Thinking Aloud On a Sunday


Not long from now, I will be having my daily bath, and then shaving afterwards. That got me thinking about shaving. As I have never had a beard or moustache, and never been one to go out unshaven, I have spent a lot of time at this daily ritual.

I began shaving regularly around the age of seventeen, when I first started work. I am now sixty-six, so that’s forty-nine years of shaving every day, seven days a week. Allowing for leap years, that means I have shaved 17,885 times. I should deduct some days for when I felt too ill to shave, or couldn’t shave for some logistical reason. I will be generous, and allow 100 days for that. So 17,775 times, at the very least.

When I started out, I used simple soap as lather, and a Gillette Safety Razor, with a real razor blade. Small cuts were commonplace, and I quickly learned that the newer the blade, the better the shave. I later graduated to shaving foam in a can, then called ‘Foamy’. This was much better than ordinary soap, and worked really well. (I still use something similar today.)

I then went through my ‘electric period’. I was bought an electric shaver as a gift, and used it for some years. It worked well-enough, but never quite felt as effective, and didn’t leave my face feeling as ‘fresh’ as a real shave. So once the cartridge style razors became popular, I tried one, and have stuck with those ever since. I now use one that has five small blades in each cartridge, and gives a lovely close shave. But they are notoriously expensive, making shaving something of a luxury.

Over the years, I occasionally treated myself to a real barber shave, when getting a haircut. Nothing compares to the smoothness of a cut-throat razor, in the hands of an expert. With hot towels to follow, and a splash of the barber’s own cologne making my cheeks pucker, it felt as if my entire face had been replenished with brand new skin.

But for many years, I have cut my own hair, (what’s left of it) so wouldn’t consider making a trip into town just for a shave.

In an age where designer stubble is sported by many, and beards are the new fashion accessory, I remain committed to shaving. But of course I have no idea why it should have occupied my thoughts today.


Letters From Home

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1620 words.

The Desert wasn’t to Albert’s taste at all. Too hot by day, and cold at night. When he joined up, he had expected to be fighting in France, like they did in the first war, but North Africa had come as a shock. And after the Italians, the Germans were good. Too good. He would sit in the lorry watching the twenty-five pounder bouncing along behind, and wonder if they were going to lose this one. The lads in his gun crew tried to keep up their spirits, but even old sergeant Clark was looking glum these days. When they stopped to brew up, he sat apart from the others, and read that last letter from Minnie.

Dear Bert,
I hope this finds you well. Mum sends her best. I went round hers for dinner on Sunday, and we made the best of what we could get in the shops. You remember Mrs Pugh’s son, Alec, well he was shot down in his bomber and they have posted him missing. Mrs Pugh was in a right state, and Mum sat with her all afternoon. Nan has knitted you some socks and a warm hat and we will send them soon. Mr Rosenberg asked me to work on Sundays, from next week. He says you wouldn’t know there was a war on, with all the men coming in for suits to be made. I hope you are getting enough to eat and keeping away from those girls in Egypt.
Your loving wife Min.

He smiled as he put the letter back with the others, then glanced at the crumpled photo of his wife. He could easily imagine her and her mum gossiping over dinner, and he remembered young Alec Pugh, proud of his RAF uniform that time he came home on leave. So she was working on Sundays now. That tailor’s shop in Whitechapel must be busier than ever. Then the sarge was shouting. “Stand to! Tanks!” Albert slipped into the routine, grabbing a shell from the limber, crouching ready to load it into the breech.

Sicily was a mess. Colin Brown had been killed, and he had been wounded in the leg. Just a small shrapnel wound, not enough to get sent to the hospital ship. They had patched him up at the dressing station, but it still hurt, and made it difficult to sleep on the ground under the lorry. They fired their gun until they were exhausted, and Albert was pleased when the ammunition ran out, so they had the afternoon free waiting for more to arrive. He spread out Minnie’s letter, the last one he had been given before they left in the ships.

Dear Bert,
Well it has been so busy at work, you would think Mr Rosenberg was giving the suits away. Mrs Pugh was so relieved to hear that Alec is a prisoner, in a camp in Germany. She said he must have been able to parachute out of his plane. Your last letter was very nice to receive, and to know that you are doing well and that you beat the Germans in Africa. That was on the newsreels, and the radio too. They said you were The Desert Rats. I told mum, my Bert’s no rat, and she laughed. Nan has been in hospital. Its her legs again, like always. Well I don’t know where you are now, dear Bert but I hope you are somewhere safe.
Your loving wife Min.

He looked at the neat writing in the thick pencil. He pictured Minnie writing it, taking time over each word so it looked nice, and not really knowing what to say. She never complained about the rationing, and she had never even mentioned the bombing when that had been bad. When he had written to ask her about it, she had reassured him that it was in other parts of London. He knew she was lying, but he loved her for doing that.

The hill was called Monte Cassino. The weather was awful, and the mud made doing anything almost impossible. They said there weren’t many Germans up there, but they were holding out like tigers. Albert couldn’t remember such relentless fighting, and had trouble staying awake after being exhausted day in, day out. The lads all looked ill. Dark circles under their eyes, no more banter or jokes. And one of the forward guns from K Battery had been hit by bombs from our own planes. Another mess. Trying to move the gun in the muddy ruts, the wheel had run over Albert’s leg, breaking his ankle badly. He ended up in the field hospital this time, with a plaster cast. He was out of the fighting, but worried about his mates. To take his mind off of things, he read Minnie’s last letter, for the umpteenth time.

Dear Bert,
Well you wouldn’t know London now. Yanks everywhere, no bombing, and a feeling that things are on the up. Some yank officer came into the shop to have a tweed suit measured up. Imagine that. What would a yank officer want with a tweed suit during a war. They say the Russians are beating the Germans, but Mrs Allison’s husband is in the far east, and she reckons things are going bad there with the Japs. Nan’s legs are bad again, and she has to wear bandages all wrapped round them. Kitty got some nylons from a yank, and gave me a pair. I’m going to save them for when you get home and we go out dancing.
Your loving wife Min.

Albert had been a little concerned that Minnie wasn’t out and about with those yanks. Rumour was that lots of girls were going off with them, and they had chocolate, fags, and nylons to offer, as well as lots of money. But not his Minnie, she wouldn’t do that. They had been together since school, and married long before the war. It would never occur to him not to trust her. Besides, her mum wouldn’t tolerate any of that malarkey.

His leg didn’t seem to want to heal. They told him he was unfit for active service, and would be sent home, to work at the barracks in the stores for now. But it took forever to get on a ship, and by the time he was sailing home, there was news of a big invasion in France. The biggest in history they said. The allies had broken out from the beaches, and were doing well, apparently. Some of the blokes were sure this was the beginning of the end of the war. They sat around playing cards, and talking about what they would do when it was all over. Albert didn’t want to lose what little money he had, so would sit on his bunk and read his letters. Minnie never put the date on a letter, but he knew the order of them, and the last one had arrived just before he boarded. She never put their address either. He had asked he about that, and she had replied “Well you know your address, silly. ”

Dear Bert,
I was so relieved to read that you had broken your leg. I know that sounds bad to say, but it could have been a lot worse. What do you think about Alec Pugh. Mrs Pugh is distraught. The Red Cross told her he died of pneumonia in the prison camp. Fancy that, surviving being shot down and then dying of illness in a camp. Poor woman. Nan’s legs are no better, and mum goes round every day to see to her. The yanks are all gone now, well most of them. Mr Rosenberg says I don’t have to work Sundays anymore too. I have to say that I hope your leg doesn’t get mended soon, so you don’t have to go back to the fighting.
Your loving wife Min.

The ship stopped at Gibraltar for a while, but they weren’t allowed ashore. By the time Albert got back to England, he hadn’t been able to get any mail. He got a chitty from the transport officer and took the train to Woolwich, reporting at the barracks as ordered. The Sergeant wangled him a three-day pass, and he was excited to be able to get home to see Minnie. It would be a nice surprise for her, if she hadn’t got his last letter by now.

Albert got off the bus in Roman Road, a short walk to his home in Grove Road. He wasn’t using the walking stick anymore, but a pronounced limp made walking difficult still. The doctors said he would always have that. When he got to number twelve, he was confused. Number ten was still there, Mr Delaney’s pace. But between there and number twenty was just rubble. His house was gone, along with the three next to it. He knocked on Mr Delaney’s, but there was no reply. So he walked across the road to Mrs Pugh’s. Doris looked older than he remembered, more like sixty, than the forty-odd she must have been. She saw the look of confusion on Albert’s face, and put both hands to her cheeks. “Oh Albert dear, they didn’t tell you”. Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. “It was in June, one of those flying bombs. They call them doodlebugs, they’re rockets or something. I don’t know. I was visiting my sister, and when I got home, the street was closed. Terrible”.

Albert could feel the thick wad of letters in the pocket inside his uniform jacket. He didn’t say anything. Doris walked forward, and squeezed his arm.

“Come in, Bert. I’ll make you a cup of tea”.

Blogger’s Books: Sally Cronin

Few bloggers are as kind and supportive to others as the lovely Sally Cronin. I am delighted to be able to tell you that she has a new book out, and I wish her great success with it. Please have a look at the original post, and share links to anyone you think would enjoy it.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

At last the day has arrived and Tales from the Irish Garden is now available.

The book has been three years in the writing, mainly because what began as short stories in line with the first collection, turned into a full-length book. As we moved back from Spain to Ireland, house hunted, and then embarked on a renovation project, there were breaks from  the process. However, the upside was that I had the time to adapt and create new characters and adventures with more freedom. It also gave me time to meet Donata Zawadzka, courtesy of Paul Andruss, and after seeing her wonderful illustrations, I commissioned a number for the book to showcase some of the lead characters. More about Donata shortly.

Many of those that lived in the palace in Spain in the garden of our house, followed me across land and sea to settle in a magic…

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Re-Post: Ambulance stories (16)

Another ‘neglected’ Ambulance Story, from 2012.
This one is in praise of the resilience of women.


Don’t look in the carrier bag

In the 1980’s, people in their late 70’s had been through the Second World War. The women in particular had endured special hardships. They had been left to cope without support from husbands, fathers, or brothers; often managing a life torn between work, and having to cope with young children, or trying to bring up large families. They did this during bombing raids, with rationing in force, and often having to work in hard, manual jobs, previously done by the absent men. It made them resilient, it hardened them to pain, and they also learned not to complain about things, as it made little difference. By the time they had reached old age, they were a force to be reckoned with.

One morning, we were called to an elderly lady, to take her into hospital for an arranged admission. Her age was given as…

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Just been watching…(80)

Ida (2013)

(Original Polish language, English subtitles.)

It has taken me a long time to get around to watching this, but I’m glad I did. It was directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, so that was enough to get my interest. Added to that, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015 too, so you can tell it is acclaimed by the industry.

Ida is a novice Nun. A young woman raised in a convent after being left there as a baby, during WW2. She is soon to take her vows, which will leave her in the convent forever, and then she gets an unexpected visitor. Her aunt arrives, and brings with her some startling news. Ida’s family are Jewish, not Catholics, and she wants Ida to go with her to discover their fate. Her aunt Wanda is a former hard-line Communist, and one-time State Prosecutor. Now disillusioned, she drinks heavily, smokes to excess, and sleeps with any man she comes across. Ida accompanies her to the village where the family once lived, beginning a road trip through the depressing landscape of rural Poland, in 1962.

Once at the village, they find silence and suspicion, until eventually discovering the family that once sheltered Ida’s parents are now living in their house, and have taken over their land. Ida has some taste of life outside the convent as she stays at hotels, and sees her aunt partying hard, dancing and flirting. They encounter the young saxophonist of a touring band, and he reappears throughout the film.
An eventual showdown with a member of a Catholic family leads them to discover the fate of their relatives. But there is little joy in the realisation of what happened, and both women are left wondering what they are doing. With no plot spoilers, that’s about it.

The film is shot in flat black and white, and uses a square format, not widescreen. It is also quite obviously ‘photographed’, which endeared it to me no end. This not only helps set the mood, but also makes it feel as if was made in 1962, let alone set that year. Agata Trzebuchowska, as Ida, lends the film a serenity, as she glides peacefully through it in her Nun’s habit, contrasting completely with the modern life around her. Scenery, locations, costume, and sets are all very authentic too, and the sense of life in Soviet-controlled Poland is very real. But it is Agata Kulesza as aunt Wanda who dominates the film, and acts everyone off the screen.

This is a slow film, and a very ‘serious’ one too. There are no lighter moments, nothing intended to be humourous, or warm. It deals with some aspects of the Holocaust during the German occupation of Poland, and also makes uncomfortable suggestions about collaboration, and betrayal. With a running time of just 82 minutes, it is a little gem of a film, and one I would recommend unreservedly, to serious film fans.

A re-post: Ambulance stories (1)

My first ever Ambulance Story. Just to prove that being an EMT in London is far from being a glamorous job!


The un-snippable turd

Sometimes, ambulances are called by other agencies, and not by the person in need of help. Railway staff make frequent requests for ambulances, whether in underground stations, or on the main line system. When you consider how many people are travelling on both systems on any given day in Central London, it is understandable, to some degree.

So, when we received a call on the radio to go to Paddington Station, it was not particularly unusual. We had added information, that a female was in a collapsed state in the toilets, in great pain, and unable to move. On the way to the job, with siren blaring and blue lights flashing,  we were in the habit of considering what we might be going to encounter on arrival. Using the basic information and diagnostics supplied by the caller, we could presume a whole number of things. Young female…

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Just been watching…(79)

Green Room (2015)

***No spoilers***

This Indie-style film was released to many rave reviews in magazines and on blogs, and some critics loved it too. Sold as a ‘Horror’ film, it soon developed a cult following. Despite this, it lost a great deal of money, as the box-office public decided not to bother with it. I also decided to give it a miss, until it appeared on a free TV Film channel recently. The cast interested me; a couple of reasonably well-known British actors, Joe Cole, and Imogen Poots, and the American Anton Yelchin, who I had at least heard of. Then there was Patrick Stewart, the famous British thespian. Yes, that one.
I thought that if he was in it, then it must be worth watching.

A grungy-looking Punk Rock band are touring around the north-west of America. They are making little money, sleeping in their car, and getting nowhere fast. On the verge of going home, they are offered a gig for $350 that will at least buy them enough petrol for the trip. They drive up to the Portland area, and discover the afternoon venue is a neo-Nazi skinhead club, little more than a huge shed on the compound of some decidedly unpleasant-looking men. But the gig goes well, and they get paid. Just about to leave, one of the band stumbles over the body of a dead girl in the ‘green room’ of the title, and events take a nasty turn.

The five are locked in the room, and the owner of the club (Stewart) is sent for, to decide what to do with them. Meanwhile, the terrified youngsters discover a huge underground heroin factory below the club, and realise that it is all a front for a well-organised drug-dealing gang. Things go downhill very rapidly as the band members fight for survival against an ever-growing number of skinhead thugs.

So, in my opinion, it’s not a ‘Horror’ film. It is a crime/murder film, with the second half taking on a classic ‘revenge’ element. There is a lot of violence, a theme of constant threat and dread, and most of it is shot in one or two shabby rooms, or outside in near-darkness. That makes it tiring to watch, (for me) as the director decided to use ‘natural lighting’ conditions for effect. And the music, when the band play their gigs, is just bloody awful!

There is nothing new or fresh in this film. The villains are villainous, and I found it hard to have any sympathy for the victims, to be honest. There is absolutely no point to the story, except to serve as a showcase for violence and fear, plus all of the acting is below average, and that’s being kind. Patrick Stewart plays the role of the criminal boss as if he is on stage at The National as King Lear, and I was left wondering what the hell he was doing in such a nasty film.
Honestly, do what the American public did.

Don’t bother.