“No, Not a New Screwdriver…”

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of my wife’s gardening.

Onions, carrots, wandering down the garden and eating the tomatoes… Since we became more or less self-sufficient in fruit and veg it’s been one ‘this tastes waaay better than Sainsbury’s’ after another.

Oh… Apart from that time I was sent out to pick the plums. And foolishly worked on the ‘one for me, one for the basket’ principle. Touch of the runs. Well, more than a touch if you must know…

But – inevitably – there’s a price to be paid.

We needed to build a new raised bed.

“It’s given up,” I said. “Gone to seed. The sides have given way.”

“Yes,” my wife said, giving me one of her looks…

It had. Collapsed under the weight of cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green. What was once raised was now level with the garden…

A delivery man rapped out a merry tattoo on the front door. I got downstairs to see him wave and climb back into his van. Our drive was now home to a large number of plastic-wrapped planks.

My mission – if I chose to accept it, and if I didn’t my wife would come home and find planks all over the drive – was to carry the blighters inside.

Well, there’s nothing like a hernia to greet the first day of spring. She came home and found them propped up in the hall.

“Take care,” she said. “Don’t get distracted thinking about your book and walk into a plank.”

As if…

And then she reached for the black cap. “I’ll need your help to put it together.”

We’ve been married a while now. We’ve reached an understanding on DIY projects. We don’t fall out like we used to. The evil spirit that once lurked in my toolbox – unaccountably nicknamed ‘Mr F’ – has been exorcised.

Nope, DIY projects where my wife needs help are now simple. She asks for my help, I agree – for the sake of my ego – and spend five minutes proving I’m as useless at DIY as I’ve always been. Then I’m sacked, replaced by one of my sons and the job gets done.

But here we are. Rattling round the empty nest again. Dan back in Leeds, Alex reprising Chariots of Fire on the beaches of St Andrews.

Which means…

“Can you carry the planks out into the garden?”

…At least I’ll have matching hernias.

The planks are released from their plastic. I volunteer to put the plastic in the bin. Make a cup of tea. Do some measuring. Anything to put off the moment when I have to look at the diagram and accept that nope, my visual dyslexia has not cured itself and whatever I’m holding in my hand – a bracket, maybe? – bears absolutely no relation to the bracket on the diagram.

It does, quite adequately for 99% of the population. Carelessly, my wife married the 1%…

Eventually we sort it out. Not by looking at the diagram but by finding a photo of the finished thing on Google images. Each bracket – and its mate – needs fixing onto a corner support.

“Cripes, they’re sturdy.”

“I bought a good one. No point doing this again in five years.”

We started the long, laborious process of screwing the brackets into the Giant Redwood supports. “Blimey this wood’s hard…”

“Like I said I bought a good one.”

Quite. But it doesn’t do you much good to realise you’re building a raised bed that’ll almost certainly outlast you…

“The screwdriver’s slipping. I need a new one.”

She muttered something. It sounded like, “It’s not a new screwdriver I need.”

But it couldn’t have been.

Could it…

Michael Brady is willing to risk it all

His career, the woman he loves. Maybe even his life

And he’s risking them for the man who nearly killed him…

The Scars Don’t Show is the first Michael Brady short read – a book you can read in an evening or over a weekend. It’s out today on the Kindle at £1.99

The Shimmering Hexagon of Doom

What’s happening here, then? Have I splashed some water on my screen?

Does your phone do that?

You’re getting shaved and sending a text message at the same time. You splash some water on the screen. Hey presto! There’s a little prism of light. A rainbow. Richard Of York Got Bathed In Vinegar. Or is that showing my age? Poor old Rich could probably sue these days…

Wipe it with a towel and you’re back to normal.

Ah, you’ve cut yourself. Serves you right. Everyone knows you can’t get shaved and send a text message at the same time…

So there I am. Wednesday afternoon. Tapping away. And the bottom left hand corner of my screen is distorted…

Shimmering.

I can’t see it. Ah, I can if I move my head. But then my notebook starts shimmering.

Duh!

There must be some water on my glasses. God knows how but that’s the only possible explanation.

Odd though… They’ve never refracted light like this before.

Glasses off. Vigorous polish. Back on. Job done.

Or maybe not.

In fact… it’s getting bigger.

I close my eyes. There’s a very clear shape.

It’s a hexagon, with jagged edges. Except someone’s taken a bite out of the upper right side. Like the Apple logo. Exactly like that.

And the damn hexagon is still shimmering. Laptop screen, notebook, bookcase. Whatever I look at, it shimmers.

For some reason I get up walk into the kitchen. Toaster, kettle, Marge Simpson fridge magnet. Yep, all shimmering.

I finally work out what’s happening. It’s a migraine. Ocular migraine, according to Mr Google and the one half of the screen I can see. Apparently the nerve endings in my visual cortex have got themselves excited.

On a wet Wednesday afternoon in lockdown? I wish they’d share it with me…

‘Where’s Dad?’ I’d ask as a teenager.

‘He’s in bed. He’s got a migraine.’

But I was lucky, the gene skipped a generation. It landed fairly and squarely on my youngest son (sorry, Alex) but it missed me. Cue guilt trip…

Or maybe Alex caught it from his mum. Every so often my beloved takes to her bed, complaining about ‘black holes’ in her vision – and I sympathise without really knowing what I’m sympathising with.

Or I did. Now I know. Google tells me the Shimmering Hexagon of Doom will hang around for half an hour. Then it clocks off and its mate the headache comes on duty.

That’s what happened. In a rare flash of common sense I was in bed by the time they swapped shifts.

24 hours later I was back. Still feeling out to lunch but well enough to tiptoe back online. I exchanged symptoms with some virtual pals.

Flashing lights and violent headaches, one wrote.

Like having your own personal fireworks display

What pins and needles would look like if you could see them

Looks like I got off lightly…

‘Too much time spent staring at a laptop’ was the most common diagnosis. ‘Stress’ ranked highly.

Mine were definitely caused by stress, my friend Rosaline wrote. But I divorced my husband and that got rid of them.

According to Gina, I think of the shape I see as a Patronus. You know, like in Harry Potter.

Blimey, there’s a breakthrough in medical science. The shape you see when you’re having a migraine is your very own Patronus. Harry Potter’s Patronus is a stag. Dumbledore’s is a phoenix.

Mine is a wobbly hexagon someone’s taken a bite out of.

Yep, that sounds about right…

THE SCARS DON’T SHOW

Michael Brady is willing to risk it all

His career, the woman he loves, even his life

For the man who nearly killed him…

The Scars Don’t Show’ is the first Michael Brady Short Read. Books you can read in an evening. It will be published in March: you can pre-order it here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08WPM8WXS

Inky Fingers

I hammered another nail into the coffin this week. Dealt another savage blow to the nation’s high street. 

I bought some pens. Yes, from you-know-where. In a previous life I’d have gone into Rymans. Then bought a sandwich. 

Maybe some socks from Mountain Warehouse. ‘Might as well do my clothes shopping for the year while I’m in town…’

But I didn’t. Fourteen gel pens. Nine quid. 

And here they are falling through the letterbox the next day. Even generously donating two to my lovely wife – wisely, I don’t say ‘here’s something for Valentine’s Day’ – I’ve enough to last me until the first snowfall of 2022. 

But you know what? I feel ashamed of myself. I’m a man who thinks we should measure in rods, poles and perches. Go back to pounds, shillings and pence. ‘Fourteen bob for a Mars Bar? Has t’world gone mad?’ 

So how can I possibly use a gel pen? 

Do you remember the excitement at school? The day Mrs Flood announced that you were big children now? That it was time to start writing in ink. The trembling fingers as you slid back the brass cover on your ink well… 

The Sorting Hat choosing the ink monitors…

Hmmm… Did junior school know something about my future path through life? I never made it to the dizzy heights of ink monitor. Not sure I was ever a milk monitor either. A bullet dodged there – the days when school milk was left in the playground to curdle. Then Mr Nicholson the caretaker hauled it in and Frostie the Sadist forced you to drink it. 

The years passed, you made it to big school. Geometry set, pencil case – and your own fountain pen! Parker or Platignum? Almost as fiercely debated as red sauce or brown sauce with your bacon buttie…

The old memory’s getting a bit hazy now, but I’m fairly certain I started off with a cartridge pen. Or was it the one with the strange lever on the outside? A tiny rubber sac inside the pen. 

I have a vague recollection of dipping my nib in the ink (Stop sniggering at the back…) and pumping away like some demented medic performing cardiac massage. Fervently hoping my pen would gasp and suck in ink – like the heroine gasps and sucks in air before she gazes into his eyes…  

I’m in the fourth form now. And my pen has a plunger. Into the bottle of Quink Ink and draw the plunger slowly upwards. Even I understand the physics, and I’m good to go for Hist and Geog. 

Damn it. Serious exams are approaching. Three hour endurance tests in those days. 

And you’d stagger out of the school hall. The middle finger of your right hand stained blue. A dent in it so deep that it had to be permanent.

What did you just whisper? Biro? 

‘Is that a biro in your hand, boy?’ 

Writing with a biro was a capital offence. A couple of days in the stocks at least. The line between writing with a biro and moral degeneracy was thin, if it existed at all. 

‘Serial killer you say? Can’t say I’m surprised. Wrote with a biro when he was a teenager, you know.’ 

Black ink was another sign. ‘The wretch wrote his essay in black ink? Thank you, Mr Foulkes. Let me know if he speaks to any of the Biro Boys.’

You can understand what a shock it was to my generation when official forms suddenly demanded black ink on pain of death. 

Anyway, time to reach for the gel pen. Work calls. 

And where’s the hammer and the nails? I need some new Pukka Pads…

“A good, pacy read, excellent follow-up to Salt in the Wounds. Subject matter a little harrowing but written in a sensitive way. Can’t wait for the next book in the series. I love Brady!” 

The River Runs Deep is out now on the Kindle. 

A Darker Shade of Pale

It started in County Kerry. “A pint of lager,” I’d mumble after each day’s walking. San Miguel, Peroni, Amstel in a crisis. There was always one of my old mates on tap.

Alex, meanwhile was taking longer to decide. Now he was engaging the barman in a serious discussion about ‘local craft IPAs.’

IPA. That stood for India Pale Ale didn’t it? Dating back to the 19th Century. A beer that could withstand the endless boat trip to India. That I’d always characterised as flat and tasteless.

Yet here was my son having an in-depth conversation – and the hipster barman looking at me as though I was ‘flat and tasteless…’

He finally made a decision. We ordered. And then Alex broke off from his seafood platter to go to the loo. I took a furtive sip from his glass.

(You may not remember that far back. You could do that in those days. Share a glass with someone. Even share a bottle. Just give the neck a quick wipe on your sleeve… And there was once a time – I know, scarcely believable – when someone blew all over a birthday cake and the everyone ate a slice. Astonishing…)

Where was I? Stealing my son’s IPA in an Irish pub.

Hmmm… Not bad. But best stick to Peroni. Old dog, too late for new tricks now.

Then something happened. A disturbance in the force. Or in the fridge…

“There are still some bottles of Peroni in the fridge.”

“You mean since the children went back after Christmas?”

“That’s never stopped you before. Are you ill?”

“No,” I said. “Is that the latest symptom? Do I have to self-isolate if I don’t polish off the Peroni?”

The simple truth is… I’ve gone off lager. I’ve spent my life drinking it – and now I don’t like it. Too sweet.

I’ve gone over to the pale side.

It started when a voucher for Beer 52 tumbled out of something I was reading. They very generously offered to send me a case of craft ales every month. Churlishly they wanted money in part-exchange but it seemed… interesting.

And the wee fella was due home at Christmas. How impressed would he be if his dad had a fine selection of craft IPAs? ‘Yup, this one’s brewed in Buxton, Alex. Citrus notes. Hoppy. Good God, there are poor saps out there still drinking San Miguel…’

My case arrived. Some free nibbles thrown in. You may remember Dumbledore and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. ‘Alas, earwax…’ That was me with the nibbles. ‘Alas, wasabi…’

I hastily opened another can to put the fire out.

I drank my cans of pale ale in record time. ‘Red wine? No thanks, darling. Never touch the filthy stuff.’

I then I hit a brick wall. Well, perhaps not a brick wall. More a black forest gateau.

Lockdown has been hard for all of us. Clearly it’s taken its toll on one poor chap in Australia. He’s made a beer called Cake Hole, Black Forest Stout. Where was his wife? I have all sorts of good ideas in the middle of the night. Come the dawn my beloved hoses them down with cold water…

I e-mailed the delightful Carla at Beer 52. She sympathised. Updated my status to ‘not a real man after all’ and promised me only pale ales in future.

Phew. I opened my last can of IPA to celebrate. It was black. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” my wife said.

I sighed, told her she was stuck in the past and turned the football on. And put the Cake Hole quietly on one side. Alex will be home soon…

A fabulous follow on from the first Brady book, this story really got me questioning my own morals. Just how far would I go to protect my own loved ones if the situation in this story were my own family?I found myself hating the victim/villain for what she had done, then a few pages later totally having sympathy for her and to some extent understanding her…”

The River Runs Deep, the follow-up to Salt in the Wounds, is now available on your Kindle.