With the arrival of a new Italian member to our group, we thought that we would use the theme of Italy as our next prompt. Here is what Mike and I came up with.

All Roads Lead to Rome (a pre-referendum cautionary tale), by Michael Bailey

The government have been promising me I’ll see Italy and die. But maybe they got the order wrong. Every year now I’ve been waiting to retire but they keep making the race longer. It’s like a marathon that is forty miles instead of the twenty six it used to be because the finishing line keeps getting put back. Oh, I know all the economics of it, shrinking productive base and ballooning dependent population, blah, blah, blah. We old fuckers just live too long. That’s what Democratically Reaffirmed Prime Minister Johnson and President for life Trump tell us. Taking advantage of state managed euthanasia is the new affirmation of social conscience.

It’s hard to put your finger on just when we tipped over the edge, though the build up was obvious enough. The shit hitting so many fans at once was overwhelming. Tactical nuclear weapons in the middle east left fewer people to perpetuate the refugee crisis that worried us so much in the twenty-teens; affirmative action to support the Chinese take over of Russia tamed the bear and overfed the panda so the East is now consumed in an orgy of indigestion; at the same time we paid Indians to castrate themselves with legal highs and lethally doped Africans with promises of whiter skin. The whole second and third worlds imploded while the first world cruised on regardless.

No there’s something more sinister, the way things just don’t hang together anymore, haven’t for a long time now. It started even before the Brexit bombshell. Since then things have just slipped apart.

On a personal level what I know is this – one day I couldn’t finish the crossword – just a couple of clues, sure its happened before. Next day worse, three or four answers quite beyond the time I was prepared to stick at them. Perhaps I was just loosing my marbles, the big A or was it D? No. Other stuff seems to work ok. I don’t go into a room and forget why I’m there. I know who is prime minister (though this is no longer a reliable test of sanity as the answer isn’t changing any time soon) so as I’ve been telling you it’s something more collective.

You know the great climate change started decades ago and now the extreme weather has added to our disconnection with the familiar. Spring flowers in November and December followed by snow and ice in July; deadly thunderstorms ranging across Europe; roads melting and people dying in the streets as temperatures top fifty for days on end. It feels as if the whole of nature is unravelling. What with malaria mosquitoes and killer hornets as the down side of the Scottish and Icelandic wine industries, I’m glad I am getting old and won’t have to put up with all this much longer.

But before I die, there is Italy waiting. Baking in Pizza, a furnace in Florence and roasting in Rome but still steeped in two millennia old history and the richest greenest olive oil you could ever want to drizzle on your pasta (that is if

you want the oil to cook your farfeli for you as some of the fallout from the middle east nuclear conflict resolution has added enough radioactive caesium to the soil of Italy to make their olive oil glow in the dark for centuries to come). That leaves the history (stones don’t get radioactive unless they are directly in the blast) as the big consolation for me. I want to walk in the footsteps of Cesar and Nero, Michaelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci, Lucretzia Borga and Mussolini, Verdi and Donazetti even if I do have to eat pasta imported from nuclear free South America.

So next week I’ll finally become a pensioner and get my free flight pass (one way non transferrable) and my retirement billeting in a fifth floor flat in central Naples where the radiation level is just low enough to be tolerable for the very old because we won’t be around long enough for most cancers to develop and no one will be very bothered even if they do.

Of course the radiation is a secondary consideration in this pan European gereatrc-cleansing strategy. The real purpose is to remove us and our confused thinking and unreliable memories so our thought waves no longer contaminate the sharp and eager minds of younger people. You see the increasing numbers of melted minded uber-age people reached a critical mass after which younger clearer thinking minds were simply swamped by our leaky thought patterns.

As our perpetual leaders were already living in splendid and brainwave protected isolation, they believed they had devised the ultimate solution. That makes me smile the most because once I and my fellow deportees get to Italy and put our heads together they’ll have another thought coming their way.


Dear Juliet, by Becky Bye

Thomas swirled the Barolo Riserva, watching the velvety slip of wine coat the sides of the glass. He touched it to his lips, feeling its crimson warmth, but not tasting the notes. The street hummed with chatter and he turned his gaze away from couples looking deeply into each other’s eyes, exchanging secrets over Italian cuisine.

With a deep sigh, he pushed his chair away from the table, casually dropped a few notes onto the crisp white cloth and walked into the shadows, thrusting his hands into his pockets. His feet guided him as he glanced at tourists milling around. He squeezed the paper in his pocket and increased his pace.


Her hand placed over her heart, Juliet watched as others spilled the contents of theirs, some hearts breaking, some mending, all of their hopes for a happily ever after weighing down upon her shoulders.

She overlooked the throng of visitors playing Romeo, hailing her from her balcony as she stood below, glistening bronze in the sunlight. Unblinking, she witnessed thousands of unrequited lovers, separated lovers, secret lovers, sharing their passions for one another, only with her.

The terracotta wall was peppered with slips of white, where wrinkled edges of hastily scribbled love notes protruded, gently flapping in the sweet Italian breeze.

Thomas waited until the buzzing of tourists had diminished slightly, no doubt rushing off in the direction from which he came; to long elegant dinners on the side streets of Verona, laughing with other couples and drinking copious amounts of wine.

With shaking hands, he went to the statue and placed his hand on Juliet’s, gazing up into her face. He glanced up at her breast, worn smooth with the caress of thousands of visitors and wondered if tradition was as important as his undeclared love. He wished silently and without hesitation, tucked his letter into a spare nook in the wall below the balcony.

Dear Juliet,

It is only now that I realise I have never been in love before, that is not until I met Kate. My passion for her is all consuming. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, and my thoughts are saturated with the beauty of her. She doesn’t even know I exist. I long for her to know how I feel but I am too afraid to tell her that she is more perfect than anyone else I have ever met. Please Juliet, give me the courage to tell her how I feel, that my soul cries out for hers.

Awaiting in earnest,


Thomas looked at his letter in the wall for a moment, silently hoping he had done enough, and without looking back, turned away from the balcony and disappeared into the streets of Verona.


The square was deserted as the moonlight cast its embrace across the cobbled floor, flashing silver across Juliet’s balcony.

Tiptoeing lightly, Kate approached the statue, gently placing her hand against Juliet’s and closing her eyes for a moment. Reaching in the back pocket of her jeans, she slipped out a creased envelope and, after placing it against her lips, found space in the wall. She took a few steps back, and cocked her head to one side, watching her letter merge into the sea of paper and she wondered if her attempt was a futile one.

Dear Juliet

I’m in love with a man I don’t even think knows I exist. His name is Thomas, and his is the first name on my lips when I wake in the morning, and the last face I picture before I sleep. My love for him haunts me and I long for him to know how I feel. My soul is on fire for him and I know that I cannot ever love another, for I have never been in love with any other.

Please Juliet, help him to notice me.

My future is in your hands,



Juliet gazed down at the most recent letters which had been so delicately entrusted to her. In the distance she could see Thomas approaching his hotel, hands in his pockets and shoulders hunched. Just a few moments behind, Kate followed unknowingly in the shadows of his footsteps.


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