Saturday, December 26, 2009

Delicious meals in austerity Britain

I have always been thin. It was a worry to my family. Especially my Auntie Maud.
"He needs building up", she told my mother.
My mother only smiled wistfully.
"Do you give him any dripping?" Auntie Maud went on.
"He loves it", said Mum. "He's always putting it on a slab of bread".

This was true. It was caviar to me. The small pudding basin of dripping kept in the larder was under constant attack. I used to make a hole in the off white surface and burrow with a knife down into the depths to reach the meaty bits at the bottom. The layer of brown jelly was the prize. With chunks of bread cut with the bread saw, I spread the brownish white concoction on thickly. I then liberally sprinkled it with both salt and pepper and returned to the old chicken shed at the top of the garden which was my hidey house. Only there with the floor still covered with fowl droppings and the sun beating on a tar felt roof, could my gourmet meal be truly savoured.

I was a dab hand in the kitchen. My brother was useless. To be sure, I didn't do much more than open a tin or two and light the gas, but I never starved. My brother didn't starve either, he had another tactic. He would visit his friends when the hunger pangs came on. He would just hang around until the family he had invaded would be obliged to feed him. He was a bit like a cuckoo in this respect, only he relied on the existing chick to stick around to lead him to the table.

Meanwhile back in our kitchen, I would be boiling an egg, prior to heating a tin of spaghetti and burning a slice of toast. Timing never came easily with me. This meal was 'Birds Nest'. The toast, liberally buttered, would be covered with spaghetti and the hard boiled egg placed on top. I needed to be alone when I cooked this, for if my brother was around he would scoff one or more of the component parts. He was a cuckoo at home too!

On Sunday mornings, with all the family at home, we had a late breakfast of fried bacon and egg, with tomato and the finest, thickest and greasiest fried bread ever. I can imagine and smell it now. The crisp outside was uniformly brown, and oozed hot bacon fat.

Delicious!

After the meal was served, the cuckoo and I would each have our beaks open waiting for Mum to toss us the rind as she cleaned up. This would be stripped of its fat first, gulped down and the hard rind nibbled at leisure later. I don't know where my brother ate his but I took mine to the chicken shed.

Three or four hours later, the Sunday roast was on the table. My Dad was very good about this. He only stayed at the pub for a couple of beers. My school friends fathers never used to return home until after Two o'clock, when the landlords threw them out. They took no part in the preparation of the meal, but ate it mechanically and then retired to bed to sleep off the effects of five or six pints of bitter. My Father on the other hand would have the most important job of carving the joint. To this day I still consider this, the essential part of the Sunday meal's preparation. The laying of the table was entrusted to us boys. That usually meant just me. The cuckoo was already eating at Tommy Radford's house two streets away. Mother did all the minor jobs of peeling vegetables, preparing the meat and turning it in the oven, boiling the vegetables soggy with ample sprinklings of salt, putting bi-carb in the cabbage to make it green, and making suet pudding and custard.

She would confidently say, "Your Father will be back soon, and then we can dish up."
And he was. He had that most important job to do. I dreamed of the day when I could do it too. He used to sharpen the knife on the doorstep, which developed a concave depression through continued use.

But I didn't get any fatter. Or did I? Well it didn't show then. Forty years later after eating sensible low fat meals, with plenty of fruit and vegetables has done me no good whatsoever. Those early days of a liberal fat intake has given me a high cholesterol reading regardless of the drugs prescribed to combat it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The day I dared

"Jim Norris! I would never have believed it."
Neither did I, here I was 12,000 miles from home, in a restaurant in England and somebody was calling my name. I turned and a broadly smiling face greeted me. Quickly I did a spot check. Who was he? He was clean shaven, had grey hair, was shorter than me and carried a bit of weight.
"Why! Hello there," I responded weakly. My brain was in a whirl. Who was he?
I returned his beaming smile, would anything about him give me a clue?
"You don't remember me, do you?" he said, still smiling and with good humour.
"Graham." I quickly interjected. "Well I never." At least something was coming back. I had been to school with him forty years ago. Who recognises old school chums? Well he did! Now what was his surname?
"Did you ever meet my wife Helen?" Then all in the same breath he went on. "Of course you did, you were both in the same form, weren't you?"
In my confusion at trying to recognise the stranger, I had completely ignored his partner at the table. I turned to her. Helen. Helen Ritchie. Oh yes! I knew Helen.

She smiled up at me and we shook hands shyly.
"Hello Helen, isn't this just amazing. Here am I just visiting England for a few weeks, and we meet each other after all this time."
Graham clearly was very pleased with the whole affair. He fetched a chair so that I could sit at their table. He ordered another glass for me to share their wine. He prattled on about the inane and inconsequential. Yes, I remembered Graham now. He was both a laugh and a bore at school. I had quickly grown away from him and his gang of cronies.
But Helen.....

Now at this point I must say how ashamed I feel about my relationship with Helen.
Graham was right, we were in the same class at school, but it wasn't until we were in sixth form that we really took any notice of each other. As sixth formers were supposed to be more responsible, so in our periods free from rostered classes, we were allowed to study in the library and even play tennis. We did both of these. During such times we talked about everything under the sun. She went to ballet classes, loved opera and classical music, and had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. On the tennis court we always seemed to play against each other in doubles and it was then I noticed what shapely tanned legs she had. In the library when we were together we talked about politics, music, art and our futures.

I remember she wrote out the English translations of some of the famous opera arias just for me. We were like brother and sister. It must have been when we were talking about the opera La Boheme, and the duet of Rudolfo and Mimi and her problem of frozen hands that we got around to talking about our own hands.

And I dared to touch her hands. Her fingers were slender, with neatly cut nails and her palms were soft and warm. Not like Mimi's! I had never before been in such an intimate situation and its importance was completely lost upon me.

Later like a fool I asked Helen if she could help me. My roving eye had fallen on the voluptuous Rebecca Simpson and could think of no way to attract her attention, so I asked Helen intercede for me. She did so, and before long had arranged a meeting for Rebecca and me.

I can remember quite clearly the evening she told me. As usual I had walked Helen to her bus stop. Arrangements made, I thanked her. As she looked so sad I asked if she was O.K. The smallest of tears formed in her eyes and she said she loved me herself. Only she didn't say it in English, she said it in Italian, the language of opera. I didn't speak the language but clearly understood the amore part. I was helpless and hopeless in this situation. I was still thinking of my future meeting with Rebecca. When her bus came in she gave me a quick peck on the cheek, a squeeze of the hand and left me for ever. We hardly ever spoke or did things together after that.

Now forty years later here she was, married to Graham! Well he seems to have done well for himself. While we exchanged pleasantries I looked a them both. I am lying of course I spent most of my time looking at Helen. Yes, of course she had changed, but she was still Helen. She was just as attractive. A little plumper perhaps, touches of grey in her hair, crinkled lines at the corners of her still beautiful eyes, but none of these detracted from the classic shape of her face with the high cheek bones, the unblemished skin, and her hands..... No! They had not changed either.
A mobile phone rang, it was Graham's. The reception wasn't good so he excused himself and went out into the street to answer it.

Helen and I were alone together. It was then that she did the most extraordinary thing. She reached out for my hand, took it and with exquisite tenderness touched each finger. I was looking at her face as she did this and she looked back up at me.

"Nothing has changed," she whispered, "It's just like yesterday."
With that same sad look of so many years ago she gently let go of my hand.
"You had better go now. I'll tell him you had an appointment to keep."
So once again she slipped out of my life. This time I didn't even get a kiss on the cheek. But it was in the way she had touched my hand I knew that we had had a very special sort of love.
I left without either of us saying another word.

Monday, December 14, 2009

When Angela was brave

"Are you set to go Jenny?" Angela called to her three year old. Jenny appeared in the hall with her dolls pram. She was ready as usual to go out for their walk. With Jack fast asleep in his pram they left the house by the front door shortly after Ten o'clock.
Although Angela tried to change the route, Jenny usually dictated the ultimate destination, which was the childrens playground on the corner of Cypress Avenue. Sometimes Angela would try to get there by a more round about route but Jenny knew if they were walking away from the playground.
"This is not the way Mummy."
"It's just round the corner dear." Jenny looked up at her mother doubtfully and conceded this time.
Mrs. Maxwell came out to her gate and remarked how beautiful the children looked. Angela prided herself on the way she dressed her little ones and felt it was her due, when complimented.
"Jenny had her dress given her by her Nanna, didn't you?"
Jenny nodded shyly and Mrs. Maxwell smiled down at her. She then turned and headed back to her door saying "Its a fine day."
They reached the park. Jenny headed for the swings. Angela started her swinging and pushed Jenny's dolls pram back to stand next to Jack's larger one. Angela sat on the bench seat under the wattle tree and relaxed. She could see both of her babies at the same time and felt with the warmth of the sun, a deeper, warmer, more satisfying feeling of contentment and pride, at being able to produce two such perfect children. Jenny, she could hear was singing the nursery rhyme Polly Flinders but had got the words mixed up with Ring-a-ring o roses. She smiled to herself and noticed at the same time out of the corner of her eye that there was someone running towards the playground. She turned and saw two teenager boys approaching. When they reached the fence, one jumped clear over it, while the other scrambled over. She stood up concerned lest they frighten Jenny who was some distance away from her. The two youths were now whooping and skylarking on the equipment. They reached Jenny first. One mounted the other swing and the other got behind Jenny and pushed her hard. Angela heard her cry out in alarm and started running over to her. They danced away from the swings and raced past Angela.
"Whats-a-matter lady, scared?" The last word drawn out with horrifying intent.
Angela looked right into the face of the youth. His pale spotty complexion, crew cut hair and vicious sneer on his face sent a shudder of fear through her.
"Leave my children alone."
"Huh. Where's the other one then?" They scampered off toward the prams. Angela screamed.
"Don't you dare touch him!"
Its made no difference. They took a pram each and with careless abandon and intent tore around the park with Angela chasing after them, whilst Jenny sat wailing on the ground. The youth with the dolls pram at one point lifted the whole contraption up and turned Jenny's doll out on to the grass. Angela was so terrified and anxious at this point she thought that it was Jack that had been pitched out. She rushed up to the tiny heap of clothes and searched though them for her baby before she realised her mistake.
Luckily the torment was soon over and they left the playground almost as quickly as they had arrived. Jack was unharmed and although awake was unconcerned by the events. Angela gathered the children and the bits and pieces together. Still sobbing she and Jenny hugged each other for comfort.
"Let's go home now darling."
It was only then, when she started to push the pram that she saw that her handbag was missing. She looked around frantically for it but it had definitely gone.
"Those damned boys have stolen it."
Jenny looked up in surprise at her mother. Her sobbing stopped. Mummy hardly ever got cross. Just to help she said:
"Those damned boys."
Despite the seriousness of the situation Angela laughed and squeezed Jenny's hand.
"How are we going to get back in the house without a key? Daddy is going to think me such a fool."
The little family group got back to their street. Angela tried both of her neighbours but neither one was there. She had to go further up the road to Mr. Lawrence's house before she could find anyone at home.
The elderly white haired man came to the door.
"Well hello my dear...."
Angela cut him off. "I'm sorry Mr. Lawrence could I use your phone. I have just had my handbag stolen and they've taken my keys as well."
The old man took several seconds to take it all in.
"Oh. Oh. Yes. Come on in. Do you know the number?" He started fussing around with the directories.
"It's all right. I shall phone the police first."
She dialled the emergency number. Waited, then when answered, had to explain which service she required.
"Police."
She was asked to hold on. Again the wait. She looked around. Jack was getting restless in the pram. Jenny was clinging to her thin dress.
"I've been robbed.....In the street.....Well at the Sarah Patterson playground on Acacia Avenue.....They took my handbag.....Two youths..... No, I'm at a neighbours now.....
Well, money, keys, credit cards and personal things..... No, I can't get in but I'll phone my husband next."
She agreed to return home and wait for a patrol car to arrive.
"Could I make another quick call, Mr. Lawrence?"
Mr. Lawrence nodded his head. His worried look probably meant that all this was becoming too much for him to cope with. Jack was crying now and Jenny pulled insistently at her clothes.
"I want to go home Mummy."
"Let me talk to Daddy first darling." There was no answer. Mr. Lawrence looked pained. His morning procedure was being severely disrupted. She gave Jenny a cuddle then cooed at Jack who refused to be pacified.
"I'll try Frank again." she apologised.
Still no answer. Where was he?
"I'll have to go. I'm meeting the police at my place."
Mr. Lawrence looked relieved.
"Could you ring my husband again. Please ask him to come home straight away."
The old man nodded in agreement, took Frank's number and ushered them out onto the street.
She wheeled the family home. Jenny valiantly pushed her doll's pram despite the uphill climb. Sensing her mothers distress she said not a word.
Angela felt relieved to get back home but frustrated because she couldn't get into the house. Jack needed a change of nappies so she took them both around to the side of the house under the patio. She deftly changed Jack's disposable nappy and rinsed her hands under the garden tap. She sat down on a patio chair in the dappled sunlight and rocked Jack back to sleep again. Soon he was quietened. Angela relaxed and hoped that Frank would come home soon. Then she remembered that the police were due to arrive and glanced now repeatedly towards the front garden. All was quiet. She started making lists in her head of all the things she needed to do as soon as she could get indoors. She had to ring the Bank, then there was the store and credit card numbers. There was her driving licence. She knew there must be more.
"Oh. Frank please come home" she murmured.
Jenny went off to talk to the gnomes in the front garden.
"There's someone at our front door, Mummy."
"I'm coming."
Angela walked around to the front door. She expected to see a police patrol car in the road, but it wasn't there. Neither were there any policemen on her doorstep. The front door was open.
"Daddy must be home" she breathed with a sigh of relief.
"No, it's not Daddy."
Angela froze. Until this very moment she hadn't dreamt that the hooligans would use her own keys to break into the house. Without a seconds thought, she told Jenny to go back to look after Jack in his pram. With a fury that she could not explain, she went in through the open door. She picked up the walking stick with a brass birds head handle that was standing in the chinese pot, with the umbrellas by the front door.
Quietly she listened at the Lounge Room door. She could hear them talking.
"Quick. There's no time to fiddle with it."
"Pull it out from the bloody plug."
"Go and see if there's anything in the bedroom while I check the Kitchen for cash."
As one of the youths came out the door to the Hall, Angela swung the walking stick and hit the boy across the throat. He made a strange 'thuk' 'thukking' noise as he dropped the video, fell to his knees and clutched at his neck. His face was drained of all colour and he had difficulty breathing. He lay on the floor twitching.
"You haven't dropped it, you pillock!" shouted the other boy from the Kitchen.
Angela was waiting for him as he emerged from the kitchen with a fist of small notes in one hand and the other putting the loose change from her earthenware spice jar in his pocket.
"You bastards, how dare you do this to me and my kids."
The spotty lad's mouth fell open. As quick as a flash he turned to go back out through the Kitchen. Surprising herself Angela darted after him and struck at his back with the stick. The birds beak caught him in the middle of his back and stuck there. The stick was wrenched from Angela's hand as he fled. He reached the back door but couldn't open it because of the deadlock. She looked frantically around for another weapon. All she could find was a copper bottomed saucepan. She stood over the crumpled figure by the door as he desperately tried to reach the walking stick stuck in his back and get away from her. The saucepan was lifted high in case he made a move against her.
Suddenly she felt an hand on her shoulder and the saucepan taken from her grasp. She thought that the other boy had come after her. She struggled and slipped away, only to see a policeman holding the saucepan that he had wrested from her.
"Thank God you've come."
"Perhaps you could explain what's going on, Madam, while my colleague calls an ambulance."
Angela could see the second police officer kneeling by the boy with the injured throat. He was calling base asking for assistance. "I must see to my children."
"Not just yet, Madam."
"Don't you try to tell me what I can or cannot do with my own children." Angela hurried back out to the Hall past the figures by the Lounge door and went out to get to Jenny and Jack.
"Would you please stop, Madam." The policeman insisted as he followed her out. Angela ignored him and went to the children.
"Is everything all right now Mummy?
"Yes, darling." She lifted up her daughter to hug her.
A vehicle drew up at the curb, Angela turned and hoped it would be Frank. It wasn't. It was the meter reader. He smiled at her.
"It's a fine Day!"
Angela nodded. Yes, perhaps it was now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The weird old woman

I was scared. Barely eight years old and the most junior of the gang. My heart beat faster and my palms were sweaty. It was my turn to run up the path to the witch's house and bang on the door. The others goaded me on.

"Go on, Billy. Go an' give the knocker a whack."

"Give the old witch a fright, Bill."

They were nudging and pushing me, especially my brother, Ted, who took particular delight in teasing me. I carefully crept through the gate, and scampered up to the front door. I lifted the knocker and let it fall. Then I ran for my life back out to the street. All the others had disappeared from view. Some had run off. The braver ones including Ted, were hidden just out of sight. Nothing happened. Luckily she must have been out or didn't hear. At least I'd done it. Next time it would be Johnny Brooker's turn.

The street gang had been tormenting old May Cobbett for years. She was a recluse. Which to small boys meant she was weird, a witch. It didn't help that the house she lived in was tall and dark and overhung with trees. It was old Victorian villa, with a slate roof and elaborate chimney stacks. An eerie brick house covered in ivy, it grew right up to the eaves and invaded the gutters. The trees in the garden were pine and holly and yew, all dark and shadowy. It was was a sombre fearful place. Rank grass grew over everything leaving the narrowest of paths to the front door. We rarely saw her, but when we did it confirmed our wildest suspicions. She was a short, skinny old woman with her back bent over. She only wore old fashioned dark clothes and frequently had a scarf tied around her head. She said little to anyone. Those adults that did bid her a good morning, got little more than a grunt in return.

All the back gardens in our street led down to a meadow which was also our playground. We boys spent a lot of our time there and in the copse beyond. In Summer, we would climb trees and look out for imaginary enemy ships or tanks approaching. In autumn, we would collect horse chestnuts and take part in the battle of the conkers. In winter, the woods became quiet, sad places with bare trees and the ground, damp underfoot. The wind would cut through thin jumpers, smart the face and bring reluctant tears to boy's eyes.

It was through this meadow, that in Summertime, we were able to get to the Cobbett garden from the back. There was only a three wire fence on rotting timber posts that was no barrier to us ruffians. That was the easy part. At the bottom of the garden was a dense clump of tall stinging nettles. Past the nettles the garden itself opened up into a wonderland of new scents and sights. We were transformed by our imagination to be early explorers, discovering new territory in darkest African jungles. The pines that were so menacing, seen from the front of the house, became a marvellous sylvan glen, with a deep carpet of needles. It was an exquisite sensation, as we walked with silence underfoot and the whisper of the breeze in the branches overhead. Closer to the house a rose arbour had gone wild. The roses had crept, year after year, further away from its original stake and had flowed with waves of white floribunda blooms all around the garden. The air was full of the scents of summer. The sounds of insects humming and garden birds singing made me feel that we had violated something very precious.

We had.

Hidden in that garden I saw a movement at the back of the house. The others retreated quickly, backing out of that strange garden, returning to our the familiar territory of copse and meadow. They were unwilling to confront the witch. I alone was left, mesmerised by the sight of old May Cobbett. She had come out of the house. She wore a flowery apron and sat on an old painted rocking chair by the back door. As she rocked she cast a few crumbs from her lap in a sweeping movement in front of her. Not far from her, picking and pecking on the ground were chaffinches and bluetits, a Robin would dart in now and then, and holding his ground would look right up at her, with his head cocked. When the crumbs were gone, she called out. "That's all my lovelies." and the birds fluttered away into the bushes. The Robin alone remained close by, first on a post, then to the gutter, than back to the post again. Then to my amazement the old lady began to sing. Her voice was thin and shrill. She tunelessly voiced an old nursery rhyme.

"We'll o'er the water and o'er the sea,
We'll o'er the water to Charlie,
Come weal come woe, well gather and go,
And live or die with Charlie."

As I crouched there listening, I felt ashamed. This woman who fed the birds and sang to herself was not a witch at all. She got up from her chair and went indoors. I left that garden too, never to tease May Cobbett again, in fact she died the following winter.

Years later I took my fiancee, Glenda, to show her off to my Gran who lived only a street away from our old house. Gran gave us a cup of tea and a slice of cake. I talked about the old times and when our family lived close by. I mentioned old May Cobbett; I even told her about seeing her in the garden.

"Well I never," said Gran. "Poor old May, she got so bitter and twisted, she never had a good word to say to anyone."

"Was she always like that, Gran?"

"Oh. Goodness me no. She was such a pretty little thing. We both went to Fisher Street School."

"Well, what happened."

"It's all account of the war." Gran went on. "She was barely seventeen when she was courted by young Charlie Knott. He had just joined up. She was so proud to have a boyfriend in uniform." Gran looked across to Glenda and smiled.
"He went to the front of course...and he never came back to her."

Glenda by this time had tears in her eyes. She squeezed my hand.

"Oh. Gran that's terrible. So that's why she turned so weird then?"

"Well you could say that," said Gran. "But what really made her upset, was that he did come back, but not to her. She just couldn't accept that, not after waiting for him all those years."

My mind went back to that summer day in my childhood. I had seen her in an unguarded moment. She had shown me that she was human too. In her misery she had turned to the creatures that she could trust, who would do her no harm. And she sang for her lost love.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Recollections of a warped mind No. 3 - Game


Over fifty years ago when we were first married we both worked together for the same firm. It was a big national brewery with branches all over England, but that is another story in itself. We had both been brought up in families that found our amusements at home, before the insidious TV ruled the world. So we were used to board and card games and these were always a constant pastime with both relatives and friends.

Our Saturday evenings out were rarely to a commercial establishment but a quiet game of cards or such at another couple's home or they visited us. There was however a social club at work that on Tuesday evenings ran a progressive Whist drive. This old game of cards, a forerunner of Bridge, was a great game for socialising as winning pairs had to split up and either go up or down the tables whilst the losers similarly sat at the same table but with a separate partner.

We were quite adept at the game and often were in the prize money. We got used to the partners that played well and groaned inwardly when the ones that didn't have a clue sat down opposite. Just before Christmas a special event was held and even more couples were encouraged to take part because of the special prizes that had been donated.

As luck would have it, I managed to get the highest score that night. My card was checked and rechecked and I was duly pronounced the winner and invited to go and collect my prize. I could see Maureen beaming all over her face in anticipation. There at the prize table I was duly presented with a brace of Pheasants! When the applause died down I looked back at Maureen and she at me, both with horror on our faces.

As the other minor prizes were awarded we sat together contemplating our luck to have a pair of sad, undressed, feathery birds to take home. As we discussed the possibilities of their disposal to any likely relative or at the worst an early burial for the unfortunate creatures, we were joined by well wishers, saying how lucky we were. As we expressed our doubt of being able to cope with the hanging, plucking, dressing, and other preparation of the prize, let alone the thought of eating them, an interested player with no luck at cards offered to buy them from us.

Never had we ever felt so relieved to hear his words. With scarcely a nod to each other the deal was struck, the birds and money exchanged, and there were happy customers all round.

So it was that in those long gone days we were not game to eat game!

Picture - Brace of Pheasants, Oil painting by Jessica Brown

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Beauty


"Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies" John Donne 1572 - 1631

I've always enjoyed traveling to work on the bus. A short brisk walk to the bus stop, a nod to the other regulars as I board, then an easy journey into town that deposits me just outside my office building. This was the only way for many years. That has changed now though, since I met Jim Harrison.

He got on a few stops before me and rarely occupied the same seat from one day to the next. I never noticed at first, certainly not until we sat together, that always just in front of him was the prettiest girl on the bus.

It wasn't long before I was sitting by his side on a regular basis. This put a bit of pressure on me as I liked to drift off into dreamland as I rode the bus. Not so with Jim! As soon as we were seated, out would pour his inane talk, on what was for me, the most boring subjects. I had to endure the winning goal at football, his opinion on women drivers, and some wisecrack about the government. Despite all this he had a charm about him that made it difficult for me to look for another seat. Whenever he winked and beckoned me as I got on the bus, I automatically sat by his side.

After a few journeys with him I noticed that apart from his mouth, his hands were busy too. While I was occupied watching the passengers board and alight from the bus, he was attending to the lass sitting in front of us. I stared in amazement the first time I saw him do it. He actually stroked her hair as he prattled on about scoring three strikes in a row at bowling. As my jaw dropped in disbelief, he added, "It's a wonderful feeling." I wasn't sure whether he meant the strikes or the girl's auburn hair. I was speechless.

On another trip, as we were settling down, he took a bolder step and just lifted a different girl's tresses, just to feel them in his hands. Do you know? She hardly noticed, probably thinking that he was merely brushing by her to get to his seat. I remonstrated with him when we were alone.
"Jim, you'll get your fingers burnt one day, get caught, and then you will be up on a charge for harassment." Jim showed no remorse. "Womens hair fascinates me. It's their loveliest feature. I just can't resist touching it."

He was very skilled at the game. The casual touch; lifting it slightly as though it were in his way; bending down to breathe in it's scent. I watched in awe at a master at work. All the time he talked incessantly; this was such a good cover. Who would believe the two men talking volubly about sport or politics would be up to such tricks. If ever she did notice and turn around, there I would be, a dupe to his activities, making any contact seem quite innocent.

He had no preference for colors. Blonds, brunettes and redheads all got the same treatment. Their hair had to be long though. The longer the better in fact. He confided in me once that he fantasised dating a girl with hair down to her waist.

Whenever he went overboard and made it obvious what he was doing, the fates once again were on his side. This was the case when a striking Eurasian girl sat in front of us. She had long, jet black hair, that spilled right over the back of the seat. She was a stunner. What a temptation for Jim! He couldn't wait to get his hands on her. Unfortunately he did so in such a way that she noticed right away and turned around almost at once. Jim was talking away as usual, this time, about a three car pile up on the freeway. She scowled not a Jim, but at me! I was so embarrassed, that I colored up immediately. Like a fool, I mumbled an apology stuttering, " Sorry, it was an accident," virtually admitting my guilt. Jim, meanwhile was doubled up with laughter in his seat.

As we got off the bus, I said, "I'm a married man , Jim. How could you do that to me? You really are going too far, getting me involved." He grinned cheekily. "Don't take it all so seriously. Couldn't you see she was flattered really, but she had to put you in your place."
"Put ME in my place." I almost shouted, while other commuters hurrying on their way to work, turned to see what all the fuss was about.
"You touched her, not me."
"But you got caught," he said with a smirk to finalise the conversation.

I was posted away from the city for a few months and when we returned I resumed the bus journeys into town. I didn't see Jim the first couple of days but finally caught up with him on the Wednesday. I noticed at once he behaved differently. For a start there was no girl sitting in front of him, and he was reading a Sue Grafton detective novel that I had recommended to him. His hands were fully occupied with holding the book and turning the pages. He was pleased to see me and asked about the trip. He told me of his own promotion and that he was now sharing his flat. I was surprised me as he was always so independent. I was itching to ask him where the latest pretty girl with long hair was, but the two passengers in front were not talking and would hear anything we said.

On the walk to the office he announced he was engaged. I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, but managed to quickly cover my surprise. "Hey! Well done." I said. Then quickly added, "I bet her hair reaches right down to her ankles." He shook his head. "I was a fool chasing after that dream. Do you know, every girl I dated with long hair was a pain in the butt."

I couldn't believe my ears, but he went on. "Hair can put a real dampener on romance. If it wasn't the shampooing , the drying or the brushing, it was some other damned thing. I never realised how much money they spend on that part of them. Every girl I went out with had the sort of hair that demanded attention, whatever we did."
"But you were obsessed with it." I said. "Didn't you say to me, that in the look. the touch, the scent of a woman's hair was true perfection."
Jim shook his head, as though it wasn't him who had said those words, but explained. "Of course I could expect some inconveniences, but what capped it all was not the time spent preparing the hair before going out or not being able to go swimming because of her hair had to be protected. It was something more personal." I looked at him sideways as we walked to work.
"Personal?"
"Yes, you know. When you are close together, and getting romantically inclined. Naturally I'd be stroking her hair and before long she would be saying, 'Careful, Jim, that you don't get it tangled.' He continued, "I'd be bent over her kissing her nose or something, and she would come out with, 'Watch it, Jim, you're leaning on my hair'". Luckily, I managed not to laugh. So Jim carried on.

"I realised what an impossible fantasy I had, when one evening I had this real beauty with me. We were sitting down, you know, just touching and talking, when she reached back, undid her hair and let it fall all around her. This I thought was paradise. It flowed over her shoulders, down her back, followed the line of her breasts, I really was in seventh heaven. But then when we came close to each other, her movement caused her unrestrained hair to form a tent with her inside, and me on the outside. I couldn't see her face. I could hardly see the rest of her. I was like making love to a yeti."
This time I couldn't resist laughing out loud. Jim laughed too. "So, you see I've changed," he said.

He then showed me a photo of his Maria. She was a delight. She was small and had dark eyes, with an impish face and smile. And her hair? Well it was even shorter than that of Jim's. It was styled in a severe urchin cut. I looked at Jim. He grinned back at me."Well, that's life," he said. "She's a beauty, the best there is."

I believed him.

Illustration from postcard of Juliet by Angelo Asti c 1900

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Olive's Son

My mother was a fortune teller, clairvoyant, reader of palms, cards and might even have had a few chicken bones hidden away somewhere. She had been plying her trade for many years around all the local markets and fairs telling gullible people their future!

The first thing that I remember is being in this tent contraption stuck at the back with her all dressed in a gypsy costume in black with beads and a headscarf, sitting at a table talking to people. I might have been in a stroller or a crib, it doesn't matter now. Later on I can definitely remember playing with my toy cars, brmm, brmming quietly while she mumbled some nonsense out of sight.

The tent which was tiny had just two chairs and a card table covered with a velvet throw on which her tools of trade; the regulation glass ball, tarot and playing cards together with other paraphernalia. On the outside of the tent mystic symbols of the planets and other weird signs were sewn and at the entrance was a painted blackboard and easel stating "Olive the Oracle."

Later on as I grew older and wandered around I took more notice of her clientele. What a bunch of hopeful suckers they were. Of course some came just for fun, giggling teenagers hoping for a hint of impossible romances or careers. Others though, seriously needed help, a young married mother hoping for clue to her future offspring, people looking for happier times and yet others who came for reassurance. Then there were those who had a secret fear of illness either for themselves or loved ones. They didn't say as much they just assumed my mother would know what was troubling them and offer a solution.

She in her turn would prattle along, voicing generalities and quite often miss the point, miss their grief, miss their anxiety and be unable to read their minds. But I could!

Sometimes as I sat there just out of sight I could sense when one of the customers really had a problem. Men rarely came to the tent, but once one did sit down and asked her to read his fortune. He must have noticed me at that point, playing with Lego or some other toy and just for a moment our eyes met and I read immediately that he was in trouble over money and was getting in difficulties. Mum however was ranting on, smiling at him, reading the cards and telling him what he wanted to hear about being bold and adventurous. Meanwhile I was screaming inwardly, "Sell now, before it gets worse." How did I know that? I saw it in his eyes.

Another time a sad looking woman came in and asked about her future family and how many babies she would have. This time mum held her hand and traced her finger over the lines on her palm and told her something positive every time, but couldn't see if they were going to be girls or boys, perhaps one of each! At that point the woman noticed me playing and smiled a weak smile at me. I wish she hadn't. Her eyes said it all, her husband beat her and she suspected he was having an affair. She just wanted children as an insurance. Why couldn't my mother see all that too it was as plain as plain to me.

The only time I felt she did right when a mother brought her little daughter in with her. "What was her little girl going to be? " she asked. Luckily my Mum reached over to the little girl and touched her cheek, then held her hand and told her that she thought she would be a ballet dancer. The little girl was delighted, clapped her hands then she spied me playing with a Transformer toy. Our eyes met and I knew at once she was dying so I looked away again quickly.

Those days have long gone now, with the tent and the fairs and the customers and their vain dreams. As I grew up I was given the name "shifty" as I would never look people directly in their eyes. I once thought of being a customs official but that was only a foolish whim. But there is one person whose eyes I can look in quite closely and they are yours. When I look into them I am overwhelmed, I see the love you have for me, your need for me and that undying trust. I know without a word between us when you want me to touch you, I know when to laugh with you and when to weep. I have learned that it hurts to look too deeply in others eyes, except yours.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Interview


  


Today's the day I have my interview
Which is not my favorite thing to do
I got up late
was in a state
and knew I'd barely make it there by ten.

Skipped my breakfast just grabbed a juice
I didn't even listen to the news
out with a cuss
ran to the bus
and knew I wasn't well prepared.

Now I fronted at the imposing desk
reported in to start my hopeful quest
wait for a bit
still could not sit
and thought of many happier things to do.

Called in at last to the interview room
won't be long before my fate or doom
chat went quite well
plainly not hell
May be it's true that they like my style.

Waiting at home for a call or letter
Perhaps they think that I'm a go getter
phone's ringing now
just have to go
I'll come round later to tell you how it went.




Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Scary Adventure

Some places are really scary aren't they? Dark narrow lanes, lonely woods, cobwebby corners. the scariest place I ever knew was an old bridge just outside of town. It used to take the old railway over a dirt lane that no one ever seemed to use. The railway had been dismantled many years before and the old brick bridge had almost disappeared from view in the dark trees and bushes that grew on the that old dirt track.

I discovered the bridge when I was exploring by myself when all my usual friends were busy. My surprise in finding it was tempered somewhat by a shiver of fear as I approached that dismal spot. There was hardly a sound to be heard in this shady culvert. The air was still and dank. The underside of the bridge dripped water down into the lane from little stalactites. Plants and moss gradually reclaimed the structure for its own.

As I stood under the great curved brick arch I sensed a feeling of excitement and fear all mixed into one. The laneway curved away darkly in both directions and standing there I felt completely cut off from safety. Even the plaintive sound of rooks high up in the spinney on the hill from where I had come had been stilled. I had a discovered a very different world. It was cold there. Much colder than it should have been on that Spring day. I want to run away but somehow stood transfixed to the spot.

I couldn't make up my mind which way to go. There was no lowing of cows in the meadows, no bark of dogs in farmyards, no reassuring sound of vehicles on the main road. I was completely cut off.

Wait! What was that? It sounded like whimpering. Slowly I edged out from under the bridge. I looked up the bank from where the sound was coming. Was there anything in the shadows? I peered cautiously towards a snuffling sound.

Then I could see what it was. There in the shadows well out of reach more that half way up the bank at the side of the bridge was a little boy. He couldn't have been more that three years old . He sat up there among the dock and the nettles, the trailing ivy and the hazel twigs. His clothes were torn and soaked and his face, arms and legs were scratched and dirty.

"Are you all right?" I called out.

"I want my Mummy," came the reply.

"Where is she" I asked.

With that he cried again, tears streaming down his grubby face and his little body shook with heart rending sobs.

"Just stay there while I get some help," I called out.

The sobbing subsided a little. His tousled head nodded and his big dark eyes looked at me eagerly as he said:

"Fetch my Mummy!"

"OK. Just stay still while I get some help."

Uncertain where to find the help I had promised, I came away from the bank and was amazed to that he immediately vanished from my sight, so well was he camouflaged up there.

I ran up the lane and after a few minutes found a tiny cottage where the track ended. It looked sad and neglected. No smoke rose from the chimney, there was no sign of life and the walls were covered in creeper that stretched up to the gutter. I went round the back and in the garden where there was a woman wearing boots, old khaki trousers and a ragged old jacket. She stopped digging the garden when she saw me.

"What are you a doing here?" Her voice was coarse but not unkind.

"There's a little boy by the old railway bridge, that's crying for his mother, Can you help?"

My words came out all in a rush, but hardly had I finished when she said:

"No, there ain't." As she shook her head and looked anxiously towards the house.

"But there is," I went on. "He's all wet and dirty and can't get down. You must help."

"It's all right boy, He ain't really there."

"But he is," I insisted. " He's crying and has nasty scratches on his legs. He needs help."

The woman kept glancing at the door of the cottage and she spoke now in barely more than a whisper.

"You're imagining things. There ain't no boy there now."

"Then I will have to get him down myself." I said.

With that the back door of the cottage opened and there stood an old white haired woman dressed all in black. She was just as I had imagined a witch would be.

"What's that boy want" The old woman cried out.

"He's lost his way."

"Has he found our Reggie?"

"No, no! Go back inside. I'll show him the way back."

"You sure he ain't seen our Reggie?" The old woman pleaded.

For some reason I remained silent. Some sixth sense told me something strange was going on.
The woman in boots then grabbed my hand and marched me back to the lane and kept walking until the cottage was far behind. Not until then did she speak again.

"He's dead you know. He was my little brother Reggie. He was killed by train many, many years ago."

The shock of what I heard must have shown on my face as she went on.

"He must have strayed on to the track. We didn't find him 'til the next morning. His little broken body was lodged halfway down the bank by the side of the bridge."

"But who did I see?"

"You saw him all right . He keeps trying to get back to his Mum."

"But your mother thought I had found him, doesn't she know he's dead?"

"She does, but won't admit it. She's been expecting to come back for nearly forty years."

By this time we had got back to the bridge. I pointed out where I had seen the little boy. There was nothing there now. In fact nothing seems scary anymore, especially with a grown up at my side. I could hear insects buzzing, rooks were calling in the spinney and everything looked a lot brighter.

"Why did I see him?"

"Because you didn't know he was dead,' was the simple reply.

That bridge is long gone now, and so is the cottage. The lane is part of a bypass around the town. From the spinney the rooks can see the the new housing advance across the hills toward them.

But where is that little boy? Who is he crying out to now to help him?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Garry the Provider


Garry's face was in the dirt. He had never felt so embarrassed before. He lay on his stomach with his hands handcuffed behind his back. All around him were onlookers; standing, staring speaking...about him! By his side stood one of the arresting officers. Behind him he knew there were two patrol cars, their flashing lights illuminating the pavement with repeated bursts of blue.

He wept with shame and humiliation. He had bungled the hold up. It had been going so well, only a few customers and a teller that did as she was told. He even had the money in his hands. So much money there must have been thousands. Everything had been going to plan. They had certainly obeyed him with that replica pistol in his hand. He felt so good and strong then. He had been ten foot tall and so powerful, but now...what had gone wrong?

"Come on lad, on your feet now!"

He struggled to get up with his arms pinned behind him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and one at his elbow as he slowly rose, first to a kneeling position and then standing.

He stumbled as he was pushed toward the police vehicle. A hand was placed on his head to avoid it hitting the door frame. He then fell back into the seat. Helpless, the seat belt was fastened around for him and the car drove off.

All Garry could think of on the journey to the lock up was Jenny and their baby daughter Bonnie. His little Babs, his Baby Boo. He felt the tears coming again. He had only done it for them, to give them a decent home and food and clothes and toys.

What would Jenny do now? How would she manage? She couldn't go back to that cow of a mother. Not after all the rows they had had about him.

And his parents? They would slam the door in her face. They weren't worth a pinch of shit. Rhonda his sister might help but how could he tell Jenny that now?

"Did you say something, son?"

Garry's mumbling had attracted the officer at his side. With his head still bowed Garry slowly shook his head.

"Won't be long now and you'll be tucked up in a nice little cell," sneered his companion. The two police officer winked at each other in the rear view mirror. The one by Garry's side turned and spoke to him again.

"Looks as though you're in for some care and attention. No more nights on the street for you, eh?"

No, not for me, thought Garry.


(Pastel impression by author of a recent European news photo. )

Friday, October 9, 2009

Have I cheated Death?


I woke with a start.
Was that a bump?
It was pitch dark.
Who is that there?
Had to check up.
Put my robe on.
Quiet down the stair.
Open the back door.
Hair stands on end.
Am grabbed from behind.
What is going on?
Whisked off my feet.
Can't even call out.
Put into a boat.
And Charon he says:
"Coin in my hand."
Then opens my mouth.
I panic and squirm.
A tooth he extracts.
My gold capped one.
He examines it well.
And loosens his grip.
I'm over the side.
In the River Styx.
The river of death.
Swim to the shore.
Run back home fast.
In through the door.
Climb up the stairs.
Get into my bed.
Am asleep in a sec.
Dead to the world!
Wake soaked in sweat.
That wasn't a dream.
I have cheated death.
Just for a bit!


(Image by Cecil Keating for Penguin Classics "Satirical Sketches" by Lucian. 1961)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The First Kiss


"Granddad, don't you hate it when girls kiss you?"

I looked up from trying to assemble the Lego pieces as we together attempted to make the required toy model from the instructions.

"Well, no, not usually"

My grandson then went on to explain about the pesky girls at school that tended to want ownership of one of the boys in class and he clearly had struck lucky. Or was that unlucky? He obviously thought so.

"Granddad, did girls kiss you at school?"

I tried to remember. It was long time ago. A very long time ago. No I couldn't think of one instance.

Or could I?

I think I was about ten at the time and had just changed schools. It was a bit difficult to fit in to the new school after moving house and setting up in a new town in the middle of term. However I found the schoolwork easy and some of the boys were interested in where I had come from.

It was the first music lesson that changed everything. I was not a singer and instead of sitting at our desks, we all had to stand up and being taller than most I had to stand at the back with the other tall children.

I was concerned that instead of standing with the boys I somehow was standing with a girl at my side. Tall like me she smiled sweetly at me and the singing lesson started. I mumbled away and hoped I was inconspicuous. I glanced to my side and saw that the girl by my side had very long hair that hung down her back. Her face was smooth and she had cute nose and dark brown eyes. Those eyes kept glancing my way. She then smiled at me and reached for my hand and held it in hers. It seemed so natural, so right that I didn't withdraw it from her grasp and we stayed like that until the end of the lesson.

We had not said a word.

I don't know what made me look for her as we were dismissed at the end of the day, but I did and she too seemed to be waiting for me. She said she lived only a short way from school. Her mother was housekeeper for the priest in a large vicarage she said.

"Would I like to see where I live?

I mumbled a yes and grabbing hold of my hand again she took me home.

Her mother was there waiting for her and said "Who is this?"

"Oh, this is Robin he is new at school" was her reply.

We we ushered into the house which was enormous by my standards and given glass of cordial and a biscuit and after being shown around I was escorted to the door.

Her mother had disappeared and as we said "Good bye" and "See you tomorrow" she bent over and kissed me on the lips. That was the very first time that I had ever been kissed by someone who I was not not related to. It was a moment of revelation. Something had happened that had never happened before. I had been changed forever.

I had been kissed!

By a girl!

All those years ago.

And don't even remember her name.

"Granddad? Why are you crying?"

"Because I can't even remember her name."

(Goody Goody postcard by Dinah c.1945)

The Hawaiian Pizza with double cheese!


Hey ho! I'm in love again!

But I don't even know her name.

We met tonight at the Pizza shop. I had been sent round by Hilda to buy a large Hawaiian with extra cheese.

"Get our normal pizza and you'll get a bottle of Coke free" she said.

Those were the instructions. I was to buy the advertised special. I was given a twenty dollar note out of housekeeping and sent on my way. I felt like a schoolboy on an errand. I wouldn't have been surprised if she had said, "And don't forget the change!"

Perhaps it was the way I had been hustled out of the house this way that I forgot my walking stick. Well you know as well as I, that I don't really need it. But I do like the feel of it in my hand. I feel debonair as I swing it when walking and invincible when any hooligans are around. I'll tell you this, if they gave me any cheek I'd soon give them a whack.

After my last fall, I confess I do feel more confident with the stick. It's like having a friend just being there to give me a hand. But I did not have it this time. So I had to be careful on the pavement by the hairdressers. It is very uneven and you feel such a fool if you fall over. I had a funny mixture of feelings just now. I was younger without that darned stick with nobody thinking I was a doddery old fool yet a bit nervous without my old mate.

It's not far to the Pizza shop, just a short walk, but those last few steps were the worst. It wasn't that I was puffed out. No! No! It was that I thought everyone else was heading for the shop so I had to speed up so as to get in first and not be a long queue.

But it wasn't necessary, I got to the counter and there was no queue. I breathed in the aroma of cooking pizza and was hungry already. There were three people in the work area behind the counter. There was little chubby guy with a bald head and Popeye forearms. He was the stoker that placed and removed the pizzas as they were prepared and cooked. Then there was Rudolf Valentino or his idea of every woman's dream. He was tall, young, dark and handsome in a greasy sort of way. He was busy on the phone either taking an order or arranging a date. I couldn't tell which as he was speaking Italian.

No, that is not right. He hardly spoke in more than a whisper but every other part of his body joined in the conversation. He gesticulated with his hands, often with both, lodging the phone between his head and shoulder to do so. His eyes were active, eyebrows raised and lowered. The rest of his body swayed and fidgeted depending on whether he was speaking or listening and his feet moved constantly as though he was standing on a hot spot on the floor.

"Can I help you" I almost jumped, as my attention was drawn to someone speaking.

A girl busy placing toppings on the pizza bases had stopped what she was doing and had looked up to address me. I looked back at her. Her eyes met mine.

What beautiful, large, brown, sad expressive eyes she had. Her straight brown hair was tied back casually behind her head, with just a wisp of hair falling forward over her face. Her pretty ears were exposed and her face was clear and open and soft and I could see her expressive moist pink lips move.

Hey ho! I'm in love again.

"Can I get you something"

"Oh! I'm sorry I was miles away." I replied, thinking in fact 'snap out of it you old fool'.

"I'd like the large Hawaiian with double cheese and the Coke special please."

She smiled at me. She was even more beautiful now. That smooth, clear, sad face was suddenly animated. I could see in her the vital, inquisitive freedom of youth. She exuded freshness, humour, liveliness, warmth and sensuality.

My order taken, I had to sit down. There was a chair by the fridge containing drinks so I sat on it fast before my old legs buckled. One or two others came in to place or collect their orders. I stayed put. I had to economise on effort, but at least I could watch!

My girlfriend took all the orders, but I don't think that anyone else received the warm smile that I did. No! I am sure they didn't. That was mine alone. As she worked she moved about. Lithe, alluring, desirable, she had a grace about her.

Oh good, she has to restock the fridge. I tried to look disinterested. She started at the top and had to reach right up to put the bottles in. The line of her body was arched like a bow; the curve of her young breasts and roundness of her thighs were so close to me. Exquisite!

Now she had stock the lower shelves. She bent down on her haunches. I could scarcely bear to look. Her cotton smock rode up over her knees and I could the delicious softness of her thighs. I looked away again.

Check the pizza menu on the wall! Australian, Hawaiian, Pepperoni, Supreme, Seafood, with or without anchovies. That's better, I mustn't have a seizure here!

"Large Hawaiian with extra cheese?"

The chubby stoker had pulled my pizza from the oven and was cutting it up. I got to my feet and made my way to the counter. I paid my money picked up the pizza and headed for the door. Would I catch her eyes again?

A couple of youths pushed past me to get inside.

"Hey Granddad!" Someone shouted.

I turned around. There she was, cheekily grinning all over her face. In her hand was my bottle of Coke.

"Don't forget your free Coke, Pops!"

Shamefaced I returned to the counter, took the Coke, and got out of there as quickly as my old legs could take me.

The little hussy!

(Image by freeclipartpictures.com)

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Roman Affair

(OK, so this isn't new but it has not been posted to a prompt before so I thought it needed another airing for newer readers.)

I looked down at the plate. What had they given us this time? It was 9.30pm Maureen and I were in a ristorante in Rome with the rest of the coach party. It was our last night in the city and and we were enjoying our farewell dinner. The place was crowded, and this was no understatement. It was packed to the rafters! When we had arrived our hearts sank as we could see the place was full. Surely the arrangements had gone seriously wrong. But no, we were ushered in, through the ground floor dining rooms, down a passage, past the kitchens when ten or more chefs and kitchen hands worked in a typical latin frenzy.

At the end of the passage we turned left and squeezed past waiters moving back and forth from service areas to eating areas. Then we went down some steep stairs to the lowest rooms of the building, we had arrived in a series of subterranean vaults that had been converted to dining rooms. We made our way through the mass of diners already eating and eventually found ourselves in a corner with just enough tables and chairs to seat our party.

I automatically looked for the fire exit; there was none! In my mind I read the page three European news in my local Australian newspaper. "Hundreds die in restaurant fire in Rome. Australian tourists believed to be victims. Difficulty in identifying charred bodies. Police have issued an arrest warrant for missing restaurant owner."

We all sat down. Then with typical Italian flourish we were welcomed by the waiter who fussed around the women with smooth courtesy. Wine and water were placed on the table and we were encouraged to ask for more when that ran out. It was included in the meal. So things were not so bad after all! The bottled water might help to put out any fire that started!

The gourmet food and wine were consumed, course by course. Laughter erupted out of the conversation like a natural by-product at such a gathering. New friendships forged in recent days spoke of enduring relationships and the wine flowed. The waiters teased, picked their favorites and customers allowed them liberties that they would laugh about or perhaps choose not to remember in the morning.

My eyes strayed from the group. Through an archway in the wall another party were similarly disposed. A family group of Italian grandparents, parents and children joined in the repartee with the waiters and shouted encouragement at their antics. The eldest granddaughter was a Gina Lollabrigida type; dark eyes, flowing black hair and a sensuality that reflected in every movement.

The main course was served and with a clatter of plates, the most handsome waiter chose his favorite at each table to present their meal on a silver platter. He insisted on a reward of course. He drew his napkin from his arm and with no lack of Latin charm shielded his chosen lady while he stole a kiss. If she resisted he persevered. If she encouraged he took his time. There was no escape and the crowded room erupted with laughter. The wine bottles were exchanged.

I glanced back to family through the arch. A three piece group of musicians were serenading each table and had arrived at Gina Lollabrigida's. She was entranced. She wriggled with desire and rose willingly when the singer invited her to dance. She swayed voluptuously in his arms, her eyes shining and her body reflecting the rhythm of the music. The singer was called away by the leader of the group and she stood in hurt solitude, her supple young body not yet ready to give up. A passing waiter found himself dancing with her, but he was too keen and held her close to feel that young body against him. She frowned, shook her head and released him from her grasp. Yet another waiter was chosen, this one was a fine dancer too. He held her lightly, and led her around the tiny space available, their bodies moving in perfect timing with the music. She closed her eyes in ectasy with a seductive smile on her face.

I was captivated.

The band of minstrels moved away from their area and she reluctantly returned to the family's table and sat down.

I returned to my Gnocchi.

A little while later the musicians approached our table. What fun it was. The ladies were serenaded in turn and the men were encouraged to place a note on the guitar if they approved of the music. There was certainly no room to dance where we were but the thrill of the seductive music, the charm of the Romeo musicians and the effect of the wine showed in the eyes of our partners.

I do not know what made me glance back to the dark eyed nymph through the archway, but I did. She was pouting with exasperation that the music was so close again but unavailable to her. She remonstrated with the singer to come back to her, but he merely smiled and turned back to our group. I kept my eyes on her. For the first time now facing in our direction she saw me too. There was the merest hint of understanding. We searched each others faces and for just one second she was mine. But the moment was brief. In that time I too held her in my arms and danced with her. I could feel that sensuous body against mine and I kissed those red lips.

We both turned away at the same time, then she was lost to me forever.

I returned to my glass of wine and smiled brightly at Maureen and the others on my table hoping my eyes would not reveal my passionate affair.

(Danse a la ville, painting by Renoir c 1883)