Tom Liston – opening chapters

tom-liston-cover-2

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Slate1eBooks

ISBN – tba

2017

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Tom Liston

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Novel is dedicated to:

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818 – 1865)

and the NHS

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England, 1855

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The Arrival of Steam

         A steam engine pulls two carriages packed with passengers and the railway’s shareholders as it thunders through the Cotswold Hills. All are there to celebrate the ‘first run’ of the railway built and paid for by an enterprising public and shareholders.

         Inside a carriage a tall man stands to pass a drink to one of his fellow passengers. Suddenly outside of the carriage there is the sound of a large crowd screaming in horror.

        The steam engine flashes by; well wishers on a nearby hill watch in horror as the steam engine’s brakes screech, railway lines bend, a wheel rolls off the engine, one of the carriages sways off the rails, glass windows shatter, metal snaps.

Men, women and children who had gathered to see the first run of the train turn and flee for their lives.

         The train slides to a halt, steam floods through the carriage windows, passengers look terrified. Screams, sound of twisting metal and cries for help can be heard off and on the train.

Silence.

        The steam engine now rests in its side. The man who had risen to pass a drink to a friend lies dead on the grass.

        The crowd who had gathered to celebrate the arrival of the steam train now scramble to help the injured and recover the dead.

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South China Sea

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HMS Hyacinth

        HMS Hyacinth cuts through a rolling sea. She is armed with sixteen 32-pounder carronades, the sails from the twin masted brig sloop billow as she catches a fresh wind.

In the distance flames and smoke rises from several Chinese villages as Hyacinth continues her service in the Second Opium War. She had a proud, efficient crew and an excellent surgeon the Captain liked to boast about.

Ten soldiers lie on the deck, some cry out in pain, a few are bleeding to death. Blood runs over Hyacinth’s main deck and seeps into the wood of the ship.

Mr. Christian, mid teens, blood stains cover his hands and arms as he gives first aid to the casualties on the deck. With some difficulty he carries a bucket of water as he scurries along the length of the ship’s deck; occasionally he stops to give water to weary, tired, dying men.

A soldier’s body wrapped in a white sail is lifted by four battle scarred sailors. They rest it on the top of the ships rail.

A Sailor steps forward to push a needle through the dead soldier’s nose which finishes the stitching of the sail. A short silence, a few words of a prayer, then the soldier’s body is slipped over the side of the ship. It hits the sea hard with large splash, then a silence. For a moment the body floats, the white sheet slips away from the dead soldier’s head revealing his face; hIs eyes are fixed on the cloudy sky. Then he slips quietly into the sea to join his comrades who had died earlier in the day.

Tom Liston

        A small cabin below Hyacinth’s deck. Neat, tidy, clothes near to the bed. A shirt hangs over a chair with trousers and shoes close by. Nothing is out of place.

Tom Liston sleeps but he is not at peace, he is restless, agitated, the dream of a railway accident sears through his mind.

‘No! No!…..’

Tom, full of sweat, wakes violently from his dream. He pushes himself onto his elbows, then sits up. Tom is mid thirties, a handsome man, clean shaven, he swivels around to sit on the edge of the bed. He looks like he needs another twelve hours of sleep; he contemplates the day ahead.

Someone starts to hammer on Tom’s cabin door, which then slowly opens.

A thick set black African man slowly enters, medium height, mid thirties, he looks like he would be useful in a fight. He steps into the room. Sees Tom on the edge of the bed, he quickly moves towards Tom.

Tom moans at him, ‘Francois.’

Francois is alert, bright, he looks like he has been awake for hours, he speaks with a French accent.

‘Get up! Get up!’ Francois puts on a bad English accent, ‘your services are required.’

‘How many?’ Tom asks.

‘Who knows?’ Francois shrugs his shoulders, ’there’s a rumour we’re going home!’

Cool Under Pressure

Tom is a tall man, cool under pressure, never flinches when they are under attack. His staff trust him, nothing is to too difficult when Tom gives an order.

They often joke that Tom would carry on working even if a cannonball dropped into the corner of the room.

      Tom hovers above an injured British Soldier who lies on an improvised operating table. Tom’s apron is splattered with blood. He sweats profusely as he fights to save the life of the soldier.

The ship suddenly lurches to one side. Tom and his assistants manage to stay on their feet, continue to work. Suddenly blood squirts from the soldier’s body toward Tom’s face, he sways to avoid being hit. The sailor’s body writhes in pain, then stops.

Tom grabs a wooden stethoscope, he listens to the sailor’s chest.

‘He’s gone! Over the side with him. Next!’ Tom strides across the blood-stained floor.

The soldier’s body is dragged off the operating table. Immediately the body is replaced by another injured soldier.

Tom slips his hands into a bucket of water, Mr. Christian watches Tom as he washes his hands thoroughly. Francois throws Tom a towel, he catches it.

‘I’ve never seen that before, Mr. Liston,’ says Christian.

‘Seen what?’

‘A doctor wash his hands.’

Tom smiles.
‘Tradition,’ Francois from across the room, a smile on his face, ‘Mr. Christian, it’s a French tradition.’

‘Hungarian’ smiles Tom as he examines the injured soldier who is half conscious, ‘not French.’

Francois mops blood from the floor, he comes to stand by Tom.

‘You still haven’t told me why, in the name of God, you wear odd socks?’

Christian laughs.

‘My mother’s tradition,’ he replies with a smile on his face. He turns to Christian.

‘Mr. Christian! Water, we’ll need more water!’

Christian grabs a bucket and runs from the room.

  A  blood covered soldier strapped down to the operating table. He sweats, moans. Tom examines the patient’s mangled leg, he leans over him to whisper in his ear.                   

‘Be brave, boy, be brave,’ Tom hesitates then slowly leans over the soldier, ‘I can’t save your leg.’

Tom nods to Francois who turns to a cupboard and pulls out a metal saw and a long sharp knife.

Tom takes the knife into his hand then moves towards the patient on the table.

‘Time me gentleman, time me!’

Tom quickly makes the first incision, he works at speed, confident, assured. God knows how many amputations he has performed on this tour of duty. All the days roll into one, has he been away from home for three months or one year….

  The previous patient from Tom’s operating table is now wrapped in a sail. Four crew members lift the body and drop it over the side of the ship. It drops with a deep and heavy splash into the sea.

The gulls circle above.

Scream

        HMS Hyacinth rises and falls through a rolling South China sea. Her route lit by a full moon.

Through the darkness a scream rings out from the ship.

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England

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Memorial

        A stone memorial within a wide circle of stones. Three statures adorn the plinth: a man, woman and child. On the side of the plinth ten names, ten deaths remembered for a Railway accident.        

Mary Liston, smartly dressed, wears a hat, carries her gloves and a small bouquet of flowers. She is a  young woman, mid thirties.

She bows her head, closes her eyes. For a moment she drowns in a sea of emotions. A soft wind blows through the surrounding Laburnum trees.

Mary lifts her head, steps forward to lay her flowers against the plinth. She whispers a prayer, gently runs her fingers over two names on the plinth:

Robert Liston           Margaret Liston

        Mary turns, pauses for a second then walks away.

School

        A dilapidated warehouse masquerading as a school. A horse and cart are parked outside, a battered sign hangs by a thread on the side of the cart: “Piano Hire, Buy or Sell.”

A mother with her child run towards the school, she drags the boy through the front door.
A classroom door slowly opens and the boy creeps into the room and sits at his desk. He is the last to take his chair. The children are aged eight or nine. They sit at desks which are arranged in a semi circle.

In front of the children stands Mary, confident, independent, warm. She is a schoolteacher who has built her own school from local donations. She starts to move amongst the children who have slates to write on, a few have books. All the children could do with a decent set of clothes.

Mary sees her assistant Anne walk past the schoolroom door.

‘Anne, I disagree,’ shouts Mary, ‘our first principals are …’

Anne shouts back, ‘I disagree…’ She then enters the classroom with pencils, writing pads. As she comes through the door she trips up, drops the pencils, books onto the floor.

The children laugh. Mary helps Anne pick up the books.

‘Learning should begin with the child’s own experience, Anne. We should teach dance, singing…our first principle…’

Their discourse is interrupted by the sound of a large crash down the corridor, something heavy is being moved.

Anne steps back to the hallway to see:

two men pushing an upright piano on a trolley. She turns back to Mary.

‘Excuse me, Mary. I think our first principal is to save the piano.’
        Mary moves quickly to the door to see the school’s upright piano being removed from the school. She walks quickly down the corridor to rescue the instrument.

An ageing Mr. Duckett, the local piano tuner, and his young assistant push a trolley with an upright piano perched on the top. They are walk  towards the exit.

Mary walks quickly down the corridor to catch up with the men.

‘Mr. Duckett, wait! I thought we had it for another week?’

Mr. Duckett and his assistant stop. He looks at Mary.

‘Sorry Miss Mary, afraid we’ve have an offer.’

‘My brother can pay for it when he returns. How much?’

‘Seven and six a month,’ whispers Mr. Duckett.

‘How much to buy it?’

‘Twenty-three shillings.’

Mary hesitates.

Mr. Duckett nods to his assistant and they begin to push the piano out of the building.

Mary sighs, returns to the classroom.

Good News

A small teenage boy, Oliver, runs out of a shop, jumps on to a small buggy with a horse in harness. He speeds off.
        A man in his sixties rushes out of his shop, waves his fist at the departing buggy. He shouts!

‘Oi!’ he then smiles, ‘I want it back in an hour.’

Oliver drives the horse and buggy with skill, he speeds down the street.

After half a mile he is out of the town, he speeds past a disused railway station, half a mile further on he speeds towards Mary’s school.

Oliver approaches the school, he pulls up outside the front door, jumps off the buggy. He rushes past Mr. Duckett and his assistant as they struggle to get the piano onto their cart.

Oliver runs down the school corridor, finds Mary’s classroom and enters.

‘Mary,’ he catches his breath, ‘Miss Mary!’

Mary, a book in hand, quickly turns to face him.

‘What is it, Oliver?’

Oliver coughs, he can’t get his words out.

Mary moves closer to him to see if he needs help. He clears his throat.

‘Hyacinth, she’s back!’

Mary drops her book. Turns to Anne.

‘Go,’ shouts Anne, ‘go!’

‘ Oliver, this is not one of your tales?’

Oliver crosses his heart.

‘Hyacinth is home!’

Mary turns to Anne, ’the children?’

Anne grabs Mary by the arm, drags her towards the door, ‘just go, go!’

The children cheer.

Mary screams for joy; she runs out of the classroom with Oliver.

Dash

        Oliver drives the horse and buggy at speed away from the school. Mary hangs on for her life as he turns into the main road and narrowly misses running into a beer wagon.

‘Hey…’ shouts the drayman, as he swerves to get out of the way of Oliver.

Oliver and Mary speed on past open farm land, stables, isolated cottages,  a small church.

Oliver takes a short cut which takes them past a disused railway station. Mary glances at the station as they thunder down the road on the way to the docks.

Arrival

        Several ships are tied up at the East India Docks; all available space is crowded with tea traders, porters and labourers who push sugar from the West Indies, timber from the North, tea and spices from the Far East.

Mothers, wives, lovers, brothers and children struggle through the traders as they make their way towards the dockside to meet their men who have returned from the Far East.

Oliver is unable to get close to the dockside. Mary can’t wait, she jumps off the buggy, runs toward the ships. Mary runs as if her life depends on it. Dogs bark, young boys with dirty faces call out to her as she runs past.

Oliver stops the buggy and scrambles after her. He runs through the crowd, he dodges past a drunk with a dog, crashes into a trader and his fish cart.

HMS Hyacinth tied up to the quayside. Men have already started to disembark. A noisy crowd cheers, waves, smiles and cries tears of Joy as soldier’s leave the ship. Lovers kiss, families hug, happy to see their men home.

On the deck of Hyacinth Tom and Francois pick up their bags, walk down the gang plank.

‘Thanks for taking care of me,’ murmurs Francois.

Tom smiles, ‘where should I send the bill?’

‘Any tavern in town…’

Tom laughs.

       Francois rummages in his pockets, pulls out a note, he hands it to Tom. It contains the address of a pub:

Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden

‘Come into town, anytime, we’ll talk about the good times….’

‘That will be a short conversation,‘ remarks Tom.

They both smile, shake hands.

Francois throws his bag over his shoulder, walks away. Tom looks around, he had expected to be met. He walks off.

In the distance Mary sees Tom, she shouts out: ‘Tom! Tom!’

      Tom looks up to see her, he smiles. Mary runs towards him. He catches her in his arms. They hug and kiss on the cheeks.

‘Thank God you are safe,’ she whispers.

A crew member from Hyacinth who Tom had treated for a minor wound runs up to him and grabs him by the arm.

‘Mr. Liston, thanks for your help, thank you, thank you’

Tom shakes his hand.

The crew member walks away, then turns, ‘if you ever need a favour, look me up…’

Oliver finally makes his way through the crowd. Tom sees him approach, he holds out a hand which Oliver firmly grasps.

‘Oliver, thank you for coming.’

The three of them walk away from the ship.

Mary puts her arm around Tom, ‘how long will you be home?’

‘A few months,’ he replies, ‘how is the school?’

‘Good..’

‘I’m back at the hospital.’

‘Good, a safe, quiet life.’

‘Yes, safer than your school.’

Mary gently punches his shoulder. They walk arm in arm.

‘Have you managed to press gang more children?’

‘About a dozen, on a good day twenty.’                           

Mary looks at Oliver, ‘this one here is still thinking about it.’

Oliver smiles.

‘How was it?’ asks Mary

Tom hesitates, he lies, ’easy, not too many problems.’ 

‘No, really, how was it?’

‘Same as usual.’

Mary gives up on trying to get an honest answer. They walk away from the ship. Oliver runs ahead towards the buggy.

Mary looks at Tom with her best angry teacher’s face, ’Dr. Liston, you have my permission to take tomorrow off!’

‘And do what?’ he replies.

A woman and her small child run towards the ship to find their man.

Bingham

A man hides in a narrow alleyway close to Christ Church, Spitalfields. He is mid fifties, a short man, large spectacles. He wears a hat and a well used overcoat which is one size too large for him.

Bingham wears the overcoat more by habit than it being a necessity. Down the street he sees Francois walking at pace towards the church. He steps out of the alleyway, shuffles towards Francois. They meet, shake hands.

        Francois and Bingham steadily turn and walk slowly back into the alleyway.

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End of extract

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Ron Taylor

If I get Inspired

TRY MY HANDS 6B

If I get inspired I’ll write you a short prose piece, something to turn you on, words to prepare you, excite you, entice you, To make you sigh, to fly to a higher place as fingers explore, seduce, slip inside you.

I want to initiate, facilitate, escalate your desire to make yourself breathless beyond your illicit dreams. Oh, to take you, lead you to a long perfect release.

Pause.

Busy fingers find you, tease you, slip away. I wait for any movement, any slight inclination.

The pleasure rolls on, until it dissipates your need.

Hearts and Minds – part two – opening only

David logs into his trading account, the computer screen flickers into life. Straight away he is swamped with information. Too much information. His heart sinks, his mind wants to switch off.

He hates the job but loves the money. He feels he has a secure job; though in a world where the markets have seen profits disappear under a sea of debt, many of his colleagues doubt whether ‘secure’ has any present day meaning.  David is assured by his manager that his skills are highly thought of, he should be with the bank for another year.

David assumed none of the other offices performed like his. He felt it was solely his office which brought in most of the profits. They all had a job because of him, his office. So they owe their jobs to his traders, no one else. At least that is what he thought. Of course, if the management were straight with him he would know that is not the truth.

David’s office did not carry the company, he was simply another worker, one of thousands worldwide. If all the computers in the world were hit with a virus he and his colleagues would have nothing to do. None of them had grown up in a paper office. They owe their existence in the company to computers and market sentiment. It is a business which fails to acknowledge the individual.

Seven hours later he was out of the office standing on the street by Bank tube station.

He could either go home or spend an hour in a bar. Some of the staff from David’s office were heading to the local pub which in the past had Shakespeare as a regular drinker. Though only a few of the bank employees would know that.

David flicked open the morning newspaper.

‘A bit late to be reading that,’ said a passing colleague, ‘haven’t seen one of those in years’.

‘Really?’ replied David, ‘It’s a newspaper, remarkable things. They don’t need a battery. You simply turn them one page at a time.’ He and the colleague laughed.

David flicked through several pages and stopped on a page of personal adverts. He quickly glanced down the first column. At first he couldn’t find any site which interested him. He looked again, nothing worth his time. He threw the newspaper into a nearby rubbish bin.

Thirty minutes later, with his feet under a table in a wine bar, he glanced at his phone, scrolled through bookmarks to find a particular dating site. Again he scrolled down past the more ridiculous named sites till he found: ‘Out of the Blue’ which had a strapline, ‘love will happen when you least expect it.’ He doubted that but set up an account and logged in.

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To be continued ….

e-mail: slateonefilm@gmail.com — to be updated when the story is complete.

Dr Zeno’s Pigs – opening to the novel

Dr Zeno's Pigs

The opening to a novel which is a spoof of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, to be a pig

Sometime in the future

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West Riding

Two feet splash through dirty shallow water as a young man in his twenties flees for his life. He struggles to stay upright as his feet slide on stones beneath the water. Soon he is out of the river and onto the safety of the bank. He tries to keep on running but eventually loses his grip in a marshy field. He stumbles to the ground, breathless.

The sound of the helicopters are louder, closer. He looks around to see if he can see them. With all his strength he struggles to his feet and tries to keep himself upright and moving.

The helicopters approach over a distant hill he has recently scrambled over. If he is to get away from them he needs somewhere to hide. He looks around; to his left a pine forest offered what might be his best chance of survival. It was a fifty yards away, his heart sinks, it seems miles away. He takes a deep breath and yanks himself into action and heads for the security of the forest. After a few yards he falls over, picks himself up but is soon on the floor again. He attempts to get a foothold but slips back into a pool of mud.

The helicopters close in on him. In the distance he can hear dogs bark; they approach from the opposite side of the field.

He picks himself up, crawls over a wire fence. He staggers toward the comfort of the trees and slumps against a giant pine. The ground is wet but he is too tired to stand or crouch. He slumps to the floor and prays they do not find him. To his left the dogs bark louder, to his right the sound of a helicopter which hovers above the fence where he entered the forest.

A line is thrown out of a side door of the helicopter and four armed men in red jumpsuits drop to the ground. They immediately see their prey and close in.

The young man is too weak to put up any meaningful fight and is grabbed by two men. Within minutes they drag him along the floor and throw him into the back of the helicopter. The side door is quickly closed as the helicopter takes off.

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      After thirty minutes in the air the helicopter makes a low level approach toward an eighteenth century country house. It flies over a high metal perimeter fence and then over armed guards who control access to the house. As the helicopter comes into land in the middle of a court yard men and women in medical uniform rush toward it. The young man, now unconscious and strapped down to a stretcher, is off loaded and taken into the house. One of the female medical staff inserts an intravenous drip into his arm.

Once inside the building the unconscious body of the young man is moved to an operating trolley and pushed quickly down a corridor; on both sides are rooms which hold pigs in aluminum pens, only one pig to a pen. The rooms are bathed in white light, clinical, spotless. The staff who work in these rooms can often be heard muttering, ‘you can eat your dinner off the floor.’ There is not a single piece of dust, dirt or blood on any of the surfaces.

The young man on the trolley is quickly wheeled into Theatre One where a team of surgeons and nurses wait for him.

The leather straps which bind him are undone and in a single move he is moved from the trolley onto the operating table.

A tall unshaven medical assistant looks at the young man’s medical notes, ‘the kid works as a lawyer’ he says, then flicks through a couple of pages of the medical notes.

‘A lawyer doesn’t need a heart,’ says the surgeon, who then makes a few hasty cuts into young man’s chest. His hands move with the speed of a butcher in a shop. His bedside manner would not have been out of place in the days of Roman Britain. No one in the room is under any illusion that the health and safety of the patient is important.

There is the sound of cutting and then a long squelch; finally the surgeon’s blood smeared hands pull out the young man’s heart. The surgeon smiles as he turns to the nurse with the beating bleeding heart firmly in his hand.

‘Get this on ice immediately.’

She moves confidently toward him but suddenly trips and falls into the back of the surgeon. The heart flies out of his hands and spins through the air like an American football. It seems to fly in slow motion; spins, turns and unfortunately loses height.

In his haste to regain a grip on the heart the surgeon knocks over the bag of ice which is there to keep it at a regular temperature. Other members of the medical team also slip on ice cubes.

‘Catch it,’ screams the nurse.

The surgeon pushes one of the male nurses out of the way so that he can get to the heart.

‘Leave it to me!’, he yells to his subordinates.

The heart flies for a few more yards before it lands with a soft squelchy noise on the floor. In his haste the surgeon slips on a stray ice cube and falls on top the heart squashing it completely. The male medical assistant lets out a cry of despair, a nurse screams.

Oh no, oh no, oh no…’ whispers the surgeon as blood trickles from his cut mouth.

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Washington DC, USA

      Three thousand air miles away the Stars and Stripes flutter in a warm breeze. The White House, a strong emblem of a great nation, stands proud and defiant since the day it was built in seventeen hundred and ninety-two. A symbol of absolute power which has been ready for anything which the cruel world can throw at it.

Inside is a conscientious President who serves his country well, who meets Triumph and Disaster and treats those two impostors just the same; though during the last few months he is not quite as fit as the American people have been led to believe. His future, his life, now firmly rests with the efforts and medical help from a friendly nation. He is a man in need of a new heart …

An ill looking President Rush in bed. He looks older than his fifty years of age. He is know as man who thinks like a forty year old but moves like an eighty year old. Two nurses help the President sit up. One of the nurses straightens his pajama jacket, he doesn’t like her fussing and gently pushes her away.

A Black American, Tina Johnson, mid forties, runs into the bedroom clutching a piece of paper. She has been close to the President since the first day of the Primaries. She looks worried. In her haste one of the heels on her shoes breaks. With great difficulty she tries to prevent herself from falling onto the President’s bed but fails. The President and his two nurses wince as Tina hits the foot of the bed and slumps to the floor.

‘Mr. President, we have a problem,’ she says, as she pulls herself off the carpet.

‘Tina,’ barks the President, ’the whole world has a problem.’

He grabs at the television remote control by the side of his bed and presses a button. The widescreen on the wall flashes into life.

‘You’re going to watch the news?’ Tina asks, ‘when did you last have a briefing?’

‘This morning but I didn’t like what I heard.’

A newsreader, with a Texan accent and a grim expression, brings the American public up to date: “Today the World is in panic as the Human Heart Virus spreads” booms out from the television set.

A gasp rumbles around the President’s bedroom.

‘Damn it!’ The President shrugs, then throws a book at the TV.

A fast paced montage of images from around the world are shown on the news programme accompanied by stern matter of fact reporters from various locations.

A young female reporter dressed in a bear skin suit struggles to keep her balance in a snow storm and shouts into her microphone,”in Alaska today it was reported that an Eskimo who was fishing by a hole in the ice cap had a heart attack and fell through the ice.”

A male fresh faced reporter in a smart suit stands by the London Eye and delivers his piece to camera, ‘many dealers are going down with heart problems and the stock market is crashing……’

‘Not much change there…’ mumbles the President.’

The news programme cuts back to the studio presenter, “The heart virus is believed to be caused by the wheat in bread, millions of people could be affected.”

People burning bread in India appear on the screen.

The President cries out, ‘Enough, enough …’ he turns to Tina, ‘call a meeting in the Situation Room.’

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         The oval shaped desk which dominates the Situation Room is surrounded by men and a few women. A couple of the men remove their jackets, they look like they have only had a few hours of sleep between them; one or two of the women, all heels and skirts, stagger into the room as if they just got out of bed.  A White House photographer works the room grabbing all the public relation shots he can get. Most of the men have discarded their ties, many of them have furrowed brows, worry lines are in sharp focus. One of the women thinks about adding a touch more make up but decides it can wait. Briefing papers litter the desk, glasses with water are scattered around files marked ‘Top Secret.’ The TV screens which adorn the walls are all black save one. On the wall opposite the President’s seat a large screen shows a twenty-four hour news feed from World News Channel. On the screen a news anchor reads news no one wants to hear; the TV sound is off.

The President drums a fast beat on the table with his fingers, a slight exasperated look on his face. A Doctor enters the room, slightly embarrassed that he is late. He gives a childish smile to everyone in the room before making his way to the head of the table.

‘Late again, Henry,’ the President smirks, ‘you’ll be late for your own honeymoon.’

The doctor quickly opens his medical bag and takes out a stethoscope. The President opens his pajama jacket and the doctor listens to his heart. You could hear a pin drop then the silence is broken by a crash as one of the men knocks over his glass of water. The President gives the offender a stern look. The doctor continues to listen.

‘Sir, you’re all right for a while but try to take it easy.’

Tina enters the room. She has changed her clothes and looks a million dollars. All the other women hate her. She carries a large folder and has several documents in her hands. One of the men gives her a certain look. She knows what he wants but is not prepared to sacrifice a single kiss for a mere West Wing speech writer.

Tina approaches the President.

‘Sir, the heart which had been reserved for you has…met with an accident.’

‘What the hell happened?’

‘They gave it…’ Tina puts on a brave face, ‘to a young British guy by mistake.’

The President looks exasperated, ‘So, get it back….’

‘They tried that…’

‘And?’

Tina shuffles on her feet and prepares herself for a critical blast from the President then thinks it might be better to withhold the truth.

‘You don’t want to know the rest.’

The doctor steps forward with a sense of urgency.

‘Sir, a better option would be a transplant of a pig’s heart.’

At that moment an overweight man clutching an extra large salad sandwich breezes into the room. He looks deeply harassed, no tie, shirt sleeves rolled up, a cigar tucked behind his ear.

“Robert!’, the President smiles as the tie-less man grabs a seat, ‘Thank God you’re here. Give me all you’ve got.’

Robert breathes deeply, he slowly gets his breath back then hesitates.

‘Sir, the supply of pig’s hearts….’ Robert clears his throat and takes another breath, ‘the pig’s hearts for transplants has run dry. All the pigs in the USA have been affected by a clinical malfunction …’

The President slams his right hand hard down onto the table. All the White Staff jump as the President’s hand hits the desk.

‘So, fix it!’

‘Sir, they’re working on it.’ Robert shuffles the documents in his hand and passes a piece of paper to the President, ‘my guys have located a good source of pigs hearts and heart stem cells. They’re held by a Dr. Zeno …..’

The President glances at the paper, looks up at his staff, ‘where the hell is West Riding?’

‘England,’ replies Tina.

The President passes the paper to the doctor who then hands it back to Robert.

‘Robert,’ the President stands and paces up and down, ‘is this the best the CIA can come up with?’ He turns on the doctor.

‘What about Gorilla’s hearts you were playing around with? You did the first transplant two years ago…what happened to him?’

‘Well, it didn’t quite …’ stutters the doctor.

The President holds up both his hands, ‘Stop! ‘I’m tired of hearing about failure.’

The President looks at his CIA Chief.

‘Robert, you had a lab in Argentina messing about with Kangaroo hearts …’

‘Don’t ask Mr. President…..’

The sound of a door slammed shut somewhere in the West Wing highlights the intense silence of the Situation Room.

Robert moves close to the President and whispers, ‘Sir, we should ask the British for help.’

The President looks Robert in the eye and hopes for a sign of reassurance which isn’t forthcoming. He then beckons Tina to come close.

‘Tina, politely ask the Brits for their pigs and don’t mention the Revolutionary War.’

The President slumps back into his chair. A silence. No one wants to speak.

Tina breaks the silence, ‘let’s assume …they won’t play ball.’

Robert stands up, ‘that’s right, we won’t be able to just walk in and get them.’

‘Then we do it our way! The American way!’

With a single look Robert hints that he needs to be elsewhere and clears up his documents. The President waves him away.

As Robert reaches the door he receives an order from the President.

‘Robert, get a guy over there quick. A top man. Delta Force, a Navy Seal, someone who will get a result.’

‘What do we call the mission?’

Everyone in the room looks at the President apart from a few of the men who look at Tina.

The President thinks for a moment then …

‘Operation-Pump Blood.’

____________________________

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to be continued …..

Hearts and Minds – opening only

The complete story is 11,000 words. Will post the whole piece later.

This is not a story for under 16s.  

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The guitar lay on the floor from the night before,
She moved a little closer and we kissed a little more.

It was an obvious rhyme but it was funny and easy on the mind; it also threw a complimentary nod to the past tunes of Harrison and Orbison. He played it: G, E minor, then a D major7. The chord progression was simple, it worked.

David moved toward the window of his apartment. Saturday night, the rush was on, cars bumper to bumper roared down Marlborough Road. Nothing is going to stop them, the drivers roar on to a car park, any park near a bar, theatre or restaurant. He should go out.

The city was always more alive from a distance, vibrant. Down at street level it often failed to deliver, at times it was simply mediocre. A city always waiting to get there, always waiting, waiting.

He moved away from the window and picked up the guitar again. G major – D7 – Em; it sounded better. He sang to himself.

I asked her to go the cinema
I asked her to a dance,
Perhaps I was getting too old for this,
But I thought I’d take a chance.

He burst into laughter, rolled back onto the bed:

I said I’d take her to paradise, after I’d finished my gin.
I wanted to see her naked but she said, ‘ it was a sin!

He lay there for a while, looked at the shadows on the ceiling; then leapt off the bed and grabbed the guitar once more.

He played a C then G and a move down to a D.

Maybe they’re getting in the King’s head
All the rebels are hanging by a thread
The King wants to see them all dead
While he takes their daughters to his bed.

Too serious.

He pressed record on his iPad and played the chord sequence on his guitar: G major – D7 – Em.

He looked up at the clock. Time for work.

The wooden frame rattled as he slammed the door behind him. As David walked through the reception area he glanced up at the a security camera. Last week someone on the radio had said you appear on three thousand security cameras every day in London. He thought, maybe they don’t know about the one in his apartment block. So, perhaps that should be three thousand and one.

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A sea wall, a rust red iron sea defence, footprints in the sand, a couple on a park bench, small boy on a cycle, a girl in a rock band, naked man on a painted canvas. The images flashed by on her computer.

Emma was tired. Six hours in front of a screen was enough for one day. She picked up a glass by her side and downed the last of the Rjoca. Perhaps one last view of the slides. She flicked through the photographs for what must have been the the twentieth time. The sequence looked fine but she decided to drop the image of the naked man on the canvas. Too obvious. The client might also have a heart attack. At last the images were in the right order.

She knew what the regular clients wanted before they turned up at her studio. This job was a new guy. She was keen to make his presentation the best he had ever seen. Having seen what he had previously accepted from other photographers she had little doubt that he would like her quick fired montage of photographs.

The phone rang. She took the call. Emma grabbed a pencil and scribbled on a writing pad.

‘What shoe size? Dress size? Hair? Eyes?

It was a client she had worked with many times. A woman who had been in business for twenty years, five years with Emma as her photographer. She always started the phone conversation by saying that she wanted something ‘different, stylish, new, off the wall’. Then she would turn up on the day of the shoot and slowly strip away all the ‘off the wall’ ideas and end up with the same PR shot she had accepted for the past five years.

The same could be said of most of her clients; whenever they turned up at her studio, whatever they had said on the phone, would have been changed and the shoot would take twice as long. Never, almost never, did any brief arrive complete from the one discussed on the phone. Change for the hell of it, change for the sake of change, change as a sign of incompetence. She was tired of her clients ….. but they paid her bills and the mortgage.

The list of changes finally ended, the client seemed happy. She’ll be with Emma next Tuesday. Of course, it would all change by the day of the shoot.

Emma closes the image gallery on her computer. She runs downstairs to the studio floor, checks the electronic flash, changes a camera lens, steps back from the camera and looks at a loosely arranged set. It was far from inspiring. Maybe she should shoot something else. Perhaps phone the model, tell her to not to turn up. She could head for the city or take the afternoon off and grab a few shots of the Olympic Park.

A woman shouts from the top of the stairs.

‘Emma!’

‘Down here’.

A young woman steps down the stairs. She is tall, six foot, long dark hair.

‘Why have they sent you?’.

‘I’m the best you can afford’, replied the woman.

‘I asked for someone who is five-four, you’re six. I need blue eyes and blonde, you’re green and dark’.

‘I’m close enough…’, said the woman.

Emma laughs.

‘Coming to dinner?’, asked the woman.

‘Can’t. I have a real model coming for a casting’.

‘You’re too reliable’, said the woman, ‘tell them you’re sick’.

‘Ok, can I send the studio bills to you?’.

The woman moved close to Emma and whispered in her ear, ‘you work too much’. She kissed Emma softly on the cheek. ‘If I see an underfed model in the street I’ll tell her you’re ready for her …’, the woman laughed. She then looked at the Bill Brandt nude which was proudly displayed on Emma’s studio wall.

‘You never shoot me like that’.

Emma smiled, ‘I know’, she said, ‘It’s been done so, why repeat it?’

The woman turned and clambered back up the stairs.

See you in the Bleeding Heart in ten’.

‘Ok, you can buy me lunch’.

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Alexis pulled a dress from the metal rack. Held it in front of her. Not short enough. She walked further down the long costume rack. She pulls another out another dress. Too boring. Several racks and dresses later she has found a one piece which matches her mood. White, medium length, suitable, fresh, one she had not used before. She slipped the dress into a large bag and walked toward the exit.

The receptionist saw Alexis as she walked through the reception. She looked at

the bag casually wrapped around Alexis’ arm and guessed what was inside.

The phone rang on the receptionists desk. She answered.

‘Fraser’s film hire’. She put her hand over the phone and smiled at Alexis, ‘make sure it comes back in one piece’, she said. Alexis smiled back as she walked out of the building.

She jumped on the northern line and headed home.

Her one room apartment contained her whole life, nothing had been left back at her parents house. She didn’t want to be like most of her friends who kept returning to their parent’s homes. When she had made the move to London she made sure there was nothing left behind to tug at her and drag her back home every weekend. Nothing was tucked away under the bed she still had there.

The white dress she has taken from her place of work hung on the back of the door.

She drank a glass of wine and finished off what was left of the pizza she had shipped in from the night before.

Her black t-shirt and blue jeans came off. Alexis sang in the shower. Her comb slipped easily through her long curly hair. Back in her living room she slipped on the white dress. Looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased with the choice she had made.

Now with her small bag in one hand and phone in the other she was out the door of her apartment in less than an hour.

A black cab took her slowly into town. The driver had wanted to chat but she slipped her headphones over her head, ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ a piano riff and chords intro with a steady bass. It seemed to sum up her mood.

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The white dress now hung on wooden hanger inside a wardrobe. Alexis stepped out of the bathroom with a large cotton sheet draped around her. A man lay on the bed.

Alexis had always thought the reveal is all. She moved with an assured manner across the room. A large cotton sheet draped around her. She moved slowly towards the foot of the double bed, stood for a while. It wasn’t the first time she had seen him naked though it was the first time that she wanted him. It wasn’t her intention to soothe him to sleep. She didn’t love him, he knew it; she wouldn’t break his heart.

He looked at her, smiled; was impressed with her confidence. She looked like she was ready to go to a fancy dress party as a Roman slave. He thought she would have added sex and gore to any Roman party, absolutely credible as a slave who had been wronged and was out for revenge. She would easily have won first prize. There were a few red spots on her white cotton sheet. They looked like blood but he assumed it was red lipstick.

She leaned forward onto the bed.

‘Where has the blood come from?’, he smiled. ‘Brought stage blood with you?”.

She looked at the spots of red near her arm. ‘

No,’Alexis answered, ‘it’s real’.

‘You OK?’, he sat up quickly for a closer look, worried. It was only lipstick. He relaxed.

‘What’s the red lipstick called?’

‘Siren’, she smiled.

He lay back on the bed.

‘So, I have to do as you say or the Roman cops will turn up?’, he laughed at his own joke. Alexis didn’t.

She now swayed seductively as if she was on a club dance floor. She looked relaxed, in control, the look of a young woman who had just had her first affair. She was excited, a slight smile. She was high, high from sex not drugs. The cotton sheet almost slipped from her. She grabbed and held it.

‘The reveal is all’, she whispered.

A few hours later she stood at the foot of the bed. She had loved it when he had wanted her. She loved his eagerness, his desire. Now as she stood naked at the bedside he could do nothing. There was no passion inside him now. The novelty of her presence had expired.

She stood for a moment longer; picked up the sheet from the floor and stuffed it inside her travel bag. The sheet flopped gently on top of the envelope of cash he had given her. She moved back into the bathroom and dressed. She casually slipped the white dress over head.

Alexis left the hotel and made her way from Portland Place toward the Marylebone Road. Relaxed, calm, a slow walking pace; she could have been on her way to the office.

Three floors up in the hotel where she had been a dead man lay in a hotel bedroom. Dead in the head. Dead in the heart. Dead in his life. When he got home his wife would probably pretend to laugh at his bad jokes.

Alexis had been out for excitement, prepared to take a risk for sex. She had picked the wrong man. He had been boring. A businessman who could not release his mind from the his office.

In a bedroom on the third floor the man woke up, surprised Alexis had gone. He lay quietly on the bed. She was no longer in the room but her perfume lingered.

The following day Alexis went into work and the white dress was slipped back onto the rack.

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Click here to read page 2

 

 

 

Upon My Lady Carlisle’s Walking in Hampton Court Garden

THOM.
Didst thou not find the place inspired,
And flowers, as if they had desired
No other sun, start from their beds,
And for a sight steal out their heads?
Heard’st thou not music when she talked?
And didst not find that, as she walked,
She threw rare perfumes all about,
Such as bean-blossoms newly out,
Or chaféd spices give?—

J.S.

I must confess those perfumes, Tom,
I did not smell; nor found that from
Her passing by, ought sprung up new;
The flowers had all their birth from you,
For I passed o’er the selfsame walk
And did not find one single stalk
Of anything that was to bring
This unknown after after-spring.

THOM.

Dull and insensible, could’st see
A thing so near a deity
Move up and down, and feel no change?

J.S.

None and so great were alike strange.
I had my thoughts, but not your way;
All are not born, sir, to the bay.
Alas! Tom, I am flesh and blood,
And was consulting how I could
In spite of masks and hoods descry
The parts denied unto the eye.
I was undoing all she wore;
And, had she walked but one turn more,
Eve in her first state had not been
More naked, or more plainly seen.

THOM.

‘Twas well for thee she left the place,
There is great danger in that face;
But hadst thou viewed her leg and thigh
And, upon that discovery,
Searched after parts that are more dear
(As fancy seldom stops so near),
No time or age had ever seen
So lost a thing as thou hadst been.

J.S.

‘Troth in her face I could descry
No danger, no divinity.
But since the pillars were so good
On which the lovely fountain stood,
Being once come so near, I think
I should have ventured hard to drink.
What ever fool like me had been
If I’d not done as well as seen?
There to be lost why should I doubt
When fools with ease go in and out?

Link:
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Sir John Suckling (10 February 1609 – 1 June 1642) was an English poet and one prominent figure among those renowned for careless gaiety, wit, and all the accomplishments of a Cavalier poet; and also the inventor of the card game Cribbage.[1] He is best known for his poem “Ballad Upon a Wedding”.

Roll With It

OLD LADY AND THE WHEELCHAIR MAN.

This morning the bus is busier than normal.

I am sitting downstairs. Maybe in future I should move upstairs. Too many elderly people using the buses and fighting for seats. I help a lady of about seventy-five into a seat beside me.

We chat about how busy the buses are becoming.

One the pavement I see a man on a motorised invalid chair speed past.
‘He’s going faster than the bus’, I say.
‘Last week, I was nearly run over by one of those’, she says. ‘They drive them too fast, they should be made to take a driving test’.
‘I agree with you. I think some people buy them because they can’t be bothered to walk and they are cheaper to run than a car’.

‘Last week’ she begins, ‘The bus pulled up to a stop. There was a man in a  wheelchair waiting for the bus. The driver didn’t know how to let down the plate which allows wheelchairs onto the bus. He had never had to use it before’.

She laughed.

‘A few of the passengers had to show him how to do it. Well they got the plate down and the wheelchair man rode onto the bus. The driver pushed him into the space for wheelchairs and asked him where he was going?
The man in the wheelchair looked up and said, ‘I don’t know’.
‘You don’t know?, said the driver.
‘No’.
‘You’ll have to get off the bus’.

The Old Lady laughed again, ‘some of the passengers helped the driver get the wheelchair back onto the pavement and the bus drove off’.

__________________________

MINI SKIRT SCHOOLGIRL

I am on the top deck today. Better view of the ship which ran aground a few months ago in a Force Ten. It should never have set sail. Maybe it was a management ploy to scuttle the ship and claim on the insurance.

The bus has reached the middle of the town. The promenade is busy. More tourists arriving by the week to witness the final rumblings of a once great seaside town. Now it is more like Saigon the week the Americans retreated.

I look down on the pavement. This town is a favourite spot for hen parties and stag nights. The current trend is to attend these nights out in fancy dress. The pavement is packed with young and not so young people. Very few of them are dressed in ‘normal’ clothes. It looks like a casting call for Warner Bros or a Mel Brooks film. Roman Soldier rub shoulders and share the pavement with Nuns, Knights, Tarts, Young Women dressed as School Girls, Boys as sixth form drop outs, Space Men. Some  clutch large dragons and rubber sharks which they have won on stalls.

A Paddington Bear looks down from a stall, “we’re not in South America now, Toto”.

Myself and two other people are riding on the top deck today. They are at the front of the bus. I am in ‘my seat’ at the back of the bus. Best place to be in case Al Qaeda attack the bus. If you are at the back it gives you a few seconds of thinking time before you decide whether to take on the terrorists or surrender. ‘Blackpool 93, come in Blackpool 93’.

The bus stops. The clatter of light footsteps up the stairs.
A school girl pops her head up and looks around. She steps onto the top deck. She walks down the middle of the bus in her mini skirt and sits down next to me.

She could have sat anywhere on the bus. It is empty bar the two at the front. Why has she come all the way back here? Maybe she thinks this is ‘her seat’ not ‘my seat’. Maybe she has been traveling this route since she was eight and is not prepared to give way. Then I wonder if a journalist or photographer is going to get on the bus two stops further on and see whether I have said anything to her. No, I think not. A tabloid paper wouldn’t sink that low to entrap someone, would they? They are only interested in the truth? Don’t we all love the paparazzi and the good they do for society?

Mini Skirt plugs into her iPod.

After a couple of miles she gets off.
Must have been be a show of independence, confidence and power.

BRAD PITT AND THE DANCER GIRL

A young boy gets on the bus. He is smartly dressed: polo shirt, clean jeans, trainers. Good looking, age sixteen, fifteen? You would cast him in a film. He looks interesting. Could be a young runner in ‘Chariots of Fire’, a street kid in ‘Quadraphrenia’ or someone who beats up Harry Potter.

One stop later a young girl boards the bus. Age, fourteen, fifteen? She carries a bag with the name of a dance school. She is dressed in cream coloured track suit. She looks more than capable of hitting the Martha Graham steps when she enters the class. Does she look like a Dame Margot? No. Darcy Bushell? Yes.

Brad is not slow to take an interest in her.

She is sat on the opposite side of the bus to Brad and a few seats back. As she walked past him to get to her seat it was obviously love at first sight for him. He can’t resist turning round to glance at her. He repeats this manoeuver several times until Dame Margo has had enough of it. She gets up from her seat and moves back down the bus and sits three seats behind him. Poor Brad. She doesn’t like him.

A few stops down the route Brad gets off the bus. I look down to see if he will glance up at her as the bus pulls away. He does. She doesn’t look down. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.
__________________________

‘YOU LOOKING AT ME?’

A few miles down the road and he starts. The man mid thirties or early forties next to me hitting himself repeatedly on the legs. He stops. I thought he must have been beating off a fly which was getting on his nerves. No. A few stops on he starts to beat himself up again. I decide this is a real life character from Taxi Driver and get off at the next stop.

__________________________

BRAD PITT AND THE STREET FIGHTING GIRLS

I get on the bus to return home, step upstairs. Who should be in what I now regard as ‘my seat’ but the ‘Brad Pitt’ boy. I have to sit in the middle of the bus. Only he and I occupy the top deck.

Three bus stops later and the clatter of young girls coming up the stairs. Not any girls, street fighting girls. They see Brad on the back seat and head straight toward him. One of them has smuggled a can of larger onto the bus. As she passes by me she pulls the can from under her coat. They plonk themselves close to Brad.

This will be interesting. How we will Brad cope with three?

There is no hesitation from the girls, not a moment is wasted with reading body language or assessing the situation.
They are at him faster than a CIA agent at Guantanamo.

‘What’s your name?’
‘Jack’.
‘Where do you live?’

He mentions an area of the town. Not confident enough or maybe too street wise not to give them his complete home address.

More questions are fired at him. The street fighters all speak at the same time. I cannot catch the dialogue now. It is too fast and over lapping, Robert Altman lives.

Brad mumbles to them.

One of the girls says.
‘I know a Jack’.
The two other girls laugh and say to their friend,
‘You know a Jack?
Everyone must know a Jack!’

More rapid questions which I can’t follow. They are being fired at him as if from a machine gun.

Brad gets up to leave the bus.
He looks relieved to be out of the firing line.

As he walks past the girls one of them shouts.

‘Nice arse too!’

Today I am sitting on the opposite side to the exit doors so I cannot see if he glanced up at them as the bus pulled away? I suspect not. Maybe when he gets home he will replay the scene and think of many comic quips he could have used if only he had been better prepared. Or maybe two girls less. But then a girl by herself, even a street fighting one, would have said nothing.

Poor Brad, the cards seem stacked against him.

The street fighter girls become quiet. Their prey has slipped away. Nothing to do now but look out of the window at a view they have seen a hundred times before.

Three miles down the road and who should get onto the bus but none other than the Mini Skirt schoolgirl. My God, I think this is developing into a TV series.
She is with a friend. They sit in the middle of the bus opposite me. If we were all in a movie I would probably say, ‘Hi. You were on the bus the other day’. But I say nothing. We are in a land and an era where all males over thirty five are considered sex offenders.

The street fighters perk up. Breaking silence as they have someone new to show off their gadgets too. Suddenly music is blaring from the back of the bus. Loud, way too loud.  I don’t mind. It’s a good four by four rock track with a middle eight.

Mini Skirt Girl and her friend carry on and don’t rise to the musical intrusion of the street fighters.

Now I think I’m in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous’. If it was Elton John’s, “Tiny Dancer” blasting out on the gadget I wonder if we would all join in on the chorus?

One stop down. The music is turned off. The street Fighters get off the bus.

Mini Skirt and her friend now move to the back seat. They sit in ‘My seat’ which is sometimes ‘Brad’s seat’.

The bus passes the local War Memorial. It is being given a make over for England’s Veterans’ Day.
I hear Mini Skirt’s friend ask.
‘How high is the platform going to be which we sing on?’
Mini Skirt must indicate with a hand movement how high the platform will be raised. They discuss which songs they will sing for the Veterans’. Obviously it will be a school concert.

Suddenly they go in to a impromptu rehearsal. After the street Fighters music I now get a a piece for two voices. Mozart, Handel? I don’t recognise the song. It could be Giovanni Palestrina.
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June 2008 – Bus numbers: 1, 11 and 7.