December 16, 2016

First anniversary


Peter Malcolm De Brissac Dickinson



Never underestimate a hellterror in pursuit of FOOOOOOOOOD

Note that writing, or writing at, a blog post over the course of several days plays to my weaknesses, which is to say I keep adding just another little sentence.  Just a little sentence.  Or footnote.  Cough cough.  And I am NOT at this point going to try to untangle this unwieldy sucker into two blog posts* or it’ll be another week before I post it, by which time it will be THREE posts long.**  –ed. 


Pav can count to four.

The hardliners among you, tut-tutting at this shameless anthropomorphising, are welcome to think of another explanation for what I’m about to describe. But as it happens I’ve also been reading Franz de Waal’s ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE* and shouting YES! about three times a page so what a good thing I don’t read on public transport.**  One of his big points being that we should consider the possibility that we aren’t anthropomorphising, we are acknowledging that animals are clever and adaptable and share more intellect and intellectual skills for problem-solving with us than we’ve previously tended to want to acknowledge, us humans being unchallenged rulers of the known universe and all, and we’re the only animals who feel empathy and use tools and so on, RIGHT?  Anyone who agrees with that last can stand in the Naughty Corner with a pointy hat on.***

So I’m going to say that Pav can count to four, and if you don’t like it, it’s a free virtual country, and you can go away and read up on late-breaking news about Avogadro’s number or something equally worthy.† But this tale of canine computational capacity goes like this. . . .

I am turning into such a softie in my old age partly I think just because age tends to motivate you in one direction or another—change, change, change!  All change!††—and partly because the current generation of four-foots and I have been increasingly our own little unit as Peter got frailer and frailer and now of course They’re All I Have.†††  Also I feel a bit guilty about Pav whose position at the bottom of the hierarchy must be enforced one way or another because as a hellterror she’d run all of us if she could, and the hellhounds wouldn’t put up much of a struggle‡, and the fact that she’s mostly really good about this makes me feel more guilty because . . . because I’m like that.  No previous furry generation has ever been allowed to GET UNDER MY FEET when I’m cooking, but when I was first grappling with the hellhounds’ food issues I was so frantic for ANY sign of interest in food that I let them mill around underfoot when I was stripping chicken carcases etc.  The hellterror of course took to this activity immediately and has tended to generalise in a way that wouldn’t occur to the hellhounds, and because therefore this also gives her and me a chance of Additional Interaction that doesn’t involve hierarchical issues‡‡, I’ve paid more attention to the dropping-bits-of-food scenario with her.

Mostly what I drop is bits of veg or apple. And because canine guts are shorter than ours because said guts are built in expectation of meat not fibrous stuff that takes more transit time to do the critter any good, I chop these bits up tiny. And to keep it interesting I sprinkle them around the floor rather than just plopping them as a wodge where I’m standing.‡‡‡  And the hellterror races around gobbling them up BECAUSE THEY MIGHT GET AWAY IF SHE DOESN’T EAT THEM FAST ENOUGH.

I started dropping four snippets a while ago for no particular reason except that it was easy and meant I could keep doing what I was doing without thinking about it.§  And it slowly dawned on me that she had learnt to look for four, count ’em, four, snippets.  So I started experimenting.  I dropped three in a group and the fourth one at a distance.  She found all four.  I spread all four out§§ and she found all of them.  I put the fourth one down silently while she was otherwise occupied.  She still found it, because she was looking for it.  But if I put a fifth snippet down silently when she’s engaged elsewhere, she does not find it.  Because she’s not looking for it.§§§

God help me if I only put or drop three.  First she hunts around in increasing disbelief and outrage and then she stalks over to me and plants one heavy forepaw on my foot.@ I have mentioned before how leaden a mere one-quarter of the footage of a thirty-pound dog can be.  Intentionality is all.  At this point I need to drop that fourth snippet immediately or she will hold out for a brand-new batch of four.

Your beloved and absent-mindedly patronised domestic critters are bright little munchkins. Be careful what you start with them . . .

* * *

* Especially after I already had to print this one out to have half a chance of matching text to footnotes. I do not guarantee that I was successful.  Moan.

** Actually this one is already up to three-post length. If you’re counting.  But why would you be counting?

* Thank you, Gryphyn, for telling me about it. I’m a huge long-time fan of de Waal^ but I don’t keep up with new releases so it might otherwise have been a while before I discovered it.

^ Peter got me started on him.+ Any of you who have read one or more of Peter’s chimpanzee books++ will understand why Peter found his work fascinating.

+ Siiiiiiiigh.

++ POISON ORACLE is probably one of my top half dozen Dickinson favourites. I say ‘probably’ because as soon as I started to list them there’d be more.

** I knit. Of course.  You knew that.  I can’t read, I’d be motion-sick in no time.  Especially since I like sitting on the top of double-decker buses, which sway. Another great reason to learn to knit.  Something to do when the view from the top of your bus is cement factories and car graveyards.  There aren’t a lot of these in Hampshire but there are definitely stretches where you would rather be looking at your hands and that really pretty yarn you feel quite smug about buying on sale.^  Especially now that I’m old, and if I ever frelling got around to it, could get a free Old Person’s bus pass, and then think of all the extra knitting I would get done.^^  I might have a nervous breakdown about the way the official bus schedule has nothing to do with when buses actually arrive or leave but I could probably learn to swing with this.^^^  Possibly in time with the swaying of the bus.


+ No.  I don’t pick up dropped stitches well.  I don’t understand why naturally lumpy yarn like Rowan’s Thick ‘n’ Thin isn’t enormously popular.  It hides errors so much better than the all-one-size stuff.

^^ When I’m not peering over fences at people’s laundry, dogs, half-finished patios and lumpy tarpaulins over the half-taken-apart motorcycle they’re going to restore this year, this year, really they are, busted basketball hoops and bent jungle gyms.  Occasionally there’s a flawless hidden gem of a garden but mostly people’s lives behind impenetrable fences look . . . like mine.  Although I know better than to think I’m ever going to learn to do anything constructive with a motorcycle, so minus the motorcycle, although I can do the lumpy tarpaulin, and for the half-finished patio read the still unrehabilitated courtyard after my poor plumbers dug up most of it looking for that leak.+  I don’t do basketball hoops and jungle gyms but I can find substitutes.++  Dogs and laundry, definitely.

+ Did I post a photo of the busted pipe fitting?# Maybe it only looks spectacular to me.  It’s just a short bulge of pipe with a tap coming out of the middle. And a large cracked hole through the threads at one end.##

# Yes I could check. I’m not going to.  I have no desire to glance back at anything to do with this horrible year.

## I don’t think I told you that my apple tree produced spectacularly this year? I was worried because it’s had Niagara running through its roots for the last thirty years~ and fruit trees are thirsty beggars.  We had decent rainfall this year—and I remembered to throw some water on it now and then when the rain stopped—but it won’t have had anything like as much water as it’s had in years past.  And not only did it do very well but the apples were larger than usual.  Maybe the absence of Niagara made the June drop more effective?  I have no idea.  Now I’ll worry that the real effects won’t show up till next year.  Like I’ve been waiting for the real effects of having the wall fall down and some blasted human mucking about below ground level to lay a new wall right where its roots are, for the last several years.  Granted it falling over last autumn counts as an effect but the point is IT’S STILL PRODUCING MAGNIFICENT APPLES.  It is a gallant object.  And I hope it doesn’t mind that Niagara has moved to North America.

~No I have no idea how old it is, but I believe it was put in early in the previous owner’s tenancy, which would mean getting on thirty years. And while it’s small as trees go it is admirably gnarly, the way aged apple trees should be.

++ A few years ago garden centres started selling these fabulous big plastic buckets in GREAT COLOURS. Turns out the narrow (plastic) handles rot off after about one winter outdoors.  I have kind of a lot of these because you can’t frelling move them around without handles but the bucket part is still perfectly good so I can’t possibly throw them out.

^^^ I’m learning perforce at the minute because I keep having reasons I need to go in to Mauncester or Zigguraton AND IT’S CHRISTMAS. IT’S THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING CHRISTMAS SEASON WHEN EVERYONE ON THE PLANET PLUS ROCKETLOADS OF TOURISTS FROM THE OUTER REACHES OF THE GALAXY ARE OUT SHOPPING AND STICKING UP THE ROADS AND PAVEMENTS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE. I keep wondering if the rest of southern England, Great Britain, the world, the solar system, blah blah blah is EMPTY because EVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE? It must be the Borg again.  But why they have it in for a little wodge of Hampshire I have no idea.  I have to keep telling Wolfgang it’s not that I don’t love him any more+ it’s that unless he wants to add perching on flagpoles to his list of accomplishments, finding a parking space is more than our lives are worth, and throw in the lives of two hellhounds and a hellterror to the balance, since they wouldn’t want to be left behind if we soar unexpectedly heavenward.++  I had a Samaritan seminar Saturday AFTERNOON. Can you conceive of anything more horrible than a Saturday afternoon in December in the ultimate Christmas shopping hub? AAAAAAAAAUGH.  No.  Trust me.  You can’t.  PTSD.  I may have to go back into therapy to recover.+++  And the bus station is at one end of town and the Sam seminar was being held at the other end of town.  Uphill.  Just by the way.  And even with my two-ton knapsack as battering ram++++ I had trouble crashing through the frelling ambling crowds.

+ Do I or do I not take him to the monks’ at least twice a week? YES.  I DO.

++ I keep telling you Wolfgang is a member of the family. And furthermore he’ll be clean in heaven.  Although I’ll probably ask to keep the herb Robert tucked under the edge of the bonnet as a special favour.

+++ Have I mentioned that I’m kind of claustrophobic? You’d never know it, looking at this house, which gives normal people claustrophobia,# but LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE? SWEATY BREATHLESS TERROR. Confirmation Sunday recently at St Margaret’s and the bishop came.  I’m used to small groups at the evening service and the church was COMPLETELY PACKED OUT.  I nearly ran away.  I would have run away, except I was singing with the band.  I was singing with the band because if I don’t sing with the band I cry.  If I hadn’t been singing with the band I could have run away.  If I’d started crying I would have run away.  How many ways can you mess yourself over and ruin a perfectly good evening.

# I’ve got some bloke, recommended by my accountant, coming on Monday to explain to me slowly and in words of one syllable what I have to do about the mortgage for Third House, which I need to take out to pay back Peter’s estate for the price of the Lodge, which wasn’t supposed to come up because Third House was supposed to sell. Anyway.  The bloke has an office in Mauncester but he lives in New Arcadia so he suggested kindly that he could visit the feeble ME-riddled spastic-brained widow at home.  There was a long pause on my end of the phone and I could hear him wondering what he’d said wrong.  Um, I said finally.  I don’t do housework at the best of times, these are not the best of times, and I can just about fit through the door despite press of all the stuff from Third House cluttering up the place.  And I’m thin.  Also there are three dogs.  Three lively enthusiastic dogs.  With a sales pitch like that how could he resist.  So he’s still coming here.  You might want to pray for him.

++++ You wouldn’t think knitting would weigh that much. Even plus an iPad and a book.  YES.  A BOOK.  HARD COPY.  I used just to travel everywhere with a book.  Now I travel everywhere with an iPad and a book.  Of course.  Certainly.  With a rich and varied choice on my Kindle app.  But I’d still rather read a book. And I’m not the only one who does this, am I?

*** But do read the book. Indeed read anything by de Waal.  I wish he’d been around when I was a kid and was labelled ‘fanciful’ for thinking that critters were more than furbots with hard-wired instincts instead of motherboards.^  I read Konrad Lorenz, of course, who was a lot better than nothing but . . . well, there are a lot of ‘buts’ around Lorenz but I didn’t know about any of them when I was first reading him.  I was just thrilled by someone who took animals seriously without dissecting them first.

^ Not that motherboards were around when I was a kid either.

† I was very cast down when Alex Bello’s new book is fiendishly difficult mathematical puzzles. I might as well be trying to read Sanskrit.  Or Japanese, which I would like to be able to read.  I blogged about ALEX IN WONDERLAND, didn’t I?  Which I loved.^  I’ve got his second one on the bedside table cough cough cough cough^^ but I keep flinching away from it because I mostly still drag and shove myself through the Difficult Bits by a combination of listening and reading text, and Audible, drat them, haven’t recorded ALEX THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.

^ After a slightly rough beginning. I find, with my old English major’s bias, that popular science style has to be learnt and fitted into for a Tolerable Reading Experience very much like the style of bulging Victorian quadruple-deckers, Dickens and Eliot et all, has to be learnt.  I started reading the bulgy Victorians pretty early—they told stories after all and I’m into stories—so I wasn’t so aware of learning to roll with Dickens’ off the wall approach or Eliot’s super-frelling-thoughtful approach+ until I was in school with people who couldn’t stand any of it no way no how.  But I grew up knowing that I was hopeless at maths and so discovering popular maths and hard science has come late and . . . alarmingly.  The bit that I understood, ie use of the English language, seemed to me either patronising or over-subjective (you’re the AUTHOR.   Get OUT OF THE WAY of the STORY you’re telling), and it took me a while to climb over this obstacle.  I think in hindsight Bello’s first book is what finally did it for me.  You can’t stop me now on pop sci books . . . but for pity’s sake don’t ask me to EXPLAIN any of them or their contents.++

+ Mind you, MIDDLEMARCH is on my top ten list of best books of all time. You still have to settle in for the ride.

++ And I still frelling hate the standard practise of describing what every interviewee is wearing and what the colour of their hair is and whether they have a nice smile. I DON’T CARE. SHOW DON’T TELL. ANYTHING IMPORTANT WILL COME OUT IN THE TELLING. ARRRRRRRRGH.

^^ The ‘bedside table’ being a pile of books which happens to climb up to high-mattress-level on the bed, which is unfortunate during bedsheets-changing attempts since it’s way too high and tottery to stand up without leaning.  Against the, you know, bed.

†† And no whining

††† And a little patch of ground in a local churchyard, marked by a rose in a plastic vase.

‡ What? they’d say, opening one eye. Oh, they’d answer themselves, closing the eye again.

‡‡ Although Chaos does come and check suspiciously that I’m not dropping anything interesting, if Pav and I seem to be having too good a time.

‡‡‡ Yes. This means that food prep takes forever and that my endless complaints about needing to wash my frelling kitchen floor every frelling day^ are partly my own fault.^^

^ Which I don’t do, of course. Nobody has died yet.

^^ I mean, having three dogs is my own fault but I could contain their food in bowls.+

+ Sort of.  Since the hellhounds tend to flip these over with their noses when they wish to indicate that this is not their day for eating.  There is LANGUAGE when they do this.

§ This includes PLOTTING which tends to make me pretty stupid in the real world.^ It’s when the plotting is going badly that we practise lying down, rolling over and offering our paw. She does not seem to want to learn to sit back on her haunches with her forepaws in the air no matter how many times I demonstrate.^^ Hellterrors are such square-ended little buggers this ought to be easier for her than me but hey.

^ I have the scars to prove it.

^^ This is a JOKE, okay? Trust me, she learnt to roll over without my demonstrating.  There isn’t room in this kitchen for me to demonstrate rolling over.  Especially now with an extra table and a wormery taking up floor space.

§§ MORE frelling floor to wash

§§§ I wonder sometimes about her nose. But then I don’t suppose raw veg and apple smell like much to an apparatus evolved to locate meat.

@ And yet, speaking of comprehension, she knows she only gets two bits if they’re dried liver crumbs^ or Fish4Dogs stars^^ or—her new passion—the rinds off my goats’ and sheep’s cheese

^  I split one in half.  Look at that price.




The Return of Wolfgang


This should have gone up last night, of course—one rarely ransoms cars from garages on Sundays—and today got away from me as my days so often do. I should perhaps adopt an acronym:  TSHGULNOC, which sounds a little like something out of HP Lovecraft says just before it eats you. Some day if I ever get my act together Raphael is going to commute me to another internet provider, and we will see if I spend less time waiting for things to load with my fingers in my ears so I can’t hear myself screaming.  Meanwhile:  TSHGULNOC.

 * * *

I have a car! I have a car! YAAAAAAAAAY!

I got home last night after dinner* to a brief laconic phone message from the garage. ‘Give us a ring when you have a minute.’  ARRRRRRRRGH.  Can’t they just tell me??   But I assumed the not telling me, the terseness and the . . . er . . . what’s the noun form of ‘laconic’? . . . the laconia, the laconitry, were not a good omen.

This morning I left** before even a garage is likely to be open, to go to Mass*** and decided just for laughs to take a detour on the way home, I might as well make them look me in the eye when they told me they could probably get to my car in January.†  So I braced myself not to burst into tears and lie down on the floor and drum my heels . . . and first I couldn’t find anyone to ask and I figured they’d seen me coming and were hiding, and then when I did find someone they still wouldn’t meet my eyes but they said (laconically), oh, it’s all done.  You can have it now.


Apparently what happened—although garage men tend to be Of Few Words††, I may have a better version from Morag when she’s back in the office next week—is that they were failing to locate a new pedal box††† and on closer examination the pedal box breakage was less drastic than feared and they said oh piffle let’s just weld‡ the sucker, and they did.


I was so excited that when I arrived home‡‡ I threw the hellhounds in the back seat and we shot off to . . . somewhere. Anywhere.  We had a proper hurtle over the countryside for the first time in yonks, which has less to do with Wolfgang than with my interesting energy levels or lack thereof.  We were already on the road before I thought about where we were going, and I decided on Ditherington where we used to hurtle frequently and haven’t been . . . all this year, I think, which means over a year, because I pretty much stopped superfluous driving after Peter’s second stroke and I was spending all available time wherever he was.  Ditherington looked pretty good and the hellhounds were thrilled.‡‡‡

And then we came home and the hellterror had her own epic hurtle across more dangerously local countryside, which I’m willing to risk on a nice Saturday afternoon because I can pick her up if there are problems.§

I even did a little gardening.§§  Reclaiming a member of the family is very energizing.§§§  YAAAAAAAY.  WOLFGANG.

* * *

* And while I’m celebrating I also want to celebrate that I’ve eaten in restaurants twice this week^ and I’m still alive. There are no fresh bits falling off that I’ve noticed and I haven’t broken out in a scaly rash that makes me look like a diseased turbot.  There is hope.

^ Where the people in the kitchen may be injecting secret cow feta into the crab salad.+

+ I was talking to someone about the somewhat retro manager of a local food bank—have I told you I’m planning to do Pitch a Foodstuff in a Box Every Day for Advent# and then donate box and contents to a food bank?—whose attitude toward the undeserving poor is that if they’re hungry they’ll eat it.## Uh huh.  Tell that to someone with a peanut allergy.  Hey, tell it to someone who’s allergic to cow feta.  She won’t die, but she will rip your face off.

# You will remember that I have been heaping righteous scorn on the designers, the gift-buyers, and the clueless, superficial and self-indulgent recipients of Advent calendars dedicated to beauty products or whisky or hamsters or something? I have had my comeuppance.  There’s a yarn Advent calendar.  No, no, no, no.  It’s okay though.  It’s way too expensive.  And furthermore the yarn is acrylic. BUT I BET YOU COULD MAKE A REALLY CUTE BABY BLANKET FOR CHARITY OUT OF TWENTY-FOUR SQUARES OF ADVENT CALENDAR YARN.~

~ And someone can explain to me why Advent calendars only have twenty four windows when Advent starts some time before that.  This year apparently on 27 November.  Presumably I start my food box on the 27th even though I don’t have any fun till the 1st of December.=

= Although since I’m planning to do readings out of THE ROADS FROM BETHLEHEM which Alfrick loaned me his old, well-loved copy of to shut me up about my latest opportunity for outrage, the Shocking Commercialisation of Advent.  What’s next?  Give your sweetheart a dozen chocolate pencils for Punctuation Day? . . . ANYWAY.  Since I’m planning to declaim to the hellmob, the Aga and the indoor jungle I could start that on the 27th too.

## I’m sure there’s a place in the new American cabinet for this moron. Health and human services possibly.  Or education.

** And a word here for St Admetus. He’s been letting me drive his car. The only drawback to this fabulous, beyond-my-wildest-imaginings situation is that Fleur is new.^  You will remember that one of the reasons I want to keep my ancient, beat-up car is that any car that lived with me would become ancient and beat-up pretty fast.  It’s very hard on a person trying to behave in a drastically out of character a manner . . . although in my defence a lot of Wolfgang’s more interesting impairments have to do with inadequately maintained back country roads and I wouldn’t DREAM of taking Fleur anywhere but on flawlessly paved roads, or as frelling flawlessly as the frelling Hampshire county council can provide which isn’t blistering very. But there are one or two other variations like the fact that her brakes are DELICATE.  You speak to them sweetly and for pity’s sake don’t actually step on them.  I did eventually stop throwing myself through the windscreen.^^ . . . Which meant that when I got behind the more robust and jolly Wolfgang’s wheel again I was all WHERE ARE THE BRAAAAAAAAAKES.

The other high point was arriving with Fleur at my late-night shift at the Sams and not being able to pull the frelling ignition key out of the frelling ignition.

^ She’s also shiny and WHITE. Admetus washes his car+.  Fancy.  But anything I come in contact with staggers away from the encounter covered in mud and dog hair.  Although I may be doing the hellmob an injustice.  I think I must produce dog hair too.  Hmmmm.

+ Have I mentioned that Wolfgang now has Herb Robert growing in the crack between the windscreen and the hinge of the bonnet?

^^ Fortunately modern flexi-plast windscreens don’t star on impact very easily.

*** Before I realised the extent to which St Admetus is willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of friendship I’d been telling myself that it was not the end of the world^ if I didn’t make it to Mass^^ this week.^^^  The result is this is now the second week in a row that I’ve gone both to morning Mass and the night contemplative service on Saturday, pant, gasp, whiplash, due to circumstances beyond my control.  God likes her little joke.

^ That would have been 8 November

^^ Jonesing for the Eucharist. Go Jesus.

^^^ I’d been trying to figure out the festering bus schedule. The buses between here and Mauncester in one direction and Opprobrium in the other are pretty reliable.  But if you want to peel off in a funny direction from the main route, like, say, Dreepworth, which is a village of about three, plus some monks well back among the trees+, there are rumours of a local bus but no one knows anything about it.  It is not encouraging that it is further rumoured to stop at the ski lodge and the planetarium.  Dreepworth does not have a ski lodge or a planetarium.

+ And a big sign that says WELCOME. I like that sign.

† Since I was there I thought the least I could do was fill up the petrol tank. You have to release the lock, said the helpful petrol-pump man. RELEASE?  THE LOCK??  We had to get the frelling handbook out to find the frelling petrol-tank release latch ARRRRRRRGH.  Admetus thought this was very funny.^  I had to tell him since the first thing he said was, how did you find the petrol tank release?

^ Hey. I’d written down the mileage and the litres because I knew Admetus is the kind of OCD git . . . I mean, the kind of thoughtful, responsible car owner+ who keeps track of such things.  GIVE ME SOME CREDIT HERE.

+ Yes. Admetus usually reads the blog.

†† I should perhaps specify intelligible words.  Paxton is usually happy to explain exactly what happened in great detail, except that I don’t know any of the words he’s using, since they have to do with cars and I pretty much stop with ‘steering wheel’ and ‘rear view mirror’.

††† Those Fijians really like their pristine showcases.

‡ Welding. You youngsters may not have heard of this interesting ploy.  It’s something you can do to old cars which are still mostly made out of metal.^

^ Except the FENDERS. Which are made out of plastic-coated papier mache and fall off at a TOUCH.  There is a humiliating story about this in the archives somewhere.

‡‡ Admetus having given me a lift back out to Warm Upford to fetch Wolfgang

‡‡‡ Although the reason Ditherington began to fall out of favour in the first place is because the local gamekeeper is/was a ratbag sod. He’s the one responsible, for example, for the line of guns across a public footpath one shooting season which is frankly illegal, and which the hellhounds and I walked straight into because you’re coming out of a copse into a field and you have no warning what you’re getting into unless they’re actually firing which I am glad to say they weren’t.  And I grew very tired of him snapping and snarling for no reason but that he was in a nasty mood and didn’t like old women walking their dogs.  If someone could tell me he now has a job wrestling alligators in Florida, and that the new keeper prefers to sit on a hay bale and knit, I would be very happy.

§ We had an absolutely classic run in with an off lead dog. It was coming down the hill on lead to our right as we carried on straight ahead along the footpath. The idiot woman saw us. I saw her seeing us. And the moment we were out of sight behind the fence she let Throgmorton off the lead and he instantly hared after us, coming around the corner on one leg and a tail. CALL YOUR DOG, I said, scooping up the meanest SOB in the valley.  Throgmorton was about the size of an SUV and I was considering climbing the fence—with an armful of Meanest SOB—when Idiot Woman came panting around the corner and did, in fact, catch her abominable dog.

§§ It started to rain as I was putting on my pink wellies. I heard Peter’s voice in my ear saying It’s not wet rain and went out anyway.

§§§ Really I’m on a roll. I bounced through not one but two social occasions last night—first catching up with Ceridwen and Vidhya and the little frumplet^ and then dinner with Nina and Ignatius. Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I were just getting stronger? Yes. It would be great. ^^

^ Who will soon grow out of the fabulous baby blanket he hasn’t received

^^ Maybe I could even get more than three syllables a day of story-in-progress written. That would be GREAT.

Happy Birthday to me. Not.


. . . Also, yesterday. I’m now officially even older than I was.  This keeps happening.  You’re just kind of getting used to being twelve or thirty-five or fifty or a hundred and three and zap you have to get used to being thirteen or thirty-six or fifty-one or a hundred and four.  And that’s not good enough either!  Fifty two more weeks and you’re fourteen or thirty seven or fifty two or a hundred and five! No wonder human beings are so insecure.  Stuff keeps changing.  It’s very unsettling.

So yesterday I didn’t ring the garage because I figured if there was any good news they would have rung me and I didn’t want avoidable bad news on my birthday.* But the hellmob and I had a variety of nice walks even if they were perforce in town, I gave myself the day off from hitting myself repeatedly in the head with a brick, I mean, working on story-in-progress, and I had dinner out with a friend.**  We had a really lovely relaxing delectable dinner*** and I don’t think I gave our waiter a nervous breakdown with all my searching questions about ingredients.†  I even had half a half glass of wine.††

And I came home, hurtled the hellmob for the last time, opened all my presents . . . and fell into a deep funk. This time last year Peter was so frail he stayed in bed and didn’t come to the birthday party in one of Rivendell’s little private function rooms.  We took turns ferrying him fizz and dainties. . . .

Life. Birthdays.  Crap.  But I have several excellent new books to read.†††

* * *

* I rang them today. They’re in negotiations with the old VW parts factory in Viti Levu for the pristine 20-year-old VW Golf pedal box kept in a glass case outside the CEO’s office as a particularly fascinating example of last century’s technology^. They will ring me when they have anything to tell me, like whether I’ll get my car back before the frelling end of the frelling year.  At least they’re not saying ‘buy a new car’.  Hey!  He doesn’t even have two hundred thousand miles on him yet!  A diesel VW ought to be worth 200,000 miles!

^ I have no idea why it’s particularly fascinating. I have no idea what a pedal box is.+

+ I mean, why would you keep your pedals in a box? Generally you want them out doing mobile, pedally things.#

# I know, I know. Don’t tell me.

** I think this was the first time I’ve been in a skirt since Peter’s memorial. I’ve almost forgotten how.^

^ Tights. Where do I keep my frelling TIGHTS?

*** I may have knitted between courses

† It seems like a great idea that restaurants post their menus on line these days^ and if you eat like I do you need to check ahead one way or another. It’s easier and less embarrassing to do it via google rather than get into one of those no-win conversations with a phone-answering member of staff who has probably heard of gluten-free and lactose intolerance^^ but by the time you’ve rejected several harmless-sounding possibilities due to the presence of nightshades or cereal grains you can hear the person at the other end of the line wanting to go into another line of work.  Immediately.  So I read up before I go anywhere and then I get there and . . . they’ve changed the menu.  The, one might almost say delicious, irony here is that this is likeliest to happen in the local-seasonal-footprint-conscious restaurants I’m likeliest to opt for.  This happened last night.  It will probably happen again tomorrow night when I’m having dinner with some other friends at another local-seasonal-patient-with-the-deranged restaurant.

^ especially if you’re some frelling import like me who can’t get her head around the idea that traditional British food means meat, stodge and gravy.  There are quite a few old-fashioned pubs in this area who are awarded lots of stars and fulsome acclaim on Trip Advisor where there isn’t a green veg in sight, where the side dishes are all things you can do with potatoes.  What seems to me even more bizarre is that you may be likelier to see aloo masala or onion paratha than a plain mixed green salad or, you know, Brussel sprouts or leeks+ or something you or your neighbour might very well have in your garden.++  I know Britain is now Curry Nation but until global warming gets a better grip we still can’t grow turmeric here.  And personally I’d prefer to go on importing our turmeric and not grow malaria here either.

+ You know, fresh local seasonal veg.  I also prefer to stay away from restaurants whose menus are advertising fresh asparagus in November.

++ It’s not looking good for the five# a day.

# Or seven. The latest seems to be seven.  And people are still eating at Macdonalds.  Oh but wait, they’re having a bedtime snack of broccoli with their hot milk, right?  And getting up in the morning to a ginormous platter of raw spinach salad with their hot caffeine. Come on guys. Vegetables are good.  Vegetables are friendly.  Vegetables have your best interests at heart.

^^ I haven’t given you the gruesome details of my ‘food poisoning’ the other week, have I? My medical herbalist, whom we will call Gundred, both because she deserves a name and because ‘medical herbalist’ is a daunting phrase, persuaded me that goats’- and sheep-milk products were worth a try.  Non-cow dairy would contribute to Building Me Up and it would be a nice boost to variety in my diet.  Well I like the yogurt and I like kefir a lot+ but the cheeeeeeeese. . . . . I had no idea I loved/missed cheese this much. AHHHHHHHHHH.  Eating cheese again is like the first thing that has made me happy since Peter died.++

So one of my visiting friends and I went to lunch at one of the local pubs who is Used to Me. And lo they had changed their menu—local and seasonal, you know—to include a root-veg salad I could actually eat without asking them to hold half the ingredients and substitute the other half.  The salad included feta cheese.  I adore feta cheese, I (now) eat it at home regularly (wheeeeeee).

I put my friend back on the train and went home and felt sicker and sicker and sicker and every bone and muscle in my body turned into one big throbbing ache and I had dancing anvils in my head. And I thought WTF, this is my dairy allergy. I tried to think of anything else that might have done this to me, failed—but the dancing anvils were having a somewhat negative effect on my thought processes—and eventually in despair googled feta.  Where I was informed that it was, indeed, goats’ and/or sheep cheese, but some evil ratbag Northern Europeans sometimes made it out of cows’ milk. Which is pretty clearly what happened to me.

It’s taken me frelling weeks to recover.  Everything hurt and none of the bendy things bent properly, so for example closing my hands on a bell rope or a berserking hellterror who wants that other dog to know that she is the meanest SOB in the valley was both unpleasant and perilous.  But when the frelling eczema started I panicked because this was a good two weeks after the incident and I was afraid my body was rejecting the goats and sheep too. Noooooooo. But the eczema has subsided . . . and I’m still eating cheese (and yogurt and kefir).

But my point is I don’t torture waiters for fun.  I’m pathological for cause.+++

+ And since I have to make my own it had better be worth it. Although making it is kind of fun.  It’s like a school science project.  You mix the weird stuff together and then you put the result in a jar and wait to see what happens.

++ The high doesn’t last, of course, but for the few minutes I’m actually eating cheese the world cannot touch me.#

# Barring the hellterror getting the refrigerator door open~ or one of the hellhounds climbing the garden wall. Because they can.  I hope they can’t, but I wouldn’t put it past them.  Reasons the hellmob are never in the garden unless I’m out there too.  Especially now we’re surrounded by little yappy dogs. Arrrrrrrrrgh. Although the ones we share walls with are fine really.  Damien is on the other side of the cul de sac.  And the hellmob isn’t in the Lodge’s garden without me either.  They probably could get over that wall, but eating Damien would probably give them food poisoning.

~ I Live In Fear

+++ As part of Birthday Celebration Week we were going to go to one of the big national gardens that plants for year round interest as they say, not to mention tourist money.  But we had thunderstorms and horizontal rain today in unpredictable bursts, so we went to a film instead.  I’ve seen three films in the last six months.  I hope you’re impressed.  Hey, I could do a film review post.# Today’s was ARRIVAL.  And never mind what I thought of it—I’ll tell you that in my film review post—it more or less begins with our heroine being told she has ten minutes to pack before the big guy takes her off to a top-secret-clearance military encampment.  This is one of twelve top-secret-clearance military encampments all over the world, pitched next to twelve alien spacecraft which have materialised out of nowhere and seem to want the natives to talk to them.  Our heroine is a hot shot linguist.  But I was thinking, if some big guy knocked on my door and said, I Am Going to Give You the Chance of a Life Time, you have ten minutes to pack, I would say, wait, can you GUARANTEE 100% fresh organic food to a strict schedule, to include barrowloads of dark green leafy things, no cereal grains, no nightshades, a hearty dose of chicken liver every week, ditto oily fish, goats’ and sheep cheese and some funny beverages including green tea, kefir, kombucha and coconut water?##  No?  Well, nice try.  See you round.

It’s a good thing I had lots of adventures when I was younger.

# And while I’m at it, remind me to rant at you about the new ROH staging of NORMA. Snarl.

## And adequate accommodation for three hellcritters.

†† They didn’t have organic fizz so I had to settle for organic red. Never mind.  The novelty was shocking enough.  And after nine dry months three sips was about my limit.  But hey, I wasn’t driving.

††† And a box of vegan organic chocolate. How fabulous is that?  Except for the fact that I don’t eat sugar. Drat.  Okay.  Wait.  I figure on the three-sips-of-organic-wine standard these will last till my birthday next year


[This was supposed to go up last night, of course. Technology is so not my friend.  And today has been complex.]

Wolfgang died.* Waaaaaaaaaaaah.

And it’s Saturday night, I can’t ring the garage till Monday.** I’m wild-eyed, hair-sticking-out terrified that it’s the kind of serious that means ‘not worth mending in a twenty year old car’. I DON’T WANT A NEW CAR. And that’s aside from my interesting cash flow problem, which is to say lack of flow.  I own three blinging blanging doodah frelling houses, but keeping the hellmob and me fed*** is much more unpleasantly exciting than nourishing and jolly.  I like my excitement in stories. I like food† just to be there.††  NEW CAR???  Not in this reality.  So, okay, after last Tuesday I wouldn’t at all mind being transferred to some other reality. . . .

I finally got some sleep last night.††† I hadn’t had anything even close to resembling sleep since the beginning of the week—I’d had a late Sam shift and then I stayed up watching the returns ohGodohGodohGodohGod when the world as I thought I knew it ended Tuesday night.  It’s very hard to sleep when the world is a suddenly stranger and scarier place—I’d never thought it was exactly safe, but I thought there were some limits—and there’s an evil asshole about to destroy the country of your birth.‡  Friday I even blew off handbells. Shock.  Horror.  I did go, but I fell apart at the tea break and spent the rest of the evening knitting.‡  And scowling.‡‡  Hey, there were four ringers without me, and major (eight) is a lot easier than royal (ten).  I WAS DOING THEM A FAVOUR.  Especially because Niall makes me ring inside.‡‡‡  So maybe it was the handbells that broke me.  Whatever.  I came home and slept.

And so managed to scrape myself out of bed in time to go to morning Mass. I had decided that God was just going to have to forgive me for a week I didn’t make it to morning Mass, if she wanted me at morning Mass she could have made Hillary win.§  The problem with Saturday morning Mass is that I will then turn around and hare back out to the abbey for the Saturday night prayer service with the half hour silent sit beforehand§§.  Twice in a day and it’s like I can begin to discern tatty black robes swishing around my ankles.§§§  But Wolfgang and I toodled home after the night service, and I was feeling as mellow as I ever do, especially since last Tuesday, and I had just backed into our parking space and I was throwing the clutch out to roll forward a few inches so that I could still get at my bins and my garden shed and the clutch pedal shot into the floor and stayed there.


* * *

* It has so not been a good week.

** Okay, I could ring the garage.  But no one would answer.

*** Especially since all of us but the bullie have stringent dietary constraints. Pav only requires that she be able to get her mouth around it.  When this proves to be an item of hellgoddess clothing there is domestic drama.

† and books. And yarn

†† The bullie is with me on this. The hellhounds would much prefer food not to be there.

††† Meanwhile I have another half done post, this one about my Realio Trulio Finished Knitting Project^, but the project will stay finished so I can come back to my unfinished blog about it later.^^

^ It’s about as dead boring as a Knitting Project can be but it is finished. Which makes it automatically glorious and fascinating within my knitting life.+

+ I have now reverted to the feltable wool that is going to become a series of grotty little bags, the important one being destined to carry super long knitting needles. Does anyone else have needles that are too long to fit in any standard knitting needle containers?#   I suppose I could just stick them in a vase but most of my vases are full of dried roses from various occasions.##   But between needing a bag pole-vaulting pole length and not being sure how much the thing is going to shrink when I felt it, people keep mistaking the long thin item coiling off my lap for a scarf.  Several scarves.  Several Doctor Who scarves.

There are two reasons I’m back to my felting-in-their-future bags over all the other unfinished knitting projects lying about the place.  The first one is that I really like rectangles. I really, really like rectangles. You know, no shaping, no frelling counting. You just knit.  And knit.  And knit.###

The other reason is that I do a lot of knitting after morning Mass, when you can sit around with a cup of tea and chat with monks and anyone else from the congregation desirous of caffeine and possibly a little time to slot back into normal life.#### And, aside from all the jokes about knitting long johns for monks#####, one of the monks, whom we will call Aloysius, has decided that I never finish anything and demands proof that this is not true.  Uh oh.  So, I figured, felting might disguise some of my inevitable irregularities, if I’m going to have to pass the object in question around to an assembly.  An assembly of jocular monks. I mean, I’m not exactly reliable, even on rectangles.

# No, of course not. Everyone but me knits on circulars. Uggggggh.  SOMEBODY (else) must knit on super-long straights OR THEY WOULDN’T SELL THEM, right?

## Yes. I save empty champagne bottles too~.  And one or three bottles that once contained spectacular reds.  Including my first experience of Vieux Telegraph, which put Peter’s beloved strong, leathery French reds~~ on my, you should forgive the term, radar.  That was on our honeymoon in Cornwall.  Sigh.

~ Some of these are also full of dried roses.

~~ I AM NOT GOING TO TOUCH the whole Rhone/Bordeaux/Burgundy/claret thing. Among other reasons because I don’t understand it.  But Peter could pick out one of these gorgeous items from the brambly, brain-stabbing boscage of a wine list while I sat back contentedly and waited for my glass to be filled.

### Yes. I’m a process knitter.  More finished objects would be nice, but it’s the knitting that’s important.  Although the fact that my finished objects tend to be pathetic may have something to do with my attachment to process.

#### If going to Mass doesn’t rattle your cage, you’re not paying attention.

##### Which would be a VERY GOOD THING in that chapel, but it would be kind of a pity to cover up the orange, yellow, pink, purple, blue, scarlet and lime green wool I’m using. If they’d agree to raise their hemlines an inch or two . . . it doesn’t have to be a lot . . .

^^ With dead boring photos.

‡ [with vast reluctance this rude and ribald footnote concerning a prominent evil asshole has been excised for fear of legal reprisals SIIIIIIIIIIIGH.]

‡‡ Knitting when I’m brain dead could have some impact on why my FOs tend to be pathetic.  I’M A PROCESS KNITTER.  SO WHATEVER.

‡‡ I’m still in black. I could do this for quite a while.  When I was younger and less haggard I wore a lot of black, and I Never Throw Anything Out.  So I still have . . . a lot of black.  I’d forgotten.  I’m quite glad to see some of it.  Perhaps not all at once.

‡‡‡ All right, ringing ‘inside’ is more fun. You know, like walking across Niagara on dental floss is fun.  The first pair (. . . of bells) and the last pair are usually the easiest of any method—‘easiest’ being relative, there is NOTHING ABOUT handbells that is easy, except maybe the sitting down in the warm part, which is the single thing that handbells have over tower bells, which tend to occur in gelid towers—and the inside pairs are the ones that dance the hokey cokey with your brain and leave you with footprints on your grey matter.

§ I have a great idea! Let’s all pray that the electoral college vote to DO AWAY WITH THEMSELVES, AND HILLARY WINS RETROACTIVELY ON THE POPULAR VOTE.

§§ It’s a ratbag that Saturday night tends to be popular for live entertainment. Three of us went to KISS ME KATE last Saturday and it was very, very well done . . . and I’d forgotten how frelling ANNOYING it is because I only remember how great the tunes are.  I should have stayed home and gone to the monks.

§§§ Okay. Black is good.

£ Also, who wants a new car when their old one is kind and thoughtful enough to break down in his own driveway? Aside from . . . £££££££££££

* * *

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I spent an hour on the phone to the RAC^ this afternoon trying to extricate myself from being the add-on to Peter’s membership, siiiiiiigh, the things that frelling ambush you, I hadn’t wasted a single thought on the likely status of my RAC membership all this year, till last night.  And as so often this year dealing with Corporate Great Britain, the individual human beings were friendly and helpful^^ BUT THE ADMIN IS A NIGHTMARE.  But they eventually beat their data base into submission and sent me a person. The person was about seven feet tall, eight feet wide, covered with tattoos, and looked like he probably juggled blue whales before breakfast. EEEEEEEEEEEEEK.  He was also very nice.  He said ‘broken pedal box’, whatever the doodah that means, but it sounds less threatening than ‘whole new clutch assembly’ which was what I was afraid of, because that was going to be the moment when everyone, beginning with the guys at the Warm Upford garage who have kept Wolfgang on the road the last twenty years, tell me helpfully that it’s not worth it for a twenty year old car.  LET ME GO ON THINKING THAT ‘BROKEN PEDAL BOX’ IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE. And Mr Tattoo DROVE Wolfgang out to Warm Upford with a note from me to stick through the garage office door for Monday morning.  He DROVE Wolfgang without a clutch.  Gibber gibber gibber, I said . . . and then it occurred to me that once in days very, very much gone by, I knew how to drive an elderly, persnickety vehicle without a working clutch.  And the person who taught me this interesting skill—this being about thirty years before internet searches—may be reading this blog.  ::Waves::

Stay tuned. And anyone of a praying persuasion, pray for Warm Upford to say ‘no problem.’  I’ll worry later about the six weeks that it’s going to take to import the last in existence new pedal box for a twenty-year-old Golf from Viti Levu.  I might have to start taking daytime Sam duties, when the buses are running.  No!  No!  Anything but daytime duties!

^ I have no idea what RAC stands for, but they’re the UK Ghostbusters+ of broken-down cars.

+ Who you gonna call?

^^ Um, mostly. I think one of them had had a late Samaritan shift last night and hadn’t had enough sleep.


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