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."

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Miners Get Paid Too Much

This story was first published in the 5 minute fiction column in Issue 74 of Shift Miner Magazine. I blogged about this story initially here.

WARNING: This piece contains dangerous levels of sarcasm and opinions that may offend some readers. (IM) Recommended for immature audiences only.

You Miners Get Paid Too Much
“I've got to say,” said Mike, “I don't think it's fair, what you miners get paid.”

Great, thought Paul, another one of them. He'd only just met Mike, who was married to one of his wife's new friends. Paul took a sip of his beer. “Don't worry about us mate,” he said. “We're all paid well above award rates.”

Mike turned away from the barbecue, and looked back at Paul. His forehead creased up as he frowned. “That's not what I meant,” he said. “I think you get paid too much.” He picked up his tongs and started to turn over the sausages on the grill, showing black, charred undersides.

“I check my payslip every month,” said Paul, keeping a straight face, “and I only ever get paid as much as what's in my contract. I've never been over-paid.”

The joke was lost on Mike, but that made it funnier, really. “I don't mean, like, they pay you more than your contract. I mean, what's in your contract isn't fair. You blokes get paid a ridiculous amount.”

“If my pay packet isn't unfair to me, then who is it unfair to?”

Mike focussed his attention on flipping steaks for a minute. He was frowning again. “It's unfair to the rest of us,” he said, “not working in the mines; getting a normal wage.”

“Where do you work now?” said Paul.

“I'm a boilermaker at Harvey's Engineering,” said Mike. He looked uncertain about this change in tack, but went along with it. “It's a steel fabrication workshop. We do mostly custom jobs.”

“You spend a lot of time driving to and from work; are your hours very long?”

Mike spoke slowly as he replied. “It's a bit under ten minutes from here. I do seven to three, Monday to Friday. I do overtime now and then.”

“Do they treat you fairly: pay your wages, give you reasonable time off, treat you like a person?”

Mike got defensive. “My boss is great. He pays better than most do around here. I've never had a problem working for 'im. Never.”

“Well Mike,” said Paul, using his hands as he spoke, “it sounds to me like you've got it made. Plenty of time to spend with your family. A job you like, where they treat you fair. They pay you enough for you to live in a great house in a great suburb.” He paused, then added softly, “So how is it that my pay packet is making you worse off?”

Mike was turning meat so fast now it was almost a blur. He kept his eyes on the barbecue, not looking at Paul. As soon as the sausages and steaks were all turned, he would mix up the onions on the plate for a bit, and then go back to flipping sausages. The flames of the barbecue flared with the fat that dripped down from the meat dropping back onto the grill. “Fair enough,” said Mike. “I like my life. I'm not complaining about my set-up here. I just think what you blokes working in the mines get paid is...”

“Unfair,” Paul finished for him. He rolled his eyes; he was tired of this conversation now. “Okay. Do you want to get paid a hundred, maybe even a hundred and twenty thousand a year?”

“Of course I do!”

“Well, if you want the pay, you take the job. You've got no mining experience, so you're better of trying to get a start with a contracting company – but you can apply anywhere you want. I know there's a project near Nebo where the contractor is screaming out for blokes. No need to uproot the wife and kids: you can keep the house here in Brissy. You'll fly into Mackay for the start of your tour, and get a bus out to site. With this mob you'll be doing ten days on - twelve hour shifts. You then fly out to Brisbane for your five days off with the family, and then it all starts again. Fair deal?”

“Are you nuts?” Mike turned away from the barby to face Paul again. “You want me to do boilermaking work for twelve hours in a single day, for ten days straight, sleeping in some donger camp in the desert, away from my wife and kids? You'd have to pay me a tad more than a hundred and twenty thousand bucks a year to do that.”

“So it really isn't fair what we miners get paid, is it?” said Paul. “That meat looks done, mate. Let's see if the girls are ready to eat.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lifting Point

I've decided to publish the stories that I've written for Shift Miner Magazine here in the Surge Bin. Till now, you've had to read the stories in the "latest issue" available at the SM website.
This story,
Lifting Point, was my first flash fiction piece published in the 5 minute fiction column, and appeared in Issue 73 of Shift Miner Magazine. I blogged about this story initially here.

Lifting Point
“What I want to do,” said Max, “is put a lifting point onto that beam.” He pointed up to the beam and then down to the cyclone product screen below. “Then we can lift the motor straight up and down to get it off and on the screen.”

Neil looked at the beam, the screen and then back at Max. As the mechanical engineer for the washplant he often had operators, boilermakers or fitters like Max come to him with improvement ideas. “How do you lift the motor now?”

“We put a fibre sling over that beam, and put a shackle through it for the chainblock,” he said. “But you need to go to the floor above and push the sling down through the grating, with some pipe through the sling 'cause of the sharp edges in the grating. And you need to barricade around the area with hazard tape. It's a real pain.”

“Sure,” said Neil. Sometimes an improvement just wasn't worth the effort, and this was one of those times. He didn't like to break the news, though. He let the blokes work it out for themselves. “I'll help you through the process. If you draw a sketch of what you want, including dimensions, then I'll get it properly drawn up.”

“And then you'll get it made?”

“Not quite,” said Neil. “I'll get the design certified by an RPEQ – that's a Registered Proffessional Engineer of Queensland. You'll need to help me find the weight of the motor and the chainblock for that.”

“And then you'll get it made?”

“Yeah. Right after I get the drawing and change management forms signed off by the maintenance superintendent and the mechanical engineering manager, and added to the drawing register. I'll get a quote for fabrication and then raise a purchase requisition, and our lifting point will get ordered.”

“Wow,” said Max, “It's getting bigger than Ben-Hur; but, I suppose if we're going to do it, we'll do it properly. So, I'll just weld it up once it's delivered?”

“Well, the job'll need to be planned and scheduled through the work management system, based on priority, but yes, that's about it.” Neil looked around, thinking about the job. “Of course, you'll need to do the work from a ladder with a harness for fall restraint. Unless you want to get a scaffold built?”

Max's eyes went wide. He shook his head, and said, “N-No, the ladder's fine.”

Neil continued, “You'll need a Working at Heights Permit for that. Because you'll be welding, you'll have to get a Hot Work Permit, and of course set up some welding screens. You can get some fire blanket material from the store to lay onto the screen panels: we'll need to make sure your welding sparks don't melt those. First up though, you'll need to barricade the area with hazard tape, but that's just standard procedure. With all that in place, you can do your JHA and Take 5 and get into it. I'll get you the painting specification you need to comply with in plenty of time, of course. And once it's all done, I'll get the as-built drawings issued and approved.” Neil paused, then added, “You are signed off for structural welding, aren't you?”

Max looked back up at the beam. “You know,” he said, “we don't change the motor that often, and when we do, we can just pop a sling over that beam up there.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To the Top

This is a six-sentence response to 3WW CLXXI. The words are epic, drain and nibble. I've cross-posted this to the 6S social site for comments over there.

I drink my beer and smile big as Steve, my boss, tells one of his epic tales of boating, fishing, drinking and womanising. I chuckle when required; scanning for waitresses bringing more beer or snacks. I drain my glass just in time for it to be replaced and nibble on what I've deduced is a battered, deep fried prawn. The price I pay for free alcohol and food is outrageous. Still, Steve's going all the way to the top, he says, and he's taking me with him. I dummy back to join the group behind me just in time to be served a dim-sim and laugh at one of the Accounts Manager's jokes.

Edit: "by glass" => "my glass".

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Silent Treatment

"How you doing?" said Ian, as he sat down beside Mandy on the bench. It was hot out in the sun. The gum tree overhead gave a small patch of shade, but it didn't cover the bench.

Mandy didn't look at him. She kept her eyes on the kookaburra sitting in the other gum tree, across the lawn. It was watching her too. "Fine," she said.

Ian looked for a smile, or anything, in her face. No smile, but she seemed to have a tic in her left cheek. "I'm really sorry," he said, "how things turned out."

"You're sorry?"

Ian flinched. He nodded. "Yes, I am."

She said nothing now, though she seemed to be crying.

"I didn't mean to hurt you. I only ever wanted what was best for you." The lines were rehearsed, but he found it hard to go on. The words wouldn't come. It was too hot. His legs were sweating in his suit pants and beginning to itch.

Mandy still said nothing. She was definitely crying. Great. The silent treatment.

Ian tried one last time. "I probably should have told you sooner, how I felt."

Now she turned to look at him. Her eyes were red and the tears had eroded little streaks down through her makeup. "Probably?" She had that inquisition tone again; using his words back at him as questions. It felt so hateful.

"Okay," said Ian. "Definitely. I definitely should have told you. I just never thought about it properly before today in those words, you know? And then he said, 'until death do you part'. I just freaked out. I realised I'm not ready for that. It wouldn't have been fair to you to say, 'I do.'" He paused, and then added, "I'll help cover the costs, of course, for the catering, and the wedding dress."

"Just go away." She turned to looked at the kookaburra again.

A breeze came through the church yard and blew her veil up into Ian's face. He stood up, stretching his legs and jiggling his pants where they itched. "Fair enough," he said. He left the church grounds by jumping the back fence. It didn't seem like a good time to mingle with the family.

Guest Blogger

Greg Bray from Gladstone has taken the title as inaugural guest blogger at How to Get Published. His post, Writing a Humorous Column, is the first of a series that Greg has agreed to write. Thanks, Greg! You can check out Greg's column with the Gladstone Observer and his other writings and bloggings at his blog.

Why not consider writing a guest blog for How to Get Published? It could be about almost any facet of the writer's life, craft and the world of publication. Send me an e-mail with what you've got in mind; I'll be glad to hear from you.