A matter of the heart

Yes! Two blog posts in the same day! That’s because I already had this one written when I got a mention on a radio show.

Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.


I know I often bang on about how life is short and I’m very lucky and so on, but these are subjects rather dear to my heart.

And in the last month or so it’s my heart that’s been giving me gyp, which has made me even more conscious of the brevity of our stay on this planet.

I’ve been having the occasional burst of palpitations for ages – like, months. But I haven’t been able to tie it down to any particular activity or posture. Often they arrive when I’m lying perfectly still in bed. Sometimes it’s when I’m talking, sometimes it’s when I’m eating. It’s fairly unpleasant, as experiences go. My heart suddenly rushes a whole sequence of uneven heartbeats together, like a particularly heavy-footed and unsyncopated tap dancer.

But over the last month I’ve become even more aware of my internal pump. At almost every moment of the day and night I can feel it, thumping away in my chest. The blood fizzes right through my body and out into my toes, and my heart feels like it’s struggling, flopping about gasping for air, while my chest seems about to burst open.

None of this has been exactly helped by what appears to be the world’s longest-lasting cold. I’m now in week four and while a lot of the sinus gunk has subsided, I’m still coughing all the time. It’s a dry, stuttering cough concentrated right in the centre of my chest, and I can feel it pulling at my costal cartilage, trying to make everything pop. I’ve started having to wrap my arms around myself when I feel a cough coming on.

On the journey back to Sweden on Friday, I was sure my time had come. Travelling from Normandy to Sweden in a day isn’t a particularly fun trip, and by the time my plane had finally boarded, after two gate changes and 20 minutes waiting in full sun in a glass tunnel at the hideous-as-ever CDG (surely the worst airport in Europe for passenger comfort?), I was feeling really quite ill. Looking back, the flight is a bit of a blur, but at some point I made myself a promise: “If I get through this, I’m going to change some stuff”.

That may sound vague, but it’s mostly the usual kind of thing you promise yourself in such circumstances – enjoy the simple things in life more, be a bit kinder to myself, try not to eat quite so many snacks consisting entirely of bread and butter, get more sleep (ha! my insomnia is really going to cooperate with that one!)… but also to stop taking bullshit from people. Despite not actually liking the human race very much I’m fairly polite in face-to-face interaction – too polite, in fact. I tend not to call people out on their obvious lies and self-deceptions. But I dislike that placatory attitude in myself, so that’s something I’m going to try to improve.

Anyway, I went to the doctor’s yesterday and had my heart checked, and it’s fine. It’s not struggling. It’s not flopping about, gasping like a gaffed fish. My blood pressure is, as usual, lowish. My heart rate is pretty good for someone of my age. “Do you run?” asked the doctor. And yeah, I do, kind of, but only insofar as I go for the occasional jog that’s a bit faster than my normal walking pace. So that made me smile. We agreed that it’s probably just the menopause finally hitting me, at the age of 51 (and who knew that one of the symptoms was increased heart rate? Certainly not me, not before the last month). So the next stop will be the gynaecologist to see if they can give me HRT or something, because I don’t relish feeling like this for however long it takes for my body’s hormone levels to settle down.

In the meantime, however, I’ve found a remedy for the exploding chest thing. I have a corset that I wore in the winter for a fancy dress event, and before I bought it I did quite a lot of reading about corsets. One of the books was “Solaced”, by the fabulously enthusiastic Lucy Williams, which relates many experiences of corset wearers finding the garment useful to help with a variety of conditions, from scoliosis to depression. So, I thought, rather than try to hold my ribs in place myself, why not let my corset do the job? And it works! I don’t have it laced up particularly tightly, but it’s just like a constant gentle hug (and who wouldn’t like that?) – and one that relieves me of that horribly chest-explody feeling every time I cough.

I’m sure that eventually the permacold will go away and my corset will go back into the drawer. In the meantime,  this is what all the best-dressed translators are wearing:

Well it amused me anyway…

I just got a – not entirely unexpected – on air mention from my favourite podcast DJ, for having sent him a gift of the only Swedish chocolate worth buying.

Note that it’s not worth eating – Swedish chocolate is disgustingly sweet and full of palm oil – but no English speaker can resist being amused by the name of this one (particularly this special version with added pun).

If, like me, you were a devotee of the John Peel show, Zaph Mann’s “In memory of John Peel show” is well worth listening to. Unlike some of the other tribute shows it doesn’t play the same music as our lost hero – instead Zaph aims to present independent new music* of the type that JP would be playing were he still with us.

Particular gems from this edition of the show include a really beautiful guitar piece called “Chellow Dean Top“, by Andrew Abbott; “Esus“, a nicely swirly thing by the wonderfully named Bonnacons of Doom, and a short, noisy track aptly entitled “Migraine” by Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut.

I’m pretty sure Mr Peel would approve.

*With the exception of the odd track by the Fall, which is, of course, perfectly OK by me.

New markers

Another one in the series of free write exercises I did a while back. As usual, the prompt was given, and the instruction was to write for 15 minutes without worrying about where you were going. Because I do this longhand, it never produces much, but it’s always interesting to see who turns up.

This time it was once again Stella and Mr Wonderful with another scene in their story (you can find previous scenes here and here, and I have one more already written which I’ll post at some point). One day I really must write more about these two, because they’re always such fun to do.


“New markers, please”, says Mr Wonderful in a low voice to the lackey.

“Certainly, Your Lordship”, says the man with a half bow. “For what amount?”

“Two hundred thousand, please.”

I nearly screech like that blasted parrot. 200,000? This isn’t what we agreed. I try to catch his eye while maintaining my blonde bimbo attitude of bored familiarity with the whole situation. Unfortunately, Lord Allington’s previously constant, knicker-wettingly sexy eye contact is now mysteriously absent.

I shift uneasily on my chair and wonder what the fuck he’s thinking. He’s not stupid. He knows how little cash we have to back those markers. So why has he suddenly decided to go all out for that kind of amount?

And then the crowd behind the players on the other side of the table shifts and I see what – or rather who – he must have seen a minute earlier.

A wing of black, glossy hair, shot through with spangles of grey so perfectly judged they couldn’t possibly be natural. A pale shoulder partly enfolded in a white fox fur wrap, exposing a bandeau neckline in white crêpe with diamonds above it. And as she turns, laughing, from the people who’ve slowed her royal progress through the room, a flash of her signature crimson lipstick. Carlotta Mureno. Here. Tonight. My mouth is suddenly dry. Mr W has seen her arriving, and taken out an extra 200,000 in markers. And just like that, I know what he’s planning. He’s going to try to take out Carlotta Mureno and Anders de Jong at the same time, in a single game. With 200,000 euros’ worth of money we don’t have.

I take a big swig of my champagne, and as I put my glass down he reaches out and takes my hand. Leaning forward until his lips are almost touching my ear, he whispers, “Nervous, darling?”

I shoot an angry look at him. He’s giving me that grin again. I feel warmth flood through me and try – not very successfully – not to grin back. Fuck it. We can try, can’t we? If we fail, we’ll be no worse off. Dead, possibly – but no worse off. And it would be a fantastic coup if we managed it. Can we, though?

I sit back in my chair and adjust the neckline of my dress downwards just a little. His Lordship’s eyes follow the movement of my fingers, but Mr W is just as conscious of their magnetic effect on every other man around the table, Anders de Jong included.

“Nervous? Me?” I say, with a smile. “Absolutely not!”

If only 18-year-old me had known…

I’m typing this on my laptop, sitting in the courtyard of my house in France, at the picnic table under the fig tree*.

Fig tree workspace

I’m listening to my streaming music service on my mobile phone, which is picking the music out of the air and beaming it via Bluetooth to my wireless headphones.

A few minutes ago I was working on my current translation project, about the digitisation of a Belgian city’s administrative processes. My next project is the script for another set of meditation sessions. There’s always something new to do, always clients asking me if I’m available. And I’m making a – very decent, by most people’s standards – living too, from a job I can actually do anywhere. No commuting, no dress code, no office politics.

In a minute I think I’ll go for a walk through the marais, in which case I’ll listen to an audiobook. My current listen is set on a British island not entirely unlike Lindisfarne, and I’ve been toying with the idea of spending the winter somewhere like that – an island connected to the mainland at high tide. As a native of a permanent island, I find places like that very odd and interesting.

Even the cows love the marais

Later this evening, I’ll probably play a computer game to unwind. Either No Man’s Sky, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and really is excellent for relaxation, or Witcher 3, which isn’t so relaxing but is utterly stunning in terms of graphic detail and sheer depth of scenario.

At the weekend, I’m going back to Sweden, via Paris** – a city I’m quite familiar with now, and where, of course, I can talk fluently to any French person I happen to encounter.

Our house in Sweden is near the sea, surrounded by beech woodland, and has a garden larger than a whole block of houses in the UK. On Saturday I’m going to a party in Copenhagen, which involves crossing the Öresund Bridge. We’ll pay the bridge toll via an electronic bleeper attached to the windscreen (or, more probably, as I’m going in my friend Richard’s car, an electronic bleeper that I’ll be holding up to the windscreen, because his one has lost its sticky and normally lives in the glove compartment).

I can’t help thinking 18-year-old me, setting off to university for the first time about this time of year, 33 years ago, would be pretty damned impressed and happy with my life, and the technology*** that allows me to live like this.

Actually, 51-year-old me is, too.


*This makes it sound a lot posher than it is. We’ve been renovating the house, which we bought for the price of a garden shed in the UK, for three years, and we still don’t have ceiling lights, or heating. It’s Normandy, so today’s sunshine is going to be eclipsed by thick cloud for the rest of the week while everyone else in the country is sunbathing. The car’s developed a fault that means you regularly have to leap out and wiggle the battery leads before it’ll start. The sickly stray cat that’s adopted us has just snorted a streak of bloody snot onto the picnic table near my mouse mat, and there’s a disembowelled jackdaw (courtesy of said cat) decomposing in the rubbish bin. But anyway.

**Yes, I’m climate compensating the flights, but I still feel guilty. Then again, I don’t have kids, which by my reckoning puts me well on the side of the angels in terms of carbon emissions over my lifetime.

***And, of course, with the EU, which is what really allows me to live like this. Because in the UK I’d be lucky to be able to afford a flat, never mind two large houses. And – tax avoidance for the super-rich aside – this is the point of Brexit. They want people like me to stay in the UK, trapped in a monolingual economy of insecure jobs and extortionately priced housing.

True grit

A spot of murder to start the day, inspired by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch.


They dragged her into the brightly lit interrogation room, struggling and spitting, and forced her down into a chair.

Once they’d read her the standard caution, the words flooded out of her exhausted frame. How she’d put up with his violence for years until she’d finally snapped and decided to kill him. How she’d set up an alibi and learned the patrol patterns at his heavily guarded office so she could slip between them unnoticed, in and out like a ghost.

“And I’d have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that stupid pebble in my shoe.”

How to win the British Political War

I’ve dashed this off rather quickly because, although it’s only been brewing in my head for about 48 hours, things in UK politics are changing so rapidly and so insanely that by Thursday the entire country may be under martial law governed by a junta. So it’s not as concise as I’d like, and it should probably be two separate posts.

Still, when the British government are announcing that they might start ignoring the law just because they feel like it, I’m not absolutely sure writing a perfect blog post is terribly important.

[And yes, I know I promised at least a couple more writing exercises, but I’ve been busy, and then travelling, then travelling while sick, and then just sick.]


Comparisons with the English Civil War have abounded ever since the extent of the country’s division over Brexit became clear.

And it’s a tempting correlation. Like the Civil War, Brexit has split the UK along entirely new lines. Rich side with poor, north with south, urban with rural, and family members are almost literally at daggers drawn.

But it’s that “almost literally” that embodies the difference. We’re all furious about it – whichever side we’re on – but none of us are actually going to take up arms and make this a real fighting war.

Of course, that’s partly because we don’t in fact have arms to fight with. Yes, most of us could muster a pointy stick, but that’s about it. We don’t have swords. We don’t (thank God) have firearms. Any pitchfork you might have hanging around the house is likely to be doing exactly that – suspended on the wall for decoration, the shaft long since well and truly hollowed out by woodworm.

But it isn’t even the lack of weapons that makes it different.

As with most wars, the English Civil War had a range of complex causes, including religious differences – the key reason why the Brexit situation isn’t and never can be the same – but essentially it arose because the people of Britain weren’t apathetic.

These days, we have our toasters and our TVs and our steel-belted radials and although we do say something, we do nothing. We protest, we march, we sign petitions and crowdfund billboards, but we don’t take direct action. We don’t (again, thankfully) start killing our neighbours just because they’re on the other side. Why? Because we might lose our perceived personal freedom. Before the real Civil War, things were different. People already were losing their personal and religious freedom, and their possessions. And they weren’t as distant from death and reality as we are today.

The right wing, with their advanced grasp of the best levers to use on the masses, have long since realised this. So they’re not worried. Particularly as the left are still ineffectually trying to combine their parties, or create new left-wing ones, to beat the Tories and bring this madness to an end.

Which leaves me wondering why nobody’s thought to create a party on the right, to soak up the traditional Tory voters and siphon them away from the loonier, Boris end of the party. To establish a common sense, traditional conservative with a small C approach to the whole Brexit issue.

It’s not like there aren’t plenty of Tories who could be involved. Ken Clarke. Michael Heseltine. Dominic Grieve. John Major. I’ve said and thought many rude things about all of them in the past, but these days they seem to be the only people in British politics talking any kind of sense.

All it would take is a rich backer to support individual candidates in every suitable seat – because there probably isn’t time to form a party as such before the next General Election – who’d all stand on a common platform, with a single name. One Nation Tories, perhaps?

I reckon that would split the Tory vote and lose them more seats than anything else, and perhaps bring some sadly lacking common sense onto the UK’s political landscape. After all, Macron did exactly the same thing in France two years ago. Surely it’s worth a go?

Writing exercise #23 –Journal play

A fragment, this one. I do have a few thoughts about where it could go, but anyway, you get the idea. And at least nobody dies! (yet)


“So I hope you all brought your journals with you”, said Leader Len. “Because this week we’re going to do a journal play.”

His name wasn’t really Len, but he was the leader of their writing circle and she never remembered people’s names anyway, so she’d given all of the group members onomatopoeic names that describe their main characteristics.

“A journal play?” asked Suspicious Sheila.

“Yes. We’ll go around the group and you each read a line from your journal that fits – or doesn’t fit, that’s sometimes even funnier! – with the line before it. You’ve got five minutes to pick out some suitable lines and then 20 seconds a go to find a line you like, and no cheating! Anyone can challenge at any time if they think you’ve made your line up.”

‘I thought the whole point of the creative writing circle was to be crea… oh, sod it’, she thought as they all flipped through their diaries and underlined potential lines. Len was getting more and more peculiar every week – last week’s assignment title had been “Liver and lights”, for God’s sake – so there was no point arguing.

“OK, so you start”, said Len, pointing at Larry. She stifled a groan.

“That girl in the chip shop doesn’t half fancy me”, read Lecherous Larry with a repulsively oily smirk. Fortunately Brusque Brian was sitting to Larry’s immediate left.

“I really think she must need her eyes testing”, he said triumphantly, leaning over to Larry and pointing to a page of his diary.

“Tonight I went to the pub”, droned Dreary Dave. “Three pints of bitter, a packet of cheese and onion crisps and three games of darts. 2-1.”

“I really must talk to Mrs Stevens at number 21 about her dustbins”, said Haughty Hilda. “I’m sure she’s mixing her plastics with her biodegradables.” Flirty Fiona leant towards Len, giving him a better view down her cleavage. “Spent far too much in the La Perla shop in Maidstone”, she breathed. “Now all I need is a nice man to try it all out on.” Judging by Len’s uncomprehending expression, he’d never heard of La Perla, but Bryan snorted and Larry turned rather red.