Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Girl

Calgacus remembered very well the day when the local Oracle had told him, after payment of the appropriate fee, that one day he would run into a pretty girl that would change his life. It was a prophecy that had kept him warm on many a lonely night.
What the Oracle had not told him on that day, and that the labourer was now discovering was that the girl in question would be far too young and that she would literally cannon into him on the street outside his favourite Taverna just as he was leaving.
The Oracle had also failed to mention that this girl would look at him with a pair of huge, panicked, blue eyes surrounded by a mass of blonde rivulets.
And that in just two words she would melt his heart instantly.
‘Save me,’ said the girl, simply.
But that, Calgacus reflected, as he bundled the girl through the door of the wine shop he had just walked out of seconds before, is the problem with Oracles and fortune tellers. They never tell you the whole story.
Exuperatus looked up from his accounting and put down the stylus.
‘Back so soon?’ he said drily.
‘Your sausages, Exuperatus, must be better than I thought,’ said Senodo, who was sitting at the bar with his back to the entrance,’ I might have to try them. When I am desperate enough, that is.’
‘You mean drunk enough,’ said his partner.
‘Much the same thing…’
Calgacus looked around the small Taverna for somewhere to hide the girl. From her frequent glances behind her pursuit could not be far behind.
‘Exuperatus,’ Calgacus said quickly, ‘can I hide this girl in your cellar?’
‘It will only be for a few minutes.’
‘Yes,’ said Senodo, who had now turned around. He reached out a huge hand.
‘Let me give you a tour of our fine establishment, little one.’
The girl, who Calgacus reckoned was no older than ten, looked at him as if for approval. He nodded curtly.
‘Go with Senodo. He may look like a monster – with a nose like that – but he’s a good man.’
The girl allowed herself to be gently lowered into the cellar.
‘If we get closed down because of this I will be very cross,’ fumed Exuperatus,’ you do realise she is obviously a runaway slave?’
Calgacus nodded.
‘I figured so.’
‘And you’re still helping her?’
Calgacus shrugged.
‘She’s only a little girl, Exuperatus, and she’s terrified. She’s a little girl. ‘
‘Try explaining that to her master,’ Exuperatus sighed.
‘She’s property, Calgacus. Not just a little girl. She’s property like a flower vase or this bowl. And by hiding her you’re implicating us in theft.’
Calgacus shrugged.
‘Too late now, mate. Now are you going to give me a cup of wine so nothing looks suspicious? I think I can hear hobnails approaching.’
Calgacus heaved himself onto a stool and took the cup begrudgingly slapped before him.
A young soldier’s head appeared around the door.
‘Greetings,’ said the newcomer in a tired voice,’ the Legio IX Hispana is currently wasting its time looking for a runaway slave. A young girl… I don’t suppose you’ve seen her?’
‘No,’ said Exuperatus with complete certainty.
‘Not seen any girls for too long, of any age,’ lamented Calgacus.
The legionnaire laughed.
‘I know that problem. Pity, this girl’s led us a merry dance. I you catch wind of her, report it at the Forum office.’
‘I will,’ Calgacus lied into his wine,’ what’s her name by the way?’
The legionnaire shouted back over his shoulder as he stomped back into the street.
‘Her name is Vita.’



And so it begins. Where it will end will largely depend on where the characters take me…

One of the great passions I have is the birds hat come to our garden. I’ve been seen sprinting out making hissing noises at cats in order to drive the things off – I don’t want the sweet purring little alien predators (because folks, that’s what they are) in my garden threatening the local birds and the migrants passing through.

Especially as we have a nice group of long tailed tits at the moment which is exciting as normally they stick to woodland. We’re missing the goldfinches but they bred successfully with us last year so I am hoping that they’ll be back in a few weeks. Certainly there are signs of nest construction with more birds suspiciously carrying sticks around, and when I had my hair cut on our decking recently the cut hair was snaffled pretty quick… I rather like the idea that my decreasing stock of hair is going into nest lining. One of the joys is watching characters among the resident birds. One year we had a field fare that was just nuts and insisted on chasing off every other bird that came into the garden away from our windfall apples. He was quite good at it too, although he spent so much time chasing that he never actually seemed to eat any of his precious resource. This year we have been amused by one of our magpie who has learned to balance on the feeder and get at the fat balls, though only by using his tail and wings to fully extent himself in quite an impressive developed technique. Unfortunately he or she is not able to balance properly at the moment as the poor thing has lost its tail feathers. We have seen this bird taunting a dog fox that sometimes comes into the garden before now and really living dangerously; I suspect he didn’t move fast enough and had to sacrifice his tail. Or maybe it was one of the cats. But I suspect it was a combination of over irritated fox and overconfident magpie. If you can’t be bothered to fly when God gave you wings you might as well expect the worse.

At least the weather is improving so as we tick the days of winter off with the proverbial pencil we can look forward to everything bursting into life and what we think of is the true sign of spring which is when the ducklings start to appear and delight us with their Brownian motion on the lake in Verulamium park, just like a bunch of six year olds high on sugar at a birthday party, and with a similar lack of any kind of direction or observation of hazards. But at the moment, the mallards are currently still engaged in the charming ritual of drowning the poor females in what must be one of the most brutal forms of mating in the animal kingdom. Try not to look, instead watch the swans in their courting dance form that lovely heart shape with their curved necks. It is less traumatic.

Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Sausages

  ‘What is in these sausages?’ Calgacus demanded, pointing a finger at the contents of the bowl.

 ‘Meat,’ said Exuperatus,’ Well, mostly meat anyway.’

 ‘Ah!’ Exhaled the big man triumphantly, ‘I thought they looked suspicious. What are you trying to do, you filthy Gaul? Poison me?’

 The bar man pinched his thin forehead and took a deep breath.

 ‘Calgacus, you barbarian, if you were not one of my best customers I’d have you thrown in the river. Not just out of my Taverna, you understand, but into the river,’ Exuperatus took a deep breath, ’it contains meat, but also herbs and spices, and garlic of course. My own recipe, in fact, I’m rather proud of it.’

 ‘Exactly what kind of meat is it?’ Calgacus narrowed his eyes.

 ‘Ah. Now, on that point I have to say it does vary a little. But all high quality…’

 ‘It depends on what we can lay our hands on, preferably cheaply,’ boomed a voice from the cellar that lay to the rear and under the bar area.

  ‘Thank you Senodo. I was doing quite well without your quaint idea of customer relations. Have you been drinking the stock again?’ Exuperatus steepled his thin fingers in a gesture that the Calgacus, a regular witness to the bickering of the two men that ran this pokey Taverna, knew suggested extreme annoyance.

 ‘Quality control,’ slurred the voice from the darkness. Exuperatus tensed his thin body.

 As Calgacus realised he had caused this in the first place with his misplaced curiosity the labourer thought he’d better make amends before the two Gauls broke into open war.

 ‘It doesn’t matter!’ He said loudly,’ sorry I asked. I’m sure they are absolutely delicious.’

 For emphasis he shoved one in his mouth and began to chew enthusiastically.

 Exuperatus watched him carefully. Calgacus also now noticed he was under observation from Senodo, whose head had emerged from the cellar, his huge nose glowing redder than normal. Obviously a lot of quality control had been required this morning.

 Calgacus washed the rest of the sausage down with his wine.

 ‘Not bad. Tasted of horse?’

 Exuperatus smiled.

 ‘Very good… I think most of that batch was predominately horsemeat. Good lean stuff, too. Best I’ve been able to get this season, what with the Romans getting all uppity with their patrols and checkpoints.’

 ‘Well the attacks are on the increase, apparently, or that’s what the Spanish legionaries say,’ Calgacus noted,’ when I can work out their accents. And they stop shivering long enough to talk sense.’

 ‘Yes, but this is Verulamian. Finest city in Britannia, we have a theatre and everything. At least we should have guaranteed supplies. I mean we are running out of good wine – ’

 ‘We’ve never had good wine,’ Senodo interrupted.

  ‘Are you intent on ruining me?’ Snapped Exuperatus as he thumped the table with a clenched fist and then winced at the pain. Calgacus tried very hard not to laugh.

 ‘Ruin us. It’s my bar too, you old weasel. I just believe in being honest to the punters,’ Senodo gestured at the empty cup looking forlorn in front of their only customer,’ more of our finest gut rot, Calgacus?’

 ‘I guess so, and some more of those delicious sausages, too,’ the big man winked at Senodo as the rotund Gaul filled his cup, ’after all, nothing exciting is going to happen anytime soon. My mother always said that nothing important would happen until at least a hundred years after that funny Jewish Messiah turned up’

 ‘Well, that’s alright then. I believe it’s only sixty years…’


I was sorry to hear about the Oscar Pistorius situation. I found it both strange and yet somehow expected that if something dark was going to happen it would be with someone so high profile. I just hope it gets sorted out with more justice and less hysteria. Certainly I won’t let it affect my memories of last summer. From a personal point of view, the true highlight of the year was the Olympics and Paralympics. I was lucky enough to go to many of the events and was amazed and overjoyed by the attitude and positivity that pervaded the whole event. This was particularly true behind the scenes. I was lucky enough to serve as a London Ambassador in the Athlete’s Village during the middle of the Olympic Games helping many of the non UK Competitors to find their way around London after they had finished their events. Everyone wants pictures of Big Ben it seems. People were happy and open, from the athletes themselves to the security men, to the cleaners. Everyone seemed to enjoy being part of something where the competition as on the field, and off the field we were brothers and sisters. If the world I normally live in replicated what I felt during those precious few days it would and could be truly wonderful, where all relationships large and small, long term and transient could be epitomized by smiles.

One thing that made me smile last week was the rumour that the Ice warriors were returning to Doctor Who on the BBC. They’ve always been one of my favourite monsters, as like all the best villains you should have some complexity. Your bad guys should be doing what they do for a reason, and the Ice Warriors have enough in their concepts of a shattered home world (Mars) combined with concepts of honour and a societal structure that lifts them above the more one dimensional. They may even be good guys this time out, as there is precedent. I must stop nattering about Who though; it’s part of my life, as while other people seem to have a first memory of school or some other real life thing, mine is the dead Wirrn queen falling onto the hapless Harry Sullivan at the end of the Ark in Space, part 1 (January 25th, 1975). Sad but true. I was almost 4. Probably explains a lot about me

Working on a fiction thread for this blog, probably in bite sized installments. Partly to contrast against my main attempts which are getting increasingly long and rambling and partly just as an exercise. You never know, they might turn out to be entertaining. As I say, at least they’ll be short.

Entering the Blog Sphere

I seem to spend so much time writing things it seems to be amazing that I’ve not got around to rambling on the internet until now. I guess I’ve always thought I’ve had nothing to say of any interest but then that probably puts me slam in the middle of most bloggers so I’ll try and at least find some point of difference. So brief intro.
Married. No kids (not our choice). Practicing Christian so let’s get that out of the way first, at least it is not as bad as working for a Billion dollar American multinational! Oh, hang on, that is me too. It’s OK. That’s a subject I wouldn’t touch anyway at least not directly. Scientist by history, but increasingly arts and creative writing leaning and that’s probably where I will wander off too, might even post stuff if I have the courage.
Also will probably warble on annoyingly about training for the London Marathon despite promising myself back in 2002 I’d never do it again. Just goes to show you, people should never, ever, say things like “I’m never going to (Insert thing that despite your insistence you will find yourself doing)”. The universe just loves that kind of dare, and you’ll lose. Anyway, so I’m going to half kill myself again because I have been gently suckered by someone at my church into running for Mission Without Borders. In reality it did not take much persuading as I’ve seen the work they do with families and children in poverty in Eastern Europe and it makes my heart burst. So April 21st is going to be more of a tumult than expected a few months ago. It might be better if my love wife was not quite so enthusiastic on getting me a training schedule which has uncomfortably long looking training runs listed.
Still started off well enough and was feeling the benefit (and getting through a lot of podcasts – Kermode & Mayo, Radcliffe & Maconie mostly, can’t get enough bickering and luncacy, and I guess “Hello to Jason Isaacs”) before the damn Brussels virus (well, I contracted it in Brussels and it’s a virus so that seems good enough for me) knocked me over for a week. So crawling back onto schedule, better now than closer to the day!