Posted tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Love in Renaissance Italy

June 21, 2013

The tragic account of the Veronese lovers Romeo and Juliet as written by Shakespeare (or Marlowe or Tom, Dick and Harry) was pre-dated by a hundred years or so by a tale of even greater tragedy. Seventy miles from Verona stands the city of Ferrera and this was the place where the heart-rending story takes place.

The young Girolamo Maria Francesco Matteo Savonarola studied at the university of Ferrara. It was here thatsavonarola Girolamo studied humanism from a wide variety of philosophers. Polymath that he was he could play the lute and write poetry. He could knock out andantes on the instrument and fire off Ciconian sestets like there’s no tomorrow.

The object of Savonarola’s affections was his next door neighbour, the beautiful illegitimate daughter of the house Strozzi, Laodima Strozzi. A narrow alleyway separated the two houses making it possible to converse between two opened windows of the overhanging upper storeys. Soon he was serenading Laodima with his lute. The parents of the youngsters forbid any romance -the lute had to go- and there it should have ended except the deviously clever Savonarola devised a code that would outfox the guardians. Using this secret system he would be able to penetrate into Loadima’s bedroom.

The night came when Loadima stood on her balcony. Down below Savonarola put his plan into action. In his hand was a candle and by putting his hand over the flame for either a short or long time he would snuff out the light. This series of dashes and dots would send a coded message to his love. If she responded using the same method it meant the coast was clear for him to accost her.

This ordeal by fire was burning his hands but he hoped it would not be in vain. He sent his message and had no remorse for the sin he was about to commit.

dash,dash,dash-dash,dash,dot-dash,dash,dot-dash,dot,dash,dash. ­­­­­­­­

He waited and then Loadima replied.


She was alone. Savonarola climbed the wall like a bat out of hell so hot was he for the Strozzi girl. He vaulted over the balcony wall. He let loose his passion unbounded and done a Catullus by giving her a thousand kisses.

“Loadima, Loadima will you marry me?”

She wriggled her hands about, they were still stinging by the heat of the candle. Bloody friars. She told him in plainsong.

“I would have a one night stand with you but no way will I marry you. No Strozzi would ever sink so low to marry a mere Savonarola.”

This rejection stung Girolamo. He vowed there and then to become a monk and left her with a rebuke before jumping off the balcony.

“Don’t flatter yourself, harlot. No legitimate Savonarola would ever be as desperate as Dan and stoop to marry a Strozzi bastard.”


Chibber in the Jazz Age

July 4, 2012

It had been another of those social gatherings where we felt out of place. On Twitter you’re anonymous and foxes paws are irrelevant, at a high class event it’s different. It’s hard to become invisible especially when all you bring to the party is inanities. Try as we might, me and Chibber just couldn’t compete with the Joneses or the Powells or the Ashford-Webbs of this world. They had us beat in the paddock in the intellectual stakes; we were definitely oxymoronically double-dashed: an also-ran non-runner.

Chibber kicked an innocent stone that was lying in the pavement as went home.

“Did you hear that double-breasted suit guy? I can speak six languages.”

“Seven. It was seven.” not for the first time I corrected Chibber.

“Six. Seven. Doesn’t matter. It’s still more than one.” Mathematically, I did not argue with this statement. Chibber went on. “Then the other geezer. I can play nine different instruments. And they’re all those stupid snobby instruments. The piano. The harpsichord. The clarinet. And…and…all the rest.”

“You’re right. He didn’t say anything about a guitar now did he?”

Me and Chibber were both failed six-string guitarists. It’s easier listening to rock music than playing it. Various excuses were mooted and mantrad (sic): hard to fine time to practise, fingers too fat for the frets, hard to fine time to practice, fingers too fat for the frets, hard to find time to practise, fingers too fat for the frets.

“I’m going to learn to play the trumpet.” said Chibber.

“The trumpet?”

“Yeah. Think about it. It’s only got three buttons-”

“Valves. I think they’re called valves.”

“Valves then. Three valves. Now all you’ve got to do is blow and finger three buttons, um, valves. There can’t be many combinations in three valves. In layman’s terms, basically, the trumpet is a three cross: three singles, three doubles and a treble.” Chibber was over the moon. I tried to fell him with bigger numbers.

“Some trumpets have four valves. That‘s a Yankee combination”

“No. No. Forget the Yankee, Yankees are impossible. I’m going to learn on a three-buttoner.”

We walked along and Chibber ignored the discarded crushed can that was left in his path. I could tell he was in a charitable mood. I didn’t want to upset him but I had more things to say on the matter.

“If it were that easy, we’d all be trumpeters. Maybe there’s a certain way of blowing that takes skill or the valves have different settings. Quarter open or half open or something like that to get different sounds.”

“You’ve always got to rain on my parade , haven’t you?”

We walked on and I tried to cheer him up. “Juggling. Why don’t you become a juggler? Everybody likes a juggler at a party. Ashford-Webb’s sonatas would have to take a back seat to a guy levitating balls in the air.” I waited for his reaction. It was forthcoming.

“That’s it. You’re right. Juggling is an art,” he said, he was totally convinced. “and how hard can it be to juggle three balls? At every given time there is one ball in your hand so there’s only two balls to keep an eye on.”

“That’s right,” I said “and to really shatter Jones and his Bechstein Grand, to tongue -tie the multi-linguistic Powell, nay, to trump the high society set in all its splendour you could juggle four balls. That’ll show them whose boss.”

“No. No. Forget four balls. Three will be hard enough.”

Chibber in the land of upright people

March 18, 2011

(Taken from The Chibber papers)

In 1974 Bobby Fischer was considered the greatest chess player that ever moved. He had dominated the game, was the youngest ever Grandmaster, won the Cold War with Spassky and declared that Karpov shouldn’t be on the same board as him, thus giving the Russian the title by default. Press reports seeping from Britain had made him angry as he believed everything that was written in the newspapers-and they said the chess world had a new star.

The young Chibber was unbeaten; none of his matches had gone more than five moves. Fischer wanted to know the hold Chibber had over opponents who conceded from a winning position. He contacted his friend, Kerry Packer, to promote a one-off, winner takes all game, to be held in Ouagadougou. Let’s see if the stupid British hacks can spell the venue.

The stage was set-up for the gladiators. To jazz up proceedings, Packer wanted the combatants to enter with a signature tune played by a trumpeter. This corny gimmick became popular in the future at other sports events. At the time the professorial rank and file chess set were unmoved by the opening razzle dazzle.

Chibber arrived with pomp and circumstance to the chords of “Hey, Good Lookin’, whatcha got cookin'”. The record books have no note of the Fischer tune, though historians agree it would probably have been something by Wagner. Chibber had won the toss and choose white. He opened play with-

1. G4

This was Chibber’s favourite move as it gave him room to manoeuvre his King-side bishop. Though as a staunch Presbyterian he called the bishop- The Elder. Under the table he kicked Fischer in the shins twice. This opening salvo was the best part of the game for him. He had read up that professional chess players traded kicks underneath, it was what encouraged him to play the game.


Fischer rubbed his shin and opted for a traditional controlling the midfield strategy. The American could play a good game below as well and he swung a brogue at the Scotsman’s knee.

2. F3

Chibber never felt a thing. His mind was prone to wander during matches and he wondered why there was no Lower Volta. He upped the ante with an explosive kick at Fischer’s ankle that made his rival scream out in agony.


Fischer, now in considerable pain, saw that the game was there to be won with a simple Queen H4 checkmating move. Before he touched his Queen he sensed another missile from Chibber’s boot. He managed to avoid the deadly projectile that thundered off the legs of Fischer’s chair. The chair deflected onto the table rocking the chess board. The Black King wobbled before it over-dramatically fell on the battlefield. Chibber’s celebrations drowned out Fischer’s protests.

Chibber at The Garden

June 23, 2010

(Taken from The Chibber Papers)

The cab driver was motoring in rectangles, driving from west 54th street onto 1st avenue then west 56th street, east 56th street to 2nd avenue. The cabbie told us he was a septuplet or octuplet, he couldn’t remember. He also couldn’t count for Hershey bars.

Eventually we arrived at Madison Square Gardens for a very important event. Harry Chibberson, Chibber to his friends, was about to box Mike Tyson for the Heavyweight title circa late 1987. As his manager that day and if my memory serves me correct, most of the following is true.

The pre-fight weigh in of a few days before produced its usual scuffle. Chibber was unhappy with the constant swearing of Tyson. Cus this and Cus that. All that Cussing with ladies present angered Chibber. I tried to explain to him that the Cus was for Tyson’s former trainer: Cus D’Amato. Poor Chibber, not a contender for brain of Britain.

Sitting in the changing room I was glad I wasn’t in Chibber’s shorts. Here he was about to fight the undefeated, undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world, the baddest man on the planet, the ferocious young man from Brooklyn nicknamed Kid Dynamite. Now its one thing making haggis of the unwashed benefit cheats on Royston Road, Iron Mike doesn’t have a sheep’s liver. Chibber had every right to be scared and looking at him, I wondered what was going through his mind at this minute.

“Rocky versus Aliens would make a good film, don’t you think?”

Final preparations were made before we entered the Coliseum. I offered Chibber a gum shield that he declined. He said the gum guard makes him talk funny. Trying to warn him of the dangers of breaking a jaw he was unperturbed and would rub Bonjela teething gel on his mouth if it were sore.

To the screams and taunts of the baying horde in the auditorium we were first into the ring. Harry Carpenter was ring side and he wished Chibber good luck. “Get in there, Chibber!” Dance of the Knights blared from the speakers signalling Tyson’s entrance. And now he was angry, this wasn’t his usual rap drivel welcoming music. Incandescent, he was hurling punches at various members of the mob and looked absolutely terrifying. No one would forgive Chibber throwing in the towel at this moment and he made the profound comment.

“She’s got legs that go right up to her bum.”

I surveyed Tyson before I cottoned on to what he was talking about. Chibber was eyeing up the leggie lovely ring girl.

After the preliminaries the fight got underway. Tyson started strongly with a one-two combination and a thundering left hook. These blistering hits would have weakened most men but not the ice cold Chibber and he started sledging.

“My granny can hit me harder than that.”

Tyson’s gum shielded response was unintelligible. It sounded something like this.

“Ayt. Fayt ak bampot, Cus.”

“I’ve had enough of your bad language.”

Pow! Bang! Banjo! Wallop! Crash! Thud! Chibber pulverised the New Yorker who must have thought it was Hogmanay. Tyson was lying concussed on the canvas with a loft of pigeons circling his head. The referee began his count.

“One-ah, two-ah…three..ah, five? No, three-ah, five-ah. Is it five?”

Chibber and I both thought we knew this ref from somewhere. He was the double of the cab driver, one of the other septuplets or Octuplets; A Waltonian family with the counting prowess of a walnut. To knock some sense into the ref’s head Chibber gave him a small jab to his skull. He collapsed like a lead balloon onto Iron Mike just as Tyson was beginning to come round and during this clinch he nibbled the ref’s ears.

Chibber at the Court

April 16, 2010

(Taken from The Chibber Papers)

From the street anybody passing by the indoor tennis court would have heard the squeaking of rubber shoes and the curses of the players. Inside the heat was stifling as the battle raged on. On one side was the British challenger, Harry Chibberson, Chibber to his friends. He had crossed the channel to duel with the French Champion: Henri Thierry LeCount.

Le Count had miscounted the score a few times and Chibber was thinking of knocking Henri’s cheating head off. The two combatants were locked in a pulsating game of real tennis. Although as Chibber was wont to say, well it’s not going to be dummy tennis, now is it?

The scoring system in place was the same as for today’s more cultured lawn Tennis. Even though LeCount had stolen a few points, Chibber was serving for the match and the game was tied at 40-40, more commonly called deuce, but there was no time for drinks. (more…)