Author Archives: Brigitte Pellerin

Normal by death (a novel) – chapter twenty

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

“Hello, Simon, nice to see you again,” said the nurse manning the main station on the ground floor. “What’s it going to be this time?”

I gave her my most friendly smile. “Oh, you know, the usual. A lot of paperwork, a little bit of good, and I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“Well, it’s too bad you can’t stay longer. We miss your smile when you’re gone.” Dear me. She’s enjoying this. Alright then, she gets another smile, and a barely-there wink for good measure.

Yes, playing the kind of guy nobody notices would have helped me a lot not get caught. But to be honest, I did like the attention. So I got cocky. It was fun while lasted, to be sure.

You know what’s really weird in all this? I became more popular with the lady nurses after I got HIV positive. Although, come to think of it, it may be that I became more attractive the minute I committed to Claire. Women are such devious creatures. They always go harder after the men who are taken. And for what?

At any rate, it would have been better for my future prospects if I’d managed to be bland and forgettable. But no. Everywhere I went nurses reacted like this.

I chose the name Simon Taillon to go with the completely made-up identity that had cost Abdul a fair chunk of change to create. Simon was 39 years old, and worked for an outfit called Nursing Data that was under (completely fake) contract with the ministry of health to help monitor residents in long-term care homes and facilities and keep track of various health indicators, especially those related to oral and dental hygiene.

It was a great cover. I’d spent a few months establishing my routine with the nursing homes and now they were all used to it. “It’s a new and innovative project,” I’d explained to an already administratively overwhelmed coordinator once, “it’s a longitudinal study done in partnership with the Université de Montréal on the effects of a diet especially formulated for an aging clientele on their teeth. The university researchers,” I nodded approvingly as I said this, “are interested in finding ways to improve dental health in older people and we are interested in finding out whether the diets we are recommending the nursing homes follow are as sound as we hope, dental-hygiene-wise.”

They bought it right away. It’s amazing how much you can get away with when you speak like a government press release. As far as the administrator was concerned, it made perfect sense to hear that somebody somewhere in the number-crunching department had noticed that nursing home residents had a lot of mouth problems, especially teeth falling out of people’s mouths for no apparent reason. She’d noticed the same thing herself. It didn’t help that many of those residents couldn’t remember losing the teeth in question, since they couldn’t remember much of anything anyway. Trying to figure out whether a better diet might save the nursing homes dental drama was a splendid idea indeed, and every administrator reacted like this one. They all gleefully opened their doors to me. I mean, to Simon.

Abdul had even created a fictitious company and given it a fictitious government contract to collect random samples from nursing homes, in the form of used toothbrushes. My routine consisted of coming around, taking a few toothbrushes from selected residents, wrapping them in ziplocs, sticking labels onto same. Oh! I was almost about to forget the most important part. I would leave behind brand-new toothbrushes.

Win-win, right?

Ah, yeah. I guess. Except for that one toothbrush in the lot that was coated with a water soluble film containing a double dose of Ondansetron. That’s an anti-emetic drug. What it does is prevent barfing for up to four hours. It’s a mighty useful drug when you’re trying to kill people by poisoning.


Today, as was my custom, I made my rounds late in the afternoon, just before dinner. I had noticed that one of my “nurses”, a plump middle-aged single mom to a teenager who rather needed more money than regular nursing could ever give her, had indeed started her evening shift that would last until 11 that night. She would supervise my target as he brushed his teeth and, a little while later, she would help him take his evening pills with a glass of water containing a high dose of pentobarbital, which would cause death by respiratory arrest.

It was the method of choice for assisted suicide, as everyone who’d ever googled it knew, and it worked quite well, especially with old, frail individuals. Most of the residents we’d taken out like this had wanted very much to die. A few were suspected of being ushered into a more or less involuntary suicide by their families, but who were we to question them? Of all the suicides I’d personally arranged over the last few years, I could not think of any who weren’t better off dead. Life in a nursing home, no matter what grand names administrators gave them, was dreadful and it was cruel in plenty of those cases to wait for Mother Nature to do its thing.

No, like I told you before, I have no moral problems doing the job I do. And neither did my nurses. I mean, my “nurses”. We all made good money providing a service that, while technically illegal, was not in this case immoral. I wondered sometimes about the risk of getting caught, of course. Although the issue has been debated for some time and there are lots of progress being made, especially in Quebec, it was still a federal crime to provide someone with the means of killing themselves. Which forced people seeking an end to their pain and suffering to go through indirect channels to get what they wanted, a quick and painless death.

When Abdul first suggested launching our suicide service, I was skeptical. I didn’t think there’d be enough demand to sustain a business.

Boy, was I wrong. We’ve been in operation for four years now and have not come close to being suspected of anything. This was a tribute to our discretion and our choice of nurses who were picked for their ideological support of assisted suicide, their stable lives and of course their ability to remain quiet about what they were doing.

And as for demand, pfft. We got at least one client a week just in Chomedey, and at $9,995 a pop, you could say death provided a fine cushy living indeed.


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It’s a good thing irony doesn’t hurt, because we’d have a lot of politicians in pain

When the Leader of the Free World comes to town, nobody else does.

I appreciate the need for security, but is it really necessary to close access to the downtown for everyone else for pretty much the whole day? And to stop boats from anchoring on the Canal? Are we not pushing this a little far?


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Home organization done right

Rear Entry With Built-In Storage


I like this guide very much. I also need this guide very much. For I have a problem: I have not allowed myself to get the supplies I need to organize my house properly. Please don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. But the truth is that I have trouble spending money on items that are not primarily useful – you know, things like storage bins and drawer dividers and such. It feels like waste, somehow.

I know it’s not. I know those items are necessary because without them your house is a cluttered mess that never gets properly picked up. Still, I balk and resist.

So I am going to staple the guide to my brain, take one small area of my house at a time, and organize it. Most of it isn’t badly disorganized, just not quite organized enough. I’m going to make that my new mission. What’s yours?


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Making a crust

One of the things I discovered on this trip to England is hot-water crust pastry. I decided I would try to make my own. I found this recipe, which I tried tonight (except with organic sprouted whole wheat flour instead of regular, because I don’t want to eat the commercial flour and all they had at the store was whole wheat – that’s why it’s brown, and why it came out a bit less gooey than I was hoping, oh well oh well).

I went to the new Farm Boy in Westboro this afternoon and found some fine organic chicken liver. I made pate, of course, and wrapped bits of the stuff in my hot-water crust pastry, threw the whole mess in the over at 350F. I wasn’t sure how long it would need so I set the timer for 22 minutes and managed not to hear it because I was busy with the girls’ bedtime routine. I’m not entirely sure how long it took but I’d guess somewhere between 30-40 minutes.

It turned out pretty tasty. The crust is a touch dry, which I’m blaming on the kind of flour I used. I will try again, but either with more lard or a different flour. It’s good enough to work at it. Maybe next time I’ll try to make steak & kidney pie…


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Oh hey, how about another great resource for free education material?

Homeschoolers are always keen to grab every opportunity that comes their way to teach their young charges anything that’s worth learning. Which reminds me: We met a young woman who teaches math in Alabama on the tube near the Tower of London who showed us a fantastic trick to help young kids memorize their multiplication table for the 9s. I need to record myself in a video to show you properly, and I’ll try to get this done as soon as I’ve successfully fought my way through the laundry pile. It’s really quite keen.

In the meantime, though, how about this?

Amazon on Monday launched a new online portal with thousands of free education resources such as worksheets and lesson plans, its biggest move yet into the lucrative and growing industry that is using technology to change how students learn and teachers teach.

Called Amazon Inspire, the new service is meant to provide teachers with students anywhere from kindergarten to 12th grade a place to find and share free education materials.

Inspire is not yet available to the general public, but you can request early access, which I’ve just done. I’m really excited about that one.


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Why we need money

I am a big fan of John Green, for several reasons. This speech makes me like him even more. Especially this bit:

“Creative projects do not exist to create revenue,” he said. “Revenue exists to fund creative projects.”

It’s the same with us. And that’s why we keep asking people for help. Because the more people help us (with small amounts), the more we can produce films and books and other projects that we believe are much needed.


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Last day…

We had a fantastic day today, going back to the Beatles store on Baker Street so the little production assistants, who are huge Beatles nuts, could get themselves proper souvenirs. We then went to the Natural History museum so the younger two and their dad could go ooh and aah at dinosaurs. Eldest and I, not the biggest dinofans around, went for tea and croissant in Kensington then to Picadilly Circus then Buckingham Palace then reunited with the rest of the family and our two musicians from the Magna Carta shoot last year. We all went for lunch on a boat on the Thames, and we finished the day with a very special treat: a visit to the Tower of London (for which we thank Isabel very much).

We are flying home in the morning. And everyone is sad to leave. Maybe we’ll be able to come back some day.


Royal wave


The magnificent crown jewels are in there – we went to see them but there is not photography allowed in that section so you’ll just have to take my word for it


Beautiful, isn’t it


This looks real heavy


The famous ravens


His Highness does not mind close-up shots, provided you photograph His best side


The site of the scaffold


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The one thing I can’t do

It’s a feature of my life that I do a lot of things. Some of them well, even. I can produce films, crowdfund them, create and maintain websites, write books, shoot and edit video, play music, all kinds of stuff. When we’re on filming trips I usually do all the driving, the admin, the organizing, the everything-ing. This past week and a bit I’ve driven from London to Cornwall to Hastings to Canterbury to Lincoln, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Wales, Worcester, then back to London via Salisbury and Winchester. That’s something like 7 gisowllion miles, all of them on the wrong side of the road.

I can keep going on 5 hours sleep at night if needed. I can find my way through anything. I can park facing the wrong way on the sidewalk. I can go without proper food or tea for ages. I can sleep in extremely unimpressive cheap hotels. But there’s one thing I cannot do, and it’s getting squished in a closed space.

Tonight on our way back to our flat from central London we got on a tube train that was way too crowded for its own good. I had my three smallish kids with me, with husband guarding my rear. We thought we’d be fine if a touch tight until half a dozen burly rugby-type fellows decided they were getting on that train, too, and just pushed their way in.

We were tight. Way too tight for my taste. The temperature was very warm and rising perceptively with every minute, there wasn’t enough room for all of us, I was worried about my kids getting smushed and having trouble breathing, and fighting very hard not to give in to the overwhelming feeling of panic rising inside me.

We only had two stations to go before our transfer and I did my utmost to take it easy. There was a pleasant trio of fashionable Millenials (on their way to some fancy thing, judging by their clothes and pretty smells) who started exchanging pleasantries with us and I talked to distract myself from my fairly acute case of claustrophobia. We got to our stop and I told my husband that whether or not this was the right stop, we were getting off right then and there, even if we had to walk to Croydon we were getting off that train RIGHT NOW.

We did. It was our stop and we transferred to a much less crowded line back to our flat and all was well. But still, many long hours after it happened, just writing about it makes my heart go fast and my chest get all tight.

So in case you were wondering if there was anything I really wasn’t good at, you have your answer now…


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London without too much filming

Well! Walking all over London when you’re not rushing from one filming spot to another schlepping 35 pounds of equipment is actually quite fun. Still tiring, mind you, but excellent.

We went to Regent’s Park and bumped into the Pride parade (it seemed very big this year, and lots of folks were wearing Orlando arm bands or waving Orlando signs). Then we went to the British Museum to let the kids soak in all that history, and finally see some of the things we’d been talking about, like the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, mummies, and so on.

We then took a double-decker bus to fulfill Eldest’s dream of riding at the top through London, and ended up at the Tower of London hoping to get in for a tour but banging our noses against a closing gate. We decided to come back tomorrow afternoon to get the full experience.

Also on the menu for tomorrow is a quick trip to the Natural history museum to see what kinds of dinos they have, and a meeting with the artists who performed the Magna Carta song for our documentary. I come bearing maple butter treats because Canada eh?

IMG_1855[1] IMG_1858[1] IMG_1861[1] IMG_1863[1]


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