Many new – and very good – writers (and I mean good – there are so many mediocre ones around) are tiring of established agents and publishers. The world is changing. How many new writers have had a recommendation like this from one of the few remaining big boys? (more often than not they can’t even be bothered to reply). So, thank you for the publicity, independent publisher URBANE! Even though Playpits Park is already available on Amazon (with around 2000 downloads and 5-star reviews), you took the trouble to promote me on Twitter!
Santa bought one of these from Halfords for the 9-year old (6 years after I first mentioned him, see here). Construction took days, with him working on the first bits. Things got hard – expected – and I took over. Two days later I wished I had been building a real engine, not a plastic one (I have built real ones without instruction books, honest!) First there was a part missing. I thought I must have dropped it. After four of us searching the room for it (it was a tiny spring), I discovered on Google that the part was also missing from other people’s kits. The instruction book had mistakes and ambiguous drawings, resulting in me dismantling and reassembling chunks of engine in a trial-and-error rebuild to make the thing work. Finally I got it going. 9-year old VERY pleased…
Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB), wanted to put the new Moneypoint Power Station into the hillside to make it less obtrusive (so did they succeed? The chimneys might give it away). To do this the contractors had to excavate a massive amount of rock. They also needed nice clean-cut sides to the excavation, and to get those they had to use pre-split blasting. Pre-splitting is a technique that provides nice flat walls to an excavation. A row of deep drillholes is charged with exactly the right amount of a certain kind of explosive – one that cracks the rock suddenly, rather than one that produces tons of gas.
The explosives arrived with an impressive escort of armed Irish police (it was the years of ‘the troubles’) There were about 100 drill holes to fill, so the Garda stood around for four hours until all the explosive was in the ground. Unfortunately the stuff that arrived wasn’t the explosive I’d recommended. But after all the hassle of getting it there we had little choice but to use it.
We retired to a safe distance (as it used to say on fireworks) with the shot firer carrying his blasting machine and trailing a cable. Safe distance for us meant over a small hill behind the site, as far as we could go before we were stopped by a barbed wire fence. The shot firer sounded his air horn, wound the handle on his box, and pressed the button. There was a roar. The sky filled with clods of earth. Chunks of rock and pieces of turf rained all around us as the explosive energy went skywards rather than into the ground.
It shouldn’t have done that. It looked like the photos you see of volcanoes erupting in Iceland – all the smoke and debris but with no molten lava. Our estimate of how far away to stand was about right. The largest of the rocks and clods landed some way off. What we hadn’t allowed for was the effect the explosion would have on the herd of cows grazing in the same field. Like us, they were safety away from flying debris. But not from the noise of the blast.
Were the cows unhappy? You bet. They came round the hillside like stampeding buffalo, about fifty of them heading our way. The barbed wire fence no longer seemed such an impediment to us. It’s amazing how quickly you can move and how high you can vault if you really try.
I learned later that while they were charging the holes with explosives, the contractors found they had too much. They couldn’t return it to Dublin because the police escort and armoured van had gone. No brownie points for guessing where they put the surplus explosive. Down all the drillholes.
I haven’t ridden this bike for five years. A few months ago I noticed that the front tyre was perished. The tyre was cracked, as was the inner tube (tubeless tyres weren’t widely available when this bike was made). The inside of the wheel was badly rusted so I decided to clean it up and repaint it. Then I thought I might as well tidy up and paint the mudguard and forks. One thing led to another. I took off the headlight. The wiring was poor. While I had the headlight off it seemed to make sense to replace all the wiring – and convert the electrics from 6 volts to 12 volts. That meant putting new electronics under the petrol tank.
When I took off the tank I noticed that it rattled. At some stage in its life it had been lined to prevent rust. Thanks to governments that are too thick to understand the consequences of what they do – UK and EU – insisting on ethanol being added to petrol, the lining had turned into broken-up lumps of what looked like old varnish. I flushed out loads of the stuff, it had clogged the fuel pipes and carburettor.
I added flashers, an LED ultrabright running light, and bicycle panniers. If any future owner wants to remove them, that’s fine. I want a safe bike that can be used on today’s roads. You might have noticed that the paint job finished just behind the engine. When the rear tyre needs replacing I’ll have a go at the rest.
I used to believe that there was no such thing as a coincidence. It’s what all my mates used to say. Then something happened. I took a flat in a small Gloucestershire town. The old dear – sorry, the elderly lady – who owned it told me that her previous lodger was constantly in trouble with the police. He held parties, she said, entertaining ‘all kinds of girls’. Finally she’d made him to leave. Assisted, she added, by her friendly local police sergeant.
One year later I left the place and went to college to study maths and physics – a scary two years – and then went on to uni to study geology. As part of my fieldwork I got vac work in Canada, on a mine surrounded by hundreds of miles of dense forest. Fifty miles away there was a one-horse town, with single-storey wooden buildings strung out along the main drag. The mine was new. Though it had been operating for three or four months, they held a grand opening ceremony soon after I arrived, attended by mining company bigwigs flown out from London. The mine organised an impressive outdoor party with food and beer. And invited the great and the good from the one-horse town.
It was July, and it was hot. The organisers provided tables, those heavy wooden outdoor things that pubs have. I sat at one with the mine’s engineers and geologists and a big stash of Labatt’s Blue. We had been there a while when a guy in his late 20s like most of us (I was a mature student by then), slid onto the end of the bench. One by one my new colleagues got up and left. I got chatting to the new arrival. He had a Canadian accent and said he didn’t work on the mine. ‘Got a business in town,’ he said. He asked what I did, and where I came from. I told him I was at uni, and that I had worked on the engine test beds at a firm in this Gloucestershire town. ‘Hey, so did I!’ he said. ‘I had a place in an old house in High Street, you know it?’ I knew it. I knew it because I had lived in the same flat for over a year. ‘Got out eventually,’ he added. ‘Coppers never left me alone. The woman who owned the place had me thrown out so I decided to get as far away from the bloody place as I could. It’s good here. I’m a respected member of the community. And the police leave me alone.’
The mine’s geologists and engineers had taken their beer with them. I went looking for it. When I found them they looked at me inquisitively.
“What?” I asked.
“You get on all right with that guy?”
“He didn’t ask you to his place?”
“No, why should he?
“You best keep away from him. He’s married to a local girl. He lives in a house in town, he invites all kinds there, men and women, you know? Just wondered if he’d asked you there….”
I grabbed a bottle, managed to snap off the crown cork by whacking it on the wooden bench like they did, and took a big swig. I stayed with them, I didn’t go back. The last I saw of the mechanic he was still on the bench, talking to another young man.
Coincidence, or what?
*apologies to J M Barrie
I have just taken my grandson to see ‘Pan’. I went with mixed feelings because it seems to have bad critics’ reviews. Ignore them, they are rubbish. Pan is a very credible prequel to Peter Pan. J M Barrie would have approved. It is well acted, has a well crafted storyline and stunning graphics. After so many Harry Potters and Lords of Rings this is a welcome and refreshing break. The 9-year-old loved it, as did I. Just remember, you are not going to see yet another remake of Peter Pan. You are going to see how Peter Pan came to be. It does the job well. Believe me, I wouldn’t go to this trouble if I wasn’t so incensed by the critics’ rubbish reviews. This is a box office gem, not a turkey. Why are so many reviewers bitter and destructive? Is it because they realise that if they had more real talent (or any at all) they could actually produce such excellent stuff themselves?
Yes, I know it’s not an original expression (Google it), but look at this photo. To commemorate the 1914-18 War the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, sowed a poppy garden. Today, 4th October, I photographed it (for personal reasons I have a love of blue cornflowers, one of the flowers planted with the poppies). At this time of year the poppies have died, of course. There are not 18 million dead poppies here (click on the image). But spot the flower I fell in love with today. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why. .
No apologies here, sorry. You really do need to see this and wonder how the actions of the UK and USA in the Middle East over the years might have contributed to the death of this child – and hundreds more like him. I was a policeman in the 1960s, and though I saw dead children, I saw NOTHING as disturbing as this. I know it sounds trite, but the boy’s name was Aylan. Not quite Aslan… and a Moslem, not a Christian? So what?