Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harden Up

The sound of the alarm shattered Tim from the nothingness of deep sleep into the harsh, conscious reality of 4:30 am. He killed the sound with a fling of his arm and swung his legs out of the bed. He sat in silence, angry. Angry at being woken up so early, angry that he had no real option. The anger was normal – part of the ritual now – and helped him get up, get moving.

Tim staggered to the en-suite and took a leak. He had a drink of water from the cup on top of the vanity. He moved silently in the dark. He never turned on the light. Light was offensive at this hour.

Tim took his pants from their usual place and put them on. It was an effort. He didn't want to go to work today – more than usual - even for the first day of a tour. He worked his arms into his shirt. As he did up the buttons he noticed that it hurt a bit to swallow. He thought about this, slowly. Perhaps he was sick, or would become sick part-way through the shift.

He sneaked out of the bedroom. His wife hadn't moved the whole time, since the alarm. Perhaps she's dead, he thought. If I check, then I'll be dead. Of well, I'll find out when I get home.

He took the milk from the fridge and poured some into the bowl of cereal on the kitchen bench.

Tim ate slowly, sitting on a bar stool. It was getting towards summer now, and a little pre-dawn light came in through the windows. That made it easier to get going; not easy, but easier.

Tim didn't think about much as he ate. He couldn't think at this hour. He did decide he wasn't sick, though. His throat was still sore, but the crew would need him. Two teaspoons of cement was all he needed.

Tim left the empty bowl on the counter and grabbed his crib from the fridge as he put away the milk. He headed out the front door ten minutes after he'd woken up. He didn't need to check his watch.

He began to walk towards the bus pick-up. It would take him seven minutes, maybe eight. The birds were awake now, flying around, making a racket and catching their worms, or whatever they did.

Tim walked along the edge of the road, carrying his bag. He felt empty. It was like being sad, but worse, and different. He felt like that a lot lately. He tried not to think about how he felt.

He was glad it wasn't raining; that was something. He'd have stayed home, he thought, if it was raining. But stayed home for what?, he wondered. Better off at work. Rock and a hard place. Hard place. Harden up.

He was at the bus stop in plenty of time. Some of the others nodded, said g'day. A few were smoking, while they could. A few blokes were telling each other dirty jokes, laughing.

A year ago, Tim would've joined them. But he'd lost interest in that sort of thing. Like most things. Hate my job, and not interested in finding another one. For sure, not interested in learning a new mine, a new boss, new people. Only wish this job didn't grind me down. Harden up Tim, harden up.

"Hey Tim!"

Tim fell out of his daydream. "Hey what?"

"Coming?" The bus had arrived, and everyone else was on board. How'd I miss that?

He climbed on board to head off for the first shift of the tour.

This story was first published in Issue 99 of Shift Miner Magazine. I wrote this coming into the month of "Movember", helping to raise awareness and funds for men's health issues for prostate cancer and depression. Let's just say I wasn't going to write a story about prostate cancer.

Depression is a killer. One way to help is to so go to the
beyond blue website and give some money.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It had stopped raining the day before Sue came back to work. After seven months away, she'd expected the blokes to make a big deal of it, or poke a bit of fun, but there was none of that. Most didn't seem to know where to look, like they were embarrassed to see her. She tried not to take it personally, but it did hurt.

She kept her hard-hat on during the safety meeting; her hair was still so short. She'd always had long hair before, tied up in a bun, until she walked out of the bath-house at the end of the shift, when she'd let it down, and it would flow long and red down her back. She hoped she'd live long enough to let it grow back that long again.

Sue was glad when the meeting was over, and she could get back into her truck. She was amazed how the pit had changed in the time she'd been away. New roads created, old pits filled in, and coal coming out of places that they'd only just started hauling overburden from when she'd got sick.

She hadn't needed to go back to work for the money. She'd been told she could just quit, and get her super. But she didn't want to crawl home to die.

Here at the mine she was important: as important as everyone else, working together like a machine to move dirt and coal.

By mid-morning, the circuit was second-nature to her again. She slipped straight back into the system: queuing, loading, hauling, dumping, returning and then queuing again. Sometimes the work was monotonous, but it was never boring. She was always learning, always looking around at what was going on.

Today, Sue sometimes found herself smiling with the simple satisfaction that she was back on the job. She took off her hard-hat at last, and ruffled her hands through her inch-long hair.

By crib time, she felt she'd re-proven herself - not to the others, but to herself – that she could still do it. When she'd first become an operator, she was the first woman at the pit, and there were plenty of men waiting and watching, ready for her to fail. In time, she'd proven herself. She earned the respect, and even the friendship of most of those that later admitted that they hadn't wanted to see a woman working at the mine.

Then the cancer had come. Physically, it had destroyed her, almost. And, in a way more sinister and less expected, it had threatened to destroy her as a person, and as a woman. She had once shown the men that she could do it; today she had showed herself again. She'd operated her truck text-book style: no mistakes, no delays. It gave her confidence again, as an operator, and as a person.

As she parked up at the crib-rooms she looked down to take off her seat-belt and the sight of her chest brought tears to her eyes, as it often did. It looked the same on the outside as it did before, but the prosthesis didn't go far to replace what she'd lost. She clenched her teeth together, wiped her eyes with her sleeve, and planted her hard-hat firmly on her head. Recovering her confidence and her identity as a woman would take the longest time, she knew.

After a minute, she'd calmed herself back down. She took her crib bag and left the cab of the truck.

She kept her hard-hat on, of course, as she slipped into the crib-room.

"Welcome back, Sue," said someone. She looked up. It was Ted, sitting down in a group of four, dealing out the first hand of five-hundred. He gave her a big smile.

Sue looked around the crib-room, suddenly shocked. Everyone in the room was wearing their hard-hat.

This story was first published in Issue 97 of Shift Miner Magazine. That issue - and this story - had a special focus on breast cancer awareness and research. It doesn't have to be a special campaign-time to give money. Spend a little on yourself and go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation website and donate.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creative Writer Award

Milo James Fowler has just passed on Lesa's Bald Faced Liar "Creative Writer" Blogger Award to me. Thanks, Milo!

It's not all glamour, though. Accepting this award requires me to:
  1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them.
  2. Add the award to your blog.
  3. Tell six outrageous lies about yourself and one truth. (Another variant: Tell six truths and one outrageous lie. YOU get to guess which variant I chose – and which statements are true, as well as which are lies.)
  4. Nominate six creative liars/writers and post links to them.
  5. Let your nominees know that they have been nominated.
Here is a list of either six outrageous lies about me and one truth, or six truths and one outrageous lie. I prefer to think of the "lies" as "creative writing", by the way.
  1. Last year I saved my company $2.4M in just three months by spending less than $100 to change the type of "O"-ring used to connect all high-pressure hydraulic hoses.
  2. I learned to fly a plane before I learned to drive a car.
  3. I've turned down multiple offers for senior management roles within Rio Tinto because those roles would have given me a lot less time to write.
  4. I lost 30kg (66lbs) over 18 months using the Weight Watchers program.
  5. I have never had a speeding ticket.
  6. I was the only person in my high school to study two foreign languages.
  7. I have memorised the first three chapters of the Gospel of Luke in the King James Version, and I'm working on chapter four.
Use the comments section to guess which you think are true, and which you think are creative.

Passing on this award is tricky, because it seems that some people don't "do" awards. I guess there's no harm in nominating them anyway. Anyway, my nominations go to Angel Zapata, Erin Cole, Greg "Gladbloke" Bray, Quin Browne and Linda.

Apologies in advance if I've caused offence nominating, or not nominating anyone.

Happy guessing between the truths and creativities!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real Threats

Tim sat in the crowded departure lounge, flipping through a magazine, bored. He looked around every so often to see others also waiting, also bored. There was a TV mounted high on the wall showing an American soapie, with the sound muted, thankfully.

A young Indian-looking man came in, wearing a CIO Mining shirt like Tim's. He saw Tim, and made his way over. CIO was a multinational mining company; it was common for it's employees to meet each other randomly at airports.

"Hello," said the newcomer. "I'm Saleem. I'm an electrical grad up at Western Creek Coal." He sat down across from Tim, and put his laptop bag beside him. He had just the slightest trace of an accent.

"I'm Tim." He leaned forward and they shook hands across the aisle. "I do SAP support for all the Queensland and New South Wales coal sites."

Saleem smiled. "You must fly a lot, then."

Tim grinned. "Platinum frequent flyer, most years."

"That would drive me crazy," said Saleem. "No matter how much I fly, the security just frustrates me. I get the random explosive check every time I come through. I just had my carry-on searched, after the x-ray check."

"Really?" said Tim. "I've never had them go through my carry-on."

Saleem shrugged. "It's one of the hazards of looking like me, rather than you," he said, matter-of-factly. He added, "And having Muhammad as my first name doesn't help."

"Saleem's not your first name?"

"Where my family's from in Pakistan, Muhammad is every man's first name. Saleem is my second name; it's what I've always been called by."

"Well, I'm sorry if they give you a hard time just for that. I think security is important, but they shouldn't be targeting you just because of what you look like, or for your religion. That's just prejudice. Security should be focussed on real threats."

Tim realised he was starting to rant. He changed the subject, and asked Saleem if he'd been with CIO for long. Eighteen months, he said.

Suddenly Saleem asked, "Hey, are you Tim Murdoch?"

"Yeah, that's right."

Saleem smiled. "I've actually been meaning to give you a call – everyone says I should talk to you. I need your expertise on a project I'm working on."

Tim smiled back. He liked helping people with SAP problems, and he loved being seen as the go-to man. "What can I do you for?"

"I need your help to make a bomb," said Saleem.

Tim blinked. The people around fell silent. No one looked directly at them, but Tim could feel their eyes, and he wasn't good at feeling that type of thing. He coughed, then said softly, "You need my help for what?"

Saleem looked around, then back at Tim. "To make a bomb. Everyone says you're the one to talk to."


"Sure: my boss, other grads, lots of people. They say you've made more bombs than anyone else in CIO. That you make them quickly, and, most importantly as far as I'm concerned, you get them right, the first time."

The circle of quiet, nervous people had expanded now, like a ripple in a pond. The entire departure lounge was hanging on their every word, though everyone kept looking at their magazines and laptops, or at the TV, or out the window.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."

Saleem looked bemused. "You're are the SAP guru, Tim Murdoch?"

Tim smiled, self-consciously. He liked being called a guru, though he'd never admit it, and he sometimes even pretended to complain about it. "Hardly a guru," he said, "but I know a thing or two about SAP."

"Then why don't you know about how to make bombs? I'm quite new to SAP myself, but I thought that building a Bill of Materials would be child's play for someone like you."

Tim almost choked. Of course: Bill of Materials. He always referred to Bills of Materials as "BOM's", for short. Everyone did. Saleem had been after his expertise, so why on earth had Tim thought he was talking about building a bomb?

"Oh," he said, after a few moments. "You mean you want my help to build a BOM!"

Saleem's mouth dropped open. "Isn't this what I've been saying for five minutes?" he said. He spoke quickly now, and louder, and his accent was becoming stronger. "I have all the parts and components. I just need you to help me build my BOM!"

Tim looked up then, and saw the security guards. There seemed to be a dozen, or more, coming at them from every direction.

This story was published this week in Issue 95 of Shift Miner Magazine This is also my #fridayflash for 17 September.

What's SAP? Almost all the readers of
Shift Miner will know what SAP is; but you may not. SAP is one of the major "Business Management Software Applications". Among many other things, this type of software is used by mining companies (and other major corporations) to organise and track maintenance and other aspects of asset management. In industry, one of the steps of procuring a new piece of equipment is to set up the "BOMs" (Bills of Materials), so that the "system" has a record of all the parts, how many are stocked, and where to buy them. People in this part of the industry talk about BOMs ("bombs") all the time.

I'm sorry if the humour in this piece is too much of an "in-joke" ; however, I hope the underlying message still comes through.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Visiting Esme

“Good morning Esme, how are you today?” said Jim, his voice bright and cheery. He looked into her face for a glimmer of recognition, but saw only cold mistrust.

“I'm fine, thank you very much,” said Esme loudly, peering up at him. “But, who are you? And what do you want?”

There were six patients at Whitman Park Aged Care Home, including Esme, whose religious affiliation was listed as “Presbyterian”. It was Jim’s right, and duty, as the local Presbyterian minister, to visit them each week. Jim did his visiting on Thursday mornings. It suited him as well as any other time. The old fogies that kept track of days and times appreciated the routine, and it made no difference to the others.

And then there was Esme. She had her good days and her bad days, but overall, Esme's dementia was a case of steady decline. On a good day she showed a vague sense of having met Jim before. It didn't help for him to insist that he had known her his whole life. Her responses to such notions were belligerent, and often violent.

After introducing himself as the minister, Jim won her affection with some licorice all-sorts. It was a cheap trick, but he always used it, because it worked.

“These are lovely,” she said. “I can’t say I’ve had them before, but they are just lovely.”

Esme told Jim she’d had a terrible night's sleep. “Those young people in the flat downstairs had their music on so loud, the whole night long,” she said. Her hands trembled as she spoke. “Not that I call it music. Bang, bang, bang! That's all it is. Noise. That's what it is: just noise. Something should be done about it. Someone should do something.” She dabbed at the edge of her mouth with a handkerchief.

Jim blinked. He was still not immune to the things that she could say. Whitman Park was a single-story complex, flat on the ground; there was no ‘downstairs’. He bit his lip and swallowed and prayed, quietly in his mind, for strength.

“I'm sorry to hear that Esme,” he said. “Tell you what: I'll have a good stern talk with them about it on my way home. I’ll make sure that it doesn't happen again. How does that sound?”

Esme smiled. Her glasses glinted as she sat up in her chair. “Oh, would you? Would you really?”

“Sure,” said Jim as he got up. He felt claustrophobic.

Esme asked him to stay a while longer. “You've only just got here.”

But Jim had to leave. He couldn’t make himself stay. He retreated, shuffling backwards through the door, and waved as he left. Esme stayed in her armchair, watching him go, looking bewildered.

Jim marched quickly through the corridors of Whitman Park, out into the fresh air, and towards his car. He leaned against the car and took deep breaths to calm himself down. He took a tissue from his pocket and wiped the tears from his face.

He still wasn’t sure if he had the faith or the strength it took to be a minister. They hadn't trained him for this sort of thing at the college, and God felt farther away than ever.

Visiting Esme was killing him. He did it because it was what he had promised to do, and to be, but he wished he was someone else. He wished that Esme would hurry up and die. Take her soon, Lord, please, he prayed, She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t even know her own son.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SlushPile Hell

I just discovered SlushPile Hell today. It's about: One grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense.

Most of the posts consist of a brief quote from a query letter, and an even briefer one-liner from the grumpy agent. Reading through the site, I almost wet myself laughing a couple of times. My kidneys are still sore.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Artist's Secret

In his recent blog post Comic FAIL, Dilbert creator Scott Adams describes why he thinks a recent Dilbert strip flopped with his audience. Why? Because he ignored "The Artist's Secret":
The Artist's Secret is that all art comes from abnormal brains. So if you create art that satisfies your own tastes, you have created for a market of exactly one abnormal person. If you're lucky, a handful of other freaks get some joy from your creations too. But it won't be enough to pay your bills. It's not a career until you learn to create products that normal people like.
As a writer with an abnormal brain, I think I have a lot to learn from this. I like to think other writers and people with abnormal brains read this blog sometimes, so that's why I'm sharing this with you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Realist

The following scene is inspired by Three Word Wednesday number CCIV. The words are break, negative and surface, and are shown in bold below.

Piet didn't consider himself to be a negative person; a pessimist. He was a realist. He could objectively assess any situation. He looked below the surface of a problem, identifying the root causes, and therefore the cures. Yes, a realist.

But, as Piet thought about his marriage, and what it had become, and his prospects of making it once again what it once had been, there was little he could do except break down and cry; again.

After a few minutes, he could control his breathing better. He wiped his face and blew his nose and dropped the tissue alongside a pile of rubbish on the lounge-room floor. He looked around for his wallet and keys, then left for the bottle-shop. He'd be spending the evening with a bottle of Johnny Walker, again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Legend of Larry

Have you ever told a ghost story to scare the wits out of the gullible? Who hasn't? Perhaps you pass on the legends of the spirits that roam a place you've lived or worked. In any case, I hope you get a buzz out of this piece. The Legend of Larry was published yesterday in Issue 94 of Shift Miner Magazine.

The Legend of Larry
It was Damon's first tour on the crew when, at smoko on the first night-shift, Wazza began to tell him the Legend of Larry.

"Who's Larry?" asked Damon as he took his crib from the microwave, wincing at the heat.

"Larry was a rigger," said Wazza, then took a sip of his tea. "He worked on the construction project for this plant, back in the eighties. He died on the job." Wazza took a bite of his toast.

Damon's eyebrows shot up, and he sat down eagerly across the table. "How'd he die?"

Wazza kept his face looking serious. The young bloke was taking the bait nicely. "He fell, from the top, to the bottom."

"No harness?"

"Not in those days, kid. No harnesses, lanyards, EWPs. Too expensive, and slowed the job down. Riggers walked straight out on the I-beams, 30 metres in the air, no problems."

"But he fell?"

"Yeah. They pushed poor Larry."

Damon's mouth opened. "They pushed him off a beam?"

Wazza chuckled. "No, they worked him too hard. The project was behind schedule and over budget. So, they started a night-shift, and gave everyone the hurry-up. Larry had already worked the whole day-shift, but they were short on blokes, and offered him double time. On top of that, the lighting on the job was terrible, because they hadn't planned for night-shift."

Wazza took another sip from his tea, drawing the story out, and shook his head slowly. "They found where Larry slipped. A patch of grease had been spilled on the beam. It was left there, because of all the rush."

"Wow," said Damon, who'd been so rapt in the story, he hadn't touched his crib. He took a mouthful, and swallowed. "I'd hate to be the one that left that grease!"

Wazza stared hard back at Damon.

Damon's eyes opened wide. "It wasn't … you, was it?"

Wazza shook his head. "No, but I knew him. He fell apart; became a real mess. Still in jail, I think."

Damon went back to eating his meal. Wazza studiously ignored him while he finished his toast and tried to finish a sudoku in the newspaper someone had left on the table.

"Thanks for telling me about all that," said Damon. "I've always been real careful with working at heights, but that's a real good safety share."

Wazza shook his head slowly. "It's not a work-at-heights safety share, kid. You need to respect Larry, and look out for him. You need to let him get to know you."

Damon looked confused.

Wazza said, "He knows the rest of us, but he'll come visit you soon. New blood."

"Didn't you say he's dead?"

"His body is dead; saw that myself. But, his spirit will never rest. Can't be sure why, but I think he stays around to look after us."

Damon laughed. "You're telling me Larry's a ghost? That this is a haunted wash-plant?"

"I don't use those words," said Wazza, keeping his tone serious. "But yes, Larry's spirit wanders around this plant – especially on night-shifts. There's no other way to explain some of the things that have happened here, over the years."

Wazza rinsed off his cup and plant and went back out into the plant.

At about three in the morning, when Damon was hosing in on the ground floor, Wazza set up Larry on the floor above, beside the reject conveyor. He could barely keep from laughing as he tied lengths of thin rope through holes in the shoulders of an old high-vis raincoat.

He got in position where he could see Damon, his head down, watching the spray of water from the hose. Wazza dangled the raincoat over the edge and lowered it on the ropes so it came up just behind Damon. He reached out and swung the rope so the raincoat brushed against Damon's back.

Damon turned slowly, and faced the raincoat. He stood dead still. Then he looked straight up at Wazza; but Wazza didn't see Damon's face. Instead, of Damon's face there was a ghostly-white skull.

Wazza dropped the ropes and ran.

Damon took the mask off and stuffed it in his jacket. He smiled contentedly as he went back to hosing.

Edit: Typos as per John Wiswell's comments. Thanks, John.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

People Need to Know

My flash fiction story People Need to Know has been published by Every Day Fiction. Click here to read the story. Please take the time to rate the story out of five, and leave a comment at the Every Day Fiction site. This story is relatively controversial; I'm interested to know what you think.

Many thanks to the Every Day Fiction editor, Camille Gooderham Campbell, for taking this story on.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Farewell Speech

No matter what industry or field you work in, you'll be familiar with the typical farewell morning tea. It's an interesting little ritual; a tradition that has caused me bemusement, amusement and weight-gain during my career so far. So, this got me thinking…

This story was published today in Issue 93 of
Shift Miner Magazine.

Brad smiled politely and stood with his hands behind his back while Jim, the General Manger, spoke glowingly of Brad's achievements, his wonderful example, and the hole he would leave in the organisation when he left.

Inside, Brad was laughing; and he struggled to keep the laughing on the inside. It was all so beautifully ridiculous: Jim had been hunting Brad out of the mine for months. Their arguments were the stuff of legend. They had disagreed – often publicly – on almost everything: safety, production, costs. Despite all this, this little ceremony of Brad's farewell morning tea was a time of fond farewells, mutual admiration and back-slapping.

It was a bit like funerals, thought Brad. If you went to every funeral in the country for a whole year, you'd think that no bad people ever died. In life, people are hated, vilified, bashed, even killed; and yet, there's never a bad word said at a funeral. Maybe, sometimes, the deceased was "rough around the edges", "misunderstood", "unconventional", or a "larakin"; but few eulogies ever described someone as a completely useless, lazy prick who would rob his own mother if he could, and won't our lives all be better now that we're rid of him. Maybe at the wake – but never at the funeral.

Farewell speeches at work were like eulogies, thought Brad, except for a few added benefits. First: you're not dead – which is always a good thing – and you get to witness the whole farce. Better yet, the person forced to stand in front of anyone interested in you leaving – or at least interested in the free cakes – and talk about how wonderful you are in your boss. And Brad's boss was the one who despised him more than anyone. Watching Jim humiliate himself like this was pure joy.

"Now Brad and I haven't seen eye to eye on every issue," said Jim. Brad didn't snort, though someone up the back did, which cause a ripple of nervous laughter through the group. They had to stay and work for Jim; they hadn't found other jobs, yet.

Jim continued, his face a little redder. "But that doesn't mean I didn't respect a man like Bad who has the integrity and the passion to stand for what he truly believes in."

Wow, thought Brad, that man should got into politics. He's wasted running a coal mine. The coal mine's wasted with him running it, in any case.

Brad looked around the group while Jim rambled on. He had few friends left here:he'd had few to start with. Then those he'd liked, respected and enjoyed working with had moved on to greener pastures.

For many, greener pastures didn't mean bigger numbers on payslips, but more satisfying roles, or less stress, or living near a university for the kids to attend.

Now, it was Brad's turn. Greener pastures for him meant going back to the Hunter Valley, were he'd come from. He'd only come up here because his wife had wanted more money. The divorce had been quick – surgical – and now there was nothing left to keep him up here in this hot, dry, hell, working for that thick-headed egomaniac.

"Brad?" It was Jim.

Brad realised he'd been day-dreaming, and it was time for his response speech.

"Sorry," he said. "I was lost in thought."

And suddenly, he didn't have the strength for all this crap. So he smiled, took a piece of carrot cake, and walked away.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Part of This Australian Society

This is my latest story in edition 92 of Shift Miner Magazine. The online version of this edition is here. Enjoy!

"Have you been in Australia long, Dr Ramji?"

"Please Mark, just be calling me Ramji. I have been here twelve years. I came first to study medicine at UQ."

"Wow." Mark was lying face down on the examination bench, waiting for Ramji to remove a mole from the back of his leg.

"Can you feel that?" said Ramji.

"Feel what?"

"Good, the anaesthetic is working just fine. I was poking your leg with the point of my scalpel."

"Well, I didn't feel a thing. You can start now, I suppose."

"I am already starting, Mark. Please be lying very still."

Mark lay very still. The pulling and tugging as Ramji cut into his leg felt weird. "Can I ask you a personal question, Ramji?"

"Sure. Normally it is I that is asking the personal questions."

Mark laughed, and relaxed a little. "Are you a Muslim; is that why you have that … your head covered?"

"No, Mark," said Ramji, "I am not a Muslim. This is a turban I have on my head. I am Sikh."

"You're sick?"

"No, I am not ill. I am a Sikh. It is a religion, from my native India."

"Fair dinkum?" said Mark. "I though it was mainly Muslims in India."

"Actually, Hindus are by far making up the biggest Indian religion. Then there are many others, like Muslims, and Christians, and us Sikhs, and many, many others. I am ready to start your suturing now."

"My what?"

"Your sutures. Stitches."

"Cool. I suppose you have a lot of people ask about your turban?"

"Actually, no. You are the first in about one year. I am thinking people are scared they will be offending me."

"Have I offended you?"
Good gracious, no."

"That good."

Ramji laughed. "Yes," he said. "Especially as it is I that is having the scalpel."

Mark laughed too.

Ramji said, "May I ask what are your religious beliefs, Mark?"

"I've got to say, I don't like religions, myself."

"It causes so much conflict."

"That is true; there is much religious conflict. But then, people are always finding some things to be fighting about. Stopping the religions is not enough to be stopping all the wars. Your leg is all finished now Mark."

Mark sat up on the bench and looked at the dressing on his leg and poiked at the skin around it, feeling where the anaesthetic had deadened his leg. "So what's your answer?"

"To make world peace?"

"To stopping religious violence, and conflict."

"Respect, and freedom, and not taking revenge. I have the freedom to be a Sikh without fear; and my neighbour, a Christian, and my other neighbour, perhaps like you, with having no religion at all."

"But aren't people always killing each other about religion in India?"

"True, it is happening sometimes," said Ramji, his head rocking from side to side. "That is one very big reason for why I am loving Australia. I did not stay here for the taste of the food."

Mark laughed, but he wasn't convinced. "But doesn't people coming here, and keeping their own religions, stop them from being part of Australian society?"

Ramji made a tut-tut sound. "Mark, my friend, I am a doctor, here in Emerald, removing a mole and maybe cancer from your leg. Am I not right now being a part of this Australian society?"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Fool

"Oh, Cynthia," he said, his voice soft and crooning, as he drew her to his side. "You are the source of all my hope, my joy. You are my inspiration!"

She pushed her hand hard against his chest. "Gerald," she said. "You are a fool."

"Just a fool for you, my love."

"No Gerald," she said. "You are a fool in your own right. Go to your wife now, or else I shall."

This little scene was inspired by Sunday Scribblings number 224. The word was source.

Farewell Tour

Ted stood in the muster area, as the sun began to dawn, as he had hundreds of times before. Today he was alone; there was no shift change. There was no oncoming crew bantering and rustling with crib bags and drink bottles; there was no off-going crew tired and dirty handing over achievements and concerns; there were no engineers or planners or superintendents, all in a mild panic, trying to find out why things hadn't gone to plan, chasing precious paperwork, and passing on newer, grander plans.

The crew vehicles were parked in a row, silent. No one was doing the shiftly pre-start checks or complaining about the mud and rubbish left inside by the last mongrel crew. The safety board showed two days since the last injury. It hadn't been touched since the day North Creek Mine had been shut down.

The mine had been the biggest part of Ted's life; his whole life, really. He had lost that, when the front gates were closed and locked, fifteen days ago. Head office had chosen to shut the place down, and he'd found out at on the same day as everyone else.

He'd taken it hard. He held it together, until he was alone, and then he cried like a baby. He felt ashamed, to bawl like that.

He hadn't been able to sleep last night. In the early hours of the morning, he came back to the mine, to have one last look around; to say goodbye, properly. In the dark, he cut his way through the boundary fence. He walked the corridors and buildings and paths. He breathed in the smell of mud, diesel, grease, rubber and smouldering, heating coal as he roamed his mine. He touched the wheels of the mammoth rear-dump trucks, parked in rows on the go-line. He gathered memories.

As he walked through the plant, the wind blew in gusts, howling through the structure and the conveyor gantries and in and around the yard machines. Ted had never before heard that sound in the plant. The plant had roared when it was running, and during shut-downs the sound of the machines was replaced by rattle-guns, hammers, grinders, cranes and men. Now, the plant was silent, and the wind took its turn to be heard.

Through the early hours, Ted walked, and thought, and comforted himself with familiar sights, and saw some things around the mine he'd never seen before.

He'd gone to the muster area just before the dawn. He stood and watched lightening sky and listened to the crows as they fought over what was left in the bins.

He heard footsteps then. He stepped around the corner to avoid getting caught.

"There you are Ted," called a familiar voice. The footsteps quickened.

Ted went back and saw David, his overburden superintendent, and the closest thing he had to a friend.


David smiled. "Saw you before, lurking around," he said. "I've been on a bit of a farewell tour myself."

They stood quietly together and looked around. Then Ted said suddenly, "I'd do things differently, you know, if I could do it all over again."

David nodded, and grunted.

"I pushed, and pushed, for tonnes. That was my job. But I pushed until something broke." He sighed.

David said nothing.

Ted went on, "I said safety was the number one priority; but I didn't want people to believe me, and they didn't. I pushed tonnes, tonnes and tonnes. But I couldn't squeeze the volume through this place that it needed to turn a decent profit."

"But you tried."

Ted grunted.

They stood together in the cool quiet and the minutes passed. Ted could hear the clock on the wall ticking. He read the signs posted on the walls, as if for the first time.

A few tears escaped from Ted's eyes. He wiped them quickly with his shirtsleeve before David could notice. He didn't like to blubber; he just felt so depressed, like his life was over. His career was in tatters. He'd had little effect on production, he'd lost control of costs, and now two me were dead and a third would never walk again.

Ted hated who he was. He hated that he was crying about his mine and his career, and not about the men whose lives he had risked, and lost, and wrecked. He hated that he was crying at all.

Ted spat into the dirt. "I'm going home, before the rent-a-cops catch me."

David nodded. "Me too."

They shook hands, promised to keep in touch – both knowing that they wouldn't – and walked away.

This story appeared today in the Five Minute Fiction column of Issue 91 of Shift Miner Magazine. I've often thought of what it would be like to walk around a mine that was a big part of your life, and was then shut down. Imagine all the things that were once important, that now don't even exist.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A More Gentle Creature

"I think a man should be gentle," she said, not looking directly at him. "Strong, and bold, of course; but especially gentle."

"Indeed," he said. "How intriguing. I agree that a man possessing strength and boldness is worthy of some praise; but there is no call for gentleness. That is an attribute more fitting for a lady, I should think."

She laughed. "A lady should appear gentle," she said, "but can never be so, if she is to survive in this world."

"And what then of a man, that is both strong and bold - as you require - but is not truly gentle?"

"Such a man," said she, turning to face him directly, "is vulgar."

He knew that she had said, in not so many words, that such a man was he. He hid his humiliation by turning and leaving, in search of a more gentle creature, with eyes that might adore, rather than pierce him.

This little scene is my response to Three Word Wednesday number CXCVII. The prompting words are gentle, praise and vulgar.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

No Big Deal

No Big Deal appears in Issue 90 of Shift Miner Magazine. This is the first of my Shift Miner stories that isn't directly mining-related. I think most people who have travelled long-distance with their family should be able to relate to this. This especially includes those of us working in residential remote-area mining jobs.

"It's not such a big deal to drive to Brisbane," said Susie.

Bruce wasn't so sure. They'd done long distances before, but never with the two kids. "Okay," he agreed. They had to go to Susie's father's seventieth birthday part. Susie thought flying was too expensive, so they took the people-mover. Bruce decided to take the inland road. "Less cars, cops and other problems," he said.

Bruce had bought a portable DVD player with two screens. "That'll keep 'em busy," he said. It kept Bruce busy for a about an hour while he worked out how to set it up. Once they were out of town, Susie told the kids they could play their movie.

Dylan said, "Mum, it doesn't work."

"What do you mean?"

"The DVD player doesn't work."

"What's it doing?"

"It's not playing."

Discussion became yelling as Susie tried to diagnose the problem from the front-seat. Bruce pulled over. "Let's see what the matter is."

Bruce took out the DVD and looked at it. It had some kind of muck on the shiny side. "What's all this on the DVD?" he asked the kids. Dylan and Peter put on their confused faces and shrugged their shoulders. Susie found Bruce a tissue and he used some spit and polish to clean up the disc.

The DVD player kept the kids quiet, as planned. The movie itself wasn't so quiet. Yelling, laughter, crying and music poured out off from the two screens. "Turn it down," they called out from the front, a few times.

"Good little speakers," said Bruce, quietly.

Susie said, "Maybe we can get some headphones in Brisbane."

"Good idea."

After an hour on the road, they came to some road-works. The speed limit dropped to 80, then 60, then 40. "We'll be parked up soon, if this keeps up," said Bruce. He saw a lollipop-man sign saying "Prepare to Stop" and swore very quietly to himself.

"Settle down, dear," said Susie.

"I'm settled." Bruce looked in the rear-view. A few cars were banking up, then a new blue ute came around the outside. "What's this idiot doing? There's a truck coming the other way."

The ute overtook the cars behind Bruce. The driver must have seen the truck, his brake lights flashed on. The cars ahead were bunched close together now. There wasn't any space for the blue ute. Bruce hit his own brakes, hard. Peter shouted from the back seat. The truck driver flashed his lights. The ute pulled in front of Bruce. Bruce muttered to himself.

"What was that dear?"

"I said, 'Tanker'. The truck that almost took out that idiot is a fuel tanker."

Amazing, thought Bruce. We stare death in the face, and she ups me about my language.

It wasn't long after the road-works that Dylan said he felt sick. Bruce asked how sick, and did he need to throw up? Before he could answer, Dylan threw up.

Bruce and Susie used an old pack of baby-wipes to clean the worst of it. Susie did most of the cleaning, while Bruce tried to stop their children from suiciding on the highway, or throwing rocks at each other or passing cars. "Throw them out there at a tree, or something," he said. Evidently, trees were boring.

They hit the roo about half-way to Brisbane. "I didn't think roos came out in the middle of the day," said Bruce as he pulled over and turned off the engine.

"It would seem that they do," said Susie.

Very helpful dear, thank you, thought Bruce.

The roo had only glanced off the bumper. Bruce took his small axe out of the back of the car and went hunting for the roo to give it some euthanasia. He gave up looking after ten minutes. Susie didn't ask why he kept an axe in the car, which was a pity because he'd thought of a great come-back for that.

Bruce tried to make up some time. He got a speeding ticket just outside of Miles. Susie didn't say anything, which was good, thought Bruce.

Not far from Toowoomba it started raining. The window-wipers worked, but only just. The Central Highlands sun had toasted the wiper blades. Bruce thought that Susie might want to criticise his lack of maintenance and preparation, so he said, "Wiper blades are pretty expensive. And I checked the weather, and it said it'd be all fine."

"I didn't say anything," said Susie.

They arrived, finally, at Susie's parent's place. Susie's dad gave Bruce a hearty handshake. "I'm glad you guys could come," he said. "Susie said you might fly, but I suppose it's no big deal to just jump in the car and drive, is it?"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lone Rider

Recently I put a story called Lone Rider up at the Six Sentences social site. The theme is something different for me, but does it work?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Quick Response is a Good Response

Every writer gets rejections. Lots of them. I won't complain about that fact, right now. Every writers waits weeks and months for some of their rejections. I'm not talking about novels: even short story and flash fiction submissions can take months to get rejected.

We'd all like to get quick responses to our submissions. In his post memorial day miracle, fellow writer and blogger Milo James Fowler recently told of how he wrote, revised and submitted a story and then received an acceptance all in the same day. That doesn't happen often, and the story is truly inspirational.

Yes, we'd all like to get a quick response to our submissions. I have my own quick-response story to share. Last Saturday night I finished re-revising and editing a previously-rejected 400-word flash fiction piece. It's more of a scene, or a vignette, than a standard beginning-middle-end story, which was the stated reason for the first rejection. Using my head, and duotrope's digest, I identified the perfect market; one that loves short sketchy scenes and vignettes. I was a shoe-in. I e-mailed my submission, and like Milo, received a same-day response. Same hour response, actually. To be precise, the return e-mail came 13 minutes after my submission e-mail.

The response was not positive.

So no, a quick response is not always a good response. Sometimes it feel like a slap in the face with a wet towel. Sometimes you spend a week thinking, "Thirteen minutes? That's crazy! Thirteen minutes... how can...?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two Year Plan

This story was published today in Issue 89 issue of Shift Miner Magazine. I hope this isn't your story too...

Callum and Mary had money problems. They weren't in debt, except for their credit card, but each fortnight was a struggle. They tried not to argue about money, but sometimes they did. One Friday evening, Mary put her solution to Callum. “I think we should do two or three years in the mines,” she said.

Mary had dropped hints like this before, and Callum had been able to deflect them, till now. He loved his job, and his friends were in Rocky. So were hers. “What about your friends,” he asked her.

“I think we need to make a small sacrifice for a while. We can still come into Rocky to socialise, and shop, every month or so.”

Mary took Callum through the numbers. “If we live on what we do now, plus a bit, we should be able to save two-thousand dollars a month. In two years, we could save seventy-eight thousand dollars; more with interest.

That got Callum's attention. He applied for six jobs from Saturday's paper. Over the next weeks, he got three interviews and an offer with a contractor based in Moranbah. He accepted it.

The plan took an early hit when they went to find a house. Rents were a little higher than they'd expected. “This is extortion,” said Callum.

The property manager mumbled something about supply and demand. They paid the rent, every week, because they needed a place to live. Still, it felt dirty paying that sort of money.

The rent wasn't the end of it. “Can you believe tomatoes cost six dollars a kilo here?” said Mary, after Callum's first day on the job.

“Is that bad?” said Callum. “It's been a while since I bought a tomato.”

“Yes, it's bad.”

It wasn't just tomatoes that were more expensive; everything was.

The first pay-packet had some surprises, too. “Are you sure this is right?” said Callum, as he went though the pay-slip. They must be taking too much tax, surely!”

They decided to sacrifice the discounted private health insurance that came with the package to save more money. It turned out that the Medicare levy surcharge – the extra tax for not having private health insurance – costed more than the insurance itself.

Mary crunched the numbers again. “I think we can still save thirty-thousand in two years,” she said.

The trips to Rocky didn't really happen. The first attempt cost them just over five hundred dollars, not including the shopping. They went to Mackay to shop, but decided to try and avoid that. Still, they needed to get out of town sometimes to keep from going nuts.

Other things helped, to keep them sane. Mary didn't need much convincing to get a big flat-screen TV. They negotiated a good price on a surround sound system, to complete the home theatre setup. Sometimes Mary got her hair or nails done in town, just for something to do. When their station wagon went north of two-hundred thousand kilometres, they leased a Prado.

When they finished their their two years; they had saved only ten thousand dollars. “Well, we improved and upgraded a lot of things,” said Callum. “And we had our first overseas holiday.”

Callum said maybe they should do another two years, and really knuckle down and save. Mary did mention the idea of going overseas, to somewhere like Indonesia, to really save some serious money, but Callum managed to avoid that subject, so far.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Got to That Stage

The two old ladies carried their coffees to the only table in the crowded airport café with spare seats. A young man was already at the table, hammering away at the keys to his laptop computer, drinking a beer. He tried to ignore them.

One of the ladies was clearly younger than the other, and plumper. She said, "I've got a perfectly good computer at home, but I don't use it."

The older, skinny lady said, "I'll have to get lessons, to use mine."

"It's only just for emailing all my children."

"I've got a perfectly good computer, but I don't need all the other jazz. I can't be bothered; too many other things on my mind."

The younger lady nodded. "Too much else to do."

"I'm going down to…," said the older lady, then hesitated.


"Yes, Urangan. My youngest daughter is there, and all her little ones."

The plumper lady looked at the lunch board. "They have special lunches for seven dollars ninety."

"That's good. Sophie has a little boy at school there. I don't think Felix has started school yet."

"Do you know what street she's in?" asked the younger lady, still eying the menu.

The older lady reached down for her purse.

"No, no, don't get it."

"I've no idea," said the older lady, going through the purse.

"Don't worry. I just wondered if she lived near me."

"I stay with my son and his wife. I have so much fun with my great-grandchildren." She continued looking through the purse.

The younger lady admitted, "I don't have any greats yet. Just grandchildren."

"I've got six grand and six great," said the older lady. She was distracted now. "I haven't got her address. I know its Urangan."

"Please, don't worry."

"I thought I had it." She continued looking through her purse for a few moments, then put it away.

The plump lady said, "It might be one of the new estates."

"No, they bought a two-storey house."

"Townhouse. They're popping up everywhere."

"No, I don't think it's new."

The younger lady said, "My son in law runs the sky diving place."

"There used to be a young chap in the unit next to me. His daughter used to sky-dive. He was working for this flying school attached to the air port. It was a tiny little airport."

"Is Melbourne home for you?"

"Ah," said the older lady. She paused, and groaned. "I live there, yes"

"What part of Melbourne are you in?"


"My daughter is in Hillside."

"Oh yes?" said the older lady.

"That's not far from Albion. She's a manager at Coles there."

"Oh, I don’t go to Coles, as it is. I go to Safeway."

"I go to Woolies. Which is Safeway up here."

The older lady didn't respond, so the younger one added. "It's got to that stage, I only see her once a year."

"Well, I haven't seen Sofie and the children since Easter."


Friday, June 11, 2010

Published at Full of Crow!

Standing Up For Peace is a very short flash fiction piece of mine that has just been published in the July 2010 Quarterly Issue of Full of Crow Fiction. Many thanks to Lynn Alexander, the editor, for including this piece. Best wishes also to Paul Corman-Roberts, who is now taking on the role of editor of the Full of Crow Fiction Section.

Please have a read of the July 2010 Issue. I hope you enjoy Standing Up For Peace, and I look forward to your comments.

Someone is Wrong on the Internet

I'll admit it. Sometimes, when I'm feeling annoyed, melancholic or even bored, I'll go and anyone someone on the internet. I'm not a troll at all: I'm always polite, on topic, and of course, I'm always right. It's just that there's so much that's wrong out there, and from time to time I'll feel the need to fix it.

I was thinking about this today, which made me remember a comic that I'd once seen. Just remembering it made me laugh, so I looked it up on the internet, just for you:

(Image embedded from here).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

His Job

He walked into the office, to his cubicle. His cubicle was immaculate, his desk clear and clean. He put his bag down and went to the kitchenette to put his lunch in the fridge and make a cup of coffee. He carefully measured out the coffee, filled the cup with boiling water, and then added the milk and sugar. He smiled as he added the milk. He'd started adding the milk after the water when he'd heard Glenda the receptionist loudly insist that the milk should always be added first.

"Otherwise, you'll burn the coffee," she'd say.

He went to his cubicle and started his computer and began to look busy. After an hour he picked up a clipboard and some envelopes and made his face look stern and marched down the corridor

When he was in the elevator by himself, he smiled. He loved his job. It gave him the time he needed to work on his novel, and he knew he was next in line for an opening in middle-management created by complications with Nick's triple-bypass.

The number four lit on the elevator and it stopped and the doors opened. He put on his serious face and marched down towards Tracy's cubicle to ask her out to dinner Friday night.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spiral: A Definition

A spiral is a straight line, increasingly diverted from its intended course. See also: circle, and curve.

Curve: A Definition

A curve is that part of a straight line that is diverted from its intended course, provided the diversion does not reach or exceed 360°, in which case the straight line is consistently diverted, and is therefore a circle.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rent Money is Dead Money

This story appears in today's 88th edition of Shift Miner Magazine. You can read the current issue, and a number of back issues, here.

I haven't had any hate-mail yet; but I'll keep you all informed.

Matt was happy to live in a rented house. He didn't plan to spend his whole working life in the mines, and there was less financial risk than buying. Matt was happy renting, but Jo, his wife, wasn't. "Rent money is dead money," she'd say.

After a few months of persuasion, Matt wasn't so happy to rent any more either. They'd been saving more money than he'd thought, and if the mining boom kept up they might even make a tidy non-taxable capital gain. They talked about what they wanted in a house, and started looking. Jo found a place on Maraboon Street that she liked the look of, and booked an inspection with Dawn, the real estate agent. Matt got off work early to come along.

Dawn was a plump, middle-aged lady in a slightly too small black skirt. She had a bubbly personality, and wore too much jewellery, perfume and make-up. She was too much all round, Matt thought; but he smiled, shook her hand, and got in the back seat of her car beside Jo.

In a few minutes they were outside the Maraboon Street place. "Can we go in now?" asked Jo, unlocking her seatbelt.

"No, this house is occupied. We need to give the tenants a few days notice first."

Jo said nothing. Matt was confused, and asked her, "Didn't you make this appointment last week, so we could look inside that house?"

Jo nodded and shrugged. Matt shook his head.

Dawn perked up. "I've got a great home I can show you around that I think is really undervalued. No tenants. I've got the keys here." She took them to a house near the river.

Matt looked suspiciously up an down the street. He'd seen the peak river levels in this area during the 2008 flood. "We're not interested in areas that were affected by the flood," he said.

Dawn said, "You can still get flood insurance for this property."

"Our flood insurance will be to buy a house that wasn't half filled with water."

She didn't seem to like that, but wasn't easily put off. She jostled out toward the house to open it up.

Jo shrugged again. "We may as well look inside while we're here."

There were a lot of things that Matt felt like saying, but he held them all in, and was almost immediately glad that he had. He let Jo lead him by the hand into the house.

Dawn showed them around. The place had two bedrooms and a two-way bathroom. They wanted three bedrooms and an en suite.

"I should tell you, said Dawn, "that there was termite damage found during the repairs after the flood."

Matt snorted, and got two dirty looks. He commented that it didn't look like a very big block. "How many square metres is it?"

"I'm not exactly sure," said Dawn.


"I've got all that in the car," she said. "I'll look it up for you. It has a lovely gourmet kitchen."

Matt thought his head was going to explode. "Hold it right there," he said, raising his hands in the air. "I really need to clear some things up."

Dawn looked at him expectantly; plastic smile in place.

"We may not have been clear enough. We are interested only in three bedroom houses, with an en suite, on at least a 700 square metre block, in areas not affected by the 2008 flood. Do you have any houses meeting those criteria?"

Jo looked either embarrassed or about to laugh. Matt could see Dawn's mask slipping.

"Yes," she said after a moment. "The home on Maraboon Street."

"Great. And when Jo called you last week, did she say that we wanted to inspect that property during this appointment today?"

"She was certainly interested, but they really are asking too much for that place. Especially for a lovely young couple like yourselves, buying your first place. This home here is really affordable, and I think, quite undervalued."

Matt realised that his prejudice against estate agents had just became a genuine loathing. He took a deep breath in, and then out. "I think we're done here," he said at last, and walked out of the house towards the car.

A Good Book

The word for Sunday Scribblings No. 218 is "mess". This is my micro-sized story.

He went to his bedroom and made his bed. He made it very neatly, so that the blankets were tight across the mattress. He picked up all of his toys and clothes from the floor. Clean up your mess, he said to himself, over and over, as he worked. He said this in his head, not out loud. He was careful not to make much, but was very quiet as he tidied and sorted.

When the room was perfect, he sat on the floor in the corner and read his book. The book was good. He could imagine himself as one of the people in the book, in another place. When he was reading a good book like that, he couldn't hear the real-world sounds, like his parents yelling at each other.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Legend in His Own Lunchbox

I wrote this story, published in Shift Miner Magazine, as a response to a challenge. I blogged about this story here, but only provided a link to the on-line version of the magazine. By popular request, the full text of the story appears below.

"So, how's business Nathan?" asked Julie. Nathan had been her boss until he'd left to start his own company just over a year ago. Julie had stepped up to take his old role as Maintenance Superintendent of Freshwater Coal. Nathan was a bit of a diamond in the rough, but she still cared enough to ask how things were going.

Nathan smiled and smoothed his hand over his mostly-bald head. "Fantastic," he said. "Can't get the men or materials to meet demand." He added with a bit of a smirk, "You must be pretty jealous, huh Julie?"

Not again. She'd thought Nathan was just cruising around site, flying the flag and trying to win some more work. Instead, he was starting his "small cog and big wheel" routine. Julie was sick of it. "Why would I be jealous, Nathan?" she asked.

"I know what it's like in that job," said Nathan. "You're a small cog in a big wheel, inside an even bigger machine. It's the same with all the multinationals. Unless you're head of Australian operations on a million bucks a year, you're a nobody."

"And you're not a nobody, I suppose?"

Nathan looked shocked at the thought. "Of course not. I'm numero uno: the man in charge. I run my own company, and I'm my own boss. I'm not hidden away in a big corporation reporting to numb-skulls any more." He pointed vaguely towards the administration building.

"No, now your hidden away in your own company."

Nathan's jaw began to hang a bit low. Julie had never talked to him like that when he was her boss, of course. Poor bloke; she almost felt sorry for him. "It's not like you've become an international super-star. You're a legend in your own lunch box. You've got ten blokes working for you now, right?"

"Eleven, actually." Nathan pulled on his goatee.

"Fine. With supervisors, planners, engineers, trades and others, I have 23. What's your annual turnover: one and a half million dollars?"

Nathan's forehead was covered in sweat. "Just under $1.7 million."

"Great. My budget this year is $18 million. How much of your work this last twelve months came from just my department? Fifty percent?"

"More like forty," said Nathan. His face was red.

Julie thought it was probably more like sixty, but she let it go. "That means that I'm your boss 40% of the time, and I can sack you at any moment by only inviting quotes from other suppliers. You're not your own boss: your customers are your bosses now."

Nathan looked like he'd had enough. "Look, what's your point," he said softly.

"My point?" said Julie. "My point is that there's nothing wrong with being a lowly superintendent, or a fitter, or an operator in a multinational mining company. I – we – like to be a small part of something big. That doesn't make our part any smaller than yours. You've chosen to be a big part of something small. If what you're doing makes you happy, that's fine. Just don't assume that the rest of the world is insanely jealous and wants to be like you. And please, don't try to put me down for what I've chosen to do." Julie smiled, then added, "Especially when I'm 40% of your boss."

Nathan slunk out of her office. They got on fine after that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jack be Nimble

"I've got a theory about women," said Allan.

"Do tell," said Reg.

"All women hate me," said Allan. He lit a smoke. "They've made some sort of pact."

"You idiot."


"That's not a theory," said Reg. "That's a hypothesis."

"You're red hot, you are."


"I'm pouring my heart out here," said Allan, "and you pick on my grammar."

"It's not your grammar what's wrong; it's your choice of words."

"You never give, do you?"

"I consider myself to be most generous," said Reg, "but, if I'm right and you're wrong, I will not budge."

"Forget women; I need a theory about you."

"You mean a hypothesis?"

"You need to loosen up. You need to be kinder, and a bit more flexible; not so quick to jump on people."

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick."

"You are certifiably insane."

"That's a theory."

This story was written with the inspiration of Three Word Wednesday Issue CXCII. The words are: budge, nimble and theory.

Circle: A Definition

A circle is a straight line, consistently diverted from its intended course.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mantra

"Do you have a mantra, Alf?" asked Jim.
"A flamin' what?" said Alf. He turned from looking at the girls playing pool in the corner of the bar, to face his mate.
"A mantra. Something you repeat, to give you strength. To direct your life, and concentrate your energy."
Alf thought about this for a moment, then held up his glass. "Beer," he said, then drained the glass.
"Flamin' what?"
"Beer," said Alf wiping his mouth. "That's what I say, when I'm tired, and need to concentrate, to get through the day."
"Beer isn't a mantra, Alf."
"Why not?"
"It's just a word. It's a drink. It's a beautiful thing, for sure, but it ain't a mantra. A mantra is a phrase that you repeat again, and again. And again."
"But I do."
"You do what?"
"I repeat it," said Alf. "again, and again. I say to myself, 'Beer, beer, beer, beer.' Just quietly, right, but it's fantastic. It really helps me... concentrate my energy."
"You're a Philistine, Alf."
"Thanks Jim. You're a good bloke too. Now, I think it's your shout."

This has been a Sunday Scribblings response to No. 217 (Mantra).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Big Weekend

My contribution to Edition 87 of Shift Miner Magazine was called Big Weekend. I hope you enjoy it.

Big Weekend
Pete stood alone in the soft glow of the dawn at the bus-stop, waiting for the shift-bus. He had a jacket on, but even that wasn't enough to keep out the cold. Winter was coming quick.

Someone came round the corner, walking towards Pete, smoking a cigarette. It was Will. He stopped a few metres from Pete and said G'day quietly as he looked down the street for the bus.

Pete said, "You look shattered."

"Yeah, big weekend."

"What'd you get up to?"

Will drew hard on his smoke. "Friday was a few quiet ones at Smithy's place. Followed by a few more. Didn't get home till about three."

"Good time?"

Yeah, not too bad. Slept through Saturday, though." Will threw his cigarette butt on the ground, then quickly lit another. He liked to get as much nicotine into himself as he could before the forty-minute bus-ride to site.

"And Saturday?" said Pete. "You get up to much?"

Will managed a grin. "Oh yeah. We went hard on Saturday night. Starting drinking at our place, for a while, to get limbered up. Then we went up the Tavern."

"Drinking before drinking?"

Will gave Pete a dirty look. "Too expensive to get completely rat-faced at pub prices. Can't smoke out, either. There was a band at the Tav, too. They sounded pretty good; I think."

Pete thought an iPod would have sounded good to Will when he was that well lubricated, but he said nothing.

Will continued. "We started doing shots there, which was fun, until it got a little out of hand. We stayed at the Tavern till we got kicked out."

"Too drunk?"

"No, closing time. Funny thing, I was sure I went home after that. At least I think I was going to."

"So what happened?"

"I can't rightly remember, but it looks like we went down to The Arms after that."

Pete grimaced. The only attractive feature of The Arms was that it had the latest closing time in town, and 1980s prices. A rough joint, but you could stay later, and get drunker.. "You can't remember what you did?"

Will smirked. "It was too big a night to remember. I saw the pictures on Facebook though; it was The Arms alright. We got hammered. A really good night. Very big night."

"You get sick?"

"At least a few times. Smithy seemed to think that was the best thing to take photos of."

Pete shook his head. Smithy had developed a talent for drinking photography over the last few years. It was kind of like wildlife and action photography combined. Tired of not remembering what he did the night before, Smithy had started taking pictures along the way with his phone camera. He could still take good pictures when he was so drunk he couldn't walk. Facebook had made Smithy's photos of his escapades accessible to the world. A lot of people logged in to see what they and their friends had been up to, but couldn't remember.

Will looked down the street. "Bus's coming," he said, as he lit his last smoke.

Pete said, "You have such big weekends. You must hate Mondays."

"Not at all, mate. I need a week at work to get away from it all and recover. A man needs some rest in life."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Miner's Wife Part II

I recently wrote a Six Sentence (6S) story called Miner's Wife Part II. It's hard to say a lot in six sentences, and I've really tried to in this one. As someone who works at a coal mine, I can't help thinking about what happens in the lives of those who lose someone to an accident. I've never been close to it, and never want to. As a writer, I just try to imagine, and this is horror enough for me.

The story is here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Swallows Came Back Today

The swallows came back today. I saw them as soon as I left my front door. I love to watch the swallows. They dive and whirl and seem to have so much fun. They don't care if you stand and watch them. Their colours are beautiful, if you can track one with your eyes for long enough to really see them. You might think they're a bit bland at first - just black and white - but they're not. Their feathers are black and white but also grey and silver in every shade.

I wonder what made them come back? Years ago, when they first appeared, I thought perhaps they migrated for the winter, but it's not that simple. There's no pattern to when they'll come or go. They might come three times in one year, or take three years between visits. Suddenly they are here, just a dozen or so at first. Over the next days and weeks their numbers will double again and again. Then their numbers will keep halving in the same way. One day - and I know it's coming even as I see the first of them flitting in the morning sun - they'll all be gone.

I can never be certain, once they've gone, that they'll ever come back. How can I? I don't know what brought them here, what will make them leave. It saddens me that their departure is so certain, while their return is so tentative. Even after twenty years, I still can't be sure.

While I walk, one of the swallows chases a small moth closely like a fighter plane. It banks left and right, up and down, intent on its prey. It almost brushes my face. I shout in surprise, and then laugh at the joy of it, and my own reaction. I look around, but everyone else on the street ignores me. They seem to be ignoring the swallows too.

I'm glad the swallows came back today. I'd like to tell Julie, my wife; she'd like to know. She loved the swallows, too. I don't know what made Julie come into my life either. I don't know why the cancer came to take her. But while I had her, I knew from the lesson of the swallows that, despite the joy we shared, her departure, one day, would be certain. It was sooner than I'd hoped, but later than it could have been.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Days Off

This story recently appeared in Issue 85 of Shift Miner Magazine. I hope you get something out of it. Please, leave a comment.

Hal loved his family.  He carried a photo of them with him, all the time.  It was because he loved them that he agreed to his wife Jody's pleas to move them all to Mackay.  Emerald had been a great place to live, as far as Hal was concerned. He'd made some great mates there.  But Jody's friends and family were in Mackay, and she really wanted the kids to go to school there.

"Besides," said Jody, "with twelve hour shifts you're not really at home when you're working.  You could just drive out from Mackay, work your tour, and then come home after your last shift."

It made a lot of sense.  He really only did sleep and eat at home during his tour.  Lots of others did the drive-in drive-out thing.  Anyway, he liked the coast.  So, they moved.

Hal found his tours to be more lonely then he'd thought he would.  It was that hour or so when he got to the apartment and wound down before falling asleep.  He missed the quick catch-ups with Jody, and looking in on the kids in their beds.  He still fell asleep soon enough, and when Hal fell asleep, he was dead to the world.  He missed them all when he woke up, too.  It was like a dull ache; a longing to be somewhere else.  It didn't really make much sense.  When they were all in the same house he'd only ever got up and dressed in the dark anyway.  Still, he'd known that they were there, at home.

On day-shifts, the drive out to the mine in the pre-dawn darkness always helped Hal to clear his head.  It was his favourite time of the day.  Sometimes he'd think about the work ahead, preparing himself for the day.  Sometimes he'd think about his family.  Sometimes, fishing.

The end of each tour ended with two or three night shifts, depending on where he was in the roster.  He had a kind of feeling of expectation, driving out to the mine in the evenings for his night shifts.  It was almost time for his days off; almost time to go back home.

 It wasn't the night shifts themselves that Hal liked.  In fact, Hal hated working nights.  What he liked was knowing that he would soon be going home to his family.  What he didn't like was the effort it took to stay awake.  He loathed that time from about three to four in the morning, when his body craved a warm bed; but instead he was two hundred and fifty metres underground, putting up roof-bolts or driving a shuttle-car.

For Hal, the next hardest part of night shift was the drive home.  The drives back to Emerald wasn't too bad.  While some blokes felt better the more night shifts they did in a row, it only seemed to get worse for Hal.  By the last shift of his tour, he seemed to be runing on adrenaline and willpower.

It was willpower that made Hal drive straight home to Mackay after his last shift.  He didn't want to have another daytime sleep by himself in his Emerald apartment.  He just wanted to get home.  The mine was half an hour in the right direction anyway.  As the great philosopher Meatloaf once said, "Like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone when the morning comes."

Hal worked out ways to stay awake and stay on the road on that long, tired trip home.  He'd turn the radio on or played a CD, loud.  He'd turn the air-conditioner onto freezing, or sometimes open a window.  He would stop at the servo outside Moranbah, scratching his scalp and rubbing his face.  He'd get an iced coffee from the fridge packed full of them, and then hit the road again.  Next stop: Nebo.  If he found himself drifting off, he'd pull over for a minute and run around the car.  Hal had it worked out.

After six months, the car pretty much drove itself home.  Hal cut out the Nebo stop, and sometimes Moranbah too.  He got better at pushing himself through those sleepy moments.  He'd focus.  He'd talk to himself.  He'd think about Jody and the kids.  He'd keep going, going, going.  Home.

An elderly couple towing their caravan with an old Landcruiser were the first on the scene where Hal's ute had been split in half by a huge gum tree about twenty metres from the road.  The ambulance officers weren't able to revive him.  There were no skid marks, and tests showed his brakes were working fine.

After six years, his family still miss him very much.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Early Starts

Following is a piece of flash fiction called Early Starts, recently published in Issue 84 of Shift Miner Magazine. The idea is based on two eerily similar stories I've heard from fellow mine workers. Anyone who has to get to work for early starts in the morning should be able to relate to this.

Harry woke to the sound of a bump and a scream, and sat straight up in bed. In a moment he was staggering down the hall to his daughter's room. He wondered how his wife Judy had slept through it; but then, it had been a rough night for both of them. He found their daughter lying on the ground beside her bed, crying, still half asleep. He picked her up, rubbed her back and made hushing sounds. After a minute it started to work, and before too long he had her tucked back into bed.

Harry wandered back down the hall and went to the toilet. He was about to go back to bed when he decided that it wasn't worth it. He'd have to be up again soon to go to work anyway. The only thing worse than waking up this early was just getting back to sleep and doing it all over again. If there was a single thing that Harry hated about working in the mining industry, it was the early starts. He liked small towns; he preferred them to cities, and enjoyed the fact that despite this he got paid a remote area living allowance. He liked the work, and he liked the people. At least, he didn't dislike the people any more than those in other industries. But Harry was not a morning person. He would set his alarm for the latest possible time he could, without being late for the shift bus. He had his lunch packed the night before; Judy did that for him, mostly. He would lay his clothes, wallet, keys and phone in the bathroom the night before. Harry did his mornings sleepwalking in remote control.

He would usually just throw his clothes on in the dark and leave, but with a bit of extra time today, he treated himself to a shower. The hot water felt good on his neck and back, and he felt his mind clearing as he prepared to face the day. He still ranted in his mind about the ridiculously early start time. He did this almost every day, slowly building up enough anger to get himself moving. Why does the shift have to start at six? he asked himself. Why not eight? Once he got over that, he thought about what he might do with the rest of this extra time. He ruled TV out as a waste. I hardly ever read he thought, as he towelled himself down. I'll start one of those novels I bought, getting dusty on the shelf.

With years of practice he slipped into his clothes, and loaded up his pockets. He turned off the bathroom light and began to sneak down the hall.

Judy appeared in the doorway of their bedroom, scaring him silly. He said one of those words he'd promised to stop saying now that he was a father.

"What on earth are you doing?" said Judy. She said the words slowly, with little pauses between them. It was like she was talking to a child, and he hated it.

Harry kept up the slow talking thing and said, "I'm going to work."

"Harry," said Judy, "It's one o'clock in the morning."

He paused. "Oh," he said. "Well, I thought I might sit down and read one of my novels first."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Legend in His Own Lunchbox

After a break, I have started writing for Shift Miner Magazine again. My latest contribution appears on page 19 of Issue 83, and is called Legend in His Own Lunchbox.

I wrote this story in response to a challenge from Tristan, who wrote:
Bernard, this question has been asked of me in the past and my answer has never been an easy decision. Try using it as a challenge for a story:

"Do you want to be a big part of something small, or a small part of something big?"
I hope that my story is up to the challenge. This story is also less technical in nature than some of the previous ones; I hope that those of you not in the mining industry can enjoy it.

Your comments are appreciated. Unless you're posting spam links; in which case please go away.

Update: The full text of this story is posted here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

High School 50 Years Ago

I've just tried out a blog called The One-Minute Writer. They give you a prompt, and you have just one minute to write about it. Believe me, it's not long. It was kind of fun though; I may try it again some time.

The prompt (from here), is:
Do you think high school is easier or harder today, than it was 50 years ago? Why?

My Response: High School 50 Years Ago
There's no doubt that high school was a lot harder fifty years ago. Just ask my grandfather. He had to walk five miles to school, sometimes in the snow. He was caned for frowning or not doing his homework. At the end of a gruelling day, he had to walk seven miles home again, in the blistering heat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sue and I

Her name was Sue. I got this from her name badge. She was about forty, and I thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. Her fingers showed no sign of a wedding ring, though of course I hadn't had the courage to ask about that.

I'd first seen Sue at the Hertz desk when I arrived in town after a business trip on a late flight from Brisbane. Now I found myself approaching the desk to rent a car for no other purpose than to see her, and to talk to her again, and hopefully to find the courage to ask her out.

I'd picked a time late in the day. The airport was almost empty, and there were no other customers. I approached the desk quietly; too quietly. Sue was concentrating on cutting out some labels. I coughed politely to get her attention, and gave her such a fright she swore and cut her finger with the scissors. She seemed more embarrassed than hurt, though it did draw blood.

"Sorry," she squeaked as she hurried out the back, "I'll be right back." She returned in a few minutes, with a bandaid on her finger. "I'm so sorry," she said. Her face was still just a little flushed, though her silvering blonde hair still sat perfectly on her shoulders. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful, but that wouldn't have been proper. Instead I said, "Do you have any cars free at the moment?"

"You don't have a reservation?" Her tone was professional.

I shook my head. "Not at all," I said, and shrugged, trying to pull off nonchalant. "It's just a spur-of-the-moment thing."

Sue started to go red again. "I'm sorry, but we do only bring a limited number of cars here into the airport office, over and above those required to meet reservations. It's late in the day, and they've all been taken. I could call the downtown office, if you like." She reached for the phone with her hand that didn't have a bandaid, or a wedding ring, on it.

"No, don't do that. It doesn't matter." I turned to go, took a few steps then turned around again. She was still looking at me. "Thank you anyway," I said, "Thank you." Again I turned away, took a few steps and turned to face her. She hadn't stopped watching me, but she looked more amused than anything now. I shuffled back to the desk. "And sorry about that," I said. It was my turn to blush now, as I pointed to her injured finger. She had such elegant fingers.

"It wasn't your fault," she said. Her voice was softer now, less businesslike and efficient. It had huskiness to it.

I wanted to lean over the counter and kiss her softly on the lips, but that wouldn't be right at all. I cleared the thought from my mind, and turned again.

This time Sue's voice made me turn back to her. "Not that it's my business," she said, her voice still gentle, but firm, "but this must be the third time you've come out to get a car on a whim."

I said nothing, but I was conscious of the heat in my face. It must have been glowing.

"Is there anything else you'd like, that I could help you with?"

I didn't want to kiss her any more; I wanted to turn and run. I forced myself to stay, look into her eyes and nod.

Sue looked at her watch. "I close up here in twenty minutes. Would you like to hang around till then, and we can go get a late dinner?"

The relief made me feel a little dizzy. I hung onto the counter for balance, and nodded again. I coughed, to clear my throat. "Yes Sue," I said. "I'd like that. I'd like that very much."

Edit: typos as per Matt's comments.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Motivator

This story was originally published in the 5 minute fiction column of Issue 76 of Shift Miner Magazine. I previously blogged about this story here.

This is a deviation from my usual stories and has a sadder theme. I got some varied feedback on this story. This included a someone telling me that they felt that I was judging people who chose to do fly-in-fly-out type of work. He seemed to take it personally; perhaps I hit a nerve.

What do you think?

The Motivator
Trent left the job he loved to chase the pay packets that the coal mines were offering. He found a job as a boilermaker for a contracting company; though, he didn't like the work at all. He loathed the early morning starts, getting up in the dark. Welding, cutting and gouging steel in the Central Queensland heat sapped his strength and his will. In a way, the work was always changing: a dragline bucket, a stacker-reclaimer, a construction job. Really though, the work never changed.

From the very start, Trent's only reason for working in the mines was to give his family the financial security and opportunities they deserved. He kept himself going through the weeks, months and years because this motivation was so close to his heart, literally. In his left shirt pocket, Trent kept his first payslip, with a photo of his wife Alison, and their two little girls, Caitlin and Emily, glued to the back. He called it his Motivator. He had plasticised his Motivator with a laminator to protect it from the dirt, sweat and coal dust. Over time it had become covered in creases and folds, and the plastic was peeling apart at the corners. During crib times, or the lonely nights in the camp, Trent would take out his motivator to remind himself of the reasons he was sweating in the heat and the dust, and to muster the strength to get up and get back to work.

He'd done all this for them; they knew that. They must know that. Their new life had its costs, of course. Trent hadn't been there when Caitlin lost her first tooth. He was on site when Emily fell down the stairs and cut her head open. He'd offered to come home on the next plane, but no, she said, we managed okay. She didn't add, “without you”, but he'd felt it.

They'd talked about it, after he'd finished that tour: if he should leave the mines and come back. It wouldn't work, she said, with the mortgage on the home, and the car repayments, and the private school fees. He said fine, and that he was only doing it for them anyway; he was willing to pay the price.

They seemed to manage okay, on the whole; but Trent was rarely around for the little things. He could book leave and twist his boss's arm to make time for the big occasions, but the little things slipped by; one at a time, over the years.

One day he arrived home for his days off, exhausted, to an empty house. “We've grown apart,” she said when he found her, eventually, at her mother's place. “You're not the same person any more, and neither am I.”

“I did all this for you,” said Trent.

“I know, I know; but it's not going to work. Don't worry about us, we'll manage okay.”

There were a lot of things Trent wanted to say then, but he didn't. He couldn't find the words, so he stood there like an idiot, with his mouth open. He thought of things he could have said, later.

Trent keeps working in the mines on the roster he still hates. He still does it for the girls, the two little ones mostly. He hopes that one day soon they won't despise him like they do now; that they'll grow out of it. He hopes that Alison will come back to him. A stupid hope, he knows, but it's still his hope. He can forget the pain and the past with the hard work and the hot sun and the scorching steel. He can forget until crib time, when he pulls out his motivator, and clenches his jaw to hold back the tears.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How embarrassing!

At the end of December, I shared my excitement about my short story People Need to Know moving from the Slush Pile to In Process at Every Day Fiction.

Well, today I got my long awaited reply. They like the piece, and want me to make some minor rewrites. Their comments were very positive, and I think the changes they suggested are spot-on. I fell over myself sending them an e-mail that they could expect my rewrite in a day or two.

For reasons that must have seemed good at the time, I edited the original version of this story in my computer's temporary directory before sending it off. I remember now that I thought I'd just make a change here and there; but I actually re-wrote, re-shuffled and revised the entire story. Time away from a piece really helps you look objectively at it during the editing process.

Every Day Fiction has an online submission system, so I just copied and pasted the text in there, and that was it. Except of course that I'm very dillegent in cleaning out my temporary directories.

I don't have a copy of what I sent them.

What to do? Well, I ate humble pie and sent this little "PS" e-mail to them:

Is it possible for you to e-mail me a copy of the submission that I made? It appears that I stored the file in a temporary directory, and it has been deleted. I'm sorry to ask this; however, I know that I made a lot of changes since the last version of this story I still have. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to work again from that version.

Again, I'm really sorry about his mistake - I've broken one of the golden rules of submitting works for publication.
I'm hoping to get an e-mail with my story soon, and a note that says, "No worries, mate, these things happen."

Has anything like this every happened to you? Do you think I did the (w)rite thing?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

None and Buckley's

This story was published today in the 5 minute fiction column of Issue 79 of Shift Miner Magazine. This was actually the first story I wrote for Shift Miner to go with my pitch to the editor. The original story was too long. Cutting it down was a lot of work, and during the process I wrote and submitted Lifting Point instead; and then another, and another.

This story is based on legends I've heard (but not experienced first-hand) of the "old days", and the battles that once raged between unions and mining companies. As usually, it's fiction, and it's primary purpose is entertainment. If you don't get a chuckle, then it hasn't worked. It does make a statement however; and I hope it will be received as "fair enough" from those on both sides of the divide.

None and Buckley's

“The strike is about the hot water system in the bath house,” said Darren. “It stopped working just as the night shift were completing their showers this morning.”

"Just as they were finishing?" said Prop, smiling. He leaned back in his chair in the corner of Darren's office and put his hands behind his head.

Darren tried not to show his irritation: this was not a joke. "Yes," he said. "As they were finishing their showers, the water went cold. The oncoming crew has refused to go to work. They will be voting shortly on whether to extend industrial action for a twenty-four hour period or to return to work."

Prop nodded. "And you want to stop them taking the twenty-four?"

Darren threw his clipboard down onto the table. "Yes, of course I do!"

Darren had been Mine Manager of Montrose Colliery for only two weeks. Today was his first confrontation with the union on site, and he was determined to win this battle. Prop would be an invaluable asset in achieving this. While Darren was an underground cleanskin, Prop knew the operation inside out. He'd worked his way up through the ranks from an operator to a deputy and then an undermanager before being promoted to Deputy Mine Manager two years ago.

Prop smiled again. "We can have a chat with the reps; but you've got two chances of stopping this strike today."

"And those are?"

"None and Buckley's"

Darren wasn't amused. "Do you think this is a joke? This throws the entire coal chain into havoc. And for what? A health and safety matter? No, for cold showers!"

Prop leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk. "Look," he said. "I know the boys have got away with blue murder in the past; but it's been a game with rules broken by both sides for years. If you really want to fix that, then I'm with you all the way."

Darren smiled. "Good," he said. "Then how do we get them to back down?"

Prop shook his head. "Today is a lost cause," he said. "Take it on the chin. Give it a week or two to calm down, and then set up a meeting with you, me and the union reps down at the Golf Club. We'll play the back nine, then go to the bar and really get to understand each other."

Darren brought his fist down onto the table. It made his clipboard jump, but not Prop. Darren's voice was a rough whisper. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

Prop shook his head as he stood up. "Come out with me to the car park."

"Are you threatening me?"

Prop laughed. "If I wanted a dust-up, I'd deck you right here," he said. He stopped smiling. "You're not going to stop this strike today. Come and I'll show you why."

Darren took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to calm down. He saw a Willy Wagtail through his window sitting in the tree beside his office. He envied that bird for a moment: no worries except wagging his tail and catching the next insect. He turned to Prop and nodded, then walked out the door.

Out in the car park, the mine workers were gathered in the far corner, watching them suspiciously.

"Have a look," said Prop, "and tell me what's different today."

Darren looked around. "Apart from 'D' Crew standing around, instead of cutting coal?" he said. His voice was bitter. Prop didn't reply as Darren kept looking, trying to work out what was different. When he saw it, he wondered how he'd missed it. He turned to face Prop. "Why have they all taken their boats to work?" At least half the vehicles in the car park had a boat on a trailer behind them.

Prop smiled. "They're heading for the coast" he said. "They'll have agreed to take a long weekend a long time before they turned up this morning. You won't stop 'em."

Darren felt his jaw go slack. "This sort of thing can't go on." He thought things over, as they stood quietly in the morning sun. Then he laughed. "We'll leave this go for today, Prop," he said, "but I want you to set up a day at the Golf Club, like you talked about. We need to sort something out that works for everyone."