99% content-free blog, or, so long as I have footnotes I can apparently witter on alarmingly at the least provocation
I received a parcel in the post yesterday.* It rejoiced in a more than usually generous quantity of instruction stickers scattered artistically over its stolid cardboard exterior. One of them said ‘hold tab firmly and pull to open’. This is only helpful if there’s a tab. There is no tab. There are some vaguely luminescent white stripes in approximately the area where you might have expected a tab, but these are a snare and a delusion. The chimerical and fallacious factor is enhanced by the shiny whiteness of these unprofitable stripes, which produces a slight, bogus, 3D effect. I took my glasses off and peered at the confusing article at a distance of two microns from the end of my nose. My near vision, that is my very very near vision is pretty good.** I thus confirmed to my dissatisfaction that there were no tabs.
Elsewhere on the parcel there is an even more splendidly helpful ILLUSTRATION of pulling the non-existent tab. Apparently you should use two fingers and the thumb. I’ll commit this to memory for the next time I see a tab. This illuminated edification is further (helpfully) described as ‘step one’. There follows another splendidly tutelary illustration to accompany ‘step one’ and its illustration, ‘step two’, which suggests ‘Lift flaps to tear perforations.’ I was busy committing step one to memory at this point and failed to take note of how many fingers, before I gave a roar of frustrated rage and TORE INTO THE SUCKER. The flap-lifting may indeed have been competently possible if there had been a tab to pull, but since there wasn’t, by the time you’ve HACKED INTO THE THING although the perforations do exist, they have slipped, or been savagely rent, into the collateral damage category.***
But my favourite instruction appears under my address for the guidance of the delivery person†: LEAVE UNDER COVER, DO NOT FLY.
Pause for contemplation.
Okay. I will not attempt to cross the Channel in it, which is probably just as well, as it is a rather small box, and the hellmob and myself, plus snacks for those of us who eat, would render it rather crowded. There are also no instructions for the piloting of a small cardboard box. And furthermore the missing tab is probably a critical airflow spoiler, and what if, having soared magnificently over the length of Kent, we hit a nasty head wind/tail wind/ wind wind over the Channel and had to land unexpectedly on the back of a dolphin? The dolphin wouldn’t like it either.††
So I guess I will stay home and enjoy the contents of my parcel. What were they, you ask? Two tiny packets of sewing needles.††† I told you it was a small box.‡
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* This happens kind of a lot. Usually it has YARN or BOOKS inside.
** It’s a good thing my nose isn’t any longer. I’m sure monocular peering would be less efficacious.
*** And, as revealed below^ the contents, by the time I had got there, having forgotten what I was going to find in the stress and anxiety of ersatz tabs and unproductive perforations, was not YARN or BOOKS. Clearly I should stick to YARN or BOOKS.^^
^ IF YOU’RE READING THIS IN THE PROPER ORDER. YOU ARE READING THIS IN THE PROPER ORDER, AREN’T YOU?
^^ Or music. My favourite on-line music shop UNFORTUNATELY will hold your basket for you apparently forever. I have about £1,000,000,000 worth of CDs and a few DVDs waiting for me at present.+ Occasionally I sift out a few and order them.++
+ Yes. I still prefer hard copy. I’m old. You’ll have to forgive me.~
~ And don’t say ‘Netflix’ to me. Until small ignored cul de sacs in forgotten villages of Hampshire get superfast broadband, which as far as I’m concerned is a myth, streaming is not an option.
++ AND LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT SHEET MUSIC.
† Shall I mention that they got my name wrong? I have had periods, in the last twenty-five years, of feeling it’s more trouble than it’s worth to share a name with your husband^, and you might think that if there are x ways of misspelling McKinley and y ways of misspelling Dickinson, there would be x + y ways of misspelling McKinley Dickinson. WRONG. It’s x + y to the 87th power ways.^^ Now, of course, being McKinley Dickinson is part of the old life gone forever, and if I can’t even throw out shopping lists in his handwriting I’m certainly not going to throw out his name.
^ He did offer to take on ‘McKinley’ but I decided one martyr in the family was enough.
^^ There may be a clue here why the larger the corporation, the more drastically screwed up and one-department-doesn’t-talk-to-any-other-department it is. The latest megacorp trying to sue me is BT, but I think I convinced them to cancel the bailiffs. Exciting times. Ugggggh.
†† I did however love the instruction so much that I cut out the address label to use as a bookmark. It is presently gracing my new Sally Melville book on knitting design, which is WILDLY over my head^, speaking of competency levels, but a girl^^ can dream, also, I like Sally Melville.^^^ It is not precisely a new Sally Melville. It is an old, out of print Sally Melville, which I bought on Abebooks, on my way^^^^ to ordering two slender and lovely books about Christian meditation by John Main# which are also out of print. These also arrived yesterday.##
^ like a cardboard box flying toward the white cliffs of Dover
^^ Or an elderly hag
^^^ Whose principles to live by include—maybe I’ve already told you this?—‘If it’s not a place I can knit, it’s probably not a place I want to be.’ YES.
^^^^ don’t ask. ‘On my way’ is perhaps a more symbolic than accurate description of route and method.
# Who was a Benedictine monk, so I’m obliged to be partial. Now he was a Catholic Benedictine and my monks are Anglican, but the welcome thing is commodious and all-embracing.
## Sort of. Instead of the second John Main I received a guidebook to ‘Rhone-Alpes’. Which might be useful if the box or the dolphin got us across the Channel. Although it would be a long walk.
††† And a lot of bubble wrap.
‡ Not that small. It was large enough for a lot of instructions. Now I will plead guilty to being an internet shopping addict^ but in this case New Arcadia, Mauncester and Zigguraton seem all to be out of ordinary sewing needles. And what’s a girl^^ to do when most of her woollens have holes in them because she refuses to use the industrial-strength anti-moth stuff?^^^ Now we can discuss the apparent impossibility of finding tapestry wool or equivalent fine enough to mend 2-ply.# I use cotton embroidery thread because it’s what I can find in enough colours but if you need to put more than three or four stitches in a single hole it shows because of the difference in drape and elasticity. Sigh. With three dogs, two gardens and a bad attitude the lumpiness of my surface covering## doesn’t really matter. But bad darns matter to me.
^ See: YARN SALES. I also keep buying Land’s End WHITE cotton-modal turtleneck jerseys because they are my favourite base layer and no matter how many I buy I run out of clean ones before I have enough to make up a white wash. Arrrrgh. I think they must be running off with the black Aran pullover that lives down the road. Don’t believe his fulsome promises, honey. He will discard you the moment you turn streaky grey with hot sweaty friction.
^^ Or elderly hag. See above.
^^^ Lavender is not useless, and cedar oil works pretty well, but concentrated cedar oil is also a frelling poison, and I don’t want either to breathe it or to have it in contact with my known-overreactive skin. I do spot it around so all my wooden shelves have little round cedar-oil marks on their edges but you have to do this a lot to be effective and I’m always going to do it tomorrow. Like I’m always going to repot all my geraniums. Tomorrow.
# No, untwisting the individual plies of hawser-strength tapestry wool does not work.
## Or coverings since I specialise in layers. See: Land’s End jerseys. I have friends who fall down laughing after they count (say) five layers. All in different colours of course, and pulled up and over and around so all are visible. I like playing with colour.+
+If I were a better knitter I’d be dangerous.
Note that writing, or writing at, a blog post over the course of several days plays to my weaknesses, which is to say I keep adding just another little sentence. Just a little sentence. Or footnote. Cough cough. And I am NOT at this point going to try to untangle this unwieldy sucker into two blog posts* or it’ll be another week before I post it, by which time it will be THREE posts long.** –ed.
Pav can count to four.
The hardliners among you, tut-tutting at this shameless anthropomorphising, are welcome to think of another explanation for what I’m about to describe. But as it happens I’ve also been reading Franz de Waal’s ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE* and shouting YES! about three times a page so what a good thing I don’t read on public transport.** One of his big points being that we should consider the possibility that we aren’t anthropomorphising, we are acknowledging that animals are clever and adaptable and share more intellect and intellectual skills for problem-solving with us than we’ve previously tended to want to acknowledge, us humans being unchallenged rulers of the known universe and all, and we’re the only animals who feel empathy and use tools and so on, RIGHT? Anyone who agrees with that last can stand in the Naughty Corner with a pointy hat on.***
So I’m going to say that Pav can count to four, and if you don’t like it, it’s a free virtual country, and you can go away and read up on late-breaking news about Avogadro’s number or something equally worthy.† But this tale of canine computational capacity goes like this. . . .
I am turning into such a softie in my old age partly I think just because age tends to motivate you in one direction or another—change, change, change! All change!††—and partly because the current generation of four-foots and I have been increasingly our own little unit as Peter got frailer and frailer and now of course They’re All I Have.††† Also I feel a bit guilty about Pav whose position at the bottom of the hierarchy must be enforced one way or another because as a hellterror she’d run all of us if she could, and the hellhounds wouldn’t put up much of a struggle‡, and the fact that she’s mostly really good about this makes me feel more guilty because . . . because I’m like that. No previous furry generation has ever been allowed to GET UNDER MY FEET when I’m cooking, but when I was first grappling with the hellhounds’ food issues I was so frantic for ANY sign of interest in food that I let them mill around underfoot when I was stripping chicken carcases etc. The hellterror of course took to this activity immediately and has tended to generalise in a way that wouldn’t occur to the hellhounds, and because therefore this also gives her and me a chance of Additional Interaction that doesn’t involve hierarchical issues‡‡, I’ve paid more attention to the dropping-bits-of-food scenario with her.
Mostly what I drop is bits of veg or apple. And because canine guts are shorter than ours because said guts are built in expectation of meat not fibrous stuff that takes more transit time to do the critter any good, I chop these bits up tiny. And to keep it interesting I sprinkle them around the floor rather than just plopping them as a wodge where I’m standing.‡‡‡ And the hellterror races around gobbling them up BECAUSE THEY MIGHT GET AWAY IF SHE DOESN’T EAT THEM FAST ENOUGH.
I started dropping four snippets a while ago for no particular reason except that it was easy and meant I could keep doing what I was doing without thinking about it.§ And it slowly dawned on me that she had learnt to look for four, count ’em, four, snippets. So I started experimenting. I dropped three in a group and the fourth one at a distance. She found all four. I spread all four out§§ and she found all of them. I put the fourth one down silently while she was otherwise occupied. She still found it, because she was looking for it. But if I put a fifth snippet down silently when she’s engaged elsewhere, she does not find it. Because she’s not looking for it.§§§
God help me if I only put or drop three. First she hunts around in increasing disbelief and outrage and then she stalks over to me and plants one heavy forepaw on my foot.@ I have mentioned before how leaden a mere one-quarter of the footage of a thirty-pound dog can be. Intentionality is all. At this point I need to drop that fourth snippet immediately or she will hold out for a brand-new batch of four.
Your beloved and absent-mindedly patronised domestic critters are bright little munchkins. Be careful what you start with them . . .
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* Especially after I already had to print this one out to have half a chance of matching text to footnotes. I do not guarantee that I was successful. Moan.
** Actually this one is already up to three-post length. If you’re counting. But why would you be counting?
* Thank you, Gryphyn, for telling me about it. I’m a huge long-time fan of de Waal^ but I don’t keep up with new releases so it might otherwise have been a while before I discovered it.
^ Peter got me started on him.+ Any of you who have read one or more of Peter’s chimpanzee books++ will understand why Peter found his work fascinating.
++ POISON ORACLE is probably one of my top half dozen Dickinson favourites. I say ‘probably’ because as soon as I started to list them there’d be more.
** I knit. Of course. You knew that. I can’t read, I’d be motion-sick in no time. Especially since I like sitting on the top of double-decker buses, which sway. Another great reason to learn to knit. Something to do when the view from the top of your bus is cement factories and car graveyards. There aren’t a lot of these in Hampshire but there are definitely stretches where you would rather be looking at your hands and that really pretty yarn you feel quite smug about buying on sale.^ Especially now that I’m old, and if I ever frelling got around to it, could get a free Old Person’s bus pass, and then think of all the extra knitting I would get done.^^ I might have a nervous breakdown about the way the official bus schedule has nothing to do with when buses actually arrive or leave but I could probably learn to swing with this.^^^ Possibly in time with the swaying of the bus.
^ THAT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. IT’S NOT. TELL ME IT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. I TOLD YOU NOT TO TELL ME THAT.+
+ No. I don’t pick up dropped stitches well. I don’t understand why naturally lumpy yarn like Rowan’s Thick ‘n’ Thin isn’t enormously popular. It hides errors so much better than the all-one-size stuff.
^^ When I’m not peering over fences at people’s laundry, dogs, half-finished patios and lumpy tarpaulins over the half-taken-apart motorcycle they’re going to restore this year, this year, really they are, busted basketball hoops and bent jungle gyms. Occasionally there’s a flawless hidden gem of a garden but mostly people’s lives behind impenetrable fences look . . . like mine. Although I know better than to think I’m ever going to learn to do anything constructive with a motorcycle, so minus the motorcycle, although I can do the lumpy tarpaulin, and for the half-finished patio read the still unrehabilitated courtyard after my poor plumbers dug up most of it looking for that leak.+ I don’t do basketball hoops and jungle gyms but I can find substitutes.++ Dogs and laundry, definitely.
+ Did I post a photo of the busted pipe fitting?# Maybe it only looks spectacular to me. It’s just a short bulge of pipe with a tap coming out of the middle. And a large cracked hole through the threads at one end.##
# Yes I could check. I’m not going to. I have no desire to glance back at anything to do with this horrible year.
## I don’t think I told you that my apple tree produced spectacularly this year? I was worried because it’s had Niagara running through its roots for the last thirty years~ and fruit trees are thirsty beggars. We had decent rainfall this year—and I remembered to throw some water on it now and then when the rain stopped—but it won’t have had anything like as much water as it’s had in years past. And not only did it do very well but the apples were larger than usual. Maybe the absence of Niagara made the June drop more effective? I have no idea. Now I’ll worry that the real effects won’t show up till next year. Like I’ve been waiting for the real effects of having the wall fall down and some blasted human mucking about below ground level to lay a new wall right where its roots are, for the last several years. Granted it falling over last autumn counts as an effect but the point is IT’S STILL PRODUCING MAGNIFICENT APPLES. It is a gallant object. And I hope it doesn’t mind that Niagara has moved to North America.
~No I have no idea how old it is, but I believe it was put in early in the previous owner’s tenancy, which would mean getting on thirty years. And while it’s small as trees go it is admirably gnarly, the way aged apple trees should be.
++ A few years ago garden centres started selling these fabulous big plastic buckets in GREAT COLOURS. Turns out the narrow (plastic) handles rot off after about one winter outdoors. I have kind of a lot of these because you can’t frelling move them around without handles but the bucket part is still perfectly good so I can’t possibly throw them out.
^^^ I’m learning perforce at the minute because I keep having reasons I need to go in to Mauncester or Zigguraton AND IT’S CHRISTMAS. IT’S THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING CHRISTMAS SEASON WHEN EVERYONE ON THE PLANET PLUS ROCKETLOADS OF TOURISTS FROM THE OUTER REACHES OF THE GALAXY ARE OUT SHOPPING AND STICKING UP THE ROADS AND PAVEMENTS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE. I keep wondering if the rest of southern England, Great Britain, the world, the solar system, blah blah blah is EMPTY because EVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE? It must be the Borg again. But why they have it in for a little wodge of Hampshire I have no idea. I have to keep telling Wolfgang it’s not that I don’t love him any more+ it’s that unless he wants to add perching on flagpoles to his list of accomplishments, finding a parking space is more than our lives are worth, and throw in the lives of two hellhounds and a hellterror to the balance, since they wouldn’t want to be left behind if we soar unexpectedly heavenward.++ I had a Samaritan seminar Saturday AFTERNOON. Can you conceive of anything more horrible than a Saturday afternoon in December in the ultimate Christmas shopping hub? AAAAAAAAAUGH. No. Trust me. You can’t. PTSD. I may have to go back into therapy to recover.+++ And the bus station is at one end of town and the Sam seminar was being held at the other end of town. Uphill. Just by the way. And even with my two-ton knapsack as battering ram++++ I had trouble crashing through the frelling ambling crowds.
+ Do I or do I not take him to the monks’ at least twice a week? YES. I DO.
++ I keep telling you Wolfgang is a member of the family. And furthermore he’ll be clean in heaven. Although I’ll probably ask to keep the herb Robert tucked under the edge of the bonnet as a special favour.
+++ Have I mentioned that I’m kind of claustrophobic? You’d never know it, looking at this house, which gives normal people claustrophobia,# but LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE? SWEATY BREATHLESS TERROR. Confirmation Sunday recently at St Margaret’s and the bishop came. I’m used to small groups at the evening service and the church was COMPLETELY PACKED OUT. I nearly ran away. I would have run away, except I was singing with the band. I was singing with the band because if I don’t sing with the band I cry. If I hadn’t been singing with the band I could have run away. If I’d started crying I would have run away. How many ways can you mess yourself over and ruin a perfectly good evening.
# I’ve got some bloke, recommended by my accountant, coming on Monday to explain to me slowly and in words of one syllable what I have to do about the mortgage for Third House, which I need to take out to pay back Peter’s estate for the price of the Lodge, which wasn’t supposed to come up because Third House was supposed to sell. Anyway. The bloke has an office in Mauncester but he lives in New Arcadia so he suggested kindly that he could visit the feeble ME-riddled spastic-brained widow at home. There was a long pause on my end of the phone and I could hear him wondering what he’d said wrong. Um, I said finally. I don’t do housework at the best of times, these are not the best of times, and I can just about fit through the door despite press of all the stuff from Third House cluttering up the place. And I’m thin. Also there are three dogs. Three lively enthusiastic dogs. With a sales pitch like that how could he resist. So he’s still coming here. You might want to pray for him.
++++ You wouldn’t think knitting would weigh that much. Even plus an iPad and a book. YES. A BOOK. HARD COPY. I used just to travel everywhere with a book. Now I travel everywhere with an iPad and a book. Of course. Certainly. With a rich and varied choice on my Kindle app. But I’d still rather read a book. And I’m not the only one who does this, am I?
*** But do read the book. Indeed read anything by de Waal. I wish he’d been around when I was a kid and was labelled ‘fanciful’ for thinking that critters were more than furbots with hard-wired instincts instead of motherboards.^ I read Konrad Lorenz, of course, who was a lot better than nothing but . . . well, there are a lot of ‘buts’ around Lorenz but I didn’t know about any of them when I was first reading him. I was just thrilled by someone who took animals seriously without dissecting them first.
^ Not that motherboards were around when I was a kid either.
† I was very cast down when Alex Bello’s new book is fiendishly difficult mathematical puzzles. I might as well be trying to read Sanskrit. Or Japanese, which I would like to be able to read. I blogged about ALEX IN WONDERLAND, didn’t I? Which I loved.^ I’ve got his second one on the bedside table cough cough cough cough^^ but I keep flinching away from it because I mostly still drag and shove myself through the Difficult Bits by a combination of listening and reading text, and Audible, drat them, haven’t recorded ALEX THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.
^ After a slightly rough beginning. I find, with my old English major’s bias, that popular science style has to be learnt and fitted into for a Tolerable Reading Experience very much like the style of bulging Victorian quadruple-deckers, Dickens and Eliot et all, has to be learnt. I started reading the bulgy Victorians pretty early—they told stories after all and I’m into stories—so I wasn’t so aware of learning to roll with Dickens’ off the wall approach or Eliot’s super-frelling-thoughtful approach+ until I was in school with people who couldn’t stand any of it no way no how. But I grew up knowing that I was hopeless at maths and so discovering popular maths and hard science has come late and . . . alarmingly. The bit that I understood, ie use of the English language, seemed to me either patronising or over-subjective (you’re the AUTHOR. Get OUT OF THE WAY of the STORY you’re telling), and it took me a while to climb over this obstacle. I think in hindsight Bello’s first book is what finally did it for me. You can’t stop me now on pop sci books . . . but for pity’s sake don’t ask me to EXPLAIN any of them or their contents.++
+ Mind you, MIDDLEMARCH is on my top ten list of best books of all time. You still have to settle in for the ride.
++ And I still frelling hate the standard practise of describing what every interviewee is wearing and what the colour of their hair is and whether they have a nice smile. I DON’T CARE. SHOW DON’T TELL. ANYTHING IMPORTANT WILL COME OUT IN THE TELLING. ARRRRRRRRGH.
^^ The ‘bedside table’ being a pile of books which happens to climb up to high-mattress-level on the bed, which is unfortunate during bedsheets-changing attempts since it’s way too high and tottery to stand up without leaning. Against the, you know, bed.
†† And no whining
††† And a little patch of ground in a local churchyard, marked by a rose in a plastic vase.
‡ What? they’d say, opening one eye. Oh, they’d answer themselves, closing the eye again.
‡‡ Although Chaos does come and check suspiciously that I’m not dropping anything interesting, if Pav and I seem to be having too good a time.
‡‡‡ Yes. This means that food prep takes forever and that my endless complaints about needing to wash my frelling kitchen floor every frelling day^ are partly my own fault.^^
^ Which I don’t do, of course. Nobody has died yet.
^^ I mean, having three dogs is my own fault but I could contain their food in bowls.+
+ Sort of. Since the hellhounds tend to flip these over with their noses when they wish to indicate that this is not their day for eating. There is LANGUAGE when they do this.
§ This includes PLOTTING which tends to make me pretty stupid in the real world.^ It’s when the plotting is going badly that we practise lying down, rolling over and offering our paw. She does not seem to want to learn to sit back on her haunches with her forepaws in the air no matter how many times I demonstrate.^^ Hellterrors are such square-ended little buggers this ought to be easier for her than me but hey.
^ I have the scars to prove it.
^^ This is a JOKE, okay? Trust me, she learnt to roll over without my demonstrating. There isn’t room in this kitchen for me to demonstrate rolling over. Especially now with an extra table and a wormery taking up floor space.
§§ MORE frelling floor to wash
§§§ I wonder sometimes about her nose. But then I don’t suppose raw veg and apple smell like much to an apparatus evolved to locate meat.
@ And yet, speaking of comprehension, she knows she only gets two bits if they’re dried liver crumbs^ or Fish4Dogs stars^^ or—her new passion—the rinds off my goats’ and sheep’s cheese
^ http://www.zooplus.co.uk/shop/dogs/dog_treats_chews/soft_treats/thrive/277272 I split one in half. Look at that price.
Yes, two days, um, nights, in a row, posting to the blog. It won’t last. But I don’t want to leave that evil asshole on the opening screen of my blog for any longer than necessary: Twenty-four hours is plenty. But . . . having just mentioned him, here on what will now become the opening page, does that mean I have to write again tomorrow? Hmmmm.
Time, time, was one of Peter’s phrases. I cannot believe how much time time TIME TIIIIIIME it takes just adding one thing back into your weekly schedule. Um. Maybe two. Well, maybe three. Trying to wake the blog up counts, or counted, till the malnutrition and bronchitis splintered me, and it will count again.* I wasn’t committed to going to Mass with my monks once a week when I was last having weekly voice lessons and Samaritan shifts either. If Nadia insists on keeping me in a late-morning slot it makes the juggling act even more extreme because I can’t go to morning Mass and make it to the other end of the frelling country** for a voice lesson and the drive would wreck the fragile post-Mass serenity*** although it might have been interesting to discover what effect chanting penitential rites would have as warm-up to singing Mozart. However all such questions have been set aside as I croaked through recent weeks. I need to hustle Nadia now however in the hopes of a lesson or two before Christmas shuts all such trifles and fripperies down†: I would like to be able to scare people on the other side of a small room with my carol singing, and all stresses, including trivialities like legal suits by the local crown court and bronchitis, make my voice go into hiding-behind-the-parapet-and-squeaking mode.
But how to begin to catch up, or slot back in, with the blog and any readers who haven’t given me up as a lost cause? The daily adventure of the hellmob? Singing dismal and maudlin folk songs whilst hurtling? Conversations with Peter?†† KNITTING?††† Bell ringing?‡ The failure of Third House to sell and the oh-God-details-I-hate-details of trying to prep it to let for a year or two and see where the foaming tides of Brexit may have left us by then? I think I need to slip into the blogging business again gently.
* * *
* IT CERTAINLY DOES. I’D FORGOTTEN HOW LONG WRITING A POST TAKES.^ Also I may have an ulterior motive. Mwa hahahahahaha.
^ And I’m out of practise trying to herd footnotes. Which make cats or bell ringers or Sam volunteers+ or hellmobs look like a doddle.
+ Or St Margaret’s band members for the evening service. At least summer is over#, when there were Sundays we were getting by with three. When one of the three is you it’s a lot harder to pretend that strange background keening noise isn’t you singing.
# Aaaaaaaand . . . still no probate.~ Less than a month to the first anniversary of Peter’s death. Just by the way.~~
~ The latest interesting development from my delightful bank’s closing my private nothing-to-do-with-my-husband account and stealing all my money last May is that some of the direct debits that they killed and then reinstated . . . re-died, to coin a term. Only about a third of them did reinstate, and I’m still struggling to keep up with all the stuff I haven’t had to think about every frelling ratblasted month, because I can’t INAUGURATE ANY NEW DIRECT DEBITS TILL I’M OUT OF PROBATE but I assumed those that had successfully reconnected would STAY reconnected? Noooooooo. That would be too simple.
~~ THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST FOOTNOTE AND I’M ALREADY OUT OF CONTROL.
** Anything over five miles is my idea of the other end of the frelling country, and this would be nearly thirty miles. I’m pretty used to the commute to my monks but Nadia has moved to Somerset. Nearly. The Somerset that is the opposite direction from my monks, if you follow me, so if I were pelting from monks to Nadia I’d have to squeal back through New Arcadia on the way. Feh.
*** IF I WEREN’T WIRED OUT OF MY TINY MIND it might not be quite so fragile. Remember that the area court in Greater Footling wanted to sue me for non-payment of council tax? And that I had sorted this out? You didn’t think that was the end of it, did you? No, of course not, you are intelligent grown ups with your own stories to tell about local government. I then received another letter from the Greater Footling court system thanking me for paying up till 1 October, but that they still want me to pay up to the end of the year or they were going to sue me anyway. Point one: all three houses were, as of my at that time most recent conversation with the local council, paid up to 1 September. Greater Footling, for reasons best known to itself, is only suing me for the Lodge. The local clerk in theory had removed the whole court-case thing because my situation is unusual, and she explained that if you fall behind on your council tax they will demand you pay up to the end of the year. What? Whose bright idea was that? Most people fall behind because they’re having cash flow problems, not because they’re in probate, their bank is heli-skiing with their money, and all real-world business admin makes them cry. So you sue someone for more money because they’ve already graphically demonstrated they don’t have enough money? Is the government trying to make people homeless? Or oblige them to feed their children out of the dustbins behind Macdonalds?
But perhaps I digress. I have already referred (repeatedly) to the fact that the last two or so months have been prey to a broad spectrum of diversions, and one of the results of this is that I didn’t pay the October house tax instalments on the first of the month like a good little anal-retentive control-freak stooge would.^ Midway through the month when my legs were working better and I was coughing less and I really was going to go tackle the city council AGAIN because I’d had NO paperwork yet and according to the clerks, this being one of the few things that, over the months, everybody I saw agreed on, I should receive individual monthly invoices reminding me in the politest possible way^^ that I was due to open a vein for the benefit of the council office again, and specifying the quantity they planned to tap. . . . Now I repeat that midway through the month I had had NO PAPERWORK concerning my monthly council tax bills.
Then I received three envelopes from the city council on the same day. Declaring that I was in arrears. And for the three houses that all come due on the same date, remember the SAME DATE thing, organised to make it easier for me, a bear of very, very little brain? Yes? You remember? . . . for these three simultaneously-due houses I received two first reminders and one second reminder. So with the mind-bendiness of the simultaneity situation I can also remark that the paperwork I hadn’t received included the first reminder for the third house. Except it wasn’t for Third House, it was . . . oh, never mind.
^ My biases may be showing. But what would you rather expend your even-more-than-usually frustratingly limited energy on, friends you don’t see often enough or possibly haven’t seen in years, OR paying your frelling council tax? Anyone who says, oooh, I’d pay my tax, of course, is banned forever from this blog. I’d further suggest that I’m going to sneak into your house and hide your chequebook, except that nobody but the elderly hopeless like me uses cheques any more.
† With my voice, voice lessons are unequivocally trifling fripperies
†† I’m becoming pretty shameless about this. The locals can just get used to the scraggy old lady chatting away hard to a rose stuck in the ground in a corner between two sarcophagi. The hellmob has.
††† I certainly must tell you about THE THING I ACTUALLY FINISHED.
† I’m still all in black. I got up this morning, late, having once again watched the dawn come up before I got to sleep, stared at the clean laundry I haven’t put away yet^, and reached for the black jeans and cardi I’d been wearing yesterday. I went bell ringing at Crabbiton tonight and the other American eyed me and said, so, are you in mourning? Yes, I said. And then we did some wailing and bitching about the evil asshole before we got down to the serious business of trying to weasel out of ringing at Madhatterington on Sunday morning, Madhatterington’s bells being not only possessed by demons but they sound like a train wreck, so the ringers’ agonies aren’t even worthwhile.
^ I usually only bother to put away stuff I don’t wear that often. Something I’m going to wear again in the next day or three, why waste the time? I only need half the bed to sleep in.
Here’s a question for you: if you have become a sort of vegan-paleo-alkaline-raw-foodie person, what the jolly doodah do you eat coming off a savage bout of stomach flu? And I mean savage. It only lasted about six hours, thank you God, but I was a double-ended geysering hellhound in all ways except fur, long pointy nose and long tail for the duration. I was certainly walking on all fours because I couldn’t stand up: the world spun quite amazingly, and my heart was going about four hundred beats a minute. Throwing up always makes my heart race* but it usually slows down again. In this case it went on trying to shake me off the bed.
I crept downstairs at one point because there was quite a lot of moaning going on: the urgency had come upon me very suddenly and I hadn’t got the hellmob out for any more than a bit of grass on the street corner—my garden has no grass, except the stuff that flies over the wall and colonises my potted plants, and dogs need grass. Ask any dog. But I’d been going about indoors briskly doing stuff because I had a friend coming today, Saturday, I am describing the scene from yesterday, Friday, and, okay, I could have done some housework earlier in the week but . . . well, in the first place I didn’t, because I don’t, and in the second place since the floor needs sweeping/hoovering again approximately the minute I unplug the blasted hoover and jam it back into its current corner** because my resident fur factories are never off line, there’s not a lot of point of trying to do it ahead of time. I’ll just have to do it again. Which is inefficient, right? There were still fresh fur eddies in the draft from the door this morning when I brought my friend home Sigh.
And then, you know, there’s all that other stupid stuff that housework consists of.*** And I’d been hoping to get back out into the garden again—did I tell you I have hauled two entire Wolfgang loads of garden detritus off to the dump? Chiefly consisting of nettles, but other weeds and some rose-prunings did appear.† This is only the beginning. And, erm, it’s already frelling August.†† I was going to get my garden sorted this summer.††† And I had a friend coming! I didn’t want to lock the kitchen door and hide the key and say offhandedly, oh, you don’t want to go out there! ANYWAY. I crept downstairs at one point when the moaning was reaching something of a pitch, opened the garden door, left it open, which I never do unless I’m there to supervise,‡ and crawled back upstairs again.
Well, I didn’t get out into the garden. I also missed my appointment with my estate agent to discuss the Letting of Third House. I missed Friday afternoon handbells. When I could finally stand upright again I just about managed to do a quick stiff-brush thing on the stairs, which, due to a little backlist-box problem, won’t really accommodate a hoover at present. And I hurtled the mob. Not nearly well enough, according to the mob, but I told them they were lucky to get out at all. And I had COOKED green beans for supper and they stayed down. Yaay.
And it was great to see my friend today. This is someone I haven’t seen in years because we’ve both been having adventures—not all of hers have been desirable either—but she’s the kind of friend you just pick up with again like you saw each other last week. I even ate lunch successfully. And took her for a hike over gorgeous late summer Hampshire countryside without falling down.‡‡ And drove her back to the train where we promised not to lose touch again. But I’m way too brain dead to work tonight, so I thought I’d write a blog.
* * *
* Things You Would Be Very Happy Not to Know About Yourself
** I have still not found the perfect storage space for a hoover, which is an awkward, bulky object, in this house with no storage AND covered in bookshelves on all the walls and piles of books in front of all the bookshelves. There’s the attic, of course, but if it disappears into the attic I really WILL never use it again. Haul it up and down my narrow little rail-free ladder stairs and back up again? Never happen.
*** As I have often said before, I don’t hate housework^, I hate the time it takes.
^ Except hoovering. I HATE hoovering. I’d rather be on my knees with a Patented Pet Hair Remover and a stiff brush. Which is indeed what I usually do.
† Note that you can still be stung by a nettle that has been frelling dead for a frelling week, lying on the ground waiting to be bagged up. I assume I don’t have to tell you how I know this. Also, nettles hide. As I say, most of eight gigantic bags of green stuff were nettles.^ I TOOK OUT A LOT OF NETTLES.^^ But the minute I go back indoors again and look out my kitchen window THERE ARE NETTLES. I just blitzed that area! I exclaim in outrage. No. You didn’t. Hahahahahahahaha, say the nettles.^^^
^ Although the last bag or two contained quite a lot of this small variegated-leaf tree put in by my predecessor, so it is no doubt rare and admirable and I don’t appreciate it properly. Phineas, my poor neighbour, came hesitantly up to me about a week ago and explained humbly that this thing had colonised the roof of his conservatory to the extent that he was beginning to worry about said roof maintaining its present desirable state of leakproofness, not to mention that my tree was shutting out the sunlight to the dismay of the huge planters of geraniums that live in the conservatory. Oops. Now it’s true that my garden has become even more of a jungle the last year or two but slightly in my defence in this case this is a very enthusiastic tree+ and since it was growing forward over its end of my garden in a very liberal manner and I can’t actually see over the wall to Phineas’ conservatory roof I had no idea that it was doing exactly the same in the other direction. Arrgh. I’ve hacked it back some, but more is necessary, and first you have to get THROUGH the stuff on my side to reach the stuff on the other side, which involves being poked in the eye, clawed, strangled, hair-yanked, and the delightful experience of repeated disgorgings of scratchy leaves down the back of the neck. ARRRRGH.
+ It must be part nettle
^^ And I have the scars to show for it. According to some of the Birkenstocks-and-beards natural medicine sites, nettle stings are good for rheumatism like bee stings are. I’m allergic to bee stings, so that’s out. I’ve been on the anti-rheumatism diet for about twelve years because it works, but I was thinking, if I keep a corner of my (tiny) garden sacred to nettles, if I went and rolled in these occasionally could I eat a tomato? Sigh. It would have to be a very good tomato.
^ The really bizarre thing is that I’m kind of fond of nettles. All part of my yen for self-torture I suppose. But a lot of weeds just make me snarl: creeping buttercup. SNARL. Ground elder. SNARL. And Japanese anemone. EXTRA SNARL. You gardeners are about to tell me that Japanese anemones are lovely, graceful and entirely desirable garden plants. No they’re not. They’re frelling takeover frelling thugs. THEY’RE WEEDS. Like frelling crocosmia, another so-called desirable garden plant. Rip out where seen. I don’t actually want a lot of nettles around—they, you know, sting, and they aren’t exactly beautiful—but maybe I’m just remembering that the presence of nettles means you have a nice healthy garden, that they’re good for butterflies, that you can eat nettles+, or that as an herbal tincture they’re useful for a lot of what ails you. But whatever. I kind of like them. This doesn’t stop me tearing them out. And getting stung spectacularly because when they’re cross, and pulling them up does tend to make them cross, they will sting you through your clothing.++
+ You can eat ground elder too but I’d rather not. Nettles are pretty reasonable, and I positively like nettle tea.
++ Reasons to be glad you’re wearing glasses instead of contacts: being lashed across the face by the eight-foot nettle you didn’t notice when you were pulling up some little ones at the eight-footer’s ankles. Owwww. Also, nettles across the scalp? Um, if it’s good for rheumatism, will it make your hair grow?
†† How did that happen? May was last week.
††† I think I say this every summer. This summer, however, I’m here all the time. On the other hand, this summer, I’m spending a lot more time lying on the floor in a state of ME stasis than usual. There’s just about enough floor space left in the kitchen for me to lie down on it, if I contort a little. The problem with lying on the sofa is that the hellmob expects to join me, and there are days when I can’t face being lain on by a hellmob with twenty-four or forty-eight elbows attached. If I lie on my bed, as previously observed, there will be moaning, but if I lie on the kitchen floor, it’s like, oh, hi, and we can all kind of curl up together. The hellterror is especially pleased because generally speaking she is expected to keep her attentions to herself since she is very . . . attentive. But remind me to tell you about my shrinking kitchen floor.
‡ The creativity of dogs, when presented with a garden, is much undervalued. Especially by the owner of said garden. Who furthermore will be cleaning up the kitchen floor of uningestables experimentally ingested.
‡‡ Granted I’m perfectly capable of falling down without any help from stomach flu aftermath totteriness.
Or, Some Things Don’t Change
I blew off handbells today. Shock. Horror. But our usual Friday afternoon handbell madness is occasionally held in Morocco, because one of our regulars lives there, and for her to come here is a very long commute for a couple of hours of somewhat erratic handbells, since we are not all up to Niall’s standard, and occasionally we all go to her instead. Furthermore she has a big garden full of wildlife and if the handbells are going badly someone can always look out the window and say ‘oh, look, a djinn.’
But the days we drive to Morocco are a long commute for those of us coming from New Arcadia and Mauncester. And I, as I have told you, am beginning to do a little story-work again, but it’s kind of a struggle*, and most of this last week has been a non-event due to obsessing about the interment, the interment, and disintegrating after the interment. And while I wasn’t looking, the story that was (I thought) unspooling the most steadily got itself into the most spectacular matted mare’s nest** and yesterday I pulled most of it to pieces trying to figure it out, speaking of morale problems. So when Niall told me handbells were at Jillian’s today I demurred and said I needed to stay home and work.
Well, I did need to stay home and work. This is not necessarily what happened. THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED. What happened is by mid-afternoon I was having difficulty not throwing this ARGLEBARGLEDOODAHBLITZIT object across the room, which is to say my so-called computer***, AND the mare’s nest now resembled a plait of plastic rope that someone has set fire to. Not only is it not pretty and is incapable of holding anything together it PONGS.
So about the time Niall would have been setting off to Morocco I LEAPED INTO WOLFGANG AND WENT TO MAUNCESTER TO LOOK AT STORAGE SOLUTIONS. Such vice! Such wickedness! Where I came in: some things don’t change. I used to do exactly this in similar situations back in Maine. When the pong of melted plastic rope got too much I would leap into Ferdinand and drive to Ellsworth and look at storage solutions, lack of storage having been a guiding principle my entire life. The lilac-covered cottage in Blue Hill was smaller than this one†, but I had fewer bad habits in those days†† and now that I don’t have Peter’s larger house to spill into (and out of) the corners of, um. I also had only one dog in Maine. The hellmob larder situation is extreme AND IS TAKING UP POTENTIAL BOOK SPACE.
I can’t say I solved it, but I did come home with two Very Large Plastic Crates and four small ones. I did not choose these because they were the cheapest bins available, which they were, but because I could get them in purple, turquoise and pink.
Some things don’t change.
* * *
* It’s always a struggle, it’s been a struggle for approximately sixty-three years^ it’s just sometimes my vorpal blade is shining with a burning flame and going snicker-snack and sometimes it is more of an overripe banana going squish. I’m glad that—as someone on the forum has I think said—the Story Council seems to have unearthed my address and has started sending me possible projects again^^ but speaking of things that don’t change I’m working on two short things and a long thing, and the short things are (a) a SEQUEL to another short thing and (b) a retelling of a frelling fairy tale which means these are both RIFE WITH PERIL for someone who doesn’t do the short thing all that well, I mean, even rifer with peril, because a sequel means that there’s more there, you know? Which is how accidents happen. And retelling fairy tales . . . eh. My record here speaks for itself. And the long thing is, well, long. So the Story Council’s latest hot delivery is THANKS SO MUCH YOU GUYS, a novel that has been lurking in the back of my mind and the bottom of my cough-cough-cough-cough filing system for thirty years. Yes. Really. This is something I started poking at after BEAUTY, and then SWORD snatched me away, saying, yes, yes, you said that Damar was scaring you, we let you write BEAUTY to settle you down, now pay attention. This other thing has waved to me from the shadows from time to time since then but . . . GO AWAY. I’M SURE YOU’RE ADORABLE BUT I HAVE ENOUGH GOING ON.^^^
^ My memories of telling myself proto-stories in my crib are comparatively mellow
^^ Although I don’t actually think it’s the Story Council’s fault in this case. I think I’ve been ignoring that slap on the doormat that says INCOMING, unless, of course, it’s a gardening catalogue, a knitting magazine+, or that extra-specially splendid thud that declares A NEW BOOK, because, of course, I need more books, I can’t get up the stairs in either house because of the book boxes++: that is, I can, because I have long legs and I won’t sue myself, but nobody else can. However given that my housekeeping skills have never had a lot of profile and have been almost completely dormant for the last eight or nine months, repelling visitors has become an act of charity since the only loo in either house is . . . upstairs.+++
+ I have something hilarious to tell you. I NEED A NEW KNITTING PROJECT. I NEED A NEW KNITTING PROJECT. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, stop, stop, hahahahaha I can’t stop, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA STOP. Yes. Well. I’m sure I’ve told you that I’ve turned into the Crazy Knitting Lady Super-Extra Model since Peter died because having my head down over a lapful of yarn helps me not cry in public, and knitting through the sermons every week at St Margaret’s has revealed that, because I’m a fidget and sitting still takes effort, knitting furthermore helps me concentrate.# With the unsurprising outcome that I’m getting through rather a lot of it. The shortcoming of this system is that I can only do plain, plain, PLAIN knitting because I am a bear of very little brain and if I’m using knitting to suppress the fidgets as well as the tear ducts while I’m paying attention to something else I can’t do anything clever.##
So, yeah, my house is full of unfinished projects###, like the houses of most knitters I know, but I daren’t risk trying to finish any of these because I will bobble them extremely. So I need A NEW (simple minded) KNITTING PROJECT. Too delicious. And it’s not even on my forbidden-foods list.####
# Although I have to remember not to wave a needle around for emphasis during the discussion afterward.
## The fact that the strips of that infamous baby blanket are different lengths testifies to just how plain the knitting has to be. Counting rows? COUNTING? You mean, like, MATHS? Bad idea. Really, really bad idea.
### Stuffed into an assortment of excellent tote bags emblazoned with slogans like ‘I knit so I don’t kill people’. What a pity it took me so long to discover knitting.
#### It probably should be BUT IT’S NOT.
++ I told you, didn’t I, that Atlas came off his bike about two months ago and broke both wrists?! So the shelf-building has been on hold. It has begun again, now he’s out of plaster, but the Lodge’s walls are even more skew-whiff than the cottage and it’s more sculpture# than carpentry. Which takes longer.
# The local what’s-on New Arcadia magazine this month has an ad for a beginners’ sculpture class. NOOOOOOO. MCKINLEY, IN WHAT TIME? WITH WHAT ENERGY? But I keep thinking about it. Let’s see I could give up . . . um . . . I could give up . . . =
= And it’s worse than that because I’ve started drawing again. In what time and with what energy. And what result must be considered. If my writing is too often adding three words and deleting seventeen, my drawing is adding half a syllable and deleting a page.
+++ They breed, you know, book boxes, like clothes-hangers in neglected closets. Every time I go up to Third House there’s another one in a corner that I’m SURE was clear last time. Empty wrong-sized plant pots do exactly the same thing. Arrrgh.
^^^ Unless of course you promise, word of honour and sealed in blood, that I can write you in six weeks and you will be BRILLIANT and sell 1,000,000,000 copies in the first six months.
** Like necklace chains in the jewellery drawer overnight. How do they DO that? ARRRRRGH.
*** My proper laptop—the ultrabook, laptops are so last decade—is in the frelling shop, because its keyboard went doolally last week. Okay, so, how many people eat at their computer? Like, most of us? And why can’t the idiots in development create a bits-proof keyboard? Now I’m off all cereal grains I’m not even producing many crumbs. Although tahini and pine nuts are probably worse. Anyway. I’m presently attempting to work on my old, reconditioned laptop—back when laptops were laptops—and apparently it liked being retired because It. Is. Not. Cooperating. So when Raphael brings the ultra back with a shiny fresh porous keyboard, he will take AWAAAAAAAY this pigbutt of a machine and whack it around some.
† The kitchen more nearly resembled a kitchen but the house had no attic. Reasons to move to England: public footpath system. Roses. Attics.