Gin, Pale Ale and Mushy Peas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No-one whooped with joy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“So three to one?” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More than alright,” the boy replied.

Two craft gins were added to the order.

“And for you, sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

I stared at the bill.

What was that about suffering for your art…

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

Salt in the Wounds is available now on Amazon.

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

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