Wednesday, 30 July 2014

'Stranded in the Seychelles' (a Bev and Carol adventure - Book 3)

     Older but not wiser, we perused the Times Educational Supplement for jobs, on a dull afternoon in August at my house in Milton Keynes.  Carol was back, and suddenly, living in Milton Keynes didn’t seem to matter as much!  My bosom buddy had spent the previous year working in a school in the Himalayas, and had finally flown back to somewhere nearer sea level. 
Outside, nothing was happening.  Inside, the walls remained perfectly aligned and painted magnolia. Carol sighed and looked out of the large, double-glazed window onto a square patch of lawn penned in by a chest-high, cheap, wooden fence.  “How can you live in a place called Pennyland?”
As I didn’t know the answer to this question, I hedged.  “It’s only a name.”
“It’s a stupid name.”
I had to admit that Carol was right. It couldn’t have helped that she had been used to living in a mountaintop retreat in Tibet, above the clouds and as remote as you can get from affordable housing, inadequate porches and gas central heating.
“How do you stand it?”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, half-heartedly.
A man cycled past.  “Christ!  It’s worse than science fiction!”
Baffled as I was by this particular insight, I laughed, and Carol gave me a look that I recognised instantly.  It was a look that said it was time to set out again into the world, united against the banal, the drab and the superficial, determined to have some fun and wreak some havoc.  I went back to the newspaper and kicked off with something contentious:
     “There’s one here for a maths teacher in Bejing. I could be the stay-at-home housewife.”
     “No thanks,” replied Carol.
     “Too much of a culture shock?  Don’t want the Saturday morning military training?”
     “Nah.  Can’t stand Chinese food.  All those wriggly bits. And oyster sauce – can’t eat oysters since Alice!”
     “In Wonderland?”
     “The Walrus and the Carpenter?”
     “The very same.  Poor little oysters…”
     I realised that, cartoon horror apart, and allowing for Carol’s sketchy knowledge of proper Chinese cuisine, this would be a deal breaker.  Food was top priority.  Followed closely by sunshine, a great beach and a good library.  Good looking, intelligent men of independent means were also a consideration.
“No blokes there, either.  Too short.  Too Chinese.”
I could not argue, although I would not have put my feelings in quite the same way.  Carol spoke her mind, whilst I generally harboured my sharp-edged opinions.  I didn’t mention the fact that, this time, she was indulging in a stereotypical assessment of a nation containing over one hundred million people, not all of whom would be too short or, indeed, too Chinese. 
“What about this one?” I suggested.  English teachers required by the Seychelles government.  Sounds interesting.”
     “Aren’t they in the Indian Ocean?” Carol sat back in her chair and poked a finger into her ear.  She was as beautiful as ever.  How I had missed her! 
     “I believe that is correct, you lovely tart,” I replied, pretty sure that Carol knew a lot more about the Seychelles than she was letting on.
     “Capital?” she asked.
     “Fish. Creole style.”
     “I think it’s more likely to be rice,” I said, although I was not entirely sure.
     “Fish and rice with curry sauce!”
     “We can make our own chips,” I said, reasonably.  “Just need a chip pan and some Trex.”
     “Granted.” Carol chewed the pencil we were using to circle ads.  It had also served as a coffee spoon and more recently, to kill an ant.
     “Shall I read the rest of it?”
     “Don’t see why not,” she said. 
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks-
     “The National what!”
     “Youth Service.  Must be something like the Department of Education.”
     “Doesn’t sound like the Department of Education.  Go on. Let’s hear it.”
     The National Youth Service of the Seychelles seeks qualified teachers of ESL to instruct secondary school students on the island of Ste. Anne.”
     “Never heard of it.  There’s Mahé and Praslin and some kind of bird island.  Let me see.”  Carol grabbed the paper. “Twelve-month contracts. Flights and accommodation provided. Interviews to be held in London on 14th/15th August.” She closed the newspaper and got up.  “Want a cuppa?”
     I followed my friend into the kitchen, thinking that the interviews would be at the end of the week, in three days’ time.
     “Where d’you keep the biscuits, you bugger?  Hope you’re not still buying those Poptarts!” Carol was opening cupboards, rummaging.
     “There are some Jammy Dodgers in the cutlery drawer,” I told her.  The mention of Poptarts had brought back a momentary nostalgia.
     She eyed me and I eyed her back.
     “Are we going?” I asked.
     “Book it, Danno,” she said.
     We were not the kind of girls to pass up an opportunity like this.  We had been through university together and worked for Playboy in London, as blackjack dealers. After that, Carol had left England to sell encyclopaedias in Germany and had thrown it in after meeting a businessman at a party who offered her a job teaching English to Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.  I had gone on to work as a secretary in London at various establishments which were practised in the art of exploiting as little as possible of a person’s potential and where, at my lowest ebb, I had slavishly typed out legal contracts for solicitors who patronised both me and their clients.  Later, I had worked for a very nice family with a business just off Oxford Street, in a small office, up some rickety stairs, where I had learned all there was to know about high-tensile low-density bin bags (didn’t take long), including how to fold them and label them, before sending them off with a quote for anything from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.   And, after just over a year of knowing that I didn’t want to be in plastic for the rest of my days, I had applied for and, to my utter amazement, been accepted by Queens’ College to do a postgraduate teaching certificate at Cambridge University.  I subsequently took up my first post in Milton Keynes, where I discovered that I was no good at controlling a class of secondary school kids who didn’t care about Keats, and I gradually came to realise that the next proper adventure was long overdue.  All I had needed was the return of my best friend and sparring partner.
Carol had descended from the mountains under slightly mysterious circumstances, which she refused to divulge, but which had probably involved some kind of extra-curricular activity with one of her students.  She had telephoned me to say that she wanted to come and stay for a while. So, with my probationary year as a very eager, but more or less ineffectual English teacher at Stantonbury Campus mercifully completed, and with no one begging me to stay, there was nothing to stop us, apart from fear of the unknown and crushing financial limitations.  We were in the market for some excitement and risk.  A teaching job in the Indian Ocean, with all expenses paid, seemed an opportunity too good to miss. 
     We looked up trains to London and, in the meantime, found out that the Seychelles was a group of volcanic and coral islands stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a language that was based on French, due to the fact that they had been colonised by… France.  Following this, the islands had been subjected to British rule, before gaining independence in 1976. I wondered vaguely whether we would be welcomed by the locals, until Carol pointed out that anything “we” had done to them was bound to be better than the treatment they would have received at the hands of our closest allies, the French, who, according to Carol, had used the inhabitants as slaves to work on their plantations and probably taught them to roll their ‘Rs’. 
I dialled the number in the advertisement and asked to be put through to Roseline Bananne.

Night Walk in France

In France it's the season for dousing yourself in mozzie repellent, sticking on your walking shoes and heading out on a night walk divided into 'étapes' which roughly translates to 'stages', at the end of which you will find food and drink supplied by local artisans to tempt you on your way and (if you choose the wine option) destroy any sense of direction you may have.

So, a couple of nights ago we set off at 8.00 pm, with the sun still blazing down in a clear blue sky, wandered through forests and down country lanes amongst some dazzlingly verdant countryside on our second ever night walk.

Happy and springy.

There were seven of us, including three teenage boys temporarily detatched from Playstation heaven, four adults delirious with well-being, and a golden retriever snouting around for new scents and dead things to roll in.

Etape one was disappointing.  A bit of baguette (yesterday's?) with a smear of pâté, served by a teenager who didn't care or know what it was made of.  My vegetarian friend was in for a night of lean pickings.  Still, in an atmosphere of bonhomie and crossed wires we tucked in, slurped the offered wine, patted the long-haired donkeys and crossed the drawbridge to enter the Château de Nieul-les-Saintes, down into the dungeons and out the other side, bemused and impressed, off on the next part of the walk. My husband gazed back at the stone walls in an ecstasy of renovation dreams.

About an hour later, it was time for the entrée (étape two) - a delicious potato salad with cornichons, egg and ham, slathered in homemade mayonnaise .  Second helpings were available to shy, mumbling teenagers.  Unwanted wine was passed on to Al (my increasingly giggly husband).

Fields of ripening corn and humming grass tracks, dingly dells and open country, teenage banter and jolly japes (turning the arrows to point the other way was a favorite). Of course I turned them back again, being a sensible grownup, not to mention frightened of appearing in the local press the following day next to a photograph of those unlucky walkers lost forever in the forests of department 17).

Etape three (for some reason) was a very nice cup of sangria (cleansing of the palate?). 

By this time it was coming up to ten thirty, and dark.  My friend Martin was worried we'd gone the wrong way and missed the main course.  The boys hoped for chips.  I let them.

The stars were out and we named constellations.  The distant sounds and torches of groups of walkers ahead and behind made me think of  elfin soldiers marching.  Sticky in the very warm night air, my husband commented on the difficulty of washing before plumbing systems had been invented.

A blast of vicious barking from a hunting kennels silenced us all and made my blood run cold.   We passed by as quickly as we could, eventually finding ourselves in a huge field of hemp.  Visions of The Beach.  Would we be shot?  Was it worth stuffing our pockets?

Ahead, coloured lights announced the arrival of étape four.  Hay bails, Hawaian chicken and more wine.  Vegetarian option - Hawaian chicken without the chicken.  Went down a treat.  Scarlet the dog was very happy.

Our fellow walkers were becoming (just as we were) increasingly jolly.  A gentleman with a head torch pretended that he was a gynecologist, suggesting an intimate investigation of the woman sitting next to him (his wife?).  There was lots of polite nodding and good-humoured spluttering.

The twelve kilometre walk was beginning to seem like a bit of a fib and, sure enough, the man at the chicken counter confirmed that we had already walked fourteen and had 'around' another three to go.  Martin's blood blister (he was wearing sandals) was beginning to throb.

I mentioned to Al that the teenagers hadn't yet complained about anything.  Very odd.

Etape four was a nice bit of Brie.  And more wine.  Al's grin, now edged with something like panic, was as wide as it could go.

The boys decided to run headlong into the dark, sans torches, until they fell over.  Great fun.  We adults admitted to being stuffed and claimed not (under any circumstances) to want dessert.

Etape five was apple tart and icecream.  What would you have done? 

The entertainment provided along the way had built to a crescendo, with five burly locals (one dressed as Snow White) putting on a medley of songs by the Bee Gees.  My husband was in seventh heaven.  Debbie and Martin (both professional singer/songwriters/musicians), were charitable, but eager not to make a night of it (sticks in the mud - I would have loved to stay and make a fool of myself).

We made our way out of the jolly gathering and eventually found the car.

I drove home (sober, with a car full of people making hilarious random comments).

It was 1.20 am when we got home, so I persuaded the teenagers that they could watch Forrest Gump another time and saw them pass out one by one on their beds as they protested.

Beautiful France.  Beautiful night.

Happy days.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Stranded in the Seychelles Countdown deal

Bev and Carol have been friends since university, spending a memorable study break in France (‘One Summer in France’), followed by six months working in London as Playboy croupiers (‘Bunny on a Bike’).  Now, in their latest adventure, they meet up as they both hit thirty and decide to leave the normality of Milton Keynes behind and jet off to the Seychelles to teach English and Maths.

Based on the author’s real life experiences, with the emphasis on fun once again, Stranded in the Seychelles gives an authentic taste of life in a politically unstable country, where giant spiders and poisonous centipedes hide in every nook and cranny, and where the journey to work begins with an early morning bus ride and ends on a WWII landing craft.

Bev and Carol learn a great deal about the country, its people and its culture, approaching every new challenge with their usual joie de vivre.

For the next few days, you can download Stranded in the Seychelles for just 99p!  Just click on a direct link to Amazon to read the first chapters::

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Monday, 21 July 2014

My French Life is a lighthearted look at, you guessed it, living in France.


The bakers' (100 short yards from my door), is intent on staying open, in the face of enormous supermarket competition.  Yesterday, a man-sized blackboard, perched intrusively on the cobbled step just outside the entrance, announced the latest cunning offer:

3 cormillonnes achetées 1 offerte!

I slipped past, greeting my warmly dressed fellow customers, noting their various reactions to my shorts and tee-shirt, taking their scepticism of my suspect pronunciation on the chin, and prepared to ask for two of these crusty, grainy, wholesome baguettes.  How was it that I ended up coming out with four?  Outside the shop, having wished everyone a pleasant day, I wondered whether I had finally lost my marbles, and, more usefully, whether I had any butter in the house.

On the way back home, I re-enacted the conversation, deciding that the baker's wife, with her Alan Sugar eyes, was to blame for the bready bulge under my arm.  Never mind, I would freeze two and  bake them (inevitably to a crisp) when required, in the blast furnace that passes for my oven. Smoke rose alluringly in my worn-out imagination.

The baker is laughing - ha!  Sales are up - early retirement beckons.  

But what of his gullible, stodged-up customer?

Easy.  Next day, I send my husband, who is immune to special offers.  He comes back with the requisite number of baguettes, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.

Doh, and doughnuts! 

'Four baguettes!'

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Free download. Limited time offer.

On 18th and 19th July you can download my short story 'Angels' FREE.  Why?  Because I'd love you to sample my writing and see what you think.

It's here: Go to book