Southdowner was here yesterday. I got an email from her Saturday afternoon saying, YEEEEE-HA. BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY. I could come down tomorrow? —I looked nervously at Pav. You’re not perfect! I said. And it’s all my fault because I’m a BAD OWNER! She wagged her tail. All stimuli lead to tail-wagging in a hellterror.* Also, I added, you’re still TOO THIN according to breed fashion!** She wagged her tail harder. You could see the thought balloon though: FEEEEEEED MEEEEEEEEEE.
Still. It would be nice to see Southdowner. Especially because—hee hee hee hee hee—have I told you she’s ended up with TWO of Pav’s siblings? Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. Nothing on earth, of course, was going to persuade her to have even ONE because she already has ninety-seven dogs and a small house. But first there was Fruitcake, who has turned out to be rather a stunner***, and Olivia was dithering about him, she’d actually turned down two buyers because she is derang—I mean, because she felt they were going to treat him as an artefact or a Breed Standard Winning Machine instead of a dog. So she still had him, but she didn’t really want to keep an entire dog with an entire bitch . . . at which point Southdowner said she’d have him. I wasn’t there, so I can’t categorically state there was a gleam in her eye, but I bet there was. Southdowner herself has said that the family she’s bred for three generations, and of which Lavvy, Olivia’s bitch, is one, has mostly produced gorgeous girls and reasonably nice boys. There’s been at least one world-beater boy, but most of the world-beaters have been girls. I suspect Southdowner has had her eye on Fruitcake for a long time and Olivia has been pretending she didn’t know it.
So far so . . . almost reasonable. Hey, Southdowner is a bullie breeder, of course she’s going to be interested in a gorgeous scion of her own family. But then Scone, who was recognised as The Handful and Too Clever By Half when the final cut was made and Pav came to me, and who had gone to experienced bullie owners, nonetheless proved to be too much for them. Whereupon poor Olivia teetered on the brink of meltdown because one of HER PRECIOUS PUPPIES was not having the happy life she deserved—but Olivia herself has a full time job and is not a dog behaviourist and . . .
. . . Southdowner said she’d have her.
And Scone is darling. Of course. I’ve seen her twice since Southdowner took her and I can’t see anything wrong with her. She’s just your average mad frantic bullie. But from where I’m standing I’m delighted Southdowner has half of Pav’s litter—and there are plans afoot† for all of us to meet up with Croissant in London. . . .
* * *
* Some stimuli, especially those including fooooooood, lead to other predictable behaviours, screaming, hanging from the rafters, etc, but the beginning of all hellterror activity is tail wagging.
** And slightly under what even I prefer thanks to what I assume was an unobserved snack of something noxious on our FOUR WAY HURTLE at Warm Upford on Saturday afternoon. Well, I needed petrol^ and it was a BEAUTIFUL DAY and . . . who was I going to leave behind? So we all went. And we all lived and I don’t even have rope/lead burns. But it would have been more fun if I hadn’t spent all of it scanning the horizon for other people’s loose dogs. Anyway. Pav was on short rations for about a day and a half after something disagreed with her^^ and was therefore a trifle tucked up even by my standards.^^^ All that tail-wagging takes a lot of energy.
^ Even the pet shop owner thinks I need a new car. Isn’t that moss growing on the roof? she said. WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH IT? WOLFGANG FRELLING LIVES OUT. HE FRELLING LIVES OUT, UNDER A TREE. OF COURSE HE’S GOT MOSS GROWING ON HIS ROOF, BECAUSE I DON’T WASH IT OFF.+ What is the matter with people? He RUNS. The bottom line is that he RUNS. We’ve had two bad, expensive moments with Wolfgang, one several years ago when we put eight hundred frelling quid into the steering at which point the end had better not have been nigh and, fortunately, wasn’t, and then a year or so ago when they finally figured out what was causing the extremely unnerving and demoralising not-starting thing, which was after all the drama relatively cheap to put right. The expensive part was the effect on my peace of mind and stomach lining. Not that I would know peace of mind if it bit me ++ but there are better seasons and worse seasons for not sleeping or for waking up and going AAAAAAUGH.
+ And at this point can’t. Who knew that moss could get its roots through hard-finish automobile paint? Feh. Bad design somewhere.
++ This is another reason my road to Damascus moment last 12 September was so indisputable. I don’t do the peace that passeth all understanding, even in fiction. If someone was standing there shining with it . . . it wasn’t anything I was making up.
^^ MINOR SQUICK WARNING. Well, I think minor. But then I’m a critter owner and we have to be tough. So READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. I keep telling you that Pav isn’t a bull terrier really, she just looks like one. One of the tricks both Olivia and Southdowner warned me about is the extra-dimensional pouches bullies have in their cheeks, to hide things you’re trying to take away from them. Even if you have a bullie that lets you open its mouth it’s not guaranteed you’re going to find what you’re looking for. Now, very often what you’re looking for is not something you want to fish around for with your bare hands.+ I discovered, quite by accident, and as part of the whole astonishing another-poor-sad-deluded-creature-accepts-me-as-hellgoddess business++, that if I hold Pav’s head nose down while keeping her jaws well open and give it a shake, the offending object/substance may fly out. In fact surprisingly often does. Even when it’s . . . you know, squishy. Sometimes it helps to clamp the entire hellterror vertically upside down between my legs and then shaking the open-jawed head. . . . Yes, she puts up with this. I’m convinced however that this has very little to do with my status as Alpha+++ and everything to do with the well-developed and one might even say notorious bullie sense of humour.
+ Some of you will remember South Desuetude Cemetery Adventure. Ewwwwwwwww.
++ BUT THIS ONE EATS.#
# I mean wow, does she ever eat. Still.
+++ We all know that the whole Alpha business is pretty much bogus, right? It has limited usefulness—yes you are the boss, or you’d better be—but Alpha? Nah.
^^^ I think it is my destiny to be awarded digestively-challenged critters. I can’t starve the hellhounds when they have the rivers because empty stomachs make them worse. I can’t starve the hellterror when she has the purees because she eats her bedding.
*** Not of course as stunning as Pavlova.
† Or apaw, if you prefer.
It’s been another beautiful spring day . . . we’ve had an actual SPRING WEEKEND, what’s gone wrong?* The gods of anarchy must be off playing golf on Betelgeuse or something. I hurtled hellhounds over to Old Eden and there were lots of dazed, blinking people on the footpaths wondering what had hit them and like feeling the air for, I don’t know, incipient sleet or something. Nobody except official card-carrying Ramblers** actually carry maps any more—the dazed and blinking are all carrying their smartphones. Some things don’t change however: I was asked for directions three times*** by people staring bewilderedly at their smartphones, and my directions in each case began with some version of ‘first you turn around’.
* * *
My greenhouse is also full of small green things yearning to be outside in the ground. I keep telling them to wait a bit yet or they’ll get a nasty chill and then it would be tears before bedtime!
Also? Also? My greenhouse is full of buckets of sand and teetering pre-avalanches of all the stuff that used to be on shelves on the other wall which are not only a cataclysm waiting to happen in their own right but I can’t find anything that I know used to be there and I can’t REACH anything on the shelves behind which (theoretically) should be still more or less as they were before the Wall Trauma began. Not to mention the risk to life and unbroken limbs that negotiating passing through the greenhouse is at present. And furthermore I haven’t heard from Atlas. If he doesn’t come tomorrow and put my shelves back up I may move to an eighth-floor flat.^
But because I am smarting from the jolly description of your splendid greenhouse with its rows and rows of nurtured and pampered seedlings I will just mention in passing that I’ve been tying up the Three Evil Sisters and a short person could probably now walk down that path unmolested.^^ I do not lose gracefully. It behoves everyone to remember this.
^ And teach the hellcritters to use litter boxes.
Argh, you are making me want to garden. Stop making me want to garden! My poor apartment has nowhere for plants to go!
Windowsills. Window boxes. You’re getting no sympathy from me. There’s a gizmo out there I almost bought a couple of years ago that was called something like Indoor Garden and it was a big tray thing with a grow-light built in over it so the whole deal was free-standing and you could put it anywhere you could plug it in. They were advertising it for short veg—lettuce and herbs, say—you could probably grow some prone tomatoes. Or you could just buy a grow-light and hang it over your kitchen/dining table.+ This option is no longer available to me because I have a hellterror (and only one table).++
Right outside my door gets pretty much no sunlight,
Begonias. Fuchsias. Camellias. Foxgloves. Ferns. Hostas. Heucheras. I could go on a long time, you know.
and all the usable garden space has been claimed by tenants who have been there longer than I. All I have managed is to wodge in a few pots for tomatoes in the front lawn, and I know one of my neighbors at least is quite resentful of them.
Offer him/her a tomato?
+ There may be fancy (read: expensive) grow-lights out there but the ones in my price range have to hang close to what they’re shining on. Hence a table. This also prevents you from walking on your seedlings and constantly clanging into the wretched grow-light. The winter I had mine in the sitting-room at the cottage I had bruises. Okay, more bruises than usual.
++ Although I have moved the hellterror crate off the table# onto the floor . . . neither she nor I is totally happy with the new arrangement. Her view isn’t nearly as good down there, and it’s a small dark kitchen anyway—and she is still Mayhem on four little furry feet so she has to spend any time I can’t keep an eye on her in her crate. When the Winter Table comes down## I’m going to try shoving the hellhounds’ crate around a little and see if there is any alternative. I have already blocked off two cupboards in my small kitchen by the fact of having the first frelling critter crate. Siiiiiiigh.
Also . . . when I had her on the table, she used to BURST out the door and fly into my arms, oof. And . . . she misses being carried. Especially in the mornings when we haven’t SEEN EACH OTHER FOR AT LEAST SIX HOURS. She’d launch herself out of the floor-level crate and immediately start scrabbling up my leg and crying. So now I get down on the floor when I open the crate in the morning, she bounds gladly into my arms . . . AND THEN I HAVE TO STAND UP CARRYING A FRELLING HEAVY HELLTERROR. She’s very happy. She hooks her front paws over my forearms, licks my face, and beats my ribs with her tail. It’s interesting about tails. The hellhounds’ tails are long and whippy and they sting if they whack you. The hellterror’s tail is short and muscular and it’s like being thumped with a truncheon.
But you only have critters at all if you’re demented, so superfluous carriage of wriggly twenty-eight pound parcels is all in the day’s adventures.###
# I didn’t do it sooner because I WAS WAITING FOR SPRING. She’s only a puppy, she’s not large, there’s only one of her and there are DRAFTS down there.
## Which is apparently not going to be any time soon. I had everything and its best friend indoors again last night . . . and I believe we are going to repeat this delightful cotillion tonight. ARRRRRRGH. When my [tender] dahlia cuttings arrive I am so dead. ~
~ I always order way too many dahlia cuttings. Even years I’m being pretty good about plant orders . . . I order too many dahlia cuttings.
### Feh etc.
^^ Alicia is not short. But she’s shorter than I am.
Yes, I am, because they lobby for stuff like keeping footpaths open, but I’ve never been on a group walk. I’m thinking about it now however because I think the hellterror would enjoy it, as the hellhounds would not.
*** Person walking dogs is usually a good bet for local pedestrian directions, by the time I open my mouth and my American accent falls out it’s too late, and before they start edging away I’m usually already giving them quite decent (local pedestrian) directions. It’s when they say things like ‘London’ or ‘the Taj Mahal’ that I have to stop and think about it first.
Some things may be looking up. No, no, nothing about ARCs and books scheduled for publication in September*. Both hellhounds ate lunch today for the first time in weeks. Of course then we had an unexpected meltdown about dinner, arrrgh. However, eating was eventually accomplished at dinner as well . . . and then they got all cranky about Pav getting bits of chicken for afters too. Guys. Your neurosis is showing.
But I was thinking despairingly today . . . I may not only be starting to hope strenuously that Pav doesn’t get too big to pick up**, I may spend my declining years specialising in dogs that are small enough to pick up.*** It is the simple truth that Other People’s Dogs are starting to undermine my delight in my own dogs. Yes. It’s that bad.
I think it was two days ago I was giving Pav a last quick sprint around the centre of town. It was after dark and New Arcadia is not known for its heady night life. There were only a few people on the street. Two of them were standing talking to each other outside the Troll and Nightingale. Between them was a lying-down dog.
I am paranoid, but like the old joke goes, even paranoids have real enemies. This dog was just lying there but I knew I didn’t like the look of it, and I had taken note that it was not wearing a lead. I think we’ll not worry about it, I said to Pav, and picked her up. I then strolled out into the street, so we would be passing Ominous Dog at a little distance instead of possibly invading its private space by passing it on the, you know, public pavement.
We hadn’t even come level with it when it LEAPED to its feet and came barrelling straight at us, barking and snarling with all its hair up. OH GREAT. THIS IS GREAT. I REALLY GOT UP THIS MORNING SAYING PERHAPS TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE. I yelled, which is what I usually do in these situations, bellowing is less embarrassing than shrieking and if by any chance the human involved is going to do anything this is a SUGGESTION THAT THEY DO IT NOW.
They never do, of course. In this case as I yelled I swung around, on the theory that fewer dogs will attack a human than will go for the hellterror in the human’s arms, and Toxic Purulence Dog swerved off at the last minute, circled around us and came up behind me again. I don’t suppose I did feel its hot breath on the back of my neck but I felt as if I was feeling its hot breath on the back of my neck. Not a small dog. Just by the way.
Its human said, Awwwwwww, he just wants to say helloooooooo.
Words failed me, which is just as well. You can neither argue nor reason with these troglodytes—and in this case I guess there is more going on than mere denial. This guy’s getting off on his evil dog, in some weird passive-aggressive way. Toxic Purulence Dog eventually peeled away and left us alone, and I, even more eventually, put Pav back on her own feet.†
I was out with Pav after dark again tonight†† but we were at the other end of town. We were walking past one of the sports grounds which was all lit up because they were playing one of those men-in-shorts-kicking-balls games. I therefore couldn’t see much into the dark beyond, but I was pretty sure I was seeing . . . an off lead dog and a human. I picked Pav up. As we got closer . . . IT WAS TOXIC PURULENCE DOG AGAIN. How did we get so lucky? And it ran straight at us††† while its human said, Awwwwww, now, Uncle Wiggly‡ . . .
It swerved off again, a little sooner this time. Small favours. I tracked it going down the other side of the football field and thought, we’ll just take an extra loop around the hedgerow so we don’t all arrive back at the car park at the same time.
I was nonetheless looking around like Ripley in Aliens as we got close to the car park and . . . saw a large familiar-looking dog just jumping into a car. ‡ We lingered a little longer before venturing to cross the tarmac and . . . violent, hysterical barking broke out from the car we’d seen. I risked looking over my shoulder and . . . yup. Toxic Purulence Dog. Slightly muffled by being behind a closed window.
Here’s the really incredible bit. The troglodyte lowered the window so Toxic Purulence Dog could jam its head and shoulders through the opening and scream at us. I wondered in a cool detached way if TPD was actually going to get out and come after us again. . . .
What is the matter with people?
* * *
* SHADOWS’ official pub date is the 26th of September, if you want to draw a big red circle on your calendar. I Remember the Good Old Days when authors got their first copies weeks before the rest of the world did. Now it’s the other way around. With pre-orders and things readers who are not merely enthusiastic but organised may have your book in their hot little hands weeks before your publisher’s warehouse sends it to you.
** I can’t think of Pav as ‘small’ however. She’s just . . . low slung. She’s so frelling solid.^ When I think of a small dog, I think of the sort of critter that you’re afraid of breaking if you pick it up wrong or hold it too tightly. It’s not merely a question of weight: Pekinese are solid little beggars. Bichon Frises, in my admittedly limited experience, are not, although they may weigh half again to twice what a Peke weighs. While I’m not going to try dribbling Pav like a basketball^^, I’m quite sure she’d bounce and come up smiling.^^^
^ Even if she’s too thin.+
+ . . . mutters: she is not too thin.
^^ and am only occasionally tempted . . . STOP EATING THE CARPET. STOP EATING THE SOFA. STOP EATING THE HELLHOUNDS’ BED. STOP EATING YOUR LEAD. STOP EATING MY JEANS/SHOELACES/SOCKS. STOP EATING . . .
^^^ Love the bullie grin. Just saying.
*** My second to last dog will be a Yorkshire terrier. Then I’ll get one of those mobility scooter things and have an extra-large basket put on the front in which can ride a mini-bullie and a small whippet.^
^ Hazel, at nineteen pounds, all of which was leg and spine, curled up on your lap beautifully. Pav, at twenty-seven pounds, doesn’t fit in your lap at all, partly because she’s a rectangular solid and doesn’t bend very well.
† Pav was all, Okay, that was fun and exciting! What’s next? I was shivering with adrenaline and had to sit down for a minute. No, no, no, said Pav. Sitting down is not fun and exciting. Perhaps if I eat your shoelaces you will be aroused to take an interest.
†† I spent most of the afternoon IN THE GARDEN. Which I will probably tell you about tomorrow. (*&^%$£”!!!!!, etc.
††† And Pav sat up Very Straight and said, Ooooh, this is fun and exciting! —She’s been freaked out a couple of times by big dogs rushing up to her, even big friendly dogs. I would love to know what she’s thinking when we’re having an encounter while I’m carrying her. As I’ve said many times, she’s very, very good about being carried, because of all that holding when she was a baby; picking her up is, in fact, a good way of telling her to calm down; nine times out of ten she collapses instantly.^ But what she is thinking while Armageddon is racing toward us? ‘I’m taller than he is’? ‘Nobody goes up against the hellgoddess and lives’? ‘Wheeeee’?
^ The tenth time, of course, there is major blood loss, and you feel as if you’re holding onto a small exploding galaxy.
‡ Not Its Real Name
‡‡ I hope I’m imagining it that the troglodyte waved at me.
. . . the scheduled programme continuing our discussion of life, art, performance and Good Enough* . . .
. . . to moan.
I’ve only—pretty much just this minute—got the copyedited SHADOWS back to my editor’s assistant’s (virtual) desk. It’s in the contract that your copyeditor will be from another planet and imperfectly drilled in earth mores.** This one was, in fact, better behaved than most. I thought I was getting off easily*** until . . .
Part of the problem is that trying to produce anything but the plainest of plain text on a computer makes my brain flurg into bread pudding. I can’t deal with electronic notes in the margins.† So my editor’s ever-patient assistant printed out a hard copy and sent me that. †† It took me a while to realise that those little faded grey streaky things are actually what significant house-style††† changes look like when electronic marginalia is forced onto paper.
My style is not house style. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. . . .
I took Wolfgang in for his yearly legal-requirement MOT test on Monday.
He failed. He’s seventeen years old, it takes a little while for the parts to come in. I got him back today‡ . . . just in time to howl out to Ditherington this evening to return my sheet music from the concert I didn’t sing in with the Muddles, which if the librarian doesn’t return all of he can’t check out the music for the next concert . . . which, yes, I am going to try to sing in.
All of this would pass as fairly standard Life Stuff. However. Remember The Wall?
Somewhat against my better judgement—but it’s always easy to be wise in hindsight—I was talked into agreeing to the fellow who started work on Monday. He’s built dozens of brick-and-flint walls. Hundreds. Millions. He knows EVERYTHING about building brick-and-flint walls.
He poured in a lot of concrete on Monday and covered it up to set or jell or coagulate or whatever cement does. He was going to start again on Wednesday. I heard a lot of talking going on Wednesday morning, but then hellcritters and I set out on our double commute to get all of us down to the mews without benefit of Wolfgang.
That evening my neighbour rang me to say THE WALL BUILDER HAD QUIT. HE’D DONE ONE DAY AND HE’D QUIT.‡‡
My neighbour now wants to go with some other frelling friend of a friend of a colleague’s cousin’s small-appliance repairperson’s mongoose. I want to hire someone we know something about. She and I had nearly half an hour on the phone tonight, talking at total cross purposes, because she wants her way and I want mine. She’s already booked this joker to come talk to us tomorrow. He’s very nice! she said to me. You’ll like him! Whether I like him or not is beside the point.
I am very tired. . . . ‡‡‡
* * *
* I meant ‘good enough’ as a positive thing. I apply it positively. I make myself crazy—you may have noticed—I wind myself up, I force myself to fail by setting the bar too high.^ Good enough means I can achieve something and recognise it as achievement and not some flavour of failure. I personally feel it gives me room to have both good and bad days: on the good days it’s a springboard and on the bad days it’s a support.
My affection for this approach may partly be my age again. I remember when the concept of good enough hit the media and the self-help racks. I was raised to believe that anything less than A-plus, 100%, a gold medal and a Hollywood Walk of Fame star^^ was not good enough and that sackcloth and ashes and a life of social exile and sixth-rate chocolate were the only alternative. Good enough was not only a HUGE relief but it also meant you could try stuff without ruining your reputation (if any).
And possibly your grade-point average, depending on the school. This is one of the things that even at the age of seventeen or twenty and going or going back to college, and I was not a subtle thinker at seventeen or twenty, made me kind of nuts. Here you are attending full-time an Institution of Higher Learning and . . . you only dare take stuff you’re reasonably sure you can get good marks in, because education isn’t really the goal here, having a good-looking transcript is. This was in one of the eras when a liberal-arts degree was about as useful as a rubber pogo stick^^^ so you didn’t want to smash the poor flimsy thing up any further by taking risky classes. I’m not sure what quantum physics looked like in the early 1970s but I totally wouldn’t have dared. I did however weaken my poor sad BA by taking music, which I did not get wonderful grades in. Fortunately I subsequently found a way to escape my doom of sackcloth and ashes and the sixth-rate chocolate. . . . Social exile? Eh.
But Good Enough came along before I had permanently crippled myself by the weight of the chip on my shoulder.
^ Yo, I’m a Shetland pony, not an Irish hunter.
^^ If they can give stars for walking on the moon, I’m not too fussed about how they define ‘entertainment industry’.
^^^ Although I’m not sure even a proper steel and titanium pogo stick can be classified as useful
** It’s either that or the questions that have no connection with reality as you understand it are some kind of plant, seeking to discover if you have dangerous hidden personality traits that might lead you to go suddenly mad with a banana frappe at a crowded shopping mall.
*** Aside from an extreme case of Not Able to Focus on These Words any more
† My editor handles this just fine, and she’s nearly as old as I am. I tell myself she does a lot more of it than I do. She’s, you know, an editor.
†† I think I told you about the FedEx man not delivering it when there was no one home despite the fact that it said PAPER and MANUSCRIPT and ZERO VALUE and PLEASE LEAVE and NO SIGNATURE REQUIRED all over it.
††† Ie Chicago Manual of Style or whatever. Grammar and punctuation and all are somewhat mutable and publishing houses usually have a standard way of doing things, although the choices Teacosy Press makes may be somewhat different from those of Zombie Revolution Books. Aside from their contrasting approaches to acquisition.
‡ I am VERY GRATEFUL to the weather gods for giving us two non-sequential good days for walking. Hellhounds and I enjoyed the walk back from and out to Warm Upford very much. Something went right.^
^ But the question is, will there be four of us shepherding Wolfgang to and from his MOT next February? SHE’S BEEN HERE FOUR MONTHS. DON’T YOU THINK WE COULD ALL START TO GET ALONG?
‡‡ He’s decided he can’t do it for what he claimed on his estimate. Is this spectacular incompetence or a spectacularly crude attempt to jack the price up?
‡‡‡ And I haven’t even told you how copying seven pages of Zerlina’s Vedrai, carino^ took ten minutes because every page jammed. Some of them several times. Feeding pages in one at a time didn’t work. Fanning them between each page didn’t work. A whole new trayful didn’t work. I. HATE. MY. PRINTER.
^ If I like it, or anyway Nadia likes me singing it, I’ll buy the book. I worry about copyright even when the bloke’s been dead hundreds of years.
† Next time I start really moaning about being tired, remind me to CHECK MY PROTEIN LEVELS. How long have I had ME? I’ve always needed a higher-than-the-holier-than-dietary-thou-pundits-permit percentage of protein and especially of meat and especially of red meat–you don’t like it? Take it up with my metabolism–and for the last dozen-plus years it’s been both higher and more critical, because of the frelling ME. And you would think I’d learn. But I don’t. Maybe I should put it up on a wall somewhere: next time I’m unreasonably tired for more than twenty-four hours have a steak. Or a platter of chicken livers. Or both.
††When I told this story to Southdowner she said, YAAAAY! Welcome to the ranks of the Multi Dog Walkers!
††† And, speaking of peculiar encounters, a group of teenage boys threw a few snowballs at us. It wasn’t frightening but it was PECULIAR. WHAT, YOU GUYS?