Permission to rant – making a routine GP appointment

Back in November I spoke to my GP over the phone.  I felt that this was quite a civilised way of dealing with a medical matter as it didn’t entail sitting for ages in a crowded waiting room absorbing other people’s germs.  I like my GP: he wears trainers and his parting comment to me at the end of our phone call was ‘May the force be with you’.  He said some more sobering things about the fact that however good I am at taking tablets and getting my eyes and feet checked out regularly, diabetes is insidiously attacking my internal organs and the only surefire way of minimising the risk is to lose a shedload of weight.  Yes.  And if it were that easy there would be no obese people.

Before his rather cool exit line, my GP asked me to make an appointment to see him in January.  I put that to the back of my mind throughout the rest of November, over Christmas,  then idly starting to think about it in January.  I went online and had a look at the new appointment booking service at the health centre.  Four times I went online and had a look.  It appeared very efficient but there was no sign of my GP on the list of available appointments. In fact, when I looked on Thursday  there were no appointments at all.  Very reluctantly I phoned the surgery from work.  I explained to the receptionist that I wanted to make a  routine appointment to see my GP in January but that there were never any appointments for him online.

She agreed with me.

“You’ll have to come down to the surgery at 0830 tomorrow.”

“I can’t.  I work full-time.”

“Well you’ll have to phone then.  After 0830.”

“I can’t.  I’m at work at 0830 and we aren’t supposed to make personal calls – I could get into trouble for talking to you now.”

‘You’ll have to go online then.  After 0830.”

“Is that when you put the list of appointments up?”

“No.”

I gave the receptionist my details and after some tutting and sighs she came back with:

“February.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Doctor said to make an appointment for the end of  January February.  That’s what your notes say.”

“Fine.  Even better really.  So can I make an appointment for February then?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry – could you explain why I can’t make an appointment?”

“We don’t book that far ahead.”

“Not even for a routine review?”

“You make those with the nurse and you can’t make that appointment till the end of January.”

“But my GP said to make the appointment with him.”

“So you say. Did he give you a slip to confirm that?”

“No.  It was a telephone appointment.”

“If Doctor wants you to book a specific appointment with him he will give you a slip and you take it immediately to reception and make an appointment.”

“I ddn’t get a slip.”

“Doctor obviously didn’t think it was that important then.”

“It was a telephone appointment.  he couldn’t give me a slip.”

“You’ll have to book an appointment online, by phone or in person the same as everyone else.”

I’m beginning to feel more than a little cross now but I’m at work in an office with several other people who don’t deserve to hear me lose my temper with this upholder of petty bureaucracy.

“Can I speak to the practice manager please?  I feel that your appointment system discriminates against people who work full-time and I’d like to make a complaint.”

“Everyone else likes the system. We have lots of people who work at the surgery.  No one else is complaining.”

“Nevertheless, I’d like to speak to the practice manager please?”

“You can’t.  She’s off sick.  You can speak to the deputy practice manager.”

“Yes please.”

“She’s in a meeting.  I’ll put you through to someone else.”

Sending up a silent prayer that the someone else is more flexible than the receptionist, I am put on hold and forced to listen to a series of clicks and whirrs that are still better than the overloud muzak that you usually get on hold.

“Hello.  my colleague tells me that you are expecting a priority appointment and you’re complaining because we can’t let you have one.”

My hackles rise.

“I’m afraid your colleague is incorrect …”

“..I don’t think so.  She was very clear.  I’ve looked at what Doctor has recorded on the system and this is just a routine appointment.  You’ll have to use the system the same as everyone else.”

“This may be a routine appointment but the doctor asked me to make it with him for January ..”

“…end of January February.”

“I’m not privy to what my doctor has recorded on my notes.  He said January to me, that’s what I put in my new diary to remind myself to call.  I don’t expect priority treatment I’m just trying to explain why, as a person who starts work at 0830 and works full-time, I can’t use your booking system.  I phoned asking for advice on how to book an appointment.”

“The instructions are on the website and in the practice handbook available at reception.”

“Who am I speaking to please?”

“My name is S and I am one of the other receptionists.  I can answer your questions perfectly well.  If this is a routine appointment you should be making the appointment with the nurse anyway.”

“My doctor told me to book it with him. Doesn’t it say that in my notes?”

“Possibly. I don’t see why though. he should have given you a slip.”

“It was a telephone conversation.  Unless you’ve started using carrier pigeons he wouldn’t be able to give me a slip.  A slip wouldn’t be any use in this case because accordingly to your colleague I would have to take it immediately to reception, but back in November you wouldn’t be making any appointments for January anyway.”

“Or February.”

“Quite.  I think it would be best if I put my complaint on paper because you aren’t really helping me and I feel that your system is discriminatory.”

“Everyone else likes it. You don’t have to write your complaint down.  I can deal with that.””

“No thanks.  I’ll write to the practice manager, if I put it in writing you can’t ignore it and I can guarantee accuracy..”

“We wouldn’t ignore it anyway.  I can speak to doctor and see if he wants to make you an appointment?”

At last a glimmer of hope in a morass of red tape.

“Yes please.  I’ll be in meetings for most of today but you can always leave me a message.”

I give her my telephone number and end the conversation with a splitting headache and a brooding hatred for receptionists.

Much later in the afternoon S calls back

“I’ve spoken to Doctor.  he says this isn’t a priority appointment so you shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

“I didn’t say that it was a priority appointment and I’ve never asked for special treatment.”

“He says that if you have an acute medical problem you should access the system the same way as anyone else but this is just a routine diabetic appointment.  In fact he said you should make the appointment with the nurse.”

The woman’s voice is thick with glee at the fact that she has defeated me and protected Doctor against another demanding patient.

“That’s fine with me – I’m quite happy to see the nurse – it was his idea for me to come back and see him.”

“So you say.  Shall I make you a diabetic appointment with the nurse?”

“A diabetes appointment – appointments can’t get diabetes.”

“There’s no call for you to go correcting my grammar thank you.”

“I thought you couldn’t make appointments that far ahead?”

“When do you need the appointment for?”

“I believe you said end of January February?”

“We don’t make appointments that far ahead.  Not even for the nurse.”

“I’ll leave it then.”

The National Standard Framework for Diabetes is a DoH document that provides guidelines for good practice.  Section 3 is all about Empowering People with Diabetes.  It waxes lyrical about the importance of health professionals working closely with people with diabetes (not diabetics!) in order to help them take responsibility for their condition.

Addendum: In the supplementary information of the NSF Diabetes section on the DoH website there are some very interesting statistics on non-compliance and people with diabetes.  Non-compliance covers not taking your medication as directed by your health professional – AND not turning up for routine appointments and tests – hmmmmmm – earlier on in this section they also state that :

‘The attitudes, skills and knowledge of health professionals, including their communication skills, also influence the behaviour of individuals and their ability to self-care.’

The rational behind Section 3 is:

‘Users of the NHS should have choice, voice and control over what happens to them at each step of their care.  Empowering people with long-term conditions in their relationship with health and other professionals enables them to assert control over their lives, build confidence and be active partners in their care.

I get the distinct feeling that  the NSF Diabetes is not a document that has ever been briefed out in my surgery.

Rant over 🙂

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Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 7

The fine drizzle that had started just before the end of the fireworks was turning into a steady downpour and temporarily put a dampener on any passion.  Rich grabbed Julia’s hand and they ran in through the nearest patio door; managing to avoid most of the would-be gamblers and finding themselves in a deserted lounge.  Julia sat down on a high-backed chair, determined not to get into another clinch, Rich grinned and lounged on a small sofa opposite.

“So, what are we talking about then?” he asked.

Julia shrugged, “We don’t have to talk.  We can go and spend money that we haven’t got or dance to music that we don’t really like, or …”

“,,,or?  What do you want to do Julia?”

At that moment, she really wasn’t sure.  There was a part of her that wanted to throw caution to the winds and drag Rich up to her room, but at that point the fantasy changed into a reality and she started to think of the practicalities: which bed would they use?  Would Rich rather they went to his room and would he send her back to her own room afterwards because he wanted his own space?  If he decided to stay the night with her, would he stay in her single bed or move into Angela’s?  Would he need to have a shower immediately afterwards?  Would he think her disgusting if she didn’t have a shower immediately afterwards?  Whilst she felt she had a grasp of most of Rich’s compulsions, the complexity of his disorder could spring any number of surprises and she began to wonder if she wasn’t too old and set in her ways to cope with anything as new and unsettling as embarking on an affair with a man half her age and with enough compulsions to satisfy the research needs of all the crusty academics at the conference and still have some left over.

Undoubtedly Rich had already thought of all these things, but would he have come up with solutions or was he waiting for her to come up with them? Julia suddenly felt tired, very tired and very middle-aged. Had she completely lost the knack of all this flirting business, was she just woefully out of practice or was it just that her current lifestyle was far more appealing?

Rich had been waiting patiently for some kind of a response to his question but his paranoia began to creep in.   He leaned forward and tapped her gently on the knee.  It made her jump and brought her back to reality.

“Sorry Rich.  I was turning things over in my head.  What is it that you want to do?  I don’t want to impose myself on you.”

“You aren’t.  Let’s go upstairs to my room and talk.  All the time we’re down here there’s a possibility that scary Amanda will come and talk to me about a friend who washes her hands at least a hundred times a day and is therefore just like me.”

He had a point.  Julia laughed and stood up.  She felt that Rich had sobered up enough to be rational about whatever he decided to do.  The hotel lobby was empty save for the night porter behind the reservations desk.  He was engrossed in a book and barely acknowledged them as they walked past.  Rich counted the stairs on the way back up and seemed gratified to find that no one had added another step during the evening.

It took three swipes before the key card unlocked the door to Rich’s room, he stepped aside and ushered Julia through.  Once inside she put her bag down precisely on the coffee table, waiting to see if he would put it somewhere else that felt was more appropriate to him.  The bag stayed where it was.    She watched him going through the ritual of checking that the door was shut properly and that the card was placed, together with his car keys, in the ornamental ashtray on the dressing table.  That done he turned back to her and took her in his arms once more; not kissing her yet but holding her very closely.

“I still want to know why you can know what I want to do before I do it.  I know you said that you’d read my book and seen me on the television but so have a lot of other people and they don’t seem anywhere as empathic or understanding as you.”

She could feel his lips against her neck; soft butterfly kisses that were making her stomach flip.  She shivered and tried to keep some hold on what she thought was reality.

“My parents were devoted to each other and that made it much easier for my father to function fairly normally.  My mother had a stroke though and died shortly afterwards.  Losing her made his world fall apart.  My kids were still young then but they were out at school all day, Andy works in promotions and was away most of the time.  I became my father’s carer and had to learn how to deal with his compulsions.  I have a few of my own – as do we all and probably as a consequence of all the time O spent with Dad, and I must admit some of my compulsions are bothering me right now.”

“Should we compare compulsions?  Mine are rearing their ugly heads too.”

Julia smiled and broke away from him, seating herself on the winged armchair by the window.  Rich perched on the bed, watching her intently and absent-mindedly pleating the green floral cover between his fingers.

“Who’s going first?  This could be excruciatingly painful.”

Julia shook her head.  “It doesn’t need to be.  If we can be honest with each other there won’t be a problem – or not as much of a problem anyway.  This is what I meant by damage limitation.  Tell me what you want to do Rich?”

He took a deep breath and got to his feet; walking slowly towards the window before stopping and turning to Julia.

“If you’ve read my book you’ll know how crap I am at relationships.  You’ll also know that I haven’t been in a relationship with anyone for some time and that I have an uncanny knack of screwing things up before they even begin.  That said, the people I meet usually see me as an oddity, they’re often initially attracted to me by the celebrity thing, but ultimately annoyed or repulsed by the level of my compulsions.  You’ve almost made me feel normal today – or at least acceptable anyway.  Not only that but I’m very attracted to you and if I wasn’t such a neurotic mess I would have dragged you into bed by now and we’d be making mad, passionate love – probably.”  Rich gave a nervous laugh and Julia could see that he was afraid he’d said too much and offended her. She looked down at her hands; trying to focus on something in the room that wasn’t part f the fantasy.

“Does it help if I say that the feeling is mutual?” said Julia.   “I’m very attracted to you and it has nothing to do with the celebrity status.  I can’t deny that your compulsions fascinate me but they certainly don’t repulse me.  I wish I could allow myself to be dragged into bed without any thought for the consequences of my actions but that’s an area where my own issues lie.  My mind is currently so occupied with practicalities that I’m almost as stressed as you are.”

“Tell me about the practicalities then?”

“Okay.  I’m too old to go ripping off my clothes in hotel rooms.  If I’m going to do anything in a bed I like to have brushed my teeth, had a quick wash and be wearing the appropriate apparel.  Anything other than sleep also demands a dab of Chanel No 5 behind each ear and at least a trace of lipstick.  You have a king size bed, I have two singles.  Your room is more suited to mad passionate love-making but I can’t even think about anything like that when all my belongings are next door?”

“We could bring them in here?”

“We could but we’re still both a bit drunk and things look different in the cold light of day.  Do either of us want to experience that awful feeling of regret tomorrow?  Do I want to find myself curled up in a strange bed with a man who feels embarrassed by his indiscretion of the night before and is inwardly cringing?”

“You’re doing both of us an injustice now.  Do you think I’m that shallow – or that I would find you unattractive when I’m sober?  I was sober this morning when you rescued me from the receptionist, and when we had lunch together.  The alcohol this evening has made me more brave but not foolhardy.”

“I’m too old for one-night stands and too wise to expect anything more.”

“I’m too insecure to risk getting into relationships that I know will be doomed by my own issues.  That’s why I’ve spent so much time avoiding them. You’re the first person for such a long time that I’ve actually relaxed with. Perhaps you can save me from myself? Or am I asking too much?”

“Oh Rich.  Life must be so easy for people who can be spontaneous. “

“Messy though.”

“Yes, messy.  I agree but at the moment we’re both tiptoeing around each other.  We’re both scared of committing to anything that might disrupt our nice ordered lives, to causing offence to each other by saying or doing the wrong thing and at the same time we’re both desperate to be held; to be wanted by someone else for however brief a moment that might be.”

Rich sat down on the bed again, his head in his hands and Julia had to fight very hard against the impulse to go to him and push all the fears and compulsions aside. Somebody had to make a decision and however hard it was, she knew it had to be her. She stood up, a little unsteadily.

“Thank you for inviting me into your space Rich, but if I share it with you tonight you’ll have nowhere left to go but home.  I’m going back to my own room now.  I’m going to get changed for bed, have a wash and clean my teeth. I may watch a little late night TV.  I’m going to leave Angela’s key card next to the phone here so you won’t get it mixed up with your own.  If you feel the need for company, for someone to hold you or you find a spider in your bath, feel free to use it.  There’s a spare bed in there and no one has slept in it so you can still have your own space.  I won’t be offended if you stay where you are and I’d love to have breakfast with you in the morning if you want me to.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing you speak again tomorrow and the time we’ve spent together has been a delight.“

Stopping briefly to drop a kiss on top of his head, she left the key card by the phone and returned to her room without waiting for the response that she knew he was trying desperately to make.

Julia got ready for bed; enjoying the softness of the old blue cotton nightshirt she always took with her when she went away.  She looked in the mirror after brushing her hair and removing almost all of her make up and didn’t feel too disappointed by what she saw.  A faint wisp of hope made her pick up the perfume bottle and dab it in the appropriate places.  Most of her lipstick had gone but there was still enough to prevent her from looking thin-lipped and washed out.

Her own damage imitation system had set in now; weighing up all the cons that might be involved in a relationship with Rich.  She’d spent years having her life dominated by her father’s neuroses and her husband’s infidelities. Her life now was what she had built for herself; rules set by her in accordance with her own wants and needs.  A home of her own with all her books and precious things, a front door that when locked kept the world outside away from her, a job that fulfilled her, good friends and a loving family who knew when to visit and when to leave.  Spike was the only unpredictable force in her life and provided he was fed, watered, walked and cuddled regularly, he didn’t really present a problem.  Did she really need any complications in her life right now?

Half an hour of waiting was enough; Julia turned out the bedside light and rolled over onto her favourite side clutching a pillow instead of the lonely, lovely man next door.

On the other side of the wall Rich sat in the bath.  There was no water.  Just Rich, wrapped in a dressing gown, in a foetal curl with a bath towel over his head to block out any outside intrusions.  He often sat like this for hours at home.  It felt safe from everything in the world that bothered him.  But Julia hadn’t bothered him.  She had understood him and made sure that so many of the things in life that irritated and disrupted him on a daily basis were taken care off.  Even his mother didn’t have as much insight into the devils that ruled his life.  He weighed up the pros and cons of his situation.  He liked Julia.  He enjoyed her company and she seemed to enjoy his.  She had her own life, she must be successful in whatever it was that she did – or she wouldn’t be able to afford to employ Angela as a PA.  She had salvaged his weekend and made him feel that perhaps there might be someone there who could do more than just tolerate him. But what did he have to give back?  A picture rose in his mind of a relationship with Julia that consisted of him visiting her but always going back to his own house, his own space.  Would that be enough?  It would suit him surely but would Julia want more than that?  Would she be able to tell him or would their relationship be doomed to more endless pussyfooting around for fear of offending each other.

At exactly three o’clock in the morning Julia heard a noise that made her stomach flip and dispelled every con she could think of.  She smiled sleepily as she pictured Rich slipping into Angela’s bed only a few feet away and she was happy that he felt safe enough to leave his own space in order to share the room with her.

There was a slight draft however as the duvet moved and she felt his body, slightly chilled and not very relaxed, climb in beside her.   The last of the cons flew out the window, to be replaced by the discovery that their mutual need seemed to have triumphed.  Things would never be the same again but nothing else mattered when she turned to him and he kissed her.

Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 6

Having satisfied his hunger pangs, Rich put down his knife and fork, equally spaced either side of his plate and leaned back in his chair, wine glass in hand. “Has it spoilt things for you – having Angela go home early?”

“Not really.  I love her company and we have a good time together but we see each other every day at work anyway and Rod needs her right now.  She loves fussing over him and when he feels better he will undoubtedly take her away for an even better weekend.”

“You work together?  I thought you were best friends.”

“We are.  Angela came to work for me as my PA about eight years ago.  She was there for me when my husband left me, and she’s been a huge support through the divorce and rebuilding my life afterwards.  In return, I introduced her to Rod, one of my husband’s more respectable business associates,  and they’ve been very happily married for the past three years.  All sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?”

“No.  What kind of a job do you do that you can afford a PA?”

“I’m self-employed and Angela is tax-deductible.  I also live quite frugally and have very low overheads.”

“You don’t want to tell me what you do for a living then?”

“No.  Well maybe later, tomorrow perhaps?”

“You will tell me then?”

“I will.  For now, do you want pudding, more wine or both?”

“Bring on the booze. I’m not on till after lunch tomorrow so I’ve got time to sober up in the morning.  What puddings are there?”

“The usual suspects; chocolate fudge cake, sticky toffee pudding, three different types of cheesecake, five flavours of ice cream, fresh fruit salad or cheese board.”

“We had cheese at lunchtime.  I always think chocolate fudge cake goes well with red wine.”

“I always think most things go well with red wine.”  Julia handed the pudding menu back to the waitress, hoping that the idea of more food and wine had temporarily distracted Rich from asking more questions about what she did for a living.

The group of designer-decked ladies were losing their thin veneer of posh and as the wine took hold so their accents betrayed their Liverpool and Manchester roots.  The younger girls had lost any trace of inhibition and were flouncing around from table to table.  Even the driest of the academics had decided to loosen his tie and take off his tweed jacket.

The chocolate fudge cake sopped up some of the red wine but necessitated Rich’s ordering of a third bottle.  Julia couldn’t help thinking that Angela would be in her element here; people watching and making acid comments about the behaviour of their fellow residents.  She could see that Rich was moving from amusingly tipsy to potentially morosely drunk so she ordered a pot of coffee.

Above the hubbub came the sharp sound of a fork tapping on glass and the elegant Amanda rose to her feet. “If you’d like to come out on the veranda there will be a spectacular display of fireworks, after which you are all welcome to visit the casino and nightclub which will be set up in the restaurant.  If you don’t want to watch the fireworks could you go into one of the lounges so that the staff can clear away and set up the tables please?”

Rich peered at Julia.  “Fireworks – or lounge?”

“Oh fireworks definitely. I could do with some air and the noise of the fireworks will drown out those giggling girls.”

“Fireworks it is then.”  He tipped the last of the wine into their glasses and got to his feet with only the slightest hint of a stagger.  Julia picked up her bag and glass and followed him outside where they found a low wall to lean against, the chairs having already been taken by the more competitive attendees.

It wasn’t too cold in the shelter of the veranda and the wine was still keeping her warm from the inside.  She could have gone upstairs for a jacket but Julia didn’t really want to interrupt the evening.  Rich was on good form again, the fresh air had sharpened his already biting wit and although his comments were delivered in an undertone meant for her alone Julia was glad that they were removed from the bulk of the attendees who had gathered on the veranda.  She was also appreciative of the fact that Rich was standing so close to her in order to make himself heard that she could feel the warmth of his body against hers and smell the wine and chocolate sweetness of his breath, visibly hanging in the cold night air.  She wasn’t exactly sure if this proximity was caused by Rich’s alcohol fuelled unsteadiness, feeling chilly or the need for some bodily contact between them, but whatever it was she liked it.

The fireworks display was quite impressive although rather than drown out the noise of the girls, it had the opposite effect of making them squeal and scream in an ear-splittingly high pitch.  Julia shivered as the effects of the wine began to wear off.

“If I was a gentleman with proper dress sense I’d offer you my jacket, but as it is I’m not wearing one.”  Rich edged closer still and grinned in an endearing but rather intoxicated manner.  He very timorously put an arm around her, and she could see that he was waiting nervously for the ridicule or the icy rebuff that he had received on other occasions.

“This is better than a jacket any day,” she replied and leaned her head against his shoulder, sending up another silent prayer of thanks that she hadn’t worn a jacket either.  They watched the rest of the fireworks in silence and Julia tried very hard to convince herself that Rich was just being gentlemanly and that she should stop this fantasising about him now and sober up.  It didn’t help that his head was resting against hers, he had pulled her closer and she felt that she only need turn her face up to look at him in order for him to see it as an invitation to kiss her.  Would that be such a bad thing?

It was while she was mulling over this thought that fate took over; she felt the gentlest of kisses on her forehead, then Rich touched her cheek with cold fingertips and tilted her face up to meet his.  He could certainly kiss.  Soft and delightfully dry; not the sloppy over-anxious kiss she might have expected from a moderately drunk and self-confessed celibate.

All sense of chill had gone as she pressed her body against his; the sound of the fireworks and the girly screams faded away into another place and all she was really aware of was how glad she was that she hadn’t decided to go home when Angela left.

“Get a room you two!”

The raucous cackle broke into her reverie and the kiss ended abruptly.  Julia looked for some sign of embarrassment or awkwardness on Rich’s part but there was none.  He was smiling.  The fireworks were over and the revellers were filing back in to the casino.  Rich pulled her closer again, turning his back on the crowd as if to shield her.  “Can we – I mean – it’s getting cold out here.  Do you want to go to the casino nightclub thing?”

“I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. We could go into the lounge and – talk?”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Damage limitation.”

“That sounds serious.”

“You have rituals and rules Rich; to some extent so do I.  Neither of us wants to be in an awkward situation so now might be a good time to do a bit of forward planning.”

“Tell me something first Julia.  Be honest with me?”

“Okay.  What do you want to know?”

“Do you want to take this any further or are you just humouring me because you’re a very kind lady who doesn’t like upsetting people?”

She answered the question in the most graphic way she could and by the time they drew apart from the kiss that she initiated this time, Rich was in no doubt as to her response.

“Come and sit down a minute.  I can’t think straight if you keep kissing me.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the veranda.

“You kissed me that time.”

“Okay, then we’re even.  I need to sit down because my legs feel wobbly and it might be the wine or it might be you or both but I’m safer on a chair.”

They sat down at the nearest vacated table and Rich pulled his chair closer to hers, taking her hands in his.

“A few basic facts first Rich, and please don’t kiss me again till I finish because I’m easily distracted.”

Rich chuckled and raised one of her hands to his lips.  “Does that count?”

“Yes.  We’re both a bit drunk; we still have tomorrow to get through and I don’t want us to get into a situation that either of us will regret or feel mortally embarrassed about in the morning.”

“Why should I feel embarrassed?  You’re gorgeous and sexy and intelligent and this isn’t just the wine talking.”

“You’re definitely drunk Rich.  I’m – God I hate saying this – I’m old enough to be your mother for heaven’s sake!”

“Now you’re being sexist.”

“How do you come to that conclusion?”  Julia backed away from him, freeing her hands and clutching at her bag, appalled at such an accusation.  Rich very gently took the bag away from her and placed it on the table, putting his hands on her shoulders.

“How old is your friend Angela?  You told me that her husband is twice her age.  Why is it okay for an older man to be with a younger woman and not the other way round?   Bit of a cliché really?  Just for the record I have a very healthy relationship with my mother and you don’t look anything like her.”

Julia was momentarily lost for words and he took the opportunity to cup her face in his hands again and kiss her.  There was no mistaking the seriousness of his intentions this time and she gave up the fight as he stood up and pulled her into his arms.  This was serious kissing; the kind of kissing that sent a thrill through her body that she hadn’t experienced since she was a teenager.

By chiara1421 Posted in Story

Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 5

The talk and subsequent discussion on the role played by religion in mental health issues turned out to be quite lively, although some of those bursting to put their point across evidently had more than a few issues of their own already.  Julia sat toward the back of the room and watched mostly, realising that for some of the people present, this was the main reason for attending.  She had a moment of guilt thinking of her own more selfish motivation but that passed.  She had put her phone on silent but kept checking to see if there was a message from Angela.  The discussion drew itself to a natural close when afternoon tea was brought in and a number of tables and display boards were set up at the far end of the room.

Julia stocked up on Christmas cards by mouth-painters, bought some hand-made wrapping paper and made a hefty donation.  Desperate to escape the gushing pseudo-sympathy portrayed by the designer handbag ladies who were hell-bent on out-buying each other in an effort to appear altruistic, Julia slipped quietly out of the door and was about to go upstairs to the peace of her room when she was stopped by one of the organisers.

“Have you seen Rich at all?  He’s disappeared and we were a bit worried that he might have left.”

“No, “ said Julia, “as far as I know he’s gone for a lie-down in his room.  He’s asked me to have dinner with him so I’m assuming he’ll be around this evening.”

“That’s a relief although he’s rather picky about his food I understand.”

“Compulsive, not picky.  What are we having for dinner?”

“Oh we’ve got a variety of dishes on offer; some of them quite unusual.”

“Ah.  He’ll prefer to eat something he’s familiar with, and if you can do without him at the top table he’d rather eat somewhere quieter if possible.”

The organiser frowned, then realising that they had pulled of quite a coup getting Rich to do two sessions without having to pay any extra, decided to go along with what Julia requested.

“I’ll sort out a quiet table for you both and get a scaled down copy of the menu.  Will that be okay?”

Julia beamed.  “Absolutely wonderful.  He’ll definitely be on good form tomorrow then.”

She decided to use the stairs rather than the lift and was tempted to put her ear to the door and discover whether Rich was asleep and snoring as she went past but decided that this was a little too much like stalking.

She called Angela and left a message saying that she’d had a lovely lunch with Rich and was meeting him for dinner too. Boasting, but she couldn’t resist after Angela’s comments earlier on. Deciding that a gentle nap in front of the evening news would be therapeutic, she turned on the television, taking care not to have the volume up too loud. Curled up on the bed with Angela’s pillows as well for extra luxury, Julia leaned back and closed her eyes having turned the volume back on her phone and set the alarm for six forty-five.

Her much-needed slumber was disturbed thirty minutes later by a text from Angela.  Rod was home and what had appeared to be a heart attack turned out to be indigestion.  Angela was staying put however as Rod was still traumatised by having been rushed to hospital in an ambulance and having to undergo a battery of tests.  Sufficient to say Angela was green with envy about Julia’s acquaintanceship with Rich, but took full credit for it because it had been her idea to go away for the weekend anyway.

Julia snorted in response to this comment but sent a warm and loving message back, hoping that Rod felt better soon.  She performed a cursory wash and brush up in the bathroom to wake herself up properly and having decided that her serviceable black linen trousers were still in reasonably good order, she took off the comfortable red shirt she’d been wearing all day and changed it for the more dressy black velvet tunic she’d bought on impulse the day before.  The neck was low enough to enhance what she felt to be two of her best assets, but not too plunging.  She pinned her long dark blonde hair up into a loose chignon, refreshed her make-up and decided that she didn’t look too bad really.

Just as she was debating whether to go and knock on Rich’s door, there was a gentle tapping sound that she knew could only be him.    Quickly putting the pillows back on Angela’s bed and shoving her red shirt into the wardrobe, Julia checked round the room to make sure it would be tidy enough to pass muster.  Not that she was entertaining any thoughts of having Rich spend any time in her room but she knew that if it was too untidy he would be compelled to come in and straighten things up before he could go for dinner.

With one last look in the mirror she picked up her handbag and walked to the door.  Rich had also changed for dinner and the dark blue cord shirt suited him better than the polo shirt he’d been wearing with his jeans earlier on.

Julia smiled. “Did you get some sleep?” She watched Rich’s eyes dart round the room checking for flaws before she joined him in the corridor and closed the door.  His shoulders relaxed and she felt a frisson of pleasure that her standards of tidiness had obviously met with his approval.

“Yes. Thank you , I slept very soundly considering.  What time did you come back to your room?”

“About an hour ago, just to watch the news and get changed.  I had a text from Angela as well. She’s not coming back.”

“Is she okay?”  Rich’s shoulders were beginning to rise again and Julia felt quite flattered that this might be in response to a concern that she might go home now that Angela definitely wasn’t returning.

“She’s fine.  It turned out that her husband had indigestion but he can talk himself into any illness when she isn’t there to keep him in line so she’s decided to stay home and pamper him.”

“But you’re staying aren’t you?”  His anxiety was audible now as the pitch of his voice rose a few notes.  Julia smiled and touched his forearm gently.

“I’m staying.  Angela is very jealous that I’ve already had lunch with you and now I’m having dinner too.  She’s decided that she is entirely responsible for my good fortune however.”

Rich smiled, “And mine.  I dread the evening dinners even more than the buffets, especially when they decide to have loads of different dishes that I’ve never heard of let alone tasted.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about that.  I asked if you could be excused from the top table too.  I hope that was alright?”

Rich’s smile widened into a grin and he looked the most relaxed he had all day.  They walked down the corridor and as they passed the lift she instinctively turned toward the stairs.

“I can do lifts,” said Rich “but it’s only one flight and if you don’t mind…”

“I don’t,” said Julia as she opened the door to the stairs.  They walked down in what seemed to be a companionable silence but out of the corner of her eye she could see him counting and it was a relief when they reached the last one and Rich nodded in confirmation that the number of stairs was even.

The reception area was busy with hotel residents heading toward the restaurant and coming out of the leisure spa.  Julia was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the dressed-up, the overdressed and the extremely underdressed; self-conscious in their slightly too short towelling robes and flimsy freebie slippers.

As they entered the restaurant, the organiser that Julia had spoken to earlier waved vigorously and came over to them.

“We’ve put you on a small table to one side of the main group; it shouldn’t be so noisy there.  I’ve asked the waitress to leave both menus on the table. If there’s anything else you want, just call me – and I’ll sort it out for you.”

“Thank you – um – uh…”

“Amanda.”

“Yes, Amanda.  Of course.  I’m not very good with names I’m afraid.” said Rich.

Amanda rushed back to the top table and the waitress showed them to the more secluded and quiet alcove where their table had been set up.  It was actually in a very good position for both of them to watch the other guests without too much danger of making eye contact.  Rich looked happy and his smile grew even wider when he picked up the menu that the waitress had left for him.

“Rack of lamb – nice but fiddly, lasagne – okay but ordinary.  Lancashire hotpot with red cabbage. Now that’s what I call soul food. Did you want a starter?”

“No, I’ll go straight in for the chicken and chorizo salad.”

Rich looked puzzled.  “Have we got the same menu?”

“No, you have the simple no-messing-about menu and I have the fancy lets-see-how-many-different-cultures-we-can-cram-in menu.  Do you want to have a look at mine? I warn you, there are at least three misplaced apostrophes.”

“No thanks,” Rich shuddered, “although the salad sounds nice, I’d rather have the hotpot.”

Julia smiled and sent up a silent prayer of thanks as Rich ordered a bottle of red wine.  Once the waitress had taken their orders and moved away, Rich straightened up his cutlery, ensured that the pepper and salt mills were symmetrically placed, lined his water-glass up so that it mirrored Julia’s then relaxed again and leaning back in his chair looked quizzically at Julia.

“Okay.  So you seem to be second guessing me about everything at the moment, are you a particularly intuitive person or have you been stalking me?  In which case – should I be afraid?”

“I’m too old to stalk anyone.  I haven’t the time nor the inclination.  I’ve read your book however and seen you perform several times – not live – just on the television.  I find that as I grow older, serious things just make me feel anxious and I prefer to laugh rather than be made unhappy.”

‘”That’s a good philosophy, I wish I could adopt it.  You aren’t old though.”

“Thank you for the compliment but I think you’ll find that your mother and I are probably contemporaries.  My children are only a couple of years younger than you.”

“You have children?  So I suppose you have a husband too?”

“A boy and a girl.  Twenty three and twenty-six years old with their own homes and their own lives. I had a husband but he’s been an ex for the past seven years.  I live alone with my dog Spike and value my space after having had other people occupying it for so many years.  I love it when my children and their partners visit but I’m equally relieved to see them go.  My ex-husband pops in but never stays long.  It’s usually when he’s in-between young models and needs some reassurance.  He’s just married for the third time and I’m hoping that this one keeps him busy because she has more money than any of the others had.”  Julia finished defiantly and took a reassuring sip from the glass of wine that the waiter had just poured for her.

Rich raised his glass in salute. ”If you’ve read my book, there’s probably not much about me that you don’t already know then.  So, are you a glutton for punishment or do you have an affinity for obsessive compulsives?”

“Possibly closer to the latter. My father had many obsessive compulsive tendencies; he was never formally diagnosed but the behaviours got worse as he grew older and by the time he died it was almost impossible to even get him out of the house. His rituals got longer and longer until they took over and the smallest of actions had to be repeated at least fifty times.  So you see, by comparison, you’re much easier company.  We all of us have some element of obsessive compulsive behaviour; it just gets more developed in some than in others.”

There was a moment of awkward silence and Julia wondered if she might have said too much and made Rich feel like he was building up his compulsions in order to enhance his comedy role.  She took another sip of wine but when she finally looked over at him, he was still smiling..

“I thought I might have upset you – but you don’t seem to be too perturbed?”

He shook his head, still grinning, “I almost feel normal.  Most people think I’m totally weird and I’m more used to that kind of reception.  I can’t say that I feel totally comfortable at the moment but that’s me – not you.”

Julia snorted and nearly choked on her wine.  Rich’s face was initially deadpan and then he laughed too.  The waitress arrived with their meals and the awkward silence passed.  The other occupants of the restaurant were growing more rowdy as alcohol levels rose, but for Julia and Rich in their hidden alcove, their fellow diners seemed totally removed.

Obsessive complusive but personable – part 4

Julia closed her eyes for a moment; torn between concern for Rod and Angela, disappointment that their weekend away had been so suddenly curtailed, and experiencing a moment of blind panic at the thought of staying on at the hotel on her own.

The touch of a hand on her arm brought her back to reality and she opened her eyes to see him standing in front of her. “Are you okay? You look a bit upset.”

“I’m fine. My friend Angela has had to leave suddenly and I’m debating about whether I should go too. I’ve seen the main attraction after all.” She smiled.

He gave a comedy groan and shook his head. “Not quite the main attraction if you’re talking about me. I’m told that they have a hypnotist tomorrow who makes people act like chickens.”

Julia raised her eyebrows. “And that’s supposed to persuade me to stay?”

“No,” he shook his head and chuckled “but they’ve asked me to do another spot to round things off after lunch tomorrow – different material but along the same lines as today.”

“Does it help? Baring your soul to us all?”

He took a deep breath and looked upwards, marshalling his thoughts with care. “I think it does. I’m a total basket case beforehand but I do feel more relaxed and kind of cleansed after a performance. The laughter, the applause, the standing ovation, it’s all a kind of validation that maybe I’m not so weird after all. I hope you were crying with laughter though not sympathy for the pathetic wimp before you?”

Frowning, Julia folded up Angela’s note and put it in her handbag. “If you’re staying on, then so am I. The weekend has been paid for, there’s no washing up or having to shop for food and best of all you’ll be there to make me laugh again tomorrow. How could I go home under the circumstances? ”

“Thank you. I mean good. I mean – would you have lunch with me? Please? If it wasn’t for your intervention this morning I would probably have made a run for it and had to pay back my fee – plus compensation too.”

Julia looked around the entrance hall, aware that they were attracting some attention, particularly from a group of very pretty, very young girls who were doing their best to get him to notice them. “You’ve a bit of a fan club over there. I think I already know your answer but are you sure you wouldn’t like to?…it’s okay, I can see from the look of sheer terror in your eyes that lunch and adoration don’t mix. I’d love to have lunch with you and I promise not to fawn or drool.”

She watched as the tension dropped from his shoulders and his smile returned. “It isn’t the adoration, I don’t get much of that, and it’s usually just curiosity to see if I’m as neurotic as I say I am. Buffets are extremely difficult for me though. I don’t really like eating food after other people have touched it; well I don’t mind chefs and waitresses but some people are so messy and pick things up then put them back on the plate again.”

“You could ask them to put something on a plate for you straight from the kitchen? Come on, let’s have a look at what’s on offer and then have a word with the organisers. After the success of your performance I would lay money on it that you could ask for anything and get it.”

Leaving the giggling girls behind them they walked the length of the now devastated buffet table and came to the conclusion that there was nothing edible left anyway. Julia waved at a waitress who looked vaguely sympathetic and explained the situation . Fortunately she’d been one of the staff who’d been doubled up with laughter at the back of the room earlier on. She motioned them to a table set apart from the rest of the room and went into the kitchen.

She returned very quickly with two plates of bread, cheese, salad, pickles and a bowl of fresh fruit. “Chef had a couple of Ploughman’s ready to go out but he says you can have these and he’ll make up some more. He watched you too and says he hasn’t had such a good laugh for ages. Also says he doesn’t blame you for not wanting to touch the buffet after that lot have been at it. Those girls have been double dipping the crudités. Disgusting! Would you like fruit juice or water?”

“Can I have some orange juice and some sparkling water please? And for you Julia?” Julia nodded her assent and the waitress hurried off again.

“So are you Rich or are you Richard?”

“Depends on whether I’m being a stand up or sitting at my Mum’s for dinner. Mum is the only person who calls me Richard but I answer to both. Rich will do – although I’m not – rich I mean.”

Julia nodded, pleased that she wasn’t being classified with his mother at least. The waitress brought two bottles of sparkling water, a carafe of orange juice and two very clean glasses. Rich held his up to the light and smiled. “This is one advantage of being famous for a cleanliness compulsion. People go over the top in trying to make sure I don’t find any dirt on their glasses.”

Mindful that he had already expressed his dislike of chattering meal companions, Julia kept the conversation to a minimum until they’d finished eating; covertly watching as Rich identified the best parts of his Ploughman’s lunch and put them to one side to save till last. There were still a few grapes and slices of apple left in the bowl at the end of the meal and Rich lined them up in order of size and with a precision that made it a shame to eat them and spoilt the symmetry

“What do we have in store for us this afternoon?” he asked, moving an apple slice to make a new pattern.

“A contortionist, an illusionist and a man who makes animals out of balloons.” said Julia consulting her agenda.

“Really? I was going to crash out for a couple of hours but maybe …”

“I was lying. This afternoon we will be having a talk on religion and its impact on mental health issues. This will be followed by a display of craftwork made by leprosy victims who have lost their limbs. Stop smiling, that is not a joke. This weekend is billed as an ‘alternative experiences’ weekend. Angela felt it would be good for me – for us both.”

“I think I prefer your agenda, although I’ve always been a bit worried by balloons, unexpected bangs and all that. Can I ask you something please?”

“Ask away – unless it has anything to do with my age or my weight.”

“Neither. Will you still be here when I wake up?”

Julia smiled at the childlike honesty of his question. “I’ll still be here – well not here exactly – I expect they’ll want to clear this table soon. If the religious guy gets too much I may sneak back to my own room this afternoon and give Angela a call.”

“So if you’re staying, can I ask you another favour? Will you join me for dinner?”

“That’s not a favour, but shouldn’t you be sitting at the top table with the organisers?”

“Do you think I’d enjoy that?” “Not much. If you’re really sure, then yes, I’d love to. Having been abandoned by Angela, dinner with you is a far more agreeable prospect than being droned at by some dry old academic whose theories were all disproved years ago or having to make polite conversation with the Cheshire Set.”

“I’m renowned for my droning too. I’ll try not to though. If you change your mind and have to go home would you me let know? I’m in room 28.”

“I’ll bang on the wall, I believe we’re next door neighbours then. I’m in room 27. You’ll still cope if I’m not here though. You’ll be just as funny tomorrow – if not more so because you’ll inevitably get irritated by something in this hotel and have brand new material as a consequence.”

Julia stood up and went to pick up her bag. Rich was on his feet immediately, picked it up and passed it to her with a shy and hasty peck on the cheek. She smiled to herself as he hurried off to his room; it was a bit of a maiden aunt kiss, perhaps even a Mum kiss but a kiss nevertheless and more than any of the giggling girls had got. Double dipping in the crudités indeed!

Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 3

The conference room was filling up when they arrived; and half a dozen waiters and waitresses were circling the room with silver coffee pots, and salvers loaded high with a variety of bite-sized pastries.  Julia accepted a cup of coffee and one pastry, watching in amusement whilst Angela tried to juggle with her impractical designer handbag, coffee cup and four pastries.  Putting her cup down beside her, she rescued Angela’s bag, guided her down onto a chair and allowed herself a few moments to indulge in scanning the room to see what kind of people might be attracted to what was advertised as a ‘weekend of alternative experiences’.

Of the twenty-five or so people attending the event Julia had already separated the professionals from the interested amateurs and the anything-to-get-away-for- the-weekend women. She thought she recognised a couple of people from a conference she’d attended in the summer and was pleased to receive some smiles of recognition back.

The organisers sat at the front of the room facing the attendees, and clutching his coffee cup and looking very self-conscious, so was the guest speaker.  There was no sign of a pastry in his hand; he wouldn’t have risked it in case it made him cough or choke, or even worse, left him with a smear of syrup on his face.  He glanced around the room at that moment and caught Julia looking at him.  His smile, genuinely warm and spontaneous, made her feel quite peculiar and she found herself blushing and making a ‘thumbs up’ gesture to him.  Most unlike her.  It made his smile broaden even further however and he made the gesture back, more covertly than she had but then everyone was looking at him, not at her.

Angela had finished her pastries at last and stood up to brush the crumbs off onto the floor. Julia pulled her back down onto her seat again as one of the organisers got up and walked over to the microphone. The next ten minutes were taken up with the usual effusive welcomes, domestic explanations and a run through of the agenda.  The first speaker was a rather dry academic who talked at length about his theories on sociopaths.  Julia would usually have found him quite interesting, if only for the fact that most of his hypotheses were taken from research already carried out by far more respected psychologists and psychiatrists than himself.  Had she been organising the event, she would probably have put him on first as well, and noted with relief that he wasn’t giving any more talks over the weekend.

People were beginning to shuffle their feet and there was much clinking of coffee cups as the audience looked for distraction.  The speaker would have gone on obliviously if it hadn’t been for the timely intervention of one of the organisers, who got to his feet and very gently reminded him that he’d gone over his time.  The academic looked a little bewildered but thanked the audience and sat down to a gratefully enthusiastic round of applause.

The waitresses took the opportunity of the hiatus to retrieve the coffee cups and pastry plates; most of the audience dashed out for comfort breaks; some to the lavatory and others to the smoker’s gazebo at the end of the building.  Julia stretched her legs and arched her back wondering why conference chairs were always so damn uncomfortable.  Perhaps it was to stop you nodding off in the dull bits.  The dim receptionist wandered in waving a piece of paper and made a beeline for Angela and Julia.

“Mrs Price?” she gabbled “there’s a message for you.  I think the lady said she was your sister or something?”

Angela took the paper and went outside onto the terrace, having motioned for Julia to stay where she was.  People were filing back into the room now and Julia could see that her guest speaker was on next. Blast Angela!  She’d disappeared from sight now and although Julia felt she should go out and see what was wrong she really didn’t want to leave and miss what was probably the high point of the weekend.

He started with an energy that belied his shyness, and within moments his candid stand up routine had the sluggish audience roaring with laughter.  His humour was raw; cruel and personal about himself and his failings and neuroses. Whilst most of her was laughing and she was glad she’d worn waterproof mascara, Julia saw through the humour and empathised with the obsessive compulsive within.  Listening to him lay himself open to a bunch of strangers made her wonder if this was his therapy; the only way he could cope with the compulsions that dominated his life.  Well-used to the stringent timings of the comedy circuit and possessed of extreme self-discipline, his routine finished on time and brought the agenda back on schedule with a standing ovation from the audience, the organisers and the staff who had sneaked in at the back of the room when they heard the laughter.

He sat down, flushed and breathless but smiling and as Julia wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes with a slightly sticky napkin that Angela had left behind, she saw him give her a small but very definite ‘thumbs-up’.  Pleased that he was happy with his performance, Julia couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that Angela had missed out on seeing it.  People were gathering up their belongings prior to going into the adjoining room for a buffet lunch so Julia went in search of her friend and walked into the entrance hall just in time to see a small pink car hurtling up the driveway.  The receptionist thrust an envelope into her hand.  Inside was a note in Angela’s unmistakeably loopy hand.

“Dear Joolz, Have to go home.  Rod’s had another of his little turns – nothing serious but he’s been to hospital and needs some TLC. PLEASE stay and enjoy your lovely man.  Gutted that I’m going to miss him but you can buy me his DVD when it comes out and I promise I’ll read his book if you lend it to me.  Hell, I may even buy my own copy.  I might learn something.  Wish your patients were as gorgeous as he is.  I’ll text you later.  Loads of Love Ange.”

Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 2

And so it was that Julia found herself driving through a frosty autumn morning on the following Saturday to a large country house hotel on the outskirts of Chester.  It certainly looked as picturesque in real life as it did in the brochure; set in forested grounds with a white-painted wooden veranda running the length of the building, overlooking immaculately tended lawns.  She spotted Angela’s car in the reasonably well-filled car park; not that Angela’s car was hard to spot as there weren’t that many baby-pink Smart car convertibles on the road.  Rod, Angela’s doting and much older husband indulged her every whim but drew the line at ever setting foot in what he termed her ‘dodgem’.  It suited Angela however and was ideal for someone who had difficulty parking or even finding her car in crowded supermarket car parks.

Julia looked around the shabby but comfortable interior of her cherished BMW; far too big now that the children had left home and had cars of their own but she loved the smell of the leather upholstery and the feel of the walnut dash, the essence of another era.  It had always been her car rather than Andy’s, even when they were together he went for the kind of sports car that most hairdressers would be proud to be seen in and poured scorn on her stately silver monster.  It was hell to park though.

She picked up her holdall and handbag from the passenger seat, locked the car and headed toward reception where she was relieved to see Angela waiting for her.

“You just need to register and then we can have a look at our room.  Twin beds with a picture window overlooking the lawns.  I thought you’d like that.”

As requested, Julia checked in at the desk and scanned the agenda for the weekend ahead.  The morning promised a guest speaker who interested her very much and who, if she wasn’t mistaken was currently being given a bit of a hard time by the receptionist.  It appeared that he had arrived without any identification and the receptionist, who was very young and not particularly blessed, was saying that she couldn’t allow him to attend the conference.  Julia could see from his posture that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and liable to bolt at any moment.  She had an urge to do something, and her urges were usually unstoppable.  Julia walked purposefully over to the desk and waved her hand at the receptionist.

“Perhaps I can help?  You’ve just seen my ID and signed me in for this conference. Yes?”

The girl nodded because she had indeed seen Julia’s ID and knew enough to realise that she was not someone to be argued with because there were lots of letters after her name.

“That’s good, so if I tell you that one of the main reasons I’m attending this event is because I’m very much looking forward to hearing this gentleman speak you’ll understand why you need to book him in.  However, if you don’t know who he is and you won’t book him in, you will give all three of us a problem – not to mention all the other people attending the event who also want to hear him speak, and your management who have taken good money from us.  I don’t think they will be very pleased if people start asking for their money back because you won’t let the main speaker sign in – do you?”

The girl shook her head and looked bewildered.

“Will it help if I say that I can confirm that this gentleman is who he says he is and that I will vouch for him?”

The girl took a deep breath and nodded emphatically, as she pushed the key card and register toward the now slightly less anxious guest in front of her.  He turned to Julia first, a very shy smile on his face, and extended his hand.

“You obviously know who I am.”

“Julia Agnew,” she replied shaking his hand gently but firmly, “It’s a great pleasure to make your acquaintance.  I won’t hold you up because I know you’ll want to settle in and so do I.”

“Yes,” he said, and Julia could see the look of relief spread across his face as he realised that she had freed him from the burden of making polite conversation.  He let go her hand and smiled again.  “Thank you, thank you so much.”

She walked back to Angela who was standing by the bags with her mouth open.  Julia gently pushed it shut.  “It’s rude to stare, come on, and leave the poor man in peace.  He’ll be okay now.”

“But it’s…you’ve just …Julia!”

“Come on, let’s go and look at the room, coffee and introductions in fifteen minutes and I want to unpack first.”  She ushered Angela toward the lift which was already filling up.  As the doors closed she saw him heading for the stairs as she knew he would.  He wouldn’t do lifts  if he could take the stairs.

As Angela had promised, their room was light and airy with a charming view over the vast stretch of lawn.  Julia busied herself hanging up her clothes, unpacking her toothbrush and cosmetics and trying not to catch Angela’s eye.  Angela’s bag was left unpacked; she didn’t have Julia’s need for order and would undoubtedly end up rummaging around through her crumpled clothes looking for mascara later on.  She lay on her bed, gently bouncing to test for springiness, then raising herself up on one elbow, turned to Angela who was scanning the agenda again.

“He’s even more cute in the flesh.  I would – if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m happily married and go for older men anyway.  He looked exceptionally grateful.”

Julia looked up from the sheaf of papers, “Are you suggesting that I have to go hunting for toy boys who are pathetically grateful to me?  I am not a cougar and I would have done the same for anyone under the circumstances.  I know enough about him to realise that in that situation his first instinct would be to run in the opposite direction or get very angry.  I find him a very clever and entertaining man and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing his talk.  If you aren’t going to unpack shall we go back downstairs?  It’s been a long time since breakfast and the coffee smells good.  I think I saw Danish pastries too.”

Angela jumped off the bed, fluffed her hair in the mirror, bared her teeth to make sure there was no lipstick on them and stood to mock attention.  Julia smiled, slightly envious of Angela’s youth, her energy and a metabolism that could demolish several trays of Danish pastries without putting on a pound.  She cast a cursory glance at her own reflection and decided that she looked exactly what she was, a nice middle-aged woman with good teeth, reasonable hair and a Botticelli body.

“Come on Trouble!” she laughed as she picked up her capacious handbag and ushered Angela toward the door.

By chiara1421 Posted in Story

Obsessive complusive but personable – part 1

Dedicated to those allegedly middle-aged women who think that life no longer holds surprises for them.

“How about a gourmet weekend break?”

“Too fattening.”

“Zumba – with personal tuition?”

“Too exhausting.”

“Birdwatching and fell-walking are out too then I suppose?”

Julia looked over the top of her glasses and sighed. “Why do you want to drag me off somewhere anyway? I enjoy the peace and quiet of the weekend. Can’t I just stay home?”

“We both know that you need to get out more and as Rod’s away this weekend it’s the perfect opportunity to spend some time together. You’re my best friend and I don’t see enough of you.”

“Apart from when I come out of my office, when you bring me coffee and when we go out to lunch together. I know we don’t spend much quality time but you could always come and stay with me? We could get some DVDs in, a few bottles of wine, a takeaway. So much cheaper and less hassle than going away to a hotel where none of my creature comforts are available. What about Spike? I can’t take him with me and I can’t really ask either of the kids to take him. He’s too demanding.”

“You and I both know that Mandy will look after Spike for the weekend. She loves him to bits and she spends more time taking him out for walks than you do anyway.”

Julia opened her mouth to protest but was well aware that her colleague Mandy was always willing to take her rescued greyhound Spike for walks and would jump at the chance to look after him for a whole weekend.

Angela wasn’t giving in easily either. She carried on scanning the brochure until she found what seemed to be the ideal solution. “Here it is! A weekend away where you don’t have to leave the hotel, do any exercises, cook or make anything. I’ve been to this place before and the food’s good and definitely not designer portions. Added to which it isn’t far away if you need to come home in a hurry because Spike is pining – which he won’t be.”

“What’s the catch?”

“It’s a bit ‘coals to Newcastle’ for you but there are some really interesting guest speakers and it’s only one night. Starts at ten o’clock on Saturday and finishes at five o’clock on Sunday so you’d still have some peace and quiet either end of the weekend.”

Julia held out her hand, “Let me see?”

Angela handed the brochure over and feigned looking for something very interesting in her in-tray whilst she waited for Julia’s response. Julia peered over the top of her glasses again and smiled wryly. “Definitely ‘coals to Newcastle’, but you’re right, there are some unusual speakers and it isn’t too far to go.”

“I’ll phone them now and see if there’s any room. My treat.”

“Angela! No, I’ll pay. It’s not as if I have an awful lot to spend my wages on nowadays anyway. The kids are self-sufficient and now that Andy’s hooked his rich bimbo he’s stopped coming to me for handouts.”

“Which you should never have given him anyway. You’ve been divorced for seven years now. Andy’s not your responsibility. He’s a grown man who wants it all and expects someone else to pay.”

“He’s also the father of my children and someone who I used to be deeply in love with. Twenty years of marriage doesn’t disappear overnight.”

“I know, but he’s taken advantage of your good nature too many times.”

“And now he’s married to someone else, can take advantage of her good nature if he can ever find it and he’s not my problem anymore. Go on then Ange, book the weekend and we’ll share the costs. Two cars though in case either of us needs to escape.”

“Deal.”

“What time is my next patient?”

“Two-thirty. Mr Dodds. It’s a ninety minute appointment. Is that right?”

“Yes. He takes a long time to open up so we agreed last time that I’d give him an extra thirty minutes. Charge him for an hour though.”

Angela frowned. “You’ll never get rich doing that.”

“Who wants to get rich? The divorce settlement gave me the house, the business and a nest egg and I make enough to live on and pay you. What more do I need? Is there anyone else after Mr Dodds?”

“Yes. Anna Thompson. Just an hour for her and then you’re finished for the day.”

“Good. If you’re going to drag me off for the weekend I’ll need to do a bit of tidying up first. There’s something I want to listen to on the radio tonight as well so I can kill two birds with one stone.”

“I shall be relaxing in front of the TV – Rod’s cooking tonight.”

“I was under the impression that Rod cooked every night.”

“We have takeaway sometimes. He doesn’t have to cook then. Besides, he doesn’t like my cooking.”

“Mmmm. I guess anyone could get tired of beans on toast eventually. Can you bring the files for Mr Dodds and Anna through please? I’ve still got fifteen minutes to refresh my memory.”

“I can give you a potted history – Mr D – depressed and divorced with dandruff, Anna – anxious and angry with attitude. Who needs to read the files?”

”Perhaps you should some time. Mr Dodds went through hell with Mrs Dodds and it’s no wonder he’s depressed with dandruff. Anna has been through enough unhappiness to make a saint angry, and I should remind you about the code of ethics and confidentiality when you talk about our patients like that, Madam!”

“You know that I treat them with kindness and respect and I would never breathe a word about any of them to anyone but you. Promise!”

“Good. I still need those files though.”

Julia returned to her office and after finding the files and taking them into her, Angela went back to her desk and phoned through to the hotel to book what was described as ‘an weekend of alternative experiences’.

By chiara1421 Posted in Story