It’s raining, it’s pouring…

It’s one of those grey, dark, wet mornings where you can inadvertently sleep in because the bedroom remains dark for an extra two hours.

That could be a problem if you have a day job, like most of us.

But, today is Sunday, and it’s just what I need.

Time to mull over the latest storyline, marshal my thoughts, write the prose in my head.

OK, that not working for me.

The rain is getting heavier, and is splashing outside; the steady waterfall of overflow from the gutters is taking away my concentration.

 

Rain, rain, go away …

 

I have two different visions.

A cold, grey day in London (is there any other sort of day?) waiting for a train, and seeing the woman of your dreams go past, standing in the doorway, and in that fraction of a second your eyes meet, a connection is made.

I suspect it has fuelled many a song such as ‘The Look of Love’.

The second is on a desolate section of coastline as for north as you can go in Scotland (yes, I am a glutton for punishment), and she is standing on the cliff top gazing out to sea, hair blowing in the wind.  Silent, strong, resolute.

 

The rain has gone.

Notes hastily scribbled in a notebook for later reference.

It’s time to get up and contemplate a late breakfast or maybe an early lunch.

New York, where getting there is a story in itself

It is an amazing coincidence that both times we have flown into New York, it is the day after the worst snow storms.

The first time, we were delayed out of Los Angeles and waited for hours before the plane left.  We had a free lunch and our first introduction to American hamburgers and chips.  Wow!

I had thought we had left enough time with connections to make it in time for New Year’s Eve, like four to five hours before.  As it turned out, we arrived in New York at 10:30, and thanks to continual updating with our limousine service, he was there to take us to the hotel.

The landing was rough, the plane swaying all over the place and many of the passengers were sick.  Blankets were in short supply!

We made it to the hotel, despite the snow, traffic, and the inevitable problems associated with NYE in New York, with enough time to throw our baggage in the room, put on our warm clothes, and get out onto the streets.  We could not go to Times Square but finished up at Central Park with thousands of others, in time to see the ball drop on a big screen, exchange new year’s greetings, and see the fireworks.

Then, as luck would have it, we were able to get an authentic New York hotdog, just before the police moved the vendor on, and our night was complete.

 

The second time we were the last plane out of Los Angeles to New York.  After waiting and waiting, we boarded, and then started circling the airport waiting for takeoff permission.  We stopped once to refuel, and then the pilot decided we were leaving.

This time we took our eldest granddaughter, who was 9 at the time, and she thought it was an adventure.  It was.

When we landed, we were directed to an older part of the airport, a disused terminal.  We were not the only plane to land, at about one in the morning, but one of about four.  The terminal building filled very quickly, and we were all waiting for baggage.  The baggage belts broke so there were a lot of porters bring the baggage in by hand.

One part of the terminal was just a sea of bags.  To find ours our granddaughter, who, while waiting, sat on top of the cabin baggage playing her DSI until the announcement our bags were available, walked across the top of the bags till she found them.  Thankfully no one was really looking in her direction.

Once again we kept our limousine service updated, and, once we knew what terminal we were at, he came to pick us up.  This time we arrived some days before NYE, so there was not so much of a rush.  We got to the hotel about 3:30 in the morning, checked in, and then went over the road to an all-night diner where we ordered hamburgers and chips.

And a Dr Pepper.

 

Next:  New York after a snow storm.

Sometimes I feel like I’m getting nowhere

Do you have days when you feel like you’ve achieved nothing, even after getting through what might appear to be a lot?

It’s the ancillary stuff that’s the bugbear of anyone who simply wants to get on with what’s important, and that’s writing.

You know, sit down in front of a blank page on the computer, or on your writing desk if you have one, ready for the words to come.

Except there’s email to check.

There are ads on Twitter to be posted and the general Twitter feed to look at, just to keep up with what’s happening out there.

Then there’s the news usually digested from the feed from the major papers around the world, for me, the New York Times in the US, the Times in the UK and the Australian, in my country.

And, dammit, each has a challenging crossword that I really don’t have time to do, well, not in the morning.

Then there’s the stuff that has to be done around the house, I’m home but my wife still works so there’s washing, cooking, and domestics to be done which eats into the day.

Sometimes it’s not until mid-morning before I get to sit down with a cup of tea.

The point is, it’s not conducive to writing during the day because you can’t get a run at it, time enough to think about what you’re going to write before committing it to paper.

That is, before the phone rings with another scammer, and breaks your concentration.  Right, I hear you, cut the phone off.

So, three phone calls later, I’m about to give up.  It’s time to get the dinner on with family coming.  Perhaps I’ll have a few bottles of beer instead.

This is why I write at night, sometime after ten.  No phone calls, no distractions.  Well, that’s not necessarily true because what you didn’t get done earlier had a way of backing up if you don’t get through it in a timely manner.

Perhaps I’ll get a blog post or two done, another episode of the trip to China, upload another photo to Instagram and look at the current novel I’m in the middle of editing.

By that time it will be two am, way past anyone’s decent time to go to bed.  In fact, it’s ten past two, and I’ve got an early morning.

Was it just another surveillance job – Episode 3

I’ve had time to think about the next part of this opening sequence.

Long plane rides that leave in the dead of night are always conducive to working through plotlines because being on a plane in economy, the chances of getting any sleep is nigh on impossible.

And yet, this time the impossible is possible, which means that sleeping has overtaken the thinking process, and it will have to wait till I’ve woken up.

Of course, as usual, being in this interesting situation has provided another tangent, which is doing the impossible.  It reminds me of a saying I once heard, ‘if you want the impossible it will take some time if want a miracle, that will take a little longer’.  Temper that with ‘how long is a piece of string?’

When we last visited our intrepid wannabe hero, we were left with a cryptic ‘is anyone ever in the wrong place at the wrong time?’

Sometimes, but not for our particular hero.

 

It could be worse, I told myself, while the paramedic cleaned up my cuts and abrasions and gave me a concussion test, which, I suspect, might not quite discover if I was or not.  But, at that moment, it didn’t matter.

I’d lost the person I’d been assigned to keep under surveillance.

It was meant to be a doddle, but of course, no one could ever predict what the conditions might be in any exercise, and whilst I was one part of a team effort, it had been on my watch, and I only realized what it was that I’d been doing when a voice in my ear started asking for an update, because it was coming up to the changeover.

I was surprised the noise of the explosion hadn’t been transmitted to the others.  I waited till the paramedic had finished, a minute at most.

“I got caught up in an explosion, a couple of over-enthusiastic bank robbers, and taken down.  The target was ahead of me.”  I gave the team leader the exact location of where I’d last seen the target, then waited.

If the team was functioning properly, one of the other three should have been close enough to predict where the target would be at the change over point.

“Are you alright?”  It was a question I’d expected earlier.

“Got caught in the aftershock, got a few cut and abrasions, and a ringing in my ears, but otherwise ok.  The paramedics want me to go to the hospital to be checked over, mainly for a concussion, but I’m ok to resume if you want.”

A minute, two, of silence, then, “Do as they say.  We have the target still under surveillance.”

And that was it, what I regarded as a massive fail, despite the circumstances.

I watched the paramedics load the battered policeman onto a gurney and head towards the ambulance.  I went over to the cuffs and picked them up.  A souvenir of the event, if nothing else.

Lights flashing and siren wailing it left, heading for the hospital.

I took a last look at the scene and started walking away in the direction I was originally heading, and once past the perimeter, walked through the group of bystanders who’d gathered to watch the event unfold.  On the other side, I stopped, took another look back at the scene, and did the proverbial double take.

Standing not ten yards from me was the target.

And a quick look in every direction for the members of the surveillance team showed none of them was anywhere near the target.

I spoke quietly into the communication device.

“Target, I repeat, the target is in sight.  Is anyone nearby by?”

Silence.

 

So we now have a dilemma, if there is no answer from the team, are they maintaining radio silence, or is something more sinister afoot?

 

©  Charles Heath 2019

You know where you want to go, but getting there, that’s a whole different ball game

So I’m incorporating a plotline that is centered around a snow theme, and of course, we are going to New Zealand just so our granddaughters can see snow for the first time.

It’s what you call mixing business with pleasure.

Ok, forget the pleasure…

You would think it is a relatively simple thing to get to the snow.

Of course, there are a few necessities like skis, boots, poles, and warm dry clothing, but that can all be bought or rented when you get there, or if you are an enthusiast, you already have the gear.

So, you get in the car, set the navigator, and off you go.  Till you get within 20 k of the ski field, it’s all plain sailing, everyone is excited, and mentally preparing.

Then it all starts to go sideways.

Those last few kilometers to the top are going to be arduous particularly if it’s been snowing and the roads are icy, but the weather is fine with blue skies and no recent snow falls.  Were expecting a slow drive and a parking spot.  The road is open.

But…

So late in the morning, a sign at the bottom of the mountain warms all the car parks at the ski field are full, but we venture on anyway.

And for some odd reason, we picked the very day everyone in New Zealand also wanted to go up to the ski fields so parking, even near the Chateau Tongariro was gone and there were endless cars looking for parking spots and traffic wardens had their hands full trying to keep traffic moving

So, for us and everyone else, everything stops at Chateau Tongariro, and from there the only vehicles allowed up are buses.  It’s about 10:30 and we are advised the only way we were getting to see snow was to take a bus

Now, there are two types of busses.  You can go up on a local bus, from Whakapapa Village that costs $20 a person which in the context of the cost of skiing not very much, but if you’re not, it’s quite expensive.

The second, one we were advised to use, operates from a place called National Park, about 9 km away, a snow shuttle that costs $6 each.  The trouble is by the time we were ready to go there, to catch a shuttle, there were no more shuttles.

The granddaughters are disappointed, and I have a new plotline for my intrepid adventurer to get tangled up in.

Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow.

Conversations with my cat – 28

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This is Chester.  He thinks it’s still winter.

It’s not, but how do you tell a cat who thinks he knows everything.

Today, we are having a battle over his bed.  The blanket needs washing.  I tell him, in as polite a manner I can muster,m there is an aroma that is bordering on unpleasant.

He tells me he can’t smell anything, and refuses to budge.

I suspect not since he is now used to it.

Not even the tempting offer of stretching out on the end of our bed has any effect.

I guess it’s the time from Plan B.

I give him one last chance.

It’s outright defiance now.

I go down to the laundry, fetch the green bucket, half fill it with hot water, and return.

He’s looking warily at me now, knowing something has changed since he last saw me.

Ah, yes, what’s that bucket for?

CAll me mean, I tell him, but nothing moves faster than a scalded cat.

Not that I would, but I think he now understands the subtle art of compromise.

 

 

Travel is part of the story – Salzburg, looking for Maria and the Von Trapps

Many years ago I stumbled across a thriller writer by the name of Helen McInnes and one of those stories was set in Salzburg.

Reading about a place in such a setting and with all manner of intrigue going on, is it any wonder we might want to go and look for ourselves?

We have, twice, once as a whistle-stop between Vienna and Innsbruck, such a quick visit we had time for lunch, a dash around the old town, a look in the river, and get back on the train after a night in what might have been a gloomy dark hotel.

The second w3as longer, and yes, the Sound of Music tour was on the list.

So was the incessant rain, but in that sort of picturesque countryside, how could it be anything but both magical and mystical?

 

Along with My Fair Lady, another of my favourite musicals was Sound of Music and having seen it a number of times over the years, it had conjured up a number of images of Salzburg in my mind, and with them a desire to go there.  We had been to Salzburg once before, an overnight train stop between Vienna and Innsbruck, an afterthought, but what we saw then was reason enough to come back later and spend several days.

A pity then the day we arrived, and for much of our stay, it rained.  But, like hardened travelers, very little stops us from doing anything, and particularly sightseeing.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza – The Pitter in a very well appointed room.  Breakfast included, it was a great way to start the day.  The afternoon we arrived we went for a short walk to the old city passing through the Mirabelle gardens with the Pegasus Fountain, Rose Garden, and Dwarves Garden.  Later we discovered that the archway had been used in part of the filming of Sound of Music.

We took the Festungsbahn funicular railway up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg, dating back to 1077, and the largest fortress still standing in Europe.  We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering through the rooms and exhibits and then had lunch at a café, the Salzburg Fortress Café, that overlooked the countryside.  This was where we were introduced to Mozart Gold Chocolate Cream added to our coffee.

It led us to search for the product which we eventually found in a confectionary store, Holzemayr in the Alter Markt.  Not only sis we find the Gold liqueur there was also a dark chocolate variety as well.  We bought a whole box to bring back with us, as well as a number of other chocolates including Victor Schmidt Austrian Mozart Balls, a delicious chocolate and marzipan combination.

With another afternoon to spare we visited the Salzburg Residence which previously housed Salzburg’s ruling prince-archbishops.  We visited the reception rooms and living quarters, as well as the Gallery.  It is as ornate as any of the palaces in Austria, resplendent with furnishings and paintings.  After that, the visit to Mozart’s birthplace was something of an anticlimax.

But, what we were in Salzburg for, the Sound of music tour, and the places we visited:

The Mirabelle gardens, where Maria sang Do Re Mi in front of the gates to the gardens.  We spent some time here before and after the tour, and also has a look inside the Mirabelle Palace, which is not open to the public as it is the city administrative offices.

Leopoldskron Palace where the boating scene was filmed as well as exteriors.  They were not allowed to film inside the place and were only allowed to use the exterior.  An interesting tidbit of information, one of the children nearly drowned.

Heilbrunn palace is now home to the gazebo where Rolf and Liesl sang their song, ‘16 going on 17’.  The interesting part of this was the fact the Gazebo used to film the scene was much larger than the actual Gazebo on display.

The walkway from the fortress back to the old city passes Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was a novice, and where the opening scenes were filmed.  A number of scenes were filmed here, including the song ‘Maria’ in the courtyard.  The tour only showed the exterior of the Abbey.

Salzburg lake district where panorama and picnic scenes were filmed.  Even on the dullest of days, during which throughout our tour in continually rained, the scenery was still magnificent.

Mondsee church, where the wedding scenes were filmed.  It was surprising just how small the church really is.  It was also a stop to have afternoon tea or some ‘famous’ apple strudel.

Needless to say, we watched Sound of Music straight after the tour and managed to pick out all of the places we had been to.  The only downside to the tour, singing along to the songs.  I’m sorry, but I do not sing, and some of those that were, well, I say no more.