Writing Challenge: Description – a Balancing Act

Child Birth in the Blitz: 1940

During the journey to the hospital to see Winnie in January 1984, Dad retold the story of the birth of my brothers in Britain during the Blitz. I listened intently to this family story! Dad was remembering life with Winnie – the significant milestones.

“The rapid fire shots from the Messerschmidt sniper overhead were deafening. Ahead of us the lorries, carrying military supplies for the army camps, were swerving and weaving under the attack from the Luftwaffe. Winnie was 9 months pregnant and scared for her life and that of our unborn child.

Winnie had sunk lower into her seat as I swiftly manoeuvred the taxi cab into the ditch beside the road and drove under a concrete culvert for safety. Winnie was then under attack from within – her waters had broken and labour had begun. Being strafed by an enemy plane in Britain during the Blitz was catastrophic for anyone, let alone a heavily pregnant woman with three wild eyed young children in the back of the car.”

Cecil stopped speaking for a minute and blew his nose. I glanced from the steering wheel to his face to check on him. His breath was a little laboured today – his voice a little shaky, but he continued with his story.

“All around us the deafening noise of the aeroplane engines invaded our ears, the sniper bullets hit the bridge above us and the smell of smoke invaded our nostrils.

Winnie’s groans were soft and low! Her face contorted with each contraction. I watched the children as their faces crumpled in terror of what was happening outside and inside the car. Their crying adding to the cacophony of sound around us. Oh God, Something has to be done!

This, on top of enduring many weeks of horror as the Blitz began in London, was just too much and at that moment, I doubted the wisdom of my decision to escape. I had underestimated the dangers of travelling in the countryside north of London whilst the Germans continued to attack. We had packed the  cab with suitcases and provisions and we had been on the road for two hours when the sniper attacked.

Cecil, what a fool you were; by following the supply lorries we were in mortal danger.”

“Cecil, get us out of here”, Winnie shouted above the din. “I will not give birth here in this hell hole”.

“Winnie does not usually shout! My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel, and her shouts got me going

As soon as it was safe, I  drove across country lanes to reach the village nearby. I drove right up to the cottages on the edge of the village, leapt out of the drivers seat and called out for help. A huddle of women were gathered together – fearfully watching the skies. I remember thinking at the time, they looked a bit foreign. Their heads were covered in patterned scarves and they wore dark dresses with white aprons tied around their waists. From the midst of this small group, one tall imposing older lady came forward – speaking in broken English – understanding immediately the sound of despair in my voice.

“I am Madam Barishnikov. How can we help?” she said. She looked into the taxi and noted Winnie in the grip of another strong contraction. She opened the rear doors of the taxi and calmly guided the children into her home. “Give them milk and biscuits”, she called out to her sisters in the house. “We have work to do today. Their mother is giving birth.”

I noticed that she had gathered a few medical provisions from the house and watched as rushed back to the taxi.

“What happened next” I asked. Knowing the answer already, but keeping his mind occupied in reflection.


Writing Challenge: Description – show not tell.

Waiting to die: 1984

“List to me while I tell you Of the Spaniard that blighted my life”! Cecil was in a good mood and he hummed the rest of his favourite song, a song he used when he was about to regale us with more of his stories.

“He shall die! He shall die! He shall die tiddly-i-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti! He shall die! He shall die! For I’ll raise a bunion on his Spanish onion If I catch him bending tonight!” he finished with a flourish.

Luckily it was already mid morning and his daughter did not have to endure the sight of him in pyjamas, bed hair and no teeth. Cecil was already up and dressed, breakfasted and ready for the journey. His Kruschens Salts container lay lidded on the sideboard ready for another morning.

Carole was ready too! Today was the day! Dreading what had transpired overnight in the hospital ward, they prepared for the drive. Patiently Carole waited while her Dad told her, again, the story of the mail deliveries he used to make in Ferntree Gully. Another drive of some significance.

“Back in those days it was a cut lunch and a cuppa in a thermos, trip”, he said. “I remember the early rises, collecting the mail bag from the store. You know back in the fifties people relied on the local postman. There were newspapers, letters, parcels and sometimes telegrams. Oldies stopped me for a natter and I listened as they told me their stories, of family, of heartache, illness, death or joy.”

Carole remembered those journeys too when she was allowed to tag along and post the plethora of letters and flyers into people’s letter boxes. This too would become a thing of the past.

“That old Morris van was a real bone shaker! Do you remember how we would sing along; it helped to pass the time! My favourite is the Spaniard, of course, and yours, well what was your favourite”? he asked.

“I had a few, but I liked it better when you sang another of your favourites – A wandering minstrel – from the Mikado, one of Mum’s favourite light operas.”

Immediately his face lit up as he recalled the lines – “A wandering minstrel, I, a thing of shreds and patches” he launched into the first verse and faltered on the last lines.

A wandering minstrel I—
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!
And dreamy lullaby!

“Let’s get going, Mum will be anxious to see you, my love”, he said wiping a tear from his eye and putting on his old tartan beret.