Tag family life

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 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…