I had the best working morning today—you know, story-words on computer screen type working morning—that I’ve had in yonks.* So I thought I’d write a blog post to celebrate.
A lot of my long silences here are just . . . long silences. One foot after the other days** when getting the hellmob even semi-hurtled is the height of my ambition or capacity.*** But some of it, on evenings when brain function is still just about discernible, is not knowing where to start. I’m still programmed to be doing this every night, I just haven’t the time, the energy, or the morale. And I don’t do the graceful summary thing.† I’m missing the wetware interface for graceful summary. So, ahem and apologies, Footnote Delirium ahoy.
But, you know, a good writing day? This deserves some banner-waving affirmation. Maybe I’ll even do it again tomorrow. The story-writing that is. I’d probably break if I wrote a blog post two nights in a row.
Meanwhile . . . hello and whatever and I hope you’re all well and thriving and reading great books out there in on-line land.
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* I’ve been working for a while now, but an awful lot of days it’s more, um, ‘working’. I have lots of days where I write three words and delete seventeen. You have too many days like this you have a bigger problem than when you weren’t ‘working’ at all.
** Sometimes no farther than the sofa, where the feet stop one-after-anothering and cross themselves on the armrest, the hellmob pummels the inert human body into some less than satisfactory semblance of comfy rumpled bedding^, and silence reigns. Except for the soggy pop of gloomy human thoughts exploding, and the hellterror snoring.
^ Fortunately they are mostly tolerant of badly-placed knees and ribcages.
*** Also the way I eat now takes AMAZING amounts of preparation. GOOD GRIEF. Anyone trying to maintain a mostly fresh-organic-fruit-and-veg diet had just better bring her laptop into the kitchen and get it over with because she’s going to be in the kitchen most of the time anyway. In my case this is even more challenging than for someone who has, bless them grrrrrr, a real kitchen rather than a blip with a few cupboards. My only half decent countertop is now my desk. Arrrgh. It’s quite useful to have a sink full of dirty dishes: balance your chopping board on top of it and, lo, counterspace. Arrrrgh. And? And? Why has the British Appliance Agglutination decreed that all electric flexes on countertop appliances should be no more than three inches long^ ??!!??? In this kitchen this means that every time I decide to get my juicer^^ out it’s a major schlep of STUFF . . . mostly onto the floor, so it’s a very good thing that the hellterror has decided that stuff on the floor is not automatically interesting, unless, of course, it smells of foooooood. Chaos, who likes to lie near the Aga occasionally, will sometimes lay his head delicately on a well-placed and –balanced pile of books, magazines, rough drafts, notebooks shedding Notes to Self, prayer plans and private, idiosyncratic modernisations of applicable Psalms+++ and business letters I’m trying to forget. Disturbing a sleeping dog is, of course, not to be thought of, so on these occasions I get a stiff neck, a warped shoulder and a crick in my spine leaning over the sleeping dog to get at the frelling juicer, three inches away from the wall. You’d think the noise of the thing would wake him up and move him on but . . . nooooooooo.
^ ‘eight centimetres’ doesn’t even sound that much longer
^^ Juicing. The faffiest flapdoodling faff of all GOOD FREAKING DOODAH GRIEF. And the FOOTPRINT of your average juicer?! Sixteen hellterrors or a small bus. Unfortunately I’m developing a, you should forgive the term, taste for juicing. Not only, if you get it right, is a barrowload of fresh raw juice an amazing hit+, but if you got a little carried away at the chance-found organic farmer’s market stall or the offers from your on-line organic grocery delivery gang that week, you can always juice your superfluity.++
+ Especially for those of us who can barely remember what chocolate is any more.# Your taste buds really do change. A few months AC## and raw carrot-apple-beetroot-sweet-potato### juice is so frelling sweet you’re sure it must be bad for you.
# In case of accidents, I’ve passed my stash on to the monks.
## After Chocolate
### Raw sweet potato. Yes. Parsnip is supposed to be good too but it was out of season by the time I started getting goofy over juicing.
++ Also there are now worms. Hungry worms. I’ve been threatening a wormery for a while now, as I’ve probably mentioned here: I don’t have room for a compost heap, or several compost heaps, since you have to rotate them#, at either the cottage or the Lodge or the cottage plus Lodge, and I’ve always had a veg-trimmings problem, even before I went doolally in the alkaline-paleo-vegan direction, and with juicing I now REALLY have a problem, and our local recycle guys get cranky if there’s too much kitchen detritus among the rich plunder of triffid-lash nettles, evil creeping buttercup and taking-over-the-universe ground elder.##
BUT I’ve been saying, I’ll buy a wormery later. I’ve got enough going on and besides I can’t afford it, I’ve got all these vegetables I have to buy every week plus lorryloads of hellmob food.###
Meanwhile I am mysteriously on the hot list for ringing weddings this summer. Stay with me here, this is not a non sequitur. My energy levels, including the number of neurons firing in my brain, at any given day/hour/frozen stalactite of time, are both unpredictable and unreliable, and while I haven’t yet missed a wedding by being too wombly to drive to the tower, there have been weddings when I prayed for the rest of the band to be beginners so no one would expect me to ring methods.#### I made a bristling . . . um, compost heap . . . of a couple of pathetically basic methods at a couple of weddings and was totally ready to fall on my sword, except that ringers who are willing to ring weddings must be in short supply around here at the moment or they wouldn’t be asking me in the first place.
So there was a wedding at Crabbiton##### a few weeks ago. And Wild Robert was running the band. And I should be used to his taking-no-prisoners habits by now, but IT’S A WEDDING. Feh. He drove us through methods I can’t ring recognisably on practise nights and I crawled home that night brainlessly high with my preposterous success###### and too exhausted to be sensible. So I bought a wormery. Of course. As you do.####### I’ve even rung enough weddings to cover the cost.
Hey. It’s PINK. No, really. I might not have bought it if it had been a subdued, business-like colour. But PINK? It looks very cute sitting next to the kitchen sink, except for the tripping-over-it, the-kitchen-door-only-opens-halfway part. I also have no idea whether it’s working or not, except for the fact that it smells nice when I open it to throw in some more apple cores and herb stems and armfuls of post-juicing sludge.
# SIGH for the beautiful, built-by-Atlas wood-framed compost heaps at Third House. SIIIIIIIGH.~
~ Note that Brexit is a catastrophe. Including that the real estate market just hit bottom and frelling splattered. You may remember I am trying—I wildly and hysterically need—to sell Third House? But that’s a post for another day. Preferably when I’m feeling stronger. Preferably after the time machine unspools us back to the Wednesday before Really, Really Bad Thursday and this time we stay in the EU, thank you very much. And I’ll think of something else to write a blog post about.=
= No a female Prime Minster is NOT worth it. Especially when she’s another thrice-blasted Tory.%
% I’m also having one of my American moments about the speed at which we acquired a new PM. I’m sure this must be illegal somehow. And the Queen is in on it.
## I almost forgive enchanter’s nightshade for being an ineradicable festering-festering ratbag weed for the excellence of its name.
### What I want to know is why, when the hellhounds don’t eat, we seem to get through SO MUCH dog food. ::Eyes the hellterror::
#### Also, stage fright. If you bollix it up on practise night, eh, it’s practise night. If you bollix it up for a wedding EVERYONE HATES YOU, except the bride, the groom, and the wedding party, who don’t notice. But how many frelling weddings have I rung over the years? I still get stage fright. And open ground floor rings are my deepest, bursting-galaxies nightmare, because everyone comes down to your end and leans on the barrier rope and stares at you and PROBABLY TAKES PICTURES. WITHOUT ASKING, OF COURSE, BECAUSE YOU’RE PART OF THE MULTI-MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT. Crabbiton is a ground floor ring.
##### See: ground floor ring. See: stage fright.
###### Wild Robert is a sorcerer. It’s the only explanation.
####### In the old days I’d’ve had to wait till the shops opened the next day, by which time I might have reclaimed my common sense, or cast an eye over my bank balance. On line shopping is also a Borg invention. Or possibly a critical factor in turning the human population into mush-minded proto-slaves, primed and ready for the return of Cthulhu.
+++ The ranting, miserable-sod ones of course. ‘Heal me, o God, for my bones are troubled.’
† The WHAT? What was that word before ‘summary’? Keep it away from me, I have sensitive skin, I’m sure it would burn.^
^ And, not speaking [of] the e-word, it’s also guaranteed that the day I put on clean jeans will be the day the hellterror and I have the kind of adventure which requires I pick her up and rest her muddy feet on my hip to ensure our best odds for survival. ARRRRRRGH. We met two women with five loose dogs—five large loose dogs—on the barely-one-thin-person-wide river path a few days ago, and the women were so profoundly engaged in their conversation that the hellterror and I had pied-pipered their flock of hairy, oversized rats some considerable distance before they even NOTICED. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.#
# And two days ago the hellhounds and I were walking across one of the little rec grounds in town when an idiot woman with a terrier on a lead and a spaniel off lead came through the gate. Hellhounds and I, a good thirty feet away, paused warily . . . and the gorblimey spaniel came hell-for-leather at us, barking and snarling, and circling closer and closer and closer . . . CALL YOUR [*******] DOG, I said, and Ms Porridge-Brain said something like, oh now, Sweetbuns, that’s not necessary, in this placatory voice, and Sweetbuns of course ignored her entirely, making little rushes and snatches at my dogs and me.
So I kicked the bugger.
Ms Porridge-Brain melted down. I melted down right back at her. He was only protecting me! she yelled in outrage. PROTECTING YOU? YOU ARE THIRTY FEET AWAY AND HE WAS [*******] THREATENING MY DOGS, I yelled back. HE IS OFF LEAD AND MINE ARE ON LEAD. The exchange may have deteriorated from that high point of communicatory clarity. And I’m still angry.
. . . Um. Not a good way to end a blog post. Um? La la la la la la la. . . . I’ve just memorised the lyrics to ‘Lord of the Dance’, I could sing . . .
Soooo, everyone remember my Niagara Falls leak? The water company—we will call them Sludge & Ganglion—sent me a letter last November, while I was a trifle preoccupied with my dying husband, saying that I had a humdinger of a puncture somewhere in the system and they were proposing to put my water bill up to £1,000,000,000.07 a month, unless of course I wanted to do something about it? As I say, I was preoccupied, but early in in January, I was at the bank, whom I don’t think I have named in these pages, much as it deserves a name, something like Ordure, Funk & Weltschmerz, anyway, I was at the bank starting to deal with post-death and probate issues. The woman who was trying to tease out into its component bits of blither and doodah the latest utter festering mess of the sort that Ordure and Funk’s vast groaning technology specialises in, said, Golly, the water company hates you, doesn’t it? Because, as it turns out, Sludge & Ganglion had gone ahead and started charging me £1,000,000,000.07 without making any further attempt to contact me. Thus getting our relationship about this matter off to a really great start when I rang up and SCREAMED.
Fast forward through the sixteen engineers and the woman back at base* who (apparently) kept sending orders for engineers to attend me and my leak. When I finally said I HAVE HAD SIX HUNDRED ENGINEERS, COULD WE STOP SOON PLEASE?, she said, you have? I have had no notification. The next time one comes, she added, would you please tell me? —thus demonstrating that Sludge & Ganglion’s internal communications are as fabulous as their customer relations.
Anyway. All seven hundred and twelve engineers’ tea leaves and Ouija boards agreed that the leak was my problem, not theirs.** I have about as much faith in their diagnosis as I do in the latest Elvis sightings in bags of gladioli bulbs with pompadours, but my options are limited. Whereupon began the epic search for a plumber who would touch the job of re-laying pipes and rerouting my water supply.***
Plumber eventually found, not without stress, misery, and the application to friends and acquaintances who have lived in this area for generations and are related to plumbers, and then weeks and weeks of nagging followed while I tried to convince him that NOW is an excellent time, ahead of the kamikaze S&G leak-mending squad and/or the next monthly bill for £1,000,000,000.07. At least he answers his emails. He just doesn’t say what I want to hear.
This past Monday I got a sudden email saying he’d be here Wednesday. Erm, wha’, eh? I mean, GREAT. WEDNESDAY. I’ll tell the woman In Charge of My Case who likes sending engineers, and whom no one tells anything.
Oh, and? I have to clear one entire wall of my kitchen because they’re frelling going to run those new water pipes first up the front of the house† and then indoors along the skirting board. This beats peeling up my floors by a substantial margin†† but it is still not ideal. And clearing that wall involves the washing machine, the refrigerator, the hellterror’s crate and her in it since I’m certainly not going to have her underfoot with plumbers with soldering irons kneeling at hellterror level AND A SIX FOOT BY THREE FOOT BY TWO FOOT††† TALLBOY CHEST OF DRAWERS, every micron of whose drawers are crammed, as I’m sure you will believe, with stuff. And the sitting room—and the stairs, and the upstairs hall, and my bedroom and office—are also CRAMMED, with boxes of further stuff from Third House.‡
But never mind the rest of the house. Calling what my kitchen looks like at present the result of a global cataclysm only hints at the scene.‡‡
So. Wednesday. Plumbers were TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATE.‡‡‡ You know in this modern world of mobile phones there’s not a huge amount of excuse for not ringing and keeping people waiting for you abreast of the situation???? Plumbers like their mystery I guess. These plumbers eventually arrived. Plumbers drilled holes, making moon-crater holes in my plaster which I assume Atlas can mend, laid slender, relatively tactful copper pipes, and made horrible pongs with their soldering.§ Of course they didn’t finish, so they were coming back Thursday to finish the job.
They were only forty-five minutes late on Thursday. Yaay. They finished all the pipe-laying, pong-making and crater-provoking, and collected respectfully around the meter in the street for the Big Moment, when they turned off the water while they diverted the whatever-the-turkey so the water would now flow through the new, please God leak-free, pipes.
I was indoors, but I heard the sound of the voices in the street change from plumbers going about their plumbing to bemusement and consternation. At which point I clocked that there was a new voice added to the throng, that of my semi-detached neighbour, Phineas.
They had turned his water off too. BECAUSE MY METER IS A JOINT METER, WHICH SLUDGE & GANGLION HAD NEGLECTED TO MENTION, PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY ARE EVIL CULPABLE IDIOTS AND HADN’T NOTICED THIS CRUCIAL PIECE OF INFORMATION OR POSSIBLY HADN’T FELT I NEEDED TO KNOW. AND? AND THIS MEANS THAT THE PLUMBERS HAD JUST COMPLETED EIGHT HUNDRED QUID’S WORTH OF WORK, including collateral kitchen wall damage§§, WHICH IS NOW MOST PROBABLY UTTERLY USELESS, AND THEY HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN, WHICH IN THIS CASE MEANS DIGGING UP MY GARDEN, LOOKING FOR THE JOIN WHERE THE WATER SUPPLY SEPARATES.
Work re-begins on Monday. I may have run away to Tashkent by then. I think the hellmob might enjoy Tashkent. I’m not up for enjoying anything right now.
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* And the jolly jolly jolly merry go round of the official Sludge & Ganglion robot email sending me a phone number that didn’t work^ thus putting me back at the BOTTOM of the frelling queue again trying make contact with the correct cabal of the customer persecution unit.
^ ‘This phone number is currently out of service. So sorry for any inconvenience’
** Just by the way, if you don’t have house insurance that will cover it, Sludge & Ganglion will provide one free leak mend. THANK YOU GOD FOR PETER MAKING ME GET COMPREHENSIVE HOUSE INSURANCE THAT COVERS STUFF LIKE PERSONAL MANIFESTATIONS OF NIAGARA FALLS. The mere idea of letting a gang of S&G’s buffoons loose in my house might cause heart failure in someone who hadn’t given up chocolate and champagne and whose mighty leafy-green-vegetable-fuelled strength is unassailable.^
^ I hope.
*** The leak itself has been declared essentially unfindable, because they would have to drag my house out by the roots and hold it overhead while they fossicked down through the cellar’s worth of builder’s rubble under the ‘ground’ floor of my house which is up a flight of stairs, to actual ground level. As I have probably said on these literal pages before, if I ever found myself with more money than sense^ I’d hire someone to cut a door-shaped hole in the genuine ground floor outside wall of my house at the foot of the stair, yank out all the builder’s rubble and give me a cellar.^^
^ A lot more money than sense. Amassment of sense is not a good measure of largeness in my case.
^^ I could keep BACKLIST in my cellar.
† So decorative and beautifying. Also, while it’s lagged—by a large brown plastic hangar that is really eye-woundingly beautiful: maybe I can grow a Virginia Creeper over the thing, rose bushes have way too many gaps for satisfactory coverage—if the extreme-weather theory about global warming comes to southern England I could be in a lot of disagreeable frozen trouble.
†† Which is what happened to one of my ghoulish informants. AND THE FLOORS HAVE NEVER BEEN THE SAME AGAIN, he finished with relish.
††† And speaking of the criticalness of size, I still don’t have a refrigerator and freezer for the Lodge. The gaps for these, both little under-counter items, are quite small, or perhaps under-counter appliances have grown since the two-owners-ago remodelled the kitchen, and my choices are limited. And the ones I want are out of stock. And have I mentioned recently^ that I have people coming to STAY at the Lodge in . . . about a fortnight? Who may conceivably want to, you know, eat, or at least have somewhere to keep a bottle of milk since I won’t have the nasty stuff in my house. Although that’s chiefly because I don’t have room. I’m still schlepping up to Third House for my second organic grocery delivery of the week because my little under-counter-sized^^ fridge at the cottage can’t hold an entire week’s worth of mad vegetarian’s dark leafy super-powered greens. Which use of Third House’s facilities is, I might add, a deeply depressing business, a kind of whoring: I don’t love you, but I will use you(r refrigerator). If I had more money than God has angels I would keep Third House, and the lovely new attic with the view down the garden . . . I could rent it while I figure out what I’m doing with my life, no, no, no, we are NOT THINKING ABOUT THIS.
Third House is now officially on the market. The housecleaners came and did the hey-wow-scouring thing last week. But it’s still not frelling empty, and both the cottage and the Lodge are FULL. Meanwhile on cue the real estate market has died, while everyone worries about whether we’re going to stay in or get out of the EU, and what that will mean to little things like the economy. And real estate values. Guys. You do still have to live somewhere.
^ No, because I haven’t mentioned anything recently
^^ It’s not, strictly speaking, under-counter because it is the counter
‡ Including awful awful awful amounts of backlist. Never mind that I am a collector and a hoarder. It’s the backlist that makes my life unsupportable. Ha ha ha ha, sway-backed creaking floors anyone.
‡‡ This is one of those occasions when you’re way better off with dogs as live-in companions than humans. This way there’s only I pacing the floors and moaning like an unquiet ghost . . . no, wait, there are no floors available for pacing. Perching on my kitchen stool above the battle zone, wringing my hands, dorking at the keyboard and moaning like an unquiet ghost. The hellmob do not care. This is so fabulous I almost care less. I did think the hellterror might object to being exiled into the sitting room, especially since her crate is now kind of Gollum’s cave at the bottom of the Misty Mountains, but she’s all, is there FOOOOOOD? My crate usually has FOOOOOOOOD. There’s FOOOOOOOOD? Then I am cool. The hellhounds, of course, love everybody, including kneeling plumbers with soldering irons.^
^ I signed up for the 1-2 am slot of the forty-hour Pentecost vigil at St Margaret’s Thursday night. I took the hellhounds with me since I am a little twitchy about being all alone in an open, lit-up church in the middle of the night, but in fact if anyone of dubious provenance wandered in the hellhounds would want to be best friends. However I was very glad of them when the 2 am vigilante did not show up and—hey, you know, it’s a vigil and it doesn’t count if no one’s there—I stayed on, with sleeping hellhounds—er, heavenhounds—keeping my feet warm WHY ARE CHURCHES ALWAYS SO COLD—I don’t suppose Jesus would have minded if I got down on the floor with them and draped them more comprehensively about my person, but I didn’t. However I was wondering if Buck would kill me if, when the 3 am person didn’t show up either, I went round to the vicar’s house behind the church and knocked on the door. Then Buck showed up as the 3 am person. With a very, very, very large mug of coffee. And I went home. Yaay. Alight with holiness. Well something kept me awake for the drive.
‡‡‡ Meanwhile I was supposed to be meeting the estate-agent photographer up at Third House, having let the plumbers in to the cottage, but there were as yet no plumbers to let in. So I rang the estate agent and asked for a favour, that one of them meet the photographer . . . and then I sprinted round the block with the increasingly cross-legged hellmob and arrived home to a phone message that the photographer was going to be late, and when I rang the estate agent who was supposed to be waiting at Third House already, he wasn’t answering his mobile AAAAAAAUGH so I then sprinted up to Third House with hellhounds, who thought we were having a really splendid adventure, AND HE WASN’T THERE. AAAAAAAAAAAUGH.^
^ I also had a long-previously-booked probate-and-taxes appointment with the accountants that afternoon AND a meeting of the local alternative-practitioners group in the evening, who were going to be talking about homeopathy, and who were allowing unconsecrated members of the public past their august portals for some reason. But the point is I don’t have days like this.
§ Hellhounds withdrew to the back of their crate and made snorting noises.
§§ And the tallboy will no longer fit in its corner, but has to sit a couple of inches farther into the room. In a room this small containing a tallboy this large this is a pivotal strategic consideration. There was language and maybe a few tears.^
^ And yes, I had to take all the (full) drawers out to move the sucker.
POSTSCRIPT: And as I, perhaps unwisely, have been putting my kitchen back together again since the cataclysm should be over in here and the next area to be sacked and ravaged is my garden, I discover that the new location of the tallboy means that the hellterror’s crate no longer fits where it used to go, and if I push it back so the door opens wide enough that her little square self fits through and I can get my shoulders in to change bedding and sweep . . . the back end jams against the fuse box and the WASHING MACHINE DOOR WILL ONLY OPEN HALF WAY.
This is what I said at the memorial service* today:
Peter’s first romantic fiancé’s gift to me was a pair of secateurs. This was about four hours after he’d said ‘just because you’re taking me on doesn’t mean you have to take gardening on.’ I was in England seeing what I was getting myself into. Peter and I had had an unexpectedly life-altering weekend in Maine about a fortnight before; we knew each other slightly through the book world, I’d visited him at home once when Mary Rose was still alive, he was merely returning the favour. But a week after we parted, feeling dazed and saying to each other, ‘it would never work, we are separated by age, culture, background, about 3000 miles and a national boundary,’ my phone rang at 7 am and I knew who it was and what he was going to say: ‘if we don’t give it a try we’ll regret it the rest of our lives.’ He had an idea that we could commute; I wanted to settle down somewhere with him, and I was the Navy brat, used to moving on. I emigrated.
Writing was the thing for both of us of course. He was an early riser and he’d be at his desk staring intensely at the page curling out of his typewriter or, eventually, the screen of his computer, by the time I staggered past him clutching a cup of strong tea, to go to my desk. In good weather both breakfast and lunch were in the garden, 7:30 and 12:30 sharp—one of his nicknames was Time Lord—tea followed at precisely 4:30 and supper at 7:30. He did most of the cooking; my right to make our bread half the time was hard-won. Over breakfast he did the GUARDIAN cryptic crossword and lunch and dinner were followed by one of his complex versions of patience; if he started getting some pattern out too often he changed the rules. Mornings were at his desk; after lunch was in the garden—if it was raining he would declare ‘it’s not wet rain’ and go out anyway.
That garden. It was a little over two acres and an insane amount of it was labour-intensive flowerbeds. Visiting friends and family were shamelessly put to work. There was some wild, for nettles and butterflies, some lawn, for grandchildren to play on (although heaven help any grandchild whose ball landed in a flowerbed), and a vegetable garden beyond the old stables. A lot of it was flowerbeds, especially the walled kitchen garden: people walking into it for the first time in high summer went ‘oooooh.’ The Warm Upford village fete was held there for years; Peter started opening on the National Garden Scheme with Mary Rose and carried on into my era. He was in his element on open days, holding forth about gardening, Latin nomenclature and plants, especially clematis, although he had many favourites, especially the weird and wonderful. I usually hid in the shrubbery with a bucket and trowel, although Peter extracted me occasionally to talk to someone about roses. He’d been slightly querulous when my rose mania burst out of the beds he’d assigned to it but since it made me a willing victim, I mean partner, in the whole gardening epic he adapted. He took wholeheartedly to having several whippets underfoot (who were rigorously trained to stay out of flowerbeds).
We lived in the old family house thirteen years after I married him. Peter started feeling his age in his 70s, and the DIY necessary to keep up a nine-bedroom-plus-outbuildings country house, even a ramshackle one, began to escape him. We moved into New Arcadia almost twelve years ago, where Peter redesigned and replanted two more gardens, even if they were small town gardens, including digging a pond for water lilies, newts and a fountain after he turned 80. Living in New Arcadia also meant he was walking distance of one of his bridge clubs; we were out two, three, four evenings a week, I bell-ringing and he playing bridge. There were still good times, but he’d stopped writing; ‘the well is dry’, he said.
How do I tell you about twenty-three years with Peter in six minutes? He was scarily intelligent and terrifyingly erudite; he knew a profligate profusion of poetry off by heart, and once when I was driving back to Blue Hill from Bangor, Maine after a late night flight from England in the winter, a treacherous trip that took over an hour, he kept me awake reciting poetry nonstop and without hesitation or repeat. He began with ‘Let me not to a marriage of true minds admit impediment’. He loved my books maybe even as much as I loved his, and believed in me and my writing without any edge or restraint; he never made me feel in any way less than him, despite being twenty-five years younger, and indeed after several years in his company I found I remembered the 1940’s well. (I was born in 1952.) But he was also not so much stubborn as monolithic: his way was the only way about many, many things and if you disagreed you were merely bowled over. He had kept four children quiet in the back seat of the car by telling stories; he now told stories to me and the whippets as we tramped across the glorious, if frequently muddy, Hampshire countryside. I called him the plot factory, and several of my stories spring from Peter’s ideas. I have a few in my notebooks that I’m still hoping to write, if I can stop crying long enough.
He was adorable and maddening in about equal proportions. I assume I’ll get used to his absence; most people do eventually adjust to loss and grief. But I’ll remember him every day for the rest of my life, even if I knock Methuselah out of the top spot.
* * *
* We did him proud, if I do say so myself. I’m going to see if I can persuade any of the others to let me post what they said too. And yes, six minutes. I ran about six minutes and ten seconds. Bad me. But not very bad. I’m the widow.^ I have privileges.
^ Widowhood sucks. Avoid. Make a note.
Have I told you I’ve gone back into therapy because I Am Not Coping with Reality Very Well Right Now?* I went in for an assessment a while ago but it took them some time to find a slot for me.** I’ve seen Metis a few times now and like her—if ‘like’ is quite the word you want to apply to your shrink—and have some hope that she’ll crack me open like whacking off the top of your soft-boiled egg with an egg-spoon.*** But it’s still early days. Yesterday she taught me a relaxation technique. Chiefly it served to demonstrate that I do not relax. Nadia could have told her this. Sigh.†
But weekly therapy meetings are one more thing on the schedule. And in the last fortnight I seem also to have been to three concerts†† and not merely done my standard weekly Sam duty but the frelling occasional-required long overnight duty which reduces you to a little pile of sticky ashes even if you’re healthy††† plus picking up an extra (late, not everyone’s favourite time of day for some reason) duty when someone went down sick at the last minute.‡
And of course there’s still monks. And singing.‡‡ And the hellmob. And the garden, which is booming into early summer. And bell ringing, although tower ringing has taken a hit the last fortnight due to all the other excitements. But handbells . . . it’s Friday. There were handbells.‡‡‡
* * *
* I’m an American, we believe in therapy. And my best friend is a New Yorker and everyone in Manhattan is in therapy, it’s a civic ordinance. You want to live there, you need to sign up with a therapist before you try to find a place to live. Your rental agreement or your mortgage application will have a query on it something like ‘Are you currently actively engaged in seeking self-development by way of a professional relationship with a psychotherapist whose name appears on this year’s list of Persons Licensed to Charge More Than $1000 an Hour which you gladly disburse for the Privilege of Discovering What a Hopeless Dolt You Are?’ You need to be able to fill in the ‘yes’ box. Residents of the Tri-State Area are given a tax rebate for being in therapy, although it doesn’t run to $4000 a month. Hey, what do you want, healthy, well nourished children and a car that runs^ or greater self awareness?^^
^ All the festering DRIVING involved in my proliferating life-enrichment programmes is a pain. It’s worth it but IT IS A PAIN. And while I’m both a careful and a law-abiding driver I do kind of yell a lot. I had a Classic Robin Moment on my way to my last voice lesson. I was late, of course, because I’m always late, and I got stuck behind this moron going thirty-five miles an hour in a SIXTY MILE AN HOUR ZONE. I was not doing my singing voice any good in my description of his heritage and his likely future. Then we hit town—I’ve tried going the back way and all that happens is that I get stuck behind tractors, and that doesn’t do my singing voice or my blood pressure any favours either—and the slow wiggly main road was made even slower and wigglier by the plethora of frelling LORRIES parked on it while they unloaded shoes and sausages and hammers and mattresses into all the frelling shops. So you and your soon to be overheating car are ducking back and forth from one single lane to the other, depending on where the latest lorry is parked and you are getting later and later for your voice lesson and CRANKIER AND CRANKIER. Now, despite my malevolent views of other drivers, I’m quite the—ahem!—Samaritan about letting other drivers in, especially in a situation like this one where we’re all suffering. Well I’d got stuck behind the final lorry and no one was letting me into the other lane. Guess who finally did. Yep. Thirty Five Miles an Hour in a Sixty Mile an Hour Zone Man. I waved gratefully but I hope he doesn’t lip-read.
^^ Note that Metis’ practise does not charge £646 an hour. Trust me, I would not be there.
** It’s a group practise. I imagine them sitting around at their admin meeting and saying, okay, we have an axe murderer, a pathological collector of HP Lovecraft t shirts^, someone who thinks they’re Napoleon/Marie Stopes/Edward Cullen and a writer with writer’s block . . . and a chorus of voices reply eagerly, I’ll take the axe murderer! I’ll take Lovecraft, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is the best novel of the 20th century! I’ll take Marie Stopes! . . . Silence. I am fully booked, says the person remaining. I totally must shampoo the cat, and then sort the contents of the kibble bin by size. Fluffy is so particular. I can’t consider taking on a new client till someone else has been desperate enough to take the wri—I mean, probably not till next year.
*** Personally I scramble my eggs. But Peter does the egg-spoon trick.
† Note to self: Metis and Nadia must never meet.
†† If Jackie Oates http://www.jackieoates.co.uk/live-dates/ comes anywhere near you and/or you have a friend who is willing to do the driving, speaking of driving,^ and unless you are one of these poor sad creatures who doesn’t get good folk music, go. And listen especially closely to the newly arranged and adapted 21st-century lyrics to A Cornish Young Man, which are delicious.
^ Fiona and I found a new yarn shop. I was doing pretty well+ till I made the mistake of checking out the sale bin again. I had thought on the way in that the Yarn Pet percentage might be a little perilous but at that point I had a whole shop to be endangered by and adrenaline was running high. And I then managed (mostly) to resist the breathtakingly gorgeous single-skein small-local-indie-dyers gauntlet, chiefly because I have some self-protective resistance to spending more than a New York City shrink’s hourly rate on a one-off that there isn’t even enough of to make a scarf. A fichu maybe.++
AND THEN I WENT BACK TO THE FRELLING SALE BIN. Alpaca is evil. Especially when it is mixed in big fat fluffy skeins with merino. You can frelling hear it purring when you cradle it in your arms.+++
+ I say nothing about how Fiona was doing
++ If you’re small and flat-chested.
+++ Dogs purr too, you know. At least every dog I’ve ever had purrs when it settles in your lap. Whether it fits in your lap or not.
††† And/or stay up late and don’t do mornings anyway. Although some annoying person^ has pointed out that I do do mornings, I do a lot of mornings, I just do the, you know, little end.
^ I never name names on this blog but this particular person is very annoying about handbells.+
+ What do you mean you can’t ring handbells tomorrow, the next day, the day after that and three times on Madnessday? —GO AWAY. YOU’RE RETIRED. SOME OF US ARE STILL WORKING FOR A LIVING# AND FURTHERMORE MAY POSSIBLY DO OTHER THINGS IN THEIR SPARE [SIC] TIME THAT AREN’T HANDBELLS. ##
# Or at least staring despairingly at an empty computer screen regularly.
## Aren’t . . . handbells? this person murmurs brokenly.
‡ And this potent sacrifice was absolutely worth it for the barrage of brownie points thus accrued. I can probably spill scalding coffee on the director/the fancy new computer/the delicately poised for heightened reactivity electronic fire alarm and no one will say anything.
‡‡ Your Body Is Your Instrument I Wish I Had Taken up the Guitar When I Was a Teenager Like Everyone Else Did. Nadia told me the last time I was beating up Batti Batti O Bel Masetto to skip the allegro, which has all those frelling runs in it AND goes up to a high B. Last time, as I recall, I did leave it alone. This time I was idly leafing through it again when a little light went on and I said, Hey! It’s a B flat! I can (usually) get to B flat! —So, occasionally, late at night^, when my voice is feeling all relaxed^^ and warm and willing I sing the allegro. I can’t frelling sing and play the piano at the same time, but I do have a finger poised to hit that B flat to make sure I’m hitting it, if you follow me. I usually am, in my squeaky un-self-confident and death-defying-not-in-a-good-way way^^^.
And next time through I can’t hit G. I can always hit a friggleblasting doodahing G, give me a flapdoodling BREAK. Yes, I can always hit a G, except right after I’ve hit an A sharp/B flat and my voice says NO WE DON’T DO THAT and shuts down. That’s SHUTS. DOWN. Arrrrrrgh. And then it’s back to Edwardian parlour ballads till it forgives me. ARRRRRRGH.
^ Or in a little morning hour
^^^ Yes I can hear the unglefrakking difference when Nadia manages to persuade me to float down from above a note rather than ramping up at it from underneath like a guerrilla attack on a dangerous enemy. Sigh. Sometimes I’m very flat indeed. Sometimes I just . . . sound like I’m attacking an enemy I’m terrified of.+ SIGH.
+ I also indulge in a concomitant worry that St Margaret’s will decide they’re not that desperate for singers at the evening service.
‡‡‡ And brownies. I had told Niall firmly that if there were no brownies I would remember a prior engagement. What prior engagement? said Niall suspiciously. Well, I forget, I said, there are brownies, right?
Wolfgang and I managed to run over Peter today.
No, no, Peter’s fine*. JESUS GOD AND ALL THE SAINTS. I’m a freaking hysterical meltdown mess. Peter seems to have thought it was FUNNY. He thinks it’s FUNNY to be married to a CRAZY HOMICIDAL** WIFE.
We’ve had two beautiful spring days in a row. I’ve been trying to hack out time for frantic gardening: this is the time of year when I very very briefly believe that maybe THIS year I’m going to have the garden at the cottage in something almost resembling order for more than three seconds the end of April.*** I’m not expecting to attain a very close facsimile of order . . . just, you know, frothy ebullience caused by healthy plants doing what they feel like doing instead of what I had planned for them to do. This does however require that the plants I planted thrive and the frelling weeds grow less fast than I yank them up. The back wall is at present a jungle nightmare of last year’s skeletal goose grass, all of which will have seeded and seeded and seeded.†
ANYWAY. Peter and I usually go to the big library on Tuesday afternoon and have a nice cup of tea in the café, usually with two or three or eight books per while we decide what we want to check out and take home with us. Peter felt that a fancy country garden with a café with outdoor tables was what he wanted today †† . . . and I brought Pav along for her first encounter with Montmorency’s Folly.†††
The last bit of drive is narrow and lumpy. I wanted to let Peter off as close to the gate as possible, so I’d pulled in pretty hard against the end of the hedge so that other cars heading for the car park could squeeze past me. He climbed out of Wolfgang and . . .
I know how slowly he moves these days, and I know the way that right foot turns out, and that it’s slower than the left foot.‡ I know these things. I guess all I can say is that I was worried about getting out of the way before—ahem!—someone ran into us, and that I was preoccupied with cars coming up on my right. I put Wolfgang into reverse and . . .
There was a colossal thud, and Peter disappeared from view. AAAAAAAAAUGH.
And some helpful person came rushing over while I was hysterically turning Wolfgang off and slamming on the handbrake. When I scrambled around to the other side I discovered my husband lying on the ground with his right foot trapped under Wolfgang’s left front wheel.
Not very far. Peter was saying I’m fine, I’m fine, or words to that effect—I admit my memory is not totally clear on this point—but it was only his shoe, not his foot, that was being lightly crushed. Now if I’d had any sense whatsoever I’d’ve told him to get his foot OUT of the shoe before I tried to roll forward, but I didn’t, I rushed back to the driver’s side—shaking like an aspen, I might add—while the Helpful Person said, Be careful not to roll backwards!
Ahem. Do I have to tell you we were on a slight hill so that the moment I took the handbrake off we would roll backwards? By this time the Helpful Person’s husband had turned up, why didn’t one of these people who wasn’t related to the man on the ground and wasn’t driving the car that had just knocked him over say LET’S GET THE SHOE OFF AND GET HIM OUT OF HARM’S WAY BEFORE WE DO ANYTHING ELSE?
But they didn’t. And I spent a few seconds taking deep breaths, put Wolfgang into gear and . . . rolled forward perfectly. Peter said later that the fender had caught him on that weak right leg as I turned the wheel to angle away from the hedge—having not adequately checked first that he was clear—and when he fell his right foot had . . .
I don’t remember much about the garden. Pav enjoyed herself and thought rolling around on the courtyard gravel outside the café was an adventure, and while she was perhaps a trifle exuberant her only serious breakdown in . . . well, let’s not say manners, let’s say pretence of manners, was when I left her BRIEFLY tied to Peter’s chair to fetch sugar and silverware—Peter having brought me a fresh pot of tea—and you’d have thought I was leaving her in a basket on some convent steps with insufficient provisions. This has nothing to do with emotional attachment, you realise: it’s because from her perspective I was going toward a place that smelled more like food than where she was and leaving her behind. A fine coloratura of protest followed.
I didn’t run over anybody else. NEXT WEEK WE GO TO THE LIBRARY.
And you may have noticed the title of this post is ‘A Day of Lows’ as in plural? Yes. On any other day I would tell you how I spent over an hour on the phone to my American bank and they having confirmed that the wire had been sent, followed up shortly with an email saying it hadn’t, and that I have to do it all over again tomorrow.
* * *
* Believe me if he wasn’t I would not be writing this blog report of the incident. I would either be in jail or throwing myself off a bridge.^
^ Having first left the hellmob in a series of baskets on the steps of the local . . . um. We don’t actually have a local convent and I’m not sure how the monks feel about foundlings.+ I think really it’s a good thing I didn’t run over Peter very hard.
+ I do know that Alfrick does not like dogs.# Which is his only major character flaw now that he’s given up smoking.
# Shocking. Oh, no, wait, it’s probably the Franciscans who have to be soppy about animals. I don’t remember if Benedict says anything about critters being your brothers and sisters.~
~ ‘Sister Death’ is pretty well known but apparently Francis also called his various illnesses and disabilities his brothers and sisters, which casts a slight shadow on his attitude toward our animal brethren and sistren. This also makes the ME my evil twin, but I knew that already.
** Homicidal and incompetent. Fortunately.
*** We are not facing the reality of the garden at Third House at all.^ Nina recently was saying kindly that she could come round some weekend afternoon and help me get the stuff out of its overgrown pots and into the ground. Politely failing to point out that some of it has been in its (overgrown) pots for years. I do usually manage to get the pots-in-waiting stuff fed, which is of course part of the reason some of it is quite so overgrown. I’m sure garden centres sell their plants in flimsy plastic pots for reasons of price control, but if you have to CUT the plant out of its pot by the time you get round to putting it in the ground, flimsy is good.
^ I still haven’t got the attic any more sorted than ‘can fight way through from stairs to back wall’.+
+ Worse, I keep looking around and wondering if there’s ANY CHANCE I could bash out space for the green horsehair sofa, which is the one remaining oversized piece of furniture at the mews. We’re supposed to be selling it. It’s not grand, it’ll only fetch a ‘just about worth it to hire the van’ price, but it’s another of the old Dickinson family pieces and we got it restuffed and recovered as part of the New Wife thing when I first moved over here into the old house, and I am a sentimental cow. Also I chose the green velvet it is now covered with, and the hellhounds and I have spent many happy hours on it. Some of the upholstered old family furniture had seen a few more generations than was good for it, and as I recall I blanched and trembled at it in its earlier state.
† It will be worth it, trying to catch up with the wretched stuff^ if it has seeded really enthusiastically in my neighbour-over-the-back-wall’s garden, whose ugly shed roof ruins my view. The problem with this plan is that the neighbour won’t care. He’ll just hire another gardener.
^ At least it’s easy to pull up unlike most of the worst perennial weeds. However because it is, as Peter used to call it, nature’s Velcro, you also come away from a weeding session looking like the Abominable Goose Grass Person and needing frelling hedge trimmers and possibly a flamethrower to get it off you again. Also, however many huge green garden bags you have satisfyingly tamped full of the stuff, by the time you’ve squashed as many of these as you can fit into Wolfgang to haul off to the dump, and possibly sat down to have a cup of tea, it will all have grown back again.
†† It’s not like we don’t have plenty to read.
††† Hellhounds have been round the edges of Montmorency’s Folly many, many times, but the rules about dogs inside the garden are discouraging^ and they would be miserable lying in the courtyard while we had our tea. Pav, on the other hand . . .
^ And with the number of uncontrolled dogs and quantity of unpicked-up crap there is in this country I am not going to argue about this ruling.
‡ You Americans must remember we have right-hand drive in this country, so my passenger is getting out on the left, with his right side nearer the side of the car.