Yes, two days, um, nights, in a row, posting to the blog. It won’t last. But I don’t want to leave that evil asshole on the opening screen of my blog for any longer than necessary: Twenty-four hours is plenty. But . . . having just mentioned him, here on what will now become the opening page, does that mean I have to write again tomorrow? Hmmmm.
Time, time, was one of Peter’s phrases. I cannot believe how much time time TIME TIIIIIIME it takes just adding one thing back into your weekly schedule. Um. Maybe two. Well, maybe three. Trying to wake the blog up counts, or counted, till the malnutrition and bronchitis splintered me, and it will count again.* I wasn’t committed to going to Mass with my monks once a week when I was last having weekly voice lessons and Samaritan shifts either. If Nadia insists on keeping me in a late-morning slot it makes the juggling act even more extreme because I can’t go to morning Mass and make it to the other end of the frelling country** for a voice lesson and the drive would wreck the fragile post-Mass serenity*** although it might have been interesting to discover what effect chanting penitential rites would have as warm-up to singing Mozart. However all such questions have been set aside as I croaked through recent weeks. I need to hustle Nadia now however in the hopes of a lesson or two before Christmas shuts all such trifles and fripperies down†: I would like to be able to scare people on the other side of a small room with my carol singing, and all stresses, including trivialities like legal suits by the local crown court and bronchitis, make my voice go into hiding-behind-the-parapet-and-squeaking mode.
But how to begin to catch up, or slot back in, with the blog and any readers who haven’t given me up as a lost cause? The daily adventure of the hellmob? Singing dismal and maudlin folk songs whilst hurtling? Conversations with Peter?†† KNITTING?††† Bell ringing?‡ The failure of Third House to sell and the oh-God-details-I-hate-details of trying to prep it to let for a year or two and see where the foaming tides of Brexit may have left us by then? I think I need to slip into the blogging business again gently.
* * *
* IT CERTAINLY DOES. I’D FORGOTTEN HOW LONG WRITING A POST TAKES.^ Also I may have an ulterior motive. Mwa hahahahahaha.
^ And I’m out of practise trying to herd footnotes. Which make cats or bell ringers or Sam volunteers+ or hellmobs look like a doddle.
+ Or St Margaret’s band members for the evening service. At least summer is over#, when there were Sundays we were getting by with three. When one of the three is you it’s a lot harder to pretend that strange background keening noise isn’t you singing.
# Aaaaaaaand . . . still no probate.~ Less than a month to the first anniversary of Peter’s death. Just by the way.~~
~ The latest interesting development from my delightful bank’s closing my private nothing-to-do-with-my-husband account and stealing all my money last May is that some of the direct debits that they killed and then reinstated . . . re-died, to coin a term. Only about a third of them did reinstate, and I’m still struggling to keep up with all the stuff I haven’t had to think about every frelling ratblasted month, because I can’t INAUGURATE ANY NEW DIRECT DEBITS TILL I’M OUT OF PROBATE but I assumed those that had successfully reconnected would STAY reconnected? Noooooooo. That would be too simple.
~~ THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST FOOTNOTE AND I’M ALREADY OUT OF CONTROL.
** Anything over five miles is my idea of the other end of the frelling country, and this would be nearly thirty miles. I’m pretty used to the commute to my monks but Nadia has moved to Somerset. Nearly. The Somerset that is the opposite direction from my monks, if you follow me, so if I were pelting from monks to Nadia I’d have to squeal back through New Arcadia on the way. Feh.
*** IF I WEREN’T WIRED OUT OF MY TINY MIND it might not be quite so fragile. Remember that the area court in Greater Footling wanted to sue me for non-payment of council tax? And that I had sorted this out? You didn’t think that was the end of it, did you? No, of course not, you are intelligent grown ups with your own stories to tell about local government. I then received another letter from the Greater Footling court system thanking me for paying up till 1 October, but that they still want me to pay up to the end of the year or they were going to sue me anyway. Point one: all three houses were, as of my at that time most recent conversation with the local council, paid up to 1 September. Greater Footling, for reasons best known to itself, is only suing me for the Lodge. The local clerk in theory had removed the whole court-case thing because my situation is unusual, and she explained that if you fall behind on your council tax they will demand you pay up to the end of the year. What? Whose bright idea was that? Most people fall behind because they’re having cash flow problems, not because they’re in probate, their bank is heli-skiing with their money, and all real-world business admin makes them cry. So you sue someone for more money because they’ve already graphically demonstrated they don’t have enough money? Is the government trying to make people homeless? Or oblige them to feed their children out of the dustbins behind Macdonalds?
But perhaps I digress. I have already referred (repeatedly) to the fact that the last two or so months have been prey to a broad spectrum of diversions, and one of the results of this is that I didn’t pay the October house tax instalments on the first of the month like a good little anal-retentive control-freak stooge would.^ Midway through the month when my legs were working better and I was coughing less and I really was going to go tackle the city council AGAIN because I’d had NO paperwork yet and according to the clerks, this being one of the few things that, over the months, everybody I saw agreed on, I should receive individual monthly invoices reminding me in the politest possible way^^ that I was due to open a vein for the benefit of the council office again, and specifying the quantity they planned to tap. . . . Now I repeat that midway through the month I had had NO PAPERWORK concerning my monthly council tax bills.
Then I received three envelopes from the city council on the same day. Declaring that I was in arrears. And for the three houses that all come due on the same date, remember the SAME DATE thing, organised to make it easier for me, a bear of very, very little brain? Yes? You remember? . . . for these three simultaneously-due houses I received two first reminders and one second reminder. So with the mind-bendiness of the simultaneity situation I can also remark that the paperwork I hadn’t received included the first reminder for the third house. Except it wasn’t for Third House, it was . . . oh, never mind.
^ My biases may be showing. But what would you rather expend your even-more-than-usually frustratingly limited energy on, friends you don’t see often enough or possibly haven’t seen in years, OR paying your frelling council tax? Anyone who says, oooh, I’d pay my tax, of course, is banned forever from this blog. I’d further suggest that I’m going to sneak into your house and hide your chequebook, except that nobody but the elderly hopeless like me uses cheques any more.
† With my voice, voice lessons are unequivocally trifling fripperies
†† I’m becoming pretty shameless about this. The locals can just get used to the scraggy old lady chatting away hard to a rose stuck in the ground in a corner between two sarcophagi. The hellmob has.
††† I certainly must tell you about THE THING I ACTUALLY FINISHED.
† I’m still all in black. I got up this morning, late, having once again watched the dawn come up before I got to sleep, stared at the clean laundry I haven’t put away yet^, and reached for the black jeans and cardi I’d been wearing yesterday. I went bell ringing at Crabbiton tonight and the other American eyed me and said, so, are you in mourning? Yes, I said. And then we did some wailing and bitching about the evil asshole before we got down to the serious business of trying to weasel out of ringing at Madhatterington on Sunday morning, Madhatterington’s bells being not only possessed by demons but they sound like a train wreck, so the ringers’ agonies aren’t even worthwhile.
^ I usually only bother to put away stuff I don’t wear that often. Something I’m going to wear again in the next day or three, why waste the time? I only need half the bed to sleep in.
Because the title box won’t take colours? WHY? —ed
So I made a ginormous pot of soup. Duh. Now one is not at one’s best coming off a gratuitous insult to one’s body like stomach flu and I haven’t been at my best in some time full stop* but it’s like I couldn’t grasp the concept of vegan broth as being suitable for consideration. Chicken soup and flat ginger ale for queasy stomachs.** If you can’t have that you are lost utterly in a hostile wilderness of deep-fried crullers, Pringles and maraschino cherries. It took several people posting or sending me either vegetable soup recipes or links to vegetable soup recipes for the tiny rattletrap cogs to connect and start clinking around in my brain. Very, very slightly in my defense I fell out of the soup habit with a thud when my freezer died***, although it’s embarrassing to admit that when Georgia and Shea were here a couple of months ago and we were talking about food and cooking and related goals, I said my next ambition was to start making my own vegetable stock.†
Well. So I NOW HAVE A FREEZER. What am I WAITING FOR. So I made a ginormous stock pot of cabbage soup††, saved some for now, put the rest through the blender and put it in the shiny new freezer in useful little 1-cup wodges. I’m so clever. And efficient.††† With a little help from my friends. To whom thanks all.
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* However I am having my first voice lesson in yonks and yonks^ and I’m starting up with the Sam[aritans] too. I am GOING to have a life again. I am.^^
^ I was trying to figure what to take in to Nadia. I’m still singing some of my favourite arias but it’s mostly folk songs. And I realised with some embarrassment that the things I’m most likely not to screw up totally are a handful of hymns to folk-song tunes. I think I’m trying to exorcise all that frelling Jesus Is My Boyfriend music that I not only sing but help lead every Sunday as an anti-crying device. Okay, it does stop me crying, but At What Cost.
^^ Including writing stories. Not only because I need the money. The thing from forty years ago that was derailing me? It’s still derailing me. It’s kind of interesting though. Um.
** Or beef broth and Saltines, or whatever is the folk wisdom in your neck of the woods.^
^ Which is a bizarre phrase. Just by the way. https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-22668,00.html%E2%80%8E
*** I live in a world of tiny autonomous under-counter appliances. When my freezer died it did not take my refrigerator with it.^
^ Although there have been some pretty redolent Appliance Follies concerning the Lodge. My little freezer died when I moved it to the Lodge—elderly freezers apparently don’t like being moved, I only need one (tiny) freezer and I’d rather have the space at the cottage for the hellterror’s crate.+ I had to buy a refrigerator and a washing machine for the Lodge anyway so what’s another expensive appliance when you’re running out of money.++ I found a fridge+++ and freezer I liked but the freezer was out of stock at my retailer of choice so I made the fatal error of trying to buy it from idiots who never consulted me about delivery but kept sending me chirpy emails saying, Your freezer is scheduled to be delivered between 5 am and 11 pm next Wednesday, please be there to let them in! ARRRRRRGH. Next Wednesday is not a good day, can we DISCUSS THIS PLEASE? New chirpy email: your freezer is scheduled to be delivered between 4:30 am and 11:34 pm next Friday, please be there to let them in! I eventually frelling cancelled and then hung around till it came back in stock at the retailer with the customer service department which is what I should have done in the first place.++++
And then there was the washing machine chronicle. I had a fancy to have this effectively second washing machine big enough really to take a double duvet, instead of only pretending to be big enough in standard washing machine bumf.+++++ There are a few 10 kg machines around, but when you start trying to buy one it turns out there aren’t, unless you want to spend £15K on a gilt-edged one to match your gilt-edged twelve-burner Aga and your gilt-edged SUV that takes up two and a half parking spaces. Well, maybe there are one or two for the hoi polloi. I tried to buy one of these. One of them turned out to be only 9 kg on closer inspection—truth in advertising, ahem—and then there was the fascinating two-for-one disappearing model. Even customer service couldn’t figure this one out and had to ring me back. Okay, it’s an old one and the new replacement model. And the new replacement model has worse water and electricity ratings than the old one, because people with SUVs were complaining that the programmes take too long. These people probably don’t believe in global warming either. ARRRRRGH.
Oh, and neither model was available.
I think I made some snarling noises. And I think my customer service person was trying not to laugh. Let me see what I can do, she said.
They found me a washing machine. One of the old slow eco-friendlier model. And I haven’t tried a duvet yet but yes, the biggest of the hellmob beds fits.
+ Little did I know that the space situation was about to become acute after my plumbers laid £800 worth of useless pipe through my kitchen. Regular readers will remember this story. Pretty much the entire available floor is now hellmob bedding, although this does make it more comfortable to lie down on when I’m having a bad day. I am of course remarkably furry when I stand up again but Yeti answering the door when it’s someone who wants to sell me something# is quite useful for scaring them off. If I’m having a bad day grunting in a Yeti-like manner, if they don’t scare fast enough, is easy too.
# Including God. I may have said this to you before? I now wear a cross, and I find it disconcerting to be (metaphorically) embraced as a sister by the kinds of Christ merchants that cold call. This usually makes the conversation shorter without any effort on my part because they bustle off to harangue someone less well defended, but occasionally they want to stay and chat about theology and . . . I don’t share much theology with my own congregation~, I do not want to get into sticky points of Scripture with random evangelical strangers at my door.
~ Hums a little tune and bends lower over her knitting
++ Because life is like this, I presently have three would-be buyers supposedly about to make me an offer on Third House. After this particular bit of fatuity is over with# I’m going to take it off the market and let it. Which is another saga.
# Which is to say that I am expecting offers of two shillings sixpence, two shillings eight pence, and one decision to move to the Caribbean. But post-Brexit, I should be grateful that someone is willing to take it off my hands. Um. No.~
~ I will not get into all the interesting stories right now about the real estate market galumphing through the zeitgeist and trampling the slow and unwary under large hairy feet.
+++ Note that the new, CHEAP fridge is much nicer than the way more expensive one I bought for the cottage several years ago because several years ago we were apparently in an anti-under-counter appliance era and this was what I could get. Bosch is overrated: pass it on. Of course I don’t yet know how long the new CHEAP fridge is going to last, and the Bosch is now having its life shortened by hellmob bedding getting jammed up against its fan, motor, dorgligfast and gluppermeyer# which are of course floor level and exposed to the elements, including the 85% ambient fur and lots of well-scrabbled blankets.
# The hellterror has her butt squashed against the gluppermeyer right now. I’ll move her as soon as it starts making protesting noises.
++++ This is John Lewis, by the way, for British readers. I know they screw up too, but I’ve never had them not unscrew up, and they’ve had plenty of opportunity for me to put them on my (lengthy) pond scum list, and they’ve never taken it.
+++++ I’ve been cranky for years, since I’m good at cranky, that I had to buy an 8 kg drum machine when my old 6 died, because apparently they don’t make 6s any more. I’m ONE PERSON. I have an ENTIRE DRAWER of white t shirts because I RUN OUT before I have enough whites to fill a frelling 8 kg drum machine. ARRRRRGH. And to add insult to injury, 8 kg is nothing LIKE big enough to wash a duvet. Sure, you can cram it in, but it comes out in exactly the same folds and creases that you used to wedge it in in the first place and the only thing that’s clean is the soap dispenser. The big proper dog beds won’t fit in either. Most of my mob’s bedding is easy because it’s old blankets. Hairy but easy. But the point of this story is that the cottage’s washing machine is too big for my ordinary purposes and too small for the extraordinary. GOOD SYSTEM, WASHING MACHINE DESIGNERS. MAY ALL YOUR BOTTLES OF WINE BE CORKED.
† I do not know why it is that proprietary stock pretty much always has Weird Crap in it, not, I realise, that the weirdness registers with normal humans. But hydrolized vegetable protein? Are you freaking joking? Even Kallo’s organic stock cubes have sugar in them three times,^ plus maize starch, which is evil.
^ Um, why??
†† Well, standard contents-of-refrigerator stock, you know? What’s in there that needs eating, especially after you’ve lost the plot a bit. Cabbage, onion, carrot, celery, lovely Shiitake mushrooms^, the huge bag of fresh basil I was going to make pesto out of^^, and I forget what all. Garlic. Always garlic. And a big handful of dry herbs for the last ten minutes. The result was, if I do say so myself, rather delicious.
^ The anti-rheumatism diet doesn’t allow ordinary mushrooms but Shiitake are actually GOOD for you.
^^ I am motivated to make [vegan] pesto. And I’m nearly through my last huge jar.
* This was supposed to have gone up last night, of course, and my so-called broadband connection wasn’t having any. ARRRRRGH. Meanwhile it’s going up this late tonight because I had that FIRST VOICE LESSON today^ and it was EXCELLENT. Not, I have to say, in terms of the beauty and accuracy of any noises I was making ::shudder:: but the excellence of being under Nadia’s tutelage again, and the way she starts sorting me out IMMEDIATELY, and sends me away with stuff I can do. This post is already too long, but let me just say in passing . . . as an anti-crying expedient, as previously observed, singing for service works a treat. As a likelihood that stage nerves will make all my shutting-down and stiffening-up habits worse it’s a sure frelling thing. Sigh. —ed
^ But by the time I got home not only was I STARVING+ the hellmob was all TAKE US OUT. TAKE US OUT NOW. WE’RE BORED. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN.++
+ Singing is a sport. Like marathon running.
++ In the first place every road in the area is torn up for roadworks AND the main road is blocked because of some festering doodah festival so it took nearly twice as long both to get there and get back. In the second place . . . the problem with Nadia’s new studio is that it requires me to drive past our excellent not-quite-local-enough-to-be-dangerous-except-if-I’m-going-to-see-Nadia rose nursery. And I may have stopped and bought a rose.
[THE ASTERISK IN THE TITLE SHOULD BE PINK. BUT THE TITLE BOX APPARENTLY DOESN’T HAVE COLOURS.]
I’ve been having an unusually bad ME day. The ME has been surprisingly well-behaved the last six months*; not that I haven’t had ME days but they haven’t been as severe or as frequent as recent stress/despair/grief levels might predict. Today it decided to slug me with several at once.** Unnnnh. But I had tickets to the live-streaming LA TRAVIATA and Admetus to do the driving*** AND I WAS GOING ANYWAY.†
And we did. And this is a good one.†† If the Royal Opera House reruns it at a Theatre Near You and you have ANY finer musical feelings††† go. I didn’t know any of this cast—and the tenor took a little while to warm up—but they were splendid. Violetta is a gift of a role, if you are a supernaturally dazzling soprano with a timbre richer than 85% dark organic chocolate who can furthermore out-act Ellen Terry‡, because you get such a range with her, from the resplendent but cynical courtesan at the beginning to the fragilely joyous woman in love at the beginning of the second act, just before it all comes crashing down, which is when you see what a real heroine she is, to the final act of loss, resignation, despair and a tiny flame of reunited rejoicing to make it more tragic. But you have to respond to her as magnificent in the scene with the lumpen prig who is her (wet, puerile) lover’s dad or you’ll be frelling overcome by the blazing misogyny of the plot—I don’t mean that Verdi is the bad guy‡‡, but the story he’s telling‡‡‡ is major ARRRRRGH from start to finish.§ You need a Violetta that will make you love her anyway.
I could produce a few caveats about this production. But I won’t. Much. §§ One of the dangers of La Trav is that if the tenor and the baritone are too lifelike you’ll be so busy hating them you won’t thrill properly. In this production the guys are actually sympathetic which is a good trick in the circs but it’s what you want so you can revel. This is a very, very good show. Go see it if you can.
* * *
* It’s February. I can no longer say ‘my husband died last month’. However ‘my husband died just before Christmas’ still presents some faintest echo of how I’m feeling.
** I broke another plate today. That makes five since Peter died, I who do not break things ( . . . very often). With thanks to Gomoto, however, who suggested it, I did manage to replace the irreplaceable one by risking life and sanity on eBay. The only drawback, that’s DRAWBACK, to this is that I had to join frelling eBay which I had thus far AVOIDED—yes, all these years, I have resisted eBay^ but apparently you can’t buy anything unless you join??? Big Brother isn’t just watching you, he has a slave torc around your neck. And I suppose if I ‘desubscribe’ from the welter of emails encouraging me to BUY MORE and to SET UP AS A SELLER I’ll just have to rejoin all over again if I ever break another irreplaceable plate, which on present form I probably will.
^ I hate auctions, for one thing. All that SUSPENSE.+ Just tell me the price and I’ll pay it or I won’t, okay? I also hate having to learn a whole new dadblatted system for some dadblatted web mogul. Blogmom could tell you I have a meltdown every time WordPress has an update and Yet More Weird New Things happen back in the admin when I’m just trying to hang a blog post, you hyperactive creeps, will you LEAVE ME ALONE.
+ I just read a really, really annoying thriller. If I’d realised it was a thriller I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but it got all these FABULOUS REVIEWS and I acknowledge that it is stylishly written, it doesn’t just rudely go for your throat and sink its teeth in, it nibbles tenderly on your ankles a bit first, leaving dainty little lacy patterns. But . . . SO ANNOYING. Nothing and no one is ever what it or he or she seems to be, and several times in succeeding chapters. Now, I hate suspense, all that waiting for which villain is going to leap out of which cupboard and in what order and bearing what weapons and what sordid tales of ancient wrongs or culpable desires, but in this particular case the agonisingly slow revelation of the true story through the endless lies, betrayals and labyrinthine motivations of all the characters stopped winding me up and just made me want it to be over with. I don’t think I followed the last sixty-seven monstrous discoveries anyway so when I finally got to the last shocking plot twist it was like, um, what? Can I go now?
*** Peter was supposed to come too. Whimper. That is, when I’d first brought it up when the tickets came available yonks ago, he’d rolled his eyes at the idea of another La Trav—I’ve told you before that he is not a natural opera lover—but I was planning to have a final assault on his artistic sensibilities/unreasonable obstinacy nearer time.
† Also despite the predictable waterworks at the end when she dies. But lots of people cry at the end of La Trav. Not so many for Beethoven’s Fifth.
†† I’ve seen this production at least twice before, both times live, really live, before cinema streaming. The first time when the production itself was new . . . with Peter. The second time when I went up to London alone on the train to see Renee Fleming . . . which I’m afraid was more notable for spectacularly doing my back in in my unaccustomed high heels than for Renee Fleming whom I found brilliant but cold.^ I’ve never worn high heels since.^^ Just by the way. And rarely have back trouble any more.^^^
^ She makes a great courtesan: not so much the dying heroine you’re going to cry over when she takes the final dive. Which, for me, brings the essential appallingness of the plot into snarling feminist focus and kind of wrecks the cathartic wallow aspect. You want the wallow. That smug middle-class boys are a right pain you can get elsewhere.
^^ I wore my fabulously floral Docs to the funeral and memorial service.
^^^ She says nervously. Since there’s a lot of Hauling of Boxes of Books during a house move.
††† !!!!!! NOT THAT I’M PREJUDICED ABOUT THE ESSENTIAL SUPREMACY OF OPERA OVER ALL OTHER MUSICAL ART FORMS OR ANYTHING.
‡ Or possibly Tessa Gratton. Any of you who don’t follow me on Twitter
Or, since I’m having my usual trouble with links, the original Twitter one opens but this one seems to open better:
‡‡ I very much doubt Verdi was a modern feminist. Ha ha. But he did live with and eventually marry a woman with a background a bit similar to Violetta’s but much better health. And they took stick for it from the lumpen prigs.
‡‡‡ And for anyone who isn’t a regular Days in the Life reader or opera goer^, La Trav tells the story of a high-end Parisian courtesan who is dying of consumption, and knows it. She lets herself fall in love with a callow young twerp who adores her and they retire to the country where they’re busy burning through all her money when his dad shows up to dispose of this trollop who is not merely ruining his son’s life but preventing his virginal daughter from marrying her fiancé because the fiance’s parents will call it off if the son doesn’t throw the whore back in the ditch where he found her and return to polite society. Well, she gives him up, but doesn’t tell him why, and he has a meltdown and insults her publicly at a demi-monde party back in Paris where they met. Last act is her dying, broke^^^ and lonely, rereading the letter from the prig saying that he and his disgusting son, whom he has told the true story of her leaving, are going to come see her now that she’s dying and won’t embarrass them much longer, presumably they aren’t going to tell the sister’s husband’s family about this little departure from the straight and narrow?, although the letter says, oh, take care of yourself, you wonderful woman, you should have a happier future ARRRRRRRRRRGH.# And then she dies in the wet twit’s arms, and the curtain comes down. Before dad and son exchange the look of relief and the ‘well that’s that then. I wonder what’s for supper back home?’
If you’ve got a Violetta worth the diamonds she sold to keep her country villa## you won’t care. You’ll be slurping up all the melodrama with a large shiny spoon. It’s only later when you’re stuffing the wet tissues in your pocket to leave the theatre tidy that your intellect catches up with events and starts wrecking your fun.
^ Do we want to know each other?
^^ Note: ARRRRRRGH.
^^^ It also makes me crazy, every time+, when she tells her faithful maid to divide up her tiny remaining store of money and give half of it to the poor. WHAT IS THE MAID GOING TO LIVE ON AFTER VIOLETTA GOES? I don’t think a glowing rec from a dying penniless prostitute is going to get her a good place right away.
+ Also the doctor saying authoritatively that Violetta only has ‘hours’ to live. Unless of course modern medicine has lost the amazing predictive powers of Italian docs of Verdi’s day.
# That’s an editorial ARRRRRRRRRGH, you understand.
## If they were so enamoured of the rural life why didn’t they just buy a COTTAGE?
§ Although if you’re a modern humour-challenged feminist cow like me, you couldn’t enjoy La Trav nearly so much if you didn’t know it was all going to go horribly wrong. If Violetta had a sudden deathbed recovery and she and the wet went back to their villa^ and the prig and the rest of their family, including the sister’s in-laws, realised that Violetta had a Beautiful Soul whatever her background, and had them over to tea on high days and holidays . . . nooooooo. Ewwwwwwww.
^ or cottage
§§ The last act is a particular ratbag to stage. She’s dying of consumption so she shouldn’t be flitting lightly around the stage, which Violettas usually are. There’s a famous, or possibly infamous, staging where she spends the entire act in bed, which is more realistic, and which makes the last moments of her sudden sense of joy and strength much more dramatic, when she finally does stand up and walk—just before she falls over for the last time—but it also makes the act static and (apparently) directors shy away from this. This particular staging has gruesome blood spatters on her pillows and the maid’s apron—but not on Violetta’s snowy white nightgown—which doesn’t make me think ‘ah yes consumption’ it makes me think ‘the devoted maid wouldn’t allow this NOR would Violetta be carelessly dragging her snowy white nightgown or her long luxuriant locks^ across these besmirched pillows.’ Personally I think they’re missing a trick during the orchestral doodah by not having her notice the stains and react. But hey.
^ Also unlikely in a woman dying of consumption. And while opera companies are getting better about remembering the effects of close-up cameras for cinema transmissions YOU COULD SEE THE JOINS where Violetta’s hair extensions were attached to her real hair which is the sort of thing I find distracting.
* * *
* This should have gone up last night, of course, but the ME got me before I could proofread, especially since that involves, as it so often does, sorting out the footnotes. Which I’m not always successful at even when the ME isn’t eating my brain. Which it still is today although not as badly.
But this gives me the opportunity for a GARDEN UPDATE! I had TWO robins in my garden this morning [sic]!!^ Maybe they’ll finally forgive me the Epic of the Falling-Down Wall and nest in my greenhouse again??! There’s been a determinedly kept-clear nook^^ just waiting for a nest, the last what’s it been, two years? Three? Since the Epic of the Wall.
^ Anyone not acquainted with British robins, they’re very territorial and the only time you see more than one—unless they’re fighting+—is when they’re breeding and raising the next generation.
+ And they aren’t kidding: they’re exacto knives with little round feathered handles
^^ And that’s not easy in my greenhouse
When I started writing this Radio 3 was playing Beethoven’s Fifth. About a week ago a bunch of us handbell ringers sloped off after practise to go hear some fire-breathing orchestra detonate Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. They played some other stuff first—very well too—and I noticed that two of the six double bass players were small, slight women* but mostly I had my head down over my knitting. Knitting is my default these days.** And it was (mostly) okay. Change of air. Change of scenery. Change of people. All good things (mostly). My three companions were chatting away cheerfully about music during the pauses while I went loop-wrap-pull, loop-wrap-pull.***
And then the orchestra went dah dah dah DAAAAAAAH and I . . . lost it. WHAM. Small intimate train wreck. Wept copiously all over my knitting. Swallowed one hand and half a box of tissues in an attempt not to sob cacophonously . Wanted a bag to put over my head so as not to blind everybody else in the theatre with the dazzling redness of my eyes.
I don’t even know why Beethoven’s Fifth. It wasn’t Peter’s favourite or anything. But (several of) Beethoven’s symphonies have been somewhat guilty pleasures for me for most of my life. Beethoven’s symphonies—maybe especially the Fifth—are so . . . obvious. I love, oh, say, Messiaen, but I have to be feeling like a grown-up to listen to him. Small children and dogs like Beethoven’s Fifth.† I first fell under its spell when I was a small child†† And I think what happened is that I found myself staring down the long††† unravelling skein of years during which I have listened many, many times to Beethoven’s Fifth and . . .
I know this is a Stage of Grief. I hope it will be over soon. The grief won’t be over soon—you don’t get over the loss of someone you loved, that’s a no-brainer—but this not being able to go out in public without being frelling likely to make a scene is a colossal bore as well as a vicious circle since the more you don’t go out the more likely you are to melt down when you do . . . and the more likely the depths you will plumb while you’re sitting at home staring at the walls will get depthier.‡
So I do go out. I’m going to see a live-streaming LA TRAVIATA this Thursday. It’ll be great. I can cry when she dies . . . .
This is a Stage of Grief. I know this.
* * *
* I assume they have finger, and possibly arm, extensions to get around the half a mile of those strings.
** It’s certainly my default in public.^ My default at home is mostly a milling hellmob wanting to know when something interesting is going to happen. Now that we’re spending all our time at the cottage^^ which has very limited floor space due both to original square footage and the whole Things in Corners When There Are No Corners and the Rooms Are a Lot Smaller Than They Were Before There Were Bookshelves on All the Walls etc, this question is more urgent than it used to be.
^ WHAT AM I GOING TO DO about that frelling frelling FRELLING Jesus is my totally creepy boyfriend Modern Christian Worship NOISE? I got through church this past Sunday for the first time without suffering comprehensive disintegration followed by bolting for the door and sitting in Wolfgang in the dark till I could frelling drive.+ But it wasn’t a good or a holy uplifting time. GAAAAAAAH. Sermons about the glory and beauty of life are bad enough but the singing . . . . The long view is that I want to get back on the singing rota—St Margaret’s have no standards, fortunately and would be happy to have me back—because even before 16 December++ I’ve found the power ballad to God thing a trifle testing, and up on stage ‘leading’ cough cough cough turns it into a performance and I can flip the ‘performance’ switch+++ and the emotional manipulation factor is thereby dimmed. BUT I need to reach a tipping point of self-control before I risk it. The performance apparatus will stretch, gouge and support only so far. It’s maybe like a hammer to thud a few nails further in. But it won’t abracadabra a frame to clamp you together. ++++
+ I can’t remember now if it was last week or the week before that it was helpfully raining so I could sit in Wolfgang with the wipers going and nobody could see me chewing on the steering wheel.
++ Although I effectively stopped going to church after 7 September. I was at Rivendell on Sunday evenings, like every other evening, and I still can’t get out of bed in the mornings when most people go to church. Well, I can get up, but I can’t get sane and plugged together enough to drive a car, even a very well-mannered# car like Wolfgang before noon. Two or three in the afternoon is preferable.
# which is to say lacking in youthful pizzazz and top end precipitancy
+++ Just so long as there’s at least one guitarist to hide behind
++++ MIXED METAPHOR ALERT. And now I’m going make it worse by telling you how the necessary planks are still holding up bird’s nests back in the forest somewhere. I am trying to tell you I am nowhere near the tipping-back-into-prudence-and-rationality# point.
# Not perhaps that prudence or rationality were strong points before.
^^ Oh, and?, she tosses off lightly, have I mentioned that I’ve bought another house? A . . . you should forgive the term . . . third house? I have spectacular cash flow problems that may result in a failure to buy dog food soon+ BUT I OWN THREE HOUSES.++ Briefly. Poor Third House goes on the market as soon as I can finish getting it cleared out. New House needs a name. Second Third House? Fourth House Minus Two? Daughter of Third House? Seventh Cousin Twice Removed of Third House House? Numerical Confusion I Never Could Count House? Gwendolyn?
+ This will delight the hellhounds of course. The hellterror, not so much.
++ It’s a long story. Next blog post.
*** I’m not going to say clickety-clack because I don’t clickety-clack. I use wooden needles, not metal, and I’m slow so I might as well be silent too.
^ Not that this saves me from, for example, the stitch I dropped and then picked up again incompetently when I was knitting in bed one night and heard . . . the unmistakable sounds of a member of the hellmob downstairs throwing up. There is now a HOLE.+ I will sew it up during the seaming stage which, as we all know with McKinley knitting productions, never happens.++
+ In the knitting. Not the hellmob. Or the kitchen floor. The hellmob are all remarkably resistant to being left in a box by the side of the road. They tend to climb out and follow me home again.
++ Which will be embarrassing in this case because it’s the latest in my attempts at a baby blanket. ONE OF THESE DAYS I’LL ACTUALLY FINISH ONE. Before the kid goes off to uni.#
# All right. Before the kid goes off to uni may be too much to ask. By the time its first baby is born perhaps.~
~ But I still won’t have seamed it up and woven the ends in.
† The hellmob prefer LA TRAVIATA. But they’re okay with Beethoven’s symphonies.
†† And doubtless I was a dog in a previous life.^
^ I know Christianity doesn’t do reincarnation. WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.
††† Long long long. One of the tangential horrors of the current presidential-election follies is that these bozos are my age.^ These scary creeps are my generation. Forty years ago my generation were going to SAVE THE WORLD, especially from the politicians—and the politicians’ policies—of our parents’ generation. Same old same old same old I DON’T NEED ANY ADDITIONAL REASONS TO BE UTTERLY DEPRESSED.
^ Ted Cruz is an infant.
‡ Also you are so unlike the self you used to be or thought you knew, blither blither quackety quack quack, and this current self is so exasperating and unseemly and difficult to manage^ that you, or anyway I, do find myself trying to ‘manage’ it/me like you might manage any other intractable problem. What frelling works? Avoidance? Confrontation? Drugs? Handcuffs and a soundproof dungeon? Chocolate? I haven’t found what works yet.
^ And liable to mood changes so supersonically fast, as you might say breakneck, you give yourself whiplash.+
+ It’s not that there aren’t good minutes#. There are just so many more bad ones.
# Getting sworn in as an ornamental laic doohickey by my monks was a good minute. Actually it was several good minutes in a row. Even if they did occur at EIGHT FORTY FIVE FRELLING O’CLOCK IN THE SUPER-FRELLING MORNING.
MY APPLE TREE FELL DOWN. FELL. DOWN.
This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago. And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.
When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.
So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.
. . . Oh. Oh dear. OH BLINKETY BLINKETY BLINKETY. ALSO ARRRRRGH. AND BOO-HOO THAT’S MY TREE.
I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***
And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.
At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.
Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††
Note that it is still raining today. –ed.
* * *
Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.
The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that. Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.
If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.
And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves: Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.
I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .
I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems: the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.
However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.
But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.
It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.
And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?
No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.
* * *
* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES
** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.
*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.
† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.
†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^
Okay, I forgot to do this. Opportunity wasted. Sigh. –ed.
^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.
^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?
^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.
+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.
††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.
‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.
‡‡ Which seems to be saying something like I NEVER TOLD YOU YOU CAN NEVER SIT DOWN, SLEEP, OR EAT CHOCOLATE SLOWLY AND THOUGHTFULLY. BELIEVE ME, YOU WOULD KNOW IF I HAD.
‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.
^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.
§ The version with recitative is later
§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.
§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.
# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?
^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.
## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.
### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . . there’s a word usage that really caught my ear. Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.
~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.