Zut alors!

Mum once dropped a pile of plates and broke some. ‘Zut alors’ was her response, which roughly translates at the strength of  ‘bother’. She was never one to swear but zut alors became a family reaction when something bad happened.

Today as I was getting ready to meet a friend for lunch, I put my hand through my tights. Normally that would prompt a more forthright Anglo-Saxon response, but today was Mum’s birthday so I found myself saying ‘zut alors’ out loud and laughing. What’s a pair of holed tights in my current grand scheme of things?

Zut alors indeed.


Happy birthday Maman

It’s Mum’s birthday today – a year younger than the Queen. She’s had a good day at the nursing home- they made her a royal cake with a crown and she’s had lots of company and I skyped her tonight.

She used to love coming to London for her birthday and hearing the canons being fired in Hyde Park. Being French she took a particular pride in the Royal Family and was thrilled she shared a birthday with the Queen. The rest of us were republicans but it never stopped her admiration and the French family were always slightly in awe of the fact that they shared a birthday, a slightly insane reflected royal connection.

Joyeux anniversaire Maman.

Mind your language

I’m having dinner with a friend tonight who has also been seriously ill, but is now thankfully on the mend. We always greet one another with an ironic ‘You’re looking well!’ It’s a particular bugbear for both of us, as however rubbish you’re actually feeling, you have all agency taken away.

It’s also time we stopped using fighting  and battling vocabulary when talking about serious illness, particularly cancer. Too many obituaries talk about ‘a battle lost’ or ‘bravely fought’ and even support groups and organisations who should know better use the metaphors. It’s not a battle, your body is not the enemy. You happen to have a horrible disease and may well die. If you do, to use the fighting metaphors suggests somehow that you didn’t battle quite hard enough and if you had, you would still be with us.

We all do our best when diagnosed with a serious illness; often besieged by unhelpful advice, gruelling treatment and depression. I’m not a warrior in this situation, just me trying to survive as best I can.

So mind your language.

PS. Even I’ve fallen into the trap – yikes. I’m not ‘besieged’ (though that’s how it sometimes feels) – what about ‘overwhelmed’?

A dog and two questions

I’ve seen three films in the last week, I find the darkness of the screenings comforting, different from the overwhelming darkness that often envelops me. Just the images on screen and an hour and a half of peace.

I’ve always loved film, was even a  critic at one time and film has been woven into the tapestry of my life. ‘The Sound of Music’ is the first film I can remember, then teenage dates in cinemas where the smoke would drift across the auditorium. The Cinematheque in Paris, the European heart of film fandom, where a film would mistakenly be run in German with Swedish subtitles and no one would leave. The art house cinemas in Paris and Nimes. Turning up with Mum at a small village cinema in Provence, both of us having forgotten to bring money. ‘Ah pay me tomorrow’, said the lady on the kiosk. We did of course and the film was rubbish but we couldn’t leave.

So the dog is Midnight Special – a film with a lot of unfulfilled potential. Boy has special powers and being chased by FBI and various others. But there’s no substance or message to the film and no depth. Perhaps the worst of many bad moments is when the space ship lands (echoing Close Encounters) – but it looks like a cross between a shopping mall and a hundred storey car park. This is all the smart aliens could come up with?

Two questions – Victoria and Anomalisa. Came out of both with my companion asking – was that a good film or a dog? Victoria (one take and the lead actor playing Victoria is tremendous) just went on forever and the first half hour could have been cut (my companion fell asleep) then the adrenalin surged for a while with the heist but it was all a bit disappointing. Anomalisa – great animation, poor narrative. Mid-life crisis of predatory bloke at a conference.

So a dog and two questions.

But top three so far this year are :

Hail Caesar (seen it twice and laughed like a drain)

Room – astonishing

Rams – Icelandic and poignant.




Clinging to the wreckage

Today it feels as though I’m clinging to the wreckage of my life. The strong foundations of health, work, family home, faith, confidence in the future have all been swept away and I’m left at sea.

I’ve lashed together a liferaft from what’s left – the support of friends being the main thing keeping me afloat. Along with the Times cryptic crossword, the odd film, reading, sitting in the garden, …and I struggle to find anything else to add to the list. Seems pretty precarious in the current mountainous swells – one more big wave could just overturn me.

Another hospital appointment and I realise I have to add the kindness of the medical profession.

So still just about clinging to the wreckage.

Slow listening movement

Morning of chores – post office, bank and chemist before coffee with a good friend. Outside the bank an elderly lady I’ve never met, with a stick, stops me to chat, saying, ‘what are we like with these sticks.’ She tells me about her bad arthritis and how hard it is for her to walk. Then that she misses her husband of thirty eight years who died last year and how hard it is to continue on without him. How he’d come in from work and would make her a cup of tea. It’s the small things one misses she says. ‘Bye love, see you again.’ And then off she goes.

I don’t much like using a stick, don’t like the sympathy glances and the disabled label. I’ve just got a very bad knee, get over it. But I realise that she would never have engaged me in conversation and been able to talk about her sadness and distress without my stick and that’s a good thing.

Not that I want everyone in the neighbourhood with a stick to start telling me their woes – although it occurs to me that I could start a slow listening movement (like the slow food people).

But just today I’m pleased that she felt able to open her heart. And that I didn’t need to talk about my stuff.

And a delightfully handsome Italian held the door open for me in the bank.

Welcome crack of dawn

Today I was up at 7.15 as I had an appointment with a counsellor which needed a change of trains. The darkness is beginning to overwhelm me as the emotions catch up with the events of the past months and it seems both urgent and sensible to talk things through with someone.

Although my morning routine now takes twice as long, it was wonderful to switch on the radio, eat breakfast, shower and get dressed, all in sync with the working world.

The travelling meant I was bang in rush hour and I was a bit nervous about travelling through a main line station. But it was delightful to be just one of the crowd, remembering to look at feet as a quick way to navigate through the stream. I even enjoyed the second, crowded train with standing room only, which I just made. A very efficient young woman saw my stick and fixed a seated passenger in the eye, ‘I’m sure this young man will give you his seat.’ Which he duly did, no one could resist that gimlet look.

I was early for my appointment and stopped for a coffee. ‘Bom dia’ said the young woman, mysteriously assuming I was Portuguese. The coffee was great, but even more wonderful was the sweet taste of normality. Just another commuter on her way to work.