Almost nonsensical descriptions

I found this explanation on the internet: ‘a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.’

We as writers should not use these in our writing because most people might not understand their use.  I think it sometimes adds a degree of whimsy to the story.

I remember some years ago when I working with a Russian chap who’d not been in the country very long, and though he had a reasonable use of English, was not quite up with our figures of speech.

And made me realize when he kept asking me what they meant, just how many I used in everyday conversation.

Most of these figures of speech use descriptions that do not necessarily match the word being described, such as ‘I dance like I have two left feet’.

And that pretty much sums up how good I can dance.  But …

‘Like a bat out of hell’, not sure how this got into the vernacular, but it means to get the hell out of dodge quickly.  Hang on, that’s another saying, American, and the way Dodge city was in western American folklore, if you irritated a gunslinger, then best be on your way, fast.

Otherwise, yes, you guessed it, you were at the end of another saying, you would get a one-way ticket to boot hill.  In other words, the cemetery.

And while I’m digressing, again, Yul Brynner made a trip to boot hill very memorable in The Magnificent Seven.


‘Like a bull in a china shop’, describes a toddler let loose

‘More front than Myers’, as my mother used to say, but in context, Myers is the Australian version of the English Selfridges or Harrods or Paris Galleries Lafayette.  It refers to the width of street frontage of the stores

‘As mad as a hatter’, though not necessarily of the millinery kind, but, well, you can guess

‘As nutty as a fruitcake’, provided your fruitcake has nuts in it

You can see, if you get the references, they are somewhat apt, and, yes, they sometimes creep into my stories.


I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Part 7

Here’s the thing.

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and back on the treasure hunt.


My mother was happy that I’d been given a job, and when I relayed Benderby’s message, she said she would have to call and thank him.

It was in a tone that surprised me, and if I had not known better, I was left with the impression she might actually go out with him.  Aside from the fact Benderby was married, he also hit on every woman he could, especially those at work.

I shrugged.  My mother was old enough to look after herself.

Boggs came around, having realized I was not going to answer his calls and demanded to know what my problem was.

“Some of us have to work, Boggs.  It’s taken a while but I realize my mother cannot do it on her own.”

“But working for Benderby, that’s like selling out to Satan.”

“It’s one of the few places where there still is work.  Besides, I’m not shoveling the shit, just taking inventory of it.  Pencil pusher.  I have to make this work so anything we do will have to be outside working hours.”  Then, another thought came to me, one that might appease Boggs.  “In fact, you could think of me as your inside man.  Working there, I should be able to keep an eye on the Benderby’s and finds out what they know, and are doing, if anything.  Don’t you think?”

He looked both skeptical and reluctant, but, saying it out aloud made some sort of sense.

“I’m not putting the treasure hunt on hold, Sam,” he said, in that sulky tone he used when he didn’t get his way.

“Don’t expect you to, but I wouldn’t get to carried away with it.  I heard Rico trying to sell Alex Benderby the map this morning.”


“In the employee car park.  Alex reckons the map is a load a bunk.  You still got it?”

I saw his hand go over his back pocket.  “It’s safe.”

“And you reckon it’s real.  Maybe that was not the sort of thing you should be talking about in front of Rico.  He wants it, but peddling it to Alex wasn’t his best play.  You know what’ll happen if he gets his hands on it.”

“Rico will get cut out.

“So will you.”

“Not if I keep a copy and sell him the original.  We’re going to need money to carry out our own search.”

I shook my head.  “You will not come out ahead.  The Benderby’s of this world always win and the likes of us always lose.”

“That may or may not be the case, but we have to take control of this.  At least it will take Rico out of the equation.  I’ll work on a plan.  Thanks for the tip.  And, as you say, you can be my inside man.  That way we might be able to keep one step ahead of them.”

If they decided to be players.  But, would be no stopping him. 

I sighed.  This whole map thing was going to end badly.


© Charles Heath 2019

In a word: Bar

There’s more than one way … er, perhaps it’s better to say, there are many ways to use the word bar, which is not bad for a three letter word.


Bar, the one you associate with drinks, in hotels, restaurants and we’ll, just bars.

Probably the best type of bar you might find me in is a Sports Bar, where you can snack on buffalo wings a tall glass of beer and watch with ice hockey in winter or baseball in summer.

It’s one I use from time to time when asked, what will we do, and the reply is often let’s go to a bar.  The best bars are underground, dark and dingy, full of eclectic people, with a band playing almost passable music or better still jazz


Bar, as in the legal variety

There are so many legal references to using bar, that the one that I am most familiar with is being admitted to the bar which means that you can now practice law.

Raising the bar, if that’s possible, where the bar is that imaginary level which offers sinks very low.  When someone says they’re going to try and raise the bar, you may be assured there will be a long battle ahead, simply because people generally find it hard to change.


Bar, as in we are not going to let you in here.  Yes, this is the irksome one where you find yourself, often for reasons unknown, barred from somewhere or something.  This may also be referred to by saying everyone may enter bar you.  


Bar, as in an iron bar, the sort that is sometimes used as a blunt force object by villains to remind the victim they owe any one of a loan shark, bookie or the mafia.  God help you if it is all three.

There are also iron bars of a different sort, those that are set in concrete outside a window most likely in a prison where the objective is to prevent escape.

It gives rise to an old expression, that person should be behind bars.


Then there is just a bar, such as a bar of gold, which I’m sure we’d all like to have stashed away, but not necessarily in the mattress, or the more common variety, a chocolate bar, which I have one now.  What’s your favorite?


And just to add to the list of meanings you can always refer to sashes or stripes as bars.

Confused?  Well, there’s still music, and the bane of yachtsmen, sand bars but I think we’ll leave it there.

Welcome to the English language

Conversations with my cat – 24


This is Chester – as you can see, he’s not very happy with me.

I thought I might run the current political climate past him, see what he thinks about watering down gun laws, politicians taking bribes, sorry, campaign donations, and who would make the better leader.

Pity, he said, a cat can’t run the country.

A typical response, I’m guessing, but it does give me a momentary pause to consider the possibility.

Cats sleep all day.

So, it seems, do our politicians.

Cats ignore everything we tell them.

So, it seems, do our politicians.

Cats sit around all day when not sleeping, looking like they’re working, but they’re not.

So, it seems, do our politicians.

Perhaps he’s right, we could no worse having a cat run the country.

Any chance I can be his campaign manager?



“What Sets Us Apart”, a mystery with a twist

David is a man troubled by a past he is trying to forget.
Susan is rebelling against a life of privilege and an exasperated mother who holds a secret that will determine her daughter’s destiny.
They are two people brought together by chance. Or was it?
When Susan discovers her mother’s secret, she goes in search of the truth that has been hidden from her since the day she was born.
When David realizes her absence is more than the usual cooling off after another heated argument, he finds himself being slowly drawn back into his former world of deceit and lies.
Then, back with his former employers, David quickly discovers nothing is what it seems as he embarks on a dangerous mission to find Susan before he loses her forever.


In a word: Line

The English language has some marvelous words that can be used so as to have any number of meanings

For instance,

Draw a line in the sand

We would all like to do this with our children, our job, our relationships, but for some reason, the idea sounds really good in our heads, but it never quite works out in reality. What does it mean, whatever it is, this I’d where it ends or changes because it can’t keep going the way it is.

Inevitably it leads to,

You’ve crossed the line

Which at some point in our lives, and particularly when children, we all do a few times until, if we’re lucky we learn where that line is. It’s usually considered 8n tandem with pushing boundaries.

Of course, there is

A line you should never cross

And I like to think we all know where that is. Unfortunately, some do not and often find their seemingly idyllic life totally shattered beyond repair. An affair from either side of a marriage or relationship can do that.

You couldn’t walk a straight line if you tried

While we might debate what straight might mean in this context, for this adaptation it means staying on the right side of legality. Some people find a life of crime more appealing than doing honest days work.

This goes hand in hand with,

You’re spinning me a line

Which means you are being somewhat loose with the truth, perhaps in explaining where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. I think sometimes liars forget they need to have good memories.

Then there are the more practical uses of the word, such as

I have a new line of products

Is that a new fishing line?

Those I think most of us get, but it’s the more ambiguous that we have trouble with. Still, ambiguity is a writer’s best friend and we can make up a lot of stuff from just using one word.

Is it me, or are the queues getting longer?

It seems that we spend nearly as much time waiting as some of us do sleeping.  In fact, I’ve been known to be sleeping while waiting.

What is it in this era of mechanization and computerization that we still have to wait.  Is it the human element that is still holding us back?

But, hang on, isn’t it the human element that creates the mechanization and computerization?  Perhaps we are building in redundancy so that we are not replaced by the very things we are creating to make our lives easier?

We don’t have robots who can perform the same tasks as a GP doctor because we still need the human factor, and since one size does not fit all, no consultation can ever be fit into a specific time frame so there will always be waiting especially as the day wears on.

We cannot automate phone call answering except for the part where you are put in a queue and told your call is important and then you sit there listening to some awful music, seemingly forgotten

There will always be hundreds of calls in a queue for the most important services. or when you need an answer in a hurry, because only a few people are available to answer the phone.  Robots will not be able to answer calls either, because once again, only a real person can respond to the randomness of callers questions.

Artificial intelligence only works in science fiction.

Then there is the time we spend waiting at traffic lights, and then, even when the lights are with us, in traffic jams.  We are still stumped by trying to find an all-conquering answer to moving masses of people, either by the roads or by public transport.

The latter is all too frequently suffering delays and congestion due to the number of services needed and decaying networks and infrastructure, all of which is only going to get worse, with, of course, longer delays and more waiting.

Maybe the answer is to work from home but sadly the internet, that so-called answer to all our off-site networking, is not going to cope, and in fact, in this country, our latest update is a retrograde step on speed and availability, ie more waiting and less work.

Waiting, it seems, we are stuck with it whether we like it or not.  Good thing then our lives are longer.  But, if we delve into the mystery of longer lives now against what they were back when there was less waiting, maybe we still have the same amount of life, and the fact we’re living longer is negated by all the waiting.

I’m sure we didn’t have to wait very long for anything a hundred years ago.

Just saying.

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday the dark clouds were swirling overhead, and there was an air of impending doom all around.

Much like those few hours before a storm is about to hit, one of those really big ones with very loud thunder that feels like it’s over your roof and not moving, and, a short time later, the deafening sound of torrential rain.

You know the feeling, you could cut the air with a knife.

I’ve been in that state of mind for some time now, but yesterday something changed.

It wasn’t the internet, that was still as dreadful as ever, despite the assurances we get that we will have the best internet in the world.  The best joke, I think they mean, after spending $50 billion on it, I had better speeds on my 300 baud modem 20 odd years ago.

Sorry, I had to have another whinge about it.  Politicians are such liars.

No, it was not something I could put my finger on.


What was it?

I found I could write again.

Well, I could always write, but it was a matter of forcing myself to sit down and do like it was a chore I really didn’t want to do.   And how easy it was to get sidetracked in social media.

Not today.

Today I simply looked at the writing I wanted to do, and it all came to me, without having to stare at the blank screen before the words would come, and then find myself deleting them over and over.  500 words really meant writing 5,000 crappy words and continually revising.

Today I could write 5,000 words and it was all good.

Let’s hope it continues into tomorrow.


Travel is part of the story; once you’re inside the airport, you are on your own

Don’t you just love airports?  They’re all the same, they just live in different countries.

The cabbie, limousine driver, minibus, bus or relative drops you off at Departures, a long thin strip of concrete where inevitably there are a hundred other vehicles vying for space available for only 20, which sometimes leaves toy to walk quite a distance to where you want to be.

Which inevitably is always a mile in the other direction of the Departures board location for your flight.  And there are 5,000 other passengers, and trolleys, all in a hurry to get to their airline counter to check in, moving at various speeds, and you always get stuck behind the slow one, or the family stretched wide with four trolleys and 13 children.

Only to find when you get to the airline check-in counter 700 people have beaten you to it and the line is a mile long.  Yes, you guessed it, the flight is overbooked and someone is going to get bumped.

Or it just seems that way.

Alas, you’ve only been in the airport for 5 minutes and already you’ve got a stress headache and high blood pressure, and there’s still 3 hours before the plane leaves, and anything and everything can go wrong a dozen times before them.

Oh, did I just hear someone say the left the passports at home, think the other had brought them.


We manage to arrive early at the airport.  Rather than wait three hours for our flight we decide to try and get on an earlier departure.  This will depend on our ticket type and whether there are seats available, preferably together.

We line up in the service queue, which by its very description means you have a long wait as service is mostly between difficult to impossible depending on the request.  We wait for twenty minutes.  There’s a long queue behind us.  Our request is taken care of quickly and efficiently making it almost seamless, certainly painless.  I’m sure our request was one of the very few easy ones the staff will get.

Today it seems it is our lucky day.  The transfer to an earlier flight is free and there are two seats available together.  All we have to do is alert the pickup driver at our destination we are going to be an hour earlier.  Done.

Checking in bags is usually the bane of the travelers’ existence.  No matter which airport in whatever country you are departing from the only difference is the length of the queue; from incredibly long with a half hour wait to the head of the line to up to an hour.  Our queue is 15 to 20 minutes.

One assumes this is why intending passengers are asked to go to the airport two hours ahead of their fight.  There are times of the day where the queues are horrendous, and that not only applies to Heathrow.

And if you are late, just panic.

And if your bags are overweight be prepared to have your credit card hammered.  Especially if you’re flying Air France from Venice to Paris.

Now it’s time to relax.  There is an hour before we have to be at the gate so just enough time to get coffee and a donut.

And be horrified at what shops charge for simple items like sandwiches.  I think $10 is very expensive.  But if you’re hungry and forgot to eat before getting to the airport then be prepared to pay more than you usually would for the same fare.

It’s also time to observe our fellow passengers, and there is always one who has a last minute dash for a plane that is just about to leave, passengers with panic-stricken looks.  We all know what happens if you miss the flight even as you’re downing that last cocktail in the airline lounge while thinking, yes they’ll hold the flight for me!

Apparently not, these days, because airlines want to keep their ‘on time’ record.

Even so, there’s still three more calls for the missing passengers and then nothing.  If they missed the plane then their problems are just beginning.  It’s the same feeling you have when your name is called out before the flight starts loading.  Only once have we been called up and given an upgrade, and once in the US to be told we could take another flight because our flight was overbooked.  Business class was greatly appreciated and was worth the extra hour we had to wait.

The next bottleneck is the scanners and sometimes the queue here is very long and moving slowly because the scanners are set to pick up belts and shoes so people are scattered everywhere getting redressed and putting shoes on.   But that’s not the only hazard at this point, there is always someone picked to be scanned for explosives, and we must have a sign on us that says ‘pick me’.

But that not all, my wife has an artificial knee and that adds to the delays and confusion while she is independently scanned.

That being navigated, there’s the little matter of finding the departure gate, and that sometimes can be a long, long, long, long way from the scanning center, and the airline lounges.

In  Heathrow, London, there are signs to say how long it will take, and some are up to 30 minutes.

In Hong Kong there are so many gates, you could almost take a taxi to get to the gate, and I know I’ve walked a long way.

In Singapore, you know you are in the last available gate and the end of the building by the number of travellators you have to take, ofter somewhere between 10 and 20.  There, sometimes it’s not worth venturing too far from the plane because it can take 20 minutes to get to the terminal proper, and 20 minutes back, a little short of the time available before re-boarding.

Today it’s not so bad.

We have half an hour, the walk is only a short distance, and I’m looking forward to watching thew furtive passengers who want to get on the plane first, and who assiduously igno=re the gate instructions of end rows first.

I don’t think airlines will ever stamp that out.


A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 2

This is a story inspired by a visit to an old castle in Italy.  It was, of course, written while traveling on a plane, though I’m not sure if it was from Calgary to Toronto, or New York to Vancouver.

But, there’s more to come.  Those were long flights…

And sadly when I read what I’d written, off the plane and in the cold hard light of dawn, there were problems, which now in the second draft, should provide the proper start.


I calculated the odds.  Thirty to one.  I wasn’t going to add Jack to the team, because he could never understand what was going on.  I was finding it hard myself.  

The man who sent me on this mission, the man whom I had given a detailed report on what I thought was happening at the castle, gleaned from soldiers passing through and the local resistance, had taken me aside in London, told me the mission he was sending me on was top secret and I could tell no one.

Only now did I realize the import of those words.  Someone I had trusted with my life, for a very long time, was not the person I thought they were.

That was in the second the message I’d received, read, and immediately destroyed.  I hadn’t believed it.  Not at first.  But it had one other piece of information as proof, one when I thought about, made sense of everything that had been happening.  The word coincidence had become overused in the last week.

But I didn’t have time to think about it now, I had to try and get away if only as far as the resistance, to get help and report on what had just happened.

But I couldn’t understand what the enemy would gain from retaking the castle.  Behind enemy lines, it would only be a matter of time before they were caught, or killed.

Enough.  I could hear the footsteps approaching.

Jack had found the passage when he and I had been doing some reconnaissance of the old castle.  I thought it odd that no one knew of any secret passages when all of these old places usually had at least a few.  The lord of the manor would want to be able to move about secretly, visiting mistresses, escaping from enemies, or just sneaking about checking up on staff and family

We’d found one that ran from the guard tower to the grand hall.  A lot of cobwebs, a musty odor, and signs it hadn’t been used for a long time, it was perfect for my soon to be unannounced arrival.

The passage ended at a large wooden cabinet which had a compartment that opened out into the hall.  From within, it was possible to hear conversations and see a veiled view of any activity.

Johansson and that man I’d been warned about, that man I had trusted, Lieutenant General Wallace.  I could only assume he had arrived with the stormtroopers, so for a moment, I was confused as to whether they were ours or the enemy.

I could see Wallace was angry. “I thought I told you I wanted Atherton neutralized before I got here.  Where is he?”

Just then Jackerby came in and looked flustered.  “He’s gone.”

“What the hell do you mean, he’s gone.  Gone where, for God’s sake.  There’s nowhere to go.”

I wondered what neutralized meant.  It didn’t sound very pleasant.  Jack was nudging my leg.  What was he trying to tell me?

“He was in the south tower with that mangy dog of his, where he usually hangs out.”

“Then he can’t be far.  Find him and bring him, to me.  Pity that bomb didn’t kill him or we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Why did it have to be Wallace?  I actually liked the man.  Until now.  I kneeled down, “Well, Jack,” I whispered.  “It looks like we are both in serious trouble.  What’s say we get out of here?”

A lick on the side of my face told me all I needed to know.


© Charles Heath 2019