The Not Very Good Friday

Easter Saturday! We’re off to see the Beloved Daughter!

She’s moved into her new house. Her first home. First time buyer. Mortgage. ‘Here are your keys.’ The works…

And yes, she’s bought it with the boy formerly known as Could-be-Serious. It may be time to start writing a speech. 

…And preparing a list. Apparently we need to take her some herbs for the garden. A bottle of wine. Some flowers, obviously. 

“And I won’t be allowed through the door if I haven’t baked her a loaf of bread,” my beloved sighed on Friday afternoon. 

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I said – after a suitable interval. 

“Yes. Stop thinking about your damn book for ten minutes and make some pasta sauce for dinner.” 

I repaired to the kitchen and did as I was told. Bacon, chorizo, garlic, shallots, a tin of chopped tomatoes. Nom, nom as the hashtag has it…

So who does find the body on the Moors? 

“It’s about ready,” I shouted. 

It can’t be a group of ramblers. That’s just too complicated…

Pasta and sauce in the bowls, some freshly grated parmesan on a plate. No garlic bread…

So it has to be someone on his own.

…But here’s a freshly baked loaf of bread. I’ll cut a few slices. Blimey, it’s still warm from the oven. Smells delicious. Hard to cut though…

If the kitchen floor had a shred of humanity it would have done the decent thing. Opened up and swallowed me. That fresh, crisp, warm loaf of bread? 

Which was oh-so-clearly destined for the Beloved Daughter…

Gentle reader, I feel I must spare you the next five minutes. There was an expression of surprise. An indication that one of us would need to bake a new loaf of bread. That it wouldn’t be me as I was mentally challenged. 

Just not in those exact words…

Eventually we sat down with our bowls of pasta perched on our knees. 

“Would you like a glass of wine? I really like this one.” 

“Yes, that’s why I bought it for Easter Sunday.”

But at least we had the world’s best bread in front of us. 

“It was a compliment,” I said. “A compliment to you. I saw the bread. It looked perfect. It is perfect.” 

Did the compliment work? Once again I cannot share my wife’s witty response. 

Mercifully the pasta sauce was good. “Is there any left?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s in the pan.”

“Make sure you save me some parmesan.” 

“No problem, I’m nearly finished.” 

I reached for the parmesan. Sprinkled some on my remaining pasta. Put the plate back on the table. Thought I’d put the plate back on the table.

A poltergeist is the only possible explanation. I heard a noise. The sort of noise a plate makes when it falls on the floor. And leaves a pile of parmesan on the carpet. 

“I suppose you’re going to tell me that’s a compliment as well are you?” 

She left for the kitchen. 

I followed. “Do you want me to help with the kneading?”

“No. I just want you to leave my bread alone. Don’t touch it, don’t look at it and don’t eat it.” 

“I may as well go to the shop for some Mother’s Pride then.” 

“This is Mother’s Pride. I’m her mother and I’m proud of my bread. Or I was until some overweight, greedy person (never did three words need more paraphrasing…) decided to hack away at it.” 

“Do you want to watch a film tonight?” 

“No thank you, darling, I shall be in the kitchen for some time.”

Yet another sentence that needed editing…

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 paperback will follow later this month. 

The Road to Trackie Bottom

In the olden days I wore a suit for work. My wardrobe groaned under the weight of 14 stripy ties. 

I had the occasional flash of heresy: ‘Do I really work any more efficiently because there’s a yard of silk round my neck?’ 

And the occasional flash of insight as well. Twenty quid for a tie and then eating a cheese and tomato. Hmmm… perhaps not the wisest move I’ve ever made.

But, of course, every other dull – ‘person’ will do – in the financial services industry was wearing a tie. And they’d go off to see a client, park the car and eat a sandwich for lunch…

I remember the moment. Whitby. A crisp, clear autumn day. One of those days that demands you eat your lunch by the sea. Wind the window down. Let some sea air in…

And there I was. Time for lunch. Next appointment in an hour. A can of Coke, a packet of cheese n’ onion. An egg mayonnaise sandwich. 

And a new silk tie. Red and navy stripes. Even my teenage daughter thought it was tasteful. 

I bit into the sandwich…

Blimey, they’ve put plenty of filling in this one.

…And watched the horror movie. 

Like all good disasters, it happened in slow motion. 

I’d bitten too hard. It’s simple science. Pressure at one end, something has to give at the other end.

In this case it was a piece of egg. A large, liberally coated with mayo piece of egg. It escaped from the sandwich. Hovered in mid air for a split second. And then slowly, gently, bounced down my tie before nestling snugly in my groin. 

“Oh dear,” I said. 

Not long after that I ran away to join the circus. Started writing. Sent the 13 stripy ties to the charity shop. And a fourteenth, which had never quite recovered from its day out in Whitby…

‘For this relief much thanks,’ as our old pal Shakespeare wrote. 

Couldn’t agree more. No-one cares what a writer looks like. T-shirt and hoodie? Faded jeans? But supposing you need to meet a client? That would be the black chinos and grey jacket then… 

But then came the rumours. Some sort of bug. Started in China…

Lockdown. Meeting clients became a criminal offence. The office was abandoned, the spare bedroom was the new normal. And…

Sadly there is no elegant way to put this. My sartorial standards slipped. 

“Slipped, dear?” She’s reading over my shoulder. “Slipped? I think you need something a damn sight stronger than ‘slipped.’” 

She may be right. 

Black chinos? Grey jacket? They’ve retired. Living out their days in the wardrobe. 

I wear a t-shirt and fleece. Tracksuit bottoms. Right now it’s the navy ones. Tomorrow it’ll be the black ones. 

Exercise? I wear my old walking trousers. 

Those are the only trousers I’ve worn since March 23rd last year. Almost 365 days of elasticated waists. 

‘What about Zoom?’ you cry. ‘Facebook Live?’ I wear a shirt. No-one sees the bottom half… 

But there might still be hope. A tiny flicker at the bottom of Pandora Hancock’s box. 

The Football League sent me an e-mail the other day. They wanted me to take part in a survey. 

As a reward for giving them 20 minutes of my life they’d enter me into a prize draw for…

‘A Doncaster Rovers first team shirt.’ 

Now I’ve a soft spot for Donny Rovers – but they play in red and white hoops. 

There it was. The tiny flicker. However far my standards had fallen, they hadn’t reached a red and white hooped football shirt. 

Hang on. Red and white hoops. Black trackie bottoms…

That would work…

Had me gripped from the start. A truly captivating story, very well told. Really didn’t want it to end and eagerly awaiting the next one.” Salt in the Wounds is in paperback and £1.99 on your Kindle. 

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. 

The Books Behind You

I’m sorry, Minister, isn’t that the ‘Kama Sutra’ on your bookshelf?’

I can only repeat. Our response to the pandemic has been measured, responsible and at all times – What? I’m talking about the pandemic. The Government’s outstanding – ’

And just next to it, Minister. ‘Politics for Dummies’ if I’m not mistaken…’

Like millions of others, I gave up listening to what they had to say months ago. All I do is look at the bookcase behind them. I can’t be the only one who tilts my head sideways. Or says, “Just rewind it will you, love? I’m sure that was the Roy of the Rovers annual.”

And then there are the pictures. I’m sorry, mate, you want us to trust your judgement? When you paid good money to hang what looks like a defecating rhino on your wall?

I’ve forgotten the name – BookBluff or something – but there’s a company down in cider country that supplies books for films and TV. Yards of books to stock the Downton Abbey library.

But in lockdown they’ve found new customers. Scientists, supposed academics and even – you will be rocked to your foundations – yes, even politicians. People whose bookcases may have previously revealed rather more than their owners wanted revealed on the six o’clock news – and which are now collapsing under the weight of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

I know, you’re reaching for the smelling salts.

No-one, surely, could possibly think that a politician – someone guiding us through this crisis – isn’t really that intelligent? That he has to buy books in an attempt to deceive us…

If you could just move your head to the left, Minister. Ah ha! ‘The Bluffer’s Guide to Economics…’’

Alright, you say, that’s 300 words of sarcasm. Easy to poke fun at other people. What’s on your bookshelf, mate? Go on, clever clogs, if you were on TV – an unlikely prospect – what would the nation see behind you?

My answer is a matter of public record. Every Wednesday I do a Facebook Live session. And there I sit. Not in front of Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare. Or earnest biographies of the great and good.

I’m going to read Theresa May’s biography, dear.’

Should I phone the Samaritans, darling?’

Nope, I’m not afraid to admit it. I sit in front of my wife’s gin shelf. Front and centre are the two new – so far untouched: curse you, Dry January – bottles she got for Christmas.

Award-winning Shortcross Gin from Northern Ireland. By the time you read this I sincerely hope I’m on first name terms with a wee glass…

Below the gin shelf? A vase. An empty bottle containing some botanicals. Waiting for my wife to make more… Well, I don’t need to spell it out.

And then we come to my books. And it has to be said that my books have taken a rather sombre turn since I started writing crime novels.

So here we go, time to ’fess up so the BBC can warn viewers in advance. Val McDermid on Forensics. The Dark Side of the Mind. Witsec – inside the federal witness protection program. And yes! Yes! I admit it. Forensic Psychology for Dummies…

But at least I’ve come clean. I haven’t rung a book company in panic. I haven’t hastily tidied up. I most certainly haven’t yelled for my wife. ‘Quick. I’m on the news in five minutes. Help me move these books on erectile dysfunction!’

Hey up, lass. Look at this bloke on t’telly. Haven’t seen him before. Oh aye (bends down, tilts head to one side). Looks like he drinks too much and fancies new ways o’ killing folk…’

I read a lot of detective stories but none have sucked me into another world like this one did. Love the witty, believable, natural dialogue.”

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

Chopped Mixed Nuts

I’m standing in the corner shop. Hopefully I’m in front of the bakery section.

I say ‘hopefully’ because I can’t see.

It’s the same every time. Put my mask on, walk into the shop, my glasses steam up. I wander round the shop with a basket in one hand and my glasses in the other. Can’t see a thing.

And yes, I know you’re supposed to pinch the mask over your nose. It doesn’t work. Not for me.

So come on Boris. Do your job properly.

Before I give you today’s figures and explain why lockdown is continuing until June 2026 I’d just like to ask Professor Van Tam to tell that grey haired bloke up in Yorkshire how to stop his glasses steaming up…

The fog gradually receded. Those seemed to be baking things looming out of the mist. But I was impatient. I took my glasses off and stared myopically at the shelves.

What did she want? Chopped mixed nuts? Or mixed chopped nuts?

Was there a difference?

No, because the corner shop didn’t offer me a choice.

Well, technically it did. Buy the bag of mixed nuts or don’t buy the bag of mixed nuts. Go home, admit defeat and face the consequences.

I handed over my £2.90 – on my phone, obviously. What is ‘cash’ by the way? – and returned home in triumph.

“Mixed nuts,” I said. “All they had. I’ll chop them for you.”

“No. Not chopping. They need smashing with the wooden mallet. You don’t want to trip over half a nut in your Christmas cake.”

Awesome. If there’s one culinary skill I’ve mastered, it’s smashing things with the wooden mallet.

“Idiot!” my wife shrieked. “Put them in a bigger bag. Otherwise you’ll burst the bag.”

For some reason she didn’t seem to like the idea of nutty shrapnel ricocheting all round the kitchen…

I dutifully did as I was ordered.

And that, dear reader, was the end of my involvement in the 2020 Christmas cake.

Correction, cakes…

She’s a wonderful woman. She’s made four of the little rascals.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Four Christmas cakes? How many people are they having round? Let’s dob ’em in and claim the reward.’

Not so fast. She’s made four small ones. The logic – I think – was that half of one of the small ones could go to her mum. Which was fine, because the other half could stay with me. After all, someone had to check that the nuts were small enough.

And if a job’s worth doing…

“Why are you getting some cheese?”

“To go with a slice of cake. I’m just checking the nuts are small enough.”

“Why don’t you go the whole hog and pour yourself a glass of wine?”

“You don’t think 3:30 is too early?”

It’s been downhill ever since.

We’re cutting down before Christmas. Makes sense obviously. It’s either that or take the battery out of the bathroom scales.

My wife has lost weight – I won’t tell you how much because I’m a gentleman – and I’ve er… Well, technically I’ve gained a kilo.

My fault? No, obviously it isn’t my fault. This case of craft beers arrived…

So far I’ve eaten half a small Christmas cake, drunk a bottle of the Christmas wine and polished off a case of craft beer. It’s December 4th.

And none of the children – do they ever lead their poor old dad astray – are home for Christmas yet.

This isn’t going to end well.

But you know how it is over Christmas. You’re always short of batteries. Good job there’s a spare one in the bathroom scales…

I’ve have many late nights reading this book and even set my alarm half an hour earlier to squeeze more reading time into a busy day. Authentic and believable, gritty and dramatic, compassionate and compelling. I’m very much looking forward to the next instalment.”

Salt in the Wounds is now available on your Kindle and in paperback

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.