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Madness and Miracles in Central France

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Message Keith Pope

Is the twenty-year-old Volvo up to the two thousand five hundred kilometres from there to here?

“I don’t see why not,” Stuart said. Stuart is Welsh.

I should better have questioned the condition of the driver.

• - •

I have to be up at five next morning for my flight to England. So I need an early night. My two visitors do not arrive until after nine. Perhaps I should mention that after they arrive and settle themselves, they tell me they both have flu. No, there is no especial reason for their visit.

Sunday, Dec 21st. 2008

Next day at the airport I tap away* my terror of flight, and am then sufficiently relaxed during the flight to doze and enjoy the view. Northern Spain is white with snow. I will have to return through that. I am still interested enough to watch the pilot saw his way down through the last few hundred feet to arrive weightily at Stansted.

Then march march march until I can find the way out and the bus to Liverpool Street and Paddington. Then train to Wales, to Bridgend, then bus to Swansea. In front on the bus, an enormous Pretani, an original pre-Celt, arises like the side of a hill and shifts forward to speak to another, who has already spoken to the driver. He goes forward to the driver and returns. Clearly his face shows that the little martinet is going to have his way. The lock-foward settles himself back, massive, patient, enduring.

In Swansea a fine cheerless rain blows from dark to dark across the platforms. After much phoning into the Welsh night from there, still no contact with Stuart, from whom I have bought the car. So on I go.

Carmarthen is a little country town in the wet Welsh night. I carry my bag around in the fine wet until a sign indicates “hotels” and a centre of some sort. A narrow entrance between old shops leads to the hotel car-park and a modest entrance. The curious receptionist I surprise at her crossword charges me 46 GBP for B & B. I try my number again from her mobile and this time reach Stuart’s wife, who will have him call me. The call will come through to my room.

Stuart will bring the car at 10-ish tomorrow. Super. Goodnight.

So next morning I am in wet Carmarthen High Street, awaiting sight of a black borzoi nose held low. I return to the hotel at 10.15, to be told he will arrive at 10.30. I am therefore still waiting at 11.30, but now at the real front of the hotel on a parallel street, when I am hailed by a young chap – Stuart, who has just parked in the public car-park.

It seems pointless to tell him I have not driven for thirty years, particularly as I will be on his insurance until I can effect my own. After all, who am I to burden his Christmas with worries? What the mind doesn’t know . . .

So I tentatively try a gear or two in the car-park, before leaving him on his mobile, and I head into the traffic flow. The first leg is simply of a hundred and fifty miles to my sister’s house for Christmas. On the road the car flows along, reminiscent of the past, but all drivers drive faster now, and are quicker.

Wells is a one-way maze, and it takes half an hour before I can park in front of the garage. She is at home. I am to try her patience, which has strengths beyond her or my knowledge. I occupy a corner of her massive settee and begin to feel unwell. I have not told her before that I have cancer, but she accepts the fact with refreshing absence of exasperation. Our elder brother has had his larynx removed three days ago, but that is in ‘medical hands’. Since last July I am curing my own, and am currently translating a book** on how to deny the grasping ‘cancer industry’ of Big Pharma that controls general medicine. Besides, the curse of Spanish courtesy is about to inflict itself upon us both.

My diet is restricted to bread and apples, and just the veg. of the Christmas festivities. Sorry, that’s cancer. I marvel at her patience. But now this most immediate infliction is not cancer. This is flu.

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Aged beyond belief, with a fund of experience that few could challenge and fewer envy, and with the wealth of information and expertise that goes with it, the author is a lifelong specialist in differentiating reality from unreality. A (more...)

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