It has not been a good day. I overslept—which at least has the advantage that I got some sleep—but I was racing around tripping over a puppy very anxious to be helpful trying to catch up with myself and failing, of course, does anyone ever catch up?*, and one of my split-second decisions was to leave the GIGANTIC HOUSE SPIDER perched precariously on a skirting board near the front door—he was too big and he didn’t fit, and was having to extend some of his supernumerary limbs around the corner and grasp the front of the bookcase—and finish throwing the last six animals and twenty-two knapsacks in Wolfgang and get down to the mews before sunset.
Which means he’s still at the cottage. Somewhere. Waiting for me. Unless of course he’s found his beloved and they are experiencing marital bliss . . . somewhere. You don’t seem to find pairs of spiders so I’m ASSUMING I don’t have to worry about the happy couple(s) once they are. But it’s now definitively nighttime and by the time we all** get back to the cottage I’ll be tired and . . . I know it looks like a really dumb decision. But there’s the additional factoid that neither of my spider catchers are actually up to the job of autumn-sized house spiders, the ones that are as big as your hand. That Godzilla I posted photos of a couple of years ago is still a personal worst, but this time of year there are always several jolly little pony-sized arachnids that, like the cockroaches outside Charlie’s Coffeehouse, you can hear as they clatter across the lino’d*** floor. Ugggh. But I wonder what spider-catcher-inventors are thinking about when they design something big and strong enough to tackle a somewhat undernourished daddy-long-legs? I have never used the box one on anything bigger than my thumbnail because I dislike cutting legs off, even of spiders . . . and I’m probably not going to bother with a spider that small anyway—I’m a sort of mutable arachnophobe—and the box-catcher, while it was sold to me for spiders, is useful for wasps and Other Things That Sting.
I have been put off forever using the bristle-brush catcher, where you plop the business end of this bushy broom thing over your spider and then run the handle down toward it so the bristles close over it, TRAPPING IT SECURELY. Yes. Indeed. An autumn-sized spider says ‘hmm, indoor hedgerow, don’t like it’, bursts through the plastic bristles without breaking a sweat AND RUNS UP THE HANDLE TOWARD MY ARM. Exit screaming.† I may have told you this story before. The memory lingers.
. . . I thought this early story-arc of the hob was dead obvious. Dead obvious isn’t necessarily bad—see previous response: OF COURSE I’m going to feed a friendly hob—but it’s usually, erm, obvious. You must read too many engineering texts or something and your eye has got out for fiction.
Well, yes, looking back, it was obvious. **defensively** I’d just turned 70 the day before. I was rather shaken by the idea that my extended middle age is over. 70 is undeniably old.
I seem to have left a piece of my brain behind. But, hey, I’m 70; I have an excuse. Right?
I’m sorry! ::Grovels:: I meant to be teasing you. —It goes on being a problem, this communication thing, even after 1,000,000,000,000,000 years of evolution from space dust or sea-bottom slime or whatever††, and email and the internet have just super-extended it into eleventy-seven new dimensions. You get so used to talking with your fingers that you forget how many of the traditional social cues you’re not picking up.
Er . . . happy birthday? I had a friend commenting when she turned seventy several years ago that everyone was telling her that ‘seventy is the new fifty’. No it isn’t, she said. That would make sixty the new forty, and I can vouch that sixty is not forty, new or otherwise.
. . . Best insomnia cure for Christians: Read Leviticus.
::Shudder:: Not for me. Leviticus is too full of horrors. You’re supposed to do what because of what? Noooooooo. Not to mention killing all those poor critters and splashing their blood around.†††
I cook for my home group regularly, and we have some people with very restrictive diets. I would always rather know as much as possible as soon as possible (within limits of what they are comfortable telling me, of course). For me, hospitality is a big deal. So if someone does have a limitation and they don’t tell me, I always feel bad that I wasn’t allowed to provide them what I provided everyone else with (or at least the equivalent). It makes my hospitality feel incomplete. I would say I do feel like you would be ministering to me by telling me because it would relieve me of the guilt I would feel for being inconsiderate of someone else’s needs, even if it was unintentional. . . .
Sure. And I have emailed the organiser. But I don’t like eating in a group and I resent being forced to do so. I wouldn’t join a home group that required me to accept the food hospitality of the organizer as part of the regular meetings: if this Alpha course began every meeting, instead of just the first one, with a group meal, I wouldn’t sign up. Hospitality, and providing for your guests, is your big deal. What if one of your guests has a big deal of being able to eat in private without someone’s need to be hospitable looming over them?
Diane in MN
. . . hellhounds are, erm, undesirably reactive to rabbit and venison and they won’t eat any of the other within-my-price-range options.
If you haven’t already tried it, you might look at turkey as an alternative to chicken. The taste is similar but the proteins are different (I was allergic to chicken, but not to turkey), and if it’s a new food they might not be sensitive to it. That’s assuming turkey is as commonplace in your markets as it is here, of course.
Turkey is available over here at Christmas, at £1,000,000,000 per carat. If there are other turkey options I haven’t found them, although I admit my google-fu is poor. I’ve had other Americans suggest turkey—and duck, which is nearly as expensive although available most of the year in case anyone wins the lottery—and I’ve tried the dog-food turkey and duck, either 100% or at least grain-free, and hellhounds, of course, won’t touch it. Fortunately Pav will so all those frelling tins aren’t going to be wasted.
. . . I adore Bendicks Bittermints, they are not thin and squidgy but thick and solid with a really intense mint hit.
Yes, I remember those. Before I discovered G&B, and before I was clobbered by the ME, I got through a lot of Bendicks Bittermints which are, as you say, excellent. But the ME comes with a lorryload of chemical/environmental sensitivities/intolerances as well as the straightforward food issues and I’m pretty paranoid about organic. And Bendicks, unfortunately, is not organic. I admit that I wonder what kind of corners G&B may be cutting behind their behemoth corporate front, now they’re no longer independent. And do things like disguise inferior new product in a superior old product’s packaging.
Yeah, I’ve been VERY lactose intolerant for about a year now, and the thing that I hate most is how difficult it makes communal food (especially dessert). My church is making efforts to be better about labeling . . . but mostly in the direction of being accommodating to people with gluten sensitivities. . . .
Food allergies and intolerances are so common now—and commonly known about—it amazes me, not in a good way, how slow how many providers of public or communal food, including restaurants, are to respond in any useful way. One of the things that used to make me crazy when I first moved over here is that any vegetarian option WAS UP TO ITS ARMPITS IN CHEESE. It’s like the entire country had got stuck in the early Moosewood Cookbook stage. It’s better now, but it’s still not uncommon to find the one ::trumpet fanfare:: vegetarian option on a restaurant menu to be three kinds of LOCALLY SOURCED!!!! cheese artfully woven through some risotto rice. And if you’re dairy- tomato/potato/eggplant/etc- and gluten-intolerant HAVE A NICE LIFE. Somewhere else. If you can. Fortunately I do—and can—eat meat‡, or I’d’ve starved to death years ago.
Restaurants are fun, too. Last night, for example, I found myself dragged along to an Italian place. And it’s not that I don’t like Italian food. But ALL ITALIAN FOOD IS BETTER WITH CHEESE. . . . If anyone has suggestions for what Italian food I should be ordering that would still be interesting without cheese or milk, I’m open to ideas.
Okay, I may be able to help here. Back in the days when I was only lactose intolerant I discovered harlot’s sauce. Most Italian restaurants have it and I never had a bad one—famous last words I daresay. I can’t immediately find my recipe since it’s been retired and while I’m used to being dairy-free I still suffer lingering sulkiness about being tomato-free, but this one looks like the right stuff:
* * *
* Don’t answer that
** The thirty-seven animals and ninety-eight knapsacks
*** We’re not supposed to call it lino any more. Lino is scruffy and low-class. I think it’s now vinyl. I have a very nice floor, whatever it calls itself, except for the muddy spider footprints. The hellcritters and I all wipe our feet carefully. Yes.
† Pav is extremely fond of the bristle-brush spider-catcher, although not for the use for which it was intended.
†† And the hand of God, but in one of his obscurer moments. Although on a bad day I think the entire Bible is one long, gruesomely over-extended obscurer moment.
††† Definitely an obscurer moment.
‡ AND LOTS AND LOTS OF (mostly raw) VEGETABLES AND FRUIT. I’m so Paleo. I’m probably healthy as **** and will live forever.^
^ Well, if I am healthy as **** it’s nice idea. . . .
Last night I turned the Aga back on*, closed the kitchen and attic windows for the first time in months and ate my first apples of the season off my little tree**. I also wore gloves to take hellhounds for their last hurtle at glurp o’clock in the morning. And it was dark tonight at eight o’clock. Trying to get everybody hurtled at least occasionally in daylight is going to be more challenging this year, since the dream of a regular three-way hurtle isn’t looking too good.***
Good-bye summer, I guess. But I’d like to keep my dahlias till November, okay?
* * *
* It’s been off long enough that I’d got used to being able to put stuff on it. What with the bowls of fruit, small decorative jars of (decanted) dog food, caddies of (also decanted) bird food^, piles of magazines and knitting there is no counter, you know, space, and I have to decide what to put my computer on.^^ At least I managed to remember to take the plug-in single electric burner off the top of one of the Aga burner lids. I forgot last time and the little rubber pads on the ends of the legs of the electric burner melted.
^ I need yet another new bird feeder. I have two of those squirrel-repelling cage ones, the theory being that the mesh is big enough only to let small birds through. I discovered, by the simple expedient of doing the washing-up while the assault on Everest was being performed in my back garden, that the mesh is too small to let the (fat) resident robin through.+
+ The size differential among British robins is pretty extreme. Of the breeding pair a year ago who raised two broods in my greenhouse# one was nearly twice the size of the other one and easily differentiated even when there was only one visible. And it’s the bigger one that did most of the nest sitting and who disappeared as soon as the babies were half fledged, leaving the other to finish the job—which ought to mean she was mum. But according to on line the male robin is slightly bigger. Well, on line isn’t always correct, and maybe this robin has the short-man-likes-big-women complex.
# I have my fingers crossed for next year. This year my greenhouse was full of the results of a fallen-down wall which is to say first a shortage of walls and shelves to put nests on and second a Strange Man wielding wall-building materials and a trowel.
^^ Fruit is a bad choice: too knobbly.+
+ I am so looking forward to the hellterror being old enough to learn ‘go lie down [and stay there for more than ten seconds]’ so that I can START USING MY OFFICE AGAIN. At the moment it’s just a bridge too far. I can’t exactly work with her underfoot in the cottage kitchen but certain things are possible.# And she has to spend enough time in her crate: hellhounds and I don’t have to go upstairs. Hellhounds flee occasionally## but I stay in the kitchen, providing her with a Focus for Existence, and balancing my computer on tall piles of mostly magazines. It’s not a bad thing to have the computer higher than usual if I end up with a hellterror in my lap, which I mostly do. This wouldn’t work at all at a desk, by the way. My knees against the cupboard door and her butt tucked under the edge of the counter is what keeps her in position and I can still type.
# Chiefly fishing her out of the hellhound crate for the 1,000,000,000,000th time this hour.
## Although Chaos usually creeps down again and crouches on the stairs peering through the railing and waiting for me to notice and open the gate. Then he quickly plasters his cranky-uncle expression on and bolts for the hellhound crate.
** Not so little really. I’m still saying it has to get through its first winter after the wall fell down and was rebuilt around it before I stop worrying about the state of its roots, but the fact that it is producing lovely apples despite the gaspingly dry summer is a good sign. I have been watering it—and I don’t usually water anything that is both well-established and in the ground since I have way way WAAAAAAY too many dratblasted pots to keep up with—but even a middling-sized apple tree is still a tree.
*** All five of us went to see Tabitha today. Tabitha lives on the edge of one of the suburbs of Mauncester, with farmland starting at the end of her drive. I hurtle while Peter is getting thumped.^ And the hellterror so loooooongs to be One of Us I can’t quite give up on the three-way hurtle idea^^. So we all three/four went up the road and then turned to come back across the stubble fields. I had a pocket full of kibble and half an insane plan to try and let them all off lead again.
Only the field was full of frelling game birds. Even aside from the fact that they’ve no doubt been raised for shooting and the local keeper would not be pleased to have them exploded off the territory by havoc-running dogs, I’m not going to slip hellcritters when there’s wildlife in view. Hellhounds are used to this unreasonableness from the hellgoddess. Hellterror is used to nothing. I thought (a) the frelling birds would fly when they realised that slowly ambling group behind them was going to keep coming and (b) that the FRELLING HELLTERROR would eventually give up when the birds didn’t fly but the hellgoddess didn’t let go either.
Wrong on both counts. I think the blasted birds were enjoying the show. They kept looking back over their shoulders, clacking, and then going back to winnowing through the stubble. ARRRRRRRRGH. Fortunately I am the arthritic sixty-year-old skinny white girl version of Watermelon Shoulders and she didn’t have a chance.^^^ But by the time we got back to the car I was ready to give her away. I remind myself that I spent YEARS threatening to leave hellhounds in a box by the side of the road with a sign saying FREE HELLHOUNDS.
^ Peter then falls asleep on Tabitha’s sofa while I get thumped. When we get home again I fall asleep on Peter’s sofa. It’s the Tabitha Effect and is why I try to book on days I am not ringing bells in the evening.
^^ As well that three-way would be saving me a little time and wear. I am NOT THINKING about the possibility that—chiefly thanks to other people’s dogs#—it will never be really safe or practical to harness the troika.
# I believe I said recently that I had mostly sorted out the neighbour’s terrier crapping in the drive at Third House by keeping the gate shut? Next time I went up there . . . there was a fresh pile of dog crap immediately outside the gate. Very funny. Very, very, very funny.
^^^ Fortunately she was in her shiny new padded harness after she ate her pink one. Ten minutes unsupervised in the car and one of the crucial connecting straps was hanging by a shred. This happened Saturday afternoon, of course, so I spent a day and a half threading the long lead through the bits of the harness that were still harness so that when the shred gave way I would still have a hellterror on the end of the lead.
The new padded harness is very flash. And sturdy. But it’s only red. Sigh.
(Feh. Yes. Blog post tonight. And here I had an excuse to skive off.)
. . . It started last night of course. All the worst days start the night before. It gives days with attitude problems a better run at being festering ratbags.
I’d had a fit of the sillies and bought half a dozen songs from an on-line sheet music shop who sells you the downloads and then you have to print the suckers out. Hey, the shop was having a sale. You don’t expect me to resist a SALE, do you?* Have I mentioned lately that I HATE MY PRINTER? I hate my printer. Hate. Hate. The hellpack may have to live on dog food to let me squeeze out enough money to BUY A NEW PRINTER.**
I managed to get two of five or six pieces printed out. By which time I was hoarse from screaming and all three critters were in various carpet-like postures, hoping to escape attention from Kali in her Destroyer phase. And the printer was now permanently stuck in one of two responses: PAPER JAM or PAPER TRAY EMPTY. Print something? Are you kidding? It was totally betrayed and violated by the fact that I’d got any pages out of it at all. PAPER JAM, it says, aggrievedly. And when it gets bored with that, and I’ve opened and slammed shut ALL of its doors and turned it off and back on again two or three times, it declares PAPER TRAY EMPTY for a while.
Shaking with frustrated rage*** I went into the bathroom for a nice calming bath. And discovered a wasp trying to fight its way through the screen.† WTF, you moron? It’s a BATHROOM. I don’t use scented bath oil and my peppermint toothpaste is unsweetened. I turned the light out for a minute . . . went back in and discovered the freller ON THE INSIDE.
I killed it. I don’t like killing things, but I’m a little hysterical about aggressive things that bite. And I was just getting into my nice calming bath WHEN I DISCOVERED THERE WERE THREE MORE WASPS ALREADY IN THE BATHROOM. If the first one had been a honeybee†† I’d’ve at least tried to trap her in a glass and take her outdoors. But FOUR? Waaaaaah. Well, I nailed two of ’em and couldn’t find the third, so I spent the night—what was left of the night—(a) with the bathroom window closed, which was horrible because it was a hot night and that bathroom window is the centrepiece of my cross ventilation system (b) not sleeping, of course, because I was lying there rigidly listening for buzzing noises, because aside from the missing third/fourth, if there were four there might be more and (c) when I got up for a pee slamming painfully into the closed bathroom door. And (d) sweltering.
I am not awake today. And there were handbells this afternoon.
There was supposed to be Oisin this afternoon too, although after the night I’d just had I might have bottled out of singing again, but I had to cancel to stay in for the Exterminator Man. Who came, confirmed that my unwelcome guests are wasps not honeybees, THAT THEY’RE FRELLING RAMPANT IN MY GARDEN . . . and that there’s NOTHING HE CAN DO ABOUT THEM BECAUSE THE NEST IS SOMEWHERE ELSE.
So I have the joyous prospect before me of either boiling to death with all my windows shut . . . or knocking on a series disturbingly upwardly mobile doors—have I mentioned lately that I live in the high-rent district, and single-handedly lower the tone by relentless application of All Stars and an American accent and, lately, bull terrier puppy—and saying pardon me, have you noticed any wasps about the place?
Oh, and I’ve forgotten to tell you that my landline has died. DIED. Died. No phone. I don’t like phones but it is a little inconvenient. . . . And people get testy when you won’t give them your mobile number just because your landline isn’t working.
I decided that what I really needed was some monks. So when my handbellers left, I am happy to add, unstung, I told the hellpack to Go. Lie. Down, I would be back later.
Well, I was back a lot sooner than planned. They’d had night prayer unscheduledly early and the chapel was already locked.
A truly festering ratfrellerbag of a day.
* * *
* Also sheet music is cheaper than yarn.^ Awful lot of frelling yarn shops having summer sales too. They figure hey, it’s August, September is coming . . . WINTER. MUST HAVE YARN.
^ I could of course start collecting complete scores . . . which would put me back in the silk/merino/hand-dyed category again . . . but I’m not going to. I have my complete SWEENEY TODD. That’s enough. Probably. For now.+
+ Yarn. Must have yarn.#
# Would also quite like a little more Olivier Messiaen. I can’t read it, but just staring at the page makes me feel a little like how I imagine mainlining heroin might feel. Whoooooosh. Hey, another planet. And Messiaen scores are definitely in the silk/cashmere/hand-dyed in small lots by virgin priestesses at the new moon price category.
** Since the angels tell me that getting the current purulent garbage heap rehabilitated would cost more than buying a new one. PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE MY AUNT FANNY. THE PIECE OF ROTTEN OFFAL ARRIVED NEEDING TO BE REPLACED.^
^ Some day . . . pleeeeeeeeease . . . some day may I have a printer I don’t hate?
*** Throwing it out the window would result in picking little stupid plastic pieces out of my garden for the next century. Aside from the fact that my handkerchief of earth is so densely planted there’s nowhere for the abomination to land without crushing something innocent and friendly . . . no, Souvenir, speaking of guilty and hostile, is on the far wall. I wouldn’t be able to heave the unholy object that distance.
† And then there are the Window Screen Wars. England doesn’t believe in air con. It doesn’t believe in screens for your windows either. ARRRRRRRGH. I can see some justification for a lack of air con. I CAN SEE NO JUSTIFICATION WHATSOEVER FOR A LACK OF WINDOW SCREENS. And the cut-to-size stuff costs £1,762,444 per square metre, and the square metre isn’t square, it’s in some kind of funny rhomboid shape specially designed for as much wastage as possible per window. I think it’s the same company that makes printers. Furthermore the cut-to-size stuff is stuck in place by Velcro strips and it’s a whole lot better than nothing but it’s a bit like the locks on your doors: a really determined burglar/wasp will get in anyway. What you want to try to do is not be that attractive. IT’S A BATHROOM. WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET INTO MY BATHROOM?
†† The horrible truth is that I cannot reliably tell one buzzy stinging thing from another. I can totally do bumblebees, who are slow and furry, but those nippy little yellow and black things, not so much. I know that wasps are the yellowest and blackest, and the nippiest, but unless I’ve got a wasp to hand to compare a honeybee with, the smaller, more slender honeybees look a little too wasp-like for my comfort. Anything that has big yellow pollen panniers is also fine but they don’t always. And you can kind of assume that something that is trying to get into MY BATHROOM is confused and therefore unpredictable and possibly cranky.
. . . we’re very excitedly looking into aquaponics. No need to water your veggies/flowers/whatever when they’re growing in fish-fertilised water. Of course, more investigation is in order.
This is OBVIOUSLY not the solution for our future roses, but I’m pretty sure lots of other things can be coaxed to grow this way – yummy things.
YOU’RE GOING TO GROW YOUR VEGETABLES IN FISH CRAP? FRESH, JUST-OUT-OF-THE-FISH, FLOATING-IN-THE-WATER FISH CRAP? YOU’RE GOING TO GROW STUFF YOU MIGHT BE EATING RAW IN UNTREATED FISH CRAP?
I daresay I’m missing something.** And I’ve got no problem with crap as a fertilizer—I buy ‘composted farmers’ manure’* at the farm-supply shop at regular intervals. And during the sadly brief period at the old house where I HAD MY OWN HORSE, I used to pick out the paddocks (I was very popular with the stableyard crew) and compost pure horse manure*** at home under a black plastic tarp . . . and a year later the stuff was the most amazingly beautiful, crumbly, black, sweet-smelling compost . . . I could nearly eat it myself.
But I’m a little twitchy about the idea of fresh crap—aside from the fact that the standard horse, chicken or mixed-farmyard crap will burn your plants if it hasn’t been composted first. I don’t think I know anything about fish crap; the only water-originated fertilizer I know much about is seaweed derived. Also, this is frivolous of me, but a lot of gardening is about how it looks.† I’m such a dweeb about this that barring pruning accidents or the inevitable wastage involved in hoicking thirty feet of Souvenir de la Frelling Malmaison back over to my side of the wall again, I won’t cut flowers to bring indoors and put in vases. I don’t really fancy feeling warm and affectionate to a lot of fish tanks.
Diane in MN
I haven’t read M.R. James in YEARS. I think I’ll get my knitting and watch that video.
Diane and I are having a FASCINATING email conversation about this video. You’re all missing out.††
I’m only surviving the summer because I discovered you can order fans online even when the stores run out.
Sigh. And I’m too dumb to live. ††† Thank you. Very, very, very slightly in my defense I’d checked John Lewis, which is the only department store I ever think of, on probably the one day this decade that they were out of stock, last year, I think, during the heat wave in, wasn’t it March?, and all us heat-haters were freaking out at this omen of a diabolical summer to come—and then we didn’t have summer.‡ Anyway they had sold out of every fan that cost less than £500 and was just a fan and didn’t also do the ironing and balance your chequebook. My clothing and my bank balance wouldn’t know what hit them. I prefer to spare them the shock. Also, all I wanted was a fan, not an additional member of the family. I suspect it was one of those situations like the year when I was a kid my family moved to upstate New York. Upstate New York communities are very good at coping with snow. But that year we had something like four feet in September. Even upstate New York isn’t ready for major blizzards in September, and their snow ploughs were all off getting serviced for the winter to come. There were a lot of red faces. And a lot of snow on the roads. John Lewis was probably not prepared for a run on small electric fans in March. Anyway, I flounced off line again and decided it was my Fate to Fry.
Diane in MN
I appreciate bees, but I’m afraid of them and do not find them necessarily benign. And the big fuzzy ones that I’ve encountered are generally carpenter bees, solitary and territorial and swift to come after you. I won’t even get started on yellowjackets. But biting and stinging insects are drawn to my aura or whatever, so I’m a little neurotic about them.
I never found bees benign when I lived in the States. I used to wonder why they all had such a death wish—since mostly they do die if they sting you—but I never doubted that they did. Carpenter bees? Shudder. They’re so huge you can see the expression on their faces as they come after you and it’s not friendly. And I was another one who had ‘chocolate cake with hot fudge sauce’ written all over me in bug language. People used to tell me patronisingly that it was because I ate too much sugar. I know other people who ate too much sugar and they didn’t get chewed on like hot buttered corn on the cob every year. And I still eat too much sugar but the bugs don’t like the post-menopausal hag nearly as much as they liked the juicy young one. Getting old is not all bad.
Wow, AJLR, either you have exceptionally nice bees or you are a lot more careful than I am, or both.
Ajlr is keeping bees in England, and you are keeping them in the States. I rest my case.
Diane in MN
When I’m gardening, I dress for insect avoidance (pants tucked into wellies, lightweight long-sleeved jacket, hat and headnet, and gloves) because we have mosquitoes and deerflies and TICKS. It does get VERY warm. And it’s not 100% foolproof, because the mosquitoes can bite you through your clothes. But at least it keeps the ticks off and the biting flies out of my face.
We have our share of wasps, too, but they’re generally not a big problem unless they’ve built a nest somewhere really troublesome, like at the door. Then it’s a job for the exterminators, and I hide in the house.
Oh, my, how I remember the Full Gardening Suit, a close cousin of the Space Exploration Suit, each in its way doing its best to protect you from a hostile environment. I’m pretty sure I’ve said here before that getting bitten by black flies in Maine would make me literally feverish and ill—and any Mainer will turn pale‡‡ and trembly at the thought of a bad black fly season. And they’re all bad. Give me a bunch of pissed-off Cardassians any day.
We certainly have ticks here—I screw‡‡‡ them out of the hellcritters occasionally. After most of sixty years of having dogs underfoot ticks still creep me out: aside from the damage they can do they’re just ultimately icky.§ And I run away from wasps and hornets here just as vigorously, not to say frantically, as I did in the States—straight indoors to the exterminator’s phone number.
It’s been much too hot again today and tomorrow is supposed to be worse. Joy. And just to remind me—thanks, very thoughtful, but I didn’t really need reminding—that southern England is not a green and pleasant Eden, I’ve been absent-mindedly doing the watering in shorts, you know, so I don’t keel over with heatstroke or something. With the result that the Gigantic Red Marks that came up on the backs of my legs last year . . . have returned. It took MONTHS for them to fade last year ARRRRRRRGH but of course I’d forgotten all about them, when I put shorts on for the first time this year. . . . I have no idea what causes these great maculae, except that it frelling lives in the frelling garden and—menopausal hormonal crash or no—I’m allergic to it. Some things don’t change nearly enough.
* * *
* Composted farmers of course make the very best fertilizer
** Feel free to write a GUEST POST about what a short-sighted dolt I am.
*** I mean not mixed with whatever bedding is in their stalls.
† For example, right at the moment, my Ghislaine de Feligonde is amazing . . . but she also managed to break her stays in the wind, last weekend I think, and a vast agglomeration of her has fallen across the path. What would be the path. Which is why I haven’t posted photos. I’ve been saying ‘I’ll tie her up tomorrow’ all this week. If I don’t do it soon, she’ll go over. Arrrrgh. Gardening is such a sucker’s game.
†† I also recommend the knitting aspect.
††† See footnote **
‡ I liked it.
‡‡ Whatever colour you started out
‡‡‡ I have this little 90°-angle two-tined fork thing. You hook it under the tick and start screwing, as if it’s a disgusting form of bolt.
§ One of those situations where you want to say OKAY, WHAT IS GOD’S PLAN ABOUT TICKS?
Late last night when I brought the hellhounds back through the cottage door from our final brief hurtle there was a Loud Buzzing Noise. Noooooo, I thought. It’s just a VERY LARGE HOUSE FLY.
Wrong. But it wasn’t a thumb-sized wasp. It was a thumb-sized bumblebee.
I don’t kill bees. I did in my younger, bloodthirsty, violently-allergic-to-everything days and in America where everything that buzzes and wears yellow and black is totally out to get you and will leap out of the shrubbery and pursue you, fizzing like a short fuse that is about to blow you away. Honey was nice and all, but I hated bees as much as I hated anything else that if it stung me I’d blow up like a gigantic red rubber balloon and which occasionally threatened to stop me breathing too.* Just for laughs. Laughs are harder when you can’t breathe.
But then I moved to England where bees are a lot mellower. They still sting, but you have to really annoy them first.** The bumbles in particular are amazingly laid back. I’ve inadvertently put my hand on a bumblebee more than once—they’re also kind of slow—and haven’t been stung yet, although I don’t care to push this. But I don’t find something to do on the other side of the garden if I find myself sharing space with a bumblebee: which in the cottage garden is a good thing, since bumblebees like it and it’s a small garden. Three bumblebees and it’s full.
Anyway. I had a bumblebee in the house last night. Neither of us was happy. I chased her around with a glass and a piece of cardboard for a while but she wouldn’t settle. Eventually she Disappeared into the Shadows of the Sitting Room and I let her.
I assumed she wouldn’t sting me as I slept and she didn’t.† I looked around a little cautiously this morning but I didn’t see her—maybe she was stunned by the frelling heat too. And then as I was ringing Peter to discuss the day ahead. . . .
I love foxgloves, but the basic mid-pink ones take over if you let them. Pink of course is good, but the really startling dark raspberry pink ones are rare—unless you go to a garden centre and buy them which in foxglove country seems to me kind of cheating. Or anyway part of the fun to me is seeing where the silly things manage to come up—foxgloves seed like anything around here, and this includes in cracks in the pavement and among the houseleeks and in three-inch pots containing mini geraniums. But I like the whites, or the very very very pale pink, with the dark maroon spots in their throats. Back at the old house I selected for these by pulling up all the mid-pinks—white will make a decent go of it if you give them some edge. By the time we left we had lots of splendid white—and some mid-pink since they don’t breed true. Which is fine. I wouldn’t want to obliterate . . . pink.
I can’t perform this harsh selection process at the cottage; the garden’s too small and there are still only two or three whites a year. I like a proper foxglove forest and we’re getting there, at the cottage, but the pinks predominate. So I compromise and pull out most of the mid-pinks when the last flowers are coming out, and before they have a chance to set seed. And then I put the foxglove tip with its final few inches of flowerets in a vase indoors—waste not want not.
So I had just rung Peter this morning when . . . my overnight visitor†† emerged from seclusion and crawled into one of the foxglove flowerets.††† I put the phone down hastily, snatched up the vase and took it outdoors. With its passenger.
* * *
* I carried an epipen for years. I’ve told you at least some of this before. My last damaging encounter with Things That Sting was in that delirious week between Peter coming to visit me in Maine and his ringing me up a week later which is when we decided to get married. It’s possible that being Off the Planet had enough physical effect that I didn’t react as badly as I might have—or as I expected to. I hadn’t quite stepped on the nest, chiefly because they were already coming after me, and I turned and fled—running into the fellow I was with, but only I got stung. I swelled up some and wheezed a little—and started carrying an epipen again.
** Although I’ll still never make a beekeeper. Beekeepers do get stung even if maybe not as often as the population at large believes^ and I don’t want to press this post-menopause allergy-truce thing too far.
^ Right, Ajlr and abigailmm?
† She was probably hiding in the kindling basket with the dog food [sic] and whimpering to herself: if I get out of this alive I’ll never go out after dark again! —I hope she likes cedar oil. I won’t use proprietary moth killer stuff so the sitting room, the attic and the cupboard in my bedroom kind of reek with cedar oil. The attic contains all my wool clothing, the cupboard in my bedroom contains (most of) my YARN STASH. I don’t know why the sitting room is so popular with clothes moths. Maybe they like dog food.
†† Luke and Andraste and the others are at Third House.
††† I like to think of her flying hopelessly through this alien landscape—not realising that the giant with the clear columnar prison and the shingle has her best interests at heart—and catching sight of the foxglove. My prayers are answered!, she cries and hurtles toward it.
‡ I’d like to say something about always having a foxglove in a vase after this—I’m nearly there with the necessary level of foxglove forest and they last quite a while in a vase—but bees, I’ve read, specialise. And there’s a limit to how many bee-motel options I could have lined up on the kitchen table.^
^ Peter was faintly cranky when he rang me back, almost immediately, to say accusingly, that was you, wasn’t it? I know, I know, I put the phone down after only about three rings, I said. But there was this bee. . . .