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.
I got caught talking to Peter for the first time the other day. That I know of, I mean. I’ve been talking to him in the churchyard, of course, since the unnecessarily grand ashes box went into the ground, what, is it three weeks ago now? Even if it’s no more than hey, how’s it going, as some hurtle-shift or other passes at speed because I’m late, as usual, for the next thing, whatever it is, I still take a loop off the main path to say hello and check how the current rose is doing.* So half the town may already be aware that the Dickinson widow chats to her husband, but then, she’s a little loony, maybe it’s being an American?**
But the first time I noticed being caught talking to Peter was a few days ago. When I told this to a friend she said drily, who was more embarrassed? Well, at the time, I would have said the honours were about even *** but by the time I was taking the hellhounds and my red face briskly in the opposite direction I was thinking wait a minute. This is a churchyard. This must happen all the time! People talking to their departed beloveds† in cemeteries!†† Meanwhile I’d better get used to being caught because it’s going to happen again. And again. My friend suggested that part of my discoverers’ shock was just that this was happening immediately off the main, well travelled, path through the churchyard—there’s perhaps an unconscious assumption that people who are going to speak to the dead are going to do it in the tucked-away parts of churchyards. And this churchyard has tucked-away places. I originally thought I’d want to have him in one of those, but I changed my mind.††† I like him where I’m going to walk past him every day. And my friend—who knew Peter—agreed. That’s the path he walked on every day to go buy his newspaper.‡ And he was always interested in what was going on, what people were doing. It’s a good spot.
* * *
* This is supposed to be a CAPTION.
* Some day it will NOT be a rose. Some day. Not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not next week either. Although if our little village florist ever had really fabulous sunflowers the day the current rose needs replacing I might well go for a fabulous sunflower . . . which would probably look very peculiar in the plastic spike-vase . . . eh. The unexpected confusions of looking after a grave. But it’s not like it’s something you think ahead about. What I Will Do If I Ever Have An Important Grave to Look After. We even knew that the statistical probability was very strong that I would be looking after his grave some day. Did we think about it? No.^ Also, you don’t get cut clematis the way you get cut roses—clematis are just not a cut-flower plant. And Peter being a clematis man leaves me free to do my worst. Which means roses. And maybe a sunflower once a year.
^ There is an argument that Peter knew perfectly well that I would buy a spike-vase and put roses in it, and didn’t see the need to say anything.
** The country that has elected Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for the presidency, greater, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding, shrieking proof of national looniness is not possible.
I’m also a fantasy writer of course, but I don’t think most of the locals pay this any attention. My being an American is in your face—or your ear—the minute I say anything. Most of them don’t task me with Trump, however. Maybe they can see the blood in my eye if they unwarily attempt to bring politics into the conversation. Maybe they just realise I must be a liberal, I wear All Stars.
People are funny though.^ There are people I would have expected to phone me occasionally or put a postcard through the door or something, saying ‘thinking of you, hope you’re doing okay’ or thereabouts. I don’t need casseroles^^ and I don’t go to parties^^^ but contact might have been nice. Which in some cases isn’t happening. Oh. Okay. It’s not like I don’t have friends who are keeping a close eye on me^^^^. The cold draught I constantly feel is about absence of Peter, not absence of friends and friendly support.^^^^^ And some people I would not have expected to take an interest, do. Still. Odd.
^ Make a note.
^^ Which would almost certainly be full of things I can’t eat anyway
^^^ Except I am going to one on Wednesday. A cocktail party. A large cocktail party. I have clearly taken leave of my few remaining senses. But it’s being held at the beautiful old country house where we had Peter’s memorial and I want to go back there for the first time since then and get it over with. And it is a beautiful old country house with glorious parkland, and I shall wear All Stars and having had my token glass of . . . mineral water and said hello to at least three people, I shall go for a walk before Wolfgang takes me home.
^^^^ YES I’M EATING. But as I’ve said before, eliminate meat, sugar and alcohol—and butter, my one remaining dairy product—and it suddenly becomes surprisingly difficult not to lose weight. Especially if you were a serious sugar junkie, which I was.+ Aggravated in my case by the fact that I’m an ex-fat person who learnt to deal with the fact that I gain weight easily and had what I thought was an ineradicable addiction to chocolate and other sweet things, including remarkable amounts of sugar in my remarkably strong black tea, AND champagne. So my mindset for the last forty years has been the ‘push yourself away from the table while you’re still hungry I mean NOW’ thing to make room for the sugar and the chocolate and the butter and the champagne, and a cemented-in for additional security mindset is HARD to change after forty years. So I keep having these conversations with myself that go, wait, you’re not going to eat ALL those nuts, are you? Nuts are VERY HIGH CALORIE. —YES. EAT THE NUTS. EAT ALL THE NUTS. YOU CAN FRELLING USE THE CALORIES. Wait, no, no, you aren’t going to eat an entire avocado, are you? YES. I AM. I AM GOING TO EAT AN ENTIRE AVOCADO.
+ And yes, I thought I was going to endure the tortures of the damned, eliminating sugar. I didn’t. I get a little WISTFUL# sometimes but major cravings and all that? Nope. My body I guess was just ready. It’s a lot more of a grown-up than the rest of me.
# You know what I really miss? Being able to treat myself. A hard afternoon sweating through the ‘two for one’ table at Waterstones and I want a sit-down and a cup of tea before I go home. Green tea is now fashionable enough that it’s usually not too difficult finding a tea shop that serves green. But I can’t do the sticky cake any more. And it’s not the cake I miss nearly so much, it’s the treat. If you follow me. At least if I go with someone they can have the sticky cake and the shop needn’t feel it’s wasting its table on me.
^^^^^ WHICH I TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY, GROVELLINGLY APPRECIATE. This directed at anyone reading this blog who is wondering sadly if I’m ever going to acknowledge their card/letter/email. Yes. You’re on the list. Eight months is nothing, I’m afraid, to a disorganised, ME-riddled loony.+
+ I probably shouldn’t admit this, but speaking of disorganised loonies, yesterday I discovered a little cache of letters I wrote in . . . March. That ahem didn’t get sent ahem. Sigh.
*** I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing that I’ve never seen them before. It’s tourist season and it’s a pretty churchyard. I was adding local colour. And the hellhounds are very decorative. If I want an actual chat I take the hellhounds. Pav isn’t so great at hanging out. Although she has recently taken to hucklebutting like a dervish in the little clear space in front of Peter’s grave, which I hope he is finding entertaining.
† Of whatever kind, variety, relationship or flavour
†† It happens in the graveyard where Miri’s grandfather is buried, in Hellhound.
††† And fortunately the vicar agreed. Thank you, God. Thank you, lovely vicar.
‡ My little cul de sac is kind of around the corner from the churchyard, although it’s a short corner. Third House really is slap on the other side of the churchyard from the centre of town. Have I told you that one of the weirder comments from a potential house buyer was that she really liked the house ‘but it was too near the churchyard’? What? She reads too much Stephen King or something?
Not counting poor Third House I now have three gardens: the four-burner Aga size behind the cottage, the hall cupboard large enough for one unlined raincoat and a pair of All Stars if you pile one on top of the other size behind the Lodge, and a ragged grassy square about the size of the palm of my hand* in a corner between two ancient, falling-down sarcophagi in the churchyard twenty seconds from my front door. Since Peter was a clematis man I’m eyeing the sarcophagi and wondering if anyone would mind if I planted a clematis next to the gravestone–there will be a gravestone eventually–and tossed it over them as it got going. One each possibly. I’m afraid to ask what the rules about churchyard planting are since I’m sure I won’t like them.
I do have photos from yesterday but I think they may be maudlin. If I decide they aren’t maudlin I’ll think about posting them next 26 July. This one is probably maudlin too but I’m incapable of believing that a photo of a red rose is ever inappropriate**. Something I didn’t tell you yesterday because I was already too deranged is that I threw my wedding bouquet in the bottom of the hole before the box went in.*** My bouquet was the one a-little-bit sad thing about our wedding: we left for London almost immediately after the registrar finished declaring us husband and wife so I only had it about two hours; we’d only picked it up on our way to the registrar’s office. But I knew I wanted to dry it so I could keep it, so I hung it upside-down in the kitchen before we left, and it was toast by the time we got back.† It’s been sitting in a particular china pitcher for the last twenty four and a half years but I knew I wanted to bury it with him.†† Although that empty pitcher is now very eye-catching.
I wanted to say one more thing about all of this. I’m not mythologizing–much. I’m telling you the truth–my truth–about death and grief the way I have always tried to tell you the truth about anything I write here: but all public blog truths are consciously selective truths and I’m a professional writer. Peter was not a perfect human being and you already know with knobs on that I’m not a perfect human being. In some very important ways we were a gloriously, life-enhancingly, ridiculously well-matched couple. In some other very important ways we didn’t get on at all. Everyone is a control freak about something, and our control freakeries did not integrate well. And I’m stubborn, but I have nothing on Peter; I keep remembering that I called him ‘monolithic’ in my memorial piece. Yes. I’m (ahem) volatile and (ahem) reactive, not to say overreactive, um, yes, let’s say overreactive, and Peter was a proper British gentleman who reverted to type under stress. As I grieve I am not remembering a halcyon, glittering marriage with twinkling stars and fluffy bunnies–NO BUNNIES–with twinkling stars and dancing centaurs with rhinestone-studded hooves††† that went on and on in days full of unbroken golden sunlight‡ and the smell of roses, even in January. And the last two years were grim. But we loved each other and we did our best. And I miss him horribly.
* * *
* I have big hands.
** Or a pink rose, or a white rose, or . . .
*** I’d been expecting some little cardboard number, just something to transport the ashes to the ground where they could become one with tree roots and earthworms, but it was this disturbingly classy wooden box with a plaque with his name on it. Eeep. It looks like the kind of thing you keep on the mantelpiece to discourage visitors. If ash receptacles were discussed when we were first arranging the funeral, including indecorous details like the practical disposal of a dead body, I completely spaced on it, but I’m doing a lot of that. We got the British-made woven-willow coffin right, and the flowers, and that’s what counts to me.
† We had dinner at a blisteringly grand restaurant in Knightsbridge that doesn’t seem to exist any more and I kept looking across the table and thinking, you mean I get to keep him?, spent the night at the Ritz, yah hoo whammy^, spent another night in London to go to the opera^^ and then drove to Cornwall for the rest of our honeymoon. I’ve told you this story, right? Peter said, so, where would you like to go for the honeymoon? France? Italy? Japan? Er, I said. Cornwall?
^ They give you a bottle of complementary champagne if you say you’ve just got married.^ I still have the bottle. You’re not surprised, I hope.
^ I assume they check? Otherwise this system seems to me rife with possibility of misuse by the champagne-loving crowd who can afford the Ritz’s prices. Spend £1,000,000,000 on a room and get a £50 bottle of champagne FREE!
^^ Turandot, because that’s what was on, not because I wanted to see Turandot, the plot of which makes me chew the wallpaper particularly hard. I’m reasonably sure I’ve done a Turandot rant on these pages. But, you know, opera, on your honeymoon. Yessssssss. Hey, it wasn’t me! Peter suggested it! Because he was lovely and adorable and kind and thoughtful when he wasn’t being totally frelling impossible.
†† Note that dried flowers as they get older and frailer, because I didn’t treat these with anything that would make them last, become increasingly undustable, and removing sticky cobwebs? Forget it.
††† You may have guessed I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
‡ This was happening in England after all.
Part of the problem is that I don’t know what to say to you—to the blog. The Blog Persona, already crumbly at the edges since Peter’s first stroke, disintegrated when he died. It was based on a few simple facts including that I was married to a lovely mad Englishman named Peter. You yank a cornerstone like that out from under a house—even a fairground funhouse*—and it goes down with a crash.
I assume I will bolt together a new Blog Persona out of scavenged fragments of the old—like Peter building the kitchen at the old house out of bits scrounged from the tip and the side of the road waiting for dustbin pick up**—although the broken funhouse mirrors may be a problem. But while both blog and I are a trifle moribund . . . it’s hard to know what to say, to demonstrate signs of life. I don’t much want to hammer you with my bottom line, which is I go to bed every night bewilderedly aware of not having seen or told Peter about my day, and that I’m not going to see him or tell him about my day tomorrow either, nor twist his arm to come to the opera with me, or say that I’ve discovered a new tea shop and we should give it a try. I never come home from any outing without wanting to tell Peter about it, and I still haven’t managed to stick a sock in the instinct that says, as I’m riffling through the local paper or reading the notices outside the village hall, oh! Peter might enjoy that!***
It’s not just the idiosyncratic, not to say aberrant, I that writes the blog. All of I doesn’t feel like myself any more. None of me feels like myself any more. I feel like someone else. Someone I’d rather not feel like. I didn’t realise the fairies went in for late-middle-aged changelings.
And just by the way I still can’t read his books. I was granted a stay of execution while we were pulling the memorial service together but since then just looking at a favourite dust jacket gives me the wombles. I’m probably going to have an interesting time when I can finally spare Atlas from building shelves at the Lodge and hacking back the jungle at Third House† and he can put up the shelves he’s already built on the One Remaining Blank Wall at the cottage, which is due to contain as many of my copies of Peter’s books as a single wall can hold.
But all of this is not to say there isn’t life-continuing stuff going on, it’s just that it’s all going on through a filter of Peter.††
For example, long term readers of this blog, who are therefore well aware that I think SHAKESPEARE IS OVERRATED, will be fascinated to hear that I signed up to read a sonnet at the Shakespeare Sonnet Gala this past Saturday the 23rd of April 400th anniversary yatta yatta yatta, run by some muscular local poetry society that puts on festivals and generally makes iamb pentameteric trouble in the area. I can’t remember how I happened to fall over the web site advertising that they were looking for 154 ordinary members of the public to read 154 sonnets but I did. First I laughed a lot and then I thought, you know, even though it’s Shakespeare, I like the idea of involving the hoi polloi with high literature, especially because one of the things that makes me a little crazy is that Shakespeare was writing for the hoi polloi, will you stop making him some kind of ornament to academe? So I signed up.†††
This epic occurred at the big central library‡. They cleared out the fiction section‡‡ so we were plonked down in the middle of everything with stacks on one side of us and the café on the other, and people streaming back and forth along the usual passageways, which is the way live poetry events should be, you know? It wasn’t quite a flash mob but it was maybe a close relative.
Most of us readers were okay. I was okay. If the RSC had a talent scout in the audience I was not on his/her short list but I was okay.‡‡‡ I didn’t have to go home and drown myself.§ I left during a break, and while I was stuffing my KNITTING back in my knapsack a woman came hesitantly up to me. Are you Robin McKinley? she said.§§ Yes, I said, blinking in surprise. What are the chances that in a group of thirty or so random British readers one of them would know my name? Dismal.
I just wanted to tell you I love your books, she said. And so does my daughter.
Suddenly, standing there clutching my knitting, Shakespeare seemed like a really great idea. You’ve just made my day, I said to her. I’m glad I came.
* * *
* Not the frelling TV show, which is way after my time.
** ARRRRRRGH. MEN.
*** What age I’m remembering him at varies. I almost immediately reverted to thinking of him when he was young and lively—so ahem about the age I am now ahem which is not young AHEM and at the moment significantly unlively as well—when I’m just thinking of him—sorry to be unclear, any of you who’ve been through it^ will know what I mean. My cornerstone Peter is the young [sic] one. The one I talk to in my head is the young one. But a lot of the looking-for-outings instinct is recent, and immediately after the, Peter might enjoy that!, is the, can I do it alone or do we need a third person to come too in case the ground/parking/seating/gargoyle raids are worse than I expect?
^ It being not merely the death, but the hideous decline and death of someone so inextricably and intrinsically mixed up with your molecules that you can’t really imagine living without them, even if you are, somehow, breathing and so on.
† Which is still not officially on the market, although it’s occasionally being shown unofficially, but we’re getting there which is to say it’s now cleared out enough that I’ve rung the housecleaning service . . . which is not getting back to me, festering festering festering ARRRRRGH.
†† Also . . . the ME is well beyond mere ratbaggery and has plunged into the flamingly demonic. As I keep saying to people who want to know how I am, I don’t have good days and bad days I have good minutes and bad minutes and I never know when I’m going to be in the middle of a sentence and my mind will not merely go blank but shut down, lock itself up and pull the plug. Or that I’m out hurtling over the countryside and not merely have to stop to lean against a tree, but sit down, put my head between my knees, and wonder if I’m going to make it back to Wolfgang. Or if I care. No, wait, the hellmob would care. One of the first things I did after Peter died was stop carrying Pooka with me everywhere because why? Being attached at the hip to my iPhone was a Peter-related emergency thing which was no longer an issue. But I’ve started taking her with me again^ just in case I am an emergency one day. Grief with ME: avoid.
But this whole quadruply-cursed journey of the Effect of Grief and Trauma on Physical and Mental Health deserves a post all by itself. Short form: I’m off ALL SUGAR AND ALCOHOL. No CHOCOLATE!!!^^ NO CHAMPAGNE!!!!!
It doesn’t bear thinking about. So mostly I don’t think about it. Pity I can’t instruct my mind to shut up and lock itself in a cupboard on demand.
^ Erm. When I remember.
^^ So, please note, you kind people who keep giving me chocolate . . . the monks are delighted.
††† If you’re interested, they gave me # 101. I went for snarky, since himself is being snarky, and I can relate to being snarky at one’s dratblasted Muse.
‡ Where Peter and I used to go every week. Our best, most reliable regular outing. Sigh.
‡‡ And stashed it in the theatre. Snork.
‡‡‡ The best reader I heard—I listened to about thirty sonnets, I think, whilst knitting frantically^—was a tiny little old lady who wandered up on the dais like she was thinking about her next cup of tea and sauntered through her sonnet like having a conversation with a friend. It was one of those moments when what all those rudely mechanical actors are prating on about How to Perform Shakespeare suddenly comes to life. You really can make Shakespeare sound like a conversation with a friend. If you’re really good. Which, just by the way, I think most professional actors, including the Famous Shakespearean Ones, are not. They eat the scenery unforgivably and make me want to throw things and scream.
^ The kid’s due NEXT WEEK. I’m not going to make it. I’m four-fifths done! Plus the frelling sewing-up, however, which is sure to manifest unpleasant surprises.
§ I did however have to sit through the cream-faced loon of an introducer saying how nice it was to hear people with different accents doing Shakespeare. BITE ME.
§§ This is not as nuts as it sounds. I had signed up and was on the list as Robin McKinley Dickinson, not only because I have no idea what I’m going to do with my name in the long term but also because Peter was the Shakespearean in this household.
§§§ And if I’d had my wits about me I’d’ve asked her^ what else she’d been reading lately that was good. I’m always in the market for books to read like I need more books. Like I need to go to the library every week and check out more books. Still. I would have asked her if I’d thought of it in time.
^ Because she looked nice. Like someone you could have a cup of tea with and a good wrangle about books.+
+ As anyone who has ever been to a book convention or belonged to a book club knows, further common ground cannot be carelessly assumed with someone who merely happens to like the same books you do. Or possibly that you wrote.
# Although of course I wanted to go home and tell Peter. . . .
So last 7 September Peter had a second stroke.* And he was clearly much weaker than after his first, and while he did regain some strength, he stayed very frail. He moved to Rivendell. There were some discussions between us and among the family about bringing him ‘home’ with 24/7 care; I was against this—as Peter knew—I way preferred having him somewhere with 24/7 medical care on the premises** and also the constant relentless cycle of staff shift changes*** is a boost—a pathetic boost but still a boost—to morale and energy levels. You know that all that professional cheeriness is professional but it still has an effect. I was nearly as depressed as Peter, even if I could stand up and walk without a steadying hand†. And Rivendell has big open well-lit corridors suitable for people in wheelchairs or walking frames and Third House . . . doesn’t.††
I also felt that while the fashion lately seems to be that people should stay in their own homes if at all possible, coming back to Third House where he used to be able to live independently and wouldn’t be able to any more would be a complete downer—and while the focus is on Peter, the ‘complete downer’ part would include me too.†††
I did suggest day visits back to New Arcadia and Third House but he wasn’t enthusiastic—I assume for some of the same reasons that coming ‘home’ with 24/7 care was less than attractive—and the twice (? I think) we tried it were not a success. A nice sticky cake at a tea shop was a much better outing.‡
If it had been entirely up to me I would have put Third House up for sale immediately and get it over with. But—ahem!—I may be slightly known for rushing into things. I was talked into keeping it a little longer and seeing how things went. And, okay, miracles have been known to happen.
Miracles, as we know, did not happen.
But I wanted to be able to take Peter somewhere that wasn’t professionally run, whether it was Rivendell itself or all the tea shops within Wolfgang’s and my limited driving range. I couldn’t take him home to my cottage; there’s a steep half-flight of stairs up to the front door. Even if I cleared off the thick accumulation of plants in pots on the steps he’d never manage it. Also, assuming that I would later if not sooner sell Third House, I needed ground-floor access for my piano.‡‡
MEANWHILE, the little house, not yet christened the Lodge, had been on the market most of last year. Real estate is funny. This is a desirable area and another house within a thirty seconds’ walk of me went indecently quickly for way too much money recently. And we’re all getting slavering come-hither notices through our mail slots from estate agents saying ARE YOU THINKING OF SELLING YOUR PROPERTY? YOU SHOULD BE, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE WE WANT TO SELL IT FOR YOU. PLEASE RING AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE SO WE CAN DO A VALUATION . . . which will be for a lot more money than the house finally goes on the market for but they don’t mention that and ruin their jolly frolic. But the Lodge is really rather small and most people want at least enough room to swing a hellterror.‡‡‡
I have a bit of history with the now-Lodge. The woman who lived there when I first moved into my cottage was very kind§ and I liked the house itself on sight. When she died I even tried to buy it. McKinley the Real Estate Magnate. Only I failed. But that turned out to be a good thing because I bought Third House later instead. Sigh. Full circle time, bleagh. Spinning in circles just makes you dizzy till you throw up.
So: tiny house. Diagonally across the street—the twisty, potholed, one-lane-wide-with-close-crowding-brick-and-flint-walls-to-emphasise-this-feature street—from me. Barely a second house at all.§§ It’s more the summerhouse at the end of your garden with a full kitchen and occasional traffic problems and not nearly enough rose-bushes. I talked it over with Peter. And he agreed to loan me some of the money from the sale of the mews—remember the mews?—so I could buy the Lodge before someone else woke up and bought it out from under me (again), and I could pay him back after I sold Third House.§§§
Then he died.
I was by then committed to the sale and I don’t know if there’s a ‘compassionate withdrawal’ option in the TOTALLY perverse and screwed-up British property law. But I still wanted the house, to the extent that I wanted anything at that point. My cottage is blinkety-blankety well jammed, never mind that I couldn’t get my piano up the stairs or past the chimney breast, and I was going to want to keep more of Peter’s gear than a whippet-shaped paperweight and a bottle of champagne, which meant I needed somewhere to put it. So I stumbled along, signing my name wherever someone told me to sign my name, and bought another house. Which is why I presently, unwillingly, own three houses.
And this blog post is now at least twice as long as it should be.# I don’t know that I was ever going to get on with clearing out poor Third House toward selling it very quickly but under the circumstances that I am obliged to do it## it’s been going very slowly indeed—rather like getting this post written. But spring is trying sporadically to arrive and it will make all of us feel better, right? That’s one of the things spring is for. Doodah doodah. And I am coming to the end of the clearing-out.### And I will get on with my life.
I keep saying I’m going to post sooner next time. One of these days I’ll be telling the truth. . . .
* * *
* ::starts crying:: It’s not corn-cracker crumbs^ that’s going to do for this laptop, er, ultrabook, it’s being cried on.^^ My tear ducts are going to need replacement soon too. Or a medal for loyal service under intolerable circumstances. Or both.
^ Maize and rice seem to be the only cereal grains I can eat without risking dire reprisals. And I don’t LIKE rice crackers.+
+ Note that I didn’t eat any of Ruby’s high tea. Scones? Clotted cream? Instant Death. But I can still admire.
^^ Crying makes your eyes blur. So you lean forward. Over your keyboard.
** 24/7 care furthermore which has had at least theoretically enough sleep each shift to be able see what they’re looking at, or hear a client buzzer go.
*** See: have had enough sleep
† And there were days when a steadying hand would have been a good thing. Or at least taller dogs.
†† Also . . . I worried kind of a lot about getting one of those 24/7 live-in home-care people that Peter and I could bear to have around TWENTY FOUR FREAKING SEVEN.^ At a place like Rivendell, a staff member you don’t much care for, hey, she’ll be off in a few hours and you may not see her again till next week. Or he, but the staff is mostly female.^^
^ Also—for any of you who haven’t been through this mill—they’re not 24/7. They get at least a couple of hours off every day which isn’t a big deal in your schedule—I spent increasing amounts of time running around doing stuff, Peter’s last two years, out of despair and helplessness, but I was still at Third House more than I was at the cottage—but it’s a big deal in your sense of responsibility. Also your standard, even-remotely-within-budget 24/7 home care person has no more medical training than you do. This would not have done anything good for my already chronic insomnia.
^^ This might make me testier except that most of the admin are women too.
††† Like putting up with the 24/7 carer would be an issue for me too.
‡ And for some of the same reasons as Rivendell was a better choice: because of all that public professional bustle and chat. At Third House the walls tended to close in. Peter and I were/are both introverts which is only a good way to be when you’re not depressed out of your tiny minds and having to resist the urge to crawl into your hole and pull it in after you. That last two years, resisting meant Peter played a lot of bridge. I went out and joined stuff.
‡‡ And SOMEWHERE to put a gazillion boxes of backlist, both mine and Peter’s. Not to mention all those other, other people’s books that are accustomed to being out on shelves. The shelves at the cottage are FULL and we’re not even going to discuss the piles on the floor. I’m tallish and thinnish and have long legs for my height . . . I can negotiate.^
^ The hellterror is a bit of a problem. Her little bedspring legs certainly can take her cleanly over book mountains. She just doesn’t see why she needs to do it that way. It’s so much more dramatic to approach these obstacles in bulldozer mode.
‡‡‡ The hellterror is also in favour of this. She likes the view from my arms because the hellhounds are a lot shorter than she is.
§ It was also amusing, after having lived in a nine-bedroom etc house, to have a visitor who thought the cottage was large. Her stories of my predecessor were even more amusing.
§§ People keep asking me, puzzledly, why I don’t sell both Third House and the cottage and buy one house that is the right size? The short form is that the cottage has been my increasingly-necessary bolthole for the twelve years we’ve lived in town and I couldn’t bear to leave it now nor any time in the foreseeable future. Also I like the Lodge and the hellmob and I walk past it a zillion times a day and it feels like part of the family.^
The slightly longer form is that I won’t find that house in the centre of New Arcadia where I am now. In hindsight I lucked into the cottage because the previous owner wanted to sell and it needed some updating^^. And real estate in little old Hampshire villages has gone completely nuts—or even more nuts—in the last dozen years. A quiet cul de sac^^^ just off the frelling centre of frelling town? How perfect is that? I’m keeping it. And while the Lodge does front on the main road it’s end-of-terrace because of the cul de sac, which means I have one wall that is not common, to put my piano on^^^^ and to sing at.
^ I keep having to remind myself that it now is part of the family.+
+ The house on the other corner of the cul de sac—so opposite the Lodge—has also recently sold and that makes me very sad because it’s part of the family too and I was friends with the humans who lived there and I will miss them and I don’t know if I’ll be friends with the new inhabitants or not. I never had any delusions of buying it however—in the first place that family had lived there forever and you don’t think about people who have been somewhere forever selling up, and in the second place it is LARGE. Even if I wanted all that space, which I don’t, I couldn’t begin to afford it.
^^ Which I haven’t done of course. Fresh paint on the walls and I’m in.
^^^ Although there are going to be problems with the Lodge’s common-wall neighbour’s little mega-yappy frelling hysterical dog. I’ll worry about that later. Or maybe I’ll just let the hellterror eat it. —Dog? I’ll say. You’re missing your dog? I have no idea.
^^^^ Yes I know you’re not supposed to put a piano on an outside wall. It’s better than being AUDIBLE. When my piano tuner comes I will ask him if I should do something like hang a RUG on the wall behind the piano. I still have lots of rugs from the nine-bedroom country house with the gigantic front hall, despite several of the family gallantly adopting a number of them.
§§§ I wish I could tell you even some of the saga of The Buying of the Lodge. It is full of excitement and suspense . . . and morons. Especially morons. Morons who might conceivably take umbrage^ if I told my version even though it is the true version.
Well, here’s just a teaser: for various reasons, including the fact that I was out of my mind for about six weeks from the beginning of November to the middle of December, the whole rubbishing business of the sale went on and on and on and on and the moron-to-person-possessing-at-least-semi-functioning-brain percentages were not in the non-morons’ favour.
Peter had wanted to see the new STAR WARS and since I’d been sure it would be booked out weeks in advance I’d bought the tickets yonks before, for the two of us and some random family members. The tickets were for Christmas Eve Eve. I declared I was going to go anyway because I didn’t want to blow off the last thing scheduled that I was supposed to do with Peter, and Georgiana said she’d keep me company. We were going to Peter’s and my favourite restaurant afterward for supper and to raise a glass.^^
The film was the film was the film.^^^ Georgiana and I both dove for our iPhones as soon as we were sitting down in the restaurant—having ordered our fizz—because this is the modern world and that’s what you do, and because I was expecting the confirmation of the sale and the news that I was now the proud possessor of three houses^^^^ and Georgiana was worried about one of her in laws who was in hospital.
I had a phone message. It had arrived at 4:58 pm on the 23rd, so just as everything shut down for a week over the holidays. And the message was that some creepazoid farther up the ‘chain’ [see: capricious and degenerate English real estate law] had thrown all his toys out of the pram and declared he wasn’t selling after all, the chain, therefore, had disintegrated and my purchase of the little house was off.^^^^^
And Georgiana’s relative had just gone into intensive care. We got through kind of a lot of fizz that night.
^ I can’t actually imagine any of them reading fantasy authors’ blogs, but you never know.
^^ I don’t have to tell you that this glass would contain fizzy liquid, do I?
^^^ Not a rabid STAR WARS fan, sorry. And it kind of lost me in the first reel-equivalent when the English-rose complexioned sweetie was presented as living as a scavenger in a desert. Although I did like it when that—ahem!—iconic object came roaring up out of a sand-dune [NO SPOILER! NO SPOILER!] when she and her new confederate are trying to escape.
^^^^ And heavily in debt for the privilege.
^^^^^ I believe that everyone else involved—they let me off, which was kind of them, since I wasn’t really up to the full screaming, kicking and punching thing—went to this guy’s house swinging long lithe bits of heavy metal in a significant manner and told him you want broken chains? We can show you broken chains. However it was arranged, the sale was back on in the new year.
# For symmetry it should probably be three times. Um . . .
## Including that I now owe the estate the repayment of that loan.
### Of the house. Then I have to start on the garden and the shed and the summerhouse. AAAAAAAUGH. But the estate agent can start showing it as soon as the house is clear and the heavily-armoured cleaning service has been around obliterating all traces of humanity. And caninity.
Nor are we going to discuss the unpacking of the Lodge. At least I’m good at jigsaw box-and-furniture arrangement, and Atlas, who is building the bookshelves, is used to me.