Thursday, 20 November 2014


World transport ministers have a weak-knee approach to road safety

A fatal truck crash today in Pennsylvania has highlighted the weak-knee approach of governments, transport ministers and industry leaders to driver fatigue and its effect on road safety.

Semi driver, Steven Bernier, 50, of Reading, PA started work at 1:30 a.m. and fell asleep five hours later at 6:30 a.m. His 18 wheeler slammed into a line of cars waiting at a red traffic light, killing two people in separate vehicles and injuring nine others. Bernier has been charged with two counts of homicide and nine counts of aggravated assault, and other charges.

He will no doubt go to prison for a very long time and, for the authorities, everything will be forgotten and life will go on. But not for the victims or the truck driver. They, and their families, will have to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.

I like to compare road safety with flying safety because flying and driving started at about the same time, but they have a totally different stance on safety. In the early days of motoring speed and traffic volumes were low and accidents were few. On the other hand aviation started out badly and flying was about the most dangerous thing a human being could engage in.
The accident scene and the truck driver

A critical difference then, and now, is that flying accidents are generally less survivable than road accidents, but in spite of that aviation has achieved a safety record that should be the envy of all road users and road safety campaigners. One may ask, how did that happen? How did flying (not including private flying) become the safest mode of transport ever devised, while road safety made negligible progress?

 In a word, the answer lies in attitude. In aviation, safety comes first in every consideration. This applies not just to pilots, but to everyone involved in every aspect of aviation; aircraft designers, regulators, trainers and training, weather conditions, maintenance and servicing and repair, accident investigation and reporting. ‘She’ll be right’ has no place in the air the way it does on the roads. The aviation world understood early on that safety rules were vital for the survival pilots and passengers, and for the survival of aviation itself.

Meanwhile, for over 100 years road safety has been given little more than lip service only. On two factors alone the record is appalling. Seat belts were standard in all aircraft almost 100 years ago while few cars had seat belts prior to 1970 and many larger vehicles still don’t have them including many passenger buses. In some situations the authorities still allow unrestrained, standing passengers on public transport. That is reprehensible.

The second area where road safety is seriously lacking is with accident investigation and reporting. For at least the last 60 years all fatal flying accidents have been subject to thorough investigation by specially trained experts. They then publish a public report giving full details of the aircraft including manufacture, maintenance records, hours flown and other relevant details; the pilot including licence and type ratings, total flight time, hours on type, hours in previous three months and previous incidents; details of the flight and weather conditions, circumstances of the accident and examination of the wreckage; conclusions as to probable cause(s) and recommendations for preventing similar accidents in the future.
Continued below . . . .

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Road accident investigation by comparison is still primitive, and will do little if anything to make roads safer, and seems to focus only on the possibility of prosecutions and helping insurance companies settle claims. Indeed under existing law in most countries investigations along the lines of aircraft accident investigation would be impossible because of a lack of logbooks or data recording devices.

In aviation the emphasis is on ongoing training and education. Everyone learns to fly with a qualified instructor and undergoes regular re-checking. You can’t teach a friend or family member how to fly. Meanwhile on the roads most people do learn to drive with a friend of family member who will pass on their own bad habits and lack of professionalism and there is no re-checking or ongoing training. Instead of training and education, as in aviation, on the roads it is just a case of policing, prosecuting and punishing, and it doesn't work.
Author Peter Blakeborough

But to return to the tragedy in Pennsylvania, drivers work inhumane hours in inhumane conditions for wages that are a pittance. And all over the world governments simply don’t care. All things considered the vast majority of professional drivers are safe drivers and that can be verified by insurance statistics which show that in truck/car collisions 70% of liability rests with car drivers and only 30% with truck drivers. Truck drivers typically spend a big part of their long day avoiding collisions with cars that are being driven inappropriately. However, there has been no suggestion of another vehicle being responsible in Bernier’s case.

But I wonder what circumstances in the preceding hours and days led this professional driver to fall asleep at the wheel. He can legally be on duty and driving for 70 hours a week while frequently having his starting and finishing times altered substantially. A person working under those conditions may not even be aware that he is fatigued. Unlike an airline pilot, he does not have a co-pilot with dual controls or a rule requiring a rest period of at least the same duration as the duty period preceding it. He is not restricted to a maximum of 100 hours in a 28 day period, nor is he limited to an annual maximum of 900 hours, like the airline pilot.

The rules of the road and attitudes to safety need to change, but it is not something that one company or employer, one country can do. The changes need to be led by the United Nations, just as the International Civil Aviation Organization (an agency of the UN) has led the way with air safety.

But the sad thing is that most people will not be even remotely interested in reading posts like this. It is just too easy to think, it won’t happen to me.

Thursday, 13 November 2014


While a few greedy men prospered the majority hit rock bottom

From the pages of The Scapegoat, an historical novel eBook by Peter Blakeborough

Napier, New Zealand, 1931
The Askers lost no sleep over the demise of Duncan Glengyle. He had brought so much suffering to their lives that they just could not bring themselves to feel even the slightest sorrow following his murder at the hands of a deranged former employee.
However, dilapidated as it was, the Askers all felt a little more secure in their rented house. Young Clarrie was the only one with employment and that meant that the others did not qualify for the dole. It was strictly one dole payment per household. Across town, Gordon and Phyllis had to rely on Gordon’s dole payment.
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Cedric worried for the future of his family and for the country. At the start of the 1930s he could see the slump biting even harder. Everywhere people could be seen wearing ragged old clothes that should have been thrown out years ago. Increasing numbers of people took to wearing clothes made from old sacks. It was common to see patches of white skin, belonging to sockless feet, through the holes in worn-out footwear.
On the streets gaunt-faced, poverty-stricken men and women walked aimlessly, or stood around on street corners waiting for miracles. At night large numbers lined up at makeshift soup kitchens for their daily hand-out before bedding down for the night in an alleyway or park, while whole streets of houses sat empty.
Some men were given relief work on one or two days a week. Typically, a man would report for work on Monday and be put to work digging holes that would be filled in by Tuesday’s men and dug out again by the Wednesday contingent. Government ministers hailed the policy as far-sighted and humane. The dwindling number of wealthy taxpayers thought it only reasonable that able-bodied men should do something for their money. Otherwise everyone would want to be on the dole.
Sniveling children, wearing tattered hand-me-downs, could be seen being dragged along the streets by downtrodden mothers, as they shopped for meager rations each using their husband’s dole money. The almost forgotten consumptive cough, so common in earlier times, returned with a vengeance.
On street corners the talk often turned to politics. Harry Holland, the Labour Party leader, Savage, Semple and Lee were the names most often mentioned as saviors for the nation. Although inexperienced in government, the Labour Party had a broad appeal with the masses of ordinary people. The Labour Party was the light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand the mention of names like Forbes and Coates, the men of the ruling class, often prompted self-respecting working class people to turn their heads aside and spit into the gutter in disgust.
Out walking for a newspaper one morning, Cedric met a group of men standing on a corner in Tennyson Street.
‘Good morning, Mr. Asker.’
Cedric recognized one of his former employees.
‘Oh, good morning, Jack. It’s nice to see you again.’
He immediately wondered if Jack had found work again, but hesitated to ask him to save embarrassment. They chatted for a few minutes before Cedric excused himself and hurried away to the newspaper box. When he returned a few minutes later his old employee stopped him again.
‘Mr. Asker, this is Bob Chambers. He’s secretary of the local Labour branch, and we were wondering if we could get you to stand.’
‘I’d be delighted to stand for the branch committee, Jack. But unfortunately I’m not a member and I suppose that makes me ineligible.’
Bob Chambers explained.
‘We’re not talking about the local committee, Mr. Asker. Its election year. We’re talking about a seat in Parliament. You could join anytime before you’re nominated.’
‘Me? You’re joking, of course.’
‘It’s no joke, Mr. Asker,’ Chambers assured him. ‘Your name has been mentioned at branch and electorate meetings. There’s a lot of support for you in the party and this time round the Labour man will get in. There’s going to be a Labour Government. How about it, Cedric?’
Cedric smiled as he quietly reflected on the family history.
‘Sounds interesting. But there is a history that you wouldn’t want to know about. I don’t think I would be suitable.’
‘Let us decide that. What kind of history?’
‘I’d rather not say. However, an uncle was elected to the Queensland Parliament many years ago, so I was told. I never knew him. My father and half-brother dabbled in politics in New South Wales too. But I never knew them either. My mother and her grandmother raised me and they didn't see eye to eye with my father’s lot. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a mate of Edmund Barton, who got to be the first Prime Minister of Australia. So politics is not entirely new to the Askers. But people are not going to vote for a man who can’t get a job.’
Author Peter Blakeborough
‘You might be surprised about that.’ Chambers countered. ‘Some people believe that you have to be unemployed to understand what’s really wrong in this country. As for your past, it’s probably no worse than many others. Most of the Labour leaders have been in jail at some time for their beliefs. We all have skeletons in the cupboard.’
‘I’d always be afraid that someone would dig up the past about my family. That would hurt.’
‘Say no more about it. Just give us an answer.’
‘Alright. I’ll promise no more than to give it serious consideration. You’ll have my answer in a few days.’
It was not the first time a career in politics had been suggested to him. Some members of the Reform Party approached him in the heyday of Eastland Transport, but the party’s philosophy had been at odds with his own views. With Labour it was different and, like so many others, he had already switched his vote to Labour, but had resisted invitations to join the party. As he walked home he met a former business acquaintance and stopped to talk with him.
‘We need a radical change in this country,’ the man said. ‘I’m convinced we need a Labour Government.’
‘I’m sure you’re right,’ Cedric replied.
‘Labour has a new breed of men who are not tied to the old ways. Men like you, Cedric. You could do worse than to throw your hat in the ring with Labour.’
Cedric chuckled.
‘You’ve been talking to Bob Chambers and Jack Ball. They’ve been pressing me to stand.’
‘Well, why don’t you give it a go?’
‘I’ve promised to think about it.’
‘My advice is don’t think about it too long. Someone else will get the nod and get into the House in what could be your seat.’
The two men shook hands and Cedric continued towards his little old house at the bottom of the hill. As he walked he thought about the state of the country and what needed to be done to restore full employment and a buoyant economy. He thought about Amy Roker, his old governess and teacher from Melbourne and Wondiligong. She was a clever, caring lady and she had given him an excellent education. He had a long experience as a successful businessman, but he also knew what it was like to be at the bottom of the pile. But what would happen if he got elected and later it came out about the murders, the hanging, the trials, the cardsharping ancestors and the fact that he was illegitimate because his mother had been raped. In spite of all that he thought he could do the job well. He would talk it over with Helen and the family.

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014


Passports laws vary widely from state to state

Passports have been in limited use since 450 B.C. when Nehemiah asked for permission to travel to Judea and the king gave him a letter requesting governors to give him safe passage through their lands. But it was only in the 20th Century that passports came into general use as people began to travel more and governments wanted to protect their borders and citizens.

A Japanese passport of 1866
The first passports were usually in the form of a letter from the king requesting safe passage for a person of some importance while passing through another city or province.

The traveler typically traveled overland and the passport had nothing to do with sea ports or ocean travel. The passport was a written request to allow the bearer to pass through a porte, or gate, without hindrance.

Until World War 1 many countries allowed passport-free travel, but wartime controls on the movement of people soon changed that, and the role of the passport changed too from one of freedom to travel to one of restrictions on travel. Only a small number of countries still allow passport-free travel with certain other countries. A few governments list countries that their citizens are prohibited from travelling to. Israel is one such country that is discriminated against in this way. But all Jews, wherever they live or were born, are entitled to Israeli passports.
Modern passports

The modern passport, to some extent, still requests safe travel for the bearer, whether moving across borders by land, sea or air, but it now also performs the possibly more important role of providing positive identification of the bearer. The modern passport contains a recent photograph of the holder, a signature, date and place of birth, and nationality. It has numerous safeguards included to make counterfeiting more difficult and is machine readable, but it does not normally list an occupation or residential address.

In recent years there has been some standardization of passports due firstly to the League of Nations Passport Conference of 1920, and to the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a division of the United Nations. ICAO recommends size, format and security safeguards. However, many individual governments still have their own rules regarding who can hold a passport, its period of validity and how much remaining validity is required when entering their territory.
The world has millions of refugees

Typically, when granting a passport, a government will take a citizen’s vital identification information and a fair slice of the applicant’s money, and then tell the passport holder in the fine print that the passport is the property of the government. Just imagine the outcry if a motorist, after making the final instalment on new car, found that it was still the property of the car dealer. So over the centuries the role of passports has changed from one of freedom to one of almost total control of the passport holder.

So right there is the first fallacy about passports; you do not own your own passport, the government does. And that leads right to the next passport fallacy that you can only hold one passport and one citizenship. With a very few exceptions that is a fallacy.  Many governments do try to discourage multiple passports and citizenship and a few governments require renouncement of any other citizenship and the surrender of other passports. Usually they are governments that are paranoid about their “us and them” place in the world. Most readers will be familiar with the attitude; you are either for us or against us, and you can only be loyal to one country. This is political paranoia and a breach of human rights.
Ferdinand Magellan would have been
the first captain to circumnavigate
the world had he not died on the voyage

Multiple citizenships can come about from country of birth, birthplace of a parent or grandparent, citizenship of a spouse, and countries that one has lived in long enough to qualify for citizenship. Some people advocate multiple passports for frequent travellers as a form of insurance against bad government, war, other international crises and disasters. They say that your passport is supposed to be your protection against trouble while abroad, but it does not protect you from your own government while you are at home. Supporters of multiple passports say that if you get into difficulty at home then the government that issued your second passport may be obliged to come to your aid. Alternatively, if for some reason you are unable to return home, a second passport could enable you to settle in your second country.

We should always remember that a very high proportion of people who are unable to live in their country citizenship have done nothing wrong. The world has millions of refugees, and anyone can become a refugee at any time without warning.

Visas often go hand in hand with passports. In many situations a passport holder is automatically granted a visa on arrival at a border, allowing entry to a country for a particular duration of stay and to engage only in the activities for which the visa is granted. For other countries travellers must submit a visa application with their passport to a consulate or embassy before travelling. A written visa will then be attached to the passport. Travel agents can advise travellers regarding visas, or the information and forms can be obtained from official websites.

World travel and passport use has exploded beyond anything Ferdinand Magellan could have contemplated when he set out to circumnavigate the world for the first time in 1519. Unfortunately, Magellan died in the Philippines and it was left to his deputy Juan Sebastian Elcano and 18 original crew to complete the journey in 1522. Later, Sir Francis Drake became the first to complete the circumnavigation as captain in 1579.

Now, 500 years later, millions of travellers undertake similar journeys in leisurely style, comfort and safety every year, with the security of a modern passport.

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Sunday, 2 November 2014


Starvation, torture and injustice heralded the beginning of a new nation downunder

   Nathaniel's Bloodline, an historical novel by Peter Blakeborough, tells the story of Australia's first European settlers and their struggle against the odds to establish a new nation. 
   Below is a free sample read from the first book in the Asker Trilogy. 

   A boot planted firmly against Nathaniel Asker's rib cage awakened him from a fitful sleep as the first light of a new day cracked through the ship’s decking as it lay at anchor in Port Jackson. He recognized the harsh bellow of Lieutenant Ernest Handley.
   ‘On ye feet, Asker, and look lively! There’s work to be done, houses to be built.’
   ‘I ain’t never done a house afore, sir,’ Nathaniel protested as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
   ‘Doesn’t matter. We don’t have any carpenters. On ye feet, Asker, and less o’ ye lip, or it’ll be a floggin’ for yer, an’ that’s a promise.’
Author Peter Blakeborough
   ‘I heard they gonna have us puttin’ up wattle an’ daub huts like the peasants use back home,’ John Hudson said as they were marched to a rocky hill west of the cove.
   ‘An’ they gonna use them cabbage trees what grow in the cove. Reckon they be the only timber that be any good,’ Thomas Barrett said.
   Nathaniel listened in silence as they trudged on in the oppressive heat.
   ‘They won’t build many huts from those few cabbage trees.’
   ‘They’ll wash away the first time the tropical rain comes,’ an older convict said.
   ‘Yeah. Yer could be right ’bout that,’ Barrett said. ‘Jesus, I wish there was more food. Me stomach thinks me throat be cut.’
   ‘Leave it t’ me, mate,’ John Hudson said quietly.
   ‘Tonight I’ll get enough food for all of us.’
   ‘Yer goin’ t’ steal it?’
   ‘Nope. Just gonna get what’s our right. You’ll see.’
   ‘I’ll be with yer,’ Nathaniel said on a sudden impulse.
   ‘Good on yer, mate,’ Hudson said.
   That night Hudson and Asker raided the supplies store while the sentry slept at his post. They were in the middle of a feast when they suddenly looked down the barrel of Lieutenant Handley’s pistol.        The next morning they were paraded before the judge advocate who ordered ten lashes each for the two youths.
   Handley, a notorious bully, was appointed to supervise the punishment and he sometimes took it on himself to order one or two extra lashes for convicts who irritated him. He had already shown his contempt for Nathaniel Asker and the lad cringed in terror as two brawny marines bound his hands and feet to the gory wooden triangle so that the bloodthirsty flogger could do his business. With a tormenting ache in his again empty gut and a flood of tears bursting through his tightly shut eyelids, Nathaniel shook violently as he waited for the first lash. At the order from Handley he braced himself and heard the evil swish of the cat. The lash bit deep into his flesh and he screamed in agony. The violent reflex jerk of his emaciated body tore strips of skin from his limbs where they were bound to the triangle. But that was minor compared with the skin and flesh that was ripped from his back by the savage cut of the lash. He sagged against the triangle and moaned weakly.
   Handley grabbed a handful of Asker’s hair yanking his head back to look into his face.
   ‘What say ye, convict scum. Are ye ready for ten more of those?’
   ‘Nine more, Mr Handley.’ Surgeon John White corrected him.
   ‘At least ten more, Mr White,’ Handley countered angrily. ‘This convict is as evil as they come and already has a murderous history. If I say more, it shall be more and I’ll thank thee, Mr White, not to interfere.’
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   ‘Then so be it, Mr Handley, but if the prisoner shows signs that further punishment may pose a threat to his life I’ll order that the flogging cease.’
   ‘Mind yer own business, Mr White.’ Handley turned gleefully to the flagellator. ‘The second stroke, my good man.’
   Nathaniel braced himself again, heard the swish of the tails, felt the savage cut and screamed again as the agony racked his body. He collapsed against the triangle. The world spun. A grey-misty nightmare of excruciating pain followed. Nathaniel believed that his end had come as a darkness descended. But a bright light suddenly appeared from above and he looked down on his own wretched, bloodied body. At last he was at peace. He was dead. There was no pain, no hunger. But then he heard voices from afar.
   ‘I order that the punishment cease, Mr Handley. The prisoner’s life is in danger, sir.’
   ‘That’s yer trouble, Mr White. Ye be soft in the head. A good thrashing never did a thief any harm. If it be left to mollycoddlers like yerself the likes o’ Asker would do as they please. All right. Cut the thief down.’
   As the bindings were severed Asker slumped to the ground where a rough prod from Handley’s boot turned him over.
   ‘On yer feet, scum, and back to work.’
   ‘Overruled, Mr Handley! There’ll be no work for this prisoner afore the morrow,’ White insisted.
   White then ordered a group of Asker’s fellow convicts, including his close friend, Thomas Barrett, to help him to a tent where he could recover from his ordeal.
   The next morning Asker was put to work again on the construction of houses, his wounds still raw and bleeding and his frail body racked with pain. Two days later, when the stealing of food did not stop, the Governor stepped up the punishment. He ordered that fourteen-year-old Barrett be hanged for stealing some salt pork, peas and butter.
   ‘I admit I‘ve ’ad a wicked life. God forgive me,’ Barrett said in a sobbing voice as he was manhandled roughly onto the gibbet. A moment later he was launched into eternity, his eyes bulging and his bowel and bladder, under the abrupt force of gravity, discharged their contents onto the ground.

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Monday, 27 October 2014


An old bureaucracy at the mercy of power brokers

In 1945 The United Nations Organization replaced the failing League of Nations as the world body charged with maintaining peace. After some initial successes the UN has now reached the point where it too needs serious overhaul, or replacement by a new and far-sighted world organization.
The United Nations was first proposed by
US President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1945

Membership in the UN has grown from the founding 51 nations to 193. Part of that growth has been due to decolonization making more countries eligible for membership. But there is growing dissatisfaction with the UN’s performance, and for many the power of veto held by some major players is the major stumbling block. One country can hold the rest of the world to ransom.

The UN is a vast organization with tentacles all over the world. Divisions of the UN include the General Assembly (world parliament, if you like), the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat (studies), the International Court of Justice, the World Bank, World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme (UNESCO and UNICEF). The UN also has numerous specialized agencies that work quietly on a host of good causes.

The United Nations does many of the things that individual member countries do; basically, the UN taxes and receives voluntary contributions from its members, and redistributes the funds gathered to where they are needed. Often much of the good work of the UN is overlooked by critics of the Security Council with its inertia in times of war and political instability.

The problem with the Security Council is the power of veto held by each of the five permanent members. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the USA are the permanent members of the council and any one of them, although unable to block debate, can use their veto to block adoption of a resolution. The ten non-permanent members of the council and the other four Security Council members are powerless to act whenever one of the big five decides to behave dictatorially.
The United Nations General Assembly

The USA is by far the largest contributor to the UN with 22% of UN funds coming from the USA. France, the UK and China provide just over 5% each while Russia provides less than 3% of UN funds. These contributions do not justify a power of veto and it should end.

The power of veto means that adoption of all contentious resolutions regarding war, political instability and terrorism are stopped dead during the debate. Minor resolutions that don’t affect any of the big five, and their main trade partners and friends, are adopted without any fuss. In the eyes of many people the failures of the Security Council bring the whole UN into disrepute.

So what is the answer?

In the short term there is no answer. The best proposals the world has ever seen could be put forward and would fail to influence the people who just want everything to stay put. The kind of changes that could help the United Nations and the world could be detrimental to powerful people and powerful countries. They will vote them down every time.

The United Nations, therefore, can only be reformed after the current power brokers have left office, but the plans to do that can be put in place now to take effect later, say in 2040.
The most important reform must be the revocation of the power of veto and it needs to be decided now that it will go by 2040. Membership voting should be per capita with an upper limit to prevent expanding countries from gaining too much influence.
The United Nations Security Council

The next target for the United Nations needs to be control of the world’s military. That will take longer because again powerful people, powerful states and powerful industries will stand to lose. But agreement must be reached at the earliest possible date that by 2075 all military spending in UN member states will be in the hands of the UN. The present world military situation can be likened to a town that has private armed guards in every street and building instead of one central police station taking care of the whole town.

The process for handing over military power can best be accomplished through a resolution requiring members to progressively reduce military spending while increasing their UN contribution. For example for every $5 of military spending a state could increase its levy to the UN by just one dollar. That would not only help the UN fund its operations, military and otherwise, but would also give member states billions more to spend on health, education and welfare.

The extra funds would also enable to UN to take on new roles and expand others. One that immediately comes to mind is the plight of refugees and others held inhumanely in foreign prisons, often without rights because they are not citizens.

The debate and the planning for the reform of the United Nations must start now.  

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Saturday, 25 October 2014


From circus clown to Cessna pilot – almost

A sample read from The Life and Times of Freddie Fuddpucker by Peter Blakeborough

Freddie Fuddpucker had a predicament. His last five employers had all fired him in less time than it takes to cry ‘Down tools, we’re on strike,’ which is what Freddie would have cried if his fellow workers had trusted him enough to make him the union man on the job.
But they didn’t trust him and one even recommended that he apply for a position as a clown with a circus. But the first circus owner that Freddie approached had other ideas.
‘I’m actually looking for someone about half your age,’ he said.
‘But I have many more years of experience than the young blokes,’ Freddie protested.
The circus manager considered this for a moment and smiled.
The author
‘I suppose there’s no fool like an old fool. I’ll give you a trial and you can start immediately.’
Whereupon Freddie Fuddpucker stood up to leave the interview, fell over his chair, picked himself up and opened a cupboard door to leave the room. Realizing his error he recoiled in haste and fell over the manager’s desk, sending stacks of papers, ornaments and bits of telephone flying in all directions.
‘On second thoughts,’ the manager said, trying to stay calm amid the chaos. ‘I think we can safely say that you have failed your trial period of employment, given that it was for a position as a clown. You are a clown, but not of the type we really need to employ, so why don’t you fly out of here before we sue for the damage you’ve done?’
‘Fly,’ Freddie muttered to himself as he hurried out through the correct door, then being held open for him. ‘Fly. Yes. I could fly an airplane. It would be easy and I could travel the world. The world could be my oyster.’
He knew several pilots who had told him how easy it was to fly. One even once said, ‘Any fool could do it.’ Freddie had also buried one or two unfortunate pilots while he was in the undertaking business but he was confident that he was clever enough to avoid being taken under himself by an airplane.
The first question facing Freddie was how he would go about learning to fly. He had to plan this carefully to keep the cost down. As he peddled home on his bicycle, wobbling to avoid all the snappy little dogs that considered him the neighborhood enemy, an idea came to him. He would charter a small plane for a flight to Wellington and he would observe everything that the pilot did. That way he would soon learn what to do. The pilot might even let him take the controls for the return journey.
For cash to pay for the flight, he could sell some of his mother-in-law’s antique furniture and jewelry. Next week she would be away visiting family in Australia and Freddie knew where she kept the key. It was time the old bag did something to help her son-in-law.
The more Freddie thought about the idea the more he liked it. It was a wonderful opportunity to travel as well as add another line to his growing CV, whatever that meant. It was years since Freddie had been north of the Skycity Casino or south of the Mercer Tavern. There had never been any incentive to go anywhere else and in any case both establishments always took all his cash anyhow.
Preparations for Freddie’s flying visit to Wellington went according to plan, apart from one or two odd incidents like the diamonds that slipped through his fingers in the dark and the old piano sliding off the back of the truck on the first corner. That was nothing really and there was still plenty of money left to pay for the flying and a luxury hotel in Wellington.
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At Ardmore Airfield Freddie propped his bike up against a hedge and approached a man in a pilot’s uniform.
‘I need to go to Wellington in a hurry,’ Freddie said, trying to sound important.
‘This Cessna will get you there pretty quick and it’s only three hundred dollars an hour.’
‘I’ll take it,’ Freddie replied quickly.
‘Got your logbook and license with you?’
Freddie saw an unexpected opportunity. He had to think quickly.
‘No. But everyone this side of the black stump knows old Freddie Fuddpucker. However, there is one thing you could do for me.’
‘Oh. What’s that?’ the pilot asked, thinking he had heard the name before but not realizing it had been on the court page of the newspaper.
‘Show me where everything is and how it all works. You know. In case it’s just a bit different to the other Cessnas I’ve flown lately.’
‘Sure.’ The pilot opened the door and launched into an explanation of the cockpit and controls.
When he had finished Freddie thanked him.
‘Now I’ll be on my way, up above the terrain to stay, until I’m down Wellington way, where I’ll land beside the bay. Ha ha.’
‘Listen, mate. I’m a pilot who’s too busy to listen to a poet. So just give me nine hundred dollars and I’ll start it up for you while you get your gear and do your flight plan.’
Fuddpucker ran to his bike and padlocked it to the fence. His great moment had arrived. He would soon be a professional pilot flying the nation’s airways and making money as though it was going out of fashion. He ran back to the Cessna as its engine ticked over awaiting his magic touch on the controls. He reached inside to give it a few more revs so that the engine would be warm enough for a quick take-off, but as he pushed the throttle forward his foot slipped on the wet grass and he fell on the throttle.
The Cessna roared and leapt forward. Fuddpucker made a grab for the door handle and missed. Lying face down on the grass he listened to the sound of the aircraft racing across the airfield. Opening one eye first, as though that would give him an option on which eye to believe, Fuddpucker saw the Cessna lift into the air in time to miss another aircraft by inches. He shut both eyes and waited.
The Cessna circled near the tops of the buildings, straightened for a moment, and dipped toward the road and into the path of a semi-trailer. Fuddpucker opened his eyes again in time to see a wing ripped off by the trailer. The Cessna cart-wheeled into the ground, making a noise like a large tin can being kicked along a street and then there was a huge explosion. And Fuddpucker’s travel plans were permanently disrupted.