The Shimmering Hexagon of Doom

What’s happening here, then? Have I splashed some water on my screen?

Does your phone do that?

You’re getting shaved and sending a text message at the same time. You splash some water on the screen. Hey presto! There’s a little prism of light. A rainbow. Richard Of York Got Bathed In Vinegar. Or is that showing my age? Poor old Rich could probably sue these days…

Wipe it with a towel and you’re back to normal.

Ah, you’ve cut yourself. Serves you right. Everyone knows you can’t get shaved and send a text message at the same time…

So there I am. Wednesday afternoon. Tapping away. And the bottom left hand corner of my screen is distorted…

Shimmering.

I can’t see it. Ah, I can if I move my head. But then my notebook starts shimmering.

Duh!

There must be some water on my glasses. God knows how but that’s the only possible explanation.

Odd though… They’ve never refracted light like this before.

Glasses off. Vigorous polish. Back on. Job done.

Or maybe not.

In fact… it’s getting bigger.

I close my eyes. There’s a very clear shape.

It’s a hexagon, with jagged edges. Except someone’s taken a bite out of the upper right side. Like the Apple logo. Exactly like that.

And the damn hexagon is still shimmering. Laptop screen, notebook, bookcase. Whatever I look at, it shimmers.

For some reason I get up walk into the kitchen. Toaster, kettle, Marge Simpson fridge magnet. Yep, all shimmering.

I finally work out what’s happening. It’s a migraine. Ocular migraine, according to Mr Google and the one half of the screen I can see. Apparently the nerve endings in my visual cortex have got themselves excited.

On a wet Wednesday afternoon in lockdown? I wish they’d share it with me…

‘Where’s Dad?’ I’d ask as a teenager.

‘He’s in bed. He’s got a migraine.’

But I was lucky, the gene skipped a generation. It landed fairly and squarely on my youngest son (sorry, Alex) but it missed me. Cue guilt trip…

Or maybe Alex caught it from his mum. Every so often my beloved takes to her bed, complaining about ‘black holes’ in her vision – and I sympathise without really knowing what I’m sympathising with.

Or I did. Now I know. Google tells me the Shimmering Hexagon of Doom will hang around for half an hour. Then it clocks off and its mate the headache comes on duty.

That’s what happened. In a rare flash of common sense I was in bed by the time they swapped shifts.

24 hours later I was back. Still feeling out to lunch but well enough to tiptoe back online. I exchanged symptoms with some virtual pals.

Flashing lights and violent headaches, one wrote.

Like having your own personal fireworks display

What pins and needles would look like if you could see them

Looks like I got off lightly…

‘Too much time spent staring at a laptop’ was the most common diagnosis. ‘Stress’ ranked highly.

Mine were definitely caused by stress, my friend Rosaline wrote. But I divorced my husband and that got rid of them.

According to Gina, I think of the shape I see as a Patronus. You know, like in Harry Potter.

Blimey, there’s a breakthrough in medical science. The shape you see when you’re having a migraine is your very own Patronus. Harry Potter’s Patronus is a stag. Dumbledore’s is a phoenix.

Mine is a wobbly hexagon someone’s taken a bite out of.

Yep, that sounds about right…

THE SCARS DON’T SHOW

Michael Brady is willing to risk it all

His career, the woman he loves, even his life

For the man who nearly killed him…

The Scars Don’t Show’ is the first Michael Brady Short Read. Books you can read in an evening. It will be published in March: you can pre-order it here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08WPM8WXS

Inky Fingers

I hammered another nail into the coffin this week. Dealt another savage blow to the nation’s high street. 

I bought some pens. Yes, from you-know-where. In a previous life I’d have gone into Rymans. Then bought a sandwich. 

Maybe some socks from Mountain Warehouse. ‘Might as well do my clothes shopping for the year while I’m in town…’

But I didn’t. Fourteen gel pens. Nine quid. 

And here they are falling through the letterbox the next day. Even generously donating two to my lovely wife – wisely, I don’t say ‘here’s something for Valentine’s Day’ – I’ve enough to last me until the first snowfall of 2022. 

But you know what? I feel ashamed of myself. I’m a man who thinks we should measure in rods, poles and perches. Go back to pounds, shillings and pence. ‘Fourteen bob for a Mars Bar? Has t’world gone mad?’ 

So how can I possibly use a gel pen? 

Do you remember the excitement at school? The day Mrs Flood announced that you were big children now? That it was time to start writing in ink. The trembling fingers as you slid back the brass cover on your ink well… 

The Sorting Hat choosing the ink monitors…

Hmmm… Did junior school know something about my future path through life? I never made it to the dizzy heights of ink monitor. Not sure I was ever a milk monitor either. A bullet dodged there – the days when school milk was left in the playground to curdle. Then Mr Nicholson the caretaker hauled it in and Frostie the Sadist forced you to drink it. 

The years passed, you made it to big school. Geometry set, pencil case – and your own fountain pen! Parker or Platignum? Almost as fiercely debated as red sauce or brown sauce with your bacon buttie…

The old memory’s getting a bit hazy now, but I’m fairly certain I started off with a cartridge pen. Or was it the one with the strange lever on the outside? A tiny rubber sac inside the pen. 

I have a vague recollection of dipping my nib in the ink (Stop sniggering at the back…) and pumping away like some demented medic performing cardiac massage. Fervently hoping my pen would gasp and suck in ink – like the heroine gasps and sucks in air before she gazes into his eyes…  

I’m in the fourth form now. And my pen has a plunger. Into the bottle of Quink Ink and draw the plunger slowly upwards. Even I understand the physics, and I’m good to go for Hist and Geog. 

Damn it. Serious exams are approaching. Three hour endurance tests in those days. 

And you’d stagger out of the school hall. The middle finger of your right hand stained blue. A dent in it so deep that it had to be permanent.

What did you just whisper? Biro? 

‘Is that a biro in your hand, boy?’ 

Writing with a biro was a capital offence. A couple of days in the stocks at least. The line between writing with a biro and moral degeneracy was thin, if it existed at all. 

‘Serial killer you say? Can’t say I’m surprised. Wrote with a biro when he was a teenager, you know.’ 

Black ink was another sign. ‘The wretch wrote his essay in black ink? Thank you, Mr Foulkes. Let me know if he speaks to any of the Biro Boys.’

You can understand what a shock it was to my generation when official forms suddenly demanded black ink on pain of death. 

Anyway, time to reach for the gel pen. Work calls. 

And where’s the hammer and the nails? I need some new Pukka Pads…

“A good, pacy read, excellent follow-up to Salt in the Wounds. Subject matter a little harrowing but written in a sensitive way. Can’t wait for the next book in the series. I love Brady!” 

The River Runs Deep is out now on the Kindle. 

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

The Whipping Boy

Where did we leave it last week? Ah yes, a slight accident with the bread. The wife had carelessly left me in charge.

A slight loss of concentration. Forgot the timings. Had to take a wild stab at it.

Don’t worry. She’s none the wiser. “Hmmm…” she said, “This bread hasn’t risen very much.”

I nodded my head sagely. Straight outta Bake Off. “Probably not kneaded enough, dear. Under-proved maybe…”

I got away with it.

And then it struck me. How had I not thought of it before? Twenty-seven years of marriage. The occasional helping of cold tongue pie. And now I have a way out. An excuse. A scapegoat.

A whipping boy.

His name’s Michael Brady. He’s the hero of my novels. And the answer to all my problems.

Forgot to put the bread in? “I was working on Brady, sweetheart.”

Forgot to put the bins out? “Brady, darling. Crucial part of the plot.”

Staring into space and ignoring my wife? “What was that, dear? Just doing some creative thinking. Yes, Brady…”

There’s only one problem Brady can’t protect me from.

Christmas.

Fortunately Amazon are on the case. But not with any degree of accuracy…

As regular readers know, last time there was an Amazon special event their all-knowing, all-powerful algorithm suggested – ‘based on your previous browsing history’ – that I might like to buy an Abrams M1 battle tank.

I thought about it – the woman next door will insist on parking in front of our drive – but it was the merest fraction too wide for the garage.

Now they’ve gone one better. As we limber up for Christmas and Amazon insist my life will be meaningless without Alexa in every room – ‘Alexa, lift the toilet seat for me will you?’ ‘I’m having trouble connecting to the internet’ – they’ve gone one step beyond.

Based on my previous browsing history they’ve suggested I buy…

A pogo jumper.

Not sure what a ‘pogo jumper’ is? It’s a pogo stick on steroids.

Seriously, I have fallen in a bog. I have walked a mile of the Pennine Way in my underpants. I have accidently applied a cow dung poultice to my own leg. Amazon think I should be let loose on a pogo jumper?

‘How did your husband die?’

‘He lost control of his pogo jumper. I told him not to use it on the pier…’

Maybe this is the modern equivalent of Demonic possession. Instead of your head turning through 360 degrees, instead of projectile vomiting if you see a crucifix, maybe your Amazon account goes mad…

Maybe the Dark Lord is down there in Hell, hacking into my browsing history. ‘What next? The battle tank didn’t work. Ah, yes. A rocket-powered pogo stick…’

Mind you, the Dark Lord won’t be needed if I don’t get organised for Christmas.

I’m thinking of buying the wife her own gin still.

You know, cut out the middleman…

Mind you, I’ve made a rod for my own back. Or whatever the maritime equivalent is. I’ve spent the year waxing lyrical about An Dúlamán Irish gin – made from seaweed hand picked by Donegal virgins at the full moon.

And I might need to be careful…

‘I wanted to make a batch specially for you, darling. I know how much you loved that Irish one. Yes, I’ll make it with seaweed. Well, no, sweetheart. Not ordinary seaweed off the beach. I thought when it was low-tide. Really low tide. You could harvest some rare seaweed. At the full moon. There’s that rock pool… Yes, it is a long way out. Yes, I know the tide rushes in and catches people. But I’m only thinking of you, darling…’

I’m delighted to say that ‘The River Runs Deep’ – the second book in the Michael Brady series – is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here’s the link.

Brady stood up and walked over to the window. Tried to process what Frankie had told him. Tried to work out the implications. He turned round. Frankie was bending forward, reaching for her laptop. “You need to prove this to me,” he said. “And you need to do it now. Because there’s no way I’m going to sleep. Not knowing I’ve wasted two weeks. And that Kershaw has known all the time. And that…”

That someone has to tell Ian Foster.”

What did I say in the car? His life was unravelling. This is going to tear it apart.”