An unwelcome taste of the future

Friday and Mum is suddenly very poorly; unable to eat or even drink anything without vomiting. She has a high temperature and is very clammy. We spend the day trying to get her to drink in sips, but she vomits every time. The doc comes and says it could be one of any number of things, but prescribes anti-sickness pills and antibiotics if she doesn’t improve.

The worry is that she will get dehydrated, that will mean a drip in hospital, which would confuse and frighten her even more. I hold her hand and watch the Tour de France on silent and then a bit of Wimbledon. As the day passes she gets cooler but drifts in and out of sleep and her gaze is far away.

I wash my hands as much as possible, not wanting to pass this on if it is a bug, or indeed catch it myself. A cooling flannel seems to help, though her conversation rambles in and out of making sense.

She doesn’t have much strength or resilience these days and sitting by her bedside feels like an awful taste of the future.

Poor judgement

Thursday – I go down for my coffee in town before seeing Mum. A’s son is there and I ask after his dad. ‘He died shortly after you left yesterday.’ I sympathise and he shrugs his shoulders. I’m about to sit at another table, when something makes me stop and pay attention and I realise that he is, of course, quite distressed but unable to articulate his sadness. So I put my coffee down and he asks me whether he should tell his mother, B, who is also a resident, that her husband has died. He thinks it would be better to tell her the truth, but wants to know what I think. I tell him that she won’t remember and each time they tell her it will be like hearing it for the first time.

He then goes on to talk about his parents and his childhood and is quite tearful. I have misjudged him; what I took for coldness was diffidence. We have a conversation that dances round the sacred.


To see Mum last Wednesday. I arrive to be told by reception that two people on her floor have died since my last visit. One was H who was unable to speak or feed herself but had the most luminous smile that lit up her whole face. I sympathise with reception and they reply, much more sadly, that the rabbit has also died. The noticeboard announcement for the rabbit is much bigger than for the humans. English sentimentality about animals always takes me aback.

Up for lunch with Mum, who is on good form. A relative at the next table, in his sixties, is eating with his family. Mum nods disapprovingly at the fact that he has taken his socks and shoes off. He hears us speaking French and tries to engage,  mostly to tell us that he has had to interrupt  his holiday to come and visit his dying father. I sympathise but am told ‘it will be a deliverance’. Have not seen this man before in the year I have been visiting Mum. His father is the delightful A, who smiled charmingly and played the piano on any available surface.

We sit in the garden in the sunshine and watch the Tour de France on my tablet. Then we go down for a musical interlude with a singer straight from the clubs, with a good voice but rather annoying patter. A medley of Elvis, Vera Lynn, Tom Jones, etc follows. Three ladies in a row in large chairs, which are used to ferry them about as they are unable to walk and are pretty immobile and incommunicative, mouth the words to all the songs. Another lady gets up and dances with a carer and when I compliment her, she says rather wickedly, ‘ I used to love to dance…so many boyfriends.’

Mum plays along to the rhythm and smiles, we do a bit of wheelchair dancing. Then the singer plays ‘Unforgettable’.

The three ladies sing along, word perfect. I find myself in tears – they all have advanced dementia, but some things touch the cord of memory.


Still writing

Post arrived this morning with a pleasant surprise, especially for a writer. A royalty cheque! Now it won’t keep me in the extravagant lifestyle to which I’d like to become accustomed, but it was a timely reminder that writing is all I have ever wanted to do.

Ever since I was a nine-year-old and won a prize of a strawberry chocolate bar in a writing competition and realised for the first time that my great and pretty much secret passion in life could gain me just rewards. Nothing has ever tasted as sweet as that strawberry chocolate bar that I ate quietly and slowly on the bus. Even now when someone gives me a box of chocs, I always go for the strawberry cream first and it always recaptures that moment.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of watching someone read your prose. It’s happened to me several times on the tube; people reading my articles and even once or twice my books. Is that a twitch of the eyebrow, is that a smile? That was a definite nod at my wisdom!

So the royalty cheque reminds me that people are still buying and reading my books and that I should get on and write the next one.

Working again

A weekend working in Paris. Wonderful to be back in a city I lived in very happily for five years. Getting a cab to the studios, we pass the end of my old road and delightful memories come flooding back. Running to and from work (did I really do that!) through the oldest quartiers, shops opening on the way and closing on the way home. Walking along the river, catching sight of favourite views.
It’s like running into an old lover years later, when all that remains are the good memories and none of the arguments. You hug and are just pleased to see one another and a little wistful. The past is still there, but it’s not the same as the present.
Two long days of work is fine, I can manage, but know I’ll need a few days to recover. But oh it’s worth it to feel that old adrenalin running through the veins, discovering that I haven’t forgotten my trade and that I’m really rather good at this.
One of the few good things about having a stick is that it whizzes you through the queues. So I come off Eurostar to find a queue of about a hundred people waiting for a cab. A gendarme armed to the the teeth and straight out of central hunk casting, welcomes me to Paris and ushers me to the head of the queue, chatting aimiably.
Paris is full of heavily armed guards and there is a palpable feeling of anxiety, unlike London, where we are just as vulnerable. Something to be said for English phlegm ( as the French call it), not so much stiff upper lip as a stubborn refusal to live life differently.  Without the spitting.
As we go through security on the way back, another gendarme asks me if I can walk without my stick. I want to go full Simpson and say ‘duh’ but know better. I lean against the security. barrier while they test my stick. Then set off the alarms when I walk through with stick. Any metal bits or plates? I think, but no. He produces a magic searching wand which beeps when it gets anywhere near my ankles. He hums, I ha in a noncommital sort of way. I sense we are approaching removal of shoes time, not easy without a chair, or being unable to stand on one leg.  He prods both my ankles but finds no metal. He hums again, I lean heavily on my stick and he smiles and lets me through.
See you next year, says the French course leader. I do a momentary double take and realise she doesn’t know I’m ill. Next year is a long way off, I deal in quarterly bites between tests. But who knows? There’s a bitter sweet wistfulness as I look for Montmartre as we pull out of the station. It’s still there and so am I.

On the road again

Off to Paris for a few days for work and it’s remarkable how quickly the old habits return. I travelled all the time for work in the past and I click back into the efficient list of hotel, passport, money, connections, research for lectures etc.

The difference now is that I have to allow myself a lot more time than I used to and no more braving the metro and its long tunnels and endless steps. Taxis for me these days, which means I get to see the city I lived in so happily as I whizz through town. Plus the delight of speaking French all weekend.

I miss that world of work terribly so it’s heartening to dip my toes back in the water, especially doing something I’m really good at.

To Tesco for some supplies, the fridges aren’t working and there are notices everywhere apologising. Each one stuffed to the gills with spelling mistakes and a liberal sprinkling of inappropriate apostrophes. Where’s my red pen when I need it?

Zut alors!

Coughing and spluttering

When you’re seriously ill, it seems adding insult to injury to get the normal, everyday maladies. I’ve been laid low with a combo of hay fever and chest infection, coughing like a character out of Dickens. Today I ventured out to get a paper for the first time in several days and heard a weird, regular banging sound, like an old rusty boiler. I looked around but couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from, then realised it was my breathing.

Rest is the only solution, which is fine in the early days of high temperature (although I’m always on red alert these days for something more serious) but gets boring after a few days. I wrestled with the digital thermometer yesterday (just what you need when feeling really unwell) only to find I was completely normal.

My dear old immune system is not what it was, but is doing its best. I’m doing my best to feed it with bananas, cereals and scrambled egg on toast, with plenty of water. Tonight I might even venture a radish.

Not many of those in Dickens.