December 19, 2014

Shadows is here!

It’s only another placeholder


Okay, I’ve got some stories for you, but no time to tell them.  But as a placeholder you might find the email I just wrote to Worthy Charity #74,821,333 mildly entertaining:

Your web designer is a MORON.  Please pass on my lack of respect.  In the first place, why is a title required?  Many people—myself included—prefer not to use one if we’re given the option.  Then, if the standard short list of titles your site provides does not apply and one is so foolhardy as to tick ‘other’, one is presented with a drop-down list of epic proportions, offering ever wilder opportunities, Death Star Commander, Harvest Goddess, Sixth Degree of Kevin Bacon . . . and lo and behold tucked away in there is ‘Family’.  My sponsorship is a gift to four members of a family, and so with a somewhat wary relief, I ticked ‘family’.  BUT A FIRST NAME IS STILL REQUIRED.  Um.  Xxxx?  Ja-Sa-Sa-An?  What?  This is to a family.  There is no single ‘first name.’  And the four of them are going to have to look at whatever inanity I come up with for the duration of the sponsorship.  Thanks ever so. 

If you’re lucky, your other would-be sponsors are less volatile.  I am fed up to here with web sites that have been designed by lobotomised beavers with hangovers.  This time of year I do a lot of on line ordering and there are a lot of worthy charities out there, some of whose web sites function more or less straightforwardly.  I could have sponsored another [furry critter worth keeping alive and well fed] for half the price of one of your [glorified superwhatsits]:  but it wouldn’t [grow up to make the world a better place].  So here I am.  Fuming.

R McKinley Dickinson

I’m going to be at the hospital a lot of tomorrow again and then I have somehow allowed myself to get ensorcelled into frelling handbells in the evening.  ARRRRGH.  I’ve warned Niall I will have No Brain after all that knitting* but he seems to think this is not as relevant as the Body in the Chair with Outstretched Hands Holding Handbells part of it.  He may live to regret this.  Meanwhile I’m missing deadlines right and left** but if I have the kind of limbo-brain later tomorrow night that is utterly incapable of work*** but could probably splodge out a blog post as an alternative to cruising end-of-year knitting sale sites . . . I’ll give splodging a try.

PS:  Thanks for all the nice supportive words, all you readers, both on the forum and in my email inbox.  The kindness of strangers–or semi-strangers–is more of a comfort than perhaps most of you guess.

 * * *

* Just as an aside, thank God for knitting as a way of not driving the ill person you’re visiting crazy.  Also the nurses would probably throw me out after I picked the second chair to pieces.  Not that God is my favourite person recently with all the depressing mayhem in my life, but my monk ruthlessly pointed out that the bloke whose birthday we’re celebrating next week suffered^  so that none of us need ever suffer alone AND THERE’S A CYCLICAL NON-LOGIC TO THIS THAT I DON’T LIKE AT ALL but . . . yeah.  I have no idea how it works but the thing is that it does work.  It doesn’t work ENOUGH.  But . . . Jesus and knitting.  Okay.  Whatever.

^ among other reasons to do with life everlasting where it’s never too cold to sit still and contemplate higher things and eating too much chocolate never makes you fat

** No, nothing to do with EBON, I’m afraid.  EBON doesn’t even have a deadline to miss at the moment, sigh.  No, things like interviews for Open Road who are trying valiantly to publicise all those shiny new ebooks, and house insurance.  HOUSE INSURANCE??  I’M OVERDUE ON THE HOUSE INSURANCE?  Fortunately an insurance company that has had you by the short hairs for a number of years tends to come after you pretty robustly.  MONEY.  WE WANT MONEY.  WE WANT YOUR MONEY.  WE WANT IT NOOOOOOOW.  I put the cheque in the post today.  That only leaves 1,000,000,000 deadlines of a moderately life-threatening nature to go.

*** This includes looking at columns of figures with slightly more understanding than if I were staring at the Voynich manuscript, and writing my signature on the bottom of cheques that the bank won’t return as forgeries^. 

^ Tear splotches and bloodstains, of course, are majestically ignored.  Banks have seen that all before.


[Ringing] two funerals and a wedding


Although the wedding isn’t till Saturday I didn’t want to waste an opportunity to rip off a title.*  I haven’t rung a funeral in over a year, I think—not since Gloriana’s**—and then I’ve rung two in a row:  yesterday and today.***  I really don’t like this bit about how as you get older more and more people that you know seem to be popping off around you.  Yesterday’s funeral was at least someone I only knew very vaguely but today’s . . . well.  I’m not sure the whole ‘we’ll see her again in heaven’ thing works all that well in the first instance.†  She’s been terminally ill for months.  It’s not like we didn’t know.  But. . . .

. . . Well.  I’m still tired, although I did get some sleep last night.  Maybe I could get some sleep two nights in a row?  Now there’s an exciting thought.

* * *

* Even if the film is where I developed my profound aversion to Hugh Grant.

** I’ve said before I wish we rang more funerals.  I think people mostly just don’t think of bells for funerals—plus that funerals tend to happen during the working week and it’s hard to put bands together.  Vicky pulled us in today from about six different towers—she and Roger were the only locals.

*** Sometimes I even think there’s hope for me as a ringer.  Two of our eight today don’t ring a lot, so the six of us bell junkies rang a touch of Grandsire doubles while the two normal people had a sit down between slabs of call changes.  I tend not to ring my best for occasions—Sunday service is bad enough, but one-offs like weddings and funerals . . . anguish, anguish . . . and funerals, it’s worse, because weddings are supposed to be happy occasions and can absorb a little screwing up.  It’ll make a good story later that you could hear the conductor yelling at his/her band where you were standing in the receiving line:  DODGE WITH THE FOUR, PASS THE TREBLE AND LEAD!^—and you can hear the ‘YOU MORON’ even if this remains unuttered.  Funerals, even when you’re trying to celebrate rather than mourn, it’s an edgier sort of thing, and it’s harder to laugh if you gerfarkle it—especially if you knew the person you’re ringing for.  But I was the dubious sixth ringing with five good ringers, and when it’s five to one they’ll carry you if need be.  But you know . . . it was pretty good.  It was at least not bad.  And they weren’t carrying me.  And Grandsire doubles, eh, I frelling well ought to be able to ring Grandsire doubles—but ringing is one of those really discouraging skills where you never reach the ‘ah ha—got it’ stage:  there’s always another ignis fatuus sneering at you out there in the bog somewhere.  Learning the frelling method line is only the beginning.^^

^ You’re all going, ha ha ha ha, I don’t know much about bell ringing but I know bells are noisy.  Yes.  Very true.  Which means that a conductor has to bellow like sixty devils+ to be heard over the row.   Now think about a ground floor ring, where the ringers are at street level with the peons, and the bells are making their racket some distance overhead.  It of course depends on your ground floor ring—occasionally they are tucked away from the hurly burly, madding crowd, etc—but generally you ground-floor ringers are depressingly visible++, which means you can’t wear your oldest jeans and your favourite t shirt which says ‘Miskatonic University, Necromancy Department, bringing dead things back to life since 1690’, although I will be wearing All Stars and if they don’t like it they can not ask me to ring there again.  Anyway.  If your conductor loses it when the person on the two goes AWOL yet again and said conductor starts addressing the problem in a possibly over-emphatic manner, especially a conductor who is used to ringing in a tower . . . yeah.  It’ll make a good a good story to tell over the anniversary dinner.  If the conductor is lucky, he’s the hired gun, and will never be seen in those parts again.

+ Most conductors.  There are a few that just make themselves heard.  I have no idea how they manage this.

++ For only about one wedding in three does some intrepid becamera’d person struggle up to the bell tower to take photos.  A ground floor ring, there’ll be at least six cameras firing every wedding.  Maybe twenty-six.  If you’re particularly unlucky, someone will want to pose with the ringers.

^^ Also worth noticing is that all the ghastly struggle of ringing at the abbey becomes suddenly dazzlingly worth it when you find yourself ringing at an easier tower.  Yesterday’s funeral was at the abbey and I was hanging on a bell rope and thinking WHAT IS GOING ON? and I only didn’t go wrong because the touch came round+ soon enough to save me from myself.

+ ie back to rounds, ie finished

† I was sitting there in the congregation thinking, I’m a frelling CHRISTIAN now.  I’m supposed to BELIEVE that I’ll see her again in heaven, and catch up, because as Life Got Complicated (again) I’d let myself fall out of touch.  And all that’s happening is that I’m sitting there thinking, she’s dead.  I’m never going to see her in her garden/walking her dogs/outside the bell tower ready to tell us how much she’d enjoyed the bells again.

It was also a little, ahem, deadly, that the readings and hymns were so well chosen—by her.  Including Lord of the Dance^ which has made me cry pretty much every time I’ve sung it for the last thirty or forty years, and that wonderful Joyce Grenfell poem:

^ Good grief there are a lot of really bad covers of Lord of the Dance out there.  I’m not generally a fan of unmitigated kiddie cathedral choirs, but this version is at least not embarrassing:

Or if you prefer the folkie version:

Good heavens.  And here’s John Langstaff.

I’m so old I remember his Revels when they were starting out, and how amazing and like nothing else they were—that was my living-in-Boston era so I was on the spot.  All of us who loved early music and the rougher end of folk music and where they got mixed up together kind of thing—but there was hardly any of this around, I didn’t and really still don’t quite know what to call it—totally thought we . . . er . . . had died and gone to heaven.  This clip doesn’t anything like do justice to the experience of being in the audience for one of them—my first experience of a Langstaff Revel ended with the players fishing members of the audience out of their chairs to snake, hand in hand, outside and dance on the green.  The hall emptied:  we were all outside, singing and dancing.  It pleases me that people still remember Langstaff.


Bad news


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.


Spring gardening


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.

* * *

* Two blasts at Boston Marathon kill three and injure more than 100

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:

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 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.

‡‡‡  Love love love.  I have a few white ones too.



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.

Next Page »