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Alison Napier

I love Gerona Airport. It is small and perfectly formed with decent eating options, and direct flights from Glasgow, even if the last shuttle bus into the city centre sneaked away twenty minutes before the aforementioned flight from Glasgow landed.

I am sure this was simply to keep the evening taxis in business. We'd booked a Gerona hotel for one night and it was great too. A beautiful cool room overlooking a bustling square full of families and flower stalls and artists' easels, with a bustling terrace where I used my two alcohol-related Spanish phrases entirely successfully.

We quenched our thirsts on cerveza, shared tapas, soaked up the last of the Spanish sun and drank too much vino tinto de la casa. 'Hola!' we slurred to each other, drunk on tiredness and heat and holidays.

For Suz and me it was the start of a fortnight in a small apartment high above the harbour of Port Vendres in South West France, our third time there, only a train and bus ride over the border and booked six months earlier. But 'Hola!' can only take you so far and the other version of that wonderful fortnight is this. In the week before the flight to Gerona I had an examination, a mammogram, an ultrascan and two biopsies and the consultant said that I would get the results in just over a week.

'But I am going to France!' I protested. So he made an appointment for the day after we got home.

Before I left his office he told me that he thought the lump I had found was 'suspicious' and that he was 'not happy' with it. And thus were the tiny toxic seeds of anxiety and low-level fear planted, to be kept at bay by travel, Mediterranean heat, beautiful views, long sweltering walks over hills and through vineyards, fabulous food and far too much wine.

I would wake up at three in the morning, far too hot under a sheet despite the open shutters, with the word 'suspicious' being whispered into my ear by a mosquito who had found my vulnerable flawed flesh, and remember that he had also said that if there was 'a problem' then it was 'not the end of the world'. I had entered the world of the euphemism.

He meant to say that if it was breast cancer then it should not totally kill me.

It was a lovely holiday and on the final day we ate a paella lunch at a small marina-side café called Chez Didier and caught the busy coastal shuttle ferry, south past Cap Bear where we had walked a few days earlier, back up to tourist-swamped Collioure beneath the Fort Saint-Elme hill, on up to the frantic Argeles and back to the haven of Port Vendres.

I sat at the back of the boat leaning over the side, swinging my legs out of the way each time the ticket man tossed out the fender as we drew alongside the pier or hauled it back in as we pulled away, and drowning myself in the pure white churning waters, looking at where I had been, afraid to look to the future ahead, and deciding that it was this sensation of wind and heat and noise and sparkling dancing waves that I would use as my 'special place' to hide in as I went under the anaesthetic.

If that was what lay ahead. He was not happy and it was suspicious but it was not the end of the world. Oh and 'two centimetres'. Which is apparently much better than three.

After a fortnight we returned to Gerona for the flight to Scotland. We did so via Perpignan and treated ourselves to our first ever first class train travel, and at speeds in excess of 140 miles an hour we raced back to reality. We drank beer outside in Gerona airport, surely one of the last places in Europe where one can do this. We watched the sun setting over the distant hills and said goodbye to Spain and wondered if it would ever be as simple again, for apart from anything else swathes of England and Wales had voted to leave the EU the day before.

We ate Pringles on the plane and got into a chilly damp Glasgow at nine o'clock at night and stumbled along pavements and over roundabouts and across a wasteland of a car park to the Premier Inn and drank more wine and ate mini pork pies from the airport Tescos.

We had seen the referendum result on French television that morning in disbelief. Buying the Times newspaper as we left Port Vendres the shop keeper had said, in French, 'So you are leaving Europe!' I tried to explain that in fact it was England that had voted to leave and that I was Scottish and L'Ecosse had voted to remain, and she said that we would have to become independent in that case. My French was struggling with this impromptu constitutional debate but I nodded vigorously and pointed to the 2014 Yes badge still hanging by an optimistic thread to my rucksack.

Astonished, we watched the remains of the referendum coverage from our bed in the Premier Inn and fell asleep. I knew I didn’t want to wake up because then the next stage would start. We would have a large buffet breakfast and I would eat too much, then we would get the pre-booked shuttle bus to Buchannan Street Bus Station and catch the pre-booked Megabus back to Perth.

All these things did happen including the overeating and I wondered why the hotel couldn’t employ waiting staff rather than have one stressed woman watch us all as we tried to make decent toast on a conveyer-belt grill that made the bread warm and pale on its first circuit then hot and burnt black and smoking on the second. I walked several miles adding milk then butter then sugar and a side knife, and a saucer for the teabag, to the minimally set table. Bizarre details are etched for ever. It seemed prophetic.

Like so many things, if I could do it again I would know what to do.

All travel plans worked. We got home. And even as I frantically tried to keep my thoughts full of hikes through hot vineyards, and baguette and camembert and tomato picnics with apricots and wine, and the raging water swirling at the back of the ferry, and the fishing boats leaving and returning to the small harbour of Port Vendres, the next stage inevitably encroached.

Lumps, suspicions, hospitals and the unknown were to be the new normal. Damn.

Read Episode 2 here.

Read Episode 3 here.

Read Episode 4 here.

Read Episode 5 here.

Read Episode 6 here.

Read Episode 7 here.

Read Episode 8 here.

Read Episode 9 here.

Read Episode 10 here.

Read Episode 11 here.

Read Episode 12 here.

Read Episode 13 here.

Read Episode 14 here.

Read Episode 15 here.

Read Episode 16 here.

Meet The Author...
Alison Napier
Who Am I?

Alison Napier is 58 and was diagnosed with a Grade 3 breast cancer in June 2016. She is a social worker to trade and is also a writer. Her short stories are published in many collections and anthologies in both Scotland and England and her non-fiction has appeared in a variety of national newspapers and journals.

She lives in Perthshire with her partner Susan, enjoys her allotment on an island in the River Tay (regrettably prone to regular flooding…!), cooks once a week for a lunch club for older people and plays the recorder with a fine bunch of friends in her spare time.

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