Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

A Romance in Tuscany in 1965 (Chap 2)

<a href=””>Suddenly</a&gt;

(part 2 of this story which started yesterday. the prompt is rather apt!

A Romance in Tuscany in 1965

Chapter two

An accident in racing green.

The plans to join the whole of Italy from the southern most tip to the Alpine tunnels and passes of Lombardy with a fast network of autostradas or motorways had almost finished by this time and the section between Florence and Rome was my favourite section in use. Known as the ‘autostrada del sole’, or motorway of the sun, it was an expensive toll road which cut the time of the journey by car by more than two hours. I loved driving on it. However, though it was joined up from Florence to Pisa only an ordinary spur road went on to Lucca. The long winding coastal section from Pisa to Genoa was finished was also open. Thus Santa Rita was always a little impatient when covering the fourteen miles from my villa to Pisa. In truth I was so distracted by all that had happened that day I tended to have a picture of Caterinetta in my mind instead of the not very well lit road through the steep hills. I must have done most of the journey and been only a couple of miles from Lucca, and four from my villa, when a lorry took the corner in front of me much too fast and, brake as we both tried, a collision was inevitable. I have almost no memory of the next fifteen hours. I awoke in a small hospital room, not a ward but a single room, and could see my left arm was in plaster. A sharp pain which spread down from my right shoulder to my hip was gradually getting worse and drew my attention to the fact that my right leg was in plaster from the knee down to the ankle. Any doctors or nurses were chiefly remarkable by their absence. I could see a clock on the wall of the ward telling me it was just gone two in the afternoon but apart from that I could see no sign of life. Suddenly a young nurse, she did not look more than 20 so must have been a student or trainee, put her head round the door and exclaimed.

“The professor is awake. He is awake. “And just as she went to run and fetch a doctor or senior nurse I shouted in fluent Italian,

“And he’s very hungry too. “The nurse just ran out and a couple of minutes later three people hurried into the room. Two nurses and a senior looking doctor who all tried to speak to me in halting and confused English. I laughed and replied in Italian that I spoke their language as well as they did. The doctor seemed very relieved and introduced himself.

“Ah signor, I am professor Ranieri, senior consultant in orthopaedic surgery here at the central hospital at Lucca and I am delighted that you have regained consciousness. But we are having trouble finding anyone who knows who you are. We have tried several of the cards in your wallet.” I told him to ring the couple at my villa and they would know how to contact my relatives and make sure everyone who had to know of my accident was told. Then I asked how badly I had been hurt as I was in a lot of pain and still very hungry. The senior nurse hurried off to see to some food for me but the doctor told me that I had a fractured left arm, leg and collarbone and my left leg below the knee. I was also bruised badly over seventy percent of my body. He said I was very lucky to be alive. “But you appear to be a university professor at Oxford in England, are you staying at the villa on holiday?” He was amazed when I told him I lived there and owned it, indeed the entire estate. I explained I was writing a book and doing some tutoring and studying at Pisa University. I then asked him to ring Luigi and tell him what had happened, if anyone knew. He said he would do so and then asked me the oddest question. “Signore, if you are the owner of the Villa Santa Rita – we wondered why the name was changed recently did you do this?- but as the owner I wondered if this ward and the hospital was good enough for you or if you would like a better accommodation?” I laughed and assured him everything would be fine.

The nurse then brought me a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and said she would help me to eat it. I wondered why at first and then tried to lift my right arm. It was agony. She smiled and said I would be in pain for some time. The specialist added that now I was awake they would be seeing if I needed further surgery on my left side, but I would need more x-rays to determine this. Fortunately I did not, but I then received news of my car which luckily had thrown me out on the point of the collision and had only received a few scratches and dents to the bodywork as it rolled over on the hillside. The doctor was interested to know why I had Santa Rita di Cascia painted on one side of it by the door handle. I smiled at him,

“Why do you think we both came out of the crash as well as we did? But I hope nobody else was hurt in the accident.” He assured me the lorry driver had only minor bruising and we had both been very lucky. After several x-rays and examinations from more doctors the senior nurse came into my ward where I was recovering from being moved around so much and still in a lot of pain. She had a very prim and surprised look on her face.

“Professore, there is a very young girl here who is insisting on seeing you. She would not normally be allowed in but she says she is from Pisa university and that she knows you. What shall I do?” I could not resist it,

“Ask her if her name is Signorina Caterinetta Pollini from Pisa and if she says yes then tell my fiancée that she may see me. I am sure it must be her.” In less than fifteen seconds Caterinetta shot into the room, took one look at me and threw herself at my prostrate figure and cried,

“Leo, oh my Leo, what have you done to yourself?” I winked at the nurse and said I thought we had the right girl. She would not stop kissing me for several minutes and finally I had to ask her to let me have my arm back as I was in agony. She was horrified and then could not stop apologising. But from the expression on both our faces the staff were in doubt who she was. She quickly explained what had happened.

“Leo, Professore Tardelli told me of your accident and asked me to come here as fast as I could. He hopes to come later this evening. I borrowed Mama’s Ferrari and the journey was very quick. But are you alright?” My first reaction was to be livid at the risk she had taken,

“Cara, don’t ever drive a sports car at that speed on that road again! How do you think I ended up like this? Santa Rita looked after me and herself and we are both very lucky, but please remember you belong to me now and I forbid you to kill yourself.” She was very amused but then asked the nurse for a detailed account of my injuries. In sum they sounded awful and I was lucky to have got off as lightly as I did. Caterinetta sweetly asked if it did me any harm to kiss me occasionally and the nurses laughed and assured her I was more likely to improve if she kissed me as much as she could. At this point I was told I had an international phone call and a telephone extension was being brought into my room. It was my sister Helen phoning from Paris.

“Leo what have you done to yourself? A professor at Pisa university phoned me to tell me of your accident and gave me the hospital number. Arthur and I are at the airport now and should be in Florence in just over an hour. We’ll be with you around seven o’clock with luck.” This led to reassurances of how I was, and promises that I would tell my couple at the villa to get rooms ready for three lots of people who could arrive at any time that night. Helen had already seen the villa when I was deciding which one to buy but Arthur had not. It also struck me that Caterinetta would have to stay somewhere for the night and maybe she would want to sleep there as well. “Mia Caterinetta, I would have preferred to show you round the villa for the first time myself but this doesn’t look very possible now. My sister is on her way here so you can stay there overnight if you want to.” A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Oh I so wanted you to introduce me to our future home my love, but I do understand. However, Mama said she would drive here as well when she had contacted papa so there may be four people now.” I told her that her entire family were welcome and she laughed. “It is wonderful that you are still so cheerful Leo I was so worried you might have been unconscious or worse.” Then, for reasons I do not suppose either of us understood we both carried on talking in English. This surprised the nurses who marvelled at Caterinetta’s command of English and the senior nurse looked at me and exclaimed,

“But for an Italian you too Signore seem to speak very good English.” We both went off into peals of laughter as Caterinetta made them all laugh by recounting my first meeting with her mother. Professor Ranieri came in to tell me what they were going to do to me next and I introduced him to Caterinetta. On hearing her surname he asked,

“Are you related to l’avocato Pollini of the Pisa central court?” she said she was his daughter and this seemed to place us much higher in the doctor’s esteem than my academic status. I suddenly wondered if Caterinetta had eaten much that day as it was now six o’clock and they were about to feed me. She was famished and it was agreed she could have a meal in my room to keep me company. It was getting so cosy I almost stopped noticing the pain when we were told another lady had come to see me. Caterinetta saw her first,

“Mama. Oh mama, Leo has been very badly hurt but he is very brave and everyone here is wonderful”. La Signora entered the ward somewhat diffidently and was obviously really upset to see me in such a state. She came over to shake my hand but could not stop herself from kissing me on the cheek. I responded by saying,

“Grazzie, Gemma, sono molto contento con miei due signorine favorite.” The smile that went with this reduced her to tears. Caterinetta was amazed and touched at her mother’s reaction to my injuries and smilingly said she hoped I did not end up marrying the wrong Pollini.

The rest of the evening was peaceful and full of expectation on the part of Caterinetta and her mother who could not wait to see the villa. Luigi arrived just after seven and was terribly upset when he saw me. But the ladies soon calmed him down and told him It was more a matter of time than recovering from life threatening injuries that would be my worst problem now. They were all getting on really well when Helen and Arthur arrived and were surprised at the number of people in my room. Helen kissed me and Arthur shook my hand rather gently when I managed to shock my sister into silence for the first time in our lives.

“Oh, Helen,” I said, as she was looking rather oddly at Caterinetta and her mother and wondering who they were, “I would like you to meet my fiancée signorina Caterinetta Pollini and her mother Signora Gemma Pollini.” Caterinetta reacted the fastest. Before Helen could even say hullo, Caterinetta had kissed her on both cheeks and said how happy she was to meet Leo’s sister. Arthur just gaped at her and then remembered his manners and shook hands with both ladies.

“It’s alright Arthur, they both speak fluent French and Caterinetta speaks excellent English. But I hope it will not be too long before you have mastered Italian. Then Luigi was introduced and everyone could tell I was starting to get tired and was still in pain. Gemma was about to ring for a taxi when I took the phone and asked my chauffeur to come and collect all four of them and take them back to the villa for the night. As they were leaving I looked at Helen and Caterinetta and said, “I expect you two will have a lot to talk about tonight!” My fiancee gave me a long kiss and said she’d be back as early as the hospital allowed in the morning.

I had a very restless night dreaming of Caterinetta smiling at me through the radiator of an on-coming lorry. It was a strange mixture of nightmare and liebstraum which was mixed with a body full of aches and covered in plaster and bandages. I was surprised to see Caterinetta arrive at 8.00am with my coffee and croissants. She hastily explained,

“Arturo, your driver, wanted to make sure you were alright and not dying, and his wife insisted on a first hand report on how you were”. As She started to feed me while grinning I asked if she had eaten yet. This set her off into a long description of how she could not sleep and got up at six thirty to have a good breakfast and become very good friends with my housekeeper’

“Oh, Leo she’s lovely. When everything was explained to her she curtsied to me and said she would only take orders from me until you can return. Mama agreed that I should have that lovely bedroom overlooking the valley, and Helen and Arthur, now he would not hide a book from me, a proper English gentleman, refused to have the main room just because they were the only married couple there. Oh Leo, we will have such fun planning the villa as we want it. And I really man WE!” I could not resist a kiss at this point. My Caterinetta could sense how I felt and still had her ams round my neck when a very young girl came in to remove the tray. She only looked about sixteen and was terribly embarrassed. I don’t think Caterinetta helped when she remarked,

“Don’t worry, in a year or two you too will have your arms round a young man, but you will be lucky if he is as gorgeous as my Leo”. I could see life was going to be highly unpredictable with my new love. My main concern was how long I was going to have to stay in hospital. Professor Ranieri told me that I might need another minor operation on my left arm but otherwise it was a question of time.

“Dottore”, he explained, “If there are no further internal injuries shown in the x-rays and tests today you could return to your villa by the weekend, it is now Thursday already so you could return on Saturday morning if you rest up completely and only move around in a wheelchair.” Then he smiled at Caterinetta and added, “I think keeping a strict eye on him is going to be your job signorina!” Light hearted as the remark was it did set up a worrying train of thought in my head. I could see that Caterinetta was going to ave to continue her studies for another two weeks at least before an early break could be taken to include Christmas. But equally important was another possible problem. Until we were married Caterinetta would not be allowed, nor I want her, to stay alone with me at the villa unchaperoned. Helen was welcome to stay of course but I had no idea how long Arthur could take off work. Also Helen owned and ran her own business in Paris and the weeks running up to Christmas were her busiest period of the year. I supposed Gemma would offer, but it was not the start to our life together that I imagined either of us would want. I gently broached the subject to my beloved.-

”Cara, I have just thought. When my sister and Arthur have gone home on Moday, also Professor Tardelli, how will we manage? I mean your Mama will have to go back to look after your father and soon the two boys, and then we will be alone. You do see what I mean, I don’t you?”

To my amazement she laughed. “Oh Leo, with all your limbs shattered you are your own chaperone.” I agreed I had not thought of that, but I could not believe there would not be malicious tongues wagging somewhere in Lucca or Pisa. Also I was worried about her studies. Again she floored me. “Leo, what do you do for a living, apart from write books that will never sell?” I was thick and did not follow her at first. Then the penny dropped.

“You mean I could tutor you? Yes of course I could! But you would not be let off lightly, I am a harsh marker.” She had an answer to everything,

“But you don’t yet know how good a seductress I am, do you? We could have a very interesting series of lessons,” and for the first time the really passionately seductive side of her lovely grin and laugh hit me full on and I realised that I could not resist making love to her any longer than my injuries forcibly limited me. I gave her a look of such totally conquered physical adoration that she knew at once that I wanted her just as much as she could not live without me. She smiled so broadly as she said, “Well that’s settled then. We will be a very properly behaved engaged couple for four weeks, I could just about manage that Leo, and then as you are able to hobble to the altar God will make us each others’ for ever more. Agreed?” I nodded but entered the caveat that it might take that long before I could physically lift either leg very much. “Then I shall have to learn to improvise”, she said with an endearing, cheeky smile on her face.”Can you get books on improvising for such necessities?” I could not resist my reply,

“Of course. In the library under thirteenth century history.” We were still curled up with mirth over this when Helen, Arthur and Gemma arrived at the ward. We told them what we had been discussing. Helen was very upset not to be able to help, but we had never thought she could. She and Arthur were flying back to Paris on the Sunday night. However Gemma did understand the situation only too well.

“It is not that we do not trust you, but Leo’s injuries would cause real difficulties and as he says a lot of tongues might start wagging. It is a shame that Vittorio is so well known in our city and you are often recognised in the street, Caterinetta. Well look at Matteo a couple of days ago!” I looked at her with a surprised expression when I said


“Is that all it is? It seems as though I have known you forever. Oh I am forgetting my manners. Who would like a coffee? No, you’re chocolate aren’t you Helen?” My sister nodded and then made a great suggestion.

“Look, as part of your studies, Caterinetta, when term ends would you like to come over to Paris for a few days and do some pre – wedding shopping. There are one or two little presents I would love to get you.” As she looked up at Arthur for support her husband was quick to endorse the idea as it would get him out of long and boring shopping trips. But I wasn’t too sure;

“Who’ll look after me?” I said. Gemma had the answer to this. She volunteered Marco and Paolo who would be back from school by then and would just be getting under her feet;

“You’ll love them Leo. They can easily push you around and there’s plenty of room for them to play.” I wondered just how dangerous they would be given the speed with which their mother wanted to offload them. I had to ask,

“Are they medically trained?”

AWE Chapter 3 tomorrow.


                                                                                A Romance in Tuscany in 1965 

<a href="">Wonder</a>

( just felt like lightening up a bit so here’s the first part of a 3 chapter love story full of wonder. You know, “Wonder if he’s telling the truth?” 🙂 encore demain.
A Romance in Tuscany in 1965 

Chapter 1.   In Which I meet A Librarian

I was beginning to wonder what life was going to hold for me as my studies were coming to a point where I would have to choose whether to make them the sole purpose of my life, lecturing at university, or use what I had learned to pursue a worthwhile and interesting career. I think it was the combination of inherited wealth and my terrible innate shyness that were the biggest problems facing me. It might seem strange to call wealth a problem, as ever since coming into my share of the family fortune it’s capital value had never fallen below the ten million US dollars which I inherited when I was orphaned at sixteen years old in the Spring of 1959. The problem which this posed was how to judge other people’s opinions of me both as a friend and a colleague. I was plagued by gold diggers and in truth there were times when I wished I was a pauper. I did not have my sister Helen’s business acumen. She was eight years older than I, with a degree at Cambridge in the history of art, and had invested a large amount of her half of our inherited fortune in opening an art gallery in Paris.

My shyness caused me dreadful difficulties, especially as I grew to know and like several girls but again could never work out whether they were after my money or just trying to be pleasant. I was shy in a very strange way i.e. only when talking in my native English. I had no stammer or impediment, I just could not think of an opening sentence to start a conversation nor a clever remark to serve as a riposte or retort when needed. It was doubly odd because I was so good at this in French, and later Italian and Spanish, that many people actually believed I was a Frenchman. Helen always used to advise me only to consider a romantic relationship with a girl if I felt any genuine love for her. But even this was a nightmare with my inability to find the words for an opening gambit when wanting to talk to somebody who attracted me. I thus found myself in the summer of 1965 with an enviable academic collection of degrees in two subjects from four universities. I had been awarded a doctorate in both of them as I sat wondering what to do. I was in the senate building of Pisa University in Italy where I was about to receive my equivalent of an English D.Phil. This would mean that in five years I had attained an MA at Oxford and at the same time, a LèsL at the Sorbonne in Paris in history, a PhD. in Mediterranean languages at Geneva University, and now a doctorate in papal history and hagiography at Pisa. I was fluent in five languages, English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and had no problems at all when talking in anything other than my native English. But ask me to say something clever, funny or interesting in my mother tongue and I was stumped. But I really did need a close female friend because I was genuinely starting to become lonely and consequently depressed. Three very nice girls, an American a Parisienne and a Brazilian had all been very good fun to be with, but each soon made it clear that it was my money and not me that they really wanted.

As I waited to be enrolled amongst the academic doctors at Pisa at I decided I would take a year out as soon as I could and write a book, both serious yet for my own enjoyment of the subject. It would be a historical novel about the most important political, military, church, and literary personalities in England, Italy and France between 1198 AD and 1321 AD. Two kings who ruled England and France for fifty years, one vain and weak willed the other a Saint. The greatest Pope between 700 and 1700 AD, seven of the leading philosophers of all time, two of the kindest saints, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Antony of Padua who changed forever the world’s concept of love and charity at the heart of Christianity. Then towards the end of this period I had Dante, the most fertile imagination ever to write a work of metaphysical fiction. Amongst the ladies were Blanche of Castile, a towering harridan, daughter of a king and mother of two kings and four queens, while also being queen of France herself. Her total opposite was St. Clare of Assisi, the members of whose religious were called to help anyone in any type of need at no matter what cost or sacrifice to themselves. Place all these in the thriving and turbulent world of colourful thirteenth century Western Europe and how could you fail to produce a readable, informative and hopefully inspiring book? I also had the advantage of having studied at three universities which were founded during the period of my proposed book.

It was my dream at that time and I knew it could only be written from the viewpoint of those three parts of the world in which my heroes and heroines flourished; France and England as they rose together to dominate the civilised world until joined by the Spanish more than a century later. Italy, Tuscany especially, where the inspired poets and story tellers of the high Middle Ages had their finest hour, and of course the Levant, goal of all crusaders whether their aims were personal, financial, spiritual, or just plain military indulgence. I got very emotionally uptight just thinking about the possibilities of my project. I truly loved history from the late twelfth to the early fourteenth centuries. If it satisfied me enough I could see myself becoming a historian as a full time job, and if it did not I was quite struck with the attraction of a job in the United Nations or one of its global agencies where my languages would certainly guarantee me employment and hopefully also success.

As I flew back to our the old family home, a baroque style mansion in a fashionable part of Paris near the Arc de Triomphe which I had inhabited with two middle aged servants since my sister married the previous August, I decided to use my Australian nationality to apply for a UN job. This was a neutral nationality in the eyes of most international bureaucrats who thought a UK passport meant one was pro American and not to be trusted as far as they could see you. I was born in England of an Australian father and a Scottish mother during the second world war so had joint Australian and British nationality. But I was not sure that I was going to do this. Indeed, I did not know what I was going to do, but decided that wherever I settled to write my magnum opus it would have to be near a good University with access to any libraries I might need for reference purposes. My favourite countryside in all my travels had always been Tuscany and its surrounding parts of northern central Italy. So, I wrote to a history don who had taught me at Pisa and who was also a lecturer and professor at the University there which would suit my needs perfectly. I asked him what I had to do to get reading rights at the university and was delighted to be told that as long as I helped him out with English and French language students, who were still struggling with their academic Italian, he could have me enrolled as a visiting lecturer. This was wonderful.

Next I had to find a house, and that was where having a lot of money really did help. My bank balance was now well over twelve million US$, some four and a half pounds Sterling. I paid only $64,000 for a villa just outside Lucca in the middle of Heaven. I even had my own little vineyard and wine cellar that had not been properly catalogued or explored since the first world war. I was told that a local couple, she an experienced housekeeper and cook and he a gardener and chauffeur, had worked for the previous owners and I was only too glad to keep them on to look after me and the house. They were a jovial pair who were visited from time to time by their children and small toddler grandchildren. Everything seemed set to go like a dream. I converted the conservatory, facing south west downhill across the vineyard, into an ideal study and library for my writing. A large lounge with a veranda overlooking the gently rolling hillside, an imposing dining room off the large old stone kitchen, a snooker room with a bar and two other reception rooms made up the ground floor. Above these were five large bedrooms, all modernised to include en-suite bathrooms, and another sitting room looking straight into the setting sun for most of the year. I felt I really could be both happy and get some useful work done in such a beautiful place. The couple who worked there used a large cottage of their own in the grounds and were delighted not to have to move out of it.

I moved in late that October, but it was not until the sixteenth of November that I visited my friend at the University and asked him what I could do for him. He was very pleased to see me and said he had a tutorial for several language students at four pm that day. He asked me to come along and meet them before helping with their translation problems. He had to give a lecture at nine thirty am so it was still not 10.00 am when I left him and went to the library to find a particular book I wanted on Henry III of England. It was in English, as I knew, and I asked an extremely pretty young girl, whom I took to be a librarian, if she could find it for me. My first mistake. For a start I spoke in English, as I knew that would not be a problem for the university staff, and also I may have spoken a little fast. She obviously did not fully understand me so I fell back on what had almost become a habit when caught like this. I took out a visiting card to explain who I was.;

Dr Leo Watson  MA. LèsL. PhD. D.Filosofia

Lecturer in Mediaeval History & Hagiography

Oxford University, England. Sorbonne University, Paris. University of Geneva, Switzerland. Pisa University, Italy

This quite threw her off balance and she immediately held out her hand to shake mine,   “I am pleased to meet you, Doctor. Can I help you? I am a language student here.” Her very pronounced Tuscan accent told me two things. Firstly, she was a native of the region and may well have chosen the university because it was close to home. Secondly her inability to pronounce English clearly also marked her out as a possible student that my friend Luigi had lined up for his afternoon tutorial. I did not want to insult her in any way because she was really quite pretty and obviously wanted to be helpful, so I let her search around for about ten minutes before she gave up and said they did not seem to have the book. I should not have done it, but my sense of humour got the better of me. She recoiled in amazement when I told her in fluent and perfect Italian exactly where the book was on the biology shelf. At this she became very indignant. Speaking in her native tongue she said,

“Really, Sir why did you play a trick on me? That is not like an English gentleman. And anyway, how did you know the book was under biology and not history?”

“Signorina,” I replied, “I am very sorry for being so impolite. But when I was studying here two years ago I put that book there so nobody else would take it out when I wanted it. I must tell Luigi Tardelli about this, he has a good sense of humour.” Her jaw dropped.

“You know my professor? He teaches me French and English. A very nice and kind man, he would not hide a book from me!”

“You mean like you have been hiding your name from me for so long? May I ask you who you are and what you are studying?” She was rather flustered when I said this and apologised for not introducing herself properly.

“I am Caterinetta Pollini from here in Pisa. I am studying English and French language and literature, but I am not finding writing essays in French and English very easy. Also, my name is actually Caterina, but I have always been called by the diminutive form.”

“Ah, Signorina, you must be one of the students that Luigi has asked me to help. You have a tutorial with him at four pm today, don’t you?” She nodded and was very pleased to discover she had met me before the others in the group. There were about eight or nine of them whom Professor Tardelli had marked out as needing more help with writing any one of three languages, French, English and Italian. I was able to tell her that I thought that sounded like the group he had asked me to help. Then I explained to her what I was doing at Lucca and the period of history I was most interested in writing about. We chatted away for ages thoroughly, enjoying each other’s company and were surprised to find it was getting near noon. I was quite hungry, I had driven the fourteen miles from my villa setting out at 8.00am to make sure I caught Luigi before he started work, so I asked my new friend what she usually did for lunch. She replied that on days with no lectures in the afternoon, she would go home, but if she had to stay on for language lessons she would eat in the university canteen and do some more studying or reading in the library.

“Well, Caterinetta, note I am speaking English to help my friend Luigi,” and we both smiled as I said this, “I have not been in Pisa since June when I got my doctorate so would you do me the honour of having lunch with me and we can get to know each other a bit better?” She looked both worried and pleased at the same time. Perhaps it was to watch out for people like me that she had been persuaded by her family to study so close to home. I knew what Italian families could be like and I decided to reassure her. “Luigi and I know each other well and he would not let any undesirable foreigners upset his students. If you care to ask him he will be only too pleased to give me a good reference.” She was adorably confused.

“Oh, Sir, please do not think that I do not trust you, it is just unusual for anyone to ask me out for lunch. They never have in two years studying here.” I believed her and explained,

“I was just looking forward to some pleasant company with my meal. I live in Paris and most lunchtimes I eat with friends or colleagues. My father was an Australian who worked in France until he and my mother were killed in an plane crash when I was sixteen.” She seemed quite upset. I told her more about my plans to write a book or get a job at UNESCO. She was intrigued and asked me where I was staying and for how long. But before I could answer she nearly dropped when I turned into one of the most elite restaurants in the city. I had eaten there many times and they recognised me, but Caterinetta seemed scared more than pleased.

“Dottore Watson, this is a great honour you do me to eat here. It is very famous and very expensive!” I had not expected her to react quite so strongly and assured her that I had often eaten there before and the waiters and staff all knew me. She was amazed. “But even my father who is a lawyer only eats here very occasionally, but some of his friends who are judges do so more often. My family’s friends might see me and wonder why I am eating here with a stranger.”

I can honestly say that that exact moment was the turning point in my usual reaction to so many of the things that depressed and upset me on a daily basis. I also knew it was Caterinetta who had caused the change. She had such a lovely, pleasantly soft personality and a great sense of humour. But it was more than that. Her pretty smile and long dark brown hair were extremely attractive, and something in the way she looked at me told me at once that I would love to ask her to help me with all the reference searching I might have to do for my book. I assumed that she would also be glad of the chance to earn some extra money while studying.

Thus, before we began ordering, as I sipped a Campari and she a small glass of dry sherry, I looked straight into her eyes and found myself asking her a favour. “Caterinetta. Would you like to help me with the book that I am about to start writing and, more importantly, to help me relax when in the company of people I do not know very well? “I tried to tell you how I struggled to overcome my problems talking to people, but cara mia it hasn’t happened with you. I am terribly sure that you could make life much more bearable and enjoyable for me if you would.” She was blushing now but with joy at the thought of helping me and accepting my use of ‘cara’, as an expression of tenderness for her, as the most natural thing in the world. I was in no doubt that I was growing very fond of her. But I raised a finger to my lips to prevent any quick reply and smiled. “No, not yet. Let’s order a nice meal first and as we enjoy it I shall tell you what I think you can do for me.” She nodded, but it was not so much a smile of thanks that lit up her face as she read the menu, as the beautiful smile in her eyes while she tried to hide a tear behind the huge menu. “Now, it’s your city, what would you like to eat?” She was almost lost for a reply,

Signor, may I call you Leo, and can I have anything at all I want? Some of these dishes cost far too much!” I loved that.

“I forbid you to call me anything else. Of course you can have anything you want to eat. I am going to enjoy a small lobster salad and then a tournedos Rossini. Now you choose.” She obviously was not going to miss such a chance and demonstrated really good culinary taste. Antipasto misto, which seemed to have a bit of everything under the sun in it, was followed by a veal escalope in cream and vin rosé sauce, which left me with a problem. What to drink? With our mixture we could drink anything and I was just about to show her the wine list and suggest something when she said rather shyly,

“Could we have a French red wine please? My family only drink Italian wine at home and I would so love a Burgundy if I may”. I readily agreed as it went with my tournedos. I looked down the wine list and ordered a Crozes-Hermitage of a really superb vintage. Her eyes nearly came out of her head when she saw the bottle. I only hoped she had not seen the wine list as the bottle I had ordered was very expensive. But she showed no sign of the shock I was sure it would have given her. “Leo, this wine is truly wonderful. Thank you.” I had to laugh.

“Caterinetta Mia, I am very glad you like it, but it is only wine. Your company, however, is much, much more to me. May I tell you how you can help me?” This made her look rather strangely at me. She could see I was serious and this seemed to worry her. However, she was keen to know how and where I would be working on my book and whether I would need her to visit me in my flat or hotel in Lucca. “Well, Caterinetta, I haven’t got a flat nor do I live in a hotel in Lucca.” This made her wonder if I meant a small ‘pension’. She was quite honest about her parents possibly being worried at her visiting a man in such a dwelling. So, I nearly made her faint when I revealed where I lived. “Cara, I know I said I was rich but perhaps you did not understand just how rich I am. Look, here are some pictures of the villa I recently bought outside Lucca. Maybe your family would like to spend the day at my house while we are working on my book. I have a lovely couple looking after me. They live in a cottage on the estate.” As she gradually recovered she told me the world I had bought was a small corner of paradise. But she could also see that to live as I obviously did was by its very nature a huge burden. With the first genuine look of love in her eyes she placed her long, thin, silken fingers on my wrist and almost whispered,

“I understand now why you are so lonely Leo. All the people you know must tell you how much they like your home and by the time they get round to you yourself they can still only talk of where and how you live. They can never talk of anything else. Is your house in Paris the same?” I nodded.

“True, but I have no friends in Lucca yet. But you describe the atmosphere of my home on the Seine very well.” Then I could not stop myself adding very suddenly, “You’ve got very beautiful hands Caterinetta.” I think she blushed again, but the way this small reference to how beautiful I found her had affected my own shyness was not lost on her. I suddenly could not say another word. I just looked lovingly at her. She was very moved and asked me,

“Can I say something very private to you Leo? You have the eyes of a very, very kind man. I must not say more at the moment. But I think my parents would like you.” I tried to be natural and polite but felt that I was just being formal. As I put the pictures back in my pocket I assured her,

“I will have a lot to say to you soon Caterinetta, but for just now I will merely say that I need to be with someone I can trust, and I know that person is you. You see, you agreed to help me with my problems before you fully realised how rich I was or anything like that.” I knew the depth of sincerity in my voice was not lost on her. She answered,

“Can I say one more thing Leo? You have a look in your eyes that makes me want to be with you all the time. But we only met a few hours ago so we must not rush into becoming too fond of each other too quickly. We don’t want to spoil what we have found so suddenly yet may keep for a very long time. So, let’s just chat and enjoy each other’s company while I help you with your book and you help tutor me with my own work.” I was deeply touched.

“How would you like to earn some money doing research for me while I am writing the main part of the book? It would give you a small income to help while you are at university too. Would $200 a week be enough?”

She went pale.” Leo! That is far too much. Four times what I would get for helping with research projects at the university.” I said I knew this but that I could not get an English language research assistant in Italy for any less, so we agreed to discuss terms for her work later. We took our time over a coffee and brandy after our meal and were leaving the restaurant, almost bowed out of it, when a leading minister in the government, who she recognised, came up to us and said,

“Signorina Caterinetta. What a pleasant surprise.” The poor girl did not know what to do, but managed to take refuge in introducing me.

“Excellency, this is Dr Leo Watson a leading professor in History at Oxford University who is a friend of Professor Tardelli and has himself a doctorate here at Pisa. He is helping us with our academic writing in English, French and Italian.” The minister was pleased to meet me and then became quite staggered at how well I spoke Italian. He was seriously impressed. As we exchanged civilities he told me he knew Caterinetta’s father, who was on the local government judicial advisory panel, and winking at me told Caterinetta he would congratulate her father. As we strolled towards the university Caterinetta said she was rather worried the minister might tell her parents about me before she got the chance.

“Oh, Leo, I wanted so much to be the first person to tell my family about you.” I smiled in sympathy and asked her a favour.

“Caterinetta, may I ask you to promise me something?” She nodded. “When we have our tutorial this afternoon please don’t tell anybody that I am so rich. I can trust you, can’t I?” She almost cried as she assured me she would not tell a soul. “And Caterinetta mia, your parents have nothing to fear from me.”

As we entered the university building and were momentarily out of sight of anyone, Caterinetta gave me a gentle, beautifully soft kiss on the cheek and said “Grazzie.” I assumed for the meal, but the look in her eyes suggested it might have been a lot more intimate than that. I was amused at Luigi’s raised eyebrows as Caterinetta and I walked in together. He seemed very surprised. I told him I had merely had a snack with her as she had no more lectures that day and I had nothing to do either. I don’t think he quite believed me, but we left the matter there. The other students were a mixed but nice lot. I thoroughly enjoyed the tutorial and Luigi thanked me when it finished as I had been able to help students of several nationalities with their vocabulary and grammar problems. They all got on well with me, too, and Caterinetta and I left together. I had promised to drive her home as it was getting dark by six o’clock. When we left the building I told her I would be quite happy to meet her parents and reassure them that we were just two friends who had only met that day and she had cheered me up because I knew hardly anyone in Pisa since my contemporary students had all left. She thanked me as we crossed the car park and I stopped by a six litre two door Lamborghini sports car in British racing green. It had cost me $60,000 dollars that summer. I smiled.

“Please forgive my other vice, cara. A good wine and my beautiful car are my only indulgences to my wealth. If it is any consolation, for every cent I spend on either of them I give the same amount to a worthwhile charity. Imagine the faces of two nurses who run a hospital for blind orphans in Vietnam when I gave them $100,000 in August to square my conscience with my car. If possible, this made me love the car even more. As I spoke I patted the bonnet and introduced them, “Caterinetta, say hello to Santa Rita di Cascia”. Her reaction completely took me aback. She burst into floods of tears and threw her arms round my neck, burying her face between my shoulder and head. I gently kissed her hair and clung onto her unable to let her go, not that I wanted to.

“Piu bella e carissima Caterinetta, prego diami permesse chiedere al vostro padre se posso allora chiedervi se lo sposerete? Chi amo cosi tanto.” She didn’t reply. She didn’t need to. As we got into the car she still hugged me and, much to my amusement, she lent over and kissed the steering wheel before laughingly saying,

“Avanti Santa Rita, avocata del impossibile”. Then she blessed herself and turned to me smiling really happily and exclaimed, “But Leo if you have called her ‘Santa Rita di Cascia’ you must be a Catholic too. I thought you were just a scholar.” I was tickled at the distinction and was still chuckling when we arrived at her house, a 100 year old terraced terra cotta fronted building in the mid-19th century style. I could tell her father must be a very successful lawyer to afford it. I also thought that they might well be the type of family that would be very concerned about their daughter eating out with a stranger, and a foreigner at that. I was glad to be able to reply,

“Yes my love, I am a Catholic but no ordinary one. I try to go to Mass three or four days a week. But my love of God is a spiritual thing, a beautiful experience of the soul, not like the feeling I have for you. I cannot explain the difference, but I just know how much I love you both. I adore you with a great feeling of always wanting you to be near me. Physically near me. What I have felt for you today I have never felt for another human being in my life and I never will. I just hope and pray that you feel the same for me. Your face lights up with joy whenever you look at me which makes me hope you are as much in love with me as I am with you. I do so hope your family will like me. What should I say to make them, Cara?” As we got out of the car my new found love gave me a beautiful smile.

“Leo. Just be yourself. I fell in love with an acquaintance of just a few minutes, I think you did too.” I nodded. “So simply be the Leo I didn’t even know and I will be very surprised if they do not like you very quickly. But, Leo, do not be put off by their formality. It is how they were brought up. Oh, and Papa’s name is Vittorio and Mama is Gemma. They will also want to know your age, which I think from what you have said is 23 if you have already had a birthday this year. Am I right?

“Very clever, and when I tell you my mother named me after the saint on whose feast day I was born, my second name is Leo, after Pope Saint Leo the 1st, who was also Tuscan, you can tell me my birthday, can’t you?”

“Can I? I am not so clever. But I should know a saint from my own part of the world. What is the date?” I told her April the eleventh. She was stunned, replying,

“That is mine too, but I do not know the feast day. I was born in 1945 and you in 1942 on the same day. Do you think we were meant for each other?” We were still laughing when the door opened and a very attractive lady of about forty two or three stood before us. She looked at her daughter with a somewhat censoriously quizzical expression on her face as she cast her eyes over me. Caterinetta spoke first. “Mama. May I introduce you to a distinguished history professor from Oxford University who is also helping Signor Tardelli this year while writing a book on 13th century history.

“Dottore Leo Watson, this is my mother Signora Gemma Pollini.” The lady said a little stiffly that she was glad to meet me, being careful to speak in well bred, very formal Italian. I then stopped her in her tracks by replying in even better Italian than hers. She looked a little annoyed as she invited me in and turned to her daughter, saying,

“You never told me the professor was Italian, Caterinetta.” Then to me, “you must speak excellent English to study to such a high degree at Oxford.” Caterinetta collapsed in fits of mirth.

“Oh, mama, Leo was born in England. Has the minister of justice been here today? He must have forgotten that bit. He thought Leo was Italian too.” As her mother acknowledged her daughter’s guess Caterinetta continued, “then you must know where he met us and that I was seen drinking brandy. Oh, please don’t worry about me. Leo is a very close friend of Luigi Tardelli.” The signora showed us into a delightfully furnished period drawing room and replied that the minister had been shocked to see Caterinetta drinking with an older man, and a foreign stranger at that, in public. But, in what I assumed was an attempt to make it impossible for me to understand, she said this in French. She could not understand why her daughter resumed her fits of laughter. I had to intervene.

“Signora, I live in Paris and I took my first degree, a LèsL, at the Sorbonne. Please forgive me for being so dreadfully over educated! But I am currently living in Lucca while I use the university here for research into the book I am writing.” The bewildered woman had not got a clue what to make of me, so I calmly and politely told her how I had met Caterinetta and the reason why I asked her out to lunch. I assured her we had just found we had the same sense of humour and she was a very amusing companion. I concluded, “after the tutorial with Luigi, I felt it was only polite to offer Caterinetta a lift home as it was already dusk and a young lady should not be out on her own in the evening.” She was lost, though still wary of me, and only said,

“But you drove her home in a really beautiful car. Did she enjoy that?” I replied,

“Ah, you too like Santa Rita. She’s my favourite possession. Caterinetta also fell in love with her.” The signora was surprised that I had chosen such a name for my car. “Well she is my favourite saint, and I do drive like somebody who really is a hopeless case behind the wheel”. At this she at last let her face break into a smile.

“Signor, I am glad you at least have such a pleasant sense of humour. I can see that my daughter would appreciate that. But will you please stay and have dinner with us. My husband will be back around eight o’clock so we should have plenty of time for you to drive back to Lucca afterwards.” I thanked her very much and accepted a Campari as an aperitif while we were waiting for Caterinetta’s father to come home. Our conversation was far more light hearted and enjoyable than I had expected and I soon saw that Caterinetta was right in advising me just to be ‘Leo’, not appear to be anything I was not. Mama had a sweet sherry to be polite but Caterinetta was notably abstemious. Her father came in just after 7.30 and his wife greeted him with, “Vittorio, we have the delightful pleasure of entertaining a distinguished friend of Caterinetta’s. Has Matteo told you he met her today?” The question was exquisitely phrased to make it plain she would never have posed it had she not already known the answer. Her husband smiled and bowed to me as I stood up to be introduced to him. He looked a good ten years older than his wife and his silver hair reflected his calling exactly. I took to him immediately and he also seemed pleased to see me.

“It is nice to meet a young friend of my daughter, and such a distinguished one. She has few real boyfriends and I often wonder if we have brought her up too strictly. But I can tell at once that in you she has made a very trustworthy and honourable friend.” I was touched and amazed at the depth of his understanding of the life he and his wife might have unwittingly inflicted on their daughter, albeit purely for her own safety.

“I am honoured that you should have formed such an opinion of me so quickly Sir. And flattered too. Thank you.” The meal passed rather quickly and at about 9.30pm I was surprised that the ladies should have observed the ancient custom of ‘withdrawing’ to leave the gentlemen to their wine. We promised we would join them soon, but I wondered who had suggested this old display of manners. I felt sure it was Caterinetta to her father and I was right. Hardly had we been alone for more than a few minutes than Vittorio said,

“Signor Leo, my daughter tells me you wish to ask me something?” I was taken aback and felt an awful fit of shyness coming on. So, I said what I wanted to say as politely and straightforwardly as I could.

“Signor. I only met your lovely daughter at 10.08 this morning. By 10.15 both of us felt something very strange and very wonderful happening to us and we found it hard to part from each other even for a few minutes for the rest of the day. I know this sounds like an awfully bad love story from a film, Sir, but it is true. We fell hopelessly in love with each other. However, I know that it is impossible to sweep a girl off her feet, and to expect instantly to live happily ever after. That is not real life. May I, therefore, ask you two things. Firstly, can I ask Caterinetta to marry me when she feels we know each well enough to be certain we can live happily together for the rest of our lives? And secondly, can I ask you to trust me to let Caterinetta help me with the book I am writing by working in her spare time at my home in Lucca where I do most of my work? There and at Pisa University. You have my word that I love your daughter far too much to take any sort of advantage of her in any way at all.”

He looked at me with a pensive stare and then asked the oddest thing. “In principle if two young people really love each other I would never stop them getting wed. But are you sure? Also, you have had a lot of academic success in your life but this does not mean you are necessarily wealthy. May I ask if you think you can support my daughter?”

“I am in no doubt at all. But It is the one question I was dreading you asking me. You see you might not want to hear me answer honestly.” His brows raised as he asked why on earth this should be so. “Because, Sir, in my current bank balance, at the last statement from Geneva where my main accounts are kept, I had exactly $12,746,298.21₡ And worse, Sir, it is the heaviest Cross I have to bear in my life. If I tell people my wealth they play up to me or try to borrow from me, and if I say nothing they find my shyness, yes I am painfully shy, just an annoyance and do not try to make friends with me. Can you imagine how I felt today when I fell instantly in love with your daughter, almost on sight. And she too fell for me. I found it unbelievable that anyone would love me whether I was a rich man or a pauper. That is how she has put it, and I believe her.” Vittorio was so struck by my explanation of my situation that I could see he was almost moved to tears. He simply said,

“My dearest Leo. I feel in my heart that you are a very good man and one I would be very happy to welcome into my family. Yes, you may do both the things you have asked me. Where do you stay in Lucca?” I ended our brief talk by showing him the pictures I had shown his daughter. He was lost at the beauty of my villa. We joined the ladies to find that Caterinetta had told her mother what I had asked to talk to her father about and, by the look on both our faces, Caterinetta’s leap of joy and the hug she gave me, melted both her parents’ hearts. Her father turned to his wife and said,

“Cara Gemma I have welcomed signor Leo into our family if that is what he and our Caterinetta want. He is truly a man of honour and also of considerable wealth.” Gemma was staggered at how rich I was and on seeing the pictures hoped they could all visit me in Lucca soon. Then Caterinetta laughingly said,

“Oh, and Leo, my two twin brothers, Paolo and Marco will be home next week so you may soon be getting fed up with too many of us.” Her brothers were sixteen and she assured me my knowledge of Italian football would thrill them. And after this I reluctantly had to drive home, but promised I would see her in the university the following afternoon. That was the only forecast I got wrong that day.

AWE (Chap 2 tomorrow, “An Accident In Racing Green”,  if the prompt is twistable)


<a href=””>Above</a&gt;


Above me the clouds floated in cream and grey, shielding me from the sun and sky. Or so thought I. But there were such pictures in my my mind, and a sound in my ears, that allayed any fears that the world was closing in on me. Quite the opposite as you shall see. On the soft grass of my garden lawn my body lay. It was a lovely sultry day and, through my headphones, I could play a piano concerto that outshone in beauty any grey-painted summer’s day.  And, through my head and ear I could picture Lucia and her soft loving smile. What had I done to deserve such a combination, if only for a while? Permit me to tell you.

You notice I said that I wondered why I deserved my peaceful, tranquil reverie. Yet deep down I knew that any joy I might enjoy was due solely to the way another person loved me. Bright smiling, dark haired, laughing eyes had captured me and taken me upon  a journey through the gates of any heaven that earth could boast. Of all the pleasure I had known  Lucia was the most, and in her way the gentlest, comforter of every indisposition I had suffered. When pain or depression threatened it was she who buffered me. Lucia in all, was that protecting wall that kept me happy, sane and able to live with myself.

Have you ever placed yourself upon that creaking shelf which is the last resort of any sort for those who have lived as they knew that they ought not? I have, and as I sadly approached the edge of that last hiding place, not even I could face the victims of my egotistical life, in which I twice lost a wife, two children and a friend. In every case the end was death resulting from doing what I advised or asked. My  first wife in Vietnam died in a mortar attack with our baby daughter, while strolling in a park I told them was quite safe. My Korean wife and my second daughter died three years later, driving their car too near a volcanic crater. As in my previous nuptial separation I said the road was fine. How on earth could I devine  the trembling of a mountainside would coincide with their journey? And Jim, too, took my instructions to cover a fire fight in a war, but never saw his mission’s end as the helicopter in which he was flying failed to negotiate a bend in the tall trees. He, and three others, died in the ensuing crash.

Thus, at the age of thirty four, once more I felt the lash of loss when enjoying being the all-knowing boss, I pointed friends and beloved people to their coffins, to be blessed under some foreign steeple. I was tearing my heart out in regret in a small church in a Tuscan town when Lucia first perceived my frown. Seeing my tears she quietly knelt down in the pew in front of me, praying quite still until I finally arose to leave my grief in God’s house and hands. She followed me to the door and then, before entering blinding summer light, she quietly asked, “Are you alright?”

Perhaps the hardest emotion with which to deal is being struck down by love of another person only minutes after dwelling on the lives and loss of others to whom you had been amorously attached. The love in Lucia’s eyes was not so much a surprise as gift I felt I could not accept. By loving twice I had already lost, to my shame and the cost of any self esteem, five people who meant everything to me. And now a sixth stood before me. How could I expect her to adore me when I told her my life’s story? Without saying a word she took my hand and accompanied me to my nearby villa. We were married within a month and shared each other’s happy memories and sorrows. Oh yes! She too had suffered, had watched both her parents die slowly from agonising illness. But, lying here on the green grass in the stillness of our villa’s lawn, I took off my headphones as she lay down beside me. Then she told me, “Caro mio, I believe a child will soon be born to you and me.  Imagine how happy we shall be?”

Touching my fingers, she pointed to the sun, shining at last through a break in the shroud of cloud. And so I knew it to be true; every love comes from above.







<a href=””>Imagination</a&gt;




Imagine being told you only have a week or two to live.

That’s happened to me three times in five years now.

Yet it’s never scared me, made me wonder a lot, yes;

But never caused tearful eyes, or any frowning brow.


Family and friends have been distraught, dejected,

And think my outward courage so admirably brave.

But then, they haven’t got my spiritual imagination,

They cannot understand why I don’t fear the grave.


If you think about it, I am really being  rather selfish,

Imagine believing soon you are going to know at last

What Heaven, and the God you love, are actually like.

Imagination is no longer needed, for human life is past.


But you still wonder, though, if in your time on earth

You were as caring and loving as you could have been.

You imagine God judging you, a weak, willing sinner,

While mercifully loving you, he accepts all he’s seen.


Keeping his word he balances the scales he promised

Would decide if your good deeds outweighed the bad.

For if they do, he’ll keep his word, making you atone,

For sins, your imagination knows have made you sad.


But a loving God never sends repentant souls to hell and

Only purgatory makes them wait a while to be with him.

Can you imagine having seen the most loving being of all,

Then being without him? There cannot be a state  more grim.


But the virtue of hope is now the one each soul’s imagination

Clings to. Regretting, in sorrow, any wrong they’ve ever done.

Knowing they fully deserve their short, unbearable separation

Until they earn eternity in the arms of their most beloved one.


Now, my imagination dwells on this answer to the mystery

Of life, and why we’ll not understand it until we are dead.

But by praying, believing and living as charitably as I can,

I love God more, awaiting Heaven with him as I go to bed.










<a href=””>Present</a&gt;


The operation, for the present, was the best hope I had,

Unless I wished, presently, to make my family very sad.

I told my dear wife and kids that as a present to them all

I’d be present when it was over and nought would befall


Me, nor angels be presenters of their last trump loud

Presenting me to Judgement before God’s holy crowd

For in His presence evil deeds would by them be heard,

With my presentiments of sinning, of my lies every word.


Yet my mind, saw no eternal visions of Heaven or of hell

I felt a present on a Christmas tree, wishing you all well.

Presently the anaesthetic left, assuring ear nose and eye

was back in the present tense,but it was not as tense as I.





<a href=””>Mnemonic</a&gt;




When age and memory start to fail,

Mnemonics are often used to hail

The return to their required places

Of old, forgotten words and faces.


So, if it’s my young grandson’s wedding,

I have to think of curtains and bedding.

Or, as my great grand daughter’s now two,

A double helping of gooey cake should do.


And for Choi Eum, my half-Korean daughter,

Just appointed a headmistress, I thought a

School photo of me, on parchment, would

Remind her I tried to teach her all I could.


For my dear wife, on our golden wedding day,

A special memory is being brought into play.

As I’m getting her a picture of us when young,

Before either could speak the other’s tongue.


Her face always reminds me of our life of love,

She know that I’ll always place her way above

Any  person who’s helped me when very ill or sick,

Just picturing her smile is my favourite mnemonic.



<a href=””>Insist</a&gt;


I’m having another biopsy later this week.

The surgeon tells me he just needs a peek

In my bladder, you should hear him insist.

He fears my cancer has spread to the cyst

That a scan has revealed, ok he said “shown”.

In my urethra a malignant tumour has grown.


It was my turn to insist, replying to his gloom,

“But already I have three cancers and no more room

For your surgery, chemo, injections and drips.

You know my spine’s a mess and think of my hips!”

But doctors know best and he’s afraid that I’ll die,

If I don’t let him stick a tube in me so he can eye


My urinary tract. And then it’ll be his turn to insist

That my name is placed on his next operating list.

All these investigations, will hopefully make sure

I will still be alive, though my quality of life poor.

In three days’ time I must decide,  ‘should I undergo

Surgery, to save or kill me, but which they don’t know.’


So I‘ve made my decision, and on this I really do INSIST,

I trust by my family and friends, I hope, I’ll be missed.

But my faith in God’s eternal love, so strong all my days,

Will insure my last words to Him will be prayers of praise.

And on ‘judgement day’, before Him, the joy I shall see,

When I die, will lead to purgatory and then Heaven for me.


Hair to the Crown


<a href=””>Permit</a&gt;

Hair To The Crown

“Your coiffeur stylist awaits your pleasure, M’am. Let us repair to the dressing room.”

“D’accord, Marie. On y va toute de suite.” Then majesty saunters somewhat regally into her boudoir. They have just hired for her the latest scissors and comb sensation from Vienna, Herr Cutt.

Marie takes charge as Herr Cutt has no French and Majesty refuses to debase herself by speaking German. But all have a basic understanding of English. “Majesty, the stylist would like to show you what he can do with your golden curls, falling so ravishingly onto your shoulders”, the handmaid declaims, and steps back as Her Cutt spends some time arranging a waterfall effect.

“Mon Dieu! You make me seem to look like a whore? Non! Changez it”. The cutter kneels to start again.

“Ich have eine idea for your ‘ead, Oh, queen. (This was pre-guillotine times) He toils again. But in vain. Marie is getting distraught.

“It is now five times you have messed up my royal lady’s hair, what sort of a fool are you? Just one last attempt, and if you fail you will be sent away without a franc.”

So Herr Cutt takes one last breath as he addresses the tresses and says, remembering a phrase he learned from the master hairdresser of Mayfair who taught him all he knows, “Oh, Gawd, Ducky, I suppose we’ll ‘ave to perm it!”








Don’t Ask Me

<a href=””>Inkling</a

Don’t Ask Me

“Did you know that inkling is an anagram of linking?” John asked.

“Well, I do now. But prior to you telling me I hadn’t an inkling,” William smiled back.  “By the way, do you know what an inkling is?”

For a second John wasn’t sure then said the obvious, “it’s a suspicion or very vague idea isn’t it? You know, as in the sense you’ve just used it. You sounded none too sure of the meaning of the word, you almost made it mean ‘clueless’. What do you think it is?” William stroked his chin,

“Well according to the Oxford English Dictionary it also has a very important element of secrecy about it. According to it’s philological origins it is simply said to be  archaic, in the sense that it has never really been clearly defined. But the secrecy bit appears in some literary observations that claim it is something which can only be whispered in a low, soft voice. Some definitions even claim it is indeed what you called it, a ‘clue’. This would naturally be something two conspirators would only whisper, or even infer, to each other. Fascinating, isn’t it?”

John frowned. Yes, I wonder why I brought the question up. I can’t remember. ….Oh, yes. I said it was an anagram of linking. But you know maybe that’s nearer the truth than we thought. I mean, perhaps it was a very quietly murmured word linking two ideas in such a way as to give the unspoken key to a pre-agreed verbal code. This could get interesting, William, if you took it one step further and asked ‘how long has it been in use in English?’ It is so very obviously not Norman or Mediaeval Latin, that the origin is almost certainly Norse or Celtic. Look you’re a historian have you ever seen any eighth or ninth century manuscripts that include the word, or one very like it?”

William shook his head. “No most of the stuff carefully transcribed in that time period was in Latin, so an inkling is something that would have had to be spoken, heard or recorded. Shame, isn’t it. I fear, John, that in our ignorance we are just going to have to settle for accepting a mystery.”

Which is an awful shame because the answer to their dilemma was staring them in the face. An inkling is simply anything which one has not got, or cannot even have. Well they did not have the answer to their question did they? They really didn’t have an inkling, whatever it is.

But they did have something importantly related to the question, to wit $50,000 a year for walking round the ancient quadrangle of their Oxford college daily discussing reams and reams of equally unadulterated rubbish.



<a href=””>Mild</a&gt;


It’s Christmas Eve evening, but no snow’s falling.

It’s Christmas Eve with weather so mild,

That once,  tomorow morning, I’m certain,

Was  born a babe, indeed the holiest child.

And to celebrate His birthday my prayers

Will be for everybody on earth that I love.

And my hopes, that every person who is suffering

Will be cured through his descent from above.



<a href=””>Bliss</a&gt;



How many of you can guess who this is? Very few I suspect, but his connection to BLISS and my life is quite a story. For a start I will put you out of your misery by telling you that BLISS is the main national neo-natal charity in the United Kingdom. It raises millions of pounds every year to help maternity units deal with very premature or seriously ill new born babies, while supporting the parents of such children in every way possible. And the connection?


L'immagine può contenere: 1 persona

Well this photograph was taken two years ago when my then 25 year old youngest child, Benedict, was given the national fund-raiser of the year award by the charity. Here he is seen addressing some 750 distinguished health professionals on the role of the charity at the annual AGM after receiving his award. But listen to this.

The young chap you see berating all and sundry about how much more they could do for this cause had a very good reason to feel so strongly about the subject. He was born on the 17th of October 1990 exactly 23 weeks and four days after his conception. Under British law he could just have been left to die, but thanks to truly caring and humane doctors and nurses he wasn’t. He now holds two records. He is the most premature baby born in Merseyside in the last century to have reached the level of academic and public achievement he has, and is happily married. He holds a lst class hons degree in physiology, a Masters degree with merit in the archaeology of death and memory and is currently in the middle of his PhD course in digital humanities. He is on three regional National Health Service committees, including being the youngest member of the panel which assesses proposed medical research programmes to decide whether they merit public funding. But how do we know the exact date of his conception so precisely? Well my wife and I had not long recovered from influenza and we made love for the first time in seven weeks shortly before she became pregnant. The only way we could be mistaken would be if he had been even more premature. The actual birth was an incredible drama in itself.

Three days before the birth my wife had an abscess on her appendix and she was rushed into hospital but they delayed the caesarean section for a day to give Ben one slim hope of life by filling his tiny unborn lungs with an experimental drug so he could breathe outside the womb. I was told that neither of them would survive. But the combination of medical determination and expertise, total nursing commitment to saving a virtually ‘certain to die’ baby, and the prayers said over both of them by the priest who baptised him as the umbilical cord was being cut, combined to perform a medical miracle. My wife and son spent many weeks in hospital but both returned home eventually with no lasting ill-effects of their experience save that we could not have any more children. And the chap you see at the start of my story enjoys his spare time helping look after the  needs of premature children like the baby boy he is playing with here. Indeed he has even written a short book on the development of neo-natal care  in the last 150 years.

L'immagine può contenere: 1 persona

It is thanks to BLISS and all it does that thousands of babies and their parents now have the chance of watching their children grow into the people they always hoped for. I, for one, can never thank all those people who helped us, and are helped by BLISS, for giving my wife and I a measure of ‘bliss’ that we never dreamed we would be blessed with.





<a href=””>Silent</a&gt;

Hi all,

I had another cerebral stroke eight days ago and am only just able to type one handed again, so I’m re-posting an old blog for today’s one word challenge. Don’t worry, Christmas is coming and I will be ok again soon.


(summer 2016)

Hello again. I am struggling at the moment to come to terms with the farce that has become US politics, Britain’s insanity in contemplating leaving Europe, North Korea’s nuclear mania and the Islamic world’s resurgence wherever post cold war countries have let it. And I do not just mean former communist countries, but all the powers that opposed them in the cold war. Well for all the people concerned I think I’ll update an essay of more than two years ago as it seems even more apposite now than it did before the so called Arab Spring. Too many have just sprung sideways as they flee war, terror and persecution. Just a few things to think about for my readers, as thinking is not my strong point at the moment.


We are now well into 2016 and marking the centenary year of the full horror of the first world war. It must have been very worrying a century ago today to be looking forward to another year in which most people in the Western world feared the conflict between Germany and Britain, if not more countries, would continue for much longer than expected. Here we had been living safe in the belief that the power of the British Empire would soon crush any military threat from Kaiser Bill. We were invincible in those days, or so we believed, and could see no further into the future in 1914 than a week or so ahead, because the world was not going to change and we ran it. What lessons have we learned since then?


To start with, we forgot that our power and wealth were based on the money we had accrued from our great days of industrial invention which spanned the century from 1770 to 1870. From then on, approximately, we were living off the wealth which our lead in the means and the source of everything we needed to maintain our place as top nation were dependent. This included owning our colonies and sitting back and enjoying the fruits of our forefathers’ labours there. The Germans, on the other hand, had spent the whole of the previous 100 years from Waterloo in 1815 to the start of 1914 in gaining supremacy in continental Europe, where only the French could keep up with them, and again only because of their colonial possessions. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to 1871 should have told us to stamp on the German threat then. But as most of our rulers had German relations we had neither the interest nor the inclination to do this. When the United states produced the first working aeroplane at the turn of the century the whole world should have seen that the New World was about to become the new Top Nation. But, those who did just sat back again, and lived comfortably off what they had. It was obvious to a blind man that the balance of power was shifting, but those who could have made sure this balance was carefully monitored, and controlled for the good of everyone, did nothing. And then there was another element that effectively changed the world in the last half of the nineteenth century.


Industrial wealth, and colonial exploitation of sources of wealth, were only made possible by the use of very poorly paid workers or slave labourers. Two works which changed the world’s approach to the poor appeared in the 1850’s and 1890’s. The first, Das Kapital, by Karl Marx, advocated a complete change in the world order and the levelling of all social orders under what came to be known as Communism. But this was a doctrine opposed to the personal possession of money, or almost any kind of property, and thus also was against any religious teachings which allowed people to hold what they had. The great encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, Rerurm Novarum, (concerning the new order of things) laid down, for the whole world, the first sensible rules governing the rights of workers and their duties to their employers. But most importantly it stressed the duties of those employers to treat their workers humanely and pay them a negotiated living wage. This idea that a trade union need not be anti-capitalist, but on the contrary a tool for making capitalism work better for the good of all, ultimately became the central idea of all political parties which used the word liberal in their names. But it took a war which killed millions of working men, but very few rich employers, to awaken the average citizens of all countries to the plight of workers globally.


Unfortunately, it also stigmatised the people who owned and controlled the means of workers’ earning their living, and the ignoring of the significance of this fact by too many governments for too long led to the second world war. This was basically revenge against the Germans for their fascist attempt to regain self respect, through blindly and cruelly following a madman. The shambles that was Europe after this led, in turn, to forty five years of dreadful Communist oppression in Asia and Eastern Europe from 1945 to 1990. If a Tory government had been returned to power in Britain in 1945, instead of a Labour Party with a huge chip on its shoulder and no concept whatever of world affairs, it is most probable that Communism would never have been allowed to survive in Eastern Europe, and possibly even China. We have come to understand our mistakes then, but do we understand today’s world?


A very different world map confronts us to that of 1914. Oil rich Islam controls the majority of the world’s wealth, and for the same reason as we and the United States did 100 years ago. The ethos behind its method of ruling the countries it controls does not allow for the inhabitants to have a say in what is, or is not, right concerning how the ordinary citizens conduct their own lives. We did this in Asia, Africa and the West Indies especially, but today we do it nowhere. Islam has another 623 years to go to catch up with our concept of democratic government; we can only hope that it will not take this long for it to change its ways. If it does not I greatly fear that the third world war will be between Muslims and the rest of the Industrial countries. Let’s hope Trump is never in a position of power to confront that situation because he would nuke the world out of existence.


But personally, I suffer from terminal optimism and do not believe that the average Muslim would let this happen. What I can see in the short term, however, is that the economic wealth which the world creates collectively is insufficient to allow all its inhabitants to live in the type of luxury currently enjoyed by many in the West. We all have to be patient, be content to settle for a lot less than we would ideally like, and above all be kind and helpful to each other with the ‘haves’ unselfishly giving all they can manage to support the ‘have nots’. Even if I will not be around to see whether I am right or not, I still fervently hope I can eternally pray for it.


Dear me, God has kept me going for more than another year and it is now December 2017. But all the worst scenarios have come about. Trump has brought the world opinion of the United States to its lowest ebb since Paul Revere managed to stay on his horse. We are just waiting to see whether he launches his first nuclear attack in the Middle East or North Korea. His strike will of course be pre-emptive in case the US gets hit by such a device itself. He might not be re-elected in 2020 if New York city has disappeared along with some ten million US lives.  What a delight if he had to take refuge in Mexico.

Then look at the people in the part of Asia Trump wants to nuke. I have as many blood relatives in South Korea and Vietnam as I have in the United States, some dozen in each. The thought of nuclear carnage killing any of them makes me feel physically sick. Trump really must be removed as soon as possible whether constitutionally or not. In North Korea Kim will be harder to dislodge unless foreign agents manage to assassinate him, but that is very unlikely and anyway I don’t hold with killing others just because they are mentally ill.

Then, in Europe and the UK, we have the Brexit farce. Over here we are watching our currency being devalued, our cost of living rising, our health service crumbling and our government not having the courage to admit that nobody understood the referendum last year, apologise to the EU and call the whole thing off before it bankrupts us as a nation.  If that happens, and Trump is still in power, he won’t raise a finger to bail us out and our national security will become a joke. I hope I will have cause to write something more cheerful about all this soon. 



<a href=””>Theory</a&gt;




I once developed a theory

In a doctorial dissertation.

The words, though esoteric,

Needing no extra explanation


For my academic examiners

Would never publicly admit

Their ignorance of all I wrote,

Not understanding a word of it.


The secret of gaining distinction

In rarified realms of academe,

Is never stating what you think

Merely making your theory seem


As though it is, in all probability,

Superior to all earlier thought,

Your professors had ever had

As they lectured and they taught.


My theory, such a simple one,

Confounded dons high and low

For I spoke it in a foreign tongue

None admitted they didn’t know.


All I argued was that the limit

Of all human scientific enquiry,

Could never be mastered totally

The future being part of entirety.


But I declaimed my dissertation

In Virgil’s rhyming, metric Latin

Which at Oxford is assumed to be

Easy for gowns, ermine and satin.


So, the moral of this, my verse?

Well, at least it is meant to be.

For a ‘first’, make pompous judges

Accept, in ignorance, your theory.



a href=””>Bite</a&gt;

You can see the bite

“Daddy! Daddy! You can see the new bite on our computer. I think the dog must have done it.”

I had a good look and it was just as I thought. Yes, there was an odd scrape mark on the side of the laptop but no way could a Labrador puppy have done it. He’s only three months old and has not yet got teeth or claws that could do that to a thick metal surface. I was inspecting it more closely when four year old Augustine – actually his seven year old sister Persephone is already threatening to sue us as the nicknames at school are getting worse – asked me whether computers could feel pain.

“No, of course not. Why, Gussie, what made you think they could?” He looked relieved,

“Well the manual says it’s got trillions and I couldn’t believe it could write in that much pain.” I made a mental note to remind my wife that teaching young children to read very well was only worth it if they understood what they were reading. My son looked glad as he said,

“It’s lucky I asked you before telling Ostramonious he was a bad little dog.”

I took only a few seconds to decide that ‘Persie’ and ‘Gussie’ could choose their new brother and sister’s names. My wife is expecting twins very soon and we know it’s one of each.

All that was six weeks ago and the twin babies are lovely. Persephone adores her sister Ermyntrude and Augustine is very proud of his brother Hyacinth. They want to get them a puppy of their own. They’ve decided on a sheep dog which they would like to name Vercingetorix.

My wife sighed as she looked at me today and said, “You know it’s nearly thirty years since we met at infants’ school, aged five, and we were always being put together to do everything because we were called John and Jane!”

AWE Read the rest of this entry »


<a href=””>Clutch</a&gt;


Oh heavens, you won’t believe this. I wasn’t drunk or anything, but today I bought my wife a really lovely Teddy Bear. You see I’d taken my youngest son and his wife, and my wife out to dinner a few days ago to celebrate something or other, her new promotion to a leading nursing role in our main Cancer Hospital I think, and on the way out of the restaurant we passed a charity shop. It sold donated items to support a chidlren’s  hospice at the hospital.

Well, when we got home my wife said, “Ton”, she always calls me that, “did you see that sweet Teddy Bear in the charity shop window? Well she’d make a super friend for that enormous cuddly bear you bought at the Scouts auction a couple of weeks ago. I’ve sewn his bad eye back on properly, and he was telling me how grateful he was as he could now see the other stuffed toys clearly, and was very sad because amongst the 79 animals there was no female bear.”

Now if you love your wife much as I love mine, the first chance you get you go in and buy the bear she wanted and tell her it’s a little girl bear, and a super friend for ‘Gladly’. Did someone say “Who the hell’s Gladly?”  Look its complicated, but the bear I bought at the auction was given that name after one of the worst jokes I’ve ever been told by a nun. My youngest son’s godmother is a nun and she told me once she’d had a Teddy as a small child and said she had to call him Gladly. Wait ’til you hear why.

“My mother asked me,” my nun friend said, “Why I’d called him Gladly and I replied, ‘after the bear in the hymn.You know the one with the lines,

“Dear Lord if it would ease your pain, Gladly my Cross I’d bear.” Well you see my Teddy is cross-eyed!” As you will have guessed so was the one I bought at auction, actually my wife was so sorry for it and with no one else bidding, I had to buy it didn’t I?

Anyway, this evening we took our little girl bear upstairs to the playroom, the kids are all married and left home but even though there  are only two of us we still keep the playroom properly for housing the toys. We called her Clare, after part of the children’s hospice name. My wife placed her on the sofa next to a very correctly sighted ‘Gladly’ and introduced them. You could tell it was love at first sight. And when we popped in to say goodnight to all the toys, you know before going downstairs for the evening’s telly, we could see that Gladly was clutching Clare to his  chest both of them in a state of total bliss.

By the way, I’m 75 and my wife, Pammie, is 70!




<a href=””>Gremlins</a&gt;

Oh No! You Idiot.

I once did the most stupid thing thanks to a very unusual Gremlin. You see I have a great way of keeping up my polyglot appetite for inexpressibles abroad. As some of you know I am totally bi-lingual in four languages – hang on that’s wrong. If I speak four that’s not bi-lingual it’s quatro-lingual, or is it? Avaunt all such irrelevances – and can write and get by in five more. But how do you think I keep up with them when my health stops me travelling much now? Listen.

If you know all the instructions on your computer, ie which keys do what, or which spaces mean ‘fill here with this type of information’ etc, you soon realise that you know instinctively what commands mean in other languages because they are in the same place as they would be in English. An example is that list of commands you get when cutting and pasting articles or just single words. I know where the command ‘paste’ is situated on my instructions list, so when I want to paste something in Italian I just hit the word ‘incolla’, because it’s situated where paste usually is. Note the use of ‘usually’ it’s the point of this post. Also note my computer is set up in Italian, like my Facebook page.

It also helps if you’re a sports fan, and if you follow a favourite pastime with a foreign commentary. You can see what’s happening on the TV so you know what the commentator is saying – as good as anyway. But there are times when these methods of expanding your vocabulary don’t always work.  For instance, I can read Korean well enough to scan a newspaper, especially photo captions, as I had a Korean girlfriend in Seoul who taught me their pictographic alphabet. It was a revelation. It’s based entirely on the 26 letters of the English alphabet and, around 1560AD, the king of the country devised a way of using a symbol to represent each of our letters. Clever man, but he did a rather obtuse thing. If he had a six letter word, say ‘friend’ he didn’t write the six Korean icons out in a line as we do. No, he put them in a box to make them look like a pretty picture. Hence friend translates as 친구 (the little man’s arms are actually two separate symbols incorporated in the whole). You should see some of the letters I wrote to Choi after my trip to Korea with President Thieu of Vietnam in the summer of 1969. She said she hadn’t had such a good laugh in years.

But I married a Vietnamese girl, Anh, her tragedy is told elsewhere in these ramblings, and she taught me the similarity between Vietnamese, as written in Western script, and French. Vietnamese simply has about ten more accents. But she was amazed at my almost perfect pronunciation of her language. I was no genius, I merely had a mother brought up in Glasgow whose native speech was incredibly similar to Vietnamese in its guttural accentuation of every second or third word.

But what has all this to do with gremlins? Yes, I remember, I was showing off about how one can appear to know words in another tongue by cheating on guessing their finger positioning. The worst gremlin that ever attacked me was when I was covering the world ski-ing championships in Chamonix in the French Alps in 1962. My Sorbonne university life included such short absences to earn a small fortune covering sports events for my father, Paris bureau chief of the largest US news agency at that time.

After the men’s special slalom we all sped for the press HQ, no instant communications in those days, everything had to be written and handed to a teleprinter operator as fast as possible. But as we entered the Press room there was a power failure. No communications via electronic cables for at least fifteen minutes, we were told, as the generator had to be started up and we were  all left in the pitch dark. But was I going to wait and not be first with the results? No way. I sat at the nearest typewriter, picked up what typing paper I could feel on the desk, and wrote the first four pages of my epic account of the day’s events, certain I had beaten everyone.

As the lights came on, I whipped up my four pages and was first in the queue to file my copy. Then I looked at it. It was some five hundred words of rubbish. Yes, in the dark I had sat at a typewriter with a Polish keyboard! At least my colleagues were so amused they helped me out when they stopped laughing.



<a href=””>Nest</a&gt;



“Nest is the only four letter word in English of which you cannot make an anagramme,” James said to Peter. Peter thought he was slightly unhinged.

“James,” he observed, “I should imagine you could be sent a whole lot of them, tens in fact.” Peter felt a bit of an idiot. He worked it out. What was it you did again, start with each letter and add the other three in order, like a four horse accumulator in gambling at the races. He tried it.

“Nest, Nets, Nste, Nset, Ntes, Ntse, Esnt, Estn, Etns, Etsn, Ents, Enst, Snet, Snte, Sent, Setn, Stne, Sten, Tens, Tesn, Tnes, Tnse, Tsne, Tsen.That made 24 combinations, the maximum for four letters. Let me count the actual words. 1. Nest:  2. Nets: 3. Ents (well Tolkien allowed it): 4. Sent: 5. Sten (as in gun probably): 6. Tens: 7. Tsen (well the English way of spelling a Chinese name): Yup, that’s the lot.

“Sorry, Peter there are only seven possible words. How do you make it ten?” Peter had a rather romantically wistful look on his face as he came out of a daydream and replied,

“Oh, I was thinking of all the girls Ilove and there are so many. How can I work out the number of girls who might yet be true to  me?” When you said ‘nest’ I immediately added a word and thought of my future love nest. Just for fun, what can you come up with for love?

You have probably gathered by now that James adored challenges. “Hang on a tick, I’ll see. I’m sorry, but let me do this. Love, Loev, Lvoe, Lveo, Leov, Levo, Ovel, Ovle, Olev, Olve, Olve, Olve, Vole, Voel, Vloe, Vleo, Veol, Velo, Evol, Evlo, Elov, Elvo, Eolv, Eovl. That only gives us three possibles. 1. Love: 2. Vole: 3. Velo (if you allow a French bike). I’ve ruled out Olev as I don’t think the Scandinavians spell it that way.” Peter stared at him in awe.

That night James had the oddest dream. He was being chased by a vole on a velo sent by Tsen and armed with stens as they attacked the Ents protecting the nest by the tens of nets sent with love from Peter .





<a href=””>Particular</a&gt;



You once said you wondered how old I am.

Please never ask me that, I’ll tell you why.

I am very particular about being truthful,

But that’s the one time I always tell a lie!


When I was eleven and going to the movies

I told the ticket seller I was well past sixteen

Though particular in all matters of veracity,

I’d have missed all those adult films I’ve seen.


Then when my eyes beheld a Parisian beauty,

Whom I particularly wanted gently to seduce

I could not tell her I was barely past eighteen,

“Trente”! My conscience said, we made a truce.


In later life, when sixty, I once again dissembled,

Some insurers are particular and fussily insistent,

I would never have earned so generous a pension

Without five extra years typed on their document.


But whenI die I must be honest on my gravestone.

The dates will be etched in gold and shining clear.

I shall be particular when telling the undertakers,

It’s 1942 to 20** How can one lie about that year?




<a href=””>Atmospheric</a&gt;

When It Mattered

“I say, have you ever been up in a plane, old boy? Eh? You know one of those four winged, dangerous looking things that people say can fly. Never even seen one myself, but I’m sure it’s all a lot of bosh really. I mean we are already in 1915, surely people in the modern world don’t believe fairy stories like that, do they?”

Cuthbert looked at Humphrey and surprised him enormously.

“Humpy, old man, actually I have. And they do fly through the air, and I’ll tell you something else. We are going to win this war with them too. I know. I am in the flying corps and pilot one.” His friend looked scared more than anything and merely replied.

“How do you mean? What can we do to soldiers on the ground when we are so far away from them up in the sky? It’s nonsense. No, give me a cavalry charge any day.”

Four years later the two friends were sitting in their club in London, Cuthbert being one of the small handful of pilots who had served throughout the 1914-18 war and survived unscathed to tell the tale. He explained why he had been right. “It’s all down to a thing called ‘atmospheric pressure’, my dear chap. Keeps us up there shooting, bombing and reporting on troop movements to the army generals. The Germans didn’t have a chance.”

“Oh,” said Humphrey, “didn’t the Germans have atmospheric pressure then, my dear fellow? I mean why did we have it and not them?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Cuthbert answered. “I only flew the planes, it’s the boffins who told us we did it due to atmospheric pressure, whatever that is. I suppose the Germans couldn’t make any.”

But the fact that it happened again in 1945, left none of the club members in any doubt that the British always invented the most important inventions when things really mattered and the chips were down.



I wanted to entitle this post ‘Pro Nobis’ but remembered that few people know much Latin now and it would have looked like showing off. But you’ll see why I wanted to when I explain the reason for this blog. It’s a few short words about prayers.

Whenever we want to have a chat with someone we love we always do one of four things. Firstly we in some way say I love you. When praying this is usually called praise.

Secondly we often want something and so ask for a favour of some kind. In prayer this is called rogation or asking. The most common reason for any communication.

The third thing we have to do a lot is apologise. ,’I’m sorry’ is an expression of sorrow at having upset someone in any way at all. If it is someone we love it is normally accompanied by a plea for forgiveness. This is probably my most regularly necessary form of prayer.

Finally, there is the fourth type of prayer. Today I had the most wonderful happiness I can ever feel when saying my prayers. I had just learned that something I had been asking God for was in the process of happening. After years of distress suffered by someone who had told me about their problem, and in doing so had come to mean a lot to me,they were at last seeing things improving enormously. I was able to look up to God and smilingly say “Thank you”. Believe me, whether in prayer or any human exchange, gratitude is the most loving and happy feeling of affection one can experience. Why? Because through it we know that someone we love reciprocates that love. So many people forget to say thanks, they don’t know what they are missing!