Tom Kane's Blog

A word can change a mind. A sentence can change a life. A book can change the world

image automation technology doctor AI

We’ve heard a lot about AI (Artificial Intelligence) in recent years and how it will change our lives. There are some who feel AI could lead to the destruction of the human race, like something out of Hollywood’s Terminator films. That, to my mind, is a little over the top, but AI, robots and automation will see a major change in work practices.

We only have to look back in history to see how the introduction of new technology can change and even destroy jobs that have been around for centuries.

I have spent almost my entire working life, from 1973 to now, 2018, working with computers. From main frames to PCs I’ve always worked with a computer with the exception of almost three years as a wine merchant on leaving school in 1971. Due to this new computer technology many new jobs were created and I became a computer programmer. But job creation with the introduction of computers also introduced job destruction.

In 1986 Britain’s largest privately owned newspaper publisher, News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch, was faced with a stark choice. His newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun, were losing money in the way they were produced in Fleet Street, London. To make these newspapers profitable Murdoch had to introduce new innovations in technology that would revolutionise the way newspapers would be produced.

The old method of typesetting a newspaper was costing the company a fortune in wages and the introduction of computers would make that process more streamlined. Journalist could input their copy into a computer for the first time and software would take over the role of the typesetter. But the introduction of this new technology would put 90% of the old-fashioned typesetters out of work. Despite offering redundancy payments of £2,000 to £30,000 to each printer to quit their old jobs the print unions rejected the offer. In January 1986 union members at Murdoch’s newspaper plants went on strike.

But News International had secretly built and equipped a new printing plant in Wapping, London. In its current printing site in and around Fleet Street, London, the main print unions ran what was called a closed shop. Only members of the unions could be hired at the printing plants, even to the extent that many workers were sons of union members where jobs had been handed down from father to son.

The new plant in Wapping did not have a closed shop contract. Only 670 printers were employed at the new plant to produce the same number of newspapers that took almost 7,000 people to print at the old plants. The efficiency of the new technology sent a shock-wave through the print unions. Not only did they strike, they picketed the new plant and what was to become known as the Battle of Wapping lasted a year.

Part of News International’s new strategy called for better and more efficient ways to distribute the newspapers. They employed TNT Newsfast, a new division of the express delivery and logistics operator TNT UK, who would drive the newspapers by road to their destination, as opposed to using the slower and more costly railway system previously used.
New technology and new work practices saw the loss of many jobs, but also the introduction of new jobs and many other newspaper publishers in the UK and around the world, followed News International’s lead. However, this new technology was also sowing the seeds of job destruction for the very same new jobs that had just been created.

If you pay attention to the science news you will know that many tech companies like Google and vehicle manufacturers are putting a lot of money into driverless car technology. Cars that park themselves are becoming more common and it will not be long before cars will be doing all our driving. In fact, it’s been said that ownership of cars will become a thing of the past. But what is obvious is that it won’t be long before cab-drivers and anyone who drives a vehicle for a living will soon be out of a job. In particular, companies like TNT who were mentioned earlier, will be investing in driverless vehicles.

When it happens, this onslaught on driving jobs will be like the destruction of jobs when the first cars and goods vehicles took over from the hansom cab, pony & trap and any horse drawn transport. Cities around the world had a whole infrastructure dedicated to looking after horses. These animals were the mainstay of commerce within all major industrialised countries, until the development of the internal combustion engine put paid to their supremacy. How many farriers lost their livelihoods when horses became obsolete will probably never be known. On the other hand, those new-fangled horseless carriages still needed drivers… for now.

Driverless vehicles will mean the loss of many, if not all, jobs involving driving. If I were to make a prediction, I would say Uber and Taxi drivers in general will be the first driving jobs to go.

And of course, the good old car, which has not been around too long, is more and more made by robots. AI will soon put paid to not only the use of humans in building cars, but also the design of cars. Car factories over the next 50-100 years will become human free zones.

This new reality is just around the corner for the human workforce the world over. Many jobs will be taken over by AI and robotic-automation. But unlike back in the day when I started my career as a computer programmer, there will be no new jobs created from this new technology. Humans will be cut out of the loop completely. From car workers to car drivers, pilots to train-drivers, doctors to nurses these jobs will become non-existent in a very short period of time.

What then do we, as human beings, do with all that spare time? But a more interesting and frightening question is how do we earn a living if there are no jobs for humans to do?

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

 

image from the book The Brittle Sea

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

A Box of Tricks

For Maggie, life was hard enough being pregnant. But being a pregnant woman who is also an amnesiac, unmarried and living in someone else’s home was becoming intolerable. Not that she was ungrateful to Mary James for taking her in. She knew she had a true friend in Mary and that she would have done anything in return. Maggie’s problem was the unknown and the more she thought about it, the more she found that life living on the edge of the unknown was hard to bear. She lived life on assumptions and she could assume Richard would come back in a few weeks and marry her. She could assume she would forever be Maggie and never know who she really was. And she could assume that her pregnancy would run smoothly and that at the end she would be a happily married woman with a loving husband and a healthy child. But in reality, she didn’t know if any of it would come to fruition. Life was currently one big unknown and it was that which she found intolerable.

“I can see you’re feeling down again, Maggie.”

Mary’s simple statement brought Maggie out of her reverie. The pair were sat at a small table taking afternoon tea in Mary’s kitchen, close to a small back-yard that was beginning to see the first evidence of spring blooms. It wasn’t hot, but Maggie felt warm and flustered and her thoughts were elsewhere. She sighed as she picked up the lukewarm tea Mary had poured a few minutes before. “It’s hard to put into words, this feeling I have of doom and gloom. It’s almost as if my life was doomed to disaster. I don’t know if I felt that way the minute I boarded the Titanic, but…”

“You remember that? You remember boarding the Titanic?”

Maggie shook her head in denial. “I wish I did. All I have is the odd snippet of disjointed memories that mean very little. My dreams are more real.” Every time she tried to make her memories come back, some sort of barrier prevented it. Maggie could only liken it to braking down a wall with a hammer the size of a tooth-pick, an impossible task.

“Maybe your dreams are real events, jumbled up memories trying to escape.”

“Maybe,” Maggie said, unconvinced. She loved Mary James, but her continued desire to keep prodding away at Maggie, in the hope that talking about her experiences will dislodge some memory, was also taking its toll on Maggie’s mental well-being. Mary obviously hoped her ‘prodding’ would eventually lead to a flood of memories. Maggie found it galling sometimes.

The ringing of the door-bell made Maggie jump, and at that moment a fleeting memory of a ship’s bell jumped into her mind but was gone as quickly as it arrived.

Mary patted Maggie’s hand. “You’re on edge, my dear. Try to calm down. I’ll make some Camomile tea after I answer the door.”

As Mary left the room, Maggie cringed at the thought of yet more Camomile tea. She didn’t give much credence to those who thought it was good for the nerves, Maggie hated the taste and it only ensured to put her on edge even more.

“It’s a delivery for you Maggie.”

Maggie turned in her chair and looked quizzically at Mary James. “For me? Surely nobody knows I’m here?”

“Maybe it’s from Dr. Henderson?”

Maggie slowly rose from her chair, her back aching as usual, and walked to Mary’s front door. The house wasn’t old, but the floorboards seemed ill-fitting and creaked at every step Maggie took.

A short but well-built man, stood at the door, cap in one hand and small box wrapped in brown paper in the other. He smiled as Maggie walked up to him.

“Begging your pardon ma’am, but this is for someone called Maggie, that rightly fits your description. The man that gave it to me said you were a beauty and he was right. Can you sign my delivery paper?” With a small flourish the man produced a piece of typed paper, handed it and a pencil to Maggie and then turned his back so that she could straighten the paper on his back and write her name.

That task completed the man turned back to Maggie, took the paper, handed the small box to her with a small delivery note which he tucked under the string wrapped around the box. Then he put his cap on, smiled and semi-bowed. “Thank you, Ma’am, much obliged.” And with that he was gone, leaving Maggie and Mary to stand in the doorway, pondering on the contents of the box.

“Well, it won’t get opened by staring at it. I’ll get a knife.”

Minutes later Maggie and Mary were seated at the small table, their still untouched tea cold and uninviting, and now joined by a small box wrapped in brown paper. Maggie cut the string that held the brown paper in place, removed it and then proceeded to unfold the brown paper. Inside was a box with a lid neatly tucked into one of the box sides. Maggie pulled at the lid and peered inside. “It’s empty,” she said, looking up at Mary with a frown.

“Empty?” Mary leaned forward and peered inside. “So, it is! Now that’s very odd. What does the delivery paper say?” Mary picked up the paper from the table. “It has a date, and the name typed on it, your name and today’s date.”

“Perhaps Dr. Henderson forgot to put something inside.”

“Perhaps,” Mary said in an unconvinced voice. “We’ll soon find out, I’ll telephone him.”

“You have a telephone?”

Mary smiled at Maggie as she stood up. “I’m a 20th century woman, Maggie. Remind me to show you how to use it, in case of an emergency and I’m not here.”

Minutes later, Mary returned, and her previous puzzled frown was a lot deeper. “Dr. Henderson says he hasn’t sent anything to you.”

The two women sat opposite each other, a small table between them, with the detritus of afternoon tea scattered across the table top, surrounding one small and empty box.

 

William Harker sat in the hansom-cab, being jostled from side to side due to the uneven road and, at that moment, he was smiling to himself. A tune came into his head and he started to whistle it. It was a tune he had heard someone once sing in a musical hall, a tune from a long time ago, when he was younger, and the world had seemed a more promising and happier place to live in. He looked once more at the paper Maggie had obligingly signed and smiled. “Thank you, Maggie. You have just made my day.”

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

More fiction titles on kindle from Tom Kane

World War 2 action/adventure

An Allied SOE team discover Hitler’s final revenge weapon is ready to launch and have 24 hours to avert the destruction of London and New York.

$2.99

Read a free sample here –

 

image of Omodos village

About 42 kilometres north-west of Limassol, in one of the main wine-making regions of Cyprus, is the quaint little village of Omodos. The village is high up in the Troodos mountains at an altitude of about 810 metres.

Blessed with a natural beauty, the area is famous for its Agrotourism and its wines.

In the past there has been noted conflict in the area,

image of a plaque outside a monstary

as you can see from this plaque outside the Holy Cross Monastery.

Even in recent history, in the 1950s, there was a struggle in Cyprus for independence from British rule and EOKA fighters used the area extensively.

These days the area is more a tourist trap than a trap for unsuspecting combatants. Everywhere you look you will see gift shops, wine shops, restaurants and other trappings of the tourist industry that now dominates the region.

image of a winery shop

September 14th sees the village holding one of the biggest fairs on the island, a religious fair dedicated to the Holy Cross. This celebration will last for three days with traders gathering in the square in front of the monastery where they will sell their products.

There are many interesting places in the area to visit. The Timios Stavros Monastery is worth a visit.

image of a monastery

Then there’s the Caledonia & Millomeris Falls, the Kelefos Bridge, Mount Olympus, the Platres Chocolate Workshop, more wineries than you can shake a stick at and many more interesting places, too many to mention in one blog piece. So take a look at the 15 best places to visit in the area on Trip Advisor, there’s something for everyone.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

 

 

image of a sparrow

When we first moved to our current house, a bungalow, the wildlife was limited to whatever I saw over the wall in the countryside at the back of the property. There was very little visitation from birds, animals, insects or reptiles. Which was a shame because without an active wildlife none of the fruit trees I wanted to grow would ever have fruit on them. That aside, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of watching the daily and nightly comings and goings of any wildlife.

Nearly six years on and that has been reversed. With the introduction of lots of flowering plants from nasturtium to pansies and edibles like salad plants, tomatoes, grapes and herbs I now find I get more insects, birds, reptiles and the occasional mouse paying a visit or two.

Insects like bees, wasps and butterflies obviously like the flowers and plants they can utilise for egg laying. The nasturtium alone has seen a huge increase in butterflies.

The reptiles are obviously attracted to insects and I’ve seen a wide variety from Geckos to Skinks and, for the very first time this year, a Mediterranean chameleon.

image of Bee-eaters

Bee-eaters

The birds are one of the biggest pleasures which include Sparrows, Swallows, Wrens, Robins, Doves, Finches, Tits and Bee-eaters.

They all come into the garden for one reason, because there’s food and water. Water in the pool is used by the Swallows and my bird-table is always frequented by others, mainly Sparrows and Doves. Admittedly it’s a lot of work to ensure there is plenty of food and the Sparrows in particular make the most of the Olives, Grapes and some salad plants as well as the ubiquitous Purslane, which I’ve managed to corral at last.

What has surprised me is the lengths some of the large ants go to for foraging. Outside my front door of an evening, when I let the dogs out for a wee, I can often see large black ants scurrying around. Over the last few mornings, as dawn has come up and the light is getting brighter I’ve noticed black ants, usually in twos and threes, scurrying along the side of the house from the front to the rear. Today I found a nest, close by one of the vines on the back wall of the house. These large ants are foraging far and wide in the garden, from the back to the sides and the front of the bungalow. That’s a lot of walking for an insect only about a couple of centimeters in size. Of course there’s also the obvious danger for the unsuspecting ants when I let my dogs out for a run around. Harvey and Holly aren’t exactly aware of their surroundings.

Maybe I need ant traffic lights.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

 

 

image from the book The Brittle SeaThis is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

Harker’s Search

“What do you mean you don’t know where she is? Don’t tell me you’ve lost her? How can you lose a person? You should have brought her to me at once, instead of playing this cat and mouse game… you… you…” Ballantine’s anger and agitation were palpable.

Harker on the other hand stood his defiant ground, arms folded, and waited until Ballantine calmed down. He watched as his employer lit a cigar and took a sip from his glass of bourbon.

You drink too much.

Harker’s wait was short-lived as Ballantine had no choice but to calm down. He knew angering Harker would lead to Harker walking out, or worse. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of a violent confrontation with William Harker.

“I didn’t say I had lost her, I said I was having trouble finding where she is living, since she moved out of Blackmore’s apartment. There’s a difference, Mr. Ballantine. And as for the cat and mouse game, she’s plainly not well by all accounts.  She seems to have memory loss. My advice is to leave her be and allow her to get well, or you may find yourself with someone so ill you won’t know what to do with her.”

The emphasis on his title was not lost on Ballantine. Harker was more than useful to Ballantine, but there were times he realised he was skating on thin ice and Harker’s famed stiletto blade could come into play at any time. Ballantine gulped down another shot of bourbon, thankful Harker was not coming at him with the knife.

“But you will find, her? You will find Magda?”

You’re fixated! Not good, Mr. Ballantine, not good at all.

Harker nodded. “From what I can gather she has been taken in by a woman. I’m not sure why and currently my source has no other information on who this woman is.”

Harker prided himself on keeping tabs on all the information that came his way. He wielded that information like a weapon, like the stiletto he was famous for. Harker knew all about Magda’s family and their ownership of a large parcel of land in Texas, land that covered a presumed immense oil field. Harker made it his business to know all he could about his enemies, those he has pledged to find, pledged to kill and pledged to work for. Harker knew that information was infinitely more valuable than possessions. Information can be used to extract great wealth from a person, rather than go to the bother of extracting wealth by digging or drilling for it.

“I have my suspicions as to her whereabouts and I have my sources of information. I will find her. But then you will need to decide what you want to do with that information.”

Ballantine was mid-swallow and paused to pull his glass from his lips. “What do you mean?”

You haven’t thought this through at all.

“If I find Magda, why would she want to be with you?”

Ballantine’s chubby face looked stunned. “I have a contract with her parents.”

“But Magda, as far as anyone else is concerned, is dead. The White Star line has declared it so and it won’t be long before it becomes official. According to the manifest she never even got on board the ship.”

Ballantine’s face was a picture of confusion, much to Harker’s delight.

“But… but…”

“There are no buts, Mr. Ballantine. You need to think about the consequences. If she is alive and well, and still willing to be your wife, then all well and good. If she is ill and incapable, or has simply changed her mind, maybe even cannot remember you or anyone else, what do you want me to do?”

It came to Ballantine in a flash of, what he believed, was brilliant insight. “Kidnap her. Bring her to me.”

Harker nodded, picked up his cap and made his way to the door. One word was on his lips as he left Ballantine’s hotel room. “Fool.”

 

Lüderitz West Africa

The storm had abated swiftly after it had taken Charles Archer, almost as if its sole purpose was to remove the unfortunate Marconi man from Blackmore’s vessel. Now, the bruised and battered crew were subdued as their equally bruised and battered ship sailed into the harbour at Lüderitz, West Africa. They took on a pilot and the crew did their duties in a perfunctory manner. There was no desire for the usual smiling, joking and looking ahead to shore leave. The Lady Jane’s crew were a sad company, keeping their thoughts to themselves.

Captain Blackmore was even more introverted and in a darker mood than before the equatorial crossing. Where his presence was not needed on the bridge, Richard Blackmore spent his time, alone, in his cabin. The loss of Archer, though not his fault, was his responsibility. He had never lost a crewman in his entire career as a captain of a ship, any ship. A month had passed since they left New York and still over two months to go before Blackmore and Maggie were re-united. Though that time would be joyful for Blackmore, it would be laced with sorrow because his crew would disembark, all except Charles Archer.

Blackmore’s melancholy was not helped by his efforts to write a letter to Archer’s family. His cabin floor was littered with scrunched up paper, failed attempts to alleviate the sense of loss that would inevitably crowd into the everyday life of Archer’s parents. His letter writing was not going well, and he decided he had better get himself onto the bridge if he couldn’t write this letter of condolence. By his reckoning, maybe the air from West Africa would clear the fugue in his mind. But as he climbed slowly up to the bridge, Archer and Maggie were very much on his mind. Of course, Blackmore knew nothing of Maggie’s current situation. Under normal circumstances the shipping line did not look favourably on personal messages flowing through the ether, for no other reason than it did not do well for a ship’s crew to have their concentration taken away from the job in hand. What they didn’t know would not hurt them, was Gordon Bellagon’s belief. But even if Blackmore could have bent the rules, with the loss of Archer and the equipment all but wrecked in the storm, there was no way of contacting Bellagon until, hopefully, they could get a message out in Lüderitz.

“Lüderitz seems a peaceful enough place.” Blackmore mused as his First Officer brought the Lady Jane into the port at the pilot’s guidance. His words didn’t go unheard.

“Ja, Kapitan. It is a beautiful place, no? Germany has created a masterpiece in West Africa.”

Blackmore turned to the German pilot and smiled. “If you say so, Pilot. My personal choice would be any port in Canada. The African heat does not sit well with me.”

The pilot’s greasy black hair and unkempt uniform made him look like many of the pilots Blackmore had seen across the world. They knew their business, but many have either no dress sense or care nothing for their appearance. The fact this pilot was German seems to have been lost in the years he has worked in this seemingly peaceful backwater of the world.

Blackmore walked the length of his bridge, toward where his First Officer stood, overseeing the position of the boat. “More like hell on earth to my mind, Mr. James,” Blackmore said in a hushed voice.

Mr. James smiled without turning to his Captain. “Well, I suppose there must be something about the place, otherwise why would people live here?”

“I tend to think there are those who wish to hide from civilisation rather than take part in it. Some prefer the lawlessness that the outer fringes of society can offer. It’s not long since slavery was abolished here, though seeing the place for the first time I somehow doubt it’s completely disappeared. Besides, the discovery of diamonds in this area will soon make this a boom-town and all the world’s riff-raff will be converging on this place soon.”

As the Lady Jane was finally ushered into her anchorage and the pilot vacated the bridge, Blackmore had his longboat lowered, ready for his trip to shore and the customs office.

“I suppose we will be here quite some time, Captain, judging by how slow these dhows are at loading and offloading.”

Blackmore looked over to the distant shore. “Yes, you can bet we will be here two or three days at least.”

As Blackmore and his first officer made their way down to the Captain’s longboat and its waiting crew, his first officer asked the question on all sailor’s lips as they berthed in a new port. “Any shore leave, sir?”

“Let me assess the situation first, Mr. James. I’ve never been here before and if our pilot is anything to go by, I suspect there will be a lot of potential for trouble if we’re not careful. I know we all need to let of a little steam after what we’ve been through, but I would rather mitigate any potential problems beforehand. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

The Lady Jane seemed a sad, lonely and somewhat neglected ship to Blackmore, as he and his crew pulled further and further away from her. Despite the small, sail powered, dhows transferring goods to and from the shore, his ship looked close to lonely, as lonely as he now felt. Though their voyage was only just beginning, almost a third was over and it would not be long before they were off to Europe. The European leg would be something of a tedious time, so near to the States and Maggie, yet still so far. His first officer’s words of advice echoed inside his head and Blackmore tried to shrug off his melancholy, instead looking forward to the dubious delights of Lüderitz.

The squat buildings, mostly made of some local mix of concrete, mud & straw, wood and many more unknown building materials all served a similar purpose, keeping their rooms light, airy and cool. The generous scattering of palm trees gave the relief of some occasional shade from the incessant heat and gave an air of tropical sultry a visitor could appreciate. Though it was evident to Blackmore as he walked through the bustling crowds, making slow progress, that most of the people were on a mission, not sightseeing. It was fast approaching mid-day and people were trying hard to finish their mornings business, ready for a well-earned siesta during the heat of noon and into the afternoon. Business would be completed soon and then continue in the late afternoon. Nobody wanted to be caught out in the sun during the hottest part of the day. Blackmore was aware of this and made his knock on the customs chief’s door that much more urgent. A brief grunt issued forth from the interior and Blackmore took that to mean enter, so he did.

The gloom inside lightened as his eyes grew accustomed to the lack of light, but still Blackmore squinted to see who he was dealing with.

“You have papers?” The words came from a shadowy figure, sat at a desk with a single candle flickering on the paper strewn desktop. The smell of stale cigars, alcohol and food made Blackmore wrinkle his nose in distaste.

“I do,” he said and dropped the leather-bound document holder onto the desk.

The seated man said nothing, taking the document holder, opening it and scrutinising the contents. “Tobacco, spirits and machine parts?”

Blackmore nodded. “Correct,” he said.

“No contraband? No slaves?”

Blackmore bridled at the questions. “I assure you, sir, I carry nothing except that which is on my manifest.”

“Sit,” the shadowy figure said, “please, Captain.”

Blackmore sat on a rickety wooden chair, steadying himself on the official’s desk, the stickiness to his touch making his stomach bridle at the thought of what he was touching.

“You will be offloaded starting today, Captain. You are in luck, there are no vessels in front of you.”

Blackmore’s eyes had adjusted to the light and he could see, with certainty that the man opposite was fair-haired, young and well dressed and manicured. The sight took him by surprise. He had expected an official with greasy black hair, a uniform as dishevelled as the pilot who had steered his ship to her birth. The sudden swish of a previously unseen overhead fan made Blackmore look up. Blackmore raised an eyebrow at the makeshift fan, seemingly comprising of dried palms and a well-worn rug.

“Electricity here is intermittent, people power is the order of the day and that requires food, water and some rest in between work.”

The customs man smiled at Blackmore and tipped his head to Blackmore’s left. Blackmore peered in the direction indicated, his eyes penetrating the gloom and noticed a small boy pulling on a thick and rough vine, connected to a pulley that pulled the large swath of intricately plaited palm leaves and rug, forming the rudimentary, but effective, fan.

“It seems to work well, sir,” Blackmore said with a smile as the small boy steadily returned his gaze.

“My son,” the official said. “He insists on working with me… and being paid too much for the job he does.”

Blackmore watched the little boy pulling on the creaking interlaced vine rope and the boy looked back, a small smile creeping across his face. “Does he not go to school?”

“Oh yes, we teach him at home. My wife, Kristina, and I are both teachers. She is at the school now, just down the road, teaching.”

Blackmore was surprised. “Isn’t a customs job in Lüderitz a far cry from teaching in Germany… assuming you are German.”

“Well,” the man said with a sigh, “my mother was English, and my father is German, so going to school in both England and Germany gave me a chance to perfect two languages.”

“Well, your choice of career move seems…”

“Interesting?” The young man asked.

Blackmore nodded and smiled.

“The move is not of my choice. It’s the choice of my father-in-law.”

A small snort of derision emanated from the corner and Blackmore turned his gaze to the little boy, whose smile was now replaced with a look of distaste. “Your son is unimpressed with his Grandfather’s choice?”

“We’re all unimpressed, as this is a punishment for my wife, for her defying her father and becoming a teacher, not a socialite as he wished. We had no money, only dreams. Her father has money and influence. His influence brought us here, but he kept hold of his money.”

“Harsh indeed and I suppose you had no choice.”

“Just so Captain, no choice, just as you have no choice at all.”

Blackmore was still regarding the little boy when he suddenly realised the change of tone in the boy’s father. “I have no choice? What have I to do with your story?”

“Nothing at all Captain, I merely use our dilemma as an illustration of your impending dilemma.”

“Sir, you have me at a disadvantage. I have no idea of what it is you speak.”

“Captain, it’s nearly time for a meal and siesta. I know you wish to get back to your ship, but would you at least do my family the honour of taken food with us?”

This was another surprise and Blackmore did not like surprises. “Sir, my ship has sustained damage in a storm, we have lost our Marconi man overboard and the equipment he operated is destroyed. I need to send a message to my owner. But first, can I ask why? Why a German custom official should take an interest in a Captain’s welfare?”

“I am sorry for your loss captain. We can oblige with the use of our telegraphy office, but it will be closed within minutes, as will almost all the town. I will be happy to oblige with answering your questions, but only while we eat. It’s something I find calms the soul. My wife will not be joining us, she will feed the school children at the school and join us later.”

Blackmore stood. “I balk at this obtuse treatment, sir. But as you hold my papers and as I wish to depart as quickly as possible… then I will agree to break bread with you. But under protest, sir.”

The young man stood, his son followed suit. “Very well, Captain, and thank you. I wish you no harm, indeed, I have a package I must pass on to you and I also have information that you will find interesting, I believe.”

The three left the office, the little boy respectfully taking his father’s hand and all three made their way to the custom’s official’s home. With Blackmore’s mood quickly turning from anger to inquisitive as they made the short journey.

 

Blackmore stood opposite the young man, noting the array of ornate cushions and very low divans, set in a square in a small room in the man’s basic home. There was nothing expansive or expensive about this single storey home.  Blackmore waited, still no wiser as to why he was here and not back on his ship where he wanted to be. He had asked the young man to despatch a runner to inform his long-boat crew he was delayed and for them to find refreshment and relief from the sun, at Blackmore’s own expense. This business he was now involved in, he was sure, was not company business and should therefore not be a cost his employer should bear, especially as his employer was unhappy with Blackmore’s treatment of his nephew.

“First captain let me introduce myself,” the young man said, standing and holding his right hand out. “Gottfried Andrew Schott, at your service.”

Blackmore shook the man’s hand. “You of course know my name,” he said, intentionally curt in his introduction.

“I do, and I wish we had met in less, trying, times.”

“Trying times? Are you referring to your lot in life or mine, or perhaps both?”

“The world is going through trying times, captain,” Schott said as he sat and then clapped his hands, twice, in quick succession. Schott indicated Blackmore should sit on the very low sedan chair provided. Blackmore followed Schott’s lead as did the man’s son. When they were seated, food appeared borne on bone china plates. Schott could see Blackmore was impressed with the choice of serving dishes.

“It is my wife’s only concession to her previous life of privilege. These plates were a gift from her brother on our marriage and she treasures them dearly.”

“Sir, I wish…”

Schott had begun taken small portions of food from the serving dishes and without fuss and using fingers only, he began to eat. Blackmore took it as a sign they should eat first and talk later. The next forty minutes passed frustratingly slowly for Captain Blackmore.

 

 

“Sir, I do appreciate your hospitality, but I must…”

“…insist I get to the point. I agree, you have enough on your mind and you need to return to your ship. My wife seems to have been delayed, but no matter. Please, hear me out and pay attention to what I’m about to say. But first I have a small consignment for your employer.” Schott had produced a small leather pouch, about the size of a pair of eye-glasses and he handed it to Blackmore. “Better you receive this away from prying eyes. We will finish the paperwork back in my office shortly.”

Blackmore had never taken kindly to being lectured or told what he must do even as a child or by his peers. But Schott was insistent, so he took the pouch, sat back and waited.

“Two days ago, I received a message, from New York, that concerns you.”

“From Mr. Bellagon?”

“No, this was not a message about your ship. It was about you and it was from the New York Port Police authority.”

Blackmore frowned. “Why would the police be contacting me?” Blackmore suddenly sat bolt upright. “Maggie? Is there something wrong with Maggie?”

“I know nothing of this Maggie you speak of. The message concerned the whereabouts of a gentleman by the name of Arthur Collins. It seems he is missing. They had tried and failed to contact your ship.”

“Two days ago we were in the eye of a storm. My old chief, you say? I received a message a while back about him going missing, not an unusual occurrence. I saw him the night before I sailed.”

“Well, it seems since then he has been officially reported missing. The police are asking me to ask you if you know anything about his disappearance.”

Confused, Blackmore shook his head. “Why are the police in New York asking a customs official in Lüderitz for information about a missing man?”

Schott smiled. “I also act as a sort of police chief here, since our last Chief of Police died of dysentery a few months ago.”

“I see. So, you can tell them that I saw Collins the night before I sailed. This seems a lot of fuss about nothing, Herr Schott.”

“Would it be so I would never have made such a fuss, as you put it. But I have received two more cables since the first. One from the owner of your ship, also asking after his nephew, which I assume is the same Arthur Collins and one from a gentleman called Ballantine, Matthew G. Ballantine III.”

Blackmore was more and more confused, and his expression and agitation showed it. “What is going on, Schott. Who is this Ballantine?”

Schott looked shocked. “You do not know him?”

“No, I do not.”

“A very dangerous man who is searching for a woman… a particular woman, whom he seems to think you know the whereabouts of.”

Blackmore sat and simply stared at Schott for several moments, until he put two and two together. “Maggie?”

As I have already stated, I do not know who this Maggie is. The person he seeks is called Magda. All I know is that this woman is dear to him, his betrothed, and that he seems to think you have somehow kidnapped her.”

“What?” Blackmore’s voice boomed, frightening Schott’s child.

“Please, captain. For the child’s sake keep your voice down. Let me first explain that I know Matthew G. Ballantine, or rather my family knows him. He is a rogue and a charlatan; a thief has more honour than he does.”

“I beg your pardon sir, but I am at a loss to understand what all of this has to do with me.” Quickly Blackmore explained the circumstances of finding Maggie at the scene of the Titanic disaster, her loss of memory and the role Arthur Collins had played in the disaster.

Schott listened attentively, never interrupting to ask any questions. “Whatever these circumstances, however you have found yourself in love with this Maggie is of no concern to me.” He held up a hand as Blackmore tried to protest. “Please, Captain. When you speak of Maggie your eyes are alive with love and your heart is so obviously smitten. Do not, as they say in English, pull the wool over my eyes. I know you are in love with Maggie. If Magda and Maggie are one in the same, then you have a major problem on your hands. But that is as it may be. You have to be aware there are now dark forces trailing you.”

“Dark forces?”

“Ballantine has many underhand ways of doing his business. Extortion, bribery, theft are all illegal practices, but normal for him. However, if these illegal practices fail to work, he has more persuasive means in the form of one William Harker. A man who sold his soul to the devil the day he was born. He is in Ballantine’s pay and there is nothing he will not do for money, including murder.”

“And you know this how?”

“William Harker murdered my brother.”

Blackmore did not like where his conversation with Schott was going.

“Sir, I fail to see what all this has to do with me. If indeed Magda is Maggie then she has the right to choose who she wishes to be with.”

Schott nodded, contemplatively. “I see what you are trying to impart, that Maggie has free will. If she is Magda, she has no free will. She has been bought by Ballantine.”

Blackmore shifted his position on the low divan. He hated to be uncomfortable when conducting any business, yet this situation was far from being business-like. “You say this Ballantine had your brother killed.” Blackmore was diverting attention from the thorny discussion on Maggie, he needed time to think.

“Indeed, he did and at the same time my brother’s wife also died, though not at the hands of Harker.”

“Harker killed your brother and…”

“… my brother’s wife committed suicide months later.”

“Why?”

Schott sighed, and Blackmore detected a glassiness about the young man’s eyes. The subject matter obviously had considerable impact on him emotionally.

“My sister-in-law was ashamed. My brother, after his death, had been implicated on a case of fraud with a Swiss bank. Harker had manufactured the evidence. It had been his way of ensuring no awkward questions were ever asked about my brother’s death.

Mt brother had been killed, murdered by Harker, in such a manner to make it look like suicide. My brother’s wife could not bear the shame and took her own life. Plunging into an icy-river. Her body was recovered days later, a few kilometres downstream.”

Blackmore was not shocked, and neither was he convinced of the story. He didn’t know Schott or his family, in fact he had no idea if the man even had a brother. He was not taking anything at face value.

“I can see the doubt in your eyes, Captain.”

“I don’t wish to sully the memories you have of your family or the wrongs you believe have been visited on your family. I fail to understand why this Harker would do such a thing.”

“On Ballantine’s orders, Captain. Unless you know Ballantine, you will find the reason hard to believe.”

“Let me be the judge of that, sir.”

“Ballantine is a wastrel. As I said, he makes money with many illegal ventures. One such method is blackmail. While in Europe, apparently searching for a bride, perhaps even finding one in the form of this Magda. Ballantine had come across a fraud being carried out by an official at a Swiss Bank he was using to wire funds to him.

Ballantine attempted to blackmail the official. The official told his superior and his superior made the mistake of approaching Ballantine directly, trying to keep the scandal contained and not involving the police.”

“The superior was your brother?”

Schott smiled. “Indeed, Captain, you are most astute. My brother stopped Ballantine in his tracks by confronting and humiliating Ballantine, in public.

He paid the price of humiliating Ballantine with his life and also that of his wife, for ultimately, his wife was surely murdered as much as her husband was.”

Blackmore sat silently for a few moments, trying to take in what it was Schott was telling him. “You think Ballantine, assuming Magda is Maggie, will somehow take her from me and at the same time set this bulldog of his, this Harker, on me.”

Schott nodded, once. “I do. I know the man. One of the reasons I am in this god-forsaken-place is because of him. My wife wanted us to move away from Germany and the scandal that erupted around the family when my brother was falsely accused of being corrupt. My father accused me of being a coward and cut me off without a second thought. No money and no prospects mean you take whatever work you can, where you can… and here we are.”

At that point a man in white robes rushed into the room and spoke quickly in German. Schott vaulted to his feet. “We have to leave.”

Blackmore climbed to his feet more slowly. “Why?”

“The rebels are on their way into town.”

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

 

image from the book The Brittle Sea

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

Storm Warning

The sinking of the Titanic had demonstrated to the world and the world’s sailors that the new invention of telegraphic communication was going to save many lives. What wasn’t known at the time was that communications between vessels in distress at sea were hap-hazard affairs, with more emphasis on pleasing passengers by sending their personal messages above all other considerations, including listening out for ship-to-ship hazard warnings.

So, it was fortuitous that the Lady Jane’s communication officer had no personal messages as the ship had no passengers on the remaining voyage. Instead, Mr. Archer diligently spent his working time listening out for messages across the airwaves. Three days after crossing the equator he was rewarded by a message from a steamer on the same course as the Lady Jane, but many nautical miles ahead of them. What made Archer sit up and take note was a storm warning. The message was slightly garbled and erratic, which gave more concern to Archer than the actual storm warning.

Captain Blackmore received the news from Archer in his cabin as he sat reading, trying to clear his head of the dark feeling of impending doom he was struggling with.

“It’s a little too garbled to make out what storm force we are talking about, Mr. Archer.”

“I know sir,” Archer said with a nod. “But that in itself indicates the air-waves are disrupted as well as the problems the Marconi man is having.”

Blackmore placed the note on his writing table and shifted his position in his small chair, crossing his legs. “I’m intrigued. How can you tell their Marconi man is having problems?”

Archer pulled himself up to as close to standing to attention a non-military man can achieve. “It’s the way he’s transmitting. The flow. The ship is a Cunard vessel, sir. I know the operator, I’ve met him, even worked with him. I know the way he transmits, we are all unique in the way we communicate with these devices.” Archer could tell from his captain’s frown he wasn’t buying his explanation. “It’s a bit like you and I captain. If I stood outside your cabin, with the door closed, and shouted something you could probably tell it was me, though you could not see me. The same with Mr. Lee or indeed any of the crew. You know your crew, you know their voices. You probably have an idea of how cool under pressure these people are. It’s the same with telegraphy. I know this man, we were taught together, practiced on each other. We’re the best at what we do because of our time at the Marconi school. This man is not only under pressure, his messaging is hap-hazard which indicates to me the ship is probably experiencing very heavy seas in a very bad storm.”

Blackmore sighed and sat back as far as he could in his chair. “Mr. Archer, I am impressed.”

Archer sighed and then suddenly blushed.

“Don’t ever let me berate you again for your lack of knowledge on your equipment. Let’s you and I go to the bridge and see about making preparations for this storm.”

 

“We haven’t the fuel to go around. Apart from anything else we don’t know how big the storm is, so going around isn’t an option and there are no ports close by for us to make to.” David James tapped the map on the chart table with a pencil, then dropped the pencil on the map. “The way I see it captain, we have no choice. We carry on and prepare as best we can.”

Blackmore nodded his agreement. He had despatched Archer back to his small telegraphic cabin to see if he could glean any further information. But transmissions from the Cunard vessel had ceased forty minutes earlier.

“It doesn’t bode well for us, David,” Blackmore said, leaning over and peering at the map. “Within a few hours we will be in the storm, assuming it hasn’t played itself out by then. It’s a thin hope, but all we have to hang our hats on.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll make all preparations and batten down the hatches. At least we won’t be bored over the next few hours.”

“There are times, David, I wish your humour was a little less British.”

Blackmore’s first officer smiled at his captain. “If we canna laugh in the face of danger, when can we laugh, captain?”

Blackmore smiled back and as James left the bridge he turned his attention to his helmsman. “Did you hear that, helm?”

“Aye, Captain. Mr. James always did have an odd sense of humour. Me though, I’m more practical. I have every respect for the sea.”

“Good man, Jefferson. I know you’ll do your best.”

 

Even sat in his cabin, Blackmore could tell the sea condition was beginning to change and his ship was beginning a pronounced rocking effect. As he left the cabin, the wind buffeted Blackmore and he held firmly onto the rails, climbing up the steps to the bridge. At the top of the steps, Blackmore looked out across the ship’s prow and could no longer see the sky for the darkening clouds. It was still early afternoon and Blackmore knew that by nightfall they would be on the edge of the storm. By the early morning they would be in the thick of the storm and the fate of his crew and ship would be sealed, one way or the other.

 

By daybreak Blackmore realised the storm was threatening to be something more than just an Atlantic storm and the dawn had only brought more darkness. The night had been rough and his ship had been rocked by a swell so pronounced even he felt a little sick. This new day was proving him correct on his previous days observation. His ship was well into the storm and the waves were extremely high. The Lady Jane was maybe not making good progress, but she was making some progress and riding the waves with a dogged determination.

“It’s early, but maybe this is the start of the hurricane season.”

On the bridge, Blackmore turned to his First Officer. “You may be right, David. It’s certainly getting worse. Any news from Mr. Archer?”

“None, sir. Atmospherics, he says, whatever that may mean.”

Blackmore smiled. “It’s a brave new world, David. We have a duty to keep up with the latest technology.”

“Aye, captain. I will as soon as we’ve survived this wave.”

Blackmore followed his first officer’s alarmed gaze and saw the sea rising to at least thirty feet. “Brace yourselves,” Blackmore shouted to his bridge crew. The wave was upon them with a fury none of the crew had ever experienced. Their ship lurched as the helmsman tried to steer the Lady Jane into the wave. He didn’t quite make it and the crash of the sea over the ship’s bow made the ship shudder, lurched and stagger. The rending of metal on metal added to the cacophony and made many a superstitious sailor fear the ship was screaming in agony, perilously close to dying with them still on board.

The door to the bridge flew open and young  Charles Archer dragged himself into the relative calm of the bridge, shutting the door with help from one of the bridge crew.

“It’s no good sir, I cannot get a message out.” Archer had to almost shout in Blackmore’s ear, to make himself heard. “The cabin is virtually awash and I’m pretty sure the equipment is useless because of that. I doubt we will be able to use it again unless we can get it repaired.”

“Not much chance of that, Mr. Archer. How are you at shovelling coal? If you can’t use the telegraph, maybe you can be a junior stoker.”

Archer stood back, aghast. “Aye, sir. I can try.”

Blackmore put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I’m joking, Charles.”

Archer was both profoundly glad his captain had a sense of humour and more so, proud his captain had used his first name. That had never happened since he had been posted to the Lady Jane.

“I suggest you should go to sick bay. The Doc may need a hand before this day is over.”

Though he wasn’t obliged to, Charles Archer stood at attention and saluted his captain. Then he turned and made his way out of the door to the howling exterior superstructure of the ship. As a bridge crewman helped him out, ready to close the door again, another wave hit the stricken ship and Charles Archer was lifted off his feet and washed overboard. Blackmore had watched the entire scene play out, in slow motion almost, and rushed to the door with the crewman, trying to find any trace of Archer. There was none. The sea had made her claim on Charles Archer and she would not be denied.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

To read other extracts from The Brittle Sea please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

 

image homemade rose wine

Fermentation has stopped and I’ve removed all the must. In actual fact I removed the must and then the fermentation stopped because by that time there would be little for the yeast to work on.

The end result of my homemade wine is greatly dependent on what type of grape used. In my case these were mainly sweet black grapes, with a couple of bunches of green non-sweet grapes thrown in for good measure.

I expected a light rosé wine so didn’t want to leave the skins in too long as this would have meant a much redder colour. And because the grapes were mainly sweet, leaving the skins in too long would have made the wine a little more bitter because of the tannin content. How do I know all this? Because I spent my early working years working in a wine merchants. I even managed to pass several exams and if I had kept at it I may even have made Master of Wine. But I didn’t, though I learned enough to know how to make wine and what happens when you do make it in as natural a manner as possible.

As you can see from the bottom of the bottle, there’s a sediment forming. This happens with all wines during the fining process. You can buy products that will greatly speed up this process, but be aware this may leave an odd taste to your wine. I prefer to let nature and gravity take its course. This fining process is where the bits and pieces still in the liquid fall to the bottom. What you have to do is decant the wine several times until you end up with a clear liquid. Naturally, in this process I’m going to lose a bit of the wine each time I decant, so I won’t be doing it that often because all I have is this one carafe and a little extra in another bottle.

The tissue around the top is to allow and any late fermentation bubbles to escape and keep bugs out. Even at this stage there’s a tiny amount of fermentation going on.

Give it another week and I may just have a clear enough wine for a little tasting.

And what’s the ultimate goal? Maybe next year I can manage to get a couple of dozen bottles of my own wine, six dry white, six sweet white, six rosé and perhaps six red. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Next posting will be the telling time, because if it tastes bad I’ll not bother with the wine and just eat the grapes.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like being an expat in a foreign country, read a free sample of A Pat on his Back

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my website by clicking here.

image from the book The Brittle SeaThis is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

Maggie’s Fall

Though Maggie may have been suffering from amnesia, she instinctively knew that pregnancy wasn’t going to be easy. Despite help from Mary James she was still a pregnant woman, on her own, in a strange town, in a strange land and to top that, she was even a stranger to herself. What she did know was that she had been on the Titanic sailing from Europe to the United States, so she assumed she was a foreigner in America, despite being able to speak in English. Her recent foray into a foreign tongue meant she felt it to be true that she was not an American. In much the same way, in her short period of being Maggie she had no experience of what pregnancy entailed. But a woman has her own biological clock, her own ability to know and Maggie instinctively knew her condition was fine, albeit a little uncomfortable.

As time wore on and the child inside her grew, she became more at peace with herself than at any other time since she awoke in Blackmore’s cabin on the Lady Jane. The thought of Blackmore brought another kind of glow to her cheeks and her stomach fluttered slightly.

Maggie sat on a small chaise long and absent-mindedly smoothed her stomach with her hand, in a manner best described as soothing her baby. It was too early for any movement, yet she knew the baby was well and the frequent visits of Doctor Henderson did much to calm any form of anxiety she may have felt.

The days wore on and though Maggie’s commitment to hers and Richard’s child was not wavering bearing a child was becoming an act of endurance. But she was determined, despite day after day of what seemed to be never ending tedium. But it wasn’t getting any easier and Maggie spent many days with gritted teeth, after all, there was only so much poetry and learning anyone could endure.

Had she known it, Maggie would have been more careful of her day to day routine. Because the sheer boredom of that routine was making her more and more careless in what she did.

And so it was that one bright morning Maggie noticed a cobweb had formed in the corner of the bedroom. Without thinking she pulled a dining room chair through the apartment, banging and scraping as she went, much to the consternation of her downstairs neighbours. Chair in place, Maggie then found the feather duster and slowly climbed onto the chair and carefully flicked the cobweb onto the duster and thus removing the offending item from her view.

Job done to her satisfaction Maggie slowly turned, holding the duster in one hand and the chair back with the other. She had not yet made the bed from her sleep and the sight of the ruffled pillows and the unkempt sheets suddenly reminded her of Richard and of the love making mere weeks before. Unthinking, Maggie smiled at the thought, moved the duster from one hand to the other and stepped off the chair, not realising she was quite a distance from the floor.

Ungracefully Maggie’s foot went too far down, she realised her error and tried to grab the back of the chair but missed and fell sideways toward the bed, hitting the side and in a bouncing-rolling motion fell hard to the floor. A retired army major in the apartment below, reading his morning paper, harrumphed loudly at the noise but thought no more of it.

Maggie lay, trapped between the bed and chair, the air in her lungs forced out and gasping desperately for more air, like a fish just landed onto a river bank. Then the pain in both her left side and belly started, and Maggie feared the worst. She tried to extricate herself only to feel a searing pain in the left side of her ribs, making her gasp and lose more air. Maggie stifled a scream and then panic set in, her body squirming this way and that in a desperate attempt to extract herself, but only making matters worse.

Suddenly she relaxed and thought of the baby she was carrying. That was Maggie’s last thought for a long time as she fainted through pure fright. Maggie’s last thought, as a pain in her left temple exploded, searing, through her head, was of ice, screaming metal tearing and people shouting.

“Get her in the boat,” a man shouted and then all was silent, and her world became deathly cold.

 

In the dark recesses of her mind, it seemed to Maggie that she was waiting for something, for someone to arrive and explain to her who she really was. Unbeknown to Maggie the hours passed by and it was in the early morning that her dream became a reality to her when a female voice called out her real name, very gently.

“Magda! You must wake up from this dream and follow me.”

“My name is Maggie. Who are you?” Maggie didn’t question the use of her real name and the dream would be forgotten soon after she awoke, but somehow her real self was trying to tell her something. If she but knew it, her hormones were on fire and coupled with the amnesia, her mind was suddenly in acute turmoil.

Another voice, this time a man. “Never mind her. I’ll show you the way to go. Follow me, Magda.”

“I told her my name is Maggie. Why don’t you listen.”

The voices stopped and suddenly Maggie was sat on a chair beside a rock-strewn river with white water gushing ever downwards. Fish, salmon she thought, were jumping the rocks, trying to get upstream to spawn. White water gushed down and red salmon jumped up. The spectacle made Maggie smile. Brown bears were in the water, wading deeply, trying to catch and eat as many of the salmon as they could.

“You know, I could do that,” Maggie said to herself.

“Do you know about such things?”

The sound of a familiar male voice made Maggie stand and turn. “Richard! You’re back!”

Richard Blackmore shook his head. “Sadly, my love, only in your dream. Just make sure it’s the right dream, the one you really want.”

Then Blackmore, the river, the fish and the bears were gone, and it was dark. Maggie could smell fish guts. She somehow knew the smell but didn’t know how or where she knew this to be the smell of fish guts. Suddenly, with a screech of metal, machinery juddered into motion and the ground shook. Maggie was standing in front a mass of machinery making such a noise she had to hold her hands over her ears.

“Cans,” she muttered to herself, as she recognised the small tins seemingly forever flowing past her. Maggie realised she was watching a mechanism for placing fish meat into cans and sealing the can.

“How clever,” Maggie said aloud.

“Why thank you,” a man said.

Maggie turned and could see the hazy outline of a man. “Who are you? I can’t seem to see you very well.”

“That’s because you haven’t opened your eyes. You are not looking at the world the way it should be. This is the future,” he said, a hazy arm sweeping across the mass of machinery. “This is our future, Magda.”

“Maggie! Maggie! Wake up, please Maggie.”

It was almost like a light going on in her head and Maggie was instantly alert, eyes open, scanning to and fro but with a blinding pain between her eyes. The concerned face of Mary James swam into view.

“Oh, Mary… I… I can’t move,” Maggie muttered, her throat raw and dry.

“Just stay there, the caretaker is coming up with some men to help move this heavy bed. We’ll have you out of there shortly. How do you feel?”

Maggie knew the question was more in concern for her baby. “I’m fine, just shaken I think. I fell and landed badly, couldn’t move. My leg’s a little sore but the baby…” Maggie coughed, grimacing from a sharp pain in her ribs. Her throat was sore and her head throbbed with pain.

“The baby?” Mary’s concern was evident.

“It’s fine, we’re both fine. Oh, tell them to hurry I think I’ve hurt my leg, my left leg.”

At that moment Maggie heard the bustle of men coming into the room, assessing the situation and carefully lifting the heavy bed and moving it to one side.

Maggie sighed heavily as the pressure on her leg was instantly lifted. “Ohh thank goodness, that’s so much better.”

“Do you want me to get an ambulance, Ma’m?”

Maggie heard the man’s question. “No, no, I don’t need an ambulance. I think I’ve twisted my ankle,” she blurted out.

“Maggie, we need to get you checked over, for the baby.” Mary was insistent, and Maggie knew she was correct, but the last thing she wanted was a fuss and a night in an expensive hospital. Mary could see Maggie’s growing consternation. “Luckily Richard’s doctor has a telephone installed and the concierge has managed to get through to him, he’s on his way, so rest yourself and don’t worry.”

Maggie physically relaxed. The thought of more time in a hospital bed brought back the horror of waking up on Richard’s ship and not knowing who she was.

“Do you think you can sit up, maybe even stand?”

“I’ll try,” Maggie said, grabbing Mary’s proffered arm and pushing herself up from the floor with her other arm.

“Very good, my dear. Just sit a while and we will try and get you onto the bed. Mary looked up at the building caretaker and the man motioned for his colleagues to move into position. With little extra effort, the men had Maggie standing and then sitting on the edge of the bed. At that moment, there was a loud knock on the bedroom, door and a man wearing a bowler hat came into view. He had the most enormous pork-chop moustache Mary had ever seen but the most outstanding thing she observed was the gloriously luxuriant dark red colour. Mary could not quite work out if it was his real colour or in some way dyed.

“Doctor Henderson, I presume,” Mary said, “so good of you to come so quickly.”

“All in a day’s work, my dear. Now, let me sit next to my patient and check her out.”

It took only thirty minutes for Doctor Henderson to complete his examination and to confirm the baby was fine and Maggie had only suffered a twisted ankle and minor abrasion to her head. Henderson ordered her to bed and informed the ladies he would return in the morning to check on his patient, to be sure she was not putting too much strain on her baby. He doffed his bowler, to reveal a bald pink head, and left the room quickly.

Mary managed to get Maggie into bed and made her some warm milk and little dry toast.

As Maggie sipped the milk and nibbled on her toast, she took Mary’s hand, who was sat next to her with her concerned look still firmly in place. “Thank, you,” Maggie said, smiling. “You are the best friend a woman could have.”

“I worry for you, the child and obviously Richard. You must take better care of yourself. What on earth were you thinking, climbing on a chair?”

Maggie looked abashed. “That’s the problem, I wasn’t thinking. I’m going stir crazy here and needed a distraction.”

“A distraction? So you decided to climb on a chair?”

“No, the distraction came in the form of a cobweb. I climbed the chair with my feather duster and well, stepped off the chair thinking I was standing on the floor. I landed on the bed and bounced off and, well…”

“Any other time and that could have been funny, but not while you are with child, Maggie. It’s a good job I came around to see you and even more fortuitous the caretaker was willing to let me in when you didn’t answer the door.”

“I know and thank you for coming to my rescue. But I did have a strange experience. When I lay on the floor I began to lose consciousness and it was just then, at that very moment, I was back on the ship, just as it struck the iceberg. I remember something, Mary. My memory is coming back.”

“That’s good, but we have a more pressing problem.”

“Which is?”

“What are we to do with you, Maggie? I know you are bored and I can only guess what it’s like to be with child and not do the normal things you take for granted.”

Maggie nodded, nibbling a little more of the toast.

“So, you are coming with me, today. I’ll inform Doctor Henderson and he can visit you in my home. I’m taking you under my wing and I will not take no for an answer.”

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

To read other extracts from The Brittle Sea please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

 

image from the book The Brittle Sea

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

Crossing the Line

The Lady Jane was making good progress into the first month of her voyage and had left Brazil with the crew in high spirits, not something reflected in her captain’s demeanour. His was dour and not at all enjoying the voyage. Nothing could shake him from his funk and he had a feeling of dread as the days of the voyage wore on.

It was Mr. Lee, the ship’s steward, who noticed the captain’s mood becoming sour as time went on and he decided that to keep his captain’s spirits up, he would organise the ship’s passing over the equator celebration. Lee was certain the newest recruit to the ship, cabin-boy Archie McPherson, would be game for the usual shenanigans associated with an equatorial crossing. Of course, the captain was an integral part of the celebration and this, Lee surmised, would lift the captain’s mood. Though only a lowly ship’s steward, Lee was an avid reader on all things nautical and knew well the line-crossing tradition. He had crossed the equator himself, the first time, when only a boy of sixteen and in his late thirties as he was now, he had crossed a number of times since the first. Lee sought the approval of the ceremony from the captain having asked first officer Mr. Archer his initial thoughts.

“I think it’s a splendid idea, Mr. Lee. The captain will not disapprove, I assure you.”

Lee determined to seek approval from the captain during the evening meal, his hope being that the captain, surrounded by his officers, would not want to look foolish or mean spirited in front of his officers. He was rewarded with a smile from Blackmore and an approval of the ceremony.

It had long been a tradition in both military and merchant navies that crossing the equator was worth a celebration.

On deck, near the ship’s stern, David James, in all his cobbled together regalia, sat on his throne, a bench placed on top of a few packing cases, waiting for his Queen. He didn’t have long to wait before a door opened from the superstructure and out walked, and stumbled, George Nance, the Bosun from Cornwall.

“About time, George,” James said playfully. “Why is it kings have to always wait for their queens? What took you so long?”

Nance glared at the first officer. “These,” he said, tugging away at the top half of a corset.

“Where did you get such a well-fitting ladies’ corset, Mr. Nance?” David James was becoming enamoured of his role and was feeling playful at the expense of his embarrassed Bosun.

“Mr. Lee, sir, and begging your pardon, I don’t ask another man where he gets his unmentionables from… or why he has them. I do as I’m told.”

James could see the big Cornishman was not happy in his role as Queen to James’ King Neptune and tried to ease the poor man’s distress by diverting his attention. He knew the one thing Nance loved to do was recount the tales of his time in the Royal Navy. “Who played your king and queen when you crossed the line, George?”

George stop fiddling with his corset and beamed at his first office. “That be my captain and the ship’s doc. That was after Alexandria on the old Superb. She was a fine ship. We had bombarded Alexandria, trying to keep the canal open, from those Urabi’s trying to seize control. It wasn’t long after that we sailed south, and I did my first crossing. I were only a brat of a boy, but after that I was promoted to stoker. Never looked back.”

“Well, George, it’s now down to us to make this boy’s first crossing as memorable as yours. So, stop fiddling with your corset and we can get on with the job in hand. What do you say, Mr. Nance?”

Nance beamed at his officer once more. “Aye, sir. Let’s give the boy a good one.”

Years later, Archie McPherson remembered going to his bunk at 1200 hrs after completing some deck work. As is with all cabin boys, sleep overpowered all thoughts of changing clothing and going for a shower. Sleep took the better of him and he dozed off.

Young McPherson was awoken at dawn’s early light by a barrage of men who were grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. A little stunned, he was tossed from his hammock and the reason suddenly dawned on him, he was going to have to go through the line-crossing ceremony.

The ceremony, a long-standing tradition of initiation, commemorates a sailor’s first time crossing of the equator and is a memory remembered always by each seafarer. It ushers in a sense of belonging, a sense of ‘finally I’m a sailor’ to the newly initiated. The excitement among fellow shipmates at the conducting the line-crossing ceremony is one that tells of a happy experience.

There is a lot of history behind the pomp and ceremony and McPherson knew it. Seamen who have previously crossed the equator are called Shellbacks or, Sons Of Neptune. Those who haven’t are Pollywogs. McPherson was about to be initiated and become a Son of Neptune.

King Neptune is the ruler of the seas and the ceremony is designed to appease the King by showing him respect and in so doing to keep a sailor away from the perils of the sea and to bring good luck. It was David James’ who was chosen by Mr. Lee to dress up as King Neptune, with the Trident sceptre in his hand and a glorious crown on his head. Beside him was seated his wife, Queen Amphitrite, better known to the crew as the Bosun, George Nance. Surrounded by a gaggle of other crew members in full attire, including an unhappy ship’s doctor as Davy Jones, the royal proceedings were ready to start.

McPherson, the Pollywog, was first dipped in water to show the initiation of passing into the realm of the seas. To his everlasting embarrassment, McPherson was stripped down to his underwear dipped in the water gathered in a small barrel. After the dip several raw eggs were broken onto McPherson’s head then he was made to drink a concoction of beer, worcestershire sauce, raw eggs and a few other ingredients chosen by Mr. Lee. This concoction is known as the truth serum, forcing him to speak the absolute truth when he swears his allegiance to King Neptune and the sea! Finally, and without any reference to the style of the day, McPherson’s head was shaved in as haphazard a manner as possible and paint was then applied randomly over his body.

King Neptune then made an earnest speech and accepted the ushering of the new sailor into the sea under the auspice of His Majesty. The sceptre is laid forth to mark this moment of truth and then a very dishevelled McPherson was tied up and dragged away to the anchor, to the sound of a beating home-made drum.

Once at the anchor, the newly initiated McPherson was made to crack open a bottle of beer on the anchor itself at the first go. Cracking it open at once pertains to long luck and safe seas.

At the end of it, the Captain Blackmore, the new Chief Engineer and the rest of the crew congratulated McPherson on his initiation.

Finally, at the end of the day, a feast was enjoyed by the off duty and McPherson whereupon he was handed the highly esteemed Equator Crossing Certificate, sealing the ritual’s authenticity forever.

As for Richard Blackmore, the ceremony had the desired effect and his focus was once more on his crew and his ship. Maggie was still in his heart, but he needed to be focused in the here and now and Mr. Lee had pulled him out of his fugue in admirable fashion.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

As an English expat author living in Cyprus, you would be forgiven if you think my days are full of sunshine and cocktails around the pool. Ten years living in Cyprus has actually given me more than my fair share of adventures, as you will see if you click on Preview below to read an extract from my book A Pat on his Back.

To read other extracts from The Brittle Sea please click HERE and scroll down to see all available chapters.

This book is intended for publication during the winter of 2018.

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author.

 

image of fruit loaf

You would be forgiven to think that I’ve been in the sun too long as my last couple of posts were about making wine and this one is about fruit loaf. Granted, on the face of it, they are not exactly gardening subjects. But that’s where you’re wrong. The grapes I’m using in my wine making experiment were grown by me from seed and the fruit loaf is cooked by me… using grapes I have grown from seed. No, I didn’t put grapes in my fruit loaf, I put currants and raisins in my fruit loaf.

Making dried fruit like currants and raisins is easy enough. All you need is a supply of grapes, warm weather, a greenhouse and a tray, just be aware that seedless grapes are better because you don’t have to remove the seeds first. Cut your grapes from the vine when ready, cut apart the bunch of grapes into small clumps. Place on a tissue in a tray, though straw is preferable, and then place in your greenhouse. Over time the water in the grapes evaporates and you are left with a shriveled grape, which, depending on the grape variety used, is either a currant or a raisin.

 

Wash the dried fruit throughly and store in a container in a dry place until you are ready to make a fruit loaf. I’m making mine this week-end. It’s not something I enjoy eating but my wife likes my fruit loaf.

Currently (forgive the pun) I’m drying some seeds out ready to plant next year that, when fully grown, I can use the resulting fruit in my own cocktails. I’ll just leave you with that thought until this time next year when I can tell if the experiment worked. If it does, it’s Mary Pickfords all round

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like being an expat in a foreign country, read a free sample of A Pat on his Back

If you like what you read here, take a look at my FREE BOOKS by clicking here. You will see my FREE BOOKS and indeed other books I’ve written that will cost you a very small fortune, usually from $1.99 to $2.99 – If nothing else, I’m an inexpensive author. Check out my website by clicking here.