Tag Archives: david milligan croft

Nothing rhymes with orange.


“Turtle rhymes with purple,” I said to my daughter, as we drove around the winding roads of the High Peak.

“So?” my daughter replied.

“They say, ‘nothing rhymes with purple’.”

“You’re wrong,” she said flatly.

“I am not wrong,” I replied indignantly.

“It’s orange.”

“What is?”

“It’s, ‘nothing rhymes with orange’,” she said, gazing wistfully out of the window.

“Oh.”

Challenge accepted.

NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE

By David Milligan-Croft

I feel a twinge…

Does that rhyme with orange?

The thought makes me cringe.

That nothing rhymes with orange.

That girl’s fringe is orange.

It’s a lunatic-orange-fringe.

Her name is Georgina.

She’s drinking a bottle of Orangina.

I once used a syringe,

To extract the juice from an orange.

I saw a sunset go down over Stonehenge.

I think you know what colour it was.

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And another thing…


My last post was meant to be my last post of 2020.

But I saw something that I wanted to share with you.

I took someone to St. James’ hospital in Leeds the other day. Specifically, the Bexley Wing. Which is actually more like a hospital within a hospital rather than a ‘wing’.

What struck me initially is that they have an art gallery space in the atrium. Obviously, I took the opportunity to peruse the stunning work on display.

What was a little bit awkward was the fact that someone deemed it a good idea to place chairs all along the gallery wall. So, I often found myself standing directly in front of a healthcare worker, (who was taking a well earned break), gawping over their head.

I decided to take a few photos for posterity. And soon realised that the juxtaposition of the art on display and the resting workers/visitors oblivious to it, was art in itself. (Well, it was in my head, anyway.)

I think the fact that the majority of people are on their smart phones adds a certain amount of 21st century irony to the pictures. With the art behind them screaming “Look at me!”

Some people may know how passionate I am about the arts and their ability to help in the healing process. Whether that be mental, physical or general wellbeing.

Anyway, the atrium gallery is amazing. The work is amazing. The staff are amazing. And the NHS is amazing. So, all-in-all, well done, and thank you to everyone at St James’ Hospital, Bexley wing. (You are amazing.)

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Sayonara 2020


Nope, there’s no reason why I wrote that in Japanese. Except that I ended 2019 in French, so I guess it’s tradition now.

I’m just going to fizzle out of 2020 with some more work that I’ve done since the Reflections on Lockdown series back in September.

If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen most of it already. If you don’t, you won’t.

Collage

I’ve been experimenting with collage recently. Not a medium I have much experience in. For some reason, the numbers 2121 have been popping into my consciousness quite frequently.

Those of you who believe it’s some sort of divine message might be able to enlighten me. Those of you who just think I have some form of apophenia may want to call me an ambulance.

Anyway, I decided to express these occurrences via the medium of collage. There are four in total, but the last one isn’t finished.

Abstract

Next up is a series of abstract pieces which I have titled: From order comes chaos / from chaos comes order.

I won’t show them all, because I’ve done loads. The premise is – the universe can seem a bit of a chaotic place, what with stars exploding and imploding, nebulae forming solar systems, black holes Hoovering up everything in their vicinity, etc. And that’s before we get into meteors crashing into planets causing all sorts of tidying up to be done afterwards.

Yet, out of all of this seeming ‘chaos’ there is so much order, structure and geometry to the universe. Not to mention the structures that we humans impose on the world around us, whether for good, or ill. Ultimately, everything returns to the ‘disorder’ to be recycled again into something new.

Anywhoo, that’s what I think.

Drawing

I like to sketch quite a bit. Portraits and still life mainly. Just for practice. (And for my own insecurity to prove to people I can actually draw.) Kind of.

So, there you have it. (My) 2020 in colour.

All of my artwork is for sale should you wish to terrify anyone this Christmas. Just message me for details.

It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas, if you celebrate that sort of thing. And/or very happy holidays if you don’t.

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Reflections on Lockdown #5!


I’m going to finish off this series with a look at some abstract paintings I’ve produced during lockdown. Remember, the point of this series is to show if art has had a positive or negative effect on both my mental health and the type of art I’ve been producing this year.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that last year was quite a tumultuous one for me (and my loved ones) on the mental health front. And this was most definitely reflected in the type of art I was producing at the time. You can see it here: Adieu 2019.

In previous ‘reflections on lockdown‘ we’ve looked at portraits, landscapes and photography. Today, I’m going to look at abstract art. Lucky you.

I used to struggle with abstract art. I didn’t ‘get’ it.

It was only when I began volunteering at Arc that I saw how expressive a medium it is. Not to be bound by the constraints of realism or representation. To be able to express form through colour, shape and texture. The marks you leave behind can convey emotions and energy that are often difficult in representative art.

One of the reasons I love making abstract art is because I don’t feel like it’s ‘me’ that’s doing it. When I am doing a sketch of a face or a landscape, I have to concentrate very hard to capture a likeness of what I am trying to represent. When I do abstract art, I let go… I stop being so uptight. I let the colours merge and intermingle to become the painting they wanted to be. Sometimes, when I look at how the colours interfuse and coalesce, they remind me of distant nebula.

I am neither conscious nor concentrating. It is as though that ‘thing‘ we are all connected to – Mother Earth, the Universe, the unconscious, the Cosmos, God(dess), call it what you will, is flowing through me onto the page or canvas.

I don’t know what you’ll make of that last paragraph. I’m not sure I know what to make of it!

Except that, I can thoroughly recommend giving abstract expressionism a go. It’s very liberating. It’s also extremely calming and meditative.

Have a look at the works of Kandinsky, Miro, Mondrian, Rothko, Pollock and Krasner to see the vastly differing styles of abstract art. There might be something there to inspire you.

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If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

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Reflections on Lockdown #4


When will it end!? I hear you crow.

I did warn you that I’ve had a very busy lockdown on the art front.

Today’s offering is landscapes, which segues nicely from Reflections on Lockdown #3.

I like drawing landscapes. There’s something very relaxing about it. Painting them, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish.

Sketching is more about observation and trying to depict a representation of the landscape. Whereas, painting is more about trying to capture the energy of nature. (With varying degrees of success.)

Here’s a selection for you to ponder.

Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales
A village in Italy. (From a photo.)
Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford, Cheshire.
Top Withins, Haworth/Stanbury, West Yorkshire.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

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Making art out of art


I love marbling with the kids.

If you’ve ever done it before you’ll know that you can get some really cosmic patterns. You’ll also know that you’ve probably got more leftover samples of the stuff than you can shake a big shaky thing at.

So … what to do with all those cosmic castoffs … I know, let’s make a collage.

Start by cutting out shapes from your marbling masterpiece that you want to use in your composition and glue them onto a piece of paper.

Next, sketch in the rest of the composition. Add a bit of a felt tip outline.

I filled in the background with chalk pastel, but you could easily use felt tip, watercolour paint, pencil crayon or coloured paper.

And there you have it – you’ve made art out of art.

There is one other thing…

And, it’s probably the best bit. But I didn’t realise that until it was too late. Instead of cutting the shapes out of your marbling sample willy-nilly like I did, cut them out in the same position that you’re going to stick them on your paper. That way, when you position them next to each other you get a sort of positive/negative effect.

Hindsight? Serendipity? Whatever.

If you haven’t done marbling before you can use off-cuts of old patterned wallpaper, pictures from magazines or gift wrap paper. Or even paint an abstract background and use that.

It’s one more thing to do until the schools reopen in September!

If you want loads more of art activities to do you can sign up to Arc’s free ‘Keeping us together‘ programme. They email you a different art activity every week. (Arc is a brilliant Arts charity based in Stockport.)

And remember, folks – Art is Medicine*!

*Do not swallow art like medicine. It might kill you.

**I am not a trained physician.

***’Art is medicine’ is only my opinion and not a scientific fact.

****Or, is it?

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Now, I am not.


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What with the Coronavirus and all this isolation, it’s given us all a lot of time to think about things. Some positive, some not so much.

I’m not a religious person per se, in that, I don’t subscribe to any particular theism. I guess the closest I would come is Pantheism. Even then, I have my own theories about it. In fact, I wrote my own Creation myth to go with it! (I’ll post that at some point in the future.) Or will I? Because the future doesn’t exist. Or, does it? Is everything predetermined… whoa! You’ve got me off track.

Phew, that was close.

We could’ve been here for hours discussing that particular conundrum.

What I do think about a lot is death. Don’t go! I don’t mean that in a depressing way. More of a philosophical one. What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? Does such a thing as reincarnation exist?

What’s that got to do with Covid-19?

Well, a lot of people have died from it. And nature seems to be thriving since we’ve isolated ourselves from huge swathes of it. So, what is the point of us? Is there one? Are human beings as insignificant as a dandelion? (Or, significant, if you’re a dandelion.)

I dunno. I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that human beings are made of energy. We can’t live without it. That’s not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact. Another scientific fact is that energy can never be created nor destroyed. The atoms that created you and I came from the Big Bang. And they will not go anywhere, but back into the universe. That means, the atoms that make up you and I have been pottering about the universe for the past 13.8 billion years! God knows what mine have been up to. It can’t have been good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the energy that keeps you and me alive maintains its sentience once it leaves our bodies. But it did make me think of a poem.

It’s one I wrote a while ago and came to mind because of what’s going on in the world. How quickly and easily life can be arbitarily snuffed out whilst other life thrives. Perhaps the question is not, does human life have purpose? But, doesn’t all life have purpose?

dynamic-protein-atlas-of-human-cell-division

Now, I am not.

By David Milligan-Croft

 

I am an electron.

I am an atom.

Now, I am not an atom.

I am a star.

I am a white dwarf.

I am primordial gloop.
Now, I am not.

Now, I am molten lava,
Coursing through the juvenile earth.

Now, I am not.

I am a rock.
Marble, to be specific.

From the cliffs of Massa and Carrara.

Now, I am not a rock.

I am an amoeba.
Now, I am two amoeba.

I am sky.

I am cerulean-blue sky.
I am cloud – I am rain – I am river.
I am
w
a
t
e
r
f
a
l
l,

I am ocean.

I am vapour.

I am a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.
Now, I am not a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.

I am a puzzled snow monkey in a hot thermal spring.

I am a tiger.

I – am – a – tiger.

Waiting.

Watching.

Padding.

Creeping, slowly through the long grass.

I see you with your spear.

I. Am. Tiger.

Now, I am not.

I am a slave.
Skin flaking from my red-raw back
Like cherry blossom petals.

Now, I am free.

I think I am a Greek.
Therefore, I am not a Greek.

I am a hoplite.
My dory has shivered,
My hoplon is buckling.
Now, I am not.

I am a foetus.
I hear my mother’s muffled weeping
From somewhere close by.
Now, I am not a foetus.

I am the darkness
That envelops you.

I am a judas.
All that have gone before
And all that will come.

Now, I am a magician.
Now, I am not a magician.
Ta-daaaah!

Now, I’m a daddy!
I cradle your delicate life in my trembling palms.

One day, I will be your father no more,

But, for now,

I am.

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Happy [insert occaison here] Day


Introducing There Is No Cavalry greeting cards.

Something for every occasion. (Because they’re all blank inside, so you can write what the hell you like.)

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What’s the difference between you and Moon Pig?

Some would say, nothing physically.

Others might say that my greetings cards are that little bit more special because they are uniquely hand painted by moi.

And why are you telling me this?

Because I want to give them to you.

Well, when I say ‘give’, I mean give them to you in exchange for money.

That’s right, it’s your once-in-a-lifetime chance to own one of these rare and original works of art. (Maybe twice-in-a-lifetime if this batch sells well.)

So, what have you got?

I have A5 and A6. Which if you don’t know what size they are, A5 is half the size of A4 and A6 is half the size of A5. A3 is twice the size of A4 and A2 (which is pretty big) is twice the size of A3, but that doesn’t matter, because I don’t have any A3 or A2 cards. That would be ridiculous. (Don’t get me started on A0.)

Yeah, but what are they pictures of? They look a bit funny to me.

That’s because they’re abstract landscapes. At least, that’s what I’m calling them.

I potter about the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales quite a lot and they’re impressions of the shapes, textures, colours and light of the landscape.

Then there are also a couple of Japanese-style watercolours, like this…

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I couldn’t possibly afford a once-in-a-lifetime, unique, hand painted card by David Milligan-Croft, could I?

Probably not.

Hold your horses. Let’s not be too darn hasty there, pardner. How much are these pesky little critters?

Since when did you become a cowboy?

Sorry. How much are they?

That’s better. £3.00 each for the A6 and £4.00 each for the A5.

That’s ludicrous! You’re practically giving away these once-in-a-lifetime, hand painted, unique cards, by soon-to-be-famous artist, David Milligan-Croft for nothing!

I know. I’ve not been well.

Where do I sign?

You don’t. You message me which one/s you want, pay into my paypal.me/dmcroft  account, and I pop them in the post to you. But I’ll need to work out postage first depending on where you live, so don’t put any money in just yet. (Unless you just want to make a huge donation.) I’ve put a postage guide at the bottom of the page, but I don’t imagine it will be more than 1 or 2 pounds.

I couldn’t possibly send this to someone else, it’s too unique!

Stick it in a frame then.

Great idea. What if I want a bigger one? I have a portrait of the ex that I quite like the frame of.

I’ll do you a bespoke one if you like. Just let me know which card you like the style of and the size. Obviously, it won’t be an exact copy, it’ll be…

Unique!

That’s right.

Just scroll down to sample my wares and if you’re interested either message me below or email me at thereisnocavalry@icloud.com for details.

Toodle-pip.

 

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1. Watercolour and inktense, A6.

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2. Watercolour, A6.

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3. Watercolour and inktense, A6.

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4. Watercolour, A6.

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5. Wayercolour & inktense, A6.

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6. Acrylic, A6.

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7. Acrylic, A6.

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8. Inktense, A6.

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9. Watercolour, A6.

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10. Watercolour & inktense, A6.

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11. Watercolour & inktense, A5.

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12. Watercolour & inktense, A5.

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13. Watercolour, A5.

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14. Watercolour, A5.

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15. Watercolour, A5.

This last one is slightly different as it’s an A5 black and white print, so I can do as many as you like. What shall we say for this one? [scratches head] Two quid each. They might be prints, but they’re still unique. 🙂

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16. Black & white print, ink on paper, A5.

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In the not too distant future I’m going to be doing a series of landscape photography postcards of my meanderings around the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales.

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Mourning a Nobody – new poem.


He awoke from a delicious dream in which he was in love.
And she loved him back.
This was a delight for him, as he believed himself unlovable.
It felt very natural to be in her company.
As though they had been together forever.
They talked easily, and laughed naturally.
She was petite. Her hair was short and raven black. One might say – tousled.
She was Bohemian in her style of dress, and had a crimson smile.

She wasn’t someone he knew in real life.
In fact, he couldn’t recall having ever seen her before.
He presumed he must have subconsciously spotted her somewhere in the past.
In a movie, maybe. Or on the tram, perhaps.
‘Can our minds invent someone we have never seen?’ he wondered.
Their love felt so true and natural,
That when he awoke, he felt a sense of grief for his loss,
From which he never quite recovered.

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You Have 1 New Friend Request


Okay folks, here’s the second idea I had for a novel.

It’s called, ‘You Have 1 New Friend Request’.

Here’s the basic premise:

Social media romance, or elaborate Facebook phishing scam?

What begins as an innocent correspondence between an English hack and a French-Canadian furniture restorer, soon descends into the seedy underworld of the French sex industry and people trafficking.

Will Ted and his daughter be able to save Natalie before she disappears into the murky French underworld? Or is she just a ruse to lure in his daughter?

So, same as yesterday, really. If you have the time to have a read, I’d appreciate your feedback. And, whether you think it has potential. Also, whether you prefer this idea to the one I posted yesterday. Don’t ask for much, do I?

Your help is greatly appreciated.

You Have 1 New Friend Request.

nm

By David Milligan-Croft.

CHAPTER 1.
COUCOU!

Ted was scrolling through his Facebook news feed when he heard the ping of a notification and a little red number ‘1’ appear over the ‘friends’ icon. He clicked the silhouetted couple and saw the tiny profile picture of what looked like a beautiful woman with a name he didn’t recognise. He immediately felt curiosity and suspicion in equal measure. He clicked on the profile of Natalie Marceau, and when he saw an enlarged image his heart did a double beat.

She was stunning. Model stunning. Movie star stunning. So why was she ‘friending’ Ted Miller – an average looking 40-something? He looked on her profile page and she appeared to have about half a dozen friends, all of whom seemed roughly the same age as him if not a little older.

‘Probably phishing for old pervs,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then plead some sob story to extort money.’

She was 25 years old, living in Brittany, France. Originally from Montreal, Canada. He clicked on the photos header and was aghast. Her auburn hair cascaded over her slender shoulders. Her blue eyes shone with a light emanating from her vivacity and her smile was luminescent with joy. Whilst she was sensationally attractive, she had a natural air about her, as though she was almost unaware of the fact – or didn’t care. Ted’s finger slid up the track-pad of his MacBook, the cursor hovering over the ‘accept or decline’ button. Deep down, he knew this was a mistake. A scam. But the romantic in him could not resist. He clicked – Accept.

No sooner had he accepted Natalie’s friend request, a message appeared in the chat icon. Tentatively, he clicked the button.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Ted opened up two pages of Google translate in his browser. One to translate from French to English, the other from English to French. He cut and pasted the word into the text panel for translation: Coucou = Cuckoo or hello.

Not being up on French colloquialisms, Ted opted for a more formal reply.

Ted Miller: Bonjour.

He remembered a little French from school and from various holidays in the South of France but not enough to hold a conversation. He could get by ordering things in restaurants and hotels, but the problems began when anyone replied in French. They’d usually speak much too quickly for him to comprehend any of the key verbs.

The three dots made a wave to signify that she was typing. If, in fact, this was a ‘she’ at all. Ted had visions of a twenty-stone Russian spot-welder sitting in his vest and underpants in front of a laptop with the stump of a cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth tapping away at his keyboard. That, or a Nigerian banker in Lagos promising to deposit $10 million dollars into his bank account for a paltry administration fee of two hundred dollars.

Natalie Marceau: Are you good?

‘That depends.’ Ted thought. ‘On whether you mean, ‘am I a good person’ or ‘am I feeling okay?’ He opted for a response to the latter.

Ted Miller: I am very well, thank you for asking. How are you in sunny France?

‘I bet she’s impressed with my French.’

Natalie Marceau: I do not understand. You want to know if France has sun?

‘Shit,’ Ted clicked the ‘suggest alternative translation’ tab.

Ted Miller: Sorry, Google translate. Probably didn’t come out too well. Do you speak English?

Natalie Marceau: Not much.

Ted Miller: Don’t you speak English in Canada?

Natalie Marceau: Not in Montreal. Is French. Not British.

‘That’s me told, then.’ He walked to the fridge and opened a bottle of San Miguel then sat back down at his laptop. He glanced out of the window, ship lights were shimmering off the blue-black water of the harbour basin. ‘C’mon, Miller. Think of something interesting to say. It’s what you’re supposed to do for a living, for God’s sake.’

Ted Miller: Yes, you did indeed win that particular skirmish. But we kicked your arse at the Battle of Waterloo! (Winky face.)

‘Stick that in votre pipe, Ivan!’

The circular green dot that indicates that a person is online to chat disappeared.

Ted leaned back in his swivel chair and took a swig from his beer. ‘Maybe not a Russki after all.’

He scrolled through some of Natalie’s other photos. She looked like she had a stylish apartment. In some photos she wore her hair piled on top in a bun, in others it flowed in waves about her cheeks and shoulders. Her clothes were elegant and chic. In some, a blouse button opened provocatively. In others she wore large, black-rimmed spectacles. He wondered if they were for show. They certainly gave her that librarian look. Most of them were selfies, so there weren’t many full length shots. Although, she did look tall and slender, but it was difficult to tell. Ted began to wonder if he had been a bit quick to be cynical. Surely, not everyone on the internet was a potential fraudster. Perhaps he should try and make amends. Or, perhaps, this was exactly the tactic they use to lure you in. He was just about to type a conciliatory message when the chat box suddenly read: This message has been temporarily removed because the sender’s account requires verification.

‘Oh well,’ he mused. ‘It was fun while it lasted.’ He pulled the computer onto his lap and swivelled the chair to put his feet on the window ledge. His reflection blurred with the orange and yellow neon of Media City beyond. He downloaded a photo of Natalie to his desktop then dragged it into Google images to check the source of the photograph.

‘Nothing unusual there.’ He tried with another, then another. All the photos of Natalie seemed above board. No links to other identities or spurious sites.

Ping! Another friend request. ‘Wow, I am popular tonight.’ He clicked on the button and it was Natalie again. Ted’s brow furrowed in consternation. How could he not? He clicked accept and immediately began typing.

Ted Miller: Where did you go?

Waving green buttons.

Natalie Marceau: Sorry. I think someone was hacking my account.

Ted perused her FB page. This time, he was her only friend. ‘Ah, so I’m the only one that took the bait, am I? Or did one of the other old pervs report you to Facebook?’

Ted Miller: Really? That’s a shame. Glad you’re back. (Smiley face.)

Ted Miller: Sorry about my Waterloo comment. I was only joking.

Natalie Marceau: Really? Never mind.

Ted swallowed hard. ‘I think a lot of this is going to get lost in translation.’

Ted Miller: If you don’t mind me asking, how come you wanted to be friends? It’s not as if we have any friends in common.

Natalie Marceau: Don’t you want to be my friend?

Ted Miller: Of course I do. I was just wondering, that’s all. It’s not often a 42-year-old man gets befriended by a young French goddess who could arrest a heart with a flash of her smile.

‘Bit soon for that kind of talk, Ted,’ he took a swig. He was feeling the buzz from the beer. But she didn’t take the compliment bait.

Natalie Marceau: Twenty five is not that young. Besides, age is unimportant.

‘Couldn’t agree more, my dear.’ Ted drained the last of his beer and got another from the fridge.

Ted Miller: So, Natalie, what do you do for a living all the way over there in France?

Natalie Marceau: Nothing special, or good. I restore the old furniture.

Ted Miller: That sounds great. A very noble craft – bringing something old and decrepit back to its former glory.

He resisted the temptation to make a self-deprecating joke.

Natalie Marceau: Your words write nice. You are also a romantic, no?

Ted Miller: Well, it’s been some time since I was romantic.

Natalie Marceau: You do not have a wife?

Ted Miller: I have an ex-wife. Five years now.

Natalie Marceau: So you have not had a lover in five years?

Ted almost spat his beer out over the computer screen. ‘Get to the point, why don’t you, Natalie.’

Ted Miller: I also have a daughter. Who lives with her mother.

He wondered whether the green light would flick off at this last revelation, as it seemed to be taking an eternity for Natalie to reply. He looked at the clock in the top right of the screen. It was 21:45. Quarter to eleven her time.

Natalie Marceau: Give her a big kiss from me. Well, it’s getting late. I must lie down for a while. Good night.

Ted Miller: Yes, I will. Goodnight. Sweet dreams. You too. Nice to be friends.

Everything came out in a scramble as he attempted to say everything before she switched off. Then silence. Her green light disappeared and he was left looking at her smiling face. She looked as though someone she loved had just made her laugh. He even felt a pang of jealousy. Whoever took the photograph must know her intimately enough to illicit such an animated response. A lover? A best friend?

He read her final comment again – “Give her a big kiss from me.” ‘Why on Earth would I do that? She doesn’t even know you. You don’t know her. Odd thing to say.’

There was a photo of Natalie lying on a bed holding the camera above her face. The pillow and duvet were crisp white cotton. There was a hint of wooden floorboards to the right hand side. Her ochre arms extended diagonally out of shot. Her eyes were doleful, yet she was still smiling. She was lying on top of the duvet wearing a white vest top with a simple, graphic illustration of a cat on the front. Ted thought about lying next to her, smelling her hair, touching her gossamer skin. The light was bright, as though it had been taken in the daytime, or summer.

‘Get a grip, Ted,’ he thought. ‘You’ve got about as much chance of that happening as Donald Trump being the next American president.’ He clicked the ‘shut down’ button and gently closed the lid of the laptop. He looked down at the canal basin where houseboats glowed eerily against the blackness of the water.

CHAPTER 2.
LA FILLE.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

The ping on his iPhone woke Ted. He unlocked his phone and read the message from Natalie, then looked at the clock at the top of the screen: 07.30. ‘Well, I guess it is half eight over there.’

Ping.

Natalie Marceau: Good morning, Cheri. Have a good day! (Smiley face, smiley face winking, face blowing a kiss.)

‘That’s a pleasant way to start the day.’ He tossed back the duvet and padded into the living room in his t-shirt and boxers to start up his computer. ‘I’ll have to download translate to my phone as well.’ He logged onto Facebook and opened the translation tabs.

Ted Miller: Bonjour Natalie. Thank you. Have a great day also.

‘Ask her a question before she disappears,’ he thought.

Ted Miller: What are you doing today?

Natalie Marceau: I told you. I am restoring the furniture.

Ted Miller: Sorry, yes, you said. But it’s the weekend.

Natalie Marceau: I work on my own so I must work all the time.

‘Jeez, tough crowd.’

Ted Miller: Yes, I should have known. Do you have any plans for tonight?

Natalie Marceau: No. I make ratatouille for me and my cat and watch a movie.

Ted Miller: Your cat eats ratatouille?

Natalie Marceau: No. That would kill him. I watch the movie with my cat.

Ted Miller: What kind of movies does he like? The Cat in the Hat?

Natalie Marceau: That is a stupid movie.

‘I thought it was quite funny,’ he thought, stretching a yawn and scratching the cotton fabric of his t-shirt under his arm.

Ted Miller: How come you’re not going out on a Saturday night?

Natalie Marceau: I have no friends.

‘I find that hard to believe, young lady.’

Natalie Marceau: It’s complicated. I tell you later. I have to go to work now. Gros bisous.

And, with that, the green dot disappeared.

He cut and pasted ‘gros bisous’ into translate, even though he was fairly certain he knew what it meant.

‘Big kisses.’

‘Big kisses to you too, Natalie,’ he thought, allowing himself the warm glow of affection that it might all possibly be real. Then, cynicism returned. ‘You really are an idiot, Ted.’ He jumped up out of the chair and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Then, realising what he was doing, ‘Wait, what the fuck? I’m going back to bed.’

Ted awoke after a restless two hours bathed in sweat. He went to the kitchen and filled a large glass of water and took his medication to slow his heartbeat down. It was a condition he’d only recently discovered he had. Tachycardia, as it was known is when the heart beats excessively quickly. Often times, it would beat so fast that he could ‘hear’ it through his pillow, preventing him from sleeping.

It was 09.35. He was due to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife’s in an hour. Before he showered he opened up his laptop to see if Natalie had sent anymore messages. Nothing. A thought occurred to him – he searched her name on Twitter. Nothing. ‘Not unusual. Most Twitter users have daft names anyway.’ He tried Linked In. Also nothing. There was no trace of Natalie Marceau on Pinterest, Tumblr, Tinder, Instagram or Snapchat either. He even tried eBay. The only place she existed was on Facebook. And only to him. He closed the lid. ‘Fuck it, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’

He pulled up outside his ex-wife’s house. Or rather, their old house. It was a grand Victorian semi-detached over three floors in the leafy Manchester suburb of West Didsbury. He had barely got out of the car when the front door of the house opened and the sturdy frame of his ex-wife filled the doorway at the top of the stone steps.

‘Still driving that heap of junk?’ Morag said, arms folded.

‘Hello to you too,’ he said, smiling. ‘This beauty? It’s a classic.’

‘Daddy!’ Audrey said, pushing past her mother’s hips and bolting down the steps.

‘Not so fast!’ rebuked her mum, then sighed at the futility of her request.

Audrey jumped into her father’s arms and he swung her around on the pavement.

‘Hello, sweet pea,’ he said. ‘Got me any presents?’

‘Hey!’ she said, thumping him on the arm. ‘That’s my line!’

‘What time you bringing her back tomorrow?’ Morag asked.

‘Usual time,’ he replied. ‘About six-ish.’

Just then, Kevin emerged from the shadows behind her, placed his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. Ted cast his eyes down toward the pavement and opened the passenger door for Audrey.

‘Hey Ted,’ Kevin said.

‘Hi,’ Ted replied, but doubted it was audible enough for it to have reached the top of the steps. ‘Are you going to the recital tomorrow?’ He directed his question to his ex-wife.

‘Oh, we can’t, can we, darling?’ she craned her neck and planted a kiss on Kevin’s cheek.

Audrey gave a look of disgust. ‘We’re going to London this afternoon. You know… gotta make the most of a free night. Can’t wait. Won’t be back till late.’

‘How late’s late? Audrey can always stay with me tomorrow night as well. Save you busting a gut to get back.’

‘No, no. We should be back in time.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Ted said, walking round to the driver’s side. ‘See you…’ But when he looked up they had already gone inside and closed the door. He sat down and slammed the door.

‘So, little lady, where to?’

‘Anywhere away from here,’ Audrey folded her arms and pouted. ‘You should have called him egg head. And no, not because he’s clever!’

Ted smiled, patted his daughter on the knee and pulled off down the road.

‘And just so you know,’ she said, staring out of the passenger window. ‘I think your car’s cool. Better than his poncey Beemer.’

‘He treats you well though, doesn’t he?’

Audrey huffed. ‘S’pose so.’

‘I mean, that’s all I care about is that he’s good to you.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Look honey, I know it’s hard, but try not to be a hard-ass to him all the time. It’ll only come back on you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, if you keep knocking him back he’ll probably stop trying to care. And neither of us wants that.’

‘You and mum could always…’

‘That’s never going to happen though, is it, love? That ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, got torpedoed, then hit by a kamikaze pilot and sank without a trace. And, by the looks of things, old Kevin’s got his feet firmly under the table. Has he moved in yet?

‘Might as well have. He’s never out of the place. Spends more time in the bathroom than mum. And that’s saying something.’

Ted laughed. ‘You know, we could always go to the cinema if you like. They have a Studio Ghibli film on.’

‘Really! Which one?’

‘My Neighbour Totoro.’

‘Cool! I’d love that.’

After the movie, they went to Pizza Express for a late lunch. Audrey was perusing the menu while Ted was checking his phone to see if he’d had a message from Natalie.

‘Expecting an important phone call?’

‘No, why do you ask?’

‘You keep checking your phone.’

‘No, I don’t,’ he said defensively.

‘You so do! You’ve checked it about twenty times since we left the cinema.’

Ted raised his eyebrows and placed the phone on the table and picked up the menu. As he was studying it, his phone beeped. Before he could drop the menu and pick it up Audrey had already grabbed it.

‘Whoa! Who is she?’

‘Give it back, Audrey.’ Ted reached out for his phone but Audrey slid her chair backwards slightly making the legs screech across the tiled floor.

‘Wow. She is hot. Who is she?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ Ted said tartly. ‘Because somebody has my phone.’

‘Natalie Mar-ceau, it says.

‘She’s just a friend on Facebook,’ he said, pretending not to mind and looked at the menu again.

‘Please tell m you’re not dating her, are you?’

‘Of course I’m not! Now give it back,’ he said irritated.

Audrey pulled the phone close to her chest. ‘Good. I’d hate to have a step-mother who was younger than me,’ she laughed.

‘She is not younger than you!’ Ted was getting angry. ‘You are 12. She is 25.’

Audrey did a quick calculation in her head. ‘She’s still closer to my age than she is to yours,’ she said cheekily.

Ted sighed as the waiter arrived. ‘Large glass of house red, please.’

Audrey sensed her father’s irritation and slid the phone back across the table. He picked it up, glanced at the screen then placed it back down.

‘What does it say?’ Audrey asked?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t speak French,’ he said flatly.

‘So how do you guys communicate?’

‘There is such a thing as Google translate, you know.’

‘Excuse me for asking.’ Audrey folded her arms.

Just then, the waiter arrived. ‘I’ll have the Quattro Stagioni, please,’ Ted said. ‘But, can I have it mixed up?’

The waiter scribbled on his order pad and nodded.

‘Pizza Diavlo and a Coke, please.’

‘Try again,’ Ted said.

‘Sheesh, sparkling elderflower, please,’ she handed the menu back to the waiter. ‘Kevin lets me have Coke.’

Ted smiled as he handed back the menu. ‘Good for him. But I’m not Kevin. See, he’s not all bad. You never know, you might end up preferring him to me.’

Audrey gave her father a kick on the shin. Ted burst out laughing.

‘Aren’t you cross that he lets me have Coke?’

‘I don’t make the rules in your mother’s house,’ he said. ‘But she knows how I feel about it.’

‘Why did you split up?’

‘Audrey! We’ve been through this a thousand times.’

‘No we haven’t! You say we have, but we never do. You just fudge around the subject.’

The waiter arrived with the drinks. Ted took a large gulp of red wine. ‘Your mother misread the marriage vows; she thought they said, “In health and in wealth”.’

‘See! There you go again! What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means I’m not as well off as I used to be when I worked for The Guardian,’ he said.

‘You still work for a paper though,’ she said.

‘Not a national. It’s just a local rag.’

‘How come you can afford to live in Media City then?’

‘It’s a friend’s. He’s on secondment in Beijing for two years so he said I could flat-sit for him. He gave me a really good rate. The rent would normally be double what I’m paying.’

‘That was kind of him. What you going to do when he gets back?’

‘Move out, I guess. Let’s not think about that, it’s a long way off. Tell me about school.’

After the meal they drove back to his apartment in Media City overlooking the canal harbour. Audrey sat at the kitchen table drawing Manga cartoons while Ted checked Facebook for news from Natalie. There were four messages.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Natalie Marceau: Bonjour!

Natalie Marceau: Bon soir!

Natalie Marceau: You are obviously busy.

Ted Miller: Hi Natalie! I’m here now. I’ve been out all day with my daughter. Sorry. How was your day?

Natalie Marceau: I want you to know I am ordered, but not obsessive. I do not like the mess and I like things to be in their place.

I am loving, very affectionate, not stuffy. I’m not possessive or jealous. I am not excessively envious or pathological. I demand you to be faithful. That is not my fault because I was born under a sign of love.

I am calm and quiet, polite, discreet, very reserved, but when I have something to say, I say it to the face. I am courageous but nonviolent. I am extremely patient, (e.g. I can stay to wait hours anywhere).

I am not vindictive, I let the wheel turn, even if it takes time to turn, because I know it will turn one day or another, and when I have said what I had to say everything is over.
I am faithful in friendship as in love. I am fair and just. I hate when one is attacking the weakest (oppressed). I am able to lead the fight against injustice and racism.

I’m looking for a loving man, funny, generous, caring, faithful and sincere who will respect me and love me for who I am. A man that will teach me to love him with all my heart. If you are that person!!!!!

‘You’re also a fruitcake,’ Ted thought.

Natalie Marceau: All I look for is a man who will support me, that will not make me suffer and who will love me for what I am, nothing more. I’m not materialistic nor bad. I am just a little heart to take. A generous woman, sincere and kind who wants to live a beautiful story.

‘Bloody hell, that escalated quickly,’ he said aloud.

‘What did?’ Audrey asked, looking up from her drawing.

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