We’re in Wales, see?!

As a thriller writer I have to believe in serendipity, otherwise none of my books would hang together. Sam Green would not run from catastrophe to catastrophe without major artistic license, which I dress up nicely as serendipity. And so, what about this?

I’m am currently reading Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, a book about a retired couple who sail a narrowboat from London to the south of France. It is a scream – written more like a series of paragraph-long poems than anything you and I would consider to be English. But, if you step back from the prose, the story is one helluva tale. Narrow boats are flat bottomed vessels without a keel. They aren’t designed for waves – and they’re easily pushed about by the wind. A 15-foot wide canal is what they’re best at.

Well, as you can imagine, the couple bounce from near-disaster to near-disaster. Their first major exped is to sail from Bristol to Gloucester, up the very tidal Severn; the Channel follows soon after. The comedy is strong and the accompanying dog, Jim (a whippet – hence ‘narrow dog’) is beautifully narrated.


What’s the coincidence? Well, on our first day away in Doris we stayed at John’s, just by the M48 Severn bridge. We took our bikes for a ride, over the bridge, and for the first time ever we spotted 2 narrowboats heading up the river to the Sharpness canal. Now, we lived on the Severn banks for almost 2 years, so to say that we were surprised is something else.

We’re now mid-Wales, at Builth Wells – a very Welsh town where everyone speaks in a tongue which we do not understand. There’s a sing-along thing happening at the Welsh showground and so the place is teeming, in a very understated, middle-of-Wales sort of way. We cycled to the showground to have a poke around and were greeted with a £15 entrance fee – each. Now, call me tight (I know, you already do), but mostly these shows are about lots of stalls selling things with the odd spare piece of grass being used to show off some cattle. So I say £15 is a bit on the stiff side? It’s a bit like turning up at Ikea and the Swedes asking a tenner to get in before you spend £150 on stuff you really don’t need. We probably missed something special, like a cow with two heads, or a prize bull as big as an elephant. Never mind. Doubtless it will be on Wales Today later.

The really good thing about being in Doris is that it makes you sit still and not do a great deal. Now Mrs Sun has buggered off and is browning the knees of some other vitamin-D deficient soul, we’ve spent the afternoon sat not doing a great deal. C has been reading and I have been catching up with a whole load of e-paperwork, like bank statements etc.

And, how about this as a back page for For Good Men To Do Nothing? (Still in draft form – so comments welcome.)

Someone’s messing with the Global Positioning System and no one knows who, or why. The CIA report that there’s a major terror attack planned for the Middle East, but they cannot get a handle on the detail. And the ultra right-wing christian sect. The Church of the White Cross, is back doing what it does best: laying down carnage and inflaming anti-muslim hatred.

Sam Green’s been fired from SIS/MI6 for being a maverick operator. Skiing on a shoestring in Austria, she spots a face in the crowd. A face that doesn’t want to be recognised. But it knows that she knows – and that can’t be allowed.

Then someone lets slip the dogs of war.

Sam’s back; this time without the comfort blanket of SIS back up. Pursued from Europe to Venezuela, via The Bahamas and Miami, her enemies are seemingly one step ahead. With a single act of terror the world is about to be plunged into a religious war that will last for decades. With only the support of her old German hacking pal, Count Wolfgang Neuenburg II, together can they prevent Armageddon?  

And, for the record, C bought me a new phone the other day, a Motorola G5. It’s an Android one and costs £118 from Argos. It is just brilliant (and my 4th Motorola). So, top tip. If you need a new phone, come off contract, go to Virgin (or similar) and ask for an all-inclusive deal – unlimited data, minutes, texts. It should cost you now more than £18 a month. And then buy an off-the-shelf G5. Fab. All four of us (me, C, Jen and Bex) have a G5. Works for us.

That’s it from me. We’re back in Bristol on Friday and then up to Jen’s on Sunday for her birthday. And … then it’s just 7 weeks until freedom. I must keep my hands away from anything that’s likely to set the school on fire. If I manage that I might just make it to the end …

Comments please…

I made it to half term. Just. Friday. Period 3; Year 7. An 11 year old boy in tears of indignation because I’d asked him to move. Earlier he’d asked if he could sit with a pal. I said yes, provided they behaved. They didn’t. I warned the lad. Minutes later I asked him to move. ‘Why?’ ‘What, me?’ ‘Why?’ After what seemed like an age he moved, but he was now in tears. Of indignation. How does that happen? How does an 11 year old boy find himself there? How does he think that he has a chance of arguing the toss with a teacher who has given him ample warning? How?

Whatever – it took another couple of weeks off my life. I wouldn’t make September if they extended the summer term.

Anyhow, we’re now with Mum and Dad. Dad is in a sorry state. He cannot complete a sentence, forgets what he’s thinking about half way through a sentence, and, this evening, didn’t understand that he had to put his pads after a shower. He’s been wearing them for over 6 months. But he has remained gracious with only small outreaks of frustration. And Mum somehow manages. It’s a mystery how. ‘I’m a wife, not a carer.’ How true. But then, we would argue, accept that you need some homehelp. But, alas, she won’t.

We leave tomorrow. It feels like we’ve been here for a week.


comments please…

Ahh. Books. Hurrah! See the draft front cover of For Good Men To Do Nothing. It needs some work, and if any of you have any comment then please let me know what you think. Be brutal. I’m on for publishing by the end of the first week in July – to meet the beginning of school summer hols. Unlike The Innocence of Trust, where I was hoping to have sold 1,000 copied by Christmas (just short of 400 at the moment – 9 months later), I have no expectations for book 4. I will advertise vigorously and keep my fingers crossed. But a couple of hundred by Christmas would be good. That would pay (and some) for the money I’m paying for my editor/proofreader. Anything beyond that would be a bonus.

And for us, now? Well we’re off in Doris for the week – hopefully to mid-Wales. Back at the weekend for Jen’s birthday and then back to work for the final 7 weeks. Hopefully I’ll make it to the end with my sanity and/or without being sacked for setting fire to a classroom full of children. We’ll see.

We did that, I did this…

You’ll be delighted to know that I’ve dismounted my (high) horse and will not go on and on about things like Brexit and our place in the world – at least for a bit. Hurrah, I hear you say.

So, what shall I drivel on about? Well work has been sapping at me like a slow puncture. I know I’ve said it a million times before, but I take my hat off to all teachers – every one. I had to extricate a child from my class today – during an assessment in exam conditions. It wasn’t a single infringement, but a litany of offences that was only heading for one outcome. What makes that happen? How many times do you have to say ‘be quiet and let the rest of the class work’? Whatever. It won’t be the last time.

What caught my imagination and cheered me up was on my cycle home. In the drive of one of the small Victorian houses was a 10-year-old camper. It had its sliding door open, was clearly plugged into the mains and in it, drinking tea, was an elderly man. He was relaxed and tanned – and I guess was Grandad visiting his Grandkids. Or any other story you can think of. Whatever fires your imagination, it made me smile: that sense of freedom. The ability to take off. The tea! Hurrah to that!

C spent the day cleaning the car. She’s got a new wheel cover and a replacement wing mirror cover (the car, not C). And now looks a little bit like she used to. We took her to Quick Fit on Monday as the the front left wheel’s been making a racket at higher speeds. But, thankfully, the man in the blue boiler suit could find nothing wrong. My wallet felt much better for that. So, all’s well on the car front.


a previous life and a previous Doris…

Now, what about the trike – named ‘Scarlet’ by Mary at the weekend? I drove her into the middle of Bristol yesterday evening as the maths department met to say cheerio to a female member of staff who’s off on maternity leave. I only stayed for a drink, but apparently I caused a stir when I left – Scarlet had some admirers. Quite right. I also loved it. I drove a moped for three years too and from work, day-in, day out. It was great fun, but always a tadge on the slow side. Not so, Scarlet. At 300cc she’s as quick to 30 mph as anything on the road. She might be the death of me…

Two days till half-term. We’re off to Mum and Dad’s for the weekend (in the car) and then back for a few days away in Doris. We’ve yet to decide, but probably mid-Wales. Hopefully Mrs Sun won’t have burnt herself out by then. She is getting through the hydrogen at quite a rate. After that, seven weeks of teaching left, and then I’ll consider myself to be an author again. Nothing yet back from my new editor/proofreader – other than she was enjoying it. Plan is still to publish in early July.

That’s it from me. Sorry it’s a but ‘we did this, and I did that’… but, you wait until we’re on the road again!








Just perfect

Ahhh …  Mrs Sun. Brown knees. Red noses. That sleepy feeling – when the heat drags out what little energy you have left and you’re really up for a snooze.

But! How does that work? How come our miserable country with its wind and rain, its Brexit loons and high streets full of charity shops, hit the highs of 25 degrees and an early summer calmness? Could it be the wedding? You know … the one between the American chick and the English bloke. I bet Meghan didn’t want to grow up to be a princess. I bet she had greater ambitions than that. A high-flying lawyer. A UN ambassador. The president of the US (yes, please). But, she’s gone and done it now. She’ll be kissing babies forever … but.

Maybe not. Maybe, even though they’ll never be King and Queen, maybe, just maybe, they’ll help drag this jingoistic country into the 21st Century. Remind the old and uneducated that we are the world’s entrepreneurs. That our arts are the best. That our history enables us to see through the popularist politics of today. That we are indeed sat at the world’s breakfast table – helping others to toast and marmalade. That we are for the common good – the whole world’s common good. We helped forge this planet – we discovered its shores, mapped its coastline, built its bridges, laid its traintracks and, with the help of the Sinclair C5 and Heath Robinson, proved that we are innovators and fixers. Our smart double-breasted suits are sharp and in fashion – and are worn to take us all forward, not to make Britain great again. Because we are already great. They’re worn because we want to help make everyone else great.

Our artists and musicians, even that young ginger bloke, are at the leading edge of what is excellent. Our comedians are funny – in a non-German sort of way. And our scientists know their onions – and our climate change experts know a lot about carbon dioxide. We now produce more energy with wind power (its those onions again), solar and biofuel electricity than coal and gas – which, let’s face it, are so ‘the previous-but-one century’. And we are not a bunch of small-minded, xenophobic gammons who want to pull up the drawbridge and stick two fingers up at the rest of the world. We are, by history, a country of invaders – of immigrants, and proud of that diversity. We don’t care what your religion is. Nor do we look at you in a funny way if you’re a person of colour. Or if you wear a headscarf – (like Ena Sharpels). Or if you’re gay – or any other letter in the ever extending acronym. Because we are all multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religion, multi-gender British. When we’re like that we are great. Really we are.

Because of all that.

So well done to the English bloke and the American (is she Canadian?) chick for making that point yesterday – in spades. Stuff you lot who think otherwise. If you want to live on both a physical and metaphorical island, then pack your bags and move to … I don’t know. I could say the US, but they won’t give you a visa. And when you eventually get your paperwork sorted out His Trumpkleness will be behind bars and you will no longer want to go over the Pond as they won’t be selling guns across the counter at Walmart.


ahh, new patio

Me? I’m staying – I think. We live in a small street which has at least 3 Polish residents. And they’re great. Professional and charming. They’ve worked hard to speak our language and worked harder still at fixing other people’s plumbing. They don’t moan about the state of anything – they just get on with it. And so should we.


Tyntesfield – fab

Oh … and for the record. Mary came to stay to watch the wedding. I extended the patio and today we went out to NT Tyntesfield. It was fab. And Mrs Sun was omnipresent. Just perfect.


I’m on my own. Just for a night, but it is unusual. C and I were both in the Army for a while, and then she took on the role of camp follower (and Army wife – which is a job all of its own) when Rebecca was born – and I pursued my career. I was away a lot – not as much as some of my pals, but enough for it to surprise non-Army folk. After 25 years and with more nights-out-of-bed than I care to remember, we jacked it in and I became a school teacher. Pretty much since then we’ve been inseparable, other than a couple of trips to Sierra Leone with the school and a few other v short breaks.


West coast of France a couple of years ago. Missing it right now…

It’s worth interrogating that. Most of you, I guess, spend most of your time at home. And if you live with someone else, then it’s likely that you’re rarely separated. But … chew on this. How about you pick the person you’re closest to and then live with them cheek by jowl in a very small tin box for three and a half years. That’s a long time in a small space. How would that work for you?

Well, that’s what we did until last Christmas.

C and I are both biggish characters and, whilst they won’t admit it, I’m guessing our pals thought it would never last. But it did. And we did more than just survive. And whilst it’s fun to be in our small house (with Doris parked outside), we’re still planning long trips in her. And we look forward to that. (Next is half term – starting a week tomorrow. Yippee!)

So, why am I alone? Well, C’s gone down to Godalming to pick up Mary. They want to watch the wedding together. Me, whilst I absolutely support having a Royal family – providing they’re not playing It’s a Knockout, getting messily divorced or generally being idiots – I couldn’t care less about who’s getting married to whom, and where and how. No, I shall be in the garden looking to get a patio laid. and it looks like we have the weather for it.



For the record, and to finish, after work yesterday I drove to Farnham to see a Deputy Head who I am mentoring – and then back again. It seems likely that I might be getting some more work at that school. And, just now, I had pasty and beans. Yummy, Since C had a cholesterol shock last month we’ve been on pasta and grass. So I was allowed a treat with C away. It’ll be short-lived. Tomorrow I’ll be eating my own body weight in salad – or similar.

Till the weekend!

Maybe, just maybe

Me and my mate mate Richard popped over to France yesterday. I know, I know. How lucky are we? The original plan was to buy some booze (for non-Europeans, the UK taxes its alcohol as if it were luxury goods – why would our government want us to relax and have some fun?) for Jen and James’ post-wedding bash down south. But that party has been cancelled for complex reasons, we had a weekend planned with Richard and Caroline, and I had a ferry ticket burning a hole in my pocket.


a Caliasian bromance

C decided that she would stay in Dover (where R&C live) as another friend of ours, Rosemary, was also down for the weekend. The three girls could spend the day tearing up herbs and pulling the legs off small animals and then throwing everything into a boiling cauldron. Rich and I, on the other hand, could drive to France, buy some booze and have a day talking rubbish at each other. We managed a day of nonsense, but there was no sign of a pot of stewing magic juice when we returned. They’d obviously destroyed the evidence.

Rich and I did have a great day. The two of us are like a couple of old women (have I insulted you lot enough already?) and talk and talk. We covered everything and it was fab to have some bromance time with a very old pal. Interestingly as both of us approach 60, one of the topics was ‘what are we going to do with our remaining heartbeats?’ It’s a good question, and whilst it doesn’t occupy every waking second of my day, it looms large now more than it ever did.

What do you do? It’s funny, but a cliched ambition of ours was always to buy a place in France – somewhere where the weather is consistent (unlike here) and you don’t lose three and a half hours of your quickly evaporating time in a carpark driving south of London to get to Dover. And about now we could absolutely realise that ambition. If we wanted we could smell the onions, feel Mrs Sun burning at our knees and hear the waiters’ disdaining retorts when ordering an espresso. If I close my eyes I can smell the chlorine in the pool – and not hear the sound of the M4/M5 junction, which is a constant soundtrack to our current life in north Bristol.

So why aren’t we doing this? Why haven’t we put stuff on the market, packed up all of our gear in an old transit van and buggered off into the sunset, leaving a trail of unburnt diesel for others to miss us by?


I’m not sure. Maybe because we’ve just finished three and a half years on complete freedom living in Doris – and have had the benefit of waking up in several warm countries where the waiters aren’t rude and Mrs Sun just as prevalent. Maybe we secretly like it here? Close to friends and family. Within easy reach of B&Q and never far from ordinariness? Maybe we’ve been Bohemian and now want to be Bristolian?

Maybe. Maybe not. It might be my current state of mind – which is flat and lacks peaks and troughs. It may be that the teaching thing is so overwhelming that there isn’t room for original and maverick thought? Or, maybe, just maybe, we’ve found a niche with our little house, big motorhome and ridiculous scooter?





His Trumpkiness

Well – that’s me. I’m done with this teaching lark. Two kids in detention today and I could have dispatched a couple more. What makes 11 year-olds so bolshie? Why am I not scary enough to get them to do as they are told? OK, so I don’t raise my voice. And I have yet to deploy the taser I have in my pocket – although I have seriously considered it. (Only joking; in case there are any lawyers reading this.)

Actually it’s not as bad as all that. In fact it’s much better than it was at the beginning when I was cycling to work in the dark and facing off most of the classes. Now I don’t dread the confrontation, the fight(s) (I can’t remember if I told you about that?), the constant ‘sit down’, be quiet, listen!, that’s enough…etc, and the emotional turmoil of not consistently reaching the brighter kids in the class. It’s not fair on them. But I do feel as though I am getting through. Checking their books today does show that there is a lot of good work going on. Phew.


wish we were back in Scotland now. Oh, hang on, what about the midges?

And what about His Trumpkiness? Pulling out of the Iran deal. Paying off a porn star. Writing his own doctor’s certificate. Firing most people. His wife living with her parents (allegedly). And, and… The thing is, we are tuned out now. He can pretty much say and do as he wishes and, because it’s all lost in the other rubbish, we don’t wobble. Pulling out of the Iran deal is just wrong. Everyone, apart from the Israeli PM (but including his national security adviser), is saying that Iran is holding up its side of the bargain. There are international monitors who are saying this is so. Obama came out on Facebook last night and made an intelligent and impassioned appeal in its favour. But Trump is determined to undermine everything Obama has done (check out when Obama ridiculed Trump at the WH Correspondent’s dinner – that’s when he decide to run and that’s what’s pushing him to dismantle Obama’s legacy). And the Iran deal is the latest. The fact that, for the forseeable future, no one will want to enter a treaty with the US for fear that they will pull out, does not seem to bother the man.

Sorry, but he’s an idiot. On so many levels. If I were not working on the day he’s coming to London, I would be in Whitehall holding up an appropriate banner. I would. Why should a man who cheated on his third wife just after she had given birth to their son deserve any less? It’s not right that we are giving him time of day. He doesn’t deserve our respect. And he certainly doesn’t have mine.

Harrumph. It’s been one of those days. I hope yours has been better…

Mrs Sun, welcome back

Well, how about that then? Mrs Sun has decided to pay us all a visit at the same time that we are not working. Blow me down. Whatever next? I don’t want to count my poultry, but I understand this may be the way it is for a couple of days.

And we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the upturn in weather with some good friends. First, on Friday night Kenn and Mikki popped over for supper. They were the first of our friends who have crossed the threshold of our very small bolthole and we think she handled it rather well. On the menu, other than something C knocked up, was discussion concerning a trip in 2021 along the Silk Road. Kenn and Mikki are all for it, and so are we. We all agreed that there were a number of obstacles – such as family commitments etc, but you only get one go at this, and C and I are certainly not getting any younger.


IN terms of a vehicle, whilst I was thinking along the lines of a 15 year old Toyota Landcruiser, which is the aid agencies’ vehicle of choice. Kenn was thinking smaller. Like a Suzuki Jimny, or a Toyota Rav 4. Whatever, we’d look to put a tent on the roof and beef up bits and pieces. It all sounds like a great deal of fun, and, if you’re happy to find £6k or so, we reckon we could give it a real go over about 4 months. We’ll see.

Then, yesterday, we popped southwest to see James and Sheron. They live in deepest, darkest Devon – but it’s well worth the effort. They have an old, traditional thatched Devon long house with a couple of paddocks. James (inspiringly to me) has built a barn, a shed-cum-bar and a enclosed and windowed wooden gazeebo. The weather forced us to eat outside and we had a fab time talking about the same old stuff we always talk about when we meet up with old pals (James and I have known each other since we were 16). This morning we walked with the dogs, popped to the pub for a drink and then grabbed a wrap that Sheron had knocked up before heading northeast…

…where we picked up Doris from the doctors. The awning looks well and truly sorted (fingers crossed), but, and I could have guessed this, the company had not put any diesel in her – even though the MD had agreed to do so (I’m not sure that I should be paying for the privilege of taking her to south Somerset and back). The guy who handed over the keys told me that the bowser was empty, so having handed her over with 2/3rds of a tank, I picked her up with just a 1/4 of tank of fuel left. Now I know it’s not a great deal of money, but you know what? I think they should try a bit harder. I really do.

Back home we stripped her down inside completely as the next job is to give her a thorough Spring clean. I’m going to remove all of the internal panels and look for any leaks or issues whilst C gets her rubber gloves on. She’ll be just like new when we finish.

However, first I’m keen to get started on knocking down a 4-brick high wall in the garden and refashion it so we can have a decked area at the back of our huge garden (sarcasm doesn’t travel well on a blog, does it?). I need to knock some of it down to understand the size of the problem. That’ll be fun – and that’ll be tomorrow’s job. Hurrah!


So, it’s D+2. And, I hear you ask, how’s the trike? Well – I’ve only put her down twice. Which is quite something considering she’s got 3 wheels. In my defence she does weigh 230 kg and with me and C on it she’s quite top heavy. Both of them, I hasten to add, were static drops. One, however, was when C was on the back. What we must have looked like, goodness only knows. But no damage apart from a dent in our pride.

The madness is she has a spoke locking device where the front spokes lock so you can actually sit on the bike without putting your feet down. For me it’s one too many operations for my ageing brain to manage. Having ridden a moped for three years, day-in, day-out, it was always a simple ‘foot-down’. But with all of us on it, that’s not quite enough – sometimes. Anyhow, I’m learning. I’ve been out on her every evening and on Monday we did manage to cycle all the way to Jen’s and back (a round trip of 70 miles). It was cold but workable. It will be (will be) fabulous once we’re abroad.

Which raises the next question. How are we going to carry her? She’s too heavy for the garage (max of 150 kg), so we’ll have to tow her. Then there’s the choice of a standard motorcycle trailer (which is long – on an already long vehicle). Or we could go for a side-entry trailer – which is shorter, but still a naff to reverse with. Finally there’s a trailer called an ‘easy lift’. This secures ‘fixed’ to the tow bar (we haven’t got one of those yet), and mechanically drops to the floor. You push the bike on and then pump it up, sticking on a pair of castor wheels to take the weight. This then becomes a rigid box on the back with twisty wheels. It’s v short and the twisty wheels means that, to all intents and purposes, all you’ve done is extend the length of the van – there is no danger of jack-knifing. In terms of cost all options (new) come in just over a grand (deep breath). We are, as they say, considering all options.

I would hope we could have something sorted before we go to Spain in October. We’ll see. As you can see from the photos, she looks fab. And that is the case…


this was taken when we were upright…

Work continues. I’m managing. And we’re all learning something in my classes, even if I am frazzled at the end of the day. Ten weeks to go. Part of me wants, at that point, to pack up Doris, rent out the house and go back to being a nomad. Proper work does that to me – you know? I think it’s about being in an institution all my life. Bounded by rules and expectations. Our 3.5 years in Doris’s 1 and 2 (3.5 years – that’s a long time!) was hugely liberating. I miss them. But, I’m pretty confident that we’ll keep the middle ground – bolt-hole and a van. Oh, and a trike. Mmmmm – could be fun.

We have a busy couple of days coming up. Pals of ours Kenn and Mikki are coming for supper on Friday. He’s my Army pal who just took a bike from London to Freetown (I bet he didn’t put it down…and his has only got two wheels).  We’re going to discuss driving the Silk Road (Venice to Mongolia) in two 4x4s, possibly in 2020. Now, that’s something to look forward to!

And then on Saturday we’re off to Devon to see James and Sheron (more Army friends). Back via the motorhome people to pick up Doris – they tell me they’ve fixed the awning. I hope so…

That’s all from me. I hope you make it to the end of the week intact.