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. 

“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

Old Dog, New Bone?

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘boomerang kids.’

They leave home – college, uni, a job – and then they boomerang back home.

We’ve just had a month of it.

So not so much a boomerang, more a fly past.

Dan was between flats. Did he need to stay in Leeds? No. With everything online it didn’t matter where he was.

He could have been anywhere. Anywhere in the world…

But there’s this pandemic thing. You may have noticed.

And there were other considerations. Was ‘anywhere in the world’ free? Did it have a washing fairy? A fridge which magically re-filled itself? A voice floating up the stairs every night saying, ‘dinner’s ready?’

‘Anywhere in the world’ didn’t tick any of those boxes.

Mum and dad’s ticked them all.

So I was despatched to Leeds to fill the car. Dan followed on the train. After a couple of nights with his girlfriend…

And we really enjoyed having him here. The empty nest wasn’t empty any more.

“We’re needed after all,” my beloved said. Then – for some reason I can’t work out – she gave me one of her looks. “Not that there’s a time when I’m not needed…”

So Dan was back. But he’d brought a problem…

No, that’s unfair. A challenge. Blimey, it could even be an opportunity by the time I’ve finished writing…

He’s a vegetarian. And to a man whose definition of ‘erotic fantasy’ is a ribeye steak and pepper sauce that was – at first – a problem.

There was an awful lot of veggie lasagne in the first week…

But a month? Thirty days of “I’ll make a meat sauce for us and leave the meat out for Dan” was stretching it.

Besides, lasagne demands garlic bread and red wine. A month of that and even my most ‘athletic’ waistband would be under pressure…

But Dan had brought his cookbook home. I can’t remember the exact title – the River Cottage one. With old Hugh’s promise on the front that we’d want to eat more and more veg because – bluntly – they’re delicious.

My wife didn’t appear to be overjoyed. She’s long known the effect onions, leeks and their co-conspirators have on my digestion. And more often than not Hugh was recommending a curry…

Let’s take a step back.

Had you said to me three or four years ago – perhaps even 12 months ago – that I’d enjoy vegetarian meals I’d have politely suggested you increase whatever medication you were taking.

Bacon sandwiches, chilli, spag bol. That ribeye steak in a County Kerry pub. ‘No thanks, mate. Whatever tablets you’re taking, take more of them.’

But gradually the old dog started chewing on a new bone.

The shopping list changed. Chillies, sweet potatoes and coconut milk were at the top.

And spinach.

Oh my goodness, did we ever eat a lot of spinach…

Now spinach – as Popeye used to point out – is remarkably good for you. It’s also 93% water.

If the shopping list was looking increasingly different, the bathroom was looking increasingly familiar.

Especially in the middle of the night.

I’m surprised Popeye had any time to rescue Olive Oyl. ‘Try and hold Bluto off, love. I just need to go behind this hedge…’

But guess what? I lost weight while Dan was at home. Without increasing my exercise, without feeling hungry. I forgot that feeling of being winched away from the table…

But not everything had changed. Dan still liked his chocolate. The up-market version. Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt. Thank goodness it was on special offer at the corner shop. I fair wore a groove in the pavement.

But a much lighter groove…

The Scars Don’t Show – the first in the Michael Brady Short Reads series – will be out this week. The book’s set in 1998: Brady is 26 – a young detective on his first murder case and desperate to impress. Maybe too desperate…

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

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

She’s Moving Home…

It’s a fine line. One minute I’m interfering, the next I don’t care.

Was it not ever thus?

She must have been about 12. For some reason I was working at home – in the days before it became a government diktat.

Beverley walked in through the front door, followed by the angelic children she’d collected from school. “Hello, boys,” I said. “How was your day?”

They grunted, walked past me and emptied the fridge.

No matter, here was my beloved daughter, just on the cusp of becoming a teenager.

“Hello, sweetheart,” I said. “How was your day?”

She stared at me. “Why don’t you just get out of my life? Why are you always interfering? Why do you keep asking stupid questions?”

She stormed upstairs. I looked helplessly at my wife. My ‘what did I do?’ expression.

“Hormones,” she mouthed at me.

Ah, I thought. I understand. Eleanor wants me to be cool, detached.

Fast forward 24 hours. The scene is played out once again.

“Hello, boys, how was your day?”

See above: grunt, fridge…

And my daughter. Remember. Cool, detached…

I smile. Nothing more.

She storms upstairs. Pauses halfway. Fixes me with her killer stare. “That’s right! You ask the boys how their day was! You don’t ask me! Because you don’t care about me! You’ve never cared!”

I looked helplessly at my wife. Yes, I used that expression a lot over the next few years.

And you can guess her reply. “Hormones…”

Well, fast forward a dozen years. A baker’s dozen. Hormones? I have no idea, because now she lives 60 miles away with Could-be-Serious.

…And I may have to give the boy a new name. When you’re buying a house together, maybe it’s a little bit more than ‘could be serious.’

Yep, my little girl, who barely five minutes ago was giving her four year old brother a whack to keep him in line, is buying her first house.

Otley, in West Yorkshire, where – the wheel turns full circle – my grandfather was born.

Found the house, got the mortgage, had the survey done: it’s proceeding at a pace. And – all credit to her – the deposit paid from her own savings. I couldn’t be more proud.

I just need to show the right level of interest…

I texted her during house hunting.

How’s it going, love? Found anywhere yet?

She replied to my wife…

Will you tell Dad to stop interfering? Always asking questions.

(Apparently I hadn’t factored in how stressful it all was.)

And then they found a house…

Why hasn’t Dad sent a text to congratulate us yet? Doesn’t he care?

Rewind 13 years. Clearly I have learned nothing at all.

But it’s all good. It keeps me on my toes.

And it’s a lovely house. First house? You couldn’t ask for anything more – especially the kitchen/dining room. One of the bedrooms is a touch pink – well, very pink – but that’s not a problem.

I’ll lose my wife to a weekend’s decorating. But beer, football, pizza…

No, no, not a problem at all.

And, of course, another rite of passage ticked off for the ageing parents. Nursery, proper school, big school, first boyfriend, serious exams, off to uni…

They’re rites of passage for your children but they’re rites of passage for mum and dad as well. And now she’s buying a house. Does that mean we can turn her room into an office? Will I finally be able to gaze lovingly at that hand-made desk? Bookmarked on Etsy for at least three years…

I’m not sure my lovely daughter can raise an objection. What about my wife?

It might be time for a cup of tea in bed…

THE RIVER RUNS DEEP

Bad people do good things.

Good people do bad things.

Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference…

The follow up to Salt in the Wounds is out now and available on Amazon

The Yorkshire Grunts

Many husbands – you may have noticed this yourself – can be irritating.

I’d like to say that I’m the exception. But you know me of old.

And my wife proof-reads these columns…

She’s long found me… ‘Challenging’ is a good word to use.

This week it was the turn of our old friend, the kitchen cupboard door.

“The cupboard door has come off again.”

“OK, I’m just finishing my book. I’m at 86,000 words.”

“The [word deleted] cupboard door has been hanging off since you were at 20,000 [oops, deleted again] words.”

In the old days I used to reason with her. Point out that Shakespeare never broke off from Hamlet to reach for his Phillips screwdriver. Surprisingly, that never went well…

Still, we’re getting a new kitchen as soon as you-know-what ends. I expect the cupboard doors will fix themselves.

But what really has her reaching for the nearest sharp/heavy/pointed (preferably all three) object is when I start speaking in tongues. Specifically Welsh, Scottish or the dialect she cheerfully refers to as ‘Yorkshire idiot.’

I think the children could be to blame. Alternatively it could be demonic possession.

We trundled off in the car on holiday. A cottage in the Borders. What could be more lovely? We’d stop for something to eat, we’d stop for someone to vomit and eventually we’d see a sign that said Scotland.

At which point I morphed into the lovechild of William Wallace and Rab C Nesbitt.

“Aye, we’ll soon be at the wee cottage. Aye, I’ll chase a haggis roond the garden the noo…”

The children loved it. My beloved was less impressed – especially if we’d been through the Tyne Tunnel and she’d spent half an hour sitting next to a deranged member of the Toon Army…

Wales? “I’m sorry, children, your father thinks he’s Ivor the Engine.”

Cornwall? No. There are certain parts of the country we never visited. Come to think of it I’ve never been to Liverpool or Brum with my wife either…

But there you are. No-one is going anywhere at the moment, so the accents round on Whose Line is it Anyway is a thing of the past.

If only…

The merest mention of West Yorkshire and I’m off. “Does tha’ want a cup o’ tea, our lass? ’Appen tha’ll be wanting t’biscuits for a spot o’ dunkin…”

This would be bad enough – but it’s combined with my advancing years. I can’t now get off the sofa/bend down/go upstairs without making a noise.

Beverley was knitting. “I need something to help me relax.” Something that involved teeny-tiny knitting needles. “Don’t worry, they’ll still go up your nose,” she said encouragingly.

But what you don’t want when your trying to relax is a Yorkshire idiot giving a running commentary as he turns the fire on…

“Tha’ wants t’fire on? By gum n’ it’s a long way down, tha’ knows.”

“Would you just – ” [go away is a loose translation] “ – with your Yorkshire grunts.”

“What did you just say?”

“I don’t know. I told you to be quiet.”

“No, the exact words.”

“Go away with your Yorkshire grunts.”

Well, not quite the exact phrase, but close enough.

And what a magnificent phrase as well. The Yorkshire Grunts.

It is – very obviously – a euphemism. Halfway through January and it is already Euphemism of the Year.

“Don’t eat too many eggs,” my Gran was fond of saying. “They’ll bind you. You don’t want to be costive.”

And that’s clearly what ‘the Yorkshire Grunts’ is a euphemism for. My wife – unwittingly – has launched a new phrase into the English language.

“Where’s Dad? Haven’t seen him for a while.”

“Aye well. ’Appen he’s locked away in t’privvy. Not enough fruit and veg. Bad case o’ t’Yorkshire Grunts…’

Fabulous! Had me gripped from start to finish. Reminded me of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne. Excellent, can’t wait to read the second book.”

Salt in the Wounds is available on Amazon. The follow up, The River Runs Deep, can be pre-ordered now and will be published on January 31st

The Dad’s Gambit

My eldest son reached forward. Picked up the chess piece. “Pawn to e4,” he said.

A classic opening.

I countered with one of the lesser known chess moves. But one I’ve been working on for years. I’ve perfected it. I am – at least as far as this move goes – a Grandmaster.

I reached forward. Picked up my glass. “Wine to mouth 1,” I said.

I pushed a pawn forward. “The Sicilian,” I confidently declared.

Two moves later and Dan had taken it. “Sicilian? I think you’ve confused it with the pizza, Dad.”

What happened this Christmas? My boys played chess.

Wind back the clock and they disappeared to their bedrooms, linked laptops and slaughtered aliens.

This year? Chess is the new Halo.

The black bishops are the evil spawn from the outer Galaxy.

They trooped into the dining room, decided who was white – and spent an hour in silent contemplation.

They had an unofficial mini-league. Dan, Alex and Lizzie. You-know-what meant she couldn’t go home for Christmas. So here she was: 10,500 miles from her mum and dad and checkmating my youngest son.

“What’s that?” Alex said. “Twelve all?”

“I think I’m winning 13-12.”

And there you have it. Shared interests? Shared sense of humour? Forget ’em. Want your relationship to succeed? You need the same chess rating.

I didn’t get involved in the Christmas games. Largely because I spent most of Christmas washing up, peeling potatoes or exhausted on the sofa. I wandered in occasionally, noted that Dan generally seemed to be winning and wandered out.

And then Alex and Lizzie betrayed me. They braved Nicola’s border guards and went back to Edinburgh.

“Do you want to play chess after dinner, Dad?”

Yes.

And no.

Obviously I want to play chess with my son. But Dan’s doing a PhD. One that features equations. Equations that feature lots of Σ’s and those big, squiggly F’s.

So I wasn’t optimistic. The bookmakers were offering long odds on my survival.

And chess isn’t my game. I’m not sure it’s any writer’s game.

The wrong type of brain. Faulty wiring.

Creative, not analytical.

My brain especially. Definitely faulty wiring. But not the faulty wiring that Messrs Fischer and Spassky had.

I’d like to tell you that the game was close. That my ruthless execution of the Queen’s Gambit left him helpless. Floundering.

That after an hour of an intense battle between two intellectual titans we shook hands – whoops, bumped elbows – on a draw.

I’d like to tell you that. In truth it was the Chinese People’s Army against a primitive tribe who’d barely mastered the bow and arrow.

And it only got worse when he went back to Leeds.

Our games moved online.

See above. Faulty wiring. Inability to concentrate. And when you can’t concentrate, online is not a good place to be.

You’ve taken my Queen! I wailed into the chat box.

Yes, you moved your knight, he typed back.

Well I wasn’t concentrating

That’s not my fault, Dad

You took so long to make your move that I checked the football scores

So I checked the scores again. No change…

“I’d threaten his Queen if I had any pieces left,” I complained to my lovely wife. “I managed one cunning plan. Skewered his castle – ”

“And then you sat on your laurels.”

Yes. And drank some more wine.

“I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll offer him a draw. What could be a fairer result between father and son? A magnanimous draw, both players acknowledging the other’s skill and prowess?”

I reached for my mouse. Double-clicked the ‘offer draw’ button.

Dan’s response was simple and to the point. He checkmated me…

Michael Brady had my interest from the first chapter. By the fifth I had a crush. Salt in the Wounds is an exciting story, played out in a location almost as engaging as the book’s characters. Can’t wait for the second book…”

The second book, The River Runs Deep, will be published on January 31st. You can pre-order it by clicking the link.

Why Am I Here?

Thank God, you think. After a year’s wittering about trivialities he’s finally addressing a serious question. Something worth reading. Some deep philosophical insight…

Why am I here?

Why are any of us here?

What is the purpose of our lives?

Nope. Sorry. I’m in the bathroom. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, I’m standing by the washbasin. And I’m asking myself that very question.

Why am I here?

What am I doing in the bathroom?

Bluntly, I have no idea.

But there are a limited number of things you can do in a bathroom. It won’t take long to whizz through the checklist…

Do I want to clean my teeth? At 4:30 with red wine to drink? Not a chance.

Do I need a wee? A quick conversation with my bladder. The answer’s ‘no.’

Shower? Cut my fingernails? Whatever I think of, the answer’s the same.

What did you say? Clean the bathroom? No, that one didn’t even cross my mind.

And then a light dawns. Slowly but finally, a light bulb goes on.

I don’t want to be in the bathroom.

I’m supposed to be in the bedroom. I’d been sent for the Christmas decorations. I’d forgotten in the time it took to walk upstairs. Turned left instead of right when I reached the top.

Not the first time, sadly. When the children were at home it would occasionally happen. “Hello,” I’d say, walking confidently into the lounge. “Does anyone know why I’m here?”

But of late, it’s getting worse. Obviously, I’ve an excuse. The book needs finishing. I’m already plotting the next one.

Even so…

I wandered into the lounge yesterday lunchtime. My wife was watching the news. Brexit. Covid. Experts…

“They haven’t got a clue,” I said. “They don’t know a thing.”

“Well what do you know then?”

“You want to hear what I know?”

“Yes, that’s what I just said.”

“What I know – for a fact – is…”

The sentence trailed away. I did know something. Definitely. And something that would have scored a significant point off my wife.

“What I know for a fact is…”

“Yes?”

“I’ve forgotten…”

Ah well, it’s an isolated incident. Well, technically two isolated incidents. Nothing to worry about.

Except that I’m also trying to burn the house down.

It’s the hob. Front right. That’s where I cook my porridge. And heat up my baked beans. Both of them – in my view – require long, slow cooking. Yes, the squeamish should look away now. I let my baked beans simmer away for a while. Until my wife says they look like… Well, you might be eating your breakfast.

But as I pour the porridge into the bowl (I’m a Golden Syrup boy) or I tip the beans onto what Masterchef would describe as a ‘bed of hand-crafted, artisan toast…’ I forget something. I forget to turn the gas off.

Where’s my ready-made excuse? Don’t cook and plot your novel at the same time.

But this cuts no ice with my youngest son. He’s already noticed this behaviour and ticked the relevant box on the care home application form. That was in the summer. And by the time you read this he’ll be home for Christmas.

‘Why am I here?’ may shortly be the least of my worries.

Interestingly for medical science there’s one time of day when I don’t have a problem with my memory.

Five o’clock. Every day, reliable as clockwork.

I remember it’s time for a gin. Not for me. No, no. no. For my lovely wife.

“What’s that, darling? It sounded like ‘I don’t want to drink alone.’ Alright then. Just to keep you company…”

Very enjoyable book. You know you’re hooked when you like or dislike the characters and actually care what happens to them.” Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon.

The sequel – The River Runs Deep – will be published in January

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