It’s our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Even if only one of us is here to celebrate it.
But I didn’t want you to think that I have been totally unvisited by the Christmas Spirit. Indeed there was an unexpected assault of Christmas Spirit a day or two before Christmas. We each reeled back from the encounter stunned. I think the Spirit was misled by the presence of Christmas trees. Yes.
I think this is your first glimpse of the Lodge? Downstairs it’s a long skinny essentially-one-room, the sitting room, which this is, the narrow end facing the street, and a long skinny added-on-as-civilisation-entered-the-mod-con-era kitchen at the back end, behind me as I take this photo. I have yet to convince the hellmob that this apparent raceway has not been appended to our regular habitation for the specific purpose of providing them with an indoor exercise arena. The hellhounds can be suppressed after a minute or two.** The hellterror, not so much but I’m working on it.*** Yes, that’s my piano, murkily in the background. Draped with tinsel.† These are actually the Boxing Day presents for other people, but still, you know, PRESENTS.†† MANIFESTATION OF CHRISTMAS SPIRIT.
And these are MY presents at the cottage. Which if the truth be known I still haven’t opened.††† See: Sigh. I’m thinking maybe on the 7th, when the memorial service anniversary is over with too.
At least the shortest frelling day is PAST for another year. Daylight is GOOD. I’m looking forward to MORE of it. ‡
* * *
* Yes. This should have gone up last night. You’re getting used to this dorky new system, aren’t you? I hope?
* Breathing counts as celebrating^, right? Plus another few kilos of Brussels sprouts?^^
^ Well okay I celebrated. I bought yarn at one of the gazillion on line New Year’s sales that are happening right now. I need yarn, of course. Like I need more books. But it’s PRETTY.+ And I spent less money on new yarn than it would have cost Peter and me to go out for a nice dinner, especially an especially-nice dinner ON OUR TWENTY FIFTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY.
+ That’s what yarn is for, right? To be PRETTY? Oh . . . knitting. That too.#
# Stash Beyond Life Expectancy. Ahem.
^^ I have a hellterror at my feet in a daze of bliss. SHE WAS PERMITTED TO LICK THE GOOSE PLATTER.+ I thought she might die of joy.++ She’s asleep now, dreaming, no doubt, of this indescribable peak experience and wondering if it will ever happen again. Well, yes, next year, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise.
+ The really interesting part of the operation was cramming all the frelling bones in my slow cooker. Someone on the forum said she wants to try spatchcocking a goose. Good luck honey. Let us know how that goes. I was wrestling the already cooked and stripped carcase and thinking THIS BLOODY BIRD HAS BONES LIKE A RHINOCEROS WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SLENDER HOLLOW BONES OF BIRDS SO THEY CAN FRELLING FLY? Okay this is a big fat bred-for-the-table domestic goose and maybe it waddled. Maybe there are mini kitchen chainsaws for spatchcocking large fowl. In a tasteful assortment of decorator colours and a free pack of cocktail sticks with every purchase. I’m sure Jamie Oliver can spatchcock a goose. Daniel Craig can spatchcock a condor. With a cocktail stick.
I did eventually attain a sort of splintery origami and got the bones crammed into the crock pot. This should be very intense stock. Meanwhile the bowl of goose scraps looks pretty fine. Goose. Mmmmm.
++ Darkness was upstairs crashed out on the only (relatively) clear space of floor in my office, but Chaos was about six inches away in the hellhound crate and so far as I know he didn’t even blink. Any normal dog would, first, recognise the sounds of a plate being put on the floor in dog reach and, second, if he was of two minds whether it was worth investigating, would have further recognised the tiny broken moans of inexpressible ecstasy the hellterror was making.#
# Would she have objected to sharing the bounty? I doubt it. I’ve told you she’s surprisingly good at maintaining her assigned space at the bottom of the hierarchy and I’ve discovered this year, and while I wouldn’t trust her without my evil eye upon her, when the hellhounds are having a No We’re Not Eating This Week spell she will leave their untouched food alone. I find this nothing short of miraculous.~ But if Chaos had come to join in the goose-platter fun what she would have done is gone into hyperdrive to nail all the good bits before Chaos, in his mild, ambling manner, finished getting his head around the situation.~~
~ Mind you there is a lot of yearning. She will also, when it gets to be Too Much, go stand by the bar stool that is my desk chair in the kitchen, under which is where, when by some arcane magic the hellhounds have deigned to eat after all, I put their bowls because this is where and ONLY where she is allowed to slurp out the crumbs.@ We arrived at this compromise after some nerve racking experimentation. She feels that the state of ‘crumbs’ begins at about two-thirds of a full bowl. THEY’VE HAD THEIR CHANCE. IT MUST BE HER TURN. Um. No. To give her credit, she took my strictures about this in good part. She was pretty sure it was too good to be true. . . . But for a stomach on legs she does very well.
@ There are always crumbs with the hellhounds.
~~However. The latest development in inter-critter relations and hazards to hellgoddess sanity is that Chaos has developed a taste for cheese rind. I’ve been saving these from the beginning because I knew the hellterror would totally get off on cheese rind (yes). But I’ve told you that Chaos occasionally checks that I’m not dropping anything too interesting on the floor for the hellterror.@ So a few days ago I tried him on a bit of cheese rind. You could see the synapses fire and the eyes focus. Yes. So now when Chaos gets under my feet—and just by the way THERE IS NOT ENOUGH ROOM for both a hellhound and a hellterror to mill around me in the chopping-board corner between the sink and the Aga—I have the interesting challenge of trying to provide cheese rind for both participants.@@ That is, each participant. I know, I know, I could frelling train her to sit and wait—because she does both sit and wait, as when I’m putting food in her crate, the drooling and the trembling are her permissible artistic augmentations to this scenario—but that takes it to a whole new frelling level, and meanwhile Chaos would lose interest and there would be language. So at the moment—remember that Pav can count to four?—I sprinkle hers at a tiny distance and make the fourth one just a little harder to find and while SHE’S LOOKING FOR THAT FOURTH SCRAP SHE KNOWS THERE IS A FOURTH SCRAP, I formally offer Chaos his single, larger scrap which he accepts and chews thoughtfully. When I get it right, he swallows just as Pav races back round the counter-corner and slams into my leg.
REMIND ME WHY I HAVE DOGS.
Because they make me fun to watch.
@ He just wasn’t in the MOOD for a goose platter. He hadn’t eaten his supper, of course, but when I went to bed—the hellterror safely crated for the night—he was busy extracting the tiny shreds of goose buried among the kibble and tinned food.= Darkness usually goes along with the schmooze of human-food scraps mixed in with the dog food although you can see him doing the canine equivalent of eye-rolling. Not Chaos. Prehensile lips, that dog.
= Yes I know the old dog-training chestnut that you only leave the food down half an hour and if the dog doesn’t eat it you pick it up again and it thus learns that it must eat when you say so. And I reply to this: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Whoever this joker was, he never dealt with sighthounds.
@@ With reference to how inconvenient critter intelligence can be, I’m waiting for her to figure out that I stop dropping apple, carrot and broccoli stem and start dropping cheese rind if Chaos is there too. I can imagine the conversation:
Pav: Pssst. She’s chopping stuff. If we go hang out we can get cheese rind.
Chaos: I’m sleeping.
Pav: No you’re not. Cheese rind. You LIKE cheese rind.
Chaos: Mmmm . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
Pav: CHEEEEEEEEESE RIIIIIIIIIIIND.
Chaos: [Does the hellhound opening one eye thing] Hmmm?
Pav: CHEEEEEEEEEESE RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND.
Chaos: Oh. Oh. Yeah. Okay. [Floats to feet because, since he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t weigh anything, and drifts after earthbound hellterror toward resigned hellgoddess]
** And yes, you are also glimpsing a tangled riot of dog bedding blankets at the foot of all those boxes of backlist.
*** The additional complexity of the situation is provided by the fact that Damien lives next door and the hellmob tend to give voice when they are freaking out, and I don’t want to add to the already sulphuric fires about critter vocalese at the Lodge. At the cottage, while racing back and forth from kitchen and sitting room does occur with the occasional hunting cry^, I allow one or two audible manifestations of having a good time before I tell them to shut up. I can afford to allow a little brief indulgence at the cottage, where the only next-door critter in residence is Smiley, who doesn’t take my mob seriously.^^
^ It’s a huge red mark against any hunting dog, including sighthounds, that they bark on track of quarry. Just by the way.
^^ and I’m CAREFUL to keep it that way.
† One of the things about going from a Very Large House to a series of ever-smaller houses is that you have PLENTY OF THINGS LIKE TINSEL FROM WHEN YOU HAD 1,000,000 OF HALLS TO FESTOON.^ I am busy promising myself^^ that when I take the trees down again^^^ I will sort through the 1,000,000,000 boxes of Christmas decorations that I still seem to have although I SWEAR I had a good clear out at the mews. I. SWEAR.
^ I had a bad moment winding tinsel up the stair uprights however. I have a short stretch of open stair railings at the cottage—and we had them at the mews, not really at Third House—but not since the old house has the stair been centrally located, and the railings at the cottage are pretty much invisible under a heavy infestation of knitting project bags. Winding tinsel up the balusters at the Lodge I had one of those flashbacks. . . .
^^ Ha hahahahahahaha
^^^ February? May?
†† And the worst? The absolutely, unbelievably WORST? Signing the gift cards ‘love, Robin’. Just Robin. Robin, all by herself.
††† Friends who delivered gifts in person, I opened these, sure. Because the friends were there. Also one or two utterly mysterious parcels in the post. Some of these ‘deliver to another address’ web sites need to work on their gift card supply programme.
‡ I could do without this winter weather. Or I could do with a town council that takes its responsibilities seriously. You know, like gritting the frelling ROADS? I made the mistake of coming home from morning Mass by the back way last week—and this was past ten-thirty, for pity’s sake, because I’d stuck around after to pester monks—and was fishtailing all over the flipping doodah road. And I didn’t make it to Mass at all yesterday because my cul de sac was black ice and getting the hellmob hurtled was quite challenging enough, Wolfgang stayed in his stall. So to speak. And while the furries and I are out slithering^ I keep seeing sand trucks speeding by with large signs attached to their rear ends declaring SPREADING. I have yet to see them doing anything but ripping about the landscape promulgating misinformation.
So far the main roads are not too awful. I have a lot of late shifts at the Sams to get to and from safely, thank you. And while Wolfgang is a noble fellow, they don’t make yaktrax for tyres. And snow tyres in southern England should be overdoing it. I hope.
^ This weather makes it harder to convince them that the Lodge is not their private gym.
It probably began with the second delivery of parsnips. I love the winter veg season. The first Brussels sprouts of the year are cause for celebration every autumn—I mean this was going on even before my eating habits moved to the lunatic fringe*—and all those orange and yellow squashes and rooty things, mmmmmmmm.** So it’s like, yaaay! Parsnips! I’m also still a little subject to New England holiday habits, even though I bailed on Thanksgiving years ago, and MUST HAVE sweet potatoes and parsnips at Christmas. MUST. HAVE.
And then there’s the way my Jewish-mother gene*** bursts into terrifying life as soon as I’m expecting to feed anyone. Else, I mean, than me, and three variously food-friendly furries. And we were going to be SIX for Boxing Day. SIX.† This is my idea of a GANG. And I’m seriously out of practise. When we were still catering for real gangs back at the old house it was mostly Peter’s show and that was the way it was and if you got in the way you would be mown down.†† As a special treat I was occasionally allowed to cut up the Brussels sprouts or produce a platter of New England sweet potatoes.††† And I think I’m the one who started putting chestnuts in the sprouts.‡
ANYWAY. SIX FOR BOXING DAY LUNCH. And I may have got a little carried away. But it was an accident that I ordered parsnips twice. I already had a wall of parsnips at the back of both my little refrigerators‡‡ from the first delivery and then there was a noise like the approach of the 7th Panzer Division and a shout of INCOMING‡‡‡ and I (foolishly) opened the front door to see what was going on . . . AND WAS IMMEDIATELY BURIED IN PARSNIPS. Ha ha ha, I thought, digging myself out with difficulty, and beginning to weave the excess into fencing panels for when Damien gnaws his way through the current barricades. Ha ha ha, this’ll make a good blog post.
Ha ha ha.
So Christmas Day here was about cooking. And chopping and chopping and chopping AND CHOPPING because I was not only producing Brussels sprouts with chestnuts (of course) but also a broccoli and pine nut salad and roast root veg which is to say PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS and two colours of sweet potatoes, how glamorous is that? To give my knife-friction blisters a break I went next door to feed Phineas’ cat. Have I really never given the ex-hellkitten a name? If I have I can’t find it. So let’s call him Smilodon. So I went next door to see if his food dish needing topping up yet, Phineas having left early in the morning.
And I couldn’t get in.
The back door into the conservatory, which is the one I use because that’s where Smiley’s dishes are, is a sticky old so-and-so flaming doohickey doodah general arrrgh. It’s not like I haven’t had trouble with the malingering whatsit before. But it was resisting very robustly. And furthermore seemed to be stuck in the middle which is not the usual modus operandi of a door with a bad attitude. I eventually Became Suspicious and with great difficulty since my genetic modifications are very limited and old fashioned, extruded an eyeball on a stalk so I could see around a corner, and, yes . . . the ghastly object WAS BOLTED ON THE INSIDE.
Great. Hey, Smilodon, feel like going FERAL for the weekend? Pull down a nice mastodon for tea? . . . I didn’t think so.
I spent about twenty minutes wandering around Phineas’ house looking for a way in. When you want someone to have carelessly left a window open DO THEY? They do not. And the door between my garden and his conservatory has been nailed shut since before I moved in. ARRRRRRRGH.
Smiley, meanwhile, is winding around my ankles going MOAN! MOAN! MOAN! HUNGRRRRRRRRY!
I went back and looked at the frelling door again. And then I turned around, since if there were going to be scars I’d rather they were not on my face, took a deep breath . . . and put my foot through one of the glass panes. CRASH.
Having checked that my foot was still fully attached at the ankle (yes), I put my hand carefully through the jagged hole and unbolted the door. And frelling CHASED SMILEY AWAY while I swept up the glass. ARRRRRRRRRRGH. I’ve been feeding Smiley when Phineas is away for how many years? I’ve never had the front door key—I had the kitchen door key when Smiley was a baby—I don’t even know if Phineas has a mobile, let alone its number for emergencies. There have never been any emergencies! If Smiley ever needed a vet, I’d just take him to the vet!§
I left him chomping in an enviably carefree manner at his topped-up dish. Never mind, I thought, stalking back to the cottage. It’ll make a good blog post.
Meanwhile the goose was roasting away like anything, by the sound of the fat streaming into the pan. And you’re supposed to drain off the fat periodically so it doesn’t burn, right? Well, my little Aga oven actually goes back quite a way even though sideways you could barely squeeze in a wicked witch with an apple in her mouth, so I was, after all the ‘biggest oven in Hampshire’ thing about the Lodge’s ridiculous cooker, roasting my Christmas goose at the cottage. And this kitchen was small before I added this laptop and two or three piles of books and papers, yes? I have NO counter space. So when I take things out of the oven, I balance them on one or the other of the Aga burners. Whose lids are slightly . . . domed. Not very. You can, in fact, balance stuff on them. I do it all the time. Not heavy roast goose however, sloshing with fat.
And the pan slid off the burner lid and poured boiling-hot goose fat down my leg.
It’s not a question of having time to react. There wasn’t anything I was going to be able to do before it was too late. So I stood there feeling it torching its way through my jeans leg and thinking (a) how am I going to hurtle the hellmob with only one functioning leg? (b) No, it’ll be all right, I will take handfuls of cantharis§§. (c) eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
The important background information here is that when I rolled out of bed that morning I got dressed immediately because I needed to start doing stuff. Usually I hang around in my nightgown till the caffeine starts to work. It was INSANELY WARM yesterday and I’d known it was going to be, the night before, so I reminded myself that I was not going to put on my long johns because I would be too hot. But I got dressed on autopilot, and the long johns were donned because it’s frelling December. And I was definitely too hot, because the jeans were heavy denim and the long johns were thick, but I couldn’t be bothered to strip off again and remove them.
So I was in fact appropriately accoutred for pouring boiling hot goose fat down my leg. By the time it hit me it was merely unpleasantly warm, and when I examined the damage later my skin is a little reddish, and a little tenderer than usual.§§§ IT’S FINE, I said at the time, shaking with shock—it had not been a delightful half second, while my life thus far as fully bipedal flashed before my eyes, waiting for the third-degree burns—shoving the pan back on top of the Aga and wedging it there, because I still had half a pan of goose fat to drain off. IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.@
I then successfully drained off the remaining seven buckets of goose fat, and, having distributed these above hellterror reach around the downstairs of the cottage, stood looking at the crispy brown object of my painful exertions. Hmm, I thought, it’s getting very dark. I’d better put some tin foil over it. And you read the title to this post, yes? ALL of the title, not being distracted by the boiling goose fat and the breaking and entering?
I had no tin foil.
How did this happen??? I never use it so I always have it, you know? It’s one of those basic facts of life, water, air, brassicas, hellmob, dusty roll of tin foil in the back of the cupboard. NO. NO TIN FOIL. AAAAAUGH.@@ And it’s Christmas Day, even the hard core shops are closed. Well, Peter had had some. I checked the relevant [sic] drawers at the Lodge. No. No tin foil. Okay, there used to be one of those super-super long rolls of foil@@@—and I have no idea where it came from, we’ve possibly been carrying it around since we left the old house—that lived on the top of the kitchen cupboards at Third House. I remember seeing it still there after I’d moved (nearly) everything else out, because what was I going to do with/where did I have ROOM for a super-super-super long roll of foil?? So I went up there to see if it was perhaps still there . . . no. Of course not. That would be too easy. Meanwhile I was putting the goose back in the oven for fifteen minutes and then taking it out again, again, because I was pretty sure—I thought—maybe—no, I had NO FRELLING IDEA, it probably needed a little more cooking, but I didn’t want that lovely breast skin to burn. Although all this mad temperature variation couldn’t have been doing the quality of its final presentation any good at all. So I have NO FRELLING IDEA how long it finally did take to cook—a lot less than the cough-cough roasting instructions said however. Which is not going to be helpful if I ever do this again.$
ALTOGETHER NOW: IT’S OKAY, IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.
PS: I did eventually find a roll of tin foil, in the bottom of a bag under the sink, full of rubber gloves and washing up liquid, where I was looking for batteries which were also not in the drawer where batteries, if this were a sane, rational world, would be. The goose was long out of the oven by then. And there were no batteries.$$
Oh, and? The goose was pretty good. Really. And I was glad to see everyone. And none of them flinched unduly about the food.
* * *
* The very healthy lunatic fringe, but I’ll spare you any more rants on that subject till the holidays are over. Maybe I’ll try to make you feel even worse about Detox January. I am the hellgoddess, after all, even if my brief has changed radically over the years.
** I even look forward to winter cabbage. This is probably certifiable. My current craze is kale chips. You shred a lot of kale [sic], spread it out on a baking sheet, shake some olive oil and salt over it, and bake till it gets crunchy. It’s greasy! It’s salty! It’s crunchy! And yes, okay, it’s still a brassica, but people who turn pale . . . green at the idea of cabbage have been known to like crunchy kale chips. You can get these commercially—which is how I discovered them—but Large Generic Snack Producers tart things up so they can charge you more money. They’re way better fresh. And the recipe is all over the internet.
*** Hannah, who is Jewish, says that of course I have Jewish blood. All the best people do.
† In fact we were only five, but that’s because I kept forgetting the sixth wasn’t coming. She was supposed to come.
†† But I took over the baking. And anyone who got in my way would be mown down.
††† Add brown sugar. No, more. No, more. Now butter. No, more. No, more. Now the maple syrup. YES. MAPLE SYRUP. MORE. WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND MORE? I also used to produce very scary eggnog. There was a lot of ‘more’ involved.
‡ One of my Boxing Day guests carefully separated hers out and piled them at the edge of her plate. You can’t win them all.
‡‡ Have I told you that I MANAGED TO JAM THE GOOSE IN THE REFRIGERATOR AT THE LODGE? Are you impressed? I am. Very.
‡‡‡ Hey, I suck at military history, okay? But James Mason was cute and I watched a lot of MASH because you did, although I was never a Hawkeye fan.
§ Well. ‘Just.’ Cats aren’t as cooperative about this as dogs. Not that Chaos can be called cooperative and the hellterror . . . erm. But I’ve taken one or two cats to the vet rolled up in emergency bath towels in the absence of anything more appropriate.
§§ I told you this story years ago: homeopathic cantharis is a brilliant burn remedy.^ I had managed to seize, like firmly, the handle of an iron skillet that was and had been in the oven for some time . . . and heard my flesh SIZZLE. I took a few cantharis . . . and ended up with a painless little red mark.
^ I will remind you however that no remedy is 100%. Like arnica for jet lag—works a treat for about 80% of the people who try it. For the other 20% there are other things to try. There are other things to try for burns too.
§§§ I also decided that with the day I was having I was not going to change my jeans till the goose was out of the oven permanently and as much else as possible was over with.^ This meant that I had an ecstatic hellterror attached to my leg for the rest of the evening^^. When she wasn’t trying to lick holes in the floor or eat the mat that lives in front of the Aga. As I fended her off to scrub the floor—the mat went in the washing machine—you could see the agonised thought bubble: But! But! But! But!
^ In effect five minutes before I had to bolt out the door for late duty at the Sams. Christmas Eve night had involved bolting out the door at another Christmas-prep-no-NOT-all-the-presents-are-wrapped last minute to go to midnight Mass at the monks’.+ Where it was not a heaving, claustrophobia-inducing mob, but I still ran away from tea and hanging out with monks AND A RELATIVELY SMALL BUNCH OF STRANGERS afterward. Sigh.
+ The second old folks’ home did eventually get sung to. And I rang the afternoon Christmas Eve service at Crabbiton. Have I mentioned lately HOW MUCH I HATE GROUND FLOOR RINGS? Which Crabbiton is. And we need a better barricade. We have just a rope across what I think is the narthex, where the bells are, the opposite (long) end from the apse and altar, which only works with people who acknowledge its purpose as a barrier. This does not include toddlers who can go STRAIGHT UNDER the rope and see no reason why they shouldn’t. I was both terrified and angry and am going to discuss with poor Felicity when she gets back from hol.
^^ Since the main strike zone was my thigh I’m afraid I abrogated my obligation as a responsible dog owner because watching her attempt to reach nirvana was too much fun to terminate. Inconvenient, but funny. And I felt I could use a laugh.
@ Also: less goose fat. What am I supposed to DO with 1,000,000,000 litres of goose fat?^
^ ROAST A LOT OF PARSNIPS.
@@ If I’m going to make a habit of Christmas goose, which I might, I’ll have a flat tray already wedged in place on the top of the Aga next year. But I need to REMEMBER that goose cooking instructions are never helpful the way I need helpful. I remember this from when Peter and I were engaging with geese at the old house. Standard instructions keep trying to make it sound like a goose is kind of a big chicken. It isn’t. It cooks differently. That thick fatty skin doesn’t go loose and floppy when it’s done, it locks in place like armour, so wiggling a leg isn’t indicative. And you don’t get clear juice running out of the leg when you stab it the way you do with a chicken, maybe because there’s too much fat in the way. I finally decided this one was done because the leg and breast were no longer feeling thickly padded the way they should do, which suggested that most of the fat was now in a bucket on a chair and the goose was about to crinkle up into goose jerky.
@@@ suitable only to persons roasting boars’ heads in restaurant-sized ovens, maybe I’ll try that next year at the Lodge. Ha ha ha ha ha.
$ I am planning to streamline this process somewhat for next year. Including checking for the presence of tin foil while the shops are still open.
$$ THE UTTERLY NITWITTY THINGS THAT GET TO YOU. I was looking for batteries because I needed a kitchen timer and the one at the Lodge I wanted to use was dead. When I finally managed to pry the back open the old battery had started leaking, which is never a good sign about whether the gizmo in question is recoverable. I fetched a new battery from the cottage and plugged it in and . . . the timer still didn’t work. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. This is The Kitchen Timer I remember from the old house—the one that was there when I arrived twenty-five years ago, the one with the brain-piercing SHRIEK which while I frequently wanted to stomp it for this, is exactly what you WANT in a kitchen timer and the modern wimpy ones, the ones that murmur politely, ahem, you perhaps wanted to be told when x number of minutes had passed?, which the new ones mostly are, are not nearly as satisfactory. If I could remember to look at a clock when approximately the right amount of time has passed I wouldn’t need a timer, would I? I need a timer that says: YO. YOU. YES YOOOOOOU. OR ELSE. This one is not a beautiful object—it’s what I suspect used to be white plastic, faded to dirty cream, with a black plastic face. It doesn’t look like anything that would have lasted—with its shattering klaxon intact—for a quarter century. But it has. And as a tiny integral background VERY LOUD NOISE it’s part of my old life. The one that’s gone forever. . . . And I had a complete, totally unexpected, frelling MELTDOWN about the fact that the timer that Peter had set 1,000,000,000 times over the last quarter century HAD DIED.^
Turns out I had put the battery in the wrong way around.^^ I put it in the other way around and IT LIVES. I was making myself crazy last night—having brought it back to the cottage for a little bonding—using it timing making a batch of kale chips. Every time it went off CLANG CLANG CLANG BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEP I went AAAAAAAUGH THAT WRETCHED THING HAS BEEN MAKING ME CRAZY FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS . . . thanks, honey. Nuts? Moi? Brazil, cashew, hazel, almond, walnut and Robin.^^^
^ I can’t discard scraps of paper he’s written on either. Grocery list? Keeper. Labels on folders of tax papers that are now old enough I can throw them out? I shred the papers. I save the folders.
^^ Not entirely my fault. Battery beds are almost as maddeningly variable as those blasted button batteries, although the battery itself is an ordinary one.
^^^ Someone on FB told me that her husband developed claustrophobia after their daughter died.+ I’ve now heard from a few other people who’ve had claustrophobia as part of the grieving process. This is a comfort—a cold one, but still a comfort. I’m ‘okay’ with the fact that grief sucks sucks SUCKS and I am not surprised it keeps knocking me over and making me bleed. But I’m still capable of worrying—a little—that my perhaps somewhat eccentric mental balance, cough cough cough, could be genuinely overset. I don’t believe in ‘misery loves company’, I’ve said this before—misery wants to know the world is chirping along without her, so she has something to hope for, that she can rejoin it some day. But misery occasionally is grateful to hear that other people have reacted to misery in similar ways.
+ This is almost more awful than I can grasp. In fact it is more awful than I can grasp. Note that one of the things major trauma does to you is make you aware of the limits of your imagination. We ‘knew’ Peter was due to die before me. It didn’t make it any easier, but it doesn’t feel like the order of the universe has been breached.~ No parent should have to see a child die. I know it happens. I know people it has happened to. It’s still inconceivable.
~ Yes it does. It’s still different. It’s your personal universe.
I rang for the carol service yesterday at Old Eden* and ran away from the evening (carol) service at St Margaret’s.** Today I’d signed up to SING*** at two old-folks’ homes, overslept†, went haring around like . . . someone with a hellhound after her††. . . made it to the first engagement with at least a minute to spare AND DISCOVERED A SIGN ON THE DOOR SAYING THE CAROL SERVICE WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE THE RESIDENTS ALL HAD FLU. ARRRRRRRRRGH. And, you know, no one told me.††† Although poor Buck was very apologetic when I rang up to ask if THE SECOND ONE WAS STILL ON. It was. So I sang.‡ And we’re rescheduled for the first one on Friday, if enough of the denizens are capable of being propped up in chairs by then. Tonight I was sidled up to by one of my fellow singers, who said, You are coming to sing in town on Saturday morning‡‡, aren’t you? Um.
It’s been a gigantically hideous week. Today’s the first day I haven’t felt like pease porridge cold, ninety days old, and rejected by rats in favour of tea leaves and old tyres. I’m not going to give you the gruesome details because it’s too depressing and I prefer not to drag myself back into pease porridge cold mood, but Third House went nova in a particularly local-solar-system-destroying way last Monday and, speaking of solar systems, I am so signing up for that first generational planet-ship to Alpha Centauri, AWAAAAAAAAY FROM HEEEEEEEEERE, assuming they want a few old hags for variety. And then of course there was last Friday. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. I went to Mass three times last week because I needed all the help I could get, but the most important one was Friday, of course, because Peter’s in the monks’ death book, what-you-call-it, liber mortuorum, something, that won’t be it because I haven’t got a clue, anyway, on the anniversary of death they read out the names at morning Mass, and I was going to be there, see: need all the help I could get.
AND THEN MY ALARM CLOCK EXPLODED THE NIGHT BEFORE ARRRRRRRGH. Well, my 24-hour kitchen timer, which I use for an alarm clock, because it turns out I’m slightly more reliable about deciding when to get up by having to add up the hours. And I was just setting it and it went HICCUP GLEEP BLAAAAAH, did a little palm-of-hand dance and died. And of course I didn’t have the right spare batteries.‡‡‡ Fortunately, and perhaps ironically, as a result of clearing out Third House I have more clocks than I know what to do with and not all of them are at the Lodge. So I had three lined up on my shelf because I had no idea if any of them were the least bit accurate and climbed into bed wondering when any of them would go off. As it happens it didn’t matter because I didn’t sleep, which was a good thing WHEN THE FIRST ONE WENT OFF TWO HOURS EARLY. No, stop laughing, I had set it correctly. It just had its own ideas. And the one that worked beautifully? Peter’s old bedside alarm clock. Whimper.
Life goes on for us the living. One way or another. And tonight, coming home from singing at the old folks’ home, I was even gladder than usual to be fallen on by a hellmob.§
* * *
* Seven blokes and me. Which felt very odd. I think in the upper echelons of bell ringing it’s still more guys than gals—gender-specific nerdism—but at my level of semi-competence I’d’ve said the male-female ratio is relatively level, although it varies from tower to tower. When I was a kid I totally wanted to hang out with the boys because, barring all the frelling sports stuff, they had much more interesting adventures than the girls.^ See any of my rants about reading books about boys because they’re the ones who went out and did things while the girls stayed home and pined beautifully. Nice for some. Arrrrrgh. Anyway. The world has changed somewhat in some of the right directions^^ or maybe I’ve just learnt better ways of finding people to hang out with, but I now feel like an alien species when I’m stranded with a lot of men.^^^ Even nice bell-ringing men.
^ Make up and fashion, for example. Except for a few years in college of way too much eye make up+ I’ve never been able to give a flying figment about what Hannah calls products although the fact that I’m allergic to most of them contributes to the aversion. And having been a skinny tomboy kid I boiled out to serious overweight during most of my adolescence and about halfway through my twenties. This was also back in the days before any manufacturer paid attention to clothing in the larger sizes, you were more or less expected to wear a tent and shut up. Furthermore I was an inconvenient shape: none of that lush, sexy female hips and breasts and thighs thing, I was a beach ball on little toothpick legs. ::Shudder:: So, fashion? I wore a tent and shut up.
+ It was the era, okay? You had to look like you ran into doorways with your face a lot. Plus major eyelashes. I had an unexpected epiphany when I got out of spectacles and into contact lenses and my eyelashes grew about a sixteenth of an inch, which is a lot for eyelashes. I’m now back in glasses and my eyelashes have reverted to stubby.# But they keep the insides of the lenses dust free.
# I wonder if eyelashes can have split ends?
^^ Except for the voting in of presidents and one or two other negligible things. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.
^^^ Although speaking of fashion . . . I know there are men who not only pay attention to what they’re wearing but can bring themselves and their virility+ to wear COLOURS++ but I don’t think any of them are bell ringers.
+ which is a sexual-orientation-bias neutral word, okay?
++ Black, brown, grey and navy blue ARE NOT COLOURS. I wear all of them myself# but ONLY WITH COLOURS.
# I learnt to wear brown because Peter used to keep giving me brown stuff. He eventually learnt about black and pink but he got the ‘sparkle’ part before he got the ‘black and PINK’ part and I’m going to wear it if it’s sparkly, you know?
** Which was PACKED OUT again. I knew—well, I could predict—that it would be—if it was full to the rafters for a mere confirmation with a presiding bishop, what chance a carol service having elbow room to knit in? I suppose I was hoping for the best because there had been two carol services already.^ I don’t know if this is one of weirdnesses of grief or merely advancing age and crankiness but I really am into the genuinely claustrophobic range. Pressure headache, sweaty palms, racing heart, creeping terror. Ugh. Also my usual props were absent. I don’t know if the choir would have had me, they have a few people who can actually sing and may have standards, but I didn’t try to join because I knew I didn’t have time or driving-Wolfgang energy to make it to rehearsals. So I wasn’t singing with the band/choir and not only was the church wedged with bodies—I could have always sat on the floor in the aisle—but it was too dark to knit.
^ No. I wasn’t hoping for the best. I wanted to be able to say I had tried.
*** I still had my knitting in my pocket. There are occasional virtues to having the pocket linings in your ancient black leather jacket shredded out. Means you can get fourteen-inch needles in a six-inch pocket, because the pocket now plunges to the seams. Okay, they stick out a little at the top. Not that much.
† I’ve been having a bad go with insomnia, even for me.
†† Hurtle! Hurtle! We want our HURTLE!!! We don’t CARE about little old people or Christmas carols!
††† Given that I’ve been saying for four years now that I was going to come carolling^ it’s not entirely surprising that I was either not even on the official list or if anyone saw my name there, laughed hollowly and passed on.
^ Hey. It’s not a good time of year. Peter had his first stroke three years ago as well as shaking the dust of this earth off permanently this time last year. The other two years’ absence were probably the ME. That it’s the ME is always a good guess. Sigh. It’s amazing I have any friends left. Three of us, including Fiona, made it to Maddy Prior and her Carnival Band’s regular Christmas show last week, and Fiona said proudly that we’d finally defeated the gremlin, since this was the third+ time we’d tried and the first time we made it. Never tease the ME gremlin. I cancelled seeing the National Theatre’s live-cinema broadcast of NO MAN’S LAND the next night because I could barely stand up.
+ Possibly fourth. I’m holding out for it only being the third.
‡‡ Old people’s homes. Oh dear. I remember, I remember. I was chiefly reminded of how much Peter hated Rivendell. I did wonder if it was such a great idea to sign up for this duty, but I figured I’m singing in the band and it would be okay. It just about was . . . and a few of our audience smiled. And there were mince pies, even if I couldn’t eat any.^ Also I was helpful. Uziel had brought his keyboard but various bits of wiring at the home didn’t work as planned so he had a Heath Robinson arrangement which involved him chasing his footpedal around the floor to the detriment of keeping us on pitch. So I stood in front of it and was jabbed by an ill-mannered extension-cord housing for the duration . . . but it was worth it.
^ It’s funny what nails you. I’ve been off sugar most of a year now and have been fascinated to discover that things like the little inner leaves of cabbages are sweet. CABBAGE? Who knew? Well, you’re not going to know if you’re still putting 1,000,000,000 spoonsful of sugar in your pitch-black morning tea, and while sweet little green leaves are very nice, it’s a fairly stiff price to pay. Most of the time I genuinely don’t notice the price—I like all the brassica family, and I’m wholly converted to green tea—and while there’s certain stuff I miss, I don’t have CRAAAAAAAAAAVINGS, and trust me, I know what cravings are+, so I must be doing something right. But I am shaken every week at the moment, making up the order for one of my organic grocers, by the presence of a particular variety of gooey, teeth-achingly sweet, several-chocolate brownies, that I hadn’t yet figured out how to duplicate at home the celestial heights of the commercial ones, when I Stopped All That. Fortunately they’re seasonal, so they’ll go away again after New Year’s. I can perhaps remind myself at this point that I like COLOUR and cabbages are green.
+ Cravings are chemical, you know? Like my chocolate craving got a whole lot worse with menopause. It’s worth remembering that if you’re having a rough time with one—it also gives you something to research on Google, if you want to. The amount of health stuff out there is dazzling—a lot of it is crap, of course, but I think you kind of learn who to believe or at least to try the advice of, eventually, although developing that kind of instinct or grounding takes a spectacular investment of time. I assume you don’t have to ask me how I know this.
‡‡‡ GLORY GLORY BUT I HATE THE PROLIFERATION OF BUTTON BATTERIES. There are 1,000,000,000,000,000 different kinds and every gizmo you owns that wants them wants a different kind.
§ Pet me!^ Feeeeeeed me!^^ HURTLE me!!!!^^^
Note that writing, or writing at, a blog post over the course of several days plays to my weaknesses, which is to say I keep adding just another little sentence. Just a little sentence. Or footnote. Cough cough. And I am NOT at this point going to try to untangle this unwieldy sucker into two blog posts* or it’ll be another week before I post it, by which time it will be THREE posts long.** –ed.
Pav can count to four.
The hardliners among you, tut-tutting at this shameless anthropomorphising, are welcome to think of another explanation for what I’m about to describe. But as it happens I’ve also been reading Franz de Waal’s ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE* and shouting YES! about three times a page so what a good thing I don’t read on public transport.** One of his big points being that we should consider the possibility that we aren’t anthropomorphising, we are acknowledging that animals are clever and adaptable and share more intellect and intellectual skills for problem-solving with us than we’ve previously tended to want to acknowledge, us humans being unchallenged rulers of the known universe and all, and we’re the only animals who feel empathy and use tools and so on, RIGHT? Anyone who agrees with that last can stand in the Naughty Corner with a pointy hat on.***
So I’m going to say that Pav can count to four, and if you don’t like it, it’s a free virtual country, and you can go away and read up on late-breaking news about Avogadro’s number or something equally worthy.† But this tale of canine computational capacity goes like this. . . .
I am turning into such a softie in my old age partly I think just because age tends to motivate you in one direction or another—change, change, change! All change!††—and partly because the current generation of four-foots and I have been increasingly our own little unit as Peter got frailer and frailer and now of course They’re All I Have.††† Also I feel a bit guilty about Pav whose position at the bottom of the hierarchy must be enforced one way or another because as a hellterror she’d run all of us if she could, and the hellhounds wouldn’t put up much of a struggle‡, and the fact that she’s mostly really good about this makes me feel more guilty because . . . because I’m like that. No previous furry generation has ever been allowed to GET UNDER MY FEET when I’m cooking, but when I was first grappling with the hellhounds’ food issues I was so frantic for ANY sign of interest in food that I let them mill around underfoot when I was stripping chicken carcases etc. The hellterror of course took to this activity immediately and has tended to generalise in a way that wouldn’t occur to the hellhounds, and because therefore this also gives her and me a chance of Additional Interaction that doesn’t involve hierarchical issues‡‡, I’ve paid more attention to the dropping-bits-of-food scenario with her.
Mostly what I drop is bits of veg or apple. And because canine guts are shorter than ours because said guts are built in expectation of meat not fibrous stuff that takes more transit time to do the critter any good, I chop these bits up tiny. And to keep it interesting I sprinkle them around the floor rather than just plopping them as a wodge where I’m standing.‡‡‡ And the hellterror races around gobbling them up BECAUSE THEY MIGHT GET AWAY IF SHE DOESN’T EAT THEM FAST ENOUGH.
I started dropping four snippets a while ago for no particular reason except that it was easy and meant I could keep doing what I was doing without thinking about it.§ And it slowly dawned on me that she had learnt to look for four, count ’em, four, snippets. So I started experimenting. I dropped three in a group and the fourth one at a distance. She found all four. I spread all four out§§ and she found all of them. I put the fourth one down silently while she was otherwise occupied. She still found it, because she was looking for it. But if I put a fifth snippet down silently when she’s engaged elsewhere, she does not find it. Because she’s not looking for it.§§§
God help me if I only put or drop three. First she hunts around in increasing disbelief and outrage and then she stalks over to me and plants one heavy forepaw on my foot.@ I have mentioned before how leaden a mere one-quarter of the footage of a thirty-pound dog can be. Intentionality is all. At this point I need to drop that fourth snippet immediately or she will hold out for a brand-new batch of four.
Your beloved and absent-mindedly patronised domestic critters are bright little munchkins. Be careful what you start with them . . .
* * *
* Especially after I already had to print this one out to have half a chance of matching text to footnotes. I do not guarantee that I was successful. Moan.
** Actually this one is already up to three-post length. If you’re counting. But why would you be counting?
* Thank you, Gryphyn, for telling me about it. I’m a huge long-time fan of de Waal^ but I don’t keep up with new releases so it might otherwise have been a while before I discovered it.
^ Peter got me started on him.+ Any of you who have read one or more of Peter’s chimpanzee books++ will understand why Peter found his work fascinating.
++ POISON ORACLE is probably one of my top half dozen Dickinson favourites. I say ‘probably’ because as soon as I started to list them there’d be more.
** I knit. Of course. You knew that. I can’t read, I’d be motion-sick in no time. Especially since I like sitting on the top of double-decker buses, which sway. Another great reason to learn to knit. Something to do when the view from the top of your bus is cement factories and car graveyards. There aren’t a lot of these in Hampshire but there are definitely stretches where you would rather be looking at your hands and that really pretty yarn you feel quite smug about buying on sale.^ Especially now that I’m old, and if I ever frelling got around to it, could get a free Old Person’s bus pass, and then think of all the extra knitting I would get done.^^ I might have a nervous breakdown about the way the official bus schedule has nothing to do with when buses actually arrive or leave but I could probably learn to swing with this.^^^ Possibly in time with the swaying of the bus.
^ THAT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. IT’S NOT. TELL ME IT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. I TOLD YOU NOT TO TELL ME THAT.+
+ No. I don’t pick up dropped stitches well. I don’t understand why naturally lumpy yarn like Rowan’s Thick ‘n’ Thin isn’t enormously popular. It hides errors so much better than the all-one-size stuff.
^^ When I’m not peering over fences at people’s laundry, dogs, half-finished patios and lumpy tarpaulins over the half-taken-apart motorcycle they’re going to restore this year, this year, really they are, busted basketball hoops and bent jungle gyms. Occasionally there’s a flawless hidden gem of a garden but mostly people’s lives behind impenetrable fences look . . . like mine. Although I know better than to think I’m ever going to learn to do anything constructive with a motorcycle, so minus the motorcycle, although I can do the lumpy tarpaulin, and for the half-finished patio read the still unrehabilitated courtyard after my poor plumbers dug up most of it looking for that leak.+ I don’t do basketball hoops and jungle gyms but I can find substitutes.++ Dogs and laundry, definitely.
+ Did I post a photo of the busted pipe fitting?# Maybe it only looks spectacular to me. It’s just a short bulge of pipe with a tap coming out of the middle. And a large cracked hole through the threads at one end.##
# Yes I could check. I’m not going to. I have no desire to glance back at anything to do with this horrible year.
## I don’t think I told you that my apple tree produced spectacularly this year? I was worried because it’s had Niagara running through its roots for the last thirty years~ and fruit trees are thirsty beggars. We had decent rainfall this year—and I remembered to throw some water on it now and then when the rain stopped—but it won’t have had anything like as much water as it’s had in years past. And not only did it do very well but the apples were larger than usual. Maybe the absence of Niagara made the June drop more effective? I have no idea. Now I’ll worry that the real effects won’t show up till next year. Like I’ve been waiting for the real effects of having the wall fall down and some blasted human mucking about below ground level to lay a new wall right where its roots are, for the last several years. Granted it falling over last autumn counts as an effect but the point is IT’S STILL PRODUCING MAGNIFICENT APPLES. It is a gallant object. And I hope it doesn’t mind that Niagara has moved to North America.
~No I have no idea how old it is, but I believe it was put in early in the previous owner’s tenancy, which would mean getting on thirty years. And while it’s small as trees go it is admirably gnarly, the way aged apple trees should be.
++ A few years ago garden centres started selling these fabulous big plastic buckets in GREAT COLOURS. Turns out the narrow (plastic) handles rot off after about one winter outdoors. I have kind of a lot of these because you can’t frelling move them around without handles but the bucket part is still perfectly good so I can’t possibly throw them out.
^^^ I’m learning perforce at the minute because I keep having reasons I need to go in to Mauncester or Zigguraton AND IT’S CHRISTMAS. IT’S THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING CHRISTMAS SEASON WHEN EVERYONE ON THE PLANET PLUS ROCKETLOADS OF TOURISTS FROM THE OUTER REACHES OF THE GALAXY ARE OUT SHOPPING AND STICKING UP THE ROADS AND PAVEMENTS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE. I keep wondering if the rest of southern England, Great Britain, the world, the solar system, blah blah blah is EMPTY because EVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE? It must be the Borg again. But why they have it in for a little wodge of Hampshire I have no idea. I have to keep telling Wolfgang it’s not that I don’t love him any more+ it’s that unless he wants to add perching on flagpoles to his list of accomplishments, finding a parking space is more than our lives are worth, and throw in the lives of two hellhounds and a hellterror to the balance, since they wouldn’t want to be left behind if we soar unexpectedly heavenward.++ I had a Samaritan seminar Saturday AFTERNOON. Can you conceive of anything more horrible than a Saturday afternoon in December in the ultimate Christmas shopping hub? AAAAAAAAAUGH. No. Trust me. You can’t. PTSD. I may have to go back into therapy to recover.+++ And the bus station is at one end of town and the Sam seminar was being held at the other end of town. Uphill. Just by the way. And even with my two-ton knapsack as battering ram++++ I had trouble crashing through the frelling ambling crowds.
+ Do I or do I not take him to the monks’ at least twice a week? YES. I DO.
++ I keep telling you Wolfgang is a member of the family. And furthermore he’ll be clean in heaven. Although I’ll probably ask to keep the herb Robert tucked under the edge of the bonnet as a special favour.
+++ Have I mentioned that I’m kind of claustrophobic? You’d never know it, looking at this house, which gives normal people claustrophobia,# but LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE? SWEATY BREATHLESS TERROR. Confirmation Sunday recently at St Margaret’s and the bishop came. I’m used to small groups at the evening service and the church was COMPLETELY PACKED OUT. I nearly ran away. I would have run away, except I was singing with the band. I was singing with the band because if I don’t sing with the band I cry. If I hadn’t been singing with the band I could have run away. If I’d started crying I would have run away. How many ways can you mess yourself over and ruin a perfectly good evening.
# I’ve got some bloke, recommended by my accountant, coming on Monday to explain to me slowly and in words of one syllable what I have to do about the mortgage for Third House, which I need to take out to pay back Peter’s estate for the price of the Lodge, which wasn’t supposed to come up because Third House was supposed to sell. Anyway. The bloke has an office in Mauncester but he lives in New Arcadia so he suggested kindly that he could visit the feeble ME-riddled spastic-brained widow at home. There was a long pause on my end of the phone and I could hear him wondering what he’d said wrong. Um, I said finally. I don’t do housework at the best of times, these are not the best of times, and I can just about fit through the door despite press of all the stuff from Third House cluttering up the place. And I’m thin. Also there are three dogs. Three lively enthusiastic dogs. With a sales pitch like that how could he resist. So he’s still coming here. You might want to pray for him.
++++ You wouldn’t think knitting would weigh that much. Even plus an iPad and a book. YES. A BOOK. HARD COPY. I used just to travel everywhere with a book. Now I travel everywhere with an iPad and a book. Of course. Certainly. With a rich and varied choice on my Kindle app. But I’d still rather read a book. And I’m not the only one who does this, am I?
*** But do read the book. Indeed read anything by de Waal. I wish he’d been around when I was a kid and was labelled ‘fanciful’ for thinking that critters were more than furbots with hard-wired instincts instead of motherboards.^ I read Konrad Lorenz, of course, who was a lot better than nothing but . . . well, there are a lot of ‘buts’ around Lorenz but I didn’t know about any of them when I was first reading him. I was just thrilled by someone who took animals seriously without dissecting them first.
^ Not that motherboards were around when I was a kid either.
† I was very cast down when Alex Bello’s new book is fiendishly difficult mathematical puzzles. I might as well be trying to read Sanskrit. Or Japanese, which I would like to be able to read. I blogged about ALEX IN WONDERLAND, didn’t I? Which I loved.^ I’ve got his second one on the bedside table cough cough cough cough^^ but I keep flinching away from it because I mostly still drag and shove myself through the Difficult Bits by a combination of listening and reading text, and Audible, drat them, haven’t recorded ALEX THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.
^ After a slightly rough beginning. I find, with my old English major’s bias, that popular science style has to be learnt and fitted into for a Tolerable Reading Experience very much like the style of bulging Victorian quadruple-deckers, Dickens and Eliot et all, has to be learnt. I started reading the bulgy Victorians pretty early—they told stories after all and I’m into stories—so I wasn’t so aware of learning to roll with Dickens’ off the wall approach or Eliot’s super-frelling-thoughtful approach+ until I was in school with people who couldn’t stand any of it no way no how. But I grew up knowing that I was hopeless at maths and so discovering popular maths and hard science has come late and . . . alarmingly. The bit that I understood, ie use of the English language, seemed to me either patronising or over-subjective (you’re the AUTHOR. Get OUT OF THE WAY of the STORY you’re telling), and it took me a while to climb over this obstacle. I think in hindsight Bello’s first book is what finally did it for me. You can’t stop me now on pop sci books . . . but for pity’s sake don’t ask me to EXPLAIN any of them or their contents.++
+ Mind you, MIDDLEMARCH is on my top ten list of best books of all time. You still have to settle in for the ride.
++ And I still frelling hate the standard practise of describing what every interviewee is wearing and what the colour of their hair is and whether they have a nice smile. I DON’T CARE. SHOW DON’T TELL. ANYTHING IMPORTANT WILL COME OUT IN THE TELLING. ARRRRRRRRGH.
^^ The ‘bedside table’ being a pile of books which happens to climb up to high-mattress-level on the bed, which is unfortunate during bedsheets-changing attempts since it’s way too high and tottery to stand up without leaning. Against the, you know, bed.
†† And no whining
††† And a little patch of ground in a local churchyard, marked by a rose in a plastic vase.
‡ What? they’d say, opening one eye. Oh, they’d answer themselves, closing the eye again.
‡‡ Although Chaos does come and check suspiciously that I’m not dropping anything interesting, if Pav and I seem to be having too good a time.
‡‡‡ Yes. This means that food prep takes forever and that my endless complaints about needing to wash my frelling kitchen floor every frelling day^ are partly my own fault.^^
^ Which I don’t do, of course. Nobody has died yet.
^^ I mean, having three dogs is my own fault but I could contain their food in bowls.+
+ Sort of. Since the hellhounds tend to flip these over with their noses when they wish to indicate that this is not their day for eating. There is LANGUAGE when they do this.
§ This includes PLOTTING which tends to make me pretty stupid in the real world.^ It’s when the plotting is going badly that we practise lying down, rolling over and offering our paw. She does not seem to want to learn to sit back on her haunches with her forepaws in the air no matter how many times I demonstrate.^^ Hellterrors are such square-ended little buggers this ought to be easier for her than me but hey.
^ I have the scars to prove it.
^^ This is a JOKE, okay? Trust me, she learnt to roll over without my demonstrating. There isn’t room in this kitchen for me to demonstrate rolling over. Especially now with an extra table and a wormery taking up floor space.
§§ MORE frelling floor to wash
§§§ I wonder sometimes about her nose. But then I don’t suppose raw veg and apple smell like much to an apparatus evolved to locate meat.
@ And yet, speaking of comprehension, she knows she only gets two bits if they’re dried liver crumbs^ or Fish4Dogs stars^^ or—her new passion—the rinds off my goats’ and sheep’s cheese
^ http://www.zooplus.co.uk/shop/dogs/dog_treats_chews/soft_treats/thrive/277272 I split one in half. Look at that price.
This should have gone up last night, of course—one rarely ransoms cars from garages on Sundays—and today got away from me as my days so often do. I should perhaps adopt an acronym: TSHGULNOC, which sounds a little like something out of HP Lovecraft says just before it eats you. Some day if I ever get my act together Raphael is going to commute me to another internet provider, and we will see if I spend less time waiting for things to load with my fingers in my ears so I can’t hear myself screaming. Meanwhile: TSHGULNOC.
* * *
I have a car! I have a car! YAAAAAAAAAY!
I got home last night after dinner* to a brief laconic phone message from the garage. ‘Give us a ring when you have a minute.’ ARRRRRRRRGH. Can’t they just tell me?? But I assumed the not telling me, the terseness and the . . . er . . . what’s the noun form of ‘laconic’? . . . the laconia, the laconitry, were not a good omen.
This morning I left** before even a garage is likely to be open, to go to Mass*** and decided just for laughs to take a detour on the way home, I might as well make them look me in the eye when they told me they could probably get to my car in January.† So I braced myself not to burst into tears and lie down on the floor and drum my heels . . . and first I couldn’t find anyone to ask and I figured they’d seen me coming and were hiding, and then when I did find someone they still wouldn’t meet my eyes but they said (laconically), oh, it’s all done. You can have it now.
Apparently what happened—although garage men tend to be Of Few Words††, I may have a better version from Morag when she’s back in the office next week—is that they were failing to locate a new pedal box††† and on closer examination the pedal box breakage was less drastic than feared and they said oh piffle let’s just weld‡ the sucker, and they did.
I was so excited that when I arrived home‡‡ I threw the hellhounds in the back seat and we shot off to . . . somewhere. Anywhere. We had a proper hurtle over the countryside for the first time in yonks, which has less to do with Wolfgang than with my interesting energy levels or lack thereof. We were already on the road before I thought about where we were going, and I decided on Ditherington where we used to hurtle frequently and haven’t been . . . all this year, I think, which means over a year, because I pretty much stopped superfluous driving after Peter’s second stroke and I was spending all available time wherever he was. Ditherington looked pretty good and the hellhounds were thrilled.‡‡‡
And then we came home and the hellterror had her own epic hurtle across more dangerously local countryside, which I’m willing to risk on a nice Saturday afternoon because I can pick her up if there are problems.§
I even did a little gardening.§§ Reclaiming a member of the family is very energizing.§§§ YAAAAAAAY. WOLFGANG.
* * *
* And while I’m celebrating I also want to celebrate that I’ve eaten in restaurants twice this week^ and I’m still alive. There are no fresh bits falling off that I’ve noticed and I haven’t broken out in a scaly rash that makes me look like a diseased turbot. There is hope.
^ Where the people in the kitchen may be injecting secret cow feta into the crab salad.+
+ I was talking to someone about the somewhat retro manager of a local food bank—have I told you I’m planning to do Pitch a Foodstuff in a Box Every Day for Advent# and then donate box and contents to a food bank?—whose attitude toward the undeserving poor is that if they’re hungry they’ll eat it.## Uh huh. Tell that to someone with a peanut allergy. Hey, tell it to someone who’s allergic to cow feta. She won’t die, but she will rip your face off.
# You will remember that I have been heaping righteous scorn on the designers, the gift-buyers, and the clueless, superficial and self-indulgent recipients of Advent calendars dedicated to beauty products or whisky or hamsters or something? I have had my comeuppance. There’s a yarn Advent calendar. No, no, no, no. It’s okay though. It’s way too expensive. And furthermore the yarn is acrylic. BUT I BET YOU COULD MAKE A REALLY CUTE BABY BLANKET FOR CHARITY OUT OF TWENTY-FOUR SQUARES OF ADVENT CALENDAR YARN.~
~ And someone can explain to me why Advent calendars only have twenty four windows when Advent starts some time before that. This year apparently on 27 November. Presumably I start my food box on the 27th even though I don’t have any fun till the 1st of December.=
= Although since I’m planning to do readings out of THE ROADS FROM BETHLEHEM https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roads-Bethlehem-Christmas-Literature-Writers/dp/0664221572/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479600578&sr=8-1&keywords=road+from+bethlehem which Alfrick loaned me his old, well-loved copy of to shut me up about my latest opportunity for outrage, the Shocking Commercialisation of Advent. What’s next? Give your sweetheart a dozen chocolate pencils for Punctuation Day? . . . ANYWAY. Since I’m planning to declaim to the hellmob, the Aga and the indoor jungle I could start that on the 27th too.
## I’m sure there’s a place in the new American cabinet for this moron. Health and human services possibly. Or education.
** And a word here for St Admetus. He’s been letting me drive his car. The only drawback to this fabulous, beyond-my-wildest-imaginings situation is that Fleur is new.^ You will remember that one of the reasons I want to keep my ancient, beat-up car is that any car that lived with me would become ancient and beat-up pretty fast. It’s very hard on a person trying to behave in a drastically out of character a manner . . . although in my defence a lot of Wolfgang’s more interesting impairments have to do with inadequately maintained back country roads and I wouldn’t DREAM of taking Fleur anywhere but on flawlessly paved roads, or as frelling flawlessly as the frelling Hampshire county council can provide which isn’t blistering very. But there are one or two other variations like the fact that her brakes are DELICATE. You speak to them sweetly and for pity’s sake don’t actually step on them. I did eventually stop throwing myself through the windscreen.^^ . . . Which meant that when I got behind the more robust and jolly Wolfgang’s wheel again I was all WHERE ARE THE BRAAAAAAAAAKES.
The other high point was arriving with Fleur at my late-night shift at the Sams and not being able to pull the frelling ignition key out of the frelling ignition.
^ She’s also shiny and WHITE. Admetus washes his car+. Fancy. But anything I come in contact with staggers away from the encounter covered in mud and dog hair. Although I may be doing the hellmob an injustice. I think I must produce dog hair too. Hmmmm.
+ Have I mentioned that Wolfgang now has Herb Robert growing in the crack between the windscreen and the hinge of the bonnet?
^^ Fortunately modern flexi-plast windscreens don’t star on impact very easily.
*** Before I realised the extent to which St Admetus is willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of friendship I’d been telling myself that it was not the end of the world^ if I didn’t make it to Mass^^ this week.^^^ The result is this is now the second week in a row that I’ve gone both to morning Mass and the night contemplative service on Saturday, pant, gasp, whiplash, due to circumstances beyond my control. God likes her little joke.
^ That would have been 8 November
^^ Jonesing for the Eucharist. Go Jesus.
^^^ I’d been trying to figure out the festering bus schedule. The buses between here and Mauncester in one direction and Opprobrium in the other are pretty reliable. But if you want to peel off in a funny direction from the main route, like, say, Dreepworth, which is a village of about three, plus some monks well back among the trees+, there are rumours of a local bus but no one knows anything about it. It is not encouraging that it is further rumoured to stop at the ski lodge and the planetarium. Dreepworth does not have a ski lodge or a planetarium.
+ And a big sign that says WELCOME. I like that sign.
† Since I was there I thought the least I could do was fill up the petrol tank. You have to release the lock, said the helpful petrol-pump man. RELEASE? THE LOCK?? We had to get the frelling handbook out to find the frelling petrol-tank release latch ARRRRRRRGH. Admetus thought this was very funny.^ I had to tell him since the first thing he said was, how did you find the petrol tank release?
^ Hey. I’d written down the mileage and the litres because I knew Admetus is the kind of OCD git . . . I mean, the kind of thoughtful, responsible car owner+ who keeps track of such things. GIVE ME SOME CREDIT HERE.
+ Yes. Admetus usually reads the blog.
†† I should perhaps specify intelligible words. Paxton is usually happy to explain exactly what happened in great detail, except that I don’t know any of the words he’s using, since they have to do with cars and I pretty much stop with ‘steering wheel’ and ‘rear view mirror’.
††† Those Fijians really like their pristine showcases.
‡ Welding. You youngsters may not have heard of this interesting ploy. It’s something you can do to old cars which are still mostly made out of metal.^
^ Except the FENDERS. Which are made out of plastic-coated papier mache and fall off at a TOUCH. There is a humiliating story about this in the archives somewhere.
‡‡ Admetus having given me a lift back out to Warm Upford to fetch Wolfgang
‡‡‡ Although the reason Ditherington began to fall out of favour in the first place is because the local gamekeeper is/was a ratbag sod. He’s the one responsible, for example, for the line of guns across a public footpath one shooting season which is frankly illegal, and which the hellhounds and I walked straight into because you’re coming out of a copse into a field and you have no warning what you’re getting into unless they’re actually firing which I am glad to say they weren’t. And I grew very tired of him snapping and snarling for no reason but that he was in a nasty mood and didn’t like old women walking their dogs. If someone could tell me he now has a job wrestling alligators in Florida, and that the new keeper prefers to sit on a hay bale and knit, I would be very happy.
§ We had an absolutely classic run in with an off lead dog. It was coming down the hill on lead to our right as we carried on straight ahead along the footpath. The idiot woman saw us. I saw her seeing us. And the moment we were out of sight behind the fence she let Throgmorton off the lead and he instantly hared after us, coming around the corner on one leg and a tail. CALL YOUR DOG, I said, scooping up the meanest SOB in the valley. Throgmorton was about the size of an SUV and I was considering climbing the fence—with an armful of Meanest SOB—when Idiot Woman came panting around the corner and did, in fact, catch her abominable dog.
§§ It started to rain as I was putting on my pink wellies. I heard Peter’s voice in my ear saying It’s not wet rain and went out anyway.
§§§ Really I’m on a roll. I bounced through not one but two social occasions last night—first catching up with Ceridwen and Vidhya and the little frumplet^ and then dinner with Nina and Ignatius. Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I were just getting stronger? Yes. It would be great. ^^
^ Who will soon grow out of the fabulous baby blanket he hasn’t received
^^ Maybe I could even get more than three syllables a day of story-in-progress written. That would be GREAT.