It’s not the actual moving that puts a house move at the top of the stress list: it’s the everyflippingthing that goes wrong.
I’ve been trying for about five weeks to find a plumber that isn’t booked up till 2020. The plumbing company that I used satisfactorily for several years has stopped answering their phone. You get a message saying leave your phone number and we’ll get back to you, and they don’t. I kept waiting for the real human being to return from the longest lunch in employee history and she never did, so I finally left a message, and that didn’t work either. Meanwhile I was asking everyone who might have cause to know about local plumbers—other men* driving vans full of tools, for example, or the sector of the market which sells hammers and spanners and garpenscrads to them. I even asked the nice lady at the estate agent’s who I talked to last autumn about letting Third House. Hers was, as I recall, booked till 2032.
You can’t get away from plumbers’ vans in this frelling area and they all have emblazoned down their long sides variations on a theme of QUICK FRIENDLY PROFESSIONAL SERVICE. HERE IS A SELECTION OF PHONE NUMBERS, HOME, MOBILE, THE LOCAL PUB THAT TAKES MESSAGES, AND MY DOG** WHO LOVES TO ANSWER THE PHONE SO MUCH I’VE GIVEN HIM HIS OWN LINE. I ALSO ACCEPT SMOKE SIGNALS. Snarl. Most of these geezers aren’t too fabulous in the social niceties either. I understand that they don’t like turning down work, but someone should gather them all in a room and teach them to say, clearly and calmly, I’m really sorry, but I’m booked till 2032. The ‘I’m sorry’ part is important, as is the tone, which should not suggest to the hapless caller that the sound of her voice is similar to the sensation of hot needles being plunged into their ears.***
I am absolutely clueless about things like plumbers and I didn’t want just to start going through the phone book. Dire things and cowboys proceed from such desperate procedures. The most recent local independent I asked, on the recommendation of another Bloke Who Should Know, and whose van I see around town all the frelling time, turned out to speak in complete sentences and didn’t seem to hate me for wanting to give him some work. So I asked him.
He said, uh, yeah, try Blithering Doodah. They’re a big national company and they’ve got a branch in Mauncester, and they’re pretty good about who they hire, and I know some of the guys.
So I tried Blithering Doodah.† That was Monday. And I got this terribly chirpy and efficient sounding young woman who said certainly, we will send you a gas boiler specialist,†† since the purpose of my feverish search for a plumber is that neither Peter’s nor my boiler is working properly, and they could do it . . . Wednesday. YIKES, I said, or words to that effect, you mean the day after tomorrow? Certainly, said the young woman. YES PLEASE, I said.
She then took my details down to my shoe size and the number of dogs in the household.††† She took the post codes of both houses; she consulted with her manager if the Gas Boiler Specialist could look at both boilers on the same job; the manager said he could; she took careful directions how to find the cottage, in case his SatNav failed, and said firmly that he would come to the cottage first since that was the phone number I was calling from, and we could proceed from there to Third House subsequently.
Fine. Great. I spent nearly thirty six hours in a daze of success and accomplishment. Also Peter is looking forward to not having to boil several kettles to take a hot bath.‡
This morning, much too early, the phone rang. It was Blithering Doodah who wanted to tell me that my slot was no longer one to three this afternoon, but three to six, and I could assume it would be nearer five than four or three. Golly, I said, he doesn’t mind working late? No, said this new person, he doesn’t mind. And then the new person proceeded to take all my details all over again, including the shoe size and the range of domestic fauna, but CONFIRMED that the Gas Boiler Specialist would come to the cottage. At five o’clock or so. And the Gas Boiler Specialist would ring me on my mobile about half an hour before he arrived.
You see where this is going.
I spent the morning shovelling a path at the cottage so he could get in. I was finally taking the patient hellhounds out for a hurtle‡‡ and decided to swing by Third House to water those potted plants. Peter plays bridge Wednesday afternoons so there wasn’t anyone there. I’d just let all of us in the door when the hellhounds shot back outside again and there was a whoop of alarm from the courtyard. Frell. I followed them hastily and discovered a young man just barely not climbing a tree.‡‡‡
You wanted a plumber to look at your boiler? said the young man.
It was about three-forty-five. I gaped at him. You’re not supposed to be here for hours, I said. And this is the wrong house. And you were supposed to ring me half an hour before you got here.
This is the only address they gave me, he said. They didn’t give me a phone number either.
ARRRRRGH. Well, what a good thing I happened to be here.
Blithering Doodah are pretty good generally, he said. But their customer service, um. At least they gave me the right day this time. They don’t always.
So. He examined Peter’s boiler. And there was something wrong with it. Modified hurrah. But it’s not like the funny noise your car is making and the mechanic looks at you sidelong and says I don’t hear any funny noises and it’s running fine. Here’s my bill for two hours of drinking coffee and chatting up the new receptionist.
There is, however, something wrong with Peter’s boiler to the tune of several hundred pounds. Arrrrgh.
The young man then goes off in his van to meet me at the cottage—my arrival somewhat delayed by the fact that now the hellhounds decide to perform various ablutions, and they do not hurry their ablutions, my hellhounds—spends about thirty seconds looking at my boiler, appears to be repressing snickering and says . . . I’m sorry, but this thing is a piece of rubbish. You should just get rid of it and buy a new one.
YAMMER YAMMER YAMMER GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE.§
Yeah, he said. But by the time you buy the parts you’re halfway to a new one anyway . . . and this one never was any good. An Infinity Dreadnaught will last you forever.
Anyone want to guess what an Infinity Dreadnaught costs?§§
. . . I have to go lie down again.§§§
* * *
* Are there any female plumbers? Maybe in other countries? Iceland, which may not be known for fiscal stability but they’ve got the best rating for gender equality in the first world? Don’t you school-leavers out there know that you will ALWAYS be in work if you’re a plumber? And if you don’t want to worry about those blocked-loo calls, you can specialise, and then you can charge more too.
** There’s a woman I see occasionally waiting for her ride when I lurch past behind some hellmob division or other. She is, unusually, an admirer of both my hurtle shifts; I’ve noticed that generally the lurcher and the bullie admiration societies are non-overlapping sets. Pav saw her slightly before I did the last time and was already in full assault mode before I got her hauled in.^ But the woman laughed and said she had a dog of her own. So we’ve become quite friendly in the monosyllabic ‘hi’ ‘hi’ way. Tonight I was very tired after striving with plumbers and it was the hellhounds that got away from me and started milling about this woman as if she were their presumed lost forever best friend and by the way she was responding maybe she was. I have ascertained in our minimal conversations that she doesn’t merely have an accent—as I have an accent—but that English of any variety is not her first language. Tonight I said, you told me you have a dog, what kind is it? Oh it is a lavender, she said and I instantly translated this as Labrador without even noticing I was doing it, probably because the L-word is always what a dog beginning with ‘L’ is, never a Lithuanian Hound or a Lhasa Apso, and there are more frelling L-words around here than all the other dog breeds combined. Oh, I said politely, they tend to be very friendly and enthusiastic too.
It wasn’t till I was already striding down the road again at hellhound speed^^ that I was playing the conversation back in my mind and I thought, lavender?
^ Note: arrrgh. I am not so doting as to assume that everyone likes being hustled by dogs, even a hellmob as beautiful and charming as mine, and if you possess a bunch of eager hustlers, it behoves you to be quick on the brake button.
^^ They’d had kind of a boring day due to plumbers etc and had some catching up to do on the wind-in-their-fur thing.
*** Maybe they don’t like American accents? Maybe it’s part of the Secret Plumber Handshake ritual? ‘And we all hate American accents!’
† I should have realised from the name, right? Umm . . .
†† See? Specialist. I bet he’s never unplugged a loo.
††† None. Two hellhounds and a hellterror however.
‡ I merely have no central heating. I won’t care for another couple of months and I may not care then since with the Aga in the centre of this little house and at the foot of the stairs so the heat streams up the hall, I only turn the heating on for short hedonistic self-indulgent bursts. The last time I tried, in March or thereabouts, nothing happened. Eh, I’ll worry about it later, I thought. But it makes me faintly anxious that half my boiler isn’t working—the hot water might follow—and it seems like the responsible grown-up thing to do, to have it mended.
‡‡ Leaving an outraged hellterror hanging from the top of her crate making noises like a jungleful of monkeys. We go through this every day. She has Riot Time at the cottage—and if the hellhounds retreat to the back of their crate I shut them in so she can’t get at them—including extensive tummy rubbing, Long Yellow Thing wars and varying individual excitements such as helping me water the potted plants or going upstairs to check if the document I just printed actually did. And then I shut her up again with her breakfast.^ And try to get out the door with the hellhounds while she’s preoccupied. This doesn’t stop the protests, but the noise is a bit muffled.
^ Well. Let’s say first meal of the day.
‡‡‡ Clearly he does not have a lavender at home.
§ Including the fact that it’s only a few years old. I’ve already frelling replaced it once.
§§ And when he rang back to the head office to order the parts for Peter’s boiler—my arglefargling new one is a more complicated process—they had lost my credit card details AGAIN.
§§§ I could live without central heating. But I really want my hot water.
It is tragic the amount of fabulous blog material I’ve missed using the last five days or so. For example the BT landline engineer on Thursday had just finished telling me that it couldn’t be done because the wiring was too old, or possibly because it had been plastered over irrecoverably when I hired a small army to create an attic out of a large crawl space, or at least it couldn’t be done till 2017 because they were going to have to rewire Hampshire first,* or at very least it couldn’t be done that day, as scheduled, because they were going to have to import a special lorry with a special hoist which was presently in Belgium, or possibly Tanzania, with which to approach sufficiently reverently the overhead wiring from 1878 which was, of course, made out of string,** and, in 2014, can use all the reverence it can get. So he had just finished telling me this when his phone rang*** and it was his manager saying that his brother had rung from hospital WHERE THEY HAD TAKEN HIS FATHER AND HE SHOULD GO THERE NOW. Oh dear . . .
They sent me another engineer. Which is pretty impressive since this meant he would be working past closing time. And he was a little cranky about this—he says he rarely sees his two-year-old except on weekends—but he was in no way taking it out on me and I have total sympathy with cranky. And he found a hoist in, I don’t know, Berkshire or Essex or Norway or something, and it came*** and HE GOT THIRD HOUSE PLUGGED IN NOT ONLY TO THE TELEPHONE BUT TO WHAT PASSES FOR THE REAL WORLD ANY MORE, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN . . . well, at all, for the internet, but a number of years for the phone, because Third House had stood empty for quite a while before the heirs put it on the market. And then it hung around on the market for another while because it was overpriced and I kept walking past and fretting, having been in to the estate agent and discovered that (a) it was WAAAAAAAY out of any semblance of my price range and (b) in the estate agent’s opinion it was overpriced, and I should bide myself in patience.† And we know how that ended. And then I got my knickers in a twist about the ‘several hundred pounds to lay new phone line’ thing. Oh, and the great deal I was getting from BT? That they’d lay the new line if I’d agree to buy their broadband for two years? Is anyone amazed that it’s not all that good a deal? I get one connection. If I want, you know, extensions, I have to pay for them. I get one connection with one underfrellingpowered router with built in wireless THAT IS SO FEEBLE IT WON’T REACH TO THE OTHER END OF THIS LITTLE HOUSE, LET ALONE INTO THE ATTIC. ARRRRRRRRRRGH. So we have wireless broadband (mostly††) in the sitting room. Peter can’t even get it in his office which is about eight feet away. ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH.
BUT I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT MY PIANO.†††
I had asked Oisin and he’d said I should ask our mutual piano tuner about someone to move my darling, and the piano tuner clucked and said there was the less expensive option and the more expensive option and I said this is an old, heavy Steinway upright and I want her treated gently, and he said Sigurd of the Silver Doohickey was the bee’s knees of piano movers pretty much over the entire south of England but they were not cheap. I rang Sigurd and they quoted a price that didn’t seem to me, the owner of an old heavy Steinway upright‡, all that remarkable, so I said yes and, furthermore, since what they do is move pianos and are always galloping back and forth across the south of England they managed to find me a slot for today . . . the first working day after the rest of the furniture went.
I will also at present leave out describing the amount of hauling of little stuff, from the mews to Third House, that has been going on both before and since Friday, and the sordid appallingnesses thus implacably revealed‡‡. TODAY I was at the mews at 2 pm awaiting Cinderella’s coach with the reinforced suspension, the turbo jets and the crane.
This rather mild-mannered van rolled into the courtyard at 2:15. It was bigger than your average White Van Man van but looking at it you didn’t immediately think panzer division, although it did say SIGURD OF THE SILVER DOOHICKEY SPECIALIST PIANO MOVER on all visible surfaces. And three young laconic guys dropped out of it and strolled in a deeply cool manner to the front door. In hindsight I suspect they were waiting to find out if I was going to be a Fainting in Coils type who would need to be managed but my first thirty seconds’ impression was not particularly positive. Whatever. Sigurd is the best, these guys must know what they’re doing.
I started to come round to them when they viewed the situation calmly, and the mews is not exactly set up for the easy moving of old heavy upright pianos, and there had been a fair amount of drama from the gang who had brought her. One of these guys fetched one little skateboardy rolling thing and the other two started edging my darling out of her corner. The one with the most tats—who fetched the skateboard—acknowledged that he was a hired gun and the other two were the Real Piano Movers. They looked so, you know, normal. Until the bigger of the two simply LIFTED one end of my piano a good eighteen frelling inches off the floor so they could start working the skateboard under.‡‡‡ Eeeeeep.
Well, they loaded her up and slid her across the floor and DOWN THE HORRIBLE LITTLE STEEP FRONT STEPS with only a titanium alloy ramp and the two blokes to keep her where she belonged, and the third guy scampering around adding stability where requested. And while the two blokes waited for the third one to lower the tailgate ramp lift thing I said, I know there’s this mythology about heavy upright pianos and everybody thinks theirs is the heaviest, so, tell me, on a scale of upright pianos, where does this one go? And they laughed—a little breathlessly, I’m happy to say—and replied, this model is the heaviest upright Steinway ever built which is to say this is the heaviest upright piano ever built. A lot of full size concert grands weigh less than this piano, they said.
Oh. This probably explains why Sigurd was so careful to ask for model number . . . and why they had the third bloke along today. And I guess the van is the extra super reinforced concrete suspension Cinderella’s carriage.
So we trundled down to Third House and I, fool that I am, assumed that the worst was over, except for the part about how the sitting room would suddenly be Very Full of Piano once she was in. NEVER MIND. Atlas had cut back the clematis montana over the garden gate so you can actually get through without bending double and/or being strangled, and my piano and attendants came through with a flourish and swooped around to get a straight shot at the front door. My hero looked at the door, looked at me and said, you did measure the door, didn’t you?
MEASURE THE DOOR? IT’S A DOOR. LIKE ANY OTHER DOOR . . . I was literally clutching my head at this point.
My hero looked at the door again, shook his head and said, I don’t think it’s going to go through. They didn’t even use the ramp this time, they just kept picking her up over the steps. What do they feed these boys?
AND SHE DIDN’T FIT THROUGH THE DOOR.
They were still so calm. Well, this must happen all the time. Stupid clueless people who assume that one ordinary front door is like another ordinary front door. So they looked at the new situation—calmly—while I tried not to fall down in fits (or coils) and start gnawing on the outdoor furniture which looks very nice on the lawn here, by the way.
We’ll take the door off, said my hero. I think if we just take the bottom off§ we can bring the piano in backwards and swing it around inside.
Which is what happened. It was still a terrifyingly tight squeeze, and while they had her padded with blankets the frelling plastic door frame squealed unnervingly. BUT SHE CAME THROUGH THE DOOR THANK YOU GOD THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. And they swung her around like doing the do-si-so—the so-called fitted carpet didn’t cooperate with this manoeuvre but along with the screwdriver as standard equipment for removing doors they’re also accustomed to what they call correcting the carpet—stood her up against the wall and . . . the sitting room is a trifle full of piano but it’s not actually as FRELLING SQUASHED LOOKING as I was afraid it would be. And the really great thing? Both the inner sitting room door and the outer door—the one that came off and that they put back on again because they are polite young gentlemen as well as major beefcake—into the garden OPEN ALL THE WAY. With like three-quarters of an inch to spare, both sides. Three quarters of an inch is all we need.
MY PIANO IS HOME.§§
* * *
* Which is probably true. There’s all this bluster about getting Hampshire super-fast broadband and the first swathe happens next year. Uh-huh. We’re in the swathe for 2017. And have I mentioned they’re building houses in this town faster than a hammer can fall on a nail?^ And that the broadband we have is grinding slowly to a dead halt as more and more people sign up? And let’s not even talk about traffic and parking and the way you sometimes can’t get through the centre of town on foot.^^
^Possibly because they don’t use hammers and nails in house-building any more. That’s so two centuries ago.+
+ Also because England deforested itself of suitable house-building trees more centuries ago than that. They may still use hammers and nails in Maine.
^^ Especially not with totally clueless four-legged companions. You’d think the hellhounds would have learnt to look both ways by now. Pav, eh.
** Copper-impregnated galvanized string. They don’t make string like they used to.
*** I’m beginning to forget what life was like before mobile phones. Not in a good way. I still consider Pooka back up not the main event. And maybe in retaliation she decided the end of last week TO BE UNRELIABLE FOR A FEW DAYS.^ So I’m leaving messages all over the landscape DON’T USE MY MOBILE USE MY LANDLINE and . . . I have two messages on my landline, neither of them important, and about twenty seven on Pooka, most of which won’t pick up. What is the MATTER with people?^^
My very best example however of the profound basic demon-possessed infuriatingness of mobile phones happened only this morning. I was out with hellhounds. Chaos had just Assumed the Position to have a crap at the edge of the pedestrian pavement. Mildly embarrassing, with people streaming by, but not a big deal. Not like it hasn’t happened before: we frelling live in the centre of town. I was focussed on him, getting my little black plastic bag out and so on, and glanced over my shoulder to check that Darkness wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t. AND DISCOVERED THAT HE HAD ASSUMED THE POSITION IMMEDIATELY IN FRONT OF THE DOOR OF THE BARD AND OPHARION.
And Pooka started barking.
And Peter’s favourite bridge partner’s wife walked by, started to say hello and burst out laughing.
Oh, and the person who was ringing? WAS SOMEONE I HAD TOLD TO USE MY LANDLINE. I told her I’d ring her back. That’s fine, she chirruped. I’ve rung her five? six? seven? times over the course of the rest of the day . . . and she’s never at her desk, in her office or on the radar. Possibly because her digital exchange says, ooooh, landline, how retro, and her assistant says, landline? We don’t want to talk to any clumsy vulgar landline, we don’t do string anyway.
^ Or more than a few. We don’t know yet. Raphael remonstrated with her briefly today but he had his hands full trying to bring the frelling BT frelling broadband frelling crap router to heel. Note: he failed.
^^ I’m not going to ask what’s the matter with Pooka. That way madness lies.
*** The driver doesn’t see his kids except on weekends either.
† PATIENCE? YOU’RE KIDDING, RIGHT?
†† I’m not even going to start on this epic. Raphael is coming back later in the week. Maybe then.
††† There were epics on Friday, of course, but our loyal movers—this is now the third or fourth, depending on how you’re counting, time they’ve moved us. We all call each other by name and say ‘hi’ in the street, you know? Small local family firms. Salt of the earth. Adore, adore—were fabulous. As they have always been fabulous.
‡ People go all faint when they see she’s a Steinway.^ As I keep saying, she was cheaper than a lot of mediocre new pianos and who wouldn’t have a Steinway if that’s the choice?? I’ve told you the story of how I bought her, haven’t I? Another of my epics.
^ The logo is usually covered up by my music rack.
‡‡ And that the chief reason I haven’t blogged before today is that I’ve either been racing around like a crazy woman or collapsed in a weepy little puddle of ME on the nearest horizontal surface, floor, ground, hellhound bed, hellhound(s), whatever. The ME is not exactly behaving itself, but I’m getting a certain amount of stuff done . . . and Nina and Ignatius are so golden. I don’t know what we’d be doing without them. They were here a couple of days earlier last week, they were here Friday, they had the temerity to take the weekend off^, were here again today and are coming back tomorrow.
^ Nina, who is clearly insane, booked some holiday to help her dad move and Ignatius has one of these all or nothing jobs and he’s in a mostly nothing phase at the moment.
‡‡‡ Let me say that I am glad to admit that I stopped finding young guys hot some years ago. They’re so . . . you know, young. I like the old beat-up ones that look like we might have stuff in common to, ahem, talk about. But I might make an exception for this chap. He is not that big and he’s not that bulky although you look at him and guess you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side in a pub brawl . . . but I’ve never liked the ripped gym-bunny look even when I was young. I had a serious case of the hots for my blacksmith, many years ago when I had a horse, because he had major muscles from USE, you know? The definition wasn’t much because he wasn’t doing gazillions of specialist curls but he was strong and I’ve always kind of swooned for strong, especially the easy-going, almost careless, strong-because-it’s-part-of-the-job-description kind of strong. Also, turned out, once I apparently wasn’t going to turn into a Fainting in Coils, today’s hero has a really nice smile. I hope his main squeeze appreciates him.
§ Here’s one of those big fat juicy ironies. I hated the old plastic door and have rarely been as happy as when Atlas finally got around to putting the wooden stable-style door in that I’d bought yonks ago but there’s only one of Atlas and Peter or I keep pulling him off one thing to do something else. But finally . . . YAAAAAAAY. NICE DOOR IMPROVING GARDEN SIDE VIEW OF NICE HOUSE not to mention Aura of Sitting Room Within. But if it had been the nasty old plastic door today the piano would have fit through it. Because of the frame that the old door left behind—and which would have been an expensive ratbag to replace—Atlas had to install the new door slightly, um, in. Thus narrowing the entrance/egress part of the deal. Which I’d never really registered. My bad. Uggggh. Disaster narrowly averted.
§§ And if this blog is a little less coherent than usual, well, forgive me, it’s been a rough week. . . .
. . . insofar as ‘dreading’ is a suitable word for anything that happens on a blog. As I say (regularly) to Blogmom when I’ve screwed up yet again, ‘It’s a blog. Nobody dies.’
Well, nobody dies, but this is the week when you will not get a KES for the foreseeable future. This flaming sore throat is showing no sign whatsoever of folding its tents and silently stealing away. And it’s wearing me down, you know? It’s no worse than it was on Wednesday, it’s just no better, and the rest of me is following it down into the abyssal pit of lethargy* and brainlessness.** And I’m not going to post a KES ep until I’ve had a brain available to look it over with first. As I said last week, the Black Tower interpolations were a late addition, but once one thing has come a bit adrift other things tend to follow. Story-telling entropy. Or A Sound of Thunder.***
And you know one of the worst things about this extremely unpleasant lurgy? Chocolate doesn’t taste good. How am I supposed to comfort myself in my affliction when I am denied chocolate?
* * *
* Hurtling my two shifts of hellpack is interesting in a losing all your money in Las Vegas, your house just fell down or your beloved just ran off with a fireperson^ and what really hurts is that he/she took the dog^^ kind of way. As I staggered after them I was thinking it could be worse. The hellhounds are pretty frelling laid back at the moment possibly because they stopped eating again and there’s a limit to the amount of force feeding I have the morale/energy for, and at the moment I can’t talk to the vet because I can’t talk. But they don’t require miles across rough country as they have been known to do when they were younger, possibly because at present their bellies are starting to stick to their backbones.^^^ And the hellterror . . . on a long extending lead, I can just mosey along while she hucklebutts her little cotton socks off . . . bringing me especially desirable, well-chewed, sticky and drooly sticks and plastic bottles occasionally so I don’t feel left out. Gee. Thanks.
I don’t actually get this sick very often. I was lying on the floor with my head in the hellhound bed# last night listening to this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b048ngny ## and thinking, I remember lying on the floor with my head in the hellhound bed listening to that bloke read Paradise Lost on Radio Three and that was several years ago. Uggggh. Not nearly long ago enough, if you follow me. I could have gone on not feeling this bloody for any number more years.
^ My mind seems to run on fire for some reason
^^ And dogs. For some reason.
^^^ I know they don’t like the taste of the drug they’re on, because back during some recent era when they were occasionally eating, if one of them missed their drug-laced dinner and the other one didn’t, I was liable to find the one who was facing a rerun of the drugged food trying to eat the drug-free final snack of the other. They need to be on this *&^%$£””!!!!! drug, it’s working, but it hasn’t worked enough yet. I am so frelled.
# I changed their bedding Wednesday night. It’s all nice and clean+ and a good deal softer than the floor.
+ If HAIRY
## This should be Hesperion XXI at the York Early Music Festival. The BBC web site is such a nightmare I never trust it. But if it isn’t, you can look it up on the schedule, Thursday night at 7:30 on Radio Three and it’s fabulous. I think it’s one of those only available for seven days, so get it while it’s there. I’m going to listen to it again.
** I was supposed to go Street Pastoring tonight. Not a chance. Whimper. I keep wondering where I picked up this particular lurgy. See previous entry about the downside of interaction with other human beings. It could have been last Saturday on the street, for example.
*** I’m not a big fan of Wikipedia at the best of times.^ So it’s probably not surprising I feel that the article on ‘the butterfly effect’ might have mentioned the Bradbury story. I know there’s a difference between the beating of butterfly wings creating major weather and the wrong guy getting elected because your big fat boot stepped on one back in the Cretaceous^^ but . . . the butterfly effect article even mentions that it’s a popular trope in SF&F.
^ And that meatloaf at the head having come out as rantingly, pathologically against homeopathy+ means I will stay not a big fan
+ Let me just say that anyone who thinks homeopathy is nonsense hasn’t done their homework=
= Self-prescribing is not ideal–see above about not posting a KES while I have no discernible brain–but I am walking. Sometimes a lurgy just has your name on it. And back in the days when I still believed in standard medicine I got prescribed an awful lot of garbage that did me significant harm. Whatever this is, it’ll go away . . . eventually.
^^ How do we know it wasn’t the microorganisms in the soil? Just because the butterfly is flashier?
Bleagh. I’m frelling ill again/still. I hadn’t really finished getting over the thrice blasted stomach flu—which kept kind of circling back and biting me—and I’ve now got one of those sore throats where you feel like your throat was attacked by a cheese grater and then set fire to. Plus the shakes and shivers that tend to go with. Arrrgh. YOU KNOW THERE’S A DOWN SIDE TO ALL THIS INTERACTION WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS NONSENSE.* MORE GERMS.
I made it in to my third Sams duty shift last night, aware that all was not well internally but not having arrived at true graphic cheese-grater stage yet—and also you really don’t want to cancel at the last minute if you possibly can avoid it because last-minute Samaritan substitutes are a good deal rarer and more valuable than hen’s-egg-sized rubies, and just as the Street Pastors can’t go out unless there are at least three of them plus two Prayer Pastors back at base, the Sams office can only stay open if there are two duty Sams.
As it happens it was a very draining shift** but Pythia seemed to think I’d done well, and since she wasn’t shoving notes under my nose I’m willing to believe she did think so.*** Which is a bit of a ‘yaaay’ because however earnest and willing you are you don’t know if you can do it—do it over some of the range of human distress—till you’ve done it.
So apparently I am going to make a Sam. Knitting critter coats for Battersea Dog and Cat Rescue optional. Yaaay. †
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* Saturday night is the traditionally busiest night of the Street Pastors’ weekend, which runs three nights starting with Thursday, although some of the individually scariest stuff can perfectly well happen on non-Saturdays. As a Friday regular I was braced for the foaming hordes—also it’s summer so the weather and assorted festivals encourage the punters onto the streets—and it was sure busy but nothing too hectic. The most melodramatic aspect was the number of bottles and cans left around. WHY ARE PEOPLE SUCH SLOBS.^ There are a variety of views about this among Street Pastor groups and areas. We all pick up glass because of the potential danger if it breaks.^^ After that the edicts get a little less clear. We’re not litter pickers, we’re concerned about safety, so generally speaking we look for anything to do with alcohol. We’ll sully our hands^^^ to dispose of Guinness and Old Speckled Hen cans, but not Pepsi or Innocent Super Smoothie. And we pour out any contents of our hogsheads and firkins before we bin them—which means you want to find a grating on your way to your bin. On the grounds that drunk people will do anything, perhaps especially drunk teenage boys daring each other to greater feats of grossness, I am also one of those who picks up abandoned plastic ‘glasses’ that still have something that looks like beer in them.
Occasionally this may lead to a situation open to misinterpretation. Saturday night for some reason I got my eye in and was seeing cans and bottles that my teammates were walking straight past—usually there’s someone on a team who is struck by greatness this way but it’s never been me before.# I had just ducked aside to pick up a (empty) bottle of Cava and paused on my return to the main road to seize a half-full-of-something plastic glass. I turned around, looking for a grating and/or a bin and saw two gentlemen, rather the worse for wear, staring at me goggle-eyed. The Street Pastors are pretty well known around here and of course a Street Pastor on her beat is wearing logos of dazzling, unmissable blatancy. Can you drink on the job? said one of them in hushed, almost reverent tones. No, I said, trying not to laugh at the looks on their faces. I’m dumping these out. They watched me closely as I found my grating and then my bin . . . but I wonder if they went home thinking that they’d caught me at something and of course I had to pour my illicit beverage out once they’d seen me.
^ These are probably some of the same people that don’t pick up after their dogs. Hellhounds and I walked past a pile of dog crap in the middle of a BUS SHELTER today. How disgusting is that? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE.
^^ Each team also carries a flimsy little dustpan and brush for sweeping up broken glass. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to wield same on Saturday. Glass weighs, you know? And the poor little dustpan goes groan groan groan so you have to keep emptying it . . . so you hope that whoever drops a breakable object does so near a bin.+
+ I was also, on my hands and knees sweeping up glass, lavishly praised by passing coppers. Oh my misspent youth. I’ve become a little old lady who sweeps up broken glass in public places.
^^^ We also carry one-use gloves for anything really revolting.
# I can think of superpowers I would prefer. There’s a woman on my usual team who is so good at it I swear she draws cans and bottles to her, like the birds flocking to St Francis. At least bottles don’t crap on your head.
** Which is fine. It’s what we’re for. And while you-a-Sam may well end a call feeling ‘oh dear oh dear oh dear’ you also get to hope you made a difference . . . after all, this person picked up the phone^ to talk to a Samaritan . . . presumably because they wanted to talk to a friendly, empathetic, non-judgemental person. THAT’S WHAT WE’RE FOR. Make a note.
^ Or fired up their computer/smartphone for an email or a text
*** She has the lurgy also. Possibly we gave it to each other last week.
† Thank you God. Stamina is still an issue, but Pythia says that comes with practise and experience, which seems to me reasonable. If I were sitting quietly and solitarily at my desk and someone said Here. You now have three dogs, each of them seriously insane in its own individual way, and you have to walk them several miles every day as well as feeding, playing with, and generally interacting with them, including Long Yellow Rubber Pull Toy Things and sofas, including when you feel like the ancient compacted rubbish at the bottom of a dustbin-collection lorry, I think I might squeak a bit. It’s all what you’re used to.
You were due to get a blog post tonight and I have stomach flu. As these things go it’s mild* but it’s knocked my energy level over and squashed it flat, because that’s what happens when you have ME and some blasted interfering ‘acute’ comes along and joins the party.
Meanwhile I had my observation duty at the Samaritans last night—and was aware of feeling a little peaky** but that might have been tension level***—and I have my first official duty shift tomorrow. And I’m going. So let’s hope I can sit in a chair and speak in complete sentences, okay? I want to do this. And I don’t want my mentor to have to do it for me because I’m convulsing on the floor. Arrrrrrrgh.†
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* May it stay mild, thank you very much
** I’ve actually been peaky most of this week, the kind of peaky that makes me think ‘oh help the ME is getting worse I’m not going to be able to keep on floundering through as much stuff as I do if this is settling in to be the new system’—also PAIN. Golly. I really do not like pain and it makes me CRANKY^ and at my age it also makes me feel dangerously old. Having the intensification of the ME coalesce into something like stomach flu, which can reasonably be presumed will go away again, is actually a relief.^^
^ I would have been such a bad martyr. I wouldn’t have forgiven anybody.
^^ This is how acutes tend to manifest with me, that the ME gets worse and then as if spits out the acute.+ But of course during the run up I don’t think ‘oh I must be coming down with something’ I think OH WOE MY LIFE IS OVER.
+ Not everyone with ME follows this pattern but it is a common one.
*** There weren’t any ordinary people who just wanted a chat last night—yes the Sams get those although that’s not what they’re for—YEEEEP. The Sams really are the sharp end. Yeeeeeep. I was there mid-shift so I could watch the handover, the point being that there’s always someone available to answer a ringing phone and there’s always a debrief every shift with the admin^, so I had a chance to speak to four duty-shift Sams plus my mentor^^ plus yesterday’s admin head and I was saying yeeeeep and they were all saying sympathetically, well, yes. That’s what we do.
It has come up constantly from the first information evening when you’re still deciding whether to apply or not that the Sams support their people. What the Samaritans do is rough. And you can’t take it home with you or you won’t be able to do the job for long. Hence constant, structured checking from admin and colleagues that you’re okay.
The other crucial aspect of this is the Sams’ rule of ABSOLUTE CONFIDENTIALITY. The only people you’re allowed to discuss Sams’ callers with is other Sams. And I had a little taste of what this is going to mean in practise last night. Intellectually I totally get it and totally agree with it too—that’s what makes the Sams such a great resource. Have something that’s eating holes in you that you either have no one to discuss it with or you just can’t discuss it with friends and family? Ring the Sams. You can tell them anything, they’ll not only listen, it won’t go any farther. Terminally ill and want to talk about death but your family are all in denial? Ring the Sams. Suicidal from the break-up that everyone thinks is your fault because they won’t hear the truth about your ex-partner? Ring the Sams. Your dog died and nobody gets it that it matters? Ring the Sams.
But to engage, to empathise, as a Sam you do have to get alongside whoever you’re talking to. And you also have to put it down again when you put the phone down.
I’ll learn to do this—as I told my mentor I’m reasonably confident about the long term: short term is the yeeeeeep—but the new skill is not being able to talk about it. I’m a girl. When stuff gets to me I find a friend to talk it through with. It’s what girls do. I wrote a couple of emails to friends last night and I probably sounded pretty distracted because what I was chiefly thinking about was what I couldn’t say. ^^^ Grim stuff is undoubtedly more of a burden when you can’t ask a trusted friend to help you lever it off and lay it down.
^ The admin are all practising Sams too. They know what you’re doing, what life on the, ahem, line is.
^^ Whom I like a lot, by the way. I feel in safe hands with her: that she’ll catch me if I screw up but she won’t make me feel like a retarded liver fluke for screwing up.
^^^ It’ll be easier once I’ve made some friends in the Sams. The Street Pastors keep schtum too but since most of what we do happens in public and out on the street the lockdown isn’t as absolute. And I went into the SPs as one of four from St Margaret’s, the other three of whom were already my friends by the time I started doing duty shifts. Clearly I need to send that email to the other five trainees of my Sams intake saying, so what about meeting up for that beer then?
† What you guys really want to be hoping/praying/dancing around bonfires for however is that I’m sufficiently alive and functioning to tweak another chapter of KES and release her to the world Saturday night.