AWAY in my shady corner of the courtyard I could see the group of my fellow patients clearly. Six in all, they circled around two huge outdoor ashtrays, protected from the heat of the sun by a huge parasol, cigarettes smoked down to the butts and the last drag.

The harsh south west accents were punctuated by outbursts of man-swaggering laughter and boastful stories.

God love them. I fantasised they were the geriatric branch of the Hells Angels; their wheelchairs a sad exchange for Harley-Davidsons; their leathers now shorts and T-shirts.

Stroke victims, smashed legs and collar bones, some in boots strapping broken ankles, their conversation though was the stuff of my rural neighbours.

They compared tomato varieties they were growing for size and sweetness – the olive oils and the breads to add for midday perfection, arguing over choices with fussy moues of distaste. They even bickered over the heights of their crops.

I have only ever heard French country men do this, but then, in their

terms, as a woman who’s only ever managed to grow her hair, I’ve led a sheltered life.

And then one detached himself wheeling close to my wheelchair. I kid you not when I say he was a skinny version of Andy in Little Britain, who is wheeled tenderly around while being perfectly fit.

His strings of grey hair hung down to his shoulders from a balding head but instead of a vest he had a multi-coloured silk, sleeveless top probably borrowed from his wife.

‘What are those cigarettes you’re smoking?’ he rasped suspiciously. I explained it was an electronic cigarette and how it worked. ‘Where do you buy them?’ ‘I get them sent from England.’

He looked at me, began his turn back to ‘the boys’ leaving me with an unemotional ‘I luff you.’

It seems that an awful lot of Frenchmen of a certain age have that as their only English. It must have been pretty successful in their youth. Not now, Andy, love, not now. Time is cruel to us all.

I only half listened further to their conversation – background babble to my joy of being outside after more than two months.

The life-sapping, lung-sucking heatwave averaging 32 degrees had cooled, for now, to a pleasant 26 degrees and the intense blue of the sky and burning sun were weakened by welcome scattered clouds.

A modern complex, our unit of 30 beds on two floors plus physio gym, restaurant and specialists’ interview rooms, has traditional pantile roofs, shutters and banks of flowers lining the walkways.

Watching the swallows formation dance over the buildings, listening to the comforting cooing of the doves tucked under the eaves, was a startling contrast to my many terrified, anxious days so far. I could almost feel myself slipping back into my broken shell.

There was a feeling, tentative certainly, that walking progress was being made and I tucked away the other issues raised, for now at least, being in a place away from bed and doctors.

One by one the Hells Angels wheeled themselves away with a polite good evening leaving me to my happy reveries until it was time for me too to be pushed back, mask in place, to my room.

That night I had the best sleep since I’d arrived. When the physio came, I walked without listing and so far, have managed 200 metres. My legs feel mine again and although I need the crutch, I no longer require the security of Benoit pulling the wheelchair behind me.

Sadly, the strapping will not come off my arm and shoulder until the end of the month and this one-fingered typing is driving me insane.

A stray unused finger has reduced the type to almost unreadable size and no matter what I do I cannot enlarge it. I can only hope they can at the other end. My newly found serenity is being sorely tested in these now early hours.

Sweet God in heaven – now a patently drugged up woman in a long nightdress has come into my room and is standing by my bed staring at me.

Would you excuse me a moment while I ring for help?

Right I’m back. The aide has returned her to her room. ‘It’s the sixth time she’s gone visiting tonight,’ she sighs. We think she’s at the start of dementia.

‘I’ve told her to stay in her room but I’m not allowed to lock her in without her permission.’

I’ve continued writing in my tiny type but she has returned twice. I’ve said loudly and firmly: Go back to your room and sleep.

There is no expression on her blank, lights off, face which makes it all rather spooky.

But she turns on her bare feet and glides away again. Why me Lord? Why me? She’s from the far end of the corridor and I’m in the middle.

The only solution is for me to be locked in until she sleeps, to which I’ve reluctantly agreed.

People occasionally ask if I ever make things up in this column. Ha! Why would I need to – my life is weird enough.

Well that’s my serenity buggered for the night. Zen.

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