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Days in the Life
Robin McKinley's Journal
 

So, well, yes we are going to do this thing. 

 

 

http://robinmckinleysblog.com/

 

 

I know you decided weeks* ago that the New Blog was all some kind of strange joke and that I’d be on lj till I was ninety-two and finally decided to append* my blog to my web site after all.  No, I’m just disorganised and absent-minded and easily distracted and web-nervous and spend too many hours ringing bells and playing the piano and planting roses and walking hellhounds and writing this blog, wherever it lives and sleeping.  Drat sleeping.  Hours every day wasted. . . . ***

            Anyway.  The New Blog Arriveth.  I hope.  Now please go click and tell me if it’s there.  Please. 

 

 

* if not months

 

** Note strong grasp of net jargon

 

*** Please note the list of things I spend too many hours on does not include writing stories.  I do not spend too many hours writing stories. 

 

 

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I have my piano lesson in the afternoon and sacred* home tower bell practise in the evening. **

            I told you about my Song—my first-ever complete piece of composed music with two hands and everything, even though it’s only twelve bars long—and the Sonatina-ette.  I also told you that Oisin, in that tiresome way of teachers who are forever seeking ways to wind and ensnare their students deeper and more inextricably into their subject ***, took a few bars of the Sonatina-ette and noodled with them, saying—in that very careful voice teachers use when they’re playing you like a fish on a hook and don’t want to frighten you into breaking free—that I might want to think about longer phrases. 

            So, because I am a hopeless wet, I came home full of enthusiasm last week and started pulling the Sonatina-ette to bits, the better to add more bits.  What made it worse is that quite a while ago now Oisin had played me some bits of old Johann Sebastian B as illustration of how astonishingly innovative he’d been in his day and astonishingly modern even now.  This had rather lodged in my memory—I’ve come round late to Mr JSB, as I have come round late to Mr going-on-forever-and-no-sense-of-humour Wagner†—so I asked Oisin if he could photostat that page for me so I could take it home and drown in the chord progressions of someone who knew what he was doing.  Which is essentially what happened.  Oisin obliged, I took my page home, fumbled through it at my long-suffering piano, went, Oh, coooooool, and promptly disappeared over my head.  Fortunately I kept a copy of the original Sonatina-ette but the bits are proliferating out of control . . . and are showing precious little sign of pulling themselves together again and coming to a conclusion.  I wonder if Clementi ever had this problem.

            Meanwhile . . . I’ve been so busy burning up [music] manuscript paper that I’m not having enough time to play, especially when you have to factor in that it takes me f . . . o . . . r . . . e . . . v . . . e . . . r to learn anything, as well as a remarkably short time to forget anything I don’t keep playing regularly.††  So I have been determined to get back to working on something to play.

            And then, as regular readers know, it’s been a somewhat . . . otherwise-preoccupying week.  And the gaps between piano lessons seem to get shorter and shorter too.  So about three days ago it occurred to me that I needed to produce something, anything, I could take in to Oisin, so as not to waste his time (and my money).  And I bethought me of the three of Peter’s poems he’d printed out as possibly suitable for setting.  And I chose the one that is shortest.  Not because I only had three days left but because I Haven’t Done This Before—I only wrote my own first wordless Song a few weeks ago—and the prospect of setting a poem is daunting.  Very.

            As it happens I’ve had a gorgeous time doing it.  It’s fun working with words.††† I’ve only written the melody line—with a few hen scratchings in the left hand‡—and even the melody hasn’t, you know, um, well, set yet.  But its nature or character or what I’m trying to do is there—and, just by the way, this is a sad poem, and with my predilection for minor keys and edgy chords it’s a little intense.  Or maybe only to me.  But I’m really trying to make the abyss open for a moment during the last stanza.  My Benjamin Britten‡‡ to Peter’s A E Housman. 

            So Oisin took me through some of the implications of setting words, and how you want the rhythm of speech to work for you rather than against you.  This is maybe more important with the sort of thing I’m doing—there are an awful lot of Art Songs out there that seem to hold a grudge against their lyrics—because I’m clearly writing folk songs.  Well, Britten did it.  So did Haydn, Beethoven, Purcell and Vaughan Williams.‡‡‡  It’s like shooting ducks on the midway sometimes, guessing which ones are arrangements and which ones are (more or less) original.§  And sometimes the arrangements are the most original anyway.

            Oisin was waxing rhapsodical about what Britten had done with some of his folk songs, and I said—being a hopeless wet and a glutton for punishment—that if he could lay his hands on the sheet music of any of this I’d be very interested in having a look at it.  (And a fumble, at home on my piano, with nobody listening but Peter and hellhounds.)  And then the Fiendish Light began to beam out of his eyes and he said, I know!  Here’s your homework!  Go home and write your own accompaniment to The Foggy Foggy Dew!  Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!§§ 

            —Well of course I have a copy of it.  I probably have several.  Most of which, I hope, have not been eaten by rodents.§§§  But of the two I could actually, you know, find, one of them has been fiddled around with in a manner I deprecate . . . and the other is Britten’s.  I can’t effing read the accompaniment, so I don’t have to worry about cheating.  It’s also in . . . four flats.  Ho hum, never mind, I just wrote a Song in five horrible sharps, key signatures are never going to scare me again.¤

            PS:  I am somewhat hampered in all future descriptions of piano lessons because Oisin told me today he’s been reading my blog.  Aaaaaaugh.  He even wanted to take me to task about his name.  Eeeep, I said, holding up my book of Easy Sonatas by Beethoven¤¤ as a shield.  He was a warrior and a bard!¤¤¤  And you can’t possibly know anyone by that name who is a bounder and a cad!  —The life of a dedicated blogger is fraught with unexpected perils.

            PPS:  And at bell practise I came up with a new definition of how you know you’re not a beginner any more.  You may still be the least competent ringer in the tower, but you’re not a beginner any more. ⌂   It’s when you’re not the only person going wrong.  You may still be going wrong more than anyone else, but sometimes someone gets there before you.

             

 

 

 

* I have explained that sacred in the context of bell practise indicates its unmissability aspect?  Sacred home tower bell practise means that the floodwater has to be at least six feet deep, the hailstones the size of grapefruit, or the vampires in unusual numbers and in a particularly filthy temper, before I will stay home.  And at least the floodwater would roar and the hailstones bang and clatter^.  A lot of vampires stalking around and hissing or growling or whatever vampires in a filthy temper do^^ probably would not drown out the sound of the bells.

 

^ I am freshly clued up about the banging and clattering of hailstones since we had quite a lot of them today, pinging malignly off all the new young growth:  arrrrgh.  You can see the ten-inch-high delphiniums judder as they hit.  And these hailstones were only the size of cake decorators’ dragees. 

 

^^ There is some controversy around this topic

 

** I need to get out more.   I do not have time to get out more.

 

*** I dunno, though.  There’s got to be an easier way to make a living.  Pounding sand.  Sweeping crossings.  Writing novels.

 

† And Anna Russell still does it better than Bayreuth. 

 

†† I’ve finished memorising Für Elise three times. 

 

††† Stop that laughing.

 

‡ One of which, um, phrases, caused Oisin to say, Hmm, that’s an interesting thought.  I would encourage you to finish it.   —Did he say ‘thought’?  Help!  What do I do now!

 

‡‡ In my dreams

 

‡‡‡ Did Mozart write/arrange any folk songs?  Surely.  He’s The Man:  he did everything.  Cherubino’s arias could pass as belonging on that continuum, say.

 

§ And if you guess right, you get a six foot pink plush wolverine!

 

§§ No, he didn’t say Mwa ha ha ha ha ha.  But I heard it.

 

§§§ While I was looking for Foggy Dews, I discovered that the resident Gnawing Thing has eaten my piano arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon, and had a go at Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, although there’s enough of the latter left to play.  I am not happy.

 

¤ And if you believe that, allow me to reiterate my offer of this nice bridge I could sell you. . . .  And yes, it’s occurred to me to hum the sucker and write it out for myself in a key signature of my choosing, but I have this feeling I’d find myself writing it out in five sharps, so maybe I’ll just stick to Mr Britten’s four flats.  Or maybe I’ll just . . . have a little idle try at humming. . . .

 

¤¤ My current hacking and hewing project is his Opus 49, No. 2

 

¤¤¤ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ois%C3%ADn   But I refuse to accept ‘uh-sheen’ as the final word on pronunciation. 

 

Aside from the fact that you’ve been ringing for three and a half years.  Sigh.

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So far so good.  We’ve now had four, enzyme-laced, meals in a row—two lunches and two suppers—where hellhounds simply ate, you know, like dogs.  Put food down, food disappears.  Sigh.  Magic.  I’m also looking forward to being able to walk around town without worrying about the sort of sudden . . . hmm . . . extrusion . . . that cannot be picked up in a plastic bag.  At least I hope that’s what I’m looking forward to.  It will be worth having something a little scary officially wrong with them to stop worrying about all the scarier things that might be wrong with them.*

 

But reading the comments on your previous post, I thought in so many ways what a wonderfool thing this internet is, time wasting, idiot full, not-always-working-the-way-it-should technological creation though it may be, that creates small tenuous communities of support and genuine feeling.

 

I like ‘wonderfool’.  A word with many applications in our modern world.

            Yes.  I've also been thinking exactly this.  All those virtual hugs REGISTER out here in three dimension land.  (In case anyone is worrying that virtual hugs may have poor navigational skills, take a wrong turn, and end up ghostlily embracing penguins.)  So does the virtual chocolate, but fortunately not around my waist,  and there’s a strange flickery light out of the corners of both eyes which is a virtual forest fire of lit candles . . .  I have a joke with a friend with a life as full of vicissitudes as mine, and with whom I have a reciprocal candle-lighting arrangement, that we should buy stock in some candle manufacturers or other and be getting a little of our investment back.  Anyway.  Thank you.  Thank you again.

 

 

------------------THANK YOU --------------

 

 

 

 

Now I like the way posting links makes lots of other people send you links.  So here are some you’ve sent me after yesterday’s dog links that maybe some of the others of you don’t know:

            I have just wasted a grotesque amount of time over on http://icanhascheezburger.com which is kind of like cuteoverload only different, trying to figure out how to obtain an address to a specific shot.  And I have signally failed.  So I’m going to have to stand in front of the class wearing a sign saying STUPID and they’ll strip me of my new digital camera—I was only ever a water-bearer, it’s not like I have the regimental insignia to be ripped off and trodden underfoot—and they’re even going to take the hellhounds’ flashy modern extending leads away and I’m going to have to walk them on six foot of heavy triple-stitched harness leather!  No, no!  Anything but that!  I’ll go back to a typewriter, BUT NOT THE EXTENDING LEADS!!! . . . Anyway.  I can’t send you to the specific shot because I am netstupid, but my favourite of the moment (but look fast, because new ones come in and push the old ones farther down) is ‘Schrodinger improves accuracy with increased sample size’ AND I WANT TO KNOW HOW THEY GOT THOSE CATS TO SIT IN THOSE BOXES. 

 

And no collection of funny dog links would be complete without this:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alist/465270989/

 

Which leads me rather nicely to:

 

Of course the hellhounds are part of your family, and of course you worry about them. It's perfectly normal, says the woman who talks to her cats

I answered this once already: 


*********** You probably don't hold long involved conversations with them while you're walking down the street with other PEOPLE around however.

(I have two human daughters as well, but the cats are home with me all day, and yes, they do talk back).

 
*********** Fortunately so do mine, which is, I figure, how I get away with making a spectacle of myself, people just think it's all an elaborate dog training TRICK. Anyway, who needs to bother wearing purple just because she's getting old?

 

But I’ve been thinking about it since, and I realise that the reason they’re going to lock me up is because I’m shameless about it.  Of course I talk to my hellhounds!  I’m a human!  Humans talk to their friends!**  If you go for a walk with two friends, don’t you CHAT?  Although I admit that if I thought the hellhounds’ grasp of English was stronger, I would tell them less often that if they do x again, I am going to leave them by the side of the road in a box labelled FREE HELLHOUNDS.*** 

            I have just enough social conditioning left to realise that this is not the median view.  But then the median view includes people who leave their dogs locked up in small yards all day and believe that means they (the humans) don’t have to take them (the dogs) for any walks . . . and then these people get cranky when they allow the dog indoors as a special treat and it doesn’t know how to behave.  I’ll keep my fringe view of appropriate human/critter interaction, thanks.  It occurs to me that this is one of the advantages of growing old:  you can get away with eccentricity more easily.  You’re young and manifestly nuts, they come after you with the big butterfly net.  You’re old and manifestly nuts, you have a reasonable chance they just smile abstractedly and tell themselves, oh, she’s past it poor thing.  At least until you start sleeping on the roof to keep away from Cthulhu or possibly the Horla which is tunnelling up toward the surface and I don’t want to be there if it comes through in my cellar.†   And even then you’re probably safe if you don’t tell anyone†† that’s why you’re sleeping on your roof.  And I’ve worn purple all my life.

 

That comment ended: 

 

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

 

. . . which I’ve always seen attributed to Groucho Marx, but it’s worth repeating whoever it’s by.  I am also thus reminded of my poor New Blog which with the press of recent events has once again been sloshed into a backwater . . . the fact that my webcam doesn’t work with its microphone also has something to do with this . . . because it has a cycling Quote of the Day thingummy which doesn’t have nearly enough quotes to cycle among yet, and this is one of them.  So I get to see it a lot.  I don’t mind.

 

And this is completely amazing:

 

http://dailycoyote.blogspot.com/

 

I admit I’m having a little cognitive dissonance trouble however because I’m from Maine where coyotes are vermin, and scary.  But I’m also a sucker, and what a photographer this woman is. . . .  Look at the coat on this critter—no wild coyote ever looked that good.  I also wonder, in a tedious and unromantic way, what’s going to happen when he finishes growing up—genuinely wild animals as pets usually ends in tears.  But maybe Charlie will be the gloriously furry exception. 

 

And I am now falling down with tiredness.  It’s Everything plus Not Sleeping Very Well. ††   So I am going to bed now. . . .

 

 

* Also to stop saying to myself, shut up, you’re neurotic.  I have that Jewish mum thing where I have to feed I mean feed anyone under my care, but after the previous dog generation, where Hazel was a Funny Eater all her life—and we just thought she was over-bred show-dog crazy—and then died of a combination of starving herself to death and autoimmune haemolytic anaemia almost certainly caused by too many vaccinations, I am really really jumpy about a dog that doesn’t eat, especially a dog that is clearly not right in itself.  I am also really really jumpy about vaccinations.  And when Holly started trying to die of the same horrible disease less than two months later, bullying her to eat enough not to starve to death was as awful as spending every waking minute reading homeopathy and poking fresh remedies into her and generally trying to find a way, any way, to keep her alive.  When you’re free lance, and obsessive, you can do things like this.  And I did pull her through.  But it left scars.  I didn’t find Mark till later. 

 

** Well.  Girl humans.  I wonder about the boys sometimes.

 

*** On the other hand, they wouldn’t stay in the box any better than a cat would.  How did they get those cats to sit in those boxes???

 

† I haven’t got a cellar.  Which will be the thing that proves that I am dangerously nuts.

 

†† Except possibly your hellhounds.  Or your cats

 

††† Despite planting imaginary rose beds with a pillow over my head at 4 or 5 am, with reference to a comment about the soothingness of gardening, both real and virtual.  Yes:  barring that in the real garden slugs have eaten Ernest Markham off at ground level, Ernest Markham being a beautiful rather small and tactful small-dusty-pink-bell clematis who should be out right now—as Purple Spider is out—and who was doing very well not that long ago and I went back there to see why there were no dusty pink bells and . . . waaaaaaaah.  I’ve put down enough [organic] slug bait to take out a legion of the slimy monsters^, and I assume she’ll throw up a new shoot or two.  But not in time for flowers this year.  Sometimes gardening is not soothing and relaxing.

^ Aaaugh!  Cthulu's vanguard!  I don't want to sleep on the roof!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve been downstairs at the cottage most of the evening struggling with the Downstairs Laptop.  (Peter played bridge tonight so I came back here from Almost Sacred Wednesday Bell Practise*).  I don’t feel it has any call to be as tiresome as it has chosen to be tonight, but I have one or two moral imperatives left and one of them says that you don’t eat dinner at your desk.  Breakfast, yes.  Lunch, yes.**  Infinite numbers of cups of tea, yes.  Chocolate, yes.***  Dinner, no.  So it’s been the laptop, which keeps crashing.  I’m so tired I’m barely breathing—brooding will do that to you—and given the highly guessable† topic of said brooding, I thought I’d do an entry of spirits-lifting dog links . . . whereupon my laptop decided to be possessed by demons and crash every two minutes.  Arrrrgh.  The next blow fate has in store is that the links I did manage to extract from the wreckage won’t work.

            We’re also about to have a frost any minute—again:  you just stay tucked up out there, you magnolia buds—I have to go fetch the marmoraria indoors before that minute is up.  But I wish to report that my new system of hanging a blanket over a purpose-built railing just inside the front door works a treat.  Except for the complaining about the fact that this means I have two layers of insulation over the door—blanket and curtain—and this is the south of England and mid April.

            Hellhounds appear to be in the pink of condition.  I rang up to order their new regime of enzyme supplements the minute I got home yesterday and, hallelujah, the large brown bottle arrived today.†† And furthermore the enzyme powder is purple, and sort of glittery.  Mark told me to mix the powder in with the food, so I pulled the rather extremely green capsules apart and . . . I’m not sure I approve of ingestibles that look like they belong scattered over a sequined cardigan.  I was also braced for the enzymes to Taste Funny and myself then be the object of the Look of Outrage more common, in my experience, in cats:  the Are You Trying to Poison Me With This Stuff? look.  But no:  the enzymes either don’t taste, or they taste of something fabulously celestial:  fortnight-dead rabbit, say, or fresh herbivore faecal matter.†††  Anyway, the stuff went down with what, for hellhounds, is a reasonable amount of food . . . and we just happen to be in a hiatus from the Yellow Squirts, so it’s been a quiet day, except for the brooding.  And the yelling at the laptop.

            I used to lead the way upstairs but especially since they reached their full height the fundamental hellhound desire to get between my legs and then hold revels became a trifle more death-defying, on these stairs, than I was entirely happy with, especially either late at night or when I’m carrying knapsacks, books, cups of hot tea and/or chocolate.  So I now encourage them to go up ahead of me, which Darkness does willingly enough—but then he has a Master Plan—while Chaos hangs around hoping I don’t mean it, can’t we go up together, pleeeeeease?  Sometimes he wins, and then I either have to leave something behind and go back for it, or cling to the railing with my teeth.  Chaos is beginning to catch on to Darkness’ Master Plan, however, which is that they wait at the top of the stairs for me to see if anything I’m carrying is interesting.  Ah, well, almost everything in this house has had a dog nose on it some time or other.

            Thank you for all your supportive comments after yesterday’s entry.  Make that Thank you.  Critters really are members of your family and you can’t help reacting accordingly.‡  I didn’t quite manage to ruin a beautiful day for a country walk today by borrowing trouble but I had a good old try at it.  Sigh.  And while we were walking around town later on we had a couple of people—as we very often do—come up and say, oh, aren’t they beautiful, and I did not say, they have Pancreatic Insufficiency Syndrome!  I’ll cope, really I will, it’s just right at the moment, it’s One More Thing.  One more thing on top of lingering/returning stomach flu and ME.  Gah. 

 

Anyway, here, I hope, are a few links to amuse you:

 

Is there anyone (anyone who hangs around on the web, anyway), who doesn’t know this one yet?

 

http://www.unc.edu/depts/jomc/academics/dri/idog.html

 

Probably not, but it reminds me that one of the things I’m tempted to run another competition for is Best Kitchen Magnet Slogan, since I happen to have it on a kitchen magnet, and it’s in my top ten.

 

And then there’s:

 

http://www.cartoonbank.com/product_details.asp?mscssid=1F60B4DKRD7D8KM3BT1KJW4XJWED1KV2&sitetype=1&sid=46204&section=notecards

 

I’m still hoping to find on the web somewhere my favourite George Booth cartoon which lives on my wall in its original, brown and crumbly round the edges and serially scotch taped to several walls condition, George Booth cartoon.  But I haven’t found it yet.   . . . Oh, gods, and do I need a George Booth umbrella??

 

This is another famous one, but worth revisiting, for anyone who likes dogs and/or doesn’t like lawyers:

 

http://www.stus.com/images/products/cla253f.gif

 

I hesitate to send you to the notorious:

 

http://cuteoverload.com/

 

. . . because you’ll either bail on first glance at the opening page or cruise its backlist for the rest of your life.  Or are presently making AVERT signs at your computer screen.  I do recommend clicking on ‘pups’ . . . but then I would, wouldn’t I?  My favourite is the second one down, which is also here:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants/1105985095/

 

And for those of you either too strong or too weak to risk clicking over to cuteoverload at all, I also recommend today’s header, which is also here:

 

http://nfccomic.com/index.php?comic=247

 

Which sums it up nicely, although I think it might have been puppies.

 

~If dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one. -Andrew A. Rooney

 

. . . .is maybe the best, but this has some other good quotes:

 

http://www.angelfire.com/mn2/patch/dquotes.html

 

AND THIS IS ME:

 

http://www.glasbergen.com/images/na13.gif

 

And Snowball stands in for the hellhounds, although they are far more distinguished looking hyperactive fruit loops:

 

http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/store/add.php?iid=22537

 

And, sadly, this explains a lot:

 

http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/store/add.php?iid=19331

 

And now, well dogged, I’m going to bed, with some hope of a brain tomorrow. . . .

 

 

 * I did not ring well.  But I rang less badly than I might have.  This was partly because one of the other ringers was definitely ringing worse, which sort of took the heat off the rest of us.

 

** Although I prefer not to.  Have you ever noticed the way lettuce leaves lob salad dressing over a wide range?

 

*** As, for example, right now.  Although this may just be for the abstruse pleasure of eating chocolate with a fork.  I don’t like a sticky keyboard.

 

† . . . to anyone who read yesterday’s entry

 

†† I will attempt not to say anything snarky about the Royal Mail for at least twenty-four hours.  It will be difficult, but I am strong and brave.

 

††† If the latter, that would explain why they come in capsules, since these are human pills.  Mark says the enzymes are the same thing, and the dog version costs—literally—about ten times more.  It what?  So it’s like okay, wait, let me make the intelligent decision here. . .

 

‡ Well.  Show me the person who takes it in their stride and I’ll show you a person I don’t want to have over for dinner any time soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We went to the vet this morning—again.  Although this was the homeopathic vet*, and we haven’t been there since last autumn—although there have been a few emails between.** 

            It is surprisingly easy to convince yourself you’re just being neurotic unless someone is conspicuously bleeding.  Chaos—as long term readers of this blog know—was very sick last December.  But most of the time whatever it is is so off and on, and sighthounds are famous for being both bad eaters and generally strange,*** and I know how obsessive I am, and impatient, and prone to, hmm, highly imaginative anxiety, and homeopathy very often works rather slowly.  So I’ve kept telling myself that I should wait a little longer. . . .   Hellhounds had the best spell of apparent normalcy they’ve ever had right after Chaos was so ill too, when they ate whatever was put in front of them without fuss, and were lively on their walks without any of the manic/collapse business, and the behaviour of their bowels was exemplary.  Six or seven weeks’ worth of having, you know, lovely young healthy jolly exuberant dogs.  And I was slipping into the happy habit of assuming that whatever it—it—was, they’d outgrown it finally, or the latest homeopathic remedy had worked.

            It all went pear-shaped about the middle of February and has only got worse since.  I haven’t been telling you about it—and if it seems as if you’ve been reading rather a lot about the erraticism of hellhounds, trust me, you haven’t begun to hear what it’s been like.  And they’ve been worse yet, at increasing velocity, since the probiotics about three weeks ago.  Which, Mark told me today, is a crucial symptom.  As is the fact that they look great, despite all the off-stage havoc.  This is one of the things that has kept making me feel I must be being neurotic:  how can anything that looks that good really be sick?  In my never-ending quest to doubt and undermine myself I’ve been trying to come round to the notion that maybe some dogs just do have almost constant, wildly varying diarrhoea, and I should lighten up a little. †  I already know that a lot of sighthounds have a bad attitude toward food.  Maybe a lot of sighthounds have a bad attitude toward defecation as well.  Fortunately I have some residual common sense, and it rang up and made an appointment with Mark.

            Mark thinks it’s pancreatic insufficiency syndrome.  He says he’s actually reasonably sure that’s what it is—he saw a lot of it twenty years ago in Alsatians—but it’s taken the severity of recent symptoms and that probiotics aggravate and how good they look, bright eyed and shiny coated, when they ought to look anything but, to make him think of it, because till now it’s just been some kind of unpredictable bowel thing with supplementary vomiting, and a sighthound having better things to do than eat doesn’t even rank as a symptom.  Nor is PIS something sighthounds are known for.

            So.  This is the good news and the bad news.  We have a diagnosis.  Good.  But . . . PIS is serious.  It should be manageable, but it’s serious—and it’s not at all a good sign that they’ve had it pretty much from the get-go.  They’re only twenty months old.  Among other things this probably means it’s . . . ‘autoimmune mediated’ is I think the phrase:  what it means to the worried, guilt-ridden owner is that it’s a bad vaccination reaction.  I’ve already had one dog die of ‘vaccinosis’ as it’s called, and a second one try really hard to follow her—thanks to being a dutiful idiot who showed up every year for the booster jabs as soon as the first reminder postcard arrived.  The hellhounds were at least only going to be vaccinated once, and have blood tests for circulating antibodies after that . . . and I still seem to have managed to fuck their immune systems. 

            I have, of course, just been reading up on PIS in dogs on the net, and apparently it isn’t always or necessarily progressive.  But Mark had said that what they’ve probably got is, and what it progresses to is diabetes.  And since the probiotic disaster I’ve been noticing that Chaos—who in this as in everything is the more reactive—is drinking an awful lot of water.   

            Mark has told me what to do next:  digestive enzymes, and a severely limited diet.  (And isn’t that going to be a lot of laughs, with persnickety eaters.)  If the enzymes work, then we know where we are:  we’re in the middle of a case of pancreatic insufficiency syndrome.  The bright spot is that with homeopathy you have a chance of actually fixing the problem rather than merely managing it.  I’ve already lit my first candle.

            I admit I’m feeling pretty depressed.  I’ve known there was something ‘really wrong’.  That I’m not just being neurotic.  And it could be so much worse.  But . . . here we are.  Confirmed.  Something wrong.  I’d rather have been being neurotic, you know?  My beautiful, precious hellhounds. . . .

            So we drove home again while I felt increasingly wombly and then I was sick.  Greeeeeat.  I don’t know if this is the Return of the Stomach Flu or whether it was never stomach flu to begin with but just Aggravated Stress with a little help from the ME.  But this afternoon I couldn’t get my head around words on a computer screen at all, and I finally gave up and went out and planted three clematises.††  And re-netted my little magnolia against the blasted pigeons.  Any of you who are gardeners so this would catch your eye, you’ve probably seen the little surge of articles recently saying that there’s some bug in the soil that lifts depression, so when you're feeling bleak get out there and garden bare-handed . . . this reminds me of the demonization of sunlight which they’ve recently been retracting:  well um actually you know um sunlight is good for you, so long as you don’t let yourself toast to a crispy brown.†††  They’ve been telling us for decades that whatever you do don’t let any of that nasty dirty dirt come in contact with your lily-white [or otherwise] skin.  Now they’re suggesting well um don’t rub it into open wounds um but actually um contact with the soil is maybe good for you. . . .

            Forgive me if I’m a lazy slut two nights in a row and don’t get through the comments.  I want a long hot bath and a murder mystery, the kind where you never meet the corpse and everybody but the murderer is really nice, and then go to bed, ahem, early—?

 

 

 

 

 

* Anybody in the south of England, I recommend him highly.  Mark Elliott:    http://www.homeopathicvet.co.uk/   

 

** Mark writes the most amazingly terse emails.  I should take lessons.

 

*** I’ve quoted this to you before:  Mark says tactfully that sighthounds are ‘the most psychologically complex’ dogs he knows.

 

† And resign myself to being yanked out of bed at strange hours by hellhound howls.

 

†† Pink Fantasy [sic], flammula, and Arctic Queen

 

††† Which I realise in, say, most of Australia, takes prior planning

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Lj is intolerably insane tonight--it's taking minutes to click through to 'reply' to a comment and half the time at the end of all the waiting it says 'cannot display this page'.  THANKS A LOT.  And it's fine out on the Greater Web, so this is just lovely lj.
        So I'll try to catch up on the comments tomorrow.  Right now I'm going to go play the piano.

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It’s been another bad day.*  The microphone for the built in web cam arrived (finally), was installed and I wasted about an hour experimenting, and . . . the first try after the Computer Man left went fine, aside from the fact that I look ninety-four years old and mental, but apparently the technology was hoping for someone young and cute and cutting edge, and is sulking.  Technological sulking is manifesting in two ways:  (a) about one go in three it declines to record.  You press the button and the little red light comes on and everything, but when you go to stop it it won’t stop.  And you press and you press and you press and then the screen goes black.  Then you do exactly the same next time and it works fine, except:  (b) since the all-systems-go first trial the camera and the microphone have slid about a word out of sync which makes me look a hundred and six and dangerously mental. 

            And five hours after the Computer Man departed I discovered he’d left me on line.  And I pay by the hour. 

            And the hellhounds . . . well, at least the appointment with the vet is finally tomorrow.

 

 

Someone commented a few days ago that she was making chocolate chip cookies and had put some cocoa powder in the batter ‘experimentally’.  I wrote back that you can also melt chocolate in the batter.  She replied . . . expressing interest, I believe.  On the assumption that what interests one reader of a chocolate addict’s blog will interest other readers of a chocolate addict’s blog, I give you:

 

Double Whammy Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

4 100 g bars good dark cooking/eating chocolate or rough equivalent. 

            This is the not-rocket-science moment.  The original—American—recipe calls for 2 6-oz packages of semi-sweet chocolate chips, but that was back in the days before the chocolate snob market had exploded, and by the time you could get chocolate chips over here** I wouldn’t touch the nasty low-chocolate-percentage things.   So I buy 70%  bars, and I chop them.  You don’t have to do it at all evenly, and it makes the kitchen smell inspiring (although I recommend caution if you want to lick the knife):  by the time you’re pulling cookies out of the oven, than which there is no better smell, you’ve already done all the work. 

            If you do maths, you may wish to protest that 200 g is significantly more than 6 ounces.***  Well, yes, but I said it wasn’t rocket science, and when it’s chocolate, more is better.  If you want to do the substitution exactly, be my guest. 

            Melt half your chocolate with 3 T butter.  I am, as previously observed, a lazy slut, and the fact is I never do the full bain-marie thing, but I also now have an Aga, and chocolate melts very nicely and gently sitting in a little pot on the warm surface between the plates/burners.  But melting chocolate with some butter makes it a lot less high risk for people with ordinary boring stoves/cookers.  Although I daresay the people who are carefully melting 170 g instead of 200 g chocolate will also be doing it in a bain-marie.  However you get there, let this cool.

Beat together:

¾ c sugar

1 egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Beat in chocolate.  I usually haven’t let it cool enough, so I beat it in hard while pouring in a very thin stream.

Stir in:

½ c sifted flour

½ tsp baking powder

You can also add up to 1 ½ c chopped nuts.  I always used to, but as I’ve got older and even more obsessive I find I mostly want my chocolate experiences pure.  So I don’t.

If you’re using nuts, stir them in last with the chopped chocolate/chocolate chips.

Drop in small spoonfuls on ungreased† cookie sheets.  350 F about ten minutes.

I usually make these in double batches—the recipe multiplies very readily;  I think I’ve had it up to quadruple in Christmas-cookie season—although this does mean you are getting through scary amounts of chocolate.  I think the real purpose of all the nuts is to stretch the batter without diluting the chocolate. 

            These cookies are very fragile till they cool, so slap everybody’s hands away.  Including yours.  But you can lick the bowl.  Tell any importunate children that when they’re older they can make their own cookies and lick their own bowls.

 

 

 

* It had started out looking like rather a good day.   It’s still inappropriately cold for April but less wind and more blue sky.  We went out to Montmorency’s Folly to check on the bluebells, which seem pretty unbothered by yesterday’s blizzard.  As are, to my total amazement, both my New Zealand clematises.^  Maybe they’re waiting for me to relax, and then they’ll collapse.  When we got back from our walk I put the clematis marmoraria out for a few hours of sunlight—and speaking of thriving against the odds, it’s flowering—and finished making the bread which had been seething and sponging overnight.  Then the Computer Man showed up and things started going downhill.

^ It was snowing again last night when we came back from the mews.  If I weren't very careful of Peter's neighbours, especially at 1 am, there would have been language.  There was certainly a lot of intense muttering back at the cottage as I dragged things indoors.  To the hellhounds’ fascination.

 

** Eighteen years ago you could not, any store I was ever in.  And if you asked, they smirked at you because you had a funny accent, and said there was no call for whatever you were asking for.  Every country has patronising gits, and a lot of them work in retail.

 

*** http://www.metric-conversions.org/weight-conversion.htm   Have I mentioned lately how much I love the web for this kind of thing?  It really does make me feel like I’m living in a Jules Verne novel.  Something retro futuristic.

 

Yaaaay.  Although I use parchment paper these days so greasing cookies sheets is not the tyranny it was.

 

 

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HAPPY $%^&*!!!!! APRIL. 

            When I fumbled out of bed this morning there was a Strange Light Shining (Murkily) through the Windows.  Sunday mornings I get up what passes as early for me and I’m never at my best in the first five minutes of my feet hitting the floor anyway.*   That ominous grey-but-dazzling brilliance was awakening brutal old memories of a previous life. . . .

            Yes.  Snow.  Okay, only about two inches.  But two inches in April, in the south of England.  I objected to snow in April when I still lived in Maine.**  And on a Sunday morning, when I have to go out in it (even if only a minute and a half around the corner) and, having arrived at where I was going, function*** . . . no, no, no, this is too cruel.  And allow me to add in a pathetic sort of way that my little cul de sac is dramatically steep, interestingly surfaced, and generously potholed.  Back in the days when I was going to monthly Saturday homeopathic clinics, I missed one, one January, because at eight o’clock in the morning as I was trying to leave, the road was glass-slick with ice and even supposing I could have backed out of my driveway and up the hill about six feet to turn around, as soon as I straightened out I would have shot down and been launched out into the main street . . . and probably belted into the house immediately opposite, which would have distressed the nice old lady who lives there.†  And when one is performing feats of this nature one would want to know for certain that a giant articulated lorry was not going to be passing at that minute, and since all the SatNavs on the planet send giant articulated lorries through our tiny town††, at any given moment on any given day this is not a good bet†††.  So that Saturday I stayed home.

            It wasn’t quite that bad today because the ground is warm‡ but I still put my feet down a little carefully, and declined to run to the bell tower.‡‡  Where, I may say, we started out with all four of us loyalest of the loyal regulars‡‡‡ and finished with six, so we’ve had worse turn outs in better weather.

            Although ‘better’ is open to debate.  It’s been an extremely beautiful day, it’s just been an extremely beautiful January day.§  Hellhounds, of course, were beside themselves, as they tend to find cold weather somewhat enlivening.  I don’t want enlivened hellhounds!!  The ordinary variety is quite enough for my shoulders!  And with reference to adolescent entire male dogs, they do have their moments and our morning walk was pretty much one long moment.  Also, they eat snow.  Chaos in particular was rushing around positively hoovering it up.§§  They'd've taken bites out of the suddenly ubiquitous snow persons all over the neighbourhood if I hadn't disallowed this.

            I’d heard about the threat of snow, blah blah blah, on the radio, but I hadn’t taken it seriously.  My first thought/exclamation, this morning, on discovering the awful truth about the dazzling grey light—my first thought/exclamation after &^%$!!{]:?+=!!!!!!!!, that is, was &^%$!!{]:?+=!!!!!!!!, there go the New Zealand clematises—again.   I haven’t yet managed to pull one of these through more than two winters—I lost my three-year-old one this year, although the two-year-old is producing fat leaf buds (or was, till last night).  But this will be the first year I’ve lost them the same spring I bought them if, in fact, they have declined to put up with current treatment.  I’d left marmoraria out those few nights that were so warm I took my duvet off the bed§§§ but I brought her in last night.  But the so-called ‘patio’ clematis are both out there—I was knocking the snow off the one in full flower on the front step this morning, and cursing (more;  further;  again).  I haven’t dared look at the other one yet, whose thick flower-cover is still only buds.  The other un-frost-proof thing out there shivering in its compost is the three grotesquely overpriced begonia tubers—arrrrrgh.¤  As for flowers on hardy plants, I assume the rest of the early camellias have had it¤, but I hope both magnolias, nigra at the cottage and stellata at Third House, are still closed tightly enough to . . . have another chance at being wiped out by an even later frost in a fortnight or so.  Well, at least both Peter's and my wisterias are too young to be trying to flower.

            And it’s supposed to do it again tonight.   Okay, I’m at least bringing the New Zealand clematises and the Mortally Expensive Begonias indoors, even if this is closing the barn door after the horse has run off to . . . oh, Tahiti, or Tuvalu, somewhere warm . . .

 

 

 

* Or for the first two hours, for that matter, which is a strong argument for taking hellhounds out on their walk first thing, rather than what looks like the more sensible and responsible course, which is to make the pot of devil’s-heart-black tea and get stuck in at my computer.   But when I do it this way round I find myself reading way too many come-ons from companies who have taken my money previously and are hoping to do it again, and to whom I was silly enough to give my real email address.  Last time Waterstone’s had some deal on it was right after that vast outpouring of recommended books here, and I got into a lot of trouble. 

 

** We still had snow in April some years, but that didn’t stop me objecting.

 

*** Well, yes, walking hellhounds requires functioning also, and to a fairly high if peculiar standard, but the intellectual drain is minimal.

 

† She wouldn’t have minded nearly as much then as she would now, however, having just had her brickwork repointed this year.

 

†† I’m only about half joking here.   We apparently are on some kind of rat run beloved to computer generated cunning.  This does not explain why, having been sent through here once, and held up traffic in the centre of town for several minutes while you wrangle your Empire-State-Building-horizontal-sized vehicle around the corner at the T intersection at the top of Broad Street, you come back and do it again, but given the number of these damned behemoths that do lumber through here I have to assume some of them are repeats.^

 

^ I think I’ve told you all this before.  Well, it happens.  Things that prey on my mind are going to keep turning up in my blog.  Like giant articulated lorries in the middle of our tiny town.

 

††† Also almost-equally-gigantic tractors.  Sort of Chrysler-Building-horizontal-sized tractors.  I seriously don’t want to be run into by one of these either.

 

‡ Yoo hoo!  It’s April!

 

‡‡ Which meant I had to leave a minute or two earlier.  Feh.

 

‡‡‡ Niall, who is still smarting from last week, tried to tell me I was late.

 

§ Were we having April in January?  Or was January when it rained for three weeks straight?

 

§§ This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that they’ve presently both got the Yellow Squirts, I don’t suppose?  Speaking of the ongoing trauma that is these creatures’ internal economy.  Forty eight hours before I get to take them to the vet (again). . . .

 

§§§ This is both colic and flu weather

 

¤ Bringing tender plants through winter is just not one of my gifts.  I leave dahlias in the ground because it’s easier and I have no higher a survival rate if I go to all the faff of digging them up etc.  Begonias tend to go squishy on me at the end of the summer, before the first frost ever arrives.  And then a few weeks ago, groping around among the camellias in the well, I discovered a small pot lying on its side, with whatever was in it still mostly there.^  So I fished it out, recognised a begonia tuber and thought, well, you’re dead.  But it wasn’t squishy, so I brought it indoors, shoved something else out of the way on a windowsill, and started watering it.  And yesterday, as I was pointlessly watering it again, I noticed . . . a leaf!  Yes, a leaf!  It’s alive!  —Of course I have no idea what it is.  If it had a label, the label fell to its doom in the well.  But I feel reasonably safe in assuming it won’t be one of the fabulously expensive ones that I may have just killed off this year’s of by planting them in the first week of April. 

 

^ Given my any-flat-surface-is-fair-game attitude toward book-stacking indoors, it should come as no surprise that the low circular wall that runs around the well is crammed with small pots.  Some of which may be knocked over from time to time. 

 

¤ Which is not entirely a bad thing in Jingle Bells’ case.  Jingle Bells is just coming out, in her usual misguidedly overachieving way.

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I probably shouldn’t even be telling this one, but it’s so striking, to me at least,* about . . . well, dogs, and human frailty.  Also that Chaos is nuts, even as sighthounds go.

            I have not been keeping you up to date about the hellhounds’ latest cycle of digestive mayhem.  I think I told you about taking them to the (standard) vet a few weeks ago, who gave them vitamin B12 jabs (appetite promoter) and probiotics (to quiet the mayhem).  These sort of worked briefly and then it was a return to our previously scheduled programme.  Furthermore we’re now more or less officially into spring, and lots of otherwise sane, steady animals go mental and, er, physical, in various ways when the season turns, including going off their feed and other more egregiously manifested internal irregularities.  So there may be several things currently contributing to the distressing picture, and I admit to being hopelessly confused.  As well as rather overwrought.  I have another appointment with the (homeopathic) vet (who is a lot farther away and a lot more expensive) next Tuesday, but meanwhile we have to get through all these days first. 

            They ate, slept, walked and defecated more or less normally—that is, normal by some other standard than theirs—yesterday so I had myself braced for something else today.  They obliged.  Darkness had the Yellow Geyser on the morning walk and Chaos refused lunch.  Sigh.

            Darkness, however, is by far the less convoluted and impenetrable hellhound.  He eats more often than he doesn’t and he mostly has his yellow-geyser moments and then gets over them.  I would like to sort out the tendency to diarrhea** but in Darkness’ case he may be mostly just a sighthound, which is to say strange, with some sensitivities/allergies.***

            Chaos, now . . . when they were puppies they both used to do this thing of as if getting stuck not eating, as if having stopped they couldn’t start again.  And puppies can’t go without food, they’re busy growing.  So having puppies that would stop eating—sometimes for days—and get weaker before my eyes—has traumatised me.  Darkness has more or less grown out of this.  Chaos has not.  I cannot afford to let Chaos miss a meal completely because he won’t be really hungry and ready for his food next meal or next day, he’ll be even less likely to eat† . . . while at the same time he starts going downhill really quickly, getting ribby and hollow-eyed and stary-coated, and with all this he goes all manic-depressive, either crazed or collapsed. 

            So when he refuses a meal, I chase him around with it.  Which usually works at least somewhat and is infinitely to be preferred to his skipping a meal entirely.  They may be rotten eaters, and strange, but my hellhounds have lovely personalities, and I don’t think it would occur to either of them to turn into, you know, a madam.  I’ve dogsat for a lot of madams and I’d recognise the signs.††  When my hellhounds are in Eating Mode, they just eat.  So when they aren’t, I chase them.

            And—this is the ‘please cut me some slack’ part—I’m not having a really great week.  The stomach flu isn’t quite gone and while I’ve had much worse visitations from the ME, it’s still making me stupid, dizzy, clumsy and tired.  That with a slight internal sense of unrightness which ebbs and swells to a pattern of its own devising is producing a me who is less than her best self.

            There’s a bit more room for chasing hellhounds in the mews kitchen.  The cottage kitchen is tiny, and it’s got a table, an island, and a large hellhound crate in it.  Pursuit is much more exasperating.  Usually we’re at the mews for lunch, but I had a wedding to ring at an inconvenient hour, so we were at the cottage.  And I goofed.  I’m not at my best, and I was aware of being in a hurry.  I still don’t exactly know what happened—I daresay a forensic specialist would be able to read the food-spatter, but I can’t—but Chaos managed to put a foot in his dish, flipped it over, recoiled into me, I tripped over him, slipped in the squishy dog food, and fell down—one knee in the dog food, and my head snapping forward to crack off the corner of the low wooden barrier around the back of the refrigerator which has been there since puppies were small enough to get in under the refrigerator with the wires and so on, and which I’ve never removed because they still like to chew on it occasionally.   And as it happens I hit myself squarely on the exact spot that only a few days ago—in another aggravated spasm of being stupid, dizzy, clumsy and tired—I had stabbed on the corner of the wooden spice rack, which has a somewhat sinister relationship with the geometry of opening the refrigerator door and bending over to get something out or in.  

            And I lost it.  I spent a good ten seconds still on my knees, pressing the palm of my hand against the rapidly swelling knot on my damaged head††† and screaming that I hated dogs, my life, this malignly miniature house, England, and the universe.  And then I scooped as much of the dog food as was in the immediate vicinity back in the bowl just to transport it to the trash . . . and at this point I turned around and discovered two hellhounds jammed into a corner of the kitchen staring at me with platter sized eyes and trembling.

            Oh shit.

            In my semi-defence, they’re used to me screaming at my computer and may occasionally open one eye to view the festivities briefly but then it drops shut again.  And I wasn’t screaming at them, I was screaming, if at anything, at the back of the refrigerator.  But of course Chaos had caused the whole incident—and while ‘caused’ isn’t a dog thing ‘having been a part of’ is—and they also aren’t used to me falling down.  Well.  Not in the kitchen anyway.

            So, still holding the bowl of food merely because I hadn’t put it down, I went over to their corner and sat down and put my arms around them and—needing at this point to put the bowl down—petted and petted and petted and petted and crooned and hummed until they stopped trembling.   After a few minutes of this Darkness walked away under the table and I thought he’d merely had enough but no, he was merely swapping ends so that he could lick my face.  I guess he figured I needed it.  I had most of Chaos in my lap—he’s the one who likes being squeezed and growled at anyway—and while I was bearing with Darkness’ ministrations I managed to get one eye open long enough to notice that Chaos had stretched out his long elegant hellhound neck and . . . was eating his lunch.  Dust and prior crumbs no problem.

            Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts.

            As a result of all the drama I didn’t have time to change my trousers, and went to ring the wedding with dog lunch on one knee.‡   And the kitchen floor still needs mopping.  And I’ll probably be finding small round bits of escaped kibble in the corners for weeks.  But then I do anyway.

            Both hellhounds ate supper.

            And I’m going to have to be careful how I sleep tonight.  If the twice-clobbered spot on my skull touches any pillows there will be more screaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Puns weren’t intended, but they might as well be.  Whack.  Ouch.   As follows.

 

** Especially the kind that gets me up in the middle of the night.  Well, the middle of my night. 

 

*** Although it might be nice if he’d have it in some kind of apparent response to something rather than any old time when he’s been eating exactly the same thing(s) as he always eats.

 

† Some kind of digestive enzyme thing maybe?

 

†† The sunniness of their basic personalities still amazes me.  Sure goes to show that people and their animals don’t necessarily become like each other.  Well, I’ve only had them nineteen months.  There’s still time.^

 

^ I think I’d look really silly believing everyone was my friend, so I’d better turn them into misanthropic cranks.   

 

††† Stupid cow!  Go take some Arnica!

 

‡ The wedding, of course, ran late.  I’d’ve had plenty of time to change my trousers.

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. . . just does not organise itself into a blog shape.*  Today has been one of those days.              
            The phone went at a few minutes before eight this morning.  I was of course asleep.  However I was out of bed and most of the way across my office before consciousness attempted to kick in and tell me that the reason why I was sprinting, naked and asleep, through a dangerous jungle of furniture and topply piles of books and papers, was because the phone was ringing.  Okay:  the source of the racket is obviously this curiously shaped and wired object, what did you say it was and what is it I do with it again?  The caller was the Tree Man, who agreed to go round and look at my leylandii.  So I was up.  Weaving slightly, but up.  Clothing.  Weather?  Different clothing.  Bundle hellhounds in car.  Now where are we going? 

Ah.  We are presently in the annual four-month gap where a big local wood, theoretically open on the CROW act, which says something about public pedestrian access to wild land, actually is open or at least is less aggressively closed than during the other eight months.  The law seems to say that landowners can deny access up to 28 days a year, but these bozos have WOODLAND CLOSED signs up from the beginning of August to the end of March.  I am mostly pretty law abiding—I don’t like the stress level of being illegal:  I can find much easier, simpler ways to stress myself silly—and this includes obeying b******* rules because I don’t like confrontation either, unless I’m really invested in the outcome.  In this case since I know they raise game birds, I don’t want to get shot in the process of insisting on my rights.  But I do feel a little testy about the eight months and one of these years I’m going to find some official footpath/access person with an ear to bend and discuss this among a few other local manifestations of what I read as ‘I have lots of money and whatever I own is mine and therefore I don’t have to do what the law says, and besides you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.’  This particular wood, even during the four months it’s not actively closed, is not exactly welcoming.  All that changes is they take the CLOSED signs down.  The gates are still all padlocked shut.  You want to walk there?  Fine, you climb over.  Carrying hellhounds.** 

            It is always useful to get off to something slightly more resembling an early start on Fridays because I have my piano lesson Friday afternoon and then sacred home tower bell practise in the evening, so ‘catching up later’ is not a good option (especially these days, when a fair amount of ‘later’ tends to be taken up by the blog).  We got down to the mews early enough for me to spend most of an hour trying to convince myself that I did know how to play the piano and also that all those hen scratches on several pages of manuscript paper were actually a Song and a Sonatina-ette (unfinished)***.  And the seven hundred and fifty-seventh run through in a row of the Song when I was still needing vast pauses to remember what comes next† I was thinking in despair that I really was getting senile, and, just by the way, I object to this, when it occurred to me that I’m trying to memorise something while the ME is active.  Not very active, granted, or I’d be sparing poor Oisin the trial of having me underfoot for an hour††, but active enough that carrying water in a sieve would be more productive.  I had in fact memorised my Song just before I was felled but ‘memorise’ is a complex and many-layered process in my case . . . each complex more neurotic and each layer more resistant to jackhammering than the last.  Something has to stay memorised for a while before it wears a groove it can lie down in comfortably rather than sliding faster and faster down the glass-like slope of my acuity before it hits the rim and sails off into Outer Darkness.  The Song and I are still in the early scrabbling stage.

            I did get through it—more or less—for Oisin, who, one assumes, can silently improvise plausible bridging bits for the gaps.  And I made him play the Sonatina-ette.  He said, you might think about longer phrases . . . and went noodling off into variations with one of my short ones, and I was delighted because this is very similar to what I was thinking anyway, which is that while I want to finish it as it stands, as my next project I’d quite like to take it apart and make room for some of the stuff I can hear standing around just off stage humming to itself.

            . . . And then we were just settling in to a nice conversation about creativity—begun by my saying that my one great advantage, as I set out with my compass, walking stick and a knapsack full of chocolate on the strange and exotic landscape of composing, is that I’m used to making stuff up.  Not this stuff, but stuff.  The sheer fact of Making Stuff Up holds no terrors for me, including that I’m used to the sweat and blood aspect.  And by golly aren’t I just reinventing the wheel—but I’ve been the traditional music education route, where you know what you’re doing before you do it, and that was when I almost flunked out of harmony class in college.  I like this system much better, where I haven’t the faintest what I’m doing but I can do it anyway, and backwards, upside down, and with none of the correct labelling, doesn’t matter.  Even if it does sometimes feel like calling out the fire brigade to thread your needle for you, at least the needle gets thread poked through it.

            Anyway, I looked at the clock mid sentence and snatched up my music to flee out the door to my appointment with another builder at Third House about an estimate for the attic floor with a whole masterful upscale Loft Conversion to come after.†††  And the builder . . . was half an hour late.  I was leaving when he pulled in.‡  And the main thing he did is raise a lot of new issues . . . I am so out of my depth here.  I just wanted somewhere to store books.

            And then I pelted back to the cottage, discovered a message from the Tree Man saying that he was sorry to report that the tree is perfectly healthy‡‡, took hellhounds out for their afternoon scamper, fed them supper‡‡‡, and jogged off to tower practise, holding my head on with one hand.  It was a funny practise:  we went wrong on really dumb stuff, a plain course of Grandsire triples for heaven’s sake . . . and then out of nowhere the good ringers pulled a plain course of Cambridge Minor out of their hats which was striking-competition-worthy and was also the sort of thing that makes us stumbling, ME-brained post-beginners heave a deep sigh and say, That’s why we’re in this game.  That’s what we’re aiming for.§

            And since Peter is playing bridge, I went to the pub.  Where Niall and Penelope are standing the rest of us for weeks after that little slip about last Sunday service when the clocks went forward Saturday night.§§   And now I’m back at the cottage and Beethoven’s Fifth is over with and I think I feel like some Purcell.

 

 

 

*Although at this moment I am listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Most of Beethoven’s symphonies have this effect on me:  that I can rush out, right now, and conquer anything.  Even a blog entry.

 

** I don’t jump my hellhounds over anything involving wire, barbed or not.  Even the unbarbed kind they could put a foot through way too easily, because of the way dogs jump, which is more of a hustle, with a lot of rear end action.

 

*** The Sonatina-ette is officially unfinished.  The Song merely keeps trying to morph in a subtle way.  This does not make learning to play it any easier.  I keep thinking, hmm, that’s interesting, I wonder if . . .

 

† Playing from memory makes the morphing process all the more irresistible, because you are perforce thinking about the music.

 

†† No, I lie.  When the ME is persecuting me, I’m far more likely to ring him up and say, I feel like death on toast, but if you don’t have anything better to do, can I come along anyway?

 

††† Eventually.  After CHALICE is a best seller. 

 

‡ In his defense, he’d left me a phone message . . . at the cottage.  Which of course I hadn’t had.

 

‡‡ Which, furthermore, they ate.  I’m in shock.

 

‡‡‡ Oh, blithering hells!  I also have a strong sense of, if that’s what it’s supposed to look like, why does anyone plant them?

 

§ Niall says it was worth it.  Lying in on a Sunday morning (even if inadvertently).  What a concept!

 

§§  A reminder I needed since there were enough good ringers to give me a go at Stedman Triples.  Ow.  Ow.  Ow.

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