I hope he has an indoor job too. Bookbinding or something.
YAAAAAAAAAAY. And I am LONGING to get the greenhouse put back together. It’s not like it’s ever tidy but for example I’m planting roses and my bone meal [fertilizer] has disappeared. The greenhouse may not be tidy but I can find stuff.* And if I don’t get my potting table back soon I’m going to need a kidney belt.
But I need Atlas to put the shelf back up, re-line the wall that is shared with Theodora’s summerhouse, and heave the table back into place—at the moment it’s sitting next to/under Souvenir de la Malmaison, who is beginning to stir out of her winter sleep and will engulf the thing if it doesn’t get moved soon.**
So what happens? That selfish ratbag Atlas chose to get FLU this week. How thoughtless can a man be?
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest. . . .
Cottage front steps. And the daffs are Tete a tete and they smell. It’s like, you know, spring.
And those adorable purple and orange pansies . . . spent the winter in the plastic trays I originally bought them in. Bad me. I fed them a couple of times–clearly–but only potted them up last week and they’ve all gone like WOW. Now, speaking of my bad luck with pansies, these are just common-or-garden variety garden centre pansies–and spent the winter in their shop trays. What are we betting that they’ll have taken over the front of the house by next year?
In the stair picture, if you were standing on the left of the photo facing the house, the fritillaries are in a little mostly-empty planter (which will have a great throbbing dahlia in it later on if all goes well) to the right of the daffodils.
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong about pansies. Maybe they like being neglected and left to cope in heinous conditions and all this careful soil mix and good drainage thing is inaccurate and misguided.
* * *
** She’s already practising for atrocities to come by making small dangerous snatches at me as I try to sneak past her.
I’m still pretty haunted by yesterday’s news* but it’s been another mild spring day, remember those?, we used to have ’em, and I’ve been out in the garden for the second day in a row.** It completely baffles me why some things live and some die. Take pansies. I adore pansies and I can usually rely on getting one good season out of them . . . but my record on keeping them going is PATHETIC and only slowly improving. I’ve finally got a mat of those ‘wild’ pansies with big heart-shaped leaves and little toothy faces growing in a big pot in a corner whose main element has died, and I’m afraid to disturb the frelling pansies by putting something else in. It took me about three tries to get these things going—and they’re supposed to be tough as old boots and will grow and thrive anywhere. No. Wrong. This lot is dark pink which is, of course, excellent, but I’d have their pale-pink sisters too . . . but I think I’ve given up. Rebecca*** is a big favourite. I have four of her in a big pot. One of them is insanely hearty. One of them is not too bad. One of them is a weedy little thing. One of them is dead. WHY? IT’S THE SAME POT.
On the other hand my eremurus robustus† is still alive. WHY? They’re frelling tricky plants†† and I was out of my tiny mind to buy it in the first place—they’re also not cheap. I did try to plant it correctly but, eh, I can’t even get four of the same pansies in a pot to flourish simultaneously, why should a notorious ratbag do anything but croak at the earliest opportunity? It didn’t flower last year but it grew. And then it disappeared over the winter and I thought yup, right—and was thinking about putting a rose in that big pot††† when today . . . IT’S ALIVE. And I was absolutely thrilled to discover that my clematis Arctic Queen‡ IS STILL ALIVE. She has kept getting buried by the frelling gigantic Fantin Latour‡‡ which I moved up to Third House this winter, but Fantin wasn’t delighted with the experience and the ground she came out of got pretty torn up. I wasn’t expecting Arctic Queen to have survived. BUT SHE DID. So I fed her and put a copper ring around her to discourage slugs, which adore young clematis stems above almost anything but your lettuces and strawberries, and did a small not-ground-disturbing dance of joy on what passes for the path between the beds.
There are a few advantages to ghastly cold springs. The slug population is not what it should be in mid-April. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. But my real triumph, not that it has anything to do with me, it’s just the luck of circumstance: I haven’t seen a single horrid red disgusting lily beetle AND MY GARDEN IS FULL OF FRITILLARIES.‡‡‡ Pretty much for the first time ever, in the eight years I’ve been at the cottage. First I had to get them established—which in this case was not that difficult—and then the lily beetle scourge settled in. But apparently lily beetles don’t like the cold. Now that’s worth disturbing a little ground to dance for.
* * *
You know one of those three people who died was an eight-year-old boy who was there to watch his dad run? And that his mother and his six-year-old sister are ‘seriously’ injured, which probably means they had bits blown off. Imagine what it’s going to be like for that family now.
I was sitting sadly on my stool by the Aga this morning, which is where I usually do my first praying (as well as tea-drinking) of the day, and thinking about Boston, and feeling useless. Ask me in six months or ten years, but it seems to me that prayer comforts the pray-er partly because if you manage to make contact with the prayer-space (and it’s not a given that you’re going to, every time: sometimes all you can do is go through the motions—and I’ve been told this by people who’ve been doing it a long time, so it’s not just my inexperience) you know it’s all one, that the great mystical Oneness is true. Because you’re there. It’s like walking into a tree. Wham. Yup. Tree. Bark. Leaves. Feet in the dirt, head in the sky. You’re not going to argue about it. And your praying itself—my praying anyway—becomes less a doing something^ than a being there, another witnessing, I suppose, as you might sit by the bedside of someone who’s ill or hurt or dying, or walk the dog and pick up the post and bring cups of tea and not say useless things to someone who’s grieving. Which is a doing without doing, if you like. What you want is to be able to fix it, whatever it is. You can’t. But you can be there.
Still. Being there for hundreds of people you don’t know who are three thousand miles away feels like a fairly tall order. And then I remembered that St Margaret’s has a prayer chain. You can ask for stuff to be prayed for. So I rang Lotte and she wrote it down and then said, in the same gentle voice she’d used when she’d pointed out I’d be eligible to become a member of St Margaret’s if I wanted to, Would I like to become a member of the prayer chain myself?
Oh. Yeep. Yes. Yeep, but yes.
Well, that’s going to make me frelling focus. . . .
^ Although that’s another big plus for the pray-er. When you want to do something and there isn’t anything you can do, for whatever reason . . . yes there is. You can pray. And while I realise this in itself isn’t going to convert anybody this is a very great thing—as every member of every religion that includes prayer knows. Helplessness, uselessness is totally the worst.
** AND THERE IS PROGRESS ON THE WALL. I forgot to bring my frelling camera with me today when I went back to the cottage from the mews after lunch. Arrrrrrgh. But there WILL BE PHOTOS.
*** Who looks like this: http://www.perryhillnurseries.co.uk/Catalogue/Perennials/images/Resized_ViolaRebecca.jpg
They’re big magnificent-looking things. But these look white which they aren’t. Here’s a close up that gives you a better idea of the colour:
†† If you read the gardenersworld.com description you’ll notice it says ‘skill level—experienced’. Chiefly I’m experienced in being ripped to shreds by roses^, and watching things die.
^ I was thinking again today, while bleeding freely, why do we DO it? Why do we grow frelling roses? Why is it WORTH THE PAIN? Dunno. But I wouldn’t be without them. I just scream a lot.
††† I seem to have more roses to find places for.
‘Skill level experienced’? Piffle. Most clematis are easy. They like their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun, and you must not muck about with their roots, but beyond that if you keep them fed and watered they’ll do fine. We won’t, however, get into the, you should forgive the term, thorny question of pruning categories.
Here’s a better idea of the bush
All the Fantins I’ve ever seen have been substantially bigger than what they tell you on the rose sites. Mine had easily six and a half foot stems . . . in several directions.
‡‡‡ http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Rosemoor/About-Rosemoor/Plant-of-the-month/April/Fritillaria-meleagris Love love love. I have a few white ones too. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/sep/07/plant-offer-snakes-head-fritillary
So. We finally have some SPRING WEATHER. You know, sunlight. Remember SUNLIGHT [you other British* people]? Yes. Also, it’s warm enough to need only one woolly layer under your coat and longjohns are optional.** And my sweet pea seedlings aren’t dead yet although they’re a little paler than desirable, since I don’t get up early and it’s still too cold to put them out even after I become capable of carrying a tray of plants outdoors (probably) without dropping them.
. . . And it’s the WEEKEND. Which most people would find a DESIRABLE TIME to have some spring weather. But WALL MEN DO NOT WORK ON WEEKENDS.
I cannot WAIT to have a greenhouse again. Under my guardianship the greenhouse has always looked as if someone fought a duel to the death in it recently*** but I could find stuff. I was out there today, trying to pot stuff on and snarling because I can’t find anything. I’m also worrying about my robins. Where are they nesting, this brutally cold year? † I hope they’ve found a greenhouse that less resembles Waterloo Station at rush hour.
It’s a nice modest travelling sized cement mixer. It reminds me of the stepping-stone moulds I bought at/for the old house, in the implementation of which a modest travelling sized cement mixer would have been a necessary adjunct. It’s probably just as well I never tangled with a cement mixer.
* Okay, okay. British resident people. Happy?
** Less optional now the sun has been down for a while. I still have the evening double hurtle to look forward to, I’m wearing mine.
*** Everyone lost. But the rubble remains. Rather like having your wall fall down.
† Some little fluffy feathery thing was trying to get in through the kitchen window this morning while I was sitting close to the Aga to eat breakfast. It kept coming back, clinging to one or another of the wooden pane frames, and staring inside. Was it hoping its reflection was a potential romantic attachment? Or did it just want to sit by the Aga too?
It’s the fourth of frelling April in southern frelling England and IT’S SNOWING. It’s been snowing off and on all freaking day, and all three of my hellcritters have been unusually possessed by demons* as, I want to believe, the result of the cold, and not because their essential anarchic nature is emerging at last.** I took the hellhounds out to Warm Upford because Wolfgang’s tank needed filling again*** and while we weren’t going to waste a country walk, we weren’t exactly ambling along enjoying the beauties of nature and tender green burgeoning spring either.† The snow isn’t lying, exactly: it’s a twinkly suspended fog, and sometimes it’ll be icing-sugar on the ground for a while, and then it sort of goes away, since melting doesn’t seem the really pertinent verb in the circumstances. There will be black ice on the roads tonight.††
And to make it perfect, this fourth of April in southern England when it’s SNOWING? I received a big box of baby plants today. My lurgy is a lot better—although I was barking like a hellcritter after only a half hour’s conversation with Hannah tonight—but I’m still a little slower even than usual getting out of bed in the morning with all this crud in my sinuses weighing me down. I heard the courier van backing up the cul de sac BEEP BEEP BEEP and heard when he stopped outside my cottage, but he didn’t come to the door so I thought, excellent, since the only thing he could have been bringing me was baby plants—and turned over and went back to sleep.††† So the baby plants he’d brought me had also been sitting in the FROZEN COLD FOR SEVERAL HOURS before the Wall Man, who comes and scowls at the irremediable Wall Situation occasionally, to prove, I suppose, that he still cares, said, when I was out chasing the hellterror round the little kitchen-door courtyard, Did you get your package? WHAT PACKAGE? WHY DIDN’T THE DRIVER PUT A CARD THROUGH THE MAIL SLOT? WHY DIDN’T HE DELIVER THEM TO JAMAICA, WHERE IT’S WARM? Whiiiiiiiine.
* * *
* Since some level of demon-possession is to be expected in hellcritters
** Note that it is harder to trap a roly-poly hellterror between your legs than it is one with a waist and hipbones. I was trying to have a, you know, conversation with another obsessed dog person^ and Pav was all, Me! Me! Me! I’M here! Dorcas was saying that the chief function of pet dogs was to make you laugh and Pav has certainly got that cornered.
If Southdowner is reading this I know she’ll take me to task, but I’m not sure there’s a practical difference between your dog ‘knows it’s been bad’, which human-style thinking dog trainers come down on you like a ton of anvils for, and ‘knows what it’s been doing is going to piss you off’—which is real life, however you want to frame it. Darkness, who’s the one with the what-I-would-call a conscience will sometimes flag having misbehaved when I wouldn’t have noticed, by creeping grovelling up to me.^^
Just like I’m not sure it matters if your dog thinks in the human terms of winding you up when it does things that wind you up. It, or in this case she, is looking over her shoulder as she does them and displaying that fabulous hellterror sproingy bounding thing which I suppose is common to all dogs and particularly all puppies, but it looks more like nanny-nanny-boo-boo on a hellterror than it does on a hellhound. I’m pretty sure Pav has figured out that I (mostly) won’t mess with her if she just picks things up and carries them around, it’s not till the jaws start grinding that—out on a hurtle—I crank her in and attempt to remove the undesirable item. And I swear she looks over her shoulder at me when she starts chewing not because she ‘knows’ this will ‘wind me up’ but because life isn’t sufficiently exciting at this moment in time and this is a way to make me ENGAGE. Arrrrgh. Slightly adapting something Southdowner has told me I’ve started carrying a pocketful of loose treats on our hurtles and if she ‘drops’ the item without fuss—which means among other things that I have a hand free to pluck the blasted treat out of my pocket—she gets a treat. I swear professional dog trainers have at least four arms, not to mention lightning reflexes. One way or another however it means that Pav and I share high quality relationship-enhancing time on our hurtles.
^ Although her obsession runs to spaniels
^^ Chaos will come and grovel randomly just because I’m the hellgoddess. This has its practical applications, however, as today, when I let them off lead for the first time in a while because first Chaos’ leg and then Darkness’ back has been an issue and unless the footing is good I’m just not going to risk it. So we had several weeks of frustration exploding into motion. They usually make a gigantic circle around me, which is preferable but unenforceable; today they just frelling lit out. YIIIIIIIIIIIIII. I went pelting after them, trying to pretend that’s what I wanted to be doing and I was still totally in control . . . and they were still just about visible on the horizon when they finally stopped to check back with me. HEY GUYS, I said, somewhat breathlessly, slowing instantly to a nonchalant walk. HOW’S IT GOING? And Chaos, bless his crazy little neurons, came lolloping back to me at half speed, which is still somewhat faster than mortal, and then took off again after Darkness, but now they shifted into giant circle mode, and my blood pressure and intimations-of-disaster levels dropped accordingly. Note, however, that no one had better be lame tomorrow. Including me.
*** Life was simpler when my home tower was a short pedestrian sprint away and I hadn’t discovered monks yet.
† Fortunately I saw the brown hare before the hellhounds did, drat the creature. Brown hares are confident in their belief that they are the fastest land mammal in Britain^ and behave accordingly, which is to say they’re cavalier little beggars and they may be the fastest wild land mammal in Britain but a careering sighthound can catch one—and before it was made illegal, not infrequently did—and I don’t want to see this historic feat re-enacted, including the ‘yanking Robin’s arms out of their shoulder sockets’ part. And if one of them ever decided to mosey carelessly into a field I’ve just let the hellhounds off-lead in . . .
†† I’d been planning to go to the monks’ tonight but they’ve probably got snowdrifts. You probably need an ice axe to get into their car park.
Last night was lovely.
I’m also functioning [sic] on about four hours’ sleep, so if I degenerate into blah gurgle griggle frud bloob zoofan dorg, please avert your eyes politely and try again (cautiously) tomorrow.*
. . . Um. What was I saying? Oh. Yes. Monks. I did not leave quite as early as I prefer to so I was concentrating on the video game that is driving on little twisty back country lanes as fast as is reasonable and not too hard on the tyres, and it took me a few minutes to register that the funny pale flickers against the windscreen were not very small owls but . . . snow. SNOW. NOOOOOOOOOO.
I drove on. There may have been some imprecations.
When I arrived—this was nine p.m. so full dark—the little abbey was blacked out and there was a bonfire in front of the chapel with dark shapes milling around it.** Not all of them were monks. Having asked one of the monks tending the fire what was going to happen, and receiving the unhelpful response that he wasn’t sure himself†, I sidled up to a woman in an ordinary coat††, ie no dog collar, and asked her. She looked at me with what I am pretty sure, despite the fact that I could barely see her, was sympathy, and explained . . . that the monks’ paschal vigil is more or less straightforwardly to the Anglican pattern, just a little more elaborate.††† And finished by saying that she was the wife of one of the oblates, that she would never have had the nerve to come by herself at first, but the monks really were welcoming‡, to follow her if I liked and don’t worry.
So the abbot emerged eventually with satellite monks with [electric] torches, and read some stuff‡‡ and then we all trooped into the church, had our individual candles lit, and went and stood in the pews . . . if you’ve ever stood in a group of people all holding candles in the dark, you’ll know how magical this is. And I’m telling you, it’s worth being a Christian for the moment when the abbot throws up his hands, says, Alleluia! He is risen! —and all the lights come on.
There were a lot of readings‡‡‡ and a lot of hymns§ and a lot of prayers and a lot of Pauses for Silent Reflection. And a ‘homily’ which in my generic-Protestant ignorance I would have called a sermon. And the first communion of Easter, which happened at about 11:30 Saturday night but my informant says that anything after six p.m. counts as Easter. Oh.§§ And when the abbot raised his hands for the final blessing he began by saying that while it was not merely the middle of the night but worse than that because of the clock change, we were all invited to the common room for tea and coffee.
So I went, I and my blanket, and my new friend, Corey, whom I genuinely liked a lot, and it’s a ratbag that I won’t see her often because they live too far away.§§§ I haven’t hung out with monks in a long time, and several of them made a point of coming up to me and saying they were glad to see me every week (usually) at Saturday night prayer—I and my blanket. All right with the blanket.
The funny thing is . . . after all the high drama, I’m longing for a simple little prayer service again. I may try to go tomorrow since all my usual Monday distractions are cancelled for the Bank Holiday.#
But first I need SLEEP.
* * *
* Whose bloody stupid idea was it to allow the frelling clocks to go forward on Easter Sunday when the Christian-church-going wodge of the population may be going to late service Saturday night?? I assumed it was some bureaucratic idiocy, and I suppose it is, but it’s a passive rather than an active one: clocks go forward the last Sunday in March, and Easter occasionally happens this early. I think this blasted hopeless government could do something genuinely useful for the first time and pass a mini-bill that on years that Easter is the last Sunday in March the clocks go forward some OTHER Sunday.
** What is it that is automatically scary about monks? Is it just the black robes? But nuns aren’t as scary (unless possibly you went to Catholic school)? Or was reading M G Lewis’ THE MONK in high school a mistake?
† He was a visitor. I couldn’t see any of our monks. They were probably in some chancel closet, hastily banging out the last few lines of the script, and swearing at their printer.
†† Who complimented me on my blanket. I should have brought one, she said. News flash: I have made a breakthrough in living with attending services at Chilblain Abbey. I wore my sheepskin house slippers last night. They aren’t, in fact, house slippers, they’re sort of Ugg boots before there were Ugg boots, or at least before Ugg boots became a major fashion icon a while ago. But they’re sheepskin, the leg is six or so inches high so well over your ankle and the draft-leaky cuffs of your jeans, and they have proper rubber boot-tread soles, so you don’t look like you’re wearing your house slippers. If I weren’t thick as a post I’d have thought of them before, but . . . I’m used to thinking of them as house slippers. I still needed my blanket. Further news flash: there was someone else there with a blanket. Only one that I saw but still . . . ANOTHER PERSON WITH A BLANKET. Another woman, furthermore, with long hair^, although she didn’t stick around afterward so I could rush up and embrace her as a sister. Which is maybe just as well.
^ Yes, I need to change my thumbnail photo. My hair grew back out again years ago.
††† She also uttered the disconcerting phrase ‘Anglo Catholic’. Well. Hmm. Whatever. My monks support women priests and that’s my bottom line. I was just saying to a (real) Catholic friend that I may respond to the bells and smells approach because I find the additional three-dimensional stuff very grounding. Getting walloped off your donkey on the road to Damascus is disturbing and religion has an awful lot of la-la-la stuff in it by definition. Getting hit in the face with holy water is reassuring. There, you’re real, it says, and therefore, by extension, so is this. Whatever it is.
‡ It is in the Rule, but this lot do give the impression they mean it.
‡‡ Before electric torches, what? Was the celebrant’s assistant allowed to light a candle early? Did the celebrant have to have everything he said off by heart? Did they redesign the liturgy after the advent of battery-operated lighting?
‡‡‡ I realise this is normal, but the Bible frelling baffles me. But . . . but . . . but . . . but . . . ?
§ And the woman on my other side from my new friend carries a tune even less successfully than my husband. I didn’t realise this was humanly possible. The people sitting in front of us turned around a couple of times and I just barely prevented myself saying, It’s not me! It’s not me!
§§ I’m all in favour of keeping the dead part as brief as possible but that makes the ‘three days’ about thirty-six hours. Okay. Fine.
§§§ I’ll see him more, and I liked him too, but sometimes you want another girl. Sue me.
# Unless it starts snowing again. After freaking out those of us who were driving last night, it stopped. But Corey says that the monks often have snow when no one else does. As miracles go, I can think of preferable ones. How about a warm floor-level draft in the chapel?