About Grace Lessageing

I am writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. I lead a creative writing group. I am an Ex infant teacher, living in Christchurch, Dorset, UK. My brand new novel, The Conways at Earthsend was published on January 28th 2021 can be found on Amazon, Waterstones, Hive and Goodreads and is available in either paperback or e-book versions. You can also read The Year of Familiar Strangers, available as an e-book from Amazon. You can visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Deans-Novellist-Short-Fiction-and-Blog-102757711838272 Happy reading!

Of Croissants and Campsites

After leaving Quiberon we moved on to Raguenes Plage, a tiny hamlet [‘hameau’] whose nearest notable towns would be scenic Pont Aven or touristy Concarneau, where we’ve been before, although all I could remember about Concarneau was falling off my bicycle into a nettle patch after an evening out…

On first sight, the campsite at Raguenes looks wonderful- and indeed it is as ‘luxurious’ as the ACSI book describes- beautifully laid out in gorgeous grounds, with a brand, spanking new indoor pool and an outdoor pool which is a work-in-progress. The showers etc are excellent and all seems great. We are welcomed by a jovial monsieur in an apron, wielding a spatula. He is caretaking the site on this Sunday while the reception staff have a day off. Not only is he pleasant and friendly but tells me I speak good French. He is multi-tasking by also preparing pizzas.

Here at Raguenes the spacious site is almost deserted and having selected our pitch we drive around to it and see only two other vans anywhere…

There isn’t a lot to the village; another site, a farm or two and private houses, although it’s picturesque, several of the old, stone houses having ancient wells in the garden or an old, outside bread oven.

It’s a short walk down the hill to the rocky shore and at low tide it is possible to clamber over the rocks to Raguenes Island, but best of all there is a coast path in both directions. The weather has turned overcast since we moved but will be fine for walking. There’s no shop, bar or boulangerie in Raguenes. Through the window of the site ‘takeaway’ behind the receptionist’s office I can clearly see two pains au chocolat, which is exactly what we would like with our coffee, but while we’ve ordered bread from site reception the woman manning the desk assures me that nothing else can be purchased unless we’ve pre-ordered it. Perhaps the pastries have been reserved by one of the two other units on site…

Perched above the rocky shore is a hotel/restaurant/cafe that may, or may not offer coffee. We wander down there. It’s quiet, but inside a conservatory a man sits using a computer and the door is open. Can we get coffee? Yes- and Bretonne style cake besides.

In the afternoon we stride out along the path towards Trevignon and despite the cloudy weather it is a great walk with lovely views and a carpet of dune-dwelling wildflowers and plants covering the sandy cliffs. Once we arrive at the tiny town there’s little to see and it’s bank holiday, but a couple of bar/cafes are open above the small marina. Then there’s nothing for it but to turn back and return via the same route. By the time we’re back the sun is out and as we pass the takeaway window I’m interested to see the two pains au chocolat still sitting on their plate, no doubt stale and inedible by now…

The following day is drizzly and we’re footsore from our walk so we unhook the van and take a trip to Pont Aven, nestling in a deep ravine and teeming with sightseers. We manage to find a parking spot and then must plunge down a steep hill to the centre. It’s an arty little town where Gaugin apparently went to school. Galleries abound as do gift shops, exploiting the arty vibe. The ‘pont’ is attractive, the river winding around the buildings, with a water mill wheel and a weir. We slog back uphill and have a last night at Raguenes Plage before moving on…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Back in the Swing of Things. France April 2022

We’ve chosen Conleau for our first site on this celebratory return to France, It’s just outside Vannes- near enough to walk in- and next to an estuary, a saltmarsh nature reserve. Across the road a popular beauty spot skirts the marina, overlooked by a couple of bars. It’s all bathed in sunshine for our first evening and we take a short walk then get a beer outside in the sun. An elderly man at the next table is eager to chat, which provides me with more French practice, and he with English…

The site is half full, mostly tourers, mostly French. There’s only one other British pair plus one or two other nationalities, which suggests that post-covid wandering is slow to get going. But I’m delighted that ‘turning up and booking in’ seems to be back on, as I’d worried we might never be able to be spontaneous ever again!

Next day we start out to walk around some of the estuary and discover that Vannes is not all that far, so continue on to the old city, walking along the river. In spite of all the modern architecture we’ve driven through to get to the site, the centre of the town is ancient and characterful with half-timbered buildings and cobbled streets. It’s full of tourists- again mainly French, and there’s a fair bit to see.

We’re a little weary and footsore and get a bus back almost to our site- except that the driver pulls up and turfs us off a couple of hundred yards before we get there.

We’re aiming to try and build back up to walking after our doses of Plague, so the following day we walk the other way, along the nature reserve, following one river.

It’s time to move on and we’ve opted for Quiberon, where we’ve stayed before on a few occasions. The site we opt for looks good and it’s near the sea, but although it is part of the same chain as Conleau its services are feeble. The showers, in spite of the new, modern building are feeble, the internet non-existent. The good news is we can walk into Quiberon town, which we do, along the seafront. All is just as we remember, including the ice-cream shop!

The coast around the Quiberon peninsula is scenic and rocky and the weather is fine, so it’s more walking, then on our second full day we plan to set off later, inspect the town and get a meal. We spend a lazy afternoon then head off, browsing the shops and getting a coffee. It takes a while to select a restaurant and it’s Saturday so many of them are ‘complet’. In the end I persuade Husband into the ‘Bistro du Port’ which he’d been convinced was a burger joint, but in spite of its unassuming exterior the restoranteur is enthusiastic and charming, welcoming us into his establishment, recommending dishes and engaging with us. The food is mostly seafood, fresh and delicious as you might expect in a port restaurant.

We walk back full and contented, and we’re ready to move again next day, which is Sunday. We’ll need to be up and away to catch a supermarket before thay close at midday…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

French Renaissance April 2022

It’s a momentous day. After two and a half years we’ve renewed our acquaintance with Brittany Ferries’ trusty vessel, Barfleur and have managed to cross the English Channel and get to France. Oh- and it also happens to be Polling Day for the French, who are choosing between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen.

                It’s an early start to be ready, packed up and into the sparse queue for check-in at Poole, but we are luckier than most as it’s a short drive for us. And it’s quiet on a Sunday. We been a little anxious about attempting another trip abroad after the Iceland debacle, but once we’ve trundled to the booth we only need our passports and vaccine passes, then we’re through and in spite of a security check of the van, [due perhaps to being the ‘1 in 10’ or whatever], it’s all straightforward.

                The ferry is quiet, occupied by ancient travellers such as ourselves and one or two young couples with toddlers making the most of back-to-school time. There are no excitable parties of schoolchildren galloping round and round the decks and no gangs of teenagers crowding the shop and thrashing hell out of the gaming machines.

                We get a quick coffee and a pastry then descend to the deck below where a salon offers warmth, quiet and comfortable recliners. Soothed by the engines, gentle swell of the sea and sunshine I’m soon drowsy and most of the crossing passes in a pleasant, sleepy stupor.

We are soon making our way down a familiar route towards Bretagne and our first planned night’s stop, an aire at Tremblay. It’s not hard to find, sandwiched between the cemetery and some old people’s homes and it;s dead quiet[!], except for a yard full of dogs yapping. We’re on our own in the 8 place aire, which has a service point and little else. A short stroll around the village reveals little on this sleepy Sunday, the two bars and everything else closed apart from the Mairie, which is a polling station. I’ve been hoping to fill my water bottles as we’re close to being out of water and the service point ‘ne marche pas’ so I make a cheeky entrance to the polling station and beg some water from the kindly polling clerk, who is very obliging.I thank her and wish her luck whilst itching to know who’s in the lead…

My French is rusty from 2 years of disuse but begins to be revived. We sleep well in our spot next to the cemetery. Aires often seem to be situated by churchyards, or sometimes sports grounds or police stations. Next morning there’s very little traffic to disturb us except for the dustbin lorry. We make a feeble attempt to get water from the service point, which rejects our 2E coin, give up and get underway.

We’re getting back into the swing of it- but we’re too far in towards the centre of Vannes to find a large supermarket by the time we think of it and the SATNAV leads us unhelpfully to a non-existent Hyper-U in the centre of town. We locate a Carrefour at last but find ourselves grabbing a quick lunch in the subterranean gloom of the car park.

Our mobile internet has failed us, a hitch that needs solving. The giant store has an ‘Orange’ outlet and we head there, to find my burgeoning recall of French severely challenged as I try to explain our difficulties. I manage it though and we come away with a stop-gap solution. It occurs to me that much of holidaying this way is problem-solving and perhaps that’s part of what we enjoy…or not…

At last we get to our chosen site- and it’s lovely, nestling by an enormous natural harbour. There’s time for a walk and a beer, sitting in the sunshine by the marina and we remember what we love about holidaying this way…

April Short Fiction 2

Today’s post consists of Part 2 of the story that began last week, ‘In Vino Veritas’, in which we met middle-aged, moody Harris slumped in a corner of the pub and obsessing over one of the bar staff

In Vino Veritas [Part 2]

Realising he should have prepared better, he tries to think of something witty or flirtatious to say before she’s finished serving him but when she turns to place his beer in front of him all he can manage to croak is “Quiet tonight”. She nods, smiling again. “Yep! We might even get off early, you never know!” She’s offered him the card machine now and there are only seconds left until her attention is elsewhere. He clears his throat. “Do you have far to go, you know, to get home?” She’s checking the transaction as she speaks. “No, not far.” Then she’s away, collecting glasses from the counter to take to the washer.

Harris returns to his corner. A couple have come in to stand at the bar and are exchanging pleasantries with Acquaintance. They will have come for a post-performance drink, he thinks, since they’re dressed up and this is about the time the theatre chucks out. Megan is serving them. She’s pretty enough, he thinks, although the dyed, black hair, nose stud and the tattoos are not to his taste and she lacks the magic, luminous magnetism that radiates from Shona, who has not returned from the glass washing area.

He leaves his beer and makes his way through to the men’s room. While it has a cubicle and two urinals, there is barely room to turn around in the narrow space. Randy Andy has compromised on toilets as he does on everything else- ‘except for bar staff’ Harris thinks as he washes his hands. Through the paper-thin partition wall, he catches a drift of conversation, the tinkling, musical voices of young girls. Shona and Megan are gossiping in the alcove by the glass wash. He puts his ear to the wall as his hands drip dry.

“Eugh! Got the perves in tonight then!” [Megan]

“Tell me about it! That short one with the greasy comb-over is so creepy! He’s always staring and when I serve him, he never takes his eyes off my chest!” [Shona]

He stands, frozen by the wash basin, stares into the pock-marked mirror at his thinning hair with its long strands brushed forward to disguise the pink circle in the centre. He places his still damp hands over his burning face and leans against the wall as the door is pushed open and Acquaintance steps into the room, filling up the tight space. Harris drops his hands as the man peers at him. “Are you ok, mate?”

He nods and pushes past Acquaintance, thinking only of escape now. He abandons his half-drunk pint, grabs his coat and scarf and makes for the door, the girls’ cheerful ‘Goodnight!’ ringing in his ears as he stumbles away down the road.

In the cold, night air his stinging cheeks cool as he plays the scene over and over in his head until he is at his own front door, taking out his key and stepping inside the hallway, silent except for the ticking of the living room clock. He hangs up his coat and goes into the living room where only red pinpricks of standby light illuminate the gloom. In the half dark he goes to the drinks cabinet and pours a generous slug of whisky into a glass before sinking down into his armchair. The liquor’s enveloping heat trickles down inside him as he rests back, the scene blurring a little now. Perhaps he’ll have one more drop before he tiptoes upstairs to slide into bed beside his wife. She’ll be asleep, of course. He’s thankful for small mercies.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

April Short Fiction 1

Continuing a mini-series of short stories concentrating on character, here’s one based on observations from local hostelries!

In Vino Veritas [Part 1]

Harris stares into the fading froth on his pint of Meadowlark craft beer and heaves a long sigh before lifting the glass to his lips and taking a gulp. He sets the glass down and surveys the early evening crowd from his vantage point, tucked into a dark corner by the log burner.

Another solitary drinker, propping up the bar turns and acknowledges him with a barely perceptible nod before turning his back. Harris doesn’t know this other man, not really. He is just another lone, paunchy, middle-aged man passing some time with a beer before going home to…what? A cold, empty flat? A blowsy, TV obsessed wife? A noisy, chaotic home of clamouring kids? Who knows?

From the space tucked into a corner behind the bar, a small nook around a corner Harris can’t see into, peals of laughter ring out. Shona, he knows, is there, fooling about with her fellow bar tenders, sharing a joke that he, along with fellow drinkers on this side of the bar is not privy to. He wonders what the joke might be? Are they laughing about their boss, randy Andy, an overweight, over-familiar and over-opinionated slob who over-estimates his power over the young girls he employs? Or are they giggling about the customers they serve, he and the nameless, nodding acquaintance plus three younger men in football kit playing darts in an alcove on the far side of the pub?

He keeps his eye on the bar while he swallows more beer, waiting for the moment when Shona will return to the counter to serve another customer or to wipe up some spills. After a moment she appears. She’s flushed, still chuckling, swiping her unruly hair back behind her ears and tugging her tiny skirt down before she leans her elbows on the smooth, brown gloss of the bar and indicates nameless man’s glass. “Another?” she asks him and he nods, leaning forwards to mutter something for her ears only. She straightens up, giggling and Harris feels a hot, jealous, irrational flush overcome him, that she should be sharing an intimacy with Nodding Acquaintance and not with himself. Still, his own glass is almost empty. One more mouthful and he can go to the bar for a second pint, although he’ll need to time it so that she serves him and not one of the others.

He finishes the beer and waits while Shona pulls three glasses of lager for the footballers, rising from his seat while she is at the till and making it to the bar before she’s replaced the card machine. He catches her eye. “Same again?” she smiles and it’s like a warm shaft of sunshine bathing Harris and warming his being to the core. She flicks a long curl of blond hair back and takes his glass, her slender fingernails topped with pink, sparkly gloss. There’s a narrow sliver of black lace visible above the vee of her T-shirt and below the smooth, brown skin of her neck. Harris knows he’s staring and glances quickly at Acquaintance to mitigate it.

Part 2 of ‘In Vino Veritas’ can be read in next Sunday’s post.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Short Fiction 2

Today sees the conclusion of a brand new short story, ‘Empathy in a Country Churchyard’. Part 1 can be read here: https://gracelessageing.com/tag/churchyard/

Empathy in a Country Churchyard [Part 2]

“So how are you, Judith?” she asks. I’ve got the choice of looking at her and answering or pretending I haven’t heard. If I answer I’ll have to look, which I do. And I know her. She’s looking a lot older, but well preserved, which is more than can be said for me. She still has blond curls, although I suppose these days it’s out of a bottle. She’s got the coat and she’s got patent, pink pumps to match, plus one of those dinky little bags, in pink of course, with a gold chain.

“Sharon”, I reply. “Why are you here?”

She chuckles. “You can’t accuse me of coming to gloat, Judith and I didn’t come out of curiosity. No- I’m here for the same reason as you; just visiting. Does that surprise you?”

He’d met her when she went to the print shop to order leaflets for a business she was starting: bespoke cakes for all occasions. Oh yes, he told me all about her. At first it had been anecdotal, the meeting, while he was talking about his day. Then he began mentioning her more often. After a bit he stopped talking about her. That was once they’d started having an affair, I realised. It doesn’t take long to surmise your partner is playing away because they get careless, and not just with stray hairs on collars. They stay later at work with feeble excuses. Their phone calls become more numerous and have to be private. They must to explain the increased incoming texts outside of work hours. He didn’t try to lie when I confronted him though.

“He’s dead, Sharon. Why would you want to see him?”

“Why would you? He wasn’t a great husband to you, was he?”

I look down at Malcom, or rather, the mound that Malcom has become. I haven’t tended it. I don’t bring fresh flowers to put in the grey, metal vase- or even plastic ones. I haven’t weeded it or planted it with primroses or brought along favourite items or a photograph. I haven’t scrubbed the stone, which has become encrusted with yellow lichen, the engraving almost obliterated now.

I raise my eyes to hers. “I come to make sure he’s dead. And to tell him all the things I should have said before.”

She’s leaning forward. “Did you love him, Judith?”

I shrug. “I suppose I must have done, in the beginning. Or perhaps it was only lust. I don’t remember. Did you?”

She nods, slowly. “Yes. I did. But you know something? He cheated on me, too.”

I settle back. Something eases inside me, as if a taught stretch of elastic has been slackened. “So you’ve come here before?” I ask her.

“Not every week, but now and again. It’s a lovely, peaceful place, don’t you think? I know you always come on Wednesdays, which is why I’ve always avoided them before, but I felt that enough time has elapsed now that we don’t have to be sworn enemies and we’ve quite a bit in common, haven’t we?” She’s smiling a lopsided grin. I can see what Malcom found attractive in her.

We sit in silence for a bit then I look at my watch. She looks at hers, too. “Does your daughter bring you? Pamela, isn’t it? Malcom was always very proud of her. You must have done a good job in raising her.”

“She brings me under sufferance. She doesn’t approve of my coming here every week. She’ll be back to collect me soon and she won’t be happy to see you, I can tell you that now.”

“She knows about me? That was unnecessary, wasn’t it? He never left you, after all, Judith, in spite of all the philandering. Why didn’t you send him packing?”

Why hadn’t I? For a moment I consider what my life might have been like if I’d thrown him out. I’d have been less comfortably off, for a start. I might have had to work full-time instead of enjoying part time hours. There had been Pamela to consider. She’d only just started at school when he began his dalliance with Sharon. Pamela always adored her father. But the one, overriding, persuasive factor in allowing him to stay had been that I liked his playing away. I liked his attention being elsewhere and the onus was off me to provide anything other than occasional meals and housekeeping. After the first shock and humiliation of Sharon’s existence I’d learned to adjust and enjoy my freedom from him. We became relative strangers sharing a home, ‘ships that pass’.

“I didn’t care, Sharon; not really. I was glad for someone else to take him off my hands. Now I think you need to disappear before Pamela sees you.”

She stands, brushing down her posh coat and picking up the dainty bag. “Will you be coming next week, Judith?”

“Oh yes. I don’t miss a week unless the weather’s too awful to be outside. Pamela hates it. I’m a burden to her, these days.”

Sharon’s looking down at me and grinning. “I’ve enjoyed chatting today. Why don’t I pick you up next week and we can visit together? Then Pamela won’t be put out and we’ll be company for each other.”

The next Wednesday comes round and, true to her word, Sharon picks me up and we go to the cemetery together. After a couple of times, she produces a flask of coffee and some doughnuts.

“Might as well make a morning of it,” she laughs. “What did you tell your daughter?”

“I said I’d met a friend in the cemetery who’d be bringing me in future. She was surprised but quick to agree. It’s let her off the hook.”

After about a month Sharon suggested we shorten our visit and go on down to the seafront for lunch. Then when she asked me if I thought Malcom would mind if we by-passed the cemetery sometimes and go straight to the beach café I didn’t think twice.

I haven’t told Pamela who the ‘friend’ is that picks me up to visit Malcom on Wednesdays. To be fair, she hasn’t questioned it and I know she’s relieved it’s just not her job any more.

Sharon tells me it amuses her to think of Malcom looking down at us from somewhere. “What do you think he makes of us down here having a good time together, Judith?” she asks me and I can only smile. “To be honest, Sharon, I don’t bloody care!”

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

New Short Fiction 1

Back from Tom’s Field and continuing to drown in the suffocating, germ-ridden aftermath of Covid I’ve applied myself to writing a new, short story. Two women meet in an unorthodox setting and have something in common

Empathy in a Country Churchyard

                “Mum, could we just go somewhere different this morning?”

Pamela. She says it every week. I watch from the window as she pulls up outside. She comes bustling up the path carrying the shopping, opens the door with her key and I can hear her impatient breath huffing and puffing as she stomps into the hallway. She opens the door and unleashes her exasperation. “It’s a lovely morning. How about going to the beach today and getting a coffee in the sunshine? Shall I get your shoes?”

“You could get my shoes” I tell her. “But I don’t want to go to the seaside. Just the usual, please.”

“Wouldn’t you like a change of scene once in a while, Mother? Whatever do you find to do, sitting in the same place, surrounded by the same, gloomy sights every week? Let’s face it, you never got on with him so why do you keep on going to visit him?”

“I like it there” I say. “It gives me a chance to think.” I’ve had to raise my voice now because she’s rummaging around in my kitchen, opening and shutting cupboards with a noisy efficiency of irritation.

It’s a lengthy business, these days, levering my feet into shoes, prising my body from the chair and thrusting unwilling limbs into sleeves but at last we make our way outside and she locks the front door before helping me out to the road and into the car. “Put your seat belt on” she orders, as soon as I’ve twisted my bones into the shape required by the seat.

“I’ll just drop you at the gate.” she snaps, like a piece of peanut brittle. “And I’ll go and do a few bits. You can make it round to there, can’t you?”

She never comes with me to the bench and I’m glad. I want peace and quiet, not a dreary, repetitive rant about how unsatisfactory her life is. She never needs to tell me what a burden I’ve become when it billows out in every sigh and tut.

She stomps around to open my door then I manoeuvre my legs round and prize myself out, remembering to take my stick. I catch my breath a bit, lift my hand as she pulls away. I feel lighter when she’s gone, like I’ve risen to the top of a murky pool. I turn towards the entrance and progress towards the bench; my bench, or at least that’s how I think of it; only it isn’t mine. It belongs to ‘Valerie Fraser, beloved wife of Geoff, mother to Gillian and Carol and grandmother to Daisy, Stanley and Olivia’. I assume Valerie doesn’t mind me using her bench every week since she’s got no use for it herself.

I’m just settling myself on Val’s bench when a flash of livid pink catches my eye, appearing through the gate- a woman in a magenta coat. I feel affronted by this, although I’m not sure why. Perhaps the colour of the coat feels inappropriate, or that I’d expected to be alone. Usually, it’s just me and a distant groundsman. Worse still, the woman is zig-zagging along the paths in my direction, like she’s coming to the bench and I don’t like the idea of this at all.

I make a point of taking no notice when she sits down on the other end. I think maybe if I ignore her, she might take a hint and leave. I’m irritated because I was just getting into my stride with Malcom and I’d been preparing what I was going to say for a week. Anyway, this woman in pink, she’s studying me. I know this without looking and I know she’s going to start talking, which is the last thing I need. I stare down at her shiny, pink shoes and I’m aware of how I must look in Malcom’s voluminous, old car coat and my extra-wide, orthopaedic slip-ons.

Who is the woman in pink? And what does she want? Empathy in a Country Churchyard concludes next week...

A Journey in Itself

Having cut short the Sussex trip, [https://gracelessageing.com/2022/03/20/cutting-it-short/], due to the Plague we made a second attempt at an early spring jaunt, this time even closer to home. We are back at Tom’s Field, Langton Matravers in the beautiful, Dorset Isle of Purbeck. We’d been encouraged by a promising forecast of warm sunshine. This is a rustic campsite that has existed for years and years and one we’ve been patronising for years, too. The services, while oldish and not luxurious are clean and efficient, the showers powerful and hot. There is also a campsite shop, not comprehensively stocked this early in the year but open and useful. We’ve only booked for three nights, midweek but I’m sure that by the time the weekend arrives it would be packed with vans and tents. The site does not accommodate caravans.

The dose of Covid that prompted our swift return from Sussex has been a bit of a journey in itself. Initially I felt shivery, achey and tired. I coughed. I was lethargic. At home I lolled around, did nothing and kept falling asleep. After isolation finished I managed some pottering in the garden, then by the weekend I was able to go out and about- to the theatre and to spend an evening with friends.

Then the sunshine prompted a packing of the van. Despite having felt well enough to get around I slept badly, waking often with a blocked nose and a hacking cough. It seemed that The Plague had moved into another phase. Loading the van was an effort but we made the short hop to The Isle of Purbeck in unbroken, warm sun and joined the 3 other vans in the south field. The site only opened 2 days ago.

Having spent yet another night propped up and blocked up, I staggered awake and did very little until Husband suggested a walk to the excellent Square and Compass pub at Worth Matravers to get lunch and a drink. I wondered if I’d manage the short walk across the fields and along the Priest’s Way but sitting outside the old hostelery with a pasty felt worth the effort. For a description of this wonderful, old pub click here: https://gracelessageing.com/2021/09/19/short-and-sweet-in-dorset/

Then another uncomfortable night followed and I decided against joining Husband for a favourite walk over the hills and down to beautiful Dancing Ledge, where the sea would be sparkling on this warm March day, opting instead for a doze on my lounger, catching up on missed sleep and watching the antics of the blackbirds chasing each other in and out of the ivy hedge.

I made it down to the lovely old KIngs Arms for something to eat, then trudged back for the next long night of sleeplessness. We’ll have to hope the next van trip of 2022 is less dogged by mishap. Third time lucky, perhaps?

Cutting it Short

After a couple of days at the Emsworth site [as described in last week’s post], we’ve determined there’s not too much left to see and it’s time to move on, this time to Littlehampton. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my [admittedly defective] memory, I seem to recall that we were despatched there from London as students in the fine art department of my college, in order to produce some work of a seaside nature. Other than this I remember nothing, so presumably the results were under-whelming and unlikely to set the art world on fire.

I’ve booked tickets to see The Weald and Downland Living Museum, an open-air attraction covering a large area and celebrating South Downs life with constructions of homes and businesses from days gone by. It’s also the home of ‘The Repair Shop’- a hit British TV series where expert restorers of every skill revive items that are brought in by members of the public. The objects chosen need to have an emotive back story, such as having been used by a beloved, now deceased parent or grandparent, which precludes Husband or me submitting ourselves for repair or any of the rubbish we have cluttering up our house.

We’ve been given a time-slot for revival and since we’re taking in the museum en route to our next site at Littlehampton we park and have lunch first. In the enclosure, some of the installations are set up as working premises, manned by volunteers who are eager to impart their knowledge and undertake demonstrations. We go first to the potter, who stands behind his wheel clearly gagging for the punters to stop and listen, which we obligingly do. And it’s here I hit my first snag with the museum: about half the items on display are things we had in our household when I was a child. Here in the potter’s shelter lies a ceramic mixing bowl- two of which we have in our kitchen cupboard right now, as I write. The potter imparts some interesting facts, although there’s little new in his exposure of all things pottery. I used to teach a pottery evening class myself, many moons ago and know about pug mills, kiln explosions etc.

I’m aware that we’re trapped by the ‘expert’ but then we’re rescued by some fresh victims visitors, allowing us to move on to the blacksmith’s shack. The expert here is an ex-volunteer but seems to know how to make a curly piece of iron. From here we can see the venue for The Repair Shop TV programme, although we’re not allowed too close due to it’s being a film set. A scaffold to the side of the thatched building indicates it is being repaired…

We continue to the mill, nipping away before we’re caught again then leave via the bakery, which is flogging yummy little oat cakes, still warm from the big, wood-fired wall oven. We’re getting the hang of avoiding the ‘guides’ and stick to visiting the unmanned houses. There’s a mixture of eras from medieval to Victorian. As before, many of the homes are furnished with items I remember my mother using: a ‘copper’ and a mangle for laundry, a range, chamber pots in the bedrooms. There are some glaring omissions though. We’d no bathroom before I was five and we were bathed in a tin bath by the fire. Also our toilet resided in a wooden shack towards the back of the garden and was furnished with a wide, wooden plank into which two holes were carved- one large and one smaller. A child could sit and cogitate alongside an adult there- although I don’t remember sharing with either of my parents! Under the seats was a long drop down into a cess pit. There are no outside toilets at the museum as far as I can see…

There’s a small farm area and a charcoal burners camp in the woods, then we’ve done it, neatly dodging the well-meaning volunteers.

We head off to Littlehampton and park up in our pitch. I still have a sore throat. The site is quite different from Emsworth, with more caravans, but it’s quiet and we’ve found a sunny spot. There’s next to no internet signal here for our little mobile pebble hub, but we pass a peaceful evening.

I wake feeling achey and unrested. After a while I decide a Covid lateral flow test is in order and Lo and Behold…there is the second red line. There’s not much deliberation and we’re not far from home so the second night gets scrapped as we pack up and take to the road home. Next morning it’s raining…

A Wander in West Sussex

Having regrouped from our debacle in Iceland, picked ourselves up and dusted down we opt for a modest, local jaunt in our campervan. It’s a while since we packed and prepped for such a trip so I resort to consulting our inventory list in the certain knowledge that we’ll have forgotten something. A few years ago we arrived to one of our favourite Isle of Purbeck sites to discover I’d loaded no bedding of any description, which resulted in a visit to Swanage’s one and only duvet and sheet stockists.

This March has come in like the proverbial lion, with ferocious, biting winds. At least the abortive Iceland trip was good for something, in that we amassed excellent cold weather gear. The van itself is cosy and warm- [warmer than our house!]. Also I’m reminded that the Ukrainian refugees are fleeing their war-torn country in icy, snowy conditions with their babies and all they can carry.

On our way back from Gatwick last month, the train passed through Emsworth, leading us to consider returning to have a look. It’s a modest distance from our home but not an area we’ve explored much so we’ve headed there, to a site at ‘Southbourne’, not the Southbourne, Bournemouth we moved from 5 years ago…

For our first day we wrap up well and walk down to the coast path and along to Emsworth, which is either a large village or a tiny town. It’s attractive, with a pretty harbour and not a lot else, including shopping, so I give up on the soft toothbrush I was hoping to pick up [having- yes- neglected to pack mine]. We get a coffee outside a small harbourfront cafe, sitting in a sunny, sheltered spot then it’s a short bus ride back to Southbourne.

Next day we opt for a visit to Chichester, accessed by a bus ride in the opposite direction. On the bus a single, portly, mature man feels the need to chat, starting with harmless remarks about bus stops and gradually progressing to rants about his pension, his dentist, his rent and why doesn’t everyone vote Conservative, at which point I no longer feel able to nod and murmur and I’m praying for his stop to be soon, please…When he gets up to leave the bus the woman who’d sat behind him is moved to tell me ‘Well that’s lucky…’ I also noticed that Husband, who’d been lucky to have taken the window seat, had found the passing countryside totally absorbing throughout the man’s diatribe.

We alight right beside Chichester’s magnificent cathedral but don’t enter as a recital is taking place. Instead we walk through the cloisters with their barrel-vaulted ceilings and the close- all very scenic. Then it’s a stroll of the streets and a quick look in a gallery or two. It’s a beautiful city with many historic pieces of architecture, including a wonderful market cross. There’s just time for a look at the Bishop’s Palace Gardens before we head back and the garden is extensive, although it’s too early in the year for many colourful displays.

The return bus is full to the gunnels, mostly with schoolchildren who act just exactly as you would expect groups of adolescents to-

Then we’re off to the pub, just a step along the road, for a very acceptable meal. We’re gearing up to move on to the next site in the morning…