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.
It’s bad enough that I have a brain that . . . well, if you put my brain at one end of the Spectrum of Deadly Danger and a berserker regiment in a nasty temper all bearing freshly-sharpened weapons of individual destruction at the other end, and then tried to decide where a peanut butter sandwich on Wonder bread should be placed . . . it would go nearer the berserker regiment end than the my-brain end, all right? Which this paragraph goes some considerable way toward proving.
So if I forget something important it’s ALWAYS likely that it’s my own stupid disintegrating fault because I am a frelling nincompoop and I drop things constantly* and my brain is made of guacamole.** Which is to say I DO NOT NEED ANY HELP FROM MY TECHNOLOGY ABOUT SCREWING STUFF UP.
Which of course has no impact on present circumstances whatsoever. Pooka keeps insisting that she hasn’t been backed up to The Cloud in years***, so much so that pretty much everything I do on her—text, for example—suffers from extreme pop-up-box-itis, something like this: Hi, are you—BACK ME UP! BACK ME UP! BACK ME UP!—free for the dinosaur safari—BACK ME UP! BACK ME UP! BACK ME UP NOW!—next week? If we—BACK MEEEEEEE UUUUUUUUUP—book now we get a free slushie and a Tyrannosaurus Rex—AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION? I NEED TO BE BACKED UP BEFORE THE HELLTERROR EATS YOUR LAPTOP†—hatband—YOU’LL BE SORRRRREEEEEE ABOUT ALL THOSE UPDATED FILE EMAILS YOU FORGOT TO SEND YOURSELF†† IF YOU DON’T BACK ME UP.†††
Interspersed in these merry japes also are sporadic demands for my Apple ID password. I’m really tired of Apple’s The World Is At Risk By Our Greatness attitude which means they won’t let you reuse a password because WE ALL MIGHT GET HACKED BY PURPLE TENTACLES FROM BETELGEUSE but I would put up with this better if they didn’t periodically decide they don’t like my password and demand I come up with a new one. I used to think this was just my idiot fingers typing ‘Agamemnon’ when I meant ‘Clytemnestra’ but no. Apple clearly produces ALGORITHMS demanding new passwords at intervals that sure come across as random to people like me.
A new low in my tech relationships was reached this past week. One of the things the Sams don’t go out of their way to warn you about when you sign up is that they will be requiring certain admin duties out of you as well as all those hours on telephones. I had an Admin Duty spell this last week which necessitated the sending of emails to massed ranks of Sams. I had laboured particularly over one such email, bent over the Aga and a cup of very strong tea with the iPad on my knee, hit ‘send’ and . . . NOTHING HAPPENED. AAAAAAAAUGH. The iPad gets lonely if it doesn’t get to keep a few emails all to itself. And it likes to collect unsent emails. You the helpless suffering human get the ‘server failure’ notice, the email disappears, the little box at the bottom of your email screen adds one to the ‘unsent’ total . . . but you can’t rescue the email and, I don’t know, resend or anything, because it doesn’t get stashed anywhere sensible like your outbox. IT’S PROBABLY LURKING IN THE CLOUD.
And did I tell you that the last time I actually managed to hang a blog post, this from the ultralapbooktop, Microsoft in its infinite unwise bad attitude informed me that it wanted to do an update, and it wanted to do it now, but I could postpone if I wanted . . . so I postponed AND IT SHUT ME DOWN ANYWAY WITHOUT WARNING ABOUT TEN MINUTES LATER. I HAD TIME TO EAT A LOT OF WALLPAPER BEFORE IT TURNED ITSELF BACK ON AGAIN, AND WHEN I CLIMBED BACK INTO THE ADMIN SIDE OF THE BLOG, SNAPPING AND SNARLING, I DISCOVERED THAT ABOUT A TENTH OF THE TEXT HAD LEFT FOR PARTS UNKNOWN TAKING WITH IT MOST OF THE PUNCTUATION AND ALL THE FORMATTING.
I may not have told you. I was too busy trying to prevent my head from exploding.
Maybe I should just go bell ringing more often. . . .
* * *
* Ask the hellterror. Fortunately she thinks it’s a game. —Oooh!, she says, leaping up on her little bedspring legs and punching me enthusiastically in the gut with her forepaws.^ Do that AGAIN!
^ I know. I am a Bad Owner. I permit this. But I think having her pogosticking about the place is amusing. She does know ‘off’ but she hears it relatively rarely and it doesn’t slow her down much. When I try to enforce it she looks at me with an expression of ‘I have to long sit before my last PALTRY snack of the evening+ and now THIS?’ Bullies’ faces aren’t built for looking long-suffering but she has a really good try.
+ She does too. Three to five minutes depending on how patient I’m feeling#. She’s got her harness and lead off and the gate is open and NOTHING BUT SELF RESTRAINT is preventing her from bolting into her crate and snarfing like crazy. ::haphazard owner beams with pride::
There really is a lot to be said for food oriented hellcritters. They are so . . . trainable. Said training may be a long, bloody, and hoarse-making process but it’s POSSIBLE. I get bombarded with a variety of Dog Media because I contribute tiny sums to a number of critter charities and they’re always frenziedly updating you as a flimsy disguise for begging for more money, and they frequently offer you clever suggestions for Training Interactions with Your Resident Hellcritter(s). And they’re ALL frelling based on FOOD REWARDS. I was particularly offended by one that fell through the mail slot just a day or two ago, since the illustrations included a whippet clearly getting into the whole food-treat thing. It was a bull terrier with leg extensions and a mask.
# And/or how many knots I’ve got in the laces of my All Stars. There is a rant to be ranted about the varying LENGTHS of the laces that over the years come with your pretty much standard-shaped All Stars. Some seasons they’re so frelling long I could tie the hellmob to them and dispense with leads. Some seasons they’re so dranglefabbing short you have to omit the last two or three pairs of holes to get them tied at all.
** I perceive a theme.^ I didn’t realise I was hungry. MORE CHOCOLATE. More chocolate is the answer. More chocolate usually is the answer. As the kitchen magnet says, Chocolate is the answer. What was the question?
^ Also: guacamole is far less dangerous than peanut butter. You might want to make a note.
*** Do I want to be backed up to The Cloud? The thing about little pieces of paper is that you’re pretty sure they’re here somewhere. Explanations about what The Cloud is or how it works or where anything in it actually is involves the dreaded word ‘algorithms’. I am allergic to the ‘a’ word. Just frelling typing it makes my fingertips hurt.^
^ Although that may also have something to do with recent close encounters of an unfortunate kind with hellmob-comestible-chopping implements.
† Ultrabook. It’s not ultra and it’s not a book. Grrrrrr.
†† Although anything I’ve actually done on Pooka’s Lilliputian keyboard will be illegible anyway^ so the backing up of gibberish is perhaps more of a matter of principle than practicality.
^ Note that being in a texting relationship with me is not all joy. Not only can’t I type what I mean to be typing, but I have a sometimes unique McKinley take on acceptable abbreviations.
††† Speaking of the hellterror, texting on Pooka lately is a lot like trying to do anything with a hellterror in my lap.^ HI. I’M HERE. I’M IN YOUR LAP. Yes. I had noticed. LET’S PLAY A GAME. No, let’s not. You’re supposed to lie there quietly. That’s the deal about laps. Lying quietly. SURE. I’LL LIE QUIETLY. LET’S PLAY A LYING QUIETLY GAME. YOU DON’T MIND IF I PUT MY FOREPAWS ON YOUR SHOULDERS AND LICK YOUR GLASSES, DO YOU? I’LL DO IT QUIETLY.
^ And anyone who thinks there is perhaps a hellterror bias going on? Well, yes. This month it will be a year since the hellhounds went on this drug that more or less holds back the chronic geysering but also stops them eating pretty much altogether. I don’t know if it destroys their appetite or makes them queasy but the truth is I don’t care. I’ve been forcefeeding them, oh, 85-100% of the time for a year and you could say our relationship has suffered. You could say that. Yes, you could say that with some energy.
I’ve fallen into the habit of spending some of Monday evening with Penelope and yarn.** I usually try and feed the frelling-frelling argling-bargling hellhounds—and the perfect, adorable, food friendly hellterror—before I leave. One of the things that sometimes works with the [muttermuttermutter] hellhounds is that if you get them STARTED and they think, oh, right, food, it’s not sooo bad . . . they will keep eating. So I’m always on the lookout for dog-treat type things that might tempt them and are free of all the things they can’t have SIIIIGH. There’s a relatively recent line of tinned dog food that costs more than fresh frelling caviar*** that they will sometimes open one eye and look at thoughtfully. And there’s a new flavour of it that I gave them a big chunk of the other day which they ate with what passes in their case for alacrity and enthusiasm.† So today I chopped more of it up in smallish globs and shoved it into their proper food . . . put the bowls down and turned my back on them since they don’t like being watched . . . but there were terrific gobbling noises proceeding from the hellhound corner and I was weak and permitted myself to be hopeful. . . . Nah. Chaos had merely done his Prehensile Tongue thing which I’ve noticed before makes a remarkable amount of noise, and precision-instrument extracted every small globule of Consecrated Canine Comestible Flavour of the Month, leaving an interestingly pock-marked bowl like an artist’s rendition of the surface of the moon in . . . dog food. Darkness had decided that this operation was too much like work, and having opened the one eye and looked thoughtfully at his bowl, closed the eye again without moving.
But the day has been not without its small sheepish victories. I’ve previously referred to the fact that my singing lessons have not been going splendidly since we started up again after summer break . . . there have been goodish lessons and there have been I’M RUNNING AWAY AND JOINING THE CIRCUS lessons of traumatising disaster, but while I haven’t quite got to the point of thinking I should start investigating another outlet for my frustrated musical non-talent†† I have occasionally wondered if I should be thinking about it. Meanwhile I keep missing church because I’m too blasted tired to get in Wolfgang again and drive—yo, God, why did you plop someone with ME down a forty-minute commute from the church she’s happy in? I’m sure I’m supposed to be learning something from this tedious piece of reality but, um, I’m too tired—which means I’ve also been missing service singing. I was signed up to sing this Sunday—yesterday—and I’ve been in unusually-bad-even-for-recently voice the last fortnight BUT I WANTED TO SING and . . . I think I’ve said this before, the awful Jesus Is My Boyfriend stuff does give me a certain amount of freedom from worrying about Mozart or Handel getting special permission to come back and haunt me, and I can just sing, and offer it as part of my service to the church. I like to think that God hears it the way it’s supposed to sound, like Handel or Mozart sung by Marilyn Horne or Renee Fleming.
I started out last night sounding like a bowl of rice krispies. If you’re into breakfast cereal that crackling noise is fine in the morning as Morse code for EAT ME but not so much later on in the day with a microphone in your hand. But something happened: God, or team spirit††† or alien mind probe or whatever but . . . I started singing. Indeed I was making so much noise I decided to dispense with the microphone.‡
And I went in to Nadia today and sang How Beautiful Are the Feet, which is the horse that threw me violently something like two months ago and that I have been afraid to go near.‡‡ And I didn’t sound like Marilyn Horne or Renee Fleming‡‡‡ but it was recognisable.§ So I’m putting off running away and joining the circus for at least another week.
* * *
* NOOOOOOOO IT’S DECEMBER NOOOOOOOOOOOO
** Penelope used to knit . . . and stopped for some unfathomable reason. I’ve been spending even more than my usual amount of time lately hanging from the chandelier^ and screaming ^^ and have therefore had even greater than usual need to knit as a coping mechanism^^^ and Penelope has got re-interested by relentless exposure.# We even went to one of my favourite yarn shops the other week so she could squodge what she was buying. But the best part was that WE TOOK NIALL WITH US. SO HE COULD DO THE DRIVING. Hee hee hee hee hee hee. Hey, he’s retired. He doesn’t have anything better to do, does he?## I don’t think he’s going to learn to knit however. He looked kind of stunned in the yarn shop. Of course I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was on my knees digging through the sale bins.
^ Although I no longer need a chandelier. Excess of . . . um, excess . . . has caused me to grow little super-glue pads on the ends of my fingers and toes so I can stick to the ceiling like a very large gecko. THIS MAKES TYPING AND WALKING ON THE FLOOR VERY INTERESTING. It’s also hard on the finger joints. Which I need limber and flexible for knitting.
^^ Those of you who know me off line will be aware that I have reason, and that most of the reason(s) don’t get on the blog.+ I am hoping this is merely a phase and what I used to think of as a life will return. Meanwhile . . . thank God for knitting. Even if at this rate—as I was telling some friend or other recently—I may never get past garter-stitch scarves and ditto pullover jumpers, the square kind where the body is two big rectangles and the sleeves are two littler skinnier rectangles and you leave a gap in the sewing-up for your head to poke through. HEY. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE YARN. I’ve been saying this for, um, is it getting to be three years now? It’s all about the yarn. Cables? Pfffft. Lace? Are you frelling joking? On a good day with a following wind I can manage simple increases and decreases. SIMPLE ONES. ON A GOOD DAY. But I buy nice yarn.
+ It is now MONDAY night and my new computer gear HAS STILL NOT ARRIVED.
# She is remarkably calm in the face of a ranting madwoman waving pointy sticks in her face. She raised four children. Nothing flaps her.
## Remodelling the kitchen. It will look really flash when he finishes. That’s when.
*** But I’m pretty sure Darkness wouldn’t like caviar. He’s not a big fish person.
† If the hellterror ever approached a meal like that however I’d think she was seriously ill.
†† Triangle? Washboard? Plastic kiddie piano, the kind with the keys that don’t work?
††† I know about having one’s little ways and so on^ but sometimes my own blinding ridiculousness amazes me. Last night the one other singer asked me where I wanted to stand. In the back, I said. She looked at me pityingly. There is no back, she said. There are only four of us.^^ I know, I said, but we can stand farther back on the stage.
And this does it for me. I have no idea why. We’re still face to face with the frelling congregation—there is nothing between us and them—but we stand about a foot farther back than—last night—the keyboardist and the guitarist. I can look at the back of someone’s head if I want to.^^^
^^ Guitar, keyboard, us. Plus a bass player and a drummer who somehow or other get not to be on the stage with the rest of us.
^^^ Although since the leader is usually on guitar, you kind of want to be able to see his face to pick up your cues more easily. And yes, so far as I’m aware, all our guitarists are blokes. Any female Christian guitarists with a high tolerance for fatally maudlin Christian worship music moving to the south of England, I know a church that needs you.
‡ In kindness to the assembled. The more my life is kicking me in the head the flatter I sing. Nadia says this is dead common but . . . I don’t want to be expelled from St Margaret’s, or even the band.
‡‡ Nice horsie. Nice horsie.
§ I was, I believe, even occasionally on pitch.
Sigh. Exactly what I was afraid would happen is happening, once I stopped blogging every day—which is that I’m always going to do it again tomorrow. Mind you, there are things going on. Including that I keep frelling collapsing, and if I have any spare energy I should probably give some member(s) of the hellmob or other a better hurtle than they’ve probably had today. Whereupon I will be too tired to do anything so frivolous as write a blog and furthermore I’ve been knocking myself out for way too much of the last week writing frelling COPY for a big wodge of my backlist that is going to be rereleased soonish, and about which I will give you all the details as soon as there’s a schedule to give you the details of. BUT TRY TO IMAGINE HOW MUCH I HATE NOT MERELY WRITING COPY FOR MY OWN STUFF, which regular readers of this blog are well aware of, BUT WRITING IT FOR A WHOLE FRELLING STACK OF MY BOOKS.* No, don’t try to imagine, it would be very bad for you.
But for a further graphic example of things going on, the twice frelling put off** new boiler installation finally happened yesterday. YAAAAAAY. Well, sort of, barring the gaping hole in my bank balance that is letting in a frigid blast of hostile air despite the mild September we’re having locally and the war zone the army of two left behind. WORKMEN. ARRRRRRGH.*** And where did all the frelling red dirt come from? What is this, Louisiana/Mississippi/Alabama/Georgia/South Carolina?† My entire house is sheeted in a thin, less than delightful film of powdery red dirt.†† So charming. The bathroom was hazy with it Monday night and the excitingly renovated linen cupboard looked like something out of a bad fantasy film: Evil Witch’s Grotto. Put the red cellophane over the lens. I could feel the cloud clinging to my skin as I climbed out of my (hot: definitely hot) bath last night. I don’t want to think about the newly-slightly-red-tinted condition of my lungs. SO CHARMING.
The army of two showed up as promised at 10 am and were not early, so we got off to a good start—which is to say I was not only dressed but I’d had enough caffeine to be able to figure out how to get the front door key out of my pocket and open the door with it—this pleasing punctuality aside from the fact that if they hadn’t shown up as most recently promised I would have had to hunt them down and kill them because I am VERY TIRED of having my entire bathroom in cardboard boxes . . . not only because I can’t find anything but because there’s already no available floor space at the cottage because of the immediate distressing results of moving from a somewhat larger house to a somewhat smaller house, and the first time Joachim cancelled it was already the morning of the day he was supposed to come so I had sensibly already pulled everything out of the cupboard AND PUT IT IN BOXES. You have no idea what you’ve managed to wedge into a rather small airing cupboard, rather full of boiler and hot water tank, till you have to take it all out and put it in boxes AND PUT THE BOXES SOMEWHERE.†††
Let me make this short, which the day was not.‡ Joachim and adjutant arrived. They arrived with amazing amounts of kit, which meant I stayed downstairs with the Aga—which they had to turn off, so that was not satisfactory from a keeping-tea-hot perspective—because I couldn’t get into my office with the upstairs hallway JAMMED with screwdrivers‡‡ and winches and a small backhoe, and I didn’t like to decamp to Third House when they kept asking me things like, where is the gas line?, which I could have told them over the phone but not so they could find it without serious excavation‡‡‡, or where is the nearest plumbers’ supply house? When they didn’t have a spare of something that just broke. Oh.
They were due to clear off by three in the afternoon. Four latest. THEY WERE THERE TILL SIX THIRTY. But I’m looking on the bright side. They only destroyed one window screen and a rather good fuchsia, although I’m hoping the latter will recover. They did attempt to clean up after themselves.§ They were polite.§§ And while the additional space in the airing cupboard may be a bit of a bust there is definitely more space in the attic where the holding tank came out. And I haven’t seen any bats emerging from the new holes in the ceiling . . . but I’d better get Atlas to patch them before the bat mums come home to the largest pipistrelle nursery in Hampshire next spring.
And I do (still) have hot water. But I had hot water before. The crucial moment comes later in the season when I try to turn the central heating on for the first time. . . . §§§
* * *
* Especially old ones where I may actually have to read a bit here and there to make it likelier I get it right. There’s very little worse than flipping frustratedly through something you yourself wrote because you’re CONVINCED that this or that thing happened and it has to have happened before/after this or that other thing, didn’t it? DIDN’T IT? MAYBE IT WAS IN SOME OTHER BOOK NOOOOOOOOO?? Arrrrrrgh. How to feel really, really stupid without even any recourse to maths.^
That’s aside from the nooooo I didn’t really use that cringe-making metaphor did I? I didn’t really allow the plot to do that did I? I didn’t really name that character that, did I?^^ Why didn’t I grow up to be a mechanic?^^^
^ Hey, I don’t hate maths like I used to+ but all those clever maths books I like reading in the bath? I read the story or the set up or the problem or the joke or something and go, oooooh, cool . . . and then I look up the answer in the back of the book.
+ Unless there’s something about money involved in which case I hate it worse. Money is a stupid system. Let’s find another one. Which may or may not be maths based. I vote for not.
^^ That’ll be one of the names the story didn’t give me, that I had to choose. Brrrrrr.
^^^ Because no one in his, or her, right mind would hire me. Mercy Thompson would laugh till she did herself an injury. So would Munch Mancini.
** Due to what sounded like a pretty genuine family emergency and resultant critical shortage of childminders. Or maybe Joachim just uses hire-a-kid for verisimilitude.
*** Okay, the really good part? No builder’s cracks.
† I know there’s really RED red dirt in the American South somewhere because I remember being amazed by it. I just don’t remember where I was at the time.^
^ MAYBE IT WAS IN SOME OTHER BOOK NOOOOOOOOO?
†† Okay, it’s probably brick dust. That’s not nearly so romantic.
††† The irony is that one of the things he seduced me with is the fact that there would be more ROOM in my small airing cupboard because the new boiler is an on-demand so . . . no tank. Well. Sort of more room. Because of where the new thing is hung and where its dashboard is there’s not hugely more room than there was when there was a tank in there the size of a small nuclear silo.^ The best thing about the new gold-plated^ whatsit is that there is no hideously complex control panel for the end user—the dashboard on the thing itself is for professionals—the frelling wall panel for the shivering householder on my old one was diabolical. You had like six columns^^^ and you had to choose the right button in each of the six columns to get what you wanted. The permutations are . . . mathematically intimidating. And this is one of the few occasions when the right answer is not ‘chocolate’. THE NEW ONE YOU JUST TURN THE HOT TAP ON OR THE THERMOSTAT UP. There is NO control panel. I could almost talk myself into it being worth the money.#
^ You could still run out of hot water if you topped up your cooling bath too often. Hey, it’s an exciting knitting magazine! Double sized with pull outs! I want to finish reading!
^^ At this PRICE? It better be gold-plated. I think I was promised diamond encrusted. Maybe there are diamonds once I get the red dirt cleaned off. +
+ Furthermore it’s STICKY. It doesn’t come off EASILY.=
= See? It is clay. It’s not brick dust.
^^^ Hot, cold, yes, no, left, right, octopus and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
# Although this is one of those Where Did We Go Wrong moments. The furnaces and hot water of my childhood were like this. You could go down into the basement and stare at a couple of glass tubes with motor oil or magma or something moving slowly back and forth in them but generally speaking you turned the thing on or off upstairs and it worked and when it didn’t work you called a plumber. You couldn’t programme it to turn on for seventeen minutes February 3rd, 2044, no, but I do not consider this facility worth the misery at 3 a.m. tonight when you just want a bath. If one of the six columns had ‘hurtle the hellmob’ as an option I’d reconsider, but I have yet to see a boiler out on the trot with a lead extruding from its input valve. Yaay retro. Yaay primitive. Yaay HOT BATHS ON DEMAND.
‡ And I have to go to bed in order to get up FRESH and SPRINGY and ATHLETIC and ready to go on mashing the attic at Third House. The backlist comes home next Monday whether I’m ready or not.
‡‡ One of which they left behind. The shank on it is about three feet long. I don’t want to know.
‡‡‡ It’s in the greenhouse. Nuff said. Where the tap to turn the water into the house off is worse however because I hadn’t thought to clear that cupboard out. Sigh.
§ I only found half a dozen screws, presumably to keep the screwdriver company. As well as a lot of adherent red dirt.
§§ Even if Joachim can’t stop calling his elderly female clients ‘darling’. I think possibly on account of my eruptions on the subject of control panels he thinks I need looking after.
§§§ I don’t want so mild a winter I don’t ever turn it on. I want the slugs and snails and the black spot and the aphids and the red lily beetle to die.
It’s not the actual moving that puts a house move at the top of the stress list: it’s the everyflippingthing that goes wrong.
I’ve been trying for about five weeks to find a plumber that isn’t booked up till 2020. The plumbing company that I used satisfactorily for several years has stopped answering their phone. You get a message saying leave your phone number and we’ll get back to you, and they don’t. I kept waiting for the real human being to return from the longest lunch in employee history and she never did, so I finally left a message, and that didn’t work either. Meanwhile I was asking everyone who might have cause to know about local plumbers—other men* driving vans full of tools, for example, or the sector of the market which sells hammers and spanners and garpenscrads to them. I even asked the nice lady at the estate agent’s who I talked to last autumn about letting Third House. Hers was, as I recall, booked till 2032.
You can’t get away from plumbers’ vans in this frelling area and they all have emblazoned down their long sides variations on a theme of QUICK FRIENDLY PROFESSIONAL SERVICE. HERE IS A SELECTION OF PHONE NUMBERS, HOME, MOBILE, THE LOCAL PUB THAT TAKES MESSAGES, AND MY DOG** WHO LOVES TO ANSWER THE PHONE SO MUCH I’VE GIVEN HIM HIS OWN LINE. I ALSO ACCEPT SMOKE SIGNALS. Snarl. Most of these geezers aren’t too fabulous in the social niceties either. I understand that they don’t like turning down work, but someone should gather them all in a room and teach them to say, clearly and calmly, I’m really sorry, but I’m booked till 2032. The ‘I’m sorry’ part is important, as is the tone, which should not suggest to the hapless caller that the sound of her voice is similar to the sensation of hot needles being plunged into their ears.***
I am absolutely clueless about things like plumbers and I didn’t want just to start going through the phone book. Dire things and cowboys proceed from such desperate procedures. The most recent local independent I asked, on the recommendation of another Bloke Who Should Know, and whose van I see around town all the frelling time, turned out to speak in complete sentences and didn’t seem to hate me for wanting to give him some work. So I asked him.
He said, uh, yeah, try Blithering Doodah. They’re a big national company and they’ve got a branch in Mauncester, and they’re pretty good about who they hire, and I know some of the guys.
So I tried Blithering Doodah.† That was Monday. And I got this terribly chirpy and efficient sounding young woman who said certainly, we will send you a gas boiler specialist,†† since the purpose of my feverish search for a plumber is that neither Peter’s nor my boiler is working properly, and they could do it . . . Wednesday. YIKES, I said, or words to that effect, you mean the day after tomorrow? Certainly, said the young woman. YES PLEASE, I said.
She then took my details down to my shoe size and the number of dogs in the household.††† She took the post codes of both houses; she consulted with her manager if the Gas Boiler Specialist could look at both boilers on the same job; the manager said he could; she took careful directions how to find the cottage, in case his SatNav failed, and said firmly that he would come to the cottage first since that was the phone number I was calling from, and we could proceed from there to Third House subsequently.
Fine. Great. I spent nearly thirty six hours in a daze of success and accomplishment. Also Peter is looking forward to not having to boil several kettles to take a hot bath.‡
This morning, much too early, the phone rang. It was Blithering Doodah who wanted to tell me that my slot was no longer one to three this afternoon, but three to six, and I could assume it would be nearer five than four or three. Golly, I said, he doesn’t mind working late? No, said this new person, he doesn’t mind. And then the new person proceeded to take all my details all over again, including the shoe size and the range of domestic fauna, but CONFIRMED that the Gas Boiler Specialist would come to the cottage. At five o’clock or so. And the Gas Boiler Specialist would ring me on my mobile about half an hour before he arrived.
You see where this is going.
I spent the morning shovelling a path at the cottage so he could get in. I was finally taking the patient hellhounds out for a hurtle‡‡ and decided to swing by Third House to water those potted plants. Peter plays bridge Wednesday afternoons so there wasn’t anyone there. I’d just let all of us in the door when the hellhounds shot back outside again and there was a whoop of alarm from the courtyard. Frell. I followed them hastily and discovered a young man just barely not climbing a tree.‡‡‡
You wanted a plumber to look at your boiler? said the young man.
It was about three-forty-five. I gaped at him. You’re not supposed to be here for hours, I said. And this is the wrong house. And you were supposed to ring me half an hour before you got here.
This is the only address they gave me, he said. They didn’t give me a phone number either.
ARRRRRGH. Well, what a good thing I happened to be here.
Blithering Doodah are pretty good generally, he said. But their customer service, um. At least they gave me the right day this time. They don’t always.
So. He examined Peter’s boiler. And there was something wrong with it. Modified hurrah. But it’s not like the funny noise your car is making and the mechanic looks at you sidelong and says I don’t hear any funny noises and it’s running fine. Here’s my bill for two hours of drinking coffee and chatting up the new receptionist.
There is, however, something wrong with Peter’s boiler to the tune of several hundred pounds. Arrrrgh.
The young man then goes off in his van to meet me at the cottage—my arrival somewhat delayed by the fact that now the hellhounds decide to perform various ablutions, and they do not hurry their ablutions, my hellhounds—spends about thirty seconds looking at my boiler, appears to be repressing snickering and says . . . I’m sorry, but this thing is a piece of rubbish. You should just get rid of it and buy a new one.
YAMMER YAMMER YAMMER GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE.§
Yeah, he said. But by the time you buy the parts you’re halfway to a new one anyway . . . and this one never was any good. An Infinity Dreadnaught will last you forever.
Anyone want to guess what an Infinity Dreadnaught costs?§§
. . . I have to go lie down again.§§§
* * *
* Are there any female plumbers? Maybe in other countries? Iceland, which may not be known for fiscal stability but they’ve got the best rating for gender equality in the first world? Don’t you school-leavers out there know that you will ALWAYS be in work if you’re a plumber? And if you don’t want to worry about those blocked-loo calls, you can specialise, and then you can charge more too.
** There’s a woman I see occasionally waiting for her ride when I lurch past behind some hellmob division or other. She is, unusually, an admirer of both my hurtle shifts; I’ve noticed that generally the lurcher and the bullie admiration societies are non-overlapping sets. Pav saw her slightly before I did the last time and was already in full assault mode before I got her hauled in.^ But the woman laughed and said she had a dog of her own. So we’ve become quite friendly in the monosyllabic ‘hi’ ‘hi’ way. Tonight I was very tired after striving with plumbers and it was the hellhounds that got away from me and started milling about this woman as if she were their presumed lost forever best friend and by the way she was responding maybe she was. I have ascertained in our minimal conversations that she doesn’t merely have an accent—as I have an accent—but that English of any variety is not her first language. Tonight I said, you told me you have a dog, what kind is it? Oh it is a lavender, she said and I instantly translated this as Labrador without even noticing I was doing it, probably because the L-word is always what a dog beginning with ‘L’ is, never a Lithuanian Hound or a Lhasa Apso, and there are more frelling L-words around here than all the other dog breeds combined. Oh, I said politely, they tend to be very friendly and enthusiastic too.
It wasn’t till I was already striding down the road again at hellhound speed^^ that I was playing the conversation back in my mind and I thought, lavender?
^ Note: arrrgh. I am not so doting as to assume that everyone likes being hustled by dogs, even a hellmob as beautiful and charming as mine, and if you possess a bunch of eager hustlers, it behoves you to be quick on the brake button.
^^ They’d had kind of a boring day due to plumbers etc and had some catching up to do on the wind-in-their-fur thing.
*** Maybe they don’t like American accents? Maybe it’s part of the Secret Plumber Handshake ritual? ‘And we all hate American accents!’
† I should have realised from the name, right? Umm . . .
†† See? Specialist. I bet he’s never unplugged a loo.
††† None. Two hellhounds and a hellterror however.
‡ I merely have no central heating. I won’t care for another couple of months and I may not care then since with the Aga in the centre of this little house and at the foot of the stairs so the heat streams up the hall, I only turn the heating on for short hedonistic self-indulgent bursts. The last time I tried, in March or thereabouts, nothing happened. Eh, I’ll worry about it later, I thought. But it makes me faintly anxious that half my boiler isn’t working—the hot water might follow—and it seems like the responsible grown-up thing to do, to have it mended.
‡‡ Leaving an outraged hellterror hanging from the top of her crate making noises like a jungleful of monkeys. We go through this every day. She has Riot Time at the cottage—and if the hellhounds retreat to the back of their crate I shut them in so she can’t get at them—including extensive tummy rubbing, Long Yellow Thing wars and varying individual excitements such as helping me water the potted plants or going upstairs to check if the document I just printed actually did. And then I shut her up again with her breakfast.^ And try to get out the door with the hellhounds while she’s preoccupied. This doesn’t stop the protests, but the noise is a bit muffled.
^ Well. Let’s say first meal of the day.
‡‡‡ Clearly he does not have a lavender at home.
§ Including the fact that it’s only a few years old. I’ve already frelling replaced it once.
§§ And when he rang back to the head office to order the parts for Peter’s boiler—my arglefargling new one is a more complicated process—they had lost my credit card details AGAIN.
§§§ I could live without central heating. But I really want my hot water.