It’s the third of frelling May and I am planting stuff out. And we’re not going to have any more frosts, okay? Yes? Okay?
I’ve also taken the plastic sheet off the Winter Table over the hellhound crate in the kitchen, and I’m going to ask Atlas to take it DOWN on Monday.*
They have seriously not liked the last fortnight or so of still being stuck in their potting-up pots. I am hoping they won’t waste a lot of good growing time sulking. I bought a different range of sweet peas this year and I’m going to have no idea how they measure up against previous standards because it’s been such a weird, not to say bloody-minded, year so far.
The clematis they will be climbing through is just old basic durandii, but some of the old basic ones of things are the best. She is herbaceous–not clinging–so you do have to give her string to drape herself over, but she produces cascades of that clematis dark indigo-purple coloured little curly flowers. Although this brings up a little problem with the sweet peas. There was a Terrible Accident soon after delivery and while I know what sweet peas I bought I have no idea which is which. This year’s colour scheme may be a trifle unusual.
You can’t tell much from the photo but since it’s me you might hazard that the long bare stem in the big round pot is a rose. Yup. Mortimer Sackler and she’s almost as good as her hype. She might possibly do with more leaves however (I mean even after she gets going) and last year was adorable with sweet peas climbing up her. Barring accidents of a colour variety, as referred to above, I hope to repeat the effect this year. The clematis in the pot at the back is Fuji-musume and has the most amazing big flat blue flowers: the catalogue description is ‘Wedgewood blue’. I’ve never seen anything like it on a clematis.
I love double primroses, of course, because they look like rose roses. I have a lot of doubles. I also have a million volunteer cowslips, including, this year, two rusty-red ones. I thought wild volunteer cowslips were always yellow.
And if you have to move them, or if you just think to dig them up, you can break them gently in pieces and have several primroses. I’ve got half a dozen clumps of yellow around the garden and they’re all from a single original. Oh, and the naked (rose) stem in this picture is the Herbalist.
You may correctly gather that barring frelling roses I do tend to have a lot of what is happy to grow around here. Although this is considered a good rose-growing area, roses may always take some persuading.
Berenice Perfection, if you’re counting. Camellias are an enigma. I treat them all the same, and they either thrive like mad or die. I have no idea. I do know that if you have a dry end of summer you’re likely to lose a lot of next spring’s flowers, but I’ve usually forgotten by next spring. It must have been okay last August because most of my camellias are flowering exuberantly. I’m going to try to get a few more pictures, but thanks to the beastly weather a lot of the flowers have been frosted. Berenice happens to be both huge and in a corner so she has more flowers and more shelter.
We had this one at the old house and she’s one of the first to flower and I always loved her but I got the idea that she was hard to grow and I dithered for years before I bought one. This is her third year and she . . . looks pretty happy.
And because I have one photo slot left, let’s have another Markham’s Pink. (Note that she is a very purple pink, but she is definitely pink. Pinker than these photos.) Looking at her and primroses and unfrosted petunias** and sweet peas makes me smile. It’s a good day: both hellhounds ate dinner.
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* Although this also has to do with hoping to find a better hellterror solution at the cottage than what I have at present. She should have a view.
** Next photo post. I planted some of them out today too.
I have an attitude breakthrough to report.
I’ve stopped hating the way I sound when I sing. Although hating isn’t quite right: there’s not enough there to hate, which is more the point. How I sound is so dreary and depressing and characterless. So I’ve stopped being depressed about how I sound. It’s all very ridiculous really: I’m taking voice lessons for pity’s sake because I like singing. It is seriously counterproductive to wreck the fun by going all condemningly perfectionist on my own ass.
Now some large and crucial part of this breakthrough is what Nadia has managed to do with me—I make a lot more noise than I did two years ago, and of significantly better quality. It’s not like prying a hellterror’s jaws open every time I want to sing something any more, against the clamping-shut instinct of Not Good Enough. I’m still not Beverly Sills. But part of what is ridiculous is that I don’t want to be Beverly Sills*—talent comes with responsibility and I already know about the responsibility of talent: I’m a frelling fiction writer.** I don’t need any more blasted arteeeeestic responsibilities. But I still want to be an audible member of the Muddles—and not audible in a way that makes the musical director lie awake nights wondering how to tell me that he thinks I have a great future in cross stitch or painting on china.
I’m not sure when the breakthrough actually arrived. I was aware of it after I sang for Oisin on Friday, that the whole business had been slightly less traumatic than I might have expected. That I was slightly more conscious (than I might have expected) that I want to do this, that while I am not up to Oisin’s (professional) weight, I like the variety of singing-with, the kick of singing with an entirely different instrument than another human voice or group of voices. I think I said on Friday that the more complex arrangement Oisin was playing than what I’m used to made it more of a duet—even if a sort of three-legged race of a duet, where Usain Bolt is shackled to a ninety-year-old asthmatic with a limp.
But I came away from that thinking more about how much fun it was than how awful I was.*** Which is more or less when the penny dropped, although it tumbled down in slo-mo and took a very long time to hit the floor. Never mind whether I am or am not Beverly Sills: what I do have is usable so how about if we stop with the angst and use it? I’ve been singing my tiny brains out all weekend† and Sunday, having already put in about forty minutes’ real practise as well as about an hour singing to hellcritters††, I was singing at St Radegund††† and thinking, hmm, I hope I haven’t sung myself hoarse, I have a voice lesson tomorrow.‡
I hadn’t sung myself hoarse. I warmed up not too badly today at home and went off all hopeful but nervous—my breakthrough is real enough but whether it was going to show in any way that Nadia could hear was dubious. My warm-up for her was pretty standard, with her saying things like, Now let’s do that again and this time pretend you’re enjoying it. And then the moment arrived when she asked me what I’d like to work on.
Partly I think because my breakthrough was creeping up on me and partly because Nadia has suggested or given me extra stuff to look at recently I’m in the flighty dilettante’s position of trying to learn too many pieces of music at once, and have about half a dozen half learnt. But I knew the answer to this question. Um, Dido? I said. If you can stand it.
Dido’s Lament is one of the things I’d started learning, more or less for laughs, while Nadia was on maternity leave, so it’s been around for a while.‡‡ I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned mangling it here before. Sigh. Because I am like this I’d managed to convince myself that I Can’t Sing It and of course this approach is self-fulfilling.‡‡‡ Arrgh. So not only did I keep sliding off pitch—which Nadia kept insisting wasn’t about my ear but my confidence—but I made a complete dog’s dinner of the timing, like I’d forgotten how to count or something. ARRGH. Well, I can at least relearn to count, so I frelling did. And then . . . I’ve been singing it again this week, now that the COUNTING is back in place and . . .
. . . Okay, I’m not Beverly Sills. Or Janet Baker. But I think I may even have surprised Nadia a little. I really sang the sucker. There was positively some communication of emotion in my delivery, which is probably a FIRST. Dig deeper, said Nadia—which first requires I’m digging at all, you know? And she even said at one point—after an exegesis on the relationship between the soft palate and the pelvis—that it’s great to be talking technique to me at this level.
Yes. It is. Yaaaaay.
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* Aside from the fact that we’ve already had Beverly Sills and we don’t get another one.
** And yes, I write fantasy and I do say that I hope my books are good wet Saturday afternoon reads^ and I am not Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoi^^ but I do honestly and genuinely believe that some of what I’ve managed to write really resonates for some readers. Hey, I get letters from them. And thank you very much. But the writing is nonetheless ferociously hard work. Talent doesn’t make it easy. Talent makes it possible.
^ on the sofa with critters
^^ And a good thing too, they were both utter liver flukes of human beings
*** I told Nadia all about it of course, and she said I should go ahead and learn Oisin’s version too—including the two-and-a-half-notes higher part—that there are lots of arrangements out there and my version is in fact unusually low. And about not realising I was singing high Gs she said drily, yes, it’s amazing what you’re capable of when you don’t know what you’re singing.
† I need to learn more songs. That is, finish learning, off by heart, for singing while hurtling and over the washing-up. And more verses of the songs I do know.
†† I don’t sing to the hellterror much, I have to break off so often to dive at her shrieking I lose musical momentum.
††† And two people turned around to see where that racket was coming from. I think I’ve told you this before: I am now louder than the average member of a congregation. This is responsibility of a sort, I suppose: either get the notes right or shut up.
‡ This didn’t stop me singing at St Margaret’s. I am now in Singing Mode.
‡‡ Longer than that, because I’d just started looking at it with Blondel when he left.
‡‡‡ And it doesn’t help at all remembering that Purcell wrote his opera for a bunch of frelling teenagers. It’s not like late Strauss or something.
THAW YAAAAAAAAAY THAW. I got back to my monks last night for the first time in over a week and it felt like years had gone by.* They still have quite a lot of snow so I have been making the right decision to stay home but** . . . YAAAAAAAAAY. Not that unmixed blessings are standard, and in this case IT’S BEEN RAINING AGAIN. IT’S BEEN FRELLING THROWING IT DOWN AGAIN. Arrrgh. However meteorological mayhem did assist me to get to bed early last night because the troika had a minimal final hurtle—with the hellterror forging ahead at the end of her lead and the hellhounds dragging behind at the ends of their leads which at least meant there was less Extreme Plaiting last night than sometimes.
Today I have been a thawed-out model citizen.
I got up early.
I rang morning service at New Arcadia.***
I rang afternoon service at the abbey.
And I went to evening service at St Margaret of Scotland† and clambered all over poor Aloysius with questions, including the one about having a second silent prayer meeting that happens somewhat LATER in the day. And he’s reading DRAGONHAVEN. Yes. Really.
But so you won’t think I might become vain or anything, I copy and paste in its entirety an email received in my inbox today:
Just read Pegasus. And the sequel isn’t coming out till 2014? You stink.
::falls down laughing:: And you, whoever you are, are charming and delightful and exquisite and I’m so glad you’re not my next-door neighbour.
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* As a Christian I’m still a very small child. Remember when you were in primary school summer vacation went on FOREVER?^ And the time between birthdays (with the presents and cake and everyone was supposed to be nice to you etc) went on for MORE THAN FOREVER? By the time you’re my age now you’re like, ewwwww, another birthday?^^ Take it away.^^^ But ten days without my MONKS? Totally forever.
^ In America. Over here they break up the holiday time more.
^^ There may, of course, be other issues here.
^^^ I have more hellcritters than I can handle I don’t need any more.+
+ I usually am in a hurry, of course, because I’m already late for the next twelve things, but the hellterror and I were going a lick as we wheeled around a corner and . . . came face to face with a GIGANTIC male Rottweiler on a loose lead looking at us with interest. My life flashed before my eyes, as it does on these occasions# as the woman on the other end of the lead said off-handedly, as owners of drooling monsters tend to do, oh, he’s fine, he loves puppies, and I was thinking uh-huh, grilled or roasted? But at this point, as I was about to reach down and grab my hellterror—out of the monster’s gullet as necessary, although I was aware that by bending down I was putting my jugular at greater risk—my life finished flashing and I could begin to register what I was seeing. In this case the woman was telling the truth: he was fine. And he did seem to love puppies, at least manic bullie puppies. I was also thinking, if you describe a dog as having his ears and his tail up, this can be good or bad: hellhounds and I met a bad out today.## But the first thing I noticed about the Rottie once I was looking at the Rottie is the soft eyes and the soft expression on his face. That’s your real clue—the lack of tension. His raised tail was wagging, not the stiff territorial wagging of a thug, but a floppy waving back and forth, and he was standing four square but completely at ease. You get so traumatized by all the villains out there you almost don’t recognise a sweetie when you meet one.### The two of them made an attempt to play which in the middle of main street and on short leads was doomed to failure, but it was still pretty cute. Breed that dog. We want more of him.
# Funny how much better your memory is when you’re about to die. I can’t remember half this stuff when I’m sitting at my computer trying to write a blog post.
##Siiiiiiigh. I knew from across the green that this ears-and-tail-up were the bad variety.~ The hellterror hasn’t had a genuine bad yet: I pick her up or turn on our various heels and go somewhere else if I recognise one of the local thugs. But our hurtles are also still relatively short and I choose the territory carefully. I’m putting off the inevitable bad as long as possible.
~ Still not as terrifying as the Elvis Impersonator we’ve now met twice. He has an American accent and he likes sighthounds. I keep wanting to ask him, Are you really an Elvis Impersonator? And if so what are you doing in New Arcadia? But if you’re not, what’s with the hair?
### We meet lots of nice dogs. But not many nice-to-other-dogs Rotties. I’ve known several Rotties who are pussycats with human beings but morph into the Terminator when faced with another dog.
** I was beginning to have cabin fever, for pity’s sake. After a week? Pull yourself together, McKinley. You used to live in Maine. But I wasn’t going regularly to tower practise at Forza last winter—I don’t off hand remember when I quit New Arcadia, but Forza was such a gruesome learning curve that it took me a while not to look for excuses to miss a ring—and I only went over the line into Christianity this September, and started picking up out-of-town churches. Two winters ago, which I think is the last time I had my Yaktrax out for an extended period, New Arcadia could still hold me.
*** Did I tell you I went to practise again on Friday? —Having gone last Friday, when we were snowed in. This week Gemma and Niall more or less got me by the elbows after handbells and frog-marched me to the tower. The problem is that I owe them: I owe Niall more than any other ringer in making me the mediocre git that I am today, even though he doesn’t have Wild Robert’s deranged brilliance. And if it weren’t for Gemma cheering me on I would never have stuck it out at Forza. So when they smell weakness I don’t resist very well.
They sainted her for doing something rather than wringing her hands, remaining virgin or having bits cut off, I like the Scotland part, the Anglicans recognise her too, and look at her feast day.
I never tell you about what I’m reading, right? Or almost never. This is not, in fact, because I throw everything across the room. I am a cow, but I am a cow who loves reading, and there are books that Pollyanna would let me talk about. No, the problem is that writing B o o k R e v i e w s freaks me out because I’m sure I’ll do it wrong.* So I don’t do it. So I read a great book and . . . I don’t tell you about it. I pull down an old favourite and reread it and love it all over again, and I don’t tell you about that either.
So, when I was thinking about the Future of the Blog and my wish for placeholder posts on nights I need off for one reason or another** I thought, I know! BOOK RECS! Not reviews. Just . . . here’s a nice book. I liked it. You might too.
However, being the hellgoddess, which means cranky and perverse, as soon as this brilliant notion flashed into my consciousness I knew I wanted to start this new tradition not with a fabulous fantasy novel*** but with an example of the peculiar nonfiction I spend most of my time reading.
I’d seen references to CHURCH BELLS AND BELL-RINGING, A NORFOLK PROFILE by Paul Cattermole, knew it was ‘destined to be a classic’ as the foreword says, and knew there was a new edition coming out. I’m geeky enough to think it sounded interesting, but not right before Christmas when I’m running out of money anyway and should buy a few Christmas presents†.
And then . . . fancy . . . I received an email from the sales and marketing director of the academic firm who’s publishing it offering me a comp copy. After I finished laughing—and I did try to warn the nice man that, supposing that I feel it lives up to its reputation, my puffing it on my blog will not result in a run on sales—I said yes please, I’d love one.
The thing is . . . it’s frelling fascinating. It really is. Here’s the link:
It’s hard for me to judge because I am a bell ringer, and I like knowing how things work, and how they’ve come to work the way they do. But it seems to me that anyone with an interest in cranky history—particularly cranky English history—might well find this fascinating too. Note also that I am a flibbertigibbet dilettante and pretty well incapable of beating myself through text I find dry and graceless, even if it’s the only book or article or clay tablet on a subject I urgently want to know more about. This is, ahem, surprisingly well written and equally surprisingly moves right along, bringing great swathes of archaeology, sociology, heraldry and bell-casting with it, and is stuffed with (black and white) photos and diagrams.
It’s just way cool. And good cranky nonfiction is worthwhile twice: imagine taking CHURCH BELLS AND BELL-RINGING to the café because you want to read it . . . and watching people’s faces when you prop it up against the sugar-bowl and they see the title. . . .
* * *
* What if I praise the wrong character, the wrong plot development, the wrong turn of phrase? What if I look COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY CLUELESS? I spend a lot of my life looking pretty nearly utterly clueless^ and mostly I’m resigned but I have some faint professional vanity that resists being publicly clueless about other people’s books.
^ See: Bell ringing. Singing. Knitting. Quantum Physics. Japanese.
** Tonight, for example, when you’d think I’d have LOTS of time, having SENT SHADOWS IN TO MY EDITOR THIS AFTERNOON . . . you’d be wrong. Because I also had a cup of tea with my curate, who sent me home with an armful of books on Zen Christianity and the Christian contemplative tradition—there’s a lot more of the latter than I realised—and I want to go to bed^ and read.
^ I don’t read other people’s books in the bath. Just in case.
*** I promise there are a few of these in the queue.
† for other people
Oh, never mind the future of the blog for a minute*, I want to tell you about tower practise at the abbey tonight.
We were kind of a scrappy crowd, with too many of us middling-or-less ringers and not enough of the lofty and resplendent.** I did get to ring a touch of Grandsire Triples, and it was not a great occasion but I held my line when other people were losing theirs, which is always very good practise if you survive. And we rang some plain old plain hunt on lotsa bells which is not exciting*** but is useful for grinding away at learning that too many frelling bells rhythm for us rhythm-challenged.
And that was beginning to look like that was going to be that for me, and I was thinking sullen thoughts about the plain course of bob major I could have rung in but wasn’t asked† when Scary Man called for Cambridge major. Siiiiiiiiigh. Only the lofty and resplendent ring surprise major. And they all seized their ropes, Scary Man taking the treble . . . when they realised they were one short. Oh, we can’t ring it, said Scary Man. There was a brief pause and then he turned round to us: Gemma, Charlotte and me. Unless one of you would like to ring the treble.
Gemma had just rung a practise touch of Stedman Triples†† and Charlotte is being a little cautious about getting to grips with ringing at the abbey. Also, Gemma, who is generally a better ringer than I am†††, hasn’t quite caught on to treble-bobbing, which is what you do on the treble to surprise methods. I, on the other hand, am relatively secure treble-bobbing to minor (six bells) and have been LOOOOOONGING for the chance to treble-bob to major (eight bells). I have never treble-bobbed to major. Never.
I stepped forward and grabbed the rope from Scary Man. Yes, I said.
Well, you see where this is going. I wouldn’t have headed it YAAAAAAAY if I’d bollixed it up or broken a stay or otherwise humiliated myself, and was signing up right now for a bookbinding course.
YES. I DID IT. I TREBLE-BOBBED TO A FULL PLAIN COURSE OF CAMBRIDGE MAJOR. AND FURTHERMORE I DID IT AT THE ABBEY. YAAAAAAAAAAAAY ME.‡
I’m not hopeless. Even at the abbey.‡‡
* * *
* Although in answer to the anxious emails about KES . . . not to worry. I have every intention of going on with it. KES indeed is one of the reasons I feel I can risk messing with the blog’s format. Saner, more intelligent people than I am—Blogmom and my agent for example—repeat that they don’t understand why I keep saying I have to post every night, that if I have the self-discipline to post every night why can’t I expend less self-discipline and post less often? Because I’m an all-or-nothing obsessive, is why. Next question. But KES really wants me to write it. So that’ll help keep me coming back to the blog, however the New System shakes down.
** Marilyn, looking around, said, I think a lot of people made a New Year’s resolution to come to tower practise more often. Including me, she added. —I haven’t seen her there since I started coming regularly some time last spring. But her two daughters are now old and tall enough to start learning to ring—Isolde, the older one, has wanted to learn since she was about two and shorter and lighter than a hellhound—so they may indeed start coming regularly. Aglovale was (kindly and patiently) teaching them tonight and Marilyn was standing at the opposite end of that vast room with her hands over her face saying I can’t watch! I can’t watch! (Which seems to me entirely sensible.) Isolde has inherited her mum’s Maths Brains and will be ringing Spliced Surplus Surplice Maximus by the end of the year, and I will have taken up bookbinding.
*** Except when you screw up and have to fall on your sword again
† Generally speaking if it’s something you’re learning or can’t ring reliably you wait to be asked. You only ‘fill in’ if you know what you’re doing.
†† Yaaaaaaay Gemma
††† She’s rung a quarter of Grandsire caters. TEN bells. Aaaaugh.
‡ Mind you it was not the most perfectly struck plain course of Cambridge you have ever heard. And most of the clanking was me. But I never got lost—I never got yelled at—and while when we’d started Scary Man had said, Be nice to the treble, catch her eye when you’re bobbing with her, almost none of them did: only Scary Man himself and Aglovale. Mostly I was On My Own.
The thing about treble-bobbing is the pattern is minimal: for every two steps you step back one before you go on. You do have to cling to that like mad but that’s all you have to remember. It’s all in the frelling RHYTHM which as I keep saying I have not got. I’m used to the rhythm of six bells, so I can treble-bob to minor. Probably the biggest reason I’m taking AEONS to learn to ring Grandsire triples reliably is because I’m not used to any eight-bell rhythm, either triples with the tenor-behind or major when all eight are working bells. I have stood behind the treble’s shoulder for a lot of surprise major on practise nights at the abbey and I have thought I should be able to do it—as I say, I’ve been longing for a chance to try—but—frelling eight bells.
But I DID IT. I DID IT FIRST GO.^ And even if I screw up next time I’ll know I can do it.
^ Although one other point I need to make in all this unseemly gloating is that this was a good band. I was the weak link. When you’re essentially being shuffled along by all the other bells being in the right place it does make it a lot easier.
‡‡ And Scary Man came round at the end and congratulated Gemma for her touch of Stedman triples and me for my treble-bobbing to major. You never looked like you were in trouble even once, he said to me. ::Beams:: He must be taking sensitivity training. He didn’t even scold me for my ragged striking.