Here’s a question for you: if you have become a sort of vegan-paleo-alkaline-raw-foodie person, what the jolly doodah do you eat coming off a savage bout of stomach flu? And I mean savage. It only lasted about six hours, thank you God, but I was a double-ended geysering hellhound in all ways except fur, long pointy nose and long tail for the duration. I was certainly walking on all fours because I couldn’t stand up: the world spun quite amazingly, and my heart was going about four hundred beats a minute. Throwing up always makes my heart race* but it usually slows down again. In this case it went on trying to shake me off the bed.
I crept downstairs at one point because there was quite a lot of moaning going on: the urgency had come upon me very suddenly and I hadn’t got the hellmob out for any more than a bit of grass on the street corner—my garden has no grass, except the stuff that flies over the wall and colonises my potted plants, and dogs need grass. Ask any dog. But I’d been going about indoors briskly doing stuff because I had a friend coming today, Saturday, I am describing the scene from yesterday, Friday, and, okay, I could have done some housework earlier in the week but . . . well, in the first place I didn’t, because I don’t, and in the second place since the floor needs sweeping/hoovering again approximately the minute I unplug the blasted hoover and jam it back into its current corner** because my resident fur factories are never off line, there’s not a lot of point of trying to do it ahead of time. I’ll just have to do it again. Which is inefficient, right? There were still fresh fur eddies in the draft from the door this morning when I brought my friend home Sigh.
And then, you know, there’s all that other stupid stuff that housework consists of.*** And I’d been hoping to get back out into the garden again—did I tell you I have hauled two entire Wolfgang loads of garden detritus off to the dump? Chiefly consisting of nettles, but other weeds and some rose-prunings did appear.† This is only the beginning. And, erm, it’s already frelling August.†† I was going to get my garden sorted this summer.††† And I had a friend coming! I didn’t want to lock the kitchen door and hide the key and say offhandedly, oh, you don’t want to go out there! ANYWAY. I crept downstairs at one point when the moaning was reaching something of a pitch, opened the garden door, left it open, which I never do unless I’m there to supervise,‡ and crawled back upstairs again.
Well, I didn’t get out into the garden. I also missed my appointment with my estate agent to discuss the Letting of Third House. I missed Friday afternoon handbells. When I could finally stand upright again I just about managed to do a quick stiff-brush thing on the stairs, which, due to a little backlist-box problem, won’t really accommodate a hoover at present. And I hurtled the mob. Not nearly well enough, according to the mob, but I told them they were lucky to get out at all. And I had COOKED green beans for supper and they stayed down. Yaay.
And it was great to see my friend today. This is someone I haven’t seen in years because we’ve both been having adventures—not all of hers have been desirable either—but she’s the kind of friend you just pick up with again like you saw each other last week. I even ate lunch successfully. And took her for a hike over gorgeous late summer Hampshire countryside without falling down.‡‡ And drove her back to the train where we promised not to lose touch again. But I’m way too brain dead to work tonight, so I thought I’d write a blog.
* * *
* Things You Would Be Very Happy Not to Know About Yourself
** I have still not found the perfect storage space for a hoover, which is an awkward, bulky object, in this house with no storage AND covered in bookshelves on all the walls and piles of books in front of all the bookshelves. There’s the attic, of course, but if it disappears into the attic I really WILL never use it again. Haul it up and down my narrow little rail-free ladder stairs and back up again? Never happen.
*** As I have often said before, I don’t hate housework^, I hate the time it takes.
^ Except hoovering. I HATE hoovering. I’d rather be on my knees with a Patented Pet Hair Remover and a stiff brush. Which is indeed what I usually do.
† Note that you can still be stung by a nettle that has been frelling dead for a frelling week, lying on the ground waiting to be bagged up. I assume I don’t have to tell you how I know this. Also, nettles hide. As I say, most of eight gigantic bags of green stuff were nettles.^ I TOOK OUT A LOT OF NETTLES.^^ But the minute I go back indoors again and look out my kitchen window THERE ARE NETTLES. I just blitzed that area! I exclaim in outrage. No. You didn’t. Hahahahahahahaha, say the nettles.^^^
^ Although the last bag or two contained quite a lot of this small variegated-leaf tree put in by my predecessor, so it is no doubt rare and admirable and I don’t appreciate it properly. Phineas, my poor neighbour, came hesitantly up to me about a week ago and explained humbly that this thing had colonised the roof of his conservatory to the extent that he was beginning to worry about said roof maintaining its present desirable state of leakproofness, not to mention that my tree was shutting out the sunlight to the dismay of the huge planters of geraniums that live in the conservatory. Oops. Now it’s true that my garden has become even more of a jungle the last year or two but slightly in my defence in this case this is a very enthusiastic tree+ and since it was growing forward over its end of my garden in a very liberal manner and I can’t actually see over the wall to Phineas’ conservatory roof I had no idea that it was doing exactly the same in the other direction. Arrgh. I’ve hacked it back some, but more is necessary, and first you have to get THROUGH the stuff on my side to reach the stuff on the other side, which involves being poked in the eye, clawed, strangled, hair-yanked, and the delightful experience of repeated disgorgings of scratchy leaves down the back of the neck. ARRRRGH.
+ It must be part nettle
^^ And I have the scars to show for it. According to some of the Birkenstocks-and-beards natural medicine sites, nettle stings are good for rheumatism like bee stings are. I’m allergic to bee stings, so that’s out. I’ve been on the anti-rheumatism diet for about twelve years because it works, but I was thinking, if I keep a corner of my (tiny) garden sacred to nettles, if I went and rolled in these occasionally could I eat a tomato? Sigh. It would have to be a very good tomato.
^ The really bizarre thing is that I’m kind of fond of nettles. All part of my yen for self-torture I suppose. But a lot of weeds just make me snarl: creeping buttercup. SNARL. Ground elder. SNARL. And Japanese anemone. EXTRA SNARL. You gardeners are about to tell me that Japanese anemones are lovely, graceful and entirely desirable garden plants. No they’re not. They’re frelling takeover frelling thugs. THEY’RE WEEDS. Like frelling crocosmia, another so-called desirable garden plant. Rip out where seen. I don’t actually want a lot of nettles around—they, you know, sting, and they aren’t exactly beautiful—but maybe I’m just remembering that the presence of nettles means you have a nice healthy garden, that they’re good for butterflies, that you can eat nettles+, or that as an herbal tincture they’re useful for a lot of what ails you. But whatever. I kind of like them. This doesn’t stop me tearing them out. And getting stung spectacularly because when they’re cross, and pulling them up does tend to make them cross, they will sting you through your clothing.++
+ You can eat ground elder too but I’d rather not. Nettles are pretty reasonable, and I positively like nettle tea.
++ Reasons to be glad you’re wearing glasses instead of contacts: being lashed across the face by the eight-foot nettle you didn’t notice when you were pulling up some little ones at the eight-footer’s ankles. Owwww. Also, nettles across the scalp? Um, if it’s good for rheumatism, will it make your hair grow?
†† How did that happen? May was last week.
††† I think I say this every summer. This summer, however, I’m here all the time. On the other hand, this summer, I’m spending a lot more time lying on the floor in a state of ME stasis than usual. There’s just about enough floor space left in the kitchen for me to lie down on it, if I contort a little. The problem with lying on the sofa is that the hellmob expects to join me, and there are days when I can’t face being lain on by a hellmob with twenty-four or forty-eight elbows attached. If I lie on my bed, as previously observed, there will be moaning, but if I lie on the kitchen floor, it’s like, oh, hi, and we can all kind of curl up together. The hellterror is especially pleased because generally speaking she is expected to keep her attentions to herself since she is very . . . attentive. But remind me to tell you about my shrinking kitchen floor.
‡ The creativity of dogs, when presented with a garden, is much undervalued. Especially by the owner of said garden. Who furthermore will be cleaning up the kitchen floor of uningestables experimentally ingested.
‡‡ Granted I’m perfectly capable of falling down without any help from stomach flu aftermath totteriness.
It started raining in the five minutes between bringing hellhounds in, taking my raincoat off because it’s HOT and it’s not raining, and furthermore it’s not SUPPOSED to rain, this slender pause including hastily checking that my next organic-grocery delivery is not too deranged, because my deadline was midnight and I tend to get a little carried away about how much I’m going to put through my juicer* this week and probably needed to halve my beet order and quarter my carrot order**, and taking the hellterror out. I was so not expecting it to be raining we were halfway to the main road before I realised I couldn’t see out of my glasses*** and my hair was sticking to my scalp. By which time I couldn’t be frelling arsed to go back† so we went on: the hellterror doesn’t like the rain any more than the hellhounds do, and as soon as nature’s demands were satisfied I’d be dragging her on for a bit of exercise for exercise’s sake while she tried to head for home††. We were in no danger of drowning. In an increasingly sodden state we passed under an awning where another damp, un-raincoated figure was addressing himself to his smartphone. Calling a friend for a lift in bad weather doesn’t work when you’re hurtling your domestic fauna. Hey, great weather, he said. It started raining in the five minutes between taking the first dog shift indoors and taking the second shift out, I said. He grinned (maybe his friend had with the car had said yes. Maybe he was placating the crazy old lady with too many dogs). Life is like that, he said.
* * *
*This should have gone up last night but I am having Extreme Computer Problems, to the extent that I really don’t know what to do. Raphael was just here today, bringing my supposedly-mended ultrabook back and taking away the seriously insane old laptop that I’d been using in its absence and I can still barely make this one do anything. If this post is not up to standard I can plead extenuating circumstances. –disintegrating ed
* My juicer and I are no longer best friends. When Alcestis first demonstrated hers she gave me beet, apple and carrot juice, and her juicer, which is the same one I then went home and bought^, calmly and elegantly chomped the doodah out of what she put through it, and produced a sparkling cascade of perfect juice. Mine, when presented with a series of hard things like apples and beets and carrots and sweet potatoes^^ has a tendency to buck like a rodeo bronc and spew a thin spray of juice through its not-quite-blast-proof joins. Beet juice STAINS. The bucking also tends to slam it backwards into the row of books which adorn the edge of my one ex-usable countertop, which has become my desk, which is not popular either. I now wrap the freller in dishtowels and hold on while it’s juicing. There tends to be language.
^ This was three or so years ago, when Alcestis was still walking and doing things like her own juicing, and I still thought my money problems were no worse than usual.
^^ Yes of course I cut them up. Am cutting them up in smaller and smaller pieces too.
** I’m still experimenting with how much raw cabbage I can hide inside the (raw) beets, the (raw) carrots and the (raw) sweet potatoes. I get a little lip-curly at these shiny fashion-conscious smoothies for health!!!! sites that suggest you slip in two or three raw spinach leaves with your mango, your banana, your pineapple, your yogurt and your half a cup of honey and you’ll never know they’re there! I like raw spinach. All rational people like raw spinach.^ You want hard core, I suggest raw cabbage. I, one of whose food groups is broccoli, still prefer it steamed long enough to get rid of the brassica bite. And cabbage . . . I’m not sure how this works out in terms of comparative quantities and proportions^^ but I can make one medium-sized cabbage disappear in a quart of juice—I drink a pint and put the other pint in the refrigerator for the next day. According to the purists you should juice every day because all the freshiest freshness goes away almost immediately. I think these people have staff. I could use a second pair of hands to keep the frelling juicer under control.
^ All right, all right, most rational people. I say nothing about cooked spinach.#
# And yes, spinach can be cooked in ways that are not slimy and disgusting. But what a waste.
^^ I spent way too much time this afternoon, when I should have been writing MMMPH or MMMMPH or AAAAAAAAUGGGGHHHHH, trying to put together a hellmob food order, now that I have made a thing of beauty# of the canine larder corner and discovered that I’m all out of stuff I thought I had lots of and have tins and bags and bales and boxes of stuff I keep buying because I can’t find it so I think I’ve run out. Arrrgh.## I use several different critter-supply sites because I really get off on making myself a drooling psycho hag, and because any faint quiver of interest from the hellhounds in a food or food-related substance and I’m on line researching. And every site lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently AND every frelling brand of frelling critter food lists its quantities and comparative cost rates differently I HATE MATHS I HATE MATHS and let’s not even approach the extremely embattled topic of INGREDIENTS LISTS.### But Pooka was smoking from iPhone calculator overuse, and that’s only the numbers I think I can translate enough to plug them in to see how or if they talk to each other.
# Pink, purple and turquoise plastic beauty. There’s also a rather nice table half buried in there which I keep thinking I should extract and put somewhere it can be admired, instead of ruining its delicate profile by making its legs into a pen for 15-mg bags of kibble, which are, you know, dumpy. But when I say put somewhere, where, exactly, do I mean?, put somewhere.
## Next time: goldfish.
### I don’t want to know how fabulous and wonderful your flaming whatsit dog food is! I want to know WHAT’S IN IT! I want to know EXACTLY what’s in it!!! One hellcritter’s hypoallergenic is another hellcritter’s owner getting up three times in the night and it should have been four times! It also pitches me into rabid meltdown mode when I’m looking at an ingredients list and it has fu—fugging CORN SYRUP and/or SALT in it. WHAT THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING FRELL. Let’s force our dependent critters to develop the same stupid harmful addictions that we’ve given ourselves. Dogs don’t know from sugar! Don’t freaking TEACH THEM. Also . . . WHY??? Neither the corn syrup nor the salt is going to be a substantial enough part of the treat, since it’s usually treats that are toxic-ified up this way, to make a profit difference to the manufacturer, so WHY??? I get it, kind of, that baby food is often spiced and sweetened and salted up because mums taste it and might think it’s too bland for their precious darlings who are going to grow up to rule the world and need to get a head start on the corporate dining thing, but DOG FOOD? Okay, I tried Alpo when I was a kid~, but generally speaking we DON’T taste our dog food, do we? DO WE? Especially (let’s say) the dried, smoked, salted and sugared . . . um, leftover innards and genitalia of critters whose more-admissible-in-polite-society parts do mostly land on human dinner plates? ARRRRRRRRRRGH.
~ This could perhaps explain a lot. How many of you out there tried Alpo when you were kids and have grown up Strange?
*** My new glasses, just by the way. I’ve needed a new prescription since I got the first ‘come in for your eye test and discover you’re turning into an octopus’^ reminder letter last autumn but there were other things going on, and after Peter died my eyes went completely doolally and I didn’t want to buy new glasses and need another new prescription a fortnight later. Especially not at these prices. But by this summer I could barely see out of the old ones and there were some Terrifying Moments when I’d ripped my glasses off and laid them down somewhere while I got on with something held immediately under my nose because my close, I mean very close, I mean very very close, vision is still pretty good . . . and then couldn’t find them again. My glasses, I mean. And I am definitely in the category of not being able to see well enough to look for my glasses unless I’m already wearing them. More Interesting Reasons Why I’m Always Late for Almost Everything,^^ Franticly Patting the Floor for Possibly Fallen Spectacles.^^^ However, this being able to see again thing takes some getting used to. I keep making little jerks at my face every time I get the knitting out or open a book, because of course I need to take my glasses off. Erm. No, I don’t. I also keep trying to peer over them when the new, functional close-work strip is at the bottom of the lens, resulting in some very interesting neck-cracking up-and-down comportment.
^ Well, I’ve always had very light-sensitive skin, and lots of stuff gets worse as you get older.
^^ Except Mass with the monks. I may tear in seconds before the priest and server process . . . but I’m there.
^^^ Also, Another Excellent Reason for Having a Small House, although in These Circumstances Not Small Enough.
† Plus a dispiriting replay of the huge tragic eyes from Chaos, who has recently decided that every time I take the hellterror out it’s a personal betrayal. SHE’S LIVED WITH US FOUR YEARS AND YOU ALWAYS GO OUT FIRST. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM.
†† FOOOOOOOOOD. She only gets fed immediately on return occasionally, but she doesn’t want to make a mistake if it’s one of those days.
Or, Some Things Don’t Change
I blew off handbells today. Shock. Horror. But our usual Friday afternoon handbell madness is occasionally held in Morocco, because one of our regulars lives there, and for her to come here is a very long commute for a couple of hours of somewhat erratic handbells, since we are not all up to Niall’s standard, and occasionally we all go to her instead. Furthermore she has a big garden full of wildlife and if the handbells are going badly someone can always look out the window and say ‘oh, look, a djinn.’
But the days we drive to Morocco are a long commute for those of us coming from New Arcadia and Mauncester. And I, as I have told you, am beginning to do a little story-work again, but it’s kind of a struggle*, and most of this last week has been a non-event due to obsessing about the interment, the interment, and disintegrating after the interment. And while I wasn’t looking, the story that was (I thought) unspooling the most steadily got itself into the most spectacular matted mare’s nest** and yesterday I pulled most of it to pieces trying to figure it out, speaking of morale problems. So when Niall told me handbells were at Jillian’s today I demurred and said I needed to stay home and work.
Well, I did need to stay home and work. This is not necessarily what happened. THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED. What happened is by mid-afternoon I was having difficulty not throwing this ARGLEBARGLEDOODAHBLITZIT object across the room, which is to say my so-called computer***, AND the mare’s nest now resembled a plait of plastic rope that someone has set fire to. Not only is it not pretty and is incapable of holding anything together it PONGS.
So about the time Niall would have been setting off to Morocco I LEAPED INTO WOLFGANG AND WENT TO MAUNCESTER TO LOOK AT STORAGE SOLUTIONS. Such vice! Such wickedness! Where I came in: some things don’t change. I used to do exactly this in similar situations back in Maine. When the pong of melted plastic rope got too much I would leap into Ferdinand and drive to Ellsworth and look at storage solutions, lack of storage having been a guiding principle my entire life. The lilac-covered cottage in Blue Hill was smaller than this one†, but I had fewer bad habits in those days†† and now that I don’t have Peter’s larger house to spill into (and out of) the corners of, um. I also had only one dog in Maine. The hellmob larder situation is extreme AND IS TAKING UP POTENTIAL BOOK SPACE.
I can’t say I solved it, but I did come home with two Very Large Plastic Crates and four small ones. I did not choose these because they were the cheapest bins available, which they were, but because I could get them in purple, turquoise and pink.
Some things don’t change.
* * *
* It’s always a struggle, it’s been a struggle for approximately sixty-three years^ it’s just sometimes my vorpal blade is shining with a burning flame and going snicker-snack and sometimes it is more of an overripe banana going squish. I’m glad that—as someone on the forum has I think said—the Story Council seems to have unearthed my address and has started sending me possible projects again^^ but speaking of things that don’t change I’m working on two short things and a long thing, and the short things are (a) a SEQUEL to another short thing and (b) a retelling of a frelling fairy tale which means these are both RIFE WITH PERIL for someone who doesn’t do the short thing all that well, I mean, even rifer with peril, because a sequel means that there’s more there, you know? Which is how accidents happen. And retelling fairy tales . . . eh. My record here speaks for itself. And the long thing is, well, long. So the Story Council’s latest hot delivery is THANKS SO MUCH YOU GUYS, a novel that has been lurking in the back of my mind and the bottom of my cough-cough-cough-cough filing system for thirty years. Yes. Really. This is something I started poking at after BEAUTY, and then SWORD snatched me away, saying, yes, yes, you said that Damar was scaring you, we let you write BEAUTY to settle you down, now pay attention. This other thing has waved to me from the shadows from time to time since then but . . . GO AWAY. I’M SURE YOU’RE ADORABLE BUT I HAVE ENOUGH GOING ON.^^^
^ My memories of telling myself proto-stories in my crib are comparatively mellow
^^ Although I don’t actually think it’s the Story Council’s fault in this case. I think I’ve been ignoring that slap on the doormat that says INCOMING, unless, of course, it’s a gardening catalogue, a knitting magazine+, or that extra-specially splendid thud that declares A NEW BOOK, because, of course, I need more books, I can’t get up the stairs in either house because of the book boxes++: that is, I can, because I have long legs and I won’t sue myself, but nobody else can. However given that my housekeeping skills have never had a lot of profile and have been almost completely dormant for the last eight or nine months, repelling visitors has become an act of charity since the only loo in either house is . . . upstairs.+++
+ I have something hilarious to tell you. I NEED A NEW KNITTING PROJECT. I NEED A NEW KNITTING PROJECT. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, stop, stop, hahahahaha I can’t stop, HAHAHAHAHAHAHA STOP. Yes. Well. I’m sure I’ve told you that I’ve turned into the Crazy Knitting Lady Super-Extra Model since Peter died because having my head down over a lapful of yarn helps me not cry in public, and knitting through the sermons every week at St Margaret’s has revealed that, because I’m a fidget and sitting still takes effort, knitting furthermore helps me concentrate.# With the unsurprising outcome that I’m getting through rather a lot of it. The shortcoming of this system is that I can only do plain, plain, PLAIN knitting because I am a bear of very little brain and if I’m using knitting to suppress the fidgets as well as the tear ducts while I’m paying attention to something else I can’t do anything clever.##
So, yeah, my house is full of unfinished projects###, like the houses of most knitters I know, but I daren’t risk trying to finish any of these because I will bobble them extremely. So I need A NEW (simple minded) KNITTING PROJECT. Too delicious. And it’s not even on my forbidden-foods list.####
# Although I have to remember not to wave a needle around for emphasis during the discussion afterward.
## The fact that the strips of that infamous baby blanket are different lengths testifies to just how plain the knitting has to be. Counting rows? COUNTING? You mean, like, MATHS? Bad idea. Really, really bad idea.
### Stuffed into an assortment of excellent tote bags emblazoned with slogans like ‘I knit so I don’t kill people’. What a pity it took me so long to discover knitting.
#### It probably should be BUT IT’S NOT.
++ I told you, didn’t I, that Atlas came off his bike about two months ago and broke both wrists?! So the shelf-building has been on hold. It has begun again, now he’s out of plaster, but the Lodge’s walls are even more skew-whiff than the cottage and it’s more sculpture# than carpentry. Which takes longer.
# The local what’s-on New Arcadia magazine this month has an ad for a beginners’ sculpture class. NOOOOOOO. MCKINLEY, IN WHAT TIME? WITH WHAT ENERGY? But I keep thinking about it. Let’s see I could give up . . . um . . . I could give up . . . =
= And it’s worse than that because I’ve started drawing again. In what time and with what energy. And what result must be considered. If my writing is too often adding three words and deleting seventeen, my drawing is adding half a syllable and deleting a page.
+++ They breed, you know, book boxes, like clothes-hangers in neglected closets. Every time I go up to Third House there’s another one in a corner that I’m SURE was clear last time. Empty wrong-sized plant pots do exactly the same thing. Arrrgh.
^^^ Unless of course you promise, word of honour and sealed in blood, that I can write you in six weeks and you will be BRILLIANT and sell 1,000,000,000 copies in the first six months.
** Like necklace chains in the jewellery drawer overnight. How do they DO that? ARRRRRGH.
*** My proper laptop—the ultrabook, laptops are so last decade—is in the frelling shop, because its keyboard went doolally last week. Okay, so, how many people eat at their computer? Like, most of us? And why can’t the idiots in development create a bits-proof keyboard? Now I’m off all cereal grains I’m not even producing many crumbs. Although tahini and pine nuts are probably worse. Anyway. I’m presently attempting to work on my old, reconditioned laptop—back when laptops were laptops—and apparently it liked being retired because It. Is. Not. Cooperating. So when Raphael brings the ultra back with a shiny fresh porous keyboard, he will take AWAAAAAAAY this pigbutt of a machine and whack it around some.
† The kitchen more nearly resembled a kitchen but the house had no attic. Reasons to move to England: public footpath system. Roses. Attics.
Not counting poor Third House I now have three gardens: the four-burner Aga size behind the cottage, the hall cupboard large enough for one unlined raincoat and a pair of All Stars if you pile one on top of the other size behind the Lodge, and a ragged grassy square about the size of the palm of my hand* in a corner between two ancient, falling-down sarcophagi in the churchyard twenty seconds from my front door. Since Peter was a clematis man I’m eyeing the sarcophagi and wondering if anyone would mind if I planted a clematis next to the gravestone–there will be a gravestone eventually–and tossed it over them as it got going. One each possibly. I’m afraid to ask what the rules about churchyard planting are since I’m sure I won’t like them.
I do have photos from yesterday but I think they may be maudlin. If I decide they aren’t maudlin I’ll think about posting them next 26 July. This one is probably maudlin too but I’m incapable of believing that a photo of a red rose is ever inappropriate**. Something I didn’t tell you yesterday because I was already too deranged is that I threw my wedding bouquet in the bottom of the hole before the box went in.*** My bouquet was the one a-little-bit sad thing about our wedding: we left for London almost immediately after the registrar finished declaring us husband and wife so I only had it about two hours; we’d only picked it up on our way to the registrar’s office. But I knew I wanted to dry it so I could keep it, so I hung it upside-down in the kitchen before we left, and it was toast by the time we got back.† It’s been sitting in a particular china pitcher for the last twenty four and a half years but I knew I wanted to bury it with him.†† Although that empty pitcher is now very eye-catching.
I wanted to say one more thing about all of this. I’m not mythologizing–much. I’m telling you the truth–my truth–about death and grief the way I have always tried to tell you the truth about anything I write here: but all public blog truths are consciously selective truths and I’m a professional writer. Peter was not a perfect human being and you already know with knobs on that I’m not a perfect human being. In some very important ways we were a gloriously, life-enhancingly, ridiculously well-matched couple. In some other very important ways we didn’t get on at all. Everyone is a control freak about something, and our control freakeries did not integrate well. And I’m stubborn, but I have nothing on Peter; I keep remembering that I called him ‘monolithic’ in my memorial piece. Yes. I’m (ahem) volatile and (ahem) reactive, not to say overreactive, um, yes, let’s say overreactive, and Peter was a proper British gentleman who reverted to type under stress. As I grieve I am not remembering a halcyon, glittering marriage with twinkling stars and fluffy bunnies–NO BUNNIES–with twinkling stars and dancing centaurs with rhinestone-studded hooves††† that went on and on in days full of unbroken golden sunlight‡ and the smell of roses, even in January. And the last two years were grim. But we loved each other and we did our best. And I miss him horribly.
* * *
* I have big hands.
** Or a pink rose, or a white rose, or . . .
*** I’d been expecting some little cardboard number, just something to transport the ashes to the ground where they could become one with tree roots and earthworms, but it was this disturbingly classy wooden box with a plaque with his name on it. Eeep. It looks like the kind of thing you keep on the mantelpiece to discourage visitors. If ash receptacles were discussed when we were first arranging the funeral, including indecorous details like the practical disposal of a dead body, I completely spaced on it, but I’m doing a lot of that. We got the British-made woven-willow coffin right, and the flowers, and that’s what counts to me.
† We had dinner at a blisteringly grand restaurant in Knightsbridge that doesn’t seem to exist any more and I kept looking across the table and thinking, you mean I get to keep him?, spent the night at the Ritz, yah hoo whammy^, spent another night in London to go to the opera^^ and then drove to Cornwall for the rest of our honeymoon. I’ve told you this story, right? Peter said, so, where would you like to go for the honeymoon? France? Italy? Japan? Er, I said. Cornwall?
^ They give you a bottle of complementary champagne if you say you’ve just got married.^ I still have the bottle. You’re not surprised, I hope.
^ I assume they check? Otherwise this system seems to me rife with possibility of misuse by the champagne-loving crowd who can afford the Ritz’s prices. Spend £1,000,000,000 on a room and get a £50 bottle of champagne FREE!
^^ Turandot, because that’s what was on, not because I wanted to see Turandot, the plot of which makes me chew the wallpaper particularly hard. I’m reasonably sure I’ve done a Turandot rant on these pages. But, you know, opera, on your honeymoon. Yessssssss. Hey, it wasn’t me! Peter suggested it! Because he was lovely and adorable and kind and thoughtful when he wasn’t being totally frelling impossible.
†† Note that dried flowers as they get older and frailer, because I didn’t treat these with anything that would make them last, become increasingly undustable, and removing sticky cobwebs? Forget it.
††† You may have guessed I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
‡ This was happening in England after all.
Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous day when I picked up that slightly-known-by-me, undeniably mad but equally undeniably fabulously talented British writer Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine airport, for a weekend of playing tour guide to someone who’d never been to Maine before. I was usually pretty good at this, and Maine is very show-off-able, nearly all year long,* but Peter was a somewhat daunting prospect. In the first place he was PETER! DICKINSON! and in the second place . . . I knew Peter well enough—anyone who ever met him for thirty seconds knew him this well—to know that he would need to be kept amused. Long afternoons relaxing in a lawn chair getting through the home-made iced tea and chocolate-chip cookies was not going to appeal.* Mind you, he was totally capable of amusing himself, but this could also be disconcerting. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that when I presented him with lunch that first day, he looked at the two or three kinds of bread, bowl of fruit, salad, and assorted cheeses, spreads and nut butters, with total dread and dismay and said, That’s not lunch! Where are the shops? I’ll go buy something. *** But have I told you—and forgive me if I have—the first words out of his mouth when he came through my front door for the first time, and I had opened my tiny hall closet† to hang up his coat, he peered into it and said, would you like me to build you a shelf? And I could do better than those coat hooks.
That was twenty-five years ago today.
Today was his interment.
I can’t remember how much of this I’ve told you already, and if I look back at this year’s blog posts it’ll just make me cry. I’ve cried enough today. You will remember that he died just before Christmas, and the memorial service was early January. Those of the family likely to want to be there for the interment agreed that there was no hurry, that waiting for better weather was a good idea. I’d originally wanted it in April, when spring is clearly here and the bluebells are out, but I couldn’t find a date that enough of us could come—‘us’ being chiefly Peter’s four kids and his retired-dean-of-Salisbury brother, who would also do the saying-a-few-words thing—and then I kind of lost heart. As I’ve told you both morale and energy have been in short supply since the middle of last December. May was passing and people were away in June and . . . I suddenly thought of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We used to celebrate both the 26th of July and the 3rd of January, which was our wedding day, but I think if anything we took the 26th of July more seriously because it was so utterly improbable that what happened did happen, and I’ve been living in England twenty-five years the end of this October and answer (sometimes) to ‘Mrs Dickinson’. I blinked a few times and thought yes. It’s going to be the 26th of July. And I hope people can come, but if they can’t, the interment is still going to be the 26th of July. I’m the widow. I’m pulling rank.
As it turns out it was a good date for nearly everybody. Butterfly-netting the local vicar was a little more demanding because of the way vicars work twenty-six hours a day and rarely answer phone calls. I finally had the critical meeting with the gravedigger yesterday, but at least it happened, and there was a suitable small square hole for a little box of ashes waiting for us today at noon.††
I’ve been obsessing about today increasingly for about the last fortnight and yesterday afternoon decided that I was going to make myself even more entirely crazy and go to early Mass this morning because I needed that sense of the presence of God that the abbey chapel gives me either like a warm eiderdown or a heavy blow to the head, I’ve never quite decided which.††† What a gift somewhere that offers daily Mass is: you have an inconveniently timed crisis? It’s okay. Go to Mass. It’s the spiritual version of kissing and making it better: it doesn’t really, but it does too, somehow. And there’s that wonderful sense of leaning on someone, or Someone, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. Your own griefs and responsibilities don’t go away, but you do get to lean.‡
I’d also decided that if I was going to wedge this in, and still get home in time to eat something‡‡ and hurtle the mob I was going to have to go in my party duds. Which today included sparkly bracelets to the elbows (nearly), a pink cashmere cardigan, the flowered Docs and the Liberty’s rhinestone belt I wore to the memorial service and my old black denim mini. Yes, I’m sixty-four‡‡‡, and I wore my forty-year-old denim mini. This occasional reversion to wild youth§ is getting more and more embarrassing, of course—it became officially embarrassing when I turned fifty which is now a long time ago—AND I DON’T CARE. Peter liked me in my minis§§, and it’s not like I do this often. And 400-denier black tights cover a multitude of the sins of age. But I am not thinking about what the group of little old conservatively dressed people at the abbey on retreat§§§ must have made of this vision in their midst, especially when it sat up front and cried like a river in spring flood through the entire service. Gah.#
So. Well. The little box was lowered into the little hole.## Our local vicar did us proud, entirely without prompting or input from me###, and had put together not only a thoughtful brief ceremony, but printed out programmes with a photostat of Peter’s CITY OF GOLD on the front. And Peter’s brother said a few words too which made me cry harder.~
We all retired to the Questing Beast for lunch~~ which put off the awful moment of coming home to . . . loneliness. With the interment it’s really, really all over, somehow. And I bunged the hellhounds~~~ into the back of Wolfgang and we went off to Warm Upford: I’m not sure if this was misty, romantic remembering or self-torture, but we walked from Montmorency’s Folly to the ridge behind the old house and through the meme field from Peter’s poem—and also, I didn’t think about this until we were already out of the car and hurtling, but we were recreating backwards most of the walk Peter took me on thirty years ago when I visited him and his first wife, which was the proximate cause of his visiting me in Maine five years later.
The hellhounds and I had a lovely walk. Late summer in the glorious Hampshire countryside.=
And then we came home again and I took the hellterror on a long hurtle== by the river, remembering that Peter had brought me through New Arcadia from Heathrow===, on our way to what was soon to be my home too, after our life-exploding weekend in Maine, when I came over for a week to see what I was getting into. . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. . . .
Maybe I should go to bed.
* * *
************************************ NOTE THAT THIS WOULD HAVE GONE UP OVER AN HOUR AGO IF MY SO CALLED COMPUTER HADN’T GONE INTO FREE FALL.
* Winter is usually fine, if you have four wheel drive and good nerves, but barring March, when everything that has been frozen for the last four or five months melts, and it is not a pretty sight. Or smell. And black fly season. Black fly season is . . . worse than whatever you’re thinking. Zombies and vampires are so overdone. One of these horror writers needs to do something with black flies. Stephen King even lives in Maine.^
^ Although he may have done black flies and I missed it. I’ve only read a few of his books—out of Maine-author solidarity, although I doubt he’s ever heard of me—because they ARE TOO SCARY. And gross. I don’t do gross either.+
+ SUNSHINE’s climax isn’t even close. The only reason it looks yucky is because most people come to it having read BEAUTY or SPINDLE or . . . pretty much anything else I’ve written.
** Aside from the fact that this was not going to appeal to me either. Nor did I have any lawn chairs. Nor any lawn. And my quarter-acre^ was overshadowed almost entirely by the magnificent old maple tree in the front yard and several house-high boulders in the back. And lilac hedges down either side.
^ Which is a TINY plot in Maine and a HUGE garden in southern England. Granted we had two acres at the old house, but here at the cottage my garden is about the size of a four-burner Aga, and the garden at the Lodge is about the size of my hall cupboard in Maine. See below. Or above, depending on how you’re coping with the footnotes.
*** I married him anyway.
† Well, it was a tiny front hall. Two of us standing in it was kind of a feet-and-elbow fest. Now add a cavorting whippet.
†† Yes of course I went round—with hellhounds—last night and checked. I walk through that churchyard two, four, six times a day anyway, because it’s the nearest pleasant bit of grass for the hellmob. We’ll be walking through the churchyard to visit Peter just like we used to . . . like we used to . . . no I’m still not cried out yet.
††† Both St Margaret’s and St Radegund’s, here in New Arcadia, where Peter is now buried, have the presence of God too, but God is, for me, especially vivid and almost tactile at the abbey chapel. I don’t feel thumped in either St Margaret’s or St Radegund’s.
‡ Someone who is better at prayer than I am can of course get the same effect at home. I do pray at home^ and I am aware of God listening, but it’s a lot easier at church, where the church-space supports your tiny personal prayer-space.
‡‡ I can’t face more than tea and apples when I first lurch out of bed in the morning. The next thing on the menu these days is a Green Drink. I will spare you the ghastly details. It’s Very Healthy, and it’s another of those things that as your taste buds change you actually want to drink. Which is kind of frightening. I AM NOT GWYNETH PALTROW. NOT.
‡‡‡ Some of you will remember I start calling myself the age I will turn in November the summer before, so by the time I get to my birthday I’m used to it.
§ Some of you will also remember the black leather mini at Forbidden Planet a few years ago.
§§ Yes, his vision had been deteriorating for a while. And your point would be?
§§§ I say ‘little old’ but they’re probably frelling my age, they’re just doing it with more dignity. Dignity is overrated. And I brought my little cropped black leather jacket^ to drape over my knees. I am not lost to all propriety. Just most of it.
^ Which is about the same vintage as the skirt. Ah, those were the days. I’m so glad they’re over.
# Some of this was sheer relief and gratitude that I got there. On the way, arriving at the turn-off from the main road AND THE ROAD WAS CLOSED. NOOOOOOOOOOO. I NEED TO GET TO MASS AT THE ABBEY! I TOTALLY NEED TO! Fortunately Wolfgang reminded me that we know another way^. We weren’t even late, although we may have been slightly out of breath.
^ There were a few ‘diversion’ signs but they were mostly invisible in the hedgerows, badly placed behind other signs or missing at crucial intersections. More mild entertainment than, you know, directions for an alternate route.
## And had all that deluge earlier cried me out or anything? OF COURSE NOT. I am pleased to say however, that one other of our company at the interment, whom I will not embarrass by naming, is also a weeper, so at least I didn’t have to do the whole soggy thing alone.
### Our local vicar is a sweetie. I feel a bit guilty for belonging to another church five miles away—which is a confounded nuisance on bad-ME days as well—but this is a political decision, and nothing against the vicar here.
~ These began: ‘Here we return these ashes to the quiet earth from which they came. They were formed of star dust and spun for a few short days into a life that dreamed and sang, that loved and wept, and died. . . .’ They’re all writers in this family.
~~ Where there was almost nothing I could eat, of course, but that’s why I needed to eat some of my Funny Food beforehand. And they did have green tea and lettuce.
~~~ Thank you, God, for the hellmob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
= Full of excellent smells, the hellhounds wish me to point out.
== I anticipate being decaying vegetable matter^ tomorrow. Never mind.
^ Oh, the wormery? Seems to be working fine. I guess. Still rather enigmatic. But it does add that touch of pink to my kitchen décor. One thing however: the bumf that comes with assures you that the worms can’t get out. Wrong. Not many+ and not often, but every two or three days I come downstairs to find a confused worm dawdling across the kitchen floor, or, more likely, under one of the dirt-catcher mats THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAN HA HA HA HA HA HA, which I am learning to check, while I’m waiting for my (green) tea to steep. I think most people keep their wormeries in the garden or this interesting situation would be More Generally Known.
+ Unless they’re congregating under the washing machine, the refrigerator, or one of the hellmob crates, in which case I don’t want to know.
=== Where he had lost the car in the multi-storey car park . . .