March 31, 2014

Shadows is here!

All change. This time it’s official.


I’ve been accepted for training by the Samaritans.

It’s a serious commitment in both time and energy:  the first training module is ten half-days in six weeks and begins in about a fortnight.  Then they start putting you to work.  You’re expected to rack up fifty-two duty shifts in a year—so one a week:  if you want to take a holiday, you have to squeeze a few more shifts in elsewhere.  There’s a second training module later in the year, and a continuing-training requirement of (I think) two half-days a year for as long as you’re a volunteer.

My initial interview process was made just a trifle more interesting by nine days without a car, and as a result I got in under the wire last Friday.  I received the email saying ‘you’re in, clear your diary’ on Saturday.

Done that.

And here’s the official notification:  I’m cutting back drastically on the blog.  No, really.  As of tonight it will NO LONGER BE DAILY.  I’m not sure what I’m cutting back to:  two days a week, maybe, plus or including KES.*

This has been coming for a while.  I know I keep saying I’m cutting back, and then I don’t.  There’s an ‘all change’ blog from a year ago January—and in fact I have cut back.  But not enough.  God** and commuting and three hellcritters take a lot of time.***

But that the blog as I have been insanely pursuing it is no longer tenable has really been written on the wall in six-foot letters of fire since the end of last year.  This is really dumb but it’s also dead common:  your spouse or partner or child or best friend has a stroke or a heart attack or is badly injured in a traffic accident or something and you go to pieces.  Peter had the stroke.  I’m knocked for six.  I’m not getting on with stuff—EBON, renting Third House—that I have to get on with.†  I want to do the Samaritans, and I think I can.  The blog is, however, ultimately, dispensable. ††

So.  It’s been real, as we used to say when turning on, tuning in and dropping out was cool.†††  And the blog has been real, in its smoke and mirrors way.  I’m hoping it will go on being real in a slightly streamlined, slightly reset mirrors and resignalled smoke way. ‡

We’ll find out.

Meanwhile . . . see you soon.‡‡  And thanks for all the fish.

* * *

* I still don’t know what happens when I reach the end of Part One.  I’ve been assuming I’m going to take a break, and I’m still assuming that, but I don’t know what having fewer Days in the Life to write may do to writing about Kes’.

Also please note I will be HAPPY to continue to post GUEST BLOGS.

** My applying to the Samaritans is God’s fault again, although the Samaritans, as they say on their opening page, are very much not a religious organisation, unlike, for example, the Street Pastors.  The funny thing is that it’s joining the SPs that has given me the confidence to try for the Samaritans—although the Samaritans have been on my radar for years.  I went through some very rough stuff when I was pretty young and spent some years in therapy, including group therapy, where you learn something of the non-judgemental listening shtick which is the Samaritans’ stock in trade—and how important having someone to talk to is.  But one of the Samaritans’ requirements is that you take an all-night shift every two or three months.  And I knew I couldn’t do that.  Then I went down with ME and volunteering for the Samaritans became as imaginary as anything Tolkien ever came up with.  Then I hit menopause and while insomnia is part of my personal package of hormonal horror . . . so is being able to get by on less sleep.  Oh.  Hmm.

And then I turned Christian and my dormant do-gooder came droolingly, rampantly, havoc-creatingly to life.  But I gravitate to the practical side of do-gooding:  handing out flipflops and cups of hot soup is practical.  But so is listening.  You may know that from having been in group therapy.  But you find it out all over again on your first pre-interview, pre-training observation night with the Street Pastors.

It wasn’t much over a month ago an ad for the Samaritans in the local paper caught my eye.  They were holding an ‘information evening’ for potential volunteers.  Yo, McKinley, said the bloke in the tatty blue jeans whom I first met 12/9/12.  This.


*** I’m also sitting here thinking about how the more I’m managing to put into my singing the more frelling shattered I am after my voice lessons.  I’d gone back to Dido’s Lament^ and Nadia said she’d like to hear it.  I’ve got like eighty times more voice than I did when I learnt it the first time and—I realise how deafeningly ridiculous this is—the volume I’m now capable of scares me.^^  Siiiiiiiiiiigh.

^ It’s interesting, this business about repertoire.  If you’ve gorblimey worked to learn something you don’t want to lose it.  You can’t keep too many things on top at once, but you can circulate.  On the face of it this is obvious.  In practise this is yet one more unexpected skill you have to learn.

^^ Remember, however, I’m still talking about making the walls rattle in Nadia’s mum’s small low-ceilinged dining room.   Not the Royal Albert Hall.

† I think I’ve done one doodle from my bottomless backlog in the last four months.  Maybe two.

†† Even if there are a lot of hours of my life I’m not going to get back that I spent writing it.

††† Which probably doesn’t actually mean ‘get stoned and stay that way forever’ although my generation in our mad youth sure thought it did.

‡ There’s another aspect to this decision:  I’m generating less blog material by the choices I’m making about how I spend my time.  There’s an awful [sic] lot about the God thing I don’t feel like trying to explain on a public blog, for example.   And while I can at least talk about the weather on Street Pastors nights, there’s an absolute black-out confidentiality requirement with the Samaritans^.  You can’t talk to anyone about what happens on a duty shift except another Samaritan.^^

^ Which, as previously observed, takes place indoors.  I suppose I could blog about the night I drop the cup of tea on the computer keyboard . . . I’d rather not be given this rich, golden opportunity. . . .

^^ And, just by the way, debriefing at the end of every shift is required.  They take care of their own.

‡‡ MY NEW WASHING MACHINE IS ARRIVING ON WEDNESDAY . . . I hope.  Let’s say it’s scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

My debut


I can’t remember if I told the blog that I’d been blowing off my mouth to Aloysius six weeks or so ago, after the gratuitous extra-fancy swearing-in of my intake of Street Pastors last January, with the forty-seven bishops and a miracle or two*, and which Aloysius and Alfrick had attended.  Given the forty-seven bishops and various other bits of high-churchery I was startled by the music, which was the Modern Christian Whatsit we sing at St Margaret’s and which drives me to despair.**

But I sang it, because singing is better than not singing.  And what I noticed—and what I imprudently said to Aloysius—is that while it used to be that when I was in a mob and wanted to feel that I was contributing, I dropped down to chest voice and BELLOWED . . .  now, after getting on for three years of Nadia’s elegant mercilessness, I make just as much noise in head voice and I suspect it’s more penetrating.***  And Aloysius responded promptly that if I ever felt like singing with the band† I would be more than welcome.

Hmmmmmm . . .

It had occurred to me some time ago that the only way I could, you know, validly try to have some effect on the music at St Margaret’s evening service is to become one of the people who produce it.  So I didn’t laugh like a drain or whap Aloysius up longside the head.  Or run away.  I said, Ah.  Er.  What an interesting idea.

And he said, If you want to give it a shot, I suggest you try it the next time I’m in charge.

Okay, I said.

. . . Which was last night.  AAAAAAAAAUGH.

Where do I BEGIN?  For example  . . . they don’t even much have sheet music.  It doesn’t actually seem to exist for a lot of this Modern Christian doodah??  It is no longer assumed that makers of music can, and might possibly want to, read the line they’re supposed to be performing?  Or possibly take it home and nervously pick it out on the piano first?  What?  And at St Margaret’s, for example, the regular keyboardist†† doesn’t read music—he plays by frelling ear.†††  Buckminster doesn’t read music either—he has a chord sheet, as does the church office guru who I think usually plays bass.  There’s a rota, and Samantha, who is a volunteer,‡ organizes folders of music for all the regulars, in whatever form the recipient of the folder prefers—so Aloysius gets sheet music (when it’s available) and Buckminster gets chord sheets.  Ugly, I think, just gets a playlist and maybe lyric sheets, although the lyrics are also computer-projected on the walls.  Samantha was a trifle startled by my vehemence on the subject of sheet music. . . .

Apparently you only get your playlist a few days before you go on.  GORBLIMEY GUYS.  THIS IS HARD ON A NEWBIE.  Aloysius emailed ours out on Thursday in the form of a title list and some YouTube links . . . and there went any possibility of my practising Italian art songs or German lieder for the rest of the week, while I got a lot of knitting done listening, relistening, and re-re-relistening to YouTube, whilst simultaneously moaning and chewing on the furniture.‡‡  St Margaret’s spends quite a lot of the evening service singing, so there were a lot of YouTube links.  Long YouTube links.  Fortunately about three of the songs are half familiar from regular evening-service use but the one that I’d never heard before in my in-hindsight-privileged ‡‡‡ life also had the worst performance, the one that made me want to stick my knitting needles through my monitor.§  The lead singer was having oral sex with her microphone, the massed electronic instrumentation was making drooly Technicolor-sunset noises which made me feel I was being hammered to death with fluffy bunnies and there was some escapee from the Swan Lake chorus line gambolling at the front of the stage WHAT IS THISALSO, WHY.  —I failed to learn this one.  I failed to go on trying to learn this one because I don’t really want to buy a new laptop just now.

But I put my time in on the others.  God help me, God, you got me into this.  And I’m supposed to trust in him, right?  Old habits die hard.  Because I am a hopeless wet dweeb I didn’t sleep very well Saturday night because I was going to have to sing from the wrong side of the microphone the next evening.  And . . .


* * *

* I could have sworn I had, because I remember remarking on the plentifulness of bishops, but I can’t find it in the archive.  It’s probably in a footnote somewhere.

** Alfrick, given the setting, hadn’t been expecting it either, and commented drily that it was out of his comfort zone.  I thought of the antiphonal chanting—and the little square tail-free notes of the music—at the abbey and tried not to laugh.  Or possibly cry.

*** I do not say this is a good thing.  I merely make note of it.

† Sic.  It’s not a choir;  the instrumentalists usually outnumber the singers, and said instrumentalists include the vicar on guitar or bass, the curate on guitar—he’s got more than one guitar, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play bass, but he has at least once played ukulele—and various admin and ordinary congregation members on electric keyboard, drums and the occasional woodwind.

Sigh . . .

†† Who I’m about to name Ugly, because he doesn’t approve of singers—and we are, furthermore, not singers but mere backing singers—and has declared that there are never to be more than three of us cluttering up the stage.  THREE?  THREE?  That is nowhere near enough bodies to hide among when you’re one of them.  I had noticed that there weren’t very many, week to week, but I hadn’t caught on that there were EVER only three.  I’m going to start putting peanut butter on the keyboard when I know Ugly is playing.  Hmmph.

††† Another reason to LOATHE HIM, just by the way.^

^ No it does not count that he probably doesn’t have a clue how to write a novel.   Or that he’s kind to his mother, has adopted six stray dogs and has solar panelling all over his roof.

‡ The kind of volunteer without whom a lot of things like churches and underfunded charities would not be able to function:  dedicated, competent, intelligent, and mad.

‡‡ Not the knitting needles.  Never the knitting needles.  TOOTHMARKS ON MY PRECIOUS ASH AND ROSEWOOD KNITTING NEEDLES?  ARE YOU KIDDING?^

^ I might chew on bamboo needles if I were desperate.  Fortunately the current project is on ash, because Hey God You’re My Bestest Bud, which I describe below, might have driven me to intemperate behaviour with bamboo.

‡‡‡ Ignorance is bliss.

§ Which would be one way of deciding it was time for a new laptop.

§§ Sorry.  I have to go to bed.  Raphael is coming tomorrow to discuss why Outlook occasionally decides to send a crucial email to perdition instead of to me^ and various other variations on a theme of technological havoc and I may be looking at a new laptop after all.  I need to be well rested for the conflict.

^ Maybe the hellgoddess shtick confuses its tiny solid state unmind?



So.  I’ve got some wall photos.  Remember the wall?

The view from my kitchen door, if you turn your head to the right. No big deal, right?


But step closer. Um. Well, maybe it’s a little bit of a deal.


To give you a little more sense of scale, that was all wall where there is plywood now holding my greenhouse together. Atlas and I recovered most of what you see from the mess in poor Theodora’s garden.


Eeep. (Atlas put the barbed wire up as a temporary measure because my walled garden is now open to the road AND I DON’T LIKE THIS AT ALL.)


This is after Theodora’s Strong Young Men did major clearing. This used to be a flower bed.


The long view. Ouch. Theodora’s garden took 98% of the damage. Mine took 2%. Plus the back of my greenhouse.

That’s Phineas’ house you’re looking through the hole at, my semi-detached neighbour.  The cottage is hidden behind the greenhouse.

Some dizzy and confused tulips are trying to grow.



And there’s still a lily pond under the rubble.



Sigh. Poor Theodora.


Bells, books and . . . um, candles*


So I wasn’t going to ring bells either yesterday or today.  Because I had this book to finish again, in this case dealing with my editor’s queries.  This is the stage, I find, where a good 90% of everything you do you throw out.  Because the book by this time is pretty much The Book and it doesn’t take kindly to your meddling.  I know this going in and therefore morale is not high.  Plus there are those delightful moments when your editor—okay, my editor—finds those places where you—I mean I—had a brain spasm and cut out something crucial or inserted a few random phrases while you, I mean I, was under the influence of the Gflytch transmitting station on Venus.  And so there’s a little note in the margin saying, um, what is going on here?   And you—I mean I—have to do something.


But, you know, my mere career isn’t going to keep me from bell ringing.**  But the weather will.  Yesterday afternoon I cancelled going to Glaciation that evening because it’s kind of a long way, as I count long ways, and on twisty little back roads, and it was supposed to snow and sleet.  Whereupon frelling Niall rang up at about an hour before time, while I was in the throes of chapter divisions***, and started leaning on me to come to the once-a-month practise at Old Eden.  ARRRRGH.  He knows me too well:  my ringing life feels to me chiefly notable for long languishing periods where I don’t actually learn anything either because the practise is too busy and there are too many people that need to get their hands on ropes during the course of the evening, or because the practise isn’t busy enough and can’t provide the band I need—I who only learns by ENDLESS FRELLING GRIND.  I therefore really hate the idea of beginners not getting their grinding because there aren’t enough ringers to make a band.  So Niall, grinning evilly, picked me up at the mews and brought me in triumph to Old Eden, where Vicky, looking up in surprise, said, Ooh!  The cavalry!  And while we had eight ringers for six bells . . . only three of us were proper method ringers, Niall and Vicky and me, so yeah, I served a purpose.  Oh, and then the weather did not plunge below freezing, the roads stayed dry, and I could have gone to Glaciation after all.

Tonight is the twice-monthly ‘improvers practise’ at Fustian, and I emailed tonight’s ringing master—Bailey and Nestor swap, like Scary Man† and Albert do at the abbey—that I would be there barring sleet.  I was there.  It did not sleet.  And—speaking of grind—they let me ring two plain courses of Cambridge minor which I am going to learn before I die of old age, I am, the problem being the GRIND thing again, how long have I been trying to learn it??  But I don’t get my grind.††  I don’t get my grind, I don’t learn.

There weren’t very many of us tonight, so we were all having a break while Bailey stared thoughtfully at the whiteboard.  QP next week, he said.†††  Are you here? he said, one by one, to the others assembled.  I kept my eyes on the floor, because I’m a visitor.  They don’t owe me anything:  it’s nice of them to let me come to their practises, but generally speaking you only get invited to ring quarter peals at other towers if you’re good.

A pair of shoes appeared in my field of vision.  Robin, are you here next Tuesday? said Bailey.

Eeep, I said.  Um.  Sure.

Would you like to ring a quarter peal? pursued Bailey.

Um.  Sure, I said.

He nodded, and wrote my name on the whiteboard.

WHAT A GOOD THING I’VE FINISHED THE BOOK (AGAIN).  Which is to say I don’t think the wretched thing will have been through copyediting by next Tuesday. . . .

* * *

* May I just say I hated the movie.  Talk about fear of female power dear loves-both-genders-equally God.  A witch who falls in love loses her witchcraft?  And the so-called romantic lead decides to take her back WHEN HE FINDS OUT SHE LOST HER POWER WHEN SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM?^  This is my era, okay?  It came out in 1958 and I saw it in the late sixties some time when I was a teenager, and was already having trouble with the fact that none of the women on STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL LAUGHFEST ever did anything except show their legs and fall in love, and I had already been marked for life by Walt Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Why am I a feminist?  This is why.

^ Note that I’ve always loathed Jimmy Stewart anyway.  It’s a Wonderful Life makes me throw up.  Frelling sue me.

** Or singing.  I had my voice lesson yesterday and went in moaning first about not singing in the Muddles’ concert and second about how the halfway okay noise I can (sometimes) make singing exercises—which is a lot of why I like exercises, as I used to like Hanon when I was playing the piano regularly—GOES AWAY as soon as I try to sing a song.  Nadia was nodding before I got halfway through this latter plaint.  Yup, she said.  Normal.  Get used to it.  And it just goes on like this however good you get.  Cecilia Bartoli probably feels exactly the same way.

*** I loathe chapters.  If it were up to me there would be no chapters, just line breaks and part one and part two etc if necessary.  Like I got away with in SUNSHINE but this doesn’t work very often.  And since I don’t write in chapters I have to go back and put them in later.  Arrrgh.

† I really have to give poor Scary Man a name.

†† Catherine, on the forum, who wrote two guest blogs about her first experience of bell ringing last September has already rung her first quarter peal insideARRRRRRGH.  Listen, honey, if you ever come to one of my signings, don’t introduce yourself because I will crush you underfoot with extreme prejudice.  First quarter peal INSIDE after FOUR MONTHS?  Kill me.  Kill me now.

And do goad your conductor into posting it.  Your first QP is IMPORTANT  

††† The Tuesday system is two ordinary practises for people like me, one gruesome brain-melting practise for people whose idea of ‘improving’ is something you need a magnifying glass just to read the line in the method book because it wiggles so much, and a quarter peal.



H A P P Y   N E W   Y E A R


I should have known that New Year’s Eve at the abbey would be a big deal, but I’m not very intelligent* about cultural ritual type things**, and I didn’t realise.  I can’t even claim clueless Americanness since I’m accustomed (or possibly resigned) to people making a fuss about New Year’s.  And the abbey is gigantic and a national frelling site of historical whatsit and so on*** so, yeah, okay, New Year’s Eve probably would be more than a few hard-core nerds pulling on the bell ropes.

I don’t actually like ringing New Year’s Eve.  Worrying about it makes such a long day.  A hideous threatening quarter peal for Sunday afternoon service ring, for example, is over by 3:30 and you still have half a day for ingesting compensatory chocolate and plotting your new, bell-free life.†  New Year’s Eve . . . you’re lying on the sofa bestrewn with hellhounds and knitting magazines and you can’t even enjoy it.

It was rather ridiculously exciting driving into the abbey close for the first time tonight.  I walk through it frequently but I’ve never taken a car in there—what for?  I’d only have to do a three-point turn and scramble out again.  The application for a parking permit which I still haven’t remembered to put through the office door makes a big fuss about how you must only park in marked bays.  Well, you get in there at 11 pm on New Year’s Eve and it’s dark and very badly lit and covered in taken-down bits of Christmas and—just by the way—this is a medieval close and has adapted to the modern world only somewhat.  I found a tree to park under which didn’t seem to leave Wolfgang blocking anything in particular, and went off to be intimidated by the vicar’s wife’s party.  Yeep.  The vicar was there too, in an ornate frock, and so was the mayor, wearing half a ton of chain††, and a smattering of lords of this and that and the new/old Archbishop of Canterbury’s mother-in-law’s milkmaid’s niece.†††

But the tower was no haven, because half the assembled followed us.  How the ladies in their party frocks and high heels got up those stairs I have no idea, but several of them did.‡  And then they all stood around staring at us.  Frell.  I might as well have rung at Crabbiton, as I have done in years past, where the entire village comes and stares at you (it’s a ground floor ring):  at least there aren’t lords and mayors in chains and the vicar’s frock is plain.  Also, Crabbiton has only six bells.  The possibilities for mayhem are limited.

After some alarming adventures like ringing plain hunt on a hundred and fourteen, the tenor—the almost two tons of the abbey tenor—is pulled off alone to toll twelve, and (theoretically exactly at midnight) the rest of us then pull off in perfect rounds behind the tenor striking that twelfth time.  There were slightly more ringers than there were bells (amazingly)‡‡ and as we were all standing there in silence waiting for it to be time for the tenor to begin I very frelling nearly bottled out.  Steady the Buffs.  I stayed where I was.

And our rounds sounded pretty good.  Celebratory, even.  Better yet, when we descended from our eyrie, they in fact hadn’t locked the close gate—which every night of the year but New Year’s Eve is shut at ten—and Wolfgang was waiting for me under his tree.  And the roads were empty coming home.

* * *

* Stop that laughing

** I said stop that laughing.

*** Which means that every time they need to replace a door-latch or hang a picture they have to ask English Heritage to send a team of conservationists to consult on how or if it’s going to be done.   It’s a good thing English Heritage exists, or there’d be a lot less English heritage around, and big crumbly ancient buildings do need a phenomenal amount of upkeep, but I do sometimes wonder if about half the running costs aren’t about the running but about the arguing.

† It had not been a great day.  I spent the morning thinking up new and unspeakable^ tortures for my printer while it jammed every third page—and once it has jammed it goes on jamming, even after you’ve not only removed the offending page but taken ALL the paper out, shuffled it, put it ALL back in again, reset the tabs that hold it in place, ritually slammed ALL the doors including the one defending the ink cartridges which has NOTHING TO DO with the paper feed, and offered the gods more chocolate.  PAPER JAM, it whines.  BITE ME.  Sometimes it randomly varies this with PAPER TRAY EMPTY.^^   I’ve been working on my editor’s comments on SHADOWS on the computer but there’s a scene at the end where I think I have to take the pages and lay them out on the floor, supposing I can find a large enough piece of floor that can be made to remain hellcritter free.  Siiiiiiigh.  I should have let her send me a print-out.  She offered.  No, no, no, I said, it’s fine I can do it.

And then I decided to take the hellterror to run an errand in Mauncester and the shop in question had closed early half an hour before we got there.  You could put updates on your web site, you know?  That’s what web sites are for.  To tell customers stuff like we’re closing EARLY on New Year’s Eve.

At least I’d brought the hellterror, so we were accruing SOCIALISATION from the experience.  We went back to the car and I looked at the clock and thought . . . I could probably just about get to the monks’ evening prayer.  And I did.  With about twenty seconds to spare.  And going the speed limit, which is always a plus.^^^  But I was the last person in and my footsteps echoed and everyone turned and looked at me.  #

^ But howlable

^^ Bite me anyway.

^^^ Which was a good thing—as is that I wedge the hellterror’s crate carefully in place behind the front seat—when we had a Near Death Experience of a monster semi pulling out in front of us as we were bombing down the highway at 68 mph [speed limit 70].  JESUS CHRIST, I screamed as I stood on noble Wolfgang’s brakes, which is probably what I would have screamed more than three months and a half months ago too, but part of my new covenant with God is that I’m trying to clean up my language.+  I apologised, which is what I usually do on these humiliating occasions, about five seconds later, as the higher functions started coming back on line again, but I was also thinking that while not yelling his name every time you spill your tea is a good idea, really, when you’d urgently like him to intervene before you’re squashed like a bug on the windscreen of some thrice-blasted juggernaut, it’s quite appropriate.

+ And a frelling frelling frelling struggle it is too.  Arrrgh.  I am very grateful for ‘arrrgh’.  And frelling.

# I put a blanket over the hellterror’s crate but really it’s so WARM.  It’s RAINING, but it’s WARM.

†† I wonder if he has special padding sewn into the jacket(s) he’s planning on wearing his professional shackles with?

††† The most interesting part of the occasion was being accidentally included in a conversation between Ulrich and the vicar, about some of the practicalities of keeping the abbey standing.  God?  When they have a minute.  And this isn’t worldliness and Mammon, this is just the truth about something this size with this much going on.

‡ Me?  I was wearing jeans and All Stars.  Clean jeans.  The All Stars were a little muddy.  But the world is a little muddy.

‡‡ And the really fancy ringers, like Albert and Scary Man, stood out, so us hoi polloi could ring.

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