I had what passes in my case for a terrific voice lesson.
AND THE REMOVAL BLOKES GOT IT ALL IN.
These two large dazzling items totally outshine the rest which is a good thing because it was very nearly a disaster of a day.
. . . Starting with not getting to bed early enough last night, partly because I really needed to sing and one song leads to another. . . . Staggered out of bed this morning making hopeless croaking noises like an installation of rusty hinges* and started lubricating with caffeine. Took the poor hellterror for the fastest sprint she was capable of** and locked her up again with an extra kong to comfort her in our absence.***
I took hellhounds-of-the-touchy-digestion for a minimal get-it-over-with scamper around the churchyard. Darkness refused to comply with the purpose of this exercise. Arrrgh.
Hellhounds and I were on the road with twenty-five minutes to spare: five minutes to bolt up to Third House and ask Atlas to clear out drawers and move ill-placed piles of [book] boxes in anticipation of removal-men arrival this afternoon and twenty minutes for hurtling at the far end before my lesson.
Atlas wasn’t there.
I could feel my throat closing.
Well, nothing I could do about it; I couldn’t even ask Peter if he knew anything, since, in the first place, he wouldn’t, because he’s been in Gloucestershire all weekend, and in the second place because he was on a train somewhere and I guarantee his phone had no signal, because that’s the way it goes.
So we thundered on to our next scheduled activity.
Frelling Mauncester was backed up from halfway up the hill into town. Stop go (but not very far) stop go stop go stop go stop go stopgostopgostop. Chiefly stop. It was like this all the way through town.
I could feel my throat closing harder.
We arrived at Nadia’s with THREE MINUTES to spare. I took hellhounds for a three minute scuttle and . . . Darkness continued to fail to comply. ARRRGH.
I was pretty nearly barking by the time I burst through Nadia’s door. . . She did make me do some breathing and loosening up exercises before I sang anything, but my throat said, Ooooh! We’re at Nadia’s! We like it here! —And promptly warmed up a dream.†
WE GOT THROUGH THREE SONGS. THREE. IT’S A RECORD. We usually bog down on the first one because I’m doing so many things wrong, not that Nadia would put it that way, but I would. We may occasionally galumph through bits of more than one—indeed even three—but only because I have a specific technical question†† or they’re folk songs I’m singing at home and want a little general input—or scraping back from the brink. But THREE REAL SONGS? It doesn’t happen. And furthermore the third—Vedrai carino from Don Giovanni—I’d only brought because I wanted to go over the frelling Italian before I started really working on it. We’d had a stab††† at it a while ago and it got set aside, but it’s been on my mind and since I now more or less suddenly have more voice it’s one of the ones I snatched back from oblivion.
Oh, go on, let’s just sing it, said Nadia. So I did. Eeeeep. And she made one or two painless comments and told me to go home and work on it.
Then Un moto de gioja and we spent some time on that one. Here’s an example of why I adore Nadia. There’s a place in the middle of Un moto where you hold a note for a very long time and then come off it again with a wordless twiddle before you start the next verse. I hadn’t even registered that you’re supposed to sing the twiddle—when I started work on this song Nadia had told me to hold the note only as long as was comfortable, but to keep time and come in correctly on the new ‘un moto’. Then I ACCIDENTALLY heard Danielle de Niese singing it and she sings the twiddle. Oh. It ties the two halves together better, the twiddle. I can’t sing it up to proper twiddle speed at the end of a long note—which is the part I can do—and as I hurl myself into the next verse. So I sing it at half speed. Nadia said gravely, if you were preparing this for public performance I think I would take issue with your singing it so slowly, but for your purposes at present it works very well. —She takes you seriously. Even when you’re screwing up Do Re Mi or tackling something like someone with a flint axe trying to produce a knock-off of the Sphinx.
Finally we assailed the nightclub proprietress. This is such a fabulous song. There are no fully satisfactory performances of it on YouTube—that I can find anyway—but here’s the poem: http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.co.uk/2006/05/song-of-nightclub-proprietress-john.html ‡
It needs Lotte Lenya—who may have died before Dring composed it, in which case I excuse her for having failed to record it—or someone else who can put over age and despair. I don’t say you have to be old (despair optional) because in fairness I would then have to give up singing Voi che sapete, say, which is sung by a teenage boy, or Vedrai carino, which is sung by a bouncy village maiden (to her thick plank of a fiancé). But you have to put old and hagged over. I have a chance of this, with lived experience on my side. But the thing that is Very Exciting is that I can hear me beginning to sound like a mezzo: not just the range‡‡ but the resonance. And this is a very resonant song.
. . . I then took hellhounds for another hustle and FINALLY. A CERTAIN PARTY EXCRETED. We then belted back to Third House and arrived with three minutes to spare . . . and the removal blokes were already there. NEVER MIND. I WASN’T LATE. I let them in, pointed out all the Large Objects that had to go, apologised for lack of pre-clearance . . . and bolted back to the cottage to feed hellcritters‡‡‡ and take the hellterror for another mini-hurtle while hellhounds contemplated their bowls with disfavour. I was on my way out the door to flee back to Third House when the phone rang and it was Removal Men saying they were ready. . . .
I looked at their lorry before they shut the gate and my heart plummeted. There was no way they were going to get that lot in. I had the hellhounds with me again—no one had got any kind of a real hurtle thus far today—and we took off across some countryside§ behind the storage warehouse while Valiant Removal Men wrestled with the standard three dimensions of the space-time continuum and when we returned . . .
THEY HAD GOT IT ALL IN.§§
Oh, and did I mention that tonight was the first night of the Alpha course—?
* * *
* On this day that the Turner Prize is announced, this seems like a perfectly valid idea
** All right, the fastest sprint I was capable of
*** I’m sure, if asked, she would prefer the kong
† Please remember, when I say silly things like this that IT’S ALL RELATIVE. I have made a giant leap forward in the last few weeks but it’s still an 11-hand Shetland pony qualifying for prelim at the county show against the odds, not the branded warmblood insured for a gazillion pounds qualifying for the Olympics, okay?
†† Huh, whuh, um, bleaugh?
††† Way too vivid a metaphor, stab. Or maybe I’m just hallucinating KES.
‡ Baby ’pollies is not a mystery: they’re little bottles of a kind of mineral water popular at the time.
‡‡ I’m still putting in petitions to get my high C back. Lots of mezzos have high Cs.
‡‡‡ ‘Feed’ used loosely, which is to say the hellterror eats and the hellhounds do not.
§ And I managed to cut myself on some barbed wire. Frell. There was a normal gate to get in, and then at the other end one of those horrible temporary gate things that anyone who has spent any time wandering over English agricultural landscape will know to their detriment: several strands of barbed wire stretched between two light posts and held apart horizontally by being nailed to a series of short loose lathes. This contraption is usually held at either end by a loop at ground level where you stick the bottom of your post and then at the top by another loop which you have to shove it under, around the post of the real fence it’s being attached to. These things are a menace anyway, and if you lose your hold they collapse on the ground in a grisly tangle of barbed wire. But in this case . . . the frelling loops were made of barbed wire. WHY? Anyone trying either to open or close the evil thing is going to have to handle the loops. I managed to nick a finger and it bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and bled and it was very boring and there are probably a whole series of predators out there tonight hopefully following my blood spoor. Sorry guys.
§§ Of course I still have ninety-six million books to do something with—I don’t mean Peter’s and my backlist, that’s already in its own storage unit—and a few odds and ends. Maybe a few more than a few.
YAAAAAAAH. I got to bed at . . . a little short of 7 am Friday night/Saturday morning.* The rest of the weekend is a bit of a blur. I’ve kind of lost track of when daylight happens, it is so easy to mislay this time of year.** Meanwhile I’ve been playing phone tag with my removal man about getting the big stuff from Third House that Atlas and I can’t shift in his trailer up to the storage warehouse place; I missed Mr Removal Man on Friday and assumed that was it till Monday, but I got a phone message from him today that I picked up on my way out the door to go to church, arrrgh arrrgh arrrgh arrrgh arrrgh . . . phoned him as requested when I got home again*** AND HE WANTS TO COME TOMORROW AFTERNOON. I HAVE A FRELLING VOICE LESSON MONDAY AFTERNOON. EXCEPT TOMORROW I’M HAVING IT EARLY. VERY EARLY.† AND THEN I HAVE TO COME HOME AND DEAL WITH REMOVAL MEN?††
I need to sing††† and then go to bed. Fast.
* * *
* It was a slightly odd night out on the street.^ I would have put it down to the fact that it was only my second official night and I still don’t have a clue, but several of the others on the team, including Fearless Leader, mentioned it, that there was a restless unease in the (cold) air that was unusual. I was home by four a.m. but the adrenaline aftermath was bad; the only two at all really tricky incidents were near the end of our watch, and I was actually engaged in one of them—yeeeeeeeep—and came out of it having done the right thing but jangling. And . . . it’s going to take me a while to get used to seeing real live very drunk and/or drugged up people doing the kinds of things real live very drunk and/or drugged up people do, both the hostile and the happy, and also the mere absolutely absolutely legless. It happens on TV. It doesn’t happen, you know, here. Oh yes it does.
^ Although my HEATED WAISTCOAT worked brilliantly, I only turned it on after the break. Ah yes, the break, during which the weather apparently yanks the rug out from under the temperature which, obviously, plunges dramatically, like a keystone kop engaging with a banana skin. So when you come outside again, full of hot tea and a warm glow of self-satisfaction+, it’s like walking into the Yukon in January. I noticed this last time. I think we must snap a trip wire or something and the ice gods all leap to their feet and shout NOW!, and then bang their icicles of office together in solidarity before dashing out to do their worst.
Anyway. I didn’t turn my waistcoat on till after the break when I figured I’d need it worse and it did brilliantly. Except that it was so brilliant that I had it turned up only a third of the way . . . and it was dead in three hours. It’s supposed to last up to six hours depending on how high you set it, and it only lasted for three at one third power?? I may ask the seller a polite question.
I have a set of neoprene toe-socks—they only cover the front half of your foot, which is clever, because your feet don’t sweat that way—that were sent to me by a very nice person++ and I decided to use them Friday night. Another couple of degrees in the wrong direction and I’m changing over to the heated socks, but they worked a treat this time—while I was moving, tramping those mean streets and trying to look like I had the faintest idea what I was doing.+++ What’s interesting is that they don’t work a FILBERT sitting still in the monks’ chapel.++++ Next Saturday night prayer with the monks: heated socks.
+ I’m doing WHAT? And it’s WHAT time of night/morning?
++ You Know Who You Are
+++ Although I’ve now heard my more experienced colleagues answer that—er—diabolical question, Street Pastors? What are you?, often enough that I’m beginning to stop hyperventilating about what I’ll say# the first time someone asks me this in a way I can’t hastily pass on to one of said more experienced colleagues. One of our first training lectures had us trying to come up with an answer and . . . none of us covered ourselves with glory.
I haven’t entirely stopped hyperventilating. But I’m hyperventilating less. But there is also the first time I’m going to have to PRAY ALOUD to worry about. Noooooooooooooo. Usually you can give prayer requests to the Prayer Pastors back at base, it’s what they’re for. But occasionally someone you’ve been talking to asks you to pray for/with them, right there. Right now. Eeeeeep. I’m still in the early hyperventilating stage about praying out loud. I tell myself that I don’t radiate the kind of centredness and authority that would inspire anyone to ask me to pray over them. Reasons Not to Acquire Authority. I wouldn’t mind a little centredness though.
++++ The monks’ chapel is sooooooo cooooooold. By the time I’ve sat there an hour, muffled up in my heavy winter kit and a blanket, in contemplation,# when the abbot finally does his rapping thing and we’re all supposed to climb to our feet . . . I can’t. Although trying to find my way out of my excellent, steadfast blanket does not assist this awkward process.
# Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, I’m so cold, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, I’m so cold. . . .
** Three weeks till the shortest day and then we start climbing back OUT of this pit.
*** And note that Peter is away till tomorrow afternoon so I’m having to do things like steam my own broccoli and cut up my own carrots.^
^ And Pav’s. Very fond of a nice carrot, is Pav.
† Way too frelling early. Just by the way. For someone who doesn’t expect to speak in complete sentences till after noon. Let alone frelling Italian complete sentences. The things one does just because one’s voice teacher is now a slave to the school schedule.
†† Hellcritters aren’t going to like it either. Hellhounds, who are in the 90 mile an hour couch potato category after all, are somewhat placated by Rides in the Car with the Hellgoddess but Pav eventually gets bored with yet another kong and wants to climb the walls and practise her trapeze artist routines for a while.
††† I’ve been having a fabulous time with the [Song of the] Nightclub Proprietress this week. Who is at least in English. For better or worse.
Darkness made it through the night* without further incident** and today (thus far) has been normal.*** Life with hellhounds: a dizzying head trip with gruesome outbreaks of reality. Fortunately my hellhounds are cute. Warm and furry does me in every time, especially if there are wagging tails involved.
But I was on the phone to my vet at what passes in my case for an extremely early hour this morning.† And, wonder of wonders he was not only there—he has a nasty habit of volunteering to do marsupial field surgery in Venezuela or chiroptera rehabilitation in Romania—but he took my call. And I certainly had stuff to tell him.†
I breathed a huge sigh of relief and cautious optimism †† when I hung up, and took my assortment of hellcritters on brisk brief hurtles because Raphael was coming to scold Astarte and tell her to stop jerking me around and losing or refusing to recognise my email . . . and of course she behaved faultlessly the moment his authoritative tread was heard BUT . . .
I’ve been moaning about my current printer for months if not years. There are days when I can’t get it to print at all . . . and at this point it’s become one of the things that is making PEG II such a struggle. But I can’t frelling afford a new printer. Raphael had mentioned the new printer again when he booked to come out here and he just happened to have the one he was recommending in the boot of his car when he arrived. Ha ha ha I’ve heard that one before.
Oh, I said. Is it wireless?
It’s better than wireless, he said. It’s on nice stable cable, but [blah blah blah, something to do with the wireless picking up the signal from any given computer—and including Astarte, who I haven’t been able to print from at all without the idiot faff of sending myself an email attachment—and translating it to the printer]. So as far as I’m concerned it’s wireless: I don’t have to plug anything in I just HIT THE PRINTER BUTTON.
AND BETTER YET, IT PRINTS.
Of course I don’t know how long this blessed state of affairs will last††† but . . . maybe long enough to get PEGs II and III done. Please. . . .
* * *
* How poetic, if you don’t know what I’m talking about
** Unless there’s a crack-to-the-next-universe, like the ruts in Kes’ driveway, in the bottom of the hellhound crate which they are careful to use in extremis. On the whole I doubt this. Although it might explain the occasional apparent disappearance of old dog blankets.
*** And he’s just had dinner and is curled up and crashed out, so we have crossed our fingers and are typing with great difficulty.
† It takes me a good hour of caffeine and deep breathing to be sufficiently re-engaged with modern life to be able to find a phone number and then punch it into some machine which includes telephony in its repertoire. I usually try to get dressed before I do anything drastic like use a phone, since modern phones all have eight hundred and ninety-five options . . . and that’s just the preloaded ringtones. I remember when making a phone call involved a phone or address book made of paper and a low-key lump of plastic that only made telephone calls. Gone are the days etc. Levi’s frelling button flies—the problem being that I like the jeans—are a big fat nuisance when you’re trying to have a quick pee in a hedgerow but doing them up first time in the morning is a useful station on the way to contemporary functionality.^ I don’t try to put any jewellery on^^ till much later: all those horrible little clasps.^^^
^ It fascinates me, these people who allegedly reach for their iPhone or equivalent before they get out of bed. Presumably this means they can, even in an unawake, precaffeinated state, turn the thing on, since there can’t be a lot of point to grappling with it if you’re not turning it on.+ The ridiculous truth is that Pooka usually does sit on a shelf by my bed (except when I forget) but if Peter ever did ring me in an emergency I’d be all is-this-a-dagger-which-I-see-before-me-the-handle-toward-my-hand-come-let-me-clutch-thee-I-have-thee-not-and-yet-I-see-thee-still.++
+ Okay, good luck charm maybe? I’ve always thought rabbits’ feet totally ewwww and creepy. A nice shiny piece of tech is to be preferred.
++ That was all one word. Microsoft believes hyphens are sacred.
^^ And I’m a jewellery kind of girl, although I stopped wearing long ropey things that hellcritters can get their legs through years ago.
^^^ It’s nice to think that all those people who lived before the internet was invented didn’t have it all their own way.
† The problem with homeopathy for animals is that they don’t talk, and homeopathy depends on the sufferer’s individual experience of what is wrong with them which means that the homeopath needs to know what that is. I’ve told you this before: if three people come to a homeopath with ‘flu’ involving aches and pains and fever but one of them says that the worst is the headache, and one says the worst is the nausea and one says the worst is the sore throat, they’ll get three different remedies. Although my hellhounds’ digestion is the presenting problem, ‘unpredictable outbreaks of double-ended geysering’ is of limited diagnostic usefulness^ and what Aethelstan was interested in is the ‘mentals’ in response to the first remedy, which were basically that Chaos got gloomy and lugubrious and Darkness got chirpy and cheerful, which is pretty much the opposite of their normal selves.
So that’s the hellhounds sorted with two fresh remedies.^^ Whereupon we came to the hellterror, and I told him depressedly about the disastrous show, and that Olivia had suggested that I might want to look for a behaviourist within my reach in the south of England. And he said mildly, I don’t think you have a problem dog and I don’t think you need a behaviourist at this point. I think you have a year-old puppy, a terrier, and an ordinary pet dog that had never seen anything like a big dog show before. Aethelstan is a terrier person himself, so he has more of a clue than most of the other people I’ve spoken to about what happened. You mean I’m not a bad person? That would be wonderful. I told him what I was doing off the long list of suggestions Southdowner made for giving Pav a wider experience of the world and he said he thought that sounded fine—while agreeing that we do need to address what he tactfully calls the ‘residual fear’ from her more important meltdown at the local vets’ last spring when she was so ill and miserable. So she’s got a new remedy too . . . and I feel so much better about the whole situation I may venture on the perilous course of testing her long down at the dog-friendly pub soon.
^ There are pages and pages and PAGES of diarrhoea remedies in any homeopathic textbook.
^^ I wish.
†† I don’t think we’re at the end of any roads or anything, but at least I feel we’re moving again.
††† Or how I’m going to pay for it.
I had an email from Aloysius yesterday saying that he had a meeting in Oxford* and wouldn’t be here for silent prayer today, and would I hold the floor down in his absence?** I’ve done this before. I think I told you, months ago, the first time it happened, I asked him for suitable opening and closing reading-out-loud prayers***, which he duly sent me, a print-out of which I carry around in an increasingly frayed state in the little notebook in my back pocket.† And I read them out, turn on my electric candle, set the temple-bell timer app on Astarte, and sit quietly—by myself—in St Margaret’s†† little side chapel. But along with believing in prayer in the standard ritual praise/petition/penitence/doodahdoodah ways I believe in the consequences of ordinary mortal structure and schedule—if you commit to Wednesday afternoon silent prayer, then you have to go on doing it. It matters. Even if you’re the only one and you suspect your curate is humouring you.†††
There were three of us today. My jaw didn’t smack to the floor, but that’s possibly only because I had an armful of blanket in the way.‡ It’s pretty amazing how many more people three is than one, you know?
I still read out Aloysius’ prayers and used the temple-bell app. . . . ‡‡
* * *
* a likely story
** These weren’t quite his words. Aloysius is a polite young British priest.^
^ I have a long-downing hellterror at my feet again. She is being afflicted beyond measure or bearing by the fact that Peter is kneeling on the floor not six feet away, groping in the bottom drawer of the freezer. OH. MERCY. HE’S NOW LAYING LARGE FASCINATING PACKAGES ON THE FLOOR BEHIND HIM. OH. OH. OH.
*** I think I’ve also told you that Llewellyn says all us Street Pastors should trying being a Prayer Pastor some time—which means staying at base and, um, praying. I would like to try PPing; prayer is very grounding and centring. Both of which aspects of mortal life and character I’m a little short of, and, never mind the worshiping God part, is a lot of the lure of contemplative prayer for me—the Wednesday afternoon at St Margaret’s/Saturday evening at the monks’ effect. Prayer Pastoring takes the spiritual strength of prayer (you hope) out into the practical world—or anyway the world rings you up on the Street Pastor mobile and asks you to pray for stuff.
The problem is that as a Prayer Pastor you have to pray out loud. You have to make it up as you go along. I’ve been known to mutter supplicatory phrases under my breath at home^ but PRAY OUT LOUD? USING MY OWN WORDS? ARE YOU KIDDING?
I haven’t volunteered for Prayer Pastor duty yet.^^
^Although a lot of this, sadly, is of the ‘God please send a thunder-bolt to blast this frelling object’ variety.
^^ And I’m denial about the fact that some day someone on the street will ask me to pray for/with them. People do. It’s one of the things they think Street Pastors are for. They don’t want some invisible Prayer Pastor half across the city. They want you. Eeeep.
† The one that on several pairs of my jeans is coming off due to small heavy scrabbly hellterror hind feet. The notebook is getting pretty frayed too.
†† Freezing cold, just by the way. You expect an old church like the abbey to be cold. St Margaret’s is newish and not terribly interesting . . . and freezing cold.
††† Aloysius told me a while back that one of the few legal requirements of being a priest is that you have to pray every day.^ So he can at least multi-task Wednesday afternoon. Except when he’s in Oxford.
^ This is one of those ‘I’m an alien in a foreign culture’+ moments for me, the separation-of-church-and-state American. Priests must pray every day or they’re breaking the law. Jeepers.
+ And I don’t really speak the language.
‡ See: cold.
* * *
‡‡. . . And at this point, Darkness, who has been obviously anxious and uncomfortable all evening, went and stood by the door in a worried and meaningful way.
We’re just back from racing over half Hampshire while he geysers—I don’t know what hurtling has to do with geysering but the latter seems to require the former.
It started raining and I get tired quickly, hurtling late at night. So I brought them home too soon and he threw up magnificently all over the carpet, whereupon I had a meltdown of epic proportions. I also cleaned up the carpet.
I can’t remember if I’ve told you I’ve gone back to my old homeopathic vet again. I will ring him tomorrow, since the latest remedy is clearly not having the desired effect.
And, you know, I’m not sure how long I can go on doing this.
You’ll excuse me if I stop a bit abruptly tonight.^
^ Yo, God, why are you torturing my dogs?
This blog post is a stub, as Wiki might say.
I haven’t decided about a future official blog approach to Street Pastor duty nights—if ever there was a good reason to take a night off once a month SPing should be it—but I’m still provisional for I think the first six months, while I figure out if encouraging myself to stay up all night is a good idea even once a month and the Street Pastors decide if my peculiar gifts are a positive contribution to their community or not. So maybe we’ll just go on winging it for now.
And so here we are . . . on my first post-training post-commissioning realio-trulio Street Pastor patrol night. EEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Everyone tells me that first-night nerves are normal but my level of anxiety—and, unfortunately, lack of sleep—have been exacerbated by the fact that I got left off my new team’s email list because my address was spelled wrong by whoever put it in. So I’ve been waiting all week for the round-up email that I was told every team leader sends out the beginning of a duty-night week to make sure all is well. And it didn’t arrive.
Wednesday afternoon I finally emailed Llewellyn, our area head, asking if I’d missed something or maybe I’d been reassigned or maybe THEY DIDN’T WANT ME or something? And I didn’t hear from him either. So I went to bed last night convinced that . . . oh, I don’t know. The Borg have landed, Brussels sprouts are taking over the planet*, vampires are just misunderstood,** bull terriers are bland, inactive little creatures and what I’ve got is a . . . And of course I didn’t sleep.
This morning there was a copy of an email from Llewellyn to my team leader . . . and then, finally, a very nice, and apologetic, email from the team leader himself. Which is when we figured out what had gone wrong. It happens; and we’re a volunteer organisation, after all.
But the result is still that I’m going out on my first pavement-pounding all-nighter on no sleep . . . and it’s cold. And raining. ***
* * *
* First cousins of killer tomatoes, you know
** On trustworthy recorded historical evidence, who’s responsible for more bad behaviour? Humans or vampires?
*** Any prayers gratefully accepted. We’re actually supposed to ask people to pray for us when we’re on the street so I’m not only being a wimp. I don’t myself think that time makes much difference to the prayer-space—or to God—so retroactive prayers are equally welcome, if you’re reading this tomorrow or next March.^
^ Although if it’s March, there may be three or four more SP nights to pray over me for too.