Christmas, Sunsets, Donkeys & Dinners

Behold, there’s still time to buy my book as a Christmas present if you can’t be bothered to go to the stupid shops! And don’t forget, if you want the paperback version, just go to ‘Books’ in Amazon and type in the title. Bingo!
Mostly Cloudy, With Some Bright Spells

Christmas is a funny time for me, in the head. Twelve years ago I was fighting for my life, and my sanity, in a plastic-coated bed in a boiling hot, stinking, noisy ward at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. I had just had my large bowel removed; not for fun, but to save my life. I awoke from surgery with a stomach so battered, bruised and bloodied that I gasped; think of a week-old corpse dragged from a lake Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and you’ll have an idea of how bad it was. I hadn’t slept a wink for days on end; I was so ill, in fact, that my parents didn’t think they’d be bringing me out of there alive. Once I was moved to a private room, on account of me going completely nuts, I began to get better, but it was a very slow process. I remember every moment as clearly as if it was yesterday.

At this time of year, every year, I always feel very emotional as so many things remind me of that terrible time, but one of those reminders is also my reason for coming to Brighton in the first place: Brighton Pier. If I stood at the window of my hospital room I could see it so clearly it was like staring at a film poster. I would watch the light change around it; the sun coming up and the sun going down. I would see tangerine skies with dashes of pink; the lights reflecting in the shimmering sea. Those moments made me feel I had something to fight for: I wanted to get out and see it for real, not from a window.

Last week, I had an appointment at the hospital. I took my camera, because it was a bright, clear day. What I captured – and I’m clueless with photography, I’m the first to admit that – is awesome, and that’s a word I’ve only previously used to describe red pandas and former Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, so I don’t say it lightly. All those feelings came flooding back as I stood on the seafront, camera in hand, in awe (hence the correct use of ‘awesome’) at what was happening in front of me. The landscape changed so much in 30 minutes I could barely keep up with it. It made me cry, just a little, but I couldn’t tell you what I was crying for. I can share the photos with you, though.

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So. A week until Christmas, and Jesus’ fake birthday. A time for reflection, for thanks, for counting your blessings. Aside from sunsets, and in no particular order, here’s what I’m glad I made it out of hospital for:

PARENTS
I have the most wonderful parents. I don’t mean to brag, but they really are mental amazing. They drive the hour or so from their house laden with homemade cakes, pies and macaroni cheese (mine and Pantouf’s favourite comfort food). They bring flowers, wine and cuttings from the newspaper which relate to my health issues (this is very sweet). They always tell me I look lovely, they always tell me the food I cook is wonderful (to be fair, it is) and mum will sew a button on something for me (I can sew about as well as I can discover new planets) while dad changes light bulbs or moves heavy plants around the garden at my instruction. I’m not lucky with a lot of things, but when it comes to parents, I did alright.

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My dad looks like Ron Burgundy. I am fat!

I didn’t do too badly when it comes to the in-laws, either. Gautier’s dad, Victor, is a great hulk of a man who decorated our house, cooks 6 kilo steaks and kisses me on the head every time he walks past me. Gautier’s mum, Monique, and her husband, Christophe, take us somewhere nice in France for a week every summer (what with them being French). This summer we went to Bordeaux. Here’s proof of  the steak and the father-in-law. I am nursing massive mosquito bites but looking forward to dinner.

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Just a light snack.

DOGS
Yes. Because I can’t have my own, I am thankful for other people’s. Cookie lives two doors up. We go for walks on the green opposite our house, followed by a massive cuddle on his sofa. There’s also Jackson, an idiotic Shih Tzu who lives on the other side of town. I hang out with him at the beach and also cuddle him on the sofa.

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This is Jackson. He’s a lovely little idiot.

HANDS-FREE KITS
Yeah, I got one. The pain and numbness in my left arm is still bothering me. ‘If all I was put on this earth to do is tell daft stories, what am I to do?’ I thought. A lot. So, now I don’t need to worry. I’m actually typing this WITHOUT TYPING. It’s true. I’m talking into a microphone which is attached to my head, and words are coming out on screen as I say them. It’s MAGIC. I got mine here, from the nicest, most helpful bunch of people you’ll ever deal with, and that’s a fact:

http://www.hands-free.co.uk/

THE NHS
Yep, really. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a rheumatologist who actually listens to me and does stuff, like orders MRI scans and sends me to a neurologist when weird stuff starts going on. I’ve got a great team of GPs at my local surgery, all three of which continue to do their best to help me manage my pain, whether it’s down to a blocked intestine or axial spondyloarthritis, scoliosis or fibromyalgia. They are all super great, and I only wish I had been under their care when I first moved to Brighton; I have no doubt I would still have my lovely, massive colon if I had.

COCKTAILS
Best medication ever. This past fortnight I’ve managed to have an actual social life, believe it or not. I’ve really had to push myself to do it, because it’s not like I haven’t been in pain, and it’s hard to get dolled up, get a bus and walk about in town and sit on normal chairs. But I did it. Last weekend Bo and I went to The Grand Hotel for a Bellini. We wore heels, which meant we had to take a cab. I almost had a heart attack at the thought of paying someone to drive us home (I’d sooner drag myself home on my elbows like a marine if my hips hurt than pay for a taxi) but we did it. ‘Don’t think about it,’ Bo kept saying, ‘just let it go, it’s Christmas!’ We behaved like ladies, acting dainty and marvelling at the complimentary bar snacks. It was well good. They even have armchairs. So cool! This week I had cocktails with Kelly. She is 23. I am 41. I like hanging about with youngsters because I am very immature. So there.

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Cocktails with Kelly, and it was happy hour ALL NIGHT. It makes no sense, of course, but we weren’t complaining.

FOOD
Yeah, food. Good food. Gautier and I only go out for dinner about twice a year. It’s true. Unless you count Pizza Express, which I’m not going to, even if I do LOVE IT. I love cooking. Next week the French in-laws descend upon us; I am planning a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu like nothing before; three courses, both days. After that, mum and dad are coming down for New Year’s Eve and I’ll be doing another three courses that night. My head is spinning with dessert ideas – tiramisu, Irish coffee trifle, cherry panna cotta, chocolate torte – and I may even do drawings so I can plate up a bit like they do on Masterchef. That’s the other thing I’m thankful for – Masterchef: The Professionals. Best programme ever! Michel Roux Jnr, if you’re reading this, please invite me to dinner at La Gavroche and kiss me on the cheek.

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What’s under the cloche? I reckon it’s a packet of Wotsits.

1950s NOVELTY-PRINT CLOTHES
Yes. Really old clothes made in Mexico with mad prints on them, especially if the prints are of shells, seahorses, lobsters, donkeys or dogs. This year I’ve acquired an ‘under the sea’ Mexican skirt, a Mexican donkey skirt and a Mexican donkey shirt. Look, there’s the skirt.

The 1950s donkey skirt in all its Mexican glory. Brills!
The 1950s donkey skirt in all its Mexican glory. Brills!

LLAMAS, ALPACAS, DONKEYS, GOATS & BEACHES
I love going to visit Llama Tom and his mates at Ashdown Forest Llama Park. Gautier and I also discovered some crazy nice goats and donkeys at Blackberry Farm in Lewes. Animal days out are THE NUTS. Coming a close second to animal days out are ‘mental view days out’, which include this one at Beachy Head, where I actually almost fell off the edge of the cliff. Well done.

Not too shabby
Be a bit careful

CAMERAS
Photography is going to be my proper hobby next year. I’m going to go out armed with my SLR camera and my Lomography Diana Mini retro camera thing and take a lot of photos in Brighton and learn how to use Adobe Lightroom.
I hope I don’t suck at it.

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This is what photos with a Diani Mini camera look like.
Super grainy!

CAROUSELS
Yeah, carousels. Can’t go past one without having a go. Love them.

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‘Hello, I’m mentally ill!’

CATS
This is our one. Nice, huh?

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‘Fetch me my slippers!’

TV & MOVIES
I’d like to give thanks to the creators of Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad, which is best thing I’ve ever seen EVER. If you haven’t watched it, you’re a bit of an idiot, because it’s flipping insane. Also Weeds, that’s a good one. As far as British TV goes, I can’t bear most of it. I’ve already mentioned Masterchef; the only other thing Gautier and I watch is Saturday Kitchen and Top Gear. Oh my God, Top Gear. It’s worth the licence fee just for that. Genius. As for movies, we watch a lot, because we don’t really go out, because I’m not very good at going out. There’s nothing better than a grim horror on a Saturday night with all the lights turned off. Trouble is, when I need the loo Gautier has to go up the stairs in front of me and switch all the lights on because I’m too scared to go up on my own. I’m not even joking. I am a right baby.

Right. All the Christmas presents are wrapped. I’ve bought Gautier a fancy boning knife and myself a machete thing which I’m quite sure is going to take my fingers off the first time I use it. I am considering wearing thimbles. Seriously. Last week I cut my forefinger with the bread knife, went upstairs, got a plaster, came back down, started again and cut my middle finger, and repeated the first bit until Gautier said, ‘Leave it!’ Gautier has bought me a pasta maker, but I bet I’m not even strong enough to wind the pasta through it. Come to think of it, how am I going to knead it? Doh!

I’d just like to wish each and every one of you a super, hopefully-a-bit-pain-free Christmas and a Happy New Year, wherever you are and however you’re celebrating (if indeed that’s what you do. Got to be politically correct or I might get arrested). Here’s to talcum powder and novelty socks, may you be inundated with both!

Juliette xxx

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