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.

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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.

A mother waits

sculpture
mother and child

A mother waits, her eyes wet shining

New life inside her, she feels the binding

Her journey begins, in anticipation

Growing in hope without hesitation

 

A mother smiles, through pain of delivery

This infant, this birth, remaining in memory

Her instincts are ancient, built in to her pores

Forgetting the agony, she bonds and adores

 

A mother cries, her heart nearly breaking

There is so much more, for her awaiting

Pathways unfolding in waves of mystery

Walking them all to learn from history

 

A mother waits, for prodigal child returning

No way of connection, just belief in the knowing

That blood will always remain thicker than water

And inevitable return, of a son or a daughter

 

A mother heals, her hands are soothing

Life’s ups and downs, forever moving

Her guidance is given, asked or unbidden

Breathing new hope, so all is forgiven

 

A mother prays, her hair now greying

For all her children, the joy of living

Her home a sanctuary, with memories of past

And her heart, a gift to treasure and last

 

A mother loves, with care ever nurturing

Her task never over, and always continuing

This is her calling, her reason for living

A passion, a meaning and unconditional giving

The Angell Inheritance

“Behind that old mirror, in the sitting room!” Win said. “No-one would look there; besides the room is hardly every used”.

“It that’s what you want, my dear, we can hide it there until the weekend”, Cecil replied. “But we will have to tell your parents very soon”.

“Let’s leave that till the weekend”, she said fearfully. “Perhaps by then we will have news which will change their opinion of you”.

With the certificate safely tucked away, the newly-weds left the house and set out once again on motor bike and side-car, this time to visit Great Uncle William as planned. What was it he said? “Information to prove your inheritance.” What could it mean?

The old man lived in Clapham; several miles from Kingston; and they would need to make haste if they were to be back by nightfall. As they travelled through the streets of Kingston, Win remembered the events of the last two hours wistfully. She gazed ahead dreamily and relived every moment of their whirlwind elopement …

It was Wednesday morning, the 23rd of July, 1924 and Win was anxiously watching the clock on the wall of the office. This was her half day holiday, and she only had to work until 12:00 noon. She had on the pretty floral dress she had borrowed from her friend and she had spent last week’s wages on a new hat with a discreet little veil. This she had hidden in the coat locker ready to snatch when the clock struck twelve. Cecil was going to call for her with his motor bike and side-car and they were to married at the Registry Office in Kingston at 12:30 that afternoon.

The hands of the clock seemed to be moving in slow motion, then finally she was free to go. Her heart was fluttering as she heard the roar of the motor bike engine in the street outside. A very hasty glance in the mirror, the new hat firmly anchored with a hat pin, the seams of her silk stockings straightened, she raced out the door to meet him.

A knight in shining armour astride a white stallion, could not have looked more appealing to her at that moment. Removing his riding goggles he gave her a swift kiss on the cheek and helped her into the side-car.

They reached the Registry Office in moments, or so it seemed. Everything was now moving so fast, in contrast with the slowness of the morning. Before she knew it she was saying “I do” and signing the certificate. She wished her parents could have been there, but they did not have their approval for this marriage. “You’re too young”, they said. Too young, she thought, I am twenty-one and can do as I please. Besides Cec is twenty-four, and well able to care for me. What difference does it make if Mum and Dad, do not approve of him? Their opinion would soon ….

She came back to the present as Cecil shouted at her for the third time,

“Things will change soon, just you wait and see”.

“We’re nearly there, where were you just now, daydreaming?” Cecil queried with a smile.

“I was just thinking about Mum and Dad and what a surprise they will get. But I wish they did not dislike you so much!” Win replied sadly.

“They are only thinking of your welfare. I’m not wealthy enough. I was born with only two valued possessions, my sense of humour and my shadow; but now I have you”.

This filled Win’s heart and brought the tears to her eyes, but brought a smile to her lips, and she blew him a kiss. He was her knight in armour again. How could she fail to love him when he said things like that. The letters she had from him over the two years of courtship were full of such romantic words such as these, and he only had a photograph of her then. She would be forever grateful that her brother Frank had carried that photograph and showed it to his friend, during their days together in the Royal Air Corps.

As they neared their journey’s end, Cecil mused on the possible outcome of their visit to great Uncle William.

What could he possibly have to tell them? He was so mysterious on the telephone when he contacted him. He had not seen his Uncle since the death of his own father, Walter Frederick, in 1914. Apparently the old gentleman had been very close to young Walter and had paid particular interest in Cecil’s development from the time he was born. Cecil remembered that his father had been a Master Tailor and both he and Great Uncle William had hoped that Cecil might follow in his father’s footsteps.

Cecil had other ideas! When his father died he was anxious to obtain employment in order to support himself, his mother, younger brothers and sister. He left school at the age of fourteen and began work as a motor mechanic. The war soon made the furthering of his career impossible, thus he joined the Royal Air Corps at the age of seventeen; (of course he said he was eighteen). It was here that he met up with Win’s brother and saw the photograph of Win, and then began the long courtship.

There was little contact with his Uncle during that time, and so it was a quite unexpected letter from the old man which was taking them to his home at Larkhall Rise today. It seemed doubly mysterious that he should ask to see Cecil today of all days, the day they had chosen to elope. Of course, the honeymoon would not begin until the weekend, and they were quite glad to be filling in the day this way.

There in front of them was Larkhall Rise. It did not appear to have changed at all since Cecil visited ten years ago. Grey, crumbling walls gave a bleak welcome to the young couple as they motored up the sweeping gravel driveway. The house had seen better days and, so it seemed, had its owner, who now approached them at the top of a flight of crumbling stairs. Uncle William was stooped and grey, looking all of his eighty years. He beckoned for them to follow him into the house, shuffling off wordlessly. The young couple exchanged quizzical glances and leaving the motor bike beside an ancient stone pillar, they cautiously climbed the stairs and entered the house.

The Victorian hall in which they now found themselves was in sharp contrast to the dilapidated exterior of the house. It reflected the wealth and social position that Win secretly aspired to, and she was unable to restrain from gasping as she stood in awe of the opulence surrounding her. Every fixture and fitting had obviously been chosen by someone with excellent taste, but the piece that drew her attention was the magnificent oak hallstand displaying an impressive collection of walking sticks. Beside them stood the old man, and once again he beckoned them to follow him into the room beyond. From the pungent odour which assaulted their nostrils, they guessed it was the smoking room. They were directed to sit on a large overstuffed couch covered in a chintz fabric and strewn with a collection of velvet cushions.

These matched the deep red of the heavy velvet curtain which partly obscured the light and gave the room a somber appearance.

Finally the old man spoke, the deep, steady timbre of his voice belying his age.

“I am very glad you have come to see me today. I have something of great importance to tell you and it could not be done by letter. Welcome to my house and please make yourselves comfortable”.

He crossed to an oak tolltop desk in the corner and opened one of the heavily hinged cupboard doors, which creaked as loudly as the old man’s knees as he bent to retrieve something from inside.

“Uncle, we thank you for your invitation today and I would like to introduce you to my new wife, Winifred. We are both very puzzled by your letter and are most anxious to discover what it is that will ‘prove my inheritance’.” Cecil said loudly, not sure if the old man’s hearing was intact. “But we have had a long journey and would be most grateful for a cup of tea”.

“I have here the ancestral records for which I have been searching for the past fifty years. These, my boy, provide the link between one old relic and the other you see before you.” Bowing slightly to Win, he took her hand and kissed it saying, “I am very pleased to greet such a pretty young woman. Forgive an old man his ramblings, my dear, I have spent a long time living alone and forget my manners at times.”

“Come Cecil, pour some drinks.” Reaching for a tray of glasses and bottle of brandy laid ready on a mobile drink caddy.

“We have much to celebrate. Whilst we drink I will tell you the story of my long search”.

The young man poured two generous portions of brandy and one glass of soda water for Win. These he handed round and sat on the couch once more waiting for the old man to settle himself comfortably in a large leather smoking chair.

“The story begins in the late fifteenth century when a man bought a large tract of land, 60 acres, in Brixton, South London. The purchaser was William Angell, a descendant of a man who came to England with King Henry VII in 1485. The property, now called the Angell Estate, is the one that my family has been trying to claim for years. It is now worth approximately sixty millions pounds”.

“Surely you don’t mean that …” Cecil began excitedly.

“Please, allow me to finish the story in my own way. Indulge an old man who has spent the greater part of his life in this quest”. The old man interrupted him and continued with his tale.

“In a will of 1785, the late known descendant, John Angell, stated that the property must remain in the family and only male heirs could succeed. John Angell’s daughter and son-in-law were childless, but it was alleged that the daughter, Mary, had a child out of wedlock and for this reason was prevented from inheriting the estate by this strange clause in her father’s will. At this point in time the ownership of the Estate fell into dispute and many ‘would be’ successors laid a claim to it. The Church of England seized the land and buildings on it and the Chancery held the ownership in trust for over one hundred and fifty years. During that time many have tried to prove their ancestral links with John Angell and succession to the Estate”.

“Mary Angell’s illegitimate child, by the name of Elizabeth Benadict, married one of our clan, and it is evidence of this marriage to Samuel Allery; that has been missing for 200 years. I finally tracked down this vital link, in the registry at St. Clement’s Church, Dartmouth, Devonshire. I have a legal copy of the very page of that register in this box, along with documentation proving the lineage from that marriage to this very day. Luckily there have been sons in each of the marriages since then, from your ancestor Samuel Allery to YOU, Cecil Henry Allery, Lord of Brixton Hall and the rightful owner of the Angell Estate”.

The silence in that smoky room was eerie, as if the whole world was holding its breath. Then with a most unseemly whoop the young couple leapt to their feet, laughing and crying at the same time.

“Uncle, are you certain? This is miraculous, it can’t be true! Am I really a Lord?” Questions, questions, and more questions tumbled from the young man’s lips whilst his young bride just smiled through her tears.

The old man rose from his chair and handed them the box. “You know, the strangest thing about that marriage between Samuel and Elizabeth, all those years ago?”

“What was so strange Uncle? Said Win.

“Well, it seems that young couple were married in a different church in a different village. Everyone had  kept quiet about the event. And that is why it remained a missing link all these years. It seems such a strange thing for a young couple to do, even by today’s standards”, the old man replied with a twinkle in his eye.

The young couple just laughed and embraced the old man.

Letters from Samuel John Allery

carterlane sepia  59 carter lane sepia.jpg

Jemima Mary Anne Allery
26 Crown Street,
Camberwell

3rd September, 1889

Dear Jemima,

I am sorry to be away so long from you, especially so near to the birth of our new child. I hope that you are in good health. Is Rosina looking after the little ones for you?

My journey to London was worth it and I am really proud to have received the Freedom of the City of London certificate. Quite an accolade for a middle aged tradesman, and one that my father would have been most proud of.

Our certificate will be displayed in our premises at 59 Carter Lane, but I would also like it to be a special gift for our children. I want to encourage them to become tailors too.

There is much to look forward to as we build our little empire. Rest assured I did see our solicitor today too and the new will now lists Dave Bert, our eldest, as the main heir to the Allery & Sons Tailoring business.

Soon my travels will be over for a while and I am looking forward to a few days at home with you my love! Give my love to the children and tell them I have small gifts for them, if they are well behaved.

Please ask Rosina to send the carriage to meet me at Camberwell Station. I will be home by the end of the week.

All my love

Your loving husband

Samuel

Samuel John Allery b. 1847 m. 1867 and m. 1884 d. 1922

Freedom of the City 3rd September 1889

freedom of the city 3091889.jpg

The Journal of William Adrian Allery

December 1924

I was tired and dusty from the long train ride from London to Dartmouth. The station platform was almost empty, except for a few porters vying for business among the meagre crowd. Spotting a large white card with the word ALLERY in large letters held by a tall, thin man wearing a pinstripe suit and bowler hat; I pushed my way through the milling porters to reach my guide. Black clouds were brooding over the township and I was glad to be heading to Townstal, the countryside of my birth.

As we drove to the parish church of St. Clement, Townstal, my pin-striped guide gave the history of the old 12th Century building which had served the small village for centuries. Irritated with his diatribe, I sat silently nodding. I knew St Clement’s history already, I was back in my home town.

“After the Reformation years it is difficult to find reference to St. Clement’s beyond the list of successive Vicars and the record of Baptisms and Burials. We do know, however, that the church must have formed a valuable strong point commanding the only route down to Hardnesse, our present main road not then existing.” He continued to babble on. I wished I had not hired him at all.

“I am only interested in the parish registers and any references to marriages between my ancestors in the 18th century”, I said, rather too loud. After that, all was silent in the cab.

On arrival at St Clement’s, I hastily paid the cabbie and the guide and jumped from the cab. Rushing through the iron gates, I reached the entrance and pushed open the carved wooden doors. The feel of the wood made my fingertips tingle. I gazed down the nave to the beautiful stained glass window and walked forward to the altar, peering from left to right.

As I reached the altar, memories from my childhood came flooding back. I remembered my own cold words the last time I had stood here with Sam, and the funerals of our lost siblings and the six headstones, all in a row!

St Clements AltarDecember 1854

 ‘Another cold, grey weeping day!’ ‘Mother is too weak to attend this time!’

‘Poor little bugger, never stood a chance. Just one day in this world and he’s off to another!’

My Dad and I, we heft that sad little coffin easily onto our shoulders, and together we walk the nave of St Clements, again. Down the black mile to the cemetery. It doesn’t take long to gently lay James Frances Allery in his grave! All is quiet!

Six headstones now, stand neatly in a row in the cemetery plot. Elizabeth 1847-1849; Alice 1849-1851; Louisa 1851; Henry 1852; Frances 1853 and James 1854.

Rain has gathered in puddles and the wind has whipped the tears from our faces. Young Samuel and me, we just stand and watch as our weeping Dad kneels in the mud with his head bowed. I show Sam how to throw small clods of freshly dug earth onto the coffin; and we listen as it scuds and thuds across the shining lid.

‘I’m never going to bring a child into this dreadful world!’ I whisper to Sam. He just huddles closer to me and shrugs his coat close around himself. His face is grey and he is colder than sorrow.

‘You’ll be going back to St Mary’s tomorrow!’ I say to him as I take him squarely by his thin shoulders and look hard into his reddened eyes.

‘Me, I’m going into town and find me a job!’ …

“The Altar is unique. It dates from James I and may have replaced an older one dedicated in 1318 AD by Bishop Stapledon of Exeter, on his only visit to Dartmouth”, said the Vicar

“Are you the gentleman who wishes to view the Parish Register?”

I was startled out of my reverie. “I am indeed”, I said eagerly, turning around in surprise to see the vicar standing right behind me.

St Clements Font“Are you interested in the baptismal records too?” asked the vicar, pointing to the ancient stone font. By then I was beaming with great excitement.

“Come, let me show you where the ancient registers are kept, in the crypt.” Said the vicar.

Finally, back in St Clements, there’s more to the Church than I remembered. The vicar was striding ahead of me, looking over his shoulder and beckoning me to follow him down a stone staircase.

All I could do was whisper “Yes”!

My eyes grew accustomed to the gloom of the crypt as I walked all the way to the bottom. We were in a large marble pillared room in which I could see several ancient tombs and effigies of people past. I had never ventured this deep into the Church. It was like stepping back in time.

To my left, a sliver of yellow light billowed out as the vicar turned an ancient handle and opened the door to the Chapelry. I smelled the faint odour of mildew and dust; as I peered at the many shelves of old registers. The faded titles spanned the centuries; marking the passage of souls in St Clements.

In the middle of the room was a small raised dais on which was a reading lectern with a small lamp. One 1700-1710 register was already on the lectern, dusted and opened at a page with a small white bookmark.

My blood was thumping in my temples and I felt clammy and faint.

“I believe you will find what you are looking for on this page,” said the vicar leading me to the dais.

The ancient pages were filled with rows of faded ink inscriptions; the marriage dates and names of many parishioners. I scanned the chronological list following it all with the tip of my finger, until the name ALLERY almost leapt off the page. The second last entry!

24/1/1710: Samuel ALLERY & Elizabeth BENADICT

The missing piece of evidence!

St Clements Dartmouth.jpg

Mystery Thrillers Anyone?

A rainy day! Perfect for reading!

Where shall I begin today? Am I in the mood for a mystery? Perhaps a mystery thriller that calls up ancient rituals and rites in far away realms?

simon toyne 1.JPGTake ‘Sanctus‘, for example, one of those books I am reading right now. This one intrigued me the moment I read the overview in GoodReading:

An explosive apocalyptic conspiracy thriller from a major new British talent that will set the world alight…
REVELATION OR DEVASTATION?
The certainties of the modern world are about to be blown apart by a three thousand year-old conspiracy nurtured by blood and lies …

kate mosse 1

And then I was reminded on another writer’s mysteries that engaged me; these I recommend to those who like the mystery but not the horror. Kate Mosse has enthralled me with Labryinth, and Sepulchre and I love the evocatve imagery on the covers.

Oh but what about The Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper the second book in the trilogy. Maybe I want to read that one again or perhaps search for some of his newer ones. I really admire a writer who can transport you in time and place and thrill you in the discovery of yet more shocking secrets – those that mankind has never before seen. I love these titles, found on Glenn’s fabulous web site. The Resurrection Maker, The Devil will come, Near Death, wonder what they are all about.

The thing that I struggle with is not having the ability to read several stories at the same time! Plus, as you may realise by now, I am easily distracted.

So I plan now to go back to reading. Stop writing about reading, just do it!

This has been prompted by the ‘regular posts on a theme’ from Blogging 101. Perhaps my ‘On Reading’ posts will become just that? And it was also inspired by a comment on my post – it occurred to me that others might like to try the books I have read. Look for my latest book I am reading  on the left at the very bottom of this site.