GUEST POST: THE 11TH HOUR

November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the United States. For much of the rest of the world and especially in Europe, it is Armistice Day, the day that marks the end of World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, over 20 million people had lost their lives.

I am humbled and honored to present to you a guest post by my friend, Paul Griffiths – The Birkenhead Poet. Dedicated to the young boys who lost their lives, he calls it “Shot At Dawn”; I call it perfection.

Shot at Dawn

I was not yet sixteen when I joined the army. I wanted to fight.
To do my bit for King and Country, to be on the side of right.
Both my brothers had signed up so I lied to my dear old mum.
I even forged her signature; I was foolish young and dumb.


From fifteen years to nineteen years I aged overnight.
I sailed right through the boot camp, I was so eager to fight.
The things that I know now I wish I knew back then.
I was too full of bullshit and bravado wanting to be one of the men.

I was a big lad for my age but I wasn’t very bright.
Why didn’t I listen to my Mother? My Mother was always right.
I thought I was born to be a hero, to wear medals on my chest.
Instead I am nothing but cannon fodder damned with all the rest.

I soon lost my rose-tinted glasses; they got trampled in the mud.
At the sight of so many bodies, all this carnage and the blood.
I’m freezing cold and hungry, too tired and scared to even sleep.
I’ve been on sentry duty now for the last two weeks.

I’d never heard anything like it when the enemy barrage fell.
Hiding like a rat under the ground – it was three nights of living hell.
The ground shook all around us and I was terrified.
A shell exploded right above the trench top, we were all buried alive.

My eardrums were bursting, my mouth was full of clay.
Please God, come and save me. Don’t let me die this way.
Then I heard the sergeant in the darkness counting who had died.
When he finally called my name out, I broke down and cried.

I don’t know how long I was buried down there; it felt like an eternity.
When they finally dug me out of that hell hole something died inside me.
My days collided in on themselves; I was in a total daze.
I felt confused and frightened lost in the fog of war’s damned malaise.

The Captain wasn’t bothered about me; he just didn’t want to hear.
He sent me back to the front line with a bollocking and a flea in my ear.
Sergeant said “If you want to be a hero lad, now you’ll get your chance.
The orders are just in, we are pushing forward for the big advance.”

All I could do was find a quiet corner to sit alone and weep.
I couldn’t function properly anymore, I’d cry myself to sleep.
I told the Captain how old I really was; he didn’t care about my age.
He said he could only go off what was written on my signup page.

I was scared sick to the pit of my stomach, I was absolutely terrified.
Thinking back to the day I signed up, wishing that I never lied.
I knew what lay above the trench top and it was worse than bad.
The Sergeant said “Don’t be scared, son. Keep your chin up lad”.

As the Sergeant took a little look above the safety of the parapet
A bullet hit him right between the eye’s; it must have his name on it.
He fell back right on top of me; man, he nearly knocked me out.
I was pinned down under his dead weight, I couldn’t move about.

By the time I wriggled free of him the other guys had gone.
To be mowed down by machine guns, all I could do was look on.
Then I heard the Captain screaming, calling out my name.
He called me a damn young coward to my eternal shame.

I tried to explain about the Sergeant and getting stuck in the mud.
The Captain was deaf to any reasoning, my excuse did me no good.
Captain put me on field arrest and I was immediately taken off the line.
I was told my court martial hearing was to be held in four days time.

I told the panel my true age, about my actions and exactly what I did.
They said I was just another lying coward who had run away and hid.
The verdict they passed was guilty, the sentence was death.
I screamed for mercy to deaf ears until I couldn’t catch my breath.

The weight of the world sat on my narrow shoulders. I was all alone.
Knowing I will never see my Mother again or my family back at home.
It rained all week relentlessly but the sun rose on that fateful morn.
Today is to be my last day on earth; I will be shot at dawn.

I felt the warm sun on my face but the air was bitterly cold.
They marched to a post against a wall and tied on my blindfold.
My body shook uncontrollably with fear. I was absolutely terrified.
Innocent yet guilty and about to be shot by my own side.

I prayed to God to save me, to give me a second chance.
When I heard those words “Ready, Aim” – I’m sorry, I pissed my pants.
I didn’t hear that final word of “Fire!” I don’t think I felt any pain
As bullets tore through my body time and time again.

I died branded a coward, my service forever put to shame.
To be remembered as a black mark on my family’s good name.
The records show I died aged twenty though I’d barely turned sixteen.
Labeled as a coward in the great war; but what does cowardice really mean?

PTG. © copyright

TASTY BALLS

“Mohammedan-owned Chinese/Tai/Himalayan/Middle Eastern/Indian restaurant – well, you certainly don’t see too many of those in Lancaster, Pennsylvania but there it is right in the heart of the downtown dining district. This meeting of culinary minds is definitely intriguing and what an original and humorous name –Tasty Balls’. That caught my eye and gave me a good laugh as I read about the new exotic fusion restaurant in the newspaper.

I wondered if my wife Judith intentionally left the paper on the kitchen table conveniently opened to the dining section for me to see. Judith has many fine attributes; subtlety is not one of them.

We met soon after I graduated college. I took a year off to backpack my way through Asia and the Middle East. Money was tight so I had to be frugal while traveling; that’s how I learned to find really good food at cheap prices.

While trekking through China, I stopped at a noodle and dumpling place. I was drawn to the sound of feminine laughter coming from the next table. There were two pretty blondes who looked to be around my age; I asked if I could join them and they agreed. Judith and Eunice were cousins from England on holiday. I hit it off quite well with Judith and we agreed to meet the next night for dinner. After that night we knew we wanted to be together and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I continued reading the article, I learned this new restaurant was operated by the same people who managed a nearby tea house called ‘The Barefoot Magpie’ – another place I’d never heard of. How can this be? I’ve lived in Lancaster all my life and thought I knew every place there was to eat. Obviously I haven’t been getting out enough lately.

What’s this? ‘Tasty Balls’ serves only one item: dumplings. What made it so special was the staggering number of varieties of dumplings on the menu. Now I knew without a doubt that Judith left this article here for me to stumble upon; she knows I am the world’s biggest sucker for dumplings!

Well now, let’s see what else the article says: “Extravagantly yet handsomely decorated … moderately priced … perfectly prepared dumplings … culinary delight.” My stomach rumbled and my mouth watered as I read a description of just a tiny sampling of dumplings offered at ‘Tasty Balls’: 

  • Jiaozi – A Chinese dumpling consisting of delicately sautéed ground meat and chopped vegetables wrapped into a thinly rolled dough-ball which is then fried to a golden brown or gently steamed.
  • Xiaolongbao – A Taiwanese delicacy, this steamed dumpling has meat and broth inside. The small, succulent orb is meant to be eaten whole; one bite and the fortunate diner’s mouth is filled with liquid ambrosia.
  • Momos – A staple from Tibet and Nepal, these delectable pouches are filled with yak, beef or chicken and have become an obsession with the patrons at ‘Tasty Balls’.
  • Shish Barak – Middle Eastern ravioli-like envelopes filled with seasoned lamb, onion and pine nuts, these piquant squares are boiled, baked or fried and served in a warm yogurt sauce with melted mint butter and a garnish of chopped cashew nuts.
  • Muthia – This Indian delight consists of chickpea flour, turmeric, chili powder, curry powder and salt bonded together with oil. Once shaped, these fritters can either be fried or steamed, depending on personal preference.
  • Luqaimat – Originally from Saudi Arabia, this luscious dessert translates into “small bites”. Found in many Middle Eastern countries, this is a treat of fried dough sweetened with date syrup and garnished with sesame seeds. With a scoop of pistachio ice cream, this is a delightful end to an unforgettable meal.

I suddenly realized the newspaper was wet; either I was salivating over the scrumptious description of dumplings or I was crying tears of joy that this heaven-sent restaurant was now located in little old Lancaster. Oh, what joy, what rapture!

Judith came into the kitchen, took one look at my face and asked “What in the world has come over you?”

Holding up the soggy newspaper I exclaimed “This – as if you didn’t know, you little minx! Tempting me with an article about delectable dumplings.  Well, it worked. It’s ‘Tasty Balls’ tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t think so, luv” Judith laughed. “That’s Cousin Eunice’s. She must have left it behind when she returned to the UK after her visit. That paper is from Lancaster, England!

If I had a sword I would have fallen on it.

NAR © 2021

OUR ‘ENRY

Commemorated through the region
for his prowess and pugilistic might
was the one and only Henry Cooper,
a champion born and raised for the fight.

He and George were born on the third of May;
the two brawny lads were identical twins.
By the age of fifteen Henry excelled in boxing
with seventy-three out of eighty-four wins.

This proud son of South East London was a giant,
a lefty with a formidable uppercut jab;
cut-prone and no great defensive technician,
yet his glove on one’s jaw felt more like a stab.

Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic,
he cut an imposing figure.
With powerful fists licensed to kill,
his look was of sternness and rigor.

In September ’54 he fought Harry Painter;
it was his very first match as a pro.
The battle took place at Harringay Arena
where Henry soundly defeated his foe.

Our ‘Enry took off like a house on fire,
for nine bouts in a row, no one got in his way.
But he lost number ten on a technical knockout;
how ironic that match was at old Harringay!

Henry bounced back, never one to stay down;
every match for him was compelling and vital.
But he suffered a big loss on February nineteenth;
Joe Bygraves took the Commonwealth heavyweight title.

Henry was no fly-by-night flash-in-the-pan;
undefeated champ for twelve years was he.
Our ‘Enry fought with the greatest and best
including “The Louisville Lip” – Muhammad Ali.

The young champ was still known as Cassius Clay;
the year was nineteen hundred and sixty-three.
A great deal of ticket-selling for this long-awaited bout
created a massive amount of world-wide publicity.

In the fourth round Henry was leading on points,
Ali making little attempt at effective aggression.
Henry felled Ali with a left hook to the body;
“‘Enry’s ‘Ammer” it was called in the profession.

Well, Ali’s manager brought him to the corner,
administering smelling salts banned in the UK.
The prohibited act was witnessed by no one
and a rejuvenated Ali defeated Henry that day.

Decades later a vital extra six seconds
showed up in a long-missing recording.
If all things had been on the clear up and up
the headlines would have had different wording.

For a second time Henry went up against Ali
who was now world heavyweight champion.
Though cut and tired, Henry never hit the canvas;
a TKO was the decision and again Ali won.

Henry won forty out of his fifty-five matches
and in 1971 it was time to hang up his gloves.
But Henry was never really down for the count
and he had a rich life full of many great loves.

Jump back to the late 1950s
when Henry met the love of his life.
A Gina Lollabrigida look-alike
who he courted and took as his wife.

She was dark-haired, petite at just five feet tall
and her name was Albina Genepri;
a waitress at Henry’s favorite restaurant,
a beauty from the Apennine region in Italy.

Two people who grew up hundreds of miles apart
from similar backgrounds – both working middle-class.
Henry was a cockney bloke from Beckenham in Kent.
When Albina learned English, her accent was like cut-glass.

It was ironic but Albina hated boxing
yet she remained Henry’s strength and his shield.
He constantly asked her to come to his fights
but only one solitary time did she yield.

Henry was known as a prince among men
and a king of the ring in many a fight.
In 2000 he was dubbed “Sir Henry Cooper”
joining the ranks of paladins and knights.

One night on his way to a sporting event
Henry received a call from his son.
“Come back home, dad!” was the pitiful plea.
“Something terrible’s happened to mum!”

Their’s was a love that movies are made of.
Lives full of happiness and very few tears.
They both were the real deal, genuine article
and their marriage lasted forty-seven years.

Albina had suffered a heart attack,
her devoted life had come to an end.
Henry never truly got over the shock
but like a willow he learned how to bend.

Just three years later Our ‘Enry
quietly passed while watching TV.
His son said it was quick and painless;
“He’s with mum now for all eternity.”

He was a lovely gent and a good fella,
a great husband, dad and true friend.
All those dear mates of Our ‘Enry
were loyal right up to the end.

Henry & Albina Cooper
Henry Cooper was the only boxer
ever to be knighted.

Henry vs Muhammad Ali


NAR © 2021

RULERS OF THE CASTLE

Scorching weather we’re experiencing, Maureen. Quite odd for June. You and Jamie should consider postponing your holiday. As you know, your Aunt Camilla detests air conditioning and I fear you will be terribly uncomfortable. Perhaps September would be a more suitable time to visit. Do let us know your decision. Hope all is well in New York.”

I stared at my uncle’s email in dismay. It had been eight years since I visited England. My husband Jamie’s family is from Scotland and we spent our honeymoon there, setting aside a few days to visit my aunt and uncle in Kent. I was looking forward to a return trip and an early summer vacation. Now Uncle George was complaining about an oppressive heatwave.

We had just booked our flights that morning and made reservations at some of the many attractions in the area. Our plans included a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Port Lympne Animal Reserve, Chiselhurst Caves and Hever Castle with its incredible labyrinthine gardens. I could just picture our five-year-old daughter Josie running through the vast field of mazes, giggling at every dead end.

If my aunt and uncle agreed to watch Josie for a few hours, Jamie and I could go on a tour of Shepherd Neame Brewery. I must admit after years in New York I preferred my beer served ice cold in a frosty mug – not at the traditional ‘English cellar temperature’. I never did care for the taste of a tepid brew.

After telling Jamie about my uncle’s message, he reminded me that we had 24 hours to cancel our flights and reservations without incurring a penalty. The first thing we needed to do was check with the airline, then we could look into our other plans. Luck was on our side; we were able to reschedule our flights and all our activities without any problem. In fact, our new agenda was going to be even better than originally planned.

Hever Castle had recently opened an area called “Adventure Playground” where kids ruled the castle. Josie could discover and explore Tudor Towers with its 2 metre high willow structure, a giant sandpit and grassy mounds with hidden tunnels. There were secret dungeons, moats and turrets plus climbing frames, swings and slides. Josie would never want to leave!

I began having serious thoughts about moving back to England permanently. My parents chose to retire in Spain and I had no other family here in The States. Jamie, I knew, would love the idea of being closer to his relatives. Josie had just finished kindergarten and Jamie’s firm had a branch office in London. It would be an experience of a lifetime and the perfect surprise for our families to learn we’d be living in the UK again.

Good news, Uncle George! We were able to change our travel plans to September. Josie can’t wait to finally meet you in person and I’m looking forward to being with family again. We also have a big surprise planned which I’ll share with you very soon. Try to stay cool! Maureen”

Hever Castle Gardens

NAR © 2021