Friday 10 November 2023

Autumn Colours

 Leaves in hues of flaxen yellow,

Russet and burnished gold,

 All the Autumn colours

Nourishing my soul,

Crouching down among them

Breathe in their rich perfumes,

A delicious combination

Of damp moss and wild mushrooms.

Inhaling scents of woodsmoke,

Wafting through the haze,

Bonfires bring back memories

Of my childhood days.

Watch the leaves that flutter down

To pave the woodland way,

A chequered magic carpet

Brightening up the day.

Different shapes and sizes

Floating through the air,

A myriad of colours

Beauty everywhere .

Looking for some conkers

Such pleasure to be found

Nature's golden treasures

Lying on the ground.

The trees are so majestic

In their autumn clothes

One last glorious ballroom dance

Before it hails and snows

Towering like a cathedral

As far as you can see

It's getting dark and gloomy

Let's go home for tea.















Wednesday 27 September 2023

Italian stories

Northern Italy, October 1935

    Toni looked at the back of his mother's head as she turned to stir the risotto. He was filled with such tenderness and he was glad that she couldn't see his face, because she would have broken down. He wanted to stroke her hair and hold her but knew that would alarm her. She would see it as a sign that he would not return.
    His father burst into the room relieving the tension and bringing an atmosphere of normality as he sat at the table and poured himself some wine.

    'So you're going then, Toni? Off to fight for a worthwhile cause, following the path of the great Roman emperors, conquering the world. I can tell you, all your great ideals will be left behind once you see the reality of war.'

    Toni ignored the sarcasm in his father's voice. He joined him at the table, poured some wine and raised his glass.

    'Lucio will be in my regiment. We're leaving next week. We're stopping at Tivoli and then on to Africa where we'll be trained in artillery.'

    His mother, Maria, slammed the saucepan of risotto on the table and served it out with her ladle beating on the bowls.

    'Men have such short memories' she said, 'It's all madness. All that suffering in the Great War was meant to end it all. It was terrible for me, going off on my own with a small boy, not knowing if I'd ever see my husband again, losing my brother, nothing to eat and making clothes out of old bits of material and never knowing when it would end.' She paused and held out her left hand. 'They want my wedding ring, well they can have it for what it's worth.'

    Toni and his father looked at her in astonishment, their spoons in mid air. She never talked about the Great War and seemed to pretend it have never happened. 

    Maria had grown up in the last years of the Belle Epoque before all illusions were swept away for ever.

    She had been the most elegant, sweet and dainty young woman in her town, her head full of romance and deeply in love with her dashing husband, Filippo, who showed such promise as a brilliant Penal Lawyer. When the war arrived in their Northern Italian town she was forced to go away with a two year old Toni, to Genoa to stay with distant relatives for the war years. Toni's father had stayed behind in their home town. His high standing in his profession meant he was needed there, he dealt with the toughest cases and the most hardened criminals. Filippo was a handsome man and there were many women left behind seeking male company and a warm companion to comfort them amidst the harsh realities of life in war time. 

    When Maria and Toni returned the marriage was never the same again and Maria had poured all her love onto her young son, stifling him.

    Maria went back to the stove and brought out plates of polenta and salami. She handed round Filippo's favourite spinach with ham and cream and poured herself a small glass of wine.

    'Well I'm glad that your best friend Lucio will be with you, son. He is so big and strong and will surely look after you. Though I can't think why he wants to leave that lovely girlfriend of his, Betti.'

    Toni rolled his eyes.
    'Oh mamma, you are funny. Don't you worry, I'll look after myself. I'll be back soon with lots of interesting things to tell you.'

     Maria breathed in deeply and went back to the kitchen to return bearing her speciality 'Tirami su' and setting it on the table with a flourish.

    'Tuck in now, they won't have this where you're going'.

    Toni was about to reply when he noticed his father's expression. He was looking at his mother with such love but also regret. Toni could see what might have been between them if the war hadn't got in the way. The moment passed and his father got up whistling an American yankee tune from the Great War, 'Over there, over there'.
    He felt that his father was making fun of him and went to help his mother clear the table.
    Toni had recently qualified as a lawyer, following in his father's footsteps. Instead of Penal law however he had decided to specialise in Civil Law. For once his father had supported him and now they worked together in the same studio. Toni had always loved learning and finding things out. He had sailed through school and university with the greatest ease. His school friends had often teased him and called him a swot but it really was just what came naturally to him. Toni's excellent results gained him an award and a prize trip to The United States. He was fascinated by the American way of life, the democracy, the variety of peoples all working together and the efficiency. On his return he had found that his friends were all talking passionately about politics in a way that made him deeply uneasy but he went along with them for friendship's sake.
    Then Lucio had talked him into going off to fight for Italy in this African campaign but Toni wasn't looking forward to it at all. Part of him though wanted the young girls to see him as more of a man and admire his strength instead of always being in awe of his academic brilliance. He also hoped that with him out of the way his mother and father might rekindle their relationship.


    The station was swarming with young men in uniform trying to find their groups. Toni soon spotted Lucio, smart in his brand new kit and his hair full of Brilcream. He went over to him and was soon joined by a few more friends from university smoking their free cigarettes.

    They were told to get in the second carriage and soon the whistle blew. Toni and Lucio leaned out of the window to wave to the crowd who had come to see them off. 
    As he sat down, Toni felt sick but pulled his cigarette packet out and tried to stop his fingers from shaking as he lit  one. They were on their way, there was no going back.

Tivoli 1935
    The train stopped in Tivoli and the men were taken to accommodation and told their training would begin the next day. The training was tough and a few days later Toni was relieved when they were told they were going on a sightseeing trip to the Villa Adriana. Lucio had already seen it and was enthusiastic.
    'You'll love it Toni, a brain box like you. All I can remember is that it was built between 118 and 138 BC by the emperor Hadrian.'

    The villa Adriana was indeed magnificent. Toni wandered around taking photographs and imagining himself as an emperor creating such a beautiful place. The layout of the rooms could still be seen and it was evident that Hadrian had a greatly loved architecture. There was even a room that looked as though it had been specially designed for romance. It was at this moment that Toni decide to grow a moustache. He would go back home as a conqueror and an emperor.
    While they were at Tivoli, letters started arriving from home. Lucio quickly gathered a whole pile from Betti, all scented and sealed with hearts. He told Toni they were full of passion and her undying love for him. Toni felt embarrassed about his letters. They were also full of passion and undying love but they were from his mother. Luckily they weren't scented.
    Up until the visit to Villa Adriana, apart from the training Toni and Lucio had almost felt like tourists.
'Italy is such a beautiful country. Everywhere you look there is something,' Lucio was reading a guide book and started talking about studying Archeology when they returned home.
    'Well the Romans certainly did all the hard work for us,' Toni grinned at his friend. 'I think you'd be interested in the Etruscans Lucio, I'll lend you a book about the Necropolis at Tarquinia'.
     Their conversation was interrupted by a shout from a young skinny boy from Milan.
    'We're off lads. They're sending us to Maddaloni tomorrow ready to embark for Africa next week.'
    All thoughts of studying and home were put aside, they were on their way.
    Maddaloni was a lovely town built on a hill near Caserta, from there they were taken to Naples and marched onto their ship.
    As they left the port, Toni looked at the spectacular view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Lucio came up to him looking nervous.
    'Well Toni, this is it. We're following the steps of our forefathers, Hadrian and Caesar.'
    Toni thought how his father would laugh if he heard that.     
    He took one last look at his homeland laying there before him in the setting sun and followed Lucio to their bunks.

    Africa, December 1935
     The Field Hospital was full of wounded soldiers. Toni didn't dare lie down in case the sickness came over him again. His temperature was still very high and he couldn't stop shaking. His eyes were glued together. He felt terrible. Physically he was so weak he could hardly stand up and had to rely on the auxiliaries for everything. He just couldn't remember what it felt like to feel normal and his father's words kept ringing in his ears. He didn't even know what he had been fighting for.
    Most of all he felt wretched and completely useless.
    Just after a week's training Toni had caught the dreaded African sickness. Two men had already died from it in the same room and he felt doomed.
    The doctor came to stand by his bed. He was wearing a mask in the hope of keeping the deadly virus away. The doctor was a kind man from Cosenza. He had served in the Great War on the frontline in the mountains near Toni's home town.
    He spoke softly, occasionally throwing in some words in Toni's local dialect.
    'You're over the worst now Toni. If you can survive the first few days you'll be alright.'
    He paused and cleared his throat, 'You won't be able to fight ever again. This infection leaves a weakness in the stomach that would make military life impossible. Although I don't understand soldiers, you're very brave but I just want to save lives.'
    Toni didn't feel brave and he didn't want to fight any more. He just wanted to cling onto life and go home.
    'Thank you doctor but you're the brave one, not me.'
    The mere effort of talking had worn Toni out and he collapsed against the rough pillow. There was a commotion as a young man was brought in screaming in agony and calling for his Betti. It was Lucio.
Toni turned to the doctor in alarm.
    'What's happened to him ? He's my friend from home.'
    The doctor shrugged 'He shot himself in the leg.'  He sighed heavily, 'It happens more often than you'd think.'
    The doctor walked over to Lucio and whispered some soothing words. Lucio immediately calmed down and looked around the makeshift ward. His haggard, dirty face lit up when he saw Toni but was soon replaced with an expression that looked to Toni like shame.
    'Hi mate, good to see you,' Toni struggled to reassure his friend. 'Welcome to the world of the walking wounded.'
    Lucio pointed to his shattered leg.
    'I'm not walking anywhere right now. What a couple of heroes, eh? Whatever shall I tell Betti?'
    Toni lay back and tried to quell the sickness that was washing over him.
    'No need to tell her anything Lucio. I'm not telling and neither is the doctor. Let's concentrate on getting better.'
    Toni's eyes closed with the effort and he fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he was a hero, that he had a pile of scented letters from a girl who adored him. He was walking round Pompeii and impressing her with stories of daring escapades and then he dreamed that he was home. When he awoke he was relieved that the horrible sick feeling had at last disappeared. He looked across at Lucio who was studying the bandages on his leg.
    'I can't wait to draw some funny faces on that.' Toni smiled and Lucio grinned back.
 Northern Italy, May 1936   
    A few months later, as the train drew into the station the passengers could hear a deafening cheer. They hung out of the windows waving their hats and scanning the crowd for their loved ones.
    Betti was at the front waving a red scarf. Toni could see his mother hovering at the front next to his father. They were standing apart from the screaming girls, their arms round each other. Toni caught his father's eye and saw him lift his hand in a salute. Toni grinned to himself and looked across at Lucio who was struggling with tears. He handed him a handkerchief.
    'Chin up mate, Betti will never know. We're heroes right? Go to your Betti and have a happy life.'

    Later, at home in the kitchen Toni gave his parents the gifts he had brought for them. Some beads for his mother and a leather pouch for his father.
    His mother put her necklace on her and admired herself in the mirror.
    'Lucio looked fit and well. I knew he'd take care of you. Such a brave young man. What a pity he and Betti are going to live in Milan.'
    Toni caught his father's wry glance as he poured himself a glass of wine and raised it to Toni.

    'Welcome home son.'
    He smiled at Toni and for the first time he felt as though his father was proud of him.



Wednesday 5 April 2023

Happy Birthday thoughts for a dearly loved son

 Having a baby used to be a mystery, you didn't know if you were having a boy or a girl. Now so much can be revealed before the birth through scans and tests. One thing that cannot be foretold is what a baby's character and personality will be like so when you have the precious gift of a happy baby that arrives full of love and is a bundle of joy from the start, you are truly blessed.When I was at primary school we were discouraged from  using the word 'nice', replacing it with 'pleasant' or 'atrractive'.

sometimes though 'nice' is the most all encompassing word, some people are just 'nice'.

Here is a poem for one of the nicest people I know.

Everyone loved you

Right from the start

You were born with the biggest

kindest heart.

You gurgled and smiled

You held out your arms

You bowled us over

With all your charms.

You brought such joy into our lives

We felt so lucky and so blessed

The ace in the pack one of the best.

A brother and sister that love you so

A mother and father to watch you grow

Enriching our lives with so much fun

Love and laughter our precious son.

Thank yoou for all your love and grace

You've made the world a better place

May God bless you every day

And keep you safe in work and play.