I rang for the carol service yesterday at Old Eden* and ran away from the evening (carol) service at St Margaret’s.** Today I’d signed up to SING*** at two old-folks’ homes, overslept†, went haring around like . . . someone with a hellhound after her††. . . made it to the first engagement with at least a minute to spare AND DISCOVERED A SIGN ON THE DOOR SAYING THE CAROL SERVICE WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE THE RESIDENTS ALL HAD FLU. ARRRRRRRRRGH. And, you know, no one told me.††† Although poor Buck was very apologetic when I rang up to ask if THE SECOND ONE WAS STILL ON. It was. So I sang.‡ And we’re rescheduled for the first one on Friday, if enough of the denizens are capable of being propped up in chairs by then. Tonight I was sidled up to by one of my fellow singers, who said, You are coming to sing in town on Saturday morning‡‡, aren’t you? Um.
It’s been a gigantically hideous week. Today’s the first day I haven’t felt like pease porridge cold, ninety days old, and rejected by rats in favour of tea leaves and old tyres. I’m not going to give you the gruesome details because it’s too depressing and I prefer not to drag myself back into pease porridge cold mood, but Third House went nova in a particularly local-solar-system-destroying way last Monday and, speaking of solar systems, I am so signing up for that first generational planet-ship to Alpha Centauri, AWAAAAAAAAY FROM HEEEEEEEEERE, assuming they want a few old hags for variety. And then of course there was last Friday. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh. I went to Mass three times last week because I needed all the help I could get, but the most important one was Friday, of course, because Peter’s in the monks’ death book, what-you-call-it, liber mortuorum, something, that won’t be it because I haven’t got a clue, anyway, on the anniversary of death they read out the names at morning Mass, and I was going to be there, see: need all the help I could get.
AND THEN MY ALARM CLOCK EXPLODED THE NIGHT BEFORE ARRRRRRRGH. Well, my 24-hour kitchen timer, which I use for an alarm clock, because it turns out I’m slightly more reliable about deciding when to get up by having to add up the hours. And I was just setting it and it went HICCUP GLEEP BLAAAAAH, did a little palm-of-hand dance and died. And of course I didn’t have the right spare batteries.‡‡‡ Fortunately, and perhaps ironically, as a result of clearing out Third House I have more clocks than I know what to do with and not all of them are at the Lodge. So I had three lined up on my shelf because I had no idea if any of them were the least bit accurate and climbed into bed wondering when any of them would go off. As it happens it didn’t matter because I didn’t sleep, which was a good thing WHEN THE FIRST ONE WENT OFF TWO HOURS EARLY. No, stop laughing, I had set it correctly. It just had its own ideas. And the one that worked beautifully? Peter’s old bedside alarm clock. Whimper.
Life goes on for us the living. One way or another. And tonight, coming home from singing at the old folks’ home, I was even gladder than usual to be fallen on by a hellmob.§
* * *
* Seven blokes and me. Which felt very odd. I think in the upper echelons of bell ringing it’s still more guys than gals—gender-specific nerdism—but at my level of semi-competence I’d’ve said the male-female ratio is relatively level, although it varies from tower to tower. When I was a kid I totally wanted to hang out with the boys because, barring all the frelling sports stuff, they had much more interesting adventures than the girls.^ See any of my rants about reading books about boys because they’re the ones who went out and did things while the girls stayed home and pined beautifully. Nice for some. Arrrrrgh. Anyway. The world has changed somewhat in some of the right directions^^ or maybe I’ve just learnt better ways of finding people to hang out with, but I now feel like an alien species when I’m stranded with a lot of men.^^^ Even nice bell-ringing men.
^ Make up and fashion, for example. Except for a few years in college of way too much eye make up+ I’ve never been able to give a flying figment about what Hannah calls products although the fact that I’m allergic to most of them contributes to the aversion. And having been a skinny tomboy kid I boiled out to serious overweight during most of my adolescence and about halfway through my twenties. This was also back in the days before any manufacturer paid attention to clothing in the larger sizes, you were more or less expected to wear a tent and shut up. Furthermore I was an inconvenient shape: none of that lush, sexy female hips and breasts and thighs thing, I was a beach ball on little toothpick legs. ::Shudder:: So, fashion? I wore a tent and shut up.
+ It was the era, okay? You had to look like you ran into doorways with your face a lot. Plus major eyelashes. I had an unexpected epiphany when I got out of spectacles and into contact lenses and my eyelashes grew about a sixteenth of an inch, which is a lot for eyelashes. I’m now back in glasses and my eyelashes have reverted to stubby.# But they keep the insides of the lenses dust free.
# I wonder if eyelashes can have split ends?
^^ Except for the voting in of presidents and one or two other negligible things. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.
^^^ Although speaking of fashion . . . I know there are men who not only pay attention to what they’re wearing but can bring themselves and their virility+ to wear COLOURS++ but I don’t think any of them are bell ringers.
+ which is a sexual-orientation-bias neutral word, okay?
++ Black, brown, grey and navy blue ARE NOT COLOURS. I wear all of them myself# but ONLY WITH COLOURS.
# I learnt to wear brown because Peter used to keep giving me brown stuff. He eventually learnt about black and pink but he got the ‘sparkle’ part before he got the ‘black and PINK’ part and I’m going to wear it if it’s sparkly, you know?
** Which was PACKED OUT again. I knew—well, I could predict—that it would be—if it was full to the rafters for a mere confirmation with a presiding bishop, what chance a carol service having elbow room to knit in? I suppose I was hoping for the best because there had been two carol services already.^ I don’t know if this is one of weirdnesses of grief or merely advancing age and crankiness but I really am into the genuinely claustrophobic range. Pressure headache, sweaty palms, racing heart, creeping terror. Ugh. Also my usual props were absent. I don’t know if the choir would have had me, they have a few people who can actually sing and may have standards, but I didn’t try to join because I knew I didn’t have time or driving-Wolfgang energy to make it to rehearsals. So I wasn’t singing with the band/choir and not only was the church wedged with bodies—I could have always sat on the floor in the aisle—but it was too dark to knit.
^ No. I wasn’t hoping for the best. I wanted to be able to say I had tried.
*** I still had my knitting in my pocket. There are occasional virtues to having the pocket linings in your ancient black leather jacket shredded out. Means you can get fourteen-inch needles in a six-inch pocket, because the pocket now plunges to the seams. Okay, they stick out a little at the top. Not that much.
† I’ve been having a bad go with insomnia, even for me.
†† Hurtle! Hurtle! We want our HURTLE!!! We don’t CARE about little old people or Christmas carols!
††† Given that I’ve been saying for four years now that I was going to come carolling^ it’s not entirely surprising that I was either not even on the official list or if anyone saw my name there, laughed hollowly and passed on.
^ Hey. It’s not a good time of year. Peter had his first stroke three years ago as well as shaking the dust of this earth off permanently this time last year. The other two years’ absence were probably the ME. That it’s the ME is always a good guess. Sigh. It’s amazing I have any friends left. Three of us, including Fiona, made it to Maddy Prior and her Carnival Band’s regular Christmas show last week, and Fiona said proudly that we’d finally defeated the gremlin, since this was the third+ time we’d tried and the first time we made it. Never tease the ME gremlin. I cancelled seeing the National Theatre’s live-cinema broadcast of NO MAN’S LAND the next night because I could barely stand up.
+ Possibly fourth. I’m holding out for it only being the third.
‡‡ Old people’s homes. Oh dear. I remember, I remember. I was chiefly reminded of how much Peter hated Rivendell. I did wonder if it was such a great idea to sign up for this duty, but I figured I’m singing in the band and it would be okay. It just about was . . . and a few of our audience smiled. And there were mince pies, even if I couldn’t eat any.^ Also I was helpful. Uziel had brought his keyboard but various bits of wiring at the home didn’t work as planned so he had a Heath Robinson arrangement which involved him chasing his footpedal around the floor to the detriment of keeping us on pitch. So I stood in front of it and was jabbed by an ill-mannered extension-cord housing for the duration . . . but it was worth it.
^ It’s funny what nails you. I’ve been off sugar most of a year now and have been fascinated to discover that things like the little inner leaves of cabbages are sweet. CABBAGE? Who knew? Well, you’re not going to know if you’re still putting 1,000,000,000 spoonsful of sugar in your pitch-black morning tea, and while sweet little green leaves are very nice, it’s a fairly stiff price to pay. Most of the time I genuinely don’t notice the price—I like all the brassica family, and I’m wholly converted to green tea—and while there’s certain stuff I miss, I don’t have CRAAAAAAAAAAVINGS, and trust me, I know what cravings are+, so I must be doing something right. But I am shaken every week at the moment, making up the order for one of my organic grocers, by the presence of a particular variety of gooey, teeth-achingly sweet, several-chocolate brownies, that I hadn’t yet figured out how to duplicate at home the celestial heights of the commercial ones, when I Stopped All That. Fortunately they’re seasonal, so they’ll go away again after New Year’s. I can perhaps remind myself at this point that I like COLOUR and cabbages are green.
+ Cravings are chemical, you know? Like my chocolate craving got a whole lot worse with menopause. It’s worth remembering that if you’re having a rough time with one—it also gives you something to research on Google, if you want to. The amount of health stuff out there is dazzling—a lot of it is crap, of course, but I think you kind of learn who to believe or at least to try the advice of, eventually, although developing that kind of instinct or grounding takes a spectacular investment of time. I assume you don’t have to ask me how I know this.
‡‡‡ GLORY GLORY BUT I HATE THE PROLIFERATION OF BUTTON BATTERIES. There are 1,000,000,000,000,000 different kinds and every gizmo you owns that wants them wants a different kind.
§ Pet me!^ Feeeeeeed me!^^ HURTLE me!!!!^^^
Yes, two days, um, nights, in a row, posting to the blog. It won’t last. But I don’t want to leave that evil asshole on the opening screen of my blog for any longer than necessary: Twenty-four hours is plenty. But . . . having just mentioned him, here on what will now become the opening page, does that mean I have to write again tomorrow? Hmmmm.
Time, time, was one of Peter’s phrases. I cannot believe how much time time TIME TIIIIIIME it takes just adding one thing back into your weekly schedule. Um. Maybe two. Well, maybe three. Trying to wake the blog up counts, or counted, till the malnutrition and bronchitis splintered me, and it will count again.* I wasn’t committed to going to Mass with my monks once a week when I was last having weekly voice lessons and Samaritan shifts either. If Nadia insists on keeping me in a late-morning slot it makes the juggling act even more extreme because I can’t go to morning Mass and make it to the other end of the frelling country** for a voice lesson and the drive would wreck the fragile post-Mass serenity*** although it might have been interesting to discover what effect chanting penitential rites would have as warm-up to singing Mozart. However all such questions have been set aside as I croaked through recent weeks. I need to hustle Nadia now however in the hopes of a lesson or two before Christmas shuts all such trifles and fripperies down†: I would like to be able to scare people on the other side of a small room with my carol singing, and all stresses, including trivialities like legal suits by the local crown court and bronchitis, make my voice go into hiding-behind-the-parapet-and-squeaking mode.
But how to begin to catch up, or slot back in, with the blog and any readers who haven’t given me up as a lost cause? The daily adventure of the hellmob? Singing dismal and maudlin folk songs whilst hurtling? Conversations with Peter?†† KNITTING?††† Bell ringing?‡ The failure of Third House to sell and the oh-God-details-I-hate-details of trying to prep it to let for a year or two and see where the foaming tides of Brexit may have left us by then? I think I need to slip into the blogging business again gently.
* * *
* IT CERTAINLY DOES. I’D FORGOTTEN HOW LONG WRITING A POST TAKES.^ Also I may have an ulterior motive. Mwa hahahahahaha.
^ And I’m out of practise trying to herd footnotes. Which make cats or bell ringers or Sam volunteers+ or hellmobs look like a doddle.
+ Or St Margaret’s band members for the evening service. At least summer is over#, when there were Sundays we were getting by with three. When one of the three is you it’s a lot harder to pretend that strange background keening noise isn’t you singing.
# Aaaaaaaand . . . still no probate.~ Less than a month to the first anniversary of Peter’s death. Just by the way.~~
~ The latest interesting development from my delightful bank’s closing my private nothing-to-do-with-my-husband account and stealing all my money last May is that some of the direct debits that they killed and then reinstated . . . re-died, to coin a term. Only about a third of them did reinstate, and I’m still struggling to keep up with all the stuff I haven’t had to think about every frelling ratblasted month, because I can’t INAUGURATE ANY NEW DIRECT DEBITS TILL I’M OUT OF PROBATE but I assumed those that had successfully reconnected would STAY reconnected? Noooooooo. That would be too simple.
~~ THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST FOOTNOTE AND I’M ALREADY OUT OF CONTROL.
** Anything over five miles is my idea of the other end of the frelling country, and this would be nearly thirty miles. I’m pretty used to the commute to my monks but Nadia has moved to Somerset. Nearly. The Somerset that is the opposite direction from my monks, if you follow me, so if I were pelting from monks to Nadia I’d have to squeal back through New Arcadia on the way. Feh.
*** IF I WEREN’T WIRED OUT OF MY TINY MIND it might not be quite so fragile. Remember that the area court in Greater Footling wanted to sue me for non-payment of council tax? And that I had sorted this out? You didn’t think that was the end of it, did you? No, of course not, you are intelligent grown ups with your own stories to tell about local government. I then received another letter from the Greater Footling court system thanking me for paying up till 1 October, but that they still want me to pay up to the end of the year or they were going to sue me anyway. Point one: all three houses were, as of my at that time most recent conversation with the local council, paid up to 1 September. Greater Footling, for reasons best known to itself, is only suing me for the Lodge. The local clerk in theory had removed the whole court-case thing because my situation is unusual, and she explained that if you fall behind on your council tax they will demand you pay up to the end of the year. What? Whose bright idea was that? Most people fall behind because they’re having cash flow problems, not because they’re in probate, their bank is heli-skiing with their money, and all real-world business admin makes them cry. So you sue someone for more money because they’ve already graphically demonstrated they don’t have enough money? Is the government trying to make people homeless? Or oblige them to feed their children out of the dustbins behind Macdonalds?
But perhaps I digress. I have already referred (repeatedly) to the fact that the last two or so months have been prey to a broad spectrum of diversions, and one of the results of this is that I didn’t pay the October house tax instalments on the first of the month like a good little anal-retentive control-freak stooge would.^ Midway through the month when my legs were working better and I was coughing less and I really was going to go tackle the city council AGAIN because I’d had NO paperwork yet and according to the clerks, this being one of the few things that, over the months, everybody I saw agreed on, I should receive individual monthly invoices reminding me in the politest possible way^^ that I was due to open a vein for the benefit of the council office again, and specifying the quantity they planned to tap. . . . Now I repeat that midway through the month I had had NO PAPERWORK concerning my monthly council tax bills.
Then I received three envelopes from the city council on the same day. Declaring that I was in arrears. And for the three houses that all come due on the same date, remember the SAME DATE thing, organised to make it easier for me, a bear of very, very little brain? Yes? You remember? . . . for these three simultaneously-due houses I received two first reminders and one second reminder. So with the mind-bendiness of the simultaneity situation I can also remark that the paperwork I hadn’t received included the first reminder for the third house. Except it wasn’t for Third House, it was . . . oh, never mind.
^ My biases may be showing. But what would you rather expend your even-more-than-usually frustratingly limited energy on, friends you don’t see often enough or possibly haven’t seen in years, OR paying your frelling council tax? Anyone who says, oooh, I’d pay my tax, of course, is banned forever from this blog. I’d further suggest that I’m going to sneak into your house and hide your chequebook, except that nobody but the elderly hopeless like me uses cheques any more.
† With my voice, voice lessons are unequivocally trifling fripperies
†† I’m becoming pretty shameless about this. The locals can just get used to the scraggy old lady chatting away hard to a rose stuck in the ground in a corner between two sarcophagi. The hellmob has.
††† I certainly must tell you about THE THING I ACTUALLY FINISHED.
† I’m still all in black. I got up this morning, late, having once again watched the dawn come up before I got to sleep, stared at the clean laundry I haven’t put away yet^, and reached for the black jeans and cardi I’d been wearing yesterday. I went bell ringing at Crabbiton tonight and the other American eyed me and said, so, are you in mourning? Yes, I said. And then we did some wailing and bitching about the evil asshole before we got down to the serious business of trying to weasel out of ringing at Madhatterington on Sunday morning, Madhatterington’s bells being not only possessed by demons but they sound like a train wreck, so the ringers’ agonies aren’t even worthwhile.
^ I usually only bother to put away stuff I don’t wear that often. Something I’m going to wear again in the next day or three, why waste the time? I only need half the bed to sleep in.
Because the title box won’t take colours? WHY? —ed
So I made a ginormous pot of soup. Duh. Now one is not at one’s best coming off a gratuitous insult to one’s body like stomach flu and I haven’t been at my best in some time full stop* but it’s like I couldn’t grasp the concept of vegan broth as being suitable for consideration. Chicken soup and flat ginger ale for queasy stomachs.** If you can’t have that you are lost utterly in a hostile wilderness of deep-fried crullers, Pringles and maraschino cherries. It took several people posting or sending me either vegetable soup recipes or links to vegetable soup recipes for the tiny rattletrap cogs to connect and start clinking around in my brain. Very, very slightly in my defense I fell out of the soup habit with a thud when my freezer died***, although it’s embarrassing to admit that when Georgia and Shea were here a couple of months ago and we were talking about food and cooking and related goals, I said my next ambition was to start making my own vegetable stock.†
Well. So I NOW HAVE A FREEZER. What am I WAITING FOR. So I made a ginormous stock pot of cabbage soup††, saved some for now, put the rest through the blender and put it in the shiny new freezer in useful little 1-cup wodges. I’m so clever. And efficient.††† With a little help from my friends. To whom thanks all.
* * *
* However I am having my first voice lesson in yonks and yonks^ and I’m starting up with the Sam[aritans] too. I am GOING to have a life again. I am.^^
^ I was trying to figure what to take in to Nadia. I’m still singing some of my favourite arias but it’s mostly folk songs. And I realised with some embarrassment that the things I’m most likely not to screw up totally are a handful of hymns to folk-song tunes. I think I’m trying to exorcise all that frelling Jesus Is My Boyfriend music that I not only sing but help lead every Sunday as an anti-crying device. Okay, it does stop me crying, but At What Cost.
^^ Including writing stories. Not only because I need the money. The thing from forty years ago that was derailing me? It’s still derailing me. It’s kind of interesting though. Um.
** Or beef broth and Saltines, or whatever is the folk wisdom in your neck of the woods.^
^ Which is a bizarre phrase. Just by the way. https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-22668,00.html%E2%80%8E
*** I live in a world of tiny autonomous under-counter appliances. When my freezer died it did not take my refrigerator with it.^
^ Although there have been some pretty redolent Appliance Follies concerning the Lodge. My little freezer died when I moved it to the Lodge—elderly freezers apparently don’t like being moved, I only need one (tiny) freezer and I’d rather have the space at the cottage for the hellterror’s crate.+ I had to buy a refrigerator and a washing machine for the Lodge anyway so what’s another expensive appliance when you’re running out of money.++ I found a fridge+++ and freezer I liked but the freezer was out of stock at my retailer of choice so I made the fatal error of trying to buy it from idiots who never consulted me about delivery but kept sending me chirpy emails saying, Your freezer is scheduled to be delivered between 5 am and 11 pm next Wednesday, please be there to let them in! ARRRRRRGH. Next Wednesday is not a good day, can we DISCUSS THIS PLEASE? New chirpy email: your freezer is scheduled to be delivered between 4:30 am and 11:34 pm next Friday, please be there to let them in! I eventually frelling cancelled and then hung around till it came back in stock at the retailer with the customer service department which is what I should have done in the first place.++++
And then there was the washing machine chronicle. I had a fancy to have this effectively second washing machine big enough really to take a double duvet, instead of only pretending to be big enough in standard washing machine bumf.+++++ There are a few 10 kg machines around, but when you start trying to buy one it turns out there aren’t, unless you want to spend £15K on a gilt-edged one to match your gilt-edged twelve-burner Aga and your gilt-edged SUV that takes up two and a half parking spaces. Well, maybe there are one or two for the hoi polloi. I tried to buy one of these. One of them turned out to be only 9 kg on closer inspection—truth in advertising, ahem—and then there was the fascinating two-for-one disappearing model. Even customer service couldn’t figure this one out and had to ring me back. Okay, it’s an old one and the new replacement model. And the new replacement model has worse water and electricity ratings than the old one, because people with SUVs were complaining that the programmes take too long. These people probably don’t believe in global warming either. ARRRRRGH.
Oh, and neither model was available.
I think I made some snarling noises. And I think my customer service person was trying not to laugh. Let me see what I can do, she said.
They found me a washing machine. One of the old slow eco-friendlier model. And I haven’t tried a duvet yet but yes, the biggest of the hellmob beds fits.
+ Little did I know that the space situation was about to become acute after my plumbers laid £800 worth of useless pipe through my kitchen. Regular readers will remember this story. Pretty much the entire available floor is now hellmob bedding, although this does make it more comfortable to lie down on when I’m having a bad day. I am of course remarkably furry when I stand up again but Yeti answering the door when it’s someone who wants to sell me something# is quite useful for scaring them off. If I’m having a bad day grunting in a Yeti-like manner, if they don’t scare fast enough, is easy too.
# Including God. I may have said this to you before? I now wear a cross, and I find it disconcerting to be (metaphorically) embraced as a sister by the kinds of Christ merchants that cold call. This usually makes the conversation shorter without any effort on my part because they bustle off to harangue someone less well defended, but occasionally they want to stay and chat about theology and . . . I don’t share much theology with my own congregation~, I do not want to get into sticky points of Scripture with random evangelical strangers at my door.
~ Hums a little tune and bends lower over her knitting
++ Because life is like this, I presently have three would-be buyers supposedly about to make me an offer on Third House. After this particular bit of fatuity is over with# I’m going to take it off the market and let it. Which is another saga.
# Which is to say that I am expecting offers of two shillings sixpence, two shillings eight pence, and one decision to move to the Caribbean. But post-Brexit, I should be grateful that someone is willing to take it off my hands. Um. No.~
~ I will not get into all the interesting stories right now about the real estate market galumphing through the zeitgeist and trampling the slow and unwary under large hairy feet.
+++ Note that the new, CHEAP fridge is much nicer than the way more expensive one I bought for the cottage several years ago because several years ago we were apparently in an anti-under-counter appliance era and this was what I could get. Bosch is overrated: pass it on. Of course I don’t yet know how long the new CHEAP fridge is going to last, and the Bosch is now having its life shortened by hellmob bedding getting jammed up against its fan, motor, dorgligfast and gluppermeyer# which are of course floor level and exposed to the elements, including the 85% ambient fur and lots of well-scrabbled blankets.
# The hellterror has her butt squashed against the gluppermeyer right now. I’ll move her as soon as it starts making protesting noises.
++++ This is John Lewis, by the way, for British readers. I know they screw up too, but I’ve never had them not unscrew up, and they’ve had plenty of opportunity for me to put them on my (lengthy) pond scum list, and they’ve never taken it.
+++++ I’ve been cranky for years, since I’m good at cranky, that I had to buy an 8 kg drum machine when my old 6 died, because apparently they don’t make 6s any more. I’m ONE PERSON. I have an ENTIRE DRAWER of white t shirts because I RUN OUT before I have enough whites to fill a frelling 8 kg drum machine. ARRRRRGH. And to add insult to injury, 8 kg is nothing LIKE big enough to wash a duvet. Sure, you can cram it in, but it comes out in exactly the same folds and creases that you used to wedge it in in the first place and the only thing that’s clean is the soap dispenser. The big proper dog beds won’t fit in either. Most of my mob’s bedding is easy because it’s old blankets. Hairy but easy. But the point of this story is that the cottage’s washing machine is too big for my ordinary purposes and too small for the extraordinary. GOOD SYSTEM, WASHING MACHINE DESIGNERS. MAY ALL YOUR BOTTLES OF WINE BE CORKED.
† I do not know why it is that proprietary stock pretty much always has Weird Crap in it, not, I realise, that the weirdness registers with normal humans. But hydrolized vegetable protein? Are you freaking joking? Even Kallo’s organic stock cubes have sugar in them three times,^ plus maize starch, which is evil.
^ Um, why??
†† Well, standard contents-of-refrigerator stock, you know? What’s in there that needs eating, especially after you’ve lost the plot a bit. Cabbage, onion, carrot, celery, lovely Shiitake mushrooms^, the huge bag of fresh basil I was going to make pesto out of^^, and I forget what all. Garlic. Always garlic. And a big handful of dry herbs for the last ten minutes. The result was, if I do say so myself, rather delicious.
^ The anti-rheumatism diet doesn’t allow ordinary mushrooms but Shiitake are actually GOOD for you.
^^ I am motivated to make [vegan] pesto. And I’m nearly through my last huge jar.
* This was supposed to have gone up last night, of course, and my so-called broadband connection wasn’t having any. ARRRRRGH. Meanwhile it’s going up this late tonight because I had that FIRST VOICE LESSON today^ and it was EXCELLENT. Not, I have to say, in terms of the beauty and accuracy of any noises I was making ::shudder:: but the excellence of being under Nadia’s tutelage again, and the way she starts sorting me out IMMEDIATELY, and sends me away with stuff I can do. This post is already too long, but let me just say in passing . . . as an anti-crying expedient, as previously observed, singing for service works a treat. As a likelihood that stage nerves will make all my shutting-down and stiffening-up habits worse it’s a sure frelling thing. Sigh. —ed
^ But by the time I got home not only was I STARVING+ the hellmob was all TAKE US OUT. TAKE US OUT NOW. WE’RE BORED. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN.++
+ Singing is a sport. Like marathon running.
++ In the first place every road in the area is torn up for roadworks AND the main road is blocked because of some festering doodah festival so it took nearly twice as long both to get there and get back. In the second place . . . the problem with Nadia’s new studio is that it requires me to drive past our excellent not-quite-local-enough-to-be-dangerous-except-if-I’m-going-to-see-Nadia rose nursery. And I may have stopped and bought a rose.
Sorry everyone. I’m just so freaking tired.* It’s been a somewhat action-packed week/ten days/fortnight/century. The good news is that I haven’t knocked Peter over with the car again recently. YAAAAAY. But we’ve had three lots of visitors** and assorted emergencies.*** And Niall and I seem to be teaching more people to ring handbells.
Also, it’s definitively spring. The weather is still jerking us around† but the primroses are flowering like mad—AND MY SNAKESHEAD FRITILLARIES YAAAAAAAAAY—and the early pansies, and the early tulips and there are daffodils and hellebores everywhere as thick as marmalade on toast and it is unmistakably SPRING. So I’m out there frantically potting up little things that keep arriving in the post†† . . . and occasionally I’m also potting up things that I stuck in some perlite because I was REALLY IRRITATED that I or a member of the hellmob or some discourteous frelling typhoon broke off a perfectly good branch of something or other and if I sliced it up in pieces and stuck them in perlite . . . well, they’d die, of course, but at least I’d’ve tried.
Occasionally they live. I now have five abutilon megapotamicum. If they’re happy, they can get to eight foot. The original one—the one that got blown off the kitchen window shelf and snapped off a long limb—is getting on for six foot. It’s a terrific plant—it flowers all year. But FIVE of them??? This is just possibly superfluous to requirements.
And now, if you’ll excuse me again, I have to go sing something: voice lesson tomorrow.††† I’m supposed to be learning Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise . . . but it’s in four sharps, and I don’t like sharps, and it’s all foolhardy lines of unusual intervals—these blasted great composers are so frelling unpredictable—and he keeps flatting and/or double-sharping things that in some cases don’t have a black key there anyway AND YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THIS STUFF and . . . my brain hurts.‡ I may be leaning on YouTube a little more than I should be. Was that a chromatic scale when you strip out all the persiflage or wasn’t it? No. It wasn’t. That would be too easy. Quack. Quaver. But possibly the most annoying thing . . . Nadia told me I can just miss out the line with the high C in it—unless it’s a C flat which would make it some kind of B, and I occasionally have a high B—and I was wibbling along with YouTube and not thinking about it . . . okay, maybe the singer I was yodelling with had knocked it down a semi-tone or so but I got to the end and thought . . . wait a minute. I sang that line.
Haven’t been able to do it again of course. Your body is your instrument. Your instrument is a gibbering neurotic nutso. Sigh. . . .
* * *
* I’m reading a nice restful book^ in which our heroine winds up briefly hospitalised and is driven mad by having nothing to read, and when a sympathetic nurse loans her a copy of HELLO! magazine . . . she reads it as a desperate alternative to ripping her sheets into long thin strips and using broken clothes-hangers as knitting needles^^. And I read this with a feeling of cold deep horror and thought again THIS IS WHY MY KNAPSACK WEIGHS MORE THAN A HELLTERROR. It’s my phobia about being trapped somewhere WITH NOTHING TO READ.^^^ And given the number of times Peter has closed his hand in a door—never mind the serious stuff—and we’ve spent several unscheduled hours in A&E/Emergency, I am not being paranoid I am being practical.
^ THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths which is the second in her murder-mystery series about Ruth Galloway who is a forensic archaeologist. And which are fabulous. Ceridwen loaned me the first one and when I read it in about forty-eight hours+ laughed in an evil and knowing manner, and loaned me the second.
+ despite not being able to read it in the bath because it belonged to someone else and IT WOULD NOT BE GOOD IF I DROPPED IT. I have quite a few paperbacks with curly pages . . . and I barely have a knitting magazine that doesn’t have curly pages.
^^ Okay, I made the extreme knitting alternative up, but personally I might have gone for it over HELLO!
^^^ Or knit.+ Granted most knitting weighs considerably less than three paperbacks and a fully charged iPad,++ and I don’t think they’ve started commercial production of ununseptium needles, possibly because they would be a trifle unstable as well as heavy, and my knitting doesn’t need any help in instability, but the Scarf as Big as the Universe sure takes up a lot of space. I keep being tempted to take it OUT of my knapsack and finish it at home where it can have its own room+++ but I know this way madness lies. I would just have the 1,000,000,000th unfinished woolly object lying around somewhere for me to trip over in the middle of the night.
. . . But starting NEW woolly objects is fun. Especially during that early halcyon period before you’ve made any really ghastly errors that you can’t figure out how to fix.
+ I actually went to an AGM recently.# WITH MY KNITTING. THANK YOU, GOD, FOR KNITTING.
# Reasons not to join things: the dreadful possibility of an AGM.
++ Note that I take my charging cable with me everywhere too. Just in case.
+++ Mind you in my house it would be sharing that room with 1,000,000 other yarn projects, 1,000,000,000 books and 1,000,000,000,000 All Stars. Plus assorted miscellaneous items.# But the rooms at the cottage, while small, are all larger than a knapsack.
# The miscellaneous-item problem is worse than usual at the moment because the American government in its wisdom~ decided that I had to re-prove that I live here and have lived here for quite some time and so you find salient documentation of ten-plus years ago, especially less than a year after a major house move when everything that CAN be shoved into the back of an attic HAS been shoved into the back of an attic including gruesome old paperwork. My tribulations began with the question which attic?, but more or less climaxed with insane-even-for-me tottering piles of everything all over my office floor at the cottage. Sigh. Which, the adrenaline of panic having worn off, I have no enthusiasm for sorting out and putting away again.~~
~~ Putting away WHERE? %
% Er. ‘Putting away’?
** NECESSARY HOUSEWORK. NOOOOOOOOO. Failing this activity would certainly be a way of ensuring that people don’t come back, but unfortunately anyone who gets as far as being invited to stay is probably someone I want to come back which leaves me in a terrible predicament. I keep trying to teach the hellhounds to pull the hoover. And the hellterror to mop the floor. Nobody does much about the cobwebs. Or the dust.^
^ Ways to Tell What I Am Really Truly Currently Reading: it’s not dusty.
*** See *, ^^^, +++, # above
† If I put long johns on in the morning^ I will be hot and cranky at 3 pm. But if I don’t put long johns on^^ I will be cold and cranky at . . . 3 am.
^ Oh all right, when I get dressed. There are drawbacks to sleeping in something you can answer the door in, because you can also put your gardening apron and your wellies on and do some gardening—just while your tea steeps, you know. Today this innocent activity led to my realising I was due to ring handbells in an hour while I was still in my nightgown equivalent and hadn’t had breakfast/lunch or hurtled any of the waiting hurtlables in this household.
I was late for handbells. Never mind. This fresh victim is catching on way too quickly and will be ringing Surplice Maximillian while I’m still trying to sort out the details of Basic Stupid. Which I have been for the last . . . decade. Siiiiiigh. And Niall is, I fear, only too accustomed to me being late for handbells. He may have a much-punctured dartboard somewhere with my face on it but . . . he doesn’t let even lumpy, brain-fogged semi-handbellers escape without a struggle. AND HE’S PUT AN AWFUL LOT OF HOURS INTO ME OVER THE LAST DECADE. I think I’m doomed. No, I know I am. But so is he. However as he throws darts at my face I’m sure he murmurs to himself, If I can teach her to ring handbells I CAN TEACH ANYONE.
I’m a good thing, really I am. Really. I set the standard. Ahem. . . .
^^ When I get dressed
†† More, or sometimes less, suitably attired. Hey, what’s wrong with a simple cotton jersey dress with a BLUE HILL MAINE sweatshirt over, a muddy apron and hot pink wellies?
††† Okay, I am now loud. When do I get to the hits the right notes part? I went off and stood in a corner and sang into the wall again tonight at church. I’m assuming God doesn’t mind, but the congregation might.
‡ It’s not just handbells.
This one: http://www.metopera.org/opera/la-donna-del-lago-rossini-tickets [If the link dies at the end of the season: LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]
In the first place it was fabulous. I’m enormously glad I went. The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**
In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close. REALLY SILLY PLOT. REALLY REALLY SILLY. REALLY. SILLY. I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.*** We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †
In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.
I admit I wasn’t expecting this last. I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.†† I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role. I mean a kilt role. It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena. Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt. It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡
But I get ahead of myself. The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡ He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of. I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you? Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business. She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her. That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding. HONEY. YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§. I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL. I think. The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained. Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers. After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece. Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back. Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~
I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music. I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.= But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft. It does not have to be this daft. It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo. But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&
Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king. Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom. He’s the king. What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him? I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum. And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know? And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty. Uh huh.
But the king is supposed to be a good guy. Well, I think. I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other. Tahiti. Guam. But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no! I’m in love with the other mezzo! And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day? Well, yes. Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing. Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm. But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her? A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?
I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented. So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved. And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . . um, you gave me. You’ll see the king, the random guy says. Grandly.% So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT. She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.
Okay, whatever. Cue general rejoicing. The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy. And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.
I’m glad I went! The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%% I just wish—um—I just wish—um!
. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink. Um. Again.
* * *
* How Christianity Ruins Your Life. My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks. The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^ I have not figured this out yet. ^^ There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England. Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons. For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it. ARRRRRRGH. And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval. There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t. Way too self-indulgent somehow. Because of course I am never self indulgent. Ever. About anything.+
+ Choooooooocolate. Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)? And we’re not even going to mention yarn. # Or All Stars. ##
# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~ Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent. Personally I just call it dangerously insane.
~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault. I go to bed late.
## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently. I’m still in mourning. But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.
^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services. Only one a week seems, you know, careless. Unprofessional. For a bunch of monks.
^^^ Royal Opera House. Which is one of my problems. The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards. When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count ’em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice. The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards. And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly. Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming. Some of those memories linger. Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers. I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.
Anyway. The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not. Yet. I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.
+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.
++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to. And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.
** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box. Are there coloratura baritones? I don’t know.
*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible. There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.
† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott? Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?
†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.
††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying: and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^
^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING. YAAAAAAAAY. Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey. He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.
‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona. And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.
Just for the record, they kiss. Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^ Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black: which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare. Yessssss. But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo, Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well. Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets. Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors. Just by the way.
^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really. But the story on stage is het.
‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR. Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats. Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them. But he is a bloke.
‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.
‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern. Not in a good way.
§ HE’S IN PLASTIC LEATHERS. IF HE WERE A GOOD GUY HE’D BE WEARING A KILT.
§§ WHO IS WEARING PLASTIC LEATHER.
§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.
^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke. I can deal with this. The plastic leathers must go.
~ Um, why? The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur? Surely? Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^ And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?
^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines. Don’t Rebecca me. She only looks good in comparison.
~~ And leaving him there? What?
~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands. IT NEVER RAINS THERE. NOOOOOOO.
= The tenors are fine. And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time. But . . . give me one of those mezzos. Please.^
^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again. Had a voice lesson today. . . . No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.
== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage. Pav is taller than this bloke.
& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing. I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.
&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.
&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?
% Trying not to take a cheap shot here. But grandly is not Florez’ metier.
%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing. Sigh. Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?