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.
We have enough frelling cling film to plastic wrap England if not the entire United Kingdom. Or possibly the planet. WHY? We hardly ever use cling film, it’s against my frelling ethical eco doodah principles. It must be gremlins. Cleaning out drawers is not my idea of fun at the best of times and at the tail end of a frelling house move it feels like the discovery of a brand-new hitherto unsuspected circle of hell*—and cleaning out cupboards and closets and sheds and garages and attics and crawl spaces and overhead shelves you can’t see into YAAAAAAAAH—for all eternity noooooooo I’m sure I wasn’t that wicked and evil**. Ahem. Anyway in the short term there’s still kind of a lot of this vile business LEFT to do*** AND THE GREMLINS HAVE BEEN SHOVING ROLLS OF CLING FILM IN EVERY AVAILABLE INTERSTICE. And a few that aren’t available. Peter also has a surprising number of pairs of shoes.† And you know that stuff-you-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-so-you-shove-it-in-the-back-of-a-cupboard? Possibly in a box with some of its friends?†† Well, now think about going through all those boxes in all those cupboards for someone else.†††
Yay- piano fits!!!
I’m still having palpitations every time I walk through the sitting room.‡ I measured the garden gate about six times, had Atlas clear off the [clematis] montana jungle [clematis montana are prone to junglifying] and take the latch off the gate so there were no protrusions or attack foliage, even though there was plenty of room. Never so much as thought of the front door.
and who wouldn’t have a Steinway if that’s the choice?? My university campus has just gone all Steinway.
Steinways at a college? Golly. You don’t mean a music school or something? Juilliard has Steinways. My liberal arts college had Yamahas. Major meh. I’m really tired of people telling me what good pianos Yamahas are. I wouldn’t give one house room. And as I’m fond of saying my Steinway cost only a little more than a totally mediocre new piano. Like maybe a boring plywood Yamaha.
Yay! Huzzah for wonderful regular movers, and huzzah again for fabulous piano movers! Being able to play music somewhere makes it ever so much more like home.
I love our regular movers but I hope I never see them again except on the street to say hi to. And when their frelling bill came I had to sit down and take some deep breaths. But did I tell you that the grandfather clock case came apart in their hands? They were worriedly showing me where the wood had cracked and the glue shrivelled up but one of the things about local movers that you know is that you also know they’re careful. I knew the clock had been held together with a large leather strap since we left the big house but the coming to pieces was a little dramatic. And then . . . turns out one of the movers likes to repair old furniture in his spare time. I asked the head guy—who’s the one we’ve known for about twelve years—and he said, yeah, it’s true, and he does beautiful work. So I said thank you very much, take it away, and give us a shout some time when you think you might get around to it. He spent that weekend gluing it back together. It looks fabulous. It looks better than it has in years. No, decades.
And as for being able to play music makes somewhere home . . . there speaks the frelling violinist. My piano tuner is coming next Tuesday. I can’t wait, although in truth I’ve had no time to think about music . . . although if my poor darling didn’t sound like a shoebox mandolin with a few screws and a fuse of unknown provenance rattling around inside I’d probably at least have had the ritual performance of There Is A Tavern in the Town by now.
Diane in MN
I hope the bulk of the tedious hauling and even more tedious unpacking is done and you can all start to relax a bit.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You know you crank yourself up for the actual move, and while you know there will be a long, tiring and frustrating aftermath—which will get longer, more tiring and more frustrating as the adrenaline rush from the adventure, however undesirable, of the startling physical relocation wears off—but you tend to forget the way EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. Doorhandles fall off. You may be able to prevent the local dogs from crapping in your driveway by keeping the gate shut, but the cats could care less.‡‡ You can’t find a wastebasket for your half loo. THERE AREN’T ENOUGH SHELVES.‡‡‡ And British Telecom is possessed by demons.
Raphael did provide us with a booster for the feeble router which did what it was supposed to . . . BUT DEMONS ARE VERY RESOURCEFUL.
And, speaking of endlessly creative and resourceful demons, I have to go to bed. I have to ring BT at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. Unbearable joy.
* * *
* Dante was a bloke. Very unlikely he knew anything about cleaning out kitchen drawers.^
^ Or about cling film. Not much cling film in the late thirteenth century.
** Er . . .
† Says the woman who owns 1,000,000,000 pairs of All Stars and a few flowered Docs^. But Peter isn’t like me.
^ And a pair of plain but blinding pink.
†† Although Peter tends to little jars and plastic containers accommodating three unidentifiable screws, a totally recognisable piece of tool except for having no idea what the tool is or whether the piece of it is CRUCIAL or broken-off and dead, and a fuse or a few batteries of unknown provenance. Arrrgh. I’m the box girl. Also I worry about, you know, running out of things.^ Or that I won’t be able to get that kind I like any more, so I’d better buy several while they’re available.^^ This leads to . . . interesting, sometimes rather bulky, agglomerations. Except for Peter’s UNSPEAKABLY VAST FRELLING TOOL COLLECTION, which is the size of Roumania, my hoards take up more room.
^ Remember that my impressive All Star collection began during that decade when All Stars were only something that old people nostalgic about their distant youth wore. I bought All Stars in my size on sight. The habit lingers. And has, um, spread. The big house was probably bad for my character.
^^ Like the three Redoute rose teabag tidies, right? I WISH I’D BOUGHT MORE.
††† Peter: Where is x?
Me: I don’t know. I probably threw it out.
Peter: Okay, where is y?
Me: I’m pretty sure I threw it out.
Peter: Well, where is z?
Me: I THREW IT OUT.
‡ Although palpitations in the sitting room—where the one lone phone connection is, as well as the piano—could have a variety of causes. Remember I’d decided to stop hating BT because they were laying the new line for free if I agreed to buy broadband from them for two years? I’VE CHANGED MY MIND. We have a saga of epic BT squalor and consummate incompetence spoiling the carpets right now. I think I’ll let it lurch and drool through another confrontation or two before I tell you about it. Besides, at the moment, my blood pressure couldn’t stand it.
‡‡ I slipped the hellhounds at a cat standing in the middle of my driveway saying ‘make me’. Cats never expect the speed of a sighthound and it was so busy running it missed its leap to the top of the fence and cartwheeled over. Backwards. I hope it is now considering the possibility of seeking pastures, and latrines, new.
‡‡‡ And there is no hanging space because this is a British house.^
^ Don’t know enough about Wales or Northern Ireland, but my limited experience of old Scottish houses is of another entirely hanging-closet-free society.
The last three days I’ve said TONIGHT I AM GOING TO BLOG. And then by evening all my atoms have rolled over to the other side of the room again. This house move business is not just a bear, it’s a large herd of hairy mammoths on the rampage. Arrrgh. And then of course, ducking tusks and coughing in the churned up dust and deafened by all the trumpeting, I get distracted by details like I NEED A WASTEBASKET FOR MY UPSTAIRS LOO. Third House is significantly smaller than the mews so even having unloaded an entire lorry convoy of STUFF* we’re still kind of wedged in, and while technically the attic is my domain, in practise it’s full of STUUUUUUUUUFFFF** so I’ve got a little obsessive about . . . my half-loo, that is an entire toilet but nothing else but a sink, which is MINE, since no sane person is going to climb those stairs and risk permanent head injury from all the low ceiling angles*** when there’s a perfectly good whole bath which, furthermore, you can stand up in ALL of, downstairs.
But there is a problem. Long-time blog readers may remember that I had Fun with Tiles when I put in the attic—which involved ripping the doodah out of a lot of the one full bathroom due to structural irregularities, so while I was at it I replaced the bath and put in some fancy tiles. The fancy tiles I chose for the brand-new upstairs loo, while I adore them, happen to be cream, grey, gold and red. The wastebasket from the half loo at the mews is pink. Hot pink. This clearly will not do. At the moment there’s a blue and lavender wastebasket because one MUST have somewhere to throw used tissues and dental floss† but it gives me the fantods every time I go in there. Of such things are obsessions made, at least if you’re at the extreme end of the standard human vision bias with lashings of OCD.
You’d think, in three, even small, houses full of rooms with wastebaskets, there would be one, somewhere, that I could swap out. You’d be wrong.†† They’re all pink (!), rust or green. And one blue and lavender. Arrrgh. You can find anything on line, right? Again wrong. You can’t find a non-boring, preferably floral-ish††† red based wastebasket . . . at least not if you don’t want to pay hundreds of pounds. Did you know you could pay hundreds of pounds on a wastebasket? Are you going to throw used tissues and dental floss‡ in something you paid HUNDREDS OF POUNDS FOR? Not me. But then I’m not going to spend the hundreds of pounds on a functionless wastebasket-shaped objet d’art either. Where was a frelling Redoute-print plastic bin when I wanted one?‡‡
I was in DESPAIR. I was wondering if I was going to be forced to buy one of those little basketry bins, which are fine, I guess, but not if what you want is red and decorative and worthy of those tiles. ‡‡‡
And then as a final throw I googled William Morris. Sigh. I have an awful lot of cheap knock-off William Morris because for those of us florally-fixated that’s often all there frelling is.§ AND LO. One of the chief miscreants . . . I mean purveyors of housewares targeted at the people who want the have-nothing-in-your-house-you-do-not-know-to-be-useful-or-believe-to-be-beautiful§§ look without having to work at it or stray out of their comfort zone . . . have brought out a new line: Morris’ strawberry thief . . . IN RED.§§§ INCLUDING WASTEBASKETS.
It’s on its way. Maybe now I’ll get some sleep.#
* * *
* Including more books than I can bear to estimate. Estate-wagon-full after estate-wagon-full after estate-wagon-full I can tell you because most of them got hauled away during those weeks the ME was stopping me driving, and whose silent uncomplaining removal is yet another star in the heavenly crowns of Nina and Ignatius, who are the ones with the estate wagon.
My poor cottage is nonetheless pretty well impassable with stuff . . . including dangerously towering piles of books.^ Sigh. The kitchen, being the hellpack’s domain, only has books on shelves. It’s the only room in the house that does.^^ One of these days there’s going to be an almighty roar as all the piles on the stairs domino themselves to the foot . . . and/or one morning [sic] I’m not going to be able to get out of bed when all the piles in the bedroom and the upstairs hall—and the bathroom and the ladder-stair to the attic—get caught in a crosswind, which till the weather turns cold and I start closing windows is unpleasantly likely.
^ Despite all the estate-wagon-fulls. Nina did tell me that two of the (I think) four Oxfam book shops they were frequenting began to blanch when they saw them coming.
^^ Yes. Including the bathroom. And they can’t stay for long since between laundry drying on the overhead airer and a HOT bath in which to fall asleep+ every night it’s pretty steamy in there kind of a lot of the time.
+ Which means I’m getting at least a little sleep.
** And some time before the end of September I have to have it forced back into corners, against walls, in the under-eaves crawl spaces, under the gigantic but conveniently long thin table from the old house’s kitchen^ and my old small-double bed from Maine . . .so I can bring the frelling backlist home^^ after which influx I will probably only be able to get to the top of the attic stairs and stop, and the wastebasket in the then-unapproachable loo will become irrelevant.
^ Which is worth about £2.57 in real-world terms BUT I AM NOT GIVING IT UP.+
+ Hey. It’s useful in the circs. Which are of a long low wall. And if you’re sleeping in the bed, shoved up against one narrow attic end, try not to sit up suddenly.
^^ We cleared out the big storage unit on Moving Day. But I kept the little unit with the BOXES OF BOOKS in it to give us breathing and manoeuvring space.
*** The one dormer window, while I’m glad to have it, also confuses the issue. If you’re in a simple triangular attic where the ceiling is a long narrow steeply pitched tunnel you know where you are. I had to go and get fancy with a nice dormer window. And a half loo. Which means you never know when the ceiling is going to leap out and whack you.
† And possibly bloody bandages. I don’t deal with STRESSSSSSS all that well and at the moment one of the manifestations is that I keep nicking myself when I’m cutting up chicken for the hellhounds possibly due to the prospect, hanging gibbering fantasmagorically in front of me, of their not eating it anyway. I took a tiny—TINY—slip of skin off the top of my thumb a few nights ago and it bled and bled and bled and BLED AND BLED AND BLED and I thought the cops would probably arrest me because I had clearly murdered someone even if they couldn’t find the body. I finally ended up with this giant egg-sized lump of every clean, absorbent, discardable bandage-like substance in the house first-aid-taped on the end of my thumb—what Penelope calls a Tom and Jerry bandage, and yes, I looked like a cartoon character who’d just hit her thumb with a hammer. Fortunately it was my left thumb so I could still type.
†† Or you may be normal and not overly preoccupied with the colour-coding of wastebaskets.
††† Yes, all right, I have roses on the brain, but the tiles are stylised flower-ish.
‡ And hundreds of bloody bandages after you murder that really annoying neighbour.
‡‡ These would be perfect, for example, on the side of a nice small sturdy bathroom-sized bin.
The Royal Horticultural Society has occasional spasms into home decoration. You can usually get tea towels but everything else is subject to the whim of . . . I don’t know who, but whoever they are, they need counselling. They were offering (pink) Redoute print ‘teabag tidies’ as they’re generally called a few years ago—which I use to put my large strainer of loose tea in after it’s steeped my morning cuppa to an opaque black—these lasted a season and then ran away and have never been seen again.^ On the very off chance the RHS was currently having a bin spasm I typed ‘wastebasket’ in the search box on the gift shop site. I promptly received the information that there were no results for ‘wastebasket’ but maybe I’d be interested in ‘russetbarked’? Snork.^^
^ Fortunately I bought three.
^^ in ‘Broadleaved Evergreens for Temperate Climates’. Not today, thanks.
§ Don’t speak to me of Cath Kidston. My everyday knapsack is one of hers—with roses all over it—and I have the denim-blue pullover from a year or two ago with the roses on the front that sold out first go in about TWO SECONDS^ and I got one on reorder fast.
^ Because there are a lot of us pathetic retro types around, which is why Cath Kidston is now worth £1,000,000,000,000 and as multi-gazillion dollar/pound success stories go I like this one better than most, especially the part about how she was repeatedly laughed out of town when she was first trying to sell this girlie vintage-style stuff.
But she doesn’t have wastebaskets. Of course I checked.
§§ I’ve always liked that believe. You’re still out there in the cold making up your own minds, guys.
§§§ Totally inauthentic, as well as a total retread, although not recently that I’ve seen. Never mind.
# Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Oh well.