Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous day when I picked up that slightly-known-by-me, undeniably mad but equally undeniably fabulously talented British writer Peter Dickinson, at the Bangor, Maine airport, for a weekend of playing tour guide to someone who’d never been to Maine before. I was usually pretty good at this, and Maine is very show-off-able, nearly all year long,* but Peter was a somewhat daunting prospect. In the first place he was PETER! DICKINSON! and in the second place . . . I knew Peter well enough—anyone who ever met him for thirty seconds knew him this well—to know that he would need to be kept amused. Long afternoons relaxing in a lawn chair getting through the home-made iced tea and chocolate-chip cookies was not going to appeal.* Mind you, he was totally capable of amusing himself, but this could also be disconcerting. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you that when I presented him with lunch that first day, he looked at the two or three kinds of bread, bowl of fruit, salad, and assorted cheeses, spreads and nut butters, with total dread and dismay and said, That’s not lunch! Where are the shops? I’ll go buy something. *** But have I told you—and forgive me if I have—the first words out of his mouth when he came through my front door for the first time, and I had opened my tiny hall closet† to hang up his coat, he peered into it and said, would you like me to build you a shelf? And I could do better than those coat hooks.
That was twenty-five years ago today.
Today was his interment.
I can’t remember how much of this I’ve told you already, and if I look back at this year’s blog posts it’ll just make me cry. I’ve cried enough today. You will remember that he died just before Christmas, and the memorial service was early January. Those of the family likely to want to be there for the interment agreed that there was no hurry, that waiting for better weather was a good idea. I’d originally wanted it in April, when spring is clearly here and the bluebells are out, but I couldn’t find a date that enough of us could come—‘us’ being chiefly Peter’s four kids and his retired-dean-of-Salisbury brother, who would also do the saying-a-few-words thing—and then I kind of lost heart. As I’ve told you both morale and energy have been in short supply since the middle of last December. May was passing and people were away in June and . . . I suddenly thought of our twenty-fifth anniversary. We used to celebrate both the 26th of July and the 3rd of January, which was our wedding day, but I think if anything we took the 26th of July more seriously because it was so utterly improbable that what happened did happen, and I’ve been living in England twenty-five years the end of this October and answer (sometimes) to ‘Mrs Dickinson’. I blinked a few times and thought yes. It’s going to be the 26th of July. And I hope people can come, but if they can’t, the interment is still going to be the 26th of July. I’m the widow. I’m pulling rank.
As it turns out it was a good date for nearly everybody. Butterfly-netting the local vicar was a little more demanding because of the way vicars work twenty-six hours a day and rarely answer phone calls. I finally had the critical meeting with the gravedigger yesterday, but at least it happened, and there was a suitable small square hole for a little box of ashes waiting for us today at noon.††
I’ve been obsessing about today increasingly for about the last fortnight and yesterday afternoon decided that I was going to make myself even more entirely crazy and go to early Mass this morning because I needed that sense of the presence of God that the abbey chapel gives me either like a warm eiderdown or a heavy blow to the head, I’ve never quite decided which.††† What a gift somewhere that offers daily Mass is: you have an inconveniently timed crisis? It’s okay. Go to Mass. It’s the spiritual version of kissing and making it better: it doesn’t really, but it does too, somehow. And there’s that wonderful sense of leaning on someone, or Someone, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. Your own griefs and responsibilities don’t go away, but you do get to lean.‡
I’d also decided that if I was going to wedge this in, and still get home in time to eat something‡‡ and hurtle the mob I was going to have to go in my party duds. Which today included sparkly bracelets to the elbows (nearly), a pink cashmere cardigan, the flowered Docs and the Liberty’s rhinestone belt I wore to the memorial service and my old black denim mini. Yes, I’m sixty-four‡‡‡, and I wore my forty-year-old denim mini. This occasional reversion to wild youth§ is getting more and more embarrassing, of course—it became officially embarrassing when I turned fifty which is now a long time ago—AND I DON’T CARE. Peter liked me in my minis§§, and it’s not like I do this often. And 400-denier black tights cover a multitude of the sins of age. But I am not thinking about what the group of little old conservatively dressed people at the abbey on retreat§§§ must have made of this vision in their midst, especially when it sat up front and cried like a river in spring flood through the entire service. Gah.#
So. Well. The little box was lowered into the little hole.## Our local vicar did us proud, entirely without prompting or input from me###, and had put together not only a thoughtful brief ceremony, but printed out programmes with a photostat of Peter’s CITY OF GOLD on the front. And Peter’s brother said a few words too which made me cry harder.~
We all retired to the Questing Beast for lunch~~ which put off the awful moment of coming home to . . . loneliness. With the interment it’s really, really all over, somehow. And I bunged the hellhounds~~~ into the back of Wolfgang and we went off to Warm Upford: I’m not sure if this was misty, romantic remembering or self-torture, but we walked from Montmorency’s Folly to the ridge behind the old house and through the meme field from Peter’s poem—and also, I didn’t think about this until we were already out of the car and hurtling, but we were recreating backwards most of the walk Peter took me on thirty years ago when I visited him and his first wife, which was the proximate cause of his visiting me in Maine five years later.
The hellhounds and I had a lovely walk. Late summer in the glorious Hampshire countryside.=
And then we came home again and I took the hellterror on a long hurtle== by the river, remembering that Peter had brought me through New Arcadia from Heathrow===, on our way to what was soon to be my home too, after our life-exploding weekend in Maine, when I came over for a week to see what I was getting into. . . .
Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. . . .
Maybe I should go to bed.
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************************************ NOTE THAT THIS WOULD HAVE GONE UP OVER AN HOUR AGO IF MY SO CALLED COMPUTER HADN’T GONE INTO FREE FALL.
* Winter is usually fine, if you have four wheel drive and good nerves, but barring March, when everything that has been frozen for the last four or five months melts, and it is not a pretty sight. Or smell. And black fly season. Black fly season is . . . worse than whatever you’re thinking. Zombies and vampires are so overdone. One of these horror writers needs to do something with black flies. Stephen King even lives in Maine.^
^ Although he may have done black flies and I missed it. I’ve only read a few of his books—out of Maine-author solidarity, although I doubt he’s ever heard of me—because they ARE TOO SCARY. And gross. I don’t do gross either.+
+ SUNSHINE’s climax isn’t even close. The only reason it looks yucky is because most people come to it having read BEAUTY or SPINDLE or . . . pretty much anything else I’ve written.
** Aside from the fact that this was not going to appeal to me either. Nor did I have any lawn chairs. Nor any lawn. And my quarter-acre^ was overshadowed almost entirely by the magnificent old maple tree in the front yard and several house-high boulders in the back. And lilac hedges down either side.
^ Which is a TINY plot in Maine and a HUGE garden in southern England. Granted we had two acres at the old house, but here at the cottage my garden is about the size of a four-burner Aga, and the garden at the Lodge is about the size of my hall cupboard in Maine. See below. Or above, depending on how you’re coping with the footnotes.
*** I married him anyway.
† Well, it was a tiny front hall. Two of us standing in it was kind of a feet-and-elbow fest. Now add a cavorting whippet.
†† Yes of course I went round—with hellhounds—last night and checked. I walk through that churchyard two, four, six times a day anyway, because it’s the nearest pleasant bit of grass for the hellmob. We’ll be walking through the churchyard to visit Peter just like we used to . . . like we used to . . . no I’m still not cried out yet.
††† Both St Margaret’s and St Radegund’s, here in New Arcadia, where Peter is now buried, have the presence of God too, but God is, for me, especially vivid and almost tactile at the abbey chapel. I don’t feel thumped in either St Margaret’s or St Radegund’s.
‡ Someone who is better at prayer than I am can of course get the same effect at home. I do pray at home^ and I am aware of God listening, but it’s a lot easier at church, where the church-space supports your tiny personal prayer-space.
‡‡ I can’t face more than tea and apples when I first lurch out of bed in the morning. The next thing on the menu these days is a Green Drink. I will spare you the ghastly details. It’s Very Healthy, and it’s another of those things that as your taste buds change you actually want to drink. Which is kind of frightening. I AM NOT GWYNETH PALTROW. NOT.
‡‡‡ Some of you will remember I start calling myself the age I will turn in November the summer before, so by the time I get to my birthday I’m used to it.
§ Some of you will also remember the black leather mini at Forbidden Planet a few years ago.
§§ Yes, his vision had been deteriorating for a while. And your point would be?
§§§ I say ‘little old’ but they’re probably frelling my age, they’re just doing it with more dignity. Dignity is overrated. And I brought my little cropped black leather jacket^ to drape over my knees. I am not lost to all propriety. Just most of it.
^ Which is about the same vintage as the skirt. Ah, those were the days. I’m so glad they’re over.
# Some of this was sheer relief and gratitude that I got there. On the way, arriving at the turn-off from the main road AND THE ROAD WAS CLOSED. NOOOOOOOOOOO. I NEED TO GET TO MASS AT THE ABBEY! I TOTALLY NEED TO! Fortunately Wolfgang reminded me that we know another way^. We weren’t even late, although we may have been slightly out of breath.
^ There were a few ‘diversion’ signs but they were mostly invisible in the hedgerows, badly placed behind other signs or missing at crucial intersections. More mild entertainment than, you know, directions for an alternate route.
## And had all that deluge earlier cried me out or anything? OF COURSE NOT. I am pleased to say however, that one other of our company at the interment, whom I will not embarrass by naming, is also a weeper, so at least I didn’t have to do the whole soggy thing alone.
### Our local vicar is a sweetie. I feel a bit guilty for belonging to another church five miles away—which is a confounded nuisance on bad-ME days as well—but this is a political decision, and nothing against the vicar here.
~ These began: ‘Here we return these ashes to the quiet earth from which they came. They were formed of star dust and spun for a few short days into a life that dreamed and sang, that loved and wept, and died. . . .’ They’re all writers in this family.
~~ Where there was almost nothing I could eat, of course, but that’s why I needed to eat some of my Funny Food beforehand. And they did have green tea and lettuce.
~~~ Thank you, God, for the hellmob. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
= Full of excellent smells, the hellhounds wish me to point out.
== I anticipate being decaying vegetable matter^ tomorrow. Never mind.
^ Oh, the wormery? Seems to be working fine. I guess. Still rather enigmatic. But it does add that touch of pink to my kitchen décor. One thing however: the bumf that comes with assures you that the worms can’t get out. Wrong. Not many+ and not often, but every two or three days I come downstairs to find a confused worm dawdling across the kitchen floor, or, more likely, under one of the dirt-catcher mats THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE FLOOR CLEAN HA HA HA HA HA HA, which I am learning to check, while I’m waiting for my (green) tea to steep. I think most people keep their wormeries in the garden or this interesting situation would be More Generally Known.
+ Unless they’re congregating under the washing machine, the refrigerator, or one of the hellmob crates, in which case I don’t want to know.
=== Where he had lost the car in the multi-storey car park . . .
I had the best working morning today—you know, story-words on computer screen type working morning—that I’ve had in yonks.* So I thought I’d write a blog post to celebrate.
A lot of my long silences here are just . . . long silences. One foot after the other days** when getting the hellmob even semi-hurtled is the height of my ambition or capacity.*** But some of it, on evenings when brain function is still just about discernible, is not knowing where to start. I’m still programmed to be doing this every night, I just haven’t the time, the energy, or the morale. And I don’t do the graceful summary thing.† I’m missing the wetware interface for graceful summary. So, ahem and apologies, Footnote Delirium ahoy.
But, you know, a good writing day? This deserves some banner-waving affirmation. Maybe I’ll even do it again tomorrow. The story-writing that is. I’d probably break if I wrote a blog post two nights in a row.
Meanwhile . . . hello and whatever and I hope you’re all well and thriving and reading great books out there in on-line land.
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* I’ve been working for a while now, but an awful lot of days it’s more, um, ‘working’. I have lots of days where I write three words and delete seventeen. You have too many days like this you have a bigger problem than when you weren’t ‘working’ at all.
** Sometimes no farther than the sofa, where the feet stop one-after-anothering and cross themselves on the armrest, the hellmob pummels the inert human body into some less than satisfactory semblance of comfy rumpled bedding^, and silence reigns. Except for the soggy pop of gloomy human thoughts exploding, and the hellterror snoring.
^ Fortunately they are mostly tolerant of badly-placed knees and ribcages.
*** Also the way I eat now takes AMAZING amounts of preparation. GOOD GRIEF. Anyone trying to maintain a mostly fresh-organic-fruit-and-veg diet had just better bring her laptop into the kitchen and get it over with because she’s going to be in the kitchen most of the time anyway. In my case this is even more challenging than for someone who has, bless them grrrrrr, a real kitchen rather than a blip with a few cupboards. My only half decent countertop is now my desk. Arrrgh. It’s quite useful to have a sink full of dirty dishes: balance your chopping board on top of it and, lo, counterspace. Arrrrgh. And? And? Why has the British Appliance Agglutination decreed that all electric flexes on countertop appliances should be no more than three inches long^ ??!!??? In this kitchen this means that every time I decide to get my juicer^^ out it’s a major schlep of STUFF . . . mostly onto the floor, so it’s a very good thing that the hellterror has decided that stuff on the floor is not automatically interesting, unless, of course, it smells of foooooood. Chaos, who likes to lie near the Aga occasionally, will sometimes lay his head delicately on a well-placed and –balanced pile of books, magazines, rough drafts, notebooks shedding Notes to Self, prayer plans and private, idiosyncratic modernisations of applicable Psalms+++ and business letters I’m trying to forget. Disturbing a sleeping dog is, of course, not to be thought of, so on these occasions I get a stiff neck, a warped shoulder and a crick in my spine leaning over the sleeping dog to get at the frelling juicer, three inches away from the wall. You’d think the noise of the thing would wake him up and move him on but . . . nooooooooo.
^ ‘eight centimetres’ doesn’t even sound that much longer
^^ Juicing. The faffiest flapdoodling faff of all GOOD FREAKING DOODAH GRIEF. And the FOOTPRINT of your average juicer?! Sixteen hellterrors or a small bus. Unfortunately I’m developing a, you should forgive the term, taste for juicing. Not only, if you get it right, is a barrowload of fresh raw juice an amazing hit+, but if you got a little carried away at the chance-found organic farmer’s market stall or the offers from your on-line organic grocery delivery gang that week, you can always juice your superfluity.++
+ Especially for those of us who can barely remember what chocolate is any more.# Your taste buds really do change. A few months AC## and raw carrot-apple-beetroot-sweet-potato### juice is so frelling sweet you’re sure it must be bad for you.
# In case of accidents, I’ve passed my stash on to the monks.
## After Chocolate
### Raw sweet potato. Yes. Parsnip is supposed to be good too but it was out of season by the time I started getting goofy over juicing.
++ Also there are now worms. Hungry worms. I’ve been threatening a wormery for a while now, as I’ve probably mentioned here: I don’t have room for a compost heap, or several compost heaps, since you have to rotate them#, at either the cottage or the Lodge or the cottage plus Lodge, and I’ve always had a veg-trimmings problem, even before I went doolally in the alkaline-paleo-vegan direction, and with juicing I now REALLY have a problem, and our local recycle guys get cranky if there’s too much kitchen detritus among the rich plunder of triffid-lash nettles, evil creeping buttercup and taking-over-the-universe ground elder.##
BUT I’ve been saying, I’ll buy a wormery later. I’ve got enough going on and besides I can’t afford it, I’ve got all these vegetables I have to buy every week plus lorryloads of hellmob food.###
Meanwhile I am mysteriously on the hot list for ringing weddings this summer. Stay with me here, this is not a non sequitur. My energy levels, including the number of neurons firing in my brain, at any given day/hour/frozen stalactite of time, are both unpredictable and unreliable, and while I haven’t yet missed a wedding by being too wombly to drive to the tower, there have been weddings when I prayed for the rest of the band to be beginners so no one would expect me to ring methods.#### I made a bristling . . . um, compost heap . . . of a couple of pathetically basic methods at a couple of weddings and was totally ready to fall on my sword, except that ringers who are willing to ring weddings must be in short supply around here at the moment or they wouldn’t be asking me in the first place.
So there was a wedding at Crabbiton##### a few weeks ago. And Wild Robert was running the band. And I should be used to his taking-no-prisoners habits by now, but IT’S A WEDDING. Feh. He drove us through methods I can’t ring recognisably on practise nights and I crawled home that night brainlessly high with my preposterous success###### and too exhausted to be sensible. So I bought a wormery. Of course. As you do.####### I’ve even rung enough weddings to cover the cost.
Hey. It’s PINK. No, really. I might not have bought it if it had been a subdued, business-like colour. But PINK? It looks very cute sitting next to the kitchen sink, except for the tripping-over-it, the-kitchen-door-only-opens-halfway part. I also have no idea whether it’s working or not, except for the fact that it smells nice when I open it to throw in some more apple cores and herb stems and armfuls of post-juicing sludge.
# SIGH for the beautiful, built-by-Atlas wood-framed compost heaps at Third House. SIIIIIIIGH.~
~ Note that Brexit is a catastrophe. Including that the real estate market just hit bottom and frelling splattered. You may remember I am trying—I wildly and hysterically need—to sell Third House? But that’s a post for another day. Preferably when I’m feeling stronger. Preferably after the time machine unspools us back to the Wednesday before Really, Really Bad Thursday and this time we stay in the EU, thank you very much. And I’ll think of something else to write a blog post about.=
= No a female Prime Minster is NOT worth it. Especially when she’s another thrice-blasted Tory.%
% I’m also having one of my American moments about the speed at which we acquired a new PM. I’m sure this must be illegal somehow. And the Queen is in on it.
## I almost forgive enchanter’s nightshade for being an ineradicable festering-festering ratbag weed for the excellence of its name.
### What I want to know is why, when the hellhounds don’t eat, we seem to get through SO MUCH dog food. ::Eyes the hellterror::
#### Also, stage fright. If you bollix it up on practise night, eh, it’s practise night. If you bollix it up for a wedding EVERYONE HATES YOU, except the bride, the groom, and the wedding party, who don’t notice. But how many frelling weddings have I rung over the years? I still get stage fright. And open ground floor rings are my deepest, bursting-galaxies nightmare, because everyone comes down to your end and leans on the barrier rope and stares at you and PROBABLY TAKES PICTURES. WITHOUT ASKING, OF COURSE, BECAUSE YOU’RE PART OF THE MULTI-MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT. Crabbiton is a ground floor ring.
##### See: ground floor ring. See: stage fright.
###### Wild Robert is a sorcerer. It’s the only explanation.
####### In the old days I’d’ve had to wait till the shops opened the next day, by which time I might have reclaimed my common sense, or cast an eye over my bank balance. On line shopping is also a Borg invention. Or possibly a critical factor in turning the human population into mush-minded proto-slaves, primed and ready for the return of Cthulhu.
+++ The ranting, miserable-sod ones of course. ‘Heal me, o God, for my bones are troubled.’
† The WHAT? What was that word before ‘summary’? Keep it away from me, I have sensitive skin, I’m sure it would burn.^
^ And, not speaking [of] the e-word, it’s also guaranteed that the day I put on clean jeans will be the day the hellterror and I have the kind of adventure which requires I pick her up and rest her muddy feet on my hip to ensure our best odds for survival. ARRRRRRGH. We met two women with five loose dogs—five large loose dogs—on the barely-one-thin-person-wide river path a few days ago, and the women were so profoundly engaged in their conversation that the hellterror and I had pied-pipered their flock of hairy, oversized rats some considerable distance before they even NOTICED. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.#
# And two days ago the hellhounds and I were walking across one of the little rec grounds in town when an idiot woman with a terrier on a lead and a spaniel off lead came through the gate. Hellhounds and I, a good thirty feet away, paused warily . . . and the gorblimey spaniel came hell-for-leather at us, barking and snarling, and circling closer and closer and closer . . . CALL YOUR [*******] DOG, I said, and Ms Porridge-Brain said something like, oh now, Sweetbuns, that’s not necessary, in this placatory voice, and Sweetbuns of course ignored her entirely, making little rushes and snatches at my dogs and me.
So I kicked the bugger.
Ms Porridge-Brain melted down. I melted down right back at her. He was only protecting me! she yelled in outrage. PROTECTING YOU? YOU ARE THIRTY FEET AWAY AND HE WAS [*******] THREATENING MY DOGS, I yelled back. HE IS OFF LEAD AND MINE ARE ON LEAD. The exchange may have deteriorated from that high point of communicatory clarity. And I’m still angry.
. . . Um. Not a good way to end a blog post. Um? La la la la la la la. . . . I’ve just memorised the lyrics to ‘Lord of the Dance’, I could sing . . .
Yesterday was a veeeeeeeery bad ME day and while I did go bell ringing at Crabbiton in the evening it was chiefly because the tower captain is a trifle fierce and has extracted promises out of her regulars, including recent vague wandering semi-alive, semi-conscious and semi-skilled dorks like myself, to let her know if we’re not coming. If I’ve genuinely got something legitimate on, that’s fine, I know it and I can say so. But on stupid bad-energy days I keep hoping I’ll start to improve any minute* and then the minutes trickle past and trickle past and on a bad day I’m not too plugged in to the whole time thing either and then suddenly it’s HALF AN HOUR TILL BELL PRACTISE AND I DIDN’T TELL FELICITY I’M NOT COMING SO I HAVE TO HURTLE A FEW HELLCRITTERS AROUND THE BLOCK FOR A PEE AND THEN PELT OFF TO PRACTISE.
Today has been better, but hellcritters might be permitted to feel a trifle aggrieved at their summary and abbreviated hurtling yesterday. Peter wants to go to the farmers’ market on Fridays, so I bring the hellhounds and we have a nice nonstandard hurtle while Peter buys stuff. That was them. They were happy to come home and flop. I then contemplated the hellterror (who was in my lap at the time) and decided she should have an adventure, so I took her out to one of the countryside walks none of us goes on any more because of the Other People’s Dogs problem. Pav is very nearly the perfect companion for such an excursion—not quite perfect, there is no perfect when the world is full of idiots and their dogs—because she’s a bull terrier the average moron shudders away from her and makes a more concerted grab for his/her manic off-lead danger to society than he/she would for a mere pair of lurchers/longdogs/large whippety things. No one is afraid of a mild-mannered sighthound. Anyway. If the OHMIGOD IT’S A PIT BULL** WE’RE GOING TO DIIIIIIIIE thing doesn’t work, I can pick her up. We had several occasions of each this afternoon.
We managed to have a good time anyway. But here’s the amazing thing: I wore her out. I WORE OUT a hellterror. By the time we got back to Wolfgang she was throwing herself belly-down into the long grass by the side of the track and trying to convince me to carry her the last stretch. No. You can walk. You know there’s foooooooood waiting back at the car—she always gets a little handful of kibbly treats to convince her that climbing into her travelling crate is a good thing—oh, right, fooooooood, she said, and deigned to totter the rest of the way after me.
It took her all of lunch and a half hour’s nap to recuperate. . . .
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* This is not quite as daft and irresponsible as it sounds. As often as I not I start coming out of an ME haze with a surprisingly graphic sense of my energy running back in, like pouring water into a pitcher. Sometimes it’s more like fog lifting. Sometimes it happens faster and sometimes slower and sometimes it’s like WHAM and sometimes it’s pretty subtle—it might occur to me that I could stop playing Triple Town^ and concentrate on something for example.
^ I CANNOT FRELLING BELIEVE I’VE GOT RE-ADDICTED. The beastly [sic] game is so last year. Or last two or three years, I mean, ago, I think. But I was trying to wean myself OFF all the unblessed word games I was playing too much of+. And I turned the frelling ninja bears off and suddenly, whammo, I’m frelling playing frelling Triple Town again.++
+ Especially the ones with the really dark background colours so you can get eyestrain while you waste your time? What a great system.#
# Apparently it never occurred to the designers that old people might want to play their finglegartmore games.
++ And doing a lot better for some reason. It’s not just lack of ninja bears. Maybe it’s the boomerang result of Wild Robert trying to teach me to call real touches of Grandsire doubles. I can call the cheating touch, where you just call yourself in and out of the hunt every other lead, and all you have to keep track of is how many calls you’ve made so you yell THAT’S ALL at the right moment.# Wild Robert, who is a fiend in human disguise##, wants me to learn to keep track of all the bells and where they are in the pattern so I’m calling from awareness rather than a memorised pattern. I get this###—it’s the difference between real conductors and people who have memorised a few patterns—but that doesn’t mean I can do it. Triple Town is just a frelling computer game. Arrrgh.
# Which I never do. I usually manage to count my calls accurately but then it’s like, Here? Here? Do I call an end here? —No, you call half a lead ago and now we’re ringing an unscheduled plain course while you feel foolish. CALL NOW BEFORE WE RING FORTY-SEVEN MORE PLAIN COURSES WHILE YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT IT. Sigh. I was not snorfleblasting made to be a conductor.
## And I’m sure he keeps his good humour about teaching an endless array of hopeless dorks by setting those of us with victim mentalities impossible challenges because we’re fun to watch.
### I was thinking last night—blearily—that this conducting nightmare is not totally unlike learning the Samaritan mindset—what the trainers call ‘your Samaritan head’. You can grasp in principle all kinds of things about offering emotional support, no more and no less, and the minute you’re dropped in a role-play to practise what you’ve just so-called learnt, your frelling mind goes frelling blank. WHAT DO I SAY NOW. I am going to be very glad to get my first genuine duty shift over with . . . so it is over with and I can stop frelling obsessing about it.~ The thing about conducting a touch of change ringing is that the worst that happens is a really bad noise that the neighbours may complain of and you decide to stay home henceforth and do more knitting, which is quieter and involves fewer rope burns~~. With the Samaritans . . . you may actually hurt someone’s feelings. Eh. Well, no one was holding a gun to my head when I went along to the info evening, and then along to the flushing out the secret Klu Klux Klan members first-cut evening, and then the interview and now the training. . . . And it’s fascinating. It’s not cheerful—if everyone were cheerful we wouldn’t need Samaritans—but it is fascinating, and clearly worthwhile, and I’ve always been a (cranky) wet knee-jerk liberal and I’m now a (cranky) Christian wet knee-jerk liberal and although the Samaritans is comprehensively and categorically not a religious organization, still, God told me to do it so I can shut up and get on with it. Yes sir/madam.
~ Which the trainers say is dead common and not to worry about it. Try not to obsess, but don’t worry about . . . obsessing.
~~ It is very hard to give yourself a rope burn, bell ringing. Just by the way.
** Bull terriers are not pit bulls. Also just by the way.
It rained in torrents the last two days* and then today, when it was supposed to rain in more torrents, it cleared off and was gorgeous—and everything green** and rooty that had sucked up lake-sized draughts promptly shot up another couple of feet. Atlas mowed Third House’s lawn last Monday and I swear it’s chest-high again. But I really have to take some new photos because the ones from a fortnight ago that I still haven’t got round to posting are like last century. Meanwhile I seem to have got a little distracted by footnotes again.***
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* . . . well I think it was approximately two days. Between being brain-destroyingly short of sleep and going to bed after dawn, the days kind of smush together.
** Not necessarily green green. If you’re a copper beech you’re deep maroon.^ If you’re a black-leaved dahlia you’re, um, black. Or anyway a very dark green.
^ Love copper beeches. LOVE.
The hellhounds had had a good hurtle around Mauncester Friday morning so I took the hellterror with me to Warm Upford in the afternoon to top up Wolfgang’s fuel tank since it’s a frelling Bank Holiday weekend frelling frelling again FRELLING NO VOICE LESSON TOMORROW FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING. About two miles beyond Warm Upford on the road to Prinkle-on-Weald there’s a huge old estate that’s been mostly turned into a conference centre or similar. They’ve left the landscape alone, bless them, and various outbuildings and the astonishing old stable block, which is a kind of miniature palace, are still there pursuing new careers. When we lived at Warm Upford we used to hurtle the previous generation out there pretty often, and back in my running days my two main loops—one five miles, one seven—began there. Before I lost my nerve and Darkness his temper about off lead dogs I used to take the hellhounds out there occasionally, but I can’t now remember the last time we hurtled there.
Part of the landscape that the conference centre has left alone is the old avenue to the Big House . . . lined with copper beeches. There are a lot of copper beeches around here, including the one that hangs over Third House’s garden from the churchyard+, but this is the only proper avenue of them that I can think of. It is dazzling in its splendour—especially this time of year and especially-especially in a good rain year because beeches are shallow rooted—at least it is if you are crazy about copper beeches. Friday I parked under the tree I used to park under to go running, about halfway down the avenue, and it was like MY OLD FRIENDS! HOW YA DOING??
Also, the hellterror was beside herself with delight. I swear there were about eight hellterrors, all of them HURTLING. Do all short dogs have pogo-stick legs? BOING. BOING. BOING. She met her first horse—up close, I mean, being ridden past, not at a distance in a field++. And she did not bark. I was very proud.+++
+ Mine mine MINE. Never mind where the roots are. MINE.
++ She also met her first horse crap. Horse crap = dog chocolate. Ewwww. Sigh.
+++ Today every nincompoop with a dog was out with it. Bank Holiday Sunday the end of May in glorious weather—hopeless. But us rain-or-shine regulars are grimly out there too. The hellterror and I were attempting to walk past a bench upon which were two women with dogs and one dog-free bloke. The dogs were large. The women were medium. The bloke was small. The dogs had that superior look that often goes with largeness, to which the hellterror took exception. Well I’m kind of with her there. Walking past quietly on a loose lead was out of the question, but we could at least walk past in a series of short controlled hops with a minimum of sotto voce comments about the heritage and personal habits of the unnecessarily large dogs. I was bent over with some fingers hooked through her harness the better to continue the conversation—she does listen, the little evil eye rolls back toward me with that but-they’re-LARGE-and-SMUG-you-can’t-expect-me-to-IGNORE-them look—but she has a somewhat non-existent attention span# so I have to keep reminding her that she did agree to be polite. And the bloke says, you training him?
In the first place HER HARNESS IS PINK. I’m aware of the cultural dorkiness that says that all dogs are he like all cats are she. And, okay, never mind the vagina and the prominent nipples. HER HARNESS IS PINK. In the second place WHAT DO YOU THINK, POTATO FACE? I usually walk all bent over with my hand hooked through my short-legged dog’s harness murmuring sweet nothings in her pointed ears for the entertainment of the teeming Bank Holiday hordes.
# I have to tell you again however our late-night training sessions are a hoot. There are now several things she does pretty well but our default is that she sits and gives me a paw. Whenever we start getting tangled up in some dumb thing I’ve failed to explain successfully in hellterror language, we revert to sitting and offering a paw. Because these sessions involve fooooood the lack of attention span disappears under an avalanche of greed, and she has a full-body offering of paw(s) I find hilarious. What I really want to video however are my attempts to teach her to roll over. She is, of course, a total ham—I think this is in the bullie gene map—and if I’m laughing, as far as she’s concerned, she’s doing it right. Especially if she gets chicken/cheese/apple for it. But I haven’t got enough hands to run a video camera too.~
~ Especially since I think I may have broken a finger. I can’t even remember what I was diving for, last night, in my clumsy, sleep-deprived state, but my hand slammed into a chair instead and there was this tiny nasty snapping noise. Oops. I took about half a bottle of arnica and I can still type—this is not coming to you via voice-recognition software, no—but the finger has turned kind of a funny colour= and it’s (yelp) rather sore and I don’t think I want to hold even a small video recording device in that hand. If it gets no worse I’ll just let it sort itself out but there may be a hiatus in bell ringing. How long does it take a small finger bone that is probably cracked, not broken, to heal?
= Rather copper beech coloured, in fact.
*** I keep telling you I need sleep. I. NEED. SLEEP. Sigh . . .
I think I haven’t been to any of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s live-streaming cinema broadcasts this season, for a variety of reasons, including being fired by my dog minder, but also . . . and I realise how pathetic and lame this sounds . . . because Saturday night is my favourite frelling church service, sitting silently in the dark with monks. Saturday night is the only service all week that has the silent-sitting thing. I’ll try to catch an extra service at the abbey, I hope tomorrow night**, but if I want to sit silently in the dark I’ll have to do it by myself. Whiiiiiiine.
But this run at the Met is probably Joyce DiDonato’s last performance of La Cenerentola, and last night was the broadcast. And Radio 3, which would be airing it only without the eye-candy part, has been advertising it pretty hard. And there are, in fact, limits to my dedication to God (and monks).*** Joyce DiDonato, you know?† Not to mention Juan Diego Florez, who is adorable aside from the high Cs††.
Because I bought my ticket at the last minute I had a choice between being at the extreme end of one of the back rows and thus seeing the screen as if reflected in an unfunhouse mirror . . . or the aisle of the second row and thus needing a neck like a giraffe to tip my head far enough back to see the screen at all. I went for the second row. And brought a large tote bag with two big fat pillows in it—much to the hilarity of the guy behind me in row three†††—and lay down for the show.‡ Worked a treat, thanks.
AND THE OPERA WAS FABULOUS. STAGGERINGLY, GORGEOUSLY, JAW-DROPPINGLY FABULOUS. If they rerun it—which they sometimes do, and I would expect DiDonato’s final go at one of her signature roles would be a good candidate—and you have the FAINTEST interest in opera or classical singing or music—GO. GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO. GO.
And . . . just by the way . . . not that this has anything to do with anything . . . but there are three cute guys in it. This doesn’t happen in opera. You’re lucky if you have one who, compared with a dead fish, comes out slightly ahead. Florez, as previously observed, is darling.‡‡ Dandini is also pretty frelling cute.‡‡‡ And Alidoro . . . ::fans self::§ I mean, gleep.§§
. . . . Anyway. I have now spent over an hour sifting through YouTube clips§§§ because I am so devoted to the welfare of my blog readers, and I HAVE TO GO TO BED. Maybe I’ll get back to CENERENTOLA in a footnote sometime. . . .
* * *
* The etc is chiefly that we went to a National Garden Scheme garden today . . . and took Pav. I’ve been wanting to take her to an open garden but there aren’t that many that allow dogs—fewer than there used to be, I would have said, but maybe it’s just around here, or we want to go to the wrong gardens.^
This one was gorgeous, mellow old stone house on the bank^^ of one of England’s pencil-thick so-called rivers, but winding romantically, with waterfowl and reeds.^^^ The garden then extended back across fields with vistas and benches and the occasional outburst of perennial border. And the weather, which was forecast to be grouchy and streaming by turns, was glorious, bright blue sky and big fat scudding clouds.# I barely saw any of it, since Pav was trying to see, respond, engage, EAT all of it simultaneously and you couldn’t see those little short legs, they were churning so fast. ADVENTURE! WE’RE HAVING AN ADVENTURE! Pantpantpantpantpantpantpant. She did not seem to be sorry to sit in my lap for tea, however, where she was more easily suppressed than if I tried to make her lie down under my chair##, although I did have to keep a sharp eye on the cakes. NO. NOT FOR DOGS. NOT EVEN FOR HELLTERRORS. Cute is not enough. —She was much admired by several aficionados of the breed, however, as well as cringed away from by several people who think they know that all bull terriers are evil biting machines. Sigh. We saw Labs (of frelling course), Goldens, poodles, gazillions of ordinary boring hairy terrier terriers . . . but we were the Supreme Only Bull Terrier present.
^ We used to allow dogs when we opened our garden at the old house. Just by the way. We also offered free plastic bags. Ahem. Today this aspect of the presence of dogs was pretty funny. Pav in the heat of excitement had an unscheduled defecatory moment which—since I always have plastic bags secreted about my person in several places in case I forget and run out in the standard coat pocket location—I recovered. But there wasn’t anything like a bin to deposit the securely wrapped morsel in. I can’t now remember what we did when we had our garden open; did we expect people to carry canine excreta home with them? Surely not. Anyway. No bin. So Pav and I went back to the gate while Peter bought tea+, and inquired there if there was a public bin nearby? The car park this private garden was using for their open day was attached to some public wildlife preserve, you’d frelling expect there’d be a bin.
You’d’ve thought I’d made an improper suggestion++. Both ladies looked alarmed and revolted and the nearer one edged her chair away from Pav doing her I-am-a-lunatic-and-I-have-no-manners shtick but clearly secured by a thick+++, heavy, short lead. No-no-no-no-no, quavered one of them, clutching her twinset to her bosom.
I was tempted to make little dashes at them—like the bully in the playground waving a poor confused harmless snake at the wusses, although I would not describe Pav as poor or confused, or harmless if you’re wearing clean jeans—but I didn’t want to be told to go away before I’d had my tea. So I restrained myself (and Pav).
And took our parcel back to the car. Which was kind of a frelling walk. Next year the owner, whom I heard saying jollily that they’d had a lot of dogs today, should consider both the suitability of the volunteers on the gate and the provision of a small bin with a lid.
+ Including the all-important Cake Selection process
++ Live in a yurt! Buy an armadillo! Get legless on a night you’re wearing stacked stilettos and make the Street Pastors give you a pair of flipflops!
+++ and spectacularly gaudy. So gaudy I had a pair of meek little English men creep up to me and ask softly where I’d bought it. Oh, the States somewhere, I said loudly in my rich American accent. I forget.
So maybe it was the (pink) harness and rainbow-dazzle lead that the ladies on the gate were disturbed by, and the drooling hellterror exhibiting them was incidental.
^^ High enough, I guess, that they did not have water in their cellar this winter.
^^^ Rushes? Tall strappy-leaved edge-of-river plants.
# The best thing of all was how easy it was to find. It looked in the directions like it should be easy. But that doesn’t mean anything.
## HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. But she lies down very well if there’s cheese or chicken involved. And I did have chicken jerky in my pocket in case of emergencies.
** As I wrote to Alfrick, emailing to warn him I wasn’t coming last night, I start jonesing for monks if I go much over a week without a hit.
*** I’m a Street Pastor! I’m about to become a frelling (nonreligious, but God still told me to) Samaritan! Cut me some slack here!
††† And I wager my neck was in better shape than his at the end of the four hours
‡ Leg stowage I admit can be a problem in these situations, but as it happens there was no one in the front row, so I could rest my raised knees against the seat without anyone objecting.
‡‡ In the interviews I’ve heard with him he sounds like a decent human being too. I refuse to find darling people who are clearly major creepazoids.^
^ I’m old. My hormones are under control.+
+ Except for the ones involved in hot flushes. I thought you STOPPED HAVING hot flushes/flashes after a few years. I’m waiting. . . .
§ Hot flush. No, really.
§§ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pr2LBjN7K10 Gah. I have wasted a lot of time trying to find a clip where you can not merely hear but see him. There’s also quite a good one of him singing poor Cherubino off to battle but you don’t get a close up. This one is fairly explicit. He’s the one doing most of the singing, making up to the girl in the grey dress. ::fans self more:: Oh, Dmitri [Hvoroskovsky], you may have a rival.^
^ I’M OLD. MY HORMONES ARE UNDER CONTROL.
§§§ Okay. Some knitting also occurred.