Did we lose?

Paris, yesterday afternoon. Shortly after 1.30pm father and son emerged from drab and dreary Gare de Lyon into the hazy sunshine of what is slowly beginning to look like spring. The climate matched the spring in their step as the two made their way towards the Seine, for the beginning of what, they already knew, was going to be a memorable 24 hours. Safely tucked away inside Father's coat pocket was the object of their visit, two pieces of paper which would make them the envy of many of their landsmen on a similar pilgrimage but without the pieces of paper, or alternatively, if sold, would enable them to dine in the best restaurants and spend the night in the best hotels, without denting their meagre budeget in the least. But, thoughts of selling were alien to them as they sang their way along the Seine's south bank towards Notre Dame and the city's latin quarter. Father and son were on a mission to watch their countries heroes beat the French rugby 15 on home soil and continue their relentless march towards a second consecutive grand slam.

The circusmtances which brought them there were worthy of one of this writer's most intricate plots, yet we all know fact can be stranger than fiction. A staff worker for the FFR (Federation of French Rugby) received twice his usual allocation of tickets. He offered some to friends who accepted with joy until the daughter's wedding was announced. The tickets were shoved back and for until they final arrived into the hands of a friend who was leaving the previous evening for a skiing holiday. And so ended their weeks of wandering when they finally found permanent resting place tucked inside the false pocket of father's anorak.

The interpid pair were greeted with looks of mild amazement by those who understood nothing of the significance of their red T-shrits, but with understanding bemusing by those who themselves would have given an arm or a leg to be in possession of what they now had. Several half-hearted shouts of "Alllez les bleus" were recipocrated by much more vigourous ones of "Cymru am Byth" and the singing got louder.

After a short pause in a somewhat bare jardin des plantes the two walked through the strange sculptures that formed the Seine open-air museum of modern sculpture, where they saw something looking remarkably similar to the English scrum, done up in white, and looking as if they didn't know where to push. Apart from that, most of the pieces were surrealistic and left our heroes quite perplexed as to what they might represent.

It wasn't until the two arrived at Notre Dame that other red shirts began to make their appearance and before long the melody of 'Bread of heaven' was echoing around the square in front of the world-famous church.

Singing is thirsty work and our heroes were soon looking for a watering post. The ideal place was found in a packed out Irish pub where two pints of cool, strong cider was enough to get our friends back into voice, and soon the whole of the pub, Welsh, Irish, and even some rare specimen of a French being was rocking to the sound of singing in all its states of quality. The singing continued as we hit the streets again and ran into an extemore Welsh male voice choir, the ranks of which were soon swelled by our own strong and melodious voices.

And so we made our way down to the stadium, not before stopping at one of the small Asian restaurants in the Latin Quarter which serve excellent meals at even more excellent prices.

Well, to tell the story of the match is a difficult task, even now some 20 hours later. Not only did we lose, but we deserved to do so. That did not, however, stop us from singing, and we passed into the new day back at the Irish pub singing and dancing our hearts out. As our train home wasn't due until 6 am and we had not bothered booking into a hotel for the night, we stayed there until they kicked us out to go home at 5 am. Actually, the very nice barmaid did offer to let us go home with her and her husband and get a little sleep but we politely declined and made our way back to the Gare de Lyon as quiet as mice; not out of any respect for our fellow human beings trying to get some sleep but simply because everything has its limits even the voice of a Welshmen. So, into the station we rolled, found our train and were soon pulling out of Paris, tired, hoarse but very very happy. You see we may have lost, but in reality we had what can only be described as a winning weekend. And the most amazing part is that I'm still in a fit enough state to sit here and write all this. But it's off to bed now. There's another match tonight.


Shelley undid her top two buttons before returning to serve the coffee. It had been almost two weeks since she had last spent the night with someone but she . The guy in L/24 was more than good-looking. Power and strength oozed from him. Moreover he'd had given the once over each time she'd passed up the aisle. He was the kind who'd give a girl a wonderful night before disappearing discretely into the landscape. He was probably married but that never bothered Shelley.

Fortunately, he was in the middle seat. She would have to bend over to serve him, affording ample opportunity to display her talents. She saw his eyes look her up and down as she approached, then lower as she bent over to serve him. She smiled; he reciprocated. When she came again to collect the cups, she'd make body contact. Then, trumps.

Janice knew she was losing her husband. Not that she cared that much. The romance had gone out of their life long ago. All he represented for her now, was some kind of security which she was determined to keep hold of. She scribbled a few words on the back of the immigration card, printing them and using her left hand so no one would discover their origin. The stewardess came down the aisle to collect the cups. Her first two buttons were still undone. Michael would appreciate that. As she bent over, Janice slipped the card onto the trolley and leant back closing her eyes. That would give the little hussy something to think about.

After this everything remained remarkably calm. But the stewardess didn't show up again. Instead, three new stewards arrived, as if out of thin air. Janice was sure, they were some kind of security guards. The pilot's voice came over the air.

'Ladies and gentleman, due to unforeseen circumstances, we are being diverted to a small airport on the outskirts of London.' A groan went up from the waiting passengers, from all except Janice. Her subterfuge had worked. 'When we arrive, I would ask you all to use the emergency exits, women and children first please.'

Janice had been so preoccupied with the stewards, it was only now she realised that Michael was the only male within ten or so rows of where they were sitting. So that was their plan, they wanted to isolate him. Then once they got him alone, they'd lead him off. But they'd find nothing, and Michael would return to her, tail between his legs.

Stone The Crows

One of life's little diversions is rugby. And of those diversions, the biggest had become the annual battle of the brave when Ireland affronted France. Ever since I had been in Gensdouce we had celebrated the occasion by throwing a big party at Jean's pub, ostensibly to celebrate Irish-French friendship. I suppose you could say the fact that we were still friends after the match, whatever the result, was justification enough for our optimism. Anyway, this year was to be different. This year the match was being played in Paris and it was to be the tournament opener. Add to that the fact that Ireland had beaten France in a thrilling match in Dublin, before going on to share the championship and the rivalry is perfect. I just knew I had to get tickets for this year's match. How I got hold of them, is best left unsaid. I might want to try again next year. Suffice to say as I got together with Jean, Guillaume and a few of our allies on the eve of the match, I was in a buoyant mood. We needed to discuss who to put forward as a candidate for the forthcoming elections, and I was willing to back Guillaume to the hilt. He was the only one with the necessary experience and knowledge of public life to make any sort of impression in the elections. Or, so I thought. But then events overtook me.

'Simon, I'm afraid we have some bad news for you.'

It wasn't so much the words as the tone in which they were said that startled me. Guillaume didn't even look me in the eyes.

'We don't really want to interfere in your private life, but I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to forego your weekend rugby outing.' He paused. Then he did look me in the eyes. 'We can't have a mayoral candidate going up to Paris to support anyone other than the French team. As I suppose you're not willing to change your allegiance in this, admittedly, trivial matter, we shall have to ask you not to go.'

How relieved I was. Guillaume had obviously got hold of the wrong end of the stick. He thought I was going to be the candidate. Then I saw four pairs of eyes staring at me and I froze. It took a strong double whisky to bring me back to the world of the living.

'You see, Simon,' Guilluame was explaining, 'Demille is a sly old fox. There's no way we're going to beat him on his own ground. If we're to have any chance whatsoever, we need something other than intellectual arguments and tedious debates. We've got to have someone who speaks with his heart, who connects to the hearts of the voters; someone with charisma and passion. That someone is you.'

'But I'm not even French! That callous devil will make mincemeat of me over that.'

'You know, I'm not sure he will. Demille has gotten himself into some trouble with questions like this. He'll not want risk another minefield. I suspect he'll be perfectly calm and courteous over the question of your origins. And as you know, the new rules not only allow you to vote in municipal elections, they also allow you to stand as a candidate. You're inexperienced, that's true, but you'll have a good team to back you up and if you win, myself and my colleagues will give you all the help we can in running the town hall. They're about as fed up of Demille as we are. So what do you say?'

'I'm not sure, I know what to say. If it's about the match you're worrying, that's no problem. But I think I need time to think it over. And I'd like to talk to Morgana about this. She hasn't the faintest notion...

'Right!' replied Guillaume, suppressing a smile which left me wondering. We'll expect your answer tomorrow at the latest. And I need not add that we're all counting on you.'

Unusually, Morgana was waiting up for me when I got back.

'Well, what did they decide?' she asked eagerly.

'Well, umm I'm not quite sure how to tell you this.'

'You mean they have asked you!' she cried out clasping her hands and bouncing up and down like an overexcited six year old.'

'How... how on earth...'

'You naive, little child. You really didn't know a thing. The whole village is talking about you. They're all hoping you'll stand. You really didn't see it coming.'

'I haven't yet said yes.'

'Then you're going to get on that phone and accept at once.'

'No! Before I do that I'm going to kiss you. After all, if I'm to be the mayor, persistent obedience is to be your duty from now on.'

And I never did make that phone call. At least, not until the next day. let's just say that we spend the rest of the evening proving the old adage about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac.


There you lie in your mother's arms,
her face a beaming ball of delight;
yours a picture of placid contentment,
taking in succour and sustenance at your mother's breast.
For now, the world is aright.

Another picture, now you're five;
excitement glaring from your eyes
and fear prickling through your pores,
no question in your mind,
as into Daddy's arms you fly.

And then that day I let you down,
a precious lesson that.
'I'm holding, promise, won't let go,'
as on and on you rode.
And when you saw, the wobbles came,
and tears to your eyes.
Yet, head held high you ran and cried:
'Just look what I have done!'

Your teens saw storm clouds thick and black
trouble the hazy sky.
Understand how can nor you, nor I,
as voices raised and crashing doors
brought frustration and despair.
But then, you knew as darkness came,
you're always welcome here.

And now you're leaving, dearest one,
the wide, wild world beckons you to come.
Our turn to shudder, tremble, wonder
what will the future hold.
But letting go, we have each other;
it's our turn to be bold.

Acting upon good medical advice is always advisable. That was the one message I pondered upon while waiting in the carriage whilst my husband, Lane, dealt with the formalities of checking into the hotel. We were indeed acting upon such medical advice that very moment. My husband and I, finding ourselves in the delicate position of not being able to get me in a delicate position, we had sought Dr. Chasuble's advice. Having only lived in Worthing for a few weeks, how were we to know to know that the illustrious ancestor was not a doctor at all! We did, however, think it strange that we were ushered into the vestry as a consulting room. Only then did our mistake come to light; yet the Reverend Doctor's advice did seem to make sense.

So here we were at the Manor House Hotel, Woolton Hertfordshire. And sitting in that grand carriage which had met us 19th century fashion at the railway station, I suddenly saw the hand of fate in all this. Dr. Chasuble, Woolton Hertfordshire, acting on sound medical advice.... it was almost as if we ourselves were on stage, the drama being played out around us. And to cap it all, there was to be a performance of the great man's work that very evening. The billboard was there for all and sundry to see, pasted across the entrance gate to the manor. In the time it took the carriage to negotiate the sinewy drive up to the mansion, we had made up our minds: We would go. That was why Lane dashed into the hotel to sort out matters, while I remained outside. And after the play... fun and games. Doctor's orders, of course!

Let's go into the details of all that went on during those first few days. Suffice to say that there were lots of fun and games until on the fifth day of our stay I suddenly got taken ill. This time we made sure we sought out a proper doctor who gave us the wonderful news:

'My dear Mrs. Prism, I'afraid I've got some rather bad news for you. Not only are you pregnant, but it would seem as if you're carrying triplets.'

We stared at him in horror. Triplets! Afraid! What on earth was there to be afraid about? We'd come here to have a baby, and now we were going to have three. All at once! What could be better! Except perhaps four or five; but then let's not be greedy.

Within seconds of the news sinking in, Lane and I we were in each other's arms, rejoicing.

'But doctor, are you absolutely sure. After all, it is a bit early. I mean it's only five days since...'

'My dear Mrs. Prism, there can be no doubt. Surely, you must be aware that, science is always making wonderful improvements in things. Besides, you are staying at the Manor House, if my memory serves correctly. Surely, you are aware of the history of that renowned establishment.'

And in a flash, Lady Bracknell's closing words in that play once again stamped themselves on my memory:

'I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number of births that go on seems to me considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.'

So, after all, we had been right to act upon proper medical advice.

That victory was the beginning of the end. The words weren't mine, neither did they apply to me. And it's only with the benefit of two years hindsight, that I can trace the hand of fate as it knocked on my door, that evening.

To be perfectly honest, our victory was a hollow one. After my speech, the meeting ended in uproar and we were soon all ended up back at the pub celebrating. Yet, for Guitan, nothing had changed. The anachronistic law was still in place; Mayor Demille still intended to invoke it to get him struck off the voting register. Nothing had changed. Yet, the beer flowing and we were in a boisterous mood when suddenly someone called out:

'Give us new Mayor!'

Cheering and jeering followed and we were soon plotting the imaginary downfall of the Mayor at the elections due in just a couple of months. But it wasn't until Guillaume phoned me up the next day, that I realised what my speech had actually started. His call was to invite me to a meeting of select friends, as he put it.

'Simon, we feel the time has come to put up a candidate to oppose Mayor Demille at the coming elections.

I looked at him stunned. It wasn't so much opposing Demille that stunned me, but my presence at this meeting. I glanced around at the two other people in the room. Why had they asked me?

'That we are taking a big risk, is quite clear to me. Demille has been returned unopposed at every election since his first victory back in 1971. But since his last victory, all he has done is increase the divisions among us. It's time to put an end to all that.'

'So, you see,' continued a tall middle-aged man I'd sometimes seen around but never been introduced to, 'your speech last night may mark the beginning of the end for Demille. I realise it was given on impulse and, to be quite candid it was bloody impudent of you to take it upon yourself, but it's raised the hopes of a lot of people.'

'But who do you think is experienced enough to unseat, Demille?'

Running a hand through his already greying hair Guillaume replied: 'Simon, we're not talking about experience here. This has to be handled differently. For all his failings, Demille is competent. If we're going to unseat him, we have to fight on a different terrain. I don't know who our candidate is going to be, although an idea is beginning to form in my mind. I'd even go so far as to say that a candidate isn't that important. What Gensdouce needs is not a new man but a new vision. That's what we have to put across.'

Our meeting continued into the early hours of the morning as we started to put flesh into our ideas. All were agreed that the important thing now was to keep up the momentum our victory at the meeting had given us. Within days the whole village was talking about a challenge and offers of help were coming in from all sides. Then, Demille made his big mistake. Fearing we would try and make Guitan an issue in the campaign, he backtracked. It was a calculated risk, and thanks to some new-found supporters in the regional press it backfired. Suddenly, Demille began to look vulnerable. Now was the time to press home our advantage by naming our candidate.

The atmosphere in the pub was electric. Just five minutes to go before our challenge. And ten minutes before the match. No one there was under any illusion as to the seriousness of the challenge. It paled into insignificance compared to the match. Yet after weeks of friendly banter, the time had come for our new-found friends to show what they were really made of. And who knows, the result might just be a good omen.

The odds were terrible. Two against fourteen. And with a few minutes to go others might join them. Nevertheless, I wasn't worried. At worst, we'd have to foot the bill for a bottle of wine; red, of course, to match the shirts of our heroes. At the same time, I was quietly confident. In France singing didn't mean what it meant to us. A moment's silence and the band struck the opening notes. As we were playing in Cardiff, the French had the right to sing first. Nothing happened. At least, it sounded like that. In reality, two or three of those around us, managed to creak along to the end of the first line. One even continued humming a few lines more, before throwing in the towel. They were no match for us. The glance my son sent in my direction said everything. The question was, should we still give them first blast, or tone things down a bit so as not to humiliate them so much. But do you know a Welshman who doesn't give it his all when singing Mae hen wlad fy nhadau. We didn't fall that far short of bringing the house down, but the applause that followed was fitting testimony to the fact that the bottle of wine was ours. Of course, we shared it out and soon other bottles followed. Indeed, by the end of the match, more or less everyone was in their own way singing along to those famous Welsh tunes; not just in the stadium but in also in this little French pub hundreds of miles away, where friendship and rivalry had become welded together in a chorus of benevolence. And who cares, who won the match. Now if the truth were told...

A Hearty Meal

Brian sat in front of his phone for almost two hours. Even the mice came out to see what was happening. And a psychic would have had the greatest difficulty picking up any information transmitting himself through his brain. A foot moved; the mice scattered; Brian got up. He opened the draw, took out the keys. He was going down; he'd do it in style. 5 minutes later he was back in his office. Locking the door behind him, he spread everything out on his desk. Caviar, foie gras, truffles, duck leg confit, escargots, and an assortment of cheeses from all over France. And to wash it down, three bottles of Champagne, enough to push him over the top. He had bought these things just that morning. Apart from the samples he had taken, everything was still in the company transit van, waiting for him to get started. The spread was to be the highlight of the shareholders' meeting that evening. Now he would give them something else to talk about.

It took him a couple of hours to get through his condemned man's meal. No one phoned and no one tried to get into the office. Everyone knew he would be busy in his secret location exercising his magic for that evening. Downing the last of the Champagne he picked up the keys to the transit and left the office. He noticed with cold detachment the chairman's limousine in its usual place alongside the wall of the administrative block. He must have been doing well over a hundred when the transit smashed into the limousine and exploded. There would be no feast that evening.

An Irish Tongue

Guitan didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Some people thought that in itself was enough to prove their point. Guitan was a lunatic, a dimwit, a moron; he couldn't even add two and two together, so why should he be allowed to vote.

To be perfectly honest, I hadn't believed the story when I first heard it. True, Mayor Demille wasn't exactly tolerant of people he considered of inferior status. But since I was included in his list I'd got quite used to it. But this latest pronouncement was taking things too far.

Guitan had spent most of his life in Gensdouce. His parents had been killed in a car crash. In the disarray that followed the accident, nobody thought there might be a baby inside the car. Sounds of crying were heard and he was fortunately pulled out of the wreckage seconds before the car exploded. That was the first and only time Guitan succeeded in speaking up for himself. He came to live in Gensdouce with an aunt who did her best for him. But there was little that could be done. Withdrawn and unable to connect with other people, Guitan was pushed from one institution to another. Things usually went well for a time before rapidly deteriorating. Now 27 years old, he was back in Gensdouce. He had no qualifications, although he was an excellent odd job man, and could repair almost anything you gave him.

I wasn't actually at the meeting that evening, so the first I heard of it was when I saw the headline in The Republican the next morning. Illiterate birdbrain denied the vote. There followed a quote from Mayor Demille: 'If people cannot even read election pamphlets, then how can they make up their minds?'

It didn't take long for us to find out what this was all about. Mayor Demille was invoking a 17th Century law to get Guiton banned from voting in the upcoming local elections. It took us almost two days to actually find the stipulation he was evoking and its abusive and degrading language was offensive in the extreme. What worried us even more, is that the clauses failed to define any exact state of lunacy. It could be applied to almost anyone who didn't read or who failed to obtain the brief - the basic qualification everyone was expected to obtain before leaving school.

It took us just a few hours to get up a campaign against such a monstrous measure. Guitan had done several odd-jobs for us at the centre, so I wanted to do what I could for him. But it was not just because he was one of ours, or had helped us in different ways. No! Here a man's basic right to cast his vote was being violated, and something had to be done about it. We decided on a two-prong attack. Firstly, we would do all we could to check the validity of this arcane and more than mysterious law. But we also decided to take our cause directly to the people, organising meetings and holding demonstrations in front of important public buildings. Our efforts quickly earned us a mixed reputation. Some saw us as rabble-rousers, others as latter-day freedom-fighters.

The climax came at a packed public meeting organised by Mayor Demille. It was make or break for us and we were well aware that the public would be largely hostile. I had determined to stay fairly quiet. My French, whilst adequate for most purposes, was not really up to a highly charged public meeting. In addition, my own position was a delicate one, since the Mayor had also led a campaign to stop members of European Community countries themselves voting in the same elections. Should I attack him, I might be seen to have ulterior motives, ultimately damaging our cause. Our speakers, however, made little impression and when Mayor Demille's closing speech whipped up even greater animosity, the temptation became more than I could stand. I may not have the eloquence of some my colleagues but I did have my red hair and my wife's hand firmly in my own. I swept up and proceeded to give the Mayor a piece of my Irish tongue. He was stunned. I was stunned. All of my friends were stunned. Indeed, the only person in the room who wasn't stunned was Morgana. Passion was the only way to win this debate, and Morgana knew I had passion.

It was in the year of our Lord 1298, in the second month. Upon the fourteenth day of that month, I, Guy de Cuffs, being employed upon his majesty's pleasure to keep order in the house wherein his majesty's transgressors were held, was called up to assure the release of one of the said transgressors after a prolonged stay of some two years. Upon receiving news of his impending release, I decided to interview the prisoner to urge him to turn his back from the life of crime he had embarked on. Alas, his tale cut me to the quick. The prisoner being of a natural handsome disposition had, on more than one occasion been caught making eyes to one of the beautiful young maidens of his countryside. Indeed, I was later to discover that this number was only due to the prisoner's modesty, it being in reality something far higher. You might well ask, what sort of a crime it is, to make eyes to a maiden. However, as I myself am aware from personal experience, making eyes is usually followed by some demand on the maiden's part, and not being in possession of the gold required to provide such a large and steady supply of maidens with the necessary rings, he turned to both thievery and falsehood. Being only too eager to turn away from these crimes I looked forward to his liberation with alacrity. Not so the young man. He was decidedly anxious as the fourteenth day of the aforementioned month approached. And the arrival of the said day provided ample truth that these anxieties were not unfounded, for on this day an inordinate number of paper messages were deposited at the prison gate for this brave and courageous warrior. However, his courage proved futile for each of these maidens had come to lay siege to the prison gate. His liberty barely gained, he once again fell into bondage and as far as I am aware is now living a long and very happy life.

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