Jan 28, 2009

Push it all the way in, Jack...

I read Brenda Brooks comments in the Plymouth Herald's 'Saturday thought' (a religious segment of the paper) about the survival of the people on the plane which landed in the Hudson River. Brenda states that the pilot told everyone 'to pray', unfortunately, I can find no reference to this statement actually being said. What I do find is that Captain Sullenberger's one instruction to the cabin was to 'prepare for impact'. However, whilst Brenda does give Captain Sullenburger some credit in this horrific accident, she implies his 148 passengers survived by the grace of her god through prayer. I was wondering if this is the same god who chooses not to answer the millions of prayers of those men, women and children caught in conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing etc., throughout the world - or do their prayers and suffering not attract the necessary media attention for her god to act? Or am I being cynical?

Jill's digital movie camera broke just before we went to Slovakia and she bought a new one to take with us. Before purchase, she established with the store assistant that the camera would play the film she took on our TV as well as recording it to DVD and he suggested it would do all that she wanted. However, after the trip she spent hours trying to get it to play the film on the TV without success. She took it back to the shop yesterday and explained her problems. The assistant decided to try it on a TV the same as the one we have and it worked! Elated, Jill brought it back and plugged it into our set and guess what? It didn't work. We couldn't understand why - the set was the same as the shop, the leads were the same, the connections were the same - it just didn't make sense. Granddaughter Leah had a go and attached the cable from her video camera onto Jill's camera and images appeared on the TV screen - so, we were guessing the fault was with Jill's connection leads - which we tried once more and, yep, 'no joy'. Then I did what I should have done when Jill first had the problem a week ago. I checked the connection - and Jill hadn't been pushing the small jackplug all the way into the camera socket each time she did it! At least the camera is performing as it should now.

No news from Camilla Bolton on The Messenger, yet. Is that no news is good news, I wonder? Met up with Rita this morning to talk through the storyboard for the Jack Chandler sequel. I am finding the story research (on GM crops) alarming and more like fiction than fact with Terminator Seeds (Good name for a book, but terminology for male sterile seeds) which are modified to produce one crop only and regarded as intellectual property for the purposes of law. I gather the French have stopped (temporarily?) using a certain brand of GM maize. How do we know what the long term effects of GM foods and additives will be? Are we setting up our children and grandchilden to reap what we sow? I hope not.

Jan 21, 2009

Slovakia - service not included...

We arrived in Trencin at around midnight on Thursday 15th January to lots of snow. The town is a sprawling area formed around a hill on the top of which is a large 14th century castle and church. Our hotel, which was very close to the top of the hill, had large rooms which were warm and comfortable.
On Friday, Jill and I and all the children and grandchildren made our way up to the castle to explore. The cobbled path to it was steep and long and covered in slushy snow. We had a tour of the building and the view over the city from the main tower and battlements was amazing. Coming down was a little exacting as some of the slush had frozen due to a change in the temperature in the two hours or so that we were wandering around the place.
In the evening we all decided to have dinner at the hotel to save going out in the cold to eat in the town. Whilst the food was good and reasonably priced the service was slow. It seems people in Slovakia don't complain about poor service because, if they do, it is usually ignored as the customer is seen almost as an inconvenience. We ordered our food at 6.30pm and the first meal arrived at 7.20. The other dozen or so meals eventually arrived over the next hour and a half. At 10pm Matthew and Lenka, and those guests who had gone to Bulgaria skiing with them, arrived at the hotel. They had had a three hour journey to the airport in Bulgaria, a two hour wait, a two hour flight and then an hour drive to the hotel - so they were tired and hungry, but no food was available as the chef had finished cooking by then.
On the Saturday we all went ice skating at an open air rink in the centre of town. I managed to do some skating with Sarah, Kirsty and Christian and the grandchildren. I hadn't skated for around twenty years, but it eventually came back to me. Afterward we all went for coffee and hot chocolate - and, I am told, the chocolate was literally melted chocolate.
That evening was Matthew and Lenka's marriage celebration at a large restaurant just up the hill from the hotel. As we all waited the owner of the venue, a thick set man, sporting a shock of black hair, beard and black leather jacket said a few words of greeting before Matthew and Lenka sipped from a glass of brandy and cut their way through a huge sheet with two hearts painted onto it. Then they led guests into the building. There rooms were decorated with huge chandeliers, candles, mirrors, flowers and tables and chairs with light green lacy material on them. Apparently the cost of a reception here is reasonable until the customer is told that if they want what they see - in terms of decoration - everything will be extra - and not to have these extras would make the room rather bare looking. (I wondered if the owner had been trained by a budget airline) The meal, Slovakian soup and a main meal was very well presented and tasty, but, by virtue of the three teenagers serving the 67 guests, again the service slow.
Lenka's mother read a speech in English to welcome us all and she did it incredibly well considering she is not familiar with the language. Slovakian traditions are a big part of the celebrations and Matthew and Lenka had to start by eating soup from the same bowl to signify 'sharing' in their marriage. Later a plate was broken on the dance floor and Matthew and Lenka had to sweep it up - again to signify the partnership responsibilities of the marriage. While they were trying to sweep up the mess members of the family were being encouraged to kick it further away from them to make the work harder. I think this element of the tradition was to imply that relations can cause problems in marriage! Later, as we ate some of the delicious cakes that Lenka's parents had supplied, two women dressed as gypsies (one was supposed to be heavily pregnant and had a rag doll in her arms, the other was dressed as her father) came into the room and started shouting at Matthew. The pregnant one was accusing Matthew of being the father of her children and he had to publicly pay her to go away. I wasn't sure what tradition that was to signify, but it had all of us in fits of laughter.
Then at 10.30pm there was a problem. A large amount of money had been placed with the owner to allow guests to have drinks at the bar after the meal - during the meal there were many bottles of wine on the tables. The owner said not only had the money been used up by the guests ordering at the bar, but that it had gone over by £200 and he wanted the money. The guests were more than a little surprised as the people hadn't been ordering that much from the bar - and to have consumed the money so quickly would have meant every guest having around ten drinks in an hour and a half. When asked for a breakdown of the bill the man couldn't supply it. The guests, especially the Slovakians were becoming angry at the situation and a few minutes later the owner said he'd made a mistake and there was at least £100 left behind the bar. From then on guests were keeping notes of any drinks they had from the bar to ensure the man had no chance to make any more 'mistakes'.
Around midnight, Lenka's parents had arranged for bowls of beef strogonoff (which was delicious) to be brought into the room and everyone began eating again. The food seemed never ending.
The next day when the bill was being settled the owner said someone had broken a candle holder and that he had to spend more money on staff than he originally planned and ... guess what? This came to an extra £200 - so, I guess he got his 'pocket money' after all, but I gather word of his dealings with a large local family is spreading round the town very quickly.
We visited a small Mall in the town before we made our way to the airport at Bratislava to come home. I have to say the whole four days was a wonderful family experience enjoyed by everyone.

Jan 14, 2009

up up and away

See you guys when I get back from Slovakia

Jan 9, 2009

100% proof fairy cakes

For some reason I don't understand the date of this post is listed as Friday 9th January when I posted it today Monday 12th January - has anybody had this date problem before in posting - or is it just me?

Jill and I, our children and grandchildren attended our nephew, and Godson, Matthew's wedding over the weekend. His fiancee, now wife, Lenka (Slovakian) looked quite regal. The best man Gord (Canadian) made part of his speech in Slovakian, French and Japanese for the guests from those countries - which I thought was a very brave thing to do, and impressed me greatly, until Lenka's sister asked me if I thought he'd realised that he'd made a toast to the bride and a small fridge freezer!

We are going out to Trencin to complete the celebrations with Lenka's family later this week. I gather we will be given lots of small cakes to eat at the party - a tradition it seems. The cakes are followed by many shots of Vodka - not so much a tradition, more a test of staying upright. The weather there is cold and snowy - so, winter draws on.

Putting more research in on the next in the Jack Chandler series. Why is it every story I come up with is complicated? Why can't I just have a straightforward plot line? Is it an over active imagination or a creative curse? The trouble is the more I research the more my fiction looks like it could become fact - eek!

Jan 5, 2009

Mars - helps us work, rest and pray?

I've just been watching the news reports on the Gaza strip conflict. What the hell are we doing to each other? No matter where war takes place it's the innocents in the middle who suffer - men, women and children - on both sides. Am I wrong in thinking that the average citizen of any country is seen as cannon fodder by its Government? Unless we have a value - which we appear not to (other than when those same governments need us to become part of their army) then we seem to be expendable. Each time I see news reports of people being blown to pieces I see me, and my family. I can't imagine the terror the children of conflict must feel every day, wondering if the next missile has their name on it. And the parents too on both sides - people like you and me - how can they protect themselves and their children? The simple fact is they can't - and that can't be right. I really wish I had the answer - more importantly, I really wish governments had the answer. What niggles me is that we can afford to spend ten billion on the Olympic Games - and god knows what on the prospect of getting to Mars, but not on saving lives. Maybe someone knows we might need althletes to populate Mars when we finally blow this planet of ours to bits.

Jan 3, 2009

Chapter 1 continued ...

A sudden clatter of bullets was drowned by the shrieks of those falling in front of him while others ran for cover.

Ten metres away the girl stood screaming amongst crumpled bodies.

He grabbed his rifle, kicked the door open and ran. ‘Cover me!’ he yelled.

Robbo returned fire as Jack swept the girl into his right arm and glanced back at the Land Rover. The pillars were closer cover. Followed by bullets, he darted for them, his boots skidding in the dirt as he slammed him and the girl behind one. More shells whistled past demolishing tables and smashing tall jars of spice in the market place. The warm woody aroma of cinnamon filled the air and, for a split second, he was a kid again watching his mother bake apple pie - until the sound of bullets hammering into the pillar refocused his mind. He turned and levelled his SA80. It was a right-shoulder weapon, but he couldn’t risk putting the frantic girl down to change hands. He squeezed the trigger and she screamed as shell casings ricocheted off the pillar from the ejector – then stopped. He squeezed the trigger again. Nothing. ‘Don’t you fucking jam on me!’ he spat and tried again. Nothing. He dropped the rifle against his feet, hugged the girl onto his left side and pulled a Browning 9mm from his chest holster. Edging a look around the pillar he knew the man on the roof was beyond the thirty metre range of the semi-automatic, but he let loose shots anyway as Robbo bent below the wing of the Land Rover to reload.

The girl wriggled, kicking, shouting for her parents – ‘Umi, Abi’ – Mummy, Daddy. He couldn’t stop her pushing away from him. Her actions were making them both an achievable target. He slipped her to the ground behind his legs – a large firm hand holding her shaking body. His breathing slowed as he looked down at her. Terrified, brown eyes and a dusty tear-stained face stared back, while small shoulders lifted rhythmically as she gulped air. She must have been about eight he reckoned.


Jack looked across at Robbo pointing to the building. A second insurgent was visible behind a broken window on the end of the third floor. Under cover of the roof-top gunner, his shots were more precise. He picked off anyone still moving. One by one the screams of the wounded died away as his rifle tracked around and then stopped in line with the pillar.

‘He’s on you!’ bellowed Robbo.

Both insurgents opened fire smashing the concrete of the pillar in all directions. Jack wiped grit out of his right eye with the heel of his gun hand as dust and stones up flew up around him.

‘Umi! Umi!’ cried the girl.

He felt her freeze and pressed her harder against the back of his legs as another strafing exploded more chunks off the column. He glanced up. It was taller than his six two and leaning slightly now. If it fell there’d be nowhere to run. It looked like this could be it – he wasn’t going to get home to Sally and Mark after all. The buzz of twelve millimetre shells and the girl’s screams jerked his thoughts back. He let loose more shots. It was useless. The insurgents had the advantage. He knew it and they knew it. He glanced at the Land Rover. Maybe he could even the odds. ‘Robbo,’ he shouted.

His coporal turned.

‘Use the RPGs.’

Robbo reached in and dragged the weapons out. ‘Stay there!’ he bawled as he knelt by the wing and aimed.

Jack wasn’t going anywhere. He took a panted breath and smoothed a hand over the girl’s back. ‘You’ll be, OK,’ he said. She didn’t look up – didn’t take her eyes off the bodies in the road. It didn’t surprise him. He knew she wouldn’t understand his reassurance, but he needed to say it anyway.

Robbo fired. The RPG exploded against the parapet throwing the machine gunner into the air.

‘Get the sniper!’ ordered Jack as he looked down at the girl wriggling against his legs.

‘Umi. Umi,’ she cried and broke away from him.

‘NO!’ He snatched at her – the ends of straggly hair passing over his fingers. ‘Come back!’ he yelled.


The Messenger

I seem to have lost the formatting on this, but I did promise to post it, so here it is - page one:

Chapter 1

Iraq - Present day

Thursday 3.37 pm – local time.

The road through Hit had been quiet, too quiet for Sergeant Jack Chandler, but the city was almost behind them now. For two months, he and his corporal, Robbo Banks, had made equipment runs along this sixty mile desert corridor and today was their last duty. In a few minutes, if he could pass the old truck in front of them, he’d put his foot down and get back to base at Hadithah in readiness for the unit’s return to the UK.

The truck slowed, a light behind a broken indicator glass pulsing as the vehicle blocked the road to turn into an alley between dirty white buildings. Jack touched the brakes on the Snatch Land Rover and looked across at Robbo resting his SA80 assault rifle against the passenger door as he wiped sweat from his face with his sleeve. An internal smile at the thought of them having a beer together in Plymouth in a couple of days dissolved as the prospect of becoming a civilian occupied his mind, again. The truck reversing brought him out of his thoughts and he glanced into the door mirror at cars slowing behind them and no room to back up. He gave a toot on the horn and the vehicle jerked to a halt three metres in front of them.

‘What’s he doing?’ asked Robbo. ‘Give him a blast.’

‘And let everybody know we’re here?’ Jack directed a nod back behind the seats at cases of ammunition and two Rocket Propelled Grenades. ‘Just keep your eyes open,’ he said scanning their position. Further along on his right, to the rear of a large open space, people threaded their way past a three story building toward the road. Fifteen metres ahead on his left, behind two concrete pillars a bustling street market – he guessed this was where they were going. He looked back and traced the path of a young girl, her long dark hair bouncing as she ran across the wasteland. A man in a white robe and a woman in black walking after her shouted and she stopped. The hand she held up was quickly grasped by the woman who walked with her to join others at the kerbside.

The truck finally juddered its way into the alley and Jack waited as groups of people hurried across the road. He glimpsed the girl turn, frown a look back across the wasteland, and tug on the woman’s sleeve as she pointed. He followed the direction of her outstretched arm. Behind the roof parapet of the building a head and shoulders shimmered in the afternoon heat. The silhouette next to it tightened his gut. He punched a fist at Robbo. ‘Machine gun! Three o’clock.’

Stand and deliver!

On Sunday the central heating packed up and of course we had no heat and no hot water for showers etc (kettle worked overtime!). The plumber came late on Wednesday and advised the fan had bust and parts would be hard to get over the Bank Holiday. He also mentioned that the bill would be close to £200 for the supply and fitting of a new fan as the new fan would cost 'at least £125 + vat'. The combi-boiler was installed by this plumber five years ago. In an effort to assist him in getting a new part at 8.30 Friday morning I telephoned three suppliers within a five mile radius and found two with the relevant part in stock and, guess what? The new fan to me, without trade discount, was £62 +vat. I immediately rang the plumber to say I'd found a supplier with the part and he told me he'd already bought one earlier that morning. So ... later that day he came, detached four push on connectors, unscrewed 4 screws, placed the new fan in position, rescrewed the screws and reattached the connectors. 15 minutes - job done! The bill? £180 - no receipt available - so, I paid by cheque. I want to have ten radiators replaced and some other sundry plumbing work carried out and that job is going to the man I should have called - as is the profit.

Still polishing the three chapters to go to Camilla Bolton - hopefully get them off Monday. It's been rather cold to type recently.