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?”


“What about?”


“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 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?


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.


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.


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?”


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…

The Writer’s Shirt

The Writer’s Shirt

What do the witches say to Macbeth? How do their prophecies influence his future actions?

The English curriculum is full of splendidly worthy questions – well, apart from this year.

That may or may not be one of them. I have no idea. I made it up.

Let me suggest an alternative. One that goes right to the heart of what it means to write. That defines the artist and his craft…

How do we know Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in his nightshirt?

Or that Dickens wrote Scrooge in his nightgown? That Ian Fleming wrote the early Bonds in a fetching pair of navy and white striped pyjamas?

Because every writer I know writes in his PJs. He gets out of bed, breaks wind, feeds the cat, runs a hand through his hair, scratches his nether regions and turns his laptop on.

I’d like to tell you that I’m the exception. I’d like to tell you I get up, run five miles, shave, shower, eat fruit for breakfast and only then reach for my laptop…

“At last,” my wife says. “You’ve managed to get dressed. I’ll alert the media.”

“I was in the middle of something…”

“Oh,” she says on closer inspection. “I see I’ve used the words ‘get dressed’ loosely.”

She may be right. I’ve now abandoned my black trousers/black t-shirt/black hoodie look of early summer. Instead I’m in black t-shirt/faded red shorts/khaki green top. Although my wife uses a different word to describe the shade of green. It has four letters.

The new elegance has not gone unnoticed. My wife has taken to wandering round the house muttering to herself. I occasionally catch the word ‘standards.’ And ‘slipping…’

But what do you know? She’s in luck. All nine planets are in line and I feel the urge for my annual bout of clothes shopping. A new shirt should do it.

What I really want is the shirt I had in my early 20s. (There are several other things from my early 20s I’d quite like back as well…)

Let’s push the sordid fantasies to one side – reluctantly – and concentrate on the shirt. It was cream. Lovely, soft fabric. With just four buttons. I pulled it on over my head. And I’ve spent the rest of my life searching for its direct descendant.

When I was a dull person in financial services a shirt like that was out of the question. And the children were small. Go home and anything I wore was immediately covered in mud, vomit or spaghetti hoops.

But now things are different. I’ve run away to join the circus. I’m a writer. I can wear whatever I like. When I finally get dressed, obviously…

And what I like are half-placket shirts. Also known as French peasant shirts. Henley shirts. “Most people call them grandad shirts,” my beloved said. They may do: I’ll save that for a few years if you don’t mind.

Put more simply, they’re the shirts Monty Don wears on Gardeners’ World.

Grey hair? Knackered knees? Nope. Nothing says you’re getting older quite like Googling ‘where does Monty Don get his shirts?’

I find out. And have a moment of pause when I discover how much Monty spends on his gardening shirts. I’d like the same please: but I was thinking of about thirty quid…

A furious online search ensues.

And guess what? The gentlemen of England are clearly following my lead.

Because however I describe them, they’re out of stock. None to be had anywhere. Not a half-placket or French peasant in sight.

Another one ticked off the bucket list. At last. I’m a fashion icon.

The cover of GQ can only be days away…

This one was written on Friday August 14th – just as I finished the first draft of Salt in the Wounds. That’s now gone off to get some feedback from my advance team of readers, and should be published by the middle of September. It’ll be available on pre-order by the end of this month. Meanwhile it’s just on four years since Alex and I finished our first walk on the Pennine Way. I’m always disturbed by how young I look on the cover of that one…

Creakin’ Jack Flash

I blame Phyllis. She’s a good friend of mine. I’ve even met her once. So once more than I’ve met most of my friends.

It was her post on Facebook. ‘Ageing rock stars’ or something similar. They’re having to update their lyrics as they get older. The Commodores, for example. Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady?

Not any more. Once, Twice, Three Times the Toilet…

A Whiter Shade of Hair. Stairlift to Heaven. You get the picture. And obviously it set me thinking.

About getting older. About Jumpin’ Jack Flash starting to creak…

You know what depresses me about it?

What creaks, hurts or refuses to work is entirely random.

In my youth there was cause and effect.

Stopped a cricket ball with my shin. Large bruise, limped for a week.

My own fault for fielding at short leg. And 30 years on the dent in my shin is still there. But very definitely, cause and effect.

Not now.

Currently my right Achilles tendon is so sore I can only go downstairs one step at a time. My left knee hurts so much I can only go upstairs one step at a time.

I should take Desiderata to heart. Take kindly the counsel of the years and all that.

Well, I’m not. I’m raging. Not so much against the dying of the light as the creaking of the knee.

But I’ve far worse things on my mind than my knee. Definitive proof that not long now and ‘middle aged’ will be an optimistic description.

There’s no point writing these columns if I’m not honest. If I do not admit to the occasional strand of grey hair. And that my bladder is not what it was.

I go to bed early. Early to bed, early to rise. My dad would have been proud of me. And I slept like a log. Lights out until the alarm shook me awake.

Once again, not now. ‘Blimey, have I managed to get through to nearly three without needing a wee? That’s good.’

But I made a joke about it, and accepted it as the passing of the years.

After all, the new version of the Commodores’ hit was still a long way off.

But suddenly it has moved ominously closer. I blame the hot weather. Drinking a lot of fluids. One has given way to two.

And then – last night – came the final humiliation.

I’ve written about it before. It’s a rite of passage for a parent. You get up. Make a cup of tea. Check your e-mails. Go in the shower. Answer a few more e-mails. Start to think about breakfast. And the front door opens. One of your children. Home from a night out.

“Do you know what time it is?”

A casual shrug. “Yeah, sure. We went down to the beach. Then we went to Josh’s house. Are you making bacon sandwiches? I’ll have one.”

That’s bad enough. But it’s part of life.

Until last night. And a far more terrifying rite of passage.

I woke up. Dark outside. What was it? Two? Maybe even three? I fumbled for my phone.


Had my phone run out of charge?

Sadly not.

I plodded to the loo. Headed back to bed. What was that? A light on downstairs.

Someone must have left it on. I’ll have to go downstairs and turn it off. Sounds like someone’s left the telly on as well…

You know what’s coming. Alex was watching an old James Bond. You Only Live Twice.

I’d got up for my first wee of the night before my son had gone to bed.

I’ll leave you to come up with the film title…

The Blame Game

You’ll remember where we left it last week. I was down on my knees mopping up cream. Lizzie was earning a huge number of brownie points by helping.

My wife? She’d fled the scene. It wasn’t just the kitchen floor. Her jeans and her jumper had also received a generous helping of single cream.

One of those little pots, eh? You pour some on your strawberries and think, ‘Well, there isn’t going to be much for everyone else.’ Hurl it all over yourself and the kitchen floor and it’s like the loaves and fishes.

So my wife scuttled off upstairs to get changed. And then there was the inevitable inquest.

Some of you will find the next sentence impossible to believe: you may need to go and lie down for a while.

It was my fault Beverley threw cream all over the kitchen floor.

I was in the other room. I heard her cry of anguish. I rushed to help. See above – on my knees mopping the floor. But when the inquest was held…

“It was your fault. You hadn’t put the top on properly.”

Fast forward a few days. Lunchtime. A slice of toast and – assuming Alex hasn’t beaten me to it – the last of the cheese. I cut a large slice of my wife’s home made bread. And that’s all I need: one slice of home-made equals three slices of supermarket pap.

Well, you can’t slice bread without making crumbs. Someone’s left a piece of kitchen roll on the worktop. I grab it and clear them up.

That’s odd. My hands are greasy. Oily, almost. I wash them. Butter my toast. Clean up more crumbs with that convenient piece of kitchen roll.

Greasy hands again. Is it the butter? Or have I developed some sort of super power? ‘We’re saved! It’s Slippery Hand Man!’

I wash my hands again. Take my toast into the dining room. Tell my wife about this strange, oily/greasy/slippery phenomenon.

“You know I always grease the bowl for the bread. So it doesn’t stick. I use a bit of vegetable oil and a piece of kitchen roll.”

“…Which you left on the worktop.”

“If you say so.”

“So it’s your fault my hands are greasy.”

Ha! I have revenge for the cream. That’ll teach her.

“No, dear. It’s your fault for being stupid and not realising.”

Calmly and logically I point out that there’s no clear evidence about the cream pot crime. There are no witnesses. Only my wife’s supposition. Whereas Beverley very clearly left out her oily piece of kitchen roll.

Calmly and logically does me no good. The cream is my fault. Slippery Hand Man is also my fault.

Half an hour later I was plodding along the cliff top. An almost-forgotten incident floated back to me. An incident from long ago, in a hallway not very far away…

It’s 2003: Dan is 9, Eleanor is 7. And there’s been a small outbreak of hostilities. A touch of ‘Brotherly, Sisterly Love,’ as I called the column.

Eleanor, having inflicted some serious damage on her brother, has been sent packing to her bedroom. And what did I write?

Halfway up the stairs she pauses, sticks out her chin and yells, “He deserved it!”

Eleanor, Dan did not deserve that…”

Yes, he did. He was asking for it!”

Eleanor injures Dan: it’s Dan’s fault.

The gene has been passed on. So I may need to drive to Leeds. Have a word with Could Be Serious. They’re buying a house next year. “Sorry to tell you this. She’s a lovely girl. But if there’s cream on the kitchen floor…”

Or maybe he’s worked it out already…

The Cream Rises

As you may recall, my wife was a touch hyper last week. Lizzie was coming to visit and a decree had gone out from Caesar that the house was to be made spotless.

Naturally I played my part. Although the old short term memory must be playing up again – I can’t quite remember what I did.

Cleaned the shower? It was on my list but somehow Beverley beat me to it.

Cleaned the top of the cooker? That was my first job. Me and Mr Muscle. We’re old mates. Work well together. Did I actually do it? Er… see above.

Ah! It’s all come flooding back to me. I fixed the kitchen cupboard doors. A few of them were getting a touch loose. Didn’t want Alex’s new girlfriend wandering round with a cupboard door in her hand.

Actually… strike that word ‘new.’ I’m not sure when the relationship officially started – and obviously Alex sees no need to inform me – but early March is my guess. So they’re about four months in. And they spent six weeks of lockdown together.

I reckon a week spent locked down together is worth a month in normal life.

“More like a year, you mean.” May as well write it now: save my wife the trouble of adding it when she’s proofreading…

So not new to Alex. But new to us.

Eighteen months ago the Beloved Daughter came home with Could Be Serious. Now they’re looking at houses.

And here’s Alex. Walking out of the station with Lizzie. And he’s carrying her bag.

It’s one thing I admire in my youngest son. He’s a gentleman: he’s protective and considerate.

My dad must be looking down with a broad smile. He’d approve of Alex. “Walk on the outside,” he always said to me. “A gentleman always walks on the outside of the pavement.”

“Why?” I said.

“To protect the lady’s dress against splashes from a passing horse and cart. And so he has his sword-arm free.”

I was an argumentative, sarcastic little sod as a teenager. You can guess my response.

But now I’m older and wiser I realise the reason didn’t matter. It was a courtesy, a mark of respect, of caring. And I see that in Alex. He opens car doors. Small gestures, a hand on her shoulder. He’s solicitous, he cares. I love to see it.

Almost as much as I love to see cream all over the kitchen floor.

Monday night. Lizzie had cooked for us. A lovely meal – butternut squash risotto. One of the recipes that made sure Alex spent lockdown with a smile on his face.

Now we’re clearing away.

Suddenly there’s a blood-curdling scream from the kitchen.

Or maybe it’s not blood that’s curdling…

My wife, having told me that the house must be immaculate, has thrown a carton of cream all over the kitchen floor.

And herself.

I rush to the scene. To help? To clean up? Of course. Once I’ve dabbed some Germolene on this nasty outbreak of schadenfreude…

Lizzie is right behind me.

And that’s the test, ladies and gentlemen. Will she get down on her knees and help you swab cream off the kitchen floor?

The answer is an emphatic yes…

So I offer that sage advice to all parents who may be meeting a new boyfriend/girlfriend in the coming weeks.

Don’t bother with all that small talk. Don’t try and tease out details about their ambitions or their intentions or their future prospects.

Just throw a carton of cream on the kitchen floor. The next two minutes will tell you all you need to know…