Life is an ugly pond-scum rat-assed bastard and then you die.
This not-eating spell with the hellhounds has been grinding on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, and they’re moving into serious weight-loss and loss of condition territory. You can see there’s something wrong, especially if you know them from a good patch. Darkness is as bad as I’ve ever seen him. He had another double-ended geysering fit last night, during which he dragged me across half Hampshire; today he had what I call ‘colic’ and what it means is that his guts howl like rabid hyenas and he won’t eat.
Usually we cycle through these spells and come out again without too much damage except to my sanity. Not this time.
Okay, here’s the promised bad news: Pavlova is going the same way. Oh, she eats. But . . .
She’s been having irregularly squishy crap for several weeks. I’ve tentatively put it down to the hormone storms of first heat. But it’s worrying. And I’m a little oversensitive on the subject of critter digestion after almost seven years of the hellhounds.
Then about a week ago she produced a gigantic mucousy thing . . . followed a few hours later with the Yellow Geysers. Noooooooo . . .
I took her to the vet. The vet said ‘colitis’—which is one of those fancy no-help non-diagnosis words, it just means inflammation of the lower gut. We knew that. He gave us some stuff—including some stronger or different or more comprehensive probiotics, in case this was a result of the antibiotics she’d been on for the skin infection on her forehead after the Malign Encounter in the Churchyard.
We went home.* Her output has been better this week, but not that much better. This has made me unhappy. Meanwhile there are the hellhounds. My stress level could fuel the energy grid of Hampshire, and possibly the entire south of England.
This morning, while she is still on what the vet gave us for ‘colitis’, she produced a gigantic mucousy thing . . . followed a few hours later with the Yellow Geysers.
The Yellow Geysers, which is exactly what the hellhounds have. Have had for almost seven years. It’s not just the runs, it’s a specific form of the runs.
I am so going to the vets again tomorrow. This changes the entire game, you know? If the totally-non-related, different-frelling-breed Pavlova is going down with the same damn thing that has haunted hellhounds and me for seven years. Whatever it is. Doesn’t it almost have to be parasites?** But WHAT parasites? Hellhounds were exhaustively tested for everything known to veterinary science—when they were first geysering. As my bank balance still remembers.
Meanwhile . . . you’ll forgive me if I don’t burble on tonight. I’m not feeling very burbly anyway, and immediate circumstances include that I got four hours of sleep last night. Er. ‘Night.’ Starting about 6:40 this morning. . . .
* * *
* I can’t starve her or she eats her bedding.^ She gets a little rice boiled to mush in chicken stock after an acute attack. This week she’s been on chicken as well as chicken stock and rice.
^ She’s in my lap+ as I write this.++ She’s trying to eat the left mid-thigh of my jeans which I appear to have spilled something INTERESTING on.+++
+ It’s okay. Hellhounds had a sofa earlier.
++ One-handed typing oh joy. What price voice recognition software that actually, you know, recognises, rather than expressing its unique creativity?
+++ No, she’s gone to sleep with her nose on the wet spot she’s been licking. Maybe it will give her tasty dreams.
** Unless I’m the vector.^ Toxic hellgoddess. Yellow Geyser Mary. I also don’t see any escape from the articulated lorry-load of GUILT when—that’s when—we finally find out what this is.
^ And in case anyone is trying to think of a tactful way of making an inquiry of a personal nature . . . I was diagnosed with IBS over thirty years ago, before anyone had frelling heard of it, including me. And Digestive Issues are dead common with people with ME. If this is a trans-species parasite I wouldn’t have a clue. I wouldn’t know normal if it bit me.
I’m still pretty haunted by yesterday’s news* but it’s been another mild spring day, remember those?, we used to have ’em, and I’ve been out in the garden for the second day in a row.** It completely baffles me why some things live and some die. Take pansies. I adore pansies and I can usually rely on getting one good season out of them . . . but my record on keeping them going is PATHETIC and only slowly improving. I’ve finally got a mat of those ‘wild’ pansies with big heart-shaped leaves and little toothy faces growing in a big pot in a corner whose main element has died, and I’m afraid to disturb the frelling pansies by putting something else in. It took me about three tries to get these things going—and they’re supposed to be tough as old boots and will grow and thrive anywhere. No. Wrong. This lot is dark pink which is, of course, excellent, but I’d have their pale-pink sisters too . . . but I think I’ve given up. Rebecca*** is a big favourite. I have four of her in a big pot. One of them is insanely hearty. One of them is not too bad. One of them is a weedy little thing. One of them is dead. WHY? IT’S THE SAME POT.
On the other hand my eremurus robustus† is still alive. WHY? They’re frelling tricky plants†† and I was out of my tiny mind to buy it in the first place—they’re also not cheap. I did try to plant it correctly but, eh, I can’t even get four of the same pansies in a pot to flourish simultaneously, why should a notorious ratbag do anything but croak at the earliest opportunity? It didn’t flower last year but it grew. And then it disappeared over the winter and I thought yup, right—and was thinking about putting a rose in that big pot††† when today . . . IT’S ALIVE. And I was absolutely thrilled to discover that my clematis Arctic Queen‡ IS STILL ALIVE. She has kept getting buried by the frelling gigantic Fantin Latour‡‡ which I moved up to Third House this winter, but Fantin wasn’t delighted with the experience and the ground she came out of got pretty torn up. I wasn’t expecting Arctic Queen to have survived. BUT SHE DID. So I fed her and put a copper ring around her to discourage slugs, which adore young clematis stems above almost anything but your lettuces and strawberries, and did a small not-ground-disturbing dance of joy on what passes for the path between the beds.
There are a few advantages to ghastly cold springs. The slug population is not what it should be in mid-April. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. But my real triumph, not that it has anything to do with me, it’s just the luck of circumstance: I haven’t seen a single horrid red disgusting lily beetle AND MY GARDEN IS FULL OF FRITILLARIES.‡‡‡ Pretty much for the first time ever, in the eight years I’ve been at the cottage. First I had to get them established—which in this case was not that difficult—and then the lily beetle scourge settled in. But apparently lily beetles don’t like the cold. Now that’s worth disturbing a little ground to dance for.
* * *
You know one of those three people who died was an eight-year-old boy who was there to watch his dad run? And that his mother and his six-year-old sister are ‘seriously’ injured, which probably means they had bits blown off. Imagine what it’s going to be like for that family now.
I was sitting sadly on my stool by the Aga this morning, which is where I usually do my first praying (as well as tea-drinking) of the day, and thinking about Boston, and feeling useless. Ask me in six months or ten years, but it seems to me that prayer comforts the pray-er partly because if you manage to make contact with the prayer-space (and it’s not a given that you’re going to, every time: sometimes all you can do is go through the motions—and I’ve been told this by people who’ve been doing it a long time, so it’s not just my inexperience) you know it’s all one, that the great mystical Oneness is true. Because you’re there. It’s like walking into a tree. Wham. Yup. Tree. Bark. Leaves. Feet in the dirt, head in the sky. You’re not going to argue about it. And your praying itself—my praying anyway—becomes less a doing something^ than a being there, another witnessing, I suppose, as you might sit by the bedside of someone who’s ill or hurt or dying, or walk the dog and pick up the post and bring cups of tea and not say useless things to someone who’s grieving. Which is a doing without doing, if you like. What you want is to be able to fix it, whatever it is. You can’t. But you can be there.
Still. Being there for hundreds of people you don’t know who are three thousand miles away feels like a fairly tall order. And then I remembered that St Margaret’s has a prayer chain. You can ask for stuff to be prayed for. So I rang Lotte and she wrote it down and then said, in the same gentle voice she’d used when she’d pointed out I’d be eligible to become a member of St Margaret’s if I wanted to, Would I like to become a member of the prayer chain myself?
Oh. Yeep. Yes. Yeep, but yes.
Well, that’s going to make me frelling focus. . . .
^ Although that’s another big plus for the pray-er. When you want to do something and there isn’t anything you can do, for whatever reason . . . yes there is. You can pray. And while I realise this in itself isn’t going to convert anybody this is a very great thing—as every member of every religion that includes prayer knows. Helplessness, uselessness is totally the worst.
** AND THERE IS PROGRESS ON THE WALL. I forgot to bring my frelling camera with me today when I went back to the cottage from the mews after lunch. Arrrrrrgh. But there WILL BE PHOTOS.
*** Who looks like this: http://www.perryhillnurseries.co.uk/Catalogue/Perennials/images/Resized_ViolaRebecca.jpg
They’re big magnificent-looking things. But these look white which they aren’t. Here’s a close up that gives you a better idea of the colour:
†† If you read the gardenersworld.com description you’ll notice it says ‘skill level—experienced’. Chiefly I’m experienced in being ripped to shreds by roses^, and watching things die.
^ I was thinking again today, while bleeding freely, why do we DO it? Why do we grow frelling roses? Why is it WORTH THE PAIN? Dunno. But I wouldn’t be without them. I just scream a lot.
††† I seem to have more roses to find places for.
‘Skill level experienced’? Piffle. Most clematis are easy. They like their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun, and you must not muck about with their roots, but beyond that if you keep them fed and watered they’ll do fine. We won’t, however, get into the, you should forgive the term, thorny question of pruning categories.
Here’s a better idea of the bush
All the Fantins I’ve ever seen have been substantially bigger than what they tell you on the rose sites. Mine had easily six and a half foot stems . . . in several directions.
‡‡‡ http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Rosemoor/About-Rosemoor/Plant-of-the-month/April/Fritillaria-meleagris Love love love. I have a few white ones too. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/sep/07/plant-offer-snakes-head-fritillary
You’ll forgive me if I don’t witter on in my standard manner tonight. I came indoors from moving (slowly) around the cottage garden this afternoon and (naturally) checked email and Twitter feed . . . and discovered the latter unrolling in a long awful list of what’s going on in Boston.
I’m cross-eyed from clicking on links and reading the same bad news: two explosions at the finish line of the marathon, at least two dead and ‘many’ injured. If you’ve been out in the garden too and then have come indoors to feed your critters and your family and put your feet up and have a nice restful evening, and therefore haven’t immediately turned on the news or checked your Twitter feed: Google it for yourself, and I’m sorry about your restful evening. Any link I post will be out of date by the time you read this.
I am, of course, thinking of 9/11, sitting on the sofa clutching a pillow and three whippets, watching the BBC banner streaming across the bottom of the TV screen—I never saw the towers falling, there was just (just!) a still photo of the first airplane striking, and I’ve never wanted to look at archive footage since. All my friends were okay—Hannah and Merrilee and my editors and various other mostly publishing people—but they were all fearfully shaken and they all knew someone who wasn’t okay.
I lived in downtown Boston for two years right after BEAUTY, my first book, came out. I was in my mid-twenties and in some ways discovering the world for the first time. Boston was a lovely place to do that discovering in.
Two of my oldest friends live in Boston: friends from those days. I’ve emailed both—the news keeps telling you to text, the bandwidth is better, but my friends and are old and I don’t even have text numbers for them, although I’ve just about learnt to text—and, bless the email angels and my friends, I got answers pretty quickly: they’re fine. Our own mod Gryphyn is fine; Jodi’s agent is fine.
But there are people who very much aren’t fine.
Someone RT’d a tweet reminding us to remember this, happening at home or close to home for a lot of us, the next time we read of something similar happening somewhere else in the world, which is home to those people, even if we don’t know any of them. Yes. Absolutely. But tonight I’m thinking of Boston.
What a world.
I seem to be very tired.* And I cancelled my voice lesson because I have that half-laryngitis when you croak like a frog except when your voice disappears entirely for a word or two.** I didn’t even go ringing tonight. I must be ill. Well, yes. But the main thing is that SHADOWS has taken one of those semi-predictable lurches on the conveyor-belt of the publishing process when it, I don’t know, gets caught in the gap between Conveyor Belt #1 and Conveyor Belt #2 or the Conveyor Belt Technician missed her grab or something, and suddenly THINGS ARE HAPPENING.
TELL THINGS TO STOP HAPPENING. I AM A POOR SAD SICK WEARY THING.
Since I didn’t have a singing lesson to go to and since staying at home brooding about THINGS HAPPENING would probably only make my head explode and because a little gentle distraction is often a good way to make the brain produce useful suggestions rather than bloodshot gibberish, Wolfgang and I went off to buy compost*** and to check out the pet warehouse for a car harness for the hellterror.† And while I was there I cruised the food since I now have a dog that eats††, although I was particularly looking at the snacky, treaty, bribey type things and . . . WTF, you dog-food industry, and you dog owners supporting the dog-food industry, WHY do so many treats have SUGAR or other sweeteners in them?? Yes. I read labels. I know it’s impossible to keep your kid off sweets once he/she gets old enough to hang out with his/her friends, but your DOG? Your dog is under YOUR control. It doesn’t have much opportunity to develop non-standard bad habits, like a sweet tooth, unless you let it. Frelling frelling frell frell frell. Well. We’re still good with the plaited fish skin and the venison jerky.
My mentor/trainer of blessed memory used to think I was a TOTAL wuss and despaired of me ever training anything because I wouldn’t tuck dried liver (or some other dog appropriate treat) into the corner of my mouth and either spit it directly at the dog or at least eliminate several seconds of reaching-into-pocket-getting-treat. An advantage of having the treats in your mouth is that the dogs will REALLY REALLY look at you since food occasionally falls from your face.
I realise this is supposed to be disgusting and several other people on the forum have responded as such but . . . this makes me laugh and laugh. Yes, that would certainly make the hellterror look at me.††† No, the disgustingness doesn’t bother me all that much, but the HYGIENE does. Most dog food has FOR ANIMAL USE ONLY stamped all over it, dogs are perfectly happy eating . . . well, never mind . . . and in catering to this floor-licking species I doubt that there’s a lot of exacting enforcement of sanitation in the average dog food factory. And you’re supposed to put this stuff in YOUR mouth? What is stopping YOUR saliva from saying, oh, hey, LIVER, and briskly attacking it in a digestive sort of way? —Aside from the drool factor. Not that your hellterror is going to care in the least about being spat on, at least if it’s liver flavoured spit . . . sorry. I can see my faithful readers deleting the blog addy in frenzied numbers . . . or frenziedly, in numbers . . . whatever. And I’m allergic to venison, and Pav is slightly more partial to dried venison than she is to ANYTHING I allow her to find edible, which is approximately everything I don’t take away from her before she swallows it.
Speaking of treats however has anyone tried dried sweet potato? Sounded like a great idea. But in practise, at the point that it gets really really really gooey, it starts sticking to the roof of your hellterror’s mouth. We had a supernaturally delightful half hour a day or two ago with her in my lap so I could claw the blasted sweet potato OFF the roof of her mouth again every thirty seconds or so. She didn’t want to give it up, mind, and it seemed unfair to take it away from her, when she was clearly having such a good time, including all this jolly interaction with the hellgoddess. Ew. I think desiccated liver would be preferable.
I still haven’t found an answer to THINGS HAPPENING. And I think I’m too tired‡ to try to figure out the car harness tonight.
* * *
* Also, never mind Margaret Thatcher. Annette Funicello died.^
One of the things I find interesting is that she kept the Funicello. Did no one ever lean on her to change it to Fulham or Fulbright? This is the era when Margarita Carmen Cansino became Rita Hayworth and Bernard Schwartz Tony Curtis.^^
^ And you all know Roger Ebert died? Nooooooo. I haven’t been keeping up with this—the main thing is he’s dead, and we don’t get him back+—but hadn’t he written that long, funny, poignant, typically-Roger essay about his ‘leave of presence’ literally a day before he died? How does that work?
+ Although this is a situation where Christianity does offer a Band-Aid. I can think of him getting his face back and being able to talk to people again.
^^ Although Marion Morrison may have changed his for other reasons than ethnicity.
** Sometimes this is a blessing, depending on the word.
*** I have roses to plant. Fancy.
† She only still fits in her travelling crate because she thinks she does, rather the way she still fits on my lap. Although she’s delighted to get in the crate^ because there is (almost) always FOOOOOOOD in the back of it, but some day she’s going to stretch injudiciously and the seams are going to pop, like the Incredible Hulk emerging from Bruce Banner^^. But a bigger crate won’t fit on the back seat next to the hellhounds, even if the three of them got on famously there is NO room even for an undersized Yorkie in the hellhound box, and I have a strange aversion to filling the ENTIRE CAR with canine containment units, since the new bigger hellterror crate would have to go in the boot.
^ Which just by the way is a total piece of crap and I will be GLAD to find a way to dispense with its services. It’s one of these where there are pegs that fit into holes which hold the door grate in place, and there are teeny-tiny handles that you open or close so you can open or close the door. THE FRELLING PEGS ARE TOO FRELLING SHORT SO THE DOOR IS ALWAYS FALLING OUT. Why the hellterror has not figured this out and made my life a misery/forced me to bungie-cord the door to keep her in I have no idea, except possibly that she is fond of the crate because of fooooood thing and as long as she stays in this Place of Snacks there might be more.
^^ And speaking of things I don’t keep up with, what does happen about clothing when Banner hulks out? Does Brucie wear spandex under everything, just in case?
†† Sigh. Hellhound eating is a major issue—again—at present, and Pav is proving the perfect Sucker Up of Remains. Nothing edible goes to waste with a hellterror available.
††† And the hellhounds look away.
‡ I also had a long conversation with Theodora and her daughter about the wall, and I had Pav with me, in their beautiful, tidy sitting room with the fragile objets d’art scattered around. Since she’s much better about dangling than she is about sitting still when she has her feet on the floor, I had her tucked under an arm. Under one arm, over my hip, and holding her rear feet with my other hand behind my back, since my coat didn’t have pockets in the right places for her to put her feet in. She followed the conversation with great attention and courtesy—I think some of why she’s so good at dangling is she likes being taller. At ankle level EVERYTHING IS GOING ON WAY OVER HER HEAD—but I’m not sure my right arm will recover. I’m afraid to weigh her again, I might lose my nerve.
John Burrow—Diana Wynne Jones’ lovely husband—rang me up about two months ago and said they were doing a memorial service for her, and would I speak at it? Only five minutes, he said, there would be several speakers. My first impulse was to say no—of course I wanted to come, but I wasn’t sure I could speak. I asked if I could think it over. And then rang him back and said yes.
It was today. It has been looming rather awfully in my mind this past week—especially after I found out it was going to take six earth spirits and a papal intervention to make the journey happen: British Rail shuts down on weekends. They put up a lot of ‘works’ signs and claim to be laying on buses to cover the suspended routes . . . but in fact they all go to Blackpool and eat ice-creams (in the summer) and play poker (in the winter) and standard rail disservice begins again Monday morning. The line I used to take when I was visiting Diana that last year wasn’t running at all and everything else seemed to be bristling with warnings and delays and dubious ‘status’.
But we got there. Cathy came along but spent the day being a tourist. (She had such a good time we may have to do it together on her next visit.) I spent about three hours listening to some of the people who loved Diana talk about her, and watching the slide show of her life that her family had put together for background. During the tea break when you went downstairs there was a gigantic circular tower made of copies of her books, and Photostats of handwritten manuscript pages, and the sight of her handwriting made my heart turn over.
It was very simple. There were about twenty of us who spoke, and in a group that large, you’re going to have one or two duds. We didn’t have any duds*. That in itself seems to me to say something pretty remarkable about the people Diana attracted. There were clips from the film of HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE** and from interviews with Diana. The composer of a ballet based on BLACK MARIA (AUNT MARIA in the States) played an excerpt. All three of her sons spoke.
I had to hare out of there and back to the train station almost as soon as it was over, because I wanted to make the long drive home in daylight. And I’m so shattered I may not get out of bed at all tomorrow.***
But I’m glad I went. And this is what I said:
* * *
Diana was my first real writer friend—or perhaps I remember her as first because she is such a blazing star in my memory. I shifted publishers between my first book and my second, and my new editor, Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books, asked me if I knew Diana Wynne Jones’ work. This was in the early ‘80s, and Diana wasn’t yet well known in America. Susan had brought out CHARMED LIFE a year or two before. She thrust a copy in my hands. ‘You will like this,’ she said.
That was an understatement. I was in the book’s thrall by the end of the first paragraph—and in Diana’s for life. I moved to New York City shortly after the mind-altering experience of my first Diana Wynne Jones book and Susan, bless her, invited me to meet Diana the next time she was in town. Diana wouldn’t have had to be half the charming and fascinating human being she was to knock me over. But she was that charming and fascinating—even goofy with jet lag and culture shock. She was manifestly a wizard of enormous powers.
I remember the first time toiling up the vertical slope to the house she, her husband and three sons lived in, here in Bristol, and thinking—dimly, through the roar of the blood in my ears—that it was of course suitable that a wizard of enormous powers lived on a mountain. (I also remember them taking me downhill to their local, and falling off my bar stool. Even the beer was stronger when Diana sat on the next stool.)
There were long hiatuses in our relationship because I was a better worshipper than I was a friend. But she was always there, wise and funny, intimidatingly well-read and terrifyingly intelligent—and there were the books, the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful books. I have a game I play with my favourite authors—I don’t read their newest book till the next one comes out. I won’t be able to play that game with Diana any more.
I live only about two hours away by train (except on Sundays, when it becomes three or four). I came here several times, the last year of Diana’s life, and she fed me lunch. I’m as tricky to feed as she was, and she catered to my oddities with kindness and aplomb. One of my favourite memories of those visits was the lemon meringue unpie: she found out I loved lemon meringue pie, but could no longer eat flour. And so the unpie was born: a glorious great tureen of lemon meringue, tactfully missing out the crust.
I think we may all be little children about the people we love. It is easy to say ‘I can’t believe she’s gone’, and the phrase is a cliché because it has been true so often, of so many much-loved people. I find myself thinking that if maybe I don’t read that last book, the one I can’t read till the next one comes out, maybe, somehow, she won’t be gone, because she’ll have to write that next book for me, for all of us.
* * *
One of Diana’s sisters read the first chapter of the book Diana left unfinished when she died. It’s amazing. It’s—it’s one of Diana’s opening chapters, that grab you and make the world go away because you’re wholly caught by the world on the page. We can’t not know what happens. . . .
* * *
* Okay, spare my blushes and all, but I can give a speech with embarrassing anyone. Probably.
** Which I still haven’t seen because it’s not the book.
*** I have to hurtle hounds, sing, and ring bells. Feh. Cathy has offered to wake me up by singing ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ and I suggested that if she wants to live. . . .