#13 Marked Cards
Kipper turned his big brown eyes towards me. At seven months old and still very much a puppy, he knows only how to express happiness and love but there was something else there this time: confusion. He was wearing one of those upside down lampshades that dogs are forced to wear for their own good sometimes, but his puppy suppleness and tenacity meant that he’d managed to bypass the undignified contraption and gone for a nose about down under, a bit of necessary testicle husbandry, long overdue. That’s when he turned towards me in dog bafflement, ‘they were there when I last looked,’ he seemed to be saying, ‘where have they gone?’
Ah, poor Kipper, time moves on my friend, it’s the circle of life. Or not in your case.
I defy things like this not to put you in reflective mood. I had been off the drugs for three weeks now and beginning to realise that apart from the side effects they had clearly been making a difference, not only to my levels of pain but my overall tiredness. As a result I felt old and useless; cranky and decrepit, and the next specialist appointment was still another month away. There was still a spark of life there, I still had the energy to react like a pissed-off rattlesnake should the situation demand, the latest being told that what’s good for Chronic Inflammatory Rheumatoid Arthritis is ‘No refined sugar and to love everyone!’ It felt like a slogan on a T-shirt that some hippy nutritionist would wear while on holiday, a catch-all message to hide the unhappiness of their own shallow existence. I gobbled up a load of sugar cubes, set my personality warmth to ‘tepid’ and decided that wallowing wouldn’t do, there were things to be done after all.
It’s coming up to our first anniversary as a bed and breakfast. It’s been a far busier year than expected too, with high points and low, though far more good than bad. What started out as a post-Brexit safety-net and hopefully something that would replace a lot of my travelling, has been an unheralded success. It’s not always easy, partly because of me, but on the whole it has worked out even in ways that I didn’t expect. We’ve lived here for nearly 15 years, and although we sell the place to guests as a ‘rural idyll’ and ‘a calm, relaxing backwater’; we’ve rarely seen that side of it ourselves but it took one simple change to do so. Sun beds. Up until this summer I hadn’t been in the swimming pool much, or even sat by it. My pool duties are treating the water twice a week, fishing the odd struggling child out of its depths and being on permanent sentry duty if an insect has the temerity to land on its pristine surface. It’s a full-time job, which has meant that I rarely actually swim in the thing, just stand there tetchily swishing an insect net about. As my friend Paul Tonkinson once said, quite rightly, I was ruining my own paradise.
This year, for necessary operational reasons, we had to create a more welcoming mise en scene if you will. Half a dozen sun loungers, a couple of drinks tables, wide parasols, all for the guests you understand but the effect on us was immediate. For the first time in 15 years we were drawn in, it all looked so inviting and rather than stand by the pool ready to pounce on one of the many flying, buzzing things that the French countryside has to offer, I took a seat. Then I lay on a bed. Then I put down my butterfly net and picked up a book. Suddenly I was relaxing in my own garden and I’d never managed that before, which not only sounds ridiculous but is ridiculous. Now that the season is over and I must put the sunbeds and parasols away, it’s with a sense of loss rather than my usual pathological need to tidy up. The boys have put their cricket stumps away too, after a summer spent trying to recreate their new favourite sport and trying to persuade their French friends that cricket is the future. Arguing absurdly over whether something was a no-ball, or bowled with a bent arm, or whether it had pitched outside leg and therefore couldn’t possibly be out LBW. It’s a surreal thing seeing cricket enjoyed with such fine detail in rural France. Even more so when you realise their pitch borders the paddock.
‘Where’s the ball gone?’
‘I don’t know. I think it’s behind that goat.’
Now, its more autumnal pursuits and with Samuel away in England and Maurice away at school, Thérence has turned his attentions to a new hobby, close magic. Now, I dislike close magic. Maybe it’s the controlling instinct in me, the need to know how everything in front of me works, but close magic freaks me out. I leave the room if possible and have even asked magicians on the circuit to stay well away from me rather than practise their sorcery in my presence. So when Thérence starts badgering me every five minutes to ‘pick a card, any card’, it’s like a form of torture. I can’t see how he does the things he does but after every trick I am literally screaming inside my head, running around like a loon shouting, ‘leave me the hell alone!’ I’ve told him that he’d have been burnt as a witch in more enlightened times, but it just doesn’t put him off and he’ll just smile at me like some Devil child.
‘Pick a card, any card?’ He asked for about the fifth time in ten minutes and I remembered what it was I disliked about Paul Daniels, it was his utter smug certainty. My shoulders slumped and reluctantly I put down the cooking stuff I was holding and picked a card.
‘Don’t tell me what it is!’ The little terror admonished me, as serious as only a ten year old can be.
I noted the card, the three of diamonds.
He shuffled the pack a few times, split it this way and that, all with a theatrical flourish and a knowing smile.
‘Ta da!’ He said, producing the six of clubs.
‘Not my card,’ I said, trying not to perform a fist pump.
He went through it all again.
‘Ta da!’ he said once more, and this time held up the nine of hearts.
This went on all through dinner, to the point where Natalie even quietly suggested I just agree that whatever card he produced next I should say was my card. ‘No,’ I was quite firm about it, ‘that’s when you end up with insufferable children on God-awful talent shows, fed lies by their over-indulgent parents.
’Ta da!’ The Queen of spades.
To follow up the ‘no refined sugar, love everyone’ mantra Natalie placed an orange in front of me for dessert while Thérence continued to battle with the fickle Gods of magic. It looked like the loneliest fruit ever. A solitary orange on a plate, with a sharp knife for company and I tried to keep Kipper’s eyes off the plated allegory. A disappointed Thérence offered to slice the orange open for me and I didn’t have the heart to deny him. Slowly he took a knife to the thing, taking far more care and attention than was really warranted as he removed the top half. Inside the bloody orange was the bloody three of diamonds! I don’t how he did it, frankly I don’t want to know how he did it, but it rendered me practically hysterical while the little sod laughed. ‘Is this your card?’ He asked smoothly.
I went out and lay on a remaining sunbed, all of a sudden quite jealous of Kipper.
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here on itunes and it’s on spotify and acast, if you’d like a listen. They’re only 15 minutes long…
Please leave feedback and share.