Meanwhile, space is waiting…

Back on the spaceship, after a last glance at the screen, and what we’re heading to:

It’s debatable whether we’re going to get out of the doc.

The Captain requested me to go down and personally find out what’s going on, and I’ve just risked like and limb in the elevator that wasn’t working properly not 24 hours before. Now, the doors having opened, and after a huge sigh of relief, I step into the maelstrom.

The engine room, if it could be called that, looks like a shopping mall at Christmas, with the centre piece looking like a set of constantly strobing lights, and around it, people with computer pads, looking for answers.

I doubt whether it was going to be in the central computer system because it was new.

Whatever happened to paper manuals? Oh, sorry, that was so twenty first century.

I feel like I’m walking against the tide until I see the Chief Engineer, hands in pockets, not look in the least peturbed.

No, he’s not Scottish. To be honest, I’m not sure where he comes from, I hadn’t the time to get acquainted in the shot time we’ve all been aboard.

He sees me coming. I’m surprised he knows who I am.

“Captain send you?”

He broke away from one of his assistants, and turned towards me.

“He could have just asked you himself?”

He shook his head. “He doesn’t work like that. Prefers the personal touch.”

“What’d happening?”

“Everything and nothing. New modifications are not infallible, so it’s just a glitch. The builders are on it, so we’ll have an answer soon.”

“Your opinion?”

“Doesn’t pay to have opinions, only answers.”

A wave from the other side of the room was accompanied by a change in the strobing lights, and a different sound.”

“Good news,” he said. “By the time you bet back to the bridge, everything will be fine.”

The activity hadn’t lessened given the resolution. “You sure?”

“Nothings written in stone. Try crossing your fingers.” With that he left me, and I headed towards to the lift.

© Charles Heath 2020

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

Searching for locations: New York from a different perspective

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 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 anti cold 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.

In a word: Pray

It’s usually associated with the church, and saying a prayer for someone or something, but it kind of covers a lot of different situations, like,

We’ll pray for rain, we’ll pray for Mary to recover, I’ll pray for forgiveness.

In other words, in all of these instances, we are looking for intervention by God.

There is another instance, not related to religion, in that in a general sense you can pray for good weather over the weekend because they’re going camping.

In fact it is basically to hope for something very much.

It is, in a sense, wishful thinking, because in reality, no-one can predict, let alone dictate, what the weather will be.

It is also a forceful way of saying something, like,

Where the hell have you been, pray tell?

There is another word that sounds quite similar, prey.

That describes a creature that is hunted by another for food.

It’s also someone who is easily deceived or harmed.

It could also be something that preys on your mind

An excerpt from “Betrayal” – a work in progress

It could have been anywhere in the world, she thought, but it wasn’t.  It was in a city where if anything were to go wrong…

She sighed and came away from the window and looked around the room.  It was quite large and expensively furnished.  It was one of several she had been visiting in the last three months.

Quite elegant too, as the hotel had its origins dating back to before the revolution in 1917.  At least, currently, there would not be a team of KGB agents somewhere in the basement monitoring everything that happened in the room.

There was no such thing as the KGB anymore, though there was an FSB, but such organisations were of no interest to her.

She was here to meet with Vladimir.

She smiled to herself when she thought of him, such an interesting man whose command of English was as good as her command of Russian, though she had not told him of that ability.

All her knew of her was that she was American, worked in the Embassy as a clerk, nothing important, who life both at work and at home was boring.  Not that she had blurted that out the first tie she met, or even the second.

That first time, at a function in the Embassy, was a chance meeting, a catching of his eye as he looked around the room, looking, as he had told her later, for someone who might not be as boring as the function itself.

It was a celebration, honouring one of the Embassy officials on his service in Moscow, and the fact he was returning home after 10 years.  She had been there one, and still hadn’t met all the staff.

They had talked, Vladimir knew a great deal about England, having been stationed there for a year or two, and had politely asked questions about where she lived, her family, and of course what her role was, all questions she fended off with an air of disinterested interest.

It fascinated him, as she knew it would, a sort of mental sparring as one would do with swords, if this was a fencing match.

They had said they might or might not meet again when the party was over, but she suspected there would be another opportunity.  She knew the signs of a man who was interested in her, and Vladimir was interested.

The second time came in the form of an invitation to an art gallery, and a viewing of the works of a prominent Russian artist, an invitation she politely declined.  After all, invitations issued to Embassy staff held all sorts of connotations, or so she was told by the Security officer when she told him.

Then, it went quiet for a month.  There was a party at the American embassy and along with several other staff members, she was invited.  She had not expected to meet Vladimir, but it was a pleasant surprise when she saw him, on the other side of the room, talking to several military men.

A pleasant afternoon ensued.

And it was no surprise that they kept running into each other at the various events on the diplomatic schedule.

By the fifth meeting, they were like old friends.  She had broached the subject of being involved in a plutonic relationship with him with the head of security at the embassy.  Normally for a member of her rank it would not be allowed, but in this instance it was.

She did not work in any sensitive areas, and, as the security officer had said, she might just happen upon something that might be useful.  In that regard, she was to keep her eyes and ears open, and file a report each time she met him.

After that discussion she got the impression her superiors considered Vladimir more than just a casual visitor on the diplomatic circuit.  She also formed the impression the he might consider her an ‘asset’, a word that had been used at the meeting with security and the ambassador.

It was where the word ‘spy’ popped into her head and sent a tingle down her spine.  She was not a spy, but the thought of it, well, it would be fascinating to see what happened.

A Russian friend.  That’s what she would call him.

And over time, that relationship blossomed, until, after a visit to the ballet, late and snowing, he invited her to his apartment not far from the ballet venue.  It was like treading on thin ice, but after champagne and an introduction to caviar, she felt like a giddy schoolgirl.

Even so, she had made him promise that he remain on his best behaviour.  It could have been very easy to fall under the spell of a perfect evening, but he promised, showed her to a separate bedroom, and after a brief kiss, their first, she did not see him until the next morning.

So, it began.

It was an interesting report she filed after that encounter, one where she had expected to be reprimanded.

She wasn’t.

It wasn’t until six weeks had passed when he asked her if she would like to take a trip to the country.  It would involve staying in a hotel, that they would have separate rooms.  When she reported the invitation, no objection was raised, only a caution; keep her wits about her.

Perhaps, she had thought, they were looking forward to a more extensive report.  After all, her reports on the places, and the people, and the conversations she overheard, were no doubt entertaining reading for some.

But this visit was where the nature of the relationship changed, and it was one that she did not immediately report.  She had realised at some point before the weekend away, that she had feelings for him, and it was not that he was pushing her in that direction or manipulating her in any way.

It was just one of those moments where, after a grand dinner, a lot of champagne, and delightful company, things happen.  Standing at the door to her room, a lingering kiss, not intentional on her part, and it just happened.

And for not one moment did she believe she had been compromised, but for some reason she had not reported that subtle change in the relationship to the powers that be, and so far, no one had any inkling.

She took off her coat and placed it carefully of the back of one of the ornate chairs in the room.  She stopped for a moment to look at a framed photograph on the wall, one representing Red Square.

Then, after a minute or two, she went to the mini bar and took out the bottle of champagne that had been left there for them, a treat arranged by Vladimir for each encounter.

There were two champagne flutes set aside on the bar, next to a bowl of fruit.  She picked up the apple and thought how Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden, and the temptation.

Later perhaps, after…

She smiled at the thought and put the apple back.

A glance at her watch told her it was time for his arrival.  It was if anything, the one trait she didn’t like, and that was his punctuality.  A glance at the clock on the room wall was a minute slow.

The doorbell to the room rang, right on the appointed time.

She put the bottle down and walked over to the door.

A smile on her face, she opened the door.

It was not Vladimir.  It was her worst nightmare.

© Charles Heath 2020

The march of progress inevitably destroys the past.

There is this thing called the march of progress.

It can be good, or it can be bad.

But the inevitability of it means that we have to destroy our past in order to build for the future.  It’s a pity no one back around a hundred years ago worked out that a certain amount of land needed to be set aside for future infrastructure, and then build around it.

The pity of it is that those same practices are with us now, and unfortunately either the infrastructure is too costly to build because of the necessity to buy back, and it will never change.  No one, sadly, is thinking of the future.

So, all I have of my childhood years, some fifty to sixty years ago is memories, and when I go, they will be lost forever.

I remember, a long time ago now, the many holidays I spent at my grandmother’s place in the ‘country’.  Back then it was.

Now it is just another suburb of Melbourne.

I remember the drive, and it used to take about half an hour, perhaps longer, and as we travelled, it was mostly the countryside we saw.  Little towns like Beaconsfield, Officer, Berwick, oases in the middle of farming land.

The last time I went for that same drive, there was endless houses.

My grandmother’s house was very large, and the land it was built on, extensive.  There used to be gardens, several garages, a number of old cars, and a huge workshop.

My brother and I used to spend our Christmases exploring, and on a particular one, found some tools and decided to recover some of it.

We found a huge fountain buried beneath the overgrowth, the centrepiece a statue part of what must have been a remarkable display.

It was like we had our own secret garden.

There was also a fernery, also overgrown.

Now, sadly, all of it is gone, and in its place a multilane highway that follows an alternate coastal route between Melbourne and Sydney.

All I have left is the memories of a time that will never return.

Perhaps it’s time to write it all down, and preserve it for future generations.

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

Back on the bridge of that rickety starship

The only things moving on this voyage out into the unknown, is the planets.

When we were last on the bridge, the chief engineer, yes, we still have them in the 24th century, was telling us it was a no go.

When you’re standing on a ship that cost more money than you can imagine, and then double that unimaginable amount, and realise it would normally build two other smaller ships, then you can be assure someone very high up sitting in an office somewhere, but wishing they were in your place, would be anything but happy.

I was lucky that I didn’t meet him during the recruitment process, only later on an inspection of the ship just before the handover from the builder to Space Command.  It was not the first, but the first of a new class.

And, with several of the junior officers with a passion for history, came back with a simile for our predicament.  When new cars were created, way back in the 20th century, the first of the series always had teething problems.  Thats why you didn’t but the first of a series.

We didn’t have that luxury, but here’s the thing, it was based on an earlier model with a few new engancements.  It was one of those enhancements that was the problem.

A few minutes after the Captain went to his quarters, his voice came over the speaker system. “Number One?”

Ok, I have a name, but trying to get the Captain to use it might be difficult, what with regulations, and his rather stiff manner, each of which might get in the way.

“Sir?”

“Go down to engineering and get a report on progress.”

I could do that over the internal comms.  What was going on?  Belay that thought, I was not going to question an order.

“Yes sir.”

I glanced in the direction of the second officer, and he nodded, getting out of his seat.  He would take charge of the bridge, even though we were going nowhere.

He walked over to my position, and I headed for the lift.

Automatic doors.  It was not an innovation, but when I came aboard a week ago, they were not working properly, so using the lift to me was a leap of faith.

A few seconds later and what might have been from the top to the bottom in a skyscraper, the lift slowed, then stopped.  The doors didn’t open.

No panic.  Just wait, and breathe. There you go. The doors opened…

…onto utter chaos!

© Charles Heath 2020

In a word: Hair

You comb it every day, or brush it, it can be tangled, fine, smooth and silky or shiny.

It can fall out, you can have none, it can be red, brown, black, blonde, white, and a million shades in between.

Yes, it’s hair.

It can be pesky stuff, especially from animals who tend to moult and leave it everywhere.  We have a cat and well know the foibles of hair loss.

You can get it cut, get it coloured, trimmed, permed by a hairdresser in a salon, where lots of subjects are discussed, and even movies have been made around salons.

I haven’t been within a hairsbreadth of either living or dying, but I’m sure someone has.  That hairsbreadth is not very wide, and I’d rather have bullets, arrows or fists missing by that margin.

You can be in another’s hair, that is, being a pest.

There’s the hair of the dog, supposedly a hangover cure.

And, going to scary places will make your hair stand on end.

 

This is not to be confused with the word heir which means something completely different, namely it described the legatee or inheritor of the family fortune.

Or not.  Ages ago, only sons were seen as heirs, and that was even more prevalent among royal families.  It also applied to heirs when it came to titles, and the family wealth and property, which went to the eldest son.

It makes a good plotline for many a murder mystery.

Also, let’s be clear, there is also an heiress and an heirloom.

 

Then there is another, hare, which is a cousin of the rabbit and considered a pest.

I’m not quite sure how someone came up with the descriptor harebrained, which has nothing to do with the hare.

It could mean to run quickly and usually in a careless manner.

A moment to slip back into the past

Televison is a great recorder of the past, and most channels, and especially cable tv have great libraries of films that go back more than a hundred years.

And, whilst it’s possible that modern day films and television series can try to recapture the past, the English as an exception being very good at it, often it is impossible to capture it correctly.

But, if you have a film shot in the moment, then you have a visual record of what life, and what was once part of our world before you in all it’s dated glory. The pity of it is that, then, we never appreciated it.

After all, in those particular times, who had the time to figuratively stop and smell the roses. Back then as life was going on, we were all tied up with just trying to get through each day.

Years later, often on reflection, we try to remember the old days, and, maybe, remember some of what it was like, but the chances are that change came far too rapidly, and often too radical, that it erases what we thought we knew existed before.

My grandmothers house is a case in point. In it’s place is a multi lane super highway, and there’s nothing left to remind us, or anyone of it, just some old sepia photographs.

I was reminded of how volatile history really is when watching an old documentary, in black and white, and how the city I grew up in used to look.

Then, even though it seemed large to me then, it was a smaller city, with suburbs that stretched about ten or so miles in every direction, and the outer suburbs were where people moved to get a larger block, and countrified atmosphere.

Now, those outer suburbs are no longer spacious properties, the acreage subdivided and the old owners now much richer for a decision made with profit not being the motivator, and the current suburban sprawl is now out to forty or fifty miles.

The reason for the distance is no longer the thought of open spaces and cleaner air, the reason for moving now is that land further out is cheaper, and can make buying that first house more affordable.

This is where I tip my hat to the writers of historical fiction. I myself am writing a story based in the 1970s, and its difficult to find what is and isn’t time specific.

If only I had a dollar for every time I went to write the character pulling out his or her mobile phone.

What I’ve found is the necessity to research, and this has amounted to finding old films, documentaries of the day, and a more fascinating source of information, the newspapers of the day.

The latter especially has provoked a lot of memories and a lot of stuff I thought I’d forgotten, some of it by choice, but others that were poignant.

Yes, and don’t get me started on the distractions.

If only I’d started this project earlier…