Two Have Fun in the Bathroom

Come here,” he said.

She stepped obediently towards him. He reached his hand out. Pulled the bow. The wisp of black silk slid to the ground.

His eyes held hers.

In the shower,” he said. “Now.”

She knew better than to disobey him…

Well, that’s this morning’s fantasy over. Is that what you thought when you saw the title? Really? Don’t you know how long we’ve been married…

Saturday morning. I took my lovely wife a cup of tea in bed. “Sorry,” she said, bleary-eyed, “I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t mean to sleep in.”

“No problem, sweetheart” I said. “If you’re tired and want to clean the bathroom another day that’s fine.”

“No,” she said. “We’ll still do it.”

“Honestly, darling, I don’t mind. Another day is fine.”

“We’re cleaning the bathroom,” she said. Yes, in that tone of voice.

…Which rather scuppered my plans.

I’d been planning a morning’s writing. And it was Saturday. A day when my thoughts traditionally turn to the round ball…

“Are you sure you’re alright, darling?” I made one final try over breakfast. “You look a little run down.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, don’t forget you need to see your mum today.”

“Not until this afternoon.”

Ten minutes later I was carrying every cleaning implement we own – plus Mr Muscle’s entire range – upstairs. And five minute after that I was balanced precariously on top of a stool.

“There,” she commanded. “Right in that corner. And use some elbow grease.”

And then I was doing the same in the shower. “Right up to the top. And you can clean the shower head while you’re up there.”

Who would have thought a shower head could get dirty? Clean water pouring through it every morning. Ah well, you live and learn, I thought, as limescale rained merrily down on me…

Then it was toothbrush time. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup of tea, sweetheart?” I said, trying a hopeful shot at goal from 50 yards.

“No, you can have a break when the shower’s clean.” Not the words you want to hear when you’re using a toothbrush to clean it. But eventually the tray that holds the shower gel was shining like the proverbial new penny.

And then it was the glass. “I probably ought to go downstairs and put the breakfast things in the dishwasher.”

“You mean you probably ought to go and look at the football forum.”

That’s the problem with our marriage. My cunning plans are long past their sell by date. I need new excuses. Maybe I could embrace advancing years as a get out clause? ‘What was that, dear? Trouble with my hearing aid…’

The toothbrush gave way to a cloth. A vigorous 15 minutes of squirt n’ rub followed. And you know what? I felt a tad vulnerable. There I was on my hands and knees in the shower…

“Whoops!” my wife said – sounding more like Dick Dastardly than Penelope Pitstop – “I nearly knocked the shower tap on, darling. That would have been funny wouldn’t it?”

Hilarious, dear.

I crawled out of the shower on my hands and knees. I was so stiff I couldn’t get up.

…And carried on crawling until I reached the top of the stairs. Where – and this will surprise you – I reached for my phone.

“Caught you. I knew you’d be reading a football forum.”

“Well, I’m not, so there.”

“What are you reading then?”

“Twitter.”

“What about?”

“Football.”

“Anyway, we’re finished.”

“Thank God,” I said, “I need a wee.”

“What? In my clean toilet? I just put bleach down it. You’ll have to wait. Or crawl downstairs…”

My first novel, Salt in the Wounds, is now available on the Kindle.

Absolutely brilliant story that had me hooked from the first chapter. I was intending to read a few chapters and then do the ironing. Ended up reading the whole book in a day and the ironing was forgotten. I can’t wait for the second book!”

The Hunter Gatherer

“I’m going into the garden,” I announced.

My wife raised her eyebrows.

She did that inverted commas thing with her fingers. The one she knows annoys me so much. “More ‘creative thinking,’ dear? Don’t forget your glass of red wine.”

“I’m going to bring the harvest in,” I said, reaching for a basket.

It’s a sore point in our marriage. My wife does 90% of the work in the garden (maybe adding the extra 9% would be more accurate…) and I claim 50% of the credit.

Especially at this time of year.

I suspect a traditional education is to blame. Harvest festival is deeply embedded in my psyche. And while Beverley ploughs the fields and scatters – so to speak – I like to harvest the ripe fruits in the garden. (No, I couldn’t remember the words to All Things Bright and Beautiful. I had to Google them. Maybe not such a traditional education after all…)

“So what exactly are you going to harvest?” she demanded.

“The plums,” I said.

“Well don’t eat too many. You know what they do to you.”

The sort of useful advice Monty should dispense on Gardeners’ World…

Basket in hand I headed out into the sunshine. The plums were the clear winner. Crop of the Year by a country mile. The tomatoes – last year’s winner – hadn’t even come close. “Sunshine at the wrong time of the year,” my wife said knowingly. If you say so, dear…

If I’m being picky – ha, ha – I was about three days too late. The ideal time would have been the middle of the week. But we were on parent duty. So let’s make a belated start.

Blimey that one feels juicy. Perfect. Just perfect.

Don’t eat too many. You know what they do to you.”

Well one isn’t going to hurt is it?

My basket fills up rapidly. And then, from nowhere, an evil spirit lands on my shoulder.

How are you doing, mate? That first one tasted good, didn’t it? And look at that one there. Soft, ripe, yielding… Nah, don’t bother washing it. That’s for wimps. See, you knew it’d taste good. And this is what men do. You’re a hunter-gatherer, providing for his family. And nothing tastes better than fresh fruit off the tree…

I walk proudly back inside. “The hunter-gatherer has gathered,” I say.

“Took you a long time,” Mrs H-G replies. “Anyway, now you need to stew them. And then I’ll freeze them.”

“And then you’ll make plum crumble?” I ask optimistically.

“If you insist.”

I did insist. Bluntly I couldn’t see much point in the freezer being involved. But it’s a long winter. I suppose we need to lay in stores. Stock up the back of our cave…

I set to work. Slice ’em in half, squeeze the stone out, into the pan.

And he was back.

How many’s that in the pan then? Seven or eight? Well, fair’s fair. You’re entitled to one now. Maybe another one. There’s loads. Of course she won’t notice…

Beverley glanced into the pan. “Is that all?” she said. “I thought there’d be more than that.”

“It always looks less when you start to stew them, dear.”

“And since when were you an expert on stewing fruit?”

That was on Sunday. “What do you want to eat tonight?” the hunter-gatherer’s loving wife asked on Monday afternoon.

“If it’s all the same to you… Well… Not very much.”

“Why not?”

“Well… I don’t feel very well. Haven’t fell very well all day.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Upset – ”

At which point our hunter-gatherer rushed out of the cave, grabbed a handful of leaves and ran into the bushes…

My first novel – ‘Salt in the Wounds’ – will be published in the next seven days. Here it is on Amazon

The Volkswagen BackSpasm

“All set?”

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

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

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

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

Or possibly not.

Mid-afternoon may be a touch optimistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Four? In a town this size?”

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

We’ve never been to St Andrews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s the next one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a tyre.”

“It’s a sign.”

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

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

“What are you going to get?”

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

“Er…” she said.

“What?”

“What about your back?”

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

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

The story of my life, told in cars.

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

And now. The final humiliation.

A Volkswagen BackSpasm…

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

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

The one that cost him his wife…

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

Shades in the Rain

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

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

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

And it’s gone.

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

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

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

My motivation took a dip.

And then I started writing my novel.

The fat lady belted out the Lost Fitness Blues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Algorithm

As a writer your life is controlled by a Single Deity.

It dictates your mood, your income, your happiness.

It’s a benevolent God that smiles on you.

Or a vengeful God that flicks you casually into the outer darkness.

It’s the Amazon Algorithm.

It’s all knowing. All powerful. Remorselessly accurate.

‘Don’t sell your book to your friends and family,’ the gurus yell. ‘The only thing they have in common is you. All you’ll do is confuse the Algorithm.’

No, you must sell your book to a carefully targeted niche audience. Better 50 people who enjoy long country walks in bondage gear than a hundred random friends.

(As if any writer has a hundred friends. Only two to go and I’ve got three…)

‘Amazon know everything you’ve ever bought. Everything you’ve ever looked at. They know what people like you have bought. How can the Great God Algorithm not be right?’

It’s difficult to argue with such cold, calculating logic.

Until you see what the algorithm recommended for me on Thursday morning.

A cordless power drill – as regular readers know, I run a mile from any hint of DIY

Elemis skin care – sadly, around 20 years too late

A mini exercise bike – which looks exactly like the tiny little bikes clowns ride in circuses

A Hawaiian shirt – obviously, as the last shirt I bought was a bottle green rugby shirt

And a men’s ‘get healthy’ skipping rope – a.k.a ‘the marriage wrecker…’

You’ve woken me up. What’s that awful thumping noise? And why are you gasping for breath?”

Sorry. I was skipping. In the hall. In my Hawaiian shirt.”

My apologies. I appreciate that the mental image of a grey-haired, slightly overweight, middle-aged writer in a Hawaiian shirt maybe too much. Especially one twirling a skipping rope round his head…

All this followed hot on the heels of last month’s laser-precision recommendation for me: an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I’d been planning a quiet afternoon’s editing. Clearly Amazon thought I might fancy invading Afghanistan…

But so much for rugged, manly things like power drills and battle tanks.

The algorithm is about to see me in a new light.

Every Wednesday I do half an hour of Facebook Live. In theory I talk about writing: in reality I talk about my wife’s taste in gin.

I do this from a state of the art broadcasting studio – or the dining room, as we sometimes call it. My phone’s propped up on a stand, which sits comfortably on eight paperbacks. I smile cheerfully, and start chattering away at 7:00 every Wednesday night.

So far, it’s worked perfectly. The set-up’s fine and – thanks to the evening sun shining in through the window – the lighting’s even finer.

But as you may have noticed, summer is drawing to a close. It’s getting darker and it’s raining every day. Wednesday’s broadcast was cloaked in shadows…

And so I’ve pressed ‘buy now.’ What have I bought? A Selfie Light Ring.

An hour ago I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then someone told me her teenage daughter needed one. ‘For her YouTube videos.’

And there it was on Amazon. ‘Easy to assemble’ and ‘good value’ – two boxes a clumsy miser always likes to tick.

It comes with three light modes (I’ll have ‘most flattering’ please), ten brightness levels, an adjustable phone holder and a tripod stand. So much for resting on old paperbacks: eat your heart out, Hollywood…

Sadly, I told my wife about it. “Oh, look,” she said, “It says it’s ideal for make-up videos. You’ll be the envy of teenage girls on TikTok. And if the writing doesn’t work out you’ll have another career to fall back on…”

This one was written on Friday August 28th: I’m now into my final edits on Salt in the Wounds and the aim is for it to go off for formatting – the Kindle version and the paperback – by September 11th. Publication is tentatively set for Monday September 28th.

The Writer’s Shirt

The Writer’s Shirt

What do the witches say to Macbeth? How do their prophecies influence his future actions?

The English curriculum is full of splendidly worthy questions – well, apart from this year.

That may or may not be one of them. I have no idea. I made it up.

Let me suggest an alternative. One that goes right to the heart of what it means to write. That defines the artist and his craft…

How do we know Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in his nightshirt?

Or that Dickens wrote Scrooge in his nightgown? That Ian Fleming wrote the early Bonds in a fetching pair of navy and white striped pyjamas?

Because every writer I know writes in his PJs. He gets out of bed, breaks wind, feeds the cat, runs a hand through his hair, scratches his nether regions and turns his laptop on.

I’d like to tell you that I’m the exception. I’d like to tell you I get up, run five miles, shave, shower, eat fruit for breakfast and only then reach for my laptop…

“At last,” my wife says. “You’ve managed to get dressed. I’ll alert the media.”

“I was in the middle of something…”

“Oh,” she says on closer inspection. “I see I’ve used the words ‘get dressed’ loosely.”

She may be right. I’ve now abandoned my black trousers/black t-shirt/black hoodie look of early summer. Instead I’m in black t-shirt/faded red shorts/khaki green top. Although my wife uses a different word to describe the shade of green. It has four letters.

The new elegance has not gone unnoticed. My wife has taken to wandering round the house muttering to herself. I occasionally catch the word ‘standards.’ And ‘slipping…’

But what do you know? She’s in luck. All nine planets are in line and I feel the urge for my annual bout of clothes shopping. A new shirt should do it.

What I really want is the shirt I had in my early 20s. (There are several other things from my early 20s I’d quite like back as well…)

Let’s push the sordid fantasies to one side – reluctantly – and concentrate on the shirt. It was cream. Lovely, soft fabric. With just four buttons. I pulled it on over my head. And I’ve spent the rest of my life searching for its direct descendant.

When I was a dull person in financial services a shirt like that was out of the question. And the children were small. Go home and anything I wore was immediately covered in mud, vomit or spaghetti hoops.

But now things are different. I’ve run away to join the circus. I’m a writer. I can wear whatever I like. When I finally get dressed, obviously…

And what I like are half-placket shirts. Also known as French peasant shirts. Henley shirts. “Most people call them grandad shirts,” my beloved said. They may do: I’ll save that for a few years if you don’t mind.

Put more simply, they’re the shirts Monty Don wears on Gardeners’ World.

Grey hair? Knackered knees? Nope. Nothing says you’re getting older quite like Googling ‘where does Monty Don get his shirts?’

I find out. And have a moment of pause when I discover how much Monty spends on his gardening shirts. I’d like the same please: but I was thinking of about thirty quid…

A furious online search ensues.

And guess what? The gentlemen of England are clearly following my lead.

Because however I describe them, they’re out of stock. None to be had anywhere. Not a half-placket or French peasant in sight.

Another one ticked off the bucket list. At last. I’m a fashion icon.

The cover of GQ can only be days away…

This one was written on Friday August 14th – just as I finished the first draft of Salt in the Wounds. That’s now gone off to get some feedback from my advance team of readers, and should be published by the middle of September. It’ll be available on pre-order by the end of this month. Meanwhile it’s just on four years since Alex and I finished our first walk on the Pennine Way. I’m always disturbed by how young I look on the cover of that one…

The Blame Game

You’ll remember where we left it last week. I was down on my knees mopping up cream. Lizzie was earning a huge number of brownie points by helping.

My wife? She’d fled the scene. It wasn’t just the kitchen floor. Her jeans and her jumper had also received a generous helping of single cream.

One of those little pots, eh? You pour some on your strawberries and think, ‘Well, there isn’t going to be much for everyone else.’ Hurl it all over yourself and the kitchen floor and it’s like the loaves and fishes.

So my wife scuttled off upstairs to get changed. And then there was the inevitable inquest.

Some of you will find the next sentence impossible to believe: you may need to go and lie down for a while.

It was my fault Beverley threw cream all over the kitchen floor.

I was in the other room. I heard her cry of anguish. I rushed to help. See above – on my knees mopping the floor. But when the inquest was held…

“It was your fault. You hadn’t put the top on properly.”

Fast forward a few days. Lunchtime. A slice of toast and – assuming Alex hasn’t beaten me to it – the last of the cheese. I cut a large slice of my wife’s home made bread. And that’s all I need: one slice of home-made equals three slices of supermarket pap.

Well, you can’t slice bread without making crumbs. Someone’s left a piece of kitchen roll on the worktop. I grab it and clear them up.

That’s odd. My hands are greasy. Oily, almost. I wash them. Butter my toast. Clean up more crumbs with that convenient piece of kitchen roll.

Greasy hands again. Is it the butter? Or have I developed some sort of super power? ‘We’re saved! It’s Slippery Hand Man!’

I wash my hands again. Take my toast into the dining room. Tell my wife about this strange, oily/greasy/slippery phenomenon.

“You know I always grease the bowl for the bread. So it doesn’t stick. I use a bit of vegetable oil and a piece of kitchen roll.”

“…Which you left on the worktop.”

“If you say so.”

“So it’s your fault my hands are greasy.”

Ha! I have revenge for the cream. That’ll teach her.

“No, dear. It’s your fault for being stupid and not realising.”

Calmly and logically I point out that there’s no clear evidence about the cream pot crime. There are no witnesses. Only my wife’s supposition. Whereas Beverley very clearly left out her oily piece of kitchen roll.

Calmly and logically does me no good. The cream is my fault. Slippery Hand Man is also my fault.

Half an hour later I was plodding along the cliff top. An almost-forgotten incident floated back to me. An incident from long ago, in a hallway not very far away…

It’s 2003: Dan is 9, Eleanor is 7. And there’s been a small outbreak of hostilities. A touch of ‘Brotherly, Sisterly Love,’ as I called the column.

Eleanor, having inflicted some serious damage on her brother, has been sent packing to her bedroom. And what did I write?

Halfway up the stairs she pauses, sticks out her chin and yells, “He deserved it!”

Eleanor, Dan did not deserve that…”

Yes, he did. He was asking for it!”

Eleanor injures Dan: it’s Dan’s fault.

The gene has been passed on. So I may need to drive to Leeds. Have a word with Could Be Serious. They’re buying a house next year. “Sorry to tell you this. She’s a lovely girl. But if there’s cream on the kitchen floor…”

Or maybe he’s worked it out already…

The Cream Rises

As you may recall, my wife was a touch hyper last week. Lizzie was coming to visit and a decree had gone out from Caesar that the house was to be made spotless.

Naturally I played my part. Although the old short term memory must be playing up again – I can’t quite remember what I did.

Cleaned the shower? It was on my list but somehow Beverley beat me to it.

Cleaned the top of the cooker? That was my first job. Me and Mr Muscle. We’re old mates. Work well together. Did I actually do it? Er… see above.

Ah! It’s all come flooding back to me. I fixed the kitchen cupboard doors. A few of them were getting a touch loose. Didn’t want Alex’s new girlfriend wandering round with a cupboard door in her hand.

Actually… strike that word ‘new.’ I’m not sure when the relationship officially started – and obviously Alex sees no need to inform me – but early March is my guess. So they’re about four months in. And they spent six weeks of lockdown together.

I reckon a week spent locked down together is worth a month in normal life.

“More like a year, you mean.” May as well write it now: save my wife the trouble of adding it when she’s proofreading…

So not new to Alex. But new to us.

Eighteen months ago the Beloved Daughter came home with Could Be Serious. Now they’re looking at houses.

And here’s Alex. Walking out of the station with Lizzie. And he’s carrying her bag.

It’s one thing I admire in my youngest son. He’s a gentleman: he’s protective and considerate.

My dad must be looking down with a broad smile. He’d approve of Alex. “Walk on the outside,” he always said to me. “A gentleman always walks on the outside of the pavement.”

“Why?” I said.

“To protect the lady’s dress against splashes from a passing horse and cart. And so he has his sword-arm free.”

I was an argumentative, sarcastic little sod as a teenager. You can guess my response.

But now I’m older and wiser I realise the reason didn’t matter. It was a courtesy, a mark of respect, of caring. And I see that in Alex. He opens car doors. Small gestures, a hand on her shoulder. He’s solicitous, he cares. I love to see it.

Almost as much as I love to see cream all over the kitchen floor.

Monday night. Lizzie had cooked for us. A lovely meal – butternut squash risotto. One of the recipes that made sure Alex spent lockdown with a smile on his face.

Now we’re clearing away.

Suddenly there’s a blood-curdling scream from the kitchen.

Or maybe it’s not blood that’s curdling…

My wife, having told me that the house must be immaculate, has thrown a carton of cream all over the kitchen floor.

And herself.

I rush to the scene. To help? To clean up? Of course. Once I’ve dabbed some Germolene on this nasty outbreak of schadenfreude…

Lizzie is right behind me.

And that’s the test, ladies and gentlemen. Will she get down on her knees and help you swab cream off the kitchen floor?

The answer is an emphatic yes…

So I offer that sage advice to all parents who may be meeting a new boyfriend/girlfriend in the coming weeks.

Don’t bother with all that small talk. Don’t try and tease out details about their ambitions or their intentions or their future prospects.

Just throw a carton of cream on the kitchen floor. The next two minutes will tell you all you need to know…

The Cleanest Clean

I received a generous dollop of Cold Tongue Pie the other night.

I broke a dinner plate. But it wasn’t for that. Nope, it was because I broke the wrong dinner plate…

“I’ve broken a plate,” I confessed, already reaching for the hair-shirt.

My wife went into the kitchen. “You’ve broken the wrong one,” she said accusingly. “Why didn’t you break the one with the chip in it?”

Married life, eh? You think you’ve finally mastered it after 27 years and then you break the wrong plate…

But I have bigger fish to fry. Or should that be, bigger crayfish?

“How are you doing?” we asked Alex two weeks into lockdown.

“I’m good,” he said. “My flatmates have gone home and I’m locked down with Lizzie.”

Yep, two weeks into lockdown and our youngest son was marooned inside his flat with his new, Australian girlfriend.

“And what’s Lizzie doing?” we asked. “Writing an essay?”

“No,” he said. “She’s cooking a crayfish stir-fry.”

Well, you know what I’m going to write next. Lizzie is coming to visit. Tomorrow.

Which might explain my I have a looming appointment with the oven cleaner. And a screwdriver.

My wife has decided the house needs cleaning. And fixing. I was due to sort the shower out as well – or paddling pool as it was rapidly becoming – but she lost patience and did it herself.

But does it really need doing?

Will Lizzie even notice?

When I was a young lad – still at university – I went to stay at my girlfriend’s. I never once looked at the top of the cooker. There could have been a Komodo Dragon living in the kitchen and I wouldn’t have noticed.

The shower? Yep, I definitely had some thoughts about the shower, but they had nothing to do with how quickly the water was draining…

Bluntly, I only had one thing on my mind.

When were her damn parents going out for a walk?

Come on, the sun’s shining, you live five minutes from the beach. And go to the pub on the way back…

No chance. Christine’s father very pointedly sat in his armchair and turned the TV on. “That’s me settled in for the night,” he declared.

Why not say what you mean? ‘There’ll be no hanky-panky under my roof, young man. And don’t try anything in the night either. Heard you were coming. Installed some special creaky floorboards…’

I now realise there was a sub-plot. He was – I can barely write the words – from the South. He didn’t want to risk any Yorkshire blood in his daughter’s home counties pedigree.

Anyway, a few million gallons of water have flowed under the bridge, and here I am now cast in the role of grumpy old dad settling in for the night.

Except I’m not. I’ve already told my wife that we’ll be doing the decent thing and going for a tactical walk on the beach. Or more likely Beverley will be going to visit her mother and I’ll go and hide in the office.

But first things first. The oven…

And what do you know? She’s already done it. The top of the oven is immaculate. Glistening as the sun peaks in through the kitchen window.

“You’ve done it,” I said as Beverley came out of the shower. “I said I’d do it.”

“I just wanted it done and off the list,” she said.

But like with Christine’s dad and his creaky floorboards, there was a sub-plot. ‘I just wanted it done properly.’

When I clean something there are three stages. ‘Call that clean?’ Clean-ish and what I fondly imagine is ‘really clean.’

And then there’s cleaned by my wife…

Smoke on the Ceiling

I was on the phone. And I was fighting a losing battle.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany,” I said.

“What did you say?” came the reply. “All I can hear is a guitar.”

I finally made myself understood. My wife looked up from the other side of the dining room table. “Are you auditioning for MI5, dear?”

“What?” Sometimes the woman talks in riddles.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany…”

“Yes, Amazon printed the paperbacks in Poland. They go to Germany and then they’re flown to the UK.”

“You still sounded like an apprentice James Bond. What was the reply to your password? Ze cheese sauce for my cauli – fleur eez in Normandie?”

I let her cheap sarcasm pass. “It’s a wonder I can make myself understood at all,” I said, gesturing at the ceiling. “You can’t win against Jimmy Page.”

“Who?”

“Jimmy Page. Lead guitar in Led Zeppelin. I thought you knew a lot about music.”

“It’s Deep Purple,” she said.

“What is?”

Smoke on the Water.”

I checked on Google. So it was.

We were eating breakfast. But humble pie was still on the menu. And those of you who’d tagged me under ‘old so probably a heavy metal fan’ will need to revise your filing systems…

Alex has been home from university for two months now. He arrived with the avowed intent of teaching himself the guitar. He’s been as good as his word and – like all beginner guitarists – has been playing Smoke on the Water remorselessly.

So far, so good. A basic guitar he found in Dan’s bedroom and he was making progress.

And then disaster struck. Josh went back to college.

“Hell’s teeth,” I said. “What’s that? It sounds like the Rolling Stones are warming up.”

There it was again. Coming straight through the dining room ceiling. The clear, unmistakable sounds of an electric guitar.

We rushed up to what had once been our son’s bedroom and was now a recording studio.

“What’s that?” I said, staring at an electric guitar.

Alex did his best not to use the is-it-time-for-your-medication expression my wife and daughter have perfected. He didn’t quite manage it this time…

“An electric guitar,” he said proudly.

“And what’s that black box on the floor?”

“An amp.”

“So Josh has gone back to college and left you those?”

He nodded. I searched noise cancelling headphones on Amazon. Meanwhile I tried to work with Smoke on the Water running endlessly through my head.

“I think we should have Josh’s head on a spike for this,” I muttered.

“Don’t be silly. However loud he is he’s still quieter than Eleanor. Don’t you remember when she was learning the trombone?”

Do I ever? Two terms of purgatory when the school somehow cajoled the Beloved Daughter into trombone lessons. Just when she was at her bolshie-teenager phase as well.

“That’s it, Eleanor. I’ve had enough. Go up to your bedroom and stay there.”

And thirty seconds later she was standing outside the lounge door ‘practising’ the trombone.

But relief was at hand. Two days later the Music Gods smiled on me. Smoke gave way to Sunshine of your Love. Yes! Eric Clapton! One small step for my son, a giant leap for music.

I may even get Layla before he goes back to Edinburgh.

And let’s keep things in perspective. It may be a distraction but it’s still preferable to his First Serious Girlfriend coming round to “help me with my revision.”

But nothing ventured…

I thought I’d try that line on my lovely wife. “Help me with my proof-reading.” You’ll be astonished to hear that after 27 years of marriage it didn’t work…