Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

ONE BEACH, ONE HEAVENLY SHORE


ONE BEACH, ONE HEAVENLY SHORE

Asif felt the tiny make-shift raft bob up and down on the waters of the Aegean Sea. Land was in the distance, but far, far off. As far as he could see. Only his sister’s hand in his, as she slept, kept him in touch with any sort of reality. His mother and father had thrown them on their hastily assembled craft shouting “We love you. May Allah bring you safely to some foreign shore.”

Asif was only five years old and had lived all his days surrounded by angry shouting men, and ran rather than danced to the beat of guns. He knew he had to pray to Allah, but he had never been taught how. His kinsfolk had never had the time for luxuries like teaching between their daily forages for food in a land of mortar shells and flying stones. He looked at little Samia, a year younger than himself, and felt a glow of strength as he held her hand.

“Allah, whoever you are, wherever you are, don’t let my little sister die,” was all the little boy could ask and then, despite his new found valour, started to cry. A day and a night, a night and a day the little raft zig-zagged over the waves but Asif was sure the land was getting near. Samia had given him the few drops of water from the plastic bottle in her pocket and any crumbs that were left from their parents’ meagre pouch. Her big brown, sunken eyes looked pleadingly at her brother.

“Asif, I am hot and cold and hungry. Tell Allah for me, please.”  Once more the little boy begged his only source of hope to save them both, then brother and sister clung to each other all night for warmth. As daylight dawned on the third day they stared in amazement at the land ahead. A sandy beach was getting nearer every second. Their spirits rose as salvation seemed at hand. But a final hazard still delayed them. The wind got up and several yards short of sanctuary the raft at last gave out and sank. Samia could not swim but Asif made her cling to him, her arms round his neck as he made for the shallow waters from which he finally could walk to the beach. On land they both smiled and collapsed.

Father Francisco was taking his morning stroll along the sand before returning to say Mass as he did every morning on the tiny island with its hermit’s cell and altar. Other brothers would not visit him before lunchtime. Suddenly he blinked in disbelief, rubbed his eyes and stared again. He thought it was a mirage at first, a trick of the green sea light, but no, a little boy and girl lay on the beach. Blessing himself, thanking God and guessing their origin he thanked his Lord again  for teaching him some basic Arabic as well as Italian. He knelt and offered his hands to the little waifs.

Asif stared at this strange figure clad all in brown with a circle cut in his hair. He had but one thought in his head and, barely audibly, asked the hermit,

“Are you Allah? I asked you to help little Samia and me, and you did. Thank you Allah. Thank you.”

Tears streaming down his cheeks Father Francisco replied  in the little boy’s own tongue. “It was the will of Allah that you should be found, I am merely the person he chose to help Him. Come, I will find you some food.” As they walked towards his dwelling he  went on, “Children, there is only one God. He made us all. You call him Allah, I Christ, many people use many other names. But He does not mind. He is just happy that he has been able to show you how much he loves you by bringing you safely to this beach, this heavenly shore.”

AWE   

A SHADOW OF HIS FORMER SELF


the names changed but the facts kept.

A SHADOW OF HIS FORMER SELF

James was a shy little boy in many ways and for many reasons. He and his twin brother John had lived the first seven years of their lives always getting on well, laughing and playing but even so John thought his brother was often wistfully very sad.

“Hey, Jamie,” he asked him one day when they were seven and four months, “are you all right? You look fed up and frankly a bit frightened. I think mum and dad are starting to notice it too because they asked me the other day if you were being bullied. Are you?” Jamie took an enormous gulp, hung on tight to his twin’s hand and managed to say,

“Don’t be cross, Johnny. Please. I’ve got an awful problem that’s been getting worse and worse for over a year now. Please tell me what to do.”

“Well tell me the problem first,” John said in exasperation. There came another gulp.

“Very well, but you won’t like it. For ages now, Johnny, I’ve kept wanting to try on girls’ clothes. Whenever we go shopping I just look at them and wish they were for me. And I don’t like some of our rough boys games either.” John just stared at his twin. He had heard vague rumours, as one does at school at that age, that some children did not like the sex they were born with. However, he did not understand the subject at all. He was lost.

“But Jamie, how can you? What’s happened to you? Please try and tell me. I will help if I can.” His twin looked very relieved. “Well I’ve already put some of mum’s lipstick on. It felt great, Johnny. But I wiped it off at once in case anyone saw me. It’s the awful feeling I’ve got in my head, Johnny. It feels as though I’ll never be happy until I become a girl. I get so nervous about it too because it may be wrong. Then what will happen?”

John knew he had to do something, but what.”Shall I tell mum and dad that you are ill, would that help? You see you may be and then you really would have to explain your worries to people who can cure you. Dad told me once that people who get very worried always have to go to doctors. But they would understand if they thought you were very ill.”

That conversation was the start of an incredible nine months at the Smiths’ home. Peter and Esther had always been proud of their twin sons and had mapped out all sorts of fantastic plans for their futures. Peter was a successful tax accountant and his wife a leading member of the local SOS  group, an organisation that anonymously helped people in almost suicidal situations. She had already dealt with two such cases. She and her husband had several long talks with James, and Esther became really concerned that he had indeed got a serious anxiety neurosis about his gender and they agreed he should see a specialist in the field. Peter was frankly distraught at the thought of his son evincing such tendencies at the age of seven.

But worse was to come. First a health service specialist was appointed to supervise James’ case and became more and more certain that he should be allowed to cross dress if he wanted to. Peter said no, Esther said yes and the head master at their children’s prep school for mixed infants suggested that perhaps they could start by just letting James dress up at home but not in public. This only made the little boy more anxious and physically frustrated. So eventually, after Jamie had embarrassed his twin at school by telling his friends he dressed as a girl at home, the school relented and said he could change his sex and be legally registered as a girl at school. A special assembly, for the ten and eleven  years only, was arranged at which they were told of James’ illness. They were shown biological diagrams and were told gender change was normal. From the following week James would be coming to school dressed in a skirt and tights and would use his new legal name, Jennifer. How many children understood nobody knew, but they all promised not to bully ‘her’, as he would be, nor make fun of her.

Well, that day at school was called ‘skirt day’ and Jennifer was welcomed by everyone. She was over the moon. John had gradually got used to his brother’s serious mental illness, as the health service was legally obliged to categorise it until she was eighteen, and tried very hard to help her through the ordeal of their first ‘Jennifer’ day. The seven and eight year old girls in their year thought Jennifer was very brave and all wanted to play with her. Esther and Peter had arranged to be at home early to make sure everything had gone all right. Esther picked the twins up from school, and when they got home Jennifer could not help rushing upstairs to the study shouting, “Daddy! Daddy, it was great wearing a skirt at school today.” She dashed into the study, then stopped and looked at her father.

He was hanging from the ceiling light with a rope round his neck, swinging to and fro’, acccompanied by the shadow of his former self. 

AWE

PARDON MY FRENCH


I had to write about the word ‘grain’

PARDON MY FRENCH

in France quite a lot of people eat

‘un grain de blė’, as we say, wheat.

many more on ‘grain d’orge” gorge,

that is barleycorn, at mill or forge.

but medically ‘grains d’orge’ mean

seeds in joints which can’t be seen.

in ‘grains de moutarde, ou de grenade’,

‘mustard or pomegranate seed’ is had.

to speak really posh, refined, you say

‘le bon grain finit toujours par lever’.

meaning quality always rises to the top.

‘la récolte de blé’ is grain’s harvest crop.

‘un entrepôt des grains’ we call a granary

‘un poulet de grain’, a corn fed chick for me.

être en grain’ pigs love all the world over

it simply means to find oneself in clover.

‘un grain de café‘ is a brown coffee bean

‘un grain de poivre’, a pepper corn green.

‘un grain de raisin’ is a grape, pip, the lot.

‘un grain de beauté’ a patch or beauty spot.

‘un grain de poussière is a speck of dust

for a grain of salt ‘un grain de sel’ is a must.

if physics in science, however, turns you on

‘un grain d’électricté‘ is just one electron.

‘avoir son grain’ tells us he’s drunk in his bed

and ‘il a un grain’ means he’s gone off his head.

‘côté grain de cuir’ is leather’s grainy side too

‘gros grain’ is coarse, or pock marks, a few.

‘ruban gros grain’ is the rough side of photographs

‘temps à grain’, a sea squall, does not bring laughs.

there are so many variations of using ‘grain’ that we

avoid getting soaked by rain in a ‘fort grain de pluie’,

or being blown off the road and then onto the grass

by a strong gust of wind that’s called a ‘grainasse’.

but from nice folk we might ‘en prendre de la grain’,

benefit from their example, or simply ‘casser le grain’

that’s just eating as much as we think that we’ll need

until we all ‘monter en grain’, that means run to seed.

AWE

A SOLE OBSESSION


this happened when I was asked to write on ‘a Brick’.

A SOLE OBSESSION

When first reflecting on the single word brick, most people imagine many of them stacked together in all sorts of shapes and sizes to form buildings, towns and cities. But oddly I have never thought of a brick as anything other than just that, a single brick.

The first one I ever saw on its own was near the orchard wall on the side of our garden. It was very old. I was two so it probably had three hundred years more life than I, but it fascinated me by its dirty pinky brown colour and the bit chipped out of its side. I tentatively turned it over with my foot and recoiled in a toddler’s yucky horror. Stuck to its underneath was a nest of newly born beetles and two snails with slightly cracked shells. I felt sorry for them but was loath to touch them in case they might bite me. Insects and little life was something to be wary of at such an age. My sister, fifteen months older, was worse. She screamed and jumped backwards, tripped and fell over, ending up sitting in a patch of damp grass.

At that age I didn’t know the words to tell her  “You’ve wet your arse”.

The second brick to challenge me all alone came much later when I had grown to nearly nine. There it sat on the garden path, between two sticks. But something was wrong. It was pristine, new unmarked and looking as though it had just been made and placed there on the gravel. My mind by now was curious and loved solving mysteries. Where had it come from, what was its purpose for no building work was going on at home. I was not afraid of bricks by then and picked it up to inspect it. The maker’s name, Thos James and Son. was clear to see,written on it’s gutter side. This had been embossed and stamped on it after leaving the kiln in which it was given life.  That made me wonder. Did it have parents, a whole family. Who were its kith and did its kiln have kin?

As I turned over in my hand the mason’s object, which he would coat with cement and change into an artefact of his trade with a triangular shaped tool, to add to many thousands more, I had a thought. Had this single brick been bought for its outstanding beauty, was it a pearl of its culture, cultured as pearls so often were? I only knew I had heard these words, I had no idea what one did to culture a pearl or anything else. But my boy’s mind wound magic properties round that brick, was it made uniquely for a jugglers  trick? Or had some foul felon commissioned just such a weapon, to throw at a millionaire’s window and gain entrance to priceless jewels in a study safe? That would be done by night, so was this brick fashioned by an alchemist at dusk and sold to some fiendish foe of Sherlock Holmes, whose tomes of detection were just entering the realm of my greedy young reader’s devouring mind? I dropped it on the ground, and later wondered was it ever found?

The next sole brick I used aged sixteen and for a sole purpose. I placed it oblong shape up beneath a window to peep in. My sister had taken a new boy friend into the withdrawing room and my mother forbade me to join them. What could they be doing? I had to see, so after a late tea I went round the side of the house and thought. ‘I’ll pick a brick’. First brushing off a lazy louse, I placed it at the perfect angle, stood on its top one footed and stretched up until I could see. They were only drinking cups of tea. In my chagrin I lost my balance as well, twisting my ankle very painfully. I watched it swell but could never say how I had injured myself that stupidly innocent day.

You would think as I grew older I would lose my interest in mundane things. Well on the whole I did, but on one glorious day at university I had my greatest encounter with a single brick. I was twenty years old and the college walls were half as old as time. The same one where someone wrote that famous Newdigate prize rhyme. The porter was helping to erect a wall,  just by the master’s lodge, to stop any bat or ball from breaking  downstairs windows. When from his wheelbarrow a brick fell free and, of course, it fell near me. Remembering my ancient passion for all things ‘brick’ I picked it up and took it back to my student rooms. There, amid  objets d’art and books, I put it in a place of honour and soon it became a talking point. “That brick anything special, John?” I was asked.

“Worth several thousand,” I replied looking at its admirer’s face aghast.

“You paid that much just for a brick?” I nodded, but demurely refused to comment on what was the significance of the scratched engraving on it. Soon students came from all around to examine, marvel and shake their heads. It really was a wondrous hoax, that I kept up until the day I left. That was when  a rich American girl took me aside and offered me an enormous sum to buy it for her antique collection. When she left I had pocketed twenty thousand pounds, I never did hear if it was seen again. But I rather think not, for she took it home to Idaho. Where it’s probably got pride of place on her family’s old piano.

AWE

SOLVING A COUNTLESS PROBLEM


the prompt was a blog on the word ‘countless’

SOLVING A COUNTLESS PROBLEM

In Mediaeval central France, around the time King Saint Louis IX died in 1270 while on crusade, a small territory in the centre of the Loire valley found itself in a most unfortunate situation. Its countless peasants, merchants, burghers and noblemen found themselves literally Countless. Le Comte Pierre le Pauvre had died in penury, and being a bald bachelor had left neither hair nor heir.

It was by no means a huge Comté, indeed more like one of the small English counties which abounded at that time, still do. The size of Wiltshire? Yes, maybe so. But, although of little significance politically or strategically, it had one asset which every inhabitant knew  could make them very rich if properly managed. The wine grown on those few banks of the Loire  was of a magnificent quality. Indeed the seven vineyards which claimed to produce the finest wine all insisted that the Knight, Nobleman, merchant or Esquire who owned them should be crowned and consecrated the new Comte. The king was, dead they had heard, so if they arranged things fast enough their new ruler would be in place before any royal command could name another claimant to the title. But two serious problems faced them, one legal, one regal.

The legal one was simple. A scroll in the local cathedral, with copies in the largest chateau  and modest castle, dated back four hundred years to 873 laying down the rules for a Comte to obey  from the day of succession to the title. It said, en bref, that if the incumbent died childless and with no spouse, then whoever was appointed in his place, should both be married reasonably young and be expected to have children to succeed him in abundance. In short it was intended by king Charles II that the title should be hereditary. By an odd coincidence he was also bald, at least history has always given him the nickname  ‘Charles the bald’, but the coincidence ended there for he was succeeded by his son.

But the regal problem was much more in line with  typical French concern for the  taste of the grape than the defence of the realm. Or at least that part of it which produced fine wines. The Comte had to provide the monarch with a cask of the region’s finest vintage, voted by the seven vine growers, every three months. So how did the inhabitants of this typically sleepy Comté resolve the appointment and choice of a new Comte? Well first let us meet the seven owners of the vineyards. To start with by far the wealthiest and, under normal circumstances, the likeliest man to lead the countless people was Sire Robert Bonchance, who lived in the castle. His vineyard produced a really excellent dry, crisp white with a nose of strawberries and wild peaches mixed with gooseberry flavours, which had the added aroma of a South Australian eucalyptus. You know the sort of wine. Goes well with poached white fish and creamed potatoes. It would have been an absolute certain choice  except for the unfortunate fact that neither South Australia nor potatoes had at that time been made known to Western Europe. And Robert had another problem. His wife Mathilde was a positive shrew. She may have had four sturdy sons in five years but the locals all recoiled at the idea of her being given any higher social status than she had.

The two knights of the king’s bodyguard, honorary, who dwelt on that part of the Loire were twins. They each owned a vineyard and loved playfully trying to outdo each other every year when the grapes were trodden. Pierre and Jean-Claude Jumelles  were aged twenty nine, good soldiers, vintners and pals. But there the similarity ended. Much as they loved each other they also loved the same young lady, pretty nineteen year old Hélène Damnaçion daughter of a Basque merchant and his wife who had moved there when she was small.

“Eh alors?” sighed Pierre.

“Quoi, donc!” replied his sibling.”Nous allons ….”

No, look they both spoke perfect Oxford English  …”I say old chap we’d better decide who has the hand of the fair belle Hélène by a feat of arms.” He meant literally by feet and arms. “You game?” His brother was and so they raced each other for a few milia passuum down the Loire in rowing boats. Hélène stood on the bank cheering them on and shouting such loving remarks as, 

“Drown the bastard, Pierre, I never could stand him!”

Her prayers of pious devotion were heard and her knight errant won by a league as their two premierships skimmed the water. However, Jean-Claude took it well and made this proclamation to the crowds on the tow path. “Whatever fair maid shall cross my palm with two groats and a flagon of mead shall have me for a night!” On hearing this Lucette  Geaux whispered to Virginie Cémois,

“Je tink ‘e means knight.” But she was too slow, Charolotte Isine  had rushed forward, mead and groats at the ready, and told him she was already his. One might say she was ready maid and his luck was in. Unfortunately three of the older wine growers, while rich in money and with superior fruit, were all at least forty years old. Albert Orl, Pascale Planche  and Guy de la Musée all had good wives too and fine young boys, but their only hope of conquering the countless inhabitants was by somehow rigging the vote, for none had the bearing or  brains of a Comte. And then they all stared at the owner of the seventh vineyard. They had forgotten the rules or else, in the excitement of the chase for ça qui Comte, had not realised their dilemma. 

The seventh contestant was Blanche Neige, the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, let alone the Comté. What on earth were the countless countless to do. They could make her a Comptesse too, but did she have to be married to a noble? The scroll said nothing about gender, it had been hand copied by a scribe called  N.Carolina. So the six wine growers decided to ask her if she would be prepared to pick any handsome man of her choice, give him her grapes and then they would agree her wine would be the best and they would all withdraw in favour of her suitor. Blanche was staggered at their effrontery. “But, mes amis, ‘ow you say? I would win for my wine’s best anyway. I’ll be LA COMTE et mon mari”  (French for hubby bur she forgot, it was an English speaking plot) will be LE COMTESSE, what’s wrong with that?

Well of course nowadays nothing at all. But in France, some seven hundred and fifty years ago, transgendering the aristocracy was almost as bad as publicly admitting the nobles already had. So the vintners put it to two votes. First which was the superior wine because if a man won everything would be fine. And secondly, in case it was Blanche, they decided to create the first female Comte. In truth the countless countless could not wait to see what the new king’s reaction would be. But Blanche still had to find a hubby and suddenly had a super plan, hastening to the king’s coronation up North. He took one look at her and cried, “Ma Cherie!” which basically meant would she be queen? She agreed and told him she was also Le Comtesse, de somewhere on the Loire. He could not conte less. He just took down her title and added it to his own and added her possessions to the crown.

So that left the countless countless countless still. But at least they did not have to cross dress every time they wished to relieve themselves in a public place.

AWE

MY EPITOMES


a heart wrenching memory  can be the only real epitome of love

MY EPITOMES

As I grew up I always knew that everything I wanted in the girl I loved would have to be exactly as I imagined the epitome of my putative wife. From early, wondering years of innocence, yes even then when I was only ten, for my life-long lover to mean to me and I to she, everything I desired. I knew I could not live with any girl who lacked the following four outstanding qualities.

For a start, I was certain I could not live with someone who never smiled or laughed and, being vain, especially laughed at me. I mean of course in the sense that she should share my sense of humour and fun so that everything we might enjoy we might enjoy as one. I had such a tiny space for shared virtues in that partition of my mental world; there could never be room for more than two of us at once. Well not for another goddess-lover anyway because of my imagined lover’s second requisite quality. She had to be somebody, and this I think I knew beyond doubt when only fifteen, to whom I would want to be always faithful. And she always true to me. I wanted someone I could place upon a pedestal and to whom my wedding vows of love and constancy would not just be words, but the sincerest feelings I had ever felt. Promises that, were I to break them, I might as well have taken a cleaver to my heart, almost smote it in twain with all the strength I had.

Then her third necessary adjunct to her humanity would have had to be the depth of her love for me. How selfish can a man become when all he can see throughout his life is being worshipped and adored by his wife? But I also had a safety valve for this particular emotion, this necessary quality in the object of my devotion. It was this. If ever I should stumble, trip or fall and for a few moments gaze upon another girl. Then, should the wife that I had chosen, out of despair, disappointment, sadness or for whatever reason, take her revenge by similarly deceiving me I would totally and unconditionally forgive her. Providing she never asked me to confront the object of any brief and physical desire, I would absolve her, never query, question ask or threaten her. Just forgive. I could live with such a normal human thing. I could forgive, but only if I realised I too had been capable of setting her aside for the same reason, the same very short season and one that I could know would never last. Indeed, that I would have to know had already passed.

Her fourth quality? I am surprised you have not wondered, well you have not, have you? Why I have not included the beauty of her looks, her personality or her physical attributes. You know, they would mean nothing to me. I firmly believed this from my late teen years as so many girls of beauty, normality, shyness or vivacity had all seemed so alike to me. No, the other thing I knew she would have to have would be a deep and gentle love for her fellow men. In short she would have to come to me unburdened with any type of prejudice arising out of unreasonable hatred or dislike for others. I was sure I would place that quality above any fair features in her face or figure. I could only hold her really close and really love her, if I knew that she loved all humanity as much as I did too. So did I ever find her, this paragon? Or was she just a fairy dream?

Oh, I found her once. Then twice, then thrice and am settled now with my fourth wife. But every time the severance I had to undergo was due to the ending of her human life, and each widowing hurt me unbearably. But were they all the epitome of all those qualities I so innocently insisted I could not live without? Yes, of course, they each predominantly had one. My first brief Italian love loved me so much she would have given me up rather than fail in her duty to her suffering family. Lucia, of the four, was the closest to a saint in her love of others as she died at the age of twenty three, while kissing me.. My second, my deepest love, was in Vietnam. Anh, gave her life to nursing the destitute and in her way gave me the strongest reason to pray for another human being. She and my baby daughter were killed in a war, it tore the heart out of me. Of all my loves she was the epitome of selflessly devoting every second of her life to me. She left me the softest smile I ever craved or knew.

My third wife Anne, left suddenly of a cardiac disease. Ours was the briefest, oddest joining of two people. Before she died so suddenly she was the cause and the epitome of total forgiveness between two normal, morally fragile human beings. Her parting present in atonement, one for one, was my eldest son. Lucia ‘s gift had been twin daughters, their families now still and always a part of me, though living many lands away. Anh offers me herself every day with memories of herself and our lovely little girl. And finally my fourth, my longest, my most enduring love is still the epitome of everything that cheers. She shares her laughter and shows how much she loves loving me. Her gift is my last and youngest son. The epitome of any happy union with anyone.

AWE