I meant to write you a proper blog post tonight but the day has got away from me as days can do.* So I thought I’d finally post The Hellterror’s Morning Ritual. We all had a very itchy patch at the beginning of the spring. The three hellcritters ate holes in their fur, but it only really showed on the hellterror because of black overcoat, beige undercoat and pale pink skin: the hellhounds mostly match: steel-grey Darkness has black skin and fawn-coloured Chaos has pale skin. I had swollen ITCHY red eyes and I might well have chewed my eyelashes off if my face were configured for it. Everybody’s hair has mostly grown in again, but I almost miss the extravagance of the hellterror’s ritual when she really, really, really wants to scratch her back. Lately she’s more interested in whacking me with her long yellow rubber toy till I yield to the inevitable and play with her. But she doesn’t look moth eaten any more.
You have dogs because they make you laugh.
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* This includes that Penelope and I went to a big National Trust garden over Ditherington direction this afternoon and sat in the sun and totally vagued out the way denizens of the British Isles may very well because . . . sunlight!?!^
^ Also because most of Main Street in New Arcadia has been dug up and is in heaps placed for maximum inconvenience plus scaffolding+ and temporary stoplights with boa-constrictor sized cables running everywhere and GETTING ANYWHERE takes about 1,000,000 times longer than usual. In fact, I’m still in a frelling queue.
+ The scaffolding is up near me and isn’t the town unplanners or anything civic. The Big House on the Corner belongs to We Are Wealthier Than God#, You Are Peons and We Don’t Care, and they put scaffolding up at least once a year when buying and selling small countries palls and they want to make their presence felt closer to home. Then they hang workpersons all over the scaffolding in decorative patterns. Who eat sandwiches and chat and sometimes they sit on the planks dangling their feet. And six weeks or six months later they take the scaffolding down again.
# I don’t think God does money, does he/she/they?
One of the nasty little surprises awaiting me at Third House* was the FRELLING BOXES OF OLD PAPER FILES. Crushed frelling boxes, just by the way, since they’d got mixed up with the backlist. But when Atlas was loading up his trailer to take backlist to the storage unit last autumn I asked him to set anything that wasn’t book boxes aside. And then life happened and the last few months Atlas has seen more of Third House than I have.**
It’s quite amazing how much STUFF is left after you’ve emptied a house. Curtains. Rolled up rugs. Bits of china you never liked and hadn’t decided what to do with. BOOKS THAT MUST BE SORTED. It’s also quite amazing how many old files I seem to have. Speaking of things that need sorting.
Twenty or thirty years ago when I was buying filing cabinets in Maine you could get black ones. Or grey ones. Or black. Or grey. Or . . . I bought black. But I did not love them, and I left them behind because standard British paper is longer than standard American paper and it wasn’t going to fit in standard American filing cabinets. I had a gorgeous old wooden filing cabinet at the old house, its only drawbacks being that it took ten strong men and a team of eight Shire horses to move it and that the drawers kept falling off their rails. It then declined to fit through the door at Third House. MORE ARRRGH. So I sold it, and put the files in cardboard boxes. Which I was going to deal with. Later.
Well. It’s later. And I have to WEDGE everything I had sprawled all over Third House into the attic because the ground floor is now Peter’s.***
I went on line. I searched for two-drawer filing cabinets, because they have to fit under the eaves that make the attic a living space for people who like crawling around on their hands and knees. COLOURED FILING CABINETS. COLOURED FILING CABINETS. Be still my heart. So I bought a PINK one. Of course I bought a pink one. Two pink ones is so obvious however so I bought a yellow one.† Yaaay.
Except that the on line description says ‘self assembly’. Golly, I thought, nuts and bolts. But I have my secret weapon, Atlas, so, fine. I ordered. And I had them delivered to the cottage because of the whole WHAT DO YOU MEAN DELIVER TO AN ADDRESS NOT ATTACHED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD AND OF COURSE WE AREN’T GOING TO TELL YOU WHEN WE’RE ARRIVING SO YOU CAN GET UP THERE TO ACCEPT DELIVERY. WHICH WE WON’T LET YOU HAVE ANYWAY BECAUSE IT’S NOT THE ADDRESS ATTACHED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD thing.
I don’t know what the self-assembly part is but two filing cabinets arrived today. I looked at them and my heart sank. I wasn’t at all sure even one of them lying on its side would fit in Wolfgang’s boot.
Wolfgang, my hero.
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* That’s aside from the fact that we’re going to have to RIP OUT BOOKSHELVES to get Peter’s desk into his office. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE. What is wrong with it is that the second, smaller bedroom is now a staircase with a little angular wodge of semi-usable space around it. Arrrgh. Building regs^ ARRRRRRRGH. And Peter is so inconvenient as to have a LARGE desk. Why can’t he just balance his laptop on his knee? Feh. Half a wall of bookshelves has to go. Misery.
^ For anyone who wasn’t reading the blog then: I wanted to put a WEIGHT BEARING FLOOR in the attic for all the BACKLIST. As soon as you put in a weight-bearing floor the Building Regulation Goons are all over you. A weight-bearing floor means living space, never mind you can’t stand up in it. Or that it’s going to be full of boxes of books. Living space means you have to have a proper staircase. Good bye, second bedroom.
** Mowing the grass, propping up the frelling FRELLING boundary fence so next door’s evil little ratbag terrier doesn’t keep getting through and crapping all over my garden,^ taking over the garden shed with boy tools.
^ Evil little spiky-haired ratbag terriers are an entirely different, monumentally inferior order of being from, you know, bull coughcoughcough terriers.
*** This happens to involve carrying all 1,098 crushed boxes of files up the stairs to the attic again.
† I probably need three or four. I’ll worry about that LATER.
Poor Nadia emailed yesterday that she had tonsillitis**, so I phoned Atlas and asked him to bring his trailer today, Monday being his usual McKinley-Dickinson day, and I’m usually having a voice lesson.*** But now that I’m NOT letting Third House, the garden is again mine.# So I thought I might send some of the botanical overflow from the cottage to Third House, whose borders are nothing like full since the awful truth is that living in three houses is Not Really Practical. Ahem. At least not unless you have staff which is not one of the options here. And while Atlas to cut the grass is great## if you have a garden because you like gardening you don’t really want someone else doing all the fun stuff, which is basically everything but mowing lawns.###
Atlas, grinning hugely, said, So, Robin, what are you going to do with all the SPACE? –SPACE? WHAT SPACE? You can still only get out the kitchen door at the cottage carefully. You can barely tell anything’s changed. Especially after I spent the remainder of the afternoon at the cottage, potting up and potting on.~ Things race out so, this time of year, with summer icumen and all. I also found, not to say unearthed, a good Wolfgang’s boot-load of plants that should have gone up in the trailer. Except there wasn’t room. Tomorrow. I can take them up tomorrow ~~. Tomorrow I may teach Fiona the basics of gardening.~~~
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* And I wish the cuckoo would sing, they’re getting rarer and rarer. When I moved over here twenty-odd years ago they were dead common. They’re now dead rare. I hope they don’t finish this progression to dead dead.
** It’ll be good when everyone’s immune system adjusts to kids-in-school germs. Stella still goes down with everything on offer and generously passes about half of it on to her mother. And there’s Renfrew to add to the germ-factory joy in a couple of years.
*** It is really very annoying that the world does not revolve around me, so I could schedule everything to suit my convenience.
# All right, I’m going to have to share it with Peter. Our garden. Not some random rent-paying stranger’s garden.
## I used to the mow the little lawns–ie with a hand mower, not some snarling sit-on behemoth–in the walled garden at the old house AND IT’S ABOUT THE MOST BORING THING EVER.
### Almost everything. Battling perennial weeds with roots to China is also a major ratbag since I won’t use chemical -icides.
~ I need more potting compost. Sigh.
~~ Okay, so I buy too many plants like I buy too much yarn and too many books and music and . . . but I have a serious dahlia problem this year. Which is that I think all of last year’s are still alive. And of course I ordered more, because attrition can be expected to run anywhere from about 60% to 100%. Little green dahlia leaves in one of last year’s pots are usually cause for excitement and celebration not a blank look of disbelief and a muttered, another one?
~~~ First you buy your Royal Horticultural Society/Victoria & Albert Museum kneeler, with the fabulous William Morris or Redoubte rose print, and then you need your pink gloves^. . . .
^ They’ve started making pink hand tools but so far the ones I’ve seen appear to be for people who don’t actually . . . plan to use them. Hmmph. Who wants tools that don’t do the job?? Decorative tools? Spare me. Although I’m just as happy not to spend top-end prices on another pair of secateurs. If Felco comes out with pink secateurs I’m in trouble.
You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Anyone who lives in bluebell country, however, can tell you that it’s pretty difficult to miss bluebell season—if your bluebells are happy they spread enthusiastically. The wood I took most of this year’s photos in was drastically cleared out at one end some few years ago—they were dorking around with pylons and super-cables and things. The bluebells had only started colonising that area and that stopped them flat. But except for a narrow chop-through most of the trees were left standing and the bluebells regrouped and made another sortie . . . and they are now dazzlingly winning. That bluebell wood is a good, I don’t know, my sense of size is about as reliable as my sense of direction, sixty or eighty foot longer than it was twenty years ago.
I know bluebells are generally endangered or at least under pressure by deer, hikers, global warming and the Spanish invader, but as I’ve said before (at least once a year), not around here.* Around here they are ebullient and thriving—and may they remain that way—even if they are total thugs in your garden. One of my rose-beds at the old house was taken over by bluebells. It was a tending-to-be-dry border in strong sunlight, for pity’s sake, a few bluebells couldn’t possibly hurt, they’ll be too busy struggling to survive. You’ll be sorry, said Peter. He was right. I went through and dug out buckets of the wretches** one year and I had bluebells in that bed the next year anyway.
I have bluebells in my garden(s) now. But I guess I’d better be nice to them. Just in case.
* With the possible exception of the Spanish bluebell. But I’m not sure I can decisively tell the one from the other: proper English bluebells bow over farther and farther as their flowers open. A very rounded-over bluebell is definitively English, but a more sticky-up one may still be English if it’s early in its flowering. The Spanish bluebell photos I’ve seen look more like Scilla than like bluebells: proper bluebell flowers are graphically and unmistakably tubular.^ The bluebell woods around here are (a) fairly out in the sticks, to the extent that Hampshire is ever out in the sticks^^ and (b) old, so they have a good chance of being pure; also Spanish bluebells apparently don’t have much smell, and our bluebell woods are nearly eye-wateringly fragrant. Particularly strong this year too, I think, possibly because of all the winter rain.
^^ which to a Maine girl isn’t very
** I couldn’t face hauling the lot up to the ridge, but I couldn’t face putting them all on the compost heap^ or the bonfire either, so I took some away and threw them around in the wild where they had a chance to engulf more woodland. I’ve told you this story, haven’t I? This blog is too old. I’ve told most of my stories at least once.^^ Since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers or dig up bluebells bulbs I was terrified I’d be discovered and someone would leap to the wrong conclusion.
^ Yep. We had bluebells growing in the compost too.
^^ Except KES, of course.
We have roses. We’re not supposed to have roses—it’s only the end of frelling April—and we don’t have many, but we do have roses. And they’re not even the so-called species* roses which are often the early ones, but proper overbred garden roses. Peter’s is even an Austin for pity’s sake, although she is on the front wall of the mews, and that courtyard is a heat sink, but I’m used to Austins in Hampshire starting up in June. My two, Sophie’s Perpetual and my beloved Old Blush, AKA (among other things) Parson’s Monthly, are certainly human bred roses, but they are also known for starting early and going on and on.** But THIS early?*** Never mind . . . I’m not complaining.
* Botanical nomenclature makes me lose the will to live really fast. I acknowledge the need for precision, including that everyone talking about this plant rather than that plant can feel sure they’re all on the same page blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH but I don’t want to hear about it. I have one perfectly practical, working response to plants, in a catalogue, on a web site or at a nursery: (a) roses = want^; (b) shiny = want; (c) meh = don’t want. I don’t care what you call them^^. ‘Species’ roses, or ‘species’ most things that have a large cultivated-garden presence, are, for my money, and you purists out there look away now, the ones that haven’t been endlessly messed with by plant breeders and look more or less as they did when some stalwart explorer first found them growing out of a hillside or a cliff top or a river margin or the roof of the local priestess’ temple and brought them home in the hopes of material gain.
^ This being why I have to chain myself to Wolfgang’s steering wheel when we drive past the one semi-local rose nursery: when you have a small garden you can do a lot of damage in a rose nursery even if you only go there once a year.+
+ Penelope, Harriet and I are planning a field trip that will involve passing that nursery but Harriet is driving. This is ostensibly because Harriet of the three of us minds driving the least and she has a much nicer cleaner car than Wolfgang.# But I haven’t told them about the chaining myself to the steering wheel tactic or they might insist on my driving for the entertainment value.##
# People given the choice of firing squad or death by dog hair inhalation will probably choose the firing squad. Even if I remove the dog beds and sweep out the back seat it’s still a Guinness Book of World Records situation back there.
## Most of my friends have a strange sense of humour, yes. That’s why we get along, innit?
^^ Except insofar as it pertains to whether or not I can grow the sucker. If it’s going to get eight foot tall and is frost tender, no, I can’t.+
+ Which is why the one fabulously successful stephanotis floribunda# I once grew in my office at the old house and which was significantly bigger than I am when I had to move it into town, croaked the first winter. Both of us couldn’t fit in the cottage kitchen at the same time, and I didn’t get it indoors soon enough one night.##
# Botanical nomenclature AAAAAAAUGH. It’s a lot harder to avoid in England, however. You Americans can call it Madagascar jasmine, I think.
## I killed another little one this winter I have no idea why. It had been doing pretty well, I thought, on the kitchen windowsill, and then it suddenly said, bored now, and died. I’ll probably get another one. . . . ~
~ And I think I haven’t told you about the Hibiscus Forest. Peter had a very, very, very, very badly neglected hibiscus houseplant that I tried to kind of fatten up for the chop so I could get some cuttings off it before/when I pruned it because I suspected the pruning would kill it. It did. I had about eight viable cuttings which to my total astonishment struck= which I therefore had to pot on and figure out what to do with. First winter they all fit on the same windowsill, no problem. And then the gardening books always tell you to put your houseplants outdoors for the summer because all indoor plants are ipso facto dying== and this will make them happy and strong to survive another winter on your windowsill.
The hibiscus cuttings hated being outdoors. I kept trying to find the hibiscus sweet spot and they kept saying, no, this isn’t it, waaaaaaah, we want murky daylight through glass, we want house spiders and dust, we want dog hair. I lost three of them. I thought I was going to lose a fourth, but it was still semi-clinging to life by early last autumn when I gave up and brought them indoors long before frost would become an issue. All five of them have shot up and out over the winter and I’m going to have to pot them on and . . . you know, common-or-garden-variety hibiscus get kind of large.
= Ie grew roots and looked like living.
== Although if you want to get technical about it everything alive is dying.
** I’ve told you before that in a mild winter Old Blush will have a flower out for Christmas.^ I haven’t had Sophie in town long enough, and at the old house she was in a dumb place and shut down flowering with the majority.
^ Mythology states that Thomas Moore’s Last Rose of Summer was an Old Blush. Mind you, what exactly is going on in that poem is, perhaps fortunately, a trifle obscure. If he’s really tearing up a rose so it doesn’t have to be alooone, he’s a dipstick with a tendency to vandalism and it’s no wonder he doesn’t have any friends.
*** Apologies to the forum member whom I told quellingly she would not see roses when she was over here the end of April. I hope there are banks, walls and gazebos of blooming roses wherever you are.