Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

Category: stories 1000-4000 words approx

AN UNNECESSARY ENDEAVOUR


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/struggle/”>Struggle</a&gt;

a strangely unusual struggle

AN UNNECESSARY ENDEAVOUR

There are few things more  annoying in this world than knowing you know something but being completely incapable of recalling details, names, faces and quotes surrounding a key event in your life. Mine is somewhat esoteric in it’s subject matter but nonetheless infuriating for that. I have no recollection at all of my first encounter with K482. 

If you’re wondering,  it is not an animal in Star Wars or a similar space oddity, far from it. It is the catalogue number of Mozart’s 22nd piano concerto in Eflat major – no he didn’t write twenty two concerti in the same key, it’s just that this one was in Eflat major – and I know I was 14 when I first saw it played at a concert,  – Oh no! You won’t believe this. A twelve year old kid has just rung my door bell and tried to sell me a hair brush while pleading he had been made redundant in a steelworks more than 150 miles away. Teach me to live in a posh area! – where was I?

Yes, I cannot construct any mental images of my introduction to a performance of K482.  What annoys me most is that the concerto is one of my favourite pieces of music, the whole world knows the final movement – well everyone who saw Amadeus does, that’s HOW they remember it – and I have studied and played it many, many times now. I think it was my grandmother who took me to the concert, she loved good music and would have pinched my father’s press tickets. Ah, a clue. Yes!! Dad had tickets for every BBC Promenade concert at the Albert Hall every year from 1948 to 1960 so it must have been there. I think. So let me concentrate. I had heard it on the radio of course, and messed about with the solo piano score, but never seen it at a concert. Now it was almost certainly 1956 and I think school had not long broken up for the summer or I would have taken a friend.

You can’t hear it but I’m playing the concerto through my headphones while I write this. But it isn’t helping much. Ah, that’s one reason why. The pianist has just played the final cadenza, the one which Benjamin Britten wrote for Sviatislav Richter in 1966 when I was nearly twenty four! So it wasn’t that version. Hang on though, another clue. That cadenza. Many people play Britten’s version nowadays, and before that Paul Badura-Skoda’s cadenza,  (1958?) was very popular, it was not that either. I wish I could make my memory hear. It doesn’t have any trouble with hearing 1956 radio comedy shows so why can’t it pick up that concerto? I’ve been to literally hundreds of proms over the years so picturing the auditorium doesn’t help. Wait, but it does.

 – Oh blow! I’m doing the meal tonight as my wife’s ill and I haven’t prepared the Bolognese sauce yet. They’ll have to wait. No, they can’t there’s footie on the tele.-  Where was I? Yes another clue. I do remember that the soloist and the conductor were not dressed the same. Yes, of course. He was in evening dress and tails, they always were in those days, so the pianist must have been wearing a dress. It was a woman. Mozart so often is, especially this concerto. Now what women were around then? Hess, Lympany, Bachauer, Nikolyeva, Fuchsova, – Strewth! Of course. I’ve got a dreadful mind but that must be right. I made a joke about the pianist’s name when we got home and dad was not amused. So Lisa Fuchsova played the first ever K482 I ever saw? Really? She could have done, but if she did she always played the cadenzas by Hummel, never Mozart’s own cadenzas in either the first or third movements. And I can vaguely hear that particular passage in the final movement because the first time I ever SAW anyone play that Mozart concerto they definitely added bits by someone else. Hummel’s were the only popular alternatives in those days. So who was conducting?

It should  be easy now. Sir Malcolm Sergeant was the only conductor I saw at the proms before 1958 and he always directed the BBC symphony Orchestra. So the immaculate show off would have been in charge! –  hang on. I have to do this Bolognese for my gourmet trio, quartet if you include me. It’s a new original recipe I’m trying  by adding some Thai grains in with the green peppers when sauteeing them before adding them to the sauce. Mmmm….yes, lovely! Well they all seemed to like it. My son says it is just the thing before a match but Italy were playing last night so why didn’t I do it then? Can’t remember.

 – Talking of remembering let’s get back to K482. I’ve got the soloist, the Orchestra, the venue, the conductor and even whose cadenzas were played. That’s not bad. But what else was on the programme? Yes, got it. It was the first time I ever heard Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. It was dreadful, but then I never have liked his music. Hooray, I can retire satisfied to the lounge just in time to catch the Portugal game. My son’s just asked me what I’d been blogging about as I sat down. So I told him my struggle with my memory. Three minutes later he said,

“Dad, that was probably Tuesday July the 31st at the Albert Hall in a prom concert. It was being played by Lisa Fuchsova and Sergeant was conducting the BBC SO. Did you stay for that awful Strauss?” I gaped at him as he turned his i-pad towards me. It was on the BBC Proms archive site which has every concert listed, with full details, since the first in 1895. I could cheerfully have hit him.

AWE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

LUCIA’S SACRIFICE


THE KEYS TO MY HEART


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/music/”>Music</a&gt;

‘if music be the food of love, play on’

THE KEYS TO MY HEART

You know how much I blog about my love of music and how lucky I was to have a grand piano in the house when I was born, also parents who could see how keen I was to play it properly at such a very young age, three years and a month or so. The one thing  I have not done, however, is explain just how much I have owed to my music in every part of my life.

When very young and starting to have proper lessons, three years and eight months, up to about eight years old I was just content to have four hours of lessons a week and practice two or three hours a day. I was born with a severe phobic form of anxiety neurosis and there was no way I was going to sit exams, grade tests or such like things. However, at nine and a half I stupidly stayed back after a music lesson and played a short piece of Goyescas by Granados and our music master heard me playing for the first time. He was stunned and I was persuaded to take part in our school’s annual concert just before Easter. That was the day I, and an awful lot more people in my life, discovered just how advanced I was. I would be a liar if I said I did not enjoy the incredible ovation after I had finished, and the shock I gave my piano teacher by playing an encore that he had never taught me. It was an arm and finger breaking five minutes of Scarlatti at twice the usual speed because I loved doing it that way. But that was the start and end of my ‘career’ in music. My family did not want to put me through the horrors of enforced prodigydom.  Anyway, phobically I personally never wanted to play before an audience again. This was not least because I was too shy and scared to admit to having a phobia, so nobody ever took it into account for another seven years.

But my lessons continued until the day I went to university in Paris in late September 1960.By then I could play just about anything I had ever heard in the piano repertoire and was really lucky that I could pick up how to play everything I loved after only a few readings of the scores. Let me give you an idea of how I used this wonderful gift that I had been given. The first time I was inspired, or felt I wanted really badly to play something, was the evening before I made my first Holy Communion, Corpus Christi in 1950. I wanted to do something to make God happy and to thank Him for making me able to do it. I had just had my eighth birthday and sat alone before the keys in our huge drawing room. It took me just twenty five minutes to play Mozart’s piano sonata no 10 , K330. I haven’t a clue whether it was as good as it later became, but I know what it did to me. Playing privately, yet for someone I loved, made me feel so full of joy I could hardly believe it. I am sure that was the day when I can honestly say my piano playing changed from a physical pleasure into an act of love.

The second very strong memory I have of how much the keys of the piano tugged at my heart strings was in 1953 when a girl I had known for several years came round to our house to say goodbye. She was returning to the United States with her Family after her father’s four year posting to London had ended. I can remember asking Mary-Beth if there was anything I could give her as a loving present to remind her of me while we were over three thousand miles apart. At the age of 11 and three months what we felt was very immature, but in its way so much stronger than adult love. We were at an age when friendships were things you made for life not for teenage thrills, experiment or misguided deluded feelings. At eleven I expected everything I loved to last for ever, Mary-Beth was the first great loss in my life. She really did have a crush on me, and my sense of humour, but just amazed me by asking, “Could I take home the sound of you playing any piece of music that is supposed to say goodbye?” I couldn’t believe it. I am quite certain my eighteen minute rendering of Beethoven’s sonata no 26, ‘Les Adieux’, was probably a musical massacre, but my little friend sat transfixed throughout it. All she did was say she would never forget it, kissed me on the cheek and we  joined the other grown ups and kids in the playroom. I have never seen her since, but she has written occasionally over the years and always mentions that day.

Another  time love played a big part in my playing was late in October 1956 when in Budapest on a family rescue mission. During the uprising, which liberated the country briefly from the Soviet Union, some great friends of our family saw a God given chance to get a young relative of their’s out of Hungary and back to her relations in London. Elisabeth, who was orphaned aged two, was just fourteen to my fourteen and a half and I was chosen as the courier to go and fetch her. As I spoke her second language it was thought nobody would bother worrying about a pair of youngsters our age. Our mutual language was French and after various vicissitudes I caught up with her in another world. Her crumbling family home was straight out of an 1840’s Russian novel. But it included a grand piano in the salon. Elisabeth blushed and asked me could she play one last thing before we left. Hurried though we were I said yes. Her Chopin polonaise was really lovely. It was no good. I took one look at her, one at the piano and put my finger to my lips. I thought at the time that even I had surpassed myself as I played Liszt’s sixth Hungarian rhapsody. I could not leave the Danube  without thanking her country from the bottom of my heart for introducing us. Her thanks to me and our incredible journey home are another tale, but Elisabeth has stayed very much part of my life ever since that afternoon.

I may also have alluded occasionally to some advice I was given about dealing with my dreadful agoraphobia. My closest friend advised me, when he was only ten and the only person who had seen me hyperventilate and believed I was seriously ill, that the only way to fight irrational fear was by deliberately trying to do something more frightening. Small wonder he went on to become a leading diplomat. My acceptance of the offer to collect Elisabeth is an example of this, because I knew how much flying scared the wits out of me. Yes, it was very difficult but a great feeling of achievement when the mission was complete. So in late April of 1960 he and I volunteered to join a team of young people helping to bring back a whole lot of stateless people from East Germany who had literally been homeless for at least fifteen years. I have written about this and the fun and success we both had for a week, but I could never have done it if I had not really calmed my nerves after I returned. The method? Well I spent the whole afternoon just slumped over the keyboard at home letting my fingers do whatever they felt like. It was extraordinary. I wondered then if I was about to compose something original, I almost did, and then my phobia stopped me dead. I began to panic at the piano for the first time in my life.

A few stiff drinks, scotch and very little soda, got me back to something like normality. My prayers started to be answered but then the room became a prison. I could not walk the distance from the piano to the door. I was about to pass out when my sister opened the door, saw what was happening and rushed over to me. I hastily told her I was okay, but she knew about my illness by then and told me I wasn’t. Then she did something which saved my sanity, probably for the rest of my life. She told me that if I was starting to get petrified sitting at a piano then I had better play something very difficult and do it at once. She said she would sit and watch until I finished. I always found Scriabin’s piano music incredibly difficult to play, I don’t know why I think I just didn’t like it. So I went on playing bits of it until I was in total control of myself again. The piano keys had literally shown how much they loved me.

For most of the rest of my life I have kept up playing for the pure love of what I can do. For individual people I can give recitals, and for my Vietnamese wife especially I loved playing as she was Asian and Western music enthralled her. By the time I met her I was a war correspondent, a profession I embraced wholeheartedly as it was far more terrifying than my panic attacks. Indeed the only period when I did not play as often as I could was for about a year after she and our daughter were killed in Saigon. I just burst into floods of tears whenever I went near a piano, but in time this too wore off. However, the piece of music she loved best was Weber’s ‘invitation to the dance’, and I made myself play it many, many times until my sorrow at the death of a beloved wife and child became a loving and happy mental picture of them both. It is the best example I know of how music has actually rooted out sadness and replaced it with love in my heart.

Unfortunately I had another cerebral stroke, my fifth, at the start of this year and I can only use six fingers now. But we all have a Cross or two to bear in life and at least while I am writing this I can do so with my headphones on listening to the sounds I adore. At the moment it’s that Mozart sonata K330. But, like Beethoven, I don’t really have to physically hear it. I can switch the piano button  on in my brain whenever I want to!

AWE

 

 

 

 

 

PATRICK FOWLDS’ LAST LESSON


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/quote- me/”>Quote Me</a>

another repeat to keep up the numbers.

RECITATIVE 12

PATRICK FOWLDS’ LAST LESSON

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant.

Johnson! Yes you, boy. Put that mobile phone away and pay attention to the text. This is a Latin class not a computer lesson. These words of Virgil were written two thousand years ago and deserve your full respect. The language may virtually be dead, but I still teach it because of the wonderful stories that have been written in it!”

At this another fifteen year old interrupted, his questioning hand waving loftily above his head.

Yes Mitchel?”

Please Sir, how many years have you been teaching Latin, Sir?” Patrick Fowlds could see genuine interest in the eyes of the pupil so answered him honestly.

Since I was twenty two. That is forty four years ago and I shall be retiring at the end of this year. I only hope my subject does not retire with me. It is full of such super tales.”

The class actually began to feel a little sorry for their teacher, so often the butt of schoolboy humour and even laughed at when his laboured jokes completely misfired. He greatly envied those popular masters who also taught cricket and football and were the heroes of their students. In recent years he also had to compete in the popularity stakes with young female teachers who had even more enticing ways to attract their charges. The staff in general tolerated rather than encouraged Patrick to join in their amusements, but it is probably true to say that hardly anyone would miss him when he left.

How many years had he told Mitchel? Was it really forty four? Well at least he had spent those years in the company he liked more than anything else – his classics books. He cast a glance round the form room before continuing. It was odd, he felt a bit dizzy and his tie was tighter than usual under his collar. He tried to continue the lesson but had to ask,

Sims! Could you open that window by you please? It’s getting very stuffy here.” The boys watched transfixed as Mr.Fowlds suddenly clapped a hand to his chest and almost shouted out the first line of the second book of The Aeneid again. “Conticuere omnes, intentique ora tenebant!” Then he crumpled in a heap on the floor of the dais in front of the blackboard. All twenty three boys rushed to his aid, one of them dialing for an ambulance on his cell phone. Harper tried to give him some cola which he kept in his desk, then just before another pupil suggested trying to resuscitate him, Mitchel asked the dying man, out of sympathy more than interest,

Tell us, Sir. That line you’ve just read, what does it mean, Sir?” And with his last breath he told them,

It says…it means … all gathered round him eagerly waiting to hear the story unfold.”

But the boys never heard the story; not how King Agamemnon sent a fleet of a thousand ships across the Hellespont to bring back his daughter, Helen, who had fled to her lover Paris in Troy. Of how the Greeks entered the city via a Trojan Horse, nor Cassandra’s prophecy, or Achilles dying with an arrow in his heel, and the towers of Illium crashing down and killing king Priam.

They knew nothing of Helen watching as her lover Paris was killed by Hector, or Laocoon and his sons being crushed to death by the sea serpent for foretelling their nation’s doom. And, above all, Aeneas’ flight through secret passages and tunnels to escape and fulfil his great mission, to sail the world, as it was then known, even if it meant deceiving Queen Dido, and finally establishing ‘the city on the seven hills’ that was destined to become the Empire of Rome.

No, Patrick Fowlds took the greatest story ever written in verse to his grave with him. But that evening after school, Mitchel stopped off in the school library and took out an English translation of the book. He felt he owed the old man that much.

AWE

MY MIDNIGHT STROKE


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/stroke-of-midnight/”>Stroke of Midnight</a>

I went to bed early last night, so here’s an old one !

                                      MY MIDNIGHT STROKE

    This story of a New Year revel takes me back many moons to the thirty first of December when I was seventeen and a half and left to my own devices at the year’s close for the first time in my life. My grandmother was on a world tour, my father on business in America, my sister staying with two school friends and my mother in hospital feeling very cut up after some serious surgical intervention. Being Scottish mama insisted one should always usher in the new year. So, true to family tradition, at around eight pm that evening I set out around the cinemas of our capital city to find myself an usherette.

    An usherette, in the Britain in which I grew up, was the girl in the cinema with a torch who showed you to your seat if you arrived in the middle of a film. During various intermissions she would double up as the popcorn and ice cream seller. If you went to a really posh cinema in London’s West End a quite superior harpy would take your coat and hang it up for you, but such luxuries were seldom found in the suburbs. I lived in a very rich suburb, but this largesse did not extend to palaces of black and white screens and giggling back row couples. The Odeon was a popular place for cuddles in the back row stalls and I felt sure I would be able to find an usherette to my liking. My sole aim was to take her somewhere for a midnight drink after the last film and keep up the family tradition.

As luck would have it the main film that weekend was Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds in ‘The Tender Trap’. Are any of you old enough to remember this run of the mill musical? It followed the previous week’s showing of ‘White Christmas’, you know Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen making the ultimate Christmas film of all time. What we had to put up with when we were young! But back to my nocturnal pursuits. As I bought my ticket and entered the cinema the usherette came up to me to light my way to a seat when she saw who I was. Have you ever stiffled an exclamation of joyous surprise just as Frank and Debbie were about to embrace? It goes like this.

    “My God, Anton!”

    “ShShSh”

    I, sotto voce, “Kate! But you’re far too young to do this when there may be X rated films on!”

    “Oh,”shshshsh, “Sorry! Thanks, but I can easily look old enough when I have to!”

   “Not twenty one you can’t!”

   “Look, do you want to park your Arkansas or shall I call the manager and have you thrown out?”       Totally muffled guffaws from both parties. I slid into the very back row just two seats along as the first five were empty. I also skillfully switched off Kate’s torch. Then I whispered in her ear as I pulled her into the seat next to me,

   “I bet they paid you before the last house and this is just a one week holiday job. The manager will probably even have gone to a party by now. They never get full houses on New Year’s Eve. Am I right?” She nodded.

   “Then, my sweet, you have just gone off duty and when this rubbish ends in twenty minutes we needn’t wait for the newsreel and ads we can just leave.”

    “Oh, can we? And what makes you think I .. oh,..oh… no stop it. Well, I suppose it is New Year. …mmm…..okay you win. Where shall we go?”

    An arm slid round her shoulders and I snatched a kiss on her neck while starting to whisper…”Back to my place. I have 37 empty rooms. The family are all away. We can tell your mum we’re at a party.”

    “Can we? Some cheek! ….oh,oh… yes,… whose party, Anton? She knows your mum’s ill. Is your elder sister throwing a bash?” I smiled.

    “No, she’s round at Linda’s for the night, but I feel too Garboesque to join anyone. Well not including you if you are all alone at such a time. So sad.”

   “Don’t do that!… We’d better go now while I can still sneak out without being seen. Come on, Romeo. I never imagined tonight would be such fun. Have you brought your car?”

   “No, dad’s Jaguar. He won’t mind he’s in New York. Also if I’m driving I have to behave myself in the car.”

  “Never stopped you before, “ was her grinning answer. We arrived at my family mansion around half past ten. Now Kate was only a couple of months younger than I but even so I did not want to offer her any alcohol she was not used to. Apart from anything else I had known her for several years and liked her too much to take advntage of her. But she was not looking at the bottles of booze or even at me. Our Christmas decorations seemed to mesmerise her.

   “Oh, Anton you have done the house up beautifully. I have always loved this drawing room, but the streamers over the piano and the huge Christmas tree through the doors in the conservatory, it’s just like fairyland. What shall we do?” I suddenly realised I hadn’t got a clue. Television was a big no, no at New Year and I’ve explained the drinking problem, so I was just about to suggest we sit down on the huge, comfy sofa when she really surprised me.

    “Could I ask for a New Year’s gift? It won’t cost you anything.” I momentarily thought the floor was about to open up beneath me and take my morals with it. What did she want? I never thought she’d suggest it!

    “Anton everyone tells me how well you play the piano, and yet I have never heard you because ..well..oh dear this is awkward.. you see mummy says….”

    “I gave her an affectionately understanding look. “Don’t feel any embarrassment, Kate, I know what everyone says behind my back. ‘He’s got this terrible mental illness and can’t do anything he’s good at in front of other people’. Or some such rubbish. I’m right aren’t I?”

   A tear rolled down her cheek. “Yes, I am sorry. People do say awful things about you, but so very few of us have ever heard you play. It’s said you can only play for one person at a time. Is that true, and if it is could it be me tonight? Jacqueline says you are a brilliant classical pianist and I love really good music. Would you play me something? Please!” Actually I had never felt more like playing something I really liked. But I asked her to choose. I told her I had a fairly large repertoire. Then it was my turn to be staggered.

   “I believe you love Liszt and your music master has told people you can actually play the whole of the twelve transcendetal etudes right through. I’ll be as quiet as a mouse, and even if takes just over an hour we’ll still have time to cuddle up on the couch with a drink to bring in the new year”. I could hardly believe it. I agreed at once and we both settled down to an hour of quite unusual and unexpected pleasure.

   It was twenty minutes to midnight when I finished and went to the fridge and opened a bottle of Champagne. This won’t knock you out or make you ill will it?

   “After that music, nothing you could offer me could do anything other than make me happier than I’ve ever been. This is a great, great New Year’s Eve. My best ever, thank you.” So we snuggled up in front of the log fire, a glass of bubbly in our free hands and our other arms round each other as we just smiled and kissed affectionately for a few minutes. Then I turned on the radio to hear Big Ben chime midnight and say goodbye to 1959.

   “Got any really important resolutions, Kate?” I asked, gently brushing the blonde curls from in front of her eyes. She had a far away look in her eyes and troubled expression that was half really happy yet half sad.

   “I had thought I was going to be really good this year and try to help as many people in need as I could. But after tonight I have to be honest, Anton. What I really want in 1960 is to fall in love. But that’s not something you can plan or arrange, is it? It either happens or it doesn’t. What’s your resolution?”

   I almost couldn’t tell her. “As we’re being honest Kate, I hoped that by the end of the year I would have made love to someone for the first time in my life. But like you, that’s not something I can plan or arrange. You see I could only bring myself to do it if the girl was as fond of me as I would have to be of her. And if I met her I might not even know at first. So we both seem to have landed ourselves with obvious but probably impossible resolutions.”

    It was the way she let me stroke her hair so gently as we held each other very close, and downed the last drop of Champagne half an hour later, that left us both lost. We looked quizzically at each other and then collapsed in each other’s arms.

    And do you know something? Later that day around noon neither of us knew whether we had yet kept our resolutions or not.

AWE

LOVE, FEAR AND SURVIVAL


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/safety-first/”>Safety First</a>

The closest I have ever come to death.

 

LOVE, FEAR AND SURVIVAL

The only way to discover whether or not the main force of the rebel troops was on the Vietnamese side of the river when dawn broke was to risk taking helicopter reconnaisance flights along the edge of the river. This way we hoped to spot them before they took cover in the dense forest a few miles north of the temporary press corps H.Q.

It was a question of who would travel in the main helicopter, which held some 20 people, and who would fly in the little observation craft which only had room for the pilot and a gunner or journalist. The 23 members of the press who were assembled agreed to draw lots so 20 would go in the large Chinook and three would be alone in a small aircraft with just the pilot. Lucy had come out of the tent to watch. She was obviously very nervous and implored me not to go.

Darling do you have to? You could ask the others what’s happening when they return.” No way. I shook my head as I kissed and hugged her. She broke down and said she could not whatch them drawing lots for the unlucky three, so returned to a safer point. I drew a short straw.

The small helicopter I was in had an an excellent view of a wide strip of the River and I could see there were no troops anywhere near our position. I ordered the craft to return to base, but at that moment several shots rang out. The pilot, Charlie, shouted over the noise of the engine and rotor blades, “Don’t worry Sir, I can land her”. I was not so sure. In fact I was petrified and felt an awful panic attack starting.

The aircraft started to drift towards the treetops on the river bank getting further and further away from the press tents, until eventually they could not be seen at all. It was only then that Charlie admitted he thought the had lost a rotor blade and might not get the chopper down. I started to sweat and choke as we descended fast into the edge of the forest. About 25 feet from the ground I could risk no more ,

I’m going to jump Charlie, you will never land this thing”, were the last words I shouted. In desperation I pushed the gun mounting across my lap to one side, unfastened my straps and jumped. A branch almost hit me in the face but I somehow managed to hang onto it for a second or two slowing down my fall. Then I watched in horror as the whole aircraft exploded in a fireball above me. The branch snapped and I fell a long way before hitting the ground in agony and sank into merciful unconsciousness. I did not know it but I was trapped between a tree and the river bed half in the water and half wedged between two tree roots. Before entering the water, I learned later, my back had cracked against the tree trunk as I slid towards the Mekong.

I have decided to write the next part of this episode in my life in the third person, as my friends later described to me everything that happened on that last day that I worked with Lucy in Indo China. She had insisted on coming to Cambodia on my third posting there, saying that waiting for news of me in Singapore or Saigon was far worse.

———————

The Chinook had not taken off when a helicopter was seen descending fast into the trees to the north of the journalists’ camp. Military personnel rushed towards the direction in which it was coming down when an almighty explosion totally destroyed the aircraft and its remains showered down into the trees. Nobody knew who was in it but radio contact with all three observation craft was made immediately. The pressmen on the large craft streamed off to see what was happening and the senior officer told them what had happened. He was still talking when Lucy raced up. Mike saw her and stopped her, putting his arms round her shoulder.

Luce, we don’t know which chopper it is yet, but they are checking the other two by radio now. I think we’d better wait here till we know who’s been lost. I’m afraid Anton, Joe and the Belgian radio man were the three in the small craft.” She almost fainted on Mike’s chest. Then she fell to her knees,

Oh dear God, not Anton. Please, not my ‘Ton.” She had seen so much horror in her time in Indo China that Mike knew she could not take this if it was her husband. They listened as the colonel updated everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen the two helicopters that are still airborne and safe contain Mr Joseph Williams of the United Press and Monsieur Guy Bichaud of the Belgian radio. We have no news of the condition or whereabouts of th…..at this point Lucy collapsed completely round Mike’s ankles and he knelt down and put his arms round her. He could not see her face but other friends and colleagues who approached them saw the tears streaming down his face. Of the people in that jungle clearing he was not the only one who could not control his feelings.

As the inferno that many of the military had seen explode in the trees by the waters’ edge was still crackling in the jungle, it was accepted that Anton and the pilot had both perished. The question of what to do with and for Lucy seemed to be the biggest problem. It was arranged that a small convoy would return to Saigon when she was recovered enough. However, this took several hours and it was well after noon before everyone was ready to set off. But just as they were about to leave one of the native scouts came running into the clearing waving his arms and then making for the US officers’ headquarters. He was met by one of the Americans, who spoke Vietnamese, and he in turn signalled to the convoy to wait. Then he ran across to the jeep that Mike and Lucy were in.

Mrs.Wills-Eve, hang on we may have some news. But please don’t hold out too much hope.” Lucy had been given some tranquilisers and did not seem too clear what was going on. Just as well. “Some native villagers on the riverbank have reported seeing a man jump from that helicopter before it exploded. He swung on a branch for a minute or two and then fell. But although they have searched the area they have found nothing. But I have told the colonel and he says we must have a proper search before it gets too dark. Some men have set off already.” The effect of this news on a confused Lucy was odd. She seemed to assume her husband had been found, but could not understand why he wasn’t with her. Mike took her back to the tent to calm her down.

The search went on until the very quick sunset began over the Mekong, and they were just giving up when an unmistakable whimper rather than a cry was heard coming from the bank. Two troopers reached Anton first and then stood back in horror.

He’s alive sir,” they said to their officer, “but he seems hurt real bad. Do we have a medic with this team?” They did, and men with a makeshift stretcher were also on hand. In the fading light the doctor could not see how badly hurt the patient was, but from the angle of his back, the length of time he must have been half in the water and the pitiful soft groans that were now constant, they all knew he had to be got to a hospital as quickly as possible. They carried him gently but speedily to the HQ where has was transferred to a proper ambulance to be driven to Saigon.

Lucy gradually returned to normal and could not contain her hope that they had reached her husband in time. She was present when he was carried towards the ambulance and dashed over to him. She looked down at him and realised how badly hurt he was. But as she got into the ambulance she thanked God that at least he was alive.

—————————————–

I have no recollection of anything before waking up in a sunny ward in a military hospital with an awful pain in my back and unable to move my legs. I was on my own and only the US flag on the wall of the ward told me where I was. But within minutes a male nurse came in and seeing I was awake imediately rushed to tell doctors, nurses and best of all Lucy. Without even knowing how badly hurt I was she put her arms round my neck and kissed me, the tears streaming down her face. I tried to raise my hands to touch her face but the pain was too much. I could barely speak, either and yet I had to ask her to let go of me as she was hurting me so much. She shot back in horror and then collapsed on a chair by the bed, her head in her hands.

The next few days, I had no idea it was more than a week at the time , were taken up with getting me sufficiently fit enough to be told I was being flown to hospital in America and my wife was coming with me. The day before we left Mike put his head round the door and was allowed to chat to me for a few minutes. Lucy told me how much he had helped her, but all he said was,

“You know how much I owe you, fellah, it was the least I could do.” The journey from the hospital to the plane was dreadfully painful but Lucy’s hand was better than any pain killers. She told me she had given the medical authorities a full run down on my health and soon I could feel the aircraft taking off as we set out on a new chapter in our life. How I would cope with my partial paralysis or occasional memory loss I had no idea. But I had my Lucy and what we did next is another story which you must remind me to tell you some time.

AWE

 

HOW SHE ACED HIS TRUMP


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/unexpected-guests/”>Unexpected Guests</a>

the odd couple

HOW SHE ACED HIS TRUMP

I know you aren’t all as rich as I am and don’t own million dollar mansions near Las Vegas, but even those of you who could would have been amazed at what I found when I returned to my playboy’s castle in Nevada yesterday afternoon. I mean, who let them in? I asked my butler, Dashwood.

“I say, Dashers, old thing, who on earth are those people sitting cozily sipping tea and huge wedges of Dundee cake on the sofa in my lounge? I’ve never seen them before in my life. Did you admit them without even asking me?”

He drew himself up to his elegantly dressed five foot ten inches and deigned to enlighten me. “Indeed, it was with some reluctance, My Lord, but I felt I had no option. The rather self important middle aged gentleman with the well disguised hair piece slipped an identity badge into my hand, and the lady just puckered up and said ‘fruitcake, I’m with him.’ I mean, Sir, what could I do? The identity badge was an envelope with $10,000  in it and so obviously I had to be polite to his, how shall I put it, Moll.”

I sighed, it was so hard to get decent servants these days. It was my own fault as I had insisted that the successful applicant had to be openly devious but secretively cunning. I certainly got what I deserved when I hired him. “Well, did they give their names, or just order tea? ”

He coughed behind his hand. “I never admit strangers, My Lord. The gentleman said his name was Donald Trump – hardly likely to be a real name is it, I thought – and the lady said she had once been first, but was now just plain Mrs. Hilary Clinton. Obviously a fraud, Sir, I mean does she look plain?” But the names rang a vague bell in my Oxford educated ear, and I thought it might be amusing to join them. I wandered nonchalantly into my own beautifully furnished room and introduced myself.

“Mrs. Clinton I presume, you are most welcome to take tea with me,” and shook hands with all the grace I could muster in the circumstances. Then turning to her toy boy I again offered my hand and said, “And you must be Mr. Trump? Well you must be, I mean there is no one else here, what?”. But don’t let me interrupt your conversation. They stared at me as if I was mad. Which of course I am.

“Say, My Lord, we heard you had this little place where we could meet up in secret to have a heart to heart chat. We knew, or our goons did, that you wouldn’t mind. Donald even said he’d been told in Scotland that you could solve our little problem. Can you?”

“Well, madame, if I knew what it was I am sure I could. I own an estate in Scotland like Mr.Trump, if you are genuinely he, “I added, looking questioningly at the fellow opposite me. “But unlike me, you do not have a title attached to your real estate, do you? But natter on my children, I am all ears.”

Wow, did they natter. Donald had an interesting proposition to put to Hilary and, as I have said, their chat was heart to heart. He asked her,

“Look Hill,  “I detected an American accent, “About this election for the presidency. I’ve wrapped up the GOP nomination, ” – the what?! – “and you’ve gotten the Democrats to put you up against me, so how say we do a deal? I’ll promise to tell everyone you’re a Muslim if you agree you are. That way I’ll get elected and you’ll find a nice little cheque for a billion green ones in your off shore bank account? I mean Bill need never know.” She smiled. Well, smirked actually, but in Britain we don’t say that about foreign ladies. Here was her reply.

“You don’t understand  how it works, honey, you really don’t. Look when was the last time your party ever took a risk and elected a ‘first’ in American history? We’ve done two and I’m going to be the third. Then when I’m lounging in my oval office I can have you arrested  for treason, the one crime I don’t have to prove, and that way we get all your money anyway. Every way you lose, Donald. It’s the one thing left that you’ve never done in life and I’m going to make sure you do it.”

Far from worried Mr. Trump was looking puzzled. “I don’t get you lady. What have the democrats done first twice, and you’ll make it a third first? I don’t understand what you mean.” She said she was already aware of the level of his IQ and so explained.

“In 1960, Donald, we were facing a tough fight with tricky Dicky, so we chose JFK  and he was the first catholic to become president. Then in 2008 we had the election won as soon as we chose a coloured candidate. Mr.Obama certainly made history in that election. And you know what, Donald? I’m going to be the first woman to be president. It’s a cert, I can’t lose.” But Donald was not as thick as so many of us thought. He suddenly had a briliant idea.

“Look, baby, if you bust up with Bill between the election and your inauguration and then marry me, I could become ‘First Man’. That would make me the greatest man in US history. Will you do it for me?”

She was still shaking her head as Dashwood showed them out, and the last thing I heard her say to him was, “Nice try, Don, but Bill’s already done eight years at the top and he’s really looking forward to being ‘First Man’, in every sense, for the first time in his life!”

I felt a heavy hand shaking my shoulder and waking me up on the sofa. “Dreaming again, Sir, are we?” asked Dashwood as he brought me my afternoon pills.

AWE

PLUS ÇA CHANGE


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sorry-im-busy/”>Sorry, I’m Busy</a>

I should have written this years ago!

PLUS ÇA CHANGE

We have a very interesting debate going on in the media in Britain at the moment centred round probably the most emotive and disturbing subject that has done a complete U turn in my life time. But before continuing let me make it clear that I am not writing anything other than an account of how acceptable behaviour has changed in the past sixty years. I am telling my own version of what I have observed and why I am very worried at how easy it is to change different classes of society’s perception of right and wrong, and hatred and acceptance, without actually changing much conduct at all. Just making the sins of the rich available to everyone.

When I was growing up as a young boy, let us say at the age of ten in 1952, three aspects of sexual pratice among people of all ages was seen as being very definitely the worst things anyone could do. One was being a practising homosexual, the second a practising prostitute and the third being a practising paedophile. One of these has since been legalised, one made illegal and the third abominated as the worst crime of all. Incredibly, members of the public have been told it is a criminal offence to oppose the first change. A new and inaccurately stupid word, ‘homophobia’, has even been coined to allow people to be charged with so called ‘hate crimes’. I know why things were as they were in 1950 and why they changed, but I have no idea why the emotive hate aspect had to be brought in to justify changes in the law.

Take a typical central London street in 1950, say in the West End; eg. Soho. Prostitutes were allowed to solicit openly because they provided a ‘service’ that was not something against which legisation had ever been introduced. Homosexuality was condemned because many upper class people held hypocritical views about Victorian morality and, although practising homosexual acts a lot of the time from their schooldays onwards, – both sexes, – were socially ashamed to admit this. So they either never spoke of it or ranted against it. But where did that leave youngsters of my age who were told that some things were wrong and dreadful while experiencing the horror of watching ordinary people either committing such acts themselves? Or worse, being abused by the very people who preached to them that such behaviour was disgusting? Well here is my experience.

My mother’s side of the family were all on the stage or in some branch of the entertainment business and with my sister, a year older, we often spent a lot of time in top theatre dressing rooms with members of the family. But we had been well instructed in the dangers of allowing homosexuals anywhere near us because they might influence the way we perceived sexual practices both then and later in life. The important thing was that we were never made afraid that any so called ‘pervert’ was going to sexually abuse us as children in any way at all. Actually it was mostly exhibitionist lesbians and male dancers who flaunted their homosexuality, but we found it amusing and actually got to know and like quite a few of them. So I asked one of the monks at my school, I was a catholic at a school run by a religious order, why I should not make friends with people my mother thought could have a bad influence on me or set a lasting bad example. The answer was superb.

“Anton, any sexual act outside marriage, no matter what combination of genders, is against the ten commandments, therefore a sin and therefore you shouldn’t do it.” You have to admit that was pretty straightforward, down the line and spot on; but it was how he dealt with my reply that I did not understand until I was nineteen!

“Father, why are sexual acts between people who enjoy them any worse than breaking any other commandment? I shouldn’t tell lies, but we both know that and do it all the time. Why is one worse than the other?” Listen to this reply.

“Because by the age you are now (I was then 11) you understand why lying is a sin and why you shouldn’t do it. You won’t understand sexual misdeeds until you are old enough to have experienced them. So you have to be told in advance what to look out for and then avoid it.” What a confusing load of rubbish to tell someone my age who did know and did understand anyway. From then on I formed my own philosophy about ‘sins of the flesh’ as they called them. Yes, they were sins but there were good reasons why people committed them, as with all sins. But what changed?

Well first we had a law passed in the late fiftys making soliciting in public illegal for reasons which I never understood. A lot of my female acquaintances round the theatres were on the game. I knew they were, they never threatened me and as often as not they had a good sense of humour and my sister and I were too young to see any harm they were doing. Even so they were soon classified as criminals if they sought to sell themselves in public.

A long time later the outcry against homosexuality began to die down because, as my generation grew up, we could not accept that those who did not like having sex with people of the opposite gender should be criminally marginalised just because of the biological natures and predelections with which they were born. A man can love a man just as much as he can a woman, and so too with women. It was this realisation that led to the changing of the law to make it okay for anyone to have sex with anyone else no matter who they were. The logic is simply that one person’s sexual preferences, though sinful, are not something which they can help and is not a fit subject for legal interference. But there is a point where it is.

If people start telling other people that having sexual relations with anyone at all just because you enjoy it is not wrong, then the moral dimension comes in and that is where so many people get inordinately over heated and concerned both ethically and emotionally. Well as I’ve said I know what constitutes a sin and what does not so I have no problem in this way. But I certainly would if I found anybody trying to make another person commit a sin when that person did not know why it could be wrong. And, as the law stands, if I interfered in such a case where homosexuality was concerned  I would be liable to be jailed, but not if I told someone they should not be adulterous!

Insane? Yes, of course and nothing to do with free speech. Just the failure of the politically correct to see my point of view, which is that if I love someone I would not want them to be encouraged to do wrong. Done with compassion that is an act of love not hate. And it goes as much for people trying to seduce others into acts of heterosexual adultery or any other type of sin. What I should never do, and never have, is insult or berate a homosexual just because I know that is the nature with which they were born. But then you shouldn’t do that to anybody simply because their natures are different to yours.

Just because the idea of having any type of sexual relationship with another man makes me feel like vomiting is my bad luck. It is, if you like, the natural reaction to matters sexual with which I was born. It certainly does not make me holier than thou when comparing myself to a homosexually orientated person. I would never encourage anyone to deliberately commit a sin if I knew they understood and believed that that was what their actions might be. And I would always make it a priority in everything I did to ensure that I was not hurting, harming, mentally upsetting or just being plain insulting to somebody else for any reason at all. A good or clever joke, which might not be appreciated by someone because they had no sense of humour, would only be insulting if I told it in a deliberately insulting way. Believe me Catholics and Jews tell the best jokes on themselves of any people I know.

But I haven’t mentioned how and why paedophilia has become so much more widely perceived as a really dreadful act. Firstly, if it involves adults abusing young children, up to the age of twelve, there really is no excuse for putting a youngster through an enforced experience that can physically and mentally scar them for life. This is not just a sexual crime it is an act of torture for which there is no excuse at all. And yet there is a reason why people do it. Some people, far more than most of us would like to imagine, actually get physical pleasure out of having sexual relations with very small children because it turns them on. This is the really hidden ‘crime’ whose name nobody mentioned for centuries and is only now being universally criticised. Its full viciousness has been realised only since being brought out into the open by the large number of admissions from its victims that they suffered in the way they did.

But I wish the media would stop reporting celebrity, educational and religious cases of child abuse in a way that suggests that no journalist or news photographer ever lusted after a child in their lives. They are amongst the worst of the lot and should be named and shamed as much if not more than those they publicise. To my own knowledge more than half the newsmen I knew when working in different parts of the world used to make for the nearest child brothel as soon as they hit town. In asia and South America it was especially disgusting, and the way they boasted about their discoveries and methods of enjoyment, which they could only satisfy when a very long way from home, was ghastly. It is the only aspect of journalism which I can honestly say revolted me and made me ashamed of my profession. Consequently it is the only profession in which you never hear of anyone being guilty of this offence. Many, many reporters are too afraid to finger someone who might be able to point the finger back. The world of entertainment is just as bad and my mother would not let me enter the film business when I had the chance aged fourteen, and thank heavens. Child molestation was rife in that industry and still is.

But There is one side of sexual consent and the law which is still absurd. In our country if two fifteen year olds make love neither is guilty of anything. If a sixteen years and one day old kid makes love to a fifteen years and 362 days old child then one is deemed to have been raped and the other to is put on a sex register and could even be jailed. I admit one has to draw the line somewhere, but I think common sense should be the arbiter here not an absolute rule for every case. I believe in some states in the US it is illegal to even write about someone having sex under the age of eighteen. Why, when hard core porn is available on tap for all ages on all computers throughout the world? I am not advocating filming and then uploading licencious behaviour between any couples at any age, just wondering why the anti porn laws are not enforced. I suppose there is too much money and greed involved for thousands of cases to be brought to court.

But to finish, I think what I have seen in my lifetime is a world in which one lot of double standards, where everyone was either good or bad according to their station in life, has been swapped for one in which nobody is considered wrong for following any sexual preferences. Yet if you think of it, everybody is still behaving exactly as they always did only it just happens to be the turn of a different section of society to get away with being as awful as others have always been. Plus ca change….!

AWE

MENDING A BROKEN HEART


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/teach-your-bloggers-well/”>Teach Your (Bloggers) Well</a>

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

 

MENDING A BROKEN HEART

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.

AWE 

 

 

THE SALE OF TWO TITTIES


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/a-tale-of-two-cities/”>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.

AWE

SHE GAVE ME BACK MY SHOE


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/pay-it-forward/”>Pay It Forward</a>

Prompt:Tell us about a time when you responded to an act of kindness with one of your own.

 

SHE GAVE ME BACK MY SHOE

 

The last thing anybody wants to do is make a fool of themselves in front of their friends and peers and especially not at the age of twelve when the whole school is watching. Well I managed to come very, very close to that in the cross country championships that year. We had an immense playing field, big enough for four rugby pitches and four tennis courts and a pavillion, with the perimeter measuring exactly one and a quarter miles. The cross country course was three laps of the fields starting and finishing at the pavillion.

I was among the fancied thirty two entrants for the under fourteens race which was held first at 2.00 pm with the senior race an hour later. So the assembled watchers numbered about 250 boys each cheering for one of the four houses that the school was divided into. Another 100 or so parents and family members also turned out for what was always the highlight of the athletics calendar in the Easter term.

There were eight boys from each house in each race and about half way round the first lap I was in the middle of the leading pack of some twelve runners all bunched together when I went over on my ankle on the slippery grass and my right running shoe came off and bounced into the spectators. Well that was my race over, or so I thought. Suddenly a little girl of about ten came rushing out of the crowd with my shoe which she gave me shouting,

“My brother’s in your house and I can’t physically help you. Get that back on and catch them up.” She could tell which house I was in from the colour of my running top. I have never re-tied a running shoe faster and although some 25 yards behind by then decided to pace my way back up to the leaders if I could. A lap later I was up into sixth place but still had four good runners some 15 yards ahead of me. Still I refused to sprint and just gradually increased my pace until I was up in third place with only some 300 yards left. The little girl who had rescued my shoe was racing round to the finish and never took her eyes off me. I was never more glad I had kept my head because I knew I had the best sprint finish. I caught the two boys ahead of me and still waited until we were all only fifty yards from the end with the finish line and pavillion in my sight. I forgot my opponents and just ran flat out until I felt my chest breasting the tape and collapsed in a heap.

The girl who had really won the race for me was cheering and in tears at the same time. I had no idea who she was although I assumed I must know her brother well. I did, it was James Marshall and he came in fourth. As a team we won the overall under fourteens cup as well as my individual one. He clapped me on the back laughing. I only realised his relationship to my saviour when he said, “You lucky so and so, Anton! My little Angie certainly saved that race for you.” After changing and waiting for the senior race he took me over to his family and introduced me. They lived miles from the school and I only knew him as a fellow pupil in my year. I shook hands with his parents and then went up to a very shy Angie and shook hands saying,

“Thank you more than I can say. You certainly saved my race and if I can ever do as much for you in the future you can be certain I shall.” The poor girl was blushing furiously and after a few more chatty words I said goodbye to Jim’s family and went back to watch the main race. Jim and I went on through school together for the next six years and were good friends when the last term of all at last came round. I was just eighteen that spring and would be leaving for university in September.

It was customary for the sixth form leavers ball to be held in the school and all of our year were keen to show off our latest girl friends. However, I had a flaming row with my current girl in February and was with no one five weeks before the dance. I hastily wondered who to ask. My own sister would have been a real downer in the eyes of my friends. Then an idea struck me. I had never met Jim’s sister since that cross country race and I suddenly thought that Angie might like to come. So I asked her brother if someone else was taking her as I hadn’t even met her since that race all those years ago.

“Heavens, didn’t I tell you, Anton, she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer several months ago just before her sixteenth birthday and is still in hospital. She’s had a hard time poor thing as she never lost her shyness and gets really lonely and depressed. The family have been badly shaken by her illness even though the doctors are confident she’ll be able to make a full recovery. But it could take ages.” I was shocked by Jim’s news and asked him to do me a favour. I said I wanted to drop her a line and get well card and asked him if he’d give it to her. He was delighted and said she’d be really pleased. The next day I gave him an envelope addressed to her and when she opened it that evening this is what she read.

“Hi Angie. Sorry to hear you’ve been so ill and even sorrier that we’ve not been able to keep in touch since I kicked a shoe at you. But I was hoping to give you a late sixteenth birthday surprise and invite you to the sixth form dance at the end of June. I don’t suppose there is any chance you could come with me, is there? If you’re not up to dancing I’d still love to see you again and take you with me. I’ve put my mobile phone number on this note so you can ring or text me to keep in touch and let me know if you could come. If not at least can I come and see you?”

From all Jim told me she was amazed to receive my card and invitation. She deperately wanted to ring me but was too shy and asked her brother to give me her number. She also asked her doctors if she would be strong enough to leave hospital and have an evening out by the time of the dance. When Jim told me this I rang Angie and we had a really long and enjoyable chat. The doctors had planned to discharge her that week anyway, so they thought a night out to look forward to would do her the world of good. But she was told she had to take it very easy.

I waited until she was home before arranging to visit her and was surprised at how pretty she was, especially suffering from that type of illness. She was going to come to the dance but said she couldn’t do more than sit quietly and watch. Not what I thought. When the evening arrived I collected her in a taxi and several of Jim’s friends were very glad to meet her. We had to have a quiet time, naturally, but when it came to the last dance I just looked at her and said,

“Angie stand up. Come here, put your arms round me and even if we can’t dance properly I can at least hold you close to me for a few minutes. I’ve been wanting to all evening.” The joy that lit up her face was all we needed to spend the next few minutes just holding each other close . In the taxi on the way home I kissed her and thanked her. “Not for being so lovely tonight, Angie, but for returning my shoe all those years ago.” She laughed and had tears in her eyes as she hugged me before going back indoors at home.

I had all sorts of plans to give her little trips out for the odd day during that summer, but on July the seventeenth I received a phone call from her mother to tell me she had had a relapse and died early that morning.

“But thank you for making the last few weeks of her life so enjoyable and such fun, Anton. None of us can ever thank you enough for that”. And nobody can ever make me forget her and what might have been.

AWE

US AND THEM


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/west-end-girls/”>West End Girls</a>

on the prejudices of my childhood world : hyperbole in places, but only in the telling.

US AND THEM

I never found the silver spoon that so many  of my friends thought I had  in my mouth when I was born, but for several years something akin to it was definitely spoon-feeding my life. My family had access to considerable wealth and many of them very famous, from May 1942 to April 1956, my sister and I first lived in a mixture of fairyland and Heaven. I am just thankful that Heaven is still a possible final dwelling place. But Oh, were we the anomalies of our age. Let me give you a flavour.

I spent the years aged three to fourteen in the most beautiful suburb of London, in a thirty seven room Georgian mansion which we finally had to sell to pay the bills we ran up over ten years. The bank knew we were good for them. We got £2.5 million for it in early 1957 so you can imagine how beautiful it was. And the location! Richmond Park and Sheen Common, bordering our house with Kew Gardens, Hampton Court, etc all a five minute drive along the beautiul banks of the Thames where Surrey made it so attractive. Also only fourteen minutes on the train to the very heart of the city.

Our house was totally secluded from prying neighbours with an enormous ten foot high wall and holly hedge round three quarters of the estate which also included an orchard of six different types of fruit trees, four summer houses, a pond and huge elm tree in the 3 acres of garden plus a separate walled rose garden. You get the idyllic picture. My sister and I went to an expensive, private school from the ages of three to eight (she’s a year older). BUT we weren’t allowed to play with any children except our vetted school friends. You would only believe this if you had known my mother and her side of the family! Not snobs, no, far worse. Content to be different, recognised and obeyed.

So, given the setting, what in life could not possibly be very pleasant when all the rooms in the house were huge, superbly decorated and especially the living room with a bay window and door onto the rose garden and a grand piano where I spent eleven years learning and playing at least three hours a day. Dad even had to have it sound proofed without spoiling the decoration or the superb Adam fireplace which burned whole tree trunks. At one end was the sliding glass door to the huge conservatory with real grape vines and a marble fountain which was turned off at Christmas to accommodate the twelve foot Christmas tree? So where was the prejudice?

I never saw a coloured person, any colour other than white, in the area I lived in until I went back thirty years later. In the late nineteen forties there just were none. At the local pub some fifty regulars from our incredibly select road, the most sought after in South West London, met each Sunday lunch time for drinks and they agreed never to talk religion or politics at the bar. Unfortunately mum’s notoriety as a famous entertainer let her get away with murder and insult whomsoever she chose. Dad was accepted as her pleasant, Australian, other half who had one of the top jobs in British journalism. As bars closed at 2.00pm on Sundays in those days we usually had about 20 people back to our house for drinks and finally had lunch around 4.00pm. That house swam in booze every day I spent there.

So who were the baddies, ie those not accepted by our ‘clique’? WelI everybody who did not know any of us. If they came in expecting to buy a drink, as they would in any pub, they were simply ignored totally by staff and customers unless they were guests of the set. Most gave up and walked out dejected after recognising most of the people in the pub. But even within the accepted drinkers there was a hidden class of stereotyped prejudice that would make you sick. They all smiled and laughed together but detested, in order of priority, first and foremost socialists, then Catholics or any non-conformists, then Jews but worst by far the thought of an American tourist ever being let near the place. Not famous Americans like three of my family members among the regulars whom they had got to know, but the conviction that US citizens only came to London to gloat over how they had won the war for us after raping all our virgins. (Both of them). Quite seriously, in that environment that was a prejudice which lasted until the Conservative government was returned to power again in 1951. The American presence in Britain towards the end of the war left a horrible anti-US feeling of pure jealousy because they were, to use the famous quote of ‘Mr. Average Brit’, “over sexed, over fed, over paid and over here!” My uncle in the US air force reserve had a PX card, though we never told anyone.

But my sister and I just led a strangely unique and unreal life until I went to the most exspensive Catholic boys school in London and again mixed only with my school friends. Fortunately we had all colours and races in the school, mostly sons of foreign Catholic diplomats, rich businessmen and 33% of the upper school from the age of 11 were on totally free scholarships gained through the state scholarship system. Thank heavens for this because  the only way I ever have met ‘ordinary’ people was through my school.

Yet even within this strange mix of a world when we were ten and eleven the Catholic/Anglican/Jewish divide was huge. Many of my family’s clique were Jews, we were Catholics and in every case it was humour that saved the day and calmed things down. Naturally being Irish was not acceptable either, but Irish, Jewish and Catholic jokes were the backbone of the pub conversations. Imagine this scene. A Jewish fellow who owned a company the equivalent of Hertz in the States, with a lovely French titled wife, once teased my mother; she was excused the politics and religion rule on account of her wit, “Vel, yor Jesus voz a Jew? Vozn’t ‘e?”

To which mum snapped back in miliseconds,”Yes, Bernie, but we were taught that out of humility He chose to come to earth in the guise of the lowest form of humanity known to man!” What response would that have got anywhere in the western world today? The whole pub, Bernie most of all, just creased with laughter. But that was 1950. There was no malice, just relief that you could laugh in peace and honestly no offence was taken by anybody.

Are you all wondering what my sister and I were doing in a pub barred to kids when we were that age? Well at least nine other children our age of members of the set were also there most weekends because the pub owner wanted his customers money and could not give a fig for the licensing laws. Catholic priest and Jewish Rabbi jokes were also all the rage because the Anglicans laughed at every opportunity to see the absurd side of Catholicism and Judaism. One such joke that went down very well was told by a Catholic Irish crooner who lived four houses away from us and was never off the radio. (Is the awful hypocracy coming through?). I heard this one when I was ten and took a few minutes wondering the meaning of a word when the loud mouthed, blousey wife (?) of a member of parliament whispered the meaning in my ear. You’ll spot it.

“Der was dis priest on a bus and who should sit next to him but de local Rabbi? They smiled and de priest said,’Ah god bless ye’ Rabbi, now isn’t it a lovely day for me to be covertin’ Jews?” They laughed.

“Not me, fadder,” the rabbi replied. At the next turning the bus skidded into a ditch and turned on its side. Nobody was badly hurt as they scrambled off, but the priest stared in disbelief as he watched the Rabbi place his right hand on his forehead, then his lower stomach, then his right breast and then his heart. A miracle! He was blessing himself. But the rabbi smiled and, shaking his head, said,

“Sorry, Fadder, bud I alvays do dat after an accident just to check. Spectacles, testacles, wallet and watch.” Again total collapse of all present and the story teller was bought several large libations. But these were not snobbish people, just totally self satisfied. There were two occasions only before I went to my final school when I felt the heart stabbing horror of the only prejudice that directly affected me. The first was at the age of seven when the son of my parents’ best friends was getting married in the local Anglican Church just two roads away from us. Our own parish priest would not let us attend the church service because we were Catholic. In those days (1949) catholics still prayed for the conversion of England to Rome. The reformation was still alive and kicking. I prayed for weeks to try to understand, but eventually got my own back by first marrying a Buddhist in a Catholic church in Saigon, and after she was killed, my present wife who is a Liverpool Anglican. But we go to each other’s churches, so the world is a lot better than it was.

My second horrible experience of religious prejudice was aged eight and one month, when, on the day I had made my first Communion that Sunday morning I did not go to the pub, but one of those ‘regulars’ mentioned above, said to me back at our house after the usual exodus from the boozer,

“Here, Anton. Have a coke and get that awful taste out of your mouth!” He was rich, influential, forty seven and I hit him so hard he lost two teeth. I was ushered from the room and was obviously never going to apologise. He made no fuss, but never spoke to me again. I also broke a finger.

Well, My last example of early 1950’s prejudice was also my first brush with racial prejudice. In the summer of 1952 my mum’s sister and her American husband, were starring in a very popular revue at the Piccadilly Theatre . The vaudeville show had been packed out for eighteen months and one of the hit turns was a young American half coloured half Hispanic singer. She was 22, a real poppet and my sister and I loved her. As mum was in hospital after major surgery, (my sister asked the surgeon if mum was having her gin and tonic removed), and dad was on an assignment in New York we asked our aunt and uncle if we could ask our friend back to spend the weekend at our house. They agreed and so we all went home after the Saturday night performance. My American uncle was by far my favourite relation. He taught me baseball and I taught him cricket when he was starring in the West End production of Damn Yankees. He supported the Pittsburg Pirates and I still do. Anyway, to the terrible bit. Perhaps my life’s main introduction to just how awful some people and groups of people can be.

As my uncle was well known at the pub he suggested we all go down for a drink at lunchtime as usual. My Aunt pleaded a headache. We had just started the first round of drinks when the pub owner came up to my uncle and took him aside. He said he did not want to upset him but no way was he allowing a coloured girl, however much a friend of ours, to drink in his bar. He would lose all his customers. I won’t say what he said to her but the singer just smiled and told my uncle it happened all the time in London. She understood and told the three of us we’d better go home.

My Uncle, God bless him, never entered that pub again. My drunken, cowardly aunt did not even warn us but did at least tell us she had telephoned the pub owner during our five minute walk round there to say who was about to arrive.

So, like a pleasant encore at a piano recital I shall finish with an encore on the subject. But a nice one. My grandmother made two little woollen dolls for my sister and me when we were five and six. They were black with big smiles, fuzzy hair, and E.P.Christie minstrel outfits. We loved them. They were called Golly and Sambo and we took them to bed with us every night. As we grew up we never lost them and both of us still have them and love them. But we can’t call them by their names in front of other people. So, out of love and respect, we don’t.

AWE

PINS AND NEEDLES


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/the-golden-hour/”>The Golden Hour</a>

To all my close friends in the Big Apple this is only about a very small number of you in all jobs and walks of life.

 

PINS AND NEEDLES

There were seven of them huddled together on a moth eaten mattress just a few metres out of the light of the lampost. The dawn was trying to break but had not quite begun when Jake and Herbie silently approached the sleeping street dwellers. Then they saw the injection marks right up fifteen year old Barry’s arm and just smiled, leaving him alone.

The seven, three boys and four girls all aged in their teens, never had a chance. Herbie crept up on the oldest boys, Pete and Fritzy both seventeen and coloured, and just eased a small packet into the pockets of each of their jeans. Then Jake took an old pistol, unloaded, and very carefully tucked it under fifteen year old Carrie’s pillow. None of the kids knew each other but thirteen year old Kathy was one-eye awake enough to spot what was happening. Luckily for her she was on the corner of the pavement and an alleyway and very carefully managed to roll out of sight of the two men concentrating on the other girls whom she had never seen before. She quietly stood up behind a drain pipe and watched a ritual she had seen many times.

Herbie took out his cell phone and whispered into it while standing at the opposite end of the sleepers to his buddy Jake. They waited, certain of what was going to happen and what they had to do. Sure enough a couple of minutes later a police car sped round the corner and came to a halt as Herbie and Jake started kicking the sleepers and shouting at them to wake up. Two more cops leaped out the car and in minutes they had handcuffed all six kids who were barely awake. The chief cop from the car barked,

“Okay Herbie, Jake, what have they done. Read them their rights, show them the evidence and get them down the cells. Right?” It didn’t take long, but Fritzy piped up as Herbie pulled a packet out of the boy’s jeans.

“Wow, fellahs, look what Santa’s give me. Tell me, dude, you put it there wot is it? Coke, smack, something really deeeelicious? Well, honkey you can stuff it up yo ass coz it ain’t mine.” This earned him a backhanded really hard smack round the face that knocked him over. Resisting arrest and starting a fight were added to his charges. He spat in Jake’s face as Herbie backed away.

But the whole interruption gave one of the last two girls, Charlene, the chance to fish in her pocket and take out a few dollar bills from her trouser belt which she expertly stuck down the back of Barry’s collar. She whispered,

“That’ll buy you another jab, brother, I can see you need it.” Then she and the final girl, 14 year old Winnie, were charged with prostitution. They never turned a hair, but Carrie lost her rag and let out a stream of foul mouthed invective at the senior policeman. That was when the cops found the gun under her pillow.

“How much ammo you want in this chief?” Jake asked. I planted it empty.” He was told three. The girls and the two boys were bundled into a van and Herbie shouted he’d bring the junkie in his own car. Suddenly only two of them were left as the mattresses, kids, everything were driven off and it looked as though nothing at all had happened. Just Herbie and Barry and the hiding Kathy were left. The dawn was breaking. A strange melodius breeze was blowing, like a film score from a Sergio Leone film, and Barry was getting freezing cold. Kathy still looked on in resigned, depressed, hopelessness wondering what would happen. She wasn’t surprised.

Herbie suddenly became the cheery, helpful cop who strolled up to Barry and helped him to his feet. But what he said was far from cheerful. “Look son, we arranged so my buddy gave each of dem girls $50 so to make dem look whores. But I saw one slip her payroll down your collar. But I’m a good guy. I’m a policeman, I help people. So how about you lighten your weight by forty bucks, gotta leave you enough to buy another needle, and I’ll slip you two full syringes? Deal?”

“Barry nodded. Where do I get de stuff, Mister? They arrested my guy last night?” Herbie smiled.

“Lefty Malone works de corner of Maine and 42nd and we ain’t lifting him before tomorrow. He’ll see you okay,” and he jumped into his car and was gone. Barry shambled away in the vague direction of 42nd street. But didn’t really know where he was going.

At last, in daylight, Kathy left her hiding place and had to find some way of getting something to eat. She only knew one way. The First City Credit bank two blocks away was the easiest to spy on. She took up her usual place by the news stand close to the cash dispensing machines. Soon a prime target walked up. A well dressed, rich looking middle aged lady who fiddled in her hand bag before finding her wallet.Eventually she found her credit card, dropped it, picked it up dusted it and finally put it in the wall. It was kid’s play for Kathy to see and memorise the pin numbers. The lady withdrw $250 and just stuffed it in her wallet and made a show of where she put the credit card. This was going to be sooo easy!

Kathy followed her two blocks and then tripped in the kerb as they went to cross the road, knocking the bag out of the woman’s hand. Removing the wallet was so simple she almost laughed. Two blocks further on and to the left she picked another machine and easily removed $400 thinking that might be as much as it would pay. Well, limit or not it paid it. She made straight for the nearest diner and ordered a really big breakfast. Half way through it a rich, middle aged lady tapped her on the shoulder and said,

“Don’t worry honey. Eat your nice breakfast, you need it. Oh and keep whatever you took, it pays $500 but I don’t suppose you took that much. It’s not mine anyways so who cares.” Kathy was petrified. What did the lady want, what did she mean? She soon found out.”Look you’re very young and pretty and if you work for me, you know what I mean, we can make a packet. Otherwise it’s the cops again. Your choice babe!”

Kathy had had enough.She still had the card, although probably now worthless, and a lot of money. She decided to save herself. “Okay, I’ll come with you.” The lady had a coffee as the girl finished her meal. But when they got to the exit Kathy slammed the glass-plated doors hard into the woman’s face and just ran. She didn’t even slow for fifteen minutes, but nobody was following. She smiled and said to herself,

“Well at least I can afford to sleep indoors tonight. Maybe even tomorrow too.” And she smiled up at the statue in the distance with its torch and it’s message of hope for all. What Kathy didn’t see were the tears running down the statue’s face.

AWE

LA CI DAREM LA MANO


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/always-something-there-to-remind-me/”>Always Something There to Remind Me</a>

music that reminds me

 

 

LA CI DAREM LA MANO

 

Of all the really great tunes that I have heard in my life, pop, classical, country and western, operatic arias, ballads et al it has always been the catchy  –  ‘want to sing or whistle it again’  –  quality that has made me put it in my favourites. There are many songs and tunes that set me going, foot tapping or rushing for the nearest piano if there is one, to join in and enjoy myself. But there I have mentioned the luckiest, lovliest thing in my physical life. My mother’s half of the family were all well known singers, actors and entertainers so of course I was brought up with a piano in the house and loved sitting trying to make the keys play a tune from as early in my life as I can remember.

My father, who was a journalist and nothing to do with  the theatrical side of the family was a modest pianist himself and it was he who first spotted in me the natural ability to pick up a tune and reproduce it. I must have been about three and few months because it was just before we moved from Buckinghamshire to East Sheen near Richmond in London, that mum was playing arias from the Marriage of Figaro on a 78 record player. Records in those days, July(?) 1945 were not of the acoustic quality of today, but never the less the wonderful soulful yet bouncing melody of Cherubino’s Aria ‘voi que sapete’ really turned me on. I listened to it about five times through and then went to the piano and tried to find the right notes to play the tune. It was as I was on about the fifteenth attempt and getting to the  stage where I wanted to smash the piano to bits that my father came in. He just looked at me and said.

“Do that again. No seriously, it sounded just like one of the Arias from Figaro. But you couldn’t have taught yourself!” I couldn’t, and didn’t believe him. I thought he was joking. so I played the same notes through again to the end of the sixteenth bar. Then I looked at him inquisitively. All he said was brief and to the point.

“You were playing ‘voi que sapete’, in the wrong key, the wrong tempo and with one or two notes of your own, and an inability to finish it. Also your feet don’t reach the pedals. But if you taught yourself to do even that by imitation then as soon as we’ve settled into the new house we’re getting you a piano teacher. Also were taking the grand piano with us and the family can fight over who owns it later.”Both before and after we moved  I continued to enjoy trying to imitate tunes with my parents showing me where I was going wrong and teaching me the basics of music. The very basics I assure you. But then one day I was introduced to  an Italian gentleman who was very polite and called mummy ‘Madamina’. She seemed to like it. I was told that though I was only three and eight months I was going to have a well known concert pianist to teach me. The words and signifcance of the remark meant nothing. But he was very polite and called me ‘little Sir’. I thought this odd but nice. Then on that very first lesson he asked me an extraordinary question.

“Is it true that you like Mozart?” I was three and a half for heaven’s sake! So I nodded and when he asked me if there were any tunes I could play I knew the family had been talking. So I just went straight at it and played the basic melody of an aria, mummy said that was what you called songs in operas, and knew I had only done the begining and the wonderful speeded up end. It was dreadful musically and pianistically and yet I managed to rescue and include the main tune and at the  -almost – right tempo. The teacher just looked at me.

“What is that called and what is it from?”

I was glad I had remembered. “It was meant to be ‘larchy daremla marno But I don’t know the opera”. I did but was too embarrassed to grossly mispronounce Don Giovanni. I had no command of Italian at all in those days. But the teacher never said a word. He put his fingers to his lips, pointed to his fingers and my eyes and proceeded  to play a beautiful piano version of La Ci Darem La Mano. I meant to say how good he was, how much I liked it and all the right things but that was not what came out. All I said was,

“Please teach me to play like that, Sir, please. I’ll practise every day of my life if you do. And as he got up from the piano stool a bit later at the end of that lesson I looked at the lovely grand piano and the reflection on the lid of a laughing, smiling face that stopped me getting off the stool. Then it vanished. That evening I asked dad the names of the characters in the aria  because I had only heard it as a gramaphone recording and thus also as a duet. He couldn’t remember. It was my aunt who told me it was the evil Don Giovanni who was trying to kiss a peasant girl called Zerlina. I didn’t blame him if she was the face I had seen on the piano.

I was eight before I could honestly say I could play the piano properly, fluently and because I had worked my insides out at it. As Mozart had never written a piano version of the duet I had to be satisfied with just improving my own versions. I think in many ways this was the best thing I could do. But I had to play the established piano solo pieces of those days and my teacher  became more and more pleased with me.  I was eight and a half when he heard that our music master at school was a former leading pianist but who now concentrated on making every boy in the school sing most of the standard Masses and was also Abbey choir master. But he was also an opera freak. We had 40 minutes of music twice a week and he used half the lessons to teach us to sing all the leading operatic arias for tenor, baritone and bass, but this was my second piece of luck. I had a voice like a rusty wheel and so in the music classes was placed at the end of the front row. I was not encouraged to sing very loudly, if at all, but joy of joys, my eyes were exactly in line with the keyboard and I could follow his fingers. It was half way through my second year at the school before circumstances arose that gave me the courage to take my piano teacher’s advice and tell him I could play the piano.

“Please sir, you know you said there was a school concert  at Easter at the end of term, well can anyone audition to play? I have been told to ask you by my piano teacher.” When I named him the music master just stared at me.

“How long has he been teaching you? I mean what level are you at? ” I was extremely honest.

“Five years, since I was three and eight months, and he says I am his best pupil for my age. But I am too shy to take exams  in playing and don’t know what the correct grade is that I have reached. But this is the last lesson before morning break, so could I play you something for a few minutes to let you see what you think.?” He asked me what I wanted to play. Considering the time I decided to play the piece I was currently studying, Valses Poeticos by the Spanish composer Granados. When I told him he almost laughed. But just gestured to me to see what I could do. Well I loved the variations in the eleven minute piece and played it as well as I could. I had no idea just how good I was. He moved from his usual position at his desk and sat where I would usually sit so he could see my fingering and control of the pedals. I began with the intricate introductory melody in waltz time which always used to make me think of two people in evening dress, dancing  under a spot light and then using the whole eleven and a half minutes to express every emotion I presumed two people in love would experience. As the variations changed so did my touch on the keys which I actually felt depicted the change in the dancers’ feelings. This did not go unnoticed.

I had been playing studiously and really enjoying what I was doing  for about five or six minutes when I glanced at my school master to see how I was doing. His face was a study in total amazement. He was lost in what he was hearing. When I reached the last frenetic two and a half minutes I glanced at him again, and even though he wore glasses I noticed he had tears in his eyes. It just inspired me to put every ounce of feeling I could into the final four, ever  so slow bars, as I imagined the dancers falling into each others’ arms. I even held the last soft bass note for some fifteen seconds longer than I had done on previous practice sessions. Then I slumped forward over the keys and let out a long sigh of completely exhausted and total delight.

My music master slowly got up and walked back to his desk, removing his spectacles and composing himself. Then he turned to me and said,

“Wills-Eve, I know your family includes many noted entertainers but do any of them play the piano like that?” I shook my head,waiting for his opinion. It took a couple of minutes coming, and after one question. “Why do you never sit grade exams? If you are to get anywhere in music you really must you know! Oh I expect you want to know what I think. Well many people are born with natural genius that can never be taught. Your piano playing  is in that category. I have heard that piece played many times and by the greatest pianists of the thirties and forties, but never have I heard that degree of perfection emanate from human hands. When at the piano you transfer your heart through your fingers to the keyboard and that is what I heard. It was one of the highlights of my life. You will play it at the school concert and, despite your age, you will top the bill as the main soloist and play the last piece before the choir sings us out with something which I have not yet chosen. Oh, and thank you for making an ill, elderly man very happy. “

“Sir, I did not know you were ill and I shall certainly not mention it to a soul. But in return would you please not tell anyone at all that I am the last soloist in the concert. I could just about manage to play in front of an audience if they did not know it was me until they sat down and read the programme. Do you understand now why I have never sat grade exams?” And I smiled at him and left the room with a skip in my step as the next class of twelve year olds came into the music room and wondered what I was doing.

But to return to La ci darem la mano.  I often loosened up my fingers before starting a set practice piece at home by playing one of my own straightforward, but by now much more comlex, versions of the lovely aria.  However, I don’t think Signor Pirelli ever heard me. He may never have heard my enjoyment of the song since that very first lesson for all he ever remarked on the piece. I used it when warming up for the school concert, which I was dreading, and it helped calm me down. Nothing more so than the lovely face that smiled at me as I sat at the piano stool before a large audience of parents, teachers and pupils, all of whom seemed staggered at the obvious age of the soloist. I took a gulp and played the lovely waltz variations.  So long was the ovation when I finished and so strong the cries for an encore that I finally signaled to the audience to hush, and in my forthright if unbroken voice said,

“Thank you all so much for enjoying that gorgeous music and as you seem to want a short encore I would like to play the opus K96 by Domenico Scarlatti, which while only some four to five minutes nearly takes the arms off you. You will see why it is also called ‘the chase'” When I finished one of the most difficult and striking pieces of baroque music, which not even Signor Pirelli knew I could play, the applause went on so long we ended the concert there without the chorale finale. I was seen as a prodigy at that concert had I wanted to become one. But my family did not. All approaches over the next few days were turned down and both the school and the various impressarios and agents who wanted to sign me were turned away. Fortunately I knew nothing of this as it was handled way above my head.

In amongst all the changes in our family and my personal life during the next seven years, approximately, one of the most important in the long run was a change of neighbours next door. The house was not as large as ours but still had some twenty five rooms and nearly an acre of garden. Its grounds carried on up the side of the common where ours stopped. We soon met the owners who also turned out to be Catholics and would be going to the same parish church as us. He was a banker and she the mother of seven children. More than that we didn’t know for a week or two.

At that time I suppose it must have been 10 solid years of piano practice that made it possible for me to make some sort of attempt at playing Beethoven’s first piano concerto. I was so pleased with myself for managing it that I just collapsed over the keys and almost passed out with exhaustion. Signor Pirelli had given me a 45 minute lesson that day as I told him that at last I could do it, although it had to be without an orchestra. He clapped loudly when I finished but told me that just getting ALL the right notes in the right order was not enough if I was to have any chance in the national under fifteen competition in three months time. I had a lot of work to do, not least on conquering my nervous anxiety at the thought of playing before such an audience. It was only my teacher’s influence that had let me get through all the preliminary rounds to reach the finals. He often told me later that he never realised just how ill I was.

Then it happened. I was fourteen and a half years old and almost totally absorbed with piano, cricket, mediaeval history, hagiography and languages and only just beginning to notice my own reactions to one or two attractive girls of around or just under my own age. As I sat up after playing the Beethoven concerto I turned round, and in truth I nearly fainted.

All I saw was a face, but what a face. I thought it was aged about eight and I later turned out to be almost spot on. She just stared at me open mouthed. I think I was blushing and laughing at the same time when she said, “How on earth did you do that? I only heard the last ten minutes, the rondo isn’t it? but it was incredible. Who are you?” I didn’t answer at first because just looking at that lovely laughing , slightly embarrased face, I realised I was looking at Zerlina. Somehow I always knew she would enter my life. But now that it had happened I knew that I was doubly lost. But I had to answer and heard myself saying “Zerlina.

My name’s Anton Wills-Eve and I am fourteen and three quarters. I was starting to master my entry for the national piano competition. Are you here for a lesson?”

She looked straight at me.”But you live next door to us. We only recently moved in. Much as I love Don Giovanni I’m afraid I’m called Lucy. I don’t mind Lucia if you prefer!” I laughed out loud and said ,

“Sorry, I must explain why I called you Zerlina,” and I played the first half of my easiest to follow version of La ci darem. “It was your laughing smile, it is how I always picture the girl in my favourite aria.” To my surprise, and my teacher’s, she sat down beside me and in a basic verson of the melody went straight into the finale, but also sang Zerlina’s part in Italian. I joined in as soon as I could and as we finished on that lovely chord Signor Pirelli laughed. “Ah children I shall enjoy teaching you both so much now.”

But you can see how carefully I would have to deal with my favourite song from now on.

 

AWE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIVE


DEAREST MOTHER


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/dear-mom/”>Dear Mom</a>

Dear Mama

DEAREST MOTHER

As this is my two hundredth blog in the past 20 months I decided to follow the prompt as closely as I could with a true story if possible.  And what prompt did I see to my amazement? ‘A letter to my mother’.  Awwww, so sweet. What a choice. You bet your sweet bippy it was. I have decided to reproduce some family letters dated mid August 1968, from Singapore and Saigon where I worked as a journalist.

———————————————————————-

“Dear Mum. I was so sorry to hear that dad had been so ill in Spain and that you had returned early to England without carrying on running your hotel. I know how much he would have been enjoying it, but a heart attack is a heart attack. So I do understand your plea for as much money as I can afford. At least we can save here so I hope it helps.

By the way, how are you. You have been dying on us for ten years and I do hope your empahsyma is under control now. Michele (my sister) and I will do all we can to help keep you going, but it is a shame that I have had to put off Lucy’s trip out here. I hope the delay won’t be for too long. She was so excited, and we were going to get married. I desparately need her, mum, my nerves are shot to pieces and I don’t think I can last much longer without her. But considering how much you and dad spent and sacrificed on Michele and me as we grew up I had to do all I could for you first. But I have asked Lucy to visit you and make sure everything is okay and whether you want anything. Do please tell her.

I have another five days here before returning to Saigon. I have been shot twice, mortared and blown up five times and am frankly at my wits’ end. Also my agoraphobia, you know how awful it was at school, has come back worse than ever and I would have sent you more money but, as during my seven years in Paris, I have to take taxis everywhere. It eats up my salary dreadfully. That’s why I need Lucy so much. She really calms me down and it was only during the months I had in England before coming out here, you know beteen visits to Isreal for the six day war, that I really felt happy and well. Don’t tell her though, I have never upset her with tales of my awful anxiety. That story is for me alone when  I feel I can tell her without upsetting her too much. They put me on very strong transqulisers a couple of months ago, but only my prayers really work.

Well I don’t want to get too depressing, so take care and look after dad and Gran as well as yourself.

Lots of love and God Bless.x x x

Anton

—————————————————————

August 27 1968. (from my sister)

“Dearest Ant,

I don’t want to upset you, Ant, as you are back in hell, but it was really terrible. Lucy came down the other day but only John (Michele’s husband) and I were at home when she arrived. I explained mum and dad were back in hospital and she wouldn’t be able to see them. You know her, she was terribly sorry but never dreamed for a minute I was lying.  They had gone back to Richmond for the day on purpose to miss her as mum said she was not encouraging anyone to steal her son. Really, those were her words. I often wondered why she had been so lukewarm toward little Luce as we’d known her eleven years, but I saw it now. It was pure selfishness.

When I got home I rang Sandy because a thought struck me. You know how much you two got on like a house on fire. I couldn’t believe she’d turned you down two years ago before you met Lucy again. She hadn’t. After your proposal she was over the moon and told Mum the same afternoon. Even showed her the ring. Mum tore into her and made up stories of your chasing after every girl you saw and that you’d only proposed to her because you thought you’d made her pregnant and couldn’t face her father. Sandy was so shaken she could not even ask you if it was true. Are you getting the picture now? I don’t want to speak ill of Mum as she’s dying anyway, but when I told John of what she’d said about Lucy he lost the plot. He went round to their house and really tore into her. You know how it was only the pleading of you and Luce that made it finally possble for our parents to accept John as a son in law, well he didn’t let her forget it. I’m sorry if you didn’t want this, but I stole the letter you wrote mum and showed it to Lucy. I think she’s saving up to get the next plane to Asia that she can afford. I’m sorry, but it’s all been so terrible. Anyway, let me  cheer you up by telling you Surrey won by seven wickets yesterday.

Love

Miche x x

—————————————————-

message to willseve,saigon: return singapore at once, family illness: august 30

—————————————————-

The only thought in my mind during the brief flight to Singapore was ‘which one’? I was met by the Singapore boss at the airport and was told my father had had another heart attack. For 14 hours I was half asleep half in tears and was met at the airport by Lucy. She didn’t drive when I left England but had a lovely sports car, John had lent it to her. I just clung to her for quarter of an hour in the car park and didn’t know what to say. We said nothing. But I calmed down a lot and knew my Lucy was all I needed. On the drive home from the airport she went via the hospital where I saw John and Michele by Dad’s bed. He looked so ill, but pleased to see me.  After an indescribable half hour we carried on driving home.

Mum was a pale colour, having awful trouble breathing. When she saw it was Lucy who had brought me she  literally had a siezure and we called an ambulance. It took us to the local cottage hospital and Lucy offered to drive back to the main hospital to get Michele and John.

They fitted mum up in an oxygen tent and a asked if I could hold her hand. They let me. I was numbed as her gasps of breath became worse by the second. It took only ten minutes for her to die and she never spoke or opened her eyes. When the nurses removed the tent I knelt by her bed and prayed for the repose of her soul. It was thus that the other three found me. Thank God Lucy was with me for the funeral as dad’s  condition got much worse. The office told me to remain as long as I liked but that same night dad died. If Lucy had not been with me I don’t know what I would have done.

I returned to Singapore on September the fourteenth where everyone was very sympathetic. I still had six months to do in Vietnam and the office would not allow wives and husbands to be together in a war zone. But we had worked out a really good ruse. Our parish priest, he who had just buried my parents, smiled on Lucy and me  and married us in the church with Michele and John as witnesses. We were not legally married, but the church thought we were and was happy. So we were. But Lucy had to fly out later than I did. So it was on the fourtheenth of September that a good friend, who held all my mail for me, handed me a letter received some weeks ago. I knew the writing. It was dated September the first,

———————————————————

“Dear Son

You’ll be upset to hear that that girl Lucy who was chasing after you disgracefully for the year before you went to Asia was killed in a car crash yesterday. She borrowed John’s sports car and could not control it. I believe it took them an hour to cut her out  and she was crying for you as she died while on the way to hospital…..” I vomited as I tore it up. I couldn’t understand it. Which one of us did she hate the most?  When I met Lucy in Saigon Airport a week later I never mentioned it to her. I never have.

Anton Wills-Eve

LOVING SWEET HAZEL


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/born-to-be-with-you/”>Born to Be With You</a>

she desbribes herself, does she not?

LOVING SWEET HAZEL

A couple of weeks ago I felt obliged to miss a holiday and stay behind with a chap who had broken his leg and had to pull out of our University college students’ trip to Rome. Peter was a catholic and had never been to Rome. He had saved like mad that year to enjoy the trip. Then a week before we were due to leave for the Easter two week visit to the eternal city he came off his bike on the  the ‘High’ and broke his leg in two places.

Several of us felt really sorry for Peter but we gathered round his bed on the week before we were due to leave and promised to send him daily email videos and hoped he could make the holiday the following summer vacation. This was the point at which I wondered whether I should stay behind and cheer him up, but he would not hear of it. “John, you can’t miss the trip. Anyway I’ll be poor company stuck in this bed for the whole time, so I insist. Off you go.”

What happened next was quite unexpected. The holiday club that our college languages students had set up always managed to get good reductions on travel fares and accomodation on our various visits to cities around Europe. We were limited to twenty travellers on each holiday we arranged which meant a mad rush for any last minute reduced tickets and hotels if anyone pulled out. Several people called on the the door of the travel club, that year I was secretary, to see if there were any spare places. I was inundated and both tickets, the only two I had, were gone by 9.00am. As I commiserated with an Australian fellow and was about to shut my door to my rooms, a panting girl rounded the corner and managed to ask, “Am I too late?” I was nodding my head when I realised the poor soul was trying desparately to hold back her tears. I had to ask,

“I say, are you okay? I don’t think we’ve met but I’ve seen you at lectures. What are you studying?” She was amazed that I seemed to care about her at all. She blushed furiously and said very sadly,

“Oh I’m in my second year of Italian and I so wanted to visit the country. But never mind. I probably never will now.”I was just not prepared to put up with this and asked her why ever not. She turned away and I could see she was really badly upset. It was no ordinary disappointment it was something bordering on a fit of depression at the thought she would never do the one thing she had always wanted. I could not let her go back towards the college quad in such an obvious state of sad disappointment. She looked up at me as I asked her.

“Look I’m just locking up here, you wouldn’t like to come out for a coffee with me would you? I’ve nothing to do for a couple of  hours. Then if there are any more last minute cancellations you’ll be with me and I can see that you’ll get a place.” She was overjoyed and then became rather hesitant. I could tell that she was not being completely honest when she said,

“Oh, but I’ve got this work to hand in, but if you could keep any place that came along open for me I’d be very grateful.” There was something more nervous than devious in her voice and I was unable to work out what was getting at her. Then an idea struck me. I had not yet asked her her name and this of course was necessary if I was going to reserve anything for her, so I took a step towards her and half laughing said,

“But hang on a tick. I don’t know your name . Who are you and where do I contact you if  I find a place for you?” She went pale and I could have sworn a shiver went up her spine. She didn’t seem to want to tell me about herself at all, and yet at the same time realised she must. Now, as I was going to play along with her I let her take her time and then she told me,  “It’s Hazel French, even though I am reading Italian, and I’m in room 12 on the second staircase. Look I’ll give you my mobile phone number as well. I’m sorry if I seem uncertain of what I’m doing but I have got behind with my work.” I accepted this as I was starting to work out a plan of my own. Also her expression, ‘if I seem uncertain of what I’m doing,’ was exactly how she came across to me. I closed the conversation by taking a visiting card out of my pocket and handing it to her so she could get hold of me at any place and at any time. What struck me most forcibly, however, was the very definite sob I heard as I saw her disappear round the corner of the quad. The Ivy wall muffled the sound but not enough to convince me that she was not going through a very rough patch in her life.

There were three days to go to the ‘off’ for the Rome trip and a lot of us, seven girls and twelve boys, were getting excited at the prospect. But you may have noticed that we were only nineteen instead of the twenty originally booked. Only a few minutes before lunch on that Wednesday a chap had had to call off as his father was ill and so I had a place for Hazel. I was really glad to be able to ring her with the news, but both texts and phone calls went unanswered. I decided to go round to her room and see if I could find her. She was just coming out as I ran up the gothic hallway to her door.

Hazel, Hazel. Hang on a minute I’ve managed to get you a ticket.” My voice was full of obvious delight but not the tone of her reply.

John? John, have you really? Oh I hope it isn’t too late to make all the necessary arrangements.” She sounded almost relieved that she had found an excuse for not having to go. I could sense beyond doubt that I had to play this very carefully. My first thought was that she was ill in some way and did not think she could manage the journey. I was closer to the truth than I could have imagined. But I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and, given the time of day, I suggested we go for a drink and a sandwich and iron out any problems that she thought were insurmountable. The reaction was sudden and frankly frightening.

John, John look please just leave me alone. Stop pestering me and let me lead my own life. I can’t make the Rome trip and that’s all there is to it. Okay?” Then she burst into tears and raced away from me, out of the building and looking awful. I let her go. I was sure that this called for a much more subtle and medically well informed approach than I could possible manage in barely three days. But One of my closest friends from school who was at a different college was studying psychiatry. I hoped he could help.

What wonderful things mobile phones are. Within seven minutes Stephen and I were sitting next to each other over a pint of beer and he was fascinated by my mystery tourist.

John, the key to all this, if I’m right, lies in the first morning you saw her. How upset was she at not getting a ticket on the trip or was it all play acting?”

Definitely not acting, Steve. More as though she had screwed her courage to the sticking place and could not believe she’d been thwarted at the last minute. I think it was the obvious change in her attitude that intrigued me after that.” My somewhat pompous and self opinionated friend rubbed his hands together and said,

Case solved, John. But it will take very careful handling if you are going to get her on that plane by Saturday evening. John she has has a fairly common but seldon correctly diagnosed phobia. It is half agoraphobia and half claustrophobia. Now here’s what you have to do.” I’m so glad I never doubt my friends, maybe that is why they are my friends.

I calculated it would be around five pm that Hazel would return to her room. For a start Stephen’s diagnosis had explained how Hazel had managed to get such a coveted billet. Obviously the senior college tutor had been told what was wrong with her and had done all he could to help. I felt sure her fellow second year students just thought her family were very rich and had bribed the college. Poor thing, that was the last thing she needed. Anyway, I was leaning up against her door post as she rounded the corner to her room at ten past five. She was startled to see me and just froze on the spot. Thank heavens Steve had primed me really well.

Hullo, mystery girl, “I smiled at her. “Please just don’t hyperventilate until you have invited me in for a drink, which, naturally, I have provided. I hope you drink Champagne, most people with acute anxiety neuroses do. I have a chilled bottle and a couple of fluted glasses in my attache case here so why don’t we dive in before they get too hot?”

This was the moment I was not expecting. She burst into floods of tears. Then taking a quick step towards me she flung her arms round my neck and said, “Thank you John. Oh, thank you so much. How on earth did you know? Only my family do and they did not want me to come up at all as they thought the strain would be far too great. But, look I’m soaking you. Oh, I am sorry John. But did you mean it about the Champagne? I can’t stand it hot. And her lovely smile completely transformed her features. I wasn’t sure but I think that was the moment I fell very deeply in love with her.

The bubbly was consumed at a rather Formula one pace and Hazel was delighted to discover that I had a second bottle in my electric cold box. We both seemed to know instinctively that we didn’t want to be separated for even a few minutes and so I quickly got the problem out of the way by saying, “Oh, I’ve changed the hotel rooms and plane seats round, so you won’t have any trouble managing the tricky parts of the holiday. I shall be at your side at all times. Finally, on a practical note, my love, do you have serious trouble managing crowded or deserted places on your own, only, or are you ok as long as someone who understands your illness Is with you?”

She giggled deliciously. Actually John, I don’t know. When the really awful attacks hit me there is nothing I can do but hang on to someone like you. But I never get any warning.” That would be an eye opener for Steve, he assured me that could never happen. But it solved one problem for me. All I had to do was make sure her passport was as it should be and I could have her on that plane whenever I wanted.

Hazel, don’t take this the wrong way, but I really do love you so I would hate to spoil this holiday for you by doing anything that might morally or otherwise upset you if you were treating it as a sort of pilgrimage to help you get better. Are you?” Now it was my turn not to know what to do. She replied,

Yes, I am a Catholic and I was hoping this might show God how much I was prepared to put up with to deserve his help in curing me.”

I didn’t know what to say, so didn’t. I just gave her an affectionate hug and promised her I would never come between her and her God. She said she had never thought I would.

Throughout the visit to Rome several of my friends noticed how close Hazel and I had become, and we were the pair who usually made sure that some emails were sent to Peter every night. But more than that we were really happy together and on the Sunday morning of the Papal audience in saint Peter’s square I felt the first stirings of religious or spiritual love moving me and in an odd way drawing me much closer to Hazel. On the last night I asked her,

My darling, where do we go from here? I want to marry you as soon as possible, it’s been very hard not making love to you, but I did promise. Can you teach me what I have to do to be able to marry you soon?

She gave me a lovely answer. “I am starting to feel a lot better already, John. Just carry on staying close to me and we’ll both get what we want very soon”.

And to show you just how true her words were we are incorporating pushing Peter round the eternal city after our exams in May, when he gets his wish, and we get our honeymoon.

Anton Wills-Eve

NEVER HEARD OF HIM


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/dont-you-forget-about-me/”>Don’t You Forget About Me</a>

who?

NEVER HEARD OF HIM

Jim walked slowly into the garden, shading his eyes from the bright sunlight as he came out of  the shadows of the huge mansion. His glum expression told it all as he said to Jane and Richard, “It’s all over. The morphine dose was finally too strong. Will is dead.”

His two friends looked sad and Jane was badly upset as she’d known Will all the 69 years of their lives and been married to him for 42 of them. “I should have been with him, Richard, but I just couldn’t.” He understood. Jane and Will had been born in the same street. If it was a shock to Will’s friends, his death, Rick thought, would cause much greater speculation in the financial world. Jim, Jane and Richard realised that almost nobody had a clue who the real Will, you know the person they all loved and would miss dreadfully, actually was. After all, practically noboody did. It was possible the Times might carry a very short biography of him, but only in his rather obscure capacity as one of the richest men in the country. The Financial Times might also carry the fact that he had died, but as hardly anyone knew exactly how he had made his billions, and they really were billions, some sixteen £billion GBP, approx $ twenty five billion US,  according to the Times, then there were a lot of people who would have loved to know how he had done it. But except for a very select band of friends the secrets of Will’s financial manoeuvrings went with him to his grave. But what could those who did know him well tell you of the quiet magnate save that he was amusing, generous and greatly beloved of a very few friends?

Well three of those friends we have already met and in truth there were probably only two more who were very close to Will. But most interestingly all six were very good friends amongst themselves who had known each other since schooldays. Sandy had for many years been expected to become Will’s wife, but for reasons none of them knew or discussed this never happened. In fact by the time Jane and Will were twenty seven they suddenly announced their engagement and were married a couple of weeks later. They had always been so close it was not totally surprising, but as they had never given any signs of amourous leanings towards each other at any stage in their lives up to then this caused a real shock. Jane had been expected to marry Richard when they spent a lot of time with each other in their late teens and early twenties, yet Richard was unmoved by the marriage. After they left university and he slowly cooled towards Jane, he could still often be caught looking at her with a wistful gleam in his eyes. That Richard and Sandy should marry soon after Jane and Will was hardly surprising. Obviously they had always seemed very good friends rather than hopelessly in love. But their marriage seemed happy enough.

Jim was usually attributed with introducing the last person to the the little clique. Lucy was a bubbley, vivavcious girl who Jim had met at a dance at Sandy and Jane’s School when they were both seventeen. They hit it off immediately and were seldom seen apart again. They married at university, both went to Oxford, and holidayed and also seemed to go everywhere with Jane and Will from their mid thirties for the rest of their lives. It will be gathererd from this that the group were all children of reasonably wealthy parents. This was quite true for all of them except Will who had won a scholarship to the school the boys went to and whose own parents had died in a holiday plane crash when he was thirteen. This should have upset him greatly, especially being an only child, but instead it turned him into something of a dreamer. One example of this side of his growing personality was the wish to possess things, cars, houses, expensive clothes and jewelry etc. It was Jane who always laughed at his wish to dissipate his fortune. This was a lump sum whose provenance was the amount the airline had agreed in an out of court settlement. It included all his education expenses and living expenses until he was 21 and on top of that a lump sum settlement of  £400,000  sterling, an enormous sum in 1958. But therein lay the possibility of making his dreams come true.

Back in those days most boys at the sort of school the three went to were encouraged to aim for some profession which would eventually bring them in a good salary. Jim’s legal firm, in which Lucy also worked, flourished, and very quickly made a lot of money. Richard was a very successful surgeon and Will…. well that was just the point. What did Will do when and while studying Italian and French at Cambridge University?  Herein the mystery really did begin to take on very strange proportions. You see he was known to have talked Jane into studying herself inside out to get a place at Cambridge too, and she just scraped in to spend three years getting a BA in economics while Will just breezed his way through a not terribly taxing degree in languages. Both of them got moderately good grades but neither seemed to care about this at all and were certainly never looked on as budding geniuses. Sandy got a good degree in Art history and with a loan from Will had opened a small gallery in the West End of London. It was to expand into a very lucrative concern. So how did this affect the close relationship between Jane and Richard at this time? Well it was in the summer of 1968 that several things came to a head that both cemented the friendship of the six young people and at the same time set tongues wagging throughout Europe as a British linguist wrote a book on the history of economics and, instead of publishing it normally, floated it as a company on the stock exchange.

A lot of people thought it amusing and almost a prank but the joke caught on and it sold several hundred thousand copies to see how such a weird financial move would change the value of the book. Well to everyone’s amazement as the book sales gradually netted nearly a million copies sold and some two millions pounds income to the trading company, “Will sell Ltd” the venture was seen to be a brainwave. Instead of just being a financial experiment it quickly made the company’s name and “Will Sell Ltd” was worth more than £30 million sterling, in those days some $US 75 millions dollars. Then all the players in the extraordinary game just disappeared from the world financial stage. Will put his huge profits into an account in Zurich and there for several months our story stands still

The day after Will’s coup, he was not quite twenty four at the time, the six friends met for a celebration dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London. They were in high spirits and, true to her personality, it was little Lucy, tightly gripping Jim’s hand, who blurted out half way through the Champagne toast, “How long do we wait for phase two?” The quiet, unassuming genius, Will, put his finger to his lips,

“Shshsh Luce, that all depends on how much you want to make? Jane and I have not quite put the finishing touches to our next little ruse. Let’s just enjoy this party and then I’ll call another general meeting in a couple of months, around Easter, and we’ll see how much we can turn our thirty millions into.” It was from about this time that Richard and Jane, some thought understandably, started to become a little lukewarm towards each other.

After this the company that Will, with Jane’s help, had formed remained very low profile for about another seven months, a lot longer than Will expected. But when the financial world suddenly awoke out of the blue to a Malaysian rubber market dealer called “Will Sell Ltd”, a lot of speculators felt they knew when they were on to a good thing. The company was floated immediately at £3 per share, without any indication how much rubber stock it held. After all why should it? But a couple of people on holiday in Zurich, Jim and Lucy yawned that morning as the markets opened and bought £ 150 million worth of shares in “Will Sell Ltd”, debt payable direct to the newly floated company in Kuala Lumpur. Payable in US$dollars of course. That one purchase  by Jim and Lucy sparked off a rush on “Will Sell Ltd”, but why when no one had seen proof of the amount of rubber the company held?

As hoped by the owners of the company, before this struck the major players, “Will sell Ltd” had pocketed the non existent $150 million from Jim and Lucy and some £1.5 billion  sterling from major players who actually parted with this much money before anybody examined the books of “Will Sell Ltd.”By then, five hours after starting trading, it had folded up, declared itself banrupt and all assets moved to an unknown destination in South America. Legally it was indicted for criminal fraud in Malaysia, but as nobody knew anything about it the Asian police could not trace the huge sums moved from Kuala Lumpur to…..? Exactly to where. You see the original “Will Sell Ltd” had been closed down in Britain and the former owner said to have retired to Ireland. Several people thought, many years later, that the destination was Venezuela as Richard and Sandy were on holiday there. Under the false name of Mr and Mrs Price, Will’s sense of humour could really be dreadful at times.

So here we are in 1973 when our close friends were all living established, if unexpected lives. Jane and Will were married,  Richard and Sandy were starting to see more of each other, while Richard was a budding surgeon of repute, and Sandy’s art venture was taking off very successfully. Finally Jim and Lucy had a thriving law firm in which they were both partners. But where were Will and Jane? Well, we have already touched on his  love of glamorous and expensive things and none more so than the house he bought himself in Surrey. It was bought in the name of a company in Peru, where more than a £1.3 billion of the lost money still lay hidden in various vaults. Will’s house had 41 rooms and three acres of grounds. It was lavishly furnished and many people thought that Jane had only married him because if he would not heed her notes of caution about gaspiating his wealth she would share it and make sure he was nothing like as extravagant as he wished to be. And it was at their house that the six friends met for a second Christmas weekend at the end of 1973. But to what purpose? Well by this time all six of them were coming up with ideas of how to make  ever greater fortunes out of the  fortunes they already had.

That Christmas Will told each of the five of them that from then on he would be giving £100,000  to each of them per anum if they helped come up with  ideas for increasing the capital. Will had seen a Venezuelan Oil company about to go bust, and snapped it up for a relatively small sum. He never told the others, but by May 1974 he was able to sell his oil shares for £ 9 billion and this was when the world took notice. Suddenly financial papers and journals were asking who was this magnate sitting on near ten billion sterling? Nobody knew his name and as he and his friends moved the money around so fast and so cleverly, no journalist or financial expert could ever put a surname to Will. He did not mind people knowing that much but his five friends hid him behind such a blanket of total obscurity that as the value of his capital steadied out at around £17 billion and stayed there it ceased to be a news story. Thus from the end of 1979 to the middle of 2014 the six friends were very comfortably off and their annual honorarium paid into overseas accounts where they could never be traced made them all very rich indeed.

Given the way their lives had develoed one other important aspect of their friendship should be mentioned. The three families has all bought houses very close to each other. Also the children of the marriages grew up to know each other really well, but this was only to be expected. Oddly each couple had only two children and in each case a boy and a girl. Jim and Lucy had twins, Gregory and Anna, Richard and Sandy had Sally who was two years older than Peter and finally Jane and Will were very happy with Mary, a year younger than Hugh. Also there were only four years between all six children. They were all grown up and married when early in 2014 it was known than Will was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. The families, and especially the five original friends were devastated. But the news spread to the financial world that the fabulously wealthy William …? was about to die. His lawer, Mr Jim….? was besieged by papparazzi all of whom wanted details of his will. Jim promised to give them this as soon as the testator had died. And most importantly the revenue authorities began to take an interest in his estate.

A meeting of the the six friends, would it be the last? was called in May 2014. “Listen, everyone, said Will, I have one last coup up my sleeve. As my surgeon, don’t look so sad, you will have to sign the death warrant Richard. Make it in beautiful copperplate handwriting. You Jim will read the will immediately after announcing my death, and the rest of you, plus those children who can make it, should crowd round the house in inconsolable grief. Okay? The vicar will bury me of course and my estate will be passed on to the following people exactly as I dictate it here.

Firstly to the inland revenue I leave all taxes and duties due, which I have been assured is £5.6 billion sterling.

To my wife Jane I leave my house and all it’s contents and the capital sum of £1.4 billion sterling. To Jim, Richard, Lucy and Sandy I leave £2 billion each and to each of my children and nephews and neices, I leave £ 300 million pounds each. The balance of my estate, some £ 200 million to various charities as written out here. And that, my friends, is that. Oh and of course we will have our usual Christmas week together, but just our generation not the kids.”

When Jim ran into the garden to break the news several people were galvanised into life. Sandy had done a wonderful job on Will and he looked nothing like himself as he was hustled onto a plane to Florence three hours later. She travelled with him.

Jim handled the press brilliantly and the mony side of things seemed sensible and fair to all parties and nobody questioned anything. The funeral was to be held five days later and Richard produced a beautiful death certificate which the lawyers, Lucy alone in this case, accepted without question.

The tax officials agreed with Will’s figures and were very happy with the death duties as his accountants had calculated them. In short everything had gone like a dream, when the £17 billion sterling was removed from the Swiss bank where it lay, and now multiplied by four as Will sold off all his South American oil shares in the gulf of Maracaibo. This left him with more than £50 billion sterling in his Geneva account, where such a sum in a business account was by no means unusual.

And so to the Christmas get together at the close of 2014. Seated at the wonderful oak table, circular as Arthur decreed, were three very happily married couples. Richard held his wife Jane’s hand tight under the tablecloth and their smiles were of pure delight at the thought of no more deceit.

Jim and Lucy were indeed doubly married, chuch and state, and seemed almost in another world as all their conniving of the past nearly fifty years had worked out perfectly. And last, but by no means least Will and Sandy just clung to each other as they raised their glasses in their beautiful sixteenth century villa at Lucca in Tuscany.

How and what had they done? Well it was easy really. As marriage in church was all that mattered to them, Sandy and Will and Richard and Jane had been thus married in 1974. What legal entanglemets they then entered into did not interest them a jot. They had tricked the revenue and lived as man and wife just as they wished.

Their children were great and willing partners in the various plans they worked out over the years and even helped at times. In fact by the time that Sandy and Will retired to Italy he really was the richest English commoner. And so when Will’s obituaries appeared in the papers it was quite true that nobody quite knew who he had been. Well, think of it. This was because he was still alive, and the six friends were begining a final retirement together with more money than anyone in the world would have believed.

Anton Wills-Eve

SKY’S RED BUT I’M NOT MOURNING AS MUCH


reply to redwrap’s walking with the Sun

SKY’S RED BUT I’M NOT MOURNING AS MUCH

I’ve just read ‘Walking with the sun on my Face’ in the blog collection ‘Red’s Wrap’. Like many other insatiable word press users I was greatly moved in many different directions by the thoughts that floated through my own mind as I read her ten thoughts for today. So I shall simply say how they affected my memories of my life and my philosophy about the world I live in. I do hope you don’t mind Red, but why else would you have written what you did if not to stir the stew pans of your readers’ mental worlds?

On 1.Sometimes I miss carrying people but it’s nice to swing my arms when I walk and have no worries.

Well three ideas in the first sentence, that suggests a blog of huge proportions but I’ll try not to. The first image that sticks in my mind is the picture of someone walking and swinging their arms but also suggests that doing this erases worries. If only it did life would be so much easier. I know that when I swing my arms when walking I feel vaguely military and that is something which both worries and disturbs me. I think it all depends on whether you are leisurely enjoying your walk, or striding purposefully towards some goal.

The former is fine and is usually fun. The latter just makes me squirm and wish the object of my march would go away. If you think of it which ever way you walk you must be going somewhere. If it is to a place with no worries associated with it you are very fortunate indeed. If a march to a military end then your worries will be many and it may well be the last walk you ever take.

But the opening line really hits me where it hurts. “I miss carrying people.” Oh, lucky you that you ever had that ultimate joy of parent hood. To lift a little one above your head as you skipped along, both of you laughing. How lucky the parents who have done that. I was blessed with four children but I never once was able to pick them up in joyful play or had the playful joy of walking with them swinging in my tightened grasp. My first wife had not long had our daughter, just seven weeks, and although I had kissed her and rocked her in my arms as a baby the tragedy of that day when a mortar hit the hospital where My gorgeous Anh worked and killed both her and baby Gemma on the spot will never leave me. How could it? That was in Saigon in November 1968 where I was working as a journalist.

Four months later a met an English girl in Singapore and she comforted me and gradually restored my shattered sanity to the point where we married in August 1969. By then I was the company’s chief correspondent in Indo-China and my wife soon became pregnant. I could not take the risk of my first loss and when she was six moinths pregnant she returned to my family in England. There she had our son and when he was three months old he was left with my sister as I only had four months of my posting left.

My wife flew back, but the war had moved seriously into Cambodia and in my last week scheduled to work there I was the sole survivor of a helicopter crash. It took a total of three months to patch me up. I had seriously damaged my back and had a bone graft from hip to spine. Naturally When I finally returned to England and was fit enough to resume work I did not have the strength to lift up my little boy. He could come and sit on my knee to be read a story, but that’s not the same as swinging him over my head. And now I shall close my reflections on your first thought with the greatest sadness of my life for which only I was responsible.

In mid-January 1969 after a couple of Pernod’s too many to help control the agoraphobia from which I have suffered all my life but refused to let limit my work or play, I made love to an American journalist and then never saw her again. As foul fate and deserved ill fortune would have it I received a letter from her eight months later to say she was due to have a child in about a month’s time. I was very much in love with my second wife and showed her the letter. She said she understood and it made no difference to our marriage plans. She has hardly mentioned that letter since, but for a very good reason.

The girl with whom I slept, Kathy, married a flame of long standing almost as soon as she returned to the States that same January and never told him about me. He has always assumed his daughter, Gemma, was his own. Kathy told me she remembered I had told her my tragedy and my daughter’s name. Also that I was a Catholic. She said it was the one thing she could do for me, and became a Catholic herself very soon after returning to America. Her husband was not especially bothered one way or the other. Kathy said a mutual friend whom we could both trust, a fellow journalist, would always keep me informed about my daughter when he could.

Now where does the mourning come in again in this first recollection? Well when Gemma was nineteen she married a marine and only nine months later as she was being driven to hospital in haste to have a baby, her husband’s car was in a crash and both he and his wife, my Gemma, were killed. But paramedics performed a miracle and the baby was saved. She is called Jenny, is a very lovely twenty six year old now and I have heard she is hoping to marry this summer. So I never even got to swing my grandchild either. I told our mutual friend that my wife knew everything and understood and to our great surprise last Chistmas, she, not me, got a letter from Kathy asking her to assure me she was mentally fine and had three more children now and was very grateful to God. My wife broke down in tears and showed me the letter. All she said was, “You have a knack of picking really nice people, haven’t you?” Well let’s look at the rest of Red’s thoughts and find out.

2.I had lost touch with how intensely self-conscious my Nicaraguan children sometimes were in places we went as a white family but I am remembering it now and wish I’d really understood what I was seeing when I was seeing it.

This thought requires some background knowledge on what relationship your ‘Nicaraguan children were to you, but in the sense that you talk about it I don’t think it matters. It reads as the wish that you had understood what children of a diferrent ethnic background felt when forced to mix with whites. If I am right I do have a very strong memory of an episode in my life when I had to cover an insurgance in a French west African country.

I was fresh out of University and on my first overseas assignment for the news agency. We lived in Paris and my French was fluent which was why I was chosen for the assignment. Within a day of arriving in the middle of hell I was introduced to a French nurse, a white girl aged about 23 to my 22 so she said she had a really good story for me. She worked in a hospital for blind orphans and it also took in perfectly healthy children who had no idea who their parents were. Well I wrote a well received piece on the hospital and then found myself playing tennis in the street with a few of the other children. Some were really good.

Now just about every country in the world that used to be a colony, especially British or French, had a sports and games club that was tacitly – some overtly- reserved for whites only. I was not aware of this, but on my second night in the country’s capital I was invited to become an honorary member of the Racing Club. When they discovered I was a member, as was my father, of the founding club in Paris, they were all over me and said I could bring any friends of mine with me to enjoy the facilities.

I didn’t know. I wasn’t American or South African I didn’t know what racial segregation actually was. I just knew it was wrong. I was to learn much worse about this aspect of American life in Vietnam. But I digress. Two days later in the early afternoon I approached the club with three unnaturally worried, as I thought, children with tennis rackets. They were of course native coloured children. The concierge looked at me in amazement and asked why I was accompanied by the kids. I told him they were going to play tennis at the club with me. He asked me to wait.

A few minutes later the vice president of the club came up to me and asked if I had read the rules about coloured people not being allowed in the club.

I asked him why, as I was not aware of this rule. He said it was normal, like women not being allowed in Golf clubs in England. As I began to realise that he was serious I asked him if I could come inside to the committee room and told the children to wait outside. The President and two other bloated colonial do-nothings lounging in the armchairs. I asked if the rule was genuine as I had never come across it before in my life. I was assured it was. I was about to tear up my membership card in front of them when I remembered that the special press facilities room was in the club and I could not work if I was not a member. So I just got up, apologised for not reading their inhumane rules and left.

For the rest of my stay I just dodged bullets, played with the kids and helped at the hospital. On the day I was leaving I went into a filled main bar and tore up my membership card in front of them all telling them exactly what I thought of them. One tall and rather self-important man asked me what the children had thought of my efforts to get them access to the courts. I suddenly realised, to my shame, that I had forgotten to ask the most important question of all. Back at the hospital, though, as a leaving present they had bought me a new tennis racket and the friendliest boy said to me” Thank you for trying to help us, monsieur. I fear, however, that you were about fifty years too early.” He understood all right.

3.If there is a God, I think he or she frequently gives people more than they can handle but they survive mostly because they decide to focus on what’s going to happen in the next five minutes.

A lovely idea this one and of course 100 per cent correct. I am a believing, devoutly practising Catholic, but the idea that I focus more on the next five minutes than anything else is spot on. But where I love the underlying idea in this is because ‘I have too much to handle’ is a long way from how I see my faith. Yes I do attend to the immediate, it’s only natural, but if anything were to threaten my religion, like say, military persecution, then that would become my next five minutes. I would attend to it at once.

This is the whole point of my way of viewing God. If you know Him and love Him as I do, then of course he is the most important part of my life. If, however, one finds it impossible to believe in a creator God then he is not so important and other things take precedence. But the lovely bit is never forgetting to pray for people who cannot believe because they have no idea just how much joy and pleasure can be derived from participating in spiritual love.

4. I will never fully understand the concept of forgiveness although I do understand reaching a point of letting go of one’s rage before it becomes lethal.

Well to start with if one does not know what it feels like to love God or even a particular saint, then the feeling you need in order to forgive must be terribly hard to understand. People have often asked me, do you forgive Hitler?. I would much prefer ‘have you forgiven Hitler’, but leave that. Yes I have. It is not my business to forgive or withhold forgiveness from anyone. What I should do is condemn the sin but leave forgiving the sinner to God.But where I can see that this is really hard is when you feel very strongly about something, mass shootings are usually good examples, when you want the perpetrator to be punished but you dont want to forgive them either. Now, if you haven’t got a God to pass the forgiving buck on to then it is up to you. Your solution of not letting your feeling reach the stage where you could hurt some one else is quite correct. You have to draw the line there. But I do think you should also try to see whatever has been done from the point of view of the malfaissant because only then can you start to work out what made them do what they did. And it is important to society to try to find a reason or you won’t stop the next one.

5 Martin Niemoller’s caution still rings true even though we like to see it as historical, an artifact of another time, not this one.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Very famous, I know, very clever but incomplete. He never says why in each case. We are assumed to know, if we know our history, then we can understand the first three, but what about the last one. Who is coming for him and why? I am quite happy to accept that the general idea of the piece is that unless we defend the persecuted and oppressed when they start being oppressed, simply because it’s nothing to do with us, where will persecution end? The simple answer is that depends on who is persecuting and why? But, as I say, in the last line we don’t know so how could we intervene as the writer suggests we should?

The best example in the world today is that of North Korea where the nation is so brain washed everone does everything they are told no matter how insane it may appear.But isn’t that exactly what happens in developped western countries? We’re all free, yippee! Yes we are, to speak our minds, but there democracy ends. And why? Because unless we go along with the financial arrangements put in place by the extreme left and extreme right we could not take home a salary good enough for us to have enjoyable lives. We don’t make or take those decisions we just abide by them.

6 It is a relief not to worry about my children’s happiness but to know that they are happy or happy enough without my planning and tending and that I can fill up that new space with almost anything I choose.

God you’re lucky. No you really are. No matter what age they are if you really no longer have to worry about your children and you are free to spend your time as you like you must be awfully confident that your world is never going to change. There is so much that could be said here, but I’m not going to. If you are as lucky as you say then I’m not going to change it for you. I’ll just pray things stay as good as they are.

7 The boy at the beach on Sunday with long khaki pants and shoes on was like a prisoner I wanted to liberate; I thought why did your parents bring you to this joyous place in a cage?

What an odd thing to think. Your mind is becoming much, much clearer. How do you know that before setting out that afternoon – was it morning? – there was not an almighty row in that household. The boy had just got the latest fashionable, ghastly looking, clothes and could at last ape his friends. He was over the moon at showing off his outfit but his mother told him to change. They went at it hammer and tongs for ages until dad final shouted “We’re wasting the day. For God sake let him go out dressed as Nero if he likes but for heaven’s sake stop this squabbling. The real irony was that he never saw any friends, his parents don’t visit those sort of beaches, and so he was kitted out like an idiot for nothing.

Life is much more interesting in our heads than our eyes.

8 It is wonderful to have someone thank me for a right decision I made about them twenty-five years ago.

What on earth does one say about something that has never happened to them? I was thinking what I was doing 25 years ago, O god yes, got it! Stupid me. On May 7th 1990 I got my wife pregnant. It was more than twenty one years since we’d had a child and I couldn’t believe it. We were both alternately up in the air or down on our knees. We really could not take it in. She was 43 and I was 48 and my mother in law was petrified that I had killed her daughter. My father in law was delighted for us but a bit apprehensive for his daughter. My own parents had both died very young nearly twenty years earlier, so you can imagine it meant so much to me. We had wanted more children but God just never gave us any and then wow! I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

You’re all getting teed up for a tear jerker aren’t you? No, be honest, after my earlier stuff. But this was one of the greatest stories you could make up, except it happened. When my adorable wife was 23 weeks and four days pregnant and all was going swimmingly God gave us a little reminder that things aren’t always as we expect. Given our ages you can see why I knew the exact length of her pregnancy, when she got appendicitis and it burst. The ambulance crew were staggering but got us to the operating theatre in time. It was two pm in the afternoon and all I was allowed to do was get the Catholic chaplain to the operating table to baptise the baby and give my wife the last rights.They’re great. Much better than medication.

Because thirteen weeks later after my wife had had two operations and nearly died, and my son had struggled to breathe – he still holds his hospital record for survival at 23 weeks and four days back in 1990- for months, we all came home on January 6th, Epiphany, and my eldest boy had flown back from university in Australia to help all he could. But the youngest went on to be an academic genius with a lst class BSc. honours in physiology, an MA in Archeology of death and memory, and is heading for a doctorate in a year or two. No, of course I hadn’t forgotten all that, it’s just that I can’t remember if my wife said thank you on May the 7th!

9 ‘I can decide to not let things be more important than the things that are important like working on gun control and racism; there aren’t other people to do this, we are the people’.

Again absolutely spot on. Those are just the sort of things that

the average person should be concerned with and make their voices heard on. I don’t suppose that the Vatican News Service is top of the reading list in your house, but you have almost said exactly the same thing as Pope Francis said in his Letter to the world last week, but he was aimed at preserving the planet and helping the starving and the poor.

He really went for those people who could, and should be doing something about these problems but aren’t for purely selfish reasons. He cited four meetings on global warming and not a thing done. He slammed the countries that let the poor starve in case stopping a civil war might interrupt their oil supply. Then he went for the over fed industrialised countries for ignoring the starving people in the third world. You really should read it it puts the skewer right into the stomachs of the greedy and the lazy.

But the bit I liked best was when he said religious education in catholic scools should be about being the sort of citizens that God needed on this earth rather than just brilliantly clever technocrats and scientists who were destroying the planet instead of preserving it. Great stuff. And as you so rightly say, the sort of document that was not written for the shelf but every school desk.

10 I could not be more grateful for my chance to be on the earth this day and all the days past and maybe tomorrow.

Well taken overall I certainly hope that your days on the earth have still got a long way to go. I have seldom found myself agreeing IN SPIRIT with the ideas of another person who is not known to me, with whom I have never chatted and who wants to do what is right and has the humility to admit that she still has bits to learn to do this. Thanks for the read. It was fun and a great read.

Anton Wills-Eve