Archives October 2020

I’m in Tiers

“I may be a bit dim,” I said.

My wife smiled. “No, darling. No-one could possibly say that. Lots of people climb over gates onto railway lines.”

It’s a good job I’m a patient man…

“…As I understand it, we can go for a walk with them. But we’re not allowed to knock on their front door. And we can’t walk along the garden path with them.”

“Exactly.”

I’m often confused by instructions. This week’s Covid Tiers have taken my bewilderment to a whole new level.

Beverley had looked up from her phone ten minutes earlier.

“Leeds is going into Tier 3,” she said.

“When?”

“Monday.”

“Does that mean Eleanor can come over?”

“I don’t know. The rules aren’t very clear.”

The Beloved Daughter – now two years into her relationship with Could-Be-Serious and looking at houses – was due to visit. The first weekend in November.

Brilliant.

Except that…

“What do the rules say?”

“They should try to avoid leaving the area.”

“But it’s not illegal?”

“No. But she probably won’t want to risk it.”

“So the answer is simple. We drive over and see her.”

“When?”

“Sunday. The day before they go into Tier 3. And we can see Dan at the same time.”

“But he’s in his bubble.”

“But surely he can come out of his bubble to see his mum and dad? Can’t we all meet in the pub? What about Sunday lunch?”

“No. Definitely not. You can’t socialise inside.”

“So we can’t go to the pub and – even if she comes here – she can’t come inside?”

“Yep.”

“What can we do?”

“Go for a walk.”

At which point I got even more confused. Because – if I’m reading this right – you can go for a walk but you can’t stand in a garden.

“So we can walk on a path with them if it’s by a road? But not if it’s in a garden?”

“Yes.”

“Can we go into the park?”

“Maybe.”

“What about the beach if they come here?”

“It’ll be November. It’ll be too cold to socialise on the beach.”

I went online and read the Government’s explanation. Then I needed a drink.

“Don’t forget we’re going to the theatre next week,” my beloved said. “The e-mail says you have to wear a mask all through the play. But you can take it off if you’re eating and drinking.”

“Why?”

“Because you can’t eat and drink if you’re wearing a mask. I know you’ve tried it once or twice…”

“So the theatre is saying I have to wear a mask to watch the play?”

“Yes.”

“But if I buy a beer and drink it very, very slowly… I don’t have to wear a mask to watch the play.”

“Yes.”

“Maybe it’s because it’s a comedy,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“If you laugh you’re bound to send germs over a longer distance.”

“Possibly.”

“So the answer’s simple. The theatres can re-open but they can only do Waiting for Godot. Anyway,” I added, “There’s another thing I don’t understand.”

My wife rolled her eyes. Bake Off was on in five minutes. Was she losing interest?

“I’m allowed to sit inside – in a socially distanced theatre – and watch a play. But I’m not allowed to sit outside – in a socially distanced stadium – and watch a football match.”

“No.”

And here’s me part of the Government’s testing programme. My wife sticks a swab up my nose every Tuesday afternoon. Boris Johnson sends me a letter with an X in the ‘no Covid symptoms’ box.

“Don’t we get some special status for that?” I said.

“What do you want, dear, the Covid equivalent of diplomatic immunity?”

“Yes.”

“No…”

A great book – really looking forward to the sequel! A wide variety of likeable and engaging characters in a fantastic setting. Can’t wait to learn more about Brady’s backstory.” Salt in the Wounds is now available on your Kindle and in paperback.

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.