Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

Month: December, 2014

Over The Moon


To Be Resolved

The whole family were over the moon when I got the letter telling me I had been offered a place at Oxford University to read Mediaeval history. It was late December 1959 and I would be starting the following September. I also knew I would be immersing myself for at least four years in my passion for Ecclesiastical History, hopefully to the level of MA by the summer of 1964. I had won an open exhibition scholarship, and it was the closest thing I could imagine to being paid to spend all my time just doing what I loved best. At the end of that December I made a new year’s resolution to work diligently and watch my finances sensibly so that within ten years time I would be settled into the life I wanted and well enough off to enjoy it to the full. By then, who knows, I might even be married with a family. But each year, until December the thirty first nineteen sixty nine, I was going to review how well I was doing on my marathon resolution.

But our world holds many twists of fate for us and it is ironic that we never expect the really important ones. In March 1960 I was not expecting my father to be hastily posted to South Africa to sort out his company’s affairs as two senior members of the staff had managed to lose control of their emotions and get themselves jailed following the Sharpeville race riot shootings. The company was ordered to stop working there but Dad did a terrific job smoothing ruffled feathers, indeed so successfully that just after returning to London in May he was told he had been appointed head of the company for Continental Europe. He would be taking up his post in mid-August and would be based in Paris for at least five years, probably longer. As with my news from Oxford, the family was once more over the moon.

Have you ever seen what is on the other side of the moon? Let me tell you. It is that world in which we never even allow our minds to wander, asleep or awake. It is, above all, a world of unimagined surprises which invariably become our strongest memories in later years. I was about to receive my first adult one.

You see our family had a problem. There were just the five of us. Dad, Mum, who was chronically and seriously ill, my sister, fifteen months my senior and the best friend I had ever had, and my only surviving grandmother. My sister and I virtually ran the household as we got older because mum was bed ridden. Add to this the fact that my ageing grandmother was sixty four when I was born and, though she did what she could to help, as you can imagine by the time I was eighteen it was not much. Dad of course had to earn enough money to make sure my sister and I were really well educated and to provide the medical extras that my mother needed. He made an incredible number of sacrifices to ensure that all of us led the life he wanted us to enjoy. So in the summer of 1960, for the first time in our lives, when he was forty six and I eighteen, he had to ask me an enormous favour.

“Edward, look this isn’t easy, but I have to see if you can help me sort out a family problem. You know we are off to France next month and you will be going to Oxford in the Autumn, well I don’t know what to do about mum. Your sister is already a year into her university course at Cambridge and we cannot interrupt that, but is there any way you could change your place at Oxford for one at University in Paris? It would make all the difference in looking after mum whenever you could if you had enough time for your studies as well.” I reeled, and honestly did not know what to answer. Everything I had wanted and worked for during the last five years had been achieved and now, at the eleventh hour, it was being snatched away. I just prayed it did not show in my face. I am sure Dad would never have asked if he had known how much Oxford meant to me, but I assumed he did not and automatically I said I would try to find out exactly what would be involved if such a change could be arranged. But most importantly I told him not to worry about mum being properly cared for. I assured him that would always come top of my priorities.

As my sister, Helen, was at home at the time I told her what Dad had asked me and she hit the roof. “You’re joking! Edward he wouldn’t ask that of anyone, and certainly not you!”

“Oh be fair, Helen. With the amount of work he does and the worries we all pile on him he probably hasn’t a clue what Oxford means to me. How could he? My only problem is that I cannot see how I could get my French up to the standard needed to do a degree in Paris when I have never studied seriously in the language. But I’ll ask my history master. He got an MA at Cambridge in History, so he must know if something can be worked out. I do hope it can, because Dad has done so much for all of us this quite enormous promotion for him is something he really deserves. We could never live with ourselves, well I certainly couldn’t, if he turned it down because of me.”

She smiled and patted me on the shoulder. Of course she saw the point and wished it was her decision to take. “Edward, I am going for a degree in history of art and only because I enjoy it, but with you it could be your whole life. I know how much you want to follow up your research into the really esoterically abstruse minutiae of mediaeval church life, and above all the hagiography that would go with it. I also know that there are few scholars of your age around who know even half as much about the subject as you do. But have you thought that the Sorbonne University might be just as useful a place to follow your subject as any British university? I can see the language problem though.” We left it there and, as it was the last week of term and of the school year, I knew the senior staff would all be around for a few more days yet.

The school’s reaction was one of shock and disbelief. We usually got four or five Oxford or Cambridge places a year, but the kudos of one was very important to the school’s reputation and the news that I might not take up my place was not well received. After four days of hectic telephone conversations and indulgence in the ‘old pals network’ of academic friends, the best solution that could be worked out for me was to do an extra first year at the Sorbonne, which was not marked academically, although I would have to study the full course from the start again in my first year. This would mean having to spend an extra first year to bring me up to the required level of academic French, and four years in total for my LèsL, the equivalent of a BA in France. However, it was also dependent on the university in Paris accepting me at an interview and this was arranged for the last week in August. But Oxford was very understanding about my circumstances and even held my place open for me until the beginning of September.

Well, to cut a long story short I just scraped through the interview and was accepted at the Sorbonne. My father’s company also gave him an increase in salary because they considered me as still being a dependent child and student, so we were not hit as badly financially as we might have been. The following five years passed really quite enjoyably with the family living in a flat on the Ile. Saint Louis, behind Notre Dame, and within a very short walk of the university which also helped me. I made quite a few friends from lots of different countries, in particular Francesca, a very pretty girl from Pisa in Italy who became a genuinely important part of my life from the age of nineteen. Then, by the August of 1964, shortly after I had gained my degree, she was very badly hurt in a car crash. Helen had joined us the previous year to work in a French art gallery after getting her degree and she could see how badly I was hit by the news of Francesca’s accident. She spent extra time looking after Mum while I took the rest of the summer break in Pisa with Francesca and her family, helping to cheer her up and suddenly realising for the first time in my life that I was quite hopelessly in love. But it was not the ‘over the moon’ moment it should have been.

Her family had a lovely house in Tuscany and it was a treat looking after her. But there is a limit to how much one can do for a girl, however beautiful and encased forever in one’s heart, when she has to be pushed everywhere in a wheelchair and can only take a few steps on crutches, and that on a good day. After four years at university I was at a loss what to do for a career. I had always thought that had I gone to Oxford I would just have stayed there if I could, but there was no way I wanted to live forever in France. The one thing about being really good at a subject as unusual as hagiography, however, was that I could not actually get a job in it. I could have taught it, I suppose, and write books on the subject, which would never have sold, but neither option appealed. So I eventually settled for an offer from a leading American newspaper, the editor had known my family for years and he knew I could write, to work as a general news correspondent in France, Italy and Switzerland with a view to eventually becoming a full time staff correspondent. It was to give Francesca this news that I had driven down to Pisa the day after the crash and my news was quite overshadowed by hers.

Although we both could manage reasonably well in English and Italian we always spoke to each other in French. It had been the language of our meeting and subsequent relationship. “Hey, Edward, don’t look so sad. You have a great opportunity ahead of you if you take it. Think, I will always be able to follow the world news and know you are somewhere in the middle of it.” Her smile was too much for me. Lying there in her room with a crushed leg, broken arm and pelvis and a scar down the left cheek of her lovely face, she seemed to want to say goodbye. I could sense it. But I could never have said goodbye to her and gone on living happily myself. I think she also knew that.

“Cara, I have to start work in Rome in three weeks, and I don’t know how long I shall be there. But I shall come back to see you every weekend that I can.” She stretched out her good hand and clasped my wrist as hard as she could. Tears trickled down her face but she could not lift her body upright to kiss me as she so badly wanted. Instead I put a hand behind her head and drew her face up to mine and kissed her with all the passion I could convey given her injuries. “I will never leave you, Francesca, never. You will get better, the doctors say so and, no matter how long I may have to wait, one day I will marry you, I promise.” I had not nursed a crippled mother all my life without knowing how to convey love, hope and happiness when deep inside me I doubted if I even believed myself. We lived like this for more than two years as she improved very slowly, but I always fearing that she would never fully recover.

Luckily the paper liked my work and, as I was unmarried and was thus dispensable, in February 1968 I was posted as one of their two correspondents to Vietnam. The salary was good, even by American standards, and I was assured that most of this could be saved as it was the easiest posting there was for living off expenses. It should have been ‘over the moon’ time again, but my employers knew little or nothing about my little Francesca. That wintry day as I told her my news she was inconsolable. “No. My lovely Edward. No. Give up your job, resign but please don’t go so very far away to die without me. Oh, my Edward. Please don’t leave me alone.”

It was a dreadful moment. The worst in my life. My lovely Francesca, so stubbornly fighting to return to being the girl I had come to adore. Making such progress, too, only to have the spectre of my putative demise rise up before her and hurt her so cruelly she finally gave in to her true feelings and begged me, if I loved her, to stay with her and we would somehow find a life together. Her scar had almost disappeared and with my help she could walk again, if slowly, and we often went for short strolls together in the beautiful countryside around her home as she clung to me for support both physical and mental. She had not wasted her time since her illness improved and had nearly finished the work to gain her doctorate in languages. But both of us did not know what to do in the new circumstances. I too had continued studying to the level of a doctorate in history at university in Rome just to please myself. My family were really pleased with the success I had made in my career in journalism, and they would have been really upset if I had turned down such a good offer. Francesca’s parents took to me almost as a son-in-law in waiting. I would have happily married my Francesca there and then but she was adamant that she could never marry until she was fully well. Then I saw the new circumstances as an opportunity to get my own way in our ongoing dispute over our future,

“Francesca,” it was only four days before I was due to leave, “I want to do a deal with you. I can no more leave you than you can carry on without me. Well I told my boss yesterday that if the Vietnam job had not come up we would have been getting married very soon. He was very understanding and told me that there would be nothing in my contract stopping me from marrying whenever I wanted to. All the newspaper insisted on was that I was not married when they selected me to go to Asia. So if you came with me and we married after I had started the posting that would be fine. But I am the one who is making marriage the condition. As far as I am concerned the fact that you still have physical difficulties moving your legs means nothing to me. I just want you as my wife because I could never be happy carrying on living without making love to you.” I had played the only card I felt I had left.

“My Edward. Si. For you, si.” Her words lit up my whole world and once again I was ‘over the moon’. But we have spoken of the moon before. I wondered what I would find on the other side of this one.

Landing in Saigon for the first time, when rockets and grenades were in the air and all the civilians on the aircraft were so calm it was hard to believe the whole experience was not a dream, was both exciting and exhilarating. My only concern was how Francesca was going to manage disembarking. On the way across the world we had spent a week in Singapore where we had been married having arranged everything before leaving Europe. We had our honeymoon on a mile long beach on the Malay coast and all my lovely wife’s fears that her injuries would make her a total disappointment as a lover were proved completely false as we each found the other everything we could have hoped for.

Most people imagine a war zone that is daily under rocket and mortar attacks is not a nice place to live. But Francesca had a wonderful idea about how to pass her time while I did my work keeping my head down as best I could. She was told about a home for blind orphans aged between eight and sixteen, who desperately needed more people to help look after them and educate them. The voluntary medical and social workers were only too glad to have Francesca’s help, limited though it was. She was able to teach the youngsters three languages as well as help them in many practical ways and the set up was both therapeutic for her as well as a help for them. We had a flat in a modern block not long built by the American army for civilian workers involved in administrative war work. Quite a lot of journalists lived in this type of dwelling and we had a small and pleasant community in which we faced the trials of war together. Then one morning in June real terror struck. An early rocket and mortar barrage flattened the building we lived in. Two of my colleagues were killed and several more badly hurt. I was one of them, but in a way nobody realised at the time.

After spending several hours helping to dig out the injured I collapsed myself with what was at first just thought to be exhaustion. Then came the trauma. After being very dizzy and dopey for about an hour I actually lost consciousness and was out cold for some twelve hours. The medics put it down to stress and fatigue but the following day I found I could not focus properly and eventually was taken to the military hospital from where I was flown, with Francesca, to Manila, the nearest main city with decent American medical facilities. There I was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and we were both flown back to the United States where the newspaper took over the cost and trouble of looking after me. My family were extremely worried and Helen flew out to Los Angeles to see me. My employers appreciated our strange situation, that is our lack of anywhere to live. We had been in Rome and Pisa before going to Asia and I had given up my flat in the Italian capital. What the paper had to decide now was where they wanted me to work as technically I was hired by head office and so I had to return to America, which of course I had, before being posted to my next assignment.

Helen, Francesca and I stayed in a very nice hotel while the company’s doctors made sure that my experience had not left any lasting damage. After a few weeks they were happy that I could return to work, but where? In the course of my years travelling round southern Europe much of what I wrote was concerned with religion, politics and sport. But it was all centred on one part of the world and obviously I was going to be of most use returning to my former stomping ground. It was now September 1968 and the paper had just recalled their main European diplomatic correspondent from London to work in Washington. After several days of discussions, about which I knew nothing at the time, thank heavens, I was delighted to be offered the job of chief political correspondent in London. The salary was extremely good and when I asked Francesca if she would like me to accept the offer she was ecstatic.

“You see, Edward. Everything is now going to be just as we both secretly wanted it to be, isn’t it?” She was more than right. This was ‘over the moon’ time with a vengeance and we celebrated that evening with Helen who had to return to Paris the next day. A week later we followed and were given two weeks to find a house to live in in England and in general settle down before I went back to work. The best part of that particular journey over the moon was the news that under the paper’s insurance rules I qualified for a handsome injury compensation package, on top of the money I had managed to save during the six months odd I had worked in Vietnam. This left me with enough to buy a lovely house on the Thames near Richmond and still have a nest egg saved to help us start a completely new life. Francesca, too, was so much better that she got a very good job teaching languages at a leading school. Everything really was turning out as well as it could. Well almost.

Sadly, just after Christmas 1968 my mother became very ill and in the following February she died. Dad was badly shaken, but had been expecting it for quite some time so managed to continue in his position in Paris where he now had a circle of close friends and colleagues, including Helen who had recently married, and was particularly happy for Francesca and me. It had been on March the twenty first, 1960, that the Sharpeville shooting started the whole sequence of events that led to my life taking the path it did. I had a good job, but I still spent a lot of time keeping up with my favourite subject, the lives of the Saints. I had written two books on the subject but not the sort of work that one would expect to sell in their millions. I enjoyed writing them much more than the modest income I got from them.

Now for the last shot at the moon that seals this circular series of events which constitute these closely linked memories concerning my resolution all those years ago. In the October of 1969 I was at a party given to raise funds for all anti racist movements throughout the world, when who should I bump into but the senior tutor who interviewed me at Oxford when I applied for a place there ten years earlier. He was fascinated by what I was doing and had kept up with my academic work, especially my books. I told him about the story of Francesca and me and he was really interested in how much we had managed to study even during our war torn years. Three days later I received a letter inviting us both to the college I would have attended where several professors and lecturers were interested in our story. So interested in fact that we were asked if we would like to give four lectures a year each on our experiences and the subjects in which we each now held Italian doctorates. We could hardly believe it. We may not have been offered ‘life for ever’ at Oxford, but regular working visits to the atmosphere we both loved could start at the beginning of the next year. That December I suddenly realised I had kept my resolution after all but by a journey I never even dreamed of. And now, in 2014 I am still giving occasional lectures at the university.

Last week I spotted our two grandchildren in the auditorium where I was giving the last pre-Christmas lecture on my subject. I got an odd thumping feeling in my heart. Francesca said it was my reward for having done the right thing and put the rest of my family, and those I loved, first in my life. But Helen only smiled and told me it was simply the wonderful feeling of being over the moon again. I really don’t know what I think. I am just grateful and happy for all God has done for my family and especially my lovely Francesca. You can guess the new year’s resolution I am carrying over into 2015.

Anton Wills-Eve

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Who Dunnit?


Cause, Meet Effect

Who Dunnit?

Having written three full length novels, amongst the miles of articles, poems, news reports and love letters that have sprung from my keyboard over the years, I reflected that they were all basically romances. Some humorous, spiritual and both happy and sad but all definitely based on the burden that love can both place upon, and remove from, our shoulders. So I decided to give myself a complete change and write a detective story.

But there is one common factor in those first three books apart from romance. They all bear titles that are simply the names of the main characters. My first rather controversial novel, James and Jacqueline, received very mixed reviews. Some people just don’t like books on religious themes, even if the storyline is exciting, heart breaking and true. My second effort , John and Gemma was much better in the eyes of many because it really plumbed the depths of human emotions when two people are opposed on every side by relatives and friends who don’t want them to marry. So I lightened life up a bit in Glenda and Hugh and introduced a whole new approach to love. Two people drawn to each other by what they have in common in their likes and dislikes rather than just physical attraction. But frankly I felt I really did need a change so I set about my murder mystery. Yes, but what do you think it’s called. ‘Peter and Phylida’. Oh well, some things never change. But this book is changing me.

To begin with I seldom know my own story lines before I write a work of any length. With the love stories just the setting has been in my mind as I started them and this gets me interested in what is going to happen next. It has led to quite a few troubled nights wondering how my hero and heroine were going to deal with their latest crisis. Got me quite uptight on occasions too.

But, oh dear, it won’t stop. The most awful thing has happened. I have started a gripping tale of double murder, with a string of odious obvious baddies and several herrings which, if not bright red, are rather obviously pink. As Peter and Phylida are the work’s eponymous characters they have to be the amateur sleuths who have the thick, plodding policemen well beaten in their race to uncover all the twists and turns leading to the solving of the crimes. But I’ve hit a snag. As with all my works, except possibly when having the misfortune to be in charge of the news desk in Paris the night De Gaulle died, or when being nearly killed in a helicopter crash on the banks of the Mekong river between Vietnam and Cambodia, I don’t know what to write next.

You see my detectives cannot agree on what certain clues mean and so come up with different solutions to the events which rocked a small town community. Actually both endings would be equally good and I love them both, but I can only have one. So what do you think I decided to do? Well this prompt was about cause and effect. So I think I’ll name the endings A and B and take a coin and spin it as high as I can. If it comes down heads you get solution A and if tails denoument B. I hope if the poor people who publish this work of unalloyed crypto-suspense ever get to hear of how I decided on the ending they won’t just throw away the MS without even reading it.

That would be a shame, because I also could not resist making the main characters eighteen year old sixth formers in their last term at school who fall hopelessly in love right at the start. This gets my appalling inability to keep romance out of my novels out the way as fast as possible. Also I don’t actually want my readers to go out and search the highways and byways of their town to find, and strangle, the horribly precocious thirteen year old poetess who reduces our sleuths to tearing their hair out when judging a school poetry competition and having to read her absolutely sick-making entry. But it is a major clue so it has to stay. Now can you see what this prompt had done? Basically it’s made me put everyone off my next great work before it’s even hit the bookshops.

Ah well. Ask me to change my traditional writing themes and the effect will be that you have to wade through a disjointed thriller with an ending that only satisfies half of even the author’s brain. But do buy it when it comes out. That would be a really good effect!

Anton Wills-Eve

Who’s a Clever Boy Then?


Final Trio

Who’s a Clever Boy Then?

Once again I played my record of Dame Joan Sutherland singing the mad scene from Lucia di Lamamoor by Donizetti, one of the all time greatest soprano arias ever composed. Those who have heard it will know that the way La Stupenda, as the Italians called her, held the final top C was amongst the most astonishing achievements in the history of the human voice. Well she got it spot on again, not surprising as I always played the same record, and her voice smashed a crystal flower vase on the bookcase.

I was confined to my room for the rest of the day but it was worth it, both to hear such wonderful music and to complete a word press prompt in the space of just eight consecutive words.

Anton Wills-Eve

Peter and Jacqueline


Getting Seasonal

Peter and Jacqueline loved every minute of their Christmas and New Year when their parents took them to see Auntie Jill and uncle William and their new baby. He was born on Christmas Eve and his parents called him Nicholas after Father Christmas. It was a wonderful nine day holiday and they especially enjoyed helping their aunt settle in at home with their new cousin. Mummy and daddy were also thrilled and the whole family festivities were among the best they had known in their eight and a half years. Being twins they somehow always enjoyed the same things which made times like Christmas even more special.

By February the next year they were already looking forward to another Christmas but of course they had a birthday in June and they also wondered what to ask for for birthday presents. Whatever they wanted, however, they were disappointed because what they got was tragedy. They had little memory of the accident when the car was struck side on by a lorry on the motorway in April. Peter was concussed and sustained two fractured legs, a broken collar bone and worst of all was paralysed down his right side from the shoulder to the knee. Why the paralysis stopped there the doctors never knew but at least it meant that once they had mended and strengthened his legs he would be able to walk.

Poor Jacqueline was a much worse case. She had no serious physical injuries but the blow to the side of her head had left her in a coma and she still had not regained consciousness a couple of months later. As their birthday approached. Mummy asked Peter,

“Darling what would you like as a birthday present? I know it won’t be much fun this year with Jacquie so ill but you mustn’t be forgotten.” The little boy just stared at his mother in disbelief;

“You mean you think I want a present with Jacquie so bad? Of course I don’t. Don’t let anybody give me anything. Do you hear. Nothing from anyone. All I want is Jacquie able to speak and play and be happy again. That is the only thing I want. Understood?!” So vehement was his tone that his parents had a long chat and decided to cancel their twins’ ninth birthdays until Jacqueline was better. But that was the tragedy. The doctors had no idea when she was going to recover, or even if she was.

Her poor parents were distraught at the agony that had hit the family. They even felt guilty about the crash as they had escaped unhurt and only the back of their car was smashed in. But soon Peter’s legs started to mend and by the end of the summer holidays the doctors let him return to school as his paralysis had also eased almost totally and he could walk and write. But then came the real problem for the family. Peter had no interest in school any more. He could not play football or pay attention in class and, when asked by his teachers, was only able to say that he could not stop thinking about his sister. Half term passed and soon Christmas was looming with Jacquie still unable to move or communicate with anyone. She had a special ward to herself and was wired up with tubes and drips that were just about keeping her alive. Even a visit from Nicholas, now ten months old, registered nothing with the little girl. But Peter felt sorry for his little cousin and found himself at Jacquie’s bedside having a long talk with the baby and telling him all about how great life was going to be when the family were all restored to health. The grown ups and the doctors heard a lot of this and started to worry seriously about Peter’s mental state. How on earth would he cope with Christmas.

Again the little boy only asked for one present and refused anything else. At nine and a half years, though, he was able to realise how much some things mattered to his parents and aunt and uncle and decided not to spoil their Christmas. He helped decorate the house and the tree and told his mother that he had the oddest feeling that everything would be right. But he surprised her even more by asking for just one gift after all.

“Mummy, on Christmas Eve, in the afternoon could I have an hour to myself in Jacquie’s ward with her? Just the two of us and no adults or anyone interrupting us. You see I know it may be my last Christmas with her and I so want to tell her how much I’ll miss her if it is. But we’d have to be alone. I couldn’t do it if other people were in the room.”

His mother realised he wanted to say goodbye to his twin and she just managed to promise him he could have his wish before getting to her bedroom, shutting the door and crying her eyes out. She told the hospital and the family what Peter had asked and added that she would be dreadfully upset if her son was not allowed to say goodbye to his sister. Nobody even thought for a minute that he should be denied his wish and so it was all arranged as he asked.

At three o’clock on Christmas Eve afternoon they shut the ward door on Peter and Jacquie and a nurse sat outside the door in case she was needed. The others waited in the hospital coffee bar. Then at ten to four the ward door opened and a beaming Peter came out. He was glowing with happiness, joy such as nobody had ever seen in his face before. He walked slowly up to his parents and just almost whispered to them.

“You can go in now. She kept her word. As I asked her very slowly, in case she had difficulty understanding, if she would like to give me a present before she died she answered me. Yes she did, she answered me. She said, “Peter who said I was dying? I’ve been asleep, that’s all. You know you only had to ask to wake me up.” Parents, doctors, relatives and nurses rushed into the ward and were amazed to find Jacqueline half propped up on one elbow asking what all the tubes were for…..

Some said it was expected, some a miracle, some couldn’t make sense of it at all. But Peter just slowly walked in behind them wondering what all the fuss was about. As he told the family as they celebrated Christmas round Jacqueline’s bed the next day,

“We’re twins. I’d have known if she was going to die. Wouldn’t I?”

Anton Wills-Eve

Concerto in A Major Hurry


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/in-due-time/”>In Due Time</a>

 

The music impressario was never off the phone. The first performance of my third piano concerto was due to be given at the Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra  in three days time and I had not even finished the orchestra’s score to give to the conductor, Sven Gottstein, to start some sort of rehearsals. My mobile went  again and I almost lost my temper,

“Look, Johan, I can either compose in silence with just my piano, or I can throw the whole work out of the window because it cannot be finished with all these interruptions. Okay? Now you have no options at all. I will finish the score for Sven by midnight and he’ll have it in time to print off all the copies he wants and start work on it at noon tomorrow. Tell him I’ll be there to advise him when he asks and to play the solo part. Now go away. Capisce?!”

I don’t think he did understand  but at least he left me alone for the rest of the evening. I was actually doing very well with the first and final movements finished and very much as I wanted them. It was the quiet, lilting melody of the slow second movement that was driving me mad. I almost had a glorious tune in my head, but not quite. The more times I played it over and over the more frustrated I became. It sounded dreadful when I introduced the main theme again, borrowed from the opening bars of the first movement and recurring three times in all during the whole concerto. But it just sounded wrong played at the tempo at which I played it to myself about twenty times.

It was nearing midnight and I just gave up. To hell with my reputation or my career. this would be remembered as the one major work that did not quite come off and I would be slated in the music reviews on Sunday morning. But by now I could not care less. I just printed off everything I had written and put in order before ringing the bell for Jane to come up to the music room on our top floor and ask her to take the music score round to Sven. She looked worried.

“Darling, are you all right? You’ve gone pale and drawn and you look ill. Have you been overworking again?”

“No, just trying to keep to Johan’s stupid deadlines. That’s the best I can do. Tell them I’ll be at the Hall at 1.00pm. Sorry if I sound  short tempered. I had a really good melody going there but it just wouldn’t come out. Still it’s the best I can do in the time.” When she had delivered my manuscript to the temperamental conductor she came back to the flat and curled up on the sofa with me, calming me down and kissing some sort of serenity back into my fevered mind.

“You know I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost you, Jane. But as long as I have got you I don’t care about my music. You’re the only thing that comes between me, the piano and heaven!”

I actually turned up at the Hall at about half past two and Sven was looking at the end of his tether. Also some of the orchestral musicians looked at me rather oddly as I joined them all. Sven beckoned to me with his curled fingers and said, “Eh, amigo. Come here.Look at wot you ‘ave done. Is this ‘ow you really want this piece to be played? Eh? Really?” I looked down at what had happened, smiled to myself and replied,

“Of course. It is a new concept in the structure of the concerto. Just play the whole orchestral accompaniment to me right through and don’t say a word. And Sven. Let the orchestra play what it feels as well as what you direct. Now do you  begin to understand? Both the conductor and the musicians seemed to realise what I had done as they played the music through in its entirety but without the soloist accompanying them. When they finished they were stunned. Several of them whom I knew well just shook me by the hand, tears in their eyes and even Sven could not resist asking,

“What put such a brilliant idea into your head? I could not believe it at first but I am certain it not only works but will revolutionise the concept of symphonic harmonic structure from now on. I cannot wait to hear it with your piano accompaniment.”

That Sunday the classical music reviews were unanimous. But perhaps Justin Porkington-Cringe of the daily Bugle summed up all his colleagues’ opinions best when he wrote,

“And then, to hold back the beautiful slow andante, with its soft and spell binding melody until the very end, and finish a concerto with just the soft notes of the weeping solo piano as it slowly fell away into the sad ending of a wonderful variation on the main theme, was both a daring and brilliant innovation.”

Jane, doubled up with mirth on the floor of our sitting room as she read this, could not resist pointing out to me that in my haste I had given her the movements in the wrong order and the second movement had been played last. But I explained to her that it was only as I came to play the finale, on the night of the first performance, that the tune fully developed in my mind.

Anton Wills-Eve

 

 

 

The Language of Things.


Word Press prompt for Dec 16th 2014.

as requested this is written in a language only my wife and I understand!

My Darling Thingy,

I cannot stop thingking of you since you have been away. You know the sort of thing I feel,like a nightingale thinging before it dies or a thingamejig doing its particular thing. In my dreams you always wear the prettiest things, thingly disguising the thingy we never talk about that always turns me on.

Your own,

Thingy.

 

 

 

 

 

The song I have yet to sing.


in answer to the wordpress prompt challenge ‘unsung hero’ for dec 15th 2014.

THE SONG I HAVE YET TO SING

 

Today I read your letter recalling long ago
Telling me you still craved my loving heart.
More, that this craving still torments you so
That you wish we had made love, not strayed apart.

Who told you that my frozen heart was broken?
Who saw those shattered shards of ice ?
My darling, doubt not my loving or your own
For a passion like ours is no temporal device.

My life is filled with heroes I have seen
In every field of fame, some aged some young.
Yet none approaches what to me you’ve been,
My own unrequited love, and still unsung.

For more than fifty years your smiling face,
Strengthening my faith, belief and certainty
That God would sustain us by His love,
And reunite us both for ever in eternity,

Has helped me live through ages of despair
Lest never again would I touch your silken skin,
Your face, your arms, the beauty of your hair;
Nor kiss again your lips, nor hear you sing.

And so in all my prayers and all my praise,
I keep alive the fire that once we knew.
For, although we have reached our Autumn days,
Those shards of ice may yet kindle flames anew.

And even if we have to wait for paradise
Before we meet again, in heaven above.
There I’ll be your Dante and you my Beatrice,
As we kiss again, hearts entwined in timeless love.

 

Anton Wills-Eve

The real reason why not.


Answer to word press prompt challenge, kick the bucket, set on December 14/2014.

“I loved pulling Freddie’s leg, he took things so seriously. Now today’s prompt gave me a lovely opportunity to really have fun with him. We were relaxing with a coffee after lunch when a propos of nothing in particular I asked him, “Of all the books you’ve heard of but not read which would you least like to read?”

“That’s a bit of a daft question, old boy. I mean if I hadn’t read a book how would I know if I wanted to? Okay, by repute I may assume I wouldn’t want to, but I couldn’t be certain. Where do you get these ideas? Probably a Barbara Cartland Romance. I hate that sort of book. But that’s only a suppose.”

Being a professor of logic at Harvard Freddie could never see further than his subject permitted. There was no scope for the unaccountable in his world so I realised I was going to enjoy myself. I next asked him “Alright I see your point, Freddie, but tell me, of all the places you’ve heard of but never visited which would you least like to go to?”

He smiled his most educated vacant smile and said,”Now that is more sensible. I Am sure I would never ever want to visit the south pole. I hate the cold and that is the coldest place I can think of that one can get to. Yes, the extreme cold would definitely stop me from going to the Antarctic.”

This was better I was now ready to ask him the one I was sure he could not answer at all. “Okay, third and final question for today, Freddie, of all the things you’ve never done which would you least like to do? Take your time.”

“Well die, kick the bucket, of course. No sane man wants to die.” I had him at last.

“But you don’t believe in any sort of life after death, so to you dying would be something which would be a non experience. Yes, you could cease your life on earth, but we all do that eventually. Why would it matter to you when you died if that was the end of everything and it was just something inevitable over which you had no control? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Oh yes it does. My atheism just makes me want to prolong my life as far into the future as I can.” This was too much as I pointed out to him. Surely he wouldn’t want to become a dribbling, doddering old vegetable of 150 unable to speak, hear, eat or do anything for himself. He agreed with me if taken to that extreme. So I asked him to put a time limit on his earthly life. Half an hour later, as he grew more and more irate, we finally settled on a mentally fit 96 year-old who died a sudden and painless death. I rose from my armchair and was about to say good bye to him when I added,

“Lord,Freddie! You’ve only got 37 years, 216 days, 10 hours, 14 minutes and 12 seconds left to finish your book on ancient Greek epistemology. But God’s given me eternity to never actually finish anything at all while thoroughly enjoying myself. All I have to do is be a good boy while I’m on earth.”

My all knowing friend laughed out loud at this. “When are you starting?” he asked. “Immediately, or tomorrow morning after your date with Priscilla tonight?”

 

Anton Wills-Eve

 

Our Loving Quartet


I’ve done today’s alphabet challenge prompt in the form of an acrostic poem in which each of the 26 lines have to start with the next letter of the alphabet in correct sequence. If anyone queries xylographic it means carved ornately out of wood.)

just discovered this was posted a few months ago but when the ping was down

OUR LOVING QUARTET

 

Always and everywhere, Sue you are mine
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime divine.
Coming to meet me off the train every day,
Driving me home from the station to play
Evening  games with the twins, both smiling at me;
Fun for us all while they have their tea.
“Goodnight James and Jenny, God bless”,then a kiss;
Happiness is our home on days such as this.
Illness, however, makes us both forlorn,
Jenny and James crying night until morn.
Kneeling to hold a basin while they are sick
Looking at Sue, hoping they’ll get well quick.
Money too causes worries, have we enough
Needed to pay for their school fees and stuff?
Often we go without things we would like
Poor Jenny wants a dress and James needs a bike.
Quite often, Sue, you put your arms around me
Reassuringly smiling, telling me everything will be
So much better when my new job comes through.
Two weeks later I get it, my wage goes up too.
Unknown to you I cannot resist buying a surprise;
Very soon I’m telling you “Now shut your eyes!”
What tears of joy when you see my present!
Xylographic beads set in a silver broach crescent.
Yes, love rules in the house of our family quartet,
Zone of the luckiest, happiest folks yet.

AWE

Silence is white


SILENCE IS WHITE

Nine year old Amanda was almost an Alice in Wonderland little girl. Only child of wealthy parents she lived in a huge house with lovely gardens and some thirty four rooms, but she suffered dreadfully from lack of friends of her own age.Her parents paid for her to go to an exclusive preparatory school where all the pupils were of her own social order, but she never really got on with them and much preferred playing in her own garden by herself.

One side of the garden bordered on a public park and although it was walled in with a nine foot high hedge and a strong wooden fence, members of the public often used to try to climb up and peep into the grounds of Amanda’s house. She would wave to them but never speak. Her mother had warned her not to talk to strangers. And people did not come stranger than Jack the unfortunate deaf and dumb sixteen year old son of a local farm labourer. He often used to climb up and wave to Amanda and she often waved back. That is until that terrible summer’s day when Jack actually scaled the hedge and got into the garden.

Amanda was more curious than scared. The well brought up rich boys at school were nice enough but she seldom played with them, so when Jack walked towards her and tried to communicate in sign language she thought nothing of it. She made similar signs back and giggled at Jack, but she never said a word. That was not allowed. The only thing she found strange about him was that he was a lot bigger than most boys she knew. That was when her nanny came running out of the house and in an apparent panic snatched her up and hurried into the house with her not heeding her cries of protest.

A few moments later her father, stick in hand, stormed into the garden and strode up to Jack shouting. “What are you doing molesting my little girl in her own garden? Eh? Eh? Well answer me boy!”

Jack tried to use his sign language to signal that he did not understand the angry gentleman. But Amanda’s father grabbed him by the arm, pulled him indoors and telephoned the police.

The magistrate that day was Dame Celia, staunch defender of women’s rights, and in the eyes of many of the men whom she had fined or imprisoned, also women’s wrongs. She had virtually found Jack guilty before the case opened. The court official read out the charge against Jack…..“and then did attempt to sexually assault the aforesaid Amanda ….”.

The case against poor Jack, unbelievably fabricated by the prejudiced prosecution lawyers, included four witness statements from people who had been coerced by various means to say what they had seen him try to do to the poor little girl, screaming in terror. But throughout the case against his client Jack’s solicitor declined to cross examine anyone. He merely sat there and smiled.

Finally it was the defence’s turn to find some mitigating reasons for Jack’s apparent behaviour because by now the whole court assumed he was very definitely guilty. He rose and, addressing Dame Celia, asked if he might first call Miss Amanda to give testimony. He was quite aware she had been primed by the prosecution and nobody could understand why he had called her. But Dame Celia had asked Amanda, as permitted given her age, before the hearing if she both understood the charges and was happy to be questioned. She answered ‘yes’ to both questions. So the solicitor began,

“Amanda could you please tell the court what the accused said to you as he approached you.” Amanda raised both arms in the air and putting her hands out before her waggled her fingers around madly for about a minute before stopping for breath. Everybody just gaped at her. The solicitor asked her if she was feeling unwell.

“Oh no, Sir. You see Jack is deaf and dumb and he could only speak in sign language. I was trying to imitate him but my own sign language is not that good yet. I’ve only been having lessons for a couple of years. It’s so I can talk to one of my deaf friends at school. I think Jack was just asking me my name, but he seemed confused by my answer. I think I got it wrong. But it was only a white lie, not like the ones told by all those awful witness people daddy paid to blacken poor Jack’s name. He never came near me!”

Hear It As You Want To Understand It!


Ready, Set, Done!

The mess room was crowded and everyone knew young ‘Tuppy’ Musgrove had been having a fling with Elizabeth ‘Twice’ Knightly, the 18 year-old daughter of regimental colonel Sir Garth Knightly. DSO (and always at thebar). Will Chanceit turned to Freddy Betterstill and asked, half jokingly,

“What odds the colonel has a go at Tuppy this evening?”

“No bet,” was the reply. “It’s a certainty.”

A few minutes later the colonel approached Tuppy and silence fell. “Well Sir. Well!.”

“Tolerably, thank you Sir. Tonsils been playing up a bit but . . . .”

“Don’t you play the ass with me Sir. Do you hear Sir? I have it on good authority that you have been trying to seduce my daughter! What? What? Is it true, Sir? I shall have a straight answer in plain English, please. None of your flummery bar talk.” Tuppy looked up at the ceiling, hoping for a miracle and thinking of his English lessons at school. An idea came to him.

“Well as you asked for a straight answer in grammatically correct English, Sir, I shall give it to you. I can assure you, Sir, that your daughter Elisabeth is the most chased girl across whom I have ever come!” At which the mess room collapsed and the Colonel twisted his finger in his ear to make sure he had heard the answer correctly.

All Or Nothing


All or Nothing?

Jamie had never really thought much about the deeper philosophical things in life. He liked his football, his beer and his girlfriend. His job as a car salesman was financially adequate for his twenty two year old life but did not provide him with enough money to marry and settle down. Then one evening, sitting in front of the television watching a celebrity talent show on the sofa of Jane’s lounge, his eighteen year old girlfriend looked up at him and said, “Turn the sound down a bit Jamie, please I’ve got something important to tell you.” The automaton obeyed and looked at her not really very interested in what she wanted to tell him.

“Love. I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to have a baby!”

His mind still half on the awful programme he asked, “A baby what?”

“Jamie!” she shouted now, “a baby. A child, our own little kid. Aren’t you delighted? We can marry and live here for a bit until we can afford our own place. With my part time supermarket work we should be able to manage okay. Shouldn’t we Jamie?”

For the first time in his life Jamie came up against real life like a car crashing into a wall. What on earth did she mean? They weren’t going to have a baby, she’d told him they weren’t every time they made love. Didn’t she know? That was a woman’s job after all. Then he saw that she was not just smiling but looking happier than he had ever seen her. The brick wall that was real life then cracked and fell on him burying all his rational thoughts at once. He was dumb.

“Oh darling, be pleased. Please say you want a baby, Jamie. Please. He’ll have lovely curly hair and become a footballer and all those other things you always wanted to be. He’ll be wonderful. Honest.”

Finally Jamie spoke. “We’ll call her Madeleine. I’ve always liked Madeleine. It’s French and she’ll have long blonde hair and be a terrific success at everything she does. Just think Jane, she’ll go to uni and get a top degree and then become a TV or film star. In between roles she’ll stand for parliament and when she’s elected she’ll marry a royal Prince and we can live in luxury off the state for the rest of our lives. Oh, clever you Jane!”

“I didn’t do it on my own. Although it was the night Rovers won 3-0 so I might as well have done, but seriously. Could we call him Jake and even if he isn’t very clever we could help him with his soccer and he might scrape into a league side? You could train him, couldn’t you? And he’d earn good money even if he didn’t reach the very top class! What do you say Jamie?”

“Football’s too dangerous and there’s nothing in it for people who don’t make the big time. No he’d be nothing next to our Madeleine as she went on world tours and the press showered money on us to ‘tell all’. The only danger in her life would be fighting off the foreign dignitaries lusting after her. No danger there, though, when you’ve married into royalty and become chancellor of the exchequer!”

Jane and Jamie had a lovely quiet wedding a month later and eight months after that they were genuinely overjoyed when they both got their wishes. Twins, a girl called Madeleine and boy called Jake. Their parents earned enough to get by as they grew up and today the whole family is having a celebration. They are off to watch Jake playing for England in the world cup final, and even Madeleine has managed to get the day off from her job as a shelf stacker at the supermarket.

Anton Wills-Eve

A Day To Die For


Feeling Fancy

My own little Sally was looking thinner and weaker each day. It seemed almost impossible to believe that in a matter of months, maybe weeks or even after tomorrow, I’d never see her again. Well not in this life anyway. And she was fighting her cancer with such determination. Determination not to upset me by letting me see how much pain she was really in. Then an incredible thing happened. I still cannot quite believe it. But it happened all the same. I was offered as much money as I wanted to give her a day we’d both never forget.

Imagine how I felt. I could plan a really super day for her, and to see her as happy as she could be would be the greatest luxury I could buy. But what do you lay on for a bed-ridden, pain-racked girl of just twenty nine summers who could not even keep her food down. I had only a few hours left, as well, to think up a magical twenty four hours for her. My mind drifted back over all the things we’d enjoyed so much in the ten years we’d known each other.

Her greatest love was classical music, especially piano music, and when looking through the main concerts on in London the next day I saw that one of her favourite pianists was playing Brahm’s first piano concerto at the Albert Hall. Now that really would have been the centre piece of a great day out for Sally. But it was a non-starter as I was thinking of it. It was such a shame because she loved good food too and I would have booked a table at our favourite restaurant which stayed open most nights until after midnight.

Imagine Sally sipping a delicate Marsala as an aperitif and smiling in that lovely, loving way of hers as I downed my Campari. It was odd how similar our taste’s were too. We’d start with a plate of oysters and wash them down with a white Burgundy, a Montrachet 2002. Then our joint favourite steak dish,tournedos Rossini with pommes frites and a mixture of fried mushrooms, tomatoes and chopped red cabbage. If we drank a 2007 Crozes-Hermitage with this we knew we’d be in gastronomic heaven. We were never gluttons and would just leave enough wine to accompany some really soft Camembert to finish. Naturally an Armagnac with a coffee would help us relax at the end of a wonderful day.

Are you wondering how we would have started the morning? I am not writing this in the wrong order or anything like that, just telling it like it came into my mind as I planned what I wished I could do.Sally always liked taking me with her when she went shopping so of course after a couple of croissants and coffee I thought we would quickly make our way to Oxford Street or Knightsbridge and let her spend as much as she liked on any clothes she wanted, but most importantly a really stunning outfit for the evening. I knew she would insist on me doing the same. I could just see my little love going spare as colours did not quite match, or ludicrously high price tags were about to be rejected and then the realisation she could have whatever she liked lighting up her face and garments way beyond her usual reach suddenly being added to her wardrobe.

Such an expedition would eat up the hours but I would enjoy decking her out in all the finery she wanted just as much as she would enjoy wearing it. The addition of a gourmet snack for lunch at Harrods, where I allowed us a bottle of champagne, Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle, which would sooth our palates and could never spoil our appetites for later that evening, would make a pleasant break around lunchtime. But she would force me to visit Hawes and Curtis to replenish my stock of shirts and ties and then a quick visit to Regent Street for a couple of jackets, pairs of slacks and suits as well as a complete new evening suit and bow tie for the concert.

This would all take up a lot of time, despite the numerous taxi rides, but we would just have time to relax with a cosy cuddle at the flat before getting dressed to go out.I sat pondering this lovely, impossible day. I even rang the ticket agent to find I could book a box for the concert, just one left. Oh Sally would have been on cloud nine. But no way could my wonderful day be arranged.

As usual that evening I took my supper up to her room and lay on the bed as she sipped a cup of soup and twice had to press her morphine injector on her wrist to conceal her agony. I freely admit that as I made sure she had had all her medication and I had tucked her up for the night, I could feel a tear running unstoppably down my cheek. I just looked at her as I got into bed and saw the clock was showing eleven fifty five. Our ‘never to be forgotten’ day would start in five minutes.

I turned to her and as I went to kiss her goodnight she raised a weak but silken arm up to my face and said, “Darling. Kiss me. Please. Like you used to. Her soft mouth on mine was filled with more love and tenderness than I had ever known. I put my arm round her shoulders to return her love and the clock in our hall struck midnight. As our beautiful day began my georgeous girl went limp in my arms and her beautiful face fell across mine as she took her last breath. She was dead.

I couldn’t let go of her, she meant too much to me. But I would like to thank my unknown benefactor for giving me that lovely, lovely day which I never actually had with a girl whom I will never see again until God reunites us in Heaven.

Oh, and dear unknown benefactor. Please give all that money to those in need. I no longer have any need of it at all.

Anton Wills-Eve

Just for you.


                                   JUST FOR YOU

“Look Glen. I know I should have thought first and then hit him. But, my love, he said you were a bitch! Well what would you have done in my place?

“You’d what? This phone line’s bad. What? You would have shot him? Don’t be mad. Oh, shot him there. Yes, well I might have, but I don’t tote a gun! Oh, damn this line. Did you say one at a time? You must be a good shot.

“Ha, ha ,ha. Oh Glen! you would have been put in clink for that, good shot or not. Yes, if I’d had a gun I might have done the same. But my aim is not as good as yours. No! Calm down, I said ‘as yours’. Look change your phone!. That’s right, the green cell phone.

“Great, I can hear you now. what’s that? What did you say you were? Yes, Glen of course I know you are. I pay the bills don’t I? But he had no right to call you one. That’s just for me to do! See you at the club babe. No not this week I’m in court. Well he did say he’d sue me for that left hook.

“Of course you’re worth it my sweet. Hey,no more of your cheek. Hah,hah,ha.

“See you soon. Take care my Glen. Bye. Love yer. Ciao!”

Her phone shut down and she could not hear my kiss.

Anton Wills-Eve

A wiser man.


http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/recently-acquired/

Let me think. A month ago. Yes, that would be the seventh of November 2014. Now what really new, stunning, surprising and instructive aspect of blogging do I know now that I did not know then?

Strewth! Of course. November the sixth was my wife’s birthday and I did not remember until the next day. So what did I do? You’ve guessed it. I emailed her an unctious and cloying plea for forgiveness and included it in that day’s blog as well . What I learned she explained to me in some short and very pithy, forthright words.

“Well if you want the whole world to know you’re married to an old hag of 6- [no I can’t repeat it again :)] then go ahead. I don’t care if all our friends now realise how many lies I’ve told about my age for the last thirty odd years. But at least I’ll always be five years younger than you!”

The interesting novelty that entered my blogging world that day? Easy. If you must blog for heaven’s sake never tell the truth about your wife. Or if you do never let her find out !!

Take a Tip from Me


Gut Feeling

I  bumped into Len as I was walking down Fleet Street towards the office and he looked very glum. “Hey what’s up with you?” I asked “I’ve never seen you looking so fed up. Has Sandra ditched you?” He smiled,

“No, she’s about the only thing left in my life that I trust. I’m broke, old man, and I mean broke. I need at least £100 by tomorrow or I might as well cut my throat.” This wasn’t like Len at all so I quickly tried to cheer him up by asking him if he believed in coincidences. He shook his head, laughed and asked me why. “Well listen to this mate. The Grand National is being run this afternoon and I have a terrific tip.

“There’s a horse called Foinavon running and  I was born in a house called ‘Avon’ on the Thames. But wait. On top of that I support Glasgow Celtic at soccer as you know and the jockey is wearing Celtic colours, green and white hoops. Now Celtic have just reached the semi-final of the European cup and are having a great season. But the best is to come.

“Our house on the Thames was in Buckinghamshire and the jockey is called ‘Johnny Buckingham’. The horse must win. How could it lose?” Len fell about  grinning at my optimism and asked the key question.

“What are the odds?” I had hoped he would not go down that road but had to admit they were not very encouraging, it was expected to start at 100-1. By this time, as we turned into the bookmakers together, we both made out our slips for the race putting our money on the clear favourite Honey End ridden by Josh Gifford.

We met up again in the pub around six o’clock that evening both looking inconsolable. That day in 1967 one of the greatest turn arounds in racing history had happened when 22 horses were involved in a pile up at the 23rd fence and some even ended up carrying on in the wrong direction. But Foinavon was more than 200 yards behind the leaders when they fell and it slowly caught and passed the entire bemused field to open a 150 yard lead with four fences to jump. Gifford remounted Honey End and gave chase but Foinavon just held on to win one of the greatest Nationals in history at the staggering odds of 100-1. Len and I just looked at each other, shattered. He bought me a beer as he said,

“That’s the way my life has been going all week!”

“Well lucky you then. I nipped back into the bookies ten minutes before the race and put £20 on Foinavon for you. You can buy me another drink out of the £2,000 I’ve just won for you!”

 

 

Sorry Smart Phone


Sorry Smart Phone

“I am so sorry, Smarty. It was all supposed to go so well too. Waiting for days for you to arrive, and then in you walked with your shiny silver suit on and smiling at me as you were all ready to set me on the way to months of good fun. But you had not been warned about my total lack of expertise.

“Firstly I found I couldn’t send any of the texts I wanted. My shorthand text spelling was totally unintelligible to anyone but me, and then with difficulty. But the really unfair bit was the way my friends blamed you. ‘Not much of a phone you’ve got there if you can’t even text with it!’ Honestly I really did try.

“Then there was the farce of my photography. Bent into extraordinary postures while holding you at all the wrong angles I produced fuzzy images of the river at sunset near our home. The zoom was too close or too far, the shakiness of my hand made the street lamps wave, and some pictures were even upside down or sideways. I felt I was letting you down because your manual promised you’d make an ace photographer of me in a week. I’m sure you tried.

“Then there were the straight forward calls. At first I could  call people okay but my economics were all wrong. After a couple of weeks I signed up to a stupid plan and a fortnight later I found I had to phone ten hours a day up to the end of the month!  Well nobody has that many friends or contacts. Yes, I know YOU have now, but I haven’t! Who were half those people I didn’t know and still don’t?

“But you never gave up. You told me I could email using you and you were right. But I have three email addresses and I got them mixed up and nearly choked to death on a diet of spam until I binned the lot!

“Dear Smarty . Thank you for playing your part so well and trying to make life easier, faster, happier and full of more friends for me. I know how hard you tried. It was my fault you failed. But I can still get a lot of enjoyment out of just looking at you as I take you out of my pocket and you glint in the sunlight.

But I’m afraid dear friend, that your mission will never be accomplished. I am well into my seventies and by the time I have mastered even half the things you can do you’ll be out of date and I’ll be six foot underground. But I have one consolation to look forward to. When my time does come, instead of hearing the last trump I shall just be soothed by the beautiful dulcet sound of your soft ring tone calling me home to my maker. Thanks a million, Smarty, and I do apologise.”

Anton Wills-Eve

White House and Green Grass


 

 

The question under discussion at our seminar was how far would the United States get in saving energy if it was green for five years. Well the following is one theory.

“I bet it ain’t easy being green,” said the White House to its lawn, “How do you manage it?”

The grass cupped its blades in its golf-green like symmetrical sheaths and browsed for several minutes. Then, with one huge “Whoosh”, for its voice was necessarily loud, it replied, “Well, to me it happens naturally, but if you want to be green I suggest you try a coat of green paint. This would serve two purposes. Firstly the President would be living in a house that looked politically correct and, secondly, terrorists who only had out of date maps of Washington DC, would never find you. This would kill two birds with one stone.”

The White House was astounded. “Oh boy, just wait until I suggest this to Barry. It saves mega bucks. He’ll love it. So cheap and so neat too. Hey, Grass, you really have gotten some good ideas. Strange for a substance with so little visible energy.”

“Ah, Whitey, now you’re getting the idea. Low energy. Everything green is low on energy so together we could combat all the fuel pollution in the country with just a few cans of paint. Cute, eh?”

The White House was all for it. It really thought they had a winner here. But, as with all government funded projects it wanted to know the cost, especially who to bribe to get the cheapest job.

Grass put its blades into ‘house painting’ mode. After pondering for a few more minutes it asked Whitey, “Do you remember that Irish guy, really green Catholic, who was the boss here from January 1961?”

“You mean John Baby, whose dad was a diplomat?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy. Well he wanted to send all of us Americans to the moon – Oh boy does Joe Public land some real back seat drivers on us! – well Johnny fell for the old Mark Twain theory that the only good rocket scientist is a German rocket scientist. And you know what, Whitey? That made me think. Germans led me to think ‘house painters’ and wasn’t there a famous one back in the thirties? The flag on my tenth hole told me he ended up in a bunker and was never seen again. But rumour has it he retired to St. Andrews in Scotland and fell asleep after his one thousand two hundred and sixty first stroke at the seventeenth hole, and he’s still in the bunker there. Now when you talk house painters, Whitey, you don’t talk just anyone. You talk old Adolph! Whitey, he could double coat the Empire State in three days. He’s your man okay. Shall we go get him?” 

“Sure,” Whitey replied, “but I’ve got a problem. If you’ve got no energy and I can’t move at all, how are we going to cross the Atlantic?”

Grass was impressed. “Gee I didn’t know your geography was so good. How come you knew where Scotland was?”

Whitey roared with laughter. “Oh Grass. Don’t you know your Federal history? Ever since Ike got the key to my front door in January 1953 the only subject discussed here has been golf. Hell, Ike even bought an apartment off Queen Liz 2 in a Scottish castle so he could sharpen up his short game. Whenever there were no crises going on he’d snuck of to Balmoral for a quick eighteen holes. He wasn’t missed at first, not until the Fall of 1956 when Adlai Stevenson said something true about him in the presidential campaign and nobody could find him to reply.”

Whitey fell into a reverie. “Boy, did he teach tricky Dickey his trade! Dickey was the guy who told him where Korea was so he could play soldiers again and then ended up in my oval sitting room in 1969 trying to settle a little dispute in Vietnam. Oh those were were fun days, Grass, fun days. But this ain’t getting us to Scotland without energy.”

They were both temporarily stuck for ideas when three men came walking out of the White House and strolled across the lawn, apparently lost in contemplation of matters deeply important to the state and also to each of the three of them. Grass didn’t know them, he never grew fast enough to keep up with re-shuffles. Whitey introduced them. “The tall guy is Barry, my current boss, surely you know him?” Grass knew him, but not the other two. “That’s Joe Biden, Barry’s number two and the other’s John Kerry, Secretary of State. Then Whitey spotted something odd.

“Hey look Grass, Joe and John are discussing something secret with Barry.” They were each swinging bands of beads with Crosses on the end and Barry was examining them closely. He asked Joe first, “This is your secret weapon Joe? Some sort of anti-bugging device? Gee it’s cute, especially the little guy on the end.” John broke in, “No, Sir, these are called rosaries. The beads on them are for counting prayers on.”

“No kidding,” said Barry. “How do you turn them on? Can you reach Moscow with them?”

“No,”said Joe, “They really are for counting prayers and also letting everybody else know we are Catholics. Dual purpose energy savers.” He laughed, but Barry didn’t.

“Joe, Joe baby did you say energy savers?”

“Well yes, but only in the sense that……”

The president crouched the three of them into a grid-iron huddle. “Do you realise we are about to corner the world’s energy abolition technology.” And he just resisted kissing them. “Tell me boys, do they make these things in green? They would be easier to sell if they looked the part.” Joe seemed to think the new humble Pope Francis would love to produce any number Barry wanted provided the money went to feed the starving and housing the homeless.

“Look, I don’t know who this Frankie guy is, Joe, but give him whatever he wants. I want 200 million of these in green. Oh boys, you’ve made my day.”

John coughed, “Just one problem, Sir, Pope Francis is a South American. He’s got the whole of Argentina in his pocket and the Brazilians will do anything for him.”

“Leave him to me John, if he managed to get to the top of the Catholic Church he must be some dealer. I’ll fly over to see him in Spain, (“Italy,” interrupted Joe), yeah, right, and we’ll corner the world’s anti-fuel market. And you say he gives all the dough to the homeless and unemployed ? Oh this gets better, that’s two more of my problems he could solve”….. and they slowly walked out of earshot.

Whitey resumed his chat with Grass. “Guess that leaves Adolph at the seventeenth. Pity. Was he a nice guy?” 

“Couldn’t say,” replied Grass, “The flag never told me. But boy wasn’t it great watching our leaders hunkering down for a change and freeing the world from all those terrorists with no energy left to blow people up with. Makes me proud to be bringing up all my little blades Americans.”

I honestly believe That’s how close they’d get in five years! But much worse is the fact that the US would still believe it was the greenest country in the world!!

Ode To My Wife


A short reflection for December the 2nd.

Ode To My Wife

To thee, my wife, my love my life

I owe all pleasure I have known

My guardian through all harm and strife

Whose heart beats always with my own.

I offer thee everything that is mine

And pray each day in gratitude

To God who made thee so divine

Adopting no hypocritical attitude

In praising thy eyes, thy hair thy face

Without which I’ll die each morn and night

When thou art taken to a higher place

To dwell forever in God’s loving sight.

But, my darling, I well can see

T’is better mourning fall to me

Than thou remain, thy tears to shed,

Each night without me in thy bed.

********************************************

Overjoyed


I promised to start serialising my latest novel a chapter a day begining this month, but I shall have to delay for a week at least. So instead I shall be posting blogs, poems and stories such as this for the time being until I have my book as I want it. So those waiting for “John and Gemma” will have to hang on for a bit. I do apologise.

 

 

OVERJOYED

The whole family were Overjoyed when I got the letter telling me I had been offered a place at Oxford University to read Mediaeval history. It was late December 1959 and I would be starting the following September. And I also knew I would be immersing myself for at least four years in my passion for Ecclesiastical History, hopefully to the level of MA by the summer of 1964. I had won an open exhibition scholarship, and it was the closest thing I could imagine to being paid to spend all my time just doing what I loved most.

The world of academe, of which I so often dreamed, was at last a genuine reality and maybe for my whole life if I still wanted it to be as I grew older. But our world holds many twists of fate for us and it is ironic that we never expect the really important ones. In March 1960 I was not expecting my father to be hastily posted to South Africa to sort out his company’s affairs as two senior members of the staff had managed to lose control of their emotions and get themselves jailed following the Sharpeville race riot shootings. The company was ordered to stop working there but Dad did a terrific job smoothing ruffled feathers, indeed so successfully that just after returning to London in May he was told he had been appointed head of the company for Continental Europe. He would be taking up his post in mid-August and would be based in Paris for at least five years, probably longer. As with my news from Oxford, the family was once more Overjoyed.

Being overjoyed is being in a state of euphoric happiness much akin to the expression being ‘over the moon’. Have you ever seen what is on the other side of the moon? Let me tell you. It is that world in which we never even allow our minds to wander, asleep or awake. It is, above all, a world of unimagined surprises which invariably become our strongest memories in later years because they started as such wonderful moments of projected happiness. I was about to experience the first one of mine.

You see our family had a problem. There were just the five of us. Dad, Mum, who was chronically and seriously ill, my sister, fifteen months my senior and the best friend I had ever had, and my only surviving grandmother. My sister and I virtually ran the household as we got older because mum was bed ridden. Add to this the fact that my ageing grandmother was sixty four when I was born and, though she did what she could to help, as you can imagine by the time I was eighteen it was not much. Dad of course had to earn enough money to make sure my sister and I were really well educated and to provide the medical extras that my mother needed. He made an incredible number of sacrifices to ensure that all of us led the life he wanted us to enjoy. So in the summer of 1960, for the first time in our lives, when we were forty six and eighteen respectively, he had to ask me an enormous favour.

“James, look this isn’t easy, but I have to see if you can help me sort out a family problem. You know we are off to France next month and you will be going to Oxford in the Autumn, but I don’t know what to do about mum. Your sister is already a year into her university course at Cambridge and we cannot interrupt that, but is there any way you could change your place at Oxford for one at University in Paris? It would make all the difference if you could help looking after mum whenever you had enough time from your studies.” I reeled, and honestly did not know what to answer. Everything I had wanted and worked for during the last five years had been achieved and now, at the eleventh hour, it was being snatched away. I just prayed it did not show in my face. I am sure Dad would never have asked had he known just how much my Oxford place meant to me. I assumed he did not and automatically I said I would try to find out exactly what would be involved if such a change could be arranged. But most importantly I told him not to worry about mum being properly cared for. I assured him that would always come top of my priorities.

As my sister, Helen, was at home at the time I told her what Dad had asked me and she hit the roof. “You’re joking! James he wouldn’t ask that of anyone, and certainly not you!”

“Oh be fair, Helen. With the amount of work he does and the worries we all pile on him he probably hasn’t a clue what Oxford means to me. How could he? My only problem is that I cannot see how I could get my French up to the standard needed to do a degree in Paris when I have never studied seriously in the language. But I’ll ask my history master. He got an MA at Cambridge in History, so he must know if something can be worked out. I do hope it can, because Dad has done so much for all of us this quite enormous promotion for him is something he really deserves. We could never live with ourselves, well I certainly couldn’t, if he turned it down because of me.”

She smiled and patted me on the shoulder. Of course she saw the point and wished it was her decision to take. “James, I am going for a degree in history of art and only because I enjoy it, but with you it could be your whole life. I know how much you want to follow up your research into the really esoterically abstruse minutiae of mediaeval church life, and above all the hagiography that would go with it. I also know that there are few scholars of your age around who know even half as much about the subject as you do. But have you thought that the Sorbonne University might be just as useful a place to follow your subject as any British university? I can see the language problem though.” We left it there and, as it was the last week of term and of the school year, I knew the senior staff would all be around for a few more days yet.

The school reaction was one of shock and disbelief. We usually got four or five Oxbridge places a year, but the kudos of one was very important to the school’s reputation and the news that I might not take up my place was not well received. After four days of hectic telephone conversations and indulgence in the ‘old pals network’ of academic friends, the best solution that could be worked out for me was to do an extra first year at the Sorbonne, which was not marked academically, although I would have to study the full course from the start again in my first year. This would mean having to spend an extra first year to bring me up to the required level of academic French, and four years in total for my LèsL, a BA in France. However, it was also dependent on the university in Paris accepting me at an interview and this was arranged for the last week in August just after we arrived in France. But Oxford was very understanding about my circumstances and even held my place open for me until the beginning of September.

Well, to cut a long story short I just scraped through the interview and was accepted at the Sorbonne. Dad’s company considered me as still being a dependent student and agreed to pay my fees, so we were not hit as badly financially as we might have been. The following four years passed really quite enjoyably with the family living in a flat on the Ile. Saint Louis, behind Notre Dame, and within a very short walk of the university which also helped me. I made quite a few friends from lots of different countries, in particular Francesca, a very pretty girl from Pisa in Italy who became a genuinely important part of my life from the age of nineteen. Then, by the August of 1964, shortly after I had gained my degree, she was very badly hurt in a car crash. Helen had joined us the previous year to work in a French art gallery after getting her degree and she could see how badly I was hit by the news of Francesca’s accident. She spent a lot of time looking after Mum while I took the rest of the summer break in Pisa with Francesca and her family, helping to cheer her up and suddenly realising for the first time in my life that I was quite hopelessly in love. But it was not the ‘Overjoyed’ moment it should have been.

Her family had a lovely house in Tuscany and it was a treat looking after her. But there is a limit to how much one can do for a girl, however beautiful and encased forever in one’s heart, when she has to be pushed everywhere in a wheelchair and can take just a few steps on crutches, and that on a good day. After four years at university I was at a loss what to do for a career. I had always thought that had I gone to Oxford I would just have stayed there if I could, but there was no way I wanted to live forever in France. The one thing about being really good at a subject as unusual as hagiography, however, was that I could not actually get a job in it. I could have taught it, I suppose, and written books on the subject, which would never have sold, but neither option appealed. So I eventually settled for an offer from a leading American newspaper, the editor had known my family for years and he knew I could write, to work as a general news correspondent in France, Italy and Switzerland. It was to give Francesca this news that I had driven down to Pisa the day after the crash and my news was quite overshadowed by hers.

Although we both could manage reasonably well in English and Italian we always spoke to each other in French. It had been the language of our meeting and subsequent relationship. “Hey, James, don’t look so sad. You have a great opportunity ahead of you if you take it. Think, I will always be able to follow the world news and know you are somewhere in the middle of it.” Her smile was too much for me. Lying there in her room with a crushed leg, broken arm and pelvis and a scar down the left cheek of her lovely face, she seemed to want to say goodbye. I could sense it. But I could never have said goodbye to her and gone on living happily myself. I think she also knew that.

“Cara, I have to start work in Rome in three weeks, and I don’t know how long I shall be there. But I shall come back to see you every week if I can.” She stretched out her good hand and clasped my wrist as hard as she could. Tears trickled down her face but she could not lift her body upright to kiss me as she so badly wanted. Instead I put a hand behind her head and drew her face up to mine and kissed her with all the passion I could convey given her injuries. “I will never leave you, Francesca, never. You will get better, the doctors say so and, no matter how long I may have to wait, one day I will marry you, I promise.” I had not nursed a crippled mother all my life without knowing how to convey love, hope and happiness when deep inside me I doubted even myself. We lived like this for more than two years as she improved very slowly, but always fearing that she would never fully recover.

Luckily the paper liked my work and, as I was unmarried and was thus dispensable, in February 1968 I was posted as one of their two correspondents to Vietnam. The salary was good, even by American standards, and I was assured that most of this could be saved as it was the easiest posting there was for living off expenses. It should have been ‘Overjoyed’ time again, but my employers knew little or nothing about my little Francesca. That wintry day as I told her my news she was inconsolable. “No. My lovely James. No. Give up your job, resign but please don’t go so very far away to die without me. Oh, my James. Please don’t leave me alone.”

It was a dreadful moment. The worst in my life. My lovely Francesca, so stubbornly fighting to return to being the girl I had come to adore. Making such progress, too, only to have the spectre of my putative demise rise up before her and hurt her so cruelly she finally gave in to her true feelings and begged me, if I loved her, to stay with her and we would somehow find a life together. Her scar had almost disappeared and with my help she could walk again, if slowly, and we often went for short strolls together in the beautiful countryside around her home as she clung to me for support both physical and mental. She had not wasted her time since her illness improved and had nearly finished the work to gain her doctorate in languages. But both of us did not know what to do in the new circumstances. My family were really pleased with the success I had made in my career in journalism, and I too had continued studying to the level of D.Hist to please myself. They would have been really upset if I had turned down such a good offer. Her parents prayed regularly for her recovery and took to me almost as a son-in-law in waiting. I would have happily married my Francesca there and then but she was adamant that she could never marry until she was fully well. Then I saw the new circumstances as an opportunity to get my own way in our ongoing dispute over our future,

“Francesca,” it was only four days before I was due to leave, “I want to do a deal with you. I can no more leave you than you can carry on without me. Well I told my boss yesterday that if the Vietnam job had not come up we would have been getting married very soon. He was very understanding and told me that there would be nothing in my contract stopping me from marrying whenever I wanted to. All the newspaper insisted on was that I was not married when they sent me to Asia. So if you came with me and we married after I had started the job that would be fine. But I am the one who is making marriage the condition. As far as I am concerned the fact that you still have physical difficulties moving your legs means nothing to me. I just want you as my wife because I could never be happy carrying on living without making love to you.” I had played the only card I felt I had left.

“My James. Si. For you, si.” Her words lit up my whole world and once again I was ‘Overjoyed’. But we have spoken of the moon before. I wondered what I would find on the other side of this one.

Landing in Saigon for the first time, when rockets and grenades were in the air and all the civilians on the aircraft were so calm it was hard to believe the whole experience was not a dream, it was both so exciting and so exhilarating. My only concern was how Francesca was going to manage disembarking. On the way across the world we had spent a week in Singapore,technically my posting had started by this time, where we had been married having arranged everything before leaving Europe. We had our honeymoon on a mile long beach on the Malay coast and all my lovely wife’s fears that her injuries would make her a total disappointment as a lover were proved completely false as we each found the other everything we could have hoped for.

Most people imagine a war zone that is under daily rocket and mortar attacks is not a nice place to live. But Francesca had a wonderful idea about how to pass her time, while I did my work, keeping my head down as best I could. She was told about a home for blind orphans aged between eight and sixteen, who desperately needed more people to help look after them and educate them. The voluntary medical and social workers were only too glad to have Francesca’s help, limited though it was. She was able to teach the youngsters three languages as well as help them in many practical ways and the set up was both therapeutic for her as well as a help for them. We had a flat in a modern block not long built by the American army for civilian workers involved in administrative war work. Quite a lot of journalists lived in this type of dwelling and we had a small and pleasant community in which we faced the trials of war together. Then one morning real terror struck. An early rocket and mortar barrage flattened the building we lived in and two of my colleagues were killed and several more were badly hurt. I was one of them, but in a way nobody realised at the time.

After spending several hours helping to dig out the injured, I collapsed myself, but with what was at first just thought to be exhaustion. Then came the trauma. After being very dizzy and dopey for about an hour I actually lost consciousness and was out cold for some twelve hours. The medics put it down to stress and fatigue but the following day I found I could not focus properly and eventually was taken to the military hospital from where I was flown, with Francesca, to Manila, the nearest main city with decent American medical facilities. There I was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and we were both flown back to the United States where the newspaper took over the cost and trouble of looking after me. My family were extremely worried and Helen flew out to Los Angeles to see me. My employers appreciated our strange situation, that is our lack of anywhere to live. We had been in Rome and Pisa before going to Asia and I had given up my flat in the Italian capital. What the paper had to decide now was where they wanted me to work as technically I was hired by head office and so I had to return to America, which of course I had, before being posted to my next assignment.

Helen, Francesca and I stayed in a very nice hotel while the company’s doctors made sure that my experience had not left any lasting damage. After a couple of weeks they were happy that I could return to work, but where? In the course of my years travelling round southern Europe much of what I wrote was concerned with religion, politics and sport. But it was all centred on one part of the world and obviously I was going to be of most use returning to my former stomping ground. It was now September 1968 and the paper had just recalled their main European diplomatic correspondent from London to work in Washington. After several days of discussions, about which I knew nothing at the time, thank heavens, I was delighted to be offered the job of chief political correspondent in London. The salary was extremely good and when I asked Francesca if she would like me to accept the offer she was ecstatic.

“You see, James. Everything is now going to be just as we both secretly wanted it to be, isn’t it?” She was more than right. This was ‘Overjoyed’ time with a vengeance and we celebrated that evening with Helen who had to return to Paris the next day. A week later we followed and were given two weeks to find a house to live in in England and in general settle down before I went back to work. The best part of that particular period was receiving the news that under the paper’s insurance rules I qualified for a handsome injury compensation package, on top of the money I had managed to save during the six months odd I had worked in Vietnam. This left me with enough to buy a lovely house on the Thames in South West London and still have a nest egg saved to help us start a completely new life. Francesca, too, was so much better that everything really was turning out as well as it could. Well almost.

Sadly, just after Christmas 1968 my mother became very ill and in the following February she died. Dad was badly shaken, but had been expecting it for quite some time so managed to continue in his position in Paris where he now had a circle of close friends and colleagues, including Helen who had recently married, and was particularly happy for Francesca and me. It had been on March the twenty first, 1960, that the Sharpeville shooting started the whole sequence of events that led to my life taking the path it did. I had a good job, but I still spent a lot of time keeping up with my favourite subject, the lives of the Saints. I had written two books on the subject but not the sort of work that one would expect to sell in their millions. But I enjoyed writing them much more than the modest income I got from them.

Now for the last shot at the moon that seals this circular series of events which constitute these closely linked memories. On the tenth anniversary of Sharpeville, in 1970, I was at a party given to raise funds for all anti racist movements throughout the world when who should I bump into but the senior tutor who interviewed me at Oxford when I applied for a place there eleven years earlier. He was fascinated by what I was doing and had kept up with my work, especially my books. I told him about the story of Francesca and me and he was really interested in how much we had managed to study even during our war torn years. Three days later I received a letter inviting us both to the college where several professors and lecturers were interested in our story. So interested in fact that we were asked if we would like to give a lecture a term each on our experiences and the subjects in which we each now held Italian doctorates. We could hardly believe it. We may not have been offered ‘life for ever’ at Oxford, but regular working visits to the academic atmosphere we both loved started later that year and is still going on today.

In fact every time I spot one of our two grandchildren in the auditorium when I am lecturing I get an odd thumping feeling. Francesca says it is my reward for having done the right thing and put the rest of my family, and those I loved, first in my life.

But Helen only smiles and tells me that it is simply the wonderful feeling of being Overjoyed again. Only now I just enjoy it. I really don’t know why, but I have lost all interest in what lies on the other side of the beautiful moon of 2014. All I know is that God has been very good to all of us and I am just grateful and happy for all He has done for my family and especially my lovely wife.

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