Archives November 2020

The Ten Minute Warning

When I were nowt but a nipper we ’ad t’four minute warning.

The Cold War. Four minutes. The time you had before a Russian missile landed on your head. “Only four minutes left. What would you do?” we cheerfully asked each other as teenagers.

“Ask Angela Miller out again,” I dolefully replied. “Couldn’t say she was washing her hair, could she…”

Anyway I’m married now. Whoops, insert ‘happily…’

And the Cold War is long gone.

Except…

I still need a four minute warning. A ten minute warning if I’m honest. And if I don’t get it then you can forget the Cold War. It’s the Cold Tongue War…

The ten minute warning is integral to married life. It’s the glue that binds man and wife. If I remember correctly, part of the service…

Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and protect him and phone him ten minutes before thou art due to come home?

I will…

‘I’m going out,’ your lovely wife declares.

‘OK, when will you be back?’

‘Well, it’s Saturday afternoon, so it’s going to be busy. A couple of hours?’

‘OK, give me a ring when you’re on the way back.’

‘While I’m out… Can you tidy the kitchen? And put the rubbish out?’

‘Of course, sweetheart.’

But not now. Football’s on the telly and the big race is off in half an hour. Two hours of peace. Is it too early to have a beer? I don’t think so…

Not quite two hours, of course.

‘I’m just leaving town, darling. I’ll be home in ten minutes.’

Ker-pow! as old Batman used to say. Ten minutes to tidy the kitchen, get rid of the rubbish – and as she’s walking through the door the kettle’s boiling.

‘I knew you’d want a cup of tea, darling.’

‘Oh, darling. You are wonderful. I’m so lucky.’

Well, so much for the theory. Last Sunday was the practice. The mother-in-law’s birthday. She was coming round for lunch.

“I’ll be about an hour. Make sure you set the table and get a bottle of white wine.”

“No problem.”

“Don’t – DON’T – still be sitting there writing when I come back.”

As if I would be. Twenty-seven years of married bliss? Ten minutes is all I need.

Assuming I get a ten minute warning.

I didn’t.

You can imagine the rest…

Then there’s this other thing your wife does. She asks you to peel the potatoes. Now, if you’re newly married you’ll just think, ‘Oh, she wants me to peel the potatoes.’

Older, wiser heads recognise a hand grenade lobbed casually into the lounge.

‘Can you give me a hand? Come and peel the potatoes?’

‘Yep, sure. I’ll be there in a minute.’

Now, not for one second do you mean you’ll be there in sixty seconds. No, sir. What you mean is, ‘Yes, I’ll come and peel the spuds but I know you don’t need it doing right now, so I’ll just watch the end of the footy.’

There’s absolutely no intention NOT to do the spuds. Just a calm, rational ordering of priorities.

And there you are. You’ve finished – regrettably – your craft IPA, the ref’s blown the final whistle, and now it’s time to peel the potatoes. You walk through to the kitchen.

‘Right, I’m here. Ready to peel the spuds.’

‘I’ve done them.’

‘What do you mean you’ve done them?’

‘I got fed up of waiting.’

‘But you don’t need them now.’

‘No, but I needed the space.’

So you slink away feeling guilty. You were definitely going to help. Definitely. No question.

But it’s too late. Your wife’s placed another tick. No, not in the ‘peeled potato’ column.

Couch potato…

Well plotted. Great characters. Set in a place I love. What’s not to love about Salt in the Wounds? Looking forward to hearing more about Michael Brady.”

The River Runs Deep – the next book in the Michael Brady series – is now available to pre-order on Amazon.

The Soggy Middle

Last Friday. Three conversations with my wife.

8:30 “I got on the scales this morning. Must lose weight before Christmas.”

11:30 “I’m just having one of these new chocolate biscuits with my coffee.”

3:30 “It must be five o’clock by now. Shall I open a bottle of wine?”

I’m currently half way through my second novel. The euphoria of the opening chapters has worn off. I’m a long way from the end. I’m in what writers refer to as ‘the soggy middle.’

I said as much to my beloved.

She gazed lovingly at me – in my sagging track suit bottoms.

Yes, her reply featured ‘soggy middle’ – or words to that effect.

So – how many times have I written this in my life? – something has to be done.

I am not fit. The words ‘me’ and ‘fitness’ are not so much in different postcodes as at opposite ends of the country.

Last year I walked round County Kerry with my youngest son. I was 3kg heavier than I wanted to be when I sent off. And now I’m 4kg heavier than that.

What has caused this sad state of affairs? Simple folk would say, ‘your pathetic lack of will power.’

No, no. The answer is much more complicated.

There are two culprits.

Writing – and my wife.

Ladies first. She bought some ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ – which she then left in the kitchen. Well what’s a chap to do when he has a coffee? How did I know they were for Christmas?

Seriously, the box has ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ written on it. She buys it in the middle of November. And expects me to look at it for six weeks?

And writing. According to the research thinking uses a lot of calories – 320 a day just for the basics like remembering to put your socks on. So it follows that planning a murder – is the answer in Gina’s past? – must use about 1,000.

Sadly my waist hasn’t realised. Possibly because I find thinking a lot easier with a luxury chocolate biscuit for company.

Here’s an interesting question. I’m a stickler for imperial measures. I’ll have no truck with that kilometres malarkey. I know how many chains there are in a furlong and I know how many furlongs make a mile. I like talking about rods, poles and perches – and if something is less than a quid I’ll cheerfully convert it back to pounds, shillings and pence.

Long division of pounds, shillings and pence… There’s a phrase to make the teaching unions tremble…

So why do I express my weight in kilogrammes? Easy. If I express it in old money I’m a fat pig. Or ‘pat fig’ as I said after my extra glass of wine.

Kilogrammes? Bah, it’s just a number. A big number, but not one that conjures an image of the stones and pounds monster.

What I need is some retail therapy. I don’t mean I need to buy something. No thanks. My black track suit bottoms are fine. And when they’re in the wash I’ve got a navy blue pair.

No, I need to go and try something on in Next. See myself in those surround mirrors the changing rooms have. When my football team scores a goal I like watching it from ‘every angle.’ Seeing myself from ‘every angle’ is truly terrifying. But last time I tried something on in Next it shocked me into losing half a stone.

Anyway, time for some more creative thinking. Don’t tell her – helped by the new packet of LCBs that’s arrived in the kitchen.

Look at this. She’s written me a romantic love message on the packet.

Oh! A two word romantic love message…

So is the answer in Gina’s past? ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the follow-up to ‘Salt in the Wounds’ – is now available to pre-order on Amazon. It will be published in mid-January.

Salt in the Wounds is a brilliant book. Couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend. Can’t wait for book 2 to come out from this great author…”

The Whipping Boy

Where did we leave it last week? Ah yes, a slight accident with the bread. The wife had carelessly left me in charge.

A slight loss of concentration. Forgot the timings. Had to take a wild stab at it.

Don’t worry. She’s none the wiser. “Hmmm…” she said, “This bread hasn’t risen very much.”

I nodded my head sagely. Straight outta Bake Off. “Probably not kneaded enough, dear. Under-proved maybe…”

I got away with it.

And then it struck me. How had I not thought of it before? Twenty-seven years of marriage. The occasional helping of cold tongue pie. And now I have a way out. An excuse. A scapegoat.

A whipping boy.

His name’s Michael Brady. He’s the hero of my novels. And the answer to all my problems.

Forgot to put the bread in? “I was working on Brady, sweetheart.”

Forgot to put the bins out? “Brady, darling. Crucial part of the plot.”

Staring into space and ignoring my wife? “What was that, dear? Just doing some creative thinking. Yes, Brady…”

There’s only one problem Brady can’t protect me from.

Christmas.

Fortunately Amazon are on the case. But not with any degree of accuracy…

As regular readers know, last time there was an Amazon special event their all-knowing, all-powerful algorithm suggested – ‘based on your previous browsing history’ – that I might like to buy an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I thought about it – the woman next door will insist on parking in front of our drive – but it was the merest fraction too wide for the garage.

Now they’ve gone one better. As we limber up for Christmas and Amazon insist my life will be meaningless without Alexa in every room – ‘Alexa, lift the toilet seat for me will you?’ ‘I’m having trouble connecting to the internet’ – they’ve gone one step beyond.

Based on my previous browsing history they’ve suggested I buy…

A pogo jumper.

Not sure what a ‘pogo jumper’ is? It’s a pogo stick on steroids.

Seriously, I have fallen in a bog. I have walked a mile of the Pennine Way in my underpants. I have accidently applied a cow dung poultice to my own leg. Amazon think I should be let loose on a pogo jumper?

‘How did your husband die?’

‘He lost control of his pogo jumper. I told him not to use it on the pier…’

Maybe this is the modern equivalent of Demonic possession. Instead of your head turning through 360 degrees, instead of projectile vomiting if you see a crucifix, maybe your Amazon account goes mad…

Maybe the Dark Lord is down there in Hell, hacking into my browsing history. ‘What next? The battle tank didn’t work. Ah, yes. A rocket-powered pogo stick…’

Mind you, the Dark Lord won’t be needed if I don’t get organised for Christmas.

I’m thinking of buying the wife her own gin still.

You know, cut out the middleman…

Mind you, I’ve made a rod for my own back. Or whatever the maritime equivalent is. I’ve spent the year waxing lyrical about An Dúlamán Irish gin – made from seaweed hand picked by Donegal virgins at the full moon.

And I might need to be careful…

‘I wanted to make a batch specially for you, darling. I know how much you loved that Irish one. Yes, I’ll make it with seaweed. Well, no, sweetheart. Not ordinary seaweed off the beach. I thought when it was low-tide. Really low tide. You could harvest some rare seaweed. At the full moon. There’s that rock pool… Yes, it is a long way out. Yes, I know the tide rushes in and catches people. But I’m only thinking of you, darling…’

I’m delighted to say that ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the second book in the Michael Brady series – is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the link.

Brady stood up and walked over to the window. Tried to process what Frankie had told him. Tried to work out the implications. He turned round. Frankie was bending forward, reaching for her laptop. “You need to prove this to me,” he said. “And you need to do it now. Because there’s no way I’m going to sleep. Not knowing I’ve wasted two weeks. And that Kershaw has known all the time. And that…”

That someone has to tell Ian Foster.”

What did I say in the car? His life was unravelling. This is going to tear it apart.”

King Alfred’s Heir

As regular readers know, I have long considered myself to be the rightful King of Northumberland, descended – on my mother’s side – from King AElla.

Once I’d heard the story from Auntie Marjorie I needed no further convincing – despite the fact that she lived in a semi in Wakefield, rather than a hill fort commanding the Cheviots.

Then my lovely wife took a swab and researched my DNA. “Good God,” she said, “I thought you were from a long line of Yorkshire peasants. You’re Swedish.”

That was enough for me. AElla was dismissed. “So I’m a direct descendant of Eric Bloodaxe?”

“He was Norwegian.”

“Close enough.”

Sadly neither may be correct – especially if behaviour has any bearing on genetics.

If any royal blood pulses in my veins then AElla and Eric are out. And King Alfred is in.

Yes, that one. King of the Anglo-Saxons. And famously associated with cakes…

You know the story. Alfred is on the run from the Vikings. He takes refuge in the hut of a peasant woman. She asks him to watch her cakes – small loaves of bread – baking by the fire. But poor old Alfred is more worried about the Vikings. He lets the cakes burn and ‘is roundly scolded by the peasant woman.’

There you are. Cold tongue pie was alive and well in 871…

“I’m going round to my mother’s,” the peasant woman – whoops, beloved wife – said on Friday morning. “Can I leave you in charge of the bread?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “How many times have I done it before?”

Despite my City and Guilds as a master baker my wife insisted that I write it all down.

15 minutes, bread out of the basket, put it in the Le Creuset dish to bake. Twenty minutes for the rolls, 30 minutes for the bread.

“No problem,” I said. “What could possibly go wrong?”

My wife left. I spoke to Siri. “Hey, Siri, set a timer for…”

Sadly there was a problem. I’d been distracted. Writing the latest chapter. Easily done.

In the time it takes to think, ‘I’ll just finish this sentence and then I’ll set the timer…’ I forgot to set the timer.

So technically I didn’t say, ‘Hey, Siri.’ I said, “£$%& Siri, we’ve forgotten the timer.”

Give AI a couple of years and Siri will say, ‘What do you mean we?’

I took a stab at it. “Hey, Siri, set a timer for … ten minutes.”

Ten minutes passed. A very old car sounded its horn. I walked into the kitchen.

‘Hmmm…’ I thought. ‘That hasn’t risen very much.’

And then – for some unaccountable reason – I pressed the top of the bread. Which meant it had risen even less.

A vague feeling of unease crept over me. “Two minutes, mate,” I said to the bread. “I’ll give you another two minutes to rise. Or prove. Or whatever you’re supposed to do.”

It didn’t do anything. Sat there like a lump of dough. So I stuck it in the oven, already turned on for me because – obviously – finding gas mark 6 is a tricky business.

You know that saying? Lighting never strikes twice? It does…

Somehow between thinking, ‘Now I need to set the timer’ and walking back to my laptop, I forgot.

See above. Writing, distracted, easily done.

I took another wild guess. Let’s just say the bread was well baked. Well baked and squashed.

“Hmmm…” my wife said. “What’s happened here?”

I shrugged. “I did exactly as you told me, darling.”

I don’t think she suspects. So keep it to yourselves, will you?

Being chased by the Vikings is one thing. Being chased by my wife is quite another…

Have not enjoyed a book so much for years. If you enjoy a good detective story I cannot recommend highly enough, this one is a real 5 star page turner.

My new novel ‘Salt in the Wounds’ is now available on your Kindle and in paperback.