It’s the hellhounds’ tenth birthday today. TEN YEARS OLD. DOUBLE DIGITS. How time flies whether you’re having fun or not.
That’s a cat, off to the right. Which is why their leads are still on. They (conveniently) really dislike running with their leads bumbling along behind them.* The churchyard has two resident cats: the nice one and the troll. This is the troll. Also Chaos is lame and has the brain of a burrito, and if the troll started doing his evil troll dance Chaos would be after him and those of us who live with him are already frelling hostage to his drama queen performances–I’m sure he is genuinely lame, but how lame might be open to interpretation–I do not want to live with him after he’s done himself in worse by chasing an evil troll who, having achieved his nefarious aim, has gone over the churchyard wall.
And, because I managed to miss Pav’s fourth birthday earlier in the month, here is an exemplary photo of a hellterror sunbathing:
Extra chicken jerky all round tonight. Chicken jerky because it’s about the only thing in the known universe that the hellhounds consider an exciting edible.
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* The hellterror does not care. CAT! CAT! CATCATCATCATCAT! There’s a lead with a big fat plastic handle that is almost as big as I am dragging after me because the hellgoddess lost the plot for two seconds?^ NEVER MIND. I SHALL LEVITATE.
^ Possibly because she was pursuing some other plot, and that hand was flexing in a sword-holding, reins-grasping, steering-wheel gripping, spell-casting or villain-strangling manner.
I got caught talking to Peter for the first time the other day. That I know of, I mean. I’ve been talking to him in the churchyard, of course, since the unnecessarily grand ashes box went into the ground, what, is it three weeks ago now? Even if it’s no more than hey, how’s it going, as some hurtle-shift or other passes at speed because I’m late, as usual, for the next thing, whatever it is, I still take a loop off the main path to say hello and check how the current rose is doing.* So half the town may already be aware that the Dickinson widow chats to her husband, but then, she’s a little loony, maybe it’s being an American?**
But the first time I noticed being caught talking to Peter was a few days ago. When I told this to a friend she said drily, who was more embarrassed? Well, at the time, I would have said the honours were about even *** but by the time I was taking the hellhounds and my red face briskly in the opposite direction I was thinking wait a minute. This is a churchyard. This must happen all the time! People talking to their departed beloveds† in cemeteries!†† Meanwhile I’d better get used to being caught because it’s going to happen again. And again. My friend suggested that part of my discoverers’ shock was just that this was happening immediately off the main, well travelled, path through the churchyard—there’s perhaps an unconscious assumption that people who are going to speak to the dead are going to do it in the tucked-away parts of churchyards. And this churchyard has tucked-away places. I originally thought I’d want to have him in one of those, but I changed my mind.††† I like him where I’m going to walk past him every day. And my friend—who knew Peter—agreed. That’s the path he walked on every day to go buy his newspaper.‡ And he was always interested in what was going on, what people were doing. It’s a good spot.
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* This is supposed to be a CAPTION.
* Some day it will NOT be a rose. Some day. Not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not next week either. Although if our little village florist ever had really fabulous sunflowers the day the current rose needs replacing I might well go for a fabulous sunflower . . . which would probably look very peculiar in the plastic spike-vase . . . eh. The unexpected confusions of looking after a grave. But it’s not like it’s something you think ahead about. What I Will Do If I Ever Have An Important Grave to Look After. We even knew that the statistical probability was very strong that I would be looking after his grave some day. Did we think about it? No.^ Also, you don’t get cut clematis the way you get cut roses—clematis are just not a cut-flower plant. And Peter being a clematis man leaves me free to do my worst. Which means roses. And maybe a sunflower once a year.
^ There is an argument that Peter knew perfectly well that I would buy a spike-vase and put roses in it, and didn’t see the need to say anything.
** The country that has elected Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for the presidency, greater, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding, shrieking proof of national looniness is not possible.
I’m also a fantasy writer of course, but I don’t think most of the locals pay this any attention. My being an American is in your face—or your ear—the minute I say anything. Most of them don’t task me with Trump, however. Maybe they can see the blood in my eye if they unwarily attempt to bring politics into the conversation. Maybe they just realise I must be a liberal, I wear All Stars.
People are funny though.^ There are people I would have expected to phone me occasionally or put a postcard through the door or something, saying ‘thinking of you, hope you’re doing okay’ or thereabouts. I don’t need casseroles^^ and I don’t go to parties^^^ but contact might have been nice. Which in some cases isn’t happening. Oh. Okay. It’s not like I don’t have friends who are keeping a close eye on me^^^^. The cold draught I constantly feel is about absence of Peter, not absence of friends and friendly support.^^^^^ And some people I would not have expected to take an interest, do. Still. Odd.
^ Make a note.
^^ Which would almost certainly be full of things I can’t eat anyway
^^^ Except I am going to one on Wednesday. A cocktail party. A large cocktail party. I have clearly taken leave of my few remaining senses. But it’s being held at the beautiful old country house where we had Peter’s memorial and I want to go back there for the first time since then and get it over with. And it is a beautiful old country house with glorious parkland, and I shall wear All Stars and having had my token glass of . . . mineral water and said hello to at least three people, I shall go for a walk before Wolfgang takes me home.
^^^^ YES I’M EATING. But as I’ve said before, eliminate meat, sugar and alcohol—and butter, my one remaining dairy product—and it suddenly becomes surprisingly difficult not to lose weight. Especially if you were a serious sugar junkie, which I was.+ Aggravated in my case by the fact that I’m an ex-fat person who learnt to deal with the fact that I gain weight easily and had what I thought was an ineradicable addiction to chocolate and other sweet things, including remarkable amounts of sugar in my remarkably strong black tea, AND champagne. So my mindset for the last forty years has been the ‘push yourself away from the table while you’re still hungry I mean NOW’ thing to make room for the sugar and the chocolate and the butter and the champagne, and a cemented-in for additional security mindset is HARD to change after forty years. So I keep having these conversations with myself that go, wait, you’re not going to eat ALL those nuts, are you? Nuts are VERY HIGH CALORIE. —YES. EAT THE NUTS. EAT ALL THE NUTS. YOU CAN FRELLING USE THE CALORIES. Wait, no, no, you aren’t going to eat an entire avocado, are you? YES. I AM. I AM GOING TO EAT AN ENTIRE AVOCADO.
+ And yes, I thought I was going to endure the tortures of the damned, eliminating sugar. I didn’t. I get a little WISTFUL# sometimes but major cravings and all that? Nope. My body I guess was just ready. It’s a lot more of a grown-up than the rest of me.
# You know what I really miss? Being able to treat myself. A hard afternoon sweating through the ‘two for one’ table at Waterstones and I want a sit-down and a cup of tea before I go home. Green tea is now fashionable enough that it’s usually not too difficult finding a tea shop that serves green. But I can’t do the sticky cake any more. And it’s not the cake I miss nearly so much, it’s the treat. If you follow me. At least if I go with someone they can have the sticky cake and the shop needn’t feel it’s wasting its table on me.
^^^^^ WHICH I TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY, GROVELLINGLY APPRECIATE. This directed at anyone reading this blog who is wondering sadly if I’m ever going to acknowledge their card/letter/email. Yes. You’re on the list. Eight months is nothing, I’m afraid, to a disorganised, ME-riddled loony.+
+ I probably shouldn’t admit this, but speaking of disorganised loonies, yesterday I discovered a little cache of letters I wrote in . . . March. That ahem didn’t get sent ahem. Sigh.
*** I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing that I’ve never seen them before. It’s tourist season and it’s a pretty churchyard. I was adding local colour. And the hellhounds are very decorative. If I want an actual chat I take the hellhounds. Pav isn’t so great at hanging out. Although she has recently taken to hucklebutting like a dervish in the little clear space in front of Peter’s grave, which I hope he is finding entertaining.
† Of whatever kind, variety, relationship or flavour
†† It happens in the graveyard where Miri’s grandfather is buried, in Hellhound.
††† And fortunately the vicar agreed. Thank you, God. Thank you, lovely vicar.
‡ My little cul de sac is kind of around the corner from the churchyard, although it’s a short corner. Third House really is slap on the other side of the churchyard from the centre of town. Have I told you that one of the weirder comments from a potential house buyer was that she really liked the house ‘but it was too near the churchyard’? What? She reads too much Stephen King or something?
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.
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* 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.
Peter has asked me, several times and a little anxiously, over the last few days, if I was up for going out on my birthday. YES. I MEAN, I DON’T KNOW IF I’M UP OR NOT BUT I’M GOING.*** NEVER MIND THE FOOD, I WANT MY CHAMPAGNE.
The food was good too.†
That’s our tablecloth because I thought I wouldn’t shoot off my flash in the face of the lively and interesting family party at the next table and waited till I got home where the crashed-out hellmob don’t care. But I recognise our table on my birthday because of the flowers waiting for us. Peter goes in to the florist’s next door and says ‘pink’. Since we go to this restaurant every year the florist is probably learning to recognise him.
Although, speaking of going to the same restaurant, regular blog readers will probably recognise the mirror frame in the ladies’. [Oops. I’ve edited it out. Next year.] But they have installed an OBNOXIOUS NEW LIGHTING FIXTURE that is unromantic in the extreme and that my peculiar posture is trying to disguise.
She’s sixty-two today, you know. She might want a lot of Vaseline on the lens.
And my favourite present. Remember I went to a Spectacular Yarn Fair last March with Nina, who felt she wanted to start knitting again? SHE MADE ME A RUFFLY SCARF. She is golden.
. . . Although Peter is giving me a sat nav finally if I can frelling figure out which one to order. I thought I had it all sorted—this is what I belong to WHICH? for, you go to their site, you are driven mad by the pop ups and the repeated demands to log in which you have already done, you read the reviews and you make an informed choice—and then I promptly fell, as into a large vat of ill-set custard, into a lot of customer reviews saying NO NO NOT THAT ONE. Whimper. Maybe I could just have Natty Bumppo on retainer.
Oh, and if you suspect you are seeing a knitting bag in the upper left hand corner of the photo, you are. It says: come to the Dark Side, we have yarn. I think Fiona may have given it to me. It contains the famous 12 mm needle project that I am advised I need a very large crochet hook or possibly a telephone pole with a hole punched in one end to weave in the ends with.
Notice knitting needles sticking out of fancy leather going-out-to-dinner bag.†† Ahem. I’m so used to carrying vast swathes of my life around in my ordinary daily knapsack–which as a result weighs a TON AND THREE QUARTERS and people not eternally preoccupied with the terror of being caught somewhere without enough to read/do tend to make remarks–that when I have to wedge myself for a few hours into a Fancy Going Out to Dinner Bag there are AWFUL DECISIONS TO BE MADE. In fact I don’t usually take my knitting to restaurants because (a) the light isn’t good enough and (b) I’LL PROBABY SPILL SOMETHING ON IT but the iPad goes as standard and it happens that most of what I’m presently reading is on e- and therefore I had space ordinarily taken up by hard copy AND THE KNITTING WON. Furthermore I now have this deeply cool little (pink) narrow-beam light that Peter gave me for reading the prayer service in the frelling dark at the monks’, which would work just as well clipped to a napkin in a restaurant as to my collar in an abbey.
And now maybe I’ll knit a few rows and go to bed. If the bed starts whirling when I turn the light off I will turn the light back on and knit a few more rows. Garter stitch is great when you’ve had too much champagne.†††
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* I saw Alfrick last night and told him it was my birthday today. So I got a happy-birthday email from him saying, Glad to see you last night while you were young. —There’s nothing like^ a monk for that unique and astonishing degree of professional kindness and sympathy and profound insight into the human condition. I’ve noticed it often with Alfrick. BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH.
** With apologies for another KESless Saturday. Friday night Street Pastors was . . . stressful. You know if Hampshire is going to become the latest seething hotbed of excitable youth and popular with the feuding lout faction I’m frelling going to retire. I didn’t sign on for all this commotion. I signed on to stroll around passing out hot drinks to the homeless and flipflops to the overly high-heeled. I can deal with a certain amount of off-the-wallness, both drug- and alcohol-related and/or the results of social-services failures. I didn’t sign on to get involved in the stuff that the cops are for. That’s what the cops are for. Also, of course, I’m still barely frelling walking post-stomach-flu, and this has a certain dispiriting effect. But yesterday was mostly another lost day, although talking to Alfrick was good in spite of his sense of humour.
*** You come too, like the poem says. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173534
† And seems to be staying where I put it, which is an important point.^
^ Champagne is of course noted for its stomach-soothing effects.+
+ What I want to know is if I start drinking only about eight hours after I got up in the cough-cough morning does that make me a LUSH? Except this early (cough-cough) in the day approach to sin and heinousness does give you extra time at the other end to take your hellmob out for supernumerary hurtles to wear sin, heinousness and 12% alcohol off again.#
# ::pours a second pot of peppermint tea into the internal cauldron::
†† Some clever helpful person is going to say ‘circulars’. I HATE CIRCULAR NEEDLES.
††† Non, je regrette rien.
THERE’S TOO MUCH GOING ON* including various bits of news** both good and bad that I haven’t entirely got my head around yet*** although when I do some of them will make it onto the blog.
Meanwhile I thought I might at least post some photos of an attic full of book boxes as requested by some strange person on the forum.
This is what greets you at the top of the stairs. That’s the corner of my old double bed from Maine on the left, hard up against the end wall, pretending to be a Guest Room. When I get it made up again it will be a very good place for Lying with the Hellmob. The hellhounds and I had begun to explore this interesting possibility back when Third House was still Third House. And a double bed is enough bigger than a sofa I may be able to trap the hellterror in place more effectively.
But this is what I mean about lack of impressiveness–although you may be dazzled by my colour sense–you’re looking at nineteen or twenty boxes wedged into that corner, but since you can only see the outside rows it’s a big meh.
You’re now standing with the bed behind you and the yellow filing cabinet to your left, looking down the length of the attic. This is the long kitchen table, worth £1.79, built out of bits Peter had found in rubbish tips, that when we moved out of the old house I REFUSED TO GIVE UP. And I was right. It is perfect as a long skinny attic table. That’s the notorious dormer window that has produced those interesting ceiling angles, some of which you can see. And those are avocadoes on the window sill, in case you’re wondering, ripening in the sunlight that blasts in during the day. If you peer into the murk to the far end of the attic you may just about be able to make out EMPTY SHELVES. Yes. I keep putting stuff on them and then taking it off again because how am I supposed to choose? Although Peter’s 1,000,000,000 bound annuals of PUNCH take up a good deal of the space you can’t see, and my encyclopaedia will go on those shelves too when I find the rest of it.
And that architectural feature in the upper right-hand corner is the boxed-in, so to speak, chimney. Why it has a sort of hoop skirt built out from it halfway down (or up) I have no idea, but all shelves to pile books and book boxes on are good shelves.
This is the left-hand far corner, so what is beyond the table on the same side of the attic. And again . . . not so impressive. But you’re looking at nearly thirty boxes you just can’t see most of them. What you are seeing at the bottom of the picture in the open box is the limited edition illustrated ROSE DAUGHTER.
This is now behind the chimney. Peter’s gazillion PUNCHES are immediately to your left; the corner with the unimpressive thirty boxes is now behind you . . . more or less. You’re a bit crowded back here.
I am particularly pleased with the table. It’s one of the few pieces of furniture that came over with me from Maine, with the bed and the blue velvet sofa, and it was for the chop this move; there was nowhere to put it. I’m a little nostalgic about the stuff I brought over with me because barring the 1,000,000,000 books there isn’t a lot of it–and I did have to get rid of my baby grand piano. This table has been sitting at the mews waiting for the axe to fall since like the kitchen table it isn’t worth anything BUT IT’S A PERFECTLY GOOD TABLE. And then I thought, wait a minute, I can use it a Mediating Structure to make the wrangling of book boxes marginally less appalling. So it’s shoved up against the back of the chimney and there are and/or will be stacks of two boxes below it and stacks of two boxes on top of it . . . instead of stacks of four boxes of books. Hurrah. Yessssss.
The view from above. Just by the way, don’t get too excited by any labels you may see. Most of them are wrong. Well, most of the ones on Peter’s backlist are wrong. My backlist, on the other hand, is 99% gorgeously and specifically accurate because I have a secret weapon named Fiona.
And, when appropriate, I get books out of their boxes and pile them interestingly in available gaps, available being another of those mutable concepts. I’ve got a lot of Peter’s piled up on the chimney shelf just out of frame in the long shot of the ex-kitchen table. And just by another way, I have no idea where SHADOWS is. I haven’t seen it at all. I hope it’s hiding somewhere at the cottage.
And because I am hopelessly neurotic, I’ve saved a few empty boxes . . . just in case I need them later. Yes, that’s a sink on your right. I have them piled in the loo because there isn’t anywhere else.
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* Well how unusual
** No, no, not the kind you want
*** Although I HAD MY FIRST VOICE LESSON IN FOREVER on Monday YAAAAAAAY. It wasn’t even as bad as feared^ but I still have a good deal of lost ground to make up. AND BOTH MY PIANO AND I SOUND DIFFERENT IN THIRD HOUSE’S SITTING ROOM.
^ Although if it had been as bad as feared it would have involved alien abduction and earthquakes and a recount in Scotland that demonstrated that they’d left the UK after all, which leaves quite a lot of room for a voice lesson still to be pretty bad in.