Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas


<a href=””>Flattery</a&gt;

“mais tu me flatte, monsieur, puis-rendre le compliment?”


Anyone who says they do not like being flattered is very probably not telling the truth. I have nearly always been pleased when when this has happened to me, but I must tell you about one occasion when I definitely was not.

Caterinetta was a pretty young girl who studied very hard in our mediaeval history tutorials at Pisa university in Italy, but she had real trouble mastering necessary texts which were not in her native tongue. She knew the subject matter in great depth but just wrestled with English and French passages, especially philosophical ones. I was very lucky being a foreign student whose native tongue was English and had completed a degree in the subject the previous year at the Sorbonne in Paris. So with Italy being currently the country where I worked most of the time the language was easy for me. In short I had a head start over many of the first year post graduate students. Well one German chap was a sheer genius, fluent in five languages, but we won’t count him! But where did the flattery come in?

At the end of the first term I was chatting to my lovely Lucia, an Italian girl whom I had met at the Sorbonne and was following me in a post graduate course for the Italian equivalent of an MA at Pisa. We had grown very fond of each other and became more mutually enamoured as each week passed. OK, I can tell you you that we got married just over a year later as it has nothing to do with this story and anyway I have written of our romance elsewhere. But just before writing our first important papers for the course in Pisa Lucia asked me if I could help a friend of hers who was having real trouble with English.

Antonino,” she always called me that, “little Caterinetta was almost in tears last night when she couldn’t translate any of Mathew Paris’ chronicle on that part of the reign of Henry the third of England which covered his marriage to the sister in law of King Louis the ninth of France. She thought I must have fluent English as I knew you so well, but I’m afraid when it comes to mediaeval writing I don’t!”

I was puzzled. “Cara, you can translate that, well the very original, because it’s in Latin and I know you are good at thirteenth century Latin. We talked a lot about it when doing our French degrees. Caterinetta doesn’t need the English version, only the Latin one. I can’t believe she hasn’t got it, but if not I can lend her mine. Surely that’s all she needs, isn’t it?”

Lucia hadn’t thought of that and went to find her friend and check. It appeared that the set book for her project was the 1889 edition in modern English by J.A.Giles and was riddled with words she didn’t understand. I promised to have a look and asked Caterinetta to let me see the edition she was told to use. I had read it a few years earlier but realised that French historian Paul Guth’s life of the French king covered the events Caterinetta wanted much better. So I cheated.

Lucia, look I’ve got a really good idea. If you let me describe the marriage and the celebrations at Christmas 1236 between Henry and Eleanor, using the French version, nobody will know, and Caterinetta should get a perfectly good grade. It isn’t cheating or anything like that, is it, because I am only advising a fellow student on a subject we both study?” My inamorata seemed dubious but smilingly said she supposed not. Well, the outcome was that not only did our little friend get a good pass for her paper but her tutor actually congratulated her on her mastery of a rather pompous and more modern version of the event written in a type of English that was far from mediaeval. She was delighted and showed me the tutor’s comments saying,

Oh, Anton. Thank you. Your analysis of the importance of mediaeval courtly marriage customs really impressed my tutor. You must be very clever!”

Now I admit it was a very flattering remark, but unfortunately my Lucia was present when I was flattered. She drew me aside that evening, on the lovely banks of the river Arno, and said, “Much as I love you, mio amante caro, I don’t think she should have flattered you. I remember how you wrote the same synopsis of that famous wedding two years ago in Paris. You didn’t just help her, you plagiarised yourself and thus gained a completely undeserved pat on the academic back!”

I know, Cara, “ I grinned, “ but didn’t I deserve to be flattered for my memory if nothing else?”

No,” she said hugging me. “You didn’t, it was showing off.”



<a href=””>Border</a&gt;

the border that borders on close proximity but does not define division



Many are the times that I have seen discussions bordering on the edge of disputations without anger or malice. But seldom have I seen  such retiring blue touch papers as those written by Edward and Michael.

These research fellows  were great friends of mine and of each other in everything except the scientific cycle of pedalling their knowledge of sub atomic particles. Entities so small they seemed hardly to exist at all. And yet Edward knew, or said he could prove, that Michael’s minute minorities were far larger than his own. So we all repaired to the lab to repair the division of ideas which bordered on a ’cause’ so ‘celebre’ that friends might actually fall out over matters so tiny that in short they mattered not at all. I asked Michael first to tell me in what way his ideas were smaller than Edward’s. He spoke at length about things so massively lacking in mass that I was forced to abort his diatribe and concede that he had indeed proved the existence of that  which could never be observed.

“So Ed”, I then said, can you put Mike’s ideas to bed?” He said he could, and would and did. He took a laser to his friends particle and cut the most incredibly tiny bit off it. He claimed he must have won. Mike could not see where he had finished or begun, but it was fun and he was too polite to doubt. But I was having none of this. For I took that tiny piece, we none could see, and said,

“This is smaller than either of your molecules. I fear the winner must be me.” Blind to their own genius they had to agree and there I stood on the border of science and art. I, an historian, a man of memory not of visible part.




<a href=””>Tree</a&gt;

In orchards trees bear  sweet fruit beside the brook, in family trees perhaps it’s better not to look


Shoots appear on fruit trees in the Spring

Next berries or buds adorn their branches

Amid their leaves in summer time

Bright blossoms, of fragrance sweet

And colourful, attractive hues so bright,

Delight the passer by from morn to night.

Then comes the time for ripeness of the fruit

Apples, green and red, or purple figs;

Yellow, juicy pears so succulent to taste

And mouths are ravished by the liquid flesh

Of tropical and citrus oranges and limes,

Transported and transplanted from foreign climes.

But come the Autumn when ripeness is too advanced

And rancid, rotten delicacies bestrew the ground

Around the orchards where too much grew

And never knew the questing hungry human hand.

Finally falling, unused, untasted there always to lie

Wasting in foggy hours, awaiting their day to die.

So too with family trees, the budding babes were born

Great family cheering, as loving childhood was first lived;

Then loving turned to lovers’ warm or cool embraces.

For a serpent once poisoned those trees’ fair fruit

And as the years went by some laughed, some cried

Each loving to their fill, until in Fall, in turn they died.



<a href=””>Graceful</a&gt;

just three letters added to the prompt word!



Well The prime minister (mistress?) has finally done what nobody else has done in my life time. I have been bright blue Tory since the day I first knew what British politics were – aged about 4? – and have never voted anything else in general or local elections when in Britain. But Mrs May (should it be Mrs Perhaps?) has at last given me reason to doubt my party. She has broken a promise to parliament and the people and done so even against her own judgement. This I cannot stomach and will not.

She has said she will trigger article 50 next March without further reference to anyone or any political institution including parliament. Well when I voted in the referendum last July I was under the impression, as were all voters, that whatever the outcome it would be debated in parliament before it was acted upon. No one knew, or listened anyway, to the warnings of economic collapse that a leave vote would mean for both the UK and the EU. They soon found out when they voted mostly in ignorance.

But they all knew it meant parliament could reverse any potential economic disaster if it was obvious this would happen. But Mr Cameron resigned, Mrs May took over with no election by even a minimal number of people anywhere and thus had the power to do anything she liked as she had not drawn up the terms of the referendum or promised anything. It is quite simple, she must call a general election on the issue and immediately. Preferably now, before the US presidential vote early in November. I would prefer her to resign and would vote for whichever party supported us staying in Europe.

At least the party that called for our remaining would win, unless they both did and then I would vote according to the other main issues at stake. I have seen politics in this country become less and less honourable since Blair’s election in ’97 but this is a new low. Both parties are totally disliked and mistrusted by all. We might actually be better off with parliament being remodelled so that all issues were voted on by the people, electronically as 90% of them can, and then let the administrators administer according to the wishes of the people.

This will eventually happen, we all know that, but not I fear in my lifetime.



<a href=””>Passionate</a&gt;

based on the philosophy of the ‘the passion of accepting purgatory as an act of love to attain life with God in heaven’ as described by Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) and accepted as part of the Church’s theological doctrine after its publication in 1556.


In the Italian port of Genoa in fourteen ninety one

A friar, selling indulgences, stopped a passing holy nun.

Blessed sister”, he called to her, “I know your love of God

Surpasses all your other wants, in his shoes you would be shod

So that, if death suddenly struck you down, and as to him you ran

You’d feel all your sins had been forgiven, ever since your life began.



But holy though your life now is, surely must you not still pay

For those forbidden deeds you did before your first conventual day?

How long in purgatory must you spend to totally cleanse your soul

And so make you worthy to meet your God? How long? You cannot say.

But I have a week’s plenary indulgence to delete your spiritual shame

If daily you recite these hundred prayers honouring your Lord’s name.



For 10 pieces of silver donated to my charitable works and cause

I’ll tell you the prayers to say” – she gave twenty without a pause.

A week later to the day in the hospital chapel where she nursed

The ill, the old, the terrified and dying, both blessed and accursed,

She fell upon her knees and intoned the psalms the friar had sold to her.

She’d said the hundredth on the seventh day, her soul by then so fair.



But behind her stood Caterenetta, the matron of that healing house

Who said “Sister, Did a Friar sell you prayers to meet your holy spouse?

And are you shriven, soul quite clean? My dear, have you ever thought?

What it was he sold you and what exactly it was that you bought?

To go directly to your God your body must die now, yes this very day.

Indulgences aren’t for future sins, to forgive them you still have to pray



“Each morn and night, confessing everything you do that’s wrong.

Purgatory must be served for each sin committed your whole life long.

But don’t look so afraid and sad, you can yet see your God soon.

Living a life of human trials working hard, and kindly until you swoon,

Wearing out the human body,ignoring hunger and spurning a comfy bed

So at death your forgiven soul goes straight to God, on whose love it fed.



You see this earthly life can be your purgatory if you devote yourself

Entirely to hardship for others’ sakes and leave on the tempting shelf

Everything you covet through purely human and corporal desires

And live, instead, a life of charity for those God loves, created and aspires

To love for ever, and like you, see them love him also in return.

Do this until you die, my dear, and his holy vision at once you’ll earn.”



<a href=””>Radical</a&gt;

Radical: from the Latin radex meaning the root of a plant, or any subject or emotion, which can and does grow into something larger.



I remember one summer’s day more than any other day in my life. We all have one picture of our world and someone in it which we regularly recall to mind. It may be in a relaxing reverie in the garden, when wracked with pain and needing something wonderful to distract us, or simply in a dream where it intrudes unbidden and makes us never want to wake up. I have one such memory which is so clear I even know the exact time, date and place where it happened on June the tenth 1968 at 11.27 am.

The news that one of the secretaries in the British embassy in Saigon, where I was working as a journalist, had visited a very unusual orphanage gave me the idea that it might provide an interesting feature article into an often ignored aspect of the Vietnam war. The secretary, Mary, gave me all the details and indeed they surprised me. I asked where it was and if I had to make an appointment to visit etc, but she soon made it clear that was the last thing I had to do. So that sunny summer’s morning on June the tenth I set off to the address I had been given.

Like many places in the outer suburbs of that war torn city the place I sought had nothing to indicate it was anything more than a large, ramshackle collection of buildings all under the same street number. The main door was not so much open as non existent. It was more like a large tent flap pulled back and leading into an ill lit collection of corridors and rooms, sweltering in the tropical heat. I hesitantly walked in, looking for someone in charge as I had been told some of the people who worked there spoke passable rudimentary French. This was my second fluent language as I had studied and worked in Paris for nearly seven years. My first shock was being approached by two children who looked about ten years old. They were girls and held hands but neither looked at me or even seemed to notice me. I walked on until the corridor gave out onto a large, sunlit concourse which almost blinded me as I came out into the light.

There were several seats and tables dotted around. All styles, many makeshift, and some had children sitting at them, others were empty as we were approaching the hottest time of the day. I was unable to take in where I was until a loud bell clanged in my ear and I heard a female voice shout in Vietnamese, I had picked up just enough of the language by then to understand, ”Come on everyone. Wash hands, it is only forty five minutes to lunch so you must be quick.” I think I said shout, but if that voice was raised it was not in command or admonition. It was the first time in my life I had heard somebody speak in ‘love’, even though I barely understood it. Then the girl behind the voice appeared from an adjacent doorway. Wearing a white traditional Ao-Dai, the local national dress, she saw me and stopped. I could barely take my eyes off her. She had long jet black hair down to her shoulders but the smile she gave was so soft and so won my heart so instantly, I could barely introduce myself. I did so in slow, basic French.

That was the first time I ever set eyes on Nguyen Ouanh Anh and that welcoming smile will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It transpired she was in charge of the refuge for fifty three children, all orphaned, all blind and she had only three other girls to help her run the home. A doctor and a nurse from a nearby hospital looked in once a week but had too much to do for other war victims to spend much time there. Well to cut a long story short, not least because I have written about it in other blogs, that first smile that Anh gave me led to nearly two of the happiest years of my life. It is still the most soft, loving face I have ever seen and it was so beautiful I really was the envy of my colleagues when we married. That it was also to be the root cause of her ultimate horrific death, and that of our daughter, is a sadness upon which I have learned not to dwell. As with everything we love in life I try only to concentrate on her.



<a href=””>Recharge</a&gt;

for those of you who think this is about me, yes it is, but I’m nothing like as far gone as the poem might suggest, just deteriorated a bit  :)



When I was young I reached for the sky

In my heart, my soul, and my mind’s eye

 Never wondering would I make it when I die.

Well I am dying now and still have no idea

If that sky will hold eternal happiness or fear

 In my eternal life despite all my hopes so dear.

 In all my days I tried to reach the holy star up there

My body and soul believing reaching it to be where

 I would find God’s love for me and anyone in despair.

But I reached and stretched too far and much too fast

Ignoring God’s will, doing so little for Him as I passed

From child, to adult on to late years where now at last

I realise I have to reach for Him once more and then

With what little strength’s left to ill, acheing, ageing men

I can only pray, ‘My God, please love me always’. Amen

And to the rest of you, my friends, I have one last tale to tell

Each day I prayed for all of you that you may be spared hell!

  Remember one who once said “Hail, thank you and farewell”.



<a href=””>Vice</a&gt;

I couldn’t resist the title!


I have just encountered a seductive young maid

Who makes it so plain that she wants to get laid

But being a man of strong morals and true piety

I have refused her advances with upright dubiety

But in no way put off, the fair siren sings sweeter

Even suggests I might prefer to email or tweet’er



My willpower, how it weakens, with each cheeky grin

Ah I fear she will soon make me commit a grave sin

May heaven protect me from such temptresses as she

And put no lead in my pencil, add a bromide to my tea,

Keep my mind always clean, pure thoughts in my head

Oh and God, please remove this sweet girl from my bed



<a href=””>Mistake</a&gt;

a mistake, is so easy make, but so difficult to rectify


Once I actually had three girlfriends at the same time whose birthdays all fell on the same day. They were not all passionate flames, ablaze at the same time, far from it. But nevertheless I had a fondness for each and they were good fun to be with. Come to think of it I ended up marrying one of them.

The date was March 14th and it usually fell during Lent. One I had known on and off for about ten years since we were at school. It was her 20th birthday on the day of this tale. Felicity lived in West London and was studying at London university that year in 1963, I was at University in Paris at the time. My diary merely had an obscure memo by it – ‘Flick has five likes’.

On the same day I also saw a latin inscription – amor vincit omnia. That was easy and the one I later married. But the third one was really sweet. I had written. ‘Wow, Sheena will love this. She can tell us all where to go today’! Of course it was the day a friend in the States came of age. Well they hadn’t invented emails, or even shemails, in those days so I had to send token cards and presents in a big hurry. Yes, I messed it up completely.

To start with Flick’s five likes had me stumped. I really didn’t know why I’d made that memo. So I bought five different boxes of lovely chocolates and sent them with a really mushy card. But we had that sort of joint humour.

To Sheena in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania I thought a golden key on a necklace would both make the point and meet the purpose. It was a lovely piece of jewellery too. I sent her a pretty card with flowers on it. I was in a hurry.

But for the beautiful little girl from Tuscany, my own Lucia, I had to make it personal, intimate and something she’d like. I lashed out on a large bottle of Chanel no 5 perfume. The card was also over the top, in 3-D and frankly ostentatious. But she knew I meant it nicely. So were they all pleased? Not exactly. The thank you letter from Flick was brief.

“Given the amount those nauseating chocolates, you know I can’t stand, must have cost you couldn’t you have sent me a small bottle of my favourite Chanel no5? But I love you all the same.”

Sheena was puzzled. “It’s beautiful, Anton, and must have cost the earth, but I don’t come of age until next year. I’ll lock it away until then.”

And Lucia. Well we ate out together that night, and she opened her present in front of me. She just stared and said , “Mio Antonino caro, why have you bought me after shave? “ I had been in such a hurry I hadn’t read the ‘pour hommes’ on the bottle. God I’m lucky she loved me so much.


50 GONE, 50 TO GO.

<a href=””>Fifty</a&gt;

                                                                   cheering up the over 50’s.


50 GONE, 50 TO GO.

When I was very young, you know a few centuries ago, male life expectancy was around 72 years on average. When I reached 35 it had risen to about 79 and when I was 50 it was an incredible 85. So imagine how I feel now when 50 is only half, or 50%, of the life probability of any healthy normal man in the developed world. Thinking back, I am already two years past my original deadline – a former girl friend’s awful joke not mine!

But apparently for every terminally life threatening illness, accident or injury in your life after 50 you can knock five years off your maximum forecastable life span. This would mean I am running at minus 30 at the moment and actually died 4 years ago. Well I don’t think I did, at least nobody told me if I did. So I shall stick with my own love of showing how meaningless all statistics really are, and say that whatever my actual age I will probably last at least 50 per cent of the adjusted time left to me.

This is great fun because it makes me immortal. Do you see it? Well, if I’ve reached 74 and should have died at 70, then my age is easily proven to be expectancy +4 . But all 74 year olds of normal health are still only aged forecasted death – 26. But as my forecasted age is now plus 4 then on a 50% average I can hope to reach (70 + 4 ) – (26- 13) all of which equals 61. But As you can see I am 13 years past that so on the 50% probability rule I should last another 6.5 years at least, or 80 odd. And the great thing is that exponentially that figure can never go down, only decrease in relation to my state of health or due to fatal injury or accident.

I’m getting quite animated and beginning to wonder who will be hired to assassinate me when I’m 100 and still categorised as unperishable goods! Boy, being hopeless at maths is great fun. Especially for the over 50’s.