All posts by Sue

Voluntarily into the vampire’s nest

The most annoying thing about going for blood tests is having to set the alarm earlier than usual.  As a rule, our alarm wakes us at 07:55 (tablets to take, you know) with, if we’re lucky, some soothing music followed by the news in French.  If we’re not lucky, it’s raucous music followed by the news in French.  This second possibility, of course, means that one of two things will happen: either a) we will switch off the alarm tout suit and fall straight back to sleep or b) we will switch off the alarm tout suit and actually get up.

The reason for resetting the alarm on a Blood Test Day is that the nurse is only at the health centre for thirty minutes, from 09:00 – 09:30.  Well, that’s what it says on the hours poster; it’s more like guidelines, really.  She could turn up any time between 09:15 and whenever.  All the hopefuls arrive before nine, as there are frequently quite a few people needing the service and it’s first come – first served.  Sometimes, a rueful patient will look at their watch but we all know she’ll arrive when she gets there and nothing will help this along.

So, yesterday, we duly set our alarms for Blood Test Day, rose, showered, dressed and had breakfast.  The observant amongst you will have twitched; blood test + food = no can do.  Well, I had briefly considered that but there were those in my family (who will not be the font of knowledge in the future) who assured me that fasting isn’t necessary any more, as the tests can take account of that.  Add to this the fact that the doctor hadn’t specifically reminded me to fast and they frequently do because … well … people are stupid.  We went, tummies full, to the health centre and sat in the waiting room, two people ahead of me.  The room filled up quickly and, as expected, Nurse was fashionably late.  Just before she ushered #1 into her den, I nipped in and showed her the list of tests the doctor had requested.  I should have listened to my inner voice instead of filling my inner self with food.

This morning, same routine almost exactly, although the Nurse (a different one) was unfashionably late and my tummy was growling.  Good thing I had taken the banana, which was to be consumed almost as soon as I left.  I have a tiny, invisible-to-the-naked-eye hole in my arm and slightly less blood.  Hopefully, it will be a while before my next visit to the Vampire’s Nest.

White feathers on the carpet

Without a doubt, the last thing that Arlene expected was an angel in her living room.  She had just known, instinctively, that it was an angel, even though it hadn’t arrived in a flash of light or a peal of thunder and there were no scorch marks anywhere.  Just – now you don’t see it, now you do.  There it was between her and the TV, particularly annoying as she was in the middle of her favourite soap.  For what seemed like a long time, she looked at the angel and the angel looked at her.  Not a word was spoken and the only movement was a small amount of embarrassed hand fidgeting on both sides.  In those couple of minutes, Arlene took stock of her uninvited guest.

The angel appeared to be female although, as far as Arlene knew, they were without gender.  ‘She’ was quite pretty and reminded Arlene of someone she went to school with.  Perhaps they take on the appearance of someone you know to make you feel more comfortable.  It wasn’t working.  ‘She’ had long, blond hair and piercing blue eyes, a ‘perfect’ figure and was wearing a nondescript shift that – in spite of its lack of shape – showed that figure to good advantage.  The only thing missing, Arlene now realised, was the presence of any wings.  Shouldn’t there be wings?

“I’ll call you ‘Angel’,” Arlene said suddenly aloud and without imagination.

Angel didn’t respond.

“So,” Arlene went on, “can I help you with something?”

Still no response.  More uncomfortable silence.  Now Arlene was full-body fidgeting.  She didn’t want to upset or – more importantly – annoy Angel, but she was getting bored and her favourite TV programme had almost finished.  She’d have to watch the omnibus on Sunday to find out what Matt said to Diane that made her cry.

This new silence was stretching too far.  Just as Arlene thought she would have to try again to make conversation, she heard a voice in her head.

“The Word.”

Arlene stared, open-mouthed.

“Excuse me?” she asked, out loud as she didn’t trust that the telepathy would work both ways..

“The Word.” came back the voice in her head.

Arlene thought about what Angel had said – twice – and tried to make sense of it.  Without success.

“Why are you here?” she demanded, less conciliatory than before.  “What do you want?”

“The Word.”  There was a little wobble in the voice this time.

“Which word?  I know so many?”

Before Angel could say her mantra again, there actually was a flash of light and a peal of thunder although, mercifully, the carpet remained unscathed.  Standing before Arlene now were two angels, one looking like an old school friend and the other looking like – well – an angel, complete with the most magnificent pair of wings imaginable.  Finally, thought Arlene.  The second angel also spoke to her inside her head but it was with more authority and, thankfully , made sense.

“Child, we have to apologise for this misunderstanding.  Our dear Sister, here, is a trainee and eager.  A little too eager.  Her instructor – me – was explaining about how one of our jobs is to go to Earth and impart The Word.  I suspect I have no need to continue.  We shall now depart and continue our dear Sister’s education, which will include staying in the class until it is over.”

And they were gone.  On the TV, the credits were rolling and, on the carpet, there were two white feathers.

The Bench – Twins

Being a twin can be a blessing or a curse.  Sometimes, you get along well and you always have a companion.  You almost think each other’s thoughts and enjoy doing the same things, playing the same games, reading the same books.  Some twins have even been known to develop a secret language – with or without actual words – and can communicate in a world known only to themselves.  These are blessed children, indeed.

Then, there’s the other side of the coin.  The two children who are actually nothing like each other.  They may – or not – look exactly the same, but their characters, likes and dislikes are almost exactly opposite.  They hate being in each other’s company, perversely dislike whatever the other likes and are, generally, the bane of their parents’ lives.

Two such children were Althea and Carmen.  They were girls, identical in looks but oh so very different as people.  They were both pretty and admired as babies but, as they grew, their personalities began to affect their faces.  Althea was sweet-natured and kind.  Her face was always serene and relaxed, with a slight smile in the corners waiting to burst out.  Everyone liked her from the first moment; Carmen said once that she thought Althea bewitched people – literally.  Carmen, on the other hand, was jealous.  Of everything about Althea.  She was jealous of her ability to charm people,  She was jealous of the fact that Althea found it easier to learn the piano.  She was jealous of the fact that her puppy loved her, whilst Carmen’s ran away into corners to be as far from her as possible.  Before long, Carmen’s jealously had twisted her character and her face.  People used to find it difficult to tell the girls apart but no longer.

And so it was that Carmen decided to take Althea to the park and let her have a little ‘accident’.  At the age of fifteen, she was all too unnaturally aware of the different ways someone could die without it looking deliberate.  There was a deep lake in the park and she was grateful for the fact that swimming was something that her sister could not do better than she could.

Their mother was overjoyed when Carmen suggested going to the park for a walk, even though it was already toward evening.  Perhaps things were improving, she hoped.  It was quite cold, so Carmen persuaded Althea to wear her big, woollen coat.  No point in catching a chill.  They also decided to take the dogs, although Carmen’s had to be persuaded.  They were waved off by their mother and she breathed a hopeful sigh as she turned, closed the door and returned to preparing the evening meal.

Carmen sat on the bench in the growing mist.  She wanted to go home.  She hated her sister and her stupid dog.  She hated her own dog; useless thing liked Althea more than he liked his own mistress.  Perhaps that was why he had jumped at her as she had moved to hit Althea over the head with a branch.  Perhaps that was why he had run in front of her as she chased Althea along the side of the lake, and why he had, seemingly, tripped her up with his lead.

The pain in her head, where she had hit the corner of the bench arm, didn’t hurt any more and, luckily, she had stopped feeling cold, even though she had left her coat at home.

The Bench – Spot


Not an original name, Spot, but it suited him perfectly.  The little cross-breed was completely white except for one, teacup-sized black spot on his left flank.  It made him look as though he had a portal to another galaxy in his side, or an eye without the iris.  His small, slightly pointed face seemed to always have a smile on it and he had a twinkle in his eye.  Throw a ball and you could be sure that Spot would rush off and return it to you, whether you wanted him to or not.  Bring out a brush and he would immediately be on the floor, waving his paws in the air and anticipating the bliss to come.  If there were children about, he was the gentlest soul you could imagine, allowing them to do things that other dogs would repay with a nip or a full-blown bite.

And yet here he was, sitting by the bench in the park, waiting to be taken home.  He waited there every night, as this was when he was first left there.  He waited with his tummy growling and a wild thirst in his mouth, because he knew that there would be food and water when he arrived home.  Big Master had  taken him from the puppy group when he had just left his mother.  It was cold outside and there were soft, white flakes on the outside ground.  He had been carried into the warm inside and handed to the Small People, who cuddled and fussed him until he was tired and fell asleep in his new bed.  Life was sweet for a while.  Big Mistress made sure that the Small People took him for walks to give him exercise and to the park to make sure he met other dogs. He was well fed and had a comfortable place to sleep.  The warm weather came and went and Spot was the happiest dog in the world.

After a while, the Small People weren’t so small and they had other things to do.  They couldn’t take him for walks.  Big Mistress was always busy in the house and couldn’t take him out either.  Big Master had never shown any interest in him from the day he brought him into the house.

Then one evening, Big Master made happy noises to Spot.  He fussed him and gave him treats, putting his lead on him and walking him out of the door.  At first, Spot thought he was going for a walk with Big Master for the first time ever, but they went to the car and Spot was lifted onto the back seat.  There was a  journey and the car stopped.  Spot was lifted out of the car, his lead and collar removed and he was told to ‘Sit’ by the bench.  He was an obedient dog and did so without complaint.  Big Master climbed back into the car and drove away.

So, here he sits, waiting to be collected.  His tummy had long since stopped growling and he felt no thirst.  Even though there was mist all around and the leaves were red, gold and brown, he wasn’t cold.  He wondered when the daylight would come back – perhaps that would bring someone.

The Bench – Ava

Ava slid into her usual place on the bench.  She and the bench were good friends.  It was her favourite place in the park and she objected if she couldn’t be alone.  She liked the peace of that particular corner of nature and it was the perfect place to think.  Even though it was on a path, few people went along this one and it was rare that she was disturbed.  Somehow, when the sun went down and the night-time animals were about, that was the best time of all.

She couldn’t remember why she preferred this time of day; it wasn’t something she dwelt on.  It was enough for her that she did.  She sat and watched a small rabbit, separated from his warren-mates, move tentatively across the open space in front of her.  She had difficulty remembering her own family; it was a long time since she had been in contact.  She wondered how they all were.

She watched the mist swirl round her and mused that it was a good thing she had her coat on.  It always seemed to be like this when she came to the bench.

She looked down at the small suitcase beside her and tried to remember what was in it.  Clothes, of course, and some toiletries, but what else?  Funny – she’d only packed it earlier that day.  She couldn’t remember what was in it, no matter how she tried.  Was her memory fading?  Ridiculous!  She was still young.  Memory loss didn’t happen to people of her age.

A man walking his dog came into view along the path.  Ava hoped he wouldn’t come past her but she was out of luck.  As he came closer, the dog sniffed around the bench and her feet but, thankfully, didn’t try to jump up at her.  The man walked quickly passed and didn’t even respond to her “Good evening”.   People are so rude.

A sudden memory leapt into her head.  They did, sometimes,  This one was of a similar time at the bench but it was very faint.  She saw herself, as though through another person’s eyes, sitting there.  Just like now.  With her suitcase full of things she couldn’t remember.  She heard a noise behind her and felt a pain in the side of her head, then nothing.  Strange, how your memory can play tricks on you.

She wondered if Callum would ever arrive; she was bored now.

Light was beginning to appear in the sky.  As the shadows crept across the grass, the bench was empty once again.  Until the night returned.

The Bench

Without a doubt, this was the most beautiful place in the park.  The trees were different heights, different colours and had different characters.  Yes, the trees had characters.  Some were upright and sturdy, some were bowed and conciliatory looking.  Others spread as far as they could, attempting to take over any available space.  The grass was usually a deep shade of green, except when it was covered in snow and, even then, it glistened like stars, so you didn’t mind.  The single path that wound its way through the trees was a pale grey and contrasted well with nature’s colours.

Beside the path stood a lone bench.  Made of wood, in the typically functional style of the urban park, it offered the ambler a place to rest before carrying on to further delights.  It gave you an uninterrupted view of the green, brown, yellow and red foliage which swayed, hypnotising you into a peaceful state.  Plain as it was, no-one would call it ordinary.  Lovers would sit there, planning their future or making up from the argument of a few hours before.  Children would stop there with their parents to take a drink that was always carried in that huge bag that one of them had over their shoulder, or to work up some new energy before rocketing off along the path to a new adventure.  Couples, or friends, of advanced years would lower their aching bones onto the forgiving wood, giving their joints a chance to recover before making the effort to reach the car park and their ride home.  Teenagers would gather round and on it to hold their meeting, in which little was discussed and nothing was resolved – just a sense of camaraderie prevailed.

And in the night?  Who knew?  Lost children, who had wandered, unfound, for years – perhaps centuries – in an effort to locate whoever had left them there without realising.  Dogs, taken to a place far from their home and left to fend for themselves, but ever returning to that place in the hope that they would be remembered.  The lover who had anticipated a rendezvous in order to run away to the perfect life, only to be disillusioned and left to pine away.

That bench knows things.  The wood in it keeps a thousand, thousand secrets,

It’s that time of year again

March is not my favourite month.  It used to host two birthdays – mother and grandmother – and has Mothering Sunday, or Mothers’ Day, in it.  My grandmother left us a very long time ago so the pain has subsided but not gone.  Mum’s birthday,  which has just gone, is more difficult.  My dear sister, who feels the same way, wondered why her birthday is so much more difficult to get through than the date of mum’s passing.  I think I know.

Once a year, we are reminded that a very special person is no longer with us and that this is the date she left.  However, that is relatively recent in terms of our whole lives.  Birthdays were another thing.  From the moment that we were able to understand, we were making or buying cards and presents to give to her.  Every year was a renewed flurry of finding a suitable card and a new way to surprise her with a gift; whether it was adorning her with a pair of earrings in her preferred marcasite or taking her out for a meal at her favourite eatery, it would always give us as much pleasure as it gave her.  Years and years of that are very difficult to brush away along with the tears.

Mothers’ Day is as bad, in its own way.  There is so much advertising that it’s hard to turn a corner without seeing some ad that is encouraging you to buy chocolates, flowers or some other token that you should have been thinking about all year, if she matters that much to you.

So, after all this time, I have decided to turn my dread of the month into a celebration.  This is the last year I will look at the Mothers’ Day cards and wish I had someone to send one to.  It’s the last year I will crawl up to her birthday and hold my breath until it’s passed.  It’s the last year I will wallow in the question of why she’s no longer here.  Instead I will take the opportunity to focus on the best she represented;  love, family, good values and strength, all of which she helped to instil in us, and which we have now (hopefully) instilled in our own families.  It has to be better that way.

Journey into a New Life – Part Twelve (Waking up)

After seven months, I finally have a routine – of sorts.  When we first arrived in France and started to settle into a new way of life, one of the things that was hardest to adjust was our waking up time.  It all started off well, with jumping out of bed at a reasonable hour (for retirees) and getting on with emptying out the boxes that were strewn all over the house.  Making the place presentable for our first visitors was paramount and we achieved most of what we wanted to do by the time they arrived on the doorstep in late October.  Not perfect but acceptable.  After that, the rot set in.  As we had done so much in the first couple of months, we had that invisible ‘Didn’t we do well’ sign hovering over our heads.  Jobs slipped and we suddenly realised that it was often midday before we actually managed to achieve anything that wasn’t heaving ourselves out of bed and having breakfast.

“Enough!” we cried.  It made sense to have some of the morning to do be able to go out in, since the shops almost all shut between twelve and two, and many – including our bank! – are closed on a Monday.  We quite liked having some time in the house and garden, as well, so we have actually started planning what to do; I have a list.  (I may have put one or two things on the list after I have done them, just so that I could cross them off.  Psychology is a wonderful thing!)

All this is well and good but, in order to do all these wonderful things, we have to be up and about.  To this end, an executive decision was taken.  Rather than ignoring the alarm and never putting it on unless we have to catch a ferry to the UK, we now have three different times set; Monday to Friday is 7.30 am, Saturday is eight o’clock and Sunday … the alarm is off!  Unless, of course, we have decided to go out for the day, in which case it will be set to go off but, probably, around eight-thirty.  This routine has been working well now, for a few weeks and we are able to get much more done.  (Having had some of my health issues sorted out had made a huge difference as well, but that’s another story.)

So. The alarm clock is not my master but my slave and I won’t let it forget that fact.

Where do we go from here …? Apologies to Joss Whedon

I am taking stock.  I want to see if I can be positive in the light of the events of the last six months.

I have lived in England, Italy and now France.  I have visited Scotland, Wales (separate countries even though they are part of the UK), France (in the past), Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia in Europe, and several States in the US on a road trip.  I have friends and relatives all over the globe.  I am a Citizen of the World.

Last June, I had to come to terms with a decision that would remove, from me and mine, the rights and opportunities that we have had for forty-three years.  We were able to move (almost) seamlessly to Italy when Hubby was offered a job in Milan.  We all benefited from reciprocal healthcare – an important factor with two small children.  The kids were accepted into school without any problems.  When we had to return to the UK (not our choice), we did that without bureaucratic problems, on the whole.  During the course of our renewed stay in England, we entered and left other European countries with great ease, giving our children further opportunities to expand their education (which is not just book learning!).  We will now – if the full might of the withdrawal from the EU actually comes to pass, in spite of the referendum only being advisory and a significant number of the electorate not voting for ‘Leave’ – have to look at the rest of Europe with totally different eyes and totter our way into its future.

In the last few months, we have had to adjust to another bombshell.  A man, who is as ill-suited to the ultimate position in a major country as a mud pie, has been elected to that very position.  I still have no idea how that happened, in spite of many friends attempting to explain it to me.  Regardless of any political affiliation, it should have been obvious to anyone with any sensitivity and intellect that this man is not a leader of men – or women.  With failed marriages and businesses behind him, utter contempt for a vast variety of social groups – including the one that makes up half the world’s population – and a suspicious unwillingness to declare his taxes, I wouldn’t trust him to clear the snow from my drive.  I sincerely want to hope that many of the people who voted for him were completely hoodwinked into thinking that they would be getting something else, although I fear that a significant number actually think the way that he does.  He does not, however, have a moral mandate to run the country (if I understand it correctly) if more people actually voted for the other Party than for him (not going into personal details here), whereas the Electoral College – afraid for their futures – toed the line and confirmed him as President.

The vast majority of the people I know are as incredulous as I am and we would like this to be a bad dream from which we can wake up – soon.  So, between the non-vote for the UK to leave the EU and the non-vote in the Presidential Election, where’s that positivity I was looking for?

Well, I know that there is a groundswell of people pushing against both of these issues, both inside government and outside it.    I know that there are more people who believe in all the liberties we have come to accept than those who are trying to erode or destroy them.  I know that there cannot be a future in which this autocratic form of government can once more become the norm.

I can’t be wrong.  I just can’t.

Journey to a New Life – Part Eleven (Hmmm…)

I’m not really sure how I feel about the subject of this blog.  On the one hand, it shows we are part of the village and included in its events; on the other hand, it reminds us of something that we have not yet admitted to – that we are an ageing couple.

This morning, there was a knock on the door) some people see the doorbell and some don’t) and, when I opened it, I was greeted by two smiling ladies wearing Santa hats.  They were each carrying shopping bags emblazoned with the name of one of the local supermarkets and  offered one to me, along with greetings for the season.  At first, I thought they were trying to sell me something and asked what it was they wanted to hand over into my care.  One of the ladies explained it was a gift from the commune to all the aînés (elders).  We are aînés as Hubby is over sixty-five.  I therefore smiled broadly, received the bag of goodies, exclaimed ‘Très gentil! (Very kind!) and took the bounty inside.

The bag contained a lovely selection of pâté, biscuits, brioche, chocolates, spiced bread, nibbles and – of course – a bottle of wine!  It is very warming to feel that we have not been left out, just because we’re newbies, although I suspect that no-one is omitted if they fall into any given category.

Bounteous gift due to our position as ‘elders’ in the village.

So – happy, because we have been included, or ambivalent, due to the implications of our advancing years?  Best to go with the positive for now and just enjoy the gift!