Today hasn’t been nearly as crummy as I expected after I read the forecast on my six weather apps and the Met Office and BBC weather web sites. Oh, the weather has been crummy. . . . But apparently my life is not over as a handbell ringer with having successfully lurched through a quarter peal of bob minor on the 3-4. I keep not having the surplus mental energy to buckle down to Cambridge on handbells, so Niall assigned us . . . which is to say me . . . Kent. Kent is the standard way station on the road to surprise methods, of which Cambridge is usually the first learnt. We’d had a stab at Kent before and I’d kind of half-learnt a plain course (maybe only third-learnt). So I went back to my plain course this week and then out of the blue* frelling Niall emailed me the famous Three Leads of Kent touch.** Now the point of a touch is that it scrambles the bells’ individual routes through the pattern, so if you’ve been learning the plain course and suddenly you’ve had a touch foisted on you . . . what happens is that one gets superimposed on the other and you can’t ring anything. I was not looking forward to this afternoon’s meeting. But . . . by the end of the session*** we were actually getting through to the end of the touch with only occasional gleeps, grunts and groans from yours truly.†
The wind through the kitchen was blowing in the wrong direction or something this evening while I was getting the hellhounds’ supper and the hellterror, incarcerated in her crate, was not going ballistic. Ballistic is what the hellterror does whenever there seems to be critter food in the offing. Hellhounds were milling about my feet and demanding dropsies†† which should have been an unmissable clue, but while her eyes were open she was curled up in her bed watching with no more than hey it’s the floor show interest. This was so unlike her I went over to her crate to check that she was still breathing and wasn’t burning with fever or anything. She was fine. Maybe she had a stomachache? I couldn’t remember seeing her gulping any unknown substance I failed to get away from her today . . . maybe I merely hadn’t seen her swallowing the flowerpot, the umbrella and the (empty) pushchair?
But apparently it was only that the wind was in the wrong direction. When I turned the heat on under the chicken-and-stock pan and, presumably, the aroma wafted in her direction, she went off like a Guy Fawkes fireworks display, only with a wider variety of sound effects. I allow moaning, whining and this offended-dowager snort that is perhaps a bullie thing because while all dogs snort, Pavlova is the first one I’ve heard who sounds like Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I do not allow barking. Barking causes the Blanket of Restraint to descend from above and engulf the crate. I don’t know if it’s the dark or the muffling of interesting smells, but this usually quiets her down. Tonight I was so relieved to have her doing her nut in standard fashion that I just let her get on with it. By the time she’d woken up to circumstances I was nearly putting hellhounds’ bowls down, which meant I was nearly putting her bowl down, so she didn’t have time to break anything, like the crate or local eardrums.
It’s quiet in here now, the only sounds hellcritter snores and a little background Radio 3. Maybe I should sing.
* * *
* A phrase that always gives me a little frisson of risk whenever applied in the general vicinity of a computer, prone as the species is to the Blue Screen of Death.
** A plain course has five leads, and is therefore longer than this touch. Usually a touch is longer than a plain course but there are a few anomalies out there. The Three Leads of Kent touch is one of them.
*** Which was allowed to run slightly long. I wasn’t going to choir rehearsal because all the wet roads were going to start freezing after sunset. Siiiiiiigh.
† Now I have to go back to the dratblasted plain course.
†† Us critter slaves have to derive our amusement where we can. I have never, ever allowed dogs to mill about my feet while I’m getting their food ready . . . that was before the hellhounds, whose faintest interest in food is to be cossetted and indulged^. So I now, and for some time, when they’re in the mood, have had two hellhounds who expect me to drop bits of chicken while I’m cutting it up to mix in with their dry kibble, since no dog in his right mind is going to eat dry kibble.^^ This means that as they see my hand moving in a their-ward direction, they put their noses down, because these scraps are dropsies. After their proper meal, however, as all those dropsie-deprived dogs have done before them, they get two slightly bigger scraps, by sitting and politely taking them out of my hands.
When hellhounds are in Normal Dog Behaviour About Food mode—always very exciting to the downtrodden hellgoddess—as I’m putting the bits and pieces away after supper and hellhounds are still interested, I occasionally give them an intermediate scrap each. This will be slightly larger than the dropsie morsels but slightly smaller than the official post-meal tidbit. And as they see my hands moving them-ward . . . their heads start bobbing up and down like those psycho plastic nodding dogs as they try to guess whether this is a dropsie or a sitting-up treat. I’m too anxious for this Supplementary Food Experience to be positive to let this go on for more than about a second . . . but it’s very entertaining for that second.
^ Not to say nourished.
^^ No one would ever accuse the hellterror of being in her right mind.
Ha. Have just had one of those Life with Other Species moments. Darkness, when he wants something, comes and sits at me. Sits at me. I guess most dogs that have been taught to sit do this, but style and manner vary, as does level of enigma. Sid sits at Kes much the way Darkness sits at me, but Mongo sits at Maggie very differently. I predict the hellterror will have her own style. At the moment a sitting hellterror only means SOMETIMES I GET FOOD WHEN I DO THIS AND I’M STARVING.* Sid and Darkness’ sitting however can be very high on the enigmatic graph.
So I look down, and there’s Darkness who, once he’s got my attention, sits. Now we play Twenty Questions, while I try to figure out what he wants. About half the time he gives up with a sigh and goes back to the hellhound bed. Or maybe all he wanted was to bamboozle me for a minute or two. Tonight, however, he turned his head very deliberately and stared at the water dish.
Pavlova, I’m sorry to say, drools in her water. Indeed she makes such colossal mess I keep looking for the egg beater that extrudes from an invisible orifice every time she goes to take a drink. I’m not entirely sure she actually swallows any water: chiefly she churns it up. And drools. She seems to enjoy the process however and this form of amusement is much to be preferred to trying to get my knitting away from her (again). Chaos will put up with post-Pavlova water. Darkness won’t. I usually remember to change it once she’s imprisoned in her crate again** . . . but occasionally I forget.
I humbly got up, rinsed the water bowl out carefully, and put fresh water down. Darkness had a nice long drink and is now content with his world.
Which brings up something else. What just happened is what happened. Darkness, having deliberately sought and got my attention, directed it to the water dish. He got up and stood beside me as I rinsed it out and refilled it, and followed me to where I put it down. And immediately drank, and then went away and lay down. Anyone who lives with critters will have similar stories.
A few nights ago I was listening to some high-minded interview with some fancy philosopher bloke. Who in the middle of saying something relatively interesting about being human, added, and we’re the only animal who points.
He went on about this for several minutes. He seemed to think it was important. I was thinking, you don’t have any pets, do you, mate? Now if you’re going to define pointing strictly as the extended forefinger with the other three fingers held back with the opposable thumb, well, yes, we’re the only critter who does that because we’re the only critter with true opposable thumbs. But if you mean, as you should mean, pointing as a way of making someone else look at something indicated by you . . . certainly dogs, cats, horses and (domestic) birds do it, and I’m sure the list is a lot longer, that’s just what comes immediately off the top of my head. There’s even a dog called a pointer, because he, um, points. Sure, he (or she) is bred and trained to do it, but how does that invalidate it? He’s directing your attention to something you have told him you want your attention directed to. Seeing Eye dogs do it. Those increasingly capable Companion Dogs do it for their variously-abled humans.
In the lurcher (and I think terrier) world what the hunting pointer does is called ‘marking’ and is a lot less flashy, but it’s the same continuum. And while generally you learn how your dog marks, rather than trying to teach her to do it your way***, a lot of dogs, having found prey, will look round to make eye contact with you and check that you’re on board with what they’ve found: LOOK BOSS. DINNER.†
That’s pointing. And I’m not a philosopher.
* * *
* One of the reasons you PUT UP WITH FRELLING DOMESTIC FAUNA is because they make you laugh. Pavlova, when she is feeling especially neglected will follow me around and plonk her butt down every time she catches my eye. In a minute, I say, I’m washing up/hanging laundry/ordering more yarn/dusting^, and you’re not starving. Plonk. Plonk. I am. Starving. Plonk.
^ DUSTING? No, no, surely not dusting.
** She’s now broken two of those plastic attach-to-wall-of-crate water dishes. This gets old, expensive and messy. So she plays with the hellhounds’ water when she’s loose.
*** If you’re dealing with a critter with a lot of sighthound blood, I recommend that you do as much of the adapting as mere-humanly possible.
† Chaos does this faithfully. Darkness does it late, carelessly, and resignedly: you’re just going to let this one go too, aren’t you?
. . . and our wedding anniversary. Twenty one years today. *
We went out for dinner. The western world closes down, the week after New Year’s. We were going to try The Other Really Nice Restaurant in Mauncester but it’s closed—for the week after New Year’s. And even with the only other local Really Nice Restaurant closed, Maison de Chocolat et Champagne** was still only about half full.
Now of course I know I’m well preserved or I wouldn’t either be wearing a miniskirt in public† or hanging photos on the internet of my failure of propriety. But—you others of my vintage correct me if I’m wrong—I don’t think that when we were the right age to wear miniskirts any woman of our age now would have done so?†† I was slightly behind the crest of the baby boomers as well as therefore slightly behind the great fashion revelation of the miniskirt, but while old women have always got up to things the younger generations feel are inappropriate to their age and gravitas††† I think it’s those of us who grew up with miniskirts who are just going on wearing them?‡ I like to think I belong to a generation that is breaking important new cultural ground.
So yes, thank you, the evening was a delectable success.
* * *
* Tolkien would be 120.
** Que faut-il?^
^ No, I don’t speak French.+
+ However I do acknowledge a few more basic food groups than chocolate and champagne. Broccoli, for example. Peter and I share a necessity for olives however and—also speaking of the western world closing down after New Year’s—our Olive Man has gone on holiday. Our Olive Man at best is a flaky schmuck, but unfortunately he sells olives to die for so we keep abjectly crawling back to him when he reappears So, we’re in another whimpering, cold-turkey phase of having to find ALTERNATIVES till he frelling returns from his safari in Tanzania or whatever. Peter found a bottle of olives in the back of a cupboard which we looked at dubiously—bottled is never satisfactory when you’re used to fresh—but these are surprisingly good. The only thing wrong with them is that their texture is a little mushy. Peter finally thought to look at the use-by date: 2004. Ah. That might explain the mushy. . . .
*** I know that even as my unfortunate photographic standards go this is pretty skanky. But the photo was a festering ratbag to get at all. The electrics at the mews are infested with demons and bulbs blow before you get them poked into their sockets. The bulb over the mirror has blown—again—and these dratted spot-style lights are also festering ratbags to change. You can’t use a fixed flash on a mirror. So I’ve dragged half the lamps in the sitting room as close as their flexes will let them and added the taking-the-puppy-out torch to the curtain rail and . . .
† Although recollect it’s after dark, the lighting in the restaurant is low and romantic^, and I’m wearing black tights. I didn’t think I was going to like these tights—geometric patterns on irregularly shaped limbs like human legs often don’t work very well—but I really like these. What? Because they were on sale. I am a hopeless sucker for sales. And then you get the thing home and you do like it, and you’ve just been brainwashed for the next sale.
^ Did I ever point out to all you flatterers after I posted those photos of our dinner out on my sixtieth birthday that the lighting in women’s loos in fancy restaurants tends to be aggressively well-disposed? I wasn’t just wearing an adorable pink sequinned cashmere shrug, I was bathed in fuzzy pink light.
†† At least not without surgical enhancement.
††† Hey! You’re old! You’re not supposed to have fun!
‡ I’ve been saying, okay, this is the last time, for about ten years now.
You have never seen anything so pathetic as a certain hellterror puppy this morning, having been yanked unceremoniously from her cozy bed* and thrust out into the cruel world of the back garden where it was raining. And it was, indeed, raining. It was teeming, it was hammering, it was relentless, it was wet. She had a quick pee and then crept back to my feet and crouched there, tail clamped between legs, ears flat to her (increasingly sodden) head, one forefoot delicately and piteously raised. I had no idea hellterrors could do the pathetic thing, at least not to this noble standard. The sad tales of the death of kings that Sid laid on for Kes were nothing to this. Furthermore I thought hellterrors didn’t care about the weather? I was rather looking forward to finally having a dog to go on long wet walks with that didn’t involve dragging my companion or companions along stiff-legged at the furthest extent of their leads and looks of reproach so dense they might be fatal if I were standing badly when they struck. The hellhounds and Southdowner and Nemo and I went for a wet walk once and Nemo enjoyed it. The hellhounds did not, although I think some of the looks of reproach bounced off him that day instead of me.**
Anyway. Pavlova is not a fan of wet weather. And I had to get off to the abbey. I took her out, as above. I took the hellhounds out for a quick hurtle and they were delighted when we turned around and came home as soon as the necessary business was accomplished. Usually I force them to keep walking even when it’s coming down in cats, dogs and stair-rods. I took Pav out again, and exactly the same thing happened as it had the first time. Woe, oh woe. Tragedy. Rain. I put her back in her crate with only a mingy token breakfast because I am mean and horrible and because I dislike cleaning crates*** . . . and tried to brace myself for what I was nonetheless likely to come home to.
Wolfgang and I splashed and forded our way to the abbey but it only took me five hours and forty minutes to find a parking space, so I was early. There were only forty-three of us for sixty-seven bells, but we made a noise.†
Afterward as I was leaving—and this had occurred to me last night—I thought I might just have time to hare across Hampshire and get to the monks in time for the midday prayer. Well, I didn’t.†† And as I was flooring the GO pedal for the second day in a row I was thinking that it really wouldn’t be all that funny if I acquired points on my license as a result of scrambling inappropriately to attend a church service. I arrived in a spray of wet gravel, left poor Wolfgang parked at a very funny angle, and bolted indoors. The service started about ten seconds after I sat down (trying not to breathe audibly).†††
I returned home at a rather more sedate pace, clutching Tintinnabulation’s peace around me like a shawl, greeted hellhounds, opened Pav’s crate and . . . no horrors. Well. So I took her outdoors again. Before I left it was still a little early but by now it was well after time for eliminatory events to have happened. It was also still raining. The performance as before. This time, however, I was wearing my raincoat, and I prepared to wait.
Eventually she crept away from my feet and went and hid under one of the café chairs that live in the little courtyard. There are plants sitting on it, but it’s all openwork, and no real shelter.‡ She put her head out from under the seat occasionally to give me anguished looks.
Fifteen minutes later she slooooooowly Assumed the Position, moving as if she were a hundred and ninety years old and all her bones ached, and . . . produced the MOST ENORMOUS crap. And then raced back to the kitchen door, tail wagging furiously, because NOW FINALLY I would let her back in. And she would get the rest of her breakfast. After I dried her off. She was certainly very wet.
The thing is . . . fifteen minutes is nothing for a stubborn animal. NOTHING. If you’re going to engage a critter you do have to be prepared to win, and if obstinacy is an issue . . . bring your knitting. In this case I’m assuming that biology was on my side: she’s still only a puppy, her control is not perfect, AND SHE REALLY NEEDED TO HAVE A CRAP. But I’d like to think that she’s also just a good-natured hellterror shaped mutant.
* * *
* I’ve been worrying about her this last week because it’s been so cold and poor sad disregarded thing that she is with no crate-mate to curl up with^, mind you she is in the kitchen with the Aga AND is ON the table so well above standard floor draughts^^, she’s got so many blankets it there it’s sometimes hard to find her.
^ Olivia and Southdowner not merely agreed but agreed noisily that no sane person takes on more than one bull terrier puppy at a time.
^^ Yes. I’m starting to worry about the on-the-table part, which involves me lifting her in and out. At not-yet-twenty-pounds this is not an issue, but it will become one soon. I have bizarrely adjusted to not having a kitchen table—as previously observed I tend to sit on a stool by the counter and the Aga, which is keeping my tea hot—and if I have people in we sit in the duh sitting room. Maybe she won’t like it on the floor!+ Maybe she’ll be COLD!
+Maybe I’ll dislike having another chair permanently in the sitting room even more than I dislike the amount of sunlight the crate blocks out perched on the table.
** Clang. Nemo is a tough customer.
*** And her tabletop palace at the cottage is a thundering ratbag to take apart and put back together again.
† And I received a lecture on striking from one of the Very Old Guard whom I am delighted to say I don’t see often, because if it weren’t that it was unsporting to knock little old shaky people down^ I might have been ejected from the ranks of the abbey ringers for violence to a senior member.
^ As well as not really much fun. They tip over too easily.
†† Although I now know how long it does take to get to Tintinnabulation from Forza, which is useful, if alarming, information. Have I mentioned that I put sixty one quids’ worth of petrol in Wolfgang about a week ago and I’m already down to half a tank again? I want a kind of Epcot of Christianity where everything is all shiny and cheerful and right next door and there’s a mini railroad that will take you wherever you want to go while you sit and knit and think Deep Thoughts.
††† I lingered for a while afterward—the chapel stays open—to let the sense that I’d been to a service settle into me. Also, they’d been reading Psalm 22, which is terrifying.
‡ I was thinking, because I am insane, even if I do have only one hellterror puppy, that it would not be that big a deal to put a big tray across the seat so she could crap underneath in the dry if that would make her happy. At least till she gets too tall to fit under the chair seat.
Another insane day, starting last night when it took hellhounds TWO HOURS to eat their supper.* Today has been conducted at breakneck speed with a lot of shouting**, and with a pause of fraudulent calm in which to ring handbells.*** I then shot around getting two frelling shifts of hellcritters rehurtled, banged them into the mews on my way out of town, said a brief hello to the familiar-looking fellow who lives there, and tore off for choir practise. As I pressed the pedal to the metal† I was thinking, I dropped out of the Muddles last time because I couldn’t take the strain and that was before I had a baby hellterror.†† Gah.
Choir practise was fun. Except for the chilblain part I enjoyed it immensely.††† And I’m sorry I’m going to be missing the carol sing on Saturday just because I have some dumb old opera to go to.‡ I have no idea why I seem to be surviving the exigencies of the Muddle practise template better this go-round than I have previously—or whether this desirable alteration will last. Maybe chasing hellterrors de-furs the arteries. Maybe the thought of having a pee behind a tombstone in sub-freezing weather has stiffened my bladder’s resolve. Maybe God wants me to sing, in which case he might have given me a better VOICE.
And now if you will excuse me a little early, I have to get up tomorrow morning early enough to squeeze my double hurtle in before I leap into Wolfgang to go ring a funeral at the abbey. The funeral isn’t that early, but I’m assuming I need to allow about six hours to find a parking space. The gentleman couldn’t have waited to die till after Christmas?‡‡
* * *
* Too Much Information Alert: I have a curious range of dog insanity. Hellhounds, as we know, don’t eat. Hellterrors, on the other hand, don’t crap. She will do almost AAAAAAAAANYTHING to avoid having a crap. She is certainly not going to Perform anywhere but her exactly designated areas, two each at cottage and mews, and she pretty much has to be nailed to the spot to do it at all. And she still wiggles and twitches and fidgets and scratches and tries to run back to the door at the slightest sign of weakness from the attendant hellgoddess. This leaves me in the undesirable position of trying to guess if she’s due, and thus know to stand in an indomitable manner and insist. If I guess wrong . . . she craps in her crate and flicks a corner of the blanket over it.^ ARRRRRRRGH. I hope this is a phase she is going to grow out of soon. The thing that floors me is that she knows that she will get a handful of kibble the moment she has Performed, and, as frequently mentioned, she LOOOOOOOOVES FOOOOOOD more than anything, even Chaos.^^ There are no signs of discomfort, it comes out fast and easily once she’s stopped ding-donging around and does it. The slight ray of hope is that I think I’m beginning to differentiate general hellterror vivacity and I-need-to-go-OUT dangling from the ceiling. Housetraining is based on the idea that a dog doesn’t want to make a mess in its den, even if it has a freshly-washed blanket to flick over it.
^ This includes her travelling crate, which is barely big enough for her to turn around in.
^^ I’m not even in the contest, except as provider.
** One of those days when my zero metabolism has been handy. Oh, was I supposed to eat something?
*** Have I told you that our new recruit, Jillian, whom you have heard of in other, tower, contexts, is STICKING WITH IT? She is not coming to her senses. I think tonight was her fourth at the grim rockface of handbells. Yaaaaaaaaay. And I’m playing another suck—I mean, I am encouraging another abbey ringer who has expressed interest to come along some evening and have a go. Tea and biscuits included^. Mwa hahahahahaha.
^ And there is a loo. And a lovely radiant Aga.
† I did nothing of the kind. I drove like a little old lady. I am a little old lady. Also I’m not liking the roads. We’ve had hard frosts every night for most of a week and there’s a lot of water lying around in a mischievous and troublesome manner. Tonight, for example, it’s supposed to warm up, but it didn’t start warming up till bits of road and pedestrian hurtleways had already frozen . . . and then it started raining.
†† Nor did I have a twenty-five minute commute to my home tower.
††† The chilblains, the FATALLY BANAL John Rutter song^, and a big sullen wodge of Stainer. Still, no playlist is perfect, and we’re also singing Good Stuff™.
^ I swear there is a John Rutter machine. You turn the crank and it grinds out vaguely music-like noise the way the M25 grinds out low-grade evil, in a quote I can’t immediately find from the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch but which I’m sure you all know.
‡ I am not missing this one. Not. http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx ^
Although it had better be fabulously sung since I’ve seen this staging before and think it’s silly.
^ After Saturday this link will take you to the next opera, I suspect, and the individual opera pages are 404 not found as I write this. But it’s Aida this Saturday.
‡‡ They will find in his papers the day after tomorrow instructions that he would like bells rung for him in a small village in Yorkshire.