Welcome to part 35 of my black comedy novel, The Nurse Diaries – The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. It is probably the planet’s most sweary book, so if you’re offended by ripe language, please don’t read on. If you’re happy to enjoy a right royal swear-fest, The Nurse is delighted to welcome you to her extraordinary life story.
The Great French Bake-Off
Polite Notice: Chaque Enfant Non Accompagné Recevra Du Café Fort Gavé et un Chiot Gratuit. (Every Unaccompanied Child Will Be Force-Fed Strong Coffee and Given a Free Puppy)
Reminded of her old colleague-in-crime Betty back in Brighton, who had a penchant for posh pastries, The Nurse decides it would be mad not to invest a chunk of cash in a bakery business. She rents a small, dusty shop in back-street Dieppe and gradually transforms it into the town’s finest patisserie, Le Patisserie Katrine.
Patisserie Katrine has one large, spotless, shining plate glass window whose carved wooden frame is painted a deep, rich glossy red to match the door. The door features a massive brass lion head knocker, un heurtoir de porte. The entrance is paved in checked black and white marble tiles and the floor of the premises itself is a masterpiece of lovely old honey-coloured planks, polished and oiled and sealed. Inside there’s a long greenish glass counter to display her wares, and a cushioned stool for the cats, Jeremy and Corbyn, who like to guard the entrance to the bakery room with its huge cast iron oven. It smells heavenly in here. Merely scenting the yeasty sweet aromas makes The Nurse grin with pleasure.
When she flings back the shutters and opens the big, shiny red door to the public for the first time, The Nurse is surprised to see a crowd waiting patiently. Chattering, The French thread themselves tidily through the door, standing in a line along the counter like birds on a wire. The queue stays like that for the whole day, an endless stream of Dieppeois who have heard about the magical baked goods made by Katrine and the sparkling new patisserie with its blend of cutting edge equipment and traditional charm.
The Nurse’s products sell like hot cakes, a pun she enjoys. It’s tremendously tiring but also wholly satisfying. At the end of the first day she shuts the blinds and locks the door before running a steaming hot bath to soothe away a fresh batch of aches and pains. She isn’t used to working this hard. To be honest the social side of running a patisserie is more onerous than she’d predicted. The French do not merely buy cake. They stand in line and chat, they hum and hah, bide their time, demand recommendations, share local gossip, and ask long and involved questions about recipes and temperatures and cake decoration. Jesus wept.
As someone who is more likely to stand with her back to the wall at parties than chit-chat to a load of small-talking cunts, it is tough going. But if that’s what it takes to gather the vast sum of money she’ll need to get home one day, and fund an expensive new life back in Brighton, that’s what she will have to do. The Nurse grits her perfect teeth and girds her gorgeous loins for the long haul.
It doesn’t take long before she has built a convincing, impressively solid reputation as a mysterious English woman who is liked in a remote way by the locals but mostly keeps herself to herself. A woman who gives off the vibe of a person with a dark, tragic secret. Maybe a tragic love affair? The French are warm and friendly to a degree, but while they have a soft spot for beauty they mostly leave her alone out of respect for lost l’amour. What a fucking relief.
There’s a lot to be said for a near-death experience
A few years ago The Nurse would have become bored and restless with a lifestyle like this within a few months, a year at the outside. These days she’s managing to curb her deadly enthusiasms, remain chilled most of the time, take it slow, and accept life as it comes like normal people do.
She bakes, she smokes spliffs, she sleeps, she strokes Jeremy and Corbyn. She salutes au revoir to the locals as they leave her patisserie carrying warm brown paper bags leaking sweet little farts of rich buttery fragrance into the street. She sails gracefully around Dieppe on her bicycle, an old upright bone-shaker she painted dark red with orange poppy motifs, the Patisserie Katrine name in bold gold lettering.
The Nurse shits. She bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes. Dresses. Bakes. Sleeps. Shits. Bathes.
The seasons roll by and she finds she’s dreaming in French with English subtitles instead of the other way round. It doesn’t make The Nurse’s nightmares any easier to bear, mind you. If anything they’re even more full-on, scorched into her brain in French and English, tormenting her in two fucking languages instead of just the one. Christ on a fucking bike.
In some ways she’s coping beautifully, building the kind of vanilla-pleasant life that many humans on this lovely blue planet can only dream of. In other, hidden ways she’s chaotic, on the edge, sailing close to the wind, just about managing. Under all that sane and sensible-looking gorgeousness she is a crazy-bomb waiting to go off.
Now and again The French still whisper to one another about the lovely Katrine’s past, her spartan, solitary life in Dieppe, her English reserve and off-putting coolness. Her utter lack of curiosity about them or their lives and loves, their kids, their affairs, their passions and scandals baffles them. She simply serves the townspeople with immaculate courtesy and remote charm. Her baked goods are angel-food. She doesn’t fight or sing in the street, remove her clothing, fall asleep in the gutter, have sex in public or moon at passers by like so many visiting Brits do.
All the same, there’s something odd they can’t quite put their finger on. The gossip carries on, dies back, surges again, dies back, surges again like the tide. A full year after The Nurse braved the town for the first time they heave a collective Gallic shrug and decide to live and let live. A week later they’ve moved on for good, finally accepting her at face value and focusing their froggy curiosity elsewhere.
Despite all this calm and order, at the back of her mind The Nurse feels the usual persistent claw-scratch of desire for experimentation on her fellow humans. She still wants to poke shining steel tools into frightened flesh, stare into terrified faces with a bloodthirsty grin on her face, watch and shrug, exasperated, as the struggle ends and the spark of life deserts their googly eyes. She still wants to hurl the surviving fuckers she has trepanned into the boot of a car and dump them alive, with whacking great holes in their daft heads, somewhere in the countryside, just like the old days.
If you have ever had an itch actually inside your body – the oddest feeling and impossible to scratch – you’ll know how much of a bastard it is. That’s what the constant fizzy urge to create suffering feels like. The Nurse is not going to be beaten by mere urges, though. She is tougher than that, a determined cunt, a cunt who will not give in.
The Nurse senses she’s invincible these days, having survived the swim from hell, and this new insight into her own resilience has lent her extra strength and grit. She can feel her powers growing and changing, nurtured by an ever-fattening savings account and the sense of general well-being one enjoys when not being perpetually chased to fuckery and back by the police.
Men continue to be an issue
For the first time The Nurse understands what it’s like being Mary, her old ex-inmate and GP friend from Brighton. It’s the main reason The Nurse only went out on the razz with Mary a few times. Wherever Mary went, blokes followed with their tongues hanging out like dogs, like they’d give their life savings to shag her leg, lick her lady-garden, or piss on her shoe. It was fucking humiliating. The Nurse used to feel quite attractive in her fitted tweed dress and pretty flat sandals until Mary turned up, all glorious and shiny and dimply and small and slim. As Mary giggled and flirted within an ever-increasing circle of lust-fired males The Nurse would watch, ignored and avoided, feeling like some sort of monstrous dried out thing, six feet of sharp bone and dry sinew with crinkled skin and crispy hair. Never again. Never. Ever. Again.
Anyway. The Nurse digresses. Back to the fucking point. The male French fancy her, and there’s not a lot she can do about it other than maintain her cool and stay ladylike.
She walks past building sites and they call out to her. Being French it sounds pretty, but it’s actually filth. It’s awful, and she’s forced to keep up a constant stream of internal chatter to hold her temper under control. The Nurse’s tits, minge and arse are nobody’s but her own. No, she does not want to put her hand down your trousers, thank you. She is not the least bit interested in the things you would like to do to her, nor what you believe she would like to do to you. She is neither your love nor your darling, your whore or your angel. She has never starred in a porno. Her bra size is her own business. For the sake of fuckery. It is fucking exhausting. Combine this shite with the PTSD and it’s a wonder she doesn’t crack open along the seams like a human pomegranate, spilling out great gobbets of foul, blackened seeds in a disgusting flood all over Dieppe’s neat pavements.
Apart from that, being beautiful is an eye-opener. The Nurse hadn’t quite twigged the advantages that the comely have over the butt-ugly until now, and it’s a life changer. Having spent half a lifetime having doors slammed in her face, being ignored while waiting to be served in bars, crashed into on the pavement without apology, it feels good to have people running in circles in an effort to please her.
The oddest thing, and one she finds it hardest to get used to, is the crawly feeling you get when someone stares at you. The Nurse can feel the French men’s eyes exploring her, a feeling she imagines is very like being walked on by the delicate legs of a thousand spiders. Some of the men do it subtly, others are as bold as brass. They observe her keenly from behind. When she feels their glare and turns around, something she just can’t help herself doing, they look into her eyes, giving her an openly pornographic grin before scanning her body up and down. It is humiliating and disempowering. She needs to figure out how to keep these almost-stalkers at a distance.
The solution proves surprisingly simple. As it turns out, there’s a lot to be said for giving as good as you get. The first time The Nurse stops to look a potential tormentor slowly up and down with a smile on her face, stopping briefly at dick-level where her smile widens cheekily, he is so surprised he just stands with his mouth open, gaping. The Nurse winks at him and strolls casually away. He turns and follows her with his gaze but this gaze feels entirely different. It doesn’t crawl on The Nurse’s back. It glows there like a tiny sun, like someone is hovering over her holding a magnifying glass, pointing a searingly hot beam of light directly between her shoulder blades. Oh my days, doesn’t respect feel lovely.
After that there’s no stopping her. When that fucking Etienne cat-calls her from high up on the scaffolding holding up a seedy seafront hotel, The Nurse merely flips a haughty eyebrow at him then waves a little finger elegantly, making that unmistakeable universal movement that means she believes his member is of an unusually small size. He droops visibly and slopes away.
The distressingly persistent solicitor Alain de Bouffant is given very short shrift by The Nurse when he attempts to force her into a dark alley for a quick feel. Her manicured fingernails close down hard on his nads then squeeze. He hoots his pain and shock in a weirdly high, girly voice. His mates, hanging out of the window of the bar opposite, crack up laughing. What a bell-end.
The Nurse is not even averse to a swift knee in the bollocks, something that sees the bolder blokes of Dieppe finally driven away, red faced, sweating and bent double, edging along the seafront with tears in their eyes, cradling their damaged goolies in their hands.
Word spreads fast in a small town. Before long she is soon ignored so profoundly by the men that she begins to feel invisible again, even – illogically – somewhat slighted. She knows it is utterly unreasonable but… oh, for fuck’s sake. The sheer frailty of the human ego, including her own, is a shocker sometimes.
On balance, though, The Nurse is delighted to be able to walk tall once more. No more scuttling into shops or behind bollards to avoid wandering hands, no more blocking her ears against rude observations, however charmingly delivered. While she senses a sharp dislike from some of the men she has publicly scorned, she also senses a grudging respect. And so her stock gradually increases with the townspeople.
You do not mess with Katrine. She may look like one of those fancy chocolates on the surface, all shiny and glossy and divinely tasty. But inside she is as bitter as the abysmal stuff you paint on your fingernails to stop yourself from biting them. As bitter as dark 99% cocoa dark chocolate. As bitter as the drops of deadly almond scented chemical she adds to her pastries for a laugh.
The women of Dieppe remain interested but at a level that’s a lot easier to handle, a fascination based on The Nurse’s innate sense of style. The French are known worldwide for looking really cool. Their fashion sense is legendary. But let’s face it, they have not all been hit with the style stick. Most French, like most people in any country, are doomed to look ordinary whatever they wear, however stylish it is and however much it cost.
Green with envy, small groups of French women trail around town after The Nurse, studying the cut of her clothing, the way it hangs, the chic outfits she puts together then accessorises perfectly with beautiful scarves, dramatic brooches, tinkling bangles, cheeky little hats, honest-to-god old fashioned kid gloves in pastel shades, decorative belts and ropes of pearls.