Archives 2020

The Railway Child

“If I’m not here when you wake up in the morning I’ll be out,” I said to my wife.

“So if you’re not here you’re somewhere else?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. I’m only a woman. I would never have worked that out on my own.”

I let the sarcasm pass. What I meant, of course, was ‘I won’t be here to bring you a cup of tea.’ But judging by her expression she expected to survive.

I was off scouting. I’m halfway through book two. It’s a murder mystery. And if there’s one thing a murder mystery needs, it’s a body.

And if there’s one thing a body needs…

But where? That was what I was going to find out.

I climbed into the car well before sunrise.

No, I didn’t. Some mystic sixth sense came to me in the night. ‘Don’t wake her up to say goodbye,’ it said. ‘Not a wise career move…’

I parked the car in Grosmont which – if you know your Harry Potter – is where the train from platform 9¾ pulled into Hogwarts station.

Down the lane, across the bridge and turn right onto the bridleway.

My aim was to walk along by the side of the river. I’d fondly imagined a nice, straight path by a nice, straight river.

The Esk had other ideas. It twisted and turned and meandered along like a candidate for a Geography text book. Ox-bow lakes – it was all coming back to me.

But twists and turns and meanders were no use to me. The river was on the right, I was heading left.

So were the pheasants. Two of them sauntered casually across the track in front of me.

The field on my right was full of pheasants. I’d never seen so many. A nye, a bevy, a covey of pheasants. But Google was saving the best until last. A bouquet of pheasants.

The sort of collective nouns that make you wish you were Dr Watson. ‘Great Scott, Holmes,’ I ejaculated. ‘A parliament of rooks!’

Sorry. Where was I?

Trying to reach the river. Well, it’s down there on the right and here’s a convenient track. I’d fondly imagined the farmer in my book ploughing a field. ‘That’s his alibi? A ploughed field? That isn’t going to testify, is it?’

Forget that. The track was so wet it looked like his only option would be planting rice.

The track led to a five-barred gate. Penalty for failing to close this gate £1,000. Fair enough, I closed it behind me.

…And found myself standing on a railway line. Trains on the Whitby – Middlesbrough line are few and far between. But it’s still probably not a good idea to stand on the tracks.

There was another gate between me and the river.

Stuck. Jammed. Wouldn’t open.

Regular readers will know that climbing over a gate does not end well for me.

Four years ago on the Pennine Way it led to me falling in a bog. So dramatically that I became the first person to walk a mile of England’s longest national trail in his underpants, while everything else dried out. A year later I confidently climbed over a gate on the North York Moors. And found myself inside Fylingdales, one of the UK’s missile defence bases.

So I should know better than to climb a gate. But I’m on my own. Alex can usually be relied on to talk sense into me. Carelessly, he’s 200 miles away in Edinburgh.

I’m also just plain useless at climbing over gates. As I get older I have the grace and agility of a plank of wood.

And sure enough, 20 seconds later I’m neatly balanced on the gate. One leg one side, one leg the other side and my weight resting squarely on my testicles.

And no closer to the river. The pheasants look on and sadly shake their heads…

Absolutely brilliant, great plot, fantastic characters.

I got to halfway in no time and then couldn’t put it down, finished it in one sitting. Leaves you wanting to know more, can’t wait for Brady 2. Has brought back my love of reading.”

Salt in the Wounds’ is now available in paperback and on your Kindle

“I’ll See Your Tripe…”

It’s one of the fundamental questions of life isn’t it? Why do fish and chips taste better eaten with your fingers? In the fresh air, by the sea, eaten with your fingers.

And let’s make those namby-pamby boxes illegal. Come on, Boris! Bring that little square of greaseproof paper back. Haddock n’ chips wrapped in last week’s Sunday People.

Chip forks can go at the same time.

I’ve checked. There’s a vacant spit in the underworld. Just between the guy who invented the party bag and the person who first said ‘paperless office.’ The smug so-and-so who came up with the chip fork will slot in nicely. Another miscreant roasting for eternity…

Sorry, I was ranting.

Fundamental questions…

There’s another one. Of possibly even greater import.

Do you have mushy peas with your fish and chips?

Of course you do!

Unless you’re my wife…

I sent her the opening chapters of the latest book. “It’s alright,” she said. “But…”

“But what?”

“He’s bought her mushy peas with the fish and chips.”

“So?”

“No woman likes mushy peas.”

“You don’t.”

“No. Not just me. No woman likes mushy peas.”

What man doesn’t seize the chance to prove his wife wrong? And a survey of my pals on Facebook would soon sort that.

And what could be more scientific? More clinically accurate? If I’m not on SAGE by this time next week I’ll be phoning Matt Hancock…

Especially as the result was overwhelming. 53 to 37 in my favour. (Plus one ‘write-in’ from the USA saying, ‘What the £$%& are mushy peas?’)

Unbelievably, my wife refused to accept the result. “Your sample is skewed,” she said. “Everyone you’ve asked is the same age as you. Ask your daughter.”

I didn’t have to. One of my pals replied almost instantly. ‘My daughter is 30 and she looovves mushy peas.’

What more evidence could anyone need?

And then the discussion disappeared down the rabbit hole.

My mum (from Yorkshire) cooked tons of the things. There was a good supply over the weekend. They sat in the pan, cooked but cold. Every time she went past Mum ate a spoonful. Yes, cold!

Followed by several vomiting emojis…

After that the discussion went even further downhill.

Downhill – but interesting.

A word of warning. If you’re from the South, proceed with caution. And if you’re a vegetarian, don’t go any further.

My grandma used to add mint to them if we were having them with a Sunday roast like lamb.

And then the T word tiptoed into the discussion…

Mushy peas must have been hell if you didn’t like them. Bit like tripe in milk, but let’s not go there (face that has seen a ghost emoji…)

Memories were dredged, recipes were compared. A high-stakes game of poker ensued…

Mum cooked tripe in the pressure cooker and served it with a white sauce made from the liquor – thickened it with cornflour.

That looked like the winner until Phyllis swaggered into the saloon. Clearly, a woman who should have played poker for a living. She saw everyone’s tripe and raised them…

My mum loved tripe and worse still, she loved cow’s udder. Don’t think I’ve seen that on sale for 60 years.

Cow’s udder? Everyone blinked – or vomited – and folded. Phyllis scooped the pot.

I crept off to Google to do my research. And here’s Samuel Pepys in October 1660. Mr Creed and I to the Leg in King Street, where he and I had a good udder to dinner.

53-37 and Samuel Pepys. My wife got off lightly with a side order of mushy peas. Let’s see how she copes with tonight’s delicacy.

Humble pie…

I really enjoyed my first meeting with Michael Brady. His story drew me in from the first page. I need Book 2…” ‘Salt in the Wounds’ is now available on Amazon.

“I Understand how you Feel…”

Legend has it that the KGB came for you at four in the morning. You were woken up. Your brain was foggy. You accepted your fate. Scratched your name on the wall of the Lubyanka…

You know what I’ve always wondered?

Did they let you have a wee before they hauled you off?

Sadly that’s the only thing I want at four in the morning.

That’s what I needed last Monday. And that’s when the KGB came knocking on my door.

Or their 2020 successors.

Amazon.

Like all authors I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon.

They’re just like Angela Miller.

All my teenage years spent asking her out. All the pain, the rejection, the hoops I had to jump through…

Yep, Amazon are exactly the same.

Four in the morning and foolishly – very, very foolishly – I open my e-mails.

‘The paperback will be published by now,’ I think. The paperback of my first novel. ‘Whoop’ will be a significant understatement.

No, it’s not published. Instead of a little box inviting you to ‘buy now’ there’s a dash. And two lines of deathly prose from Amazon. This product is currently unavailable. We don’t know when – or if – it will be available.

The KGB may as well be hammering on the door. I’m wide awake.

What on earth have Amazon done? I need to get in touch with them.

Now.

I could sit up in bed – yes, next to my gently sleeping wife – and dictate an e-mail straight into my phone.

“Hey, Siri! Open e-mail!”

I could do that, but the life insurance wouldn’t pay out. They’d say it was a ‘stupid and reckless act, knowingly endangering my own life.’

And they’d be right.

So I stumble downstairs.

The next few days are stressful. I send e-mails. I make phone calls. The paperback is available to me if I want to buy an ‘author copy.’ But the mighty ’Zon refuse to make it available to anyone else. To the queue of people – alright, we’re not talking Harrods on Boxing Day, but still a few – who want to buy it.

Amazon are unfailingly polite. They hope I’m keeping well. They hope I ‘stay safe in these difficult times.’

They ‘remain in the best of dispositions for any future enquiries’ I may have.

But nothing happens. And there’s nothing I can do. They have me over a barrel. Between a rock and a hard place. By the short and curlies.

Wednesday. I check my e-mail again – my bladder is nothing if not punctual.

And I finally go mad.

Four in the morning and I’m in full rant mode.

‘I understand how you feel’ one of the Amazon team carelessly types.

No, you do not understand how I feel.

Writing a book is supposedly the closest a man ever gets to giving birth…

And I’ve delivered a bouncing baby. But the midwife is refusing to let me see it.

I understand how you feel? That’s like me looking solicitously as my wife when she’s eight months pregnant. ‘You can’t sleep lying down and you can’t sleep sitting up, darling? Your boobs are hurting and you’re fed up to the back teeth? And at the end of it all you’re going to have to give birth which everyone says stings a little bit? Yes, I’ve got a bad back so I understand exactly how you feel…’

‘You’re going through the menopause? You’re getting forgetful and you’re not sure if it’s the menopause or dementia? And you’re having random, violent hot flushes? Yes, the heater in the car was too high this afternoon. So of course, sweetheart. I understand exactly how you feel…’

I’m delighted to say that the battle with Amazon was eventually won. You can buy the paperback and the Kindle version of ‘Salt in the Wounds’ right here.

Bill the Bogeyman

Let me start with an apology. If you’re forced to self-isolate, it’s my fault.

If Boris comes round and bricks you up in your house… Yep, that would be me.

The Government is now relying on me for data. I’m part of the Covid-19 testing programme.

What could possibly go wrong?

My wife got the e-mail. It could even have been a letter. I don’t know. But she offered me some money. I said yes.

“What do I have to do?”

“Looking at this, stick a swab up your nose.”

Fifty quid. It seemed a lot for ten minutes’ work. Then again, if the Government can give HS2 enough money to employ 17 PR firms they can give me fifty notes to stick a lollipop stick up my nose.

The appointed day arrived.

I was expecting Chris Witty to turn up in a full hazmat suit. And flanked by a squadron of motorcycle outriders.

Instead an assistant bank manager turned up. Driving a Ford Fiesta.

I’m not sure I even caught his name. He didn’t seem very sure on a lot of things. His name could well have been one of them.

The ABM consulted his notes – scribbled on a sheet of A4 – and launched into a series of probing questions.

“Have you got Covid-19?”

“No.

“Do you think you’ve had Covid-19?”

“No.”

“Are you currently self-isolating?”

“As I’m standing on the doorstep talking to you, no.”

He fed this crucial information into the very latest iPad. It was instantly and wirelessly whizzed back to London where a state-of-the-art supercomputer crunched the numbers and gave Boris the intel.

“I’m really, sorry,” he said. “I can’t get a signal on my phone. Been meaning to upgrade for months. I couldn’t use your wi-fi could I? And I’ve deleted all your answers. I’m sorry. Could we start again?”

But the moment finally came…

“Would you like a cup of tea while you’re waiting?” I said to the ABM.

“Better not. Ha ha. Don’t want to contaminate your cups.”

Not a reply which filled me with a huge amount of confidence…

By now my beloved had done her test. She seemed to have survived. So naturally I allowed her to do mine.

I was ordered to wash my hands and blow my nose. “And then sit in the chair.”

She stepped towards me with what looked like a long plastic knitting needle and a test tube full of urine.

“What do you have to do?”

“Swab your nose and your throat.”

“Does it matter which way round we do it?”

She gave me one of her patient looks. “Not at all, darling. I’m sure most people choose to stick it up their nose first and then down their throat.”

“Not so far down my throat that you make me sick. I don’t want to puke all over Bill the Bogeyman’s equipment.”

“Just shut up and open wide.”

She rummaged around in my tonsils.

“And now your nose. Tip your head back, dear.”

“Both nostrils?”

“You can’t have too much of a good thing, sweetheart.”

I had a moment of panic. Wasn’t this how Russian secret agents were trained to kill people? A knitting needle up the nose? Straight into the brain…

Yes, officer. I was doing his Covid test. I’d just pushed it up his nose when I sneezed. Then the cat knocked my arm. Just to make sure. Counselling? No, no, I don’t think I’ll need counselling…

That was last week. We’ve not heard anything. Either we’ve tested negative – or the ABM is still sitting in his Fiesta trying to remember our wi-fi password…

Loved this book! The sort of book that really sucks you into the story. The characters were likeable, the dialogue witty and natural. Can’t wait for the next one…’

My first novel, Salt in the Wounds, is now available on Amazon.

Two Have Fun in the Bathroom

Come here,” he said.

She stepped obediently towards him. He reached his hand out. Pulled the bow. The wisp of black silk slid to the ground.

His eyes held hers.

In the shower,” he said. “Now.”

She knew better than to disobey him…

Well, that’s this morning’s fantasy over. Is that what you thought when you saw the title? Really? Don’t you know how long we’ve been married…

Saturday morning. I took my lovely wife a cup of tea in bed. “Sorry,” she said, bleary-eyed, “I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t mean to sleep in.”

“No problem, sweetheart” I said. “If you’re tired and want to clean the bathroom another day that’s fine.”

“No,” she said. “We’ll still do it.”

“Honestly, darling, I don’t mind. Another day is fine.”

“We’re cleaning the bathroom,” she said. Yes, in that tone of voice.

…Which rather scuppered my plans.

I’d been planning a morning’s writing. And it was Saturday. A day when my thoughts traditionally turn to the round ball…

“Are you sure you’re alright, darling?” I made one final try over breakfast. “You look a little run down.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, don’t forget you need to see your mum today.”

“Not until this afternoon.”

Ten minutes later I was carrying every cleaning implement we own – plus Mr Muscle’s entire range – upstairs. And five minute after that I was balanced precariously on top of a stool.

“There,” she commanded. “Right in that corner. And use some elbow grease.”

And then I was doing the same in the shower. “Right up to the top. And you can clean the shower head while you’re up there.”

Who would have thought a shower head could get dirty? Clean water pouring through it every morning. Ah well, you live and learn, I thought, as limescale rained merrily down on me…

Then it was toothbrush time. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup of tea, sweetheart?” I said, trying a hopeful shot at goal from 50 yards.

“No, you can have a break when the shower’s clean.” Not the words you want to hear when you’re using a toothbrush to clean it. But eventually the tray that holds the shower gel was shining like the proverbial new penny.

And then it was the glass. “I probably ought to go downstairs and put the breakfast things in the dishwasher.”

“You mean you probably ought to go and look at the football forum.”

That’s the problem with our marriage. My cunning plans are long past their sell by date. I need new excuses. Maybe I could embrace advancing years as a get out clause? ‘What was that, dear? Trouble with my hearing aid…’

The toothbrush gave way to a cloth. A vigorous 15 minutes of squirt n’ rub followed. And you know what? I felt a tad vulnerable. There I was on my hands and knees in the shower…

“Whoops!” my wife said – sounding more like Dick Dastardly than Penelope Pitstop – “I nearly knocked the shower tap on, darling. That would have been funny wouldn’t it?”

Hilarious, dear.

I crawled out of the shower on my hands and knees. I was so stiff I couldn’t get up.

…And carried on crawling until I reached the top of the stairs. Where – and this will surprise you – I reached for my phone.

“Caught you. I knew you’d be reading a football forum.”

“Well, I’m not, so there.”

“What are you reading then?”

“Twitter.”

“What about?”

“Football.”

“Anyway, we’re finished.”

“Thank God,” I said, “I need a wee.”

“What? In my clean toilet? I just put bleach down it. You’ll have to wait. Or crawl downstairs…”

My first novel, Salt in the Wounds, is now available on the Kindle.

Absolutely brilliant story that had me hooked from the first chapter. I was intending to read a few chapters and then do the ironing. Ended up reading the whole book in a day and the ironing was forgotten. I can’t wait for the second book!”

The Hunter Gatherer

“I’m going into the garden,” I announced.

My wife raised her eyebrows.

She did that inverted commas thing with her fingers. The one she knows annoys me so much. “More ‘creative thinking,’ dear? Don’t forget your glass of red wine.”

“I’m going to bring the harvest in,” I said, reaching for a basket.

It’s a sore point in our marriage. My wife does 90% of the work in the garden (maybe adding the extra 9% would be more accurate…) and I claim 50% of the credit.

Especially at this time of year.

I suspect a traditional education is to blame. Harvest festival is deeply embedded in my psyche. And while Beverley ploughs the fields and scatters – so to speak – I like to harvest the ripe fruits in the garden. (No, I couldn’t remember the words to All Things Bright and Beautiful. I had to Google them. Maybe not such a traditional education after all…)

“So what exactly are you going to harvest?” she demanded.

“The plums,” I said.

“Well don’t eat too many. You know what they do to you.”

The sort of useful advice Monty should dispense on Gardeners’ World…

Basket in hand I headed out into the sunshine. The plums were the clear winner. Crop of the Year by a country mile. The tomatoes – last year’s winner – hadn’t even come close. “Sunshine at the wrong time of the year,” my wife said knowingly. If you say so, dear…

If I’m being picky – ha, ha – I was about three days too late. The ideal time would have been the middle of the week. But we were on parent duty. So let’s make a belated start.

Blimey that one feels juicy. Perfect. Just perfect.

Don’t eat too many. You know what they do to you.”

Well one isn’t going to hurt is it?

My basket fills up rapidly. And then, from nowhere, an evil spirit lands on my shoulder.

How are you doing, mate? That first one tasted good, didn’t it? And look at that one there. Soft, ripe, yielding… Nah, don’t bother washing it. That’s for wimps. See, you knew it’d taste good. And this is what men do. You’re a hunter-gatherer, providing for his family. And nothing tastes better than fresh fruit off the tree…

I walk proudly back inside. “The hunter-gatherer has gathered,” I say.

“Took you a long time,” Mrs H-G replies. “Anyway, now you need to stew them. And then I’ll freeze them.”

“And then you’ll make plum crumble?” I ask optimistically.

“If you insist.”

I did insist. Bluntly I couldn’t see much point in the freezer being involved. But it’s a long winter. I suppose we need to lay in stores. Stock up the back of our cave…

I set to work. Slice ’em in half, squeeze the stone out, into the pan.

And he was back.

How many’s that in the pan then? Seven or eight? Well, fair’s fair. You’re entitled to one now. Maybe another one. There’s loads. Of course she won’t notice…

Beverley glanced into the pan. “Is that all?” she said. “I thought there’d be more than that.”

“It always looks less when you start to stew them, dear.”

“And since when were you an expert on stewing fruit?”

That was on Sunday. “What do you want to eat tonight?” the hunter-gatherer’s loving wife asked on Monday afternoon.

“If it’s all the same to you… Well… Not very much.”

“Why not?”

“Well… I don’t feel very well. Haven’t fell very well all day.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Upset – ”

At which point our hunter-gatherer rushed out of the cave, grabbed a handful of leaves and ran into the bushes…

My first novel – ‘Salt in the Wounds’ – will be published in the next seven days. Here it is on Amazon

The Volkswagen BackSpasm

“All set?”

“You sure you don’t want me to drive?”

No. With a full Scottish – a full English minus beans plus haggis – inside me I want to drive. I have to drive.

Sitting in the passenger seat checking my e-mails as my beloved hurtles along a narrow country lane isn’t what my digestive system needs…

And it’s a long way. Mid-afternoon according to whatever app we’re using to tell us where the speed cameras are…

Or possibly not.

Mid-afternoon may be a touch optimistic.

“There’s something wrong with the car.” We’re 500 yards down the road when I deliver this grim verdict.

“What do you mean there’s something wrong with the car?”

A two second glance is enough. “We’ve got a flat tyre.”

Cast your mind back to the old days. You’ve got a flat. It’s raining. You dive into the nearest shop. ‘Where’s the nearest garage?’ ‘Dunno, mate, I don’t drive.’

Or you search for a phone box. Someone’s stolen the Yellow Pages.

What’s that? Change it myself? My wife values her life. And she knows the limits of my mechanical expertise. Two hundred miles when I’ve changed a wheel and we haven’t got a spare? Nae chance, as the locals would say.

“There are four,” she says, consulting her phone.

“Four? In a town this size?”

We’re in St Andrews. We’ve dropped Alex’s things off in Edinburgh and taken him up to see his girlfriend.

We’ve never been to St Andrews.

The beach, the harbour, the ruined cathedral. And the industrial estate, to complete the sightseeing.

Still, four tyre and battery places. And only a very slow, very careful drive away.

Kwik-Fit’s the first one. “Aye, nae bother. We can do it tomorrow afternoon.”

I wish I’d taken a photo. Beverley’s expression was something to behold.

“I’d prefer not to spend another night in St Andrews,” she said. Or words to that effect.

She wouldn’t have. The second garage could do it. But not until the middle of the afternoon.

“Where’s the next one?”

It didn’t matter. “Nae chance this week, I’m afraid.”

“What’s going on in this town?” I said. “It’s half the size of home, has twice as many tyre places and they’re all booked solid. Home of golf my £$%&. Home of the puncture more like.”

It’s always darkest before the dawn. The Fife Auto Centre rode to the rescue.

The three of us – me, my wife and my indigestion – were finally on the way home.

And as we crossed the Forth Road Bridge we had a depressing conversation.

“I’m going to have to change the car. It’s got to that stage. That’s two visits to a garage in two months.”

“It was a tyre.”

“It’s a sign.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she said. For some obscure reason she was staring at me. “Things do reach an age where everything starts to drop off. Or stops working…”

Was that one of her ‘subtle’ comments? No, definitely not.

“What are you going to get?”

“I might go back to a Golf,” I said. “Maybe a GTI or whatever the boy racer ones are called these days.”

“Er…” she said.

“What?”

“What about your back?”

And that, gentle reader, is the sad truth. That’s the determining factor in buying a new car. Not performance. Not economy. Not carbon emissions.

How low is it? Can I get into the damn thing without injuring my back?

The story of my life, told in cars.

Battered Mini – slightly less battered Mini – first ‘proper’ car – my beloved original Scirocco – sensible family car – the very sensible Tiguan that carried the kids backwards and forwards to uni…

And now. The final humiliation.

A Volkswagen BackSpasm…

His best friend’s been murdered, his daughter’s in danger

There’s only one answer. Going back to his old life

The one that cost him his wife…

My first novel – Salt in the Wounds – will be published on Tuesday September 29th

Shades in the Rain

It’s quite alarming how quickly you lose your fitness. Well, it is at my age.

It’s not a long, lingering goodbye. There’s none of that, ‘This is not goodbye, just au revoir’ nonsense.

“Right, mate. That’s it. I’m off. See ya. Bye.”

And it’s gone.

Over the hills and far away. And you’re too knackered to run after it.

I was quite fit in the early weeks of lockdown. Two miles every morning. Then pop my shades on so the Government drones didn’t recognise me and a mile in the afternoon as well.

Then Alex and I decided we wouldn’t do a walk this year.

My motivation took a dip.

And then I started writing my novel.

The fat lady belted out the Lost Fitness Blues…

I’ve no doubt there are plenty of people out there who do five miles in the morning and 5,000 words in the afternoon. Huh. The sort of people who like porridge made with salt and water.

For me, writing and walking are mutually exclusive. I can get up at 6:00 and walk a couple of miles or I can write 1,000 words. This summer I chose the latter. And I’m paying the price.

Fifteen months ago Alex and I walked 125 miles round County Kerry. I walked up the near-vertical Lack Road and through Windy Gap. Limped the 15 miles from Kenmare to Killarney on the last day. And I got out of bed that morning and thought, ‘I’m in pain. A lot of pain. But it’s only 15 miles.’

Pain? That was before I put my boot on. The boot that still contained a 50/50 mixture of Irish bog and cow £$%&.

So here I am, the beginning of September and I’m in the Last Chance Saloon. I’ve got four days.

Alex is back from St Andrew. Three weeks – can you believe – to help his girlfriend ‘move into her new flat.’ There must have been a lot of boxes…

But he’s here and – assuming the Heavens dinnae open – we’ve four more walks before he goes back to Edinburgh.

Four more walks of two miles. That’s my whack at the moment. Write all morning, Two miles in the afternoon. My fitness isn’t impressed. ‘I might come back. But you’re going to have to do a lot more than that.’

But what happens when my will power is 200 miles up the Great North Road?

He posed that very question. “You’re going to keep doing this when I’ve gone back, aren’t you, Dad?”

“When it’s cold and dark and the cliff top’s frozen and muddy?”

“Duh, Dad. it can’t be frozen and muddy at the same time.”

Quite so. He has an irritating habit of correcting me. And saying ‘that’s bollocks’ in response to some of my well-crafted monologues.

But it’s a small price to pay. Ask me to name one thing, one pleasure, that being a dad has given me and it’s walking with Alex. So let’s make the most of it.

And here we are. A mile or so from the car and it’s a beautiful day. The sun’s shining and we’ve both got our shorts and sunglasses on.

Correction. It’s September. The sun was shining. And what’s that I feel? A spot of rain. If I want to look stupid I wear a hat. But wearing sunglasses when it’s raining comes a close second. But I can’t take them off because they’re my prescription sunglasses. If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to see the edge of the cliff.

So a 20 minute trudge back to the car. Shades in the rain. We did our best to look cool…

I’m delighted to say that my first novel – Salt in the Wounds – will be published on September 29th. You can order it from Amazon by clicking this link.

The Algorithm

As a writer your life is controlled by a Single Deity.

It dictates your mood, your income, your happiness.

It’s a benevolent God that smiles on you.

Or a vengeful God that flicks you casually into the outer darkness.

It’s the Amazon Algorithm.

It’s all knowing. All powerful. Remorselessly accurate.

‘Don’t sell your book to your friends and family,’ the gurus yell. ‘The only thing they have in common is you. All you’ll do is confuse the Algorithm.’

No, you must sell your book to a carefully targeted niche audience. Better 50 people who enjoy long country walks in bondage gear than a hundred random friends.

(As if any writer has a hundred friends. Only two to go and I’ve got three…)

‘Amazon know everything you’ve ever bought. Everything you’ve ever looked at. They know what people like you have bought. How can the Great God Algorithm not be right?’

It’s difficult to argue with such cold, calculating logic.

Until you see what the algorithm recommended for me on Thursday morning.

A cordless power drill – as regular readers know, I run a mile from any hint of DIY

Elemis skin care – sadly, around 20 years too late

A mini exercise bike – which looks exactly like the tiny little bikes clowns ride in circuses

A Hawaiian shirt – obviously, as the last shirt I bought was a bottle green rugby shirt

And a men’s ‘get healthy’ skipping rope – a.k.a ‘the marriage wrecker…’

You’ve woken me up. What’s that awful thumping noise? And why are you gasping for breath?”

Sorry. I was skipping. In the hall. In my Hawaiian shirt.”

My apologies. I appreciate that the mental image of a grey-haired, slightly overweight, middle-aged writer in a Hawaiian shirt maybe too much. Especially one twirling a skipping rope round his head…

All this followed hot on the heels of last month’s laser-precision recommendation for me: an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I’d been planning a quiet afternoon’s editing. Clearly Amazon thought I might fancy invading Afghanistan…

But so much for rugged, manly things like power drills and battle tanks.

The algorithm is about to see me in a new light.

Every Wednesday I do half an hour of Facebook Live. In theory I talk about writing: in reality I talk about my wife’s taste in gin.

I do this from a state of the art broadcasting studio – or the dining room, as we sometimes call it. My phone’s propped up on a stand, which sits comfortably on eight paperbacks. I smile cheerfully, and start chattering away at 7:00 every Wednesday night.

So far, it’s worked perfectly. The set-up’s fine and – thanks to the evening sun shining in through the window – the lighting’s even finer.

But as you may have noticed, summer is drawing to a close. It’s getting darker and it’s raining every day. Wednesday’s broadcast was cloaked in shadows…

And so I’ve pressed ‘buy now.’ What have I bought? A Selfie Light Ring.

An hour ago I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then someone told me her teenage daughter needed one. ‘For her YouTube videos.’

And there it was on Amazon. ‘Easy to assemble’ and ‘good value’ – two boxes a clumsy miser always likes to tick.

It comes with three light modes (I’ll have ‘most flattering’ please), ten brightness levels, an adjustable phone holder and a tripod stand. So much for resting on old paperbacks: eat your heart out, Hollywood…

Sadly, I told my wife about it. “Oh, look,” she said, “It says it’s ideal for make-up videos. You’ll be the envy of teenage girls on TikTok. And if the writing doesn’t work out you’ll have another career to fall back on…”

This one was written on Friday August 28th: I’m now into my final edits on Salt in the Wounds and the aim is for it to go off for formatting – the Kindle version and the paperback – by September 11th. Publication is tentatively set for Monday September 28th.

No Price to Pay

I can’t work out how long it’s been.

Twenty years?

Twenty-five?

But it’s come to an end.

Ah, I see what you were thinking. She’s finally lost patience. Come to her senses. Can’t say he wasn’t warned…

No, you’re wrong. Although if I don’t cut the grass that could change.

I’ve left my office. Given it up. Stopped paying the rent. Joined the legion of people who’ve decided they can work from home. Who don’t need to drive into town, park the car, walk to work, make a cup of tea, discuss last night’s football and finally turn their computer on.

As I mentioned last week, it’s come at some sartorial cost. I’m wearing a green rugby shirt and red shorts today.

“Shall I buy you a yellow belt, dear? I hadn’t realised the traffic light look was the new black.”

But there’s a bigger price to pay. Yes, bigger than my wife’s sarcasm.

Storage.

Where the hell to put it all.

Right now half my stuff – and a man accumulates a lot of ‘stuff’ in 25 years – is in Dan’s bedroom. Let’s hope he doesn’t come home unexpectedly. There’d be a few hurdles between him and a good night’s sleep.

The other half? It’s in my car.

Not so much a VW Tiguan as a VW Lockup.

Clearly ‘something will have to be done.’ Maybe clear out my wardrobe. If I got rid of all the clothes that don’t fit me there’d be an office-worth of storage.

But there are compensations. Big compensations. Chauffeuring sundry boxes and files around town is not all bad news.

I’m being paid in memories.

Look what I’ve found. Some early notes. An early ancestor of these columns. The first one’s headed Monday September 3rd.

…And by some super-sleuth detective work – thanks Google – I can work out it’s the first Monday in September, 2001. Dan was 7, Ellie was 5. And little Alex? A month short of his third birthday.

Not much happened on Monday. I complained that I was turning into my dad. Couldn’t go into a room where the kids were watching TV without saying, ‘Turn it down.’

Blimey, has that wheel ever turned full circle. “Turn it up will you, love?”

“What, again?”

“Think I might be going a bit deaf…”

So what happened on Tuesday? An auspicious day: the day before the children went back to school. And here I am tucking my youngest son into bed. And after his bedtime story having ‘what’s close to our normal conversation.’

Shall we say your prayers?”

Dad, you put your hands together like this.”

I can’t twist them like that. My hands are too big.”

No, like this, Daddy.”

Come on, I’m tired. God bless Mummy.”

God bless Mummy God bless Daddy God bless Grammar and Grandpa God bless Daniel and Ellie and most of all God bless big Alex.”

Big Alex? When did you become big Alex?”

I’m starting nursery tomorrow.”

Oh, OK. Sweet dreams. Love you lots.”

And that was that. Or so I thought. I suspect I was heading for a beer. But he called me back.

Daddy!”

What, treasure?”

Remember, Daddy. It’s wrong to kick people.”

So where did that particular gem of wisdom come from? A lecture delivered to his sister quite probably.

Once again I sidle towards the door. But he calls me back again.

What now, love?”

Daddy.”

What is it?”

I forgot to give you a kiss. And tell you I love you.”

Where are the tissues? A car full of boxes? It’s no price to pay.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling broody. Where’s my beloved? It may not be too late…