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While we are on a war theme, here is a poem that I wrote after meeting
Major John Howard, DSO (as portrayed by Richard Todd in the film, The
Longest Day) at Pegasus Bridge. It was an entirely fortuitous and
serendipitous encounter. Major Howard was sitting at a table outside
Arlette Gondree’s cafe. (Arlette’s house was the first French home to
I was in the company of Major Michael Hickey, a military historian who
was with my choir. We were singing The Brahms Requiem seven times
in ten days, all over Normandy, along with a French choir and the
orchestra of Basse Normandie. We sang in different towns
and we sang in German. The audiences were in tears. It was an
emotional and healing experience for all involved.
Generous gesture – German flag festoons,
hoisted with the Allied banners. Bunching,
fussy boudoir blinds. Here swooping platoons,
like death’s head moths, stealthily came gliding.
Across the bridge John Howard bravely strode,
piper ahead, deflecting sniper shot.
Now European coaches block the road;
the dispassionate stamp postcards they’ve bought,
sending snapshots of Hell to those who knew
the mark of Caen first-hand. Wish you were here!
He was: a fact to startle and imbue
those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The café’s bright umbrellas shelter all
from noonday’s heat, so one could fail to spot
cool nonagenarian. By the wall,
hero’s crutches propped, ready for action.
His longest day is past; his time now short:
German beer his major satisfaction.
(A seasonal re-blog, folks- enjoy!)
It was Hallowe’en and Carrie’s children were hyper-excited. Tiger-Lily was
in charge of her siblings. She had dressed as a witch and her brother,
Ferdy, was carrying a plastic trident and sported horns. Ming had a
black plastic cape and his smile was rather disconcerting as he had
managed to retain plastic fangs from a Christmas cracker in his mouth,
in spite of the additional dental obstruction of a brace. The whole effect
was akin to Frankenweenie.
Bill was a white-faced zombie with fake blood dripping down his jaw.
Edward’s face was green and he had a screw sticking out of his neck.
Rollo was a Ghostbuster. Dressing up in clown costumes had been
All carried pumpkin lanterns and empty, be- ribboned mini-trugs, for
the reception of donated goodies.
Now be polite, children, and only visit the houses on High Street. Ring the
doorbells once only and say thank you if anyone gives you fruit. You
mustn’t accept money…
Edward looked disappointed. I’ll wait round the corner in The Peal O’
Bells with the other mummies. Stay together and when you’ve finished,
knock on the window.
Let’s go to Grandma’s first, said Ferdy. She won’t be scared of us.
Yes, let’s get it over with, said Tiger.
They rang the doorbell and stepped back politely.
Suddenly a white-sheeted figure with two black holes for
eyes opened the door and shouted: Boo!
Little Edward was terrified. He seized his sister’s hand and
dropped his trug.
It’s only Grandma, silly, said Tiger, annoyed at the naughty
Trick or treat, Grandma?
Ginevra pulled the sheet off and smoothed her hair.
We’re not having that American nonsense here, she lectured. When
your daddy was small he had to do guising properly. We’re a traditional
So, who’s going to do the first turn?
Turn? quailed Rollo.
Yes. A recitation, dance or song. You don’t get owt for nowt as
they used to say.
What’s a recitation? asked Ming.
Come in. I’ll show you, said Ginevra enthusiastically. Ola! Have you
put the apples in the basin of water?
But Ola wasn’t there. She had run off to Bric-a-Brac with Jean-
Paul, the opportunistic widower from the twinning visit. Ginevra
had forgotten her new carer’s name.
Sorry. Magda, then.
They all trooped into the sitting room and Ginevra moved her
case of Dewlap Gin for Discerning Grandmothers off the sofa, so that
they could sit down.
She took a deep, somewhat juniper-scented breath and launched
Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world and all our woe…
Sing, Heavenly Muse!…
Two hours later Tiger had to shake Edward awake as their
grandmother uttered the final words:
..through Eden took their solitary way.
Ginevra bowed with a huge flourish and pronounced:
Paradise Lost: now that’s poetry!
She then proceeded to help herself to a bag of Mars bars which
Magda had been instructed to purchase for the children.
Grandma, we’ve got to go. It’s past Edward’s bed-time, said Tiger-Lily
Oh, what a pity. We didn’t get round to ducking for apples, said Ginevra,
There’s always next year, replied Tiger, scarcely banishing a rather
un- grand-daughterly thought: If the old bag is still around.
Carrie was frantic: Where have you been all this time?
Blame Grandma, said Tiger. Give her any opportunity or a platform and
you’ll be there all night.
You should have taken the crucifix and the garlic, like I told you, said
Carrie, bundling them into the 4×4. She’s always been a monster.
Even to Daddy? asked an exhausted Ming.
Especially to Daddy. Never mind. We’ll have good fun at Clammie
and Tristram’s Guy Fawkes Party. Burning effigies is so therapeutic!