A Donkey in the Drawing Room

Thirty years ago our son, Joe, had an exchange visit with a French lad, Paul. The boys kept in touch for around five years then communication lapsed, although I remained in Christmas card contact with Paul’s parents.

When Paul’s father died, I felt guilty we’d not been to see them for so long – there was a standing invitation to their family home near Grenoble. So we made the effort; there was a reunion this summer.

The large, almost-chateau they live in accommodated Joe, his wife, Vic, and their three boys, together with Tony and me with no problem. It has the dilapidated grandeur of a home that has been in the family for years, possibly centuries. Huge, elaborate pieces of furniture sit side-by-side with bits and pieces of the modern world.  It was a continual surprise to see if anything came out of the hot water tap. And the tangle of electrical wires would have sent Health and Safety into a panic. It all added to the charm.

Christine's home
Christine’s home
dav
…in its grandeur

Christine, Paul’s mother, offered us aperitifs in the large drawing room before lunch. French windows were open on two sides of the room but it was too hot to sit outdoors. The nose of a donkey peeped in. They have many animals among which are two donkeys, gentle, friendly beasts who like human company. Normally they remain in their paddock but when there are children around, they are allowed to wander up to the house, as entertainment. The boys were thrilled.

dav
The guilty donkey

After some delightful Sangria, we moved into the adjacent dining room. Christine was serving her homemade gazpacho when there was a horrendous crash. Paul went to investigate. He came back shrugging his shoulders as only the French can do and laughing. One of the donkeys had entered the drawing room, skidded on the polished wooden floor and fallen. Paul sorted out the problem. No-one seemed bothered. Vic could barely contain her hysterics. She whispered to me, ‘This is surreal!’

Much wine flowed with the main course, cheese and dessert (in that order, of course). There was no question of helping to clear up afterwards. The staff did that. We were expecting to wander around the estate after lunch – it is truly an estate, acres of it – but there was a surprise planned. Paul offered to take us up in his smaller plane (he has two). He gained his licence twenty-five years ago, the youngest pilot in France at the time, and has been flying ever since.

Paul’s plane

Tony and I went up with him first. My fears of air-sickness were happily unfounded as we did a twenty-minute tour of the area, passing low enough over the house to see the boys in the outdoor swimming pool. I saw one of them wave. Joe and Vic went up next, a trip to Alpe d’Huez where they stopped for a drink before returning. Both Tony and Joe had been allowed to take the controls for a while in the plane.

Such generosity! We’d all had a wonderful treat. Vic’s face was a picture of stunned amazement. She could not believe what was happening and the world she was in.

Paul invited us to aperitifs at the home he shares with his partner, Sandrine, before dinner back at Christine’s Domaine. It was another delightful place, an old family home and barn on land they owned, tastefully restored with a new swimming pool in a natural garden surrounded by mountains. It made the view from our garden in England pretty insignificant.

Eating dinner outside at a granite table in a perfect temperature finished the evening. We spoke in a mixture of French and English that worked well. My French started to disintegrate with the wine – champagne with the dessert finished it off. But we communicated and that was what mattered. Paul and Joe decided they must not lose touch again and were discussing Paul visiting later in the year. He would come by plane – his own, of course.

We left the following morning after breakfast, one of the dogs having stolen much of the brioche.  Christine said she hoped we would return again next year.

I expect we shall.

Ups and Downs

 Walking the northern part of the Cotswold Way.

Pam and Martyn; Tony and Linda.

June 2017.

 

We thought it would be relatively easy after the Coast-to-Coast walk. Around fifty miles on five days, no day longer than twelve or thirteen miles. Easy to be seduced by numbers.

None of the hills is as high as in the Lake District; there is no rocky clambering. But we went up and down a lot. All four of us noticed that.

We decided to travel to and from the walk by train and bus – it solved the parking problem – and ate a picnic lunch on the way there. Tony managed to lose a crown while munching. Not totally lose it – we wrapped it in cling film only slightly smeared with mayonnaise from the sandwiches to keep it safe. There must be a dentist somewhere along the Cotswold Way who could glue it back in.

While enjoying the fruits (or rather the cakes) of a coffee shop in Chipping Camden, we investigated dentists. After some googling, Tony booked an appointment in Winchcombe for two days hence.

While sorting out our rucksacks ready for the start of the walk, we had a major triumph. Our spare car keys, missing since April, turned up in a deep, zipped pocket. As they would have cost around £400 to replace, I announced at dinner we were now £400 better off! We didn’t, however, buy a bottle of best Bordeaux.

The start of the walk in Chipping Camden
The start of the walk in Chipping Camden

The pattern of the days established itself. Was there anywhere we could stop for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea? Pam was on the case and found us somewhere every day.  The walk started on June 8th – the election – and we saw folks going to the polls. The result gave us plenty to talk about the following day. When we had enough breath, that is. Martyn had been complaining about his balls. The balls of his feet, I should add. Changing to a different pair of boots did the trick and he was fine.

It was a shorter day and we felt good.  Luckily we got to the B & B in Winchcombe just before the torrential rain arrived. Our son, Tim, who lives near, picked us up and we had a lovely evening and dinner with him and Jessi. Idris, their one-year-old, had been sick that day but we said we’d risk it.

We were now a further £90 better off. The dentist’s receptionist had phoned to say the cost of replacing the crown would be £90. Tony was not in pain so he cancelled. His own dentist, who fixed the crown in the first place, would do the job for nothing. The money was mounting up!

We needed to order the following morning’s breakfast. I asked for a bacon sandwich.

‘What’s that?’ The landlady replied. ‘I’ve never made one.’

Not sure if this makes her posh or deprived. She made an attempt for me but I suggest she doesn’t try again.

The view from Cleeve Hill

It was Cleeve Hill the next day. Windy but what views over Cheltenham! There was a double marathon coming towards us – some runners doing it in one day, some in two. Had a coffee and chips at the Cleeve Hill Golf Club – very naughty! Felt we shouldn’t complain about tiredness after seeing marathon runners. Puts distances into perspective. Lovely stop overnight at Detmore House in Charlton Kings. It wins our award for the best B & B of the walk.

Encouragement – for the marathon runners!

Day four and a lot of ups and downs. A group of Charity walkers came towards us, totally shattered, having started at midnight and still with miles to go. Such admiration! The final climb up to Birdlip seemed to go on forever and I wasn’t feeling great. No details, but Idris’s bug got me. However, missing a meal always has its positive side if I lose a pound or two.

Final walking day – and I felt well enough to do it. It was the day of the mud. Rain, which we’d mostly missed, and the pounding of marathon runners’ feet had churned up the path making it hard going. We plodded on, the end in sight. We passed both the bottom and the top of Cooper’s Hill where the famous cheese rolling takes place. It’s steep!

mde
Cooper’s Hill Notice

Finally, pretty Painswick with its churchyard with ninety-nine yew trees. Legend says the hundredth will never grow.

Yew trees in Painswick churchyard

We thanked Martyn for carrying the unused trowel the whole way (if you’re caught short, you have to bury it…) Celebrated our achievement with a bottle of bubbles – only Prosecco, in spite of the financial gains of the last few days!

A super walk – now planning the southern part …

 

 

F is for (Un)Fair

The school trip – a fairground. So exciting! Mum had a chat with me about what rides I could go on.

‘Roundabouts are fine. Even the grand ones with the horses that go up and down. But not the big wheel, the bumper cars or anything dangerous. If you do, I’ll find out.’

‘But all the others will go on them.’

‘I don’t care what the others do.’

She gave me one of her looks.

‘Those rides are dangerous. We didn’t have you by accident and don’t want to lose you by accident.’

 

I didn’t dare go on the big wheel; I was the only one who didn’t. Even Mr Green, our teacher, went on it. I didn’t go on the bumper cars either. Fortunately my friend, Christine, watched with me. I bought her a candy floss. For my mother, I bought an embroidered handkerchief in a box with a cellophane lid. It cost one and sixpence; it was beautiful.

Mum questioned me when I got home, looking intently to detect signs of lying.

‘Are you sure you didn’t go on the bomber or anything that spins you round? And no big wheel?’

‘No, really I didn’t.’

I gave her the present and she beamed.

‘You’re a good girl. I’m proud of you.’

The righteous feeling was a poor substitute for the fun of the fair. I didn’t mention they’d all called me a baby. Mr Green told them not to but I could tell he thought it silly to go to the fair and just watch. I got this sick feeling inside whenever the memory came back to me.

Years later, as a teenager, I made up for lost time and resolutely rode on everything. All of the exciting rides made me feel sick. Funny how things turn out.

The Challenges of Iceland

‘Is this the bus to Hotel T10?’

‘No. This bus goes to Hafnafjörður Hotel. Get on it.’

‘So this is the right bus for Hotel T10?’

‘If I take your luggage and tell you to get on the bus, you get on the bus.’

This was our somewhat curt introduction to Rekjavik, Iceland. We rode to the unpronounceable hotel. No-one seemed to know where our bland-sounding hotel was. Turned out you could see it if you looked the right way.

It was a block. T10 was written in huge letters on its side. Fortunately, it was more attractive inside. It would do for the three days we had in the country. We wandered out to find somewhere to eat. There was little choice. We were in the suburbs, a bleak, flat area with no trees and no style. A Taco-style bar fed our needs.

Back in the hotel, we abandoned the television as it had three channels only, one in Icelandic, one in German and a cartoon channel. Perhaps we were in a black spot for reception.

Our plans for an early trip into Reykjavik the following day were hampered by it being Sunday. The first bus wasn’t until nearly 10am so we wandered around in the cold by the bus-stop. It would have been useful to have a bus timetable provided, to know in advance no change is given on buses and that there was a 50% reduction for seniors. A kindly American staying at our hotel paid for us and we reimbursed him later. An expensive ride otherwise.

Rekjavik was another, better world. A mixture of old and new buildings, trees, green areas and a decidedly more pleasant environment. We loved it. The modern, plain cathedral was beautiful and the Concert Hall a joy. Our guide, an opera singer, sang us an old Icelandic song in one of the corners just to show how good the acoustics were.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral
The magnificent Concert Hall
The magnificent Concert Hall

We had lunch in an excellent local restaurant called ‘Fish’. No prizes for guessing what we ate.

'Fish' restaurant

In the evening, we went on a Northern Lights Mystery Tour. The mystery was whether or not we’d see the Northern Lights. We set off in the rain with little hope. But we saw them – at around 1am. However, numerous people set up tripods and eagerly photographed moving clouds before the real thing appeared. (We were a bit smug as we’d seen the Lights before, in northern Norway!) It was a good display, worthy of the whoops of joy it generated and the extremely late night.

The following day, it really was Iceland. There was no snow in the hotel area but there was sheet ice. Crampons would have been useful to walk the short distance to the bus. I had visions of discovering how good A & E was in the local hospital. We were heading for a round trip to see some of the sights.

First we went to Pingvellir where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating at the Continental Divide. Serious geology! It’s also where the Declaration of Independence from Denmark was signed in 1944, an important place for the Icelandic. On to the waterfall, Gullfoss, where there was snow, ice and extreme wind. Staying upright was a challenge. Oh, for the crampons!

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

And then to the Geysir area. Steam was rising from the ground all around us. The original Geysir was not erupting but Strokkur spouts around every eight minutes, a cascade of warm water and small stones.  Impressive.

Strokkur erupting
Strokkur erupting

Luckily everyone speaks English. Icelandic is an odd Nordic language. It’s complicated and has its own rules, pronunciation, grammar – and a few additional letters. I hoped to understand a little as I speak Norwegian (badly), but apart from a few words I was lost.

It was a short, enjoyable Travel Zoo trip. Just a taster. A good way to get a feel for the country, an expensive place with friendly people (in spite of our initial impression!) I’d love to see more.

Pharmaceutical Journal review of A Taste of His Own Medicine

Protagonist exacts revenge in this fascinating pharmacy fiction title

The Pharmaceutical Journal8 FEB 2017By Andrew Haynes

A surprisingly good read featuring a pharmacist with an axe to grind against fellow students from her undergraduate days.

A taste of his own medicine, by Linda Fawke. Pp 264 Price £7.99. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2016. ISBN 978 1 539695097

This is a debut novel by a retired industrial pharmacist. When asked to critique it, I was not expecting much, since I have, in the past, been generally underwhelmed by pharmacist fiction. But this time I was pleasantly surprised.

The novel’s central character, Kate, is a successful community pharmacist who has built up a small chain of pharmacies. Although now in her early 50s, she still harbours grievances from her time as an undergraduate. When invited to a 30-year reunion weekend, she decides to go along and wreak vengeance on those who had slighted her when they were students together.

The action cuts smoothly back and forth between events at the reunion and the incidents that bruised Kate as a student. Her complex personality gradually unfolds — and darkens — as the narrative progresses. Her vindictive schemes do not go entirely to plan, and the book has an unexpected ending that sets the scene for a planned sequel.

The blurb on the cover describes the novel as “darkly humorous”. It certainly has its dark moments, but I did not find much humour in it. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read that held my attention to the end.

Unlike other pharmacist novels I have reviewed, this book has clearly gone through a proper proofreading process. Unless you are the sort of pedant who insists on “focused” rather than “focussed”, the novel is pretty much free from spelling and typographical errors, at least until the last few pages.

By the way, Fawke does not name Kate’s alma mater, but the description of the pharmacy department past and present reminded me of the University of Nottingham. An online check showed that the author is herself a Nottingham graduate, so presumably some of the plot — although I hope not the grimmer parts — is based on her own experience.

References:

A taste of his own medicine, by Linda Fawke. Pp 264 Price £7.99. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2016. ISBN 978 1 539695097

 

Another review from Rosie Amber’s Review Team

A Review by E.L.Lindley:

 

A Taste of his own Medicine by Linda Fawke is a romance with a decidedly dark twist. The plot sees us crisscross from the 1970s to the present day and Fawke does a good job of drawing us in with her intriguing tale of revenge.

 

This is a novel with a lot to recommend, in particular Fawke’s attention to detail and the way she creates a vivid picture of university life in the early 70s. The main character Kate Shaw is a pharmacist and former member of the “class of 75” and Fawke cleverly constructs her story around Kate’s experience at university and the 30 year anniversary reunion of her class. Fawke effectively highlights how universities were changing and becoming more inclusive and accessible to people from lower socio-economic classes and all of the tensions that came with that.

 

Fawke also uses her eye for detail to create characters that we all recognise such as the tight-fisted scrounger, lecherous womaniser and pompous, self-aggrandizing oaf. My main stumbling block with the novel, however, is that the negative characters are relentless and there are no positive characters to offset them.

 

There’s no doubting that Fawke is a talented writer and she writes assuredly with total control over her story which is told almost exclusively in 3rd person narrative. There are a couple of paragraphs where Fawke switches to 1st person and although I understand her reasoning for this, for me it jarred with the rest of the story.

 

Kate Nash who drives the story is a 50 something successful workaholic with a string of pharmacies and enough money to afford an affluent lifestyle. This is in contrast to her humble beginnings when she was the first member of her family to go to university and her unworldliness is reflected in the fact that she’s shocked when she sees a gay couple and isn’t used to eating out or big city life. The diversity of university is a shock to Kate but instead of immersing herself into it she focuses totally on work. Essentially Kate is not a likeable character, dismissing other students as “a waste of space” and anything less than a First as failure.

 

We warm to Kate slightly when she begins a student romance with her polar opposite, the unreliable, easy going, part-time male model, Jonathan Carson. However, when the romance invariably doesn’t last, Kate seems to become totally unhinged. To such an extent that 30 years later, despite having been married for over 20 years, she is still harbouring a toxic grudge which goes on to encompass everyone else she feels did her wrong at university.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the main problem I had with the novel was the overwhelming set of unpleasantly selfish characters. There is no moral compass to give the self-destructive revenge plot any context. There are a couple of characters who initially seem to be positive and honest but by the end even they become embroiled in selfish, disloyal behaviour.

 

What for me might have made the characters easier to relate to would have been the use of 1st person and maybe multiple viewpoints. This might have helped give some humanity to the characters, particularly Kate, who I think the reader really needs to connect with in some way.

 

My favourite parts of the novel are the sections at the reunion which reflect all the humour and farce that tend to go hand in hand with these kinds of functions. There are lots of comic moments in Fawke’s description of the goings on and this did serve to detract from the unpleasantness of Kate’s behaviour.

 

All in all, I think if you like a dark romance and enjoy stories of revenge, scheming and intrigue then you will get a lot out of A Taste of his own Medicine. I suspect that I just didn’t connect with it in the way that other readers might. And, as always with reviews, it’s merely a personal response and I look forward to reading what other readers make of this well written tale of settling scores.

#BookReview A Taste of His Own Medicine by Linda Fawke #Tuesdaybookblog #RBRT 

Very happy with this independent review!

Ajoobacats Blog

I chose this book to read fromRosie Amber’s Book Review Team book list.

A tantalising thriller about the reunion of a group of pharmacology graduates who meet after thirty years, but Kate, a flying student who was once top of the class has revenge in mind for those who wronged her years ago. However, will revenge go to plan and will the secrets from student day emerge once again?

This book became more gripping as I read and ended on quite a cliff-hanger, what I really wasn’t expecting was how dark the characters are and how malevolent parts of this story was to read. I’m really hoping there’s a second book soon as I can’t wait to see how the story ends.

With twists turns and revelations galore there is rarely a dull moment in this page-turner.

Links To Book:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

View original post