January 3, 2014

New Year’s Eve on the street and in the bell tower, continued


Since SP teams are a minimum of three, we were going to have to meet up before I peeled* off to my second commitment.**  We gathered at the massive great front of Forza and discovered . . . that the door into the close was locked.  The door to the bell tower is off the close.  Oh.  Hmm.

I tried it two or three times, the way you do, feeling a fool.  It went on being locked.  Emphatically.  I don’t know that Forza’s big outside doors are original—since the first abbey was knocked down by William the Conqueror so his bishops could put up something new and flashy, I doubt it.  But they’re built to look like they were salvaged when the rest of the old abbey went under the wrecking ball equivalent in the late eleventh century and rehung in the new build for that quaint traditional look.  You kind of expect ‘Aethelstan was here’ to be carved into the lintel.

I noticed a group of bellringers striding purposefully toward us.  Er, I said, the door’s locked.  We know, said Conall.  So are all the other doors.


I think most of the other SPs were trying not to fall into fits of helpless giggles.  Eventually there was a rumour that the farthest-away and most inconvenient close door was still open, so five SPs went one way and I hared off after the other bellringers, struggling out of my coat and hat as I went.  Sic.  We’re not supposed to wear our SP gear, flamboyantly logo’d as it is, anywhere or any time under any conditions but when we’re on the beat with our team being Street Pastors.  I knew this, and when the possibility had first come up of ringing and pastoring I’d remembered that I was going to have to have something to drape over my coat, but I’ve been so focussed both on Peter and on the fact that I had not to focus on Peter while I was SPing***, that this little detail had kind of dropped out.  Fortunately it was not raining.  I turned my coat inside out and . . . it’s a big heavy bulky furry thing, bless it, and it didn’t want to turn inside out and there was no question of my putting it back on that way, so I stumbled along carrying a small Navy-blue polar bear cub in my arms.

The rumour was true and we got in through the Strait of Gibraltar gate, picking up hangers-on as we went, since on New Year’s Eve traditionally a lot of people with more sense the rest of the year† struggle up all those stairs to watch us ring in the new year.

We attempted, with mixed results, to scamper up all those stairs.  All.  Those.  Stairs.  I haven’t been up them in a while and they’ve got longer again.  And then our first hasty pull-off was somewhat marred by the fact that my bell was frelling locked and wouldn’t.††  Meanwhile more and more people were coming up to watch us so we stood around whistling little tunes with our hands in our pockets pretending that this is all part of the New Year’s Eve tradition while someone belted up that last flight of stairs to the belfry and unlocked my bell.

We did finally ring.  And I thought about how sad I’d feel if I were out on the street listening instead of in the bell tower trying to tell myself that I haven’t forgotten everything, and mere rounds on eighty-six or four hundred and twelve bells is no big deal even if you do have to hold up and wait about ten minutes before it’s your turn again while everyone else rings—especially those last few bells which range in size and weight from Thomas the Tank Engine through nuclear submarine to aircraft carrier.  Bong.  The mayor was there.  The bishop was there.  The Folies Bergere were there.  No no I made that up.  Although they might have been.  It was a frelling crush.  And I’ve told you before the ringing chamber is the size of a ballroom.  Two ballrooms.

It was a real crush going back down those stairs again.  Anorexic Chihuahuas have been known to have claustrophobia on that final staircase.  I’d tried to blitz for the head of the queue and I almost made it.  But immediately ahead of me were a family consisting of a tall gentleman in a very long coat whose tails trailed up the stairs behind him a remarkably long way, and ahead of him two frelling women who . . . really I have no idea what they were doing, barring whining.  Look, you can SEE what the stairs are like, if you are helpless screaming cows, why didn’t you change your minds and go to a nice ground-level party somewhere?  Oh, right, you don’t have minds.  I am not joking that the rest of us were standing at the top for a good two or three minutes while Barbie and Midge totally failed to negotiate that admittedly challenging last flight of stairs. And I was failing to channel the Holy Spirit about this situation.  FAILING.  FAAAAAAAILING.†††

Spilled out onto the street at last.  Pelted for the one open door out of the close to attempt to rejoin my team before it was time to go home and . . .

The one open door was shut and locked.  Noooooooooooo.‡


* * *

* Pealed.  Ha ha ha.

** Maxine^ kept saying, It is so cool that you are doing both.^^

^ Three of the four of us SPs from St Margaret’s were on the job last night.+  Are we the superbest or what.

+ And Eleanor was at home feeling guilty.

^^ I think I told you there was some administrative stress about this initially, but our overall team leader was fine with it, so I got to do my double act.

*** Also that I had to have suitable-for-sharing food to bring for the break.  I have my priorities.

† So far as I know theoretically anyone can come watch us any time we’re ringing.  But any time but New Year’s Eve you have to ask a ringer first.  And possibly hire a Sherpa.

†† When you’ve got eighty-seven bells you don’t want to haul them up and down^ every time you want to ring, especially when the biggest half-dozen of them weigh in total almost as much as the Isle of Wight.  Forza has a fancy locking system that bolts the bells in place, mouth up, ready for ringing.  But you do have to unbolt them.

^ Ringing up and down:  bells are normally left mouth down because it’s safer.  Therefore to do method ringing you have to drag each bell by pulling on the rope so it swings higher and higher till it’s ready to stand upright mouth up on its beam.  At which point you’re ready for full-circle ringing.

††† I am still failing.  In the first place, why didn’t they wait and let the rest of us get out first?  In the second place, there is a perfectly good tiny cul de sac at the bottom of that first stair:  having held us all up for probably five minutes total while they minced and tittuped and whatever the galflibbet, why didn’t they draw aside at that point—I’ll let them off the profuse apologizing—and let the rest of us by THEN?  But noooooooo.  They waddled^ on down.  And it’s not like Mr Coat-tails didn’t know there was a press of numbers behind him:  he looked over his shoulder several times.  Maybe he mistook me for a Street Pastor and thought that I was channelling the Holy Spirit at him.  These are not Holy Spirit vibes, honey.

^ This is not a weightist remark.  I know plenty of people whose doctors wish they were thinner who are neat and nippy on their feet.  Both these bimbos were, in fact, slim and slight.

‡‡ I didn’t mean for it to run to three.  Well, I didn’t mean for it to run more than one post, last night.  This is sort of the KES/PEGASUS New Year’s Eve post.

A Day Not Like Any Other



I had what passes in my case for a terrific voice lesson.


These two large dazzling items totally outshine the rest which is a good thing because it was very nearly a disaster of a day.

. . . Starting with not getting to bed early enough last night, partly because I really needed to sing and one song leads to another. . . .  Staggered out of bed this morning making hopeless croaking noises like an installation of rusty hinges* and started lubricating with caffeine.  Took the poor hellterror for the fastest sprint she was capable of** and locked her up again with an extra kong to comfort her in our absence.***

I took hellhounds-of-the-touchy-digestion for a minimal get-it-over-with scamper around the churchyard.  Darkness refused to comply with the purpose of this exercise.  Arrrgh.

Hellhounds and I were on the road with twenty-five minutes to spare:  five minutes to bolt up to Third House and ask Atlas to clear out drawers and move ill-placed piles of [book] boxes in anticipation of removal-men arrival this afternoon and twenty minutes for hurtling at the far end before my lesson.

Atlas wasn’t there.

I could feel my throat closing.

Well, nothing I could do about it;  I couldn’t even ask Peter if he knew anything, since, in the first place, he wouldn’t, because he’s been in Gloucestershire all weekend, and in the second place because he was on a train somewhere and I guarantee his phone had no signal, because that’s the way it goes.

So we thundered on to our next scheduled activity.

Frelling Mauncester was backed up from halfway up the hill into town.  Stop go (but not very far) stop go stop go stop go stop go stopgostopgostop.  Chiefly stop.  It was like this all the way through town.

I could feel my throat closing harder.

We arrived at Nadia’s with THREE MINUTES to spare.  I took hellhounds for a three minute scuttle and . . . Darkness continued to fail to comply.  ARRRGH.

I was pretty nearly barking by the time I burst through Nadia’s door. . . She did make me do some breathing and loosening up exercises before I sang anything, but my throat said, Ooooh!  We’re at Nadia’s!  We like it here!  —And promptly warmed up a dream.†

WE GOT THROUGH THREE SONGS.  THREE.  IT’S A RECORD.  We usually bog down on the first one because I’m doing so many things wrong, not that Nadia would put it that way, but I would.  We may occasionally galumph through bits of more than one—indeed even three—but only because I have a specific technical question†† or they’re folk songs I’m singing at home and want a little general input—or scraping back from the brink.  But THREE REAL SONGS?  It doesn’t happen.  And furthermore the third—Vedrai carino from Don Giovanni—I’d only brought because I wanted to go over the frelling Italian before I started really working on it.  We’d had a stab††† at it a while ago and it got set aside, but it’s been on my mind and since I now more or less suddenly have more voice it’s one of the ones I snatched back from oblivion.

Oh, go on, let’s just sing it, said Nadia.  So I did.  Eeeeep.  And she made one or two painless comments and told me to go home and work on it.

Then Un moto de gioja and we spent some time on that one.  Here’s an example of why I adore Nadia.  There’s a place in the middle of Un moto where you hold a note for a very long time and then come off it again with a wordless twiddle before you start the next verse.  I hadn’t even registered that you’re supposed to sing the twiddle—when I started work on this song Nadia had told me to hold the note only as long as was comfortable, but to keep time and come in correctly on the new ‘un moto’.  Then I ACCIDENTALLY heard Danielle de Niese singing it and she sings the twiddle.  Oh.  It ties the two halves together better, the twiddle.  I can’t sing it up to proper twiddle speed at the end of a long note—which is the part I can do—and as I hurl myself into the next verse.  So I sing it at half speed.  Nadia said gravely, if you were preparing this for public performance I think I would take issue with your singing it so slowly, but for your purposes at present it works very well.  —She takes you seriously.  Even when you’re screwing up Do Re Mi or tackling something like someone with a flint axe trying to produce a knock-off of the Sphinx.

Finally we assailed the nightclub proprietress.  This is such a fabulous song.  There are no fully satisfactory performances of it on YouTube—that I can find anyway—but here’s the poem:  http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.co.uk/2006/05/song-of-nightclub-proprietress-john.html

It needs Lotte Lenya—who may have died before Dring composed it, in which case I excuse her for having failed to record it—or someone else who can put over age and despair.  I don’t say you have to be old (despair optional) because in fairness I would then have to give up singing Voi che sapete, say, which is sung by a teenage boy, or Vedrai carino, which is sung by a bouncy village maiden (to her thick plank of a fiancé).  But you have to put old and hagged over.  I have a chance of this, with lived experience on my side.  But the thing that is Very Exciting is that I can hear me beginning to sound like a mezzo:  not just the range‡‡ but the resonance.  And this is a very resonant song.

. . . I then took hellhounds for another hustle and FINALLY.  A CERTAIN PARTY EXCRETED.  We then belted back to Third House and arrived with three minutes to spare . . . and the removal blokes were already there.  NEVER MIND.  I WASN’T LATE.  I let them in, pointed out all the Large Objects that had to go, apologised for lack of pre-clearance . . . and bolted back to the cottage to feed hellcritters‡‡‡ and take the hellterror for another mini-hurtle while hellhounds contemplated their bowls with disfavour.  I was on my way out the door to flee back to Third House when the phone rang and it was Removal Men saying they were ready. . . .

I looked at their lorry before they shut the gate and my heart plummeted.  There was no way they were going to get that lot in.  I had the hellhounds with me again—no one had got any kind of a real hurtle thus far today—and we took off across some countryside§ behind the storage warehouse while Valiant Removal Men wrestled with the standard three dimensions of the space-time continuum and when we returned . . .


Oh, and did I mention that tonight was the first night of the Alpha course—?

* * *

* On this day that the Turner Prize is announced, this seems like a perfectly valid idea

** All right, the fastest sprint I was capable of

*** I’m sure, if asked, she would prefer the kong

Please remember, when I say silly things like this that IT’S ALL RELATIVE.  I have made a giant leap forward in the last few weeks but it’s still an 11-hand Shetland pony qualifying for prelim at the county show against the odds, not the branded warmblood insured for a gazillion pounds qualifying for the Olympics, okay?

†† Huh, whuh, um, bleaugh?

††† Way too vivid a metaphor, stab.  Or maybe I’m just hallucinating KES.

‡ Baby ’pollies is not a mystery:  they’re little bottles of a kind of mineral water popular at the time.

‡‡ I’m still putting in petitions to get my high C back.  Lots of mezzos have high Cs.

‡‡‡ ‘Feed’ used loosely, which is to say the hellterror eats and the hellhounds do not.

§ And I managed to cut myself on some barbed wire.  Frell.  There was a normal gate to get in, and then at the other end one of those horrible temporary gate things that anyone who has spent any time wandering over English agricultural landscape will know to their detriment:  several strands of barbed wire stretched between two light posts and held apart horizontally by being nailed to a series of short loose lathes.  This contraption is usually held at either end by a loop at ground level where you stick the bottom of your post and then at the top by another loop which you have to shove it under, around the post of the real fence it’s being attached to.  These things are a menace anyway, and if you lose your hold they collapse on the ground in a grisly tangle of barbed wire.  But in this case . . . the frelling loops were made of barbed wire.  WHY?  Anyone trying either to open or close the evil thing is going to have to handle the loops.  I managed to nick a finger and it bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and it was very boring and there are probably a whole series of predators out there tonight hopefully following my blood spoor.  Sorry guys.

§§ Of course I still have ninety-six million books to do something with—I don’t mean Peter’s and my backlist, that’s already in its own storage unit—and a few odds and ends.  Maybe a few more than a few.

The Most Beautiful Puppy in the Universe


And the most desirable.  I will have to beat people away with sticks when I take her into town* because everyone will want her.  And she’s MINE.  MINE.


Pavlova. Mine.

It’s been pretty funny watching Olivia worrying about which puppy I should have.  I’ve told you these are all mega-show-quality puppies so first choice goes to mega-show-quality bull terrier people**, and I’m standing humbly in a corner, hat in hand***, waiting for whoever is deemed to be the dregs.  Simultaneously Olivia wants me to have the quiet one, supposing there is a quiet one in a litter of bull terriers, although since you probably want the sparkly outgoing one(s) to catch the judge’s eye at Crufts there is some hope that if there’s anything resembling placid I might get it. 

            But the other thing has been that Olivia has been terrified that I might not bond with a puppy I was simply presented with rather than allowed to choose, although she and Southdowner never were going to let me choose because I am a poor sad clueless vulnerable bull terrier neophyte and I couldn’t be trusted not to choose the puppy that was clearly going to grow up to be The Thing That Ate Schenectady.  Olivia also knew that I had an early crush on Fruitcake but I was not going to be allowed to have a boy for my first bull terrier.  So of course I was already going to be sulking about whichever little unwanted girl was vouchsafed me.  —Are you kidding?  I have been trying to tell both Olivia and Southdowner that I will instantly recognise my reject as actually the best puppy in the litter whom all the experts (including Olivia and Southdowner) were too stupid to recognise, that I will bond with her INSTANTLY and that in a year or two† I won’t be able to imagine that I could have ended up with anyone else.††

            So Olivia told me a few days ago, trying to sound confident and decisive, that my puppy was going to be Pavlova.  Great, I said, and I could frelling feel all my brain cells immediately realigning to crown Pavlova Queen of All.  And furthermore, Olivia went on, Southdowner is going to be making a swing through in this general direction today†††, dropping off Croissant for a few hours with her future person, and she could come through here and leave Pavlova with me ditto.

            This is, I have to say, a transparent ruse to get Southdowner involved with introducing Pavlova to the hellhounds and vice versa.  Pavlova was fine with the hellhounds.  Hellhounds, I admit, were totally traumatised by three puppies, even if they were only expected to meet one of them, but in my vague, I-find-the-weirdest-things-not-to-worry-about-or-maybe-it’s-just-I’m-still-not-quite-done-with-SHADOWS way, I was not expecting major eruptions and they weren’t . . . major.  But there was a good deal of drama-queendom in the kitchen at Third House while the puppies gambolled and said, oh, neato, new territory! and the hellhounds said, Nooooooooooo, make it go awaaaaaaaay.‡  I had no idea Chaos could make a noise like that. 

            But we moved down to the mews after the initial shocking confrontation‡‡ and some lowering of the anguish level was discernable.  Darkness went so far as to get up on the sofa between two people holding puppies, lie down, and at least pretend to go to sleep.  It was noticeable that he had his butt to me and his head tucked behind Southdowner’s back . . . but he was on the sofa.  Chaos continued to moan in corners like an unquiet ghost. 

            Southdowner and puppies left again tonight and you never saw two more crashed-out hellhounds.  I feel a little unhinged myself.  But . . . MINE.  MINE.  

The fatuousness. And the adoreableness.

 * * *

* Which I will be doing a lot because you want to socialise your puppy anyway but Olivia and Southdowner have truly put the fear of God in me and I’m convinced that if you let your guard down for an instant the nicest, sweetest, most amenable bull terrier morphs into Bruce Banner in a bad mood and THEN. . . . 

            So we’ll be going to Mauncester a lot, possibly Zigguraton and . . . possibly bell ringing.  Well, there are bell ringing dogs.  Glaciation is not only out in the middle of nowhere^ it’s a ground floor ring.  Since I’ll have to lock her up in her carrier while I’m ringing I don’t want any more kit to schlep any farther than I have to, and I can give her a bit of a walk around before/after without worrying about what we might meet.^^ 

^ It’s one of these Strange English Land Usage Traditions.  It’s a public church, but it’s in the middle of a vast piece of private park land owned by some grandee.  You drive forever from the front gate, winding around over little rivers and watching the deer bound away in the distance.  Gaaah.  

^^ I’m sure she’d be thrilled by deer.  However my hand-brake reflexes are very well honed by six years with hellhounds.+ 

+ And sixteen of whippets before that, but whippets don’t weigh nearly as much.  Hellhounds, like whippets, can reach pretty close to top speed in the 26 feet or so of extending lead—but with hellhounds if you fail to hit the brake in time they will knock you over when they hit the end . . . and long term readers of this blog don’t have to ask how I know this.  Bull terriers don’t have the blistering speed but . . . they’re bull terriers.  They go through things.  Brick walls, armoured tanks, the ends of extending leads SPROINNNNGGGGGG, semi-attached human optional.# 

# There have been moments these last few weeks when I’ve thought Olivia and Southdowner were trying to talk me out of getting my first bull terrier.

** Carefully vetted for giving them lives as dogs.  Southdowner has been known to turn down serious money from people who want a furry winning machine.  

*** So to speak.  Not being a hat wearer much. 

Assuming survival of puppyhood.  I’m not worried about her surviving, I’m worried about the hellhounds and me. 

†† And when Olivia or Southdowner shows me photos of a littermate winning Best in Show at the Intergalactic Dog Trials I will try to appear happy and enthusiastic and not make it too obvious that I know a better dog.  

††† She’s got family down here somewhere.  She stops in New Arcadia when she can. 

‡ And as Southdowner pointed out after I said ‘hey guys’ to the puppies and Darkness leaped over the waist-high half-door blocking the way into the Third House kitchen because I was calling him, I will need a non-hellhound-reactive call for Pavlova.   I was embarrassed at the time—first rule (as Maggie says early in SHADOWS):  if your dog does something wrong it’s your fault—but in fact once she’s a member of the home pack, she’ll become ‘hey guys’ inclusive.  But she will need her own call name.  Life at present is a trifle complex because she has the name that Olivia uses, Pavlova that I use here^, and her ridiculous registry name. . . . But she still doesn’t have the name she’s going to have to learn to answer to.  But now that I know who I’m naming . . . 

^ ‘Chaos, Darkness and . . . Pavlova’?  Hmmmm. 

‡‡ And I went bell ringing.  Wild Robert was there, and I asked if Nadia’s baby was learning to play the piano yet (no) and told him I was getting a puppy and he said, oh, that’s nice, that’s like having a baby except all your shoes get eaten too.

Bullie puppy bullie puppy bullie puppy. And a few bells.


Having a terrifying new nightmare* adventure rolling toward me like Boadicea’s spiked chariot . . . I mean, having the immediate** prospect of a delightful bull terrier puppy is obviously good for me. 

             I rang what passes in my case for not at all badly at the abbey this afternoon.***

             AND I FOUND MY LENS CAP.  It’s been missing for months.  I find it the day after my FIRST OFFICIAL VISIT to see MY puppy†?  This is clearly a sign. 

Melissa Mead

Do the boys get along with puppies in their space? 

I have no idea.  But they’re going to have to learn.  They adore puppies met out hurtling, but what they’ll do when they find out this one’s permanent and here may need to be negotiated tactfully.  I’m sure it’ll be okay eventually, I just don’t know how long eventually is going to take.  But to start with the New Member will be crated away from hellhounds, and all meetings will take place under my tyrannical eye. 

skating librarian

I am trying to imagine you taking them all for a hurtle. Can a bullie hurtle? 

Bullies are small square hurtle machines on little short legs that move in a blur.  They don’t have the hellhound capacity to be in Kent before I’ve taken a breath for the recall, but they certainly hurtle.  And I’m trying to imagine taking all of them for a hurtle too.  I asked Southdowner, pathetically, about hurtling three dogs, when the possibility of getting a puppy next year first came up and she said oh, you get used to it.  That’s really helpful, thanks.

            One of the things both Southdowner and Olivia keep trying to impress on me is that bullies have no off switch.  You do not want to wind a bullie up, because it will shortly enter orbit, wearing your roof as a hat.  One of my favourite memories of Southdowner coming here with attendant bullie (not Nemo, whom you met on this blog, another one, Southdowner has several) was watching her trying to get its harness put on before it BURST out of the back of the van.  First there was the frenzied scrabbling and mad barking as Southdowner opened the door, and then there was the rear view of Southdowner with bits of bullie shooting out first one side and then the other.  Ear.  Tail.  Head.  Foot.  Another foot.  Oh, there’s the head again . . .

            Yesterday Southdowner dropped me off at Olivia’s while she went to find a parking space.  Olivia was doing the washing-up and she said, you can go on into the puppy room but ignore Lavvy till she calms down a little.  Yes.  Well.  This was a little like ignoring a heat-seeking missile with your name on it, but I took the point.

            Speaking of Nemo . . . you may remember that the last time I took the train to Birmingham to look at bull terrier puppies I found an exit so obscure nobody, including station staff Southdowner asked for directions, knew it.  This time I was going to make a prodigious effort to come out some, you know, normal exit.  I was just about to get horribly lost again when . . . THERE WAS A BULL TERRIER.  A FAMILIAR BULL TERRIER.  I stopped in my tracks and yelled, Nemo!  Southdowner said smugly, I knew you’d see a bull terrier.  She was right—I would have walked straight past her. 

            But this is also the good side of the maniac outgoingness of the bull terrier.  Nemo wasn’t the least bit fazed by Birmingham frelling train station.  He was a lot less fazed than I was.  Granted he has been very very very well socialised but . . . he also has the personality.  Even very very very well socialised hellhounds would be miserable in a mob like that.  


Congratulations! I’m sure it will be a blast! (As well as the usual hell of puppyhood, with which we are all familiar, of course!)

Yes.  It’s too soon.  It’s only been six years—in, in fact, October—since the hellhounds arrived and I remember it all too clearly.  Noooooooooo. . . . And they were only hellhounds.  This is a bull terrier puppy.  Southdowner’s standard line about bull terriers is that they’re just like dogs, only more so. 

I got a Mastiff pup in April, and he’s the best, quietest, most well-behaved puppy I’ve ever had — housebreaking was a cinch, no separation anxiety, etc. — and I STILL was counting the weeks until those sharp puppy teeth fell out, and I’m STILL counting the months until he’s not a wild and crazy play monster and settles down… Yup — it’s all worth it. 

Well . . . your adolescent probably weighs four or five times what my mini bull terrier will weigh.  The gene pool for mini bullies is still fairly small so (as I understand it) they breed in a few standards to keep the lines strong.  One of Southdowner’s foundation bitches—from whom I believe Lavvy descends—is a standard.  I’ve met her.  She’s old and mellow and a sweetie, but she’s HUGE.  The first bullie I ever met, many years ago, and loved instantly, was also a standard and also HUGE.  They are built like tanks, or bulldozers.  The earth shakes when they gambol, and being bullies, they will gambol. 

            After the whippets died and I went into a Grey Fog of Dogless Despair, and which is why I was determined to do overlapping generations this time although I wasn’t planning on getting the next generation in quite so soon, I had a list of dog breeds or dog types I was considering.  I’ve told you before that I had my hand poised over the phone to ring up the greyhound rescue when I saw the ad in the paper for hellhound puppies††, and sighthounds/lurchers of some ilk were in first place.  But both bullies and Staffies were on my short list, both of them regretfully rejected because I wasn’t going to deal with a fighting breed. I’m thrilled I’m going to indulge the bullie fantasy after all, but I wouldn’t be if I didn’t know Southdowner, didn’t know that she or Olivia will answer questions and back me up if I need it, and hadn’t met several of Southdowner’s mad/charming bullies and have some sense of what they, or at least that branch of bulliedom, are like. 

            I also had thought the hellhounds might be my last puppies because puppies are labour intensive and I’m getting old.  So, right, this makes sense, I’m getting a puppy for my sixtieth birthday of a breed known to be extra labour intensive.  Never mind.  I can still do the rescue greyhound/ couch potato thing later.   


Um. On the subject of “you do not want a male for your first bullie” – have they considered the fact that you have two entire males in your household (have you?)? Not a problem _this_ year, but unless you’re going to get her fixed (which I doubt, given her pedigree)… trouble down the line? 

Please.  I’m nuts, I’m not stupid.  She—supposing my first bullie is a she—will probably board with Southdowner while she’s in season.  No matter what the gender and personality mix I end up with however, hellhounds and bullie will not be left alone together at least till the bullie is past adolescence . . . which on conservative estimate will be two years or so, by which time if it’s a bitch, she’ll have come into season once or twice, and we’ll have the opportunity to find out how hot and come-hither she is, and whether the hellhounds notice, since some dogs and some bitches aren’t big into sex and procreation.  Although this is more a sighthound/lurcher thing and a bullie bitch probably will be swinging her hips and suggesting that they come up and see her some time. †††

            I think the deal is going to be that if I end up with a bitch that either Southdowner or Olivia would like to get a litter out of, I’ll keep her entire—do you say entire with girls?—till this feat is accomplished.  If she’s not worth breeding and she’s a problem when she’s on heat I’ll get her fixed after she’s had a season or two.  My default position is that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it—which is why the hellhounds are entire—so if she has nice tactful seasons she can keep her insides.  I realise this is how accidents happen but . . . well, actually bull terrier is a popular lurcher cross.  I met a quarter-bull three-quarters sighthound when I was casting around for lurchers that was about the most gorgeous animal I’d ever seen.  If he’d had puppies out of a plausible bitch available I’d’ve had one.  Or two.

             More tomorrow.  Yes, it’s true, the only reason I’m getting a puppy is for the blog material.  

* * *

* Friday night I kept dreaming about bull terrier puppies charging around a big sitting room with cream coloured carpeting.  Guess what happened to the cream coloured carpeting.  Last night I simply didn’t sleep.  

** IMMEDIATELY.  AAAAAAUGH.  Although even if I’d had a year’s run at it I’d probably still be melting down three weeks before the event. 

*** Warning:  ringing geekspeak follows.  I’m increasingly short of sleep due to a variety of stresses.  And while I had somewhat recovered myself at practice last Wednesday after ringing like a three-legged goat last Sunday^ I still went in today with a large sense of doom following like a balloon on a string.  And then there were ten or eleven of us^^ and I thought maybe I can just sit out and knit.

            But no, here was Scary Man, saying in a tired and resigned voice, Robin, come ring Grandsire triples.  And I did.  Scary Man did that encouraging/alarming teacher thing of not standing beside me Because I Could Do It Myself.  It was not a thing of beauty, as I usually say of my best ringing efforts, but it wasn’t embarrassing.  My impression is that Scary Man cheered up slightly at this point, gave me the treble for bob major and asked me what else I had been looking at, ie what other method I might like to try.  Blither blither, I said, um, bob triples or bob major?^^^  And he said, Stedman triples?#  Oh, yes please! I said, fool that I am, and I did go wrong, but I had help##, and it still wasn’t dreadful, and he’ll probably let me ring it again.  

^ An intellectually challenged three-legged goat.  

^^ Including a visitor I found on the doorstep.  Unless you’re St Paul’s or York Minster towers are usually pretty friendly . . . and the abbey lets me keep coming, after all.  So I brought him up, indicating which dark mullioned+ path led through the accumulated maze of twelve hundred years of history at which point, feeling a complete fraud, and turned him over at once to Albert.   

            It is perhaps worth noting that he was unusual in that he didn’t have to stop every 300 (vertical) feet, lean on a triforium or a reredos, and gasp.  I almost asked him if he had hellhounds he hurtled regularly. 

+ Well all right maybe not mullioned exactly 

^^^ Any ‘plain bob’ method is the shallow end of whatever follows:  so plain bob doubles is the first method you (usually) learn, five working bells and tenor behind;  bob minor is six working bells and likely the first minor method you learn.  Grandsire triples is usually considered more musical than bob triples and a lot of towers don’t bother teaching you bob triples at all, although Grandsire is harder.  Bob major is eight working bells, and so on.  The point is I was trying not to ask too much. 

# Which is a lot harder.  In theory I can ring a plain course.  In theory.  

## It’s easier to ignore someone going wrong when he’s not going wrong in your vicinity.  

† Whoever s/he is 

†† And I know I’ve told you that.  I really thought I’d told you about how I got Chaos as well as Darkness, but apparently not.  Okay.  I will.   Just not tonight.

††† Olivia says Lavvy really enjoyed getting it on





I went to Birmingham on the train again today.*  Southdowner picked me up at the station and took me off to Tiptoe on Cludge to play with Lavvy and her puppies . . .  again.  I’m spending kind of a lot of money and travel time on some random litter of puppies, aren’t I?  Even if they are southdowner’s grandpuppies** and as cute as a box of Green & Black’s.*** 



            So . . . Olivia rang me up out of the blue this week.  Oh hi, I said, puzzled, since even if she were coming to Hampshire again with a load of the small, furry and four-legged, New Arcadia isn’t that much on her way, and it’s not like I’m one of her . . .


            Olivia believes in cutting to the chase.  One of my buyers has dropped out, she said, and I might be able to talk her into changing her mind, but I don’t want to.  I want my puppies to go to people who really want them.

            Oh? I said, my mind instantly leaping off its flywheel and spinning till it smoked. 

            And I wondered if you might be interested, she went on.

            My mouth fell open.  I may have said ‘aaaaugh’.

            You don’t have to decide immediately, she said hastily.  But—well—you seemed fairly serious about wanting to be put on the list for next year, and I just thought . . . if you wanted to think about it and get back to me. . . .

            I don’t have to think about it, I said.  I want one. 

            Olivia laughed.  Southdowner seemed to think you might say that, she said.  But you really can take some time to think about it.  Talk to your husband or whatever.

            My husband will be delighted when he gets over the shock, I said.  He’s worrying about what to give me for my sixtieth birthday this autumn.  He can give me a puppy.

            So of course I had to go look at them again.  Olivia works insane hours, and pretty much my only opportunity to see them before they get much older was this afternoon.

            So I went this afternoon.

            Oh my gods I’m about to have a BULL TERRIER PUPPY.


Upside down puppy. He looks pretty chilled. No, no! said Olivia. You don’t want a male for your first bullie!

I can’t go on calling them ‘white girl’, ‘coloured girl with broad blaze’, ‘coloured girl with narrow blaze’, and Little Prince Charming.  So in keeping with the food theme in this family . . .  Scone is the white girl, Croissant has the narrow blaze, Pavlova has the wide blaze, and the boy is . . . Fruitcake.

Scone. Plotting.


Fruitcake, getting on with his nap. Yes, he’s out cold. Are you sure he’s not truly and beautifully chilled? I said. NO, said Olivia and Southdowner in unison. YOU DO NOT WANT A MALE FOR YOUR FIRST BULLIE.


I nearly did a complete Photo Essay on Fruitcake Having a Nap because I find this so hilarious. (And I don’t care what the experienced bullie owners are saying, he is demonstrating a splendid natural floppiness.)

Pavlova keeping an eye an eye on you.


Scone, ready for some trouble. Yo, honey, I suggest you take out Mr Sausage Man behind you. I’m sure he’s up to no good.


I am AMAZED Lavvy is still putting up with them. They have TEETH. Ask me how I know this.


That level look again from a not-quite-so-tiny puppy as at Third House a fortnight ago.

Pavlova having a go at the sofa throw. Puppies may have 1,000,000 toys, but they still want to chew on you, your jeans, or the sofa.


Fruitcake, who is really excellent at sleeping.

I do have some puppies-in-action photos, but they’re mostly blurry:  this was indoors in poor lighting.  But I might post a few more anyway . . .


* * *

* Which was amazingly fine for a Saturday, until a bunch of drunk out of their gourds football hooligans got on at Barnstorming on the way back to Mauncester.  I hate Barnstorming.  Barnstorming is where the famous occasion when Peter and I nearly never made it home at all happened.  . . . Train staff?  Are you kidding?  They didn’t want to stick around to deal with this lot either.  Arrrrgh.  At least they were the friendly end of drunk. 

** In Fiona’s admirable phrase 

*** Anybody here not know that G&B makes my FAVOURITE DARK MINT CHOCOLATE, without which I CANNOT LIVE? 

† And no, I don’t even know which one!!!^  I don’t hang out with show dog quality much.  I’m used to the see-which-puppy-comes-up-to-you-I’ll-have-that-one school of choosing, plus performing a few probably bogus tests to help you avoid the pushy thug and the cringing neurotic.  Darkness came up to me immediately and started untying my shoes, and Chaos . . . you’ve heard the story of how I ended up with Chaos, haven’t you?  So as I’ve told both Olivia and Southdowner, I’ll love whoever I end up with, and two or three years from now I won’t be able to imagine anything else, like I can’t imagine life without Chaos (so to speak).  But apparently this is an unusually nice litter—Southdowner says that if you’re looking for breeding/showing quality you usually choose by discarding, and there are no obvious discards here.  So the head of the puppy-acquisition queue hasn’t quite made up their minds yet—and Olivia and Southdowner are both a little anxious about me as a first-time bullie owner, so of whatever’s left they’re going to give me the quieter one.  

^ Where am I going to PUT IT in my miniature book- and yarn-stuffed cottage?  I can’t move around in the kitchen now, because of the hellhound crate.  And what will the hellhounds think? 

             The puppies will be ready to go to their new homes the beginning of October.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH 


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