Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Weekend in Amsterdam Chapter Four

I awoke the following morning to the sound of my travelling alarm clock. Eloise was gone. I quickly bathed in the bathroom down the hall, wasting little time in dressing as it was a freezing cold morning and the heating was still not on.
When I entered the dining room, Oise was serving Godfrey with his breakfast of two lightly boiled eggs in a double egg cup. Cheese and ham slices were set out on a platter in two neat rows, and there was plenty of bread and jam.
Her hair was once more controlled by the black velvet ribbon, her apron was in place, and the all of buttons on her blouse were securely fastened once more.
“Good morning sir,” she said rather formally. “How would you like your eggs?”
“Boiled for four minutes please miss,” I answered.
When my eggs arrived the whites were runny, so I sent them back, explaining that I would like them cooked until the whites were solid and only the yokes were runny. They re-appeared a few minutes later looking exactly as before, and admitting defeat I ate them anyway.
After breakfast Godfrey went upstairs to retrieve his briefcase. As there was only the old German lady in the restaurant Oise and I could talk freely.
“Why do you tease me?” she asked.
“You started it with the good morning sir,” I replied.
 “I mean last night.”
I had no idea what on earth she was talking about. “I don’t understand, I haven’t teased you,” I protested.
“You kissed me like my father, with the mouth closed,” she complained.
French kissing hadn’t really reached industrial Lancashire, in fact I’d only once tried it and was accused of being disgusting.
 “I’m sorry,” I apologised. “You’ll have to teach me how to do it properly.”
Her face changed from a frown into a broad smile, and she kissed me on the cheek just seconds before Godfrey re-appeared looking businesslike with his leather briefcase.

*  *  *  *

At the Valkenswaard factory Dhr Weiner, met us in the reception area. He was short in stature, which ran contrary to many of the other Dutchmen I’d seen since my arrival, who appeared to be tall, in general, or at the very least as tall as me. He had the look of a Hollywood heartthrob of years gone by, with swept back hair, which was black and wavy, and a pencil thin moustache. He displayed a pleasant and welcoming manner, and escorted us to his office for coffee, where he asked about our journey and the standard of our hotel accommodation.
The hotel didn’t compare with the Rode Leeuw in Amsterdam, but this was a small town and the hotel little more than a family run guesthouse, but the food was good and the hotel, I’d discovered, had fringe benefits.
Dhr Weiner went on to offer an overview of the Valkenswaard factory. Giving Godfrey the opportunity to comment on the factory in England, in which he showed interest, as they compared notes.
After drinking the coffee, which I found extremely bitter, we were given a guided tour of the factory. It was small, in comparison to the Vallard factory in Blakewater, which employed four and a half thousand people, while the Dutch plant employed a fraction of that number. We ended our tour at a repair workshop, which housed control panels in various states of repair or modification. A young man was hard at work. He was tall, with dark hair, but without the dark complexion of our host.
Dhr Weiner introduced us. “This is Dhr Peeters our electronics repair man,”
Dhr Peeters, meet Dhr Dale and Dhr Evans from England.”
The young man greeted us warmly.
 “You will be working with Dhr Peeters repairing the delay line machines,” he told me. “We will meet for lunch, when we will dine at a restaurant in the market square,” and with that he turned and left the workshop with Godfrey trailing in his wake.
“Have you brought tools and an overall?” asked Dhr Peeters.
I’d been expecting a conventional training programme, or at the very least a watching brief, and I was taken aback.
“I wasn’t told I would need to,” I protested lamely.
“I will find you an overall and you must borrow my tools, please.” said Dhr Peeters obligingly.
Returning with a brown nylon smock, similar to his own, but in approximately my size, he passed me a circuit diagram, written in Dutch, and set me to work repairing one of the machine panels.
I was dumb struck; I hadn’t a clue how the machine worked, or even what it did. Had I been able to oblige, there would have been little point in my visiting the Dutch factory at all. I wondered if I should complain to Dhr Weiner at lunch time, but decided to speak with Godfrey instead.
Lunch was booked at a cafe next door to the horse butcher. The menu of ham and cheese, salami sausage, and horse meat, was to be the staple diet each day, although a different soup with crusty bread began each meal.
Managing to isolate Godfrey from our hosts I told him of my concerns. Godfrey turned a bright shade of red, as he often did when faced with a problem he would rather not be required to solve, or a person who he would rather not have to deal with.
“Don’t make waves,” he told me, “just pick up what you can and we’ll sort things out when we get back to England.”
This didn’t make me feel any better, I’d been hoping for a little more support, although I should have known better than to expect support from Godfrey.

*  *  *  *

Godfrey met me in the repair workshop at five o’clock; he’d had a good day, having spent it in Dhr Weiner’s office discussing technical manuals and drinking coffee, two of his favourite occupations. I hadn’t had a good day, and I wanted to discuss my work problems, but Godfrey only wanted to talk about Oise.
“I think she likes me,” he said blushing at his own revelation. “Last night we talked until midnight and we got on really, well.”
I wondered if I should enlighten him as to the facts of life, especially as Godfrey had really pissed me off, but on reflection I decided against it.
When we arrived at the hotel, Oise was in the bar serving the card players with drinks. We both greeted her, and Godfrey blushed as we ascended the stairs to wash and change for dinner.
When I entered the bedroom I noticed that something felt different. The clothes that I’d placed in the drawers appeared to have been removed and re-folded. In the wardrobe my overcoat, jacket, and a number of shirts, appeared to be in a different order on the clothes rail, and my electric razor, toothpaste, and toothbrush, all appeared to be in different locations on a shelf above the washbasin.
Someone must have been in my room to make the bed, I reasoned, perhaps wipe down the washbasin and shelf, which might account for the rearranging of my toiletries, but why would a maid remove, and refold, all of my underwear and sweaters, or re-position my hanging clothes in the wardrobe? I also remembered leaving my suitcase unzipped in the wardrobe, ready to receive dirty washing destined for home, but it was unzipped no more. I was convinced that someone had searched my room, but why, and what were they looking for?
I asked Godfrey if he’d noticed any differences in how he’d left his room that morning, and how he’d found it on our return from work that evening, but apart from his bed having been made, Godfrey hadn’t noticed anything unusual.
The evening was a repeat performance, with Godfrey talking about radio signals, before repeating his conversations of the day with Dhr Weiner. Oise and I snatched a few moments alone when Godfrey left his seat to visit the toilet.
“Is he always such a boring man?” she asked, breathing out heavily as if she’d been unable to breathe while in his company.
“He thinks you fancy him,” I giggled.
“I don’t understand, what is fancy?” She looked puzzled.
“He thinks you’re attracted to him.”
“I could never be attracted to Dhr Dale,” she said with a shudder. “He is so boring, and not a very handsome man.”
“What type of man are you attracted to?” I queried expectantly.
“You have a mirror in your bedroom,” she said with a cheeky smile. “I suggest you look into it.”
As Godfrey reappeared I changed the subject, and asked about the lack of heating in my bedroom.
 “My father does not put on the heating until winter arrives,” she informed me.
“How much winter does there need to be?” I complained. “The ice is a foot thick and people are skating.”
“My father says that the winter begins in December, but I could tell him that the English softies would like on the heating.”
It was the 29th November, one more day and two more nights and the heating would finally be on. I leant forward while Godfrey was distracted and whispered into her ear. “I can wait for the heating to come on if you promise to keep me warm in bed.”
When Godfrey continued the conversation where he’d left off, I decided to have another early night. It was ten-thirty and the card players were beginning to leave the hotel and head for home. The old German lady, who usually came down to dinner, hadn’t put in an appearance, and I figured that if I went to bed early Godfrey might be persuaded to do the same. Oise would then be able close the hotel and join me in my room.
I read for a while, waiting for her to arrive, until I fell asleep, waking the following morning in a sitting position with the book still in my hand. Oise hadn’t arrived, and I wondered what I might have done to offend her. I remembered how annoyed she’d been about the French kissing, or more accurately the lack of it, had I inadvertently annoyed her again because I’d left her to cope with Godfrey alone?
She wasn’t at breakfast, and Godfrey hadn’t seen her since going to bed the night before, so why hadn’t she visited my room? Dhr Bos appeared to be the waiter, as well as the chief cook and bottle washer at breakfast. I wanted to ask him what had happened to Oise, but I didn’t want to tip off the old man as to our relationship. In any case conversations with Dhr Bos were extremely difficult due to the language barrier, and usually ended in total confusion.
I asked him if anyone, other than the maid, had been in my bedroom, but although he pretended not to understand, his acute embarrassment told me that he knew more than he was telling me.
I worked throughout the day, my thoughts wandering back to Oise, and what I might have done to upset her. Dhr Peeters was more helpful than on the previous day, when he’d appeared to be a little under pressure, and spent more time talking to me. He told me that he was married with two small children; both of them girls, but that they were hoping for a boy next time. He rented his home, and he owned a little yellow Daff car, which he insisted on showing to me at morning break. He proudly explained that it was the world’s first belt driven car with continuously variable transmission. I pretended to be impressed, but every time I looked at it I couldn’t help visualising Noddy and Big Ears.

*  *  *  *

After lunch, Godfrey left to catch an evening flight back to England. I was sure that I wouldn’t miss his company, but surprisingly I felt alone once he’d left.
Oise wasn’t in the bar when I returned to the hotel, and I asked her brother, who was on duty in her absence, where she was.
“She will be down in half an hour to cycle to her English class in Eindhoven,” he answered.
I bought a small beer and waited until she appeared.
“Why didn’t you come to my room last night?” I asked.
“Did you miss me?”
“Is the Pope a Catholic?”
“Of course the Pope is a Catholic, why are you talking about the Pope?”
“Forget about the Pope, what happened to you last night?” I wanted to know.
Frau Muller was taken ill, I sent for the doctor and sat with her until morning.”
“I thought I’d done something to upset you,” I said, the relief palpable, despite the fact that poor Frau Muller had been taken ill.
 “Not this time,” she laughed, as she retrieved her bicycle from a multitude of other bicycles parked in racks outside of the hotel.
“Does everyone in The Netherlands ride a pushbike?” I asked.
“What is a pushbike?” She looked puzzled by my adjective.
“Sorry, I mean a bicycle.”
“Why do you call it a pushbike?” she asked.
 I didn’t have a clue, so I made up my own explanation.
“Where I live it’s so hilly, and hard to peddle, so people often push their bicycles.”
I wasn’t trying to be funny, in fact I was trying to give her the most rational explanation I could muster, but she became hysterical with laughter and fell off her bicycle. She put her hands on my shoulders to stop herself from falling, and as I put my arm around her waist to steady her, our lips came together. I remembered to part my lips and felt her tongue slip between them and explore the inside of my mouth.
“That is better,” she told me. “You will, however, need some more practising.”
 “Before you leave, who is it that makes my bed and changes my linen at the hotel?” I asked.
“I do,” she told me.
“In that case did you tidy the clothes in my drawers, and rearrange the hanging clothes in my wardrobe?”
“I have to make the beds, wash the linen, serve breakfast, dinner, and lunch, and work behind the bar, why would you think I have the time, or the inclination, to tidy up your drawers?”
“Could someone else have done it?”
“Only I and my father have a key to your room, and he only cooks and plays cards, I can’t imagine him wanting to tidy your clothes.”
She picked up her bicycle.
 “I will return at nine-thirty,” she called as she rode off towards Eindhoven, looking back just once to give me a cheery wave.
After a solitary evening meal I decided to explore the delights of the market square. I entered the first bar and ordered a pilsner. The barman filled a glass with froth, before placing it on the bar for my perusal. I waited for the froth to settle, expecting the barman to fill it, but instead he wiped the froth from the top of the glass with a wooden spatula and pushed it towards me.
“Is that it?” I asked.
“Good top ja?” replied the barman, looking pleased with his creation and expecting me to feel the same way.
“To hell with good top,” I said angrily. “I’ve paid for beer not froth, fill the bugger up.”
Engels,” announced the barman loudly. Everyone in the bar nodded and sighed knowingly, as if that explained my peculiar behaviour.
In Amsterdam the announcement of “Engels” wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but in this small market town it caused quite a stir, and a ripple of conversation began amongst the previously solitary and silent men.
One man, who sat alone at the opposite end of the bar, moved closer to me and in very good English asked me. “What part of England are you from?”
“Lancashire,” I answered, as I didn’t expect him to have heard of Hartbrook, where I lived, or Blakewater where I worked and played.
“Is that close to London?” the man queried.
I decided it would be far too complicated to explain that Lancashire was in fact a county and not a town or city, so I picked the name of the closest big city to my home. “No, it’s nearer to Manchester.”
“Ah, Manchester United; Bobby Charlton; Georgie Best; Dennis Law,” and then the Dutchman ran out of players whose names he could recall.
I felt obligated to buy my new found friend a drink, so I pulled out a few coins, threw them onto the bar counter, and ordered a Pilsner. Pretty soon I had six new best friends all of them firing questions at me about England and Manchester United. Even though their motives were blatantly mercenary, after two nights of discussing radio signals with Godfrey, I was more than happy with the alternative company.
I left the bar at ten o’clock and staggered back to the hotel a little worse for wear, I thought I spotted the man who’d alighted from the Eindhoven bus, but I was so drunk that I could easily have been mistaken. Oise was behind the bar and she eyed me sternly, as would a mother chastising a naughty child. I remember ordering a Pilsner, but she gave me a black coffee instead.
“Drink that and go to bed,” she ordered.
“Will you come and tuck me in?” I asked while trying to wink at her but failing dismally.
She tried hard to be annoyed, but found it difficult to conceal a smile.
“If you drink your coffee and go straight up to bed,” she promised, “I will call to see if you are asleep when I come up.”
“And what if I’m awake?” I asked hopefully, but she didn’t reply.

*  *  *  *

I'm sorry for any disappointment but my contract with Amazon won't allow me to publish more than 20% of my novel on any other site but their own, so this will have to be my last free chapter. If anyone wants to read the rest of the story then obviously it can be purchased, in e-book form, or paperback, from Amazon, but that is not the object of this exercise.

Publishing the first four chapters has been an experiment to answer  questions I wanted answering. 

When you publish with Amazon the book is hidden in the bowels of the company, and no-one ever sees it unless they ask for it specifically. This is not a good system for unknown authors, who sell on average 50 copies, mainly to friends and family, so I'm considering  using an agent and a traditional publisher, if I can find one, to raise my profile and boost my sales.  Agents, I've discovered, want to read the first 50 pages of a novel before making a decision, but would my first 50 pages be engaging enough? One reviewer has already stated that my novel is a slow burner,  so would this be detrimental in getting my novel noticed?

By the Book Reviews (Canada)

This is Higgins’ first novel. According to the book’s cover he is a retired electrical engineer, which only makes me wish that he’d been lousy at that job so he could have turned to writing earlier. He has a deftness of observation, an ear for natural dialogue, and enough narrative bravery that it’s fair to say he would have carved out a solid career as a novelist with hearty sales and a couple of fat film rights cheques stuffing his bank account. Nonetheless, Weekend in Amsterdam has been worth the wait. It’s a damn good novel.

Book Republik (Cairo)

I was sceptical at first. The opening pages of the book make it a slow burner. It is foolish to give up on a book so easily and a couple of chapters in I was well rewarded. The novel suddenly turns into a page-turner and the calm starting pace is forgotten. A spy tale with a difference ensues. None of the James Bond stuff here, just down to earth human nature. Roy A Higgins, great job and looking forward to more from you.

Question 1.  If my book was on the shelf for all to see, would anyone idly pick it up and begin to read it? Most people judge a book by its cover, so would the cover attract readers to look inside?

Answer. The take up rate to read Chapter One has been 134 people to date, out of 4,800 followers on twitter, only 2.8%, but that had nothing to do with the quality of writing because the other 97.2% didn't even read it. I tried posts with, and without the cover picture, but that didn't appear to influence the take up rate, in fact I got less of a take up with the picture, possibly because it looked more like a book advert and was skipped over.

Question 2. What percentage of readers would want to read Chapter Two after reading chapter One? This would give me an indication of how engaging Chapter one was.

Answer. So far 120 people from 134 went on to read chapter two, that is 90% of the original readers. That's encouraging, as I was hoping for, but not expecting 50% of readers to want to continue reading the story. This tells me that what I have written is readable, 10% didn't want to read more but you can't please everyone.

Question 3. Would readers want to continue reading, knowing that they may never find out what happens in the story without buying it? 

Answer To date 100 people have stuck with the story through three chapters, but chapter three has not been available for very long, and I expect that number to rise. It's expected that for whatever reason people will fall by the wayside, but the results of my experiment have been positive. 

If I tell you that my book is good and you should read it, the take up would be very small, because you don't know me and you don't trust me, I'm just the guy who's trying to sell you something.  If your best friend enthuses about the book you are more likely to take notice and read it, as you trust your friend and value their opinion.

Question 4. How many people would take the trouble to tell others that my story is worth reading,?because without an axe to grind these people are more likely to be believed. When I read a novel, especially by an indie author, I always leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon, authors need encouragement, and readers need to know which books are worth buying.

Answer. 100 people are still reading my story, so I must assume that they liked it enough to read all three chapters, but only 6 of them bothered to tell their followers by re-tweeting, and only six, perhaps the same 6 clicked the love button, that equates to a disappointing 6%. Is that because they didn't like it  enough to recommend it?  Did they not realise that authors need help to get their message across to a wary audience, or where they just too lazy to be bothered? This question remains unanswered.

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