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…

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…