The bags are packed, the dog’s in boarding kennels, and we’re off to the Canary Islands for a bit of sun, sand and s… yes well, never mind.
By this time tomorrow, while you’re all shivering in your overcoats, we’ll be arriving in Arrecife, stepping off our Boeing 7-summat-7 and stripping down to the shorts and tees for a week of subtropical sun and ultra-violet. Lanzagrotty, here we come.
However, just because we’re a coupla thousand miles away, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m forgetting you. As I raise the occasional cerveza to quench my thirst, I shall think of you struggling through the forthcoming ice, snow, fog and rain.
And it’ not as if I’m leaving everyone totally bereft. Followers and avid readers of the STAC Mysteries will be pleased to learn that STAC Mystery #13, A Theatrical Murder, has gone off to the editor and by the time I get back from Lanzarote, it should be back with me, hopefully carry a clean bill of health and a seal of approval which means it can be passed to Crooked Cat.
In the meantime, I may find the odd moment to potter with #14, working title, A Healthier Murder. The culprit in that title is so secret even I don’t know who it is yet. But I can tell you it’s set in Cyprus.
Right, enough waffle. I’m packing me bucket and spade and off to Lanzarote and I’ll see you all in a week and a bit.
Thirteen is supposed to be unlucky, isn’t it? Well, that’s certainly the case when it comes to STAC Mystery #13. I have never had so many problems with a title.
It was due at the publisher (Crooked Cat) before Christmas for release in the New Year. But when I read through it in December, it reminded me of a car that wasn’t running quite right. It needed a fix and I couldn’t see where. Then, right at the death of the year, it occurred to and I set to work putting it right.
Everyone knows what followed next. I was floored by a combination of flu and pneumonia. That took out virtually the whole of January, but even so I continued to work on A Theatrical Murder, as far as my woolly mind would permit, and suddenly, it was finished. All it needed was another read through and it could go to editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam. I even emailed Maureen to advise her it was on its way.
That was on February 4th. On February 7th, I emailed her again to tell her what I had was a Grade I load of rubbish. There were huge chunks missing from it and other passages which made little or no sense. It was symptomatic of my addled brain during those weeks when I was really ill, and there was no way I could inflict it upon editors, publishers and especially readers in that state. So I went back to the drawing board.
At its core is a good tale, and it’s one which I hope will keep you guessing. It doesn’t need a complete rewrite, but it needs quite a bit of work, and I have abandoned everything else in an effort to get this done.
I can only apologise to those readers waiting for this title. It will be with you, and soon. So keep the faith and it will be with you ASAP.
It’s coming up to six weeks since I stopped smoking, and I had the idea that this was a turning point for me. Only good things would happen now that I’m free of the evil weed. In truth, it’s probably been the worst six weeks of my life.
The original illness which prompted me to stop smoking lingers on. I’m still coughing up crap and suffering the occasional chest pains. So I was back at the doc’s this morning and he’s put me on another course of antibiotics in an effort to clear out the remaining infection.
I walk with a stick. Have done for nearly twenty years. My old walking stick, a fold up job I got from TJ Hughes for a fiver, was getting a bit past it, so I bought a new one on Saturday, and again it cost me a fiver. The previous one lasted a good ten years. The replacement fell apart this morning, only three days after I bought it, and naturally, I didn’t buy it local. By the time I’ve done with petrol and parking charges, it’ll cost me the same five quid to go back for an exchange. Fortunately, I have a spare, and fine wooden stick which cost me a tenner fifteen years ago.
So by the time I got home this morning, I thought I’d suffered enough, but not so. Last Wednesday, I had to go to Leeds for the funeral of a favourite old uncle. I’d only gone a mile when I had my photograph taken. I learned of it this morning when the postman dropped the speeding ticket off.
They say bad luck, like its more beneficial counterpart, comes in threes. Have I had my three now?
And take note, all this has happened since I stopped smoking. It may be time to pick up the weed again.
Even the missus can’t believe it. I’ve not touched a cigarette for four weeks and whatever the worst of the withdrawal symptoms may be, I’m through them.
On other fronts, however, there are those moments when I think, “I’d love a cigarette,” but they’re few and far between and I don’t succumb to them. It’s surprising, mind you, what prompts them.
Inspector George Gently is one spark. It’s set in the 60s, and everyone smoked then, so the characters smoke, too. I also watched the whole of the BBC’s definitive Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on DVD. The original aired in 1979, and again almost every character smoked. Not only that, but they freely smoked during meetings, in their various offices as well as pubs and restaurants. Aside from demonstrating the difference 35 years has made to social attitudes, it made me want a cigarette.
That comment on social attitudes, by the way, is neither for nor agin. When I was smoker I never gave much of a stuff what others thought of me or smoking, and now that I’m a non-smoker, I give even less of a stuff.
So twenty-eight days down the line how do I feel?
I was too ill to assess the changes for most of January. Even now, I’m only just over the lurgy, but I have to admit, I breathe a little easier. Who wouldn’t after doing forty a day for half a century?
My doctor tells me I should have more energy now that I’ve stopped. Well, if I have, I can’t find it, but that again may be a factor of the flu/pneumonia which made me a non-smoker in the first place.
As I’ve begun to feel better, A Theatrical Murder, the thirteenth STAC Mystery, has moved on and is closer to completion, something I’m sure my publisher, Crooked Cat, will be delighted to learn.
I’m just as bored as I was when I smoked, only now I don’t have cigarettes to relieve that boredom. Not that they relieved it anyway, but it feels like they did. This brings home the reality that the boredom probably has more to do with the ferocious weather, keeping us indoors, and the appalling state of British TV, which has long forgotten the meaning of entertainment, preferring instead to put out never-ending, cheap and nasty crap. It’s that same rubbish which prompted us to watch our DVD collections of Inspector George Gently and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
I’m no more nor less snappy now than when I was a smoker. The theory that smoking somehow helps calm your temper obviously doesn’t apply to me. I have no less patience for idiots, politicians, religious tub-thumpers and salespeople now than I had last month.
And finally, a comment on the money I’m saving. I’m not. Her Indoors has managed to commandeer most of it on for items of clothing which she’s unlikely ever to wear because I never take her anywhere.
In conclusion, I can’t say that matters have improved since I quit, but they haven’t deteriorated either, and on that basis, I won’t go back to smoking.
I am no longer a trainee ex-smoker, I am an ex-smoker.
Twenty-five days old, the New Year isn’t so new anymore, and STAC Mystery #13 is almost a month overdue.
Regular readers/followers will know why. I began the year seriously ill, and even though I’m over the worst, I’m still light-headed and lacking in energy. All I really want to do is sleep. It’s allegedly the best remedy anyway.
The annoying thing is, A Theatrical Murder needed only another few thousand words to complete it. But, there you go. Sod’s law. Like buses, you can wait weeks for those few thousand words to show up, and then they all arrive at once… well, I’m hoping they will.
In between sleeping, I’ve made a start on those final words, and with luck and a following wind the complete thing should be off to editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam by the end of the week.
In the meantime, here’s a taster from the tale.
The taller of the pair, dressed in an old-fashioned trenchcoat, was haranguing the other. “Dempster, you couldn’t direct traffic along a one-way street let alone put on a production of any serious intent.”
Dempster, wearing what appeared to be a dark blue, patterned kimono beneath his quilted anorak, laughed harshly. “You’re a fine one to talk, Sedgwick. What was it the Doncaster Post said about your Hamlet? More of a tour de farce than tour de force. Now, I was here first, so go spread your comic cuts elsewhere.”
“Comic cuts? How dare you?” Sedgwick’s colour rose in direct proportion to his temper. “I take on only the most daunting of projects. I don’t idle away my time playing a clown for the benefit of children and late night viewers on Channel Four.”
Dempster laughed again. “Listen to yourself, you pompous, arrogant, ham. You know, Sedgwick, you’d do well in Aladdin. Playing a horse’s arse would come quite naturally to you.”
That was the tipping point for Sedgwick. Discarding his leaflets, he launched himself at Dempster, who dropped his leaflets and prepared to defend himself. Before anyone could stop them, they were rolling and grappling on the wet ground, and Joe was struck by the absurdity of the Jolly Fisherman who now appeared to be laughing at their childish behaviour.
Several men from the crowd intervened and pulled them apart. Joe, Sheila and Brenda, meantime, collected the leaflets together.
“I’m afraid they got mixed up,” Sheila said to Dempster.
“Thanks, missus.” The actor took a bundle from her. He selected a leaflet for Hamlet and tossed it to the ground. “I’d rent a dormitory on Ben Nevis before I’d publicise your farce, Sedgwick.”
Several yards away where Joe and Brenda had passed over a handful of leaflets, the equally enraged Sedgwick, held up a flyer for Aladdin at the Bijou, Mablethorpe. Holding it up for everyone to see, he tore it in half and threw it away. “Your aficionados might just as well throw their cash into a coke oven, you ham.”
Sedgwick meandered off in the direction of the Rep, Dempster in the opposite direction, and the crowd began to disperse, going about their business melding into the cold and rain.
“Actors. Who’d have ’em,” Joe grumbled.
“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.
“If you’re gonna trade insults, just trade insults. Dormitories on Ben Nevis, throwing cash in coke ovens. Airy-fairy, arty-farty nonsense.”
As the crowd thinned even further, they crossed the street making for the town centre.
“Sedgwick is the director of tonight’s play, isn’t he?” Brenda asked.
“And the star,” Sheila replied. “And I’m really not looking forward to it, now.”
2015 is almost three weeks old and I still haven’t shaken off this illness which hit me on January 1st. We know what it is… or what it was. Flu, which couldn’t get a proper hold because I’d had a jab, but which managed to floor me, and opened the door to a touch of pneumonia, which also couldn’t get a proper hold because I’ve had a jab.
I’m now near to finishing the third course of antibiotics, and the infection is all but cleared, but I’m left drained. I have no energy and a mind as fuzzy as cotton wool.
As if this is not bad enough, I had to take Her Indoors to the emergency dentist yesterday. Abscess on a tooth. Normally, I’d have moaned at her for being so soft, but the pain reduced her to tears late on Saturday night, and say what you like about her, she’s a tough old bird. It had to be bad to do that.
Now she’s on the same antibiotics as me, only for a different purpose. I reckon we must be due for a bonus off the company that makes ’em.
With both of us ill, that really does make it the worst start to the New Year in history, and just to depress us further, I’m 65 tomorrow. How can things get any worse?
The one pinpoint of light in this black hole of unassailable gloom and doom is tobacco… or rather, my lack of same.
I smoked my last cigarette on January 3rd. I have now gone sixteen days without a smoke and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good for the rest of my life.
Trouble is, I’m so ill, I’m not getting any of the benefits yet.
I was back at my GP’s this morning. I’m still not right. Still coughing up crap, still tired, lacking energy, and he’s prescribed another course of antibiotics to get rid of the residual infection. Hopefully, by this time next week, I should be fully recovered, or as near fully recovered as makes no difference.
Still, let’s look on the bright side. It was a cigarette which sent me to A & E. The ashtray above shows ash from that cigarette. It was the last one I tried to smoke. Eleven days down the line, and I haven’t touched a cigarette. It’s not as hard as I imagined, either. I don’t get cravings, probably because my breathing is still so poor that I couldn’t countenance a smoke. But I do get habitual reminders. After meals, it was habit to light a cigarette. The same can be said of crawling out of bed first thing on a morning, and there are other, similar “prompts” throughout the day.
They don’t bother me. I can handle them.
Am I an ex-smoker? Not yet. I’m still an ex-smoker in the making. Determined to get there, wherever “there” is, but still in that position where it would be so easy to slip back into my evil smoking ways. When I’m through that, then I’ll be an ex-smoker.
I posted my last piece on January 4th, twelve hours or so after being rushed into A & E with severe breathing difficulties. In that post, I swore I would give up cigarettes for life.
I don’t know because my life isn’t over yet, but I can tell you this: I last touched a cigarette at about seven o’clock on January 3rd, and it was the very smoke which sent me to hospital. Today will be my sixth day smoke free.
On the downside, work on the latest STAC Mystery, A Theatrical Murder, has had to be suspended. My mind has been like cotton wool all week. Instead I’ve been doing some three-minute audio blogs with Flatcap. They’re very much easier to put together because I don’t have to edit them. If I write, for instance:
We visited Cleethorpes in 2011 for the first time in almost fifty year, and true to form, the tide were out.
After a little rehearsal, once it’s recorded, it can come out as:
Me and Her Indoors spent a day in Cleethorpes in 2011, and for me, it were the first time I’ve been there in 50 year. And true to form, the tide were out.
And I don’t have to write that in full.
Short audio-blogging is the way forward for Flatcap’s lampoons, and you can follow his half-baked opinions at http://flatcapsays.blogspot.co.uk/ where all his little homilies are embedded along with crummy, shaky photographs.
For me, I’ll be picking up the reins again any day now and the A Theatrical Murder won’t be long before it’s out there to entertain you.
And this time, it won’t reek of stale tobacco.
There’s not a lot of humour in this post. There’s no search for sympathy, either. Instead there’s an awful lot of anger and it’s aimed specifically at the idiot in the picture.
And just in in case you haven’t made the connection yet, the dickhead in the picture is me.
I’ve been very ill since before New Year. A huge chest infection which has been slow to clear up. Bitter cold weather, poor immune system, and I’ve been on steroids and antibiotics since early on New Year’s Day.
A part of the “cure” was to leave the cigarettes off, and I haven’t touched one since New Year’s Eve. I’d also decided that this year was “E- Year”. I’m 65 in three weeks, and it’s time to give it up for good. I can do it. I know I can.
So everything was moving swimmingly towards a victory over this damned chest infection, and then at about five o’clock yesterday afternoon I decided I fancied a smoke and lit a cigarette.
I never took a drag. I just lit it. That was enough to trigger a bout of coughing which I could not control. I couldn’t cough out what was causing the problem because I couldn’t get a deep enough breath and likewise, I couldn’t use my Ventolin inhaler for the same reason. That frightening session carried on for almost ten minutes, and once I was calm I rang NHS Direct. They promised to ring me back in an hour. They eventually rang back in THREE hours but by then it was too late because at seven o’clock, again triggered by this desire for a bloody smoke, I had another out of control, coughing/breathing fit. This time, Her Indoors rang for an ambulance. And at eight o’clock, they carted me off to North Manchester.
After the usual bloods and other bit and pieces, they put me on a nebuliser for ten minutes, gave me another shot of steroids and just to be sure, took a chest x-ray. The upshot of all this was nothing wrong that we didn’t already know about, a huge chest infection which will take time to clear. They adjusted my present prescriptions, extended the course of steroids and gave me a slightly stronger antibiotic and sent me home. Her Indoors and I walked back into the house at about midnight.
And I was angry. Not with the missus. She winds me up no end, often for the most trivial of reasons. I wasn’t annoyed with the ambulance guys for hauling me across Manchester, or even with the NHS for making sure I had to drag that far when there’s a perfectly acceptable A & E on our doorstep. I’m not even annoyed because I received no adequate explanation of why we were taken ten miles instead of three.
I’m furious with myself because the entire fiasco was for the want of a cigarette.
I have been a slave to the weed for fifty years. My early retirement was brought on by furred arteries and breathing difficulties, both caused by tobacco. Since I retired, my smoking has gone up because I’m sat around home most days with rock-all to do but smoke.
I have tried every trick in the book to stop, and none of them worked for me the way they did for Joe. Why? Because I didn’t really want to stop.
Well now, little weed, you have pissed me off for good. I have not had a smoke for four days now, and if even lighting one in the house is gonna mean hours and hours in A & E, then I’ll stop lighting them. I will put a moratorium on smoking in my house and car. I know Her Indoors won’t argue. She’s been pleading with me to do it for years. I will declare a tobacco exclusion zone around me. People have been saying for years that I’m a pain in the arse, spouting about this, that, and especially the other. Well, now I’ll be a bigger pain in the arse spouting about smoking and the damage it does.
And the picture above? That stays on this machine. I may even set it as my wallpaper. A semi-permanent reminder of the damage these little sticks of poison can do.
On the last day of the year, it’s traditional for me to look back on the last twelve months.
It’s been a poor year on many fronts, but that’s comparative. At the side of many in our unjust and unequal society, I have it fairly easy, and any stumbling blocks have been of my own making.
I lost my way slightly in 2014, as a result of which my fiction output was down on previous years. That’s something I hope to put right in the coming weeks and months. Healthwise too, I’ve had my ups and downs, but again, it’s because I won’t do what I’m supposed to do. That, is also scheduled to change as we put the party season behind us.
By contrast, my wife hit a landmark this year with her seventieth birthday. Her real age, in other words, the age she appears, is about sixty. That’s what healthy eating, non-smoking and moderate drinking can do for you.
Will 2015 be any different? Can’t see TV improving, but the rest could if I take the right action. Will I do it? That remains to be seen. If I could predict the future, I’d be a wealthy man rather than sitting here wondering about it.
Flatcap will have his own views on the year just gone, and he’ll be speaking to you later.
I regret that, thanks to the legion of lazy spammers, I can’t open this blog up for comments, so let me wish you all, whoever you are, wherever you are, the very best of the coming year. May all your hopes and dreams come to pass.