Unintended Consequences

Like collateral damage unintended consequences often totally eclipse what you meant to do.  And, sure as death, there always are unintended consequences.

With the always 20:20 hindsight one often looks at a series of actions and wonders how in hell ANYONE including Blind Pew didn’t see it coming a mile off. Look at Hollywood’s latest meltdown and the fallout that has to have on the Democratic party – who eagerly accepted the celebrity support, endorsements and funding. Let’s see: lets think. Famous people, not known for brains or morality, with a long history of the casting-couch and negotiable virtue being often reported on… what could possibly go wrong?

Yes. It is obvious.

Now. But obviously it wasn’t.

Unintended consequences too are an error which many new writers (yes, me too, long ago) make.

Oh it’s not that our writing has such consequences. It’s that it doesn’t. Things actually go according to plan. Exactly what the characters expect happens. The hero is well capable and trained and physically able to deal with the obstacles. The action is fast-paced and the story clever.

And boring.

The problem however doesn’t stop there. Yes, you can, as the writer, make the plans go horribly awry, and the characters have to deal with that on the fly. That’s an improvement. The thing is, your character plunging into disaster they didn’t expect, is wasting half the potential for tension in the story.  Your character should not expect it, or not that specific thing, which he would then plan for — but your reader should. And to make it worse to write… your character can’t be a total nitwit, not seeing the obvious (unless your hero is a fool. That works sometimes.) There has to be a reason he doesn’t see something plainly obvious as a consequence to the reader.

A large part of this is just: ‘how is it written.’ I’m no master, but this is an example of how I did this –

This is factual, bald version. There’s no hint that it didn’t majorly go to plan, and nor is obvious to the reader, throughout, that unexpected consequences flow from this:

On Saturday I fetched a water-tank I’d bought from a friend. That required that I borrow a more powerful truck, and, from another friend a heavy tandem trailer.  The trailer tow hitch was lower than the truck’s tow ball, and it was too heavy to move let alone lift. I tried various things and eventually found a jack and got the trailer on.  I drove to the friend, we cut a hole in his fence, rolled the tank out, and because it wouldn’t fit on its side put it on top of the trailer and tied it down. On the way out to my little farm it did slip sideways, but I got it there, and offloaded it with the Terex and put it where it belonged.    

About as dull as the average working day.  But I write to about my life out here to entertain, so I tried to make the FB and blog posts about this more entertaining — by letting the reader know 1) that it did NOT go according to plan 2) That the reader could foresee that it wouldn’t – and waited with amusement for the disasters. I’ll give the entire story here, and then make some commentary on WHY I did certain things. I’m NOT a master, or the best – but you can learn from my methods and mistakes. You can help me to learn from them.

This is slightly expanded version of the tank moving saga that I posted on FB, as it was put up on Flinders Family Freer

Are you all sitting foursquare cumftibold? Right, then I’ll begin. So, once upon a time – a recent time – I bought my mate Bill ‘s spare water tank. A win for me, and a win for him I hope… with just one small, trifling detail in the way. Like, it’s in his back yard, and I want it out at the new block. Oh. And Bill has built a carport since the tank went in. Needless to say, the tank doesn’t fit past it. Only just doesn’t fit by an inch and a half.

But never fear! We are bold, resourceful or at least pig-headedly stupid (pick the latter, trust me). It came upon a morning clear that I had arranged to borrow the beast of bashan (AKA the huge heavy twin-axle trailer) and from yet another friend, Peter – a 4×4 Hilux to tow it. Because, in the way things in my life, the trailer’s home is on the other side of a flooded road, and anyway my blue slug (ute) would just die if I asked it to tow the beast.

I drove into a swamp the color of stout, faithfully following the marker poles that said ‘there is a road under here somewhere. It must have been true because I got out the other side. My plan was to get there good and early because the loading the tank might take a while. And the plan went well – until of course it didn’t. I reversed with great care and frequent getting out, because 1)it’s not my ute, or my trailer, 2)the beast is so heavy I literally cannot budge it. I lined up perfectly and went to hook the beast up.

The Hilux’s tow hitch is an inch an half higher than the trailer’s jockey wheel will lift it. The jockey wheel is of a frail and retiring nature totally unsuited to the beast – it can hold the beast, but not raise it. The beast weighs tons. I – among my myriad other faults, am not large or very heavy. No way I can lift it. What to do? Give up would be sensible option.

But this is me. I look for the jack in the truck. Can’t find it.

I search my absent friend’s new shed. No jack. I do find a crowbar. And a round rock. Ha! Archimedes! “give me a long enough lever and somewhere to stand and I will move the world.” I have a crowbar. But, as I soon establish, it’s not long enough. Aha! But have a pipe that will fit on the end…

Look, will someone tell that dead Greek that 1)the lever has to stay on top of the fulcrum or you will fall on your butt (trust me on this. I have the bruises to prove it.) and… 2) even if this does not happen – you are at one end of the lever 5 yards from the tow hitch, quite unable to do anything about it.

Now, let me explain the evil nature of Jockey wheels. They have a mind of their own and a passionate fear of ramps. Trust me on this. You don’t even have to prove it with a snatch strap and building a ramp. It just is, the way Mount Everest is

It turns out that the Hilux’s jack is hidden under the back seat, in a covered inset under the carpet, as I found out after 2 hours of sweat, and increasingly more bizarre plans. Fiendishly clever these Auto designers. I’d like to pack a parachute for them, in the same way they hide essential bits, before assisting them and the essential parachute into a little 5000 foot test of gravity.

With the beast attached, we brave the flooded road again. It’s blacker and bubbling ominously. Some of the sticks seem to have fallen over… The ute goes in… and the beast hits it, and for that heartstopping moment we slow suddenly and… nothing happens. Well nothing bad anyway. We go forward and not sideways. After that little moment of terror that was nothing, we go to Bill’s place without further drama. I know. Disappointing for you, great for me.

Did you know that many access problems can be solved by cutting down your neighbor’s fence with a chainsaw? A sort of de-fence.(Do not try this unless you have a nice kind neighbor who has agreed to this. Or you may need the chainsaw for self-defence… )

The tank rolls quite well. So the crushed people in its wake tell me… nah – not quite. I discovered the fins on the top made reasonable brakes. So after a few minor, really irrelevant epics with gates and trees, we get it onto the roadside…

To discover it won’t fit on its side on the beast – a matter of about one and half inches (as with the tow-hitch…)

Now we have a tank on the roadside that probably won’t go back. Once again, I’m stuck.

Hmmm.

But with some extra man-power it will go… on top. We tip it and shove and haul. Frankie says ‘I think it would be better the other way around. This is not happening. With careful alignment and four of us shoving… it gets only overlapping the mudguards – about an inch and a half (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I tie it down. Now, this is a round object with a smooth bottom, but there are lifting holes on the strengthening fins on top. We use a lot of rope…

This is Flinders, just after the shops close on a Saturday – ergo, most graveyards are livelier. Not a car or person to be seen.

I trundle slowly and cautiously toward the block, along the back road, where I see precisely one vehicle, and get off the road and let them pass.

And then there is just last mile to the block along the ‘main’ North-South road – which can be oh, 2-3 cars an hour on a normal day. I turn the corner onto it…

And the tank decides this is such fun it’ll do that too, and slides sideways.

Now, the ropes stop it sliding right off, and beast is so big and heavy it is not affected. But instead of being in the middle – the tank is now inside the mudguard one one side and has got about an inch and half spare from the edge of the trailer. It now protrudes generously into the road on the other.

The ropes are now super-tight, as it sort of swiveled to do this. It took us four people to move it on and I can’t budge it. The beast is still level. It thinks the tank is light. I’m close to my destination and machinery. Oh yeah, and my mobile phone says ‘to recharge your credit’.

So… I drive on cautiously, ready to get off the the road. if there’s a car – maybe I can ask for some help. And about a hundred yards from my place there is one, and I do. It’s a police car (and the two local coppers would help. They’re country coppers. This is not Africa). But we live on an island where everyone waves. So they see me wave… and give me a wave back, and drive on. Ah well. I’m close.

I haul through my gate and into the paddock and walk off to fetch the liddle tenk AKA T.rex the Terex – which I borrowed for this exercise. I’ve driven T.Rex a long way before this, at least 10 feet (or maybe an inch and half, it just felt longer). It’s a joystick drive – and I have to reverse it out of my tractor shed, going meep meep like a cross between a banshee and a chicken. I didn’t hit anything important that can’t be replaced (not really, but it came close). Some very nervous driving followed given the sort of day I’d had… I can’t afford to replace the tank and certainly can’t afford to replace the T.rex. I lifted the jawed bucket and ever so slowly sidled up to the tank on the beast.

Liddle tenk meets liddle tenk. It was love at first sighttank meets tank

and this is the charming wedding picture. Just after the knot had been tied.

That was another little adventure which involved pulling up on the T.Rex’s jaws (motor running to keep the hydraulics running, and a great deal of balance on a slippery sloping surface, now well lubricated with spare sand from the T.Rex’s bucket, with nothing much to hold onto. Rock-climbing has been a lot more useful than anyone could have guessed.

There is no next picture, on account of the fact I was inside the T. Rex’s safety cage, and… um, I might still be there. On account of when the tank gently swung off, it did so without any drama. Only it was also almost flush with the cage – like maybe an inch and a half gap. I’ve gotten too fat, mostly between the ears, to fit out. Like Pooh Bear I’ll be out as soon as I slim down.

OK I did figure it out before I got hungry, reversed and put the tank down, and re-rigged the ropes.

And lo, things actually proceeded according to plan, even though I expected them not to. This was a reasonable expectation because I couldn’t see past the tank, so I kept having to put it down and have a look.

Still, I got there. The tank is in place, on the bench that Mark cut for it, next to where the house will be.

I was on Ambo call last night and I am very grateful no one needed us, because I slept the sleep of the tired little monkey.

But an inch and a half… sometimes it really feels a lot longer… or shorter.

Which most people seem to have found quite funny – because they could see me walking toward the open manhole, (and see the banana skin) They expected me to fall in the hole… and not to slip on the banana skin. They could see the possible consequences. I (as the ‘hero’) could not. I was doing a lot of other little things too some of which I’ll talk about in BOLD – (you can skip re-reading the bits that aren’t bold. They’re there for context).

Are you all sitting foursquare cumftibold? Right, then I’ll begin. So, once upon a time – a recent time – I bought my mate Bill ‘s spare water tank.

I’m telling the reader that this is funny, shaggy dog tale. Oh and throwing in Music buff reference to say the same thing – which doesn’t detract from the story if you don’t get it, but delights those who do. I do this a lot. It’s fun for me, fun for those who get it, and doesn’t hurt the story for those who don’t. I cannot say how important that latter detail is,

A win for me, and a win for him I hope… with just one small, trifling detail in the way. Like, it’s in his back yard, and I want it out at the new block. Oh. And Bill has built a carport since the tank went in. Needless to say, the tank doesn’t fit past it. Only just doesn’t fit by an inch and a half.

This is an intentional double entendre, which I intentionally repeat, to mislead 🙂 No reason for it, just another tweak to amuse readers with minds like mine. Once again, it doesn’t distract from the story, but like Chekov’s shotgun, if it is in the first paragraph, expect it to be used.

But never fear! We are bold, resourceful or at least pig-headedly stupid (pick the latter, trust me). It came upon a morning clear that I had arranged to borrow the beast of bashan (AKA the huge heavy twin-axle trailer)

It’s a big cow of a thing. Those who get it will smile.

and from yet another friend, Peter – a 4×4 Hilux to tow it. Because, in the way things in my life, the trailer’s home is on the other side of a flooded road, and anyway my blue slug (ute) would just die if I asked it to tow the beast.

I drove into a swamp the color of stout, faithfully following the marker poles that said ‘there is a road under here somewhere. It must have been true because I got out the other side. My plan was to get there good and early because the loading the tank might take a while.

And here I am telling you the LOADING won’t be the problem.

And the plan went well – until of course it didn’t. I reversed with great care and frequent getting out, because 1)it’s not my ute, or my trailer, 2)the beast is so heavy I literally cannot budge it. I lined up perfectly and went to hook the beast up.

Ah. The cunning plan

The Hilux’s tow hitch is an inch an half higher than the trailer’s jockey wheel will lift it. The jockey wheel is of a frail and retiring nature totally unsuited to the beast – it can hold the beast, but not raise it. The beast weighs tons. I – among my myriad other faults, am not large or very heavy. No way I can lift it. What to do? Give up would be sensible option.

Ah. The unintended consequence of borrowing a vehicle AND a trailer. Obvious.

But this is me. I look for the jack in the truck. Can’t find it.

I search my absent friend’s new shed. No jack. I do find a crowbar. And a round rock. Ha! Archimedes! “give me a long enough lever and somewhere to stand and I will move the world.” I have a crowbar. But, as I soon establish, it’s not long enough. Aha! But have a pipe that will fit on the end…

The cunning plan. You’d never expect anything to go wrong.

Look, will someone tell that dead Greek that 1)the lever has to stay on top of the fulcrum or you will fall on your butt (trust me on this. I have the bruises to prove it.) and… 2) even if this does not happen – you are at one end of the lever 5 yards from the tow hitch, quite unable to do anything about it.

The unintended but very obvious consequence

Now, let me explain the evil nature of Jockey wheels. They have a mind of their own and a passionate fear of ramps. Trust me on this. You don’t even have to prove it with a snatch strap and building a ramp. It just is, the way Mount Everest is.

What I am not doing is filling in the long, tedious explanation of how I built the ramp with rocks and a plank, or how the wheel was sideways on. I’m leaving this to reader’s imagination. I’ve just given them the framework. Anyone who has dealt with a jockey wheel will know how they misbehave. Their imagining will be more graphic than the reality.  Anyway, the joke is getting old. Time to move on.

It turns out that the Hilux’s jack is hidden under the back seat, in a covered inset under the carpet, as I found out after 2 hours of sweat, and increasingly more bizarre plans. Fiendishly clever these Auto designers. I’d like to pack a parachute for them, in the same way they hide essential bits, before assisting them and the essential parachute into a little 5000 foot test of gravity.

With the beast attached, we brave the flooded road again. It’s blacker and bubbling ominously. Some of the sticks seem to have fallen over…

Once again I am setting the reader up. They expect disaster. I’m with intent keeping them off balance, because if something always goes wrong –

The ute goes in… and the beast hits it, and for that heartstopping moment we slow suddenly and… nothing happens. Well nothing bad anyway. We go forward and not sideways. After that little moment of terror that was nothing, we go to Bill’s place without further drama. I know. Disappointing for you, great for me.

Did you know that many access problems can be solved by cutting down your neighbor’s fence with a chainsaw? A sort of de-fence.(Do not try this unless you have a nice kind neighbor who has agreed to this. Or you may need the chainsaw for self-defence… )

The tank rolls quite well. So the crushed people in its wake tell me… nah – not quite. I discovered the fins on the top made reasonable brakes. So after a few minor, really irrelevant epics with gates and trees, we get it onto the roadside…

It was an epic. The reader knows it was… That’s what the understatement means. Actually it wasn’t. But we’re entertaining.

To discover it won’t fit on its side on the beast – a matter of about one and half inches (as with the tow-hitch…)

Now we have a tank on the roadside that probably won’t go back. Once again, I’m stuck.

Hmmm.

But with some extra man-power it will go… on top. We tip it and shove and haul. Frankie says ‘I think it would be better the other way around. This is not happening. With careful alignment and four of us shoving… it gets only overlapping the mudguards – about an inch and a half (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I tie it down. Now, this is a round object with a smooth bottom, but there are lifting holes on the strengthening fins on top. We use a lot of rope…

The reader KNOWS by now that when I start explaining how it could move, and how we tied it down that there are unexpected consequences waiting for me.

This is Flinders, just after the shops close on a Saturday – ergo, most graveyards are livelier. Not a car or person to be seen.

I trundle slowly and cautiously toward the block, along the back road, where I see precisely one vehicle, and get off the road and let them pass.

And then there is just last mile to the block along the ‘main’ North-South road – which can be oh, 2-3 cars an hour on a normal day. I turn the corner onto it…

And the tank decides this is such fun it’ll do that too, and slides sideways.

You’ve been WAITING for that, haven’t you?

Now, the ropes stop it sliding right off, and beast is so big and heavy it is not affected. But instead of being in the middle – the tank is now inside the mudguard one one side and has got about an inch and half spare from the edge of the trailer. It now protrudes generously into the road on the other.

The ropes are now super-tight, as it sort of swiveled to do this. It took us four people to move it on and I can’t budge it. The beast is still level. It thinks the tank is light. I’m close to my destination and machinery. Oh yeah, and my mobile phone says ‘to recharge your credit -‘.

So… I drive on cautiously, ready to get off the the road. if there’s a car – maybe I can ask for some help.

The cunning plan. What could go wrong?

And about a hundred yards from my place there is one, and I do. It’s a police car

That could go wrong

(and the two local coppers would help. They’re country coppers. This is not Africa). But we live on an island where everyone waves. So they see me wave… and give me a wave back, and drive on.

And it does, but not in the way that the reader expected. But they feel they should have. It’s plausible.

Ah well. I’m close.

I haul through my gate and into the paddock and walk off to fetch the liddle tenk AKA T.rex the Terex – which I borrowed for this exercise. I’ve driven T.Rex a long way before this, at least 10 feet (or maybe an inch and half, it just felt longer). It’s a joystick drive – and I have to reverse it out of my tractor shed, going meep meep like a cross between a banshee and a chicken. I didn’t hit anything important that can’t be replaced (not really, but it came close). Some very nervous driving followed given the sort of day I’d had… I can’t afford to replace the tank and certainly can’t afford to replace the T.rex. I lifted the jawed bucket and ever so slowly sidled up to the tank on the beast.

Liddle tenk meets liddle tenk. It was love at first sight

and this is the charming wedding picture. Just after the knot had been tied.

the cunning plan. What could go wrong?

That was another little adventure which involved pulling up on the T.Rex’s jaws (motor running to keep the hydraulics running, and a great deal of balance on a slippery sloping surface, now well lubricated with spare sand from the T.Rex’s bucket, with nothing much to hold onto. Rock-climbing has been a lot more useful than anyone could have guessed.

There is no next picture, on account of the fact I was inside the T. Rex’s safety cage, and… um, I might still be there. On account of when the tank gently swung off, it did so without any drama. Only it was also almost flush with the cage – like maybe an inch and a half gap.

That.

I’ve gotten too fat, mostly between the ears, to fit out. Like Pooh Bear I’ll be out as soon as I slim down.

OK I did figure it out before I got hungry, reversed and put the tank down, and re-rigged the ropes.

And lo, things actually proceeded according to plan, even though I expected them not to. This was a reasonable expectation because I couldn’t see past the tank, so I kept having to put it down and have a look.

Still, I got there. The tank is in place, on the bench that Mark cut for it, next to where the house will be.

I was on Ambo call last night and I am very grateful no one needed us, because I slept the sleep of the tired little monkey.

But an inch and a half… sometimes it really feels a lot longer… or shorter.

Tell that to your partner.

And I hope this was some use to you all.

19 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

19 responses to “Unintended Consequences

  1. Thank you. Both for the lovely story, and for the explanation that followed.

    This was a morning that needed laughter.

  2. :: sigh :: it’s like a magician revealing his secrets . . . and you fumble around and still can’t pull off the trick.

  3. Draven

    its still a funny story, tho…

  4. Dave, You towed that on a public road? Dang…

    Buy a hi-lift jack for next time. https://hi-lift.com/

    Get the crappy Chinese knock-off, it’ll be good enough. I have two crappy Chinese ones. Super cheap.

    You can lift a trailer or pull out a fence post with one. Add some nylon straps, steel cable, maybe a pulley or two and a bit of MacGyver, you can lift or move nearly anything.

    • I have one — just not where I needed it in someone else’s vehicle. The trailer owner has one. Just not in the shed… 🙂

      • “I got one… in the other truck.” Yep. That’s why I have two. Only thing worse is “I got one… somewheres.”

      • Clearly, it was one of *those* stories.

        Speaking of which, I noticed a convention in thrillers to start off the story with a micro-adventure in which nothing really goes wrong, to show off the can-do calibre of the heroes as well as to show off the ways in which they sometimes make mistakes, but they “get away with them”. Then in the ensuing novel, where the stakes are just as high, or higher, the writer expands on the mistakes, expands on the unintended consequences, as well as the issues the characters face going into the is stage of the adventure (the ground conditions) until the final dramatic conclusion in which the tank is parked on the block.

    • Heh. You see stuff like that and more on the public roads around here, especially this time of year where there’s combines on the road. That song International Harvester is a real thing, except someone always figures out a way to pass or hit a side road and go around it.

      I’m not throwing off on Dave when I say that around here that would be classified as a small trailer. The mid-size ones here are about two to three times that length. The big ones require a fifth wheel connection and a duel rear axle truck.

      Looking at that tank, couldn’t help but wonder if it could be flipped on its side, a long length of strong rope bent in half with the ends run beneath it through the grooves and secured to the front of a trailer, then the bight thrown over the top and pulled by a hoist mounted to the front of the trailer. Then the thing could roll up a ramp onto the trailer. Securing it would probably take another strong rope run the same way but in the opposite direction and tied to the back of the trailer. Chocks would be a good idea, too.

      Okay, so we’re rednecks, and wouldn’t even need a beer to try something stupid.

      • “I’m not throwing off on Dave when I say that around here that would be classified as a small trailer.”

        I was thinking that. My car trailer is bigger. Could have held the tank real nice.

        No way I’d have pulled my trailer through the swamp. Guaranteed two-tractor stuck. Second tractor to pull the first one out.

        Besides, everything in N. America is fricking huge. Some guy drove a combine down past the house today, it was like my barn was driving down the road.

      • The trailer is rated to 4 tons 🙂 -it was built for carrying weight. The owner uses it for shifting rocks. We did TRY on its side. On a flatbed- no problem – on this it was JUST the wrong size – bigger it could have stood on the wall of the trailer with an overlap, smaller inside the wall. As it was it was literally just ON the edge – say 3/4 of an inch each side. The tank would have had to shift less than 3/4 of an inch to fall in. At which point – your tank tilts sideways, your tie down comes loose. Nope.

  5. And, this is why I’m not an author. I think, speak and write in the boring, factual tone. Mind you, it really helped me to write reports back when I was a spy, but those were never expected to be entertaining.

    • Unemotional, passive voice . . . yeah, I had to retrain when I started writing fiction instead of technical reports.

      • Xenophon

        I improved my tech reports when I stamped out passive voice. Excuse me… “Passive voice is to be avoided whenever possible.” [Ahem]

        Even saying “The committee decided that…” reads better that “A decision was made…”

  6. Good one, and glad you got it done, albeit with a ‘few minor’ issues… 😀

  7. Humor, a standup comic told me, is mostly setting up expectations and then subverting them. And you do it well!

  8. When I read about the flooded road, I filled in the rest of the environmental conditions, based on my own experience. This is the redneck version, which usually takes place on a Sunday.
    The road was flooded because of the recent rains, which were continuing. So, the entire thing is done in the rain.
    And the dark.
    Because although you set out to do this thing at first light, by the time your essential helper showed up, it was 11:00 AM. And he tells you he HAS to eat lunch because blood sugar.
    And then the tire on the trailer went flat.
    No spare.
    The garage closed 20 minutes ago, and that’s the only place you can get a reliable tire fix. While you search for the tools to dismount the tire, you send your tardy helper into the convenience store to see if they have inner tube repair kits.
    He returns almost immediately with the news that the convenience store has remaining one inner tube repair kit, and he thoughtfully also procured a $0.99 screwdriver and a $0.99 pliers, both professional grade pot metal, all found in the gaily colored “Home Essentials!” basket display co-located with the beer display.
    This latter bit explains why he found the item you sent him for so quickly.
    He considerately addresses his blood sugar issues with a delicious beer and a sausage sandwich.
    You set about removing the tire, removing and repairing the inner with a little tube of glue, a bottle of ether, a tiny cheese grater, and a square black band aid. In the rain.
    Your tardy helper helpfully offers advice about the weather, approaching darkness, and your alternative plans.
    It starts getting dark, and there are no flashlights, and then a fuse blows in the borrowed HiLux so that there are no rear lights. You scavenge a piece of tinfoil from your tardy partner’s sausage sandwich, wipe the mustard off thoroughly on the wet grass, dry it on your undershirt, wrap it around the burnt out fuse, and it works. After a fashion.
    Your tardy helper has another beer.

    This is the way it goes in redneck land. Much the same the world over, I expect.