In a word: crane

Yes, it’s that huge device that is attached to a tall building and either raises or lowers building materials.  I’ve often wondered how the drive, so far up in the air can see where to pick up or drop a load.

Typically cranes are used to move large or heavy loads, like large fiberglass swimming pools from the roadside into the front or back yard.

The are train breakdown cranes, dock side cranes and broken down cranes, usually on the road in the middle of rush hour.

They used to have dog men, people who hung on grimly, going up or down with the load.  Not me when the building is sixty or seventy floors up.

There can be smaller cranes built on trucks that are for smaller jobs like lifting boats, sometimes parts of houses.  We had one near us once lifting a swimming pool into a front yard.

Then there is the crane, a bird.  Cranes are usually tall birds with long legs.

In Asia the crane symbolises happiness and eternal youth whereas in Japan the crane symbolises good fortune and longevity.

And other uses such as:

The boy craned his neck to see the batter hit a home run.  

Usually if I crane my neck, it causes days of muscular pain, ie literally the definition of a pain in the neck!

It means to distort your body or neck in order to see something more clearly, especially if you are in a bad position, like behind a pylon or tree.

It can also be used to describe a trolley with a large boom with a camera attached.

Searching for locations: The Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.

Like any good castle, it has strong defences, and I was looking for a moat and drawbridge, but it looks like the moat has become a lawn.

The very high walls in places no doubt were built to keep the enemy out

The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the last 900 years.  It was part of the Florentine defences, and withstood, and succumbed to many battles with Siena, which is only 20 km away.  More recently, it still bears the scars of artillery fire and bombing in WW2.

The room at the top of this tower would have an excellent view of the countryside.

Here you can see the old and the new, the red brick part of the rebuilding in the 1800’s in the style of an English Manor

We did not get to see where that archway led.

Nor what was behind door number one at the top of these stairs.  Rest assured, many, many years ago someone wearing armour would have made the climb.   It would not pass current occupational health and safety these days with a number of stairs before a landing.

Cappella di San Jacopo.  Its foundations were laid in 1348.

Renovated in 1867-1869, it has a gabled façade preceded by a double stone staircase.  The interior, with a crypt where the members of the Ricasoli family are buried, has a nave divided into three spans with cross vaults.

The 1,200 hectares of the property include 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 of olive groves, in the commune of Gaiole.

Sayings: Going on a wild goose chase

Who hasn’t been on one of these, particularly if you have an older brother or sister, and they have nothing better to do than give you a hard time.

You know what I mean, going on a mission to find or do something, knowing full well that you won’t find it, or complete it because it was a lost cause to start with.

Yes, it goes very well with another saying, a dog chasing its tail.

We’ve seen that, too, watching the poor dog go round and round without ever achieving anything.

Sounds like my day today.

And it doesn’t stop there, the pointless search could also be described as ‘searching for a needle in a haystack’.

That is, to my mind the very definition of a living nightmare.

The origin of the idiom, well that’s a little more complicated because there isn’t just one definition.

The first:

Coined by William Shakespeare, but not necessarily in the sort of language we can read easily – it’s a bit like my ability to translate Spanish to English. It does, however, refer to a ‘wild goose chase’.

The second:

Refers to, of all things 16th Century horseracing, and because I don’t have a time machine I can’t go back to fact-check. However, it refers to the other riders following the leader around the course, in much the same formation as geese flying through the air.

My little story to go with it:

If you are good at your job, and that is beginning to be noticed, your boss will find one of these ‘wild goose chases’ just for you, in an effort to make you look bad.

It happened to me once: my task was to search the basement, where old records were stored, for a folder that a former employee had thought they had filed it in the wrong storage box, a supposition supported by the fact the folder was now needed to clear up a clerical error and the file wasn’t in the specifically marked storage box.

My job was to search every one of the other 765 boxes stored haphazardly in the basement until I found it.

It was, I was told later, sitting on his desk the whole time, and when I couldn’t find it, was going to swoop in and say he’d found it.

Of course, it went missing before he could, so he got a bollicking for not storing the files properly, and I got the job to clean up the basement. I’m not sure who got the worst punishment.

The cinema of my dreams – Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 13

I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.

The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritising.

But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.

Am I working for anyone now?

 

So, there I was, walking along the street, hands in pockets, trying to look like my whole world hadn’t come crashing down on me when a car pulled over to the side of the road.

I may have been down in the dumps but not that far that I wasn’t still aware of what was going on around me, the training had been that good, so I hung back a little from the curb and waited to see if was me they were after, or just some lucky rich person being dropped off.

And ready to disappear into the crowd, not that there was one, but there were three exits available and within momentary reach if necessary.

I watched the rear window go down slowly then saw a familiar face.

Nobbin.

“Get in Mr Jackson.  We have more to talk about.”

I hesitated like anyone with the training I had would, as any person with common sense would too, I guess.

“It’s perfectly safe, I assure you.”  He sounded reassuring.

A glance into the car showed only him and the driver, who was getting out of the car.  I watched him come around to the curbside and put his hand on the door handle.

“Sir,” he said.

He opened the door.  Nobbin had moved to the other side.

I shrugged, then got in.  A thought: how many people had got into cars such as this, and were never seen again?”

It was not a statistic that reached any of the newspapers.  Only the end result, a body washed down the Thames, with no indication of who it was, or where they came from, and no identification, or means of identification available.

The door closed, the driver went back to the front of the car, and then gently eased the car out into the traffic.

“I’m sorry for the theatrics surrounding this meeting, but it is necessary.  I’m sure you were told of the need for secrecy in this matter, and I’m just reinforcing that.”

“Just who are you?  And, for that matter, those people back in that building?  Or, if it’s not too hard to wrap your head around, who the hell have I been working for?”

“Good questions, all.  At least now I can speak freely.  As you can, Mr Jackson.”

“Except I have no idea who’s side you’re on, I’m on, or anyone for that matter.  This is not what I signed up for.”

“Well, to put some perspective on your situation, Mr Jackson, you were not supposed to live to tell about it.  It was an operation that was created with one purpose in mind, to find an agent named

William O’Connor, and kill him.  And everyone in the team assigned to the task.”

“By Severin and Maury?  If so, why didn’t they kill me in the alley along with this O’Connor?”

“That is a mystery to all of us.”

“And those people back in the room.  Who the hell were they?”

“Operations.  Trying to find out how a sub-section could be created and function within their purview and not be detected.  That’s what it was, run by two agents who had been expelled a few months back, but who were clever enough to work around all of the safeguards, recruit four agents, and then go after the man who caused the end of their careers.”

“Simple, it seems.”

“Very.  And, if it had not been for you, we would never have known who or why.”

“Perhaps we should be thankful there was an explosion then, otherwise we’d all be dead.”

“Or not, because as far as I know, that was part of the operation, designed to take the target, you and the surveillance member behind you.  It only did a third the job.  It didn’t go off at the critical moment.  No one was seriously hurt, by the way.”

“The policeman?”

“Critical but stable.  He’ll survive.”

“The police who were accusing me of being the bomber?”

“Our people trying to delay you, so our man could get away.  Seems they trained you better than we expected.  Did O’Connor say anything to you?”

“There wasn’t much time before I found him, and Severin shot him.”

“Anything at all?”

“He knew who I was.”

“Then he knew the whole team, and who was running it.”

“He killed two of them.”

“In self-defence.  They were not only surveillance but also assassins.  Different training before they joined your group.”

I had thought there was something odd about them.

“Anything else,” he asked again.

“Yes.  He said to tell you he found something he should, and that the evidence is…  And that’s when he was shot.  He didn’t tell me where it was.”

“He didn’t have to.  We had set up three prearranged drop sites, so it must be in one of those.  Here’s my card.”

He handed me a white card with a name and a phone number.  The name was not Nobbin.

“If this Severin contacts you again, call me.  I am available any hour of the day or night on that number.”

“If he doesn’t?”

“Then you will hear from me in the not too distant future.  The fact you’re a survivor tells me you are resourceful and have the makings of a good agent, one I can use in my department.”

“And those others back at the office?”

“You won’t hear from them again.”

The car stopped outside an underground staircase.

“This is your stop, Mr Jackson.  Thank you for your co-operation.”

Perhaps my career wasn’t in tatters.  I got out of the car, and watched it leave before heading for the underground, his card safely tucked away in my pocket.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

It’s all about the Cover

And, of course, the description.

Probably one of the hardest things for a first-time author is not so much the writing but what is needed after the book is written.

You need a good description.  Short, sharp, incisive!

There’s a ream of advice out there, and I have read it all.

And, still, I got it wrong.

Then there is the cover.

I wanted simplistic, a short description to give the reader a taste of what’s in store, and let the story speak for itself.

No.

Apparently, a good cover will attract the reader to the book.

When I tendered my books on various sites to advertise them, sites such as Goodreads, and ThirdScribe, all was well with what I had done.

Then I submitted my books to a third site and they rejected the covers as too simplistic and the descriptions mundane, and wouldn’t post them.

Wow.

There’s a huge blow to the ego.  And just the sort of advice that would make a writer think twice about even bothering to continue.

But…

Perhaps the person who wrote that critique was being cruel to be kind.

At any rate, I am changing the covers, and rewording the descriptions.

Will it be a case of ‘what a difference a cover makes’?

NaNoWriMo – 2022 – Day 27

Not according to plan

In the spy business, it pays not to make solid plans, just have an idea of what you might do, and execute it.

When it goes wrong, as it inevitably does, then you can always say, “I knew it was going to fail” and feel good about it.

Expecting a plan to work without it going south is like winning the lottery.  What are the odds?

What you can rely on every time is human nature.  Yes, sometimes the bad guy is thoroughly bad and goes off the reservation, but that’s the exception.  Counterspy measures always include an element of ‘what’s in it for me’ when an opportunity comes up.

So, David and Susan get captured.  It’s the easiest way in.

Then Susan escapes in the middle of a freak storm with torrential rain that has a visibility range of ten feet at best.  Enough time for her to disappear.

It’s all part of the plan.

Others search for her, while David is taken to the main compound, assessing the odds and situation as he goes.  He ends up in a cell, left to ponder his fate, and then dragged out for interrogation.

Not exactly part of the plan, but he does learn something new, and quite disconcerting.  Someone close to him is a traitor.

Words written today, 3,541, for a total of 66,956

Memories of the conversations with my cat – 99

As some may be aware, but many not, Chester, my faithful writing assistant, mice catcher, and general pain in the neck, passed away some months ago.

Recently I was running a series based on his adventures, under the title of Past Conversations with my cat.

For those who have not had the chance to read about all of his exploits I will run the series again from Episode 1

These are the memories of our time together…

20151219_163915

This is Chester.

Not everything is fine in la-la-land, as he now calls it.

Not happy that I didn’t tell him about the second week of child invasion.

He should consider himself lucky that the school week started on Tuesday, and only one was staying home to do schoolwork.

The other has been able to return to the classroom.

One less tormentor, I heard him mutter as he slinked past the room where the homeschooler was working.

But a more sinister problem had arisen.

He’s stopped eating his food.  I first thought this was part of a two-week standoff, where he cuts his nose off to spite his face.

This is not the first time we’ve been through this.

So, just to see if it is a fit of pique, I get him his absolute favorite food.  Fresh Atlantic Salmon cut into small pieces just the way he likes it.

Yes, the aroma reaches him in his hiding spot, along with the call-out that I’d bought him salmon, but when he goes to the bowl, he takes a sniff, or two, then wanders away.

He doesn’t even look at me.

Very, very unusual.

I will be keeping an eye on this.

 

‘What Sets Us Apart’ – A beta readers view

There’s something to be said for a story that starts like a James Bond movie, throwing you straight in the deep end, a perfect way of getting to know the main character, David, or is that Alistair?

A retired spy, well not so much a spy as a retired errand boy, David’s rather wry description of his talents, and a woman that most men would give their left arm for, not exactly the ideal couple, but there is a spark in a meeting that may or may not have been a set up.

But as the story progressed, the question I kept asking myself was why he’d bother.

And, page after unrelenting page, you find out.

Susan is exactly the sort of woman the pique his interest. Then, inexplicably, she disappears. That might have been the end to it, but Prendergast, that shadowy enigma, David’s ex boss who loves playing games with real people, gives him an ultimatum, find her or come back to work.

Nothing like an offer that’s a double edged sword!

A dragon for a mother, a sister he didn’t know about, Susan’s BFF who is not what she seems or a friend indeed, and Susan’s father who, up till David meets her, couldn’t be less interested, his nemesis proves to be the impossible dream, and he’s always just that one step behind.

When the rollercoaster finally came to a halt, and I could start breathing again, it was an ending that was completely unexpected.

I’ve been told there’s a sequel in the works.

Bring it on!

The book can be purchased here: http://amzn.to/2Eryfth

NaNoWriMo – 2022 – Day 28

You’re a sight for sore eyes

Here’s the thing about stubborn people.

Whether right or wrong they eventually get what they want.

It’s clear to David by the time he reaches the compound, that firstly the girl who was supposedly a prisoner is not there, probably wasn’t there in the first place, but that’s no surprise, secondly had they caught Alisha, then she would be on display when they arrived, and thirdly, there was always the weasel type interrogator bristling with overconfidence waiting in the wings.

And if there was a fourthly, it would be that he would receive ‘the softening up’ process before the first interrogation.

He was not disappointed.  The second in so many weeks, or what felt like it, the bruises on the bruises were like a badge of honour.

But that’s the problem with weaselly interrogators who think they hold all the cards, when the tables are turned, they become cowered cowards.

He underestimated David’s resolve.  He underestimated Alisha’s determination to remain uncaptured, and he didn’t know about David’s secret weapon.

That is until they came knocking on the door.

His overconfident interrogator, thinking that he held all the cards and that David would be leaving in a body bag, spills the beans.

Words written today, 2,776, for a total of 69,732

Inspiration, Maybe – Volume Two

50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.

They all start with –

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, the story:

Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?

Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, i came to the airport to see the plane leave.  Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.

But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision.  She needed the opportunity to spread her wings.  It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.

She was in a rut.  Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.

It was something that had been weighing down of her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, sometimes a flash of temper.  I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.

And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere.  Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication.  It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.

So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock.  We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed the right time.

It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one.  Starting the following Monday.

Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.

I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.

What surprised her was my reaction.  None.

I simply asked where who, and when.

A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.

A week.

It was all the time I had left with her.

I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.

She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.

Is that all you want to know?

I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, was what I overheard her tell a friend once.

There’s not much to ask, I said.  You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place,  and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.

Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would.  And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, that was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.

One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.

So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.

Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you.  I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.

Yes, our relationship had a use by date, and it was in the next few days.

I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me,  you can make cabinets anywhere.

I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job.  It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.

Then the only question left was, what do we do now?

Go shopping for suitcases.  Bags to pack, and places to go.

Getting on the roller coaster is easy.  On the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by the slow climb to the top.  It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.

What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.

Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.

There was no question of going with her to New York.  Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back.  After a few months in t the new job the last thing shed want was a reminder of what she left behind.  New friends new life.

We packed her bags, three out everything she didn’t want, a free trips to the op shop with stiff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.

Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever.  I remember standing there, watching the taxi go.  It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.

So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.

Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of plane depart, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.

People coming, people going.

Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just see what the attraction was.  Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.

As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.

Perhaps it was.


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Coming soon.  Find the above story and 49 others like it in: