The alphabet of death

I don’t know who to attribute this to, but whoever it is, nice one!

If anybody does know, please tell me so I can give credit where it’s due.


Many thanks to Michael Gage – the alphabet is the wonderful work “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” by Edward Gorey.



An update on Hayley

There is hope!


From the Galgos del Sol Facebook page:

“Hayley is continuing to improve after being poisoned!!!!!

Now here is the tough part. Her bill is up at 1000 euros and we would like to ask you if you could give up your Starbucks or cigarettes today to help her? If your answer is yes please donate to – or check out for more options!

We feel pretty confident she will be coming home! Watch her rescue video here”

Well, that’s just great news for we dog lovers, although of course 1,000 euros is a huge bill for the association to find. But worth every last cent to save the life of a dog who would have died an agonising death if she hadn’t been rescued when she was. Not to mention what would have become of her four helpless pups.

Anybody who would like to contribute, the links are above.

Poisoned dog (2)

The terribly sad incident of the rescued galga, Hayley reminded me of a strange, quite creepy event that happened decades ago when I lived in Kenya and had three beautiful Standard Poodles, Bijou, Pepe and Lulu.

I was invited to a coffee morning by a woman (who subsequently stole a whole shelf full of my books, but that’s beside the point.)

There were several other women there, all strangers to each other. During the morning one of them went and sat next to another, and took her hand. She said: “Don’t worry, this time everything is going to be fine. You’ll have a beautiful, healthy daughter.”

The other woman looked stunned, and it came out that she had had several miscarriages, but had learned the previous day that she was pregnant again. She hadn’t told anybody. (The prophecy did indeed come true, BTW.)

This led to the first woman claiming she was a white witch, like her aunt who was some kind of senior white witch in England.

I didn’t really think much about it for the rest of the morning as the subject changed, and I my only conversation with the ‘white witch’ was to ask if I could pass her another slice of cake.

When we were leaving, she caught up with me at the door and grabbed my arm.

“Please be careful,” she said. “You are in danger. You are surrounded by a powerful smell of bitter almonds. Be terribly careful what you eat. It’s a sign of poison.”

That’s when I thought she might be a bit loopy.

Back home, I had a nap after lunch, and dreamed a weird, frightening dream, of fires and masks and drums beating, really quite disturbing and woke up feeling panicky.

The cook came to say that the man had come to read the water meter, and he would shut the dogs in the garage. Although they were the most playful and sociable dogs, most Africans were very cautious around them. So he shut the dogs away. The man read the meter, and we let the dogs out.

Two minutes later the cook called out urgently: “Lulu is sick!”

She was lying on the ground, foaming at the mouth. She was rigid, her back so arched that the back of her head was almost touching her tail. toxicology-lec-48-638.jpg

I rushed her to the vet, pushed past the people in the queue and shouted for help.

They laid her on the stainless steel table. By now she was floppy, yellow foam gushing from her mouth, covering her chest and legs. The vet put his ear to her chest, and shook his head. “She’s gone,” he said.

And then he began pounding on the table with his fist, with all his strength. Her body flew up and down, crashing onto the table. He kept pounding the table, and then he put his ear to her chest again. “We have a heartbeat,” he said.

He took a sample of the foam and sent it for analysis.

Lulu was breathing very, very faintly.

“She’s been poisoned,” he said. “Probably strychnine in rat poison. There’s very little we can do; it’s in her system, and there’s no way to get it out. I’m going to give her a very strong sedative to make her sleep through the night and allow her body to fight. If she is strong enough, she will survive. Either she will wake up in the morning, or she will pass away painlessly during the night.”

I took the sleeping dog home and put her in a basket in my room. She was sleeping peacefully, and still hardly breathing.

The vet rang later. “I was strychnine,” he said. “Rat poison. Let me know what happens. If she doesn’t wake up, at least you will know she hasn’t suffered.”

After this drama, it wasn’t until later that evening that I remembered the strange conversation I’d had with the ‘white witch’. Maybe it was a coincidence, but if so it was very close to home, so I phoned her.

When I told her what had happened, she said “Oh I am so pleased to hear from you, and to know you are OK. There was absolutely no question in my mind this morning that you were going to be affected by poisoning. But I thought it would be you, not your dog.”

She asked me to go to a seance, but I wanted to stay with the dog, and declined.


“I’m really not a believer in the occult,” I said. “Although events today have made me think, it’s not something I want to get involved in.”

After assuring her that I would let her know about Lulu the next day, she ended our conversation saying: “Just one thing I’d like to say. Whether or not you believe in the occult, that doesn’t matter, but please, never play with a ouija board, even for fun. It’s very dangerous. Just take my word.”

Lulu and I both slept through the night.

We both woke next morning. She made a full recovery.

I’ve never touched a ouija board.

Seeing my dog in such a condition, hearing the words “She gone. Poison. Strychnine,” I had virtually no hope that she would survive. And yet she did, so there is hope that Hayley too will be able to come through.



Poisoned dog (1)

I’d be grateful if everybody could please send very positive vibes – prayers – thoughts to a dog currently fighting for its life in Spain.

The galgos, for those who don’t know, are similar in appearance to greyhounds, and they are used for hunting by their owners. Unfortunately they are also terribly abused, tortured and killed for ‘sport’ by their owners. At best they are turned out into the wilds, or onto the streets, to die. Please do not be tempted to search on-line to learn more, unless you have a strong stomach.

There are many animal welfare associations working very hard, in difficult conditions and frequently subjected to abuse, trying to help these gentle dogs and rescue them from ill-treatment.

The day before yesterday Galgos del Sol rescued a homeless and scrawny galga bitch with a litter of 3-week-old pups she had tucked away in a haystack. The rescue took considerable patience, not to alarm the bitch so that she fled and abandoned her pups.

Success! She was captured and taken with her 4 pups to the Galgos del Sol centre. A story that should have a happy ending.

But – a few hours later the bitch – named Hayley – suddenly became very ill, haemorrhaging severely. Rushed to the vet, tests showed that she had been fed rat poison and was not expected to live. She is very, very ill.12572952_1123250924361372_8546932126806339017_n.jpg

But – she survived the night. There is still hope she may recover. So please hold her in your thoughts. Send her strength that she can pull through and live to raise her pups in safety and comfort.


Off-track trains

This morning I was reading a blog post about a traveller who through a series of mishaps ended up having one of those train journeys usually confined to frustrating dreams, when nothing is where it should be and time is against you, and the harder you try to escape the deeper you plunge.

It reminded me of an occasion several years ago. I absolutely love railway stations and train journeys, even more so when they don’t go according to plan and turn into an adventure, which this one did, although sadly it was caused by somebody else’s misfortune.

Travelling to England for work, whenever possible I went by train as a person, rather than as a parcel by short haul flight.

The journey started with a 40-minute drive to Poitiers railway station. Two and a half hours by train to Paris Montparnasse. A taxi across Paris to St Lazare. A train to Rouen. A train from Rouen to Dieppe, a walk or taxi from Dieppe station to the port, and the ferry to Newhaven. It took the best part of a day, and felt like a short holiday.

The return journey obviously worked in reverse. On this occasion I was due to arrive in Poitiers in the early evening, where my husband would collect me. The ferry crossing was on time. The chuggy little train from Dieppe to Rouen was on time. There was a comfortable change over time at Rouen, and the train to Paris left on time. So far everything was on schedule and going according to plan.

Fifteen minutes out of Rouen, the train squealed and halted just outside a station.  None of the passengers reacted at first, but sat reading or chatting quietly. But as the minutes ticked away people became restless and began murmuring and peering out of the windows. After ten minutes I started feeling anxious, because I didn’t have a great deal of time to get across Paris to catch my next train. Another ten minutes passed, and by then I knew my connection was (1).jpg

A voice came over the speaker announcing that somebody had jumped onto the line in front of the train and been killed. The judicial police had arrived on the scene (ugh, how awful for them), and we wouldn’t be moving again until they had completed their examination of the scene. In England, there would have been ‘an incident on the line.’ Of course everybody would understand the innuendo, but the graphic words wouldn’t be spoken. The French are less coquettish, more down to earth.

The announcement continued to say that anybody making a connection in Paris should speak to the official who would be coming into the carriage. He would make arrangements for those whose journey would be disrupted.

A friendly French couple sitting opposite me said  how lucky I was – as I’d miss the last train home, the SNCF would put me in a hotel in Paris for the night. Woo hoo, (I know, it was wrong, somebody had just died, but still….) The ticket man gave me a voucher to present at St Lazare, and I was already anticipating a nice cosy hotel room and dinner, hopefully breakfast too, all at the expense of the efficient and thoughtful SNCF.The-Peninsula-Spa-Gift-Cards-2.jpg

It was a long time before we began rolling again, and when we arrived at St Lazare it was pandemonium as several hundred people with vouchers stormed the Accueil. When I reached the counter and claimed my hotel room, I was disappointed to learn that the SNCF had made arrangements for the Paris to Biarritz overnight train to make a stop at Poitiers, and I was to take the Metro to the Gare d’Austerlitz to catch a train from there. I explained that I don’t use underground trains, nor lifts. I am claustrophobic. The official shrugged and suggested I took a taxi.

There seemed to be no end to the queue for taxis, but fortunately there were almost three hours before the train left, so I tacked myself to the end and shuffled along as the queue diminished. It was snowing gently. Despite the cold, and the long wait, everybody was good-humoured and patient, as I generally find the French are in these situations. I wimages.jpgas quite enjoying listening to their banter, until I remembered I only had 7 euros in cash with me. How would I pay the taxi driver? Twinge of panic.

When I finally reached the head of the queue I had an inspiration, and I turned round and called out in French to the hordes behind me: “Does anybody want to share a taxi to Gare d’Austerlitz?” People stared in astonishment, as if I’d taken off all my clothes and rolled naked in the snow, and for a few seconds there was silence. Then from way back a man held up his arm and yelled “Yes!” He galloped up and we climbed into the taxi together. taxi-paris_2694943b.jpgHe too had been diverted and had very little time to make his connection to somewhere far away in Eastern France; as it was, he didn’t think he’d make it, but at least now he had a chance. He asked the taxi driver to put his foot down, which led to an enjoyably high speed ride through Paris, like something out of a film, with the driver pointing out landmarks that passed in a blur. As we reached Austerlitz my fellow passenger leapt out, thrust a bundle of notes at the driver and vanished.

“Ooof, he’s overpaid me,” said the driver. Yay! Result. 🙂

The train didn’t leave until midnight. It was now after 10.00 pm, and I should have arrived at Poitiers just after 7.00 pm. Neither my husband nor I had mobile phones at the time, so I phoned home, but there was no answer. I left a message to say I was OK and didn’t know what time I’d get to Poitiers, then roamed around the station, freshened up in their immaculate washroom, and blew the 7 euros on a hot chocolate and croissant.


Gare de Paris-Austerlitz en chantier, la facade principale (Janv. 2015)

Finally the Biarritz train moved out of the station. The passenger in front of me immediately reclined his seat into my lap, playing a Walkman, and through the earphones the tchk tchk tchk noise went round and round. His hair needed washing. I jerked my knees into the back of his seat a few times to try and disturb him, to no avail. I didn’t want to share his noise and odour, so went and stood in the area between the carriages and watched the night going by.

There was nothing out there. Not a light anywhere. No signs of road traffic. Just empty blackness. After two hours a small alarm bell went off in my head. Surely by now there should be some signs of habitation; surely we should have passed through at least a couple of stations. Either I was on the wrong train, or they had forgotten to stop. We should have reached Tours by now, but we hadn’t, so we must have been heading straight for Biarritz, and how would I get back home, and when?

There was nobody to ask what was happening; the carriages were dark, everybody was asleep, I couldn’t find anything to pull or push, so I stood there swaying and wondering if the person who had jumped in front of the train near Rouen had given a thought to how many people would find their day disrupted, let alone the distress of all those who had to deal with the aftermath of their actions. There was nothing I could do, except wait, and deal with whatever happened next. Beneath tiredness and anxiety there was, I admit, just a tiny worm of excitement wondering how this was going to end. And bizarrely, the words of one of Chris de Burgh’s songs kept running through my head:

“There’s a man on the line, and he is wasting my time …………...”

On and on went the train, through the dark and empty night. When I had resigned myself to ending up nearly 300 miles from home, with no money, the train began to slow, and there was the space age landscape of Futuroscope, and the lights of the city. The train pulled into the darkened station and tiptoed to a halt. download.jpg

It was like a scene from a wartime spy film: the deserted station, the silent train, the single passenger alighting and the solitary figure standing on the platform beneath a single faint overhead light.  It was 3.40 am, and my husband has been waiting here since 7.00 pm.

As he took my backpack a carriage door slammed, and another figure descended and followed us out of the station.

“Excuse me,” he said in French, “I am sorry to ask, but do you go anywhere near Roches Prémarie?” He explained that he lived alone, there was nobody he could call for a lift, no taxis and no hotels accepting guests at that hour of the night.

The man who had shared the taxi in Paris had done me a favour, and we could pass it on as we were able to deliver this gentleman to his front door, which made for a very satisfactory ending to the saga.

You wouldn’t have that kind of adventure on the short haul flight. On the other hand, who wants an adventure in mid-air?

This post linked to:

Lou Messugo






Vive la différence, or the weight of words

Last week I had three identical books to post to the United States. They are quite heavy, so I wanted to post them by the most economical means.

The French postal system has a special book rate. You have to write on the packet ‘livre‘ to indicate that it contains a book, which I did.

There was until fairly recently a rarity in our nearest post office – a thoroughly miserable and difficult little woman who was as awkward as she was able to be within the remit of her job.images

At the time there were two adjacent cashiers. People queued in a single queue and moved to the first cashier to become vacant. From long and depressing experience, if we saw that we were going to have to do the wearisome battle with Mrs Sourlemon-Face, as we called her, we would allow the person behind us in the queue to leapfrog us. I don’t think she was so difficult with French people.

Anyway, the good news is that following a revamp of the post office, she has now been relegated to a back room where she hands out parcels through a small window, and there is a new friendly lady dealing with the post section.

I handed her the three books, said that they were for the United States and that they were to go by the least expensive means.

After she had weighed them, she asked if they were French books. I said that they were about France, but written in English.

Then they could not go by book rate, she said. Only books written in the French language qualified.

But how would anybody know what language they were written in, I asked.

Well, the Customs might open them, she replied.

Why does the language matter, I asked.

Because the special book rate is to promote French culture.

But these books are all about France. They are about champagne, history, the French Revolution, French food ….. it is just the words that are in English. Why can’t they go by book rate?

She shrugged. Because it says so, she replied.ticket-rules-and-regulations1.jpg

The cost of posting each book – €10 – was more than the value of the book. I said I wouldn’t pay that, it was ridiculous.

Ah yes, she sighed. It’s a shame.

But she wanted to be helpful, and after a moment she had a bright idea:

If I went home and put all the books in the same parcel, and sent them to one of the recipients as a parcel, it would cost less.

But then how would the other two recipients get their books?

The first recipient would deliver them.

One lives in Texas, one in Massachusetts and one in Oregon. The first recipient would have to pay to post the books to these people.images (1).jpg

We both agreed that her bright idea wouldn’t work. She looked up what it would cost if the books went by book-rate. Less than one-quarter of the non-book-rate. Oh la, she said, there is a big difference. But, still, it says ……………….

I said to her, this is the first time I have ever been asked what language the book is written in. It has never happened in any other post office, or indeed in this very same post office, even by Mrs Sourlemon-Face.

Which other post offices had I used, she asked.

I named the one I frequently used.

Well, she said, I think it would be better for you to go to that one. It will cost you much less.

So I went to another post office, where the lady didn’t ask what
language the books were printed in, and they cost precisely €2.13 each to post.


Of course it did take an extra two hours out of my life, and thirty miles of fuel.

There’s a moral here in case you need to post books abroad from France. 🙂 download (3).jpg


This post is linked to:

Lou Messugo



Could you get me in a frock?


Have you ever seen me wear a frock? Probably not. It’s always been riding breeches or jeans since I was a teenager, except for work when I had to wear ‘proper’ clothes.

So frocks do not feature in my wardrobe. You could change that.

My best-selling title last year was Swallows and Robins, which is long-listed for the People’s Book Prize.

SwallowsWEB (1)

If it makes the finals, I’ll have to wear a posh frock.

The competition is formidable, from stellar writers like Frederick Forsyth and brilliant cartoonist Mac to name-drop just two of the opposition.

Winners are chosen solely by public vote. Most votes wins. So, for a rare chance to get me into a frock, cast your vote here: People’s Book Prize – Swallows and Robins. Voting closes 28th February.

Leaving a comment is optional. In case you are stuck for ideas to add to those super comments made so far (thanks hugely, whoever you are!), here are a few suggestions:

  • Brilliant!
  • Wonderful!
  • Amazing talent!
  • Best book ever!
  • Definitely the winner!

Thank you for reading. Thanks a lot if you vote me into wearing a frock. 😀


Me in a frock