Peter and I went out to dinner tonight. Just because. To the Bard and Orpharion which tends to be our default. And they were out of half bottles of champagne and weren’t offering it by the glass.* We didn’t quite get up and stamp out the door but we thought about it. Peter, in best loyal-husband mode, suggested this drastic course of action. We could go back to the Bulgy Loaf, which was our great find a fortnight ago when the electricity went phut at Peter’s end of town: they had teeny-weeny individual bottles of Freixenet** available, thank you very much, and they’re probably not heaving on a Monday evening in early March. But one doesn’t really want to burn one’s bridges too spectacularly in a small town***. So we stayed. There may have been muttering.
And then I thought, well, okay, I have a minor thing for killer dessert wines—the kind you might mistake for treacle if you weren’t paying close attention, till the alcohol aftershock makes your hair stand on end and your socks pop off†—I’ll have a glass of dessert wine with my brownie. THEY DON’T DO DESSERT WINE BY THE GLASS EITHER.
But at least the brownie was serious.
. . . And yes, we’d been playing bridge, where Peter fiddles the cards first so we have (a) more fun (b) a better Teaching Experience and I actually sort of almost understood what was happening some of the time. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not.
So we came home and Peter got one of our emergency quarter bottles of champagne out of the cupboard and put it in the freezer for twenty minutes AND I’M DRINKING IT NOW.
* * *
*Their pathetically feeble excuse is that they’d had a wedding which had drunk it all. A wedding that drank all the HALF BOTTLES? What kind of a cheap cheezy wedding is that? With only three people at the reception and two of them are teetotallers?^ We’ll have more in on Wednesday, said the lightly sweating waiter. WEDNESDAY? WHAT GOOD IS WEDNESDAY? IT’S MONDAY AND I WANT CHAMPAGNE.^^
. . . and maybe the Bulgy Loaf had a wedding last week too where teetotalism was rampant and they’re all out of little bottles too.
^ I mean, not cheap. Half bottles are ridiculously expensive per glass—you only do it because You. Must. Have. Champagne and there’s only one of you, or maybe two, you’re both nearly teetotallers and one of you doesn’t like champagne much.+
+ There’s no accounting. Maybe it’s that Y chromosome.
^^ Peter, who can sometimes be noble beyond all measure+, offered to buy a REAL bottle of champagne. Even I quailed at the magnificence of this sacrifice.++
+ Which helps to balance out the times THAT HE’S SPILT MARMALADE IN THE SILVERWARE DRAWER AGAIN AND I WANT TO KILL HIM.
++ I’ll try to remember this moment the next time he spills marmalade in the silverware drawer. Or unloads the dishwasher and puts everything tidily away having not run it first. AAAAAAUUUUUGH.
** I’ve said this before, haven’t I? That Freixenet has come a long way in the last thirty years or so? There was a time when I wouldn’t drink it because it was nasty. It’s still not the Widow, but it doesn’t cost like the Widow either.
. . . I was just looking it up on line so I could spell it correctly and . . . you have to be of legal drinking age in the country you’re in to look at their site? What? Why? Is looking at virtual bottles of B-list fizz really going to tip you over the edge into picking the lock on your parents’ liquor cabinet and getting pootered on Harvey’s?^ I did not, in fact, penetrate past the are you of legal drinking age click here pop up because the site background is all dark and creepy and there is ominous icky music like one of those computer games where stuff starts jumping out at you before I’ve got my finger off the ‘start’ button and I never live long enough to get out of the first level.
^ I feel that a hangover from Harvey’s Bristol Cream would probably cure you of drinking alcohol for life, but maybe that’s just me.
*** Besides, one possibly has a habit of doing it inadvertently and had better mind one’s ps and qs when one notices before it’s too late that they’re milling around in a dangerous manner^ and really need minding.^^
^ like bull terrier puppies. All smiles and little evil eyes . . . and remarkably fast on those little short legs.
^^ Sit! Sit! That’s not sitting!+
+ I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not sitting.
† In my early drinking days I’ve even been known to enjoy a glass of Harvey’s. But I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.
THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING HELLTERROR IS IN SEASON. IN JANUARY.* WHAT THE. THE. THE. . . . FRELL. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. I assumed, fool and inexperienced entire-bitch owner that I am, that when she missed out the autumn I was, in the first place, safe till spring, and in the second place, possibly going to be lucky and she’d be a one-annual-heat bitch. I’m very strongly of the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy, and aside from questions of whether or not I’m going to try to breed her** if she doesn’t make the hellhounds crazy she will probably keep her bits. If she doesn’t make me crazy. Which is presently being reassessed.
We have here the Incredible Hulk-ette. I swear she’s bigger (and greener) than she was last week. There’s noticeably more noise*** including her seeing off a much-wider-than-usual selection of invisible monsters in her crate—and her telling everyone in Hampshire, when we go for our hurtles, that she is not interested, that her swollen rear end has a mind of its own and she does not share its manifest desire for immediate copulation and to keep your distance, whoever you are. I believe this is the stage described as ‘will not stand for the dog’.
Honeybun, I have no intention of letting you stand for any dogs, now or next week. The hellhounds, at present, are saying, oh, gah, this again, and putting their heads under the blanket. But it’s still early days. Waaaaaaaaaaah. . . .
* * *
* That is, in the northern hemisphere. It’s probably a perfectly good month to get your livestock preggers in the south.
** Which I am putting off absolutely for at least another year.
*** It’s always welcome to have your resident goblin barking her head off when the neighbours have the poor judgement to be holding their conversation under your kitchen window. Especially at, oh, 8 a.m. or so. At the moment hormonal sensitivity seems to be extending her aversive range to the entire length of the cul de sac which is not short enough. Plus her hearing is much too acute. If a beetle farts in the hedgerow I DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT.^
^ Wildlife. Feh. Did I tell you that the local Pet Shop Proprietors say that birdseed take up is bad all over Hampshire? So it’s not just me. I did eventually get Birdseed Feeder #2, now so clean it hurts,+ put back together again, despite the manufacturers’ best efforts against, my success mainly due to a misspent youth playing those horrible hand-held tilt games where you’re trying to get the coloured ball to fall through the right coloured hole. I performed this feat of dexterity with the frelling microscopic screws that hold the base on and whose sub-microscopic holes are unattainable by super-microscopic human fingers. I got the nasty little frellers out with a miniature screwdriver whose business end is about the size of a hummingbird’s tongue, but getting them in again? Through the squirrel-repelling hard wire cage? Whose base is a crosspiece perfectly sited to prevent you getting a finger through (let alone two, since you probably need two fingers to HOLD a microscopic screw)? AND THE BIRDS CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO EAT MY BIRDSEED? Fine. You guys all need to fly to Tahiti next winter. I’m sure I can create a few tall thin planters out of these ex-birdfeeders.
The fat balls are disappearing at a rate however. I hope it’s my penguin-sized robin (who is too robust to get through the squirrel cage wire) who is consuming these.++
Further in wildlife news: We haven’t seen the frelling churchyard hedgehog in a while +++ but a few nights ago hellhounds and I came around the corner onto the main street again and . . . saw a fox loping lazily away ahead of us. I think foxes are dangerous vermin and while this town, plonked down in farmland as it is, is doubtless swarming with foxes in the vicinity I prefer to avoid close encounters. Therefore imagine the adrenaline spike when we’d rounded that same corner two nights later and . . . there’s a break in the terrace row of little old houses where the let’s-make-it-obvious-we’re-fabulously-wealthy owners of the big house on the corner have installed ye Gate of Gates at the back~ thus creating a niche. Hellhounds’ heads came up and they careened round the wall into the niche before I, it’s very late even by my standards and my reflexes are not too good right now anyway, hit the brakes on their leads and apocalypse by the sound of it ensued. I thought it was the fox, and that the vet bills were going to be really expensive. I had done my hellgoddess in a panic trick and thrown myself against the ends of their now-fully-extended leads and began dragging them away from whatever was happening, like fishermen winching waterlogged nets up onto the shore where they can get at them. I was amazed that, as hellhounds emerged, backwards and mostly on their hind legs, no one seemed to be bleeding.
Nothing else emerged. I waited a couple of seconds, got hellhounds on very short lead—the kind of very short lead I can hold them on—and we walked past the niche.
And there was Phineas’ marmalade ex-hellkitten, sitting at the very back of the niche against the closed Gate and his tail curled around his feet, looking utterly unbothered. Cats are masters of the Happened? Did anything happen? No, I didn’t notice anything happen, nonchalance, but I assume my winching had taken effect at an opportune juncture. Although I would have sworn there was more noise than two hellhounds, even two excited hellhounds, could have made. Speaking of noise.
+ And therefore badly out of the cottage décor.
++ One of the items B_Twin brought from Australia are . . . wait for it . . . peppermint chocolate frogs. I’m sitting here eating peppermint chocolate frogs. I want you to know I find it very disturbing to bite the heads off frogs, even chocolate ones.#
# No of course I’m not going to eat them tail first. I want them to die a swift, clean death.
+++ I hope it’s just hibernating and hasn’t drowned. The sky pitched it down again yesterday and we’re back to standing water in all directions.
~ With the glittering high-tech dashboard set into the wall which keeps going wrong so the Gate of Gates often stands helplessly open and any riffraff could wander in. Hee hee hee hee hee.
Having signally failed (again) last night. I need either to learn not to fall asleep in the bath or how to keep the water hot and just sleep in the bath. I sleep there so much better than I sleep in bed. Maybe it’s because Scorpio is a water sign. So it’s not my fault. It’s that I’m doomed.
B_twin left today and . . . it started raining about two hours later. Speaking of water and never mind the astrology. BUT THE HELLHOUNDS ATE DINNER. Rain? Fine. Whatever. Let it rain. I can deal with (almost) ANYTHING . . . as long as the hellhounds keep eating.*
And furthermore it’s Friday. And that means tomorrow is . . .
O.K., now it’s really time to go pick up The Blue Sword again… not that it’s ever not time to read it, but Kes’ visions are reminding me of Harry’s and I’m being called…
You know I keep banging on about how the Story exists and all a poor dope of a writer can do is choose her words as well as she’s able. But a story does try and come to a writer who has (maybe) a hope of relating to or engaging with it. If a lost and confused story about the early expansion of the railroad across the North American continent in the 19th century shows up panting on my doorstep, I will attempt to repress my shudder of horror (stories have feelings), pat it on its head, and send it back to the Story Council for reassignment.
Stories about girls who do things come to me. So do stories about girls who have visions before/during/after they do things. I assume one of the reasons stories with visions in them see me as a kindred spirit is because I’ve always been rotten with visions myself. Most of them are story related.**
***MILD SPOILER WARNING***
BLUE SWORD began with a vision of Harry pulling that mountain down. CHALICE began with the Master saving his Chalice’s life on that cold hillside. PEGASUS began with the night of Sylvi’s twelfth birthday. Sometimes the vividest visions however are not where a story begins, but where I realised it was a story. Peter was mulling over the difficulty of raising an orphan baby dragon*** because you need to keep it hot, but my recollection (which may well be faulty) is that he was thinking of something like a bucket or wheelbarrow of embers. It was when I saw some random teenage boy put a baby dragon down his shirt that I knew the story was live for me. And baby critters with big brains tend to need serious contact with their mums; I don’t know that a brainy dragonlet would do very well stranded in a barrow of embers, even if the barrow was topped up regularly. And then of course it turns out that the dragons in this particular story are marsupials, and their babies are born pretty well foetal. . . .
And so on. There have been a few periods in my life—not recently, fortunately, it’s another of those ‘getting old is a good thing (mostly)’ things—when I’ve thought that my tendency to visions meant I was nuts. Eventually I decided that if I coped (more or less) in the real world too, who cares? Poor Kes is going to have a harder time hanging onto her sanity—or her belief in her sanity—since her stories/visions are showing, and, I will tell you for free, will continue to show, an alarming tendency to break into our so-called real world and mess her around.
My favorite sentence/image of this week’s episode is: I saw the banner flying from its topmost tower very plainly: two sword blades crossed to divide it into quarters, and in the quarters were a horse, a hawk, a sighthound and a rose. I wanted the whole Kes story from the very beginning, but that line bumped it further over an invisible enticing ledge for me.
Oh good. Whatever works.*** ::Shuffles feet:: Mind you I haven’t much idea about this part of the story myself. I can feel that it’s live or I wouldn’t have put even this much in–I don’t even know how to describe it, but that banner is as real as the chair I’m sitting in, or Cecelia Bartoli on the CD player. I can also feel where I need to go to find someone—someone I mean who lives there—to talk to about it. There’s a fair amount of seething going on behind that bit of scenery. But I kind of imagine them drawing straws, and whoever gets the short straw has to talk to me first. —No, no, no, the loser is saying, clutching his/her hair. You know what she’s like!†
Your nicer readers may respect you. Your characters . . . nah.
* * *
* B_twin said, I’ve seen skinnier dogs. Good thing you weren’t here a month ago, I said. I don’t think we were ever quite in danger of the neighbours ringing up the RSPCA^ but I felt we were getting close. When the only food that’s going into them is what I’m prying their mouths open and stuffing down . . . they get really skinny. I will go on force-feeding when they’re still not voluntarily eating enough to keep a hummingbird alive^^ but every sixteenth-mouthful scrap that I didn’t have to poke into them helps . . . including my stress level.
^ I’ve said this before, haven’t I: Yes. And let the RSPCA try to make them eat.
^^ Although hummingbirds are another of these tiny frantic things, like shrews, that have to eat pretty well constantly to avoid starving to death. I thought this was fascinating: http://www.hummingbirds.net/hainsworth.html
Anorexic hummingbirds don’t survive to breed. Note that I have turned away all inquiries about breeding from the hellhounds not only because I don’t want them to find out what sex is.
‘A hummingbird can weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams. A penny weighs 2.5 grams.’ And even several times 2.5 grams of food a day is not going to keep an 18,000-gram hellhound alive for long.
(Also from http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/facts.php) ‘A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.’# Yes, but 4.2% of 2 to 20 grams still doesn’t leave a lot of room for Sanskrit and quantum physics. Has anyone tried to find out if hummingbirds can learn weird human-type stuff like coming when called or pressing an itsy-bitsy lever that dispenses food?
# Note that you’re seeing in action WHY WRITING THE BLASTED BLOG TAKES SO LONG. Pretty much every time I look something up—like the eating habits of hummingbirds—I get into an ‘oooh shiny’ rut and half an hour later. . . .
** But it’s not surprising that when Jesus decided to hoick me over the ‘believer’ line he showed up in a vision.
*** Words to live by. Where a lot of professions meet on common ground, I guess: writers, mechanics, ditch diggers, bakers, critter trainers, shoe salespersons. Probably not accountants and surgeons. And I wish these were the words by which computer programmers lived.
† I’m sitting here on this chair, listening to Cecelia Bartoli, and realising that the first person I speak to isn’t going to have a clue about the banner and is going to think I’m, ahem, nuts for wanting to know.
††We were discussing ideas for short stories for FIRE ELEMENTALS, right? Long, long, long ago. Four FIRE novels^ ago. Before Peter realised what he had married.
^ Peter wrote TEARS OF A SALAMANDER, remember. It’s not only me.
Tired. Oh, I just said that, didn’t I?
But first, a story about life with dogs. When things are not going well generally* it’s very easy to slide into a grim sort of Put Harness On, Take for Hurtle, Open Tin of Dog Food, Sprinkle with Chicken Scraps, Watch Hellhounds Not Eat and Hellterror Jaws Blur into Engulfing Machine and forget that these are your hellpack and not just random furry moochers that exist to make your life more complicated.
One of the pubs on the main street was having some kind of private party yesterday that involved a large bunch of grey balloons tied to the pavement sign out front. Grey. Who on earth** would want to advertise their festive event with grey balloons? Anyway. The sign in question is one of those mini sandwich boards that stand on their own little feet and are usually set out in a manner to cause a maximum of pedestrian traffic disruption. On our way to the cottage from the mews*** the balloons were on the far side of the sign and Pav gave them only a cursory glance. On the way back . . . there was a large flapping Yog-Sothoth right at her eye level. And she wasn’t having any of it.
Hellterror. Bouncing up and down on four little stiff legs. BarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkBARK. If she had a ruff it would be standing on end. Tail like a flagpole. Head straight up and ears stiff and alert as phased-array radar. BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK.
I walked on past this demonstration of the imminent end of life as we know it. I turned around. Yo, Pav, I said. Her concentration wavered just long enough to cast me a you-must-be-joking glance, and then returned smartly to her duties as herald and alarm. BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK.
Pav, I said. I didn’t want to order her to come to me because her recall is ordinarily surprisingly good and I don’t want to damage it by stressing it beyond its strength. She paused long enough this time to give me a beseeching look, with that ‘it’s not that I want to be doing this’ expression of gallant anguish. Barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbark.
I bent over a little and said her name again. She stopped briefly . . . her tail dropped by about a micro-millimetre . . . she was tempted . . . no. Those grey balloons were a threat to world—nay, universal order. BARKBARKBARKBARKBARKBARK.
I knelt on the frelling pavement and called her. Paaaaaaav. She stopped. She looked at me.
The tail dropped, the ears flattened . . . and she rushed past Yog-Sothoth and hurled herself into my lap/arms.
My hellterror. Mine.
* * *
I was going to go on and tell you about Street Pastoring on Friday night† and my voice lesson today†† but . . . I think I’ll go to bed with a good book. And maybe a few furry moochers.
* * *
* Peter has backslid rather.^ Probably from overdoing it. And my ME is a drooling nightmare. Probably because I’ve been overdoing it.
^ But he did come last night to the galactic super-gala Christian unity festival doodah including, as part of the floor show, Maxine and my intake of Street Pastors being superfluously blessed and re-sworn in by forty-seven bishops, including three from the planet Dzorkek, and the live video link to the Vatican+. What a scrum.++ Eleanor, bless her, gave Peter and me a lift, since parking was also going to be a scrum.
Having been sternly admonished that the usual rule applied and to wear something over my logo I was wearing a hot pink gilet and wondering if we were going to do a synchronised Busby-Berkley number when at a signal no one had prearranged with me we all stood up and ripped off our Clark Kent disguises. Got there and discovered that nobody was doing Clark Kent. Which at least made the wodges of Street Pastors easy to find: the old guard were there in force. May I remark here about the total weirdness of wearing a highly visible team uniform. I stayed the hell [sic] out of school sports and my horse riding was always solo, even if I had to wear a number at a show. Bell ringing has been enough of a shock to the cranky individualist system and at least we don’t wear uniforms.+++
Peter claims he was glad to have come. And I’m sure there were a few other non-Christian family members scattered through the heaving mob. But I don’t want to know how often he wished he was at home doing the crossword.
+ Joke. But I actually wonder if anyone has tried to get our new pope interested in the Street Pastors? We’re a small but increasing global phenomenon, all committed Christians welcome and never mind which church you go to, and Francis, despite adhering to the hoary party line about celibate male priests and abortion#, seems to be pretty enthusiastic about humanity first and categorization second.
# not in conjunction, we hope
++ Aggravated by the large area cordoned off for the Dzorkekians, who have special needs from an Earthly point of view.
+++ Although I do have a Guild sweatshirt somewhere.
** It may be different on Dzorkek.
*** The hellhounds are unlikely to have found Yog-Sothoth very alarming, although they would have examined this manifestation closely. But hellhounds and I hurtled in the other direction yesterday.
† IT DIDN’T RAIN (much). How amazing is that?
†† Speaking of overdoing it when the ME is biting. But I’m not giving up my voice lessons. Not.
I took the hellhounds to Mauncester with us this morning* because the only errands I needed to run were to hellhound-friendly shops where they are much admired**. I won’t say we had a good hurtle. We had, by hellhound standards, a fabulous dawdle. There are clearly too many dogs in Mauncester and EVERY FRELLING BRICK IS WORTHY OF INTENSE CANINE SCRUTINY. EVERY SAPLING, EVERY GATEPOST, EVERY DUST MOTE. ARRRRRRGH. I WANT A HURTLE. I’d settle for, you know, a walk.
Anyway. We got home to the mews finally to a hellterror hanging from the ceiling of her crate*** like a square furry Dracula so, since the hellhounds were sated, I hurtled her back to the cottage because I wanted to get the indoor jungle outdoors for a few hours.† It’s the hellhounds who usually go back to the cottage with me, both because the Off Lead Dog problem is least diabolical if you stick to the middle of town†† and also because hellhounds will GO LIE DOWN when so instructed and not follow me around and attempt to HELP when I’m trying to do things like ferry the indoor jungle outside, repot the frelling dahlia that is insisting on growing and start another load of washing. Here, take this geranium and put it on the second step, okay? And could you bring me a fresh bag of Perlite please? AND STOP STEALING SOCKS.
It seemed unkind, she was so relishing being part of the action†††, to lock her up so I could mop the frelling cottage floor before we returned to the mews for lunch. So I have that to look forward to as soon as I post here and go back to the cottage. IT COULD JUST STOP RAINING SO MY BACK GARDEN AND THE ENTIRE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS NOT A MUD BATH. . . . And is inevitably (and squishily) tracked across a lot of kitchen floors.
* * *
* Morning! Yes, morning! You know, that thing that happens before noon and after the wee hours and, um, dawn, which this time of year happens even later than I want to stay up for.^ I admit there wasn’t a lot of morning left by the time I picked Peter up BUT IT WAS STILL MORNING.
^ Except after a Street Pastors night when I’m not sure but what dawn serves to remind me that the ordinary world is still there. Maxine and I were talking about this last night while the long-timers were out of earshot: here we are about to go descend on some innocent congregation and hold a Street Pastors pep rally+ and we’re still really both in the Early Gobsmacked stage. We’re what? We’re doing what? If you stop to think/worry about it, all it is, practically speaking, is handing out lollipops and flipflops and hot chocolate—okay, and listening—but it is another world where we’re doing it++ and by putting on your logo—your God-armour—you’re kind of taking leave of this world before you enter that other one.+++ You need new skills—new ways to connect—and neither Maxine nor I really feel we’re getting much of a grip on this. On New Year’s Eve she was watching Jonas engage with our target group the way I was watching Dominic—she was in one team and I was in the other—and thinking how does he do that?! But Jonas and Dom have been doing this for three years and Maxine and I have been doing it for three months.#
+ Give me an S! Give me a T! —Pompoms optional and it’s been a lot of years since I did the splits.
++ ‘The nighttime economy’
+++ Of course all us practising Christians move serenely and gracefully through the ordinary world in perfect awareness of God at all times. Of course. There is never any bad language or any screaming or any dirty dishes in the sink. And all our tulips are planted by the end of November. This is why I turned Christian, you know? Because I wanted to get all my tulips in by the end of November. Ahem.
#Although the fact that I immediately manifested an entirely alien ability to catch strangers’ eyes, smile and say hello proves that the Holy Spirit has a foot in my door. This made Maxine laugh, but then she has a normal job and deals with the public and has colleagues and so on.
** And no one says anything to me about the number of ribs on dramatic show. In some cases because these are fellow sighthound people and they know. As I was moaning to one woman (who has a Labrador/spaniel cross and a pointer puppy but her sister has skinny greyhounds) if the hellhounds were working lurchers in hard condition the ribs wouldn’t matter. Pet dogs just look malnourished with their ribs sticking out.^
^ Note that they have eaten dinner. We say nothing of supper to come. Or what kind of a mood I’ll be in by the time I go to bed.+
+ SERENE of course. PERFECTLY BALANCED in my awareness of God.~
*** She totally has prehensile paws. I’ve told you about her putting her forelegs around your waist to hug you. The current ritual is that last thing at night before I put her finally in her crate with more fooooooood she has a lap for as much time as I think I can get away with for random reading. The moment I put my book down in preparation for putting her down, she sits up, wraps her forelegs around my neck . . . and chews my face off. This tickles something crazy. She makes ridiculous noises while she is performing this liturgy and it is a good idea if I’ve got my earrings and my glasses off first.
† Hard frost last night, and the January sun has no strength to it so it takes forever to warm up in the morning. In the MOOOOOORNING.
†† It’s not undiabolical, it’s just least.
††† BOING BOING BOING