Neither Simon nor myself laid much store on New Year resolutions but we had recently been thinking a lot about influencing where our lives were going rather than just merely letting ourselves be carried on by whatever wind prevailed at the time. One of the things we had long decided on, was improving our awareness of ideas and events by reading some of the great works of literature that had influenced our world. It was now time to put this into practice. And with 1983 slowly beginning to tick away, what better work could we begin with than George Orwell's spine-chilling vision of the future: 1984.

So huddled together around a blazing log fire, Simon's arm gently caressing the back of my head, I opened and read:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Despite the heat generated by the fire those words sent a chill down my back. I read on. We were hooked. Lunch was forgotten, our walk in the crisp, white snow paled into insignificance. All that mattered now was Oceania, Big Brother and Doublethink. We lit candles all around our hut and read right on deep into the evening until we finally finished the book. Silence followed. In an hour's time we were due to leave for the New Year's party down in the valley but our thoughts were far away from champagne revelries.

'Could such a thing happen in real life?'

It was Simon who proffered the question. No answer was forthcoming. 1983 had been a momentous year in France. Economic troubles saw the government clamping down on individuals travelling abroad by limiting the amount of money they were allowed to take out of the country. Searches were thorough and those transgressing severely punished. Citizens were induced to inform on their neighbours. Racism also reared its ugly head with massive turnouts at demonstrations against the election to the French Academy of the Senegalese poet and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor. Even our own little village of Gensdouce was thrown into the forefront of events when it became one of the first localities to implement the government's proposal to extend limited voting rights to foreign citizens residing in France for more than five years. As a result Simon would be allowed to vote in the municipal elections due at the end of 1984. Needless to say, our very own Mayor Demille was ruthless in his attacks on the measure and threatened to lead an army of loyal Frenchman to the gates of the Bastille to have the measure overturned. Rhetoric, maybe, but effective rhetoric nonetheless.

Sitting there in our isolated cabin, the candles throwing jagged, shadowy forks on the walls around, the novel's seemed too real and too hideous to contemplate. How glad we were to strap on our skis and make the steep descent to the small village where we would dance away the night and welcome in 1984.


I flick through the album of memory's pages.
These photos so real, yet fourty years on so false.
My first teacher, probably passed on now;
The little girl next door; what was her name?
That rugby game! We lost the cup but won the praise
and the camping competition: mud, the order of the day.

A swirling fog descends and lifts me up
High above the obscure, blurring confines
of space and time.
Hundreds, thousands of you, no longer shadows,
As you are today... Yet who are you? And were you
Once in my life?

And myself?
Am I also a shadow from your past?
Not quite forgotten, yet not remembered.
And should we meet today,
Will you just walk by?

Only an x-ray machine could have detected the flutter in Maggie's heart as she walked into the bar. She had visited the quaint café the day before and put together her game plan. She walked with a firm step and went straight to the table she had picked out. It afforded her a full view of the entrance while affording her a little obscurity until anyone was well into the café. It was ideal for her purpose. Should she not like what she saw, she could beat a hasty retreat before being seen.

The waiter came and she politely declined explaining she was waiting for a friend. A friend! How strange that sounded. All she knew of him was his name. Ever since Dave's untimely accident, she had not been on a single date. Even her being here now was only a result of Sally's cajoling.

Maggie looked at her watch. Still twenty minutes to go. She wasn't usually punctual, but today she wanted to leave nothing to chance. She examined her surroundings with a critical eye. Well, at least the guy has some taste, she thought. That also explained the constant coming and going. It was obviously a popular place. Fortunately, most of the clients were either couples, or groups come for their lunch break from nearby the offices. There were one or two other unaccompanied ladies, but no single men.

Another glance at her watch and she started to examine the entrance with greater interest. He arrived just a few minutes later. Maggie knew instinctively it was him. He entered the cafe, looked round, hesitated then walked up to her table. Maggie stood up and stretched out her hand.

'You must be...'

'Yes, that's right. Oh, I'm glad you found me. I've been having nightmares for hours. And now it's all gone so smoothly.'

'What would you like to drink?'

It was Maggie who did most of the talking to begin. This surprised her. From Sally's description she certainly hadn'been expecting anyone quite so shy. But once they were over the initial formalities he began to warm to the occasion and Maggie soon discovered a most charming and engaging companion. If it was time to begin to get out again, this guy would be her dream partner. He wasn't what you'd call stunning but he had that certain something that made Maggie happpy and at ease. He listened attentively and always had the right remark when the conversation seemed to be flagging.

Out of the corner of her eye Maggie noticed another man enter the café and look round. How glad she was that this wasn't the date Sally had lined up for her. The man went up to another young lady and introduced himself. But getting only a stony stare in reply, he turned and fled in minutes. Things were so different with Stephen. She began to dream and was taken by surprise when he suggested they go for a walk down by the riverbank.

'Certainly, Stephen, I'd love that.'

'Stephen?' he frowned.

Table Places

'To be or not to be.' That may or may not be one of the world's great existential questions, but I live in France. Here the great bard has long been surpassed by the great guide... the Michelin guide to restaurants. For here in France the greatest of existential questions is: 'To eat or not to eat.'

It's strange that for the past few years our centre's greatest annual event, the annual board members' dinner, was presided over by a foreigner. But if anything surpasses the French love of gastronomy, then it's their servitude to protocol. And protocol insists that the centre's director presides. In previous years this had meant little more than being the head-man on the evening itself. This year things were changing. Thérèse and Guillaume who had previously done all the behind the scenes work for me, were away on a well-earned holiday. Thérèse' place in the kitchen was admirably filled by Morgana, but there was no avoiding that most challenging duty of all: placing the guests at table. You might think, there's nothing in this, but you do not live in France.

Accordingly, it was with fear and trepidation that I collected the list of those who would attend from the office and barricaded myself in a small meeting room in the centre, far away from the possibility of any disturbance. This task required my fullest concentration. True, I had already done some little preparation. It was only a few months ago that 'Home and Food' magazine had concentrated a whole issue to this question of where to place people at the table. I had read through the whole thing, and some articles I had positively chewed over whenever I had a few spare minutes. With the proof of the pudding in its eating, we would now see, if it truly lived up to its reputation.

In all, we had ; and for once luck was with me. We actually had an even number of male and female participants. You can only imagine the relief of having a naturally balanced table, once you've experienced eight hours of nightmares in which I myself was transformed into an avenging sex-change surgeon out to wreak havoc on all my enemies. The courage this gave me was reinforced by the content of a bottle strategically placed by my secretary next to the personal files on each of the guests. There was a file on each guest detailing their comportment at previous dinners, whom they were placed next to, and various other factors to be considered. Armed with these previous documents I set to work and emerged (I won't tell you how many hours later) with a song on my lips, an empty bottle in my hand a the elaborately drawn up table placement, on top of a much larger annex justifying my decision. So here goes.

It took me just a few minutes to figure out the first two positions. Tradition had it that the president took pride of place at the head of the table, accompanied by his partner at the other end. To be perfectly honest I was far from excited by this obligation having hoped to have Morgana there to hold my hand for my welcoming speech. But it was not to be and so I decided to make do with Mada, one of longest-serving volunteers, and respected of our reading and creative writing groups. A bookworm, her conversation was always scintillating and would enable me to book-title-drop at various other meetings over the next few weeks. Indeed, the reputation I had for being a self-taught, blue-ribbon intellectual was to a large extent due to Mada's influence. On my left, I placed Marie, a timid young lady who rarely said a word and preferred remaining well out of the limelight. Listening to Mada would enable her to do just that, but I'd have to make sure I found someone to go next to her who would bring her out a little bit.

But before that, I had a far more serious choice to make: where to place Mimi. Mimi, as they were affectionately known as were Michael and Michelle, an elderly couple who had met and fallen in love at last year's dinner. Michelle had up until that day been a lively spinster in the prime of her life and she took up with Michael, a hopeless pessimist and part-time depressive following last year's meeting. With all the determination in the world she set out to reform him but the tables were turned on her and she soon became as bad as he. Nobody would want to sit next to them, so I decided to put them together, a faux-pas that would certainly be forgiven by those who had the good-fortune not to have to make conversation with them. Placing them in the middle of the table meant they could occupy each-other without disturbing anyone else.

To Morgana's undoubted charm I trusted the firebrand company of Bernard and Antoine. Bernard was a slick manager type, full of his own abilities and not amiss to reminding the corporate world that he was on the rise and in a big way. Antoine was his nemesis. Long time militant for a greener world, anti-corporation campaigner and part of the team that helped French Saint (all, of course depending on you point of view) José ransack two McDonald restaurants. Unlike, his boss Antoine did not receive a pardon, so now has a chip on his shoulder against any- and everything including those of his own party. It was Morgana's express wish that she be placed next to these two and I was convinced that her fiery red hair and her unshakable resolve would be more than a match for the two. I was just glad to have two of the three about as far away from myself anyone could imagine.

But by far the most dangerous of all the guests was Nicola Grangeberry. Acclaimed for her seductive charms and for always taking home whatever and whomever she set her sights on. Her weapons were simple but very effective: a slit along her leg, what we might call a distinct lack of material on the upper half of her dress and a voice whose cadence would send the most ardent bachelor into paradise. She was hot stuff and I had to find a way to neutralise her. Indeed, the only interest Morgana showed in the table was to make sure I was kept well out of her reach. What better a place could there be for her than right opposite the Mimi two. And Antoine was certainly not going to fall to her charms. So that left just Richard, and whose white hair and somewhat advanced years, probably disqualified him from being a candidate in her habitual little games of seduction. Besides, I had other plans for Richard. An old friend from way back when, Richard's easy manner and charming conversation would make him the perfect table-partner for Marie. If anyone could instil in her enough confidence so as to get her to talk, then it was Richard.

So, there it was my table was finished. No doubt, there was potential enough in my arrangements for fireworks, but it was the best my humble self could come up with. So I would have to make to with it and leave the rest in the hands of the gods.


Judging by the way Amy moved about in the back, the car must have been hit by a whole army of ants. She was on her way to Grandma Davids and her mother would be leaving her there for a whole week. What's more Grandma had promised to take her to McDonalds. Mum never took her there. She even wore great big badges which read 'Close McDonalds!' and she never ate meat. She'd heard Mum complaining to Grandma one day about their ... some big word... espcapades but didn't really understand why.

Amy had longed to go to McDonalds ever since Marita's birthday party. Marita was her Mum's best friend and they often went out together. But on her birthday it was Amy and not Mum who was invited. Marita had made a scrumptous ice-cream cake and Amy had eaten three whole pieces. And on top was one of the most funny looking figures Amy had ever seen. A big round head weighed heavily upon a small body. The ears were red, the nose was green and the chubby, little hands looked as if they were going to grab your spoon and hurry off before you could get up off your seat.

'Amy, meet Clubby!'

Amy seemed puzzled. There was no else in the room but Amy and Marita.

'Clubby, look there, on top of the cake.'

Both girls laughed.

'Clubby is my most favourite friend. But come and look, I'll show you the others.'

Amy's eyes watched in amazement as hundreds of little figures stared out of Marita's desk at her. Each one looked straight at Amy and they all bore a smile.

'But where are they all from?'

Marita picked up a tall, thin-faced little... well it looked like a boy but Amy wasn't sure.

'This one I got when I went skiing with my dad for the first time. It was bitterly cold, that's why he looks a little off-peak. And this one was from our very first holidays in Spain. We had to wait a long time at the airport, so Mum and Dad treated me to a Big Mac. I often take him out to talk to when I'm alone in the evening. But it's Clubby I like most. That was the very first time I went to McDonalds.

'I know that song too. We used to sing it in nursery. But why don't they give animals instead of such funny looking people?'

And that was the first time Amy heard about Big Macs and Cheeseburgers, Happy Meals and the little figures they gave to all the children with every meal. And to cap it all, Marita even let her choose one of those precious figures, so she could start collecting too.

Compared to the excitement that surrounded Violet's sudden reappearance, the New Year had little to offer but the regular round of annual reports to various organisations. From experience, I know this would continue until the centre's AGM which was not until April. I began seeing paper everywhere and one night I even dreamt, the village teacher had kidnapped me. I awoke quickly but the picture of me tied up to my executive chair entwined in rolls of bureaucratic paper chains didn't leave me all day. Abandoned by her husband, Morgana had decided to busy herself by starting up a choir and was also trying to put together a music group to play at folk dances. We did, however, insist on keeping one evening a week free of engagements of all kinds. This we'd spend at home together: a candlelight dinner with our favourite wine, some soft music and our books. We loved reading to each other and this evening Morgana had found a poem which brought tears to my ears when she read it.

'But what's a tryst, Simon? I'm afraid I didn't understand that first line.'

Her pale eyes reflected the fervent fire captured in the words of the poem. I stared back and we embraced lost in the magic of our love.

'I'll explain tomorrow.'

The words broke the magic. Morgana became playful and teasing.

'If you don't tell me right now, you'll forfeit the right to dance the last waltz with me at next week's ball. I'll dance with Jean instead.'

'Tomorrow, not before. You'll understand better.'

The next day I was up early and crept out before Morgana stirred. She'd be annoyed, I knew. But it was all part of my plan. In my mind's eye, I could see her stretch out her hand only to find the envelope with its one single single instruction.

Telephone me at the office. She did, only to hear...
Run away! Come and find me. In the car was a map with directions...
Youx, a three house village.
Solitude guest house. You've found me.
Together with some explaining to do and the whole weekend to do it.


Ladies and Gentleman, I am pleased and proud to welcome you this evening to the founding meeting of the Organised Organic Party (OPP). As a very definite organic being myself it is only fitting that I should be addressing fellow organic beings as we seek to work together in the hope of organising ourselves into an organic whole. This involves each and every individual in this room: as elements we can only function organically once we have been fitted together into a unified whole. This then is our philosophy, and we shall, later in the evening, be hearing from Professor Doctor Ilove Wisdom II who will be presenting our party structure and explaining how this structure is analagous to that of the natural growth of living organisms, being similar in its complexity to that of the natural world. Our party is small but I am sure like other organic being we shall see remarkable growth in this initial period of our history. Let me promise you that our party does not seek merely to influence from the sidelines. Our one aim is to rewrite history by organising our constitution around this one central element of our statement of faith. Only when we achieve this will we be able to put right the organic disorder created at the heart of our society by those opposed to all organic principle. So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado let' us fill our glasses with whatever organic matter we choose and raise them with that most flexible of organs we possess and drink to the ever pervading influence of the world's first Organised Organic Party.

Danhret and Tanya had been living on a knife edge for over two years. Now for the first time in their married life they were on the point of submerging from the slough of debt that had burdened them from the beginning. It had all seemed so easy in those first heady days of their life together. Buy now, pay later the flier had promised. Well, they certainly had paid later. But now, after two years ruthless pruning they were emerging from the tunnel. With Tanya's small salary they had paid off the last of the bank payments and once Danrhet got his money for the courses he had taught that month, they would be in the black. They had planned a little celebration. Tanya had bought one of their favourite fruit juices from the market. She was disappointed that the stallholder no longer recognised her. They had been such good customers back in the days when they had someone else's money.

Tanya arrived home first. She had no time to lose if the cake was to be ready when Danrhet got home. With the cake in the oven, she set out their best glasses. This was the last purchase they had made before... Tanya wiped away a tear, this time one of joy. These glasses, indeed the few remaining things they had, now actually belonged to them. Danrhet came home to the warming smell of castle cake wafting through the house.

'Hi darling! How's your day been?'

'Not too bad. And yours?'

'Great. Tom's going on a conference to Liverpool. I've been given three extra classes for next week.'

'But that's wonderful news. Oh darling, I'm so glad it's all over. We're going to be able to save up for some of those little extras we've been dreaming about.'

'Yes, well he's one of those little extras already. This is just to say thank you for sticking by me. You're the most wonderful woman in the world.'

Even the greatest of writers would be at a loss to describe Tanya's face as the pearl necklace came out of the proffered packaging, but its glow put off the rapidly approaching dusk by at least five minutes that day.

'But darling,' exclaimed Tanya another tear beginning to appear in the corner of her eye, 'I hope you didn't overdraw to buy me this.'

'Don't worry, everything's fine. Well actually, I did overdraw a tiny bit, but only by two pounds. What's two measly pounds compared to what I'll get for those three extra classes next week.'

She threw arms around his neck.

'But I've got nothing for you. Come on darling we're going out right now, and I won't take no for an answer. I know exactly what I want, it's in the shop window right opposite my school.'

And so with the whiff of spending in their nostrils, Tanya and Danrhet ventured into the city jungle. From the top of the spiral there was only one way down. But who cares? It was such fun.

What if...?

Following her beating up by what was soon to be her x-husband, we had hoped Violette would be out of hospital by Christmas. Simon wanted her to come back to our house. Had Thérèse and Guillaume been present, he would have been more than happy to let them look after her. But they were planning on a Christmas trip to Strasbourg to visit Thérèse' parents. I initially agreed but soon began having second thoughts.

I'd heard rumours about a relationship between Violette and Simon long before I came on the scene. I didn't know much about what had gone on, didn't want to know really. What mattered was Simon's faithfulness right now, not what had transpired years before. Had I asked Simon about things right away, there would have been no problem. But before long panic set in and I became convinced the whole business was nothing but an elaborate scheme to enable Violette and Simon to get back together again.

The evening before Violette was due to arrive I drank almost a whole bottle of wine waiting for Simon to return from the centre. My mind was spinning as he stood there before me a bunch of roses and his big smile on his face. Could this be play acting? I turned my back, refusing to take the roses. In the mirror I saw the smile disappear from his eager face. I turned round and poured out my venom:

'What the hell are you playing at?' You come here with a bunch of flowers and think I know absolutely nothing about your little deception?'

Simon stared at me aghast. The next thing I knew the floor changed places with the ceiling and the hardness of underneath me gave way to the fuzzy softness of my dreams. I awoke the next morning I forced a smile and those eyes began to take on a little more of their usual brightness. I sat up but someone started playing the drums in my head. Simon's hand stroked my forehead:

'Just lie down still. Everything will be fine. What on earth made you drink what you did yesterday evening?'

I tried to think, tried to explain, but the only answer Simon got were the tears that and began rolling down my face. Simon took me in his arms and in that moment I knew. I knew that whatever had gone on between Simon and Violette before we met, there was nothing, now. I knew that Simon had not betrayed my trust and felt instinctively he never would. And I knew that before Simon left for the hospital I had a lot of unpacking to do, so I'd best start right away.

Two In One Blow

Lana stared at the entry in her journal. This was no insignificant resolution of the usual kind. This was her only chance to carry on living.

I'm going to forget Raymond.
The words reflected the slight tremble her hand had given when she wrote them just five minutes previously. Her eyes reflected the images she was saying goodbye too forever.

Raymond had been a member of her French class for over two years. He wasn't exactly the best of students but he was only learning for fun. He was also the life and soul of most of the after class cocktails at the culture centre's bar. Lana had never really thought very much about him until the day she'd had that bust-up with Francis. In his rage he'd said things that made her feel useless, unwanted. He'd asked forgiveness the moment she'd returned home from class that night. But in the meantime there'd been the class, the drink, the smile. Raymond's eyes had fixed her own as that smile made its way across the table. It changed everything. Before long she found herself manouevering to be anywhere Raymond likely to turn up: the library, his local, the car park. He always seemed glad to see her and occasionally they walked a while together before going home. Occasionally, there were little surprises on her desk before class. Slowly but surely Lana's mind was turning towards him.

The rows with Francis were more frequent now. And they never seemed to find time to do things together. More and more Lana began to think about starting afresh with Raymond. The more she thought about this, the clearer her picture of life with him became. At first she wouldn't permit herself to believe in these dreams. The 18 year age difference between them made it impossible. Besides, she would never find the courage to brace the subject with him. Then came news that he was leaving. He confirmed this the next time they had met accidentally at the library. He was being promoted: head of overseas publishing. That's why he was leaving. Now, learning French had become a serious matter. He would be spending three months in Chartres before settling near Nantes. He would return only occasionally to Poole.

The crisis came the day Francis left for his the Hamburg trade fair. She'd really liked these gatherings and this year declined to accompany him this time. Indeed, they did very little together by now. Returning from the airport she found the letter from Raymond. It was the most beautiful thank you letter she'd ever received. He'd already left Poole; a flying visit to his family and then France. Now was the time to act. She opened a bottle of Jura Chardonnay: his favourite. She poured out two glasses and sat staring into the empty space opposite. An hour later the bottle was empty and Lana was frantically typing the words: 'A letter I'll never have the courage to send.'

Days of torment followed. How could she have been so stupid. A few brief clicks had sufficed to send the message on its way. All that remained was the despair at humiliating herself so and the hope that refused to die quietly. Francis returned five days later. She cared little but put on a show at matching his joy at being home again. During his absence she had been constantly connecting to check her mail. Today she had to wait until evening. Sure enough there was Raymond's reply.

She'd expected the disappointment to be overwhelming. Instead, she was elated. His letter had been so uplifting, so full of grace, she could scarcely believe it. All hope of a relationship was gone yet she felt loved and cherished as never before.

All this had happened just six weeks ago. She'd replied to his mail promising herself it would be the last time. But whenever she felt lonely, she'd find another excuse. Yet, she needed more than anything to be loved and Francis was still her best chance. Slowly but surely she came to realise that she was going to have to give up Raymond. That was why she'd splashed out on the holiday in the Swiss Alps. Three weeks solitude would give them the chance they so desperately needed. They'd be leaving the very next day. Francis had reciprocated: a New Year's Dinner tête à tête in one of the South's most exclusive restaurants. Right now, he'd gone to pick up the rented car they'd use to drive to the airport in the morning. She wrote the words slowly and deliberately. This was the last time she'd...

Lana heard voices outside, then the door to the flat opened.

"Darling I'm back. And guess what; I've found the answer to all our worries; someone to babysit our flat for us while we're away. Mr. Thompson used to work with us. He"s based in France now, but is back here every now and again and is looking for a small flat. I've promised him the studio as soon as it's finished but while we're away he can stay here."

Lana trembled as she took his hand. 'I just need to go and turn up the heating. Then I'll get us all a nice glass of wine.'

'Bang goes my New Year's resolution!' replied Raymond with a smile.

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