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 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. 

My Vital Organs

T’wife were feelin’ a bit out o’ sorts…

My beloved had been a touch off colour for a couple of days. Now here she was waking up and feeling dizzy. 

“Like I had three or four years ago, remember?” 

“I do. Just stay there and take it easy,” I said, handing her a cup of tea. 

Speaking of which, a week or two and it’s 28 years (of bliss, never a cross word etc etc). Knock off a couple of hundred for days I’ve been away and that’s nigh on 10,000 early morning cuppas. Birthday honours, your Majesty? I know there’s a few folk done some work in the pandemic but 10,000 cuppas lovingly carried upstairs… It must be worth a small gong?

Where was I? Blowing my own trumpet. When I should have been thinking of my wife…

“Just stay there and get better,” I said. “It’s not like you’ve got to do anything today.” 

“Except look after my mother.” 

I nodded sagely. “True. Very true.” 

“And the washing needs doing.” 

“I can do that for you.” 

She gave me one of her special looks. Disorientated, but still special…

“Darling, we’ve been married nearly 28 years and you still haven’t learned to separate whites and coloureds.”

That, sadly, is true. I’ve always worked on the ‘yellow and pink are nearly white’ theory. It’s failed me several times. What was once white is now cream. With a hint of pale pink…

“Er… We’re out of bread,” I said nervously.

She sighed. “So nothing to do except look after my mother, do the washing and bake some bread. A man can work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work…”

“Don’t forget your uni work,” I said. “When’s your assignment due?” 

And then I tiptoed out of the room. 

I was finally entrusted with the washing. Anything with a hint of pastel was cast to one side. ‘Maroon, navy blue and black, step this way…’ 

And then I ate a slice of toast and reflected on aches and pains.

When I were a lad it were simple…

Why is my knee hurting?

Because you fell over and scraped it. Look, there’s a bruise coming.

Oh yeah. But the other knee’s bleeding…

Right, because you did an even better job of scraping that one. 

I’m in bed and not feeling well. 

Right, because you’ve got measles. Look, you’re covered in spots. 

Oh yeah…

And wait while you’re a teenager. Chicken pox, mate. You ain’t seen nothing yet…

Scabs. Looking back, I liked scabs. Badges of honour. Swots didn’t get scabs. And you knew where you were with a scab. You knew the stages it went through. You knew there’d soon be that lovely day when you could start to pick away at the edges…

But then you get older. The aches and pains join the secret service. They go undercover. Start to wage psychological warfare. 

And they’ve got an ally. A fifth columnist. Someone on the inside. 

Your imagination. 

Especially at three o’clock in the morning…

That’s a new pain. Or is it yesterday’s pain? No, it wasn’t there yesterday. Has it moved in the middle of the night? Ouch! What’s inside my body just there? Kidneys? Liver? Spleen? (I tossed my spleen in to sound intelligent. I’ve no idea what it does. Or where it is…) 

Ouch! There it is again. Isn’t there a vital organ somewhere down there? Should I wake my wife up for a second opinion?

You want to wake your wife up at three in the morning for a second opinion? Go ahead, mate. Because then you’ll definitely have a pain in a vital organ…

“You know you’re hooked when you really care what happens to the characters. Read it in three sittings.” Salt in the Wounds is available on your Kindle and in paperback. £1.99 on the 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. 

A Darker Shade of Pale

It started in County Kerry. “A pint of lager,” I’d mumble after each day’s walking. San Miguel, Peroni, Amstel in a crisis. There was always one of my old mates on tap.

Alex, meanwhile was taking longer to decide. Now he was engaging the barman in a serious discussion about ‘local craft IPAs.’

IPA. That stood for India Pale Ale didn’t it? Dating back to the 19th Century. A beer that could withstand the endless boat trip to India. That I’d always characterised as flat and tasteless.

Yet here was my son having an in-depth conversation – and the hipster barman looking at me as though I was ‘flat and tasteless…’

He finally made a decision. We ordered. And then Alex broke off from his seafood platter to go to the loo. I took a furtive sip from his glass.

(You may not remember that far back. You could do that in those days. Share a glass with someone. Even share a bottle. Just give the neck a quick wipe on your sleeve… And there was once a time – I know, scarcely believable – when someone blew all over a birthday cake and the everyone ate a slice. Astonishing…)

Where was I? Stealing my son’s IPA in an Irish pub.

Hmmm… Not bad. But best stick to Peroni. Old dog, too late for new tricks now.

Then something happened. A disturbance in the force. Or in the fridge…

“There are still some bottles of Peroni in the fridge.”

“You mean since the children went back after Christmas?”

“That’s never stopped you before. Are you ill?”

“No,” I said. “Is that the latest symptom? Do I have to self-isolate if I don’t polish off the Peroni?”

The simple truth is… I’ve gone off lager. I’ve spent my life drinking it – and now I don’t like it. Too sweet.

I’ve gone over to the pale side.

It started when a voucher for Beer 52 tumbled out of something I was reading. They very generously offered to send me a case of craft ales every month. Churlishly they wanted money in part-exchange but it seemed… interesting.

And the wee fella was due home at Christmas. How impressed would he be if his dad had a fine selection of craft IPAs? ‘Yup, this one’s brewed in Buxton, Alex. Citrus notes. Hoppy. Good God, there are poor saps out there still drinking San Miguel…’

My case arrived. Some free nibbles thrown in. You may remember Dumbledore and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. ‘Alas, earwax…’ That was me with the nibbles. ‘Alas, wasabi…’

I hastily opened another can to put the fire out.

I drank my cans of pale ale in record time. ‘Red wine? No thanks, darling. Never touch the filthy stuff.’

I then I hit a brick wall. Well, perhaps not a brick wall. More a black forest gateau.

Lockdown has been hard for all of us. Clearly it’s taken its toll on one poor chap in Australia. He’s made a beer called Cake Hole, Black Forest Stout. Where was his wife? I have all sorts of good ideas in the middle of the night. Come the dawn my beloved hoses them down with cold water…

I e-mailed the delightful Carla at Beer 52. She sympathised. Updated my status to ‘not a real man after all’ and promised me only pale ales in future.

Phew. I opened my last can of IPA to celebrate. It was black. “Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” my wife said.

I sighed, told her she was stuck in the past and turned the football on. And put the Cake Hole quietly on one side. Alex will be home soon…

A fabulous follow on from the first Brady book, this story really got me questioning my own morals. Just how far would I go to protect my own loved ones if the situation in this story were my own family?I found myself hating the victim/villain for what she had done, then a few pages later totally having sympathy for her and to some extent understanding her…”

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

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