Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

Month: November, 2015


<a href=””>Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star</a> what did I want to do in life aged 10 and did I?


                  THE POLYMATH MALGRE LUI

I wonder what the prompt setter meant by ‘the age of ten’? Did they mean at the age of nine years and 367 days or did they mean 10 years and 363 days? At that time in my life there was a huge difference.  Well think about it.  First I must leave aside my spiritual side for the moment, which was as loving and fulfilling at nine years as it has remained for another 64 years, to today. That side of my ambitions in life, ie wanting always to be in love with God, was very strong from the age of six or seven and has remained so despite all the various paths through life that I have considered. But how I wanted to spend my life, or at least hoped to spend it, changed several times depending on how I was able to see myself adapting my ambitions to fit in with the limitations of the awful mental ilness that has plagued me every day since I was approximately five and half years old. So why was ‘just ten’ so different to ‘not quite eleven’?

Well my main interest outside my family’s influence, such as Mum wanting me to be elected Pope or Dad’s ludicrous vision of me becoming prime minister or some similar absurdity, lay in three main fields. Music, sport and some branch of medicine.  These became firmly fixed in my mind just before I was eleven whereas a year earlier I really had no ambitions as such, just the enjoyment gained from indulging in sports and music. So I am going to start by outlining what I really wanted to do when I was fractionally short of my eleventh birthday. Firstly I was already by then very good at cricket, tennis and golf and basically loved competing in any sport that I could. Swimming and gymnastics would have been missing as I could possibly have won the world drowning championships and had absolutely no natural spring in any part of my body. But I was gifted at hitting, throwing or catching a ball in any game. So winning Wimbledon, the British Open Golf championship and playing test cricket for England or Australia – by birth I qualified for either and had dual nationality – were genuine goals of which I dreamed and over which I often fantasised. Not unreasonable at that age. But they were not careers, sport in those days was very much an amateur affair. So how did I envisage earning my living?

Well there was a lot of illness in our family and at exactly that time my mother was starting a terminal illness so I became fascinated in all things medical. I always imagined myself  reaching highly exagerated levels of success in all I attempted so I really did want to become a leading specialist in some branch of medicine. As the idea of cutting people open and fiddling around with their insides tended to turn me off, I imagined myself as some form of psychiatrist who would intuitively correctly diagnose all his patients and send them on their way cured of their demons and depressions for the rest of their lives. Very laudable in some respects but highly ambitious and over the top in reality. But where I would really have loved to make my mark and earn a good living  was playing the piano. I had been glued to the instrument since I was three and a half and by the age of ten really was exceptionally advanced as a classical pianist for my age. Also my mother’s genes may have had something to do with knowing I would get a thrill from the rapturous applause with which the audience would spontaneously acknowledge my outstanding genius. So which of these goals at that tender age did I actually achieve? Yes, of course you’ve guessed it. None! But why? Now that is a good story. Listen – or read if you prefer.

At the age of five and a half I first experienced the horrific irrational panic of an attack of agoraphobia that left me frozen to the spot unable to run or move in any direction, gradually losing control of my breathing and finally hyperventilating and passing out. Such fainting episodes left me unconscious for seconds only and often people would think I had just fallen over or tripped or something, but the gradually increasing apprehension that preceded these attacks, when I knew I was facing a situation where they could occur, made the fear of them possibily happening just as awful as the occasions when the panic actually took hold of me. So how on earth did I manage to play cricket and golf in the vast open spaces that both sports involved? Simple. All my close relatives, and I mean all over the age of twenty, and their friends drank like fish, so from a very young age I would ward off my mental demons with a good shot of something strong that could calm me for anything up to one or two hours. This started when I was about seven and escalated throughout my life until in my mid thirties I had to cut down and increase the tranquilisers I was on by then, or I would have killed myelf. But sadly it also meant that cricket and golf had to go when I was in my mid to late teens.

I was playing golf off scratch by the time I was sixteen but the strain was so bad I broke down on our local course one autumn day and just sat alone outside the clubhouse and wept inwardly for nearly an hour when I found I could no longer walk to the first tee without nearly a bottle of whisky or gin inside me. I just told my friends I was concentrating on my tennis and cricket as one of my three sports had to go. I was the best cricketer in our school by my last year there  and yet regularly had to play stupid shots to get out after just starting to hit the ball well. You see I could not stand, exposed, miles from anywhere. The boundary and pavilion got further and further away from me between the ages of 17 and 18 and our first team coach even gave me a really harsh ticking off after one game because he thought I was not trying and did not care if the school won or lost. How wrong he was, but how right as well. I had to stop. After the family moved to Paris in the summer of my last term at school I never played the game again. I did try to keep up my tennis, but good though I was it was impossible to get in enough practice with everything else I did, so my Wimbledon dream faded before it had really started.

My failure to become a doctor of global repute was actually much more interesting. At the age of thirteen and a half I had to decide whether to concentrate my studies on science subjects or languages and the humanities. After all one could not do everything. I was still quite keen to follow medicine as a career at that time but our senior science master had a long chat with me. He said it was the opinion of most of the staff that my maths would never be up to the standard needed to master university level physics and chemistry, which would have been necessary for a medical degree. I argued that I could quickly put that right with a lot more application  in order to master a subject that I found very hard. Unfortunately I missed a lot of school that year when I was struck down with poliomyelitis and had to agree, reluctantly, that I would never bridge that academic gap. So I never did any physics, chemistry or biology at all which naturally put paid to any thoughts of a career in medicine. I settled instead for taking advantage of my natural gift for languages and vocal mimicry and finally spent my time at university in France getting the equivalent of a Masters in history and French, Italian and Spanish. But I did become a doctor of sorts shortly afterwards with a PhD in ecclesiastical history and logic.

My love of sport was also rewarded when my father, European Editor in chief of a major news agency, found me plenty of freelance work between my studies covering a huge variety of major sporting events. The money was good and I went on to have a career in journalism, but always fighting my phobia as I still am now. But do I regret not attaining any of my very youthful goals? Yes, one. I would have loved to have played a concerto before a live audience, but alas my anxiety neurosis stopped me ever playing in public. But I still practise and play several hours a day and get more enjoyment out of this than anything else I do. I always have.






<a href=””>Teach Your (Bloggers) Well</a>

my lesson to satisfy this prompt, orhow to survive against the impossible



I looked forward enormously to that day outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Saigon, South Vietnam’s largest Christian building and a monument to French colonialism. It had been built to accomodate those lazy colonial administrators and worshippers who ruled French Indo-China more than a century and a half ago. They wanted to show the indiginous population the majesty of their imposed adoration.

But on that day in May 1969 it was not that wonderful church and its purpose there that I was adoring as I entered it. No, it was the lovely girl who was about to join me at the altar that we might be married and pledge our lives forever each to each in the sight of God. Anh really was beautiful and I the envy of my friends and journalistic colleagues. I often used to criticise the learned fathers at the second Vatican council in the early 1960s for changing the Catholic liturgy from Latin to the native tongue of each country in which holy Mass was said. I am an Anglo-Australian Catholic. My beloved Anh was pure Vietamese and in her religious practices, such as they were, a Buddhist. But the nuptual mass and wedding vows were said in French thus satisfying all parties. Her inability to learn all the tenets of the Catholic faith meant no more to the priest who wed us than it did to me. We both promised to look after each other and never come between each other and our god, whatever such spiritual experience that might mean to each of us. And the hymns we chose were sung in Vietnamese by the cathedral choir to music in a pentatonic key that I had never realised could sound so beautiful.

Now, what sort of a honeymoon do two young people have when one works daily at an orphanage for blind and abandonned infants and the other spends his time covering man’s inhumanity to man in the form of a war that was neither desired nor understood by either side? We only had two days  but by good luck I had been to University in Paris with the son of the head of state of Cambodia and we became good friends. Although, at that time, journalists were barred from the country on the other side of the Mekong river to Vietnam, I managed to get visas for both of us to fly to the wonderful Cambodian resort of Siem Reap and its jewel, Anglor Wat, a world of a thousand temples set in a forest and surrounded by a moat-like lake. In those days only a few tourists could visit those remnants and ruins of an ancient cult, and the calm and serenity of the spires and trees by the lake in the moonlight was as perfect a setting for a tryst for life as any place on earth. We only spent thirty six hours there as Prince Sihanouk’s guests, but it was more than either of us could have imagined we would ever experience. On our return to Saigon I wrote to the prince to thank him and was later to be instrumental in saving his life when the war spread to his country the following January. I must tell you about that some time.

Anh and I settled down to a daily life of  work and as much family life as we could get, living in a flat over my office by the presidential palace. We often helped each other out in our work and I always loved playing with the poor orphans that she cared for. Her sense of fun and love gave them hope and daily filled my heart with more and more love for her. Shortly after our marriage she became pregnant and I had to cajole her regularly into taking it easy when she worked too long or took on tasks not at all suitable for her condition. But eventually on February the 5th 1970 she gave birth three weeks early to a gorgeous little girl. I was over the moon with my wife and daughter. I chose Gemma, my favourite name, for her and Anh added Tuyet, very popular in Vietnamese. Given the dangerous circumstances in which we lived and worked, though, I  was keen that the baptism and Christening should take place as soon as possible, which it did in the cathedral soon after Anh and Gemma had settled down in the flat.

But we both knew that with a child Saigon, given our work, was somewhere we had to leave fairly soon. My editor in chief in London had written to me about this and I was told that in a month’s time we would be returning to England, first for two months much needed leave, and then I was going to be posted either to the United States or France. I told Anh and even little Gemma smiled as she heard the news. Anh was taking her for a short walk in the park by the palace opposite our flat. I waved to them and watched in unspeakable horror as a mortar shell, I know not from where, landed almost right on them and killed them both on the spot. My eyes could not take in what they saw, and I remembered nothing more about that day. My colleagues and friends both military and civilian did all they could for me but apparently it was obvious I had to get out of Saigon and fast. But I could not leave without burying my family. The funeral service was arranged for the cathedral just two days later. I had to be there.

I looked forward in mental and spiritual agony to that day outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Saigon as I walked towards the huge doors. There before the altar was the coffin containing my wife and the tiny immitation of it in which my little daughter’s body lay. A close friend who had worked with me for several months held my arm, well held me up to be honest, as I walked up to the front pew and collapsed rather than knelt in prayer. I did not ask God why, I think for the only time in my life I did not want Him to answer me. But as the Mass progressed I looked at Anh and Gemma and I did ask one Saint to help me mend my heart, lying in shattered shards on the cathedral floor.

“Antonino,” she said. I actually heard her, “stay with those who need you and love you it is the only way you will get over your sorrow. Go across the river to your Cambodian friends and when the war breaks out there, as it will very, very soon, continue Anh’s work helping the poor and the maimed and continue to tell the world how terrible acts of war really are. Just for a few more months until you can live with yourself again”.

The voice that spoke to me, or whatever was happening in my head, was the gentlest Italian sound I had ever heard. So I did as she bid me, and in a relatively short time those shattered shards began to come together normally once again. Every child I helped to laugh again and  deadly engagement  or bombing about which I wrote evoked Anh’s adorable smile or little Gemma’s infectious gurgling chuckle. I don’t know how they got me back to normal. But even after all that time, and another very happy marriage some years later, they are both always with me in my dreams and in my loving, mended heart.






<a href=””>I Can’t Stay Mad at You</a>

the art of never regreting, begrudging or accusing.



I sought out my love of former years

With no expectations, regerets or tears

Just a hope that we might yet re-ignite

Our flames of a former summer’s night

No promises were made so none to keep

Of any binding true vows to never sleep

On my part with any fair Anne or Maude

Or she with any charming Jean or Claude

Thus on seeing her again I felt a nudge

Of love and fondness but held no grudge

At the artless way she dallied with me

Accepting my kiss almost nonchalantly

For I also could tell with my roving hand

That other fingers had explored that land

And over the years there’d been many a lip

Had found its way twixt her cup and her slip.





<a href=””>A Tale of Two Cities</a>

I’m following the prompt very closely.


                          THE SALE OF TWO TITTIES

I first met Nicole in the old ‘Les Halles’ region of Paris in 1962. Apart from being the city’s central vegetable and meat market, open all night for those who supplied these commodities to the traders, it was also the area where the vast majority of the ladies of the night gathered to ply their trade to needy husbands of middle class French matrons. And I suppose lorry drivers passing through, the odd tourist – very odd some of them – and the lonely, occasional student like myself were also attracted to them. Those markets have long gone, as has that Parisian world I knew in its entirety, such was my love then of the capital of Gaul.

Now I was young, not yet twenty, and very shy in matters of the flesh. Yet being male I too had needs, but if I picked up a girl occasionally it was only after a short chat in which we also shared a sense of humour. If she lacked humour I knew I could never enjoy any time spent with her for any reason at all. Fortunately a lot of them faced the adversity of their lives with a smile and the appreciation of a good joke. Little Nicole was one of those. She was quite attractive, hence the title of my tale, but we had to confine our humour to her native tongue. It was a shame because my version of the name of Charles Dickens’ book about the French revolution, which was my favourite transposition of any famous novel title, was not a joke I could share with her.

But she had two great assets. And these also reminded me of a line I knew from a famous English poem, A.E.Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’. In this the eponymous hero somewhat wistfully recalls his youthful memory of his countryside’s ‘blue remembered hills.’ Nicole had a pair of those which were certainly one of her great assets. The other was the way she felt so sorry for the manner in which she had to earn her keep. She would chat to me, as we embraced, about the difficulty she had in going to church occasionally to ask God to teach her how to justify her life. But she was such good fun and I assured her that her clients were the real sinners in her plight for they sought her out purely for their own satisfaction. She, on the other hand, I was sure was forced into, and kept plying her nightly trade, by people who would have made her life a real hell if she had tried to give it up. She always smiled at that and then apologised for making it so easy for me to enjoy doing something which I knew I should not be doing.

But this is a tale of two cities and the second one in which I could spend most of the rest of my life is Lucca in Tuscany, my favourite region of Italy. I am fluent in the language and love the food and the people and the pace of life. The latter in particular is essential for the mental and physical comfort of an ageing blogger like myself.

I have another reason for loving being in Lucca. I was very fortunate when I came into a lot of money in my early twenties just after I had finished at university in Paris. I decided to spend some few months in Lucca, which I already knew, while I sorted out the rest of my life. A few days before I was due to leave I wanted to say goodbye to Nicole, not for any prurient last hurrah, but because I really thought I would miss such a cheerful yet sad friend. As I sat on the edge of the bed in her small room I asked her if she had any chance at all of leaving behind forever the life to which she was tied but not wed. She said the organised syndicate which controlled her would find her anywhere in France. So I made a proposal. No, not marriage, we enjoyed each other’s company but we were never in love. I asked her to come with me to Italy for a holiday and try to find a new life there.

Poor thing, she thought she had to satisfy me for a few months as the price of her freedom and I almost hit her.

“Nicou, ma petite. Nous ne sommes que des amies. All I want to do is get you out of this life and into a new one. I would not let you pay me in the only way you think you can. No, cherie, all I want in payment is for you to be happy.” To cut a long story short she came with me a month later, scared stiff as we took a taxi to the airport that she was being followed, and incredibly relieved when she was finally airborne and free to relax for the first time in seven years. We were both 23 and I put her up in a hotel room of her own telling everyone she was my French cousin. Within two months she had met and fallen hopelessly in love with a young Italian waiter. They married and I was able to set them up in their own modest restaurant which they ran as a very good little business for the next forty years before Alfredo died. But her two sons and three daughters still run the business and look after her. She is always so glad to see me when I visit my favourite mediaeval walled city and, truth to tell, we still enjoy a happy meal and a good laugh together.

The poor soul thinks I’m some sort of saint. Me!? Strewth no, but at least when she asked God to help her I was on hand and able to be his instrument. When next I go to Paris, though, my thoughts will not be on her. They will be on the price her poor city paid last week for it’s reputation as the best place in the world to meet a girl like Nicole.



<a href=””>One More Time</a>


well, connected to the prompt!

                                                           A VERY HAPPY DAY

I wonder how many of my readers know that today, November 17, is ‘World Prematurity Day’. Well for those of you who would like a happy memoir from me for once let me tell you why it means such an awful lot to me personally.

On a day in May 1990, after recovering from a prolonged bout of influenza, my wife and I were able once again to resume our usual, normal and lovely ability to make love. A few weeks later we went on holiday and were just settling down to a drink at the bar before dinner when my wife took a sip and screwed up her face. “God this stuff tastes awful”, she said, and could not face any alcohol for the rest of that evening.

As we were going to bed she suddenly had a thought. She hadn’t had a period for a while and, being 43 years old to my 48, neither of us even thought she could be pregnant. But that wake up call made her do some maths and she was seriously wondering if she could be. We had been together for some 18 years by then and always wanted a child but it just never happened. So we cut our holiday short, returned home, saw our doctor, did tests and things and the greatest news was true. She was expecting a baby.

The next twenty one weeks were spent with the usual chaos of hospital check ups, getting matternity clothes, planning the nursery, choosing names and everything an expecting couple enjoy so much. But then something went wrong. My wife started getting stomach pains. They got worse and eventually at 22 weeks she was diagnosed with appendicitis. From then on for more than a week the doctors did everything they could to treat it and protect the baby; but to no avail.

On October 17, 1990, from the scan photos we knew we were having a son, after giving her all sorts of drugs and doing everything in their power her waters broke. I signed a form to let them give experimental drugs to the baby to help his breathing and at 2.02pm they had to perform an emergency Caesarean section with little hope that the 23 week old baby would live. We had decided to call him Benedict and the chaplain baptised him as the doctors were removing him from his mother.

I lived in that remarkable place in my wife’s room for eight days while they fought to save both of them. Ben was so small he did not stretch from my finger tips to my wrist. My wife had had to have major surgery, as an abcess on her appendix burst, and was not able to visit the special care baby unit for the first week of his life, while I spent the time between each of them. But we had been very fortunate in our doctors and the care that was possible by then. Against all the odds he would not give up and we visited him every day for more than three months when he was at last fit enough to come home. Even then it was a trial as he was wired up to alarms and things to alert us if his breathing pattern changed. The little so and so seemed to realise that pulling on a tube, and thus waking up mummy and daddy, was the highlight of the night. Not ours! But let’s jump forward to today.

Our little Benedict was hardly ever any trouble through two schools and two universities. Indeed at sport and academically he was very bright and ended up with two degrees and no visible side effects at all from his prematurity except highly over-developed hearing. Last year he got married and is now working in various capacities on several committees that plan and help the health service and ‘Bliss’ the UK’s national charity of the newborn. But the really great thing about today is the appearance on Amazon of his first e-book on medical history called ‘Boxes, Bubbles and Babies’. The links to this are:

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

It is written as a short, highly informative yet entertaining history of the care of premature babies like himself, and was inspired by his study in university laboratories of the drug which saved his life at birth.

I said at the start that this was a happy memoir, as the whole of his life has been, and I get special pleasure from knowing that everything we and the medical profession did for him against all the odds is now worth so much more than just the effort everybody who cared for him put in. I hope those of you who read his book enjoy it, and remember all premature babies and their needs. Today especially!