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. 

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.

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

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

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

The Ten Minute Warning

When I were nowt but a nipper we ’ad t’four minute warning.

The Cold War. Four minutes. The time you had before a Russian missile landed on your head. “Only four minutes left. What would you do?” we cheerfully asked each other as teenagers.

“Ask Angela Miller out again,” I dolefully replied. “Couldn’t say she was washing her hair, could she…”

Anyway I’m married now. Whoops, insert ‘happily…’

And the Cold War is long gone.

Except…

I still need a four minute warning. A ten minute warning if I’m honest. And if I don’t get it then you can forget the Cold War. It’s the Cold Tongue War…

The ten minute warning is integral to married life. It’s the glue that binds man and wife. If I remember correctly, part of the service…

Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and protect him and phone him ten minutes before thou art due to come home?

I will…

‘I’m going out,’ your lovely wife declares.

‘OK, when will you be back?’

‘Well, it’s Saturday afternoon, so it’s going to be busy. A couple of hours?’

‘OK, give me a ring when you’re on the way back.’

‘While I’m out… Can you tidy the kitchen? And put the rubbish out?’

‘Of course, sweetheart.’

But not now. Football’s on the telly and the big race is off in half an hour. Two hours of peace. Is it too early to have a beer? I don’t think so…

Not quite two hours, of course.

‘I’m just leaving town, darling. I’ll be home in ten minutes.’

Ker-pow! as old Batman used to say. Ten minutes to tidy the kitchen, get rid of the rubbish – and as she’s walking through the door the kettle’s boiling.

‘I knew you’d want a cup of tea, darling.’

‘Oh, darling. You are wonderful. I’m so lucky.’

Well, so much for the theory. Last Sunday was the practice. The mother-in-law’s birthday. She was coming round for lunch.

“I’ll be about an hour. Make sure you set the table and get a bottle of white wine.”

“No problem.”

“Don’t – DON’T – still be sitting there writing when I come back.”

As if I would be. Twenty-seven years of married bliss? Ten minutes is all I need.

Assuming I get a ten minute warning.

I didn’t.

You can imagine the rest…

Then there’s this other thing your wife does. She asks you to peel the potatoes. Now, if you’re newly married you’ll just think, ‘Oh, she wants me to peel the potatoes.’

Older, wiser heads recognise a hand grenade lobbed casually into the lounge.

‘Can you give me a hand? Come and peel the potatoes?’

‘Yep, sure. I’ll be there in a minute.’

Now, not for one second do you mean you’ll be there in sixty seconds. No, sir. What you mean is, ‘Yes, I’ll come and peel the spuds but I know you don’t need it doing right now, so I’ll just watch the end of the footy.’

There’s absolutely no intention NOT to do the spuds. Just a calm, rational ordering of priorities.

And there you are. You’ve finished – regrettably – your craft IPA, the ref’s blown the final whistle, and now it’s time to peel the potatoes. You walk through to the kitchen.

‘Right, I’m here. Ready to peel the spuds.’

‘I’ve done them.’

‘What do you mean you’ve done them?’

‘I got fed up of waiting.’

‘But you don’t need them now.’

‘No, but I needed the space.’

So you slink away feeling guilty. You were definitely going to help. Definitely. No question.

But it’s too late. Your wife’s placed another tick. No, not in the ‘peeled potato’ column.

Couch potato…

Well plotted. Great characters. Set in a place I love. What’s not to love about Salt in the Wounds? Looking forward to hearing more about Michael Brady.”

The River Runs Deep – the next book in the Michael Brady series – is now available to pre-order on Amazon.