Vodka and Tonic

It was the last day of my stay in the country before returning home to England. The month had been unusually hot and few of the tasks I’d set myself had been completed. This fact though troubled me not at all as I was due to return again towards the end of June when, I reasoned, I would be in a better frame of mind for work. Common sense should have told me that June was certain to be hotter still and that my time might have been better spent doing my jobs now rather than spending so much time in enjoyment. My justification for having done so little was twofold; the day of my arrival had been marred by a telephone call from England to say that a friend had died unexpectedly the previous night, then there was the inordinately hot weather to which I have already made reference. Instead, and much to my terrible shame, I had indulged in a binge of relaxation; sitting for hours on the terrace that looked down towards the sea with a bottle of exceptionally good red wine and bowlful after bowlful of green olives. Almost my only excursion into town during those seven days had been to the church of Sant Romá where I had lit a candle for my friend and knelt in silent prayer. The night was drawing in quickly and I glanced across from my seat on the terrace towards the little carriage clock on the table inside the lounge. In less than a half hour it would be midnight, a time that ordinarily would have seen me tucked up in bed and fast asleep. But for some reason my mind was active and in need of some stimulation; I slipped on a pair of shoes and set off in the direction of the beach. 

   The narrow curving road that offers access to the paseo and beach was deserted and I walked casually beneath the branches of the trees that marked the boundaries of the private gardens to each side. The scent of the eucalyptus and the sound of the waves beating their steady welcome on the sand made me rejoice while at the same time sending a shiver of expectation down my spine. I’ve learnt that the sea, of all of the places on the planet, is the one place where nothing is ever the same. I have often conjectured whether this is the reason why so many people can sit and just stare at it. No wave is the same height, no wave ceases its travel at the same point, and no wave has the same impact on the senses. It is a place of constant flux. And so it is with the people one finds there. I was soon to find that this evening was to be no exception.

   I turned towards the eastern end of the beach where sits a restaurant, and where pretty orb-like street lamps light the paseo. There were more people about now, some walking their dogs and others, like me, simply out for the pleasures of a night-time walk. As I approached the very end of the paseo I became aware of some sort of gathering on the beach; a group of people who seemed to me to be entirely out of place. Few other of the night’s walkers were paying them undue attention but my own curiosity drew me nearer to them until, as I passed by the now almost deserted but still illuminated restaurant, I could see, gathered on the sand, somewhere between twenty and thirty people, most of whom were standing. Just one, a quite handsome man of about thirty years, appeared to be addressing the others, his compatriots engrossed in what he was saying. If any of them were aware of my presence they had the decency to ignore me and I sat down as close to them as propriety would allow. 

   I have had a home in this area for almost a quarter of a century and, in addition to knowing the place well, am familiar with the many languages spoken by the tourists who flock here in the summer months. English, French and German have been amongst the most common spoken, but just recently the Slavic languages have become more frequently heard. I was convinced that what I was hearing was a Slavic tongue: Russian perhaps. I asked myself why should it be Russian as opposed to, say, Bosnian or one of the Lechitic languages such as Polish? I doubt but few westerners have the ability to detect the difference, and in my own defence I have to admit that in suggesting the group were Russian I paid rather more attention to the container of clear liquid that seemed constantly to be passing between the crowd as to any other factor. Aware that my stereotyping may have drawn me to the wrong conclusion I have convinced myself, for the sake of this story, that the group were Russians; that the liquid was vodka.

So I sat and listened, having not the least idea what was being said, but laughing when others laughed, until finally the story, for that is what I assumed it had been, drew to an end.                                                                   

Expecting everyone to leave at this point I was surprised when, following a well deserved round of applause, the handsome man stepped aside only for another to take his place, this time an older man whose tale appeared to have a rather more serious – even sad – undertone. I looked at the faces in his audience and saw concern, perhaps melancholy, where before there had been mirth. The vodka continued to do its rounds and the audience grew perhaps even a little disturbed by the older man’s story. After about ten minutes the narrative reached its conclusion, but instead of applause and jollity there was the occasional hand that sought to wipe away a tear. I withdrew from the crowd then and found myself a place to sit quietly and wondered at the mysterious forces that shape our lives, for at that very moment I knew what it was that had called me to the beach. In sitting quietly among those people, as an intruder must always do, I had experienced in the first story all the joy my lost friend had had in her life, and in the melancholy of the second all the terrible sadness of her passing. 


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Deal or No Deal?

Where did Mr Hammond  get the idea that leaving the EU without a deal would be a betrayal of democracy? My message to you, sir, is this: A ‘deal’ might be the icing on the cake, but the box I ticked on the referendum made no mention of a deal. From memory I believe I was given the option simply to vote for the UK to remain as part of the EU, or to leave.

Where was the word ‘deal’ mentioned?


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Who said No Deal?

Why all this furore over a ‘No Deal’ Brexit? The referendum showed that the majority of those who voted did so in favour of the UK leaving the EU.

The wording of the referendum came close to being flawed in as much as it failed to mention what the consequences of ‘leave’ might be on the UK. Was that a deliberate omission?

I would argue that it is the voter who must bear the greatest responsibility for the mess we now find ourselves in. None of us should have taken part in choosing between two options when the result of one of those options was likely to be nothing more than a shot in the dark. But ‘should have’ doesn’t come into it. The fact is we did take part, and we did vote leave. And all that without having the least idea of what that might mean for the future of our nation.

If the referendum was flawed, it was never the less a legal process. And that should suffice for the vote to stand. For this reason I believe that members of parliament who are currently pressing for a guarantee of NOT leaving without a deal are seeking to undermine the very democracy they claim to be supporting. I would urge them to look again at the result: we voted leave.

If anything, the flawed wording offered in that first referendum should suggest that a second one is the right and correct way forward. Like it or not the fact is, in our ignorance, we voted to leave without a deal.

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I have a lot to say about freedom of speech and expression. I support both just so long as they don’t interfere with the lives of others.

Say what you like. Do what you like. Just allow me the same privilege.

So when Greenpeace invaded a recent Mansion House event and Mike Field MP took hold of a woman protester and bodily ejected her from the building he came in for some pretty strident criticism.

Was he right to do what he did?

He lost his job. I’d have promoted him!

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Freedom of expression.

Funny business this subject of Free Speech. Has it occurred to anyone else that freedoms both of speech and action are applied more readily to some than others? Those of us – and I include myself here – who have issues with our very modern and ever changing society are feeling increasingly unable to offer our contrary opinion because such comment is so speedily viewed as bigotry.

I was brought up in a very normal (for the time) home and was expected to embrace God-fearing, Christian values.

I did, after all, live in a Christian democracy, I attended Sunday School at our local church, I learnt to respect law and order, and adults were my ‘Betters’.

And if I transgressed in any way I could expect, even fear, the consequences.

I believe that now, the word ‘Normal’ is no longer to be used in the working environment and the likes of judges and magistrates are forbidden to embrace such a traditional concept.

I retain my own views about the meaning of the word ‘Normal’. I may no longer feel free to express my conception of normality, but I take real comfort in the maxim:

Society can wrap man’s words in the course cloth of censorship, yet his thoughts will remain forever free on wings of the finest silk. 


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Being English

So much is happening in Europe right now, and much of it is centred on UK membership of the European Union. My passport tells me I hold British nationality but in my heart I am and always will be English.

Being English is something no one can aspire to. One is either English or one is not! That is why my English identity is so important to me: it sets me aside from those people who want to come to my country and make it their home.

My government is happy to throw open the gates of my country to all and sundry and in some cases to offer that treasured British citizenship to people who are not deserving of it.

In my opinion the first people who should be entitled to come here and work are the people of Europe (for we British are, geographically, European). Many of my own countrymen would argue that we are no more European than we are anything else in the world. Plainly that is absurd: there are just six continents on the globe: Australasia, America, Asia, Africa, Antarctica and Europe. It must be as plain as the nose one’s face that we (the people of the UK) cannot be part of the first five, so we must be European.

And here is the problem for me when it comes to Brexit. I want to be part of Europe, even of the EU, but I cannot accept from the mandarins of Brussels that they should have a say in who comes to live in my country.

More later…

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Born in the county of Essex, England, I am a practicing Roman Catholic, married with two sons and four grandchildren. The greater part of my working life was spent as a firefighter with the Essex County Fire & Rescue Service. I joined the service in January 1963 with the then Southend on Sea County Borough Fire Brigade where I remained until local government reorganisation in 1974. I retired from the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service in 1984 with the rank of Station Officer.

I began writing many years ago and enjoyed a little success in having some children’s stories published: none of those stories are reproduced here. Nowadays I write mainly for fun, and mostly for adults. Some of my spare time is devoted to producing and publishing a newsletter (The Gathering) for members of the former Southend on Sea County Borough Fire Brigade.

I hope you’ll enjoy what you see here and, if you do, take the trouble add a comment.

Mediocribus esse poetis Non homines, non di, non concessere columnae. Not gods, nor men, nor even booksellers have put up with poets being second-rate.                                                                                         Horace 65-8 B.C.  


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