The very last thing I do every night is put Pav out for a final pee*. When this happens EVEN LATER THAN USUAL because, say, I’ve been reading something and HAD TO KNOW HOW IT ENDED**, it may no longer be awfully dark outdoors by the time we get out there for this ritual moment. Hey, it’s barely a month to the longest day, it gets light really really REALLY early, okay? So it was like twilight out there this morning, and I was standing there in my nightgown ready to fend the little varmint*** off the rose bushes and my peripheral vision was caught by movement where no movement should be. . . .
There was a big fat mouse lowering the bird-seed level in the feeder by a rate of knots. ARRRRRRRGH.†
This is my fabulous squirrel proof bird feeder, you know? The one with the integral cage that only little birds can get through. Little birds and the occasional frelling mouse—who was soon going to be too frelling bulgy to get out again. I picked up a stake that didn’t happen to be propping anything important and gave the feeder a move-or-die whack. Mouse leaped out into the shadows—Geronimoooooooooo!—and disappeared.††
The real ratbag about this is that I’ve pretty much decided that the birds don’t like this feeder. I have lots of birds in the garden, and the suet block in the other feeder is eaten down pretty reliably. Er. By birds: I see them doing it. This one—nope. I assume they don’t like the cage.
So today, which was a lovely day†††, I spent a good bit of in the garden. ‡ And one of the things I did was tie the clematis and the rose-bush that are the likeliest mouse-access-providing culprits away from the seed feeder.
* * *
* Hellhounds scorn such wimpery. Pav is extremely continent^ but she’s also always delighted to be allowed to burst out of her crate and attack something. If the price for this indulgence is that she stop attacking things^^ long enough to have a pee, she will do that with reasonable grace.
^ Barring the standard canine disasters. My latest trial is that she’s decided that sheep crap is a delicacy. ARRRRRRRRGH. Even if I hold her upside down and shake, the stuff is kind of friable, you know? It doesn’t all hold together neatly and pop out in a nice cohesive lump.
^^ Dirty laundry, nightgown hems+, feet, towels hanging on the Aga rail, etc. If she’s desperate, dog toys.
+ She has, relatively recently, discovered the joys of rocket-launching her solid little furry self upward inside the circle of hem of the nightgown you’re wearing YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.
** I’ll tell you all about it. Some day.
*** With the little glistening varminty eyes
† Speaking of ARRRRRRRRGH. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
†† Pav was sure she’d missed something. I’m glad to say the mouse leaped into the shadows on the far side of the little courtyard fence. I don’t like mice, but I didn’t in the least want my hellterror catching one.^ Or diving through a rose-bush to try.
^ Either she’d eat it—and its unknown but guaranteed undesirable parasites—or she’d just mangle it a little. They scream, you know. Like bunnies. Bunnies scream. Dog owners need to know how to kill things. Whimper.
††† After we got down to a NEAR FROST last night. One of my pathetic and ridiculous excuses for staying up reading was so that I could keep an eye on the frelling thermometer. The temperature had turned around and was going up again by the time I turned the light off. I get to do this again tonight. Or not, of course.
‡ Have I told you I have two lots of American visitors coming next week? I have maybe half a dozen overnight-staying, pond-crossing visitors in an average year . . . and I have THREE of them NEXT WEEK? WHAT? One of them is an old friend, and if the house(s) is a tip and the garden(s) is a jungle, eh, she’s seen it all before. The other one—and her husband—I’m a little afraid of. Sigh. But nothing is going to turn me into a magnificent housekeeper, a sublime gardener and a superlative hostess in the next ten days, so we’ll just have to muddle along somehow.
SHADOWS IS DRIVING ME CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZY.
Okay, okay, like this is unusual or surprising or anything. Books exist to make their so-called authors crazy. It’s part of the system. I’m sure there’s a good evolutionary reason for this.* But I’m like hours from FINISHING THE DAMN THING AND SUDDENLY. . . . ARRRGGGLLLLGGZZZZRRRRMMMMMP.**
So let me tell you about my major breakthrough in the garden at the cottage.***
I’ve been taking out some of my literary frustrations in the garden.† This began about a fortnight ago when somehow or other Gemma got out there. I don’t let people out in my garden when . . . well, when you basically can’t get through the kitchen door without a machete and/or flamethrower. I tried to block her but she feinted and swerved and escaped past me (wielding her machete).
It’s a mess, I said, following her crestfallenly.
No, she said judiciously—Gemma has a gift for finding the nice thing to say—it’s just very full.
But look, LOOK! I have been labouring extremely, and see what I have produced! Unveiled! Chairs! A table! I could sit down in my garden! With a friend! —I only have the two chairs. There aren’t more hiding in the shrubbery or anything. But you haven’t been able to see either the table or the chairs for months. They’ve—er—had plants on them.
. . . And then look what a friend brought me recently. I looked at the roses before I looked at the label, and started to laugh. I didn’t need to look at the label. I’ve been resisting her for seven years now.†† But as my friend (who does not live in Hampshire) said, Look, you have to grow her. How many roses named after famous Hampshire landmarks are there anyway?†††
To be continued.
* * *
* Like there’s a good evolutionary reason for forty-three species of parrots and nipples for men.^
^ Pop culture reference alert. I feel I need to tell you, since I don’t do pop culture very well, and you won’t be expecting it.+
+ Old pop culture. TIME BANDITS was 1981?!?!?? There are grown ups who weren’t born in 1981.
** C’mon, Mongo the Wonder Dog! Pull another rabbit out of your hat-equivalent!^
^ Although for anyone who doesn’t read the forum+ b_twin posted a Wonder Dog clip:
+ You should, you know. I don’t drag all the interesting comments out here.
*** And then maybe I’ll go back to SHADOWS for a bit. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll go sing something. I quite fancy Pirate Jenny this evening. Kill them now or later? —Right now.^
^ Okay. I admit it. I’m often in the mood for Pirate Jenny.
† When the weather lets me. We’re still having YAAAAAAAH INCOMING rainstorms. Occasionally with thunder. I’m not sleeping well anyway and I found myself about two feet above the mattress with my hair standing on end a couple of nights ago when there was a thunderstorm. Generally speaking I like living on a hill—a little hill—but when the sky-giants are using your town as a bowling alley suddenly subterranean looks really good.
And one of these nights the new Late Hurtle is going to be interrupted by inclemency. If not sooner, then later, like, December, when there’s frelling ice on those murky black surfaces. Meanwhile hellhounds have taken to Late Hurtling with distressing enthusiasm. When I was just bringing them back to the cottage they would stagger out of their bed at the mews, make the supreme effort of jumping into the back seat of Wolfgang^, and be determinedly fast asleep by the time we drove twenty-three seconds down the road to the cottage, and I’d have to haul them back out of the car again.
Now I totter down to the cottage from Wolfgang’s slot at the top of the hill with all my frelling kit^^, and by the time I return to fetch hellhounds they’re pressed eagerly against the back window saying, what took you so long?
Despite my notorious time-related depravity, I have hitherto not been accustomed to wandering around outdoors at mmph o’clock and . . . there are hundreds of hedgehogs out there. I hope this means that hedgehogs, at least, are having a good year. I fear that some of hellhounds’ delight in late hurtling may have something to do with a prevalence of hedgehogs: but I’ve prevented them from catching any yet so I hope they’ll come to appreciate^^^ the quieter joys of . . . chasing the THOUSANDS of cats infesting the landscape at night. GAAAAAAAAAAH. I knew we had a cat problem in this town but this is ridiculous.
At the moment, however, the lack of aggressive off-lead dogs is worth even six cats to the square foot.
^ Haven’t you bought that ramp yet?
^^ I swear one of the best things about knitting is how much it doesn’t weigh.
^^^ At least till December
†† I grew her at the old house, and she didn’t do all that well. Some time recently, but I can’t find the thread now, someone in the forum was ranting about what useless pieces of rubbish Austin roses are and she wouldn’t be caught dead with any of them in her garden, etc. Hmm. Well, I do think Austins are overrated because they tend to be presented (at least around here) as the only thing or at least the most desirable thing. You go to the rose section of your local nursery and there are maybe two or three random hybrid teas and then ranks and ranks of Austins. Lighten up. There are other roses. But roses are like real estate: it’s all location, location, LOCATION. If you can find a place where an Austin is happy, she’s as lovely as the next rose—and sometimes lovelier. I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’m doing much better with Austins in feverishly over-fed pots in a tiny sheltered in-town garden(s) than I did at the old house, which was in a frost pocket.^ So I’m hoping Mme Winchester Cathedral will be fat and contented here. The flowers are divine.^^
^ I know. Every garden is in a frost pocket. Ask every gardener. Still. The pocket at the old house was frostier than here.
^^ Which is appropriate after all.
††† If I ever have several thousand pounds to throw away, I’ll sponsor Austin or Beales or Harkness or someone to produce a Forzadeldestino Abbey rose. There are other important Hampshire landmarks.
I rang Stedman Doubles at the abbey for service this afternoon.*
Now doubles is only six bells (five working bells and tenor-behind) so for service ring at an abbey with forty-nine bells and two accidentals** this is pretty pathetic. But in the first place the abbey rings with what it can get on Sunday afternoon which often isn’t much, which is why they let me live and pretend to be glad to see me, and in the second place there are two local festivals going on plus Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the frelling mass-media run up to the frelling mass-media Olympics, the Inter Galactic Big Truck Rally***, and the finals of the Guess How Many Pears a Partridge Can Eat competition which they’re running in 3D this year at a cinema near you. I was the third person through the door of the ringing chamber and when the fourth turned up he said lugubriously, we may be all there is: it’s the men’s finals this afternoon.
Gemma (who was not there) has said that the abbey, being an abbey and having face to maintain†, doesn’t ring at all if fewer than six rope-pullers show up. This afternoon we had seven—which is six with one left over: you mostly don’t ring on seven.†† So I rang some not-too-awful bob minor while Leandra stood out, and then I stood out while the rest of them rang Stedman Doubles. The thing about Stedman, which long-term readers of this blog may remember, is that it’s a bit of a holy grail—it’s not the only holy grail of ringing, but it’s one of them. If you can ring Stedman you can at least consider calling yourself a ringer.
I can ring Stedman Doubles in other towers. I can ring touches of Stedman Doubles . . . in other towers. I’ve even been known to ring a plain course of Stedman Triples (seven bells plus tenor-behind) when it’s offered. In other towers. Gaaah. Today Albert asked me what I wanted to ring††† and I, seizing my courage with both hands, said, there’s seven of us, give me a minder and let me try Stedman Doubles. I could see Albert considering whether this was a good idea or not—it’s not just that I’m a shaky and unreliable ringer, you can read it all over me that I’m terrified—and then he said okay. And then, bless him, gave me Wild Robert for a minder. Yaay Wild Robert. He comes to Sunday afternoons at the abbey when he’s not ringing at one of the frelling invitation-only towers in frelling London—but that doesn’t work out all that often in practise. But he was there today and just having him there—he who taught me Stedman years ago at Ditherington—is a steadying influence.
In terms of the method I rang it flawlessly. Yaay me. I can do this. Even at the abbey. I can. The accuracy of my striking . . . not so much. And Wild Robert nearly derailed me by having a pleasing but dangerous faith in my grasp of the method and therefore whispering sweet nothings about how to improve my striking. My striking did improve—somewhat—and I didn’t go wrong.‡
So then, of course, I came home and frolicked . . . and then Darkness didn’t eat his dinner. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH.‡‡
* * *
* I have this vision of all the knitters going, Bellringing! Aaaugh!, as all the bell ringers last night went, Knitting! Aaaaugh!
Sorry, you knitters. You might want to go catch up on some other blog tonight. I’m going to go on fizzing about Stedman Doubles at the abbey for paragraphs.
** I have always liked, since my first gruesome, brief, sausage-fingered venture as a piano student when I was a kid, the concept of sharps and flats as accidentals. They certainly were the way I played.
*** The Cardassians are tipped to win.
† How many months have I been toiling at the abbey rockface? But I still, driving in, every time, look out over the town with the abbey looming majestically up in the middle of it, and think, I ring THERE? You’ve got to be joking. And struggle with the impulse to turn around and go home.
†† Unless one of you is Wild Robert, who can ring two tower bells at the same time.^
^ And he doesn’t much like handbells. How frustrating is that?
††† A touch of Plastic Fantastic Ergonomic Quaternary Spliced Surprise. In my dreams.
‡ We finished with about five minutes of just ringing rounds on the back eight—with Wild Robert on the one and the two and me on the three. I am only slowly getting over being deathly afraid of ringing rounds at the abbey. The problem with rounds is that you have nothing to think about. Ringing a method, you’re at least busy panicking about where your next blow goes. Ringing rounds you’re standing there contemplating how paralysingly gigantic the space is and how you’re out in the middle of it^ and something really huge could be creeping up behind you^^ . . . and furthermore most of the bells are slightly oddstruck^^^ so following Wild Robert on two bells is even more confusing# than it is anyway.##
Yes. Since I quit New Arcadia I have spent rather too much time wondering why I do this to myself. And even if I wanted to keep my hand in ringing a bit, I didn’t have to choose to pursue the frelling abbey. Except . . . I did. I’d be bored rigid by only ringing (say) call changes for weddings. And the abbey remains pretty much the only tower in this area that can teach me stuff. Unfortunately . . . it’s the abbey.
I was talking to Southdowner about this—she also rings, she is also not hugely naturally gifted, she is also stubborn. Really the downside of stubbornness is the way it makes you keep doing stuff. Which is also the upside. Eh.
^ I am still trying to convince myself that this is irrelevant. You don’t lean on a ringing chamber wall, and you wouldn’t like it if you could. But somehow I feel all flimsy and vertiginous on any of the abbey bells except about three near the front which are decently close to a wall.
^^ As I was driving in—as I was, in fact, belting 70 mph down the motorway—there was something tickling my wrist. I glanced down and there was a GIGANTIC FRELLING SPIDER WALKING UP MY ARM.
I didn’t run off the road. I hope you’re impressed at my fortitude. I can be brave when I HAAAAAAAAAVE TOOOOOOOOOOO.
^^^ Which basically means that their bong doesn’t come at quite the usual place in the stroke. The individual, unpredictable oddstruckness of bells is one of the things that makes ringing interesting.
# and vertiginous
## The other thing I haven’t told you is how Darkness pulled me over a few days ago, going after a duckling. AAAAUGH. This was always going to happen some day—the frelling ducks on our frelling river are way too tame because people from all over Hampshire bring their stale rubbish bread here in vast quantities and lower the vitality levels of our waterfowl with it like they’re supporting wildlife diversity and doing the biosphere a favour.+ In this case I was preoccupied with a grandmother and her six-year-old who is afraid of dogs and was not paying attention to the path in front of me. Darkness was paying attention. And he never could resist birds. Hellhounds haven’t pulled me over in YEARS. There was (human) blood everywhere because the frelling river path is frelling gravel . . . and I’ve kind of done one shoulder in, or rather, Darkness did, dragging me down the path++, and I’m sure the kid who’s afraid of dogs will be needing additional years of psychotherapy as a result of this incident. I just need a good sports medicine specialist to tie my shoulder back into place. I can still ring, just about, but . . .
+ Soapbox? Rant? Me?
++ A dog that weighs slightly more than one third what you do should not be able to drag you, dead weight as you are, full length on the sodblasted path as you are, anywhere. Tell that to Darkness.
‡‡ He did. Finally. But only after my hair was several shades greyer than it was yesterday and I had chewed one of the legs of my chair nearly through. Bleaugh. Varnish tastes really nasty.
The deed is done. I bought myself a bird feeder today. And some frelling bird seed. We’re cutting back on the live mealworms* which, even allowing generously for relative body weight, cost more than frelling organic cereal-free hellhound food. But I have spent nearly sixty years resisting Feeding the Birds and have now finally succumbed to . . . two robin nests in about two months.**
I bought my shiny new bird feeder on line so it’ll be a day or two arriving. I went for something squirrel resistant, which, in this case, means that the tube of bird seed is surrounded at a little distance by a tempered steel cage whose holes are (theoretically) too small for anything but a robin or a tit or a sparrow or thereabouts to get through. The thought of feeding the local population of rats with furry tails is one of the things that has stopped me getting caught in the feed-the-birds trap before this.
I’m having a little seizure of anti-on-line shopping however and with a car that runs I might revert to doing a little more of it in three dimensions, even if this means I can’t do it at three o’clock in the morning.*** But I’m tired of web sites that were stuck together by rather stupid demons using wallpaper paste and the blood of people who tick NO to the free newsletter, updates, special offers and more fun things to clutter the hell up your inbox option.† The bird feeder site says, YOU HAVE TO CREATE AN ACCOUNT!!!!!, if you want to, like, order anything . . . BUT YOU’LL REALLY LIKE HAVING AN ACCOUNT BECAUSE WE SEND YOU ALL THESE GREAT OFFERS! How often do you buy a new bird feeder? I thought I might at least order their FREE bird feeding guide but . . . you have to create an account. Apparently you have to create another account, because I’ve already created one so I can buy the frelling feeder. So I’m going to receive TWO copies of the fabulous newsletter and all the special offers?? I don’t think so. Never mind the dazzling nuisance of filling out your name, address, phone number^^^, and your new secret doodah password^^^^ all over again.
So I declined. I can get my bird feeding regime from the http://www.rspb.org.uk/
But the current pinnacle of on line shopping fury was reached a few nights ago when I was trying to buy . . . socks. I want colourful cotton socks, not black, navy blue and beige creepy weird fabric socks, and this is apparently going a little far, at least for the British market. There’s a big lower-limb underwear chain over here whose web site is a nightmare. I keep not going there because after about ten minutes I’m losing the will to live. They have videos. Videos of SOCKS? WHY? And if you are scrolling wearily down the long series of Hello Kitty and Robert Pattison socks, because the awful truth is that lurking among the rest there are Colourful Cotton Socks, and you SEE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR and click on the brand thumbnail, for every different colour you look at within that brand, you will have to come back through that individual screen again before you return to the home screen. Let’s say there are two different greens, and you’ve clicked back and forth two or three times to compare—? Yes. And let me add to your burden of comprehension by further explaining that, probably because of the video option, EVERY PAGE TAKES SEVERAL SECONDS TO LOAD.
I got out my knitting to avoid killing all the neighbours and laying waste generally to New Arcadia.
I was on this frelling site nearly an hour. And at the end, I had finally laid down my needles and was making my way through the checkout when . . . THE SITE TIMED ME OUT, THREW ME OFF, AND WIPED MY ORDER.‡
Fortunately the pet shop here, which already orders cereal-free hellhound food for me, carries a liberal selection of bird food.
* * *
* Unless there’s a third nest. I suppose I should clear out the old ones. There wasn’t a lot of free space in my greenhouse before the robins found two imaginary gaps to wedge two real nests into.
** One of my Twitter followers said thank you for the photos,^ that most people don’t get to see this. It’s funny how quickly something amazing becomes normal: it doesn’t necessarily become less amazing—and I will be crushed if the local robins never build a nest in my greenhouse again^^: don’t we have a tradition?^^^—but it still becomes established routine.
^ Which reminds me, I have to finish the series. Not tonight. I’ve spent too much time ranting.
^^ Although it would be nice to have the next nest where I can see it without the assistance of a camera-tipped gorilla-length arm.
^^^ Including live mealworms
*** Arguably the best feature about going to Bowdoin College thirty years ago was that the flagship Freeport 24-hour LL Bean is about a quarter of an hour away. Back in my college days LL Bean was not yet . . . fashionable.
† Which might explain the being gruesomely, headachingly tired so much of the time. Here I thought it was the ME. Hmm. And I still get an awful lot of special offers.
†† 00000000000. Most web sites created by stupid demons don’t pick this up.
††† I hate passwords. I have unique ones for bank accounts and things, but for a site that sells bird feeders? Give me a frelling break. And then there’s the PROVE IT stage of paying on line. PayPal, for example, is one of my unique passwords, so then I have to remember what the sodblaster it is . . . but one of my credit cards demands that you choose a Memorable Name of more than ten letters, and then every time you use the frelling card you get a screen that wants a specific, if random, three of the Name’s letters. THE LETTERS HAVE WORN OFF TWO-THIRDS OF THE KEYS ON MY OLD LAPTOP. I can type, because I’m not thinking about where individual letters are: I’ve been typing on a QWERTY keyboard for fifty years [sic]. But tell me to pick out three specific letters from a lot of blotchy black keys? Are you KIDDING?
‡ It’s almost enough to make me rethink knitting socks.^
^ NOOOOOOOOOO.+ Cardigans! I want to knit cardigans! And jumpers! And waistcoats! And things that show that you’ve gone to all that knitting trouble!++ And that don’t get holes in them just because you wear them to walk in!
+ I wrote this web site a little email, expressing would-be-customer dismay. Four days went by. Today I received your standard gloppy gormless infuriating robo-letter saying nothing at all at considerable length. I felt my blood pressure rising again and answered it saying, this is gloppy, gormless and useless and proves that your customer relations is as rubbish as your web site.
I got an answer! And it was just as gloppy, gormless and useless!
++ And made all these knitting mistakes. Maybe not-showing has something to be said for it.
I am skronking a blog entry together here even later than usual, having been working on SHADOWS till a depraved hour, having also decided this afternoon that it was over time to do you my fabulous Second Nest photo essay . . . and always forgetting that photo blogs take JUST AS LONG as text blogs because of all the choosing and cropping and rechoosing and recropping and fussing and making lists and changing my mind. I fuss slowly. In this case complicated by the fact that I have extraordinary numbers of . . . ahem . . . not totally excellent photos to fuss over.
Now this is the first nest, and you see that it was not divinely situated for photo taking. I could see it fine–and I can tell you there are five baby robins in there–but since I didn’t want to shoot off the flash in their little fluffy faces I was a bit stymed on the photo front.
Now this is the second nest, beautifully open to sunlight and photography . . . except for the little fact that it’s over my head behind a wall of pots and paraphernalia and that I took this and all the following photos (and a great many more you are spared) standing in a highly precarious manner with my feet on two loose bits of timber propped up on bricks and holding the camera at full arm’s length pointing down to where I know the nest is, on the far side of the aforementioned wall, and my other hand frantically grasping anything it can, to keep me (relatively) steady for shutter-clicking. The things I go through for this blog.
By the way, to give you some idea of scale, the width of those upside-down pressed-compost pots leaning on the edge of the nest is two and a half inches. Baby robins are very small.
You may remember I discovered the presence of the nest when I dropped some of these pressed-compost pots on sitting mama robin’s head. I had to clear them away without being able to see what I was doing either, and these last few were inadvertently left behind. And then when the photos revealed their presence I was afraid to try to move them because I didn’t want to freak anybody out. Mum and dad remained dubious about me (despite all the mealworms) but the kids were so used to this ticking black rectangular thing swooping down at them from overhead every day (just about the time the mealworms arrived, in fact) that I could probably have decorated the nest with ribbons and pinwheels and they wouldn’t have batted an eye. Although I’m sure mum and dad would have disapproved.
They are all mouth at this age–with its beak open you feel like you can see the back of a baby robin’s skull, not just its throat–on these tiny wavery little necks.
Feed me, revisited. They’re even beginning to make some effort about feathers.
I think it’s only four. But there are always slightly more bulges than four robins decently need, and I never saw them live directly either–just the photos. Maybe the fifth one is shy. Note beaks still as big as their heads.
If you look carefully in the gap in the centre, you will see a tiny little red head, its eye clearly staring suspiciously at the photographer.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . .