayment of that loan.
### Of the house. Then I have to start on the garden and the shed and the summerhouse. AAAAAAAUGH. But the estate agent can start showing it as soon as the house is clear and the heavily-armoured cleaning service has been around obliterating all traces of humanity. And caninity.
Nor are we going to discuss the unpacking of the Lodge. At least I’m good at jigsaw box-and-furniture arrangement, and Atlas, who is building the bookshelves, is used to me.
I set fire to my hair the other night. Oops.
It was very exciting for a second or two. I smelled that unmistakable frying-hair smell at the same time as I felt something odd happening on the top of my head—at the same time as Ruby, across the restaurant table from me, screamed, and we were descended on by several staff—at the same time as I jerked upright and away from the innocent candle sitting in its little dish next to the salt and pepper and a random flower in a vase. I managed to burn my hand too by slapping at my hair while grabbing my heavy linen napkin* and whacking it down over my head a scant inch or two in front of Ruby diving across the table with hers.**
So I have a tiny frizzly patch on the crown of my head. My hair hasn’t been itself since menopause*** and while frizzle is never a good look I haven’t had a good hair day in about a decade and there is no effect† for it to ruin.
Don’t do bereavement, everyone. It sucks on so many levels. I’ve broken so much china I’m tempted to buy evil planet-destroying off-gassing melamine and get it over with. Apparently I’m branching out into self-arson.
Ruby was here nearly a week.†† We hung out. We talked and talked and talked and talked AND TALKED AND TALKED. We got through a surprising amount of therapeutic champagne.††† We had high tea at a tea shop that understands proper British high tea. Scones, clotted cream, the lot. It’s surprising how few self-described tea shops do any more. We made a special excursion to Winchester Cathedral because of the shop where you can get EVERYTHING branded with the Winchester Cathedral logo: tea mugs, tea towels, tea bags, candles, pencils, note pads . . . chocolate. Ruby had to go home with gifts, after all. I bought a Winchester Cathedral eraser. It’s shaped like a book and it’s PINK.‡ We went round to Niall’s and made her ring handbells.‡‡ We slogged across a lot of soggy Hampshire countryside with an assortment of hellcritters. She’s another of my oldest and dearest friends.‡‡‡ And it was GREAT having her here.§ Except for the part about her going away again. Sigh. . . . .
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* It had never occurred to me before that restaurants provide heavy linen napkins just in case any of their customers are recently bereaved idiots who may set fire to themselves. If I’d done this at home I’d have had to hit myself with a hellhound.
** Staff were presumably approaching with a fire hose or possibly an order for committal to the nearest residential facility. Fortunately they restrained themselves.
*** SOME DAY I MUST change that mini icon photo of me with short hair that appears everywhere. I had short hair for about a year and a half when menopause made so much of it fall out I was seriously thinking about wigs. But I couldn’t stand being fussed over having it cut every month or so UGGGGGGGH and after a while I just stopped having it cut which meant it . . . er . . . grew long again. I’ve never had a lot of hair but it has just enough wiggle—I won’t dignify this by calling it curl—that it looks thicker than it is. If I had any pride now I’d keep it short, but enough of it grew back in, still slightly wiggly, when I stopped having it cut that I’ve let it be long again, which it had been since my sophomore year of high school. AND AT LEAST THIS MEANS NO ONE BUT ME IS MESSING WITH IT.
† Note however I had gone bolshie earlier in the evening when we were dressing up for our night out. I wore my black denim mini.^ Yes. I’m sixty-three years old. Sue me. With heavy black tights I don’t even scare the horses. Over Sixties of the World Still Wearing Miniskirts, UNITE. Cross dressers welcome. So long as you respect the heavy black tights obligation to society.
^ With the fabulous black and white rhinestone belt Peter gave me. Sigh.
†† I meant to write the official Three Houses blog before she arrived but various things got in the way, things like all the frelling emergencies that have been waiting, till you’re distracted by the final illness and death of your brutally, constantly, stunned-ly missed husband, to rain down on your head like—er—flaming arrows. The letter from the water board, for example, informing me that they have PROOF that I’m Niagara flipping Falls and are charging me accordingly^ and the letter from another brisk and competent branch of local government telling me that the loft conversion at Third House was never properly inspected—HOW MANY YEARS AGO WAS THAT AND THEY’RE ONLY JUST NOTICING?????—and they want all the paperwork I haven’t seen since I wrote the final cheque to the builders LIKE I CAN FIND ANYTHING RIGHT NOW, plus things like the ginormous wodge of paperwork from Her Majesty’s Customs, Revenue and Red Hot Poker^^ Service that arrived a few days ago and starts off saying ‘I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and I understand that there is a lot going on for you right now, including the six-inch-thick stack of paperwork included with this letter which must be filled out in triplicate in the next forty-eight hours or I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog(s) too.’
^ Yes. I’m metered. Life in town. I remind myself that Peter has a point about being walking distance of the shops and that I need to shut up and deal. But I am not Niagara Falls. Unless the hellterror has learnt to turn the taps on when I’m not at home. I wouldn’t put it past her.
^^ There seems to be a slightly fiery theme to this post. Hmmm.
††† I said therapeutic and I meant THERAPEUTIC. Yes.^
^ And it was the BEGINNING of the evening when I set fire to my hair. I was still ABSOLUTELY SOBER. Which I admit is not comforting, but not much is at the moment. Comforting, I mean.
‡ I went into Idle Browse Mode the way you do in a shop when you’re there mostly for the person you’re with, and I saw something—I don’t even remember what it was any more—and thought, oh, that’ll amuse Peter!, and I had my hand out to pick it up when I remembered. . . .
‡‡ Hee hee hee hee. Well, she liked Niall’s brownies.
‡‡‡ Oldest is relative. She’s younger than I am. But the friendship is old.
§ I took her to the monks last Saturday. Even by the monks’ standards last Saturday was AMAZINGLY COLD. AMAZINGLY. She got in Wolfgang^ afterward looking like someone who had been found under an ice floe in Antarctica having lost all hope of being found before the ice worms got her. She’s now very impressed with my commitment to my faith.^^ And she’s known for decades that I’m in the top category of dangerously nutso so no surprises there.
^ Who has a new bumper. I was carless for a week, RIGHT BEFORE RUBY ARRIVED+, after he SPECTACULARLY failed his road test—more oops—like I didn’t know he was going to, since Her Majesty’s Division of Road Rage has no sense of humour or practical reality and was going to object to the bumper tied on with wire. And they did object, or at least the bloke with the clipboard did. IT WORKS FINE, TIED ON WITH WIRE. I think I told you some creepazoid slammed into me in the hospital car park early last autumn and my only thin wispy comfort (although comfort is not the word here either) was the thought that they were probably as crazy and frantic and clueless as I was myself at that point.
But the bumper, unfortunately, was only the beginning. And they wouldn’t let me have him back till they’d mended him. And it wasn’t till they finally DID let me have him back and the mechanic was going through the list with me that I realised it was all little stupid crap. Expensive little stupid crap, but still little and stupid. WOLFGANG LIVES.++
+ Hellhounds and I walked out to Warm Upford the evening before the morning I was picking Ruby up at 11:30, to fetch the car I needed to pick her up with. We didn’t know till the day before that if the final obscure replacement parts would arrive in time. And I hate suspense.
++ He’s also officially 20 years old this year. I know I tend to exaggerate& about things but calling him my 20-year-old car for the last couple of years hasn’t been exaggerating. I’ve just been rounding up.&&
& ::hums a little tune::
&& Warning: I’ve started saying that I was with Peter for a quarter century. That’s less of a round-up than you think: we missed our 24th wedding anniversary by a few days under a fortnight. But if you count from the end of July—the famous weekend in Maine—and which we tended to count from, he died five months after our 24th.#
# I said to Alfrick at some point~ when I was at the abbey weeping wildly~~ that while I had told Peter I wanted our 25th wedding anniversary together~~~ if I wasn’t going to have that, 23 years (and eleven and a half months) was somehow more interesting than 24 years. Alfrick said immediately, of course. Twenty-three is a prime number. —Which is what Peter would have said. And agreed with.
~ I don’t think I’ve told you this before. But when I say that my memory, always pretty dire, is into the seriously frightening category@, believe me.
@ I broke yet another plate a day or two ago. Maybe I’m manifesting some three-dimensional metaphor about having a broken cash flow? Or maybe I’m just trying to cut down on the amount of STUFF I need to deal with?% I feel there are better ways to perform this latter function.
% And the little/Daughter of Third/Gwendolyn house’s name is the Lodge. Niall, who if he weren’t a polite reserved British bloke would fall down laughing every time I refer to the difficulties and disadvantages of owning THREE houses, especially about having no money and getting really bad deals when you try to trade bricks or light fixtures for dog food=, said a week or two ago, so what does that make it? The gate house, the lodge? YES. THE LODGE. IT IS THE LODGE HOUSE. It does, after all, front on the main road; the cottage is tucked away up the cul de sac behind.
= ESPECIALLY the light fixtures at Third House that I never got round to replacing. Remember the plastic baronial hall candelabra? Brrrrrrrrrr.
~~ The real purpose of a spiritual adviser is to provide the box of tissues since the advisee will have already used all of hers up. There have been meetings with Alfrick recently when I got through most of a loo roll. The abbey tissue boxes are ridiculously small. Yo, Central Ecclesiastical Supply Co Ltd, LARGER TISSUE BOXES.
~~~ It’s not like I’m not going to remember, next 3 January, even if I meanwhile have been kidnapped by some beefcake pasha out of an early Mozart opera. I’ll remember, and Peter won’t be there.
^^ So am I. I am generally speaking the modern first world’s coldest human.+ I am cold all the time except briefly during heat waves when I’m too hot. Ruby is not in my league. But she does live in New York City++, Town of Large Overheated Buildings, and it amused me a lot the way she clung to the Aga.
+ I’m known colloquially at the monks’ as The Blanket Lady.
++ One of the reasons I am not planning to move back to the States#, aside from the fact that Hampshire is home and that only moving out of Third House is already making me feel like I’m trying to obliterate Peter, is because the highest population density of my old friends is in New York City and I don’t want to live in a big city again.
# I am carefully not saying ‘I will never move back to the States, I can’t IMAGINE moving back to the States again’ because that kind of thing attracts undesirable attention. Turning Christian maybe should wipe out your commitment to negotiating with fate and subcontractor gremlins, but it probably won’t. My own feeling about this is that God is essentially unknowable so why take chances about where the lines are? There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio etc.