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…

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.

10:58.

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…

The Cleanest Clean

I received a generous dollop of Cold Tongue Pie the other night.

I broke a dinner plate. But it wasn’t for that. Nope, it was because I broke the wrong dinner plate…

“I’ve broken a plate,” I confessed, already reaching for the hair-shirt.

My wife went into the kitchen. “You’ve broken the wrong one,” she said accusingly. “Why didn’t you break the one with the chip in it?”

Married life, eh? You think you’ve finally mastered it after 27 years and then you break the wrong plate…

But I have bigger fish to fry. Or should that be, bigger crayfish?

“How are you doing?” we asked Alex two weeks into lockdown.

“I’m good,” he said. “My flatmates have gone home and I’m locked down with Lizzie.”

Yep, two weeks into lockdown and our youngest son was marooned inside his flat with his new, Australian girlfriend.

“And what’s Lizzie doing?” we asked. “Writing an essay?”

“No,” he said. “She’s cooking a crayfish stir-fry.”

Well, you know what I’m going to write next. Lizzie is coming to visit. Tomorrow.

Which might explain my I have a looming appointment with the oven cleaner. And a screwdriver.

My wife has decided the house needs cleaning. And fixing. I was due to sort the shower out as well – or paddling pool as it was rapidly becoming – but she lost patience and did it herself.

But does it really need doing?

Will Lizzie even notice?

When I was a young lad – still at university – I went to stay at my girlfriend’s. I never once looked at the top of the cooker. There could have been a Komodo Dragon living in the kitchen and I wouldn’t have noticed.

The shower? Yep, I definitely had some thoughts about the shower, but they had nothing to do with how quickly the water was draining…

Bluntly, I only had one thing on my mind.

When were her damn parents going out for a walk?

Come on, the sun’s shining, you live five minutes from the beach. And go to the pub on the way back…

No chance. Christine’s father very pointedly sat in his armchair and turned the TV on. “That’s me settled in for the night,” he declared.

Why not say what you mean? ‘There’ll be no hanky-panky under my roof, young man. And don’t try anything in the night either. Heard you were coming. Installed some special creaky floorboards…’

I now realise there was a sub-plot. He was – I can barely write the words – from the South. He didn’t want to risk any Yorkshire blood in his daughter’s home counties pedigree.

Anyway, a few million gallons of water have flowed under the bridge, and here I am now cast in the role of grumpy old dad settling in for the night.

Except I’m not. I’ve already told my wife that we’ll be doing the decent thing and going for a tactical walk on the beach. Or more likely Beverley will be going to visit her mother and I’ll go and hide in the office.

But first things first. The oven…

And what do you know? She’s already done it. The top of the oven is immaculate. Glistening as the sun peaks in through the kitchen window.

“You’ve done it,” I said as Beverley came out of the shower. “I said I’d do it.”

“I just wanted it done and off the list,” she said.

But like with Christine’s dad and his creaky floorboards, there was a sub-plot. ‘I just wanted it done properly.’

When I clean something there are three stages. ‘Call that clean?’ Clean-ish and what I fondly imagine is ‘really clean.’

And then there’s cleaned by my wife…

Smoke on the Ceiling

I was on the phone. And I was fighting a losing battle.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany,” I said.

“What did you say?” came the reply. “All I can hear is a guitar.”

I finally made myself understood. My wife looked up from the other side of the dining room table. “Are you auditioning for MI5, dear?”

“What?” Sometimes the woman talks in riddles.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany…”

“Yes, Amazon printed the paperbacks in Poland. They go to Germany and then they’re flown to the UK.”

“You still sounded like an apprentice James Bond. What was the reply to your password? Ze cheese sauce for my cauli – fleur eez in Normandie?”

I let her cheap sarcasm pass. “It’s a wonder I can make myself understood at all,” I said, gesturing at the ceiling. “You can’t win against Jimmy Page.”

“Who?”

“Jimmy Page. Lead guitar in Led Zeppelin. I thought you knew a lot about music.”

“It’s Deep Purple,” she said.

“What is?”

Smoke on the Water.”

I checked on Google. So it was.

We were eating breakfast. But humble pie was still on the menu. And those of you who’d tagged me under ‘old so probably a heavy metal fan’ will need to revise your filing systems…

Alex has been home from university for two months now. He arrived with the avowed intent of teaching himself the guitar. He’s been as good as his word and – like all beginner guitarists – has been playing Smoke on the Water remorselessly.

So far, so good. A basic guitar he found in Dan’s bedroom and he was making progress.

And then disaster struck. Josh went back to college.

“Hell’s teeth,” I said. “What’s that? It sounds like the Rolling Stones are warming up.”

There it was again. Coming straight through the dining room ceiling. The clear, unmistakable sounds of an electric guitar.

We rushed up to what had once been our son’s bedroom and was now a recording studio.

“What’s that?” I said, staring at an electric guitar.

Alex did his best not to use the is-it-time-for-your-medication expression my wife and daughter have perfected. He didn’t quite manage it this time…

“An electric guitar,” he said proudly.

“And what’s that black box on the floor?”

“An amp.”

“So Josh has gone back to college and left you those?”

He nodded. I searched noise cancelling headphones on Amazon. Meanwhile I tried to work with Smoke on the Water running endlessly through my head.

“I think we should have Josh’s head on a spike for this,” I muttered.

“Don’t be silly. However loud he is he’s still quieter than Eleanor. Don’t you remember when she was learning the trombone?”

Do I ever? Two terms of purgatory when the school somehow cajoled the Beloved Daughter into trombone lessons. Just when she was at her bolshie-teenager phase as well.

“That’s it, Eleanor. I’ve had enough. Go up to your bedroom and stay there.”

And thirty seconds later she was standing outside the lounge door ‘practising’ the trombone.

But relief was at hand. Two days later the Music Gods smiled on me. Smoke gave way to Sunshine of your Love. Yes! Eric Clapton! One small step for my son, a giant leap for music.

I may even get Layla before he goes back to Edinburgh.

And let’s keep things in perspective. It may be a distraction but it’s still preferable to his First Serious Girlfriend coming round to “help me with my revision.”

But nothing ventured…

I thought I’d try that line on my lovely wife. “Help me with my proof-reading.” You’ll be astonished to hear that after 27 years of marriage it didn’t work…

It’s Wasted on the Young

The window’s open. Cars are whizzing up and down the road outside.

‘Lockdown? Rings a bell, mate. Just remind me will you…’

But I can’t complain. Lockdown has been good to me.

I’ve been out walking every day. I’m fitter – I may even be one of the few people in the country who’s lost weight.

But there’s been a price to pay. Mostly by my knees. Goodness me coming downstairs first thing in the morning is a struggle. And then when I do get downstairs there’s ten minutes of stretching to tell my back it’s a new day.

“I’m done for,” I said to my lovely and ever sympathetic wife.

“What? Permanently?”

“Possibly.”

“That’s a nuisance,” she said. “It’s your turn to cook dinner.”

I reassured her that I might survive long enough to cook Parmesan Chicken. In return she treated me to her I-suppose-I’d-better-express-an-interest face. “What’s fallen off this time?”

She’s not a woman who’s impressed by lists. I merely indicated that sitting at a desk all day wasn’t doing me any good. “You know what they say. Sitting is the new smoking.”

“It’s hardly coal mining is it?”

“What?”

“Writing and editing, dear. Sitting on your bum and breaking off to make yet another coffee is not coal mining. Last time I checked you were wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It’s hardly full PPE.”

I grudgingly conceded she might have a point. And looked out of the window. Two teenagers went past on bikes. Two remarkably fit young people jogged by on the other side of the road.

They had what I need.

The problem is, I’m feeling a little bit mortal. My brother was my age when he died of cancer. Ten more years and that was the end of my dad.

I need to be young again.

I need this fantastic new invention. I spotted it when I was out every day in lockdown. Apparently it’s called ‘youth.’

Goodness only knows who invented it. People my age would pay an absolute fortune for it.

And yet – astonishingly – the inventors of youth give it away for free! And they give it away to people who don’t appreciate it. Who completely waste it. Who have not the slightest idea what to do with it.

Who use up their supply of youth on drinking and parties and nightclubs and everything that goes with them.

Fortunately I have a solution. It would cure the nation’s health woes at a stroke and – bluntly – it cannot be beyond the wit of modern technology to arrange it.

What we do is give millennials a taste of getting older. A week should do it. Bad back. Eye drops every night. Fired out of bed by an ageing bladder at two in the morning. ‘Don’t forget to take your tablets.’

A week of that and they’d appreciate this ‘youth’ thing they’ve been given.

That’s my plan for improving the health of the nation. Send millennials a postcard from their old age and they’d be far less likely to let themselves go. ‘Cheese? Red wine? You must be joking. Still remember when they gave me that grey haired bloke’s body. Nightmare week…’

I’ll send an e-mail to Matt Hancock. It’s not like he’s got anything pressing at the moment.

And – of course – while millennials are learning to tell the time by their bladder, I get a week of being young again.

Whoop!

‘Hangover? Rings a bell, mate. Just remind me will you?’

Think of all the exciting things I could do without worrying about my back. Putting my socks on. Emptying the dishwasher. And the other one.

Whatever it was. Just remind me will you…

The Twist or the Tango?

Well, I’ve done it. Given birth. Again. That’s baby no. 7 safely delivered.

Pepper, Tales of a Family Dog is now scampering around Amazon and available on the Kindle.

Given birth? For a man, it’s an exact analogy. You can’t back out, you know it’s going to hurt at times. And that final feeling of joy and relief…

Small wonder that someone said, ‘Writing a book is the closest a man can get to giving birth.’

Hmmm… A quick check. Google doesn’t attribute that quote to anyone. I think I might steal it and claim my place in posterity. I might even be a question in a pub quiz.

Anyway, Pepper’s done. I still miss her – I dropped a spoonful of Spag Bol on the kitchen floor this morning and turned round: then realised I’d have to pick it up myself – but at least she has her place in history.

At which point you might think it’s time to relax. Put the old feet up, especially as footie is back on TV…

Not a bit of it, as I patiently explained to my youngest son.

“You’re done now, Dad. Time for a break.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because writing a book is one thing. Publicising it is quite another. And it’s more than half the battle.”

Sadly, it’s true. JK Rowling might be able to write ‘The End’ in the happy knowledge that she can leave it to the publisher’s publicity department.

I can’t.

“Because I’m the publicity department,” I told Alex.

“So you’ve written the book and now you have to sell it?”

“Yes.” And like all indie authors, my publicity department will do anything

…At which point, let me introduce you to my good friend, Phyllis.

Astonishingly – for one of my friends – I’ve actually met her.

Only once, but in these days of social distancing that’s enough. After all – depending on which sci-fi writer you believe – not that many more years and we’ll live our lives in one room, chained to a screen, sleeping in a pod and fed by the Just Eat drone tapping on the window.

Phyllis is a fine woman. A pillar of the community. The current crisis has swiftly divided us into good ’uns and bad ’uns and Phyllis is firmly on the side of the angels. She also has lots of friends. She may, for example, be a member of the WI. Women’s Institute, if you haven’t seen Calendar Girls.

Phyllis lives just north of Carlisle. The town’s bound to have a WI. Supposing they wanted me to talk about my books? Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation…

We wondered if you’d come and talk to the Women’s Institute

Yes, yes, of course. When?

Next Tuesday morning?

No problem. I’ll leave now.

There’s just one thing…

What’s that?

Well, we think it might help to sell your books if you danced naked before you started speaking

At which point a writer with a new book out won’t even hesitate. Once the book’s published you become – I’m sorry, there’s no delicate way to put this – a cheap tart who’ll do anything for a sale.

Dance naked? It’s a simple, seven word answer.

No problem at all. Twist or tango?

I relayed this story to my loving and ever-supportive wife. The mental image was clearly too much for her. “Well,” she said. “At least they’d find a use for the sick bags now no-one’s flying any more.”

I’m about to deliver a witty response to this stinging barb when my phone starts ringing. I rush to answer it.

After all, it could be the Carlisle WI.

Now where did I put that spray-tan…

Pasta al Vomito

Let’s say you’re writing a novel. You fall into one of two camps. You’re a plotter – or a pantser.

You either plot it all out beforehand, or you fly by the seat of your pants.

Isn’t cooking just the same? You either plot it out – follow Delia’s recipe and do as you’re told – or you make it up as you go along.

If I’m writing, I’m a plotter. I don’t want to re-write Chapter 2 because I’ve reached Chapter 22 and realised that the shifty, ne’er-do-well nephew did it after all.

But when I’m in the kitchen – no, not with the candlestick or the lead piping – plotting goes out of the window.

Recipe? Who’s got time for that?

5g of chilli powder? Nah… That looks about right. Maybe a bit more.

Lightly simmer for ten minutes? Sorry, Delia, it looks done to me…

Sometimes this approach works.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes it serves up Pasta with Cat Puke.

Let me explain. I stumbled across a recipe. Chorizo and Prawn Salad. The aforementioned Delia? Joe Wicks? Lean in 15? Yes, an easy assumption to make, given my toned physique and rippling six pack…

Nope, this was from the chef for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Who said I was desperate for news of football…

‘That looks nice,’ thinks I. ‘Could adapt it to go with pasta.’

So I do. Chorizo, prawns, a few spring onions, some cherry toms. We all think it tastes fine. “Maybe it needs a sauce,” my wife murmurs.

We all think it needs a sauce. “I’ll do it again in a few days,” I say confidently. “And I’ll make a sauce.”

Now at this stage a plotter would have done the sensible thing. Consulted Google. How to make a prawn sauce for pasta. Thirty million results. One of them might work…

But no, I’ve got my pants on.

Pants on, brains off.

‘Well, if I just fry off some of the prawns, chorizo etc first and then blitz them that’ll make a sauce…’

No, it didn’t. It did make a fine mess on my t-shirt as the hand-blitzer cheerfully sprayed tomato around the kitchen. But yep, eventually the ingredients were reduced to a liquid.

And now let’s talk about your cat. She throws up. You inspect the result. There are two possible trains of thought.

‘Hmmm… That looks pretty solid. I could pretend not to have noticed it.’

‘Oh crap, that’s going to soak into the carpet.’

The blitzer had produced option B. Prawns and tomatoes. Pale pink cat puke.

Maybe you could describe it as pink porridge. Which sounds worryingly like a euphemism for something found in the darkest depths of the dark web.

My wife and youngest son peered dubiously at their bowls.

“I’ve made a sauce,” I said helpfully.

They continued to stare into their bowls. “Try it then,” I said.

They did, with some reluctance.

“Transmogrification,” Beverley said.

“What’s that then?” I said smugly. “When Harry Potter turns someone into a cat?”

“Changing something into a different form,” she said, tapping it into Google and forcing me to have a slice of humble pie as a starter. “All you’ve done is ‘Chorizo and Prawns Two Ways.’ And one of the ways is vomit.”

“It’s a sauce,” I repeated.

“Dearest, it is not a sauce. Neither is it a reduction or an emulsion or a jus or any of those other up-your-own-arse words off MasterChef. It’s cat puke.”

She tapped away on her phone again. “There,” she said triumphantly. “I’ve given it an Italian name. Pasta al Vomito di Gatto.”

I hate that about my wife. Sitting on the fence. Never telling me what she really thinks…