Snow. There is snow.
It was so warm last night—several degrees above freezing and it hadn’t started snowing yet—I didn’t think it was going to. I thought it would just rain some more. Hey, we haven’t had to ford anything in several days, it’s clearly time for more rain.
Except it snowed. It’s good snow—fluffy but it packs well: hellhounds and I went the long way around a couple of times so as not to get caught up in any snowball scrimmages—but it’s still snow. When I woke up this morning it was coming down in great fat golfballs. Unnh, I said, and went back to sleep. Later, after wrestling a few falls with the hellterror WHO CERTAINLY DOESN’T WANT TO CRAP IN THIS ALIEN LANDSCAPE, I caught my neighbour, the military bloke whose last away assignment was being seconded to a remote bit of Afghanistan, shovelling out the driveway so he could get into it and I said, How are the roads? He stopped shovelling, straightened up, looked me directly in the eye the way a Commander of Forces should and said, Unpleasant. Ah, the scintillant beauty of British understatement. Another reason to live in this country.*
IT TOOK ME TWO TRIPS TO TRAMP TWO HELLHOUNDS AND A HELLTERROR TO THE MEWS. AND IT’S GOING TO TAKE ME ANOTHER TWO TRIPS TO GET THEM ALL HOME AGAIN.** Whose bright idea was this living in two*** houses anyway?† ARRRRRRGH. If this weather continues—which it’s supposed to—I will experiment in daylight with a troika, but I’m not going to start tonight. The reason I haven’t tried triple hurtling yet already is because I’m still hoping Darkness will get over himself a little more. At the moment he still barks manically when the hellterror is loose and, I acknowledge, behaving like a hellterror. I can usually manage to shut him up when we’re indoors since he has developed some faith that I will prevent her from Assaulting Him in His Bed, or at least that I will remove her with alacrity. But I can imagine what our first attempt at a trichotomous hurtle is going to be like. Peter’s neighbours already don’t like me because of the late hours I keep . . . and I don’t think neighbourly relations would be positively enhanced if Darkness went into Frenzied Barking Mode under their window at mmph o’clock in the morning.
And because two slogs from one end of town to another aren’t enough, and because I feel a trifle guilty about the hellhounds, who are used to more and better . . . we schlepped back to the cottage an extra time so I could go to New Arcadia tower practise. Well, our Friday handbell third cancelled, not surprisingly, since she doesn’t live here, and I was all loose-ends and Whatever Will I Do With Myself?, and I asked Niall if they were having tower practise tonight. Yes, said Niall, Vicky and I are hoping that people who live close by will come.
There were exactly six of us—exactly the six that live walking distance from the tower. And it was fun. There was a slight we-few-we-happy-few-we-band-of-siblings feel about it, braving the elements and all—Fustian cancelled their Friday practise and the abbey has cancelled Sunday afternoon service ring already—and while there’s quite a bit you can ring on five, I was amused that just about everything Niall called required that the sixth person present was a proper method ringer.
I had a few words with Niall as we were leaving. Good practise, said Niall. Yes, I said, and useful too. I can’t remember the last time I’ve rung a touch of Grandsire doubles. And anything I don’t use I lose.
Come on Sunday, said Niall. We ring a lot of Grandsire doubles on Sunday morning.
If the puppy craps in time, I said, I will.
* * *
* Except when it comes under the category of ‘home—drives you crazy’.
** Viva Yaktrax. http://www.yaktrax.co.uk/
*** or three
† Mine. I’ve told you this story. When we were moving out of the big house in the country and looking for a little house in town I knew Peter and I would drive each other round the twist in a little house. Okay, Peter would drive me round the twist. I’d been hoping for a house with an annexe or a granny flat, whither I could retire to fulminate and pile things in heaps my way, but Peter really wanted New Arcadia and so do a lot of other people and we couldn’t find anything here in our price range. I still have I-wonder-what-if thoughts about houses we looked at in Mauncester.
. . . and our wedding anniversary. Twenty one years today. *
We went out for dinner. The western world closes down, the week after New Year’s. We were going to try The Other Really Nice Restaurant in Mauncester but it’s closed—for the week after New Year’s. And even with the only other local Really Nice Restaurant closed, Maison de Chocolat et Champagne** was still only about half full.
Now of course I know I’m well preserved or I wouldn’t either be wearing a miniskirt in public† or hanging photos on the internet of my failure of propriety. But—you others of my vintage correct me if I’m wrong—I don’t think that when we were the right age to wear miniskirts any woman of our age now would have done so?†† I was slightly behind the crest of the baby boomers as well as therefore slightly behind the great fashion revelation of the miniskirt, but while old women have always got up to things the younger generations feel are inappropriate to their age and gravitas††† I think it’s those of us who grew up with miniskirts who are just going on wearing them?‡ I like to think I belong to a generation that is breaking important new cultural ground.
So yes, thank you, the evening was a delectable success.
* * *
* Tolkien would be 120.
** Que faut-il?^
^ No, I don’t speak French.+
+ However I do acknowledge a few more basic food groups than chocolate and champagne. Broccoli, for example. Peter and I share a necessity for olives however and—also speaking of the western world closing down after New Year’s—our Olive Man has gone on holiday. Our Olive Man at best is a flaky schmuck, but unfortunately he sells olives to die for so we keep abjectly crawling back to him when he reappears So, we’re in another whimpering, cold-turkey phase of having to find ALTERNATIVES till he frelling returns from his safari in Tanzania or whatever. Peter found a bottle of olives in the back of a cupboard which we looked at dubiously—bottled is never satisfactory when you’re used to fresh—but these are surprisingly good. The only thing wrong with them is that their texture is a little mushy. Peter finally thought to look at the use-by date: 2004. Ah. That might explain the mushy. . . .
*** I know that even as my unfortunate photographic standards go this is pretty skanky. But the photo was a festering ratbag to get at all. The electrics at the mews are infested with demons and bulbs blow before you get them poked into their sockets. The bulb over the mirror has blown—again—and these dratted spot-style lights are also festering ratbags to change. You can’t use a fixed flash on a mirror. So I’ve dragged half the lamps in the sitting room as close as their flexes will let them and added the taking-the-puppy-out torch to the curtain rail and . . .
† Although recollect it’s after dark, the lighting in the restaurant is low and romantic^, and I’m wearing black tights. I didn’t think I was going to like these tights—geometric patterns on irregularly shaped limbs like human legs often don’t work very well—but I really like these. What? Because they were on sale. I am a hopeless sucker for sales. And then you get the thing home and you do like it, and you’ve just been brainwashed for the next sale.
^ Did I ever point out to all you flatterers after I posted those photos of our dinner out on my sixtieth birthday that the lighting in women’s loos in fancy restaurants tends to be aggressively well-disposed? I wasn’t just wearing an adorable pink sequinned cashmere shrug, I was bathed in fuzzy pink light.
†† At least not without surgical enhancement.
††† Hey! You’re old! You’re not supposed to have fun!
‡ I’ve been saying, okay, this is the last time, for about ten years now.
Note that this entire post can be defined as Too Much Information. Those of you of a delicate disposition should look away now.
So. We were going to try again to get three of us down to Georgiana and Saxon’s glamorous open-plan flat on the water. It had to be today because today was the day the dog minder could hurtle the hellhounds while Peter and I took the hellterror with us. Peter was really looking forward to the hucklebutting, and promised faithfully to guard the Christmas tree while riot and anarchy were occurring.
The day did not get off to an auspicious start. I slept through my alarm again.* Naturally. There was an email from Peter that he was coming into town anyway, and would walk up the rest of the way to the cottage. Great. That would save five minutes going to fetch him.
Except he didn’t appear. Graaak. Arrrgh. Bleh. I started to worry. I harnessed up the hellhounds—having been waiting to give them their mini-hurtle to let Peter in first—and decided we would go in pursuit . . . and found him sitting on the greenhouse stairs, reading his paper. WHAT? I said. I may have, ahem, shouted.
The car’s not there, he said. I thought you’d taken the hellhounds somewhere for a country hurtle and I was getting worried you weren’t back yet.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE CAR’S NOT THERE? I said, or maybe shouted. Hellhounds and I hurtled up the hill and . . . there was Wolfgang. The frelling cul de sac is deceptive. It looks straight. It isn’t, as many people who have tried to back out of it (which, unless you have a driveway to call your own is your only choice, having made the serious vehicular error of turning into it the first place) have learnt to the cost of their wing mirrors, paintwork and fenders. And the final two parking spaces, the further one mine, do kind of hide. I’VE LIVED HERE EIGHT YEARS, I said to my husband. YOU SHOULD KNOW BY NOW TO WALK FARTHER UP THE HILL TO CHECK ON WOLFGANG.
Yes, I should, said Peter humbly (possibly seeing blood and spousal abuse in my eye). I’m so sorry.
ARRRRRRGH, I said, and flew off with hellhounds.
So, you know, we were already a good half hour late. And I still had to give the hellterror her mini-hurtle so she would have a crap before we left.
Those of you who have been watching the hellterror’s alimentary antics will know where this is going.
She didn’t crap. She wouldn’t crap, and nothing was going to make her. By this time we were about forty five minutes late and I uttered a final, heartfelt ARRRRRRGH, stuffed her into her travelling crate and we left.
Here’s the good news: we got there. The first half hour is pretty much B and substandard rural A roads. The second half hour is Spaghetti Junction South and a nightmare every bit as compelling as the ones I’m having when I fail to wake up when my alarm goes off.
The other good news is that it stopped raining**. Which is a very good thing since the hellterror and I were out in the weather for about two hours. Didn’t I say something prophetic, the last time this journey was contemplated, about how the hellterror and I might never get indoors because I would spend the whole visit walking her around WAITING FOR HER TO EXCRETE?
Yes. Well. At least it was a nice day. I topped up really well on my vitamin D levels. And the predicted wind died away to gentle airs, and it wasn’t that cold, although frustrated fury does help keep you warm. And the hellterror hucklebutted fabulously outdoors on the patch of grass I had randomly chosen, doing backflips when she forgot where the end of her extending lead was. And she paid close attention to every single person who walked past—I had no idea that Georgiana and Saxon’s development has so frelling many people in it—became engrossed in the passage of buses, was disapproving of the rattly, popping starting of motorcycles, and yearned after other dogs going for walks. In between times she ate leaves, repeatedly attacked the laurel hedge, wrapped her lead around the sentinel tree, and tried to get me to PLAY WITH HER.
What she did not do is crap. She peed about forty-seven times, including two or three where she was CLEARLY FINALLY FRELLING about to CRAP and then at the final moment—nope—nope—can’t possibly—I only crap at home (sometimes). —Which was the other aspect of this dreadful epic: imagine living with a dog WHO WILL ONLY CRAP AT HOME.***
AARRRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH. She nearly came back tonight as a hearthrug.†
I didn’t dare bring her indoors. I do not want to establish her pleasant habit of crapping in her crate, which is friendly and safe and familiar and she can just flip the blanket over any unpleasantness which will be dealt with later by her indentured servant, and the flat is on the top floor,†† there’s a long hall to the lift/elevator, several doors to negotiate, the lift doesn’t move very quickly . . . and the entrance to the flat is another long frelling hallway. Poor Georgiana came down three times to check on us, and on the third time††† we went for a little walk while Peter had a nap.
The hellterror really enjoyed her walk. By this time she frelling well ought to have been falling down with exhaustion‡ but noooooooooooo not the hellterror. Then we came back and stood around the tree some more while the hellterror cavorted. ARRRRRRRRGH. Well, I said finally, a little wildly, I suppose we might as well go home.
So Georgiana went off to collect Peter and the frelling crate and the frelling hellterror spare kit and the frelling hellterror lunch—puppies should not miss meals, but I was NOT going to put more in the front end when nothing was coming out the back end—and I stood there between the tree and the hedge and looked at the hellterror, and the hellterror looked at me. And the hellterror ambled off in an idle sort of way and . . . had a crap.
So we raced indoors and BOTH HAD LUNCH and I got to sit down. The hellterror—even the tireless hellterror—wasn’t really up for hucklebutting around the flat, but with only a token howl of outrage permitted herself to be locked up in her crate. And all these shenanigans meant that we had to negotiate Spaghetti Junction South in the dark . . . but we’re HOME.
And when upon arrival I let the hellterror out of her travelling crate for a pee . . . she rushed over to HER SPOT and had THE MOST ENORMOUS CRAP I HAVE EVER SEEN.
* * *
* All my life I’ve had my most lurid—and they can be very lurid indeed—dreams just before I wake up for the final time in the morning. This is all explained by human sleep patterns blah blah blah but I have perhaps an extreme case. I usually hear my alarm, I just don’t always recognise it as a clarion adjuration to GET OUT OF BED. At the time it seems to be something to do with the assembled forces of the Evil Magician Alliance or the mating cry of a lovesick banshee or similar. The fact that the hellterror has now learnt the sound—and the meaning—of my kitchen-timer alarm and usually joins in the fun should assist, but it doesn’t. It just means the Alliance is even more diabolical than I realised, or the banshee brought a friend.^
^ Or possibly the banshee’s love-object is protesting.
** Although it’s supposed to start again any minute. Hellhounds and I were positively sportive last night at mmmph o’clock, unexpectedly cantering around town on our last hurtle with actual stars overhead. It had started raining again by the time I put the hellterror out for a last pee and it was grizzly later this morning when I was making tea and unsticking my eyelids.
*** Also . . . what is wrong with my critter karma that all my critters have Digestive/Eliminatory Issues? It’s a very good thing I like staying at home.
† Southdowner suggested steering wheel cover. She’s not really big enough yet to make a satisfactory hearthrug.
†† Fourth floor in American, third in Britspeak.
††† I left the hellish hellterror with Georgiana long enough that I could go indoors and have a pee. Now the hellterror loves everyone and generally speaking ignores me like an old tatty rejected toy if there’s anyone NEW AND INTERESTING around, but Georgiana said she had a wobble when I stalked away leaving her with AN ALMOST UNKNOWN PERSONAGE OF DUBIOUS MOTIVES, and made little pathetic noises. This is the first known occurrence of the hellterror making little pathetic noises about anything except the speed at which her next meal is coming.
‡ As well as full of well-compressed faecal matter to the neck
It’s been Christmas for several hours. HAPPY CHRISTMAS. But I haven’t got to bed yet so as far as I’m concerned it’s still Christmas Eve.*
Peter was doing extremely well. I’d only got it out of Third House’s attic and brought it down to the mews at about 3:30. And fed my assortment of creatures lunch [sic], bolted a few olives and yesterday’s brussels sprouts and hared off to ring bells at Forza for the crib service. I came home via Third House again to get the rest of the stuff to, you know, decorate the tree. There wasn’t room first run, with a car full of critters.
Okay. Tree’s up. Now I wrap the stem/trunk/knobbly plastic central column with tinsel. This hides the strange bare patches in real trees and the equally strange green tape used to hold fake trees together. Also, I like tinsel.
And yes, that’s dinner in a bowl on the right with chopsticks across it.
And the next course of dinner on the table on the right.
Between previous photo and this one there were three hurtles–one long hellhound and two short hellterror–plus midnight mass. With lots more carols. I’ve found that the answer to my ME-related inability to stand for very long is to sit in the back row and stand behind my chair and then lean on its back. This frees up all those tight little anxiety cells so you can SING LOUDER. During the passing-the-peace-around one of my neighbours said, I’m enjoying your singing. –I’m not sure if this might be Britspeak for shut up, okay? You’re bothering me.
The tree’s on a table this year in the fond belief that we can keep her off it. But for the early everything-all-over-the-floor stages a lack of hellterror is critical. That is in fact her crate on the left covered in an orange blanket (the green towel is covering the hole in the orange blanket).** When she barks she gets her curtains closed. She was barking at the thunder. We’ve been having thunder, lightning, hail, and torrential rain. Joy. I keep reminding myself I’d rather have rain than snow–in a country where no one knows how to deal with snow–but I think less rain might be, you know, possible. It would certainly be desirable.
Meanwhile I’m getting tired of climbing over the sofa.
What kind of a cheesy scuzzball do you think I am? I admit that if I didn’t have to have bells if there are bells to be had, I would bag the horrible little ropes of bells which TANGLE LIKE A !”£$%^&*(!!!!!!. Which is why we don’t have lights. Peter used to put the lights up and he hates lights . . . because of the whole untangling thing. And I’m not going there. I have enough things to melt down over. Including, once a year, my two ropes of decorative mini-bells.
I haven’t finished draping the rest of the sitting room in tinsel yet. TOMORROW. I CAN DO IT TOMORROW. I mean . . . later today.***
* * *
*All right, it’s Christmas and Christmas Eve. I went to Midnight Mass–which is at 11:30–but the vicar said, yo, let me be the first to wish you Happy Christmas, as the big hand rolled past the twelve. Which was still several hours ago.
** Behind the crate you can see a chair with presents on it. Yes. Other people get their presents wrapped before the last minute. Before after the last minute. Sigh.
*** It’s almost time for the monks’ morning prayer. Hmmmm. No, McKinley, get a grip, you have PRESENTS TO WRAP. And you’ll enjoy the duck and champagne and mince pies and brandy butter more if you’ve had some sleep. . . .
Peter’s birthday, right? And Georgiana was laying on a little tiny party-type lunch for her and Saxon and us and Nina and Ignatius. Georgiana and Saxon live in a gorgeous open-plan flat on some piece of water or other at the south end of this island country; the development used to be the world’s biggest assemblage of warehouses or something and they’ve been converted to flats with lots of open space and the big old weight-bearing beams left exposed. You can go for a stroll along the waterfront with all these massive great stern-fronted buildings looming over you—but then there’ll be an abandoned pushchair with the kiddie and its minder frolicking at a little distance, or a dog being walked*, and you notice that some of that stern frontage is a coffee bar and there are houseplants in windows, and curtains not at all likely on a containment facility for bales of hay or rocket-launcher projectiles.
I don’t drive much—or anyway much farther than Forza in one direction and Tintinnabulation at the other**—and while I have driven to Georgiana’s flat I haven’t been reliably up to it lately. So Nina and Ignatius were going to give us a lift. There were complications: Mavis, my dogminder, had a footy match for her sons in the afternoon, so any supernumerary hurtling she did would have to be early. Hellhounds would last till we got back; hellterror probably wouldn’t. So I was taking the hellterror with us. She would double as the live entertainment: she was going to have a great time in Georgiana’s flat. New hucklebutting records would be made.***
I overslept my alarm, of course†, and I was flying around cursing fate when the phone rang. They’re running late, said Peter, and I said, GREAT. I’m DELIGHTED.
But when I finally got to the mews, hellterror and crate included††, Nina and Ignatius’ car had its bonnet up, great racking billows of smoke and steam were waggling across the courtyard, and Ignatius was looking grim. Peter said to me, We have a problem. Ignatius doesn’t want to drive their car any farther (which looked totally sensible from where I was standing). Can we take Wolfgang?
Blither blither blither, I said, because making up my mind on no sleep is one of the things I do best. Um. Yes, of course you can take Wolfgang. But we’re not all going to fit. The hellterror and I will stay home.†††
Which is what happened. The hellhounds and I had a nap‡ folded up on the little cottage sofa and then I puttered around singing Christmas carols and doing stuff I never get around to doing‡‡. Oh, and I texted Mavis explaining what hd hppnd & cld we cancel? And she answered that of course we could cancel, not a problem—but her sons’ footy game had also been cancelled. So she could have looked after the hellterror after all. . . . ‡‡‡
* * *
* Or possibly hurtled
** And Nadia at a kind of angle. Today’s lesson was fascinating. I’ll tell you about it later.
*** If we ever got indoors at all. I might spend THE ENTIRE VISIT walking her around outdoors WAITING FOR HER TO EXCRETE.
† Mostly I find other people’s dreams TERMINALLY BORING but this one was so odd I thought I’d risk telling you. Last night I dreamed that I was walking home in the dark and someone came up behind me and GAROTTED ME. I went limp slightly before I didn’t have a choice, my assailant loosened the cord and I had just got my fingers under it and was kicking like fury when I woke up. What? Someone really doesn’t like my singing? Oh, and I overslept my alarm today too.
†† And hellterror food, and an unbreakable bowl to feed her her lunch, because while we can probably borrow a water bowl, mealtime servings are never adequate and the dish takes the brunt of her dismay, extra bedding in case anything goes wrong, newspapers, paper towels and plastic bags ditto, bath towels in case she falls in a mud flat and comes out a new and interesting colour, a spare collar and lead in case anything else goes wrong, a selection of her current favourite toys, and sufficient heavy twine to tie all her little feet together and hang her from the ceiling if nothing else works.
††† As I say, making up my mind on no sleep is one of the things I do best. But I don’t necessarily do it accurately. It wasn’t till everyone was home again that Peter said that the crate might have fit in the boot. Oh dear. It might have, especially if we took lid off—Wolfgang is a hatchback, and has one of those fold-down shelf things over the boot. But it probably wouldn’t have fit in lengthwise, and I wouldn’t have wanted her travelling any distance with the crate sideways to the motion of the car, which sounds pretty uncomfortable. But what further occurred to me after it was too late is that Nina is as skinny as I am—we might conceivably have got the crate between us on the back seat without undue distress on anyone’s part. And is it illegal to have a dog loose in your lap in a moving vehicle? Taken apart—and the travelling crate comes to bits easily^—the crate would certainly have gone in the boot, and while all of Pav doesn’t really fit in my lap any more, she seems to like flopping over the edges, and I’m still bigger and stronger than she is. For a few more weeks.
^ Too easily. But that’s another story.
‡ With the view from the hellterror crate of this wicked indulgence carefully blocked. Someone on the forum wondered what triple hurtling is going to be like. Yes. So do I. Gloomily. But I wonder even more if three hellcritters and I are ever going to be able to share a sofa without Major Suppression. Lying on the sofa is supposed to be relaxing.
‡‡ Even cleaning the floor is mildly attractive when it feels somehow illicit. And I don’t know but what I prefer it to sorting through bookshelves looking for stuff I can haul off to Oxfam to make room for the stuff that somehow keeps coming in. My knitting shelves are out of control, I have a ridiculous number of books on conversational Japanese for someone who doesn’t really speak a word of it, and the latest are the books on Christian theology which are mounting up kinda fast.
‡‡‡ Although that would still have meant missing the hucklebutting derby. But Peter came home bearing smoked salmon and champagne, so I don’t feel I missed much, and Nina and Ignatius limped home in their smoking car, their mechanic prostrated himself in apology today, and all appears to be well there too.