The Volkswagen BackSpasm

“All set?”

“You sure you don’t want me to drive?”

No. With a full Scottish – a full English minus beans plus haggis – inside me I want to drive. I have to drive.

Sitting in the passenger seat checking my e-mails as my beloved hurtles along a narrow country lane isn’t what my digestive system needs…

And it’s a long way. Mid-afternoon according to whatever app we’re using to tell us where the speed cameras are…

Or possibly not.

Mid-afternoon may be a touch optimistic.

“There’s something wrong with the car.” We’re 500 yards down the road when I deliver this grim verdict.

“What do you mean there’s something wrong with the car?”

A two second glance is enough. “We’ve got a flat tyre.”

Cast your mind back to the old days. You’ve got a flat. It’s raining. You dive into the nearest shop. ‘Where’s the nearest garage?’ ‘Dunno, mate, I don’t drive.’

Or you search for a phone box. Someone’s stolen the Yellow Pages.

What’s that? Change it myself? My wife values her life. And she knows the limits of my mechanical expertise. Two hundred miles when I’ve changed a wheel and we haven’t got a spare? Nae chance, as the locals would say.

“There are four,” she says, consulting her phone.

“Four? In a town this size?”

We’re in St Andrews. We’ve dropped Alex’s things off in Edinburgh and taken him up to see his girlfriend.

We’ve never been to St Andrews.

The beach, the harbour, the ruined cathedral. And the industrial estate, to complete the sightseeing.

Still, four tyre and battery places. And only a very slow, very careful drive away.

Kwik-Fit’s the first one. “Aye, nae bother. We can do it tomorrow afternoon.”

I wish I’d taken a photo. Beverley’s expression was something to behold.

“I’d prefer not to spend another night in St Andrews,” she said. Or words to that effect.

She wouldn’t have. The second garage could do it. But not until the middle of the afternoon.

“Where’s the next one?”

It didn’t matter. “Nae chance this week, I’m afraid.”

“What’s going on in this town?” I said. “It’s half the size of home, has twice as many tyre places and they’re all booked solid. Home of golf my £$%&. Home of the puncture more like.”

It’s always darkest before the dawn. The Fife Auto Centre rode to the rescue.

The three of us – me, my wife and my indigestion – were finally on the way home.

And as we crossed the Forth Road Bridge we had a depressing conversation.

“I’m going to have to change the car. It’s got to that stage. That’s two visits to a garage in two months.”

“It was a tyre.”

“It’s a sign.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she said. For some obscure reason she was staring at me. “Things do reach an age where everything starts to drop off. Or stops working…”

Was that one of her ‘subtle’ comments? No, definitely not.

“What are you going to get?”

“I might go back to a Golf,” I said. “Maybe a GTI or whatever the boy racer ones are called these days.”

“Er…” she said.

“What?”

“What about your back?”

And that, gentle reader, is the sad truth. That’s the determining factor in buying a new car. Not performance. Not economy. Not carbon emissions.

How low is it? Can I get into the damn thing without injuring my back?

The story of my life, told in cars.

Battered Mini – slightly less battered Mini – first ‘proper’ car – my beloved original Scirocco – sensible family car – the very sensible Tiguan that carried the kids backwards and forwards to uni…

And now. The final humiliation.

A Volkswagen BackSpasm…

His best friend’s been murdered, his daughter’s in danger

There’s only one answer. Going back to his old life

The one that cost him his wife…

My first novel – Salt in the Wounds – will be published on Tuesday September 29th

Shades in the Rain

It’s quite alarming how quickly you lose your fitness. Well, it is at my age.

It’s not a long, lingering goodbye. There’s none of that, ‘This is not goodbye, just au revoir’ nonsense.

“Right, mate. That’s it. I’m off. See ya. Bye.”

And it’s gone.

Over the hills and far away. And you’re too knackered to run after it.

I was quite fit in the early weeks of lockdown. Two miles every morning. Then pop my shades on so the Government drones didn’t recognise me and a mile in the afternoon as well.

Then Alex and I decided we wouldn’t do a walk this year.

My motivation took a dip.

And then I started writing my novel.

The fat lady belted out the Lost Fitness Blues…

I’ve no doubt there are plenty of people out there who do five miles in the morning and 5,000 words in the afternoon. Huh. The sort of people who like porridge made with salt and water.

For me, writing and walking are mutually exclusive. I can get up at 6:00 and walk a couple of miles or I can write 1,000 words. This summer I chose the latter. And I’m paying the price.

Fifteen months ago Alex and I walked 125 miles round County Kerry. I walked up the near-vertical Lack Road and through Windy Gap. Limped the 15 miles from Kenmare to Killarney on the last day. And I got out of bed that morning and thought, ‘I’m in pain. A lot of pain. But it’s only 15 miles.’

Pain? That was before I put my boot on. The boot that still contained a 50/50 mixture of Irish bog and cow £$%&.

So here I am, the beginning of September and I’m in the Last Chance Saloon. I’ve got four days.

Alex is back from St Andrew. Three weeks – can you believe – to help his girlfriend ‘move into her new flat.’ There must have been a lot of boxes…

But he’s here and – assuming the Heavens dinnae open – we’ve four more walks before he goes back to Edinburgh.

Four more walks of two miles. That’s my whack at the moment. Write all morning, Two miles in the afternoon. My fitness isn’t impressed. ‘I might come back. But you’re going to have to do a lot more than that.’

But what happens when my will power is 200 miles up the Great North Road?

He posed that very question. “You’re going to keep doing this when I’ve gone back, aren’t you, Dad?”

“When it’s cold and dark and the cliff top’s frozen and muddy?”

“Duh, Dad. it can’t be frozen and muddy at the same time.”

Quite so. He has an irritating habit of correcting me. And saying ‘that’s bollocks’ in response to some of my well-crafted monologues.

But it’s a small price to pay. Ask me to name one thing, one pleasure, that being a dad has given me and it’s walking with Alex. So let’s make the most of it.

And here we are. A mile or so from the car and it’s a beautiful day. The sun’s shining and we’ve both got our shorts and sunglasses on.

Correction. It’s September. The sun was shining. And what’s that I feel? A spot of rain. If I want to look stupid I wear a hat. But wearing sunglasses when it’s raining comes a close second. But I can’t take them off because they’re my prescription sunglasses. If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to see the edge of the cliff.

So a 20 minute trudge back to the car. Shades in the rain. We did our best to look cool…

I’m delighted to say that my first novel – Salt in the Wounds – will be published on September 29th. You can order it from Amazon by clicking this link.

The Twist or the Tango?

Well, I’ve done it. Given birth. Again. That’s baby no. 7 safely delivered.

Pepper, Tales of a Family Dog is now scampering around Amazon and available on the Kindle.

Given birth? For a man, it’s an exact analogy. You can’t back out, you know it’s going to hurt at times. And that final feeling of joy and relief…

Small wonder that someone said, ‘Writing a book is the closest a man can get to giving birth.’

Hmmm… A quick check. Google doesn’t attribute that quote to anyone. I think I might steal it and claim my place in posterity. I might even be a question in a pub quiz.

Anyway, Pepper’s done. I still miss her – I dropped a spoonful of Spag Bol on the kitchen floor this morning and turned round: then realised I’d have to pick it up myself – but at least she has her place in history.

At which point you might think it’s time to relax. Put the old feet up, especially as footie is back on TV…

Not a bit of it, as I patiently explained to my youngest son.

“You’re done now, Dad. Time for a break.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because writing a book is one thing. Publicising it is quite another. And it’s more than half the battle.”

Sadly, it’s true. JK Rowling might be able to write ‘The End’ in the happy knowledge that she can leave it to the publisher’s publicity department.

I can’t.

“Because I’m the publicity department,” I told Alex.

“So you’ve written the book and now you have to sell it?”

“Yes.” And like all indie authors, my publicity department will do anything

…At which point, let me introduce you to my good friend, Phyllis.

Astonishingly – for one of my friends – I’ve actually met her.

Only once, but in these days of social distancing that’s enough. After all – depending on which sci-fi writer you believe – not that many more years and we’ll live our lives in one room, chained to a screen, sleeping in a pod and fed by the Just Eat drone tapping on the window.

Phyllis is a fine woman. A pillar of the community. The current crisis has swiftly divided us into good ’uns and bad ’uns and Phyllis is firmly on the side of the angels. She also has lots of friends. She may, for example, be a member of the WI. Women’s Institute, if you haven’t seen Calendar Girls.

Phyllis lives just north of Carlisle. The town’s bound to have a WI. Supposing they wanted me to talk about my books? Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation…

We wondered if you’d come and talk to the Women’s Institute

Yes, yes, of course. When?

Next Tuesday morning?

No problem. I’ll leave now.

There’s just one thing…

What’s that?

Well, we think it might help to sell your books if you danced naked before you started speaking

At which point a writer with a new book out won’t even hesitate. Once the book’s published you become – I’m sorry, there’s no delicate way to put this – a cheap tart who’ll do anything for a sale.

Dance naked? It’s a simple, seven word answer.

No problem at all. Twist or tango?

I relayed this story to my loving and ever-supportive wife. The mental image was clearly too much for her. “Well,” she said. “At least they’d find a use for the sick bags now no-one’s flying any more.”

I’m about to deliver a witty response to this stinging barb when my phone starts ringing. I rush to answer it.

After all, it could be the Carlisle WI.

Now where did I put that spray-tan…