We have enough frelling cling film to plastic wrap England if not the entire United Kingdom. Or possibly the planet. WHY? We hardly ever use cling film, it’s against my frelling ethical eco doodah principles. It must be gremlins. Cleaning out drawers is not my idea of fun at the best of times and at the tail end of a frelling house move it feels like the discovery of a brand-new hitherto unsuspected circle of hell*—and cleaning out cupboards and closets and sheds and garages and attics and crawl spaces and overhead shelves you can’t see into YAAAAAAAAH—for all eternity noooooooo I’m sure I wasn’t that wicked and evil**. Ahem. Anyway in the short term there’s still kind of a lot of this vile business LEFT to do*** AND THE GREMLINS HAVE BEEN SHOVING ROLLS OF CLING FILM IN EVERY AVAILABLE INTERSTICE. And a few that aren’t available. Peter also has a surprising number of pairs of shoes.† And you know that stuff-you-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-so-you-shove-it-in-the-back-of-a-cupboard? Possibly in a box with some of its friends?†† Well, now think about going through all those boxes in all those cupboards for someone else.†††
Yay- piano fits!!!
I’m still having palpitations every time I walk through the sitting room.‡ I measured the garden gate about six times, had Atlas clear off the [clematis] montana jungle [clematis montana are prone to junglifying] and take the latch off the gate so there were no protrusions or attack foliage, even though there was plenty of room. Never so much as thought of the front door.
and who wouldn’t have a Steinway if that’s the choice?? My university campus has just gone all Steinway.
Steinways at a college? Golly. You don’t mean a music school or something? Juilliard has Steinways. My liberal arts college had Yamahas. Major meh. I’m really tired of people telling me what good pianos Yamahas are. I wouldn’t give one house room. And as I’m fond of saying my Steinway cost only a little more than a totally mediocre new piano. Like maybe a boring plywood Yamaha.
Yay! Huzzah for wonderful regular movers, and huzzah again for fabulous piano movers! Being able to play music somewhere makes it ever so much more like home.
I love our regular movers but I hope I never see them again except on the street to say hi to. And when their frelling bill came I had to sit down and take some deep breaths. But did I tell you that the grandfather clock case came apart in their hands? They were worriedly showing me where the wood had cracked and the glue shrivelled up but one of the things about local movers that you know is that you also know they’re careful. I knew the clock had been held together with a large leather strap since we left the big house but the coming to pieces was a little dramatic. And then . . . turns out one of the movers likes to repair old furniture in his spare time. I asked the head guy—who’s the one we’ve known for about twelve years—and he said, yeah, it’s true, and he does beautiful work. So I said thank you very much, take it away, and give us a shout some time when you think you might get around to it. He spent that weekend gluing it back together. It looks fabulous. It looks better than it has in years. No, decades.
And as for being able to play music makes somewhere home . . . there speaks the frelling violinist. My piano tuner is coming next Tuesday. I can’t wait, although in truth I’ve had no time to think about music . . . although if my poor darling didn’t sound like a shoebox mandolin with a few screws and a fuse of unknown provenance rattling around inside I’d probably at least have had the ritual performance of There Is A Tavern in the Town by now.
Diane in MN
I hope the bulk of the tedious hauling and even more tedious unpacking is done and you can all start to relax a bit.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You know you crank yourself up for the actual move, and while you know there will be a long, tiring and frustrating aftermath—which will get longer, more tiring and more frustrating as the adrenaline rush from the adventure, however undesirable, of the startling physical relocation wears off—but you tend to forget the way EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. Doorhandles fall off. You may be able to prevent the local dogs from crapping in your driveway by keeping the gate shut, but the cats could care less.‡‡ You can’t find a wastebasket for your half loo. THERE AREN’T ENOUGH SHELVES.‡‡‡ And British Telecom is possessed by demons.
Raphael did provide us with a booster for the feeble router which did what it was supposed to . . . BUT DEMONS ARE VERY RESOURCEFUL.
And, speaking of endlessly creative and resourceful demons, I have to go to bed. I have to ring BT at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. Unbearable joy.
* * *
* Dante was a bloke. Very unlikely he knew anything about cleaning out kitchen drawers.^
^ Or about cling film. Not much cling film in the late thirteenth century.
** Er . . .
† Says the woman who owns 1,000,000,000 pairs of All Stars and a few flowered Docs^. But Peter isn’t like me.
^ And a pair of plain but blinding pink.
†† Although Peter tends to little jars and plastic containers accommodating three unidentifiable screws, a totally recognisable piece of tool except for having no idea what the tool is or whether the piece of it is CRUCIAL or broken-off and dead, and a fuse or a few batteries of unknown provenance. Arrrgh. I’m the box girl. Also I worry about, you know, running out of things.^ Or that I won’t be able to get that kind I like any more, so I’d better buy several while they’re available.^^ This leads to . . . interesting, sometimes rather bulky, agglomerations. Except for Peter’s UNSPEAKABLY VAST FRELLING TOOL COLLECTION, which is the size of Roumania, my hoards take up more room.
^ Remember that my impressive All Star collection began during that decade when All Stars were only something that old people nostalgic about their distant youth wore. I bought All Stars in my size on sight. The habit lingers. And has, um, spread. The big house was probably bad for my character.
^^ Like the three Redoute rose teabag tidies, right? I WISH I’D BOUGHT MORE.
††† Peter: Where is x?
Me: I don’t know. I probably threw it out.
Peter: Okay, where is y?
Me: I’m pretty sure I threw it out.
Peter: Well, where is z?
Me: I THREW IT OUT.
‡ Although palpitations in the sitting room—where the one lone phone connection is, as well as the piano—could have a variety of causes. Remember I’d decided to stop hating BT because they were laying the new line for free if I agreed to buy broadband from them for two years? I’VE CHANGED MY MIND. We have a saga of epic BT squalor and consummate incompetence spoiling the carpets right now. I think I’ll let it lurch and drool through another confrontation or two before I tell you about it. Besides, at the moment, my blood pressure couldn’t stand it.
‡‡ I slipped the hellhounds at a cat standing in the middle of my driveway saying ‘make me’. Cats never expect the speed of a sighthound and it was so busy running it missed its leap to the top of the fence and cartwheeled over. Backwards. I hope it is now considering the possibility of seeking pastures, and latrines, new.
‡‡‡ And there is no hanging space because this is a British house.^
^ Don’t know enough about Wales or Northern Ireland, but my limited experience of old Scottish houses is of another entirely hanging-closet-free society.
The auction winner of IMAGINARY LANDS requested a doodle: ‘author’s choice’. EEEEEEEEEP. This sort of thing makes my mind spin out of control. A symphony orchestra dressed as Santa Clauses! The flat earth balanced on the back of an infinity of turtles!* Gotterdammerung! However, after clawing myself off the ceiling, I decided on a sheepdog. But then (I believe the winner to be a blog reader) I thought it might be a good idea to pin it up here and say IT’S A SHEEPDOG. You know, from The Stone Fey. Well, maybe you don’t know, if you haven’t read the story. Anyway. I was originally going to draw the whole serious, head-down sheepdog in full focussed herd mode, but it occurred to me that if you don’t know that’s what sheepdogs look like on the job you might think it was a mad wolf. So we did lying down and looking harmless but alert.
I’ve been doodling and I am BRAIN DEAD (again). SHADOWS. Gaah. Blog post. Gaaah. Sing . . . VOICE LESSON TOMORROW. AAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE**.
Believe me, of the few students I’ve wanted to kick out of my studio, none of them had ever doubted their own talent. Not liking what’s coming out of your instrument is the foundation of being able to change it.
. . . Wait, wait, are you SERIOUS? Not about the foundation for change—that makes sense***, but about the undesirable students?? Really? I totally understand the lack of charm of a lazy egoist†, with or without talent, but what about the PATHETIC?†† —I have to keep reminding myself that all I’m aiming at is to get into a slightly better choir than the Muddles†††, which means sight-singing and surviving an audition. And I make a perfectly adequate choir ‡ noise so long as I’m not trying to get into The Sixteen or the Tallis Scholars or something. And Nadia needs to eat. So okay, no, she’s probably not going to fire me. . . . But are you serious? It’s thinking Your Talent Is Enough that pushes patient teachers over the edge? I know that Oisin fires people who don’t practise.‡‡
. . . It didn’t help that I was wrapping the yarn backwards on purl rows for the first, oh, two years I knit. And I wondered why my knitting looked funny.
SAME. Not with the purls, but knits. I wrapped my yarn the other way, so all my knits looked like “through the back loop” knits. I was always really confused why, when I followed the instructions to knit through the back loop, it looked like my normal knitting. And why my purls and my knits looked SO different on the knit side of stockinette.
I love you. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I am so grateful. I feel so much better. And I’m not sure it shows in the photo, but I am getting the little ‘v’s so I ASSUME I’m purling. You will notice that I can’t count worth stale peanuts however—this was supposed to be two rows, switch, two rows, switch, two rows. The gleeps are ad hoc.
I like ribbing! Well, ok, maybe it’s not my favorite thing to do ever, but I don’t mind it at all.
Sigh. I’m planning not to mind ribbing. But then I was planning not to mind sewing up. Very slightly in my defense, I don’t think it’s the sewing up per se that’s the problem—it’s the SPACE to lay the freller out and, even more, what you see when you lay it out‡‡‡, ie, it’s NOT supposed to look like THAT. I will probably have a similar reaction to ribbing. Siiiiiigh. But both Penelope§ and Fiona have said that you only have to pay attention, as in ATTENTION attention, for the first few rows, and then you can do it either by feel or at least by looking at it. Penelope is knitting AN ENTIRE SWEATER in ribbing§§ which she does WHILE SHE WATCHES FILMS.§§§
As one of the people who won an auction square, I have to say that a small but significant part of bidding on it was to have something that was going to hang over your head for a good while.
Books are good. Doodles are awesome. Having something owed me by one of my favourite authors? Priceless. This is a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely.
I may love you even more than I love blondviolinist and jmeadows. I am delighted to indulge you in this matter. . . . . Maybe I’ll learn to do edging to make the situation last even longer. . . .
Now I desperately want Robin to have a pink motorcycle with sidecar for the hellhounds.
Oh, so do I. You can run the charity auction this time. Vikkik will help.
* * *
* Hawking, not Pratchett
** Not in a good way.
*** Even to me
† These are, I guess, the same people who come up to a professional writer at a party and say with a smirk, Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, I just don’t have time. Urge. To. Kill.^
^ If they got that ‘jury of your peers’ right, I would be shot out of the courtroom and back onto the street so fast the speed of my passage would blow out the windows.
†† And possibly neurotic
††† Eventually. First I have to get back to the poor Muddles. But believe it or not I’m still having throat problems and I really really really don’t want to have to start all over after I go to choir practise and promptly oversing myself to splinters. Last few days—since, ahem, Wednesday—I’ve been breaking up practise time into two official whacks^. I found out some time ago if I warm up and then go away and come back later to sing properly, it works a whole lot better. But I’ve been kind of pushing it since Wednesday—I AM GOING TO SING DOVE SEI^^ TOMORROW AND IT IS NOT GOING TO BE ANY MORE EMBARRASSING THAN MY SINGING EVER IS—and intelligent pushing means not much more than about half an hour at a time. I can do an hour with Nadia because there’s always a lot of talking and I don’t talk to myself ( . . . much. When I sing).
^ Ah, the joys of working at home, six feet from your piano.
^^ The first two pages. I’ve started learning the third and last, but I want Nadia to go over it with me before I do anything too . . . daft.
‡ I want to respond to some of what you’ve said about Rodelinda, but I did want to say . . . that was a joke, about Blythe being the best alto your little local choir ever had. She’s not my cup of overcaffeinated beverage, but if I sounded one sixteenth that good I would probably die of joy, so maybe it’s just as well I don’t. The truth is merely that I don’t find her voice all that interesting when compared to the Mezzos of Yore.
‡‡ Or, alternatively, plays the organ for them, and then gives them cups of tea. Sigh. SOME DAY when . . . gods, when they perfect the life-extension thing and/or the thirty-six hours in a day thing . . . I’m going to get back to the piano properly. It’s just . . . there’s no POINT to performing music if you can’t perform it with other people somehow, and a choir is a better bet for those of us with more nerves than talent.
‡‡‡ AAAAAAAAAAAUGH, etc
§ Who was clearly trying not to laugh when I was telling her my purling problems.
§§ It’s even two kinds of ribbing: it’s fitted through the body and then flares out in a sort of peplum. It’s really cute. In twenty years or so I may ask her where she got the pattern.
§§§ I might have liked AKIRA better if I’d been knitting. Of course, I have to look at what I’m knitting . . .
My head is still spinning.* It seems to have been a head-spinny kind of day. I’m waiting for the protein to rise to my brain** so that the above-shoulder area will settle down a little and possibly produce some coherent sentences, both fictional and non-. ***
. . . Okay. It’s true. I went back to the yarn store.† So, you want to know why, right? Before you suck in your breath to castigate me. You’re going to have to start putting up with a certain amount of secrecy about my proliferation of knitting projects. Because one or two (or three) of them†† pertain to people that I know at least occasionally read the blog. So I went back to the yarn store in pursuit of one of these Secret Projects, having got the details wrong first time.††† And the other reason is . . . I’ve been talking to one of my enablers again. The great drawback to enablers is the way they . . . enable. And I asked her, when you get Stash Fever, how do you know how much of a given ecstatically thrilling yarn to buy? —I having, with a month’s experience behind me, realised that one of my initial purchases is not really suitable for legwarmers, unless I start living a delicate ladylike life, which is not (ahem) terribly likely.‡ Oh, said my enabler airily. It depends on what you find out you like to knit. I like to knit coronation robes with eighteen-foot trains, so I have to buy sixty-six quadrillion leagues of anything I really like.‡‡
So I pulled out a Rowan magazine‡‡‡ and started trying to figure out how many skeins of their Skittish Gorilla weight yarn I would need to make . . . well, anything, really. And then I took out the tag that I had thoughtfully brought with me so that I could check the dye lot from one of the skeins I had bought a month ago§ and . . . bought some more skeins. Ahem. I basically bought every skein they had left in my dye lot, but that wasn’t actually very many. No, really. It’s a small shop.§§
And then I had to pelt home, as if a hellhound were after me, because there were handbells. There’s been what may be a Startling Development, which is that Fernanda may have run away to sea. So there were only three of us tonight, and there may continue to be only three of us for the foreseeable future. —GAH. I am now used to eight bells. The treble comes down to lead way too fast and often when there are only six bells: on eight you get into the sloppy habit of believing that you’ve got a little breathing space between leads. Not with only six. But what’s worse is . . . at tea break the three of us sat there looking at each other and then said, more or less simultaneously, I have a great idea! Let’s learn a new method! AAAAAUGH. I thought it was a great idea at the time, flushed with sugar§§§ and caffeine and secure in the knowledge of Pooka and her bell ringing ap. It is now past midnight and I’m tired and I still have to sing, and St Clements minor has too many wiggly lines, especially when you’re ringing two bells. And I know from bitter method-learning experience that Thursday rolls around again with uncivil speed.
Right. Singing now.
* * *
* BACK, Jodi! BACK! Not that kind of spinning!
** Roast chicken for supper. And an enthusiastic vortex of hellhounds adding interest to negotiating the space between the roast chicken sitting aromatically on the kitchen counter and your chair at the table. And gods help you if you go back for seconds.
These are, you understand, the hellhounds who refused to eat their lunch and made me late for my appointment with Dentist from R’lyeh.^ The moment they saw me fold up in despair, and prepare myself for leaving them lunchless, and spending the afternoon in a fog of prospective woe^^ . . . they changed their minds and ate, delaying me even more.
They were really only doing their best. Any loyal dog is going to try to keep his beloved mistress away from Dentists from R’lyeh.
^ Maybe I could skip all the pain and trauma of the actual visits, put a permanent lien on my bank balance, made out ‘on demand from Dentist from R’lyeh’, and stay home. There is a new hazard about the Dentist from R’lyeh: his office is very near the yarn shop.
^^ Remember that these guys, if they miss a meal, are less likely to eat the next one rather than more—and that by the end of 24 hours without food they are miserable. That comforting old cliché about how not to let your dogs get the high ground, ‘a hungry dog will eat’, has a very large caveat subheading: except hellhounds. I regularly remind myself to be grateful that at least they aren’t scheming little ratbags with it or I’d’ve been forcibly retired to the small room with the quilted walls by now.
*** I also still have to sing. I’m singing The Roadside Fire^ for Oisin tomorrow. Eeeeeep. It’s going to be gruesome. Nadia’s one shortcoming is that she doesn’t play the piano any better than I do, and so does not accompany. Lots of voice teachers don’t—they’re voice teachers—but Blondel did, and to me anyway learning to sing something with the accompaniment—assuming that it was written with an instrumental part for the singer to collide with—is a crucial part of finishing learning the piece.^^ But the piano or the six Theremins or twelve contrabassoons or what-have-you still is/are to me One More Thing in the herding-cats experience that is singing, and I don’t care how well I thought I knew the mere tune when I took a new piece in to Blondel, it was always a nuts, bolts and blood ordeal, singing it against—er—with the piano.^^^
I’m not sure whether this is going to improve or—er—dis-improve the chances of the New Arcadia Singers becoming a reality. It may dis-improve my chances of being chosen to be a member. Sigh. But how dumb would it be not to be able to sing for your choir director?^^^^
^^ Also possibly because I’m a kind of ersatz pianist and I had+ fantasies about being some kind of very low level accompanist myself, I think there ought to be a better word than accompanist. Have you seen—for example—the piano part for some of Benjamin Britten’s (himself a serious pianist) songs? Cheez. This is two-soloists-with-a-single-aim++ territory.
+ Okay, still have
++ One hopes
^^^ Why didn’t I take up knitting? Oh . . . I did. In hindsight, I’m sure it’s significant that ‘why didn’t I take up knitting’ has been my outcry for decades against whatever is driving me nuts at the minute. I guess I now need a new scream. Why didn’t I take up alligator wrestling? Tornado chasing? Pooktre tree shaping?
^^^^ Why didn’t I take up collecting abacuses?
† Fortunately the woman who is usually there—who has been there every time so far when Fiona and I come panting in for our fix^—was not there, so I could saunter casually up to the till like any old normal customer and engage in desultory banter about dye lots and the extreme depravity of Rowan yarn’s magazines^^, where everything is more beautiful than the thing before and just buying the yarn will cost more than 1,000,000 pairs of limited-edition Blondie All Stars^^^ and that’s before you’ve put eleventy squillion hours of good income-producing time in on knitting up the freller. Supposing you knew how. Protected By Sheer Sandblasted Ignorance. Sigh.
^ We’re going to a new shop next time
^^^ And why would you want 1,000,000 pairs? 1,000,000 different pairs, now . . . (with perhaps a few repeats for back-up).
†† Four. Since you’re asking. Well, five. But they’re all extremely simple minded. I’m not entirely stupid. Just a little excitable.
††† Sigh. Trying to extract salient details without saying LOOK I’M ASKING FOR A REASON, OKAY? JUST UNGLEBLARGING TELL ME, can be challenging.
‡ That sound you hear is hellhound laughter.
‡‡ Yes, I believe she does have a stash problem.
§ I ask you. Am I amazing or what.
§§ And I didn’t buy any books.^ So stop looking at me like that.
^ Well. Not about knitting.
§§§ There’s also a café across the street from the yarn shop. With a take out bakery. Carrot cake to die for. Lemon icing. Not cream cheese. My new hero, whoever the baker is.
No, triple arrgh.
But first. 16 November is retreating fast into the twilight of history. And I know at least one person is going to come after me with a harpoon if I don’t tell you what was in those fancy parcels. Allow me a digression first however.* I’ve been doing the daily blog thing now for three and a bit years. I’m mostly used to the weirdness of yakking away about my life on line and in public and I haven’t (yet) woken up sweating at 3 am and thought Why did I tell them that?** But every now and then the extremeness of the weird clonks me one. It was one of those clonk moments when I realised that while I will blither on about my presents, because blithering is what I do, there’s no need to explain any of them, because regular readers will recognise them all instantly as familiar manifestations of McKinley’s personality.*** Starting with the posy of white roses sitting beside my computer.†
And moving on briskly to the revelation of contents. The only thing even faintly in need of elucidation is ASHES TO DUST . . . but it’s a book, isn’t it?††
The black cardigan with the banner of flowers thrown diagonally across its front is one of the divineliest pretty things I have ever seen. When Peter said he needed something to give me for my birthday I handed him the catalogue immediately. This one, I said. I’ve wasted a lot of digital whatever trying to get a good close-up of it; the flowers are embroidered, so they’re tactile as well as . . . pink. But the black background is that really shiny pima yarn which reflects like anything so my photos keep coming out with a grey haze over them.††† This one isn’t too bad.
And then . . . Stephen Sondheim. I’ve been mooning tragically over the complete score to SWEENEY TODD for years, for no good reason. Complete scores are grotesquely expensive but I could have afforded one. ‡ I think I thought it would be cheek in an odd sort of way: I like to include, say, Messiaen and Benjamin Britten in my composing influences, but that’s manifestly absurd and therefore harmless. Sondheim, for better or worse, is pretty much hands-on literally an influence, and getting my hands on a Sondheim score would be too much like taking myself seriously. But Sondheim turned 80 this year and is all over the place being feted and celebed‡‡—and has published FINISHING THE HAT‡‡‡, which has the delightfully explanatory subtitle: Collected lyrics (1954-1981), with attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes.§ For that I would want to read it even if I didn’t want to read it.§§ Peter asked me if I’d like HAT for my birthday and I said yes, and then I inhaled sharply and added: WouldyouliketobuymethecompletescoretoSWEENEYTODDtoo?
Which has had totally the expected effect§§§ of making me pull out some of my Finale [music software] files and start making terrible noises.# Which brings me to my triple-arrgh day.
Arrgh No. 1: Frelling Niall rang me this morning## and somehow managed to convince me to ring handbells tomorrow morning with Titus. Arrrrrgh. He’s pumping this ‘all my regular ringers are in Lapland chasing reindeer/ Somalia chasing gerenuk’ pretty dranglefabbing hard. He could have got Theophrastus together with Titus, it seems to me. Hmmph. Anyway. He is a bad man and I have no will power (which was the gist of my reply). This will be the third time I’ve rung handbells this week.
Arrgh No. 2: We were suddenly, unexpectedly, and somewhat dismayingly awash with good ringers tonight at tower practise . . . and it’s been months since I had a chance to ring Grandsire Triples and I totally frelled the freller. Totally. Frelled. Kill me now. Arrrrrgh. The second try was slightly better. A little. I also screwed up calling my siimple-minded touch of bob doubles. ARRRRRRRGH. But I was probably a little distracted tonight, because . . .
Arrgh No. 3: I took one of my longer and knottier terrible noises, washed, brushed and revised to make it more fearful, to Oisin today and he screamed a lot as he tried to play it.### He then fixed me with a large, glittering, Ancient-Mariner sort of eye~ and said, This needs to be orchestrated, you know. No! I didn’t know! I don’t know anything of the kind! Orchestrated! AAAAAAARRGH.
* * *
* You will allow me a digression, won’t you?
** That ‘waking up at 3 am’ is an oxymoron is beside the point.
*** And how weird is it to be hanging photos of your birthday presents on line at all?
† Well, why not white? We’ll get to something pink soon enough.
†† I used to read armsful of murder mysteries; not so much any more.^ But I like the ordinary-people-rising-to-extraordinary-circumstances thing, right? I’ve been talking about it in various of the recent spate of interviews. Which to my eye all mysteries are, pretty much by definition, even police procedurals (which I like, especially when the crack detective is a single mum with three kids or similar). And this book has had some very flashy reviews. We’ll see.
^ A digression for another evening.
††† Okay, a four arrgh day
‡ If I simply didn’t buy any books for a few months I’d recoup.
‡‡ Should that be ‘celebbed’ do you think?
‡‡‡ Which is a line from his SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, George being George Seurat, the Impressionist painter. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. Or you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_in_the_Park_with_George
§ Another big gloppy Sondheim fan reviews it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/19/AR2010111903355.html
§§ And here’s an eyecatcher from a first browse. He’s talking about the song Anyone Can Whistle, which includes the lyric: What’s hard is simple,/ What’s natural comes hard./ Maybe you could show me/How to let go,/ Lower my guard . . . and he writes: ‘ . . . musical-theater rhapsodists have appropriated it as my personal statement. . . . To believe that “Anyone Can Whistle” is my credo is to believe that I’m the prototypical Repressed Intellectual and that explains everything about me. Perhaps being tagged with a cliché shouldn’t bother me, but it does, and to my chagrin I realize it means that I care more about how I’m perceived than I wish I did. . . .’ Yep. I know about this. And he gets a lot of points in my account-book for saying so.
§§§ No, not practising my Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett imitation in the mirror
# Almost as terrible as my Angela Lansbury imitation
## Almost late enough. I wasn’t very asleep.
### I only do it to annoy because I know it teases. Actually, I don’t, but I do enjoy the screaming.
~ Unhand me, greybeard loon!
. . . there have been no bells. My world, in Peter’s phrase, is the wrong shape.* There were some perfectly adequate Guy Fawkes fireworks earlier which I watched somewhat languidly out the window.** Fireworks*** are just not on my list of necessary ingredients to a happy, fulfilled life.†
So since my world is on backwards and I can’t think of anything to tell you about†† let me tell you a little about a book I really enjoyed: THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM by Tanya Huff. I’ve read a fair amount of Huff over the years and she’s always good value. But this one’s pretty special even with the bar set high.
Allie is a member of the scary Gale clan, who really do run the world, or at least their portion of Ontario, Canada, in their own inimitable, matriarchal fashion, mostly involving home-made pies and meddling. Allie has recently lost her job and gone home because she has nowhere else to go, and is only barely managing not to be made seriously crazy by the Gale Aunties, when she finds out that her grandmother has (probably) died, or at any rate has left her her rather unusual shop—one might almost say emporium—in Calgary, with the request that Allie go there and keep an eye on it because it has ‘become crucial to the local community.’ As much as a way to escape aunts, pies and meddling as anything else, Allie goes. And discovers, first, that the emporium is about as mad and enchanted as anything concerning a Gale woman is likely to be and, second, that the community it’s become crucial to is the fey community, and Gales don’t mix with feys. . . . And, three, that the local evil sorcerer’s magic-bound assistant is trying to find out what Allie’s up to for his master’s nefarious purposes . . . and that she’s falling in love with him. The assistant, not the sorcerer. And have I mentioned the dragons? And the end of the world?
It’s funny, charming and delightful. And jammed with characters: not only Allie and too many Aunties, but Allie’s cousin Charlie (another Gale girl) and best friend Michael (a mundane), the occasional dangerously powerful Gale man (Gales mostly run to girls), a leprechaun, the evil sorcerer and the cute assistant, a strangely clued-in coffee shop proprietor and a lot of dragons. And a clearly sentient mirror with a strange sense of humour.
I also like the dialogue:
‘Allie’s eyes widened. “Mom, there’s a signed photograph of a minotaur on the wall behind the counter.”
“He’s dotted his i with a little heart.”
“Definitely Boris. Your grandmother seemed very fond of him.”
Given the way Boris was built, Allie didn’t doubt that in the least.’
. . . Which brings me to a Special Mention. I think most kinds of non-standard sex are very hard to pull off in fiction. (Never mind reality.) And by non-standard I mean pretty much anything that isn’t committed pair-bonding (homo or het) or some version of singledom, either active or chaste. I’ve seen non-standard sex done well—and usually in F&SF—but I still think it’s unusual. I think Huff gets it (as one might say) bang right. The Gales do like their sex, and it’s also mixed up in their power—and as a woman not merely of a certain age but past it myself, I like the idea that being a little grey and wrinkly doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t notice a well-built minotaur making eyes at you. Oh yes, and Gale women also seem to have a fondness for Chuck Taylor’s All-Stars, which makes them good in my, uh, book.†††
* * *
* And it’s bent and pummelled more than that because my piano lesson was an hour and a half early. This was because Oisin was going to have to play the organ for a funeral. And then he wasn’t going to have to play organ for a funeral, but he had to Stand By in case the designated organist fell in a hole or got a flat tyre. Result was that since the designated organist did not fall in a hole or get a flat tyre, I stayed almost as long as I would have if I’d come at the usual time. There is so a story in an Enchanted Organ or possibly a School of Organists wherein you are taught to handle the dangerously powerful King of Instruments. Organs of course are manifestations of the earth spirits^; they are part natural phenomena and part built or shaped by human intervention. . . . It must have already been done, but that’s never stopped me. But the point is that Oisin is always ready to talk about organs. All you have to do is keep asking him questions. A bit like me and bells. And yes, there is a magical-bells story in the queue: THE BELLS OF MAZAHAN. I’ve told you about it before.^^
^ Hey! Maybe I can get an EARTH ELEMENTALS story out of this!
^^ And how it started life as an AIR story and got long. Siiiiiigh. And organs are also part air—extrusions of earth, but powered by air. Hmmmm.
** I am happy to say that hellhounds are not bothered by fireworks, although Chaos tends to wake up and look around in the hopes that the noise might involve something he can play with. I was bothered this morning when some yobbo let one off about three feet behind us in the churchyard for pity’s sake and I briefly reached a speed that would not unduly shame a hellhound. Although speaking of turns of adrenaline-charged speed, as we were circling back toward the cottage through one of the rec fields a pair of hellhound admirers approached and permitted themselves to be gambolled upon^ and then in a dazzle of excitement hellhounds flaming shot off and hit the end of their leads full pelt. Which they never do! I almost frelling died. And I really do have whiplash. Ow. Ow. Geez.
^ No! Off! Feet on the floor, you frellers!
*** Except when provided by Gandalf
† I’ve just been listening to Jacqueline Wilson^ give the keynote speech for the kick-off to this year’s free-thinking festival, which is supposed to be contemplating happiness. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/freethinking/ During the questions at the end the pursuit of other insubstantial goals came up, and the announcer did an impromptu audience poll of wisdom vs happiness. How many of you would—or perhaps do—prefer to seek wisdom? Almost no hands went up. Happiness? Lots of hands went up.
This really startles me. I’d’ve put it totally the other way around. The audience is, after all, self-selected for being interested in such questions, or they wouldn’t be showing up for a free-thinking festival in the first place. After I’d blinked a few times I wondered what the average age of that audience was?^^ Is this just me, or don’t you get more interested in wisdom and less interested in happiness as you get older? It’s not that you’re not interested in happiness, far from it^^^. But happiness is a fickle, whimsical little git whereas wisdom gives you a place to stand. Pursuing happiness won’t get it. Pursuing wisdom . . . might. If you’re lucky, and have a good map. Maybe it’s just semantics. But I’d say, for example, that it’s wisdom that lets you notice when you’re happy.
^ If you don’t know her you should http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacqueline_Wilson
^^ If they’re all devoted 13-year-old fans of Wilson’s, then I’m not surprised.
^^^ Menopause has taught me far more about depression than I had any desire to know. No, telling yourself it’s just your hormones is not helpful.
†† The odd footnote aside
††† In fact, it makes me happy. If no wiser.