I am a terrible, horrible, clueless, thoughtless, ungrateful person.
I found the second robins’ nest today. It is in my greenhouse. It’s just in a different place in my greenhouse. And, you may ask, how did I find the new nest? By dropping a new package of pots-made-out-of-compost* on mum robin’s head. Neither of us was happy. She freaked, obviously, and then I freaked, because there was a tiny feathered rocket boomeranging around my (also tiny) greenhouse. Hey, it’s a good thing the glass is so dirty: it means she stopped, rather than slamming into it. As I stood there, feebly twitching my arms like the big dumb schmuck that I am, she got herself trapped between the front corner and the door and stayed there, fluttering up and down—rather like a very small winged cat** on a hot tin roof. I’m so sorry, I kept saying stupidly, like this would mean something to her.
At this interesting juncture the hellhounds erupted indoors, and I went round to see what reckless person was at the door.*** By the time I returned to the greenhouse, the robin had disappeared. AND THEN I DID IT AGAIN. This time she figured out where the door was . . . FRELL.
I was not entirely unhinged. I hadn’t had the presence of mind, the first time, to move the frelling package of pots, and since I can’t see back there, I was afraid that the pots were literally on top of the nest, and she wouldn’t be able to sit on it even if she wanted to. I’m still not sure, although clearly she had returned and was trying. But I did move the pots. And she was back on the nest by the time I went indoors for the last time today—there’s now a strategically arranged crack between ranks of pots where I can just see a bristly slice of nest—and the top of mum’s head. Yaay.
But this is a lousy place for a nest. Several years ago when I had my first robins’ nest in the greenhouse, while it was diabolically inconvenient because it was early in the season and slap next to my stack of plant trays—you never see a nest before it’s too late to rearrange its surroundings so that you can get at the stuff you’re going to need for the next few weeks—it was very attractively arranged in the back of a narrow cardboard box I had absent-mindedly left there. The view was excellent. This year’s first nest, while very unsatisfactory for photos, was pretty good for the show. This one is a ratbag in all categories.
But it’s in my greenhouse. You know I’ve been sulking, because here is this excellent greenhouse, with a roof and everything, and hot and cold running mealworms, and they’ve gone somewhere ELSE for their second nest? Except they haven’t. I don’t think they’ve quite had time to have a second nest, which would make this one the third; and I’ve seen two robins together several times lately, which, if they’re not trying to kill each other, means they’re nesting. But I almost didn’t buy mealworms this week. Fortunately I overcame my bad self and did the right thing. If I’d waited till today, the pet shop would have been sold out.
More baby robins, all being well. Yaaaaay.†
* * *
* These are brilliant, by the way. I use more of them every year. I was trying to find a link, but I can’t remember what they’re called, and there are gazillions of plant pots out there, and gazillions of gardening sites to sell them to you. These are not just biodegradable, they are built to be short-term and to disintegrate quietly after they, with the plants still in them, are put in the ground (or in a bigger, solider pot). The one thing you have to remember, which I never do, is to tear the top rim off when you plant them out—chances are they’ll already be starting to get sort of saggy and squatty and this won’t be difficult—because otherwise you end up with this little hairy commemorative ring around your plant in its final position, which does not contribute to the effect in any way you want. But—no root disturbance! And if you get a little careless about getting your plants put in, these pots will remind you by starting to fall apart.
** There is a large, beautiful and very annoying cat that saunters around the churchyard going ‘mine. Mine.’ Whatever. Now, the churchyard is two gardens over from my cul de sac, and that should be far enough. But apparently it isn’t. The black cat that kept trying to commit suicide under Wolfgang’s wheels used to have yowling and hissing matches under my bedroom window at generally considered unsuitable hours^, with whom I’m not sure, but then he moved, and there was a couple of years’ gap before Phineas brought the hellkitten home. We had occasional feline visitors but since the hellkitten got old enough to stake territory he’s been the only one I’ve seen in the immediate vicinity. Now the sodding churchyard cat has decided to expand his territory. ARRRRRGH. I also feel conflicted because the hellcat, despite being a member of a hated race, is my friend,^^ and it does seem to me that he’s the one with a right to call the cul de sac his domain. Meanwhile . . . catfights at 3 am. My favourite.^^^
^ which is to say that in terms of sleep it wasn’t that big a deal to me, although in terms of stop making that sodblasted noise it was a big deal.
^^ The fact that he doesn’t go out of his way to torment the hellhounds goes a long way with me.
^^^ I’ve been meaning to answer the cat-repellent suggestions. The problem is that while Third House’s garden isn’t big in any absolute sense, it’s a lot bigger than I can keep covered in citrus spray or orange peel. Sure, I can fend them off one stretch of beds, borders, hedges, driveway. . . but they just move to a different stretch. They don’t like tea leaves either, but I started to have visions of changing the pH of my soil till I could only grow rhododendrons. I can’t remember—I think it’s some kind of coleus?—there’s a plant that is sold as a cat fender-off, and yes, they avoid the plant. But it’s boring. It’s not like you want a lot of these plants all over your garden. Stuff like lion dung—which at least used to be sold packaged under a proprietary brand over here—only works temporarily: the cats figure out there’s no lion. I’ve been told by people who’ve tried that mothballs don’t work worth a damn, and that’s something else I don’t want rotting down in quantity in my soil. Sonic discouragers would, I believe, also drive the neighbourhood dogs crazy, and it’s not the dogs’ fault+. And the things that squirt water, well, I don’t want to distress any hedgehogs I might be fortunate to have in my garden despite all the frelling cats. (I assume the sonic scarers would bother hedgehogs too. And what about birds? I don’t know what their hearing range is. Supposing they want to risk the high density feline population.) Aside from the fact that it would be sure to go wrong and someone would take me to small claims court for the price of their++ silk dress.
+ Although I have exactly the same feeling about dog crap in my garden that I do about cat crap: I want to kill the human responsible.
++ Yes, probably ‘her’. But not necessarily.
*** Penelope. Just by the way.
† As it happens I had a big bloated feed-the-birds catalogue fall through the mail slot in my door today. And I was reading it.^ I have been resisting, most of my life, the Bird Feeding Trap, which is One More Thing, expensive, and tends to escalate. But . . . um. I was thinking that since robins and tits and the other little stuff are my favourites, I could get one of those feeders in a wire cage where the gaps are only big enough for the little stuff to get through. But you need a frelling PhD to figure out what to buy. There are 1,000,000,000 kinds of bird food and—I did know this—different birds eat different things. And they eat them differently—so you need like six different kinds of feeders, as well as a clean and cleanable hellhound-free space on the ground. Well, we’re not going to have six different kinds of feeders, we’re going to have like one long skinny hanging feeder in a cage, and some kind of (hanging) fat block in another cage. But my (expensive) penchant for live mealworms calls into doubt the expertise of the Bird Food Pundits: they have these titchy little trays you’re supposed to put your live mealworms in. Are they crazy? Mealworms climb. In this weather they climb like frelling monkeys. I’ve got them in a big flat-bottomed planter to keep them contained—I needed something wide enough that robins could fly in and out but high-sided enough that the mealworms couldn’t stand on each other’s heads and pole vault. And, just by the way, so much for robins being ground feeders: the mealworms have always been on my greenhouse table, which is about waist high.
I wish I knew what was going on with my bats. . . .
^ Anything to avoid working.
I have just been trying to book next season’s tickets to Live from the Met(ropolitan Opera) and . . . ARRRRRGH. Glasnost and jelly donuts THERE ARE A LOT OF FRELLING AWFUL WEB SITES IN THE WORLD. The heavy hand of my suspicion falls on the shoulder of the Met Opera itself in this case, although the home site of the national Rapscallion Cinema chain is not my favourite battleground either arrrrrrrrgh. But in the first place you have to book every individual opera separately. This is such a confounded nuisance it literally loses them some of my custom—if I’m wavering about whether I want to see The Pirate, the Anglerfish and the Epipelagic Zone* I’ll decide against it just so I don’t have to groan through their horrible purchasing system again. This includes timing you out if you take too long. They timed me out three times tonight. Once it was because their site had hung.** The other two times I wasn’t anywhere near the end of their so-called time limit, they just threw me out for laughs. And then I had to START ALL OVER AGAIN. Now, I am a member of the sodding Rapscallion community, for the single purpose of being able to book Live at the Met a week or something early before rank and file are allowed in***—which system is at least finally working.† When I log on it greets me by name, and is happy to present me with my back catalogue of many, many Met Live tickets. But the moment I try to book another one . . . they want my name, several times, my email address, several times†† . . . you’ve got something like ten screens to get through FOR EVERY GODSFRELLING SODBLASTED TICKET, including things like ‘choose credit/debit card’ and you click the drop down AND THERE IS EXACTLY ONE CHOICE: CREDIT/DEBIT CARD. But if you don’t tick it, the page wipes itself and tells you you need to choose a credit/debt card. There are also at least two screens that merely say ‘confirm’. One of them is the one that crashed me. One of them is also the screen that prevented me from booking Francesca di Rimini at all. It hung for a while and then said Oops! There’s a problem!, and crashed me back to the beginning. I tried three times and gave up. I don’t know whether I want to see Francesca di Rimini anyway.†††
The day did not get off to a good start when we had a frelling tourist invasion.‡ Go. Away. I feel you notice the ‘not our town, we don’t give a rat’s ass’ much more strongly in a village than you do in a city—I remember this from Maine. In New York City it’s the tourists who are at risk.‡‡ Today’s high points were (a) when hellhounds and I were rolling along the wide green way to the mews and found an SUV the size of at least one House of Parliament rolling down the PEDESTRIAN PAVEMENT straight at us. He wanted to park on the grass so he didn’t have to pay the fee in one of the car parks. Like it costs a lot in a town the size of New Arcadia, you know? But most of the green way is blocked off from the road by trees. If you want to be the world’s biggest asshole, you have to drive on the pedestrian pavement. ARRRRRRRRGH. And (b) when both hellhounds picked up chicken bones. I want to kill people who throw their trash around anyway, and I really want to kill people who throw food trash around . . . but I suppose it’s just conceivable that some of our overweight not-at-all-wild‡‡‡ ducks might eat sandwich-ends before the rats got there, but CHICKEN BONES? People who throw chicken bones on the street should be buried standing up under the cornerstones of important civic buildings, and thus be of some use to society at last.
Okay. I’m not in a good mood.
But, speaking of wildlife—and of tantrums—cross-species adolescence, I love it. After various responsibilities and crises had been dispatched I said THE HELL WITH IT and rushed out into the garden, where I dug and toiled and planted for . . . longer than I should have, but I came indoors much more cheerful.§ My adolescent robin was perched in the apple tree right outside the greenhouse—the greenhouse where the saucer of mealworms lives§§ having a complete paddy that dad wasn’t dedicated to bringing him mealworms. Hey, you big fat turkeybutt, go get your own mealworms.§§§
* * *
* They all die in the end. Including the entire crew of the bathysphere. But the soprano goes out on some amazing top notes from the helium.
** You’re sitting there, knitting furiously^, and glancing periodically at the large banner heading that says ‘do not hit refresh or not only will this transaction crash and burn but we will refuse to let you back on our delicate, easily disturbed site forever and your kitchen will blow up’. So you don’t and . . . tick tick tick . . . eventually you time out, and then you get a snooty message telling you that if you’re going to frell about you deserve what you get. ARRRRRRRGH.
^ Got a couple more inches done yesterday, thanks to a forty-five minutes late bride. Who as a result got about seven minutes of ringing because most of the band had to go on to another wedding. Why it’s not in the contract that you’re hiring your ringers for exactly one hour from the time your wedding is scheduled to be over . . . I have no idea. Us hoi polloi keep suggesting this and the higher-ups keep muttering inaudibly and not doing anything.
*** After three years I have my seat. If My Seat is ever already taken I may have palpitations. I even found myself, this time, thinking, as I viewed with deepest gloom the six hours of Parsifal, that I wouldn’t book now, I’d wait till nearer time and if My Seat wasn’t taken . . . ^
^ This won’t actually help me much. It won’t be taken. The long Wagners are only attended by the faithful, which doesn’t often include me. There are many valid excuses for staying at home and doing your knitting from the comfort of your own sofa. I have ME. ‘I can’t stand that misogynistic Aryan bully, I don’t care if he knew a few chords’ is also valid. One of the things I have against Shakespeare is he goes on so. Wagner?? Dear merciful gods.
† First year I tried it, they took my membership money . . . and then declared ‘special events’, as for example the Met Live broadcasts, were not included. GAAAAAAAARGH.
†† They will also throw me out randomly for having ‘non matching email ID’. The first time, maybe. Typos are always a possibility. The second, third and fourth times, no. I guarantee my email address was accurate. But the gremlins were clearly getting bored.
††† And I decided I really can’t face Rigoletto in 1960s Las Vegas. Gods, demons and bell-bottoms. Why are directors allowed to pull idiot feckless crap like this? WHY?^ Stick to Broadway, honeybun. They love you there.
^ If every critic in the solar system gives it five stars, I’ll reconsider.+
+ But My Seat will have been taken, for a five-star Rigoletto.
‡ Trippers who stroll up my cul de sac because it’s quaint and part of their Sunday afternoon expedition should have boiling oil or at least hot borscht poured on them from an upper storey windows. I keep thinking about it. You know how beetroot stains—? So, you want a memento of New Arcadia? It can be arranged.
‡‡ ‘Hey, wanna buy a nice bridge?’
‡‡‡ And Darkness is going to nail one, one day. I’m just hoping he doesn’t take both himself and me into the river in the process. There would be language.
§ Until I decided to tackle the Met Live.
§§ I wouldn’t dare show my face in the garden if I didn’t top up the saucer both when I come out and when I finally go in again. In between I may be sworn at, but there are some limits.
§§§ Although speaking of the robin’s unbridled passion for mealworms: while I was inconveniently using the potting table in the greenhouse, I’d put the saucer farther in, on a shelf near the other door. Dad robin was not best pleased with this arrangement, and kept whirring in and out trying to dodge around me (and the paddying offspring in the apple tree. Dratblast it, where is the new nest?). I’d come back to the greenhouse when, apparently, he wasn’t looking, and was bending over to fetch a trowel off the ground as he came fizzing back in again—more or less as I was starting to straighten up. Both of us were dismayed—and neither of us stopped fast enough, and I briefly had a robin on the back of my neck. He trampolined off again . . .
IS NOT OVER. You will be glad to hear. Well. You are probably blinking slightly, having not realised there might be a question that it was over. Let me repeat: last Wednesday’s practise was really, really, really bad. Bad bad. Bad to the bone. B-b-b-b-bad. I’d been planning to go to the pub after and . . . I told you I ran out of there. I ran out of there because I couldn’t face the rest of them. Granted I’m a trifle thin skinned about things. Still. It was bad. And I really did come home and wail and moan and wring my hands and consider spending more time on origami.* Gemma was a little late to handbells on Friday, so I had time to do a Sarah Siddons** at poor Niall, who was feeling a bit low himself for having been (according to him, although I’m not sure I believe him) instrumental in losing a (tower) quarter (peal) the previous Sunday. We had got to the point where we were about to swear off tower bells forever and cleave exclusively to handbells, and in another few minutes we’d probably have nicked our fingers and made a blood pact, but fortunately Gemma showed up. She was quite startled at my Lady Macbeth imitation.*** She must be a fabulous family doctor†: she does that calm, patient, rational-as-if-you’re-rational-too-and-just-had-a-bad-minute-there thing superbly. She very nearly cheered me up. And she did at least convince me that my ignominy Wednesday evening had not been complete.
As previously (often) mentioned, I sometimes think my single virtue is frelling obstinacy.†† Sheer mindless persistence I can do. So there was never any real doubt that I would show up at the abbey for Sunday afternoon service ring . . . but I can’t say I was looking forward to it. The not looking forward was getting pretty disagreeable by last night and by the time I got out of bed this morning I wanted to change my name††† and run away. It’s a beautiful gardening day.‡ I could stay home and garden.
What if I turn up and they stare at me in disbelief and say, For pity’s sake go away? —Even if Gemma keeps insisting this isn’t going to happen.
In the first place there were only, and exactly, eight of us. Including me. Which meant that with me they could ring triples. Without me they could ring doubles or minor with the seventh sitting out. Triples is much better. So yaay. I’m useful. (Which has been one of Gemma’s strongest arguments right along: they need Sunday afternoon ringers. You get lots of brownie points if you ring Sunday afternoon service. As well as more time on a rope.) So we rang Grandsire Triples—with me (relatively) safely on the treble.
But the best thing was that I had a chat with Albert. I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t be there for practise next Wednesday‡‡ but that after last Wednesday I thought I should probably revert to doubles and minor till I had adjusted a little more to the (frelling) abbey’s (frelling) bells. And he looked surprised and said oh no, you don’t have to do that, everyone has trouble getting used to these bells, they’re not the easiest bells anyway, the ringing chamber is huge, and the sound is muddy and erratic.
Well . . . yes.
And, he added, last Wednesday was a bad practise. People who have been ringing Grandsire Triples for thirty years were going wrong. It wasn’t your fault.
Oh. Um. I had actually thought there was a little variability elsewhere, but . . .
But the thing he said that really sent me away with a song in my heart if not precisely on my lips, was that when he’d first been ringing here he’d had trouble focussing on each bell rope because, the blasted room being so big, the ropes were so far apart.
Focus. Yes. That’s exactly the right word, and it hadn’t occurred to me (so not a word person as I am), because it’s counter-intuitive. Ropesight is the ability to see which bell you should follow next by PRECISELY where the person ringing it is in their stroke (since everyone ringing will be in a slightly different place than everyone else). Part of the problem at the abbey is that since it has ninety-seven bells, if you’re only ringing six or eight or ten or twelve, you’re in more of a queue than a circle, and you have got used, in smaller towers with fewer bells, to ringing in a circle,‡‡ and your ropesight has probably developed from looking around a smallish, more or less circular, group of bellropes. You would think that having them more spread out would mean each comes into much sharper individual focus but in practise, as I have dreadfully discovered, it seems to have the opposite effect: they all blur together.
So Albert and I have something in common besides being bipedal air breathers with opposed thumbs. Yaaay. And then he said, let’s ring a couple of plain courses of Grandsire Triples, and you ring inside, and you can practise looking. So we did that.
I may still have a future as an abbey ringer. . . .
* * *
* I was just writing to a friend that I’d bought a couple of books on basic origami to remind myself what folding feels like, for SHADOWS, since Maggie is a folder, and a couple of books of extreme origami to see what the . . . er . . . extremists can get up to, and that I could feel the attraction of another obsessive-friendly activity but that I didn’t have time for any more all-consuming pursuits and would probably stick to cranes, which are hard enough, frankly, if you are over-equipped with thumbs. The mere fact of possessing twelve thumbs wouldn’t stop me, you understand, since I don’t hold out for things I have some talent for. See: bell ringing.
*** Out, damned bell rope! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky, just like my ropesight!
† Which is what she is
†† Not just plain obstinacy. The frelling kind. Which is much gnarlier.
††† Possibly to K MacFarquhar. Hee hee hee hee hee hee.
‡ Old Blush is out. Barely the middle of May is early even for her. It’ll be another fortnight or so before she’s in peak hurrah, but she’s got three roses full out now. And I have two robins again, so there must be a second nest in prospect. Robin #1 was rushing around yesterday dispensing mealworms but robin #2 sat in the apple tree and stared at me as I galumphed haphazardly, potting things on and swearing. Robin #2 is gigantic. I am not seeing anything about size differential between the sexes in robins—having just hit three robin-info sites^—but if it’s true that dad sticks around to feed the fledglings, the gigantic one is mama. And she’s probably deciding if she wants to risk me. I don’t know if robins re-use their nests? I won’t clear this one away till the end of the year so it’s available at a very reasonable rate, not to mention all the mod cons, like trays of mealworms on the balcony.
^ One does mention that robins are so crazy about mealworms they will take them from human hands. That does, however, mean that the human hand has to be holding the mealworms. I will pick mealworms up when I drop them+ but the idea of standing there . . . um. Peanut butter for the chickadees back in Maine was less lacerating to one’s delicate sensibilities.++
+ And did you know they CLIMB? You want to be certain of your containment vessel.
++ When I first moved over here one of the things I missed the worst was all the wild critters I was used to. Chickadees were very high on that list. It’s hard not to love something that little and cheeky. British robins are out of the same box: little and cheeky. And the funny thing is that I feel that I’ve always lived with British robins.# I know my love of skylarks and brown hares and beech trees is only twenty years old. British robins . . . I can’t imagine life without them.
# American robins are fine. But British robins are the real deal.
‡‡ Fiona and I are going to get into trouble. Unfortunately there were only tickets available for trouble on Wednesday evening.
‡‡‡ Mind you there are some fairly strange layouts in small towers too. But the small part does limit the grievous possibilities.
IT’S THE FIRST DAY OF A THREE-DAY BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND. AND THE CROWN ON ONE OF MY HORRIBLE STUPID TEETH HAS JUST FALLEN OUT. I’m so happy. Happy, happy, happy, happy.
It has not been a brilliant day and furthermore Peter is in Cardamomlinghamshire visiting relatives so I don’t even have him around to blame.*
Gemma told me last night, cheerfully, on her way out the door after handbells** that she probably won’t be there for afternoon ringing at the abbey on Sunday. She saw the stark panic flood my face and said hastily, you’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. I’ll be fine, eggs grow on trees, teabags make the best tea, and Charlemagne was a girl. AAAAAAUGH. Last Sunday it was five fabulous male ringers . . . and Gemma and me. AAAAAAAAUGH.
I’ll be fine. Yes. I’ll be fine. I’ll take my knitting. . . .
AND WE’RE GOING TO HAVE A FROST TOMORROW NIGHT. A FROST! A FRELLING, FRELLING, FRELLING, FRELLING FROST! IT’S MAY! IT’S MAY IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND! WE’RE ALLOWED TO PLANT LITTLE TENDER GREEN THINGS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND IN MAY IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND!***
I had quite a nice time in the garden a couple of days ago—when it finally stopped raining long enough to make this practical—playing eenie meanie with all the racks and rows of little green mail-order things that arrived during the floods and are still waiting to be put somewhere they can settle down and grow.† I planted the sweet peas, finally, some begonias, some (tender) fuchsias, most of the rest of the glads, some petunias. Today . . . today I (furiously) planted the dahlia cuttings in pots two or three sizes smaller than I meant to—I don’t have TIME for endless potting-on: stuff goes in an intermediate pot and then it goes into the ground or into its big permanent pot—so they’d all fit on a tray in case I’m bringing them indoors tomorrow night. The stuff that is already in the ground is going to have to take its chances†† . . . but the sitting-room is going to be frelling impassable if I have to bring in all the unfrost-proof things in trays and pots or still in their mail-order plastic cells. . . .
* * *
* You made my crown fall out! You did! You know you did!
** Have I told you we seem to have morphed into Thursday and Friday handbells?? Wait, wait, I have a novel to finish and I do need to reserve some brain. I think I’ve told you Gemma is a doctor, and she’s just changed clinics/surgeries which means her schedule has changed, and Thursday afternoon handbells are no longer possible. So we had, I thought, moved handbells to Fridays right before New Arcadia bell practise^ . . . except that it turns out Colin can’t do Fridays but was too polite to say so.^^ I have this habit of not really paying attention to details and therefore found myself saying to Niall and Colin, well, okay, we’ll just have to keep on with Thursdays, and Niall and I can ring with Gemma on Fridays . . . WHAT AM I SAYING. This week was the first of the new schedule and . . . two days in a row of handbells is . . . intense.
^ Which means I will now stuff hellhounds into their harnesses and pelt out the door so as to be out of earshot by the time they start ringing up. I’m getting better at sleeping through Sunday mornings though.
^ The British. ARRRRRRRGH.
*** I’m having another of those ‘why do I DO this to myself??’ moments. I moaned this to Peter tonight over the phone and he said, because you’d think less well of yourself if you didn’t^, which is true as far as it goes, but it still begs the question why do I have to choose activities where terror will be my natural environment? Why couldn’t I collect stamps or go to more films?^^
^ And given my standard level of self-appreciation this could get dangerous.
^^ No horror, of course.+
+ Avengers Assemble is playing semi-around here this weekend and I am half-tempted to go except for two things: (a) it’s in frelling 3D, and my loathing for (frelling) 3D was renewed and reinforced by (multi-frelling) THOR and (b) I haven’t got time. If I’m going to ring bells and sing and rescue all the little green things drowning in my garden(s) and finish a novel before the hellhounds and I have to stop eating, although the hellhounds wouldn’t mind, I haven’t got time.# And, just by the way, Sunday morning ringing at New Arcadia is forty minutes plus a one-minute bolt from the cottage to the tower and a more leisurely several-minute stroll back. Sunday afternoon ringing at the abbey is an hour, plus a half hour commute. Also, terror is tiring.
# And the blog is a not insignificant eater of time.~
~ And there are a lot of doodles waiting to be doodled. Siiiigh. I should draw you a Venn diagram of Available Energy Usage by Robin McKinley some time. I don’t know if this is the frelling ME, or advancing age, or just that I’ve always been peculiar, but what I can and can’t do isn’t just about whether I feel (relatively) alert and intelligent or as if I have ham salad for brains and limbs made of half deflated inner tubes. It’s more of a Chinese-menu situation where you want stuff from as many columns as possible. And your fortune cookie is still going to tell you you’re frelled.
*** Meanwhile friends in the Midwestern prairie are having temperatures pushing ninety (°F).
† I’m still seeing disturbingly few little feathered things in the shrubbery.^ I wouldn’t have thought literal drowning was all that likely in my garden-on-a-hill, and there’s still the greenhouse to take shelter in. Nor would I have thought I have many predators out there, although what is that unpleasing line about there always being a rat within five feet of you? I’m sure my local rats would be more than happy to tuck into adolescent robin. But dad robin is still hanging around for mealworms. Robins are such fearless little critters^^ that you get a prime view of what’s going on with them. There were still two adults^^^ when I started putting mealworms out but they were very chary of me—which served to reinforce my guilt about how little gardening I’ve been doing recently and it’s not all down to the weather—but robins don’t really do chary and dad, at this point, pretty well gets in my face and says, Mealworms? Where are the mealworms?, if he’s dispatched the previous serving. I put them out twice a day, and he must be feeding them to someone because if he ate all of them himself he’d explode. The mealworm saucer normally lives on my potting table in the greenhouse but I put it out in the courtyard by the kitchen door when I want to use my table, on top of a tall pot that will have a dahlia in it eventually. He knows this. So first he sits in the apple tree next to the greenhouse and stares at me, and then he perches on that pot and looks at me meaningfully. I may have to start buying more mealworms.
^ I did get a couple of photos of the babies, but they’re not very good. The nest is tucked back behind various jars and plastic boxes of plant food and it’s dark. I didn’t want to blow a flash in their tiny fluffy faces and I haven’t been very lucky with the right angles of sunlight . . . or any angles of sunlight, lately. They’re only in the nest about ten days, I think—maybe two weeks. Not long at all. And I didn’t notice they’d hatched immediately—they were already beginning to grow feathers by the time I saw them—since I’d been trying to leave mum alone so she’d go on sitting. But I’m reasonably sure there were five of them to begin with. Five’s a lot.
^^ Unlike their human namesake
^^^ If there’s only one parent left, it’s probably dad, because mum has sashayed off to start a new nest somewhere else.
†† I may raise the odds a bit by throwing a bit of bubble wrap around. After potting up the frelling sweet peas—usually I just slap them in the ground to begin with—and bringing them in and out for about a fortnight I am VERY RELUCTANT TO LOSE THEM NOW.
Arrrrrrgh. Ringing at the abbey. Arrrrrrgh. My first go of Grandsire Triples tonight was a complete retro meltdown. METHOD BELL RINGING IS A STUPID OBSESSION. I AM GOING TO TAKE UP SOMETHING SENSIBLE LIKE CUTTING USED PLASTIC BAGS IN STRIPS, PLAITING THEM TOGETHER, AND MAKING RUGS OUT OF THEM. And then, as if this was not humiliation enough . . . Peter and I went to Tabitha, the Bowen-massage lady, this afternoon, and she has this frelling fixation on drinking water.* She gives you this frelling ewer of water to drink at the end of your session ‘to help flush the toxins out quickly.’ Uh huh. By the time we got home again I had barely an hour before bell ringing . . . and of course I had to have a cup of tea. Face Grandsire Triples with a bell-rope in my hands without a recent injection of caffeine to stiffen my resolve? No chance. And the result was. . . .
I had thought there was a loo at the abbey. Well, there is, but the public one closes at the end of abbey-as-museum visiting hours.** And the staff one is available only by Delphic utterance, and while Og gave me the correct orison, no one had a spare golden apple with which to placate the guardian dragon. So . . . I climbed down through the centuries again to ground level . . . and staggered dizzily out into a good-sized town with dozens of public loos—the fabulous public loo system is high on my list of good reasons to live in this frelling country—all of which were closed. Nobody needs to pee after 6 pm. It’s probably in the fine print of my visa. Eventually I gatecrashed a hotel. I might as well have been in New York City. Arrrrrgh.***
And, not that these two events had anything to do with each other . . . but my second trial of Grandsire Triples . . . was not too bad. Therefore I am writing this blog rather than getting my sword off the wall to make it easier to fall on.
I did realise I was speaking rather provocatively the other night about tea and critters. . . .
Have I shared this before? http://www.adagio.com/teaware/ingenuiTEA_teapot.html
Hmm. Do you use this? Do you like it? I’m having a little plaintive ‘why?’ moment. I like my teapot. And it works just fine. But if this one makes you happy then that’s good.
Or do you have a favorite tea infuser?
About fifteen years ago some bright spark finally invented—or anyway marketed—or anyway marketed in the UK—a proper frelling tea sieve. It’s the shape of a tea mug, and just enough smaller to fit inside the mug, and with a lip around the top so it hangs on the rim and you don’t have to fish for it. Peter and I have several, partly in case of accidents or visitors, and partly because since I tend to like my tea STRONG any infuser I employ regularly tends to pick up flavours, so I want different infusers for different teas. And that’s what I use. I also have two teapots with very large lids, which means very large holes where the lids fit, which will take one of these infusers—or an even bigger one, suitable for teapots belonging to people who like their tea STRONG. Whittards was the first I know of to introduce these purpose-built mesh infusers, but most tea shops that sell loose tea have them now.
I think being in central Texas defeats the whole notion of tea.
Phooey. Don’t any of you forum people watch THE AFRICAN QUEEN at regular intervals? In which Katharine Hepburn drinks lots of hot tea in the tropics?
When visiting in England, I loved tea. . . . But here I have a) sulphury, hard, heavily treated water, b) water that is, for much of the year, emerging from the faucet warm to hot, and c) no real desire for anything hot to drink because it’s so hot.
Have you ever tried a cup of good tea in hot weather? I drink it year round and while English summers are nothing on Texas summers, in a bad year we’ll get weather quite hot enough to lay me out and make me miserable. Hot drinks may have the curious effect of cooling you off.
And no desire to waste the water that filling a pot with hot water, tossing that water, and then filling it again means, because we’re still in drought. (Or for that matter having the stove on long enough to boil that much water.)
Good lord, who said anything about tossing it? You put it back in the kettle. It’s still half-warm too, so the kettle will re-boil that much quicker. AND YOU NEED AN ELECTRIC KETTLE. You can now get them in America although I’m not sure how common they are. But they are THE BEST.
In our rare cold spells, I wish very hard for good hot tea. But make it? In these conditions? Probably never.
Different water filters will deal with different things; presumably your local Water Filter Experts have not endeared themselves to you. I doubt I’d drink the stuff you’re describing either in tea or at all. But there is always bottled water. Bottled water varies too—there’s a lot of fancy expensive mineral water out there I actively dislike the taste of—but if you used bottled water just for tea you wouldn’t get through it fast enough to put the mortgage at risk.
I use loose tea in the cup . . . Put milk in cup first ( . . . I am one of those unreasonably fanatical milk-firsters), a generous spoon of tea in a strainer, shake strainer over bin (to get rid of the dusty bits that will end up floating on your tea otherwise) before putting on cup then pour boiling water in SLOWLY and moving around to cover all the tea. When full, leave a minute or 2 before removing strainer and stirring.
SHUDDER. Well, as above, to each her own. If this works for you then that’s fine. But your tea can’t infuse properly if you treat it like this. Milk first isn’t a problem—you just brew your tea in a one-mug-sized pot, and pour it into your mug with the milk in it. PS: Good tea does not have dusty bits.
Have to admit that this does not work well with the really good expensive tea that tends be much bigger leaves and requires more steeping – but I can’t afford that very often anyway.
It’s not just more steeping—you need hot water. There’s a whole fal-lal about water temperature, and how different teas do better at different temperatures. Generally speaking you don’t want furiously-boiling water, which may burn or anyway damage good tea. You want it some kind of just-barely-off the boil. Which if you’ve already put your milk in, isn’t going to happen.
I drink PG Tips, but only because it’s the only halfway decent loose tea to be had in this part of the country.
I’ve heard rumours that PG Tips does a not-bad loose tea. As someone who remembers PG Tips in their heyday of powdered charcoal briquettes and black widow spider legs, I am dubious, but I will take your word for it. Since I plunged into the Fussy Snob Tea world a long time ago I’m not likely to try it myself.
Short of mail-ordering from England, which isn’t an option on the poor-starving-college-student budget.
Oh, now wait a golly gosh darn minute. I don’t for a minute believe there aren’t a million posh tea web sites in America. The British tea fetish is pretty much a myth—the overwhelming majority of cuppas are made of (bleaugh) cheap tea bags, and overall, the British drink more coffee than they do tea. Sacrilege. But cult tea is alive and thriving—it’s come on pretty much parallel to the availability of proper strainers, I think. In the dark ages your only option for loose tea was those damned little tea balls on chains that you hooked round the handle of your tea pot. Except that they were TOO SMALL so you might as well use bags after all, the tea still had no room to expand. Mostly I just dumped the tea in the bottom of the pot (or the mug) and let it swirl. Since I like loooooong steeping, by the time I was ready to drink it the tea leaves had all settled tactfully to the bottom anyway. If I was using a pot, I poured through a sieve. This did mean that by the time you drank your last cup it was getting kind of . . . violent. But one of the laws of the universe is that good tea does not stew. It may get a little exciting, but it never goes bitter.
If I was making tea that someone else was going to drink with me I would sometimes use a festoon of those wretched little tea balls, so I could pull them out. I had about six.
Regarding cats vs. dogs: I’ve always preferred cats (and at my present stage of life, a dog would be impossible because I’m not home often enough).
Buy two dogs. Then they keep each other company. People roll their eyes when I say this, but it’s perfectly practical. It’s the first dog that’s the huge leap of responsibility. Dog or no dog is the big one. One dog or two dogs is details—including important details such as getting two dogs that like each other—and a little extra dog food.
But then most of the cats I’ve know, definitely including the current one, seem to think they are dogs actually, at least in terms of the being-glad-to-see-you and the cuddling.
It’s individuals really, on both sides, the humans and the critters. If I have to come down on a side, then I’m a dog person. Clearly. But there are plenty of dogs out there I wouldn’t have even if they came with a guaranteed charm for ringing Grandsire Triples (just add boiling water). And even within categories of dogs I don’t like—little frelling terriers, say—there are individuals I’m all over. I met up with Titus’ little frelling terrier puppy again about a fortnight ago and he’s still adorable. And I was taking care of the hellcat again while Cathy was here, while Phineas was golfing in Scotland [sic]. I’m actually pretty pathetic: if it’s furry and it acts like it likes me, then it’s my friend.
I hope your baby robins don’t wash away!
Me too. I’m worried I’m not seeing more little rustling things in the shrubbery. I did see dad robin stuffing mealworms into something yesterday, so I think there’s at least one of them still undrowned.
Cats rule! Dogs drool.
Flapdoodle. In the first place, you have a dog, and I bet he does not drool, any more than the hellhounds do, who are an entirely drool-free zone. In the second place, worst droolers I’ve ever met have been cats. I’m told it’s something to do with having been weaned too young. But they knead your lap or your chest and DROOL. Ewwwww. Give me an honest Great Dane any day.
Dogs set booby traps. Cats courteously bury it.
Again, flapdoodle. I have cat crap all over my garden at Third House and I don’t feel the least kindly and tolerant about it. One of my absolute pet peeves is the fact that cats are allowed utter freedom to trash other people’s property, shred, roll in or dig up their plants, crap all over their driveways, claw their doorframes, eat their endangered songbirds and have yowling cat fights under their windows and that’s just the way cats are. I completely agree that dog owners should pick up after and generally control their dogs . . . but it bites me big time that there is no regulation of cats. Including that they get to make your dogs’ lives hell because it amuses them to act like jerks.
I will acknowledge that dogs are inclined to leave landmines. BUT…. Cats also leave them. In your garden beds. Where you can find them whilst you are on your hands and knees weeding….
I think that we’re frelled no matter which side we take…
Yes. That’s about it.
Diane in MN
I like cats–at least, I like doggish cats–but I seriously do not like litterboxes, or the little kitty feet on the countertops after they’ve been in the litterbox. I admit that my dogs can slime the countertops, but there is a difference, however slight.
This is pretty much the deal breaker with me. The little kitty feet on my counters. I’ve lived with cats. And I’ve liked the cats I’ve lived with, and I find purring very soothing to go to sleep to. But cats leap. That’s the way they are.
I love both dogs and cats, but I have an absolute No Feet or Butts on Food Preparation Surfaces rule for everyone — cats, dogs, small children (who might sit on countertops).
And how do you ENFORCE this? Dogs and children are (relatively) straightforward to train. Cats, not so much. I know they can be trained, and that what I react to as head games is the cat idea of social interaction, but how do you keep them off your countertops? Barring poisoned spikes, that is, which would be kind of in the way at suppertime.
So what kind of tea do you drink? I like a good cup of black tea and I know that bags are cheating, but what do real Brits drink? I suspect it’s not Twinings.
Well, this Brit drinks Twinings. Teabags. English Breakfast. Weak, no milk, 1/2 a sugar. A brew less like Robin’s it would be hard to imagine!
Which is to say everything is about individuals.
* * *
* Speaking of obsessions. I wonder if she’d like to go halves on developing the plastic rag rug market.
** I think the loos stay open later if there’s a late service or a concert. —The admin, and the proliferating admin decisions, about trying to run a major national centre of practising Christianity and an internationally famous tourist attraction must be mind-blowing, and not in a good way. Any big corporation is a complex mess to run but when the widget your factory produces is spiritual enlightenment, wowzah, oil and water are soulmates in comparison. I know people who know people, and the abbey is a complex mess. And I’m told our tower captain watches the abbey diary like Jeremy Lin watching the ball,^ and not infrequently phones up this or that person and says, pardon me, but shouldn’t the bell ringers know about this? Oh—er—yes, says this or that person. Sorry.
^ Good gods, I just made a sports reference+. Sorry. But I like stereotype breakers, and he is one.
+ That isn’t about horses. Hey, did you know that Great Britain has a very strong dressage team for the Olympics this summer? First flicker of interest I’ve felt in the Olympics, which I would much rather were being held somewhere else. Katmandu. Neuquen City.
*** Gemma had given me the keys to her house. This would have involved driving, for pity’s sake. For a LOO? I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. I was jingling her keys in my pocket and wondering what the chances were that Wolfgang would start not once but twice only about twenty minutes after I’d turned him off^ when I took a sharp right and shot through the doors of the Hotel Forza Verduta. Fortunately the only receptionist was on the phone. I heard her say ‘There is a train from London . . .’
^ No, I still haven’t booked him in to get his starter motor replaced. I know, I know. And I don’t like living dangerously. I’m just disorganised.