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!

Sightseeing in Iceland

On this, the last day of our abortive trip to Iceland, we made it out of the hotel to tour some sights at last…

So finally we were out and about together to see three of the ‘must sees’ on offer in Iceland for tourists and the sun was shining in a blue, cloudless sky. Our guide for the day, Albert, kicked off with a few hackneyed jokes as we exited Reykjavik then we were away up into the snow clad countryside, following the route we’d returned on the previous day when I’d travelled alone.

It became clear that we’d be doing the trip in reverse this time, first to the Gulfoss waterfall. I was delighted to be seeing it again, not least because the huge falls were bathed in sunshine this time, the water sparkling as it tumbled down over the ledges and a rainbow visible in the spray. We looked from the top then moved down the steps to view it from the lower level. I was better pleased with my photos this time!

En route to our next stop- the geyser- the weather did an abrupt u-turn. A viscious wind sprang up and blew a blizzard across almost horizontally, so that when we pulled in at the car park for the thermal springs and pools and got out of the bus it felt like being cut in half, such was the ferocity of the gusts. We battled across the slippery road and up the path to the geyser, where we stood just long enough to see the spout fly up into the air in a wheezy plume and be blown sideways. Then we felt we’d had enough, although as we turned to head back several people in wheelchairs were arriving, pushed by brave and strong helpers, demonstrating a tenacious will to live life to the full!

There was time for a hot drink in the cafe before we left. By now the weather had deteriorated further but we’d still to visit the national park [first on the list the day before]. The weather had worsened again, rendering visibility a problem for our driver, who’d also to deal with the high wind, which made steering difficult. Albert asked us to move up to the front seats of the bus to help with stability- even so it was slow going and by the time we got to the National Park the light was fading and the cafe had shut. We spent a few minutes there, but crossing the two tectonic plates and seeing the fissures in the snow was still thrilling.

We headed back in the growing darkness, to the lights of Reykjavik and were dropped off near our hotel, thankfully. But rather than go up to our room we trudged round to the Food Hall- a large, blue building on the harbour where the walls are lined with all manner of food stalls and the center filled with long, trestle tables. You choose your cuisine, collect it when ready and can sit together to enjoy your meals. We followed with a hearty beer before returning to our hotel for a late drink in the bar, feeling, at last that we’d had a tiny taste of Iceland…

On our return to the UK the plague began to recede along with rules and regulations. Maybe ‘normal’ life was about to be resumed? But then, as we looked over our shoulders at the fading brute of the pandemic a much larger and more frightening monster was rearing up in front of us; unthinkable, unbelievable. War in Europe…

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

Iceland: The One Day Out…

Husband was finally free of our hotel room after 3 days isolation. With only one day left, we were set to make the best of it…

It was our last day in Iceland. And at last we could go down to the restaurant and have breakfast together, instead of me dining alone and parcelling up breakfast items for him. I wondered what our fellow diners would think of my appearance with a man- Had I picked him up somewhere during my lone travel escapade? Bonded on a bus or in a bar and shacked up together in the hotel room?

We’d one more task to complete for the return to the UK and I was determined to get it over and done with before our day out. We’d to fill out a ‘passenger locator form’ for each of us. I sat down with my laptop and found the form. To begin with it seemed simple and I began to congratulate myself [always a bad idea]. I got almost to the end, to the request for the serial numbers of our return-to-UK, lateral flow test kits, which were resting on a cupboard top in our house, ready for our return. Horrors! Who knew? I tried various numbers on forms, to no avail, gnashing my teeth and groaning. Then I had a brainwave. I could ring our neighbour to go in and look at the boxes in our house. Hooray! I rang her, and she, kind soul that she is, dropped everything and went upstairs in the house to look at the kits. She talked me through her search, a number here, a number there…I tried all the numbers. None of them was correct.

The time ticked away. Soon we’d need to be in the lobby to await our bus for the tour. In desperation, I turned to Monsieur Google for help and got an answer. The numbers would have been on the invoice email. I looked at my inbox, which yielded no correspondence from the company, Randox. I looked in the trash. There! There it was- an email with some serial numbers! I keyed them in and pressed submit, holding my breath. And it went. Phew. We had to do it all again, of course, for Husband, but then we were done.

We began donning layers for our day out. The outside temperature was set to drop to -9. I was glad of my thermal tops and fleecy walking trousers. We were ferrried to the bus station as I’d been the previous day and went to the counter to pay for the day’s tour. At this point things went in our favour. The fact that I’d already taken the tour alone and Husband had missed it was known to the ticket clark. She looked at me. ‘There’s no charge’ she said. ‘Forget it’. After all the trouble I felt tearful when faced with her kindness.

We boarded the bus- together this time- . Our tour guide was not the world-weary Johanna of the previous day but Albert, a mature, jovial character who began with his -clearly much practised] jokes as we swung out of the bus park. The day was bitterly cold but the sky was a sparkling blue and not a cloud in it. And we were out together…

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.

Iceland Day 3- Tour and Test.

We were half way through our four day visit to Iceland but no nearer to achieving the freedom to explore as we wished. Scroll back to previous episodes for the full story…

Now it was Wednesday. I’d undertaken a solitary tour to not see the Northern Lights and was now preparing to join the next tour we’d booked, the ‘Golden Circle’ tour. Since the Icelandic authorities had come no further towards contacting Husband regarding his ‘inconclusive’ Covid test we determined that all he could do was walk out of city as far as he could get and try to see some countryside, perhaps. It was a sad state of affairs.

I went to breakfast, stopping off to order him a room service one. A woman I met in the dining room told me she and her husband had almost been caught the same way by ordering Randox test kits and then at the last moment had gone to a pharmacy and got tested there. Otherwise, she told me, they’d be in the same sorry boat as we were.

With a little time to spare before my tour I looked at covid.is website and engaged the ‘chatbot’, where I vented all my frustrations regarding Husband’s position.

You may wonder why we didn’t simply ignore the regulations regarding Covid in Iceland- after all, you may think, who would have known if we’d have just carried on regardless? But we figured that a] we’d no desire to be caught, fined and possibly quarantined for two weeks and b] no desire to be hypocritical and to behave like the members of our own, criminal and dishonest, UK government. https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2022/jan/14/how-no-10s-alleged-parties-took-place-as-uk-covid-death-toll-rose-interactive

For this next tour I’d ensured I’d be returned to my hotel, not wishing to be abandoned at the locked bus station at some ungodly hour again! Along with some others, we were ferried to the coach, where I sat alone once more. Our guide for the day, Johanna, began her narrative as we left the city, an informative commentary but delivered with a somewhat world-weary style as she huffed and puffed in between parts of her notes.

Rolling along in the bus, I remembered the hot dog van. Although we’d saved parts of breakfast for Husband’s day of walking, he’d be able to get something hot to eat without entering a cafe. Hooray! I texted him this thought, then he rang me back, just as Johanna was beginning another desultory morsel of information. Husband had good and bad news. He’d heard from the authorities. They would come to the hotel and do another test on him, but he’d need to wait in the hotel room for up to 4 hours, effectively obliterating his plan to walk.

The tour continued and we stopped for the national park, where a portly fellow passenger told me of yet another tourist he’d met who’d been thwarted by the Randox tests. Onwards, then to the waterfall, which was impressive. I made sure to photograph everything to show Husband, imprisoned and waiting for the medic. Lastly there was the geyser and the thermal springs, again, well worth a look. I went to the cafe afterwards and had tea. But while lone travel has advantages [described in previous posts] I was missing a chance to share those snippets and asides my companion provides.

Back in the hotel, Husband had not heard any results of the day’s test and had passed his incarceration by parcelling it up into different activities: internet/reading/stretching- but still been bored mindless. I went to order our meals and it was while I was talking to the waitress that he called me to say his result had come: negative…of course…

Having ordered the meal we were not able to go out to eat, but as soon as we’d finished we went out to find a bar and have a celebratory drink, the first outside of our hotel. We had one more day left. What could we do with it? …

Reykjavik Unravelling

In last week’s post I described how we’d arrived to Kevlavik Airport to have our Covid test certificates rejected, after which we went to our hotel to await results of the airport test...

We awoke on Tuesday morning, confident that we’d have our test results and be liberated for our first full day in Iceland. We’d been told ‘within 24 hours’ so when we’d heard nothing by breakfast time we used the hotel’s excellent ‘breakfast in bed’ service, although we’d have preferred to have joined everyone else in the restaurant.

As we were allowed to walk about outside, after breakfast we donned our thermal layers and set off to explore Reykjavik, taking great care on the icy pavements. It was an easy walk into the centre from our hotel, although as the day progressed intermittent snow blew into our faces.

We were in the penis museum when the pings on our phones heralded messages. We’d chanced a visit, mindful of the instruction to avoid crowded places, ‘like malls’. The tiny museum was very quiet. We’d been around a couple of times, though there is a limit to how many views of whale penises and lamps made from scrotum sacs you need or want- We’d wanted to make the most of our £15 entry fee whilst simultaneously enjoying some indoor warmth.

My test result was negative, said the text. Husband looked up from his phone, aghast. His result was ‘inconclusive’ and he was instructed to adhere to Covid rules until he received further information. Horrors! We left the museum and trudged on. There was no hint of when the ‘further information’ would come. This was day 2 of our 4 day trip.

By mid afternoon the weather was deteriorating, we’d seen Reykjavik’s beautiful Hallgrimskirkja church and its stunning opera house and had enough of stumbling along the slithery pavements. I’d rebooked our ‘Northern Lights’ tour for that night [it began at 21.00] but chances of our being able to go were diminishing. There was also the prospect of another meal in our tiny room. Since my test result was negative, Husband suggested I should go on the tour, a pragmatic but sad solution to the problem.

I descended to the hotel restaurant alone to eat, dining at a small table and remembering previous holidays I’d taken as a lone traveller. I ordered the same meal for Husband and having explained our predicament to the kind waitress, she had it prepared and packaged up for me to take to the room. Then I prepared for the tour and left him to the TV choices, the mini-bar and his book.

I went to the lobby, where others waited to be ferried to the bus station and in due course we were decanted on to a larger coach, one of about four going out to seek the aurora borealis. The weather did not look vastly promising but as we left the city to find darker skies we were assured by the Italian [!] tour guide there was every chance of seeing the lights. Sitting alone on the bus reminded me of my lone skiing trip [https://wordpress.com/post/gracelessageing.com/3225] – everyone paired or grouped, everyone bonding. But I had the double seat and the window to myself.

After about an hour we pulled into a car park next to the lava tunnel tourist attraction and duly piled out into the snow, which by now was quite deep. There was an incline up which we were encouraged to clamber, a lava field covered with snow. The only light came from the lava tunnel building [closed] and intermittent trucks on the road. We stood to await the spectacle, assured by the coach guides that only a break in the clouds was enough. I stumbled as far as I felt able and stood looking up. And stood. And stood. I felt immeasurably grateful for my warm layers and coat as we waited on in the dark. After an hour or so there were a few exclamations from the guides that the lights were beginning and while everyone craned their necks to see I couldn’t help but view all this as an ‘Emporer’s New Clothes’ situation.

A van turned up selling hot chocolate and snacks, which proved very popular. We moved around at the whims of the guides, who pointed out pale grey wisps of cloud to us. After another hour, my feet were cold, in spite of my thermal socks. A steady trickle of passengers was clambering back into the buses, although I’m proud to say I stuck it out to the end. It was late. The bus fired up and took us back to town, where it began to detour and drop people off. I’d booked a transfer to my hotel, not wishing to walk the icy, dark streets from the bus station after midnight.

There were just a handful of us left when the bus pulled in, the others melting away into the night. It was 1.00am. I climbed down from the bus and tried the bus station door. It was locked. I dashed back to the bus and collared the guide, who’d no clue about me. He disappeared around the building and made a call then returned to assure me somebody was coming. The bus went, leaving me alone at the locked station. I held my breath. At last a minibus caming careering into the car park and I was ferried back to the hotel in solitary splendour, cold and tired but extremely relieved!

In our room, Husband was in bed but awake after a solitary evening, but had not missed anything. That was Day 2, then. Half way through our trip. What would Wednesday bring? Who knew?…

How Reykjavik was Wrecked [Part 1]

Regular readers of Anecdotage will be familiar with my travel posts. They are, in the main, a devoted homage to travel in general- to seeing new places, meeting new people, sampling novel cuisines and experiencing different cultures. You could not fail to understand, in reading my posts, that Husband and I love to see parts of the world that are not our own.

I’ve described how we’ve kept travel within our own shores these last two years, and while a holiday rarely goes without a hitch, I can only think of a few in my life that can be said to be a total debacle. This one, though, this first foray into a foreign country since the Plague started, this trip is a complete fiasco.

Here then, not for the faint-hearted traveller, is the first chapter of a cautionary tale:

We prepared, as I’ve described in the last two posts. Thus armed and ready [or so we thought], we left our airport hotel and trundled through the airport procedures, including showing our barcodes, displayed on our phones, from Iceland Covid security, which denoted our vaccine status and that we were ‘fit-to-fly’. So far so good. It seemed remarkably easy and we went through security into departure, on to the gate and in due time, boarded the plane. From the tiny, porthole window a double rainbow was visible, perhaps signifying ‘good luck’ or ‘bon voyage’, I thought. Hooray! We were on our way. In spite of it being Easyjet, the flight was fine, a comfortable three and a half hours during which the clear weather turned cloudy and we descended down into a snowy Kevlavik Airport, where we disembarked into the building, had our passports stamped, picked up our suitcase and strode towards the exit.

Here, then was one last desk before the exit to the transfer buses. We’d need to show our barcodes again. The man and woman behind the counter looked at us. Could they see our PCR ‘fit-to-fly’ test result certificates? We’d been unable to upload these before leaving home but had the print-outs, which we showed them. They studied the certificates. ‘These are no good’ they said. ‘You’ll need to do a test here and follow covid rules while you wait for your results’. When we asked how long this would take we were told ‘up to 24 hours’. ‘But it could be sooner’ the man reassured us. ‘You might get your results by this evening’. 24 hours. 24 hours of missed time out of a 4 day trip. I asked what we could do about our Northern Lights tour, which was booked for that evening. He shrugged, ‘you may get the results before then’ was all he would say. We were told we could walk around outside, but were not to enter any crowded places such as shops, malls, restaurants or bars. Outside the building a raging blizzard was blowing across the tarmac.

With no options, we went to a small side booth, where medics in PPE gear waited with swab sticks in hand. We got swabbed. The euphoria from arrival had begun to ebb away as the realisation of our situation seeped in. I found our bus. I was not about to ask how we’d get to our hotel, 50 minutes away in the capital so we sat down and made the journey to the bus station, transferred to a minibus and onwards to the Grandi by Center.

We checked in, advising the hotel staff of our situation. We could get room service, they told us. At this point we weren’t too pessimistic. The Northern Lights tour had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions [the blizzard], so we’d be able to go the next night, after receiving our results. We’d have to eat dinner in our room and would not get to visit anywhere until the following day, but we could go for a walk around the vicinity and get our bearings, which we did. The Grandi was in a great area, with many lovely venues. In the fading twilight we strolled the pavements, taking great care as in many places they were pure, unadulterated sheet ice and lethal in their slipperiness.

Having perused the meagre and eye-wateringly priced meals available on the hotel’s room service I got online and found meal delivery services, resulting in our eating Domino’s pizzas; adequate, less pricy but not the sampling of local cuisines we’d hoped for. Also we were able to get BBC channels on the room TV. We’d cope tonight and be free to roam next day…or not…

Travel Travails Continued-

Last week I described the tangled web of bureaucracy involved in preparations for travel in these plague-ridden times. I’d ploughed through the covid vaccination pass instructions, overcome the troubling and confusing business of ordering tests and ascertained the whereabouts of the mysterious ‘drop boxes’. I’d purchased our tests for return. I’d written a timetable for us to ensure we do the correct things in the right order on the appropriate days leading up to departure and on our return. I was not feeling confident or smug, but I was feeling I’d done as much as I was able to get us prepared.

The plague feels like it’s lasted a long time, now. Does anyone elase out there long for the days when, if we wished to step beyond the confines of our own, squidgy little island we could just bag a passport and go? It’s bad enough for Husband and me, that we also have to be mindful of carting along the correct medications and in the right quantities [as contingency, you understand] as we get older and more decrepit.

This is all before we even begin to think about packing anything. Normally, at this time of year we’d be jetting off somewhere hot, for winter sun, a chance to loll about on a lounger sipping something cool and delicious. It’s always tricky packing for an extreme temperature change and we’ve come adrift before on our return, freezing to death on a frosty station, waiting for a train to come. This time, because we’re travelling to a notoriously cold place we’ll be all prepared, or at least I do hope so!

News today [Tuesday] has it that the return-from-abroad tests are being dropped. I begin to feel incensed that I’ve bought them, until I see they’re to be dropped from the day we return. We’ll still need to do pre-flight PCR tests and find out about the pre-return ‘passenger locator forms’.

Owing to changes to our flights by that highly-rated, luxurious airline, Easyjet, we’ve had to jiggle the dates of our trip. Easyjet saw fit to change our return flights to a different airport from our departure one. I wonder which operative thought this would be a good idea? Fly from Gatwick, London and return to Luton, many miles away…Suppose we’d opted to drive to airport?

Our flights on Monday morning are indecently early, at 8.00am, meaning Sunday trains, a hotel stay and a rude awakening, which provokes a frisson of anxiety. The time window for the PCR fit-to-fly tests is 72 hours, but 48 hours needs to be reserved for the results to come back to us. I’ve worked out that if we do the tests, register them and drop them off at the fabled ‘drop-off’ box nearest to us we should just about get the results before we depart for the airport- provided everything goes as the company, Randox, suggests. Hmmm…

For now, though I’m turning my attention towards all things warn and cosy. My Peruvian hat with flaps has arrived, I have my fleecy lined walking trousers and sufficient thermal layers for the ascent of Everest [no, we’re not going there!]. If we don’t get off the ground, one thing is guaranteed- I’ll be warm enough for the journey home!

Travel Travails

While I’ve never expected to be feted as an intellectual and wouldn’t have attained educational pinnacles, would never have become a brain surgeon or a marine biologist, I consider I’ve enough know-how to read a set of instructions and manage basic technological tasks. In other words, reader, I am average- a judgement that dogged me throughout my school days, stated with monotonous regularity on all of my school reports.

So, armed with my average skills and intelligence I’ve plunged into the murky melange of preparations we need to undertake before we set off on some foreign travel. The raft of covid precautions necessary before taking off anywhere is said to have become ‘easier’, which leads me to wonder who on Earth managed to go anywhere at all beyond these shores in the last two or three years.

Since the plague began we’ve limited travel to our own borders and wandered throughout the UK only, which has been lovely, of course and there are still many places we’ll be visiting or re-visiting this year and in years to come. Last Autumn, however, in a rush of misguided optimism we booked a trip, an excursion which is now imminent enough for me to have begun departure procedures and to discover just how complex the whole business is.

Simply ascertaining what must be done makes my brain hurt. I begin to read the airline advice, soon getting to the click here and click here and click here parts, until there are so many ‘click heres’ I think I won’t find my way back to the original page.

I know we must get a covid pass, obtained via the NHS app [which, by a miracle I have installed]. I begin to leap the hurdles I must cross: email address, password, [I remember it!], then photo of ID [which I failed last time], then I must send a video of myself saying some numbers or holding them up. I do all of this, only to be told I must wait for verification. By a further miracle I pass the checks. I opt for every version of my vaccination pass, figuring that I’ll cover all eventualities. I trust hard copy more than my phone and my shortcomings with it.

Next: Tests, I know that we must test before flying. I know that this must be PCR and that ‘only government approved companies’ may do it. I won’t go into the government part, or how they are able to approve anything at present [this for UK readers]. I know we must have post-return lateral flow tests and that, again they must be officially approved. We don’t live anywhere near a test site. SIGH. I get online and order said tests. £135. …

The box of tests arrives. On inspection, I can see nothing to indicate that we have PCR tests, although 2 of the boxes do say lateral flow. These are for our return, even though they say ‘fit-to-fly’ on the label [!]. I call the company, Randox and wait while I’m given a series of lectures about what Randox can’t help me with, before I get ‘options’. In fairness, the kind woman who eventually answers does help, and tells me I have the correct test kits as well as mentioning the ‘passenger locator forms’ we must also do. On reading the test instructions I also learn that we must register our tests before sending, or dropping them off.

I get online and search for the ‘drop-off’ locations, which appear to be in some highly improbable locations, our 2 nearest being a] a motorway service station or b] a disused Ryvita factory. Hmmm…

Our departure, should we even get that far, is still a week and a half away. And nothing more can be done until 72 hours before, when we must undertake tests and send [or drop off] the packs.

We’ll be away for just 4 nights, reader…and I’m wondering…is it going to be worth all this effort? I’ll let you know…

New Year Fiction: Extract. The Year of Familiar Strangers

16.             Spain. August 1990.

To round up this month of fiction, I’m finishing with a chapter of my novel, ‘The Year of Familiar Strangers’ [available to read here:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Familiar-Strangers-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B00EWNXIFA/ref=sr_1_1?crid=9CMNW442QEAC&keywords=the+year+of+familiar+strangers&qid=1642020119&sprefix=the+year+of+familiar+strangers%2Caps%2C117&sr=8-1] Helen’s husband, Robert disappears as they are about to embark on the return ferry from Spain after their holiday. In this chapter Helen and Lydia try to ascertain his whereabouts and work out what they should do…

Spain. August 1990           

The world appeared to drop away in a swooning, sickening drag as Helen stood motionless beside the abandoned car staring at the space in the open boot. She shouted to Lydia.

“He must be ill. He must be in the toilets or something. We have to find him!”

“He’s taken his bag, though. Why would he take his bag to the loo?”

Helen slammed the boot closed, went to pull the keys from the ignition and closed the door.

“Come on. We’ve got to find him.”

They ran back across to the building. Lydia pulled at her sleeve.

“We can’t just walk into the men’s loo. We’ll have to ask someone.”

A couple were standing beside a tall table drinking machine-bought coffees from plastic cups. Helen imposed a calm, rational expression on to her panicky face before addressing the man.

“Senor…”

He broke in. “It’s ok, we’re English.”

She began again. “I’m so sorry to interrupt you,” she glanced at the woman then back to the man. “It’s just that my husband left the car to visit the toilet some time ago and hasn’t come back yet. I wonder…I mean would you mind very much checking to see if he’s in there and if he’s alright?”

He put his cup on the table. “Of course I’ll look.” The woman had adopted a sympathetic smile.

“I expect he’s gone to stretch his legs. Have you had a long drive, dear?” She was a little older than Helen, who thought she would not be able to tolerate the woman’s well-meaning, motherly platitudes and could only give a weak nod. Robert had not gone to ‘stretch his legs’ taking his suitcase along. The husband emerged from the gents.

“No one in there. I looked in the cubicles just to make sure, but it’s empty.”

“Well, thanks anyway.” She grabbed Lydia’s arm and propelled her away and out of the building to stand in the bright sunlight, where more vehicles had joined the lines of waiting cars and caravans.

“We’ll have to talk to an official. Let’s go to the ticket office and find someone in charge. They can do a proper search of the terminal buildings.”

“Wait, Mum!” ‘Mum’ was a term she seldom used. “Dad’s taken his case. He won’t still be here, will he? He’s gone off somewhere. We don’t know where or why. What can the officials do about it?”

“I know! I know he has his case!” Helen snapped at her and saw her flinch at the unaccustomed rebuke. “But he must be ill, surely. His mind must be unbalanced, or he’s had a lapse of memory. We have to find him. What else can we do?”

            They were escorted into an office and invited to sit in front of a desk. A bearded man in a blue, short-sleeved shirt appeared a few minutes later, greeted them and sat down behind the desk.

“Senora…?”

“Thurrock, Mrs Thurrock.”

“You have a problem, Senora?”

            Behind him on the wall a clock in the shape of a ship’s tiller ticked away. Helen glanced at Lydia and was rewarded by an expression of consternation before looking across at the ticket office manager.

“Yes. It’s my husband, Robert; Robert Thurrock.” She paused, expecting that he might need to write it down, but he sat immobile, waiting for her to continue.

“He has disappeared. He was in the car, in the queue for the ferry. My daughter and I came into the passenger building and when we came out he was not there.”

He shrugged. “Senora, your husband has gone, perhaps to the toilets or he has seen an acquaintance, or to walk.”

Feeling that she wanted to shake, or to slap him, Helen narrowed her eyes and was aware of Lydia watching her, fearfully.

“Senor, my husband has taken his luggage from the car.” She chewed her lip, looking down at her hands twisted together in her lap then met his concentrated gaze. He leaned his elbows on the desk, steepling his fingers together. The clock’s ticking filled the ensuing moments like a dripping tap. At last he spoke again, matter of fact but not unkind.

“Senor Thurrock must have an appointment; somewhere he has to go. Perhaps he forgot to say to you, or you have not understood? If he takes the luggage then he needs it for his appointment, no?”

“We cannot leave without my husband.”

The clock’s ticking seemed louder, insistent. The bearded manager sat back in his chair.

“Senora, if you do not depart on the next ship your ticket will be lost. You will have to reserve a new departure. What can we do? It will be best, I think, if you embark with the next sailing. Your husband can follow when he returns.” He stood and held out his hand. The interview was over.

            They returned to the waiting line of vehicles which extended to three new lanes now, as the shadows began to lengthen. A woman got out of the car in front of theirs. Lydia nudged her mother.

“It’s her; from the passenger lounge.”

The coffee-drinking couple were in the adjacent car and had spotted them. The woman came round.

“Any luck, dear?” They uttered a simultaneous ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

“He went to get a shower,” said Helen. “He’ll be back in a bit.” Lydia turned on her as they got into the car. “They’ll see he isn’t with us when we drive on to the ferry!”

“What does it matter? I don’t care about them. What are we going to do?” She got into the passenger seat as if Robert would be occupying the driver’s place. Lydia came around and opened the door to sit next to her, sitting at an angle where she could see her mother’s face.

“We have to go. We have to get on the ferry when it loads. We can’t do anything else.”

“There’s still more than three hours left. Let’s walk. I’ll go crazy if I have to stay in this car and wait!”

Across the road from the queuing lanes there was a formal park laid out with palm trees and a network of paths punctuated by wooden benches in the shade. They wandered into the park and sat on a bench; a cool, green space away from the desultory, tarmac, fume-laden ferry queue. Silent, they stared unseeing at the mottled shadows dancing on the path, each lost in respective thoughts. Helen chewed her lip, trying to decide what their course of action should be, but came to the same, desperate, hopeless conclusion every time. They would have to go without him.

“Supposing he’s ill…” She looked at Lydia, who shook her head.

“He isn’t ill, at least, not desperately ill like he needs hospitalisation. He can’t be because he was fine driving here, wasn’t he? Apart from the speeding and the risky overtaking, I mean.” She stood up. “I’m dying for a coke or something. Can we find a bar? There must be one around here.”

They exited the park to walk along a road next to the quayside where there were a number of seafood cafés with plastic tables out on the pavement, none of them much patronised although peering through the open doors into the gloom there were figures standing at the bar in each of them; sipping late afternoon brandies or small glasses of lager. Seeing them made Helen think that she, too, would very much like a brandy and she stopped at a small bar on a corner, leading the way to a table outside in a patch of sun. A waitress bustled out with menus.

“Just drinks please,” Helen told her. “A brandy for me and… a coke?” she asked Lydia. Her daughter pouted, leaning her arms on the table. “Better make it a brandy and coke.”

The fiery liquid trickled a burning trail down into her churning stomach, laying a protective coating over the raw, painful reality of the day’s events. She finished it and ordered another, her daughter eyeing her with a nervous glance.

“Do you want another one?”

Lydia shook her head. A semblance of rational thought took shape in Helen’s mind, in that nothing could be done until they got home, then telephone calls could be made and questions asked.

            The second brandy came. She sipped it, leaning back and closing her eyes; feeling the evening sun’s warmth, wondering how a sensation could feel pleasant under circumstances so dire.

“Alright,” she said, “We’ll have to go without him.”

            The queuing lanes were full of vehicles now. As they approached the car Helen began to realise with a tremor of nerves that she would have to drive Robert’s car up the ramp and on to the ship, a task that seemed impossible in her shredded, light-headed state. She rested her elbows on the BMW’s roof, her face dropping into her hands in a turmoil of frustration and anger. How could he do this? How could he disappear without explanation, leaving them alone at the quayside? Tears coursed down between her fingers and dripped on to the black roof of the car, creating streaky runnels in the dust. She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Oh, Mami!”

She turned to her daughter. “How am I going to get this thing on to the ferry?”

Lydia put her arms around her. “It’s OK. Don’t worry. I can do it. I’ll drive it on.” She walked round to the driver’s side and got in. “Give me the keys. It’s not as if I haven’t driven it before.”

Half an hour later the lines of cars began to move. The girl started the engine and followed the car in front, concentration frozen on her face in her rigid stare and the determined set of her lips. Helen remained silent while they moved along on their way to the ramp then began to inch up it; hoping they wouldn’t have to stop the BMW on the slope and have to use the handbrake. As they gained the top she let out a breath, not realising she’d been holding it in. They rolled on into the position the deck hand wanted before stopping as he held up his hand. Perfect. She turned to Lydia, who had now relaxed in a slump, allowing herself a small smile of triumph.

“God! That was brilliant! Well done, love!” She reached over to pat her on the back, receiving a delighted grin in return.

“Right, come on Mami, let’s get our bags out. We can go and find the cabins. Don’t forget to bring the tickets!”

Helen found she was moving like an automaton, acting on her daughter’s instructions in a bizarre role reversal, although she was grateful for the direction in her confused and brandy-soaked state.

“I want to go outside and look,” she said as they ascended the stairs to the passenger decks. “One more look along the quay, just in case he’s there. We’ll be able to see more from up on deck.”

Standing at the rail a breeze ruffled her hair and made her shiver. The last of the vehicles were crawling up the ramp like beetles and getting swallowed up by the mouth of the car deck; a stream of container lorries continuing to rumble their way into the hold. She scanned the whole of the quayside, emptying now of traffic; looked further to the road. Was he out there somewhere watching, waiting for the vessel to depart? Was he searching the ship for them as she searched the area around it for him? Or was he long gone into another journey to who knew where?

            An announcement over the tannoy about collecting cabin keys from the purser’s office prompted them to go inside, where they waited in line and picked up the two keys; a double and a single. They located the corridor, unlocked the door to the double, threw the bags then themselves onto the beds. Helen lay on her back and stared at the low ceiling.

“We may as well share this one. It will only be more miserable if we’re on our own.” Lydia swung her legs down and sat up.

“We might be able to get the money back for the single cabin. Shall we try?” Helen shook her head, eyes still on the ceiling.

“Let’s not. We have enough to deal with.”

“Well I’m going to get a shower then. You might feel a bit better, Mami, if you do the same.”

Helen looked across at the girl-woman who was taking charge. “Shower,” she agreed, “then the bar. I anticipate the need for another brandy, and you must eat!” She lay down, closing her eyes, seeing again the empty space in the car boot like a gaping chasm.

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 Year Fiction 2

Here’s another fiction short telling of two women meeting during a family Christmas gathering. As the saying goes- you can choose your friends but not your family…

Christmas with Julia

                I am standing in the kitchen, tea towel in hand. I am drying cutlery and have just plucked the newly sharpened, steel carving knife from the rack. I can feel the weight of it and its smooth, shiny blade beneath the cotton fabric of the tea towel.

“Julia,” I say.

She totters towards me on spindly heels, expression composed into beatific, engineered grin.

“Oh Eve, can we be friends now? Can we? You and me?”

                Her features have grown sharp and pointed from all the years of anorexic self deprivation and she has begun to pencil dark arches of eyebrows beneath the highlighted fringe of her expensive, West End bob, giving her an uncanny resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West so that I expect, at any moment, she will cackle, wave her wand and change me into a frog.

“How about a smile? Come on! Give me a smile!”

                She leans nearer and I recoil, catching her hot, sour, wine-laden breath as she lurches forwards. I try to force my lips into the shape she demands.

“That’s not a real smile. It’s false. You are false. You are like my next door neighbour; false.”

                I don’t know the luckless neighbour; nevertheless I experience an empathetic warming towards them. I am still holding the heavy blade inside the towel. The insult sidles in to nestle amongst all the malicious comments Julia has dredged up and heaped upon me over the years. They roll through my thoughts now, like cine film. She is raising her arms, heralding the strong possibility that she may drape them around my neck in a repugnant embrace.

“Tell me what’s wrong. What’s stopping us from being friends?” She frowns, head on one side, her lips downturned in clown-like caricature.

                “This is not really the time or the place”, I tell her, as her arms drop to her sides. My fingers have settled comfortably around the handle of the knife, the blade continuing to rest in my left hand. She straightens, lifting her chin. “Yes it is! Tell me now! I want to know!” Her voice has risen, become a high pitched bark, threatening to summon the others from the Christmas table.

“Alright. If you must know, Julia, it’s because in all the years I’ve known you, you have never passed up an opportunity to make a spiteful remark.” I look down at the tea towel while I say this, sliding the cloth back and forth along the length of the implement as if it were a precious item of silver. When I raise my eyes to hers her thin lips are open in an outraged ‘O’ above the drop of her pointed chin and she splutters as a burst of laughter drifts through from the dining room.

                “You’re making that up. I’ve never said anything nasty to you. I always try to be friendly to everyone. You’re just a cow! A jealous cow!”

                I glance at her shiny, yellow, Jimmy Choo stilettos and her green Dior dress. Outside, her sleek, black Mercedes gloats over my second hand Nissan, sneering. I think of her ‘off-plan’, ‘Berkeley’, limited edition, cul-de-sac home, her time-share villa in Tenerife, the new Rolex watch my brother has just bought her and as I smile at how wrong she is she takes it for agreement, lifting her arms once more and moving in to encircle my neck, her face against mine. I try to draw back in her strangling grip but I am caught like a rabbit in the jaws of a trap, my hands and the towel-clad knife pillowed between us. I squirm, manoeuvring the bundle as I propel my lower legs back to create a space then take my left hand off and thrust the lethal blade up and forwards, where it enters in a swift, effortless slide through the flimsy fabric of the dress, encountering little resistance in the wasted flesh beneath her ribs. She grunts, stiffening, pulling back and away, her eyes stretched wide in surprise, a quick glance down at the knife’s sturdy handle protruding and a red stain spreading now on the shimmering silk across her abdomen. She sways for a brief moment, her mouth working to form words, her arms flailing.

                She grasps the worktop on her way to the floor, slithering down the cupboard door to leave a long, vivid, scarlet smear like spilt Claret and finally making contact with the tiles, the surprised expression frozen now, the skinny legs at unnatural angles, still punctuated by patent yellow caps.

                There is a clack-clacking of heels as she enters, startling me from a trance.

                “Eve!” she exclaims, “Penny for them!”

                “Oh Julia” I say, “I was just finishing off, and thinking about desert.”

                “None for me. I never touch it, but you love puddings, don’t you? Anyone can see that!” She pivots on the spiky, yellow heel, exiting with a satisfied smirk, leaving me to caress the carving knife like a secret lover.

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 Year Fiction

I’m starting 2022 with a complete short story, written entirely in dialogue. The character of Roger is based on someone I met long ago, when on a similar journey to Erica’s…

Blind Date

“Erica, is it?”

“Yes; Hello and you must be Roger.”

“That’s me! Roger the Dodger! Not really-just my bit of fun. What can I get you, Erica? Glass of champagne? You do like champagne, I hope?”

“Just a small glass of white, please. I do drink champagne but only on special occasions. Pinot Grigio is fine.”

“So what are you saying? This is not a special occasion, is that it?”

“Oh no, of course I didn’t mean…”

“Don’t worry love. I’m not offended. I’m only having a laugh. A glass of your best Pinot for the lady, my man, and I’ll have a single malt, no ice.

Did you find this place alright, Erica? Didn’t get lost?”

“No. I am familiar with the area. I have one or two friends who live around Fratton. That’s not far, is it?”

“No, but this side of the golf course is better; nicer properties. You can see my place from the first fairway. Did you notice my motor on your way in? Remember I said on the phone, look out for the Merc with the special plate-did you see it?”

“Yes. ‘RU55BIT’. Was that it?”

“That’s the one. Do you get it? RU-that’s me, Roger Urquart, then the 55-that’s meant to be two Fs. That spells RUFF. Then there is BIT. It says ‘Rough Bit’. It’s rather droll, don’t you think?

Well, Erica, what sort of things do you get up to? What ‘floats your boat’ as they say?”

“All the usual things, I suppose. I like to read, go to the theatre, see friends. I go for an occasional meal, go to the gym; but work takes up a lot of my time.”

“No special hobbies then? How’s the wine? OK?

Tell you what; I bet you’d like a spin in my little kite, wouldn’t you? It’s a thing that’s dear to my heart. She’s a Piper Cherokee, a little cracker! I don’t mean she’s got cracks in! I’m only joking! She flies like a dream. I take her over to Le Touquet some weekends. Do you like France? I can go over there for lunch and be back home for dinner. Do you like the sound of that?”

“It sounds…interesting.”

“Oh it is. It always goes down very well with the ladies. I don’t mean ‘goes down’ as in crashes! I’m jesting! You’ll soon get to know me. I’m a laugh-a-minute bloke.

Did you say you were divorced?”

“Yes, three years ago, but it is all quite amicable now and the children spend plenty of time with their father.”

“Ha! I’ve been married three times. That’s a triumph of optimism over bankruptcy, you might say! Especially now I’m young, free and single again. I get on alright with Mary, my first wife, but the other two; they’re a couple of scroungers. Gold diggers, I call them, the pair of them; always after something. If I had all the dosh I’ve spent on maintenance payments I’d be minted now. You know what Rod Stewart said? ‘I’m not getting married again, I’m just going to find a woman I don’t like and give her a house’-So true!”

“I wonder why he did get married then, if he didn’t like the woman.”

“Fancied the pants off her, I expect, if you’ll excuse the expression. Doesn’t last though, does it, Erica? ‘Once the thrill is gone’ and all that?

So have you done a lot of this Internet dating malarkey? Met many blokes yet?”

“No, you are only the third person I’ve met.”

“What was wrong with the other two then?”

“Nothing was wrong with them. They were perfectly pleasant people. There just wasn’t a connection, a spark. Perhaps I didn’t have much in common with either of them.”

“What do you reckon it is that gives you a spark? Give us a clue! If I can find out where the other two went wrong I’m in with a chance. What sort of men do you go for?”

“I like the people I meet to be well mannered, I enjoy stimulating conversation and of course a sense of humour is a very attractive quality, I think.”

“Phew! That’s lucky. I’m doing alright so far.

I must tell you, Erica that I’ve met quite a lot of ladies in this Internet game and you are by far the most attractive. In fact I’d say you are in a different league to all the other ones. For a start most are very economical with the truth where their age is concerned. Some of the ones who say they’re in their mid forties, they’re either lying or they’ve lived hard lives. Mid sixties would be nearer the mark. How’s the wine? Can I get you another?”

“I shouldn’t have another, thanks. I can’t be late or drink too much. I have an early meeting to get to in the morning.”

“Soft drink then or a coffee?”

“I won’t, thank you. I must be getting home.”

“What a shame! We should have met up at the weekend. We’d have had more time to get to know each other. Still, there’s always next time. When are you free? I’ll take you up in my little plane; show you my joystick! Boom boom!”

“It is a tempting offer, Roger, but I’m going to decline. If I have to be honest I don’t really think I’m your type. I wish you luck with your future Internet dating though, and thanks for the drink.”

“Ah well, you can’t win them all. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but you know my number if you change your mind. It was lovely meeting you. Don’t forget your coat, love. Bye bye.

It’s your loss.”

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.