Gin, Pale Ale and Mushy Peas

“I need to go to Whitby,” I said to my lovely wife. “Do some research for the book.”

“And would you be having mushy peas with that research, dear?”

“As it happens, yes. There’s a scene in the book where the hero eats fish and chips. By the harbour. I need to get it right.”

My wife consulted her laptop. She checked her phone. “Astonishing,” she said. “They’re both faulty. They’re both saying it’s December. When obviously – if you want to stand by Whitby harbour and eat fish and chips – it must be July.”

“We all have to suffer for our art, dear.”

You’d better imagine her reply. It’s best I don’t quote it word-for-word.

But a few days later here we were, trundling across the Moors. And with the car full to bursting as well.

Alex back from university – and with Lizzie. I’d explained the plan. They’d looked doubtful. But they’d dutifully climbed into the back of the car. “Not long,” I said. “Ten more minutes and we’ll be there.”

No-one whooped with joy…

I parked the car and we walked the deserted streets of Whitby. No room at the inn? Not a light on in any of the inns.

I pulled my coat round me. The wind did seem a touch sharp…

“What do you want to do?” my wife said.

“Stand by the harbour. Eat fish and chips. Make sure I get the scene right.”

“You realise it won’t do a lot for Alex’s relationship if his girlfriend dies of hypothermia?”

“I’ll just take some photos,” I said. “Then I’ll get the fish and chips.” I left them huddled on the swing bridge and walked down to the edge of the water. Checked what my hero could see. Did exciting researchy things like pace out the distance to the rubbish bin.

I walked back up the steps. “We’ve taken a vote,” my wife said.

“What do you mean you’ve taken a vote?”

“What I say. We’ve voted that you’re taking us to the Magpie. I booked a table while you were staring at the harbour. And I’ve got to tell you…” she added.

“What?”

“…I’m fairly certain Hemingway never photographed a rubbish bin.”

“So three to one?” I said.

“Yes. And no time for a recount. We’re due there in five minutes.”

So it was that I found myself face to face – or face to mask – with a waitress.

“Can I get you a drink while you’re looking at the menu?” she said.

What else do you drink with fish and chips? “Pot of tea for four,” I said confidently.

My wife coughed. Alex said, “Hang on, Dad…”

Another tradition was carelessly tossed out of the window. My beloved had seen the word ‘botanical’ on the menu. You know what that means.

And my youngest son had spotted his favourite initials – IPA.

“It comes in a pint bottle. Is that alright?” the waitress said.

“More than alright,” the boy replied.

Two craft gins were added to the order.

“And for you, sir?”

“I’m driving,” I said glumly. “Mineral water, please. And we’ll need bread and butter for four.”

Nope, we wouldn’t. The younger generation didn’t even have fish and chips.

But the meal was delicious – once we’d got the plates the right way round.

“Are the mushy peas for you, madam?” My wife swiftly reached for her crucifix. “That’ll be a ‘no’ then…”

“Have you got all your research done? Can we go back to the car?” Beverley said half an hour later. After another round of gins and another pint of IPA.

I stared at the bill.

What was that about suffering for your art…

An engaging plot, interesting characters and a real sense of place. I usually keep a book on the go to dip into when I want some distraction – but not this one. I read it over the weekend – I really needed to know how it finished!”

Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon.

The follow up – The River Runs Deep – will be published in January

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…”

“I’ll See Your Tripe…”

It’s one of the fundamental questions of life isn’t it? Why do fish and chips taste better eaten with your fingers? In the fresh air, by the sea, eaten with your fingers.

And let’s make those namby-pamby boxes illegal. Come on, Boris! Bring that little square of greaseproof paper back. Haddock n’ chips wrapped in last week’s Sunday People.

Chip forks can go at the same time.

I’ve checked. There’s a vacant spit in the underworld. Just between the guy who invented the party bag and the person who first said ‘paperless office.’ The smug so-and-so who came up with the chip fork will slot in nicely. Another miscreant roasting for eternity…

Sorry, I was ranting.

Fundamental questions…

There’s another one. Of possibly even greater import.

Do you have mushy peas with your fish and chips?

Of course you do!

Unless you’re my wife…

I sent her the opening chapters of the latest book. “It’s alright,” she said. “But…”

“But what?”

“He’s bought her mushy peas with the fish and chips.”

“So?”

“No woman likes mushy peas.”

“You don’t.”

“No. Not just me. No woman likes mushy peas.”

What man doesn’t seize the chance to prove his wife wrong? And a survey of my pals on Facebook would soon sort that.

And what could be more scientific? More clinically accurate? If I’m not on SAGE by this time next week I’ll be phoning Matt Hancock…

Especially as the result was overwhelming. 53 to 37 in my favour. (Plus one ‘write-in’ from the USA saying, ‘What the £$%& are mushy peas?’)

Unbelievably, my wife refused to accept the result. “Your sample is skewed,” she said. “Everyone you’ve asked is the same age as you. Ask your daughter.”

I didn’t have to. One of my pals replied almost instantly. ‘My daughter is 30 and she looovves mushy peas.’

What more evidence could anyone need?

And then the discussion disappeared down the rabbit hole.

My mum (from Yorkshire) cooked tons of the things. There was a good supply over the weekend. They sat in the pan, cooked but cold. Every time she went past Mum ate a spoonful. Yes, cold!

Followed by several vomiting emojis…

After that the discussion went even further downhill.

Downhill – but interesting.

A word of warning. If you’re from the South, proceed with caution. And if you’re a vegetarian, don’t go any further.

My grandma used to add mint to them if we were having them with a Sunday roast like lamb.

And then the T word tiptoed into the discussion…

Mushy peas must have been hell if you didn’t like them. Bit like tripe in milk, but let’s not go there (face that has seen a ghost emoji…)

Memories were dredged, recipes were compared. A high-stakes game of poker ensued…

Mum cooked tripe in the pressure cooker and served it with a white sauce made from the liquor – thickened it with cornflour.

That looked like the winner until Phyllis swaggered into the saloon. Clearly, a woman who should have played poker for a living. She saw everyone’s tripe and raised them…

My mum loved tripe and worse still, she loved cow’s udder. Don’t think I’ve seen that on sale for 60 years.

Cow’s udder? Everyone blinked – or vomited – and folded. Phyllis scooped the pot.

I crept off to Google to do my research. And here’s Samuel Pepys in October 1660. Mr Creed and I to the Leg in King Street, where he and I had a good udder to dinner.

53-37 and Samuel Pepys. My wife got off lightly with a side order of mushy peas. Let’s see how she copes with tonight’s delicacy.

Humble pie…

I really enjoyed my first meeting with Michael Brady. His story drew me in from the first page. I need Book 2…” ‘Salt in the Wounds’ is now available on Amazon.