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If anyone ever asks me about my favourite movie I'll say Ben Hur - for the chariot race. There's never been anything to match it.

Ben Hur was made in 1959 but the planning was underway years before that. At the time it was the biggest cinematic undertaking ever. Ben Hur is the story of two men, Judah Ben Hur, a Jewish prince and Messala, a Roman soldier, friends as boys who become enemies as men, realising that they had nothing in common any more. The story is set in the troubled period when Christ was living in Judea; it's a story of passion, of love, of desire, of cruelty and hatred as well as great courage. The film starred Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd in the lead roles supported by more than 60 others, as well as 15 thousand extras. It was filmed in Italy.

But back to the chariot race. This was the climax to an amazing story in which the two heroes are pitted against each other in a do or die final struggle to decide which of them would be declared the victor. The movie modelled the race on the ancient circus in Jerusalem. This required the construction of the largest set ever built for a movie. It kept over a thousand men occupied for a year carving an oval from a rock face which was some 18 acres in area. It required a million feet of timber, 250 miles of steel tubing and 40,000 tons of white sand from Mediterranean beaches.

The chariot race took three months to film. It required nine chariots each pulled by four horses. So for many months 78 beautiful animals were in training and this required a full-time old-fashioned blacksmith. The action was not only dramatic but highly dangerous and throughout this entire period a team of two doctors and two nurses manned an infirmary near the track. None of the drivers sustained serious injury but the staff was kept busy treating extras in the stands who were suffering from heat exhaustion.

And the race itself? Roman chariot races continued on for a great many circuits. The race was, of course, fast and furious with no quarter given and there were no rules. Anything could and did happen. Long knives on the axles were good for scything out another's spokes and early in the race Messala lashes his whip across Ben Hur's face. There were crashes and broken chariots littered the course. At one point in the race Ben Hur finds he is racing towards two upended chariots and seems to have no way to avoid them. Chariton Heston was without doubt an outstanding charioteer and with great skill his chariot jumps the wreckage and he almost appears to fly many feet above the ground. In the end, of course, it is Ben Hur who wins after Messala is involved in a collision in which he is thrown from his chariot but dragged behind it around the stadium. They carry him to the infirmary where he lays dying as Ben Hur comes to see how he is. Messala utters the last of his hate at his now victorious rival.

The race sequence lasts a continuous eight minutes in the cinema and has probably never been equalled by any other movie. Ben Hur won eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture in both America and Britain. For me, it was not a race but The Race.

It was Sir Marmaduke A. Chumleigh who got the riding craze;
His middle name was Algernon; he had some funny ways;
He hated anyone to contradict - he had no time for fools,
Was arrogant, eccentric, and thought he knew the rules
Of every game and sport that had ever been invented.
He knew them all he said; his pride was never dented.
He'd quote the laws of soccer and always watched World Cup;
How many teams played rugby and when full-time was up;
He knew the runs and wickets in lots of cricket matches
And even who had taken the finest one-day catches.
He was passionate for tennis and golf he knew about,
Was familiar with all fisticuffs and who had been knocked out.
You could ask about Olympics and who had nearly won
And whether Marathons were much too far to run.
He knew about the training runs for all of sports' elite
And whether any champion had ever faced defeat.

Now Chumleigh knew a lot - but did he play himself, you ask?
For fun, one day, he gave himself a little sporting task:
To challenge whether, just by chance, he might make the national team
Of riders galloping on horses over gate and stream.
He was a country gent so riding horseback was, of course,
An easy thing for him to do - he'd never fallen off a horse!

He wandered to his garage, where hanging on the door
He kept his riding breeches and new boots upon the floor;
He'd a brand new deep blue/purple jacket used for skiing
Which always made him feel a superhuman being.

So togged up in his finery he mounted on his steed,
Dug in his heels, grabbed at the reins and got the nag to speed.
But as the horse got to the track it bolted clean away
And Chumleigh, fearing for his life, was ready then to pray.
The horse strode wildly over logs and splashed in every creek,
The rider falling from its back and feeling very weak.
A mile or so along the way he really lost his hold;
Chumleigh fell and hit the ground and rolled and rolled and rolled.

He lay in painful agony spread out upon the ground;
The horse ran on for many miles but slackened not his bound
While Chumleigh lay a-writhing and wondered if his head
Was really still attached to him or whether he was dead.
A plaintive wail, a sob or two, and curses three or four
Were heard to echo through the bush for he was mighty sore.
He noticed too that many stars were shining in his eye
- At least a hundred thousand, and questions such as: "Why?"
He pulled himself upon his feet and started in a daze
To drag his body through the woods but it was all a maze.
The horse, of course, had cantered back - he never missed Chumleigh;
He hated being ridden and it was nearly time for tea.

When Chumleigh got to thinking about his awful ride
He wondered if his horse had really ever tried
To live up to his name, unusual though it was,
For years ago he'd named him 'Push Me-Pull You' because
He'd read it in a book you see and it sounded rather fun.
But a horse with such a funny name will not know how to run,
To gallop, trot or canter or even how to walk.
The horse will say, quite naturally: "What a lot of silly talk."
So Chumleigh's back to storing facts about his favourite sports
And being extra careful about riding of all sorts.
He'd rather keep his body in a truly healthy state
Than people shout and tell him that his riding isn't great!

A piece of writing to include all the words (underlined) selected by each member of the group. I added the further challenge to write mine in Banjo Patterson style - rhyming couplets.

The German word for Friday is Freitag, but as frei means 'free' and tag means 'day' it can be seen that Friday could mean free day. Oddly enough, that is exactly what last Friday proved to be for me, a free day.

About noon on that fateful day, I arrived in the city, drove around the block a couple of times until I found a vacant parking spot in Bathurst Street. Then I discovered I had no coins. What to do? Was there any time left on the meter? I pressed the button. "Expired!" But on the meter screen was something more. There was a hand-written note attached. "Meter out of order. Parking limit one hour." Amazing! What luck. I was due to meet my niece within a couple of minutes, so this was perfect.

I met her in the Mall and proposed treating her to lunch at a neat little Chinese cafe I had found. She enjoyed the meal, so much so, that she insisted that she pay the bill.

We left there with the intention of having a coffee elsewhere but first I thought it best to check my car as quite a bit more than an hour had elapsed. As we turned the corner I had to step to one side to avoid the parking attendant who had just come from the direction of my car. "Uh oh," I said, "I've probably got a ticket." But no, no ticket.

What was there, however, was a technician working on the faulty parking meter. It was all in bits so I asked him, "Will we have time to go for a coffee before you get it working again?" "No problem," he replied, "I'll be about another 15 minutes but I will click an hour on the clock before I go."

We went back around the corner to a coffee shop. Now, at last, I was sure I would be able to pay for something. But what did I find? On the door of the restaurant was a sign that read "Come in for a free cup of coffee." We placed our orders for the coffee and while waiting, noticed that on the counter was a plate piled high with chunks of delicious iced chocolate cake. "Please help yourself to our complimentary cake," invited the waiter.

The coffee, the cake and the conversation were all delightful and the minutes flew by unnoticed but, eventually, I drifted back to the car. I imagined that there would still be about twenty minutes on the meter, giving me time to nip across the road and browse the shelves of Book City, but when I hit the button it showed "Expired." Quickly, I looked to the car windscreen, expecting to find a parking ticket, but lo and behold, nothing! As I drove home, I reflected on the last few hours. Despite being prepared to spend money at every stage, fate had declared that this Friday was Freeday.

"I'm going to commit a murder! It's not that difficult. Lots of people do it. You can read what they did in the papers every day. Most of them get caught, of course, because they aren't smart enough."
He paused, considering her short skirt; it rode up above the knees as she perched on the bar stool; and her rayon-spun neck line dipped to an impressive vee. He raised his eyes a fraction to her face, and surveyed the deep blue eyes and her long raven black hair falling lusciously to below the shoulders.
She'd caught his attention as soon as he entered the room twenty minutes earlier. She seemed willing to entertain his banter, not yet weary of him and he had no intention of curtailing what was becoming a more and more interesting evening.
"So are you enjoying the conference? Do you think you'll get something from it?" he asked.
She looked at him, a deep penetrating look, as if there might be something deeper in the question. "Perhaps," she said.
"I always know what I want," he replied. "But you know how you come half way around the world and learn nothing you didn't know before." He finished drinking, returned the glass to the coaster, and dabbed away a tiny spot of liquid which had dropped onto his immaculate dark blue suit. She noticed the sparkle from the cuff links as his sleeve moved a few inches. "You see, international security means that people will have to die. If they get in the way they have to be removed. That's why we're here, isn't it? Your country and mine can work together to make the world a safer place but only if we cooperate. It is of course a fine philosophical point whether assassination is murder. You would have an opinion about that I imagine?"
She crossed her legs from right to left, considering the question. you have someone in mind?" she said.
"There are always people we have to remove," he said. "There are bodies in this room now we should consider. On my right and behind to your left: you'll catch his reflection in the mirror above the bar. Oleg Kerpinski, which is only one of his aliases. He's here to discover what the West is thinking but he has to go. I have instructions, quite detailed plans actually but I need assistance. By tomorrow night when we leave here he will have ceased to exist. No one will know where he's gone."
The girl eyed him impassively. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
"It's too public here. People hear things. I'll go over the whole thing with you but I need your assistance. Meet you in thirty minutes. My room is on the second floor. 227."
A tiny glimmer of excitement flickered across her face. "And whom do I ask for? What is your name?"
"Bond. James Bond."

I plodded on through the night. It was winter and my clothes were dripping wet. The logs were dangerously slippery. I was stumbling and falling many times, climbing and falling over logs. After the first half hour I'd lost all sense of direction. But still I wasn't worried, I loved this forest, and I was sure to find my way out again. I'd tied my raincoat around my middle but, as I kept on falling, I lost the coat and also my glasses. The moon had disappeared behind the clouds and it was very dark. I told my dog Caleb to take me home, but he wasn't listening. In the end I sat down and screamed for help for a while, in the hope someone would hear me, but nobody did. [ Elsa]

After that emotional outburst came the realisation that I would be spending the night in the forest. What to do about it? I sat there and tried to stop worrying and to think rationally. I needed a plan. Firstly, how to survive the night and, secondly, how to get out of the forest in the morning. I felt that I could come up with a plan but maybe I would not take into account all the possibilities and essentials. That was a concern. Then I had a brainwave. I suddenly remembered that I was a member of a writers workshop. If only I could pose my problem to them. Just think of the many and varied ways they would dream up for me to get out of my predicament. Of course, they were not here but I could, at least, imagine what each of them might write. Colin and Bev are both Sunday walkers so they would know how to walk out of this forest, and today is Sunday. Mary is bound to think up something at the very last moment tomorrow morning. And Jo has a colourful imagination, and Krista will come up with her surprising twists. Graeme will ask his friend Sherlock Holmes to apply his mind to the problem and, no doubt, he will say that getting out of the forest is "Elementary, my dear Elsa." Actually, when you think about it, being lost in the woods can be fun. [Graeme]

The Acme Manufacturing Company made all kinds of things. Anything in metal, whether welded, bolted, soldered or cast in bronze. Anything, in fact, including the kitchen sink. Two of its longest serving employees were Bill, the watchman and Joe, the fitter's mate. Bill was stationed in the check lodge at the main gate and nothing went in or out without his approval. Employees were allowed to buy cheaply items the company made and some things were actually given away for free provided there was a ticket to that effect. Bill always checked each item against its ticket before he allowed it through the gate.
Joe usually had something to take through the gate and despite always having a ticket Bill had a suspicion that Joe was not honest. Joe would arrive at the gate with his item on a wheelbarrow and the thing was always covered by a bag. Bill would check Joe's ticket and then roll back the bag to find a shovel with a cracked blade, or a jammed ball race or a broken piece of a casting or even just a lump of scrap iron. Always the item had something wrong with it and was valueless and so Joe never paid a cent, ever. Bill remained suspicious, though, even looking inside the bag at times in case there was a tiny item of value hidden there.
The years rolled on, Joe always bringing his free chunk of metal on a wheelbarrow and Bill always checking underneath the bag and often inside it but never finding anything illegal. Eventually, both men retired and as luck would have it their paths crossed once again in the most obvious place imaginable, where everyone meets everyone – in an aisle of a supermarket.
After the usual greetings one makes on such occasions, Bill invited Joe to have a cup of coffee and share a few memories. Bill could not let the opportunity pass to ask a thing that had bugged him for years.
"Joe," he said, "I can tell you now that I always thought that you were stealing something from the company but I could never find anything out of place. Nothing can happen now that we are retired and so would you please satisfy my morbid curiosity and tell me if you were stealing anything?"
"I always knew what you were thinking," replied Joe, "and you were right to be suspicious. I was stealing something. I was stealing wheelbarrows."
Bill was in shock. "Ye gods! I never gave a thought to that. It always seemed it was going to be something under the bag. So that's all it was, wheelbarrows."
"Well, that's not it entirely, Bill," said Joe.
"You mean there was something else?"
"Well, isn't it obvious?" said Joe.
"Not to me," replied the puzzled Bill.
"I can't believe you can't see it now when I've virtually told you. I was also stealing the bags!"

I was born on Christmas Eve
A time of joy, not to grieve.

World War II had not begun
I played and danced in rain and sun.

We went to the 'flicks for a sixpenny bit
Roy Rogers and Trigger were definitely 'it.'

School was a drag, a place to endure
But home was safe, safe and sure.

High school was next, I loved it well
Though some of the teachers were bloody hell.

At just sixteen I began to work
And textile design had many a perk.

I skated on ice and danced some more
On ice and on the ballroom floor.

At just eighteen I got engaged
The beginning of feeling a little caged.

At twenty one I was wed
I walked up the aisle with doubt in my head.

The years rolled by and three kids later
I really adored being a mater.

Despite the problems rewards were great
One child in particular became my mate.

But time's a thief
Their childhood brief.

T'hey soon were gone far and wide
I felt a lonely void inside.

The marriage itself was was fall of tension
And things that were too bad to mention.

I struggled for years to reconcile
My tormented mind with events so vile.

But one day I found the strength to leave
And then I really began to grieve.

I had many fears
And shed lots of tears.

But time is healing
And gradually feeling

The child within me was bom again
And once more danced in the sun and rain.

My life is really something now
Almost every day's a wow!

clandestine lunch at a corner table, splade in the right hand, hers in the left;
snatch of swingy jazz, smoochy saxophone wail;
circular tesselated Roman pavement;
lazy latte moments at the sidewalk cafe;
curling tobacco smoke;
'chef out the back' - white chalk, black board;
mobile-absorbed teen: "Yeh, OK ... meet you there ... oh ... about” trails away;
dingy back alley, colourful graffiti on smoky brickwork;
scurrying kids, no mum, in and out the doorways;
plenty-of-time tourists;
mooching daydreamy lovers;
fragrantly-scented long hair, wafting Exotic Nights surrounds and is gone;
cheery smile, black apron, silver nose ring : slapping, cutting slabs of gooey gum, rolling into sticky jollies;
window challenges: dolls, fairies, witches, games of intellect and imagination;
coloured, multi-patterned expensive dresses;
high heels, flat heels, leather sandals, no shoes;
mini skirts, flappy trousers-, blacks, whites, browns, red, purple;
"You come eat a' my shop. I give you free bottle of wine. It's very good dinner. You not buy better."
heavenly chocolate shops, cake shops, bakeries - ahh!
A feast for the senses

I had Red Delicious apple
with which my teeth were forced to grapple.
Picked early, it was tough,
Made my temper very rough,
Because, then, I felt my teeth might snapple.

Apple - Vengeance

The perfection of Eden,
Defied the prospect of leavin'.

So the apple and Eve,
Is hard to believe.

Also, the apple of Adam,
Seems more like a madman.

The snake and this pair,
Make a peculiar affair.

And God as in Genesis,
Acted much like their nemesis.

I'd prefer to be an apple
Than a porky porcupine,
So I wouldn't be so pestered
By some porky valentine.

By just being a big red apple,
I'd accomodate some warm and happy bug.
Who'd deter all these who'd eat me
With a sharp decisive - "Ugh!"

In a symbiotic friendship
He'd snuggle up inside, my buggy valentine
And be my good protector
Until the end of time.