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  • Simon Howard

ONCE UPON A TIME

I couldn't stop thinking about Madeleine as I lay inside my tent in Brittany, wondering when I'd see either her or Paris again. The Germans were expected anytime, and both my lot and the French were camped outside La Baule-Escoublac. I'd met her in a bar in Montparnasse on weekend leave in the city of love two months earlier.


But now we were going to have to fight or flee as the Nazis were determined to take over the whole of fucking Europe, it seemed to us.


'Come on - let's go into town and get pissed!' roared my mate, Pete.


So twelve of us put our boots on and marched into town, where we found a huge great bar filled with more of our mob and loads of Frenchies. We were due for a really jolly night, and I was soon beginning to forget Madeleine as I had my drinks poured by one Josette, who smelled divine and had an enchanting smile. Every time she filled our glasses we roared: 'Fuck fucking Hitler and the fucking Huns!' Before long we were good and pissed. Surprise surprise.


Then our dear French friends started singing the Marseillaise and we all joined in. After a while we all became aware of an extraordinary tenor dominating the show. Amid hundreds of voices this one took over, and the rest of us shut up. It was an extraordinary performance. Several of us - Brits and Frogs - rushed over and lifted him onto a table. There he stood, a funny-looking bloke in thick glass, in charge of the rest of us. A couple of years later, when I saw Casablanca, I realized that he'd even upstaged that magical version of the Marseillaise. In my whole life I've never seen a performance like it.


'Who the fuck is he?' I asked Pete.


'Haven't got a clue,' he said, before turning to a French commando and asking him.


'Ah, mon brave,' he replied, 'zat is ze one and only -'


'Who?' we yelled.


'Ulysse!' he shouted back at us.


Ulysses? I knew we were on a journey, but this didn't make any sense.


'What?' I said.


'Quoi?' said Pete.


'Zat is ze one and only Corkee-Dubliner Monsieur James Joyce.'


Once upon a time and a very good time it was....



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