Part of the problem is that I don’t know what to say to you—to the blog. The Blog Persona, already crumbly at the edges since Peter’s first stroke, disintegrated when he died. It was based on a few simple facts including that I was married to a lovely mad Englishman named Peter. You yank a cornerstone like that out from under a house—even a fairground funhouse*—and it goes down with a crash.
I assume I will bolt together a new Blog Persona out of scavenged fragments of the old—like Peter building the kitchen at the old house out of bits scrounged from the tip and the side of the road waiting for dustbin pick up**—although the broken funhouse mirrors may be a problem. But while both blog and I are a trifle moribund . . . it’s hard to know what to say, to demonstrate signs of life. I don’t much want to hammer you with my bottom line, which is I go to bed every night bewilderedly aware of not having seen or told Peter about my day, and that I’m not going to see him or tell him about my day tomorrow either, nor twist his arm to come to the opera with me, or say that I’ve discovered a new tea shop and we should give it a try. I never come home from any outing without wanting to tell Peter about it, and I still haven’t managed to stick a sock in the instinct that says, as I’m riffling through the local paper or reading the notices outside the village hall, oh! Peter might enjoy that!***
It’s not just the idiosyncratic, not to say aberrant, I that writes the blog. All of I doesn’t feel like myself any more. None of me feels like myself any more. I feel like someone else. Someone I’d rather not feel like. I didn’t realise the fairies went in for late-middle-aged changelings.
And just by the way I still can’t read his books. I was granted a stay of execution while we were pulling the memorial service together but since then just looking at a favourite dust jacket gives me the wombles. I’m probably going to have an interesting time when I can finally spare Atlas from building shelves at the Lodge and hacking back the jungle at Third House† and he can put up the shelves he’s already built on the One Remaining Blank Wall at the cottage, which is due to contain as many of my copies of Peter’s books as a single wall can hold.
But all of this is not to say there isn’t life-continuing stuff going on, it’s just that it’s all going on through a filter of Peter.††
For example, long term readers of this blog, who are therefore well aware that I think SHAKESPEARE IS OVERRATED, will be fascinated to hear that I signed up to read a sonnet at the Shakespeare Sonnet Gala this past Saturday the 23rd of April 400th anniversary yatta yatta yatta, run by some muscular local poetry society that puts on festivals and generally makes iamb pentameteric trouble in the area. I can’t remember how I happened to fall over the web site advertising that they were looking for 154 ordinary members of the public to read 154 sonnets but I did. First I laughed a lot and then I thought, you know, even though it’s Shakespeare, I like the idea of involving the hoi polloi with high literature, especially because one of the things that makes me a little crazy is that Shakespeare was writing for the hoi polloi, will you stop making him some kind of ornament to academe? So I signed up.†††
This epic occurred at the big central library‡. They cleared out the fiction section‡‡ so we were plonked down in the middle of everything with stacks on one side of us and the café on the other, and people streaming back and forth along the usual passageways, which is the way live poetry events should be, you know? It wasn’t quite a flash mob but it was maybe a close relative.
Most of us readers were okay. I was okay. If the RSC had a talent scout in the audience I was not on his/her short list but I was okay.‡‡‡ I didn’t have to go home and drown myself.§ I left during a break, and while I was stuffing my KNITTING back in my knapsack a woman came hesitantly up to me. Are you Robin McKinley? she said.§§ Yes, I said, blinking in surprise. What are the chances that in a group of thirty or so random British readers one of them would know my name? Dismal.
I just wanted to tell you I love your books, she said. And so does my daughter.
Suddenly, standing there clutching my knitting, Shakespeare seemed like a really great idea. You’ve just made my day, I said to her. I’m glad I came.
* * *
* Not the frelling TV show, which is way after my time.
** ARRRRRRGH. MEN.
*** What age I’m remembering him at varies. I almost immediately reverted to thinking of him when he was young and lively—so ahem about the age I am now ahem which is not young AHEM and at the moment significantly unlively as well—when I’m just thinking of him—sorry to be unclear, any of you who’ve been through it^ will know what I mean. My cornerstone Peter is the young [sic] one. The one I talk to in my head is the young one. But a lot of the looking-for-outings instinct is recent, and immediately after the, Peter might enjoy that!, is the, can I do it alone or do we need a third person to come too in case the ground/parking/seating/gargoyle raids are worse than I expect?
^ It being not merely the death, but the hideous decline and death of someone so inextricably and intrinsically mixed up with your molecules that you can’t really imagine living without them, even if you are, somehow, breathing and so on.
† Which is still not officially on the market, although it’s occasionally being shown unofficially, but we’re getting there which is to say it’s now cleared out enough that I’ve rung the housecleaning service . . . which is not getting back to me, festering festering festering ARRRRRGH.
†† Also . . . the ME is well beyond mere ratbaggery and has plunged into the flamingly demonic. As I keep saying to people who want to know how I am, I don’t have good days and bad days I have good minutes and bad minutes and I never know when I’m going to be in the middle of a sentence and my mind will not merely go blank but shut down, lock itself up and pull the plug. Or that I’m out hurtling over the countryside and not merely have to stop to lean against a tree, but sit down, put my head between my knees, and wonder if I’m going to make it back to Wolfgang. Or if I care. No, wait, the hellmob would care. One of the first things I did after Peter died was stop carrying Pooka with me everywhere because why? Being attached at the hip to my iPhone was a Peter-related emergency thing which was no longer an issue. But I’ve started taking her with me again^ just in case I am an emergency one day. Grief with ME: avoid.
But this whole quadruply-cursed journey of the Effect of Grief and Trauma on Physical and Mental Health deserves a post all by itself. Short form: I’m off ALL SUGAR AND ALCOHOL. No CHOCOLATE!!!^^ NO CHAMPAGNE!!!!!
It doesn’t bear thinking about. So mostly I don’t think about it. Pity I can’t instruct my mind to shut up and lock itself in a cupboard on demand.
^ Erm. When I remember.
^^ So, please note, you kind people who keep giving me chocolate . . . the monks are delighted.
††† If you’re interested, they gave me # 101. I went for snarky, since himself is being snarky, and I can relate to being snarky at one’s dratblasted Muse.
‡ Where Peter and I used to go every week. Our best, most reliable regular outing. Sigh.
‡‡ And stashed it in the theatre. Snork.
‡‡‡ The best reader I heard—I listened to about thirty sonnets, I think, whilst knitting frantically^—was a tiny little old lady who wandered up on the dais like she was thinking about her next cup of tea and sauntered through her sonnet like having a conversation with a friend. It was one of those moments when what all those rudely mechanical actors are prating on about How to Perform Shakespeare suddenly comes to life. You really can make Shakespeare sound like a conversation with a friend. If you’re really good. Which, just by the way, I think most professional actors, including the Famous Shakespearean Ones, are not. They eat the scenery unforgivably and make me want to throw things and scream.
^ The kid’s due NEXT WEEK. I’m not going to make it. I’m four-fifths done! Plus the frelling sewing-up, however, which is sure to manifest unpleasant surprises.
§ I did however have to sit through the cream-faced loon of an introducer saying how nice it was to hear people with different accents doing Shakespeare. BITE ME.
§§ This is not as nuts as it sounds. I had signed up and was on the list as Robin McKinley Dickinson, not only because I have no idea what I’m going to do with my name in the long term but also because Peter was the Shakespearean in this household.
§§§ And if I’d had my wits about me I’d’ve asked her^ what else she’d been reading lately that was good. I’m always in the market for books to read like I need more books. Like I need to go to the library every week and check out more books. Still. I would have asked her if I’d thought of it in time.
^ Because she looked nice. Like someone you could have a cup of tea with and a good wrangle about books.+
+ As anyone who has ever been to a book convention or belonged to a book club knows, further common ground cannot be carelessly assumed with someone who merely happens to like the same books you do. Or possibly that you wrote.
# Although of course I wanted to go home and tell Peter. . . .
So last 7 September Peter had a second stroke.* And he was clearly much weaker than after his first, and while he did regain some strength, he stayed very frail. He moved to Rivendell. There were some discussions between us and among the family about bringing him ‘home’ with 24/7 care; I was against this—as Peter knew—I way preferred having him somewhere with 24/7 medical care on the premises** and also the constant relentless cycle of staff shift changes*** is a boost—a pathetic boost but still a boost—to morale and energy levels. You know that all that professional cheeriness is professional but it still has an effect. I was nearly as depressed as Peter, even if I could stand up and walk without a steadying hand†. And Rivendell has big open well-lit corridors suitable for people in wheelchairs or walking frames and Third House . . . doesn’t.††
I also felt that while the fashion lately seems to be that people should stay in their own homes if at all possible, coming back to Third House where he used to be able to live independently and wouldn’t be able to any more would be a complete downer—and while the focus is on Peter, the ‘complete downer’ part would include me too.†††
I did suggest day visits back to New Arcadia and Third House but he wasn’t enthusiastic—I assume for some of the same reasons that coming ‘home’ with 24/7 care was less than attractive—and the twice (? I think) we tried it were not a success. A nice sticky cake at a tea shop was a much better outing.‡
If it had been entirely up to me I would have put Third House up for sale immediately and get it over with. But—ahem!—I may be slightly known for rushing into things. I was talked into keeping it a little longer and seeing how things went. And, okay, miracles have been known to happen.
Miracles, as we know, did not happen.
But I wanted to be able to take Peter somewhere that wasn’t professionally run, whether it was Rivendell itself or all the tea shops within Wolfgang’s and my limited driving range. I couldn’t take him home to my cottage; there’s a steep half-flight of stairs up to the front door. Even if I cleared off the thick accumulation of plants in pots on the steps he’d never manage it. Also, assuming that I would later if not sooner sell Third House, I needed ground-floor access for my piano.‡‡
MEANWHILE, the little house, not yet christened the Lodge, had been on the market most of last year. Real estate is funny. This is a desirable area and another house within a thirty seconds’ walk of me went indecently quickly for way too much money recently. And we’re all getting slavering come-hither notices through our mail slots from estate agents saying ARE YOU THINKING OF SELLING YOUR PROPERTY? YOU SHOULD BE, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE WE WANT TO SELL IT FOR YOU. PLEASE RING AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE SO WE CAN DO A VALUATION . . . which will be for a lot more money than the house finally goes on the market for but they don’t mention that and ruin their jolly frolic. But the Lodge is really rather small and most people want at least enough room to swing a hellterror.‡‡‡
I have a bit of history with the now-Lodge. The woman who lived there when I first moved into my cottage was very kind§ and I liked the house itself on sight. When she died I even tried to buy it. McKinley the Real Estate Magnate. Only I failed. But that turned out to be a good thing because I bought Third House later instead. Sigh. Full circle time, bleagh. Spinning in circles just makes you dizzy till you throw up.
So: tiny house. Diagonally across the street—the twisty, potholed, one-lane-wide-with-close-crowding-brick-and-flint-walls-to-emphasise-this-feature street—from me. Barely a second house at all.§§ It’s more the summerhouse at the end of your garden with a full kitchen and occasional traffic problems and not nearly enough rose-bushes. I talked it over with Peter. And he agreed to loan me some of the money from the sale of the mews—remember the mews?—so I could buy the Lodge before someone else woke up and bought it out from under me (again), and I could pay him back after I sold Third House.§§§
Then he died.
I was by then committed to the sale and I don’t know if there’s a ‘compassionate withdrawal’ option in the TOTALLY perverse and screwed-up British property law. But I still wanted the house, to the extent that I wanted anything at that point. My cottage is blinkety-blankety well jammed, never mind that I couldn’t get my piano up the stairs or past the chimney breast, and I was going to want to keep more of Peter’s gear than a whippet-shaped paperweight and a bottle of champagne, which meant I needed somewhere to put it. So I stumbled along, signing my name wherever someone told me to sign my name, and bought another house. Which is why I presently, unwillingly, own three houses.
And this blog post is now at least twice as long as it should be.# I don’t know that I was ever going to get on with clearing out poor Third House toward selling it very quickly but under the circumstances that I am obliged to do it## it’s been going very slowly indeed—rather like getting this post written. But spring is trying sporadically to arrive and it will make all of us feel better, right? That’s one of the things spring is for. Doodah doodah. And I am coming to the end of the clearing-out.### And I will get on with my life.
I keep saying I’m going to post sooner next time. One of these days I’ll be telling the truth. . . .
* * *
* ::starts crying:: It’s not corn-cracker crumbs^ that’s going to do for this laptop, er, ultrabook, it’s being cried on.^^ My tear ducts are going to need replacement soon too. Or a medal for loyal service under intolerable circumstances. Or both.
^ Maize and rice seem to be the only cereal grains I can eat without risking dire reprisals. And I don’t LIKE rice crackers.+
+ Note that I didn’t eat any of Ruby’s high tea. Scones? Clotted cream? Instant Death. But I can still admire.
^^ Crying makes your eyes blur. So you lean forward. Over your keyboard.
** 24/7 care furthermore which has had at least theoretically enough sleep each shift to be able see what they’re looking at, or hear a client buzzer go.
*** See: have had enough sleep
† And there were days when a steadying hand would have been a good thing. Or at least taller dogs.
†† Also . . . I worried kind of a lot about getting one of those 24/7 live-in home-care people that Peter and I could bear to have around TWENTY FOUR FREAKING SEVEN.^ At a place like Rivendell, a staff member you don’t much care for, hey, she’ll be off in a few hours and you may not see her again till next week. Or he, but the staff is mostly female.^^
^ Also—for any of you who haven’t been through this mill—they’re not 24/7. They get at least a couple of hours off every day which isn’t a big deal in your schedule—I spent increasing amounts of time running around doing stuff, Peter’s last two years, out of despair and helplessness, but I was still at Third House more than I was at the cottage—but it’s a big deal in your sense of responsibility. Also your standard, even-remotely-within-budget 24/7 home care person has no more medical training than you do. This would not have done anything good for my already chronic insomnia.
^^ This might make me testier except that most of the admin are women too.
††† Like putting up with the 24/7 carer would be an issue for me too.
‡ And for some of the same reasons as Rivendell was a better choice: because of all that public professional bustle and chat. At Third House the walls tended to close in. Peter and I were/are both introverts which is only a good way to be when you’re not depressed out of your tiny minds and having to resist the urge to crawl into your hole and pull it in after you. That last two years, resisting meant Peter played a lot of bridge. I went out and joined stuff.
‡‡ And SOMEWHERE to put a gazillion boxes of backlist, both mine and Peter’s. Not to mention all those other, other people’s books that are accustomed to being out on shelves. The shelves at the cottage are FULL and we’re not even going to discuss the piles on the floor. I’m tallish and thinnish and have long legs for my height . . . I can negotiate.^
^ The hellterror is a bit of a problem. Her little bedspring legs certainly can take her cleanly over book mountains. She just doesn’t see why she needs to do it that way. It’s so much more dramatic to approach these obstacles in bulldozer mode.
‡‡‡ The hellterror is also in favour of this. She likes the view from my arms because the hellhounds are a lot shorter than she is.
§ It was also amusing, after having lived in a nine-bedroom etc house, to have a visitor who thought the cottage was large. Her stories of my predecessor were even more amusing.
§§ People keep asking me, puzzledly, why I don’t sell both Third House and the cottage and buy one house that is the right size? The short form is that the cottage has been my increasingly-necessary bolthole for the twelve years we’ve lived in town and I couldn’t bear to leave it now nor any time in the foreseeable future. Also I like the Lodge and the hellmob and I walk past it a zillion times a day and it feels like part of the family.^
The slightly longer form is that I won’t find that house in the centre of New Arcadia where I am now. In hindsight I lucked into the cottage because the previous owner wanted to sell and it needed some updating^^. And real estate in little old Hampshire villages has gone completely nuts—or even more nuts—in the last dozen years. A quiet cul de sac^^^ just off the frelling centre of frelling town? How perfect is that? I’m keeping it. And while the Lodge does front on the main road it’s end-of-terrace because of the cul de sac, which means I have one wall that is not common, to put my piano on^^^^ and to sing at.
^ I keep having to remind myself that it now is part of the family.+
+ The house on the other corner of the cul de sac—so opposite the Lodge—has also recently sold and that makes me very sad because it’s part of the family too and I was friends with the humans who lived there and I will miss them and I don’t know if I’ll be friends with the new inhabitants or not. I never had any delusions of buying it however—in the first place that family had lived there forever and you don’t think about people who have been somewhere forever selling up, and in the second place it is LARGE. Even if I wanted all that space, which I don’t, I couldn’t begin to afford it.
^^ Which I haven’t done of course. Fresh paint on the walls and I’m in.
^^^ Although there are going to be problems with the Lodge’s common-wall neighbour’s little mega-yappy frelling hysterical dog. I’ll worry about that later. Or maybe I’ll just let the hellterror eat it. —Dog? I’ll say. You’re missing your dog? I have no idea.
^^^^ Yes I know you’re not supposed to put a piano on an outside wall. It’s better than being AUDIBLE. When my piano tuner comes I will ask him if I should do something like hang a RUG on the wall behind the piano. I still have lots of rugs from the nine-bedroom country house with the gigantic front hall, despite several of the family gallantly adopting a number of them.
§§§ I wish I could tell you even some of the saga of The Buying of the Lodge. It is full of excitement and suspense . . . and morons. Especially morons. Morons who might conceivably take umbrage^ if I told my version even though it is the true version.
Well, here’s just a teaser: for various reasons, including the fact that I was out of my mind for about six weeks from the beginning of November to the middle of December, the whole rubbishing business of the sale went on and on and on and on and the moron-to-person-possessing-at-least-semi-functioning-brain percentages were not in the non-morons’ favour.
Peter had wanted to see the new STAR WARS and since I’d been sure it would be booked out weeks in advance I’d bought the tickets yonks before, for the two of us and some random family members. The tickets were for Christmas Eve Eve. I declared I was going to go anyway because I didn’t want to blow off the last thing scheduled that I was supposed to do with Peter, and Georgiana said she’d keep me company. We were going to Peter’s and my favourite restaurant afterward for supper and to raise a glass.^^
The film was the film was the film.^^^ Georgiana and I both dove for our iPhones as soon as we were sitting down in the restaurant—having ordered our fizz—because this is the modern world and that’s what you do, and because I was expecting the confirmation of the sale and the news that I was now the proud possessor of three houses^^^^ and Georgiana was worried about one of her in laws who was in hospital.
I had a phone message. It had arrived at 4:58 pm on the 23rd, so just as everything shut down for a week over the holidays. And the message was that some creepazoid farther up the ‘chain’ [see: capricious and degenerate English real estate law] had thrown all his toys out of the pram and declared he wasn’t selling after all, the chain, therefore, had disintegrated and my purchase of the little house was off.^^^^^
And Georgiana’s relative had just gone into intensive care. We got through kind of a lot of fizz that night.
^ I can’t actually imagine any of them reading fantasy authors’ blogs, but you never know.
^^ I don’t have to tell you that this glass would contain fizzy liquid, do I?
^^^ Not a rabid STAR WARS fan, sorry. And it kind of lost me in the first reel-equivalent when the English-rose complexioned sweetie was presented as living as a scavenger in a desert. Although I did like it when that—ahem!—iconic object came roaring up out of a sand-dune [NO SPOILER! NO SPOILER!] when she and her new confederate are trying to escape.
^^^^ And heavily in debt for the privilege.
^^^^^ I believe that everyone else involved—they let me off, which was kind of them, since I wasn’t really up to the full screaming, kicking and punching thing—went to this guy’s house swinging long lithe bits of heavy metal in a significant manner and told him you want broken chains? We can show you broken chains. However it was arranged, the sale was back on in the new year.
# For symmetry it should probably be three times. Um . . .
## Including that I now owe the estate the repayment of that loan.
### Of the house. Then I have to start on the garden and the shed and the summerhouse. AAAAAAAUGH. But the estate agent can start showing it as soon as the house is clear and the heavily-armoured cleaning service has been around obliterating all traces of humanity. And caninity.
Nor are we going to discuss the unpacking of the Lodge. At least I’m good at jigsaw box-and-furniture arrangement, and Atlas, who is building the bookshelves, is used to me.
I set fire to my hair the other night. Oops.
It was very exciting for a second or two. I smelled that unmistakable frying-hair smell at the same time as I felt something odd happening on the top of my head—at the same time as Ruby, across the restaurant table from me, screamed, and we were descended on by several staff—at the same time as I jerked upright and away from the innocent candle sitting in its little dish next to the salt and pepper and a random flower in a vase. I managed to burn my hand too by slapping at my hair while grabbing my heavy linen napkin* and whacking it down over my head a scant inch or two in front of Ruby diving across the table with hers.**
So I have a tiny frizzly patch on the crown of my head. My hair hasn’t been itself since menopause*** and while frizzle is never a good look I haven’t had a good hair day in about a decade and there is no effect† for it to ruin.
Don’t do bereavement, everyone. It sucks on so many levels. I’ve broken so much china I’m tempted to buy evil planet-destroying off-gassing melamine and get it over with. Apparently I’m branching out into self-arson.
Ruby was here nearly a week.†† We hung out. We talked and talked and talked and talked AND TALKED AND TALKED. We got through a surprising amount of therapeutic champagne.††† We had high tea at a tea shop that understands proper British high tea. Scones, clotted cream, the lot. It’s surprising how few self-described tea shops do any more. We made a special excursion to Winchester Cathedral because of the shop where you can get EVERYTHING branded with the Winchester Cathedral logo: tea mugs, tea towels, tea bags, candles, pencils, note pads . . . chocolate. Ruby had to go home with gifts, after all. I bought a Winchester Cathedral eraser. It’s shaped like a book and it’s PINK.‡ We went round to Niall’s and made her ring handbells.‡‡ We slogged across a lot of soggy Hampshire countryside with an assortment of hellcritters. She’s another of my oldest and dearest friends.‡‡‡ And it was GREAT having her here.§ Except for the part about her going away again. Sigh. . . . .
* * *
* It had never occurred to me before that restaurants provide heavy linen napkins just in case any of their customers are recently bereaved idiots who may set fire to themselves. If I’d done this at home I’d have had to hit myself with a hellhound.
** Staff were presumably approaching with a fire hose or possibly an order for committal to the nearest residential facility. Fortunately they restrained themselves.
*** SOME DAY I MUST change that mini icon photo of me with short hair that appears everywhere. I had short hair for about a year and a half when menopause made so much of it fall out I was seriously thinking about wigs. But I couldn’t stand being fussed over having it cut every month or so UGGGGGGGH and after a while I just stopped having it cut which meant it . . . er . . . grew long again. I’ve never had a lot of hair but it has just enough wiggle—I won’t dignify this by calling it curl—that it looks thicker than it is. If I had any pride now I’d keep it short, but enough of it grew back in, still slightly wiggly, when I stopped having it cut that I’ve let it be long again, which it had been since my sophomore year of high school. AND AT LEAST THIS MEANS NO ONE BUT ME IS MESSING WITH IT.
† Note however I had gone bolshie earlier in the evening when we were dressing up for our night out. I wore my black denim mini.^ Yes. I’m sixty-three years old. Sue me. With heavy black tights I don’t even scare the horses. Over Sixties of the World Still Wearing Miniskirts, UNITE. Cross dressers welcome. So long as you respect the heavy black tights obligation to society.
^ With the fabulous black and white rhinestone belt Peter gave me. Sigh.
†† I meant to write the official Three Houses blog before she arrived but various things got in the way, things like all the frelling emergencies that have been waiting, till you’re distracted by the final illness and death of your brutally, constantly, stunned-ly missed husband, to rain down on your head like—er—flaming arrows. The letter from the water board, for example, informing me that they have PROOF that I’m Niagara flipping Falls and are charging me accordingly^ and the letter from another brisk and competent branch of local government telling me that the loft conversion at Third House was never properly inspected—HOW MANY YEARS AGO WAS THAT AND THEY’RE ONLY JUST NOTICING?????—and they want all the paperwork I haven’t seen since I wrote the final cheque to the builders LIKE I CAN FIND ANYTHING RIGHT NOW, plus things like the ginormous wodge of paperwork from Her Majesty’s Customs, Revenue and Red Hot Poker^^ Service that arrived a few days ago and starts off saying ‘I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and I understand that there is a lot going on for you right now, including the six-inch-thick stack of paperwork included with this letter which must be filled out in triplicate in the next forty-eight hours or I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog(s) too.’
^ Yes. I’m metered. Life in town. I remind myself that Peter has a point about being walking distance of the shops and that I need to shut up and deal. But I am not Niagara Falls. Unless the hellterror has learnt to turn the taps on when I’m not at home. I wouldn’t put it past her.
^^ There seems to be a slightly fiery theme to this post. Hmmm.
††† I said therapeutic and I meant THERAPEUTIC. Yes.^
^ And it was the BEGINNING of the evening when I set fire to my hair. I was still ABSOLUTELY SOBER. Which I admit is not comforting, but not much is at the moment. Comforting, I mean.
‡ I went into Idle Browse Mode the way you do in a shop when you’re there mostly for the person you’re with, and I saw something—I don’t even remember what it was any more—and thought, oh, that’ll amuse Peter!, and I had my hand out to pick it up when I remembered. . . .
‡‡ Hee hee hee hee. Well, she liked Niall’s brownies.
‡‡‡ Oldest is relative. She’s younger than I am. But the friendship is old.
§ I took her to the monks last Saturday. Even by the monks’ standards last Saturday was AMAZINGLY COLD. AMAZINGLY. She got in Wolfgang^ afterward looking like someone who had been found under an ice floe in Antarctica having lost all hope of being found before the ice worms got her. She’s now very impressed with my commitment to my faith.^^ And she’s known for decades that I’m in the top category of dangerously nutso so no surprises there.
^ Who has a new bumper. I was carless for a week, RIGHT BEFORE RUBY ARRIVED+, after he SPECTACULARLY failed his road test—more oops—like I didn’t know he was going to, since Her Majesty’s Division of Road Rage has no sense of humour or practical reality and was going to object to the bumper tied on with wire. And they did object, or at least the bloke with the clipboard did. IT WORKS FINE, TIED ON WITH WIRE. I think I told you some creepazoid slammed into me in the hospital car park early last autumn and my only thin wispy comfort (although comfort is not the word here either) was the thought that they were probably as crazy and frantic and clueless as I was myself at that point.
But the bumper, unfortunately, was only the beginning. And they wouldn’t let me have him back till they’d mended him. And it wasn’t till they finally DID let me have him back and the mechanic was going through the list with me that I realised it was all little stupid crap. Expensive little stupid crap, but still little and stupid. WOLFGANG LIVES.++
+ Hellhounds and I walked out to Warm Upford the evening before the morning I was picking Ruby up at 11:30, to fetch the car I needed to pick her up with. We didn’t know till the day before that if the final obscure replacement parts would arrive in time. And I hate suspense.
++ He’s also officially 20 years old this year. I know I tend to exaggerate& about things but calling him my 20-year-old car for the last couple of years hasn’t been exaggerating. I’ve just been rounding up.&&
& ::hums a little tune::
&& Warning: I’ve started saying that I was with Peter for a quarter century. That’s less of a round-up than you think: we missed our 24th wedding anniversary by a few days under a fortnight. But if you count from the end of July—the famous weekend in Maine—and which we tended to count from, he died five months after our 24th.#
# I said to Alfrick at some point~ when I was at the abbey weeping wildly~~ that while I had told Peter I wanted our 25th wedding anniversary together~~~ if I wasn’t going to have that, 23 years (and eleven and a half months) was somehow more interesting than 24 years. Alfrick said immediately, of course. Twenty-three is a prime number. —Which is what Peter would have said. And agreed with.
~ I don’t think I’ve told you this before. But when I say that my memory, always pretty dire, is into the seriously frightening category@, believe me.
@ I broke yet another plate a day or two ago. Maybe I’m manifesting some three-dimensional metaphor about having a broken cash flow? Or maybe I’m just trying to cut down on the amount of STUFF I need to deal with?% I feel there are better ways to perform this latter function.
% And the little/Daughter of Third/Gwendolyn house’s name is the Lodge. Niall, who if he weren’t a polite reserved British bloke would fall down laughing every time I refer to the difficulties and disadvantages of owning THREE houses, especially about having no money and getting really bad deals when you try to trade bricks or light fixtures for dog food=, said a week or two ago, so what does that make it? The gate house, the lodge? YES. THE LODGE. IT IS THE LODGE HOUSE. It does, after all, front on the main road; the cottage is tucked away up the cul de sac behind.
= ESPECIALLY the light fixtures at Third House that I never got round to replacing. Remember the plastic baronial hall candelabra? Brrrrrrrrrr.
~~ The real purpose of a spiritual adviser is to provide the box of tissues since the advisee will have already used all of hers up. There have been meetings with Alfrick recently when I got through most of a loo roll. The abbey tissue boxes are ridiculously small. Yo, Central Ecclesiastical Supply Co Ltd, LARGER TISSUE BOXES.
~~~ It’s not like I’m not going to remember, next 3 January, even if I meanwhile have been kidnapped by some beefcake pasha out of an early Mozart opera. I’ll remember, and Peter won’t be there.
^^ So am I. I am generally speaking the modern first world’s coldest human.+ I am cold all the time except briefly during heat waves when I’m too hot. Ruby is not in my league. But she does live in New York City++, Town of Large Overheated Buildings, and it amused me a lot the way she clung to the Aga.
+ I’m known colloquially at the monks’ as The Blanket Lady.
++ One of the reasons I am not planning to move back to the States#, aside from the fact that Hampshire is home and that only moving out of Third House is already making me feel like I’m trying to obliterate Peter, is because the highest population density of my old friends is in New York City and I don’t want to live in a big city again.
# I am carefully not saying ‘I will never move back to the States, I can’t IMAGINE moving back to the States again’ because that kind of thing attracts undesirable attention. Turning Christian maybe should wipe out your commitment to negotiating with fate and subcontractor gremlins, but it probably won’t. My own feeling about this is that God is essentially unknowable so why take chances about where the lines are? There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio etc.
[THE ASTERISK IN THE TITLE SHOULD BE PINK. BUT THE TITLE BOX APPARENTLY DOESN’T HAVE COLOURS.]
I’ve been having an unusually bad ME day. The ME has been surprisingly well-behaved the last six months*; not that I haven’t had ME days but they haven’t been as severe or as frequent as recent stress/despair/grief levels might predict. Today it decided to slug me with several at once.** Unnnnh. But I had tickets to the live-streaming LA TRAVIATA and Admetus to do the driving*** AND I WAS GOING ANYWAY.†
And we did. And this is a good one.†† If the Royal Opera House reruns it at a Theatre Near You and you have ANY finer musical feelings††† go. I didn’t know any of this cast—and the tenor took a little while to warm up—but they were splendid. Violetta is a gift of a role, if you are a supernaturally dazzling soprano with a timbre richer than 85% dark organic chocolate who can furthermore out-act Ellen Terry‡, because you get such a range with her, from the resplendent but cynical courtesan at the beginning to the fragilely joyous woman in love at the beginning of the second act, just before it all comes crashing down, which is when you see what a real heroine she is, to the final act of loss, resignation, despair and a tiny flame of reunited rejoicing to make it more tragic. But you have to respond to her as magnificent in the scene with the lumpen prig who is her (wet, puerile) lover’s dad or you’ll be frelling overcome by the blazing misogyny of the plot—I don’t mean that Verdi is the bad guy‡‡, but the story he’s telling‡‡‡ is major ARRRRRGH from start to finish.§ You need a Violetta that will make you love her anyway.
I could produce a few caveats about this production. But I won’t. Much. §§ One of the dangers of La Trav is that if the tenor and the baritone are too lifelike you’ll be so busy hating them you won’t thrill properly. In this production the guys are actually sympathetic which is a good trick in the circs but it’s what you want so you can revel. This is a very, very good show. Go see it if you can.
* * *
* It’s February. I can no longer say ‘my husband died last month’. However ‘my husband died just before Christmas’ still presents some faintest echo of how I’m feeling.
** I broke another plate today. That makes five since Peter died, I who do not break things ( . . . very often). With thanks to Gomoto, however, who suggested it, I did manage to replace the irreplaceable one by risking life and sanity on eBay. The only drawback, that’s DRAWBACK, to this is that I had to join frelling eBay which I had thus far AVOIDED—yes, all these years, I have resisted eBay^ but apparently you can’t buy anything unless you join??? Big Brother isn’t just watching you, he has a slave torc around your neck. And I suppose if I ‘desubscribe’ from the welter of emails encouraging me to BUY MORE and to SET UP AS A SELLER I’ll just have to rejoin all over again if I ever break another irreplaceable plate, which on present form I probably will.
^ I hate auctions, for one thing. All that SUSPENSE.+ Just tell me the price and I’ll pay it or I won’t, okay? I also hate having to learn a whole new dadblatted system for some dadblatted web mogul. Blogmom could tell you I have a meltdown every time WordPress has an update and Yet More Weird New Things happen back in the admin when I’m just trying to hang a blog post, you hyperactive creeps, will you LEAVE ME ALONE.
+ I just read a really, really annoying thriller. If I’d realised it was a thriller I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but it got all these FABULOUS REVIEWS and I acknowledge that it is stylishly written, it doesn’t just rudely go for your throat and sink its teeth in, it nibbles tenderly on your ankles a bit first, leaving dainty little lacy patterns. But . . . SO ANNOYING. Nothing and no one is ever what it or he or she seems to be, and several times in succeeding chapters. Now, I hate suspense, all that waiting for which villain is going to leap out of which cupboard and in what order and bearing what weapons and what sordid tales of ancient wrongs or culpable desires, but in this particular case the agonisingly slow revelation of the true story through the endless lies, betrayals and labyrinthine motivations of all the characters stopped winding me up and just made me want it to be over with. I don’t think I followed the last sixty-seven monstrous discoveries anyway so when I finally got to the last shocking plot twist it was like, um, what? Can I go now?
*** Peter was supposed to come too. Whimper. That is, when I’d first brought it up when the tickets came available yonks ago, he’d rolled his eyes at the idea of another La Trav—I’ve told you before that he is not a natural opera lover—but I was planning to have a final assault on his artistic sensibilities/unreasonable obstinacy nearer time.
† Also despite the predictable waterworks at the end when she dies. But lots of people cry at the end of La Trav. Not so many for Beethoven’s Fifth.
†† I’ve seen this production at least twice before, both times live, really live, before cinema streaming. The first time when the production itself was new . . . with Peter. The second time when I went up to London alone on the train to see Renee Fleming . . . which I’m afraid was more notable for spectacularly doing my back in in my unaccustomed high heels than for Renee Fleming whom I found brilliant but cold.^ I’ve never worn high heels since.^^ Just by the way. And rarely have back trouble any more.^^^
^ She makes a great courtesan: not so much the dying heroine you’re going to cry over when she takes the final dive. Which, for me, brings the essential appallingness of the plot into snarling feminist focus and kind of wrecks the cathartic wallow aspect. You want the wallow. That smug middle-class boys are a right pain you can get elsewhere.
^^ I wore my fabulously floral Docs to the funeral and memorial service.
^^^ She says nervously. Since there’s a lot of Hauling of Boxes of Books during a house move.
††† !!!!!! NOT THAT I’M PREJUDICED ABOUT THE ESSENTIAL SUPREMACY OF OPERA OVER ALL OTHER MUSICAL ART FORMS OR ANYTHING.
‡ Or possibly Tessa Gratton. Any of you who don’t follow me on Twitter
Or, since I’m having my usual trouble with links, the original Twitter one opens but this one seems to open better:
‡‡ I very much doubt Verdi was a modern feminist. Ha ha. But he did live with and eventually marry a woman with a background a bit similar to Violetta’s but much better health. And they took stick for it from the lumpen prigs.
‡‡‡ And for anyone who isn’t a regular Days in the Life reader or opera goer^, La Trav tells the story of a high-end Parisian courtesan who is dying of consumption, and knows it. She lets herself fall in love with a callow young twerp who adores her and they retire to the country where they’re busy burning through all her money when his dad shows up to dispose of this trollop who is not merely ruining his son’s life but preventing his virginal daughter from marrying her fiancé because the fiance’s parents will call it off if the son doesn’t throw the whore back in the ditch where he found her and return to polite society. Well, she gives him up, but doesn’t tell him why, and he has a meltdown and insults her publicly at a demi-monde party back in Paris where they met. Last act is her dying, broke^^^ and lonely, rereading the letter from the prig saying that he and his disgusting son, whom he has told the true story of her leaving, are going to come see her now that she’s dying and won’t embarrass them much longer, presumably they aren’t going to tell the sister’s husband’s family about this little departure from the straight and narrow?, although the letter says, oh, take care of yourself, you wonderful woman, you should have a happier future ARRRRRRRRRRGH.# And then she dies in the wet twit’s arms, and the curtain comes down. Before dad and son exchange the look of relief and the ‘well that’s that then. I wonder what’s for supper back home?’
If you’ve got a Violetta worth the diamonds she sold to keep her country villa## you won’t care. You’ll be slurping up all the melodrama with a large shiny spoon. It’s only later when you’re stuffing the wet tissues in your pocket to leave the theatre tidy that your intellect catches up with events and starts wrecking your fun.
^ Do we want to know each other?
^^ Note: ARRRRRRGH.
^^^ It also makes me crazy, every time+, when she tells her faithful maid to divide up her tiny remaining store of money and give half of it to the poor. WHAT IS THE MAID GOING TO LIVE ON AFTER VIOLETTA GOES? I don’t think a glowing rec from a dying penniless prostitute is going to get her a good place right away.
+ Also the doctor saying authoritatively that Violetta only has ‘hours’ to live. Unless of course modern medicine has lost the amazing predictive powers of Italian docs of Verdi’s day.
# That’s an editorial ARRRRRRRRRGH, you understand.
## If they were so enamoured of the rural life why didn’t they just buy a COTTAGE?
§ Although if you’re a modern humour-challenged feminist cow like me, you couldn’t enjoy La Trav nearly so much if you didn’t know it was all going to go horribly wrong. If Violetta had a sudden deathbed recovery and she and the wet went back to their villa^ and the prig and the rest of their family, including the sister’s in-laws, realised that Violetta had a Beautiful Soul whatever her background, and had them over to tea on high days and holidays . . . nooooooo. Ewwwwwwww.
^ or cottage
§§ The last act is a particular ratbag to stage. She’s dying of consumption so she shouldn’t be flitting lightly around the stage, which Violettas usually are. There’s a famous, or possibly infamous, staging where she spends the entire act in bed, which is more realistic, and which makes the last moments of her sudden sense of joy and strength much more dramatic, when she finally does stand up and walk—just before she falls over for the last time—but it also makes the act static and (apparently) directors shy away from this. This particular staging has gruesome blood spatters on her pillows and the maid’s apron—but not on Violetta’s snowy white nightgown—which doesn’t make me think ‘ah yes consumption’ it makes me think ‘the devoted maid wouldn’t allow this NOR would Violetta be carelessly dragging her snowy white nightgown or her long luxuriant locks^ across these besmirched pillows.’ Personally I think they’re missing a trick during the orchestral doodah by not having her notice the stains and react. But hey.
^ Also unlikely in a woman dying of consumption. And while opera companies are getting better about remembering the effects of close-up cameras for cinema transmissions YOU COULD SEE THE JOINS where Violetta’s hair extensions were attached to her real hair which is the sort of thing I find distracting.
* * *
* This should have gone up last night, of course, but the ME got me before I could proofread, especially since that involves, as it so often does, sorting out the footnotes. Which I’m not always successful at even when the ME isn’t eating my brain. Which it still is today although not as badly.
But this gives me the opportunity for a GARDEN UPDATE! I had TWO robins in my garden this morning [sic]!!^ Maybe they’ll finally forgive me the Epic of the Falling-Down Wall and nest in my greenhouse again??! There’s been a determinedly kept-clear nook^^ just waiting for a nest, the last what’s it been, two years? Three? Since the Epic of the Wall.
^ Anyone not acquainted with British robins, they’re very territorial and the only time you see more than one—unless they’re fighting+—is when they’re breeding and raising the next generation.
+ And they aren’t kidding: they’re exacto knives with little round feathered handles
^^ And that’s not easy in my greenhouse
That’s the end of the memoir bits. You had mine first, which came last on the day, followed by some of his poetry, and the grandson with the amazing voice sang Linden Lea* and then it was over except for the champagne and fireworks.**
And then all of us left behind stumbled back to our lives. It’s funny what catches you out.*** Up till this week when it turned suddenly cold at last† it’s been insanely, unseasonably warm†† and all kinds of plantlife has been shooting out—my snowdrops are going to be over before they usually start—we had purple sprouting broccoli in November instead of February, and I’ve just been shelling my first broad beans of the year . . . broad beans? That should be like . . . May.†††
Broad beans were one of my early revelations about life in England. The only big fat round green bean I knew were frozen limas—preferably as succotash—and while they were fine the earth did not move and rainbows did not explode behind my eyes when I ate them. But broad beans . . . yowzah. YOWZAH yowzah. They are so spectacularly awesome they are worth the incredible faff of shelling the beggars. Those of you accustomed to this task will know whereof I speak. They grow in these massive great pillowy pods and you pick one up and think, YES! Big fat broad beans! And then you grapple your way into the thick uncooperative husk‡ and discover it’s mostly the plant version of bubblewrap and you have to lever out the few beans embedded therein. ARRRRRGH. Only the fact of the essential divinity of broad beans keeps any rational person at this desperate activity.
Peter derived some amusement out of my naïve horror at the process. And I did get used to it. Greed helps. But the thing is . . . it’s something we did together. We certainly did it literally together back at the old house, podding our very own broad beans out of our very own sweat-of-our-brows garden‡‡ And even since we moved into town and our broad beans come by organic-grocer delivery we at least had each other to moan at, whoever did the actual shelling that meal or that week or that season. Hey! the one would say to the other, shaking a pot with a modest layer of broad beans spread across the bottom. It took me forty five minutes to shuck that many!
Not this year. And telling the hellmob just isn’t the same.
* * *
* Peter had eccentric tastes in music as in most things. He would tell you he ‘wasn’t musical at all’ and didn’t care for music, or didn’t care one way or another about it.^ But if you put the wrong CD on you would hear about it and there were certain things he did really love, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings for example.^^ I still wasted quite a bit of time believing that he didn’t care for music and, for example, originally assumed that the mum in SEVENTH RAVEN was a cellist because he needed her to be something, not because he was susceptible to a well-played cello. Oh. Anyway. He was sufficiently unmusical to like listening to me sing, and I’d been learning Linden Lea shortly before one of Percival’s visits. Peter certainly knew Linden Lea; I don’t think you can live on these islands without having some vague idea about King Arthur, Stonehenge and Linden Lea, but I don’t think the last had particularly registered with him before I started doing my dying-pig routine with it. Percival is always happy to take requests and he knew Linden Lea. Golly. So while Linden Lea was introduced at the memorial service as one of Peter’s favourites it might be more accurate to say it was one of his favourites for about the last year of his life.
^ And long-term blog readers will recall that he did the loyal-husband thing and accompanied me to many operas although this was not his idea of a fabulous night out and he usually complained about the libretto. Well I complain about most librettos. Any story-teller who doesn’t complain about opera librettos is an alien from the Crab Nebula only pretending to be a human story-teller. Well, a human story-teller with any pride.
^^ Which I learnt to pay attention to and then to love because Peter thought so highly of it. I wasn’t a Britten person when I moved over here; I knew his operas a little because I know most standard-rep operas at least a little, but their emotional reality is mostly too real for me. There’s no dazzling melodramatic catharsis at the end of Britten’s tragedies the way there is at the end of Verdi’s. And, just by the way, if I never hear the four sea interludes from Peter Grimes again, my life will be a little brighter. I should think Mr B would be rolling in his grave at the idea that something he wrote has been essentially turned into a frelling lollipop. Although I think he was the one who turned them into a concert piece in the first place. We all make mistakes.
** Well, prosecco. But definitely fizz.^ And yes, fireworks. Advantages of having a memorial service in January, generally speaking a quite depressing enough month in the northern hemisphere without any help: It gets dark early for fireworks. I’ve been saying that we blued the estate on the send-off. It was worth it.
^ I had two glasses and could barely walk. Maybe I should have eaten something. They even had a plate of gluten-free and I saw it like once before it ran away and hid in the shrubbery or under the piano or something.
*** No it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all.
† And I found out again how many frelling gazillion geraniums I have when I had to bring the suckers indoors to save them freezing. I had visitors coming and the sitting room floor was suddenly wall to wall to bookshelves to sofabed with geraniums. I spent a day that might have been better spent cleaning the house^ hacking and repotting and wedging, got the floor clear enough to open the sofabed and the windowsills JAAAAAAAAAMMED . . . and then there was a family crisis and I have a nice clean sitting room floor and no one to admire it but me.
^ I lost the will to live on the subject of the kitchen floor of the cottage several muddy months ago. Now I know the hellmob do walk into the little garden courtyard to pee and so it is not surprising they come back in again mired to the elbows but I SWEAR the flaming mud can jump. I’m standing in the doorway just making sure that no one with a high-angle aim pees on a rosebush and the mud makes a sudden lightning raid and gets all over the bottoms of my house slippers. Arrrrrrgh.
†† AND WET. AND MUDDY.
††† Not that I wouldn’t be glad to have May’s daylight. This time of year, bad weeks the hellmob and I barely see the sun.
‡ The how-tos tell you blithely to run your fingernail down the seam and split it open. LIKE HELL. The how-tos, which have obviously never podded a broad bean in their lives, neglect to tell you that you have a better chance of seaming one open if you start at the rear end rather than the stem end, but even so, at least one pod in three disintegrates in nasty messy little spiral flakes as you claw at it. Think about running your fingernail down a line of bubble wrap and expecting it to pop open. Ha ha frelling ha.
‡‡ Note however that I personally did almost nothing in the vegetable garden. I was flowers^ all the way. Our broad beans were the sweat of Peter’s brow. I admit however that I’ve started surreptitiously growing a few broad bean plants in pots in my little garden. I get about one good plateful from them, but they’re not fussy as plants, it’s only when you’re trying to extract the frelling beans that their depravity manifests.
^ Hey. Only about 85% roses. Okay maybe 90%.