Game - that's this week's Sunday Scribbling prompt. And ever since signing the Entente Cordiale over 100 years ago, France and England have met regularly for a gaming spree of unparalleled reputation. Luckily, I was one of those asked to cover last year's event for your favourite blog. So read all about it right here.

"Good evening, Prime-Minister, I hope your visit to our magnificent capital has persuaded you that the IOC never makes a mistake?" (15 - 0)

"Well, indeed it has. But to be quite honest I was perfectly well aware of that fact before today. You just have to look at the committee chairman to realise he has enough reserves to survive for three weeks on an English diet." (15 - 15)

"Ah, yes I concede our gastronomy was the weak point of our bid (service fault). That's why we have hired the services of our best French cook for tonight's banquet." (weak second service)

"And what mouthwatering delights are in store for us then?" (poor service return)

"Well, you know we English are game for almost anything. So that's what we're having tonight. Give your ministers a chance to bypass your import embargo on our meat products." (Scintillating volley for 30-15)

"Would you like a glass of wine? (Seeing opponent still reeling from that previous blow below the belt goes in for the kill) It's one of our best brews." (but miss-hits badly. 30 - 30)

"Ah, there's the dinner bell. My butler always makes it ring in that Wagnerian manner for a head of state."

"Yes, I hear Chancellor Merkl found it quite narzistic." (double-fisted cross court return sends opponent scrambling back)

"Well, at least we corrected our attempts at appeasement which is more than I can say for... (returns with a high lob which doesn't have enough depth)

"Well, at least we gave you an excuse for your hasty retreat." (and so is smashed away to the back of the court 30 - 40)

"Since your charming lady seems more than game enough to spend the ni... evening with me, I thought I'd place you next to one of our ravishing young beauties from the foreign office. That's her over there next to her husband. Better keep an eye on him, though. He beat your David Whatisname to a judo gold medal in Beijing." (straight ace - deuce)

"By the way, is your negotiating team all ready for our negotiations tomorrow?"

"No, not quite. They've invited your translation team for a bit of cordial intente at the Hilton after tonight's banquet. But don't worry, they'll be perfectly ready by the morning." (Advantage Miss Paris)

"To be perfectly honest, that's what was worrying me. This match is so important I felt we should dispense with our translation pawns. Like the French I have learnt to make good use of my hands and can always fall back on good, old-fashioned ignorance, in case of any emergencies."

Well, that's a dis... (stumbles and misses and misses a sitting volley - deuce)

And so the head-froeing went on until players, spectators, umpires and even your humble author himself could no longer keep their eyes down. Finally, the match referee put everyone out of their misery by calling out:

Game, set, match and Pulitzer prize, the author.

A Veil Lifted

This week's Fiction Friday challenge has us sitting down to Christmas (actually it was Thanksgiving but seeing as I'm not American I've changed it to Christmas) dinner when an unexpected guest bursts in upon the scene. I've coupled this with a recent interest I've taken in dedications which we find at the front of so many books.

Janet felt a little overwhelmed as she looked around the oversized room that had served both as living and dining room. How on earth was she going to get everything ready before they arrived. She began to wish Scott was there to help her. He had offered, of course. But he'd been on the road so much these last few months, she'd not wanted to impose another eight hour drive on him. Besides, all she'd have to do was tidy the place up and make room for the bed. The ambulance people would carry the bed down from the bedroom when they arrived with her mother.

Four hours later she put the kettle on to afford herself a small break. The room had been cleaned out and a place made where the bed could go. She had even found a little corner for the bedside cabinet. This was the one secret in her mother's life. It always remained locked and Janet had never succeeded in bringing her mother to talk about whatever it contained. But she knew her mother would not want to be without it.

Some thirty minutes later the ambulance men arrived and not long after her mother was comfortably installed in her new surroundings. Janet sat down on a stool beside her. The time had come for a serious talk. This time things had turned out well. But next time... Janet braced herself. She knew her mother would never leave Scarborough to come and live with them. But if she didn't want that, then they'd have to get someone in. Janet braced herself and was just about to begin when she saw her mother holding out a little key. Janet stared then followed her mother's gaze to the little bedside cabinet. She took the key and placed it in the lock, glancing up to check this was really what her mother intended her to do. She opened it up and drew out a white metal document box. Her mother's eyes brightened as the box was placed on her lap. Her hands trembled as she opened it up and drew out a faded photo album of yesteryear. She looked her daughter in the eyes, inviting her, no entreating her to take a trip into a past which no one had ever talked about.

Yet, all the album contained were photographs of a Christmas party. Christmas 1925 the front cover announced. Her mother had been seventeen, just months before she had broken all contact with her family. Janet studied the photos carefully. It must have been a big party. There were well over fifty people present, and the table spreads must have taken days to prepare. All done by servants, of course.

Janet turned the pages slowly keeping one eye on her mother so as not to miss out on any reaction. Yet, nothing happened. Janet couldn't help feeling that all this was just the preliminary to something greater. It was not until she turned over the final page that she came to a photo she recognised.

"It's..." She hesitated. Only now did she realise she never knew the name of this boy. All she knew was that his appearance at that Christmas party so many years ago had been as unexpected as it was short-lived. She now saw her mother holding a book out to her which she had kept in the box. Janet glanced at the title and turned over the first page. The inscription caught her eye:

To Rose
With love

Her mother's eyes gleamed as they began to reflect one picture after another, telling the events of that far-off Christmas day about which Janet understood but little. Yet fingering the paper of this mysterious book she felt at last this veil was about to be lifted.


Where did it all begin?

With his mother? It was the obvious place to start. All those hours spent around the fireplace; the stories she loved to tell; he thrived on her every word. Then there were the regular trips to the town library. He couldn't remember much about how it looked nor the people who worked there: but those books... Little Piccolo, Emil and the Detectives, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. And many many more.

Then there were the teachers. Some only lived on in his memory because of the books they represented: David Copperfield, Call of the Wild, Tom Sawyer. He'd sworn he'd marry Tom Sawyer one day, so pretty she was. Pity she was over twice his eleven years. He wondered if she'd have waited for him to catch up.

Others came and went, but the one who stood out the most was Mr. Carless. The other students mocked him cruelly over his unfortunate name and the oversized bifocals that were his trademark. But two things made him a hero to Mark. He'd introduced the class to Shakespeare, for Mark the beginning of a discovery that still hadn't ended. Then, recognising Mark's enthusiasm he'd made him a librarian, although he was still only in the fifth form.

Other faces came and went. Friends, colleagues, fellow writers: dozens of people who had helped him in oh so many ways.

But the quirkiest turn of irony came from the fact that the one person he hated the most was the one who had done most to push Mark towards writing. Marshall had been a trusted colleague. Three years they had worked together closely. Then the new boss came. Marshall saw his chance. He elbowed his way into the boss's confidence, her bed, and into Mark's office. Any attempt to discuss things with him proved fruitless. He soon found himself marginalised by most of his former staff who knew on which side the bread was currently buttered. Those who didn't play along offered their sympathy. That was worse.

Within the space of just ten months Mark found himself in a basement office, next to the refuse storage, with a rickety desk, an empty filing cabinet and nothing to do. Most would have resigned. That was what Marshall wanted. That way the company wouldn't be liable for severance pay. Instead, he wrote. He'd always wanted to write and had made several attempts at getting his ideas down on paper. It was down in the basement refuge that Mark found the courage and the inspiration he needed. Within six months his novel was finished. Weeks later, an agent offered to represent him. And now, just two years after that fateful arrival he was putting the finishing touches to his manuscript.

Mark had always been one to give everyone his due. Had it not been for Marshall the book would never have seen the light of day. He picked up his pen and wrote the final words he required.

To Marshall
With coldest thanks

The moment Katie entered the office she sensed something was different. The tell-tale sheet of paper peeking out from the side of the desk quickly pointed her in the right direction. The overflowing waste-paper felt distinctly out of place in Sean's half of the office. True, Katie had in the past witness him screw up a piece of paper, which promptly disappeared into the said basket. But such an earth-shattering event had occurred maybe three or four times in the six years they had been working together. And never, had he rejected more than one draft.

Katie found herself drawn to basket. She picked out the was of paper and cast a glance at the top one. Her face wrinkled with a frown as she looked at the next sheet. Slowly, she walked across to her desk. Placing the pile of papers in front of her she began to read. Tears came to her eyes. The words were magnificent, electrifying. Why wasn't he satisfied? Yet, wasn't that typical of Sean? The best wasn't good enough. Only the perfect sufficed. And who was he describing? Sean had never let on that he was seeing somebody. So why such an elegiac evocation of beauty? Whose image had so imprinted himself on his mind?

The thought that Sean might return and find her looking through these papers tore her from her reverie. She picked up the pile and was about to carry it back to the waste paper basket when she noticed the rose sitting on her desk beside the phone. Propped up against the vase was a card from which Sean's bold handwriting proclaimed:

For once words fail me.

In Memoriam

Accident of time
Our eyes met, Your smile melted
My heart's indifference.

Obscene the heartbreak
caused by one careless moment,
shattering our dreams;

Leaving me alone,
You with a cold brown covering,
Loyal forever.

Sandy always turned to the horoscopes first. In the beginning out of habit; it was the one part of the paper her father never looked at. So she didn't have to wait until he'd finished. Later, her interest grew. Not that she started to believe in them. She merely wanted to see how they were written, how precise the predictions were, how they managed to fool people into believing. This morning they gave her food for thought: "Get around today but beware of new acquaintances."

Well, that was alright then. Sandy had a busy day ahead of her. She was due to help out at the club's stall. Selling was her thing and when the club decided they would prepare and sell their own flower arrangements as part of their town's charity weekend, she was one of the first to volunteer. After all, she reasoned to herself, not one of her stories had sold yet. So what was the point in just writing more and more. She'd take a break, wait until something sold. And then... But for now, she could afford to help others a little more.

Sandy did, of course, consider that being on the stall might mean new acquaintances but she didn't believe in all that nonsense anyway. Besides, most of the people with her, she knew already. And she didn't have to get close to any she didn't know.

When she arrived, Jacky already had everything set up and they did a brisk trade until just before eleven when the streets suddenly emptied. Soon they were the only ones left in the town square when someone from a neighbouring store came rushing out and told them to told them to get inside.

"It's just been announced on the radio... explosion in a chemical factory... poisonous fumes." The announcement was somewhat muddled, the woman even more. Jacky made straight for home while Sandy raced into the café on the corner. This was her big chance. Something was happening on her very own doorstep. All the country's newspapers were beckoning.

Some two hours later Sandy was putting the finishing touches to her own peculiar slant to the adventure, when she noticed the café owner pointing her out to a stranger who had just come in. The man paid for his coffee and came up to her.

"Mind if I join you. My name's Richard Hartnall. I'm commissioning editor for the Bracknell County News. I'm looking for a few personal stories to accompany our coverage of the Damson explosion. Several people have mentioned you. Maybe you'd like to..."

Sandy's heart leapt. Fame at last. Then she remembered the oracle: beware... So she got up and left the café, convinced that now was not the right time.


The leaves made soft rustling sounds on the courtyard cobblestones as Marie hushed passed the hanging willows and pushed through the door into the sacristy. As she made her way to the the small altar, she often wondered who would pick up the messages she left. She suspected it wasn't the priest. It would be far too dangerous for them to pick someone she actually knew. Once or twice she'd been tempted to stay and watch, but she never actually dared such an act. She lit a candle, knelt for her prayer and slipped back outside to continue her daily walk. All a matter of routine, even the visit to the sacristy. That way anyone observing her would notice nothing untoward. That was all part of the art of the underground. Everything had to look perfectly normal.

Even her recruitment come about in a most unsuspecting way. After news came of Ron's death, she'd not known what to do. At least she had the house. Maybe she could put that to good use. That was when Pete came to see her... and told the truth about Ron. Never in her life had she imagined him as part of the resistance. He'd always been on the side of the pacifists; even spent several months in jail for it. To learn now that he'd actually taken part in an underground training camp came as a shock. It was Pete who came up with the suggestion of turning their abode into a small but exclusive boarding house. Finding guests would be no problem. Pete would take care of that. She must just learn to be discrete; take the money and ask no questions. Then in the morning she'd find a message in the hollow cavity of one the bed posts. The message had to be delivered to the church within the hour.

Tears came to Marie's eyes every time she took out the message. The bed had been Ron's wedding present to her. A genuine four-poster, wonderfully decorated. It had taken him months to make and the pride in his eyes when he presented it to her was enough to illuminate the whole village. Had he even then...? Marie refused to ask herself this question. She was just glad of this one link she had to her fallen husband. Thousands of times she had asked herself, why she was doing this? For what reason did she keep on putting her life at risk? And the answer was always the same. Not patriotism , nor heroism. Her only reason was Ron.

Errant schoolboy hankering after more excitement found in an unconscious state beside the murky waters of the Drastic.

Knight errant questions murky hankerings at court.

Errant hankerer arrested for murky trading.

Errant Nessie caught amongst murky mists by hankering photographer.

Illiterate hankerer admits to murkying errants.

Trainer sent errant after murkering hankery-panky with star's wife.

To S...

The dawning realisation was beginning to transform itself into a distinct portrait. Not that the whole panorama came at once; more like a puzzle with various bits and pieces appearing and only later the links between them becoming clear. But right now enough of the picture was visible for him to realise he was in love.

They had met just four weeks earlier, when they found themselves enrolled in the same class: water colours from nature. At first, he had scarcely noticed her. But walking home that evening her smile kept flashing into his mind. He spent the better part of the next week waiting, hoping, expecting and when once again that small curve of her mouth bridged the gap between them, he felt warm inside. There was something about that smile which gave a hint of fragility; as if she needed someone to shore her up.

They talked for the first time during the break and discovered they lived in the same part of town, so it was quite normal for them to walk home together. These fifteen minutes of companionship became the highlight of his week. Tonight, he longed to see more of her, to tell her what was happening inside him, to pronounce what his timidity would never let him utter. He walked on home leaving so much unsaid. The only channel open to him now was to obey his inner instinct and pour out his turmoil through words which would never be sent. He would put the poem up on his blog; a kind of confession... a safe confession. His fingers began to caress the letters on the keyboard before him:

To S...

Fighting back the tears she let herself into the flat. For the first time in her life she knew a man she could trust, someone she could lean on, someone who would help her face up to life's challenges. They had met, talked, walked home together, yet he hadn't even noticed her. When they arrived at her flat, he'd merely shaken her hand and walked on. Everything in her wanted to call him back; to resist her Karma and claim him as her own. Yet, she didn't dare. The pain of rejection would be too great. She went into the spare room and looked at the easel beside the cupboard. The portrait that emerging from the canvas expressed everything she had ever longed for; both to give and to take. But the portrait remained mute and hope withered.

As she went back into the living room, her computer emitted the familiar bleep indicating she had received another message. She glanced at the screen. It was an RSS feed from her favourite blogger; there was another post for her to read. She'd first come across "Magic Words" whilst she was researching an article for the town magazine. She was hooked from the start. Never had she known anyone express himself so beautifully. And over the past few weeks he had become her one solace. She clicked the link in the message and devoured the proffered words. Her eyes began to overflow. If only...

And all the time she didn't even notice that one letter which would have told all.

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