November 20, 2009

In medias res

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 10:33 pm


I am on an island 8000 miles from home, looking after my mother’s house, a bulimic cat, and two toy poodles. 

A wind storm has knocked out the power all over the island.  The wind blew so hard that it broke the brand new dock, and the ferry captains are refusing to carry cars after dark.

My one telephone that actually plugs into the wall seems impossibly old fashioned, but it allows me to receive “power updates”.  A message assures me that personnel have been despatched to assess the damage and that if I see power lines on the ground I should assume they are energised and keep clear.  If I think public safety is at risk I should hang up and dial 911. 

Although I would very much like to have internet access (among other things, like light and heat) I resist the urge to cruise the island’s streets looking for energised power lines.

Nevertheless, as I did not achieve my daily goal of having a single face to face conversation with a creature without a tail I am a little tempted to dial 911.  In fact, as I did not even achieve my secondary goal of having a single telephone or internet conversation with a creature without prejudice to tails, since on the phone or internet they are hearsay, the 911 option is looking pretty good.

Any readers of this blog from its early days will know that when I am on this particular island 8000 miles from home I hang out with firemen, and if I dial 911 I will probably have familiar faces mustering on my lawn.

Because I am a responsible citizen, instead I stumble around in the dark, find a torch, light candles, round up the animals (wouldn’t you know they are all black?) and retreat with them and a bottle of wine to the warmest space to wait the wind out.

My computer has power, for a while at least, though no internet connection.  I can write in the dark since I am a pretty good touch typist.  I have a story about learning to touch type.  I might as well promise to tell it one day.  Tonight I don’t have anything but promise.


I am on an island, 8000 miles from home.

Yesterday, before the power went out, as I walked the poodles in blustery winds and the pouring rain, my elder daughter (the day before her 26th birthday) called my cell phone to say she felt really, really sick and was in bed in her father’s house in England.   She had a sore throat and a fever.  She didn’t have the energy to get food or medicine.    There was no one to look after her.  She didn’t know where anyone was who could help.  Why did I go away and leave her?

I made reassuring noises.  I said I would call her back.

I telephoned her little sister (my 17 year old Baby) and asked where she was.  She was in her father’s house in England.

So from 8000 miles away I organised one child to walk down a flight of steps to deliver medicine to another child.  Since that seemed a really trivial achievement I also sent the younger one the five minute walk to Starbucks (hurrah for globalisation). 

Acetaminophen and frappacino are still the best swine flu cures I know.

In my last job at Oxford, which ended in August, my informal title and official email address, was Webmaster.  That’s how I feel now; only a few months ago I got paid.

I am beginning to think that conversations with creatures with and without tails are overrated.


Lunch time next day I still have no power.  The computer is nearly out of battery.  I am getting very cold.  The power company phone number tells me that it will give me an update and let me know when normal service might be resumed if I provide my 10 digit meter number.

I am 8000 miles from home.  This is not my house.  I do not know my 10 digit meter number. 

So I think I will just see what happens if I hold the line and do nothing.

A very cross voice shouts at me, first in English, and then in Spanish, THAT IS NOT A VALID RESPONSE.

I’m just guessing that that is what the Spanish says, but I am probably right.  Everyone knows that if you shout loud enough, anyone can understand a foreign language.


I have, completely informally you understand, and without burden on the public purse, consulted a fireman, and am now privy to a switch that makes my propane stove spring into life, supposedly without benefit of Puget Sound Energy.  My fireman friend said, I’ll just turn it off, and you can try turning it back on, so you are familiar with how it works.

So I flipped the switch, all by myself. 

Though I am still just a wee bit sceptical, because by then the power was back on.


Here on this island, 8000 miles from home, I can get the internet again, and the BBC is all about floods in the Lake District – weather conditions, they say, that come up once in a thousand years. 

It’s raining in my heart and raining all over the world.

I could go on, now that I have computer and internet and Wikipedia and light and heat and all, but after writing nothing for months I fear I am getting a bit long winded, though I always remember that it never rains but it pours.

Poodle by the fire.

Poodle getting warm by the newly lit fire.

November 3, 2009

A happy Halloween

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 9:55 pm

In the UK they don’t really understand the US version of Halloween, and for a long time politicians, the police and the church all regularly denounced it as a tradition that encouraged a combination of juvenile delinquency and devil worship.  At best it was described as an “unwelcome American import”.

Nevertheless, it is catching on, bit by bit, and in many neighbourhoods these days children go trick or treating.  Sometimes they are met with surprise and occasionally with anger, but usually sweeties are doled out and everyone is happy.  It doesn’t always work the way you expect, though.  At one doorstep my little daughter held out her bag and said sweetly, “Trick or treat!”

The man replied, “Oh, I should much prefer a treat, thank you!”  And then he reached into her bag, took out a sweet and thanked her again.

Even where Halloween is celebrated there is nothing like the American enthusiasm and energy for the holiday.  Pumpkins, once somewhat exotic (and still expensive), are now available in every supermarket (jack-o-lanterns used to be carved out of turnips). But on the whole, people do not erect tombstones in their front gardens or hang strings of skeleton lights or startle trick or treaters with dangling spiders.  Costumes are simple, and very repetitive: children dress as witches or devils or vampires.  No one goes as Michael Jackson, the Cat in the Hat, a pirate or a fairy princess. 

Grownups don’t answer the door in costume, and grownups don’t get invited to Halloween parties.

This was my first Halloween in the US for 30 years.  The Lawyer Sis and the Lawyer Brother-in-Law invited me to join their annual celebrations, always elaborate and coordinated.  Last year they went as Sarah Palin and a moose. 

My joining them meant, my sister insisted, that we had to come up with a costume idea for a threesome. 

And unfortunately, she added, she was useless with a sewing machine, so I would have to make the costumes for whatever threesome I decided on.  She would be in charge of props.

Here’s how we looked:

(The Duchess is the mouse on the right.  No one else was willing to wear the mouse undergarment constructed out of mattress pads, hung from the shoulders by blanket ribbon, to bulk out the suits…  Nevertheless I thought we looked pretty good – and I sewed the suits without a pattern, or rather I made my own pattern from pencil scrawls on taped together sections of the NY Times.  I thought the Lawyer Sis handled her prop brief well too.  The white canes adapted from sawn off Bo Peep crooks were inspired.)

We gathered at my brother-in-law’s brother’s house.  Since we lacked a Farmer’s Wife, his friend the Freudian Slip – who is in real life a bassoonist with the Seattle Opera – wielded the carving knife.

After mayhem we all went to Highway 99, a blues club in downtown Seattle where the brother-in-law’s brother had a gig (he’s a professional trumpet player).  I thought his girlfriend must be dressed as a groupie of some sort, or maybe a cocktail waitress, but she informed me that she was Marie Antoinette.

Osama Bin Laden – former principal trumpeter with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra – brought his own cocktail.

And the mice enjoyed a martini or two.

It was a lot of fun.  I’ve missed Halloween!


Poor neglected blog!  For any readers I might still have I will try to do a series of catch up posts soon…

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