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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

Hancock’s Half Hour 

I had my Covid jab on Wednesday. 

I haven’t reached the age dictated by Big Brother – but clearly there were enough blots on my medical copybook to bump me up the list. 

This one broke a few fingers playing cricket. That’ll do. Just as long as he doesn’t expect a badge or a lollipop when it’s done.’

Or maybe they took pity on my wife… 

Stalwart of the NHS. If he gets it we’ll lose her for a few weeks.’

Fair enough. Just as long as he doesn’t expect…’ 

Drive 40 miles or wait for the local centre to open? 

Carpe Diem. Seize the jab. I booked online. 

8:30 in the morning, obviously. No point wasting a day. 

I arrived at the vaccine centre. 8am. Our family has a long and proud tradition of getting there far too early. 

I’m 10th car in the queue, I texted to my wife. Man in orange suit has appeared. A train has gone past. 

Astonishingly she ignored me. Not even remotely interested in this local colour. 

I obediently followed a red mini to the socially distanced car park. Put my mask on. Waited for my glasses to steam up. I must have been told about 20 foolproof methods. “Glasses steamed up, mate? You need to tie a knot in ’em. The fastenings on your mask, not your glasses. And then smear ’em with Fairy Liquid.”

Fortunately the woman in front was wearing a red coat. Glowing through the fog…

And I’m done. I’m back in the car with a little blue card, a recipient of Astra-Zeneca batch AB0012. And with 8:52 written on the card. “Sit in your car until then, mate.” 

No, nobody else waits 15 minutes either…

I’m back home for ten. Feeling a bit tired, but otherwise fine. 

“You’ll feel awful tomorrow,” my wife – an AZ veteran – said encouragingly. “Like you’re getting a really bad ’flu. And then it’ll go. Just like that.” 

Pah. Us men are made of sterner stuff. By four o’clock I was right as ninepence. Fatigue? Fought it off. Shivering? Going hot and cold? Clearly those wee rascals knew better than to knock on my door…

It happened at 8:55. We were watching The Repair Shop. A restored, rejuvenated Fender guitar was being handed to a tearful owner. 

“If only we had something that’s battered, worn out and past its best,” I said. 

My wife opened her mouth. But whatever sarcastic barb it was, I didn’t hear it. 

I was shivering. Exactly like you start shivering when you’re getting ’flu. 

But this was different. The shivering was violent. Like nothing I’d ever felt before. Getting rapidly worse. “I’m going to bed,” I muttered. 

I was shaking so much I couldn’t put my passcode into my phone. My hands were jumping. I managed to grab two bath towels. My winter coat. Flung them all on the bed and climbed in. 

‘Google it,’ I thought. But I still couldn’t hit my passcode. Couldn’t get anywhere near it. 

Smiling Matt Hancock’s vaccine? I had a medieval sweating sickness. Maybe Martians had landed. One of them had winged me with his death ray. 

The shakes lasted for 30 minutes. And then I slept. Woke up, drank water, woke up, stumbled to the toilet. 

Spent every alternate hour the next day in bed. Couldn’t do anything. Out to lunch. Completely. 

And then it went. Like someone flicking a switch. 6:30 I went to bed for the night. 6:40 I got up again. 

So it looks like my wife was right.

Blimey, that’s odd: when I typed that last sentence auto-correct added ‘again.’ 

Looks like Word is out to lunch as well…

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 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

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

Welcome to the B&B

My wife has often been wrong. On countless occasions. Sometimes spectacularly wrong.

There was that time when…

And then there was…

And…

Yes, well. None of them exactly spring to mind just now. But I know I’m right.

And never, ever, was she more wrong than a week before Christmas.

Wide of the mark? Cow’s bottom, mate. Banjo. Couldn’t hit.

“We need some more eggs,” she said.

“For Goodness’ sake. There are two trays of eggs. That’s 72 eggs.”

“I bought another dozen,” she said.

“So we’ve 84 eggs in the house. That’ll last us until Easter.”

She patiently explained that Alex and Lizzie had eggs for breakfast every morning. That the Beloved Daughter and Could-be-Serious would do the same when they arrived. That baking needed a lot of eggs. That Yorkshire puddings for eight people demanded a seemingly infinite number of eggs…

“You’re still wrong,” I said. “There’s no way we’ll need that many eggs. What do you think we’re doing? Running a B&B?”

As it turned out…

Cue the music. Something gentle: pastoral. Maybe a brass band playing the Hovis theme?

It’s the soundtrack to one of my fantasies. A B&B in the Yorkshire Dales. Three rooms – six people at the most. Just enough to keep the cash flow flowing.

And there I am! I’ve cooked them a full English – ‘Proper champion. Best bacon and eggs I’ve ever had’ – they’ve paid their bills and left with a smile. And now look! I’m striding along the Pennine Way in the spring sunshine. A ten mile loop before I’m back to do the evening meal for the next set of six…

You know what?

I don’t have that fantasy any more…

They were all here over Christmas. Tested, masked, kept socially distant from Grandma. But here. Our three children, all with a plus one. Plus ones which ranged from buying-a-house-next-year to taking-it-slowly-to-begin-with. But – at various stages over Christmas – all here.

And for two days, the B&B was full.

Three rooms, six people.

Hell’s bells, where did I start?

Having a shower ridiculously early in the morning, that’s where.

And then the staff went to work. Cooking, cleaning, taxi to and from the railway station…

As they’d say in t’Dales, ‘It were never ending tha’ knows.’

Thank the Lord we had some help. Three key members of staff. On duty 24/7. Never complaining and always ready to help. Even better, the dishwasher, the washing machine and the tumble dryer didn’t even want paying.

“Could you peel some potatoes for dinner?” my beloved the landlady asked.

“No problem.”

“More than that,” she said 20 minutes later.

“More?”

“Yes. There’s football on TV but I know you don’t want to watch it.”

Fair’s fair. ‘Is there anything I can do to help’ was a much-heard phrase. But it’s your house, your children, your responsibility. Dan’s girlfriend is here for the first time. An’ t’lass is from t’South. ’Appen she needs impressing. Maybe just peel a few more spuds…

But finally we had the house to ourselves. “I’m exhausted,” I said. “But we must have taken a pretty penny. All those guests, all those nights. It must be close to a thousand pounds. Maybe more?”

But you know exactly how much Mum & Dad’s B&B took over Christmas.

Hang on though…

They’ve gone. House to ourselves. That can only mean one thing…

“We’re finally alone,” I murmured seductively, sliding my arm round my beloved as she scrubbed a pie dish. “What about some torrid sex?”

She flicked dirty water over her shoulder and hit me square in the eye.

“Does that mean you’d rather have a cup of tea?”

She didn’t need to answer…

Fabulous! Had me gripped from start to finish. Reminded me of Mark Billingham’s detective, Tom Thorne.”

Salt in the Wounds is now available on Amazon.

The sequel, The River Runs Deep can be pre-ordered now and will be published on January 31st

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

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.

The Soggy Middle

Last Friday. Three conversations with my wife.

8:30 “I got on the scales this morning. Must lose weight before Christmas.”

11:30 “I’m just having one of these new chocolate biscuits with my coffee.”

3:30 “It must be five o’clock by now. Shall I open a bottle of wine?”

I’m currently half way through my second novel. The euphoria of the opening chapters has worn off. I’m a long way from the end. I’m in what writers refer to as ‘the soggy middle.’

I said as much to my beloved.

She gazed lovingly at me – in my sagging track suit bottoms.

Yes, her reply featured ‘soggy middle’ – or words to that effect.

So – how many times have I written this in my life? – something has to be done.

I am not fit. The words ‘me’ and ‘fitness’ are not so much in different postcodes as at opposite ends of the country.

Last year I walked round County Kerry with my youngest son. I was 3kg heavier than I wanted to be when I sent off. And now I’m 4kg heavier than that.

What has caused this sad state of affairs? Simple folk would say, ‘your pathetic lack of will power.’

No, no. The answer is much more complicated.

There are two culprits.

Writing – and my wife.

Ladies first. She bought some ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ – which she then left in the kitchen. Well what’s a chap to do when he has a coffee? How did I know they were for Christmas?

Seriously, the box has ‘luxury chocolate biscuits’ written on it. She buys it in the middle of November. And expects me to look at it for six weeks?

And writing. According to the research thinking uses a lot of calories – 320 a day just for the basics like remembering to put your socks on. So it follows that planning a murder – is the answer in Gina’s past? – must use about 1,000.

Sadly my waist hasn’t realised. Possibly because I find thinking a lot easier with a luxury chocolate biscuit for company.

Here’s an interesting question. I’m a stickler for imperial measures. I’ll have no truck with that kilometres malarkey. I know how many chains there are in a furlong and I know how many furlongs make a mile. I like talking about rods, poles and perches – and if something is less than a quid I’ll cheerfully convert it back to pounds, shillings and pence.

Long division of pounds, shillings and pence… There’s a phrase to make the teaching unions tremble…

So why do I express my weight in kilogrammes? Easy. If I express it in old money I’m a fat pig. Or ‘pat fig’ as I said after my extra glass of wine.

Kilogrammes? Bah, it’s just a number. A big number, but not one that conjures an image of the stones and pounds monster.

What I need is some retail therapy. I don’t mean I need to buy something. No thanks. My black track suit bottoms are fine. And when they’re in the wash I’ve got a navy blue pair.

No, I need to go and try something on in Next. See myself in those surround mirrors the changing rooms have. When my football team scores a goal I like watching it from ‘every angle.’ Seeing myself from ‘every angle’ is truly terrifying. But last time I tried something on in Next it shocked me into losing half a stone.

Anyway, time for some more creative thinking. Don’t tell her – helped by the new packet of LCBs that’s arrived in the kitchen.

Look at this. She’s written me a romantic love message on the packet.

Oh! A two word romantic love message…

So is the answer in Gina’s past? ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the follow-up to ‘Salt in the Wounds’ – is now available to pre-order on Amazon. It will be published in mid-January.

Salt in the Wounds is a brilliant book. Couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend. Can’t wait for book 2 to come out from this great author…”