In a word: Top

Spinning like a …  yes, had a few of those dizzy spells, especially after too much to drink.  It’s where you say, ‘stop the world, I want to get off’.

And, ages ago, I think it was a musical production.

But…

Top, well there’s sides, a bottom, and a top.  Have you been to the top of the world, I think I’ve been to the bottom, and it’s not the poles I’m talking about.

But then the top of something is the highest point, such as a mountain.  For some odd reason, I’ve never had the inclination to climb to the top of a mountain, but I’m guessing the view from the top of Mt Everest would be interesting.

Are you at the top of your game?

We say this when a player, or athlete, is winning or playing at their best.  I just keep hoping this year will be when the Maple Leafs will be playing at the top of their game.

Especially when I personally attend at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

If you read thrillers then you’ll know the assassin is always about to top someone, that is to say, kill them.

Will you top up my drink?  It’s where someone asks you how many glasses of wine you’ve had, and the correct answer is one, it just never got empty!

Can you put the top back on the bottle?

I’m headed straight to the top of the company.  The roof maybe, certainly not as CEO.

Top gear, aside from being a motoring show on TV, it could also be third, fourth, of fifth gear, depending on the type of gearbox.

And, of course, there are about another hundred ways it could be used.

Confusing?  to say the least.

Have you another?  Let me know…

Searching for locations: The Erqi Memorial Tower, Zhengzhou, China

A convoluted explanation on the reasons for this memorial came down to it being about the deaths of those involved in the 1923 Erqi strike, though we’re not really sure what the strike was about.

So, after a little research, this is what I found:

The current Erqi Tower was built in 1971 and was, historically, the tallest building in the city. It is a memorial to the Erqi strike and in memory of Lin Xiangqian and other railway workers who went on strike for their rights, which happened on February 7, 1923.

It has 14 floors and is 63 meters high. One of the features of this building is the view from the top, accessed by a spiral staircase, or an elevator, when it’s working (it was not at the time of our visit).

There seems to be an affinity with the number 27 with this building, in that

  • It’s the 27th memorial to be built
  • to commemorate the 27th workers’ strike
  • located in the 27th plaza of Zhengzhou City.

We drive to the middle of the city where we once again find traveling in kamikaze traffic more entertaining than the tourist points

When we get to the drop-off spot, it’s a 10-minute walk to the center square where the tower is located on one side. Getting there we had to pass a choke point of blaring music and people hawking goods, each echoing off the opposite wall to the point where it was deafening. Too much of it would be torture.

But, back to the tower…

It has 14 levels, but no one seemed interested in climbing the 14 or 16 levels to get to the top. The elevator was broken, and after the great wall episode, most of us are heartily sick of stairs.

The center square was quite large but paved in places with white tiles that oddly reflected the heat rather than absorb it. In the sun it was very warm.

Around the outside of two-thirds of the square, and crossing the roads, was an elevated walkway, which if you go from the first shops and around to the other end, you finish up, on the ground level, at Starbucks.

This is the Chinese version and once you get past the language barrier, the mixology range of cold fruity drinks are to die for, especially after all that walking. Mine was a predominantly peach flavor, with some jelly and apricot at the bottom. I was expecting sliced peaches but I prefer and liked the apricot half.

A drink and fruit together was a surprise.

Then it was the walk back to the meeting point and then into the hotel to use the happy house before rejoining the kamikaze traffic.

We are taken then to the train station for the 2:29 to our next destination, Suzhou, the Venice of the East.

The cinema of my dreams – I never wanted to go to Africa – Episode 20

Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.

Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.

Lallo gave me a minute or two to read what amounted to two lines, that my co-operation was expected, and to be given.  It wasn’t exactly addressed to me personally, but a blanket authorization to interview anyone involved in that operation.

I handed the letter back, but not before I noticed it had been unfolded and refolded several times as if it had been used before.  Had Lallo already interrogated Treen, the only other survivor?

Lallo’s first question: “Do you know who was responsible for organising that operation?”

It was rather an odd question, asking a Sergeant who was assigned at the last minute.

“Look, at the time I was assigned to non-combat duties, not as an on-call commando.  I was a late replacement for the member of the team who had to withdraw due to an accident. I was simply ordered to join the team at the airfield.  Given the results, I’m hoping whoever it was that organized and authorized that operation got the bollicking they deserved.”

I had been annoyed at the time, but I’d got over it.  In keeping with a lot of the operations I’d been involved with; very few had a successful outcome, but usually with fewer casualties.

He gave me a sidelong glance, close to an admonishment.  “Just stick to the facts when answering questions.  The other survivor was Lieutenant Treen, correct?”

Not a happy man was the Lieutenant.  Not happy that the operation was changed at the last minute or the fact the odds had been stacked against us, and not happy I’d been flown in as a replacement what he regarded as his personal group.

“Yes.”

“Are you aware he requested an investigation into that operation?”

It came as no surprise.  On the flight over, he had expressed more than one concern about the lack of intelligence and what the real situation was like on the ground.

“No.”

“Were you aware that a week ago Lieutenant Treen was found dead in his quarters, from an apparent suicide?”

Treen if anything was a soldier’s soldier, and the last man to contemplate suicide for any reason.  Surviving, just, that botched operation would not be a catalyst for such an event for such a man.

“No.”

“Odd then, don’t you think, you are nearly sent to your death the day after?”

If that was the case, and one the face of it, it seemed so, that wasn’t the only oddity about this whole affair.  I remembered the date of the General’s letter, the one telling me to be co-operative. It was the day before Treen’s suicide.

I didn’t think it was a coincidence?

It was quite clear someone didn’t want the General or whoever Lallo was working for, to question the last two survivors.

The question now was: what did we know, or what they thought we knew that was so important, that silencing us was necessary.

And would ‘they’ try again?

© Charles Heath 2019-2022

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 18

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

The pier had been moving gently up and down in response to a passing speed boat that had flouted the minimum speed law, like most of the speed boat owners.

On board the boat, the movement was more pronounced, and it was a bad time to remember that I get seasick, even standing on the pier.  My stomach was suddenly queasy.

Boggs was standing by the hatch that led down below.  It was locked with a big padlock so there was no way we were getting below.  Along the side of the boat was a raised section with windows, but there were curtained off, and the material was faded and looked dirty.

Boggs walked along the narrow walkway to the bow and tried the hatch in the middle of the foredeck.

I noticed the boat was tied to the pier fore and aft with some think rope and funny looking knots.  I don’t think I’d make a very good sailor.  I looked up to the top of the mast and it made me feel dizzy.  It was a long way up.

Behind me was an area where people could seat, and further back a large wheel which I assumed was how the boat was steered.  I could just see Rico standing behind it, captain’s hat on, looking all business-like.

“There’s nothing to see here,” I said, turning back towards Boggs, who was now coming along the other side of the cabin.  One slip and he’d be in the ocean.  I looked over the side and it didn’t look very deep.  I could even see some small fish swimming near the pylon that was covered below the waterline with seaweed.

Boggs stopped at the last window, then knelt down and peered in.

“What do you see?”

“There’s someone in there?”

“Rico?”

“No.  I saw him leave earlier.  Someone else.”

“You know who it is?”

“No.  Never seen him before.  A guy in a suit.  Not the sort of person I’d expect Rico to know, or have as a friend.”

“What’s he doing?”

Boggs changed his position to get a better look.  “He’s just sitting…oh my God, there’s blood.”

“Where?”

I moved quickly over to where Boggs was crouched.  “Give us a look?”  Curiosity was overtaking concern.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” Boggs said over and over.

I pulled out my phone and dialled 911.  When they asked me who I wanted, I said Police.  Then I looked over at the fishing shop and saw Rico and his friends coming back.

“Boggs.”

He ignored me, trying to get a better view.

“Boggs.  It’s Rico.”

Then the policeman answered, “What’s the nature of your emergency?”

“Dead man on a boat, Eden’s Landing, Pier 5, a boat called ‘Freedom Runner’.  And you’d better hurry.”

“Why?”

“Because the owners coming and he doesn’t look happy.”

Then to Boggs, “We got to get the hell out of here, now.”

But, by that time, there was nowhere to go.  Rico had seen us and was all but running to cut off our escape.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: The Henan Museum, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China

The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China.  In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year.  n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.

It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.

Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.

We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.

While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.

The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items.  One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.

Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.


There were also small sculptures

an array of small figures

and a model of a settlement

20 minutes was long enough.

The cinema of my dreams – I never wanted to go to Africa – Episode 19

Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.

The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.

Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.

It didn’t take much effort to come to the only viable explanation of why a buried operation had been brought back to life.

Colonel Bamfield.

And it didn’t take much more effort to realise that operation had been one of his, not that any of us knew that at the time, but for whatever reason, it had gone badly and now he was looking for answers.

Answers to what though?

It was a simple extraction; two operatives had their cover blown and were in hiding.  A seven-man team in two choppers, get in, collect them, and get out.  Seven men were overkill, but they were important operatives with vital intelligence.

I was a last minute addition to the team, replacing one of the sergeants who had been injured in an accident.  It was a tight-knit team and I was not made to feel welcome.  It was the usual fate of outsiders and it didn’t bother me.

It was their leader that did.  Lieutenant Treen.  But that came later, all it was, at first, was a sense of unease with his informal manner of command, and somewhat edgy disposition.

When I landed at the airfield, I was met by the other Sergeant, Mason, and taken to the briefing, which had been delayed until my arrival.  Treen was there, pacing up and down like a caged tiger.  It was apparent there were still some details still being worked on.  Being so close to wheels up, I was not surprised at the tension among the group.

A Captain, a man named Worsefell, conducted the briefing, and it was patchy.  Not the worst I’d been to, but it appeared the situation on the ground had changed considerably in the last 12 hours, necessitating a change in plans.

 The operative had managed to get cover in an old abandoned building.  That was fine until a group of enemy soldiers arrived and set up camp in the field not 100 yards from their position.  Now, it was not possible to leave without being seen, day or night.

We now had to either distract or remove the enemy soldiers, an enemy we had no numbers or how heavily armed they were because our source on the ground had gone quiet.  To me, it was possible the source had been captured, and if that was the case, it was also possible the enemy knew we were coming.  But according to the Captain, this particular source had gone quiet before, in similar circumstances, so my suggestion was ignored.

Instead, the consensus was to go in and make an assessment on the ground.  It meant we had to land further away, and have a long journey by foot with all the problems that might involve, and then return.  That was the plan.  The Captain had left it in Treen’s hands.

And Treen was not one to back away from a fight, not even when it was clear to everyone in that room, with or without the necessary intelligence, that the odds were stacked against success.

I looked at Lallo who was waiting for an answer.  “I guess the brass didn’t know what to do with me, sir.”

My use of the word sir was noted.

“Be that as it may, I have a few questions about that operation.”

“I’m afraid it’s classified, and I’m under oath not to speak about it.”

Lallo took out a piece of folded paper from the inside pocket of his uniform jacket unfolded it and passed it to me.

From the very General who had ordered my silence.

© Charles Heath 2019-2022

The vicissitudes of life

I’m currently sitting in my car waiting to pick the grandchildren up from school wondering where that dream of the glamorous life of an author went.

Can it be said that any author leads a glamorous life, except for maybe J K Rowling, James Patterson and a handful of others?

That dream is of course only a dream.  I did not start this writing caper to become rich and famous or live a glamorous life.  I started It, and it continues in the same vein, that I have a lot of stories in my head that I want to get on paper.

If anyone else wants to read them, then that’s a bonus.  If I happen to make enough money, rather than live high on the hog, an expression my father often used to describe the rich, I would happily invest in programs that get young people reading more.

It also strikes me that it would be difficult to write a literary novel in the vein of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters, to name a few because modern day life has no real meaning like it did then.

Instant news, instant communications, and the rest of the country, as well as the world, so close we can go anywhere, and communicate instantly.  In the days of classic literature, they survived on periodic letters, and traveling to another part of the same country was very arduous.  Just the receipt of a letter could girl a chapter, the trip to and the visit to a relative could girl several.

But those tales of life were always about people of means, not the ordinary people.  Stories that have the minutiae of daily life do not appeal.  No one wants to read about their lives, they want to be transported to another world where there is no such inanity like cooking, cleaning, washing and picking up children.

I’m using this time to write another episode or chapter, or, in this case, a blog post.

As any parent will tell you, it is the calm before the storm.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to go on a treasure hunt – Episode 17

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

I could hardly say no, but it was not going to be a place either of us would want to be if he came back, and especially if he had company.

But, Boggs didn’t seem to care, and strolled up to the dock, and then walked down to the boat.  IT wasn’t gated like some of the others were, but they had very expensive yachts that no doubt belongs to the local millionaires, people like the Benderby’s and their country club friends.

I remember my father talking about them once, and he had little respect for any of them.,  They, he said, had no time or money to worry about the welfare of their employees, but never lacked for anything themselves.

Looking at those yachts now, I could believe him.

I couldn’t say the same for Rico’s boat.  It was old, made of wood, and looked like boats I’d seen in old movies.  It was about 40 or 50 foot long, with a tall mast and a sail tied up ready to unfurl when out to see.

It had a large diesel engine, and it was this Rico used to get out of the bay until he was past the sandbank at the entrance.

On the transom, it had the words ‘Freedom Runner’ starting to peel and fade, and you could just make out the old name of the boat, ‘Elsie’, perhaps the wife or lover of the previous owner.  That must have been a long time ago, because I’d known Rico as long as I’d known Boggs, and that was nearly 18 years.

I had to ask, “You think Rico is running a collection service?”

“Someone is, according to the police chief.”

“How do you know that?  I thought the police were our sworn enemy.”

Considering the trouble we’d got into over the years, and the number of times the police chief had locked us up in the cells as punishment, we just spent our days avoiding him..  Perhaps the punishment had worked.

“He was around out place the other night.”

I wasn’t aware that Boggs was up to anything that would interest the law, but, then, he never told me everything he did.

“Why?”

“Come to see my mother.”

“What’s she been doing?”

“Nothing.  He was asking her out on a date.  Probably trying to cosy up to her so he can snoop on what Rico’s doing.  There’s no other reason why he would be interested in her.”

Actually, he was wrong.  Boggs mother was, for her age, quite attractive, or so my mother said.  She said a few other uncomplimentary things about her, but I was not going to repeat them to Boggs.

Nor did I agree with my mother’s assessment.  At times I saw more of Boggs mother than my own.

“Or maybe not.  But if she was to go out with him, that would make Rico think twice about doing anything, including giving you a hard time, or trying to steal the map.”

“You don’t know Rico.  He is just plain stupid.”

“He hasn’t been caught.”

“Yet.”

Then Boggs decided to walk over to the side of the boat and step onto the deck.

”What are you doing?” I hissed.

People on the other boats tied up to the pier were looking or pretending not to look, but I had no doubt they would report our actions to Rico

“Going on board.  I don’t think Rico would mind.”

It was said with a fair degree of bravado, but the halting tone told me otherwise.

“Are you coming?”

Damn him.  It was not as if he was going me a choice.

I shrugged.  God help us if Rico came back.

 

 

© Charles Heath 2019

The cinema of my dreams – It’s a treasure hunt – Episode 16

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 instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

 

Rather tired and bleary eyes, I made it to the fishing store five minutes late.  I had a lot on my mind, woken late, and then had to battle traffic.  I longed for the day I could afford a car, though riding the bike kept me fit.

It also took my mind of the encounter last night, the one that had kept me away, my imagination almost getting the better of me.

Boggs was there, and he didn’t look happy.

“Where were you last night?  I tried to get you, but you weren’t answering.”

I had the phone on silent.  Ringing phones had a way of bringing unwanted attention.

“I had something I had to do.”

“You went to the Lantern without me.”

What?  Does he have a network of spies I knew nothing about?  “So, I heard it went respectable and had to check it out.”  And hoping Boggs didn’t know who was in attendance, other than me.

“We said we would go there together.”

“You apparently had something else on last night.”

“It’s not what you think.  I had to go with my mother to the hospital for her 6 monthly checks.”

It was easy to forget.  She’d had a cancer scare a few years back, and had undergone chemo for a few months, sending it into remission.  But it came with 6 monthly checks, and both Boggs and his mother were constantly worried it might come back.  It seemed it always did when you least expected it.

“And what was the verdict.”

He relented a little.  “Good.”

“Then, I assure you that was more important.”  No point in telling Boggs what I was doing, just in case it backfired, or he disagreed.  “And I can assure you the place is not worth it anymore.  Boring as shit.”

He shook his head.  Not pleased, but at least not angry.

“Has Rico shown his face?” I asked.

“Yes, about an hour back, some of those people he associates with came and they went off together.”

Perhaps he was annoyed that I hadn’t been there because I’m sure Boggs would follow him.

“You’ve been here all this time?”

“He came to our place last night.  I’m sure it was him who searched in my room.  Not much of a professional thief, he left a mess behind.  Went through the outhouse as well.”

“Looking for the map?”

“Seems so.  He didn’t find it.”

No, he wouldn’t, because Boggs had it with him.  At least that was what I thought he intimated a day or two ago.

“Copies?”

He reached for his back pocket and pulled out some folded paper.  “Thought you might like to keep a copy for yourself.”

I tried hard to keep the excitement out of my manner.  It saved me having to make up an excuse as to why I wanted a copy of the map, and I didn’t want to tell him about the plan involving Nadia, not unless I had to.

“Thanks,” I said, and slipped it into my pocket.

“Now, let’s go check out his boat.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Searching for locations: The Pagoda Forest, near Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, China

The pagoda forest

After another exhausting walk, by now the heat was beginning to take its toll on everyone, we arrived at the pagoda forest.

A little history first:

The pagoda forest is located west of the Shaolin Temple and the foot of a hill.  As the largest pagoda forest in China, it covers approximately 20,000 square meters and has about 230 pagodas build from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Each pagoda is the tomb of an eminent monk from the Shaolin Temple.  Graceful and exquisite, they belong to different eras and constructed in different styles.  The first pagoda was thought to be built in 791.

It is now a world heritage site.

No, it’s not a forest with trees it’s a collection of over 200 pagodas, each a tribute to a head monk at the temple and it goes back a long time.  The tribute can have one, three, five, or a maximum of seven layers.  The ashes of the individual are buried under the base of the pagoda.

The size, height, and story of the pagoda indicate its accomplishments, prestige, merits, and virtues. Each pagoda was carved with the exact date of construction and brief inscriptions and has its own style with various shapes such as a polygonal, cylindrical, vase, conical and monolithic.

This is one of the more recently constructed pagodas

There are pagodas for eminent foreign monks also in the forest.

From there we get a ride back on the back of a large electric wagon

to the front entrance courtyard where drinks and ice creams can be bought, and a visit to the all-important happy place.

Then it’s back to the hotel.