Peter had a second stroke on the 7th of September.
I’ve got that far writing you a catch-up blog, and stalled, several times over the last two months*. Life-changing events of the negative sort perhaps often have that effect: This is what’s happened. Noooooo. And your mind goes blank again. As mine keeps doing.**
He was in hospital for not quite a fortnight*** and then went straight into a care home which is where he still is and where I wearily and dejectedly hope he stays. We’ll call it Rivendell: that’s the sort of name care homes have, and its real one is almost as silly.† He’s still Peter and he can still open one eye where he’s snoozing on his bed and put you right about a Shakespeare/Bible/Kipling/Housman/Hardy quote without fully waking up, but he is terrifyingly frail. Terrifyingly. Through Admetus’ kindness we’ve inherited Alcestis’ folding, fits-in-the-boot-of-your-car wheelchair, three-wheelie walker thing†† and flashy red-leather disabled badge holder. We use all of them regularly.
This was not the plan. But the plan went south twelve years ago when Peter and I left the old house back in Warm Upford, because he was beginning to feel his age. Plans change. I don’t really know what the plan is now. Get through today. Get through tomorrow. Get through next week. . . . †††
As you can imagine morale is not high. And there’s a lot of sheer business detail that someone has to attend to. The brunt of it falls on me of course but all four of Peter’s kids are pitching in enormously. This isn’t helping my staring into the endless dark at 3 am but it does mean that my mental and physical leaky-sieve qualities are not a disaster. It also means that the three relatively local kids take him for proper outings. He’s in Rivendell because it has by far the best reputation in the area, but it’s pretty much at the stretch of my ME-oppressed daily commuting distance. I can take him to tea in Mauncester‡ and we’ve reinstated our lovely weekly library visits which involve books AND tea than which it does not get better‡‡ but that’s about it. But Peter is presently having a comprehensive tour of all the local hot spots we never got around to visiting because we live here, compliments his indefatigable children.
My life is on hold‡‡‡; no bell ringing, no voice lessons, no Sams, no Street Pastors, no . . . whatever I used to do. Some of it with Peter. I may be forgetting.§ Except for Peter. I remember Peter.§§
Ask me about my life in, oh, say six months. Although I’ll try not to leave it that long before I post again.
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* And started this one a week ago. It originally said ‘almost two months’.
** I suppose I could try blaming the ME. It does have its uses. I’d rather not have it as a scapegoat and dustbin but as long as I do have it I might as well make it work for its keep.
*** And was about ready to steal a cardboard box and live on the street to get out. This seems to me a healthy, sensible attitude toward being in hospital. If you need it you have to lump it but it’s not a fun time for anyone. AND. THE. FOOD. Dear frelling subgod of food. You’d think that with a lot of sick people under your roof you would be deeply concerned with getting the best possible nutrition into them, wouldn’t you? Instead so far as I can tell hospitals go to Central Nutritional Casting and order someone who can fill out a balance sheet and lives on Snickers bars. And our local hospital, at whose table Peter has failed to feast on occasions previously, is far from the worst in this regard.^
^ Very slightly in their defense—very very slightly—he was on soft food for about the first week which limited the initial range. But, you know, after that? Um, say, SALAD? What would that be again? Something with mayo and macaroni perhaps? A serving of broccoli consists of one finger-sized floret cooked just short of disintegration point. If they could harness the precision skill needed for this feat they could probably send that settlement party to Mars.+ How do they expect anyone to get WELL on this stuff? It’s not like they need to fill beds. They need to unfill beds.
+ We liked THE MARTIAN. Just by the way. Our local cinema had a refit just in time to make Peter comfortable in the admirable new sofas at the back. I will, however, indulge in a rant about disabled access some other time.
† Or maybe sillier.
†† I think these are dead cool. There are a gazillion different styles—Admetus says Alcestis really enjoyed trolling catalogues and the internet for precisely the right make and model. But they’re all like a kind of souped-up shopping trolley. This one has a basket, a bag and a tray.^ And brakes, for when you’ve got your shopping trolley a trifle overloaded with all the fresh stuff you’ve been MISSING while you’ve been in hospital^^ and there’s a slope. I realise it wouldn’t be cost effective but I wish ordinary shopping trolleys had brakes. My most memorable wheeled and brakeless moment was probably one afternoon chasing a trolley full of champagne^^^ down a long car park toward Wolfgang and flinging myself sideways against the handlebar to get the thing to turn in at the appropriate bay.^^^^
^ Pav would fit in the basket. I don’t suppose she’d stay there.
^^ Lettuce doesn’t weigh much but almost everything else does. And even lettuce weighs a surprising amount when it’s on its own core and isn’t just loose leaves.
^^^ Well. Cheap fizz. On sale.
^^^^ That experience may be the source of one of Wolfgang’s dents. But it’s a small, delicate, charming dent. And none of the bottles of fizz exploded.
††† I am so not thinking about Christmas. We’re going to a lavish high tea^ at one of these country house nobody-ever-lived-like-this fantasy places for my birthday with several of the family.^^ If this is fun we may do it again for Peter’s birthday. Peter, as you may imagine, is not feeling enthusiastic about birthday celebrations.
^ It makes me a little cranky that now that gluten-free has become a fashion accessory almost everyone curls their lip when you ask about availability. On the other hand for those of us who discovered years before it became cutting edge style that gluten-free is a very good idea when we’re under stress it’s nice that there now is availability. What it is to be ahead of the frelling curve. Like the ME: as I’ve snarled here many times before, I’d had it eight years or so before the NHS decided it existed. Thanks. Now get away from me with those drugs.
^^ If I can convince someone else to do the Rivendell-tea-Rivendell drive I will have a glass of champagne. At Rivendell I can hit the cranberry juice and sober up before I have to drive home.
‡ Bright spots include finding a fabulous new tea shop with good tea and gluten-free.^
^ Although . . . guaranteed weight-loss diet? Go vegetarian+ a month or six weeks before your husband has a second stroke, while you’re still learning what you can and can’t eat and of what you can what does and does not taste good or sit well in your stomach++, and if you’re dairy free also (yes) most of your new options are lower-cal than your old, and you may absent-mindedly find yourself with a plate of something you don’t eat any more and then can’t be bothered replacing it with anything, because who feels like eating when your husband has just had a stroke?
+ It’s a long story. Tell you some other time.#
# It’s game-bird season and I’m feeling a little wistful. Also. Christmas without turkey. Golly.
++ Which in my case is possessed by demons so this is always an interesting gauntlet to renegotiate. <mixed metaphor alert> If you had a gut like mine you too would indulge in mixed metaphors when attempting to describe it. Not too graphically.
‡‡ Yes, okay, champagne. But not when I’m driving.
‡‡‡ Barring the hellmob of course. They’re all yo, we want our hurtles, we want our food,^ we want our hanging out, we want our lying in heaps together. They are of course aware that Something is Wrong—if for no other reason than that the majority of our hanging-out time no longer occurs at Third House—but critters are admirably single-minded and this does provide valuable grounding when you’re pretty much off your face. Also the advantages of warm fur during the 3 am bleak-staring phases cannot be overstated.
One of Rivendell’s not-so-minor advantages is that they’re critter-friendly. There are a lot of dogs that visit, now including the hellhounds.^^ There are a couple of bull terrier fanciers however who are waiting for me to have a good moment to bring the hellterror in. She takes more advance planning and my advance-planning function is a little unreliable at the moment.
^ All right, the hellterror wants her food. But I think the hellhounds would miss the lively and interesting interactions with the hellgoddess if she didn’t regularly produce food for them to despise.
^^ I’m so used to the staff liking dogs that when the hellhounds rushed one of the carers who came to check on Peter the other night it didn’t occur to me that she would do anything but greet them in the manner to which they have become accustomed and the poor woman had palpitations. Oops.
§ My poor garden. . . . ^
^ I suppose I should say ‘my poor floors’ and ‘my poor dusty and grimy shelves’ and ‘my poor heaps of unsorted gubbins in all the corners and against all the walls’ but housework has never been a major centre to my existence. Although it’s true that when the gubbins start extruding long tentacles and chasing you from room to room, um . . .
§§ Story writing? No. Which may also be why I feel so, I don’t know, hollow?
MY APPLE TREE FELL DOWN. FELL. DOWN.
This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago. And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.
When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.
So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.
. . . Oh. Oh dear. OH BLINKETY BLINKETY BLINKETY. ALSO ARRRRRGH. AND BOO-HOO THAT’S MY TREE.
I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***
And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.
At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.
Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††
Note that it is still raining today. –ed.
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Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.
The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that. Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.
If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.
And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves: Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.
I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .
I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems: the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.
However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.
But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.
It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.
And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?
No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.
* * *
* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES
** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.
*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.
† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.
†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^
Okay, I forgot to do this. Opportunity wasted. Sigh. –ed.
^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.
^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?
^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.
+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.
††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.
‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.
‡‡ Which seems to be saying something like I NEVER TOLD YOU YOU CAN NEVER SIT DOWN, SLEEP, OR EAT CHOCOLATE SLOWLY AND THOUGHTFULLY. BELIEVE ME, YOU WOULD KNOW IF I HAD.
‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.
^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.
§ The version with recitative is later
§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.
§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.
# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?
^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.
## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.
### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . . there’s a word usage that really caught my ear. Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.
~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.
Sorry everyone. I’m just so freaking tired.* It’s been a somewhat action-packed week/ten days/fortnight/century. The good news is that I haven’t knocked Peter over with the car again recently. YAAAAAY. But we’ve had three lots of visitors** and assorted emergencies.*** And Niall and I seem to be teaching more people to ring handbells.
Also, it’s definitively spring. The weather is still jerking us around† but the primroses are flowering like mad—AND MY SNAKESHEAD FRITILLARIES YAAAAAAAAAY—and the early pansies, and the early tulips and there are daffodils and hellebores everywhere as thick as marmalade on toast and it is unmistakably SPRING. So I’m out there frantically potting up little things that keep arriving in the post†† . . . and occasionally I’m also potting up things that I stuck in some perlite because I was REALLY IRRITATED that I or a member of the hellmob or some discourteous frelling typhoon broke off a perfectly good branch of something or other and if I sliced it up in pieces and stuck them in perlite . . . well, they’d die, of course, but at least I’d’ve tried.
Occasionally they live. I now have five abutilon megapotamicum. If they’re happy, they can get to eight foot. The original one—the one that got blown off the kitchen window shelf and snapped off a long limb—is getting on for six foot. It’s a terrific plant—it flowers all year. But FIVE of them??? This is just possibly superfluous to requirements.
And now, if you’ll excuse me again, I have to go sing something: voice lesson tomorrow.††† I’m supposed to be learning Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise . . . but it’s in four sharps, and I don’t like sharps, and it’s all foolhardy lines of unusual intervals—these blasted great composers are so frelling unpredictable—and he keeps flatting and/or double-sharping things that in some cases don’t have a black key there anyway AND YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THIS STUFF and . . . my brain hurts.‡ I may be leaning on YouTube a little more than I should be. Was that a chromatic scale when you strip out all the persiflage or wasn’t it? No. It wasn’t. That would be too easy. Quack. Quaver. But possibly the most annoying thing . . . Nadia told me I can just miss out the line with the high C in it—unless it’s a C flat which would make it some kind of B, and I occasionally have a high B—and I was wibbling along with YouTube and not thinking about it . . . okay, maybe the singer I was yodelling with had knocked it down a semi-tone or so but I got to the end and thought . . . wait a minute. I sang that line.
Haven’t been able to do it again of course. Your body is your instrument. Your instrument is a gibbering neurotic nutso. Sigh. . . .
* * *
* I’m reading a nice restful book^ in which our heroine winds up briefly hospitalised and is driven mad by having nothing to read, and when a sympathetic nurse loans her a copy of HELLO! magazine . . . she reads it as a desperate alternative to ripping her sheets into long thin strips and using broken clothes-hangers as knitting needles^^. And I read this with a feeling of cold deep horror and thought again THIS IS WHY MY KNAPSACK WEIGHS MORE THAN A HELLTERROR. It’s my phobia about being trapped somewhere WITH NOTHING TO READ.^^^ And given the number of times Peter has closed his hand in a door—never mind the serious stuff—and we’ve spent several unscheduled hours in A&E/Emergency, I am not being paranoid I am being practical.
^ THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths which is the second in her murder-mystery series about Ruth Galloway who is a forensic archaeologist. And which are fabulous. Ceridwen loaned me the first one and when I read it in about forty-eight hours+ laughed in an evil and knowing manner, and loaned me the second.
+ despite not being able to read it in the bath because it belonged to someone else and IT WOULD NOT BE GOOD IF I DROPPED IT. I have quite a few paperbacks with curly pages . . . and I barely have a knitting magazine that doesn’t have curly pages.
^^ Okay, I made the extreme knitting alternative up, but personally I might have gone for it over HELLO!
^^^ Or knit.+ Granted most knitting weighs considerably less than three paperbacks and a fully charged iPad,++ and I don’t think they’ve started commercial production of ununseptium needles, possibly because they would be a trifle unstable as well as heavy, and my knitting doesn’t need any help in instability, but the Scarf as Big as the Universe sure takes up a lot of space. I keep being tempted to take it OUT of my knapsack and finish it at home where it can have its own room+++ but I know this way madness lies. I would just have the 1,000,000,000th unfinished woolly object lying around somewhere for me to trip over in the middle of the night.
. . . But starting NEW woolly objects is fun. Especially during that early halcyon period before you’ve made any really ghastly errors that you can’t figure out how to fix.
+ I actually went to an AGM recently.# WITH MY KNITTING. THANK YOU, GOD, FOR KNITTING.
# Reasons not to join things: the dreadful possibility of an AGM.
++ Note that I take my charging cable with me everywhere too. Just in case.
+++ Mind you in my house it would be sharing that room with 1,000,000 other yarn projects, 1,000,000,000 books and 1,000,000,000,000 All Stars. Plus assorted miscellaneous items.# But the rooms at the cottage, while small, are all larger than a knapsack.
# The miscellaneous-item problem is worse than usual at the moment because the American government in its wisdom~ decided that I had to re-prove that I live here and have lived here for quite some time and so you find salient documentation of ten-plus years ago, especially less than a year after a major house move when everything that CAN be shoved into the back of an attic HAS been shoved into the back of an attic including gruesome old paperwork. My tribulations began with the question which attic?, but more or less climaxed with insane-even-for-me tottering piles of everything all over my office floor at the cottage. Sigh. Which, the adrenaline of panic having worn off, I have no enthusiasm for sorting out and putting away again.~~
~~ Putting away WHERE? %
% Er. ‘Putting away’?
** NECESSARY HOUSEWORK. NOOOOOOOOO. Failing this activity would certainly be a way of ensuring that people don’t come back, but unfortunately anyone who gets as far as being invited to stay is probably someone I want to come back which leaves me in a terrible predicament. I keep trying to teach the hellhounds to pull the hoover. And the hellterror to mop the floor. Nobody does much about the cobwebs. Or the dust.^
^ Ways to Tell What I Am Really Truly Currently Reading: it’s not dusty.
*** See *, ^^^, +++, # above
† If I put long johns on in the morning^ I will be hot and cranky at 3 pm. But if I don’t put long johns on^^ I will be cold and cranky at . . . 3 am.
^ Oh all right, when I get dressed. There are drawbacks to sleeping in something you can answer the door in, because you can also put your gardening apron and your wellies on and do some gardening—just while your tea steeps, you know. Today this innocent activity led to my realising I was due to ring handbells in an hour while I was still in my nightgown equivalent and hadn’t had breakfast/lunch or hurtled any of the waiting hurtlables in this household.
I was late for handbells. Never mind. This fresh victim is catching on way too quickly and will be ringing Surplice Maximillian while I’m still trying to sort out the details of Basic Stupid. Which I have been for the last . . . decade. Siiiiiigh. And Niall is, I fear, only too accustomed to me being late for handbells. He may have a much-punctured dartboard somewhere with my face on it but . . . he doesn’t let even lumpy, brain-fogged semi-handbellers escape without a struggle. AND HE’S PUT AN AWFUL LOT OF HOURS INTO ME OVER THE LAST DECADE. I think I’m doomed. No, I know I am. But so is he. However as he throws darts at my face I’m sure he murmurs to himself, If I can teach her to ring handbells I CAN TEACH ANYONE.
I’m a good thing, really I am. Really. I set the standard. Ahem. . . .
^^ When I get dressed
†† More, or sometimes less, suitably attired. Hey, what’s wrong with a simple cotton jersey dress with a BLUE HILL MAINE sweatshirt over, a muddy apron and hot pink wellies?
††† Okay, I am now loud. When do I get to the hits the right notes part? I went off and stood in a corner and sang into the wall again tonight at church. I’m assuming God doesn’t mind, but the congregation might.
‡ It’s not just handbells.
Wolfgang and I managed to run over Peter today.
No, no, Peter’s fine*. JESUS GOD AND ALL THE SAINTS. I’m a freaking hysterical meltdown mess. Peter seems to have thought it was FUNNY. He thinks it’s FUNNY to be married to a CRAZY HOMICIDAL** WIFE.
We’ve had two beautiful spring days in a row. I’ve been trying to hack out time for frantic gardening: this is the time of year when I very very briefly believe that maybe THIS year I’m going to have the garden at the cottage in something almost resembling order for more than three seconds the end of April.*** I’m not expecting to attain a very close facsimile of order . . . just, you know, frothy ebullience caused by healthy plants doing what they feel like doing instead of what I had planned for them to do. This does however require that the plants I planted thrive and the frelling weeds grow less fast than I yank them up. The back wall is at present a jungle nightmare of last year’s skeletal goose grass, all of which will have seeded and seeded and seeded.†
ANYWAY. Peter and I usually go to the big library on Tuesday afternoon and have a nice cup of tea in the café, usually with two or three or eight books per while we decide what we want to check out and take home with us. Peter felt that a fancy country garden with a café with outdoor tables was what he wanted today †† . . . and I brought Pav along for her first encounter with Montmorency’s Folly.†††
The last bit of drive is narrow and lumpy. I wanted to let Peter off as close to the gate as possible, so I’d pulled in pretty hard against the end of the hedge so that other cars heading for the car park could squeeze past me. He climbed out of Wolfgang and . . .
I know how slowly he moves these days, and I know the way that right foot turns out, and that it’s slower than the left foot.‡ I know these things. I guess all I can say is that I was worried about getting out of the way before—ahem!—someone ran into us, and that I was preoccupied with cars coming up on my right. I put Wolfgang into reverse and . . .
There was a colossal thud, and Peter disappeared from view. AAAAAAAAAUGH.
And some helpful person came rushing over while I was hysterically turning Wolfgang off and slamming on the handbrake. When I scrambled around to the other side I discovered my husband lying on the ground with his right foot trapped under Wolfgang’s left front wheel.
Not very far. Peter was saying I’m fine, I’m fine, or words to that effect—I admit my memory is not totally clear on this point—but it was only his shoe, not his foot, that was being lightly crushed. Now if I’d had any sense whatsoever I’d’ve told him to get his foot OUT of the shoe before I tried to roll forward, but I didn’t, I rushed back to the driver’s side—shaking like an aspen, I might add—while the Helpful Person said, Be careful not to roll backwards!
Ahem. Do I have to tell you we were on a slight hill so that the moment I took the handbrake off we would roll backwards? By this time the Helpful Person’s husband had turned up, why didn’t one of these people who wasn’t related to the man on the ground and wasn’t driving the car that had just knocked him over say LET’S GET THE SHOE OFF AND GET HIM OUT OF HARM’S WAY BEFORE WE DO ANYTHING ELSE?
But they didn’t. And I spent a few seconds taking deep breaths, put Wolfgang into gear and . . . rolled forward perfectly. Peter said later that the fender had caught him on that weak right leg as I turned the wheel to angle away from the hedge—having not adequately checked first that he was clear—and when he fell his right foot had . . .
I don’t remember much about the garden. Pav enjoyed herself and thought rolling around on the courtyard gravel outside the café was an adventure, and while she was perhaps a trifle exuberant her only serious breakdown in . . . well, let’s not say manners, let’s say pretence of manners, was when I left her BRIEFLY tied to Peter’s chair to fetch sugar and silverware—Peter having brought me a fresh pot of tea—and you’d have thought I was leaving her in a basket on some convent steps with insufficient provisions. This has nothing to do with emotional attachment, you realise: it’s because from her perspective I was going toward a place that smelled more like food than where she was and leaving her behind. A fine coloratura of protest followed.
I didn’t run over anybody else. NEXT WEEK WE GO TO THE LIBRARY.
And you may have noticed the title of this post is ‘A Day of Lows’ as in plural? Yes. On any other day I would tell you how I spent over an hour on the phone to my American bank and they having confirmed that the wire had been sent, followed up shortly with an email saying it hadn’t, and that I have to do it all over again tomorrow.
* * *
* Believe me if he wasn’t I would not be writing this blog report of the incident. I would either be in jail or throwing myself off a bridge.^
^ Having first left the hellmob in a series of baskets on the steps of the local . . . um. We don’t actually have a local convent and I’m not sure how the monks feel about foundlings.+ I think really it’s a good thing I didn’t run over Peter very hard.
+ I do know that Alfrick does not like dogs.# Which is his only major character flaw now that he’s given up smoking.
# Shocking. Oh, no, wait, it’s probably the Franciscans who have to be soppy about animals. I don’t remember if Benedict says anything about critters being your brothers and sisters.~
~ ‘Sister Death’ is pretty well known but apparently Francis also called his various illnesses and disabilities his brothers and sisters, which casts a slight shadow on his attitude toward our animal brethren and sistren. This also makes the ME my evil twin, but I knew that already.
** Homicidal and incompetent. Fortunately.
*** We are not facing the reality of the garden at Third House at all.^ Nina recently was saying kindly that she could come round some weekend afternoon and help me get the stuff out of its overgrown pots and into the ground. Politely failing to point out that some of it has been in its (overgrown) pots for years. I do usually manage to get the pots-in-waiting stuff fed, which is of course part of the reason some of it is quite so overgrown. I’m sure garden centres sell their plants in flimsy plastic pots for reasons of price control, but if you have to CUT the plant out of its pot by the time you get round to putting it in the ground, flimsy is good.
^ I still haven’t got the attic any more sorted than ‘can fight way through from stairs to back wall’.+
+ Worse, I keep looking around and wondering if there’s ANY CHANCE I could bash out space for the green horsehair sofa, which is the one remaining oversized piece of furniture at the mews. We’re supposed to be selling it. It’s not grand, it’ll only fetch a ‘just about worth it to hire the van’ price, but it’s another of the old Dickinson family pieces and we got it restuffed and recovered as part of the New Wife thing when I first moved over here into the old house, and I am a sentimental cow. Also I chose the green velvet it is now covered with, and the hellhounds and I have spent many happy hours on it. Some of the upholstered old family furniture had seen a few more generations than was good for it, and as I recall I blanched and trembled at it in its earlier state.
† It will be worth it, trying to catch up with the wretched stuff^ if it has seeded really enthusiastically in my neighbour-over-the-back-wall’s garden, whose ugly shed roof ruins my view. The problem with this plan is that the neighbour won’t care. He’ll just hire another gardener.
^ At least it’s easy to pull up unlike most of the worst perennial weeds. However because it is, as Peter used to call it, nature’s Velcro, you also come away from a weeding session looking like the Abominable Goose Grass Person and needing frelling hedge trimmers and possibly a flamethrower to get it off you again. Also, however many huge green garden bags you have satisfyingly tamped full of the stuff, by the time you’ve squashed as many of these as you can fit into Wolfgang to haul off to the dump, and possibly sat down to have a cup of tea, it will all have grown back again.
†† It’s not like we don’t have plenty to read.
††† Hellhounds have been round the edges of Montmorency’s Folly many, many times, but the rules about dogs inside the garden are discouraging^ and they would be miserable lying in the courtyard while we had our tea. Pav, on the other hand . . .
^ And with the number of uncontrolled dogs and quantity of unpicked-up crap there is in this country I am not going to argue about this ruling.
‡ You Americans must remember we have right-hand drive in this country, so my passenger is getting out on the left, with his right side nearer the side of the car.
. . . doing STUFF. You know, stuff. FINALLY got the laundry from three days ago actually hung up to dry.* Well. To finish drying. It’s mostly dry already and golly is it ever wrinkled.** I fought my way to the countertop in the kitchen next to the Aga where I sit every morning and have my tea, and where the pile of unread magazines gets taller and taller and taller. I threw out with a sigh of relief all the catalogues saying Great bargain! Order on line by midnight 31 March! *** I swept the floor.† I took delivery of 1,000,000,000 baby plants ARRRRRRGH THIS FRELLING WINTER IS GOING ON FOREVER WE HAD ANOTHER FROST LAST NIGHT THIS IS THE SOUTH OF BLOODY ENGLAND AND IT’S THE FIRST OF BLOODY APRIL.†† I’ve run out of floor space to bring in tiny geraniums and tiny dahlias and tiny begonias and tiny chocolate cosmos every frelling night††† and that’s before today’s influx of petunias.
It’s been a seriously mad ten days or so. And I haven’t even got started. . . . Maybe I can get back to the blog tomorrow and continue the fascinating story. Or maybe Friday. Or next Gammelfug day.
* * *
* This involved getting the laundry that’s been hanging for about . . . um . . . a week, down off the airer dangling from the bathroom ceiling and . . . gasp of astonishment . . . folded. Now let’s say I have four—let’s say pink—socks. These of necessity comprise two pairs. You are with me so far? They were bought at the same time from the same shop and are the same brand and the same size. So tell me why three of them are a pair and the fourth one is clearly odd?
** I have found that the trick with unhung laundry is to get it out of the washing machine and into my open-weave-with-lots-of-holes-where-the-wicker-has-broken basket and stir it up a couple of times a day and it won’t help the wrinkles but I won’t have to rewash it because it’s started to smell a little peculiar. If you leave wet laundry in the washing machine for three days it will definitely smell peculiar. Ask me how I know this.
*** I put into another pile, with a guard rail around it, all the envelopes that say, Do this immediately or the world will end and you will die, love, HM Revenue and Customs.^
^ Now I am not a fan of all those government departments on both sides of the Atlantic that steal+ my money but I FRELLING WELL HATE TECHNOLOGY A WHOLE LOT WORSE.
Okay. I know I’m a screw up but I so have help.
About twice a year I have to import money. I earn very little in the country I live in so what there is of it accumulates in America and then I haul it in chunks over here. First obstacle: my Maine bank wasn’t answering my emails. UM. PEOPLE. YOU HAVE MY MONEY. They hadn’t told me my contact of the last twenty-five years had retired nor was anyone watching for rogue emails that might be coming in to her asking for little things like international money transfers. Gibber gibber gibber gibber gibber. Okay. Made contact with some new unfortunate who sounds young so maybe she won’t retire for a while. And after comparatively few failures I got the necessary fax sent and acknowledged. Then I had to make confirmatory contact by phone.
This has taken something like ten days. It’s true I should have smelled a rat sooner but I am used to things going wrong and . . . what was happening never occurred to me. MY IPHONE IS EDITING THE *&^^%$%$£””!!!!!!! NUMBER.
I’m going to say that again. POOKA, MY IPHONE, IS EDITING PHONE NUMBERS. Not satisfied with merely destroying three-quarters of my contacts list, we are MOVING ON TO MORE CREATIVE FORMS OF HARASSMENT.
. . . I had had a comprehensive all-tech-wide meltdown a month or so ago when Raphael had to reinstall nearly everything. One of the many, many things that went wrong was that Outlook ate most of my contacts which I have since been laboriously reinstalling a few at a time, including some of the oldest, like my American bank, which have been on Outlook since before I had a mobile phone. And apparently in some fabulous Apple update or other that came with the reinstall the iPhone was told to put in the random British zero . . . even when the address is American and the hapless human has put in the country code because she knows she’ll forget.# The random British zero appears between the country code and the area code and is not at all conspicuous.
After several days of ‘this number has not been recognised’ and choruses of beeps, clicks and whistles I finally decided I must have punched the number in wrong so I pulled out my paper address book. No, it was right (still not noticing the villainous zero because the iPhone also controls the spacing). So I frelling wiped the number and poked it in again thinking there might be one of those invisible tech bug things that was going HA HA HA HA CHOMP off stage. And this time I finally SAW the sodding phone adding the zero. AND IT WON’T LET ME DELETE IT.##
At the frelling moment I have my bank’s phone number memorized. But after the initial fury wears off I’m not GOING to remember to omit the superfluous ratblasting zero . . . and I can’t hit the auto button at all of course.
And presumably this is affecting ALL MY AMERICAN PHONE NUMBERS???? Somehow I haven’t wanted to check.
So meanwhile I finally successfully rang my bank. AND THE FAX IS NOW TOO OLD AND I HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN.
It may be very useful that the hellhounds would rather not eat at all, and I’m a postmenopausal woman, I don’t need food . . . Pav is going to be a little distressed, the next fortnight or so, till I finally get my money transferred and can afford to buy food again. Maybe Peter will throw Pav a crust from time to time.
# Actually I tried it without the country code and it still puts in a zero. It’s possibly more conspicuous without the country code but that’s not the point.
## I have, of course, emailed Raphael. I was HOPING he was going to say, oh, yeah, that’s a known glitch, press the zurgle button and tell it to flamboodle the dorkomart and it’ll be fine. That’s not what he said. He said, what?
Kill Steve Jobs. Oh, wait, phooey, that won’t work.
+ If they put more money into organic farming and non-fossil-fuel energy sources and less into weapons development and finding new ways to avoid letting people have their civil rights I would feel a little better about this.
† I should have washed it, but let’s not get carried away.
†† No fooling.
††† Not to mention scraping hellhounds off the ceiling when the eaves at the cottage insist on wailing like women who have lost their demon lovers.^ One salient difference between hellhounds and hellterror: hellhounds try to wedge themselves under (or over) the front door to get away from the kitchen door that is making that terrible coming-to-get-us^^ noise. The hellterror trots interestedly straight for the kitchen door and puts her nose to the corner that is causing the row. She did me a favour, in fact, because it seemed to me, standing up at human height, that the noise was coming from the top corner, not the bottom one, but wedging the top didn’t do much. But it turns out I can just about stop the ululation with a well-placed dustcloth around the bottom corner . . . but try closing the door accurately on said well-placed dustcloth with the wind hammering at the other side. Without involving fingers and even more noise.
^ This winter is not only endless, the frelling storm winds come from the wrong direction.
^^ http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B006X0M06I/ref=acr_search_see_all?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints= 1 + The inspiration for Chuck was the previous generation of course, but the hellhounds’ whippet blood is well to the fore when the eaves are howling.
+ It’s on Kindle. You can download it and read it right now.