It started raining in the five minutes between bringing hellhounds in, taking my raincoat off because it’s HOT and it’s not raining, and furthermore it’s not SUPPOSED to rain, this slender pause including hastily checking that my next organic-grocery delivery is not too deranged, because my deadline was midnight and I tend to get a little carried away about how much I’m going to put through my juicer* this week and probably needed to halve my beet order and quarter my carrot order**, and taking the hellterror out. I was so not expecting it to be raining we were halfway to the main road before I realised I couldn’t see out of my glasses*** and my hair was sticking to my scalp. By which time I couldn’t be frelling arsed to go back† so we went on: the hellterror doesn’t like the rain any more than the hellhounds do, and as soon as nature’s demands were satisfied I’d be dragging her on for a bit of exercise for exercise’s sake while she tried to head for home††. We were in no danger of drowning. In an increasingly sodden state we passed under an awning where another damp, un-raincoated figure was addressing himself to his smartphone. Calling a friend for a lift in bad weather doesn’t work when you’re hurtling your domestic fauna. Hey, great weather, he said. It started raining in the five minutes between taking the first dog shift indoors and taking the second shift out, I said. He grinned (maybe his friend had with the car had said yes. Maybe he was placating the crazy old lady with too many dogs). Life is like that, he said.
* * *
*This should have gone up last night but I am having Extreme Computer Problems, to the extent that I really don’t know what to do. Raphael was just here today, bringing my supposedly-mended ultrabook back and taking away the seriously insane old laptop that I’d been using in its absence and I can still barely make this one do anything. If this post is not up to standard I can plead extenuating circumstances. –disintegrating ed
* My juicer and I are no longer best friends. When Alcestis first demonstrated hers she gave me beet, apple and carrot juice, and her juicer, which is the same one I then went home and bought^, calmly and elegantly chomped the doodah out of what she put through it, and produced a sparkling cascade of perfect juice. Mine, when presented with a series of hard things like apples and beets and carrots and sweet potatoes^^ has a tendency to buck like a rodeo bronc and spew a thin spray of juice through its not-quite-blast-proof joins. Beet juice STAINS. The bucking also tends to slam it backwards into the row of books which adorn the edge of my one ex-usable countertop, which has become my desk, which is not popular either. I now wrap the freller in dishtowels and hold on while it’s juicing. There tends to be language.
^ This was three or so years ago, when Alcestis was still walking and doing things like her own juicing, and I still thought my money problems were no worse than usual.
^^ Yes of course I cut them up. Am cutting them up in smaller and smaller pieces too.
** I’m still experimenting with how much raw cabbage I can hide inside the (raw) beets, the (raw) carrots and the (raw) sweet potatoes. I get a little lip-curly at these shiny fashion-conscious smoothies for health!!!! sites that suggest you slip in two or three raw spinach leaves with your mango, your banana, your pineapple, your yogurt and your half a cup of honey and you’ll never know they’re there! I like raw spinach. All rational people like raw spinach.^ You want hard core, I suggest raw cabbage. I, one of whose food groups is broccoli, still prefer it steamed long enough to get rid of the brassica bite. And cabbage . . . I’m not sure how this works out in terms of comparative quantities and proportions^^ but I can make one medium-sized cabbage disappear in a quart of juice—I drink a pint and put the other pint in the refrigerator for the next day. According to the purists you should juice every day because all the freshiest freshness goes away almost immediately. I think these people have staff. I could use a second pair of hands to keep the frelling juicer under control.
^ All right, all right, most rational people. I say nothing about cooked spinach.#
# And yes, spinach can be cooked in ways that are not slimy and disgusting. But what a waste.
^^ I spent way too much time this afternoon, when I should have been writing MMMPH or MMMMPH or AAAAAAAAUGGGGHHHHH, trying to put together a hellmob food order, now that I have made a thing of beauty# of the canine larder corner and discovered that I’m all out of stuff I thought I had lots of and have tins and bags and bales and boxes of stuff I keep buying because I can’t find it so I think I’ve run out. Arrrgh.## I use several different critter-supply sites because I really get off on making myself a drooling psycho hag, and because any faint quiver of interest from the hellhounds in a food or food-related substance and I’m on line researching. And every site lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently AND every frelling brand of frelling critter food lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently I HATE MATHS I HATE MATHS and let’s not even approach the extremely embattled topic of INGREDIENTS LISTS.### But Pooka was smoking from iPhone calculator overuse, and that’s only the numbers I think I can translate enough to plug them in to see how or if they talk to each other.
# Pink, purple and turquoise plastic beauty. There’s also a rather nice table half buried in there which I keep thinking I should extract and put somewhere it can be admired, instead of ruining its delicate profile by making its legs into a pen for 15-mg bags of kibble, which are, you know, dumpy. But when I say put somewhere, where, exactly, do I mean?, put somewhere.
## Next time: goldfish.
### I don’t want to know how fabulous and wonderful your flaming whatsit dog food is! I want to know WHAT’S IN IT! I want to know EXACTLY what’s in it!!! One hellcritter’s hypoallergenic is another hellcritter’s owner getting up three times in the night and it should have been four times! It also pitches me into rabid meltdown mode when I’m looking at an ingredients list and it has fu—fugging CORN SYRUP and/or SALT in it. WHAT THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING FRELL. Let’s force our dependent critters to develop the same stupid harmful addictions that we’ve given ourselves. Dogs don’t know from sugar! Don’t freaking TEACH THEM. Also . . . WHY??? Neither the corn syrup nor the salt is going to be a substantial enough part of the treat, since it’s usually treats that are toxic-ified up this way, to make a profit difference to the manufacturer, so WHY??? I get it, kind of, that baby food is often spiced and sweetened and salted up because mums taste it and might think it’s too bland for their precious darlings who are going to grow up to rule the world and need to get a head start on the corporate dining thing, but DOG FOOD? Okay, I tried Alpo when I was a kid~, but generally speaking we DON’T taste our dog food, do we? DO WE? Especially (let’s say) the dried, smoked, salted and sugared . . . um, leftover innards and genitalia of critters whose more-admissible-in-polite-society parts do mostly land on human dinner plates? ARRRRRRRRRRGH.
~ This could perhaps explain a lot. How many of you out there tried Alpo when you were kids and have grown up Strange?
*** My new glasses, just by the way. I’ve needed a new prescription since I got the first ‘come in for your eye test and discover you’re turning into an octopus’^ reminder letter last autumn but there were other things going on, and after Peter died my eyes went completely doolally and I didn’t want to buy new glasses and need another new prescription a fortnight later. Especially not at these prices. But by this summer I could barely see out of the old ones and there were some Terrifying Moments when I’d ripped my glasses off and laid them down somewhere while I got on with something held immediately under my nose because my close, I mean very close, I mean very very close, vision is still pretty good . . . and then couldn’t find them again. My glasses, I mean. And I am definitely in the category of not being able to see well enough to look for my glasses unless I’m already wearing them. More Interesting Reasons Why I’m Always Late for Almost Everything,^^ Franticly Patting the Floor for Possibly Fallen Spectacles.^^^ However, this being able to see again thing takes some getting used to. I keep making little jerks at my face every time I get the knitting out or open a book, because of course I need to take my glasses off. Erm. No, I don’t. I also keep trying to peer over them when the new, functional close-work strip is at the bottom of the lens, resulting in some very interesting neck-cracking up-and-down comportment.
^ Well, I’ve always had very light-sensitive skin, and lots of stuff gets worse as you get older.
^^ Except Mass with the monks. I may tear in seconds before the priest and server process . . . but I’m there.
^^^ Also, Another Excellent Reason for Having a Small House, although in These Circumstances Not Small Enough.
† Plus a dispiriting replay of the huge tragic eyes from Chaos, who has recently decided that every time I take the hellterror out it’s a personal betrayal. SHE’S LIVED WITH US FOUR YEARS AND YOU ALWAYS GO OUT FIRST. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM.
†† FOOOOOOOOOD. She only gets fed immediately on return occasionally, but she doesn’t want to make a mistake if it’s one of those days.
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.
* * *
* 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.
Dad–Punch, Mary-Rose and family: *
So there was Peter at Cambridge. Dad, typically, said that he felt he wasted his time there, worked ineffectually and took little part in the many extra-curricular activities on offer. He didn’t get the hoped-for first in his finals, but even so, the college gave him a bursary to study for a PhD. Half way through this he walked into the Dean’s room and the Dean looked up from the letter he was reading and said “Would you like a job on Punch?”
The background to that story was that when the youngest member of the five-strong editorial staff of the satirical magazine Punch turned 40, they decided that they were getting too old and needed to get some younger blood in to keep them relevant. The editor wrote to a don he knew at Cambridge to ask him to find someone to train up. Allegedly someone else also wrote to a don at Oxford who never replied. So Peter was the only candidate. On his way to the interview for the job he was knocked down by a tram and arrived covered with blood and dirt, but they gave him the job anyway. It makes a great first job story and eventually made its way into his novel Death of a Unicorn.
Around this time, Peter went to a party in a friend’s rooms at Kings and met my mother, Mary-Rose. A pretty girl, standing by the fireplace laughing delightedly because she had just managed to break an unbreakable glass in the grate. Family legend then goes that soon after they met, she was whisked away to India (allegedly because my grandparents did not approve) and he thought he’d lost her forever. Almost a year passed—and Dad was at another party when she came up behind him and rapped him on the shoulder with her fan—he turned around and there was the girl of his dreams.
They were married at Bramdean, Hampshire, on April 26th 1953. They set up house in a flat in Pimlico, he continuing at Punch; Mary-Rose working in the display department of Heal’s furniture store. A couple of years later, I came along, followed by Polly the following year.
They then moved to a seedy area of West London called Holland Park** and set about converting a tall, thin terraced house into a single family home (in common with all the other houses in that street, it had been let as single rooms with coin-operated gas fires***). The pub over the road was a favourite haunt for local workers and Friday nights were frequently enlivened by fights in the street. Occasionally accompanied by a drunken fiddler.
They did as much of the conversion of the house as they could themselves. Dad made cupboards and shelves and created ingeniously designed tables and benches to fit small spaces. Many of our childhood memories include laying slabs, bricklaying, painting and decorating in every house we occupied.
Meanwhile at Punch, Dad was progressing through a number of editorial upheavals and jobs. At various points he was Art Editor (despite only being able to draw dragons and trains sideways), resident poet, Literary Editor and eventually Deputy Editor. It was clearly an extraordinary place to work (occasionally the editorial team played cricket in the corridors) and brought him into contact with some of the great humorists and cartoonists of the time.
At home, the family was growing, with the arrival of John and James. My parents bought a couple of small ramshackle cottages in Hampshire and set about converting them into a single dwelling. With a well, a chalk heap, a growing vegetable garden and wonderful views, this was a great weekend and holiday home—and also eventually became the setting for The Devils’ Children.
Some of the most abiding memories I have of my father from this time are the stories. He would read to us every night without fail and every car journey there would be a new episode of a story to listen to. As I think back, I realise how extraordinary this was but at the time, we just took it as normal. Sometimes they were re-tellings of great legends –with a twist, perhaps. More often they would be completely new. The boys always wanted a battle, so there were lots of those. It was a brilliant way to keep four lively kids quiet on long car journeys. He was our in-car entertainment.
Around this time Peter started tinkering with what he believed to be an original idea for a crime novel, working on the kitchen table after supper.
In 1965 Peter and Mary-Rose moved from their cottage to take over half her parents’ house at Bramdean, which must have been a huge stretch on a journalist’s wages. It was a wonderful place in summer—though freezing cold with a leaky roof in the winter. They developed a large vegetable garden and Dad started brewing beer (more successful than his efforts at wine making!).
By 1966-7ish Dad realised that the crime novel he was writing was completely stuck. That must have been a bad time. But it also brought him the cold-sweat nightmare which became the first scene of The Weathermonger. The following evening, he put the crime novel aside and poured his heart into writing his first children’s novel. Once that was done and on the way to his publisher, he returned to the crime novel, saw pretty much instantly what he needed to do with it and finished The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (published as Skin Deep in the UK allegedly because someone at the publisher declared that no woman would ever buy a book with an insect in the title).
In 1968 both The Weathermonger and The Glass-sided Ants’ Nest were published to great reviews. By that time he had completed two more novels and was starting on a fifth. With these successes under his belt, he had what my maternal grandfather described in his diary as ‘a sudden rush of blood to the head’, left his job at Punch to become a full-time author – and also bought the other half of the house at Bramdean.
* * *
* by Philippa^ Dickinson, who, when she retired a year ago, was Managing Director of Random House Children’s Books UK, and is now in training to become ruler of the universe because the universe so badly needs ruling. Peter and I used to listen with rapt fascination to Philippa’s tales of taking on various corporate miscreants^^—the kind of miscreants who are used to ploughing ordinary members of the public under, and probably still don’t know what hit them. The trains/transporters/teleportation booths will run on time in Philippa’s universe. Also, the reason Peter’s memorial service went as brilliantly as it did is largely down to Phil. It’s end of year holidays and everyone is closed for business? Well they’re just going to have to open up again. It’s beginning of year holidays and everyone is on a beach in Barbados? Well they’re just going to have to come back again. We all^^^ pitched in at our various levels of competence—that would be me blubbing along at the bottom—and the Dickinson Managerial Gene in its rich panoply of manifestations was much in evidence# but the honours go to Phil.##
^ I had a brain failure last night—they’re a bit endemic at present—and forgot that I hadn’t already posted Phil’s and was queueing up to post John’s. Fortunately he didn’t answer by return electron.
^^ As if running a large wodge of frelling Random House wasn’t enough. I’m talking about corporate miscreants outside publishing, where no one would know that this woman with the pleasant smile and mild manner is dangerous.
^^^ chiefly Peter’s four kids and I, with crucial input from various spouses, cousins, and Peter’s brothers
# None of Peter’s kids is a wallflower. They had an excellent role model. I remember, early on, once complaining, after a Dickinson family dinner party, that I hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise. Peter looked at me in surprise. Shout louder, he said.
## This includes a lot of kind and patient support of the blubbing widow.
** For anyone who doesn’t get this joke, Holland Park is like the place to live. Buckingham Palace? Don’t be silly. Notting Hill? So last century. Holland Park is the place to be. But sixty years ago it was urban blight. Peter and Mary-Rose were in the first wave of gentrifiers.
*** And, according to Peter, electricity that consisted of a single naked light bulb on the landing of each floor, and a loo at the bottom of the garden.
Niall and I went bell ringing tonight. Tower bells. One proper substantial bell at a time YAAAAAAY. Not handbells. Two horrible little random bells at a time NOT YAAAAAAAY.
WELL I GOT SOME KNITTING DONE.
One of the things about method ringing on handbells is that it is SO FRELLING INSANELY HERCULEAN AND FORMIDABLE AND DEMANDING** that when you can finally ring something it’s like the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you*** and furthermore since in the process you have completely altered the structure of your brain there’s quite a good chance it will stick.† Tower bell ringing is a ratbag of epic proportions, but in terms of learning the method line, handbells makes it look easy.
But there are important caveats about that easy. First caveat: you have to ring any given method often enough to gouge out a channel in your brain.†† Second caveat: you have to be able to HANDLE the bell you are ringing ACCURATELY. Which is the one thing—the ONE THING—that handbells has over tower bells in fatal adversarialness: handling technique is not much of an issue with handbells. You just shake the frellers. Tower bells are mostly bigger than you are—usually quite a lot bigger than you are—and tact and adroitness enter the picture. More or less.
And then there are mini rings. Where the bells are buckets or flower-pots or large thimbles that say GREETINGS FROM GRIMSBY and you’re essentially ringing something handbell-sized only with all the style and paraphernalia of tower bell ringing. I HATE MINI RINGS. THEY’RE THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS. Which is to say I suck at mini rings.†††
It was a mini ring tonight.‡
WHAT IDIOT INVENTED METHOD BELL RINGING ANYWAY. After this it’s knitting all the way. Starting NOW.‡‡
* * *
* We’re having a major storm out there with wind and rain and banshees. Radio 3 has just fallen off the air with a crash and a whine^ and I’m contemplating with disfavour the prospect of getting the hellmob back to the cottage. I tend to be a trifle top heavy because I’m carrying a knapsack full of misbehaving technology and the hellhounds are not only tall and long-legged but they don’t weigh anything because they don’t eat and will probably take off like kites the minute they’re out the door. Which will be hard on my shoulders. Even weightless hellhounds hitting the ends of their leads at speed tends to be painful.^^
^ And is now making intermittent gobbling noises
^^ There is a good deal of hellmob-derived pain around at the moment: the hellterror is in full bloody [sic] streaming heat, and a good month early. She wasn’t due even to start inspiring Darkness—who is the more clued in about these matters—to emerge from the backmost recesses of the hellhound bed, which is where he tends to remain when the hellterror is loose about the landscape, to investigate an evolving situation till about now, and never mind having already moved into the dripping [hellterror] and moaning [hellhounds] phase. ARRRRRRGH. I DO NOT WANT HER CYCLE GETTING SHORTER. I CAN STAND IT EVERY NINE MONTHS. NOT EIGHT MONTHS. NOT SEVEN MONTHS. NOT . . .
Meanwhile she’s not in a very good mood either. Not only won’t I let her play with the hellhounds, and while Darkness tends to disappear into the shadows, torturing Chaos is one of her favourite games+, but she is at present only allowed to hang out in rooms with vinyl floors. This means, for example, at the cottage she cannot come into the sitting room with me when I enter the Magical Dog Food Grotto to fetch a fresh tin or bag of something,++ nor can she accompany me upstairs to fetch the thing I know I brought downstairs a minute ago but can’t find. Although this last is a rather desirable state of affairs given hellterror ebullience and the state of my floors as storage space. Hellhounds negotiate, delicately, the many obstacles to straightforward passage from one room to the next. Hellterrors spring and ricochet with abandon. Those little bedspring legs certainly could clear the piles of books, magazines, All Stars, yarn, etc, but what’s the fun in that? The most interesting effect however was when she knocked twenty hardback copies of SHADOWS downstairs. Very, very interesting. Very.
Nobody died. That’s all you need to know.
+ Second only to hurling herself upon me in gladness and felicity when her paws are muddy and my jeans were clean a minute ago. #
# One of my many failures as a dog owner, as I believe I have told you before, is that it seems to me entirely reasonable that something only about twelve inches tall should want to jump up on you.~
~ Hey, she rolls over beautifully for little pieces of roast chicken. What do you want, perfection?=
= She is a funny wee thing in a lot of ways. As Southdowner told me what seems like forty centuries ago—and years before Lavvy got pregnant—you keep bull terriers because they make you laugh. Bull terriers are also hungry all the time and to a dog, possibly especially a short dog, who is hungry all the time, almost everything looks like food. Pav has learnt that I have an inexplicable dislike of her ingesting random bits of rubbish we meet out hurtling and we have reached a compromise about this which works reasonably well most of the time. Something that is positively not edible, like a plastic bottle—she and Chaos share a passion for crunching plastic bottles between their teeth for the noise, but even Pav doesn’t seem to want to eat them—she will, on command [sic], when we stop by a trash bin, ‘drop’.% If, however, her current prize is deemed edible, she will not drop.%% But if I have lodged my protest promptly she will graciously not swallow either, but I do have to get down on my knees and frelling hoick it out of her mouth while she stands, unresisting, with the little evil eye twinkling away at me and the thought-balloon over her head clearly reading heh heh heh heh. When the thus-removed substance is pizza or sandwich-end or similar, no big. Yuck, but no big. BUT SOMETIMES. EW. WHAT IS THAT? EW. EWWWWWWWW. I swear she prances with several inches more boing per bounce after one of these encounters.
% And her resultant glow of fatuous virtue may last even a second or two.
%% What do I think she is, stupid?
++The Magical Dog Food Grotto contains only sealed containers of bull terrier ultimate desire, but she can tell the stuff’s in there somewhere.
** If there are any method handbell ringers out there reading this and shaking their heads in puzzlement because it is not difficult, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. Indeed if you decide to join the forum so you can remonstrate with me—kindly of course and using words of one syllable as befits the case—I will not only instantly DELETE your comments with menaces and rude gestures but I will tell Blogmom to Ban You Forever^ plus a few years.
^ and your little dog too.
*** Chocolate? Nope. Champagne? Uh-uh. Perfect love? Nah. Hot fabulous lateral-orbitofrontal-cortex-exploding sex? . . . Um. Wait a minute. Let me think.^
^ If I say handbells I will lose all credibility forever. Such a dilemma.
† Sadly you will probably have to go through the brain-restructure thing with every additional method. I can now (mostly, sort of) ring both bob minor and bob major AND MY SKULL HAS RUN OUT OF ROOM FOR ANY FURTHER EXPANSION.^ Planning permission for the new conservatory off the existing building will be denied.
^ Cambridge.+ Whimper. Yorkshire++ Mega whimper.
+ Yes. This is the name of a method.
++ Yes. This is too. Cambridge (minor, on six bells) and Yorkshire (which cannot be rung on fewer than eight bells) represent the PINNACLE of my handbell yearning, and I have about as much chance of attaining either of them as the hellhounds have of achieving weight-bearing lift-off on the walk home tonight and flying me there.#
# Long-time readers of this blog may feel they recall that some years ago I was grappling with Cambridge on handbells with some modest degree of success. Yes. Very modest. I could get through about half a plain course on the front pair of bells. This is like someone who wants to ride in the Grand National being able to sit in the saddle if the horse isn’t doing anything.
†† Tower bell ringing: 1,000,000,000,000 times, approximately. This is a lot of hours out of your life. Handbell ringing: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times, approximately. Which is even more hours out of your life. And that’s still only per pair of bells. You can move around a lot easier from single bell to single bell in the tower^ than you can from pair of bells to pair of bells in handbells. IT’S LIKE LEARNING A WHOLE FLAMING NEW METHOD, EVERY RATBLASTED PAIR OF HANDBELLS.^^ ARRRRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Barring little circumstantial details like the bell whose rope regularly jumps off its wheel, or the bell that has an interesting relationship with the corner of the church its rope hangs over so that on every backstroke the pew or the misericord or the flying buttress or whatever the doodah that is immediately behind you reaches out and whacks you one. Keep your mind on your bobs under those conditions.
^^ All these diverse sub-methods do eventually meet up into one grand over-arching meta-method but that’s a lot of zeroes down that very long queue.
††† Niall can ring anything, including mini rings. I have considered hating Niall, but . . . no. He makes very good brownies, even if I do have to ring handbells to get any. Also, I couldn’t hate him tonight, we went in his car.
‡ It wasn’t supposed to be a mini ring, of course, or I’d’ve stayed home. I’VE BEEN BAITED AND SWITCHED. I NEED CHOCOLATE.
‡‡ Maybe I’ll even finish this frelling two-years-and-counting scarf by this winter
There is a law of the universe that says that any house you move out of always has at least one final carload of stuff left in it. However many times you’ve been back for The Last Load–and whether or not there’s a new owner tapping his/her foot and holding his/her hand out for the key, which, fortunately, in this case, there is not. But this is sort of the large economy size of the Sock Planet theorem, about where all those odd socks that ought to be in the bottom of the washing machine but aren’t, go.* You’d need a galaxy at least for all those The House Is Empty It’s Empty I Tell You nooooooo there is nothing in those cupboards** carloads. And there wasn’t anything in those cupboards when you frelling doodah frelling CLEARED THEM OUT THE LAST TIME.***
However. I finally went round to the estate agent to discuss getting the mews on the market and I have his recommendation of a Ruby-equivalent† coming in to do the hardcore houseclean before I let him in.
Real world progress. Hey golly wow. I thought the house move might have been my real-world-engagement allocation for this century.
* * *
* Every time a sock DISAPPEARS^ I go into Sock Fetish^^ Overdrive.^^^ This happened recently^^^^ at the same time that a line of really nice socks went on SALE on a web site I am unfortunately on the email list of. I don’t have to tell you I bought 1,000,000 of each colour, do I? What do I do when they arrive? Under the bed is already full of boxes full of yarn.~
^ I try to remember to check the back of Pav’s crate first. But trophy socks in the back of Pav’s crate are not always socks any more, although she rearranges the stitch patterns less than she used to. She nestles more now. This would be more awwwwww if it weren’t for the little evil eye twinkling at you.
^^ It’s not all that surprising I have a sock fetish. If I didn’t, my All Star fetish might get lonely.
^^^ I also have this silly habit of not throwing out the perfectly good twin of the sock that has disimproved into bad macramé. After all, it’s a perfectly good sock. So it goes into a tote bag+ with all the other single socks and occasionally I find two that amuse me as a pair . . . but then when they go in the laundry THERE ARE TWO ODD SOCKS. Now, I am not completely lost to logical thought and when there are two of them—especially when I put them together and they are AMUSING—I can probably figure out that it’s not a Sock Planet raid++ this time.
BUT SOMETIMES THE SOCKS IN THE TOTE BAG ESCAPE. AND THEN THERE ARE SINGLE ODD SOCKS EVERYWHERE. AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. Of such things are nervous breakdowns made.+++
+ Which says something like ‘she is too fond of books and it has addled her brain’ or ‘keep calm and eat chocolate’.
++ Although I’d better check the back of Pav’s crate again. And possibly the hellhounds’. Chaos is occasionally forced by inner disquietude to steal socks, although he usually steals the clean ones that I’m trying to put on to take hellhounds for a hurtle. I have tried to explain to him that this is counterproductive but he just does the Dog Cute Head-Cocking Thing to prove that he is listening to me very intently and then steals my socks again the next time he’s feeling interiorly disquieted. Darkness, who has different neuroses, looks in another direction wearing a long-suffering expression. I have, however, explained to Chaos with great care that if he steals another Steeleye Span t shirt# he will die.
# Not that I don’t have, you know, several. The collection hasn’t reached the epic All Star proportions yet, but it’s moving in that direction. Fiona and I went to a Steeleye Span concert recently and Steeleye’s regular merchandise man recognised me. Um . . .
+++ Some of us are more fragile than others.
^^^^ I think. See ^^^.
~ AND FURTHERMORE my tied-for-first-favourite on-line yarn shop is having another flaming dingdong sale. I mean, they do this a lot, which is why they are tied-for-first-favourite and evil drooling demons from the deepest regions of the really nasty end of hell+, but a fair number of these I can pass over, the eyelash and fake fur sale, yuck, the baby and kid stuff, life is too short, you get a bib when you’re born and then you’re on your own, the person-made fibres since I’m mostly a natural-fibre snob unless the colours are really insane or the glitter is really fabulous, anything to do with Kaffe Fassett whose patterns are the knitting and needlework version of eighty-seven bell change-ringing patterns that just looking at the line in the method book makes my head explode, and so on. There are really quite a few yarn come ons that don’t make me sit up and whine. Aaaaand then there are the ones that do . . . make me sit up and whine. Well, I ESCAPED a really hazardous offer just last week, for one of the heavier-weight wools so you’d be using bigger, fatter needles, which is good for slow clumsy knitters like me, and I did it by simply letting the time run out. Of course I had to chain my credit card to a stake in the back garden and take the hellmob for a run for the last three hours but it worked. And then, the fiends in marketing pulled together a Halloween sale this week of a heterogeneous selection of yarns, needles, books and patterns . . . INCLUDING ALL THREE OF THE YARNS THAT HAD BEEN IN MY BASKET LAST WEEK AND THEY HAD SAVED MY BASKET.
The internet is way more dangerous than an alligator-infested swamp. God, give me simple temptations like another puppy++ or a new car+++ or a new computer++++ and simple perils like a herd of stampeding wildebeest or one of the middle treads of the stairs to the first floor of either the cottage or Third House dissolving into a wormhole gateway to another universe# or an alligator and boa-constrictor-infested swamp. Deliver me from the internet.##
+ Not the, you know, frelling end where the hellmob and I hang out.
++++ Well . . . yes. Which is a rant for another evening.
# It needs to be a middle tread so after you’ve found the first step and you think you can go to sleep while your feet grind up to the top step where you’ll have to pay attention again. If you don’t fall into an alternate universe.
## You know ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus would not have an iPhone. Or a Twitter account.~ Or a bedroom stuffed with tote bags full of yarn and so many more books than bookshelves he can only leap onto the bed from a narrow rift that was once a doorway before it kind of silted up.
~ He might have a blog, I suppose. You know, to tell parables in and so on.=
= And if you’re wondering why my mind seems to be running on the interesting challenges of modern-day Christianity HAVE I MENTIONED THAT MY STREET PASTOR TEAM GOT THE SHORT STRAW FOR THE FIFTH FRIDAY THIS MONTH AND WE’RE OUT TOMORROW NIGHT FOR HALLOWEEN. Eeep.
** Not to mention all the stuff you don’t see any more because it’s been where it is so long. Oh, that table? . . . TABLE?
*** What? I haven’t seen that^ in at least fifteen years. And three house moves. Speaking of alternate universes.
^ Vase, casserole dish, pair of socks, fossilised panettone+, large swirly marble preserved from childhood, antique doorknob, book that you have since replaced three times, significant-occasion-souvenir empty champagne bottle.++
+ Note date on bottom of package
++ Yes. I collect these too. You aren’t surprised, are you?
† Although I don’t think there is a giant lethal marauding creature problem at the mews. But Charlie’s doesn’t have dog hair embedded in all the corners and serving as a felt-equivalent under the kitchen lino.