What goes on at SleepOut, stays at SleepOut. A hard hitting expose.

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Hello all you wonderful sponsorers (??). Is that the correct term? Who cares? I like it.

It is 0736 Friday – the morning after the night before – and I am back from Valley Parade and my “sleep out” for CentrePoint and their work helping homeless young ‘uns in our area.

Am I tired? No, not really. Although, I didn’t get any sleep at all and tiredness will probably kick in later. Around 0740 I suspect.

Am I hugely proud of all you lovely folk kind enough to stump up cash to help folk you’ve never met and likely never will? YES!!

How did the event go? Rather well….

Sarah dropped me off a little before 7pm last night. After I signed in and was given a natty orange wrist band – carefully crimped and sealed so as not to fall off – I was shown to the sleeping area. It was somewhat obvious where the sleeping area was – the rows of paper sleeping bags on top of cardboard rather gave it away. Anyway, two of my pals, Tom and Dom from Bantams Banter – the hugely popular and successful Bradford City podcast – had already claimed an area and I joined them and selected my sleeping place for the night. Also joining us in our little area under the main stand was James Mason, the COO of Bradford City and Thomas Davidson from the clubs’ marketing team. What a good looking bunch of “homeless for the night” chaps we were. That little plot of sleeping bags was definitely THE PLACE to be. Or so we thought at that early hour!

The event was kicked off with a speech from the folks at CentrePoint – a rallying call to us all and a reminder of just why we were out in the cold at the beginning of November. Next up on stage was James Mason (one of the dashing, aforementioned, Five Musketeers). A sterling welcome to VP from James, ably helped by two City players, the Alex Twins – Gilliead and Jones.

After the speeches it was time for some live music. Yet another Alex – the Alex Twins were suddenly the Alex Triplets – as Alex Hulme and The Southern Wild (we’re from ‘Oop North but will forgive their “southerness” on this occasion) claimed the spotlight. Some rocking tunes from the band kept VP jumping and the bit under the main stand was certainly THE PLACE to be last night. The crowd (aka “sleeper outers”) were grooving and jiving to the music as Alex and Co. kept us all entertained.

Food was served at this time too. A real footy favourite of peas and pie. Pie and peas. Whatever you prefer to call it, I called it tasty. Local supermarket giants Morrisons generously gave a stack of delicious donuts, freshly baked for the event. Both jam AND custard varieties! The food was most welcome as the temperature began to cool. But, however cool the thermometer got, it wasn’t as cool as us hardy lot beneath the main stand. I tell you now, this is the place to be next year when CentrePoint and Bradford City join forces to help homeless youngsters. So, as soon as next years’ SleepOut is announced, get yourself signed up for it. You’ll have a cracking time AND be helping those in need of a little help.

Folk then began to mill around, chatting to work friends, footy friends, old friends and making new friends. A good vibe settled in as people prepared for the night ahead. James and Tom tootled around making sure everyone was settling in well and doing some Facebook Live-ing of the event. Whatever Facebook Live-ing is, it turned out that the Bantams Banter duo, Tom and Dom, were doing the same.

CentrePoint had provided a whole truck load of cardboard and enough gaffer tape to do a lot of gaffer taping of a truck load of cardboard. These two plentiful supplies were for teams of four to try their hand at building shelters. The point being to illustrate how awkward shelters are to build, how flimsy they usually are and how little protection they offer the homeless.

I was standing idly by when a female voice told me to “Put your hand on this.”

This is not something a woman usually asks me to do and I was a tad surprised. And intrigued. Anyway, Emma, the young lady in question was part of a team from the Yorkshire Building Society attempting to build a shelter. Somewhat disappointingly, her request was simply for me to hold some gaffer tape in place while they worked. Always one for fair play, I advised them that by enlisting me there were breaking the “four in a team” rule. For seemingly respectable, professional looking women they were alarmingly lax about rules and, consequently, I became one of their team. We built a fine shelter. My suggestion of a pitched roof went down well – as did the pitched roof at one end – and much fun was had. Emma then drew on some windows and curtains and what I think may have been a cat. But it was a very odd looking cat.

A number of other teams had tried their hand at shelter building and some fine examples of Yorkshire ingenuity and engineering was on show. Judging then took place though I never found out which shelter eventually won. I suspect it was the masterpiece that was Team Emma’s.

James and Tom from Bantams Banter had a rather delightful conversation with another girl from team Emma about dental hygiene. Tom and the girl, I regret not asking her name, then proceeded to have a “Head Lamp Off” (similar to a dance off). This saw Tom compare the merits of his headlamp against the one worn by the girl from Team Emma. You know the type of thing:

Tom: Mine has bigger LED’s.

Girl: My LED’s are brighter.

Tom: Mine can angle up and down.

Girl: So can mine.

Tom: …..Mine has…..three straps.

Girl: My straps are wider.

That sort of thing. In all honesty, I think Tom got his butt whipped in the Head Lamp Off.

I had found myself a steel girder at a handy and comfortable angle to lean against whilst watching this confrontation. When the dust had settled and Tom had been suitably vanquished, I fired up my iPod with the 1972 series of Steptoe and Son and made myself at home. I chilled out listening to my fave comedy duo – sorry, Bantams Banter, you’re very good, but Harry and his Dirty ‘Ol Man have the edge on you – and leaned back to people watch.

Just after 11pm, Colin Doyle, the Bradford City goalkeeper, and all round nice chap, arrived with his wife, Rebecca, to show their support for the evening. They both spent a good while chatting with people and Colin happily posed for photos with fans and signed bits and bobs for them. Both Colin and Rebecca are lovely people and work tirelessly for their own charity, Liam’s Smile’s – www.liamssmiles.co.uk – which helps children suffering from meningitis. I had a little chat with Rebecca and, later, Colin very nicely sought me out and spent a while talking football and other stuff with me. As I said, he is a lovely chap, although he did distract me from my Steptoe and Son listening! But, Colin, you are forgiven! Well, you will be as long as you keep a clean sheet tomorrow.

By this time a lot of folk were starting to crawl into their sleeping bags and beginning to settle down for the night. Tom, Dom, James, Tom and I – don’t forget, we are, after all, The Five Musketeers – chatted and put the word to rights. By 1130pm we had firmly established how we would steer The Bantams to automatic promotion in May, resolved to write a song worthy of winning the Eurovision Song Contest for the United Kingdom and discovered the alchemist’s secret of turning base metal into gold. We had even worked out what “that” referee from “that” recent match at VP was doing when he went on his little walkout around the pitch. *NOTE – some, or none, of these things may actually have been resolved last night by The Five Musketeers.

And so, eventually, around 1am, most folks were in their sleeping bags, The Five Musketeers included.

The concrete on which the main stand at Valley Parade is built is very good at many things. It is great at being a base on which the main stand can…well, stand on…and is rather good for walking across as you make your way from the turnstiles, via the tea bar and the loos, to your seats and the view of the pitch and the Mighty Bantams thrashing the opposition. HOWEVER – and this is a big however, hence it being in CAPITALS – it is not very good as a bed.

How did my own Sleep Out go?

Well. What with the Uncomfy Concrete, the Crazy World Championship Of Very Noisy And Very Competitive Snorers, the Light That Wouldn’t Go Out and the Paper Sleeping Bags That Sound Like Rustling Crisp Packets Whenever Someone Moved, I didn’t get very sleepy. After an hour of trying, without success, to get to sleep, I gave up, got up and put my boots back on at 2am.

Instead of sleeping, I leant against my girder for a bit and then I chatted with the security staff for a while. It is surprising how nice and friendly the security folk at City are. Genuinely nice people, approachable and interesting. As a fan who attends all matches – except those in The Cup That Can’t Be Named – I see them in their professional capacity and never really give them a thought. But they do sterling work under often difficult and challenging circumstances and their prime objective at all times is to keep fans safe and to allow fans to be, well, fans enjoying the match.

After I had annoyed the security team for a while, I mooched about and slipped past the cordon that kept us from leaving the concourse and visiting the seats and pitch. SSSHHH! Don’t tell James! I spent a little while snapping some photos of the VP pitch in the dark and the special UV(?) grass growing lights that were in operation. Then I Tweeted a bit and sat people watching until 6am came around and folk began stirring.

A tired but quietly satisfied bunch of folk began packing up their belongings, grabbing a hot drink and sandwich before taking their leave of VP and the Sleep Out. As for my fellow musketeers, well James, Tom, Tom and Dom emerged from their sleeping bags looking splendidly turned out and immaculately groomed – salon fresh, you could call their look – and walked jauntily, with a Musketeers meets Reservoir Dogs vibe, to the exit ready to meet whatever the day dared throw at them.

Now, let’s not forget (despite my light hearted description of the shenanigans at the Sleep Out) the reason we were out in the cold night air last night. We were all there in an effort to raise awareness of the great work that CentrePoint do in helping young people in our region who find themselves homeless. And, of course, we were there to raise funds for CentrePoint so that they can provide practical assistance in getting vulnerable young people off the streets and into places of safety. Each of us who chose to sleep out last night succesfully raised varying sums in sponsorship, money that CentrePoint will be able to use in making a tangible difference to bettering someone else’s life. We slept out for one night so that others will not have to.

Despite the uncomfortable concrete and the November night, we were all lucky in that we were sleeping under the cover of the main stand; we were dry and safe from harm. Bradford City had provided security staff who did a fabulous job in watching over us all night and staff from St. John’s Ambulance were on hand to give immediate assistance should anyone need it (thankfully no one did). As a bonus the weather was kind. Sure it rained but, being under the stand, that didn’t affect us and, double bonus, the temperature did not drop too low.

Each of us knew that we were not experiencing life on the streets as the homeless do. And, by heck, we were grateful that we didn’t have to last night. It may not have been as cold as it could have been, but it was cold enough. We may not have been as uncomfortable as someone perching in a doorway trying to keep out of the rain, but it was uncomfortable. We weren’t constantly looking out for predators, afraid of the harm they try to inflict on us but, a strange and dark place, in the dead of night is scary enough. We were fortunate last night. We all had beds to return to, a roof over our heads and easy access to a warm meal – I make a mean slice of toast and a cuppa, my speciality, you might say – and people at home to care for us when we are ill or finding life tough going. Others are not so fortunate. CentrePoint helps these folk.

So, why not help CentrePoint help them?

Sign up for the SleepOut 2018 and spend an entertaining night helping others? You’ll have a good time, do good for others and feel good about it.

And that’s got to be a good thing.

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The old lady and the flu jab.

An old lady at the doctor’s surgery this morning was forced to sit beside me due to the lack of available chairs – today being “flu jab” day, the place was somewhat packed.

As I too was there for my flu jab, I had taken my jacket off and was wearing a tee shirt so the process of injecting me with this year’s strain of anti-flu venom would be speedy. (I’ve done this before, folks. A Seasoned veteran of flu-jabs, moi.)

I was minding my own business and was sat quietly, perusing the posters and notices on the wall while studiously avoiding looking at the TV in the corner that is permanently switched on and is fixed high on the wall. Who watches daytime television? Especially at 0855.

Anyway, as the woman began to sit, she paused a moment and made what can only be described as a disgusted face as she spied my tattooed arms. Perhaps she isn’t a fan of Nigella, I thought to myself, given the age of my new seating neighbour, perhaps she is more likely to be a devotee of Fanny Craddock.

Certainly, if there had been any other seat available, she would have avoided like the plague having to sit beside me.

So, to my flu companion, I say this.

Take the time to get to know me first and then, I can confidently say, you will find you have so many more reasons to dislike me other than my decision to have both my arms inked. Then you can be fully justified in rolling your eyes, viewing me disparagingly and wish to be anywhere else but sat beside me in a dingy surgery waiting room.

One sentence – Creative Writing exercise.

My Creative Writing class exercise this week was to select a book from the selection available and then choose one sentence and use that as the beginning of a piece of writing.

The books had been chosen simply based on their bright and colourful covers. If one of the books was something we had previously read then we were to avoid it. I was immediately drawn to​ the spine of the bottom book in a small stack. It was bright red and orange and vibrant. Dragging it from the pile I saw it was “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri. Neither an author or book I had heard of previously. On opening the pages, I was taken with the following sentence and decided to use that as my writing prompt. “He came from a Quaker family in Wisconsin.”

However, once I had scrawled that into my notebook, I soon realised that I know nowt about Quakers and, despite my affection for most things American, not much more about Wisconsin. So, I flicked through the pages and went for a new sentence. I named one of my characters as a nod towards the surname of the books’ author and another after a character in the latest Stephen King novel.

I hope you enjoy the following. All comments welcomed. But nice ones will be loved!


 

As they crossed the Howrah Bridge the light was still grey. A fine mist fell from clouds that hung low in the early morning sky. Dampness settled lightly upon and around them.

Larry paused. He drew his gloved hand across his face, wiping the moisture away. It streaked silver across the dark wool, leaving a trail like snot in its wake. He shrugged the pack off his back and let it fall. It hit the wooden deck of the bridge with a heavy thud. Ahead of Larry, his companion turned as the sound echoed dully across the river. Larry watched as the mist gathered steam like around his brother.

“S’up?” Came the question, tired and weary from across the divide between them. Surely no more than ten yards separated the siblings as they stood on the old iron and wood bridge. A mere ten yards that could easily be swollen up inside of a few steps if either brother had so wanted. But, the truth was, neither wanted it. The distance between them had grown so vast since their journey began.

No. Thought Larry. This distance hasn’t grown between us. It was always there. Vast and wide. And ever deep. Too wide and too painful to span. Larry knew they had never been close. Or, maybe, they had been once when very young. But that had been before Evie and the accident, Nothing had been the same between Larry and his brother since Evie. Evie had been the tipping point.

Larry watched as his brother reached into a pocket. The light of the day was still weak and visibility was poor but Larry didn’t need to see to know what his brother was reaching for. He knew his brother well. His brother raised a hand to his mouth and pulled a cigarette from the packet with his teeth. Then the flare and hiss as a match struck. Smoke dragged between them as his brother tossed the packet of cigarettes towards Larry. It tumbled through the mist, its red and white body twisting in the silver gloom –  red, white, red, white, red – to land at Larry’s feet.

“Well? S’up?” The same question repeated across the void.

Larry regarded the box, took in its bright colours, the side was torn from where, earlier, his brother had hastily opened it. His eyes moved to the backpack​ at this feet. Water had settled on its surface, gathering in pools in the depressions in the fabric to flow and disappear between the folds and creases.

He knew then. Perhaps, Larry thought, I’ve always known it would come to this. At some​ point, ​it had to. He found himself surprised that it hadn’t come sooner.

Why now? He wondered. Why, so many years since Evie, is it now? Why today? Why suspended above the Hooghly River on the fuckin’ Howrah Bridge?

He looked across at his brother. It was like looking into a mirror. A mirror mottled and cracked with age, the image distorted by the rain. He saw himself, or an approximation of himself, looking back at him. Larry answered. One word. Just the one word. Both brothers knew the import of those two short syllables.

Larry’s voice cracked as spoke before he turned back the way he had come.

“Evie.”

“East of Hounslow” by Khurrum Rahman

“East of Hounslow” by Khurrum Rahman

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Where to start? At the beginning is best they say, so here goes.

Back in June of this year I attended an event at Bradford Literary Festival and was intrigued by the passionate way in which this book was discussed by a commissioning editor for the publishers. “East Of Hounslow” wasn’t the topic of the discussion, it simply came up as an example of a new and exciting writer about to reveal his debut book. The editor, Lisa Milton, described it, and its author, Khurrum Rahman, with such verve and enthusiasm that I determined to make sure I bought a copy on its release.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and, w’d’ya know, NetGalley have it available for review. Naturally, I put my request in for a copy – hey, a free read and one that I was looking forward to anyway, what’s not to like? The fates were kind to me and here I am reviewing “East Of Hounslow”.

I tore through this book in just a few days of reading spread over a week – life, work and other boring stuff slowed me down a tad – and I can honestly say it is a fabulous read. It sure lived up to my expectations.

I will try to avoid any spoilers. The plot centres around Javid Qasim, a young British Muslim. Javid enjoys life and funds his enjoyment through dealing drugs. He doesn’t consider himself to be doing much wrong but he does enough wrong to fall foul of his supplier and be facing a very short deadline to come up with a large amount of cash or suffer the consequences. In the meantime, he manages to find himself involved in a revenge attack on local yobs for an attack on his mosque. Javid has really had a lousy few days.

His salvation from criminal proceedings for his part in the violence and from repercussions from his supplier comes in the form of MI5. Javid has little recourse but to be recruited as their eyes and ears in the mosque. And so the plot develops.

I didn’t want to like Javid – drug dealing and nefarious activities are plainly wrong – but Rahman has penned such a vibrant and multi faceted character that it is hard to dislike him. Rahman’s writing is pacy and punchy and this is a rip roaring thriller. It fair rattles along and is a huge joy to read. The author adds a dash of darkly comic touches to his tale that lighten what is a disturbing and all to plausible and terrifying scenario. This is a book which is very pertinent to the times we live in and, thankfully, the events within its pages are simply fiction.

I believe this is to be the first in a trilogy. I hope so as I am keen to see how the author takes Javid on this journey.

I think Ms Milton was correct back in June, Khurrum Rahman is certainly a new author to watch out for in the future.

“The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene” by E. V. Harte

“The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene” by E. V. Harte

This was a review copy kindly provided by the publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene

Righty ho, let’s get straight down to business shall we? What did I think of this book?

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found it to be a delightful and divertingly easy tale with which to spend an evening or two.

I say “divertingly easy” with no disrespect intended as I thought this was a cracking read. I mention it simply because my reads prior to this one were gritty, dark and violent crime novels. Indeed the book I had finished on the morning of picking up “Dolly” was Stephen King’s “IT”. And, if you have the joy of reading “IT”, you will know that it is quite dark, somewhat lengthy and is the size of a small loaf of unsliced bread, albeit “IT” is somewhat heavier than a loaf.

As much as I enjoyed “The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene”, I must confess to one or two pre-conceptions ahead of reading.

Having read, and hugely enjoyed, many of the Agatha Raisin mysteries by M. C. Beaton, I assumed that this, too, would be a very similar read. Indeed, this book does share similar traits with the Raisin series. Namely, it does have a single, middle aged woman, Dolly, as the central protagonist around which a cast of characters interact. Dolly is a woman to whom life has dealt a poor hand of cards (pardon the pun) and, like Agatha in the Raisin series, she is a determined and resourceful woman. Dolly is quirky, impetuous, loyal, loveable, ditzy and enjoyable. She is feisty, fun and fabulous. I really liked Dolly. I liked her a lot.

Similar to the M. C. Beaton books, E. V. Harte has surrounded Dolly with an assortment of characters to assist in her investigations. There is Pippa, her assertive and independent daughter and an assortment of, quite simply, madcap neighbours and bonkers acquaintances. There is also the hint of potential romance in a “will they/won’t they” liaison between Dolly and Raff, the good looking, heroic policeman. (I for one hope they do!)

Also, whilst “The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene” is set is in London, rather than Agatha’s Cotswolds, this tale has still has a very a cosy English setting. The names Harte chooses for locations resonate with cheeriness. I especially liked the delightfully named Tinderbox Lane.

So far, I have mentioned are all very good things!

My main preconception and, indeed doubt, when reading the blurb on the back cover concerned the tarot reading aspect of our heroine. I will confess to being (rightly or wrongly – you say tomato, I say tomato etc), a tad sceptical of such things. Well, more than a tad. Extremely sceptical. Tarot cards, fortune telling, horoscopes, even massages and reiki, do not interest me at all. If I am absolutely honest I will admit to thinking these things somewhat daft and pointless. So, I was worried about this book. I feared I would simply become annoyed and frustrated reading a novel which featured tarot as a central element.

HOWEVER, this book did not overdo the tarot card details. In fact, I think they were sprinkled with a very light touch – akin to a pinch of seasoning in a recipe, too much and it overpowers the dish but just enough and it enhances the flavour enormously. I think the author wove the tarot details deftly and delicately into the plot. In doing so, E. V. Harte managed to keep this grumpy old sceptic happily engaged throughout.

I was surprised by one aspect of this book, though. Whereas the Agatha books are quite genteel – murders, scandals, intrigues and revenge vendettas notwithstanding – Dolly’s world is quite filthy! There are plenty of sweary bits and sexual references which add an extra layer of enjoyment to proceedings. If you are at all familiar with Beaton’s work, just imagine Agatha and Co having a good session on the Jack Daniels and getting a little lairy. All good clean stuff – well almost!

I would heartily recommend this to anyone seeking an enjoyable and welcoming read. This is a satisfyingly fabulous romp with an array of oddball and wonderfully delicious characters. Like Raff, I’m more than a touch smitten with Ms Greene.

I do hope this becomes a series as think Ms Greene has yet to hit her prime and I have great hopes for her in future books.

Who knows, maybe the cards can tell us?

“Is That What You Meant To Do?” by Gavin Dimmock

**In January 2017 I entered a competition in “Writing Magazine” to write a piece that began with the line, “Is that what you meant to do?”

I discovered in July that I didn’t win or get placed but winning wasn’t really on my agenda when I wrote it – just as well! – and I simply enjoyed the challenge of writing a piece from that simple opening line.

I had fun writing it and it I hope you enjoy reading it. It would be nice to read any comments you may wish to make.**

Is that what you meant to do?
I ask you, my love, please tell me true.
Was your intent to scour my heart?
To take my love and tear it apart?
Did you pause or stop and think of me
While in lust you sought your liberty?
As you stomped my heart beneath your heel
Did you once consider how I’d feel?
Would I fall and crumple? Or would I break?
Just how much more pain could I take?
Did you set out to crush my soul?
Please tell me now, was that your goal?

I wander through this home we built
Where love was made, where tears were spilt.
Though I linger awhile in every room
My memories can’t allay my gloom.
That armchair which was once your mother’s
And where we sat and first were lovers.
Your stout old desk at which you toiled
It’s surface scarred, battered and soiled
With rings from cups, from inks and wine
Where, newly wed, we used to dine.
Each stain tells of our years together
Through good, through bad, we braved all weather.

Wine stains, now faded, still mark the mat
Pegs on the wall for your scarf, my hat.
Framed paintings by my late grandfather
The ones I’d hung but which you rather
Were taken down and packed away
To bring out again some never day.
Books, with cracked spines, on shelves, long read
With tales and verse that thrilled our head.
I regard each reminder of our long shared past
Those warm, tender days I thought would last.
You’re gone from me now, this house an empty, bitter box
My once bright dreams are wrapped in chains, constrained by locks.

The bed, our bed, where nightly we embraced such passion
In every way and style, in every fashion.
We rolled, we writhed, we joined as one.
That bed in which you bore our son.
Our lovely boy, he made us whole
With his joyful, loving, tender soul.
But no fires burn now. The bed harsh, stone cold.
Our love filled days long ceased to unfold
Your love slipped from me, just like our lad.
No good husband I, nor world’s best dad.
Was that when your hate began to grow?
That day it happened? Tell me, I demand to know.

Do you remember our wedding? Do you recall the date?
That’s right, it’s today, you bitch, and how I hate
That our years together to you mean so little
I shout in fury, I rage, spew curse wrapped spittle.
Why? Oh, why? Oh, why? I wail.
What did I do so wrong? Where did I fail?
Your words dig, they bite. Your truth confirms my fears
That you loved me once but not for long years.
You wickedly tease, say I’m needy, I’m far too weak,
Nor man enough to sate your sexual peak.
My habits, my words and deeds, provoke you so much
That you tense and wretch, detest my every touch.

You laugh and you mock, lauding unfaithful deeds,
Each sinful act that slaked your wanton needs.
You goad, you rile, scream it’s me you blame.
You tell each intimate detail, shout every name
That you can recall of each of your lovers
Those men from work and numerous others.
You boast of strangers in parks, of men in bars
Of snatched, lustful trysts in dark, parked cars.
Betrayals, liaisons and furtive glances
That led to sex or half grasped chances
To feel again, I don’t know what,
For I was content with what I’d got.

You claim you loved me years ago
But your love died when we, no I, lost Joe.
You blame me for that terrible September day
When I took our dog and son to play
Up the road half a mile to the local park.
To watch him run and chase each noisy bark.
To make him soar on swings and shoot down slides
To spin and whirl him fast on round’bout rides.
To laugh and to play, to jump and to run
And gaily frolic in bright autumn sun.
We three set out, dad, son and furry friend,
But you’d stayed at home, you’d work to end.

We’d run, we’d played, with ball, with bat
We’d chased the dog and thrown her plastic rat.
Joe singing rhymes and silly songs with joy
Such a happy trio, man, dog and boy.
A break for ice cream, coffee for me,
The dog laps water greedily.
My rest, too brief, Joe wants more play
Eager for fun to fill the day.
Coats and jumpers for posts lay on the floor
I let Joe win and help him score.
Our beautiful boy, so football mad,
Giggling as he beats his dad.

And then it’s time for home, it’s time for tea.
Just one more goal, oh please, Daddy.
Come now, Joe, we really have to go
But we’ll stop at the shop just so
You can spend your fifty pence on treats
A comic maybe? Or penny sweets?
Laid on the grass, I’d slowly rose
As boy and dog rushed on, but then I froze.
I called out to them, I screamed so loud,
My terror soared above the crowd.
Warnings, threats, pleas for Joe to stop,
My voice falling silent as I watched him drop.

We’d taught him to stop at the side of the road.
But his dog ran out and so Joe strode
In grass stained shorts and on his little feet
He stepped from the safety of the street.
Straight into the path of a large black truck
Helpless to act, I watched horrified as Joe was struck.
The driver sat shocked, still in his seat,
The company name painted so neat
In bright colours on the side of the cab door
As our darling child lay crumpled on the floor.
A five year old boy against a three tonne van,
When machine hits flesh, the metal wins, not mere man.

No parent should see how metal mangles,
Breaking childish limbs into obscene angles.
To know how bones it splits and flesh it cleaves,
To see their child’s blood on autumns leaves.
Joe’s pain was brief but my torment will last
I’m unable to escape the past.
In my head, a movie on repeated play,
An unceasing reminder of that day.
I live every minute, each dreadful second
I still see him run as, madly, I beckoned.
Joe, stop! Come back! Don’t go beyond the gate!
I reach for each time but I’m always too late.

The years went by, our affection grew still
The embers died and you lost the will
To try to care or even guard the flame
As I shouldered guilt, you cast the blame.
Our love, once wild, went lame and withered
You turned elsewhere as crushed, I dithered.
But you wouldn’t forget, you couldn’t forgive
You didn’t give our love the chance to live.
Surely I…us…must have crossed your mind
As you bedded each lover what did you seek to find?
I would once have gladly bled for you
Now, at last, it’s clear what I must do.

For, why? I wonder, did you stay
Alone at home and not come to play?
Was it really work you had to do?
Or did you take that chance to screw?
Have you deceived and have you lied?
Did your straying start before Joe died?
I’ve wondered since, did they start then,
Your infidelities with countless men?
As Joe’s friends grew tall, as they grew older,
I bore the grief, the blame did shoulder.
These years you’ve convinced me it was all my fault?
But, finally, the truth has struck me with a jolt.

Why weren’t you there to hold him tight?
To see him safely home that night?
Would that day have ended happily
If you’d been there, not just us three?
With Joe between us, safe in the middle,
We’d have made it back, that’s not the riddle.
My mind struggles to comprehend
How hopes and dreams can so easily end.
One moment son and four legged mate
Are waiting by the wrought iron gate
That gives entry to a park for fun
But for me marks the place I lost our son.

The truth of why you were not there
Once would have hurt, now I do not care
To learn of your hours laying in someone’s bed
As I laid in the road cradling our boys’ head.
Knowing you had romped in ecstasy
With a stranger while Joe died with me
Truth has made me strong, has fuelled my ire,
It’s sparked in me a savage, dark desire.
My grief, my shame, long held since that date
Has morphed into rage and stark white hate
For the failings of his mother, my wife,
For you were not there to save his life.

I called you today, back to this place
Not to beg you stay or see your face.
Revenge, they say, is best as a cold served dish
And now, dear wife, you’ll have your wish,
To end our marriage, to see us part
I’ll grant your desire as I pierce your heart.
Blood drips slowly from my blade so cruel
And your dying eyes see now that I’m no fool.
You took our love, in payment I’ll take your life.
And leave you carved and cut beneath my knife.
I ask you, my love, please tell me true.
Is that what you meant to do?

Gavin Dimmock. 2017

“A Rising Man” by Abir Mukherjee

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“A Rising Man” by Abir Mukherjee

I had seen this book displayed prominently during recent visits to bookshops. The sumptuous cover artwork had provoked me to pull it from the shelves and read the blurb on the back. But that, initially, was as far as I got.

I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready for a tale set in Calcutta during the years immediately following the Great War; I felt it would be a akin to those period dramas on television and, possibly, somewhat of a drag. And, in my defence, the list of titles that I was especially eager to read was getting longer and some of my favourite authors had new books coming out. So, I made the decision to add this to my list but pop it somewhere in the middle, neither a “must read”or a “if there’s nowt else” type of book. How wrong I turned out to be.

Then June came along and a wonderful bit of happenstance occurred. Serendipity, perhaps. (Oh, that’s June the month, not a woman. I do not know any June’s. Not currently, anyway.)

One of the authors who I had put to the top of my list – one of the “gotta read this soon” titles – was scheduled to host an event at Bradford Literary Festival. The event, “The Secrets of Crime Writing”, appealed to me as a frustrated writer and I hoped it would imbue me with the inspiration to finally finish my masterpiece, debut novel. Well, we all can dream, can’t we?

The author in question, A.A. Dhand, is a Bradford lad and his novels (two to date) are set in that fair (ahem!) city. As a keen follower of the football that bears the same name and as my mothers side of the family hail from Bradford, I was keen to read his Dhand’s book. So, the chance to attend his seminar and hear his views on crime writing were a chance not to be missed and I booked my ticket.

Now, I was unaware when I booked that the other panellists were Vaseem Khan, Alex Caan and the hero of this review, Abir Mukherjee. All writers I was aware of but had yet to read and, as a result, the event promised to be great value. And so it proved. Both Khan and Cann, and the host Dhand, filled me with a determination to read their books because of their frankness and enthusiasm for their genre and writing.

However, it was Mr M who made the most impact on me. Possibly it was down to the truly wonderful Glaswegian lilt in his voice or maybe it was his natty attire – light coloured jacket, blue shirt and dark trousers, worn in a casual and stylish manner, if you are asking – that hooked me. In reality, though, it was his wit and charm that sparked my interest in his work. That and his obvious passion and enthusiasm for his chosen subject. Suddenly, I was interested in post WWI India and the adventures of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force.

I’m unsure if I left the seminar being any closer to finishing my own debut masterpiece, but I at least left with a determination to delve into Mr M’s debut. Isn’t it terrific when someone has the ability to enthuse you simply with the force of their spoken words? How they can spark your interest by their own passion?

So, I armed my self with a copy of “A Rising Man” and let the adventure roll over me. And what a fabulous “Boy’s Own” yarn it proved to be!

I have zero knowledge of the era or the city in which this tale is set, but Mr M brings the sounds and smells and sights of post war Calcutta rising from the pages to whisk you away to another time and place. Mr M’s writing is rich and evocative and he weaves his plot skilfully and takes you on a marvellous adventure into the politics and divisions of 1919 Calcutta. He creates vivid characters that you feel for and care about. Annie Grant is especially delightful and I look forward to reading more about this beautiful, enigmatic and stunning woman.

Captain Sam Wyndham is a flawed hero, but a hero non the less. He is complex yet simple, a hero we can believe in and root for. A thoroughly decent and a very likeable chap. He is also witty, Mr M seems to have injected his main character with some of his own traits! I like Sam a lot.

I liked this book immensely and tore through it in just a few days; I was happy to dive fast and deep into Wyndham’s world yet I was loathe to complete my journey too fast knowing this would mean the end would come far too soon. And I wanted this to go on. Thankfully, I have book two lined up as my next read and I look forward to spending more time with Sam, Annie and Banerjee soon in “A Necessary Evil”.

Abir Mukherjee is “A Rising Man” and this novel is a seriously enjoyable read, an absolute delight. Go buy yourself a copy today.

“The Girl Who Came Back” by Kerry Wilkinson

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**This was a review copy provided to me by Netgalley.com**

I had just come off a great streak of form with my reading choices; a “hat-trick” of wonderful debut crime novels by new British writers whose work left me eager to turn the pages and delve deeper into the world they have created. Buoyed by my recent successful reads, I plunged into this novel and was, initially, excited by the writing and the plot line. However, part way through, around 30%-50% (I read it on my Kindle), I found the story to be a little of a chore to read.

I can’t say quite why but I found this book to be one of those that, at certain points, you consider casting to one side. I think I became a tad bored with the plot and annoyed with the male characters; they all seemed to be weak and/or unpleasant, without any redeeming traits. I accept that the storyline required this to be the case but it still jarred a little with me. The lead female characters are quite feisty, strong and well shaped and, for me, this helped to steer the tale on.

But, having said this, flush from my earlier trio of successful reads, I was determined to finish this read and I carried on to the end. I am very pleased that I did as I found the plot suddenly kicked on apace and the story began to grab me again as the early part did. I became very intrigued by the dual plot line and in trying to decide exactly how the two girls stories intersected.

Despite my reservations part way through, I think that Kerry Wilkinson has crafted a fine tale that lays enough false trails and red herrings to make the ending sufficiently “twisty” without being too outlandish. The plot was deftly handled and intersected very nicely at the end with a terrific, atmospheric climax that was, indeed, a “page turner”.

For me, this was, eventually, an enjoyable and interesting read. My three star review is based on my feeling that the male characters were a little one dimensional and lacking any good qualities and with my loss of interest part way through. Perhaps I am overly critical but, without those distractions, I would have no hesitation in giving this a four star review.

Would I try another book by Kerry Wilkinson? Very possibly!

“Streets of Darkness” by A.A. Dhand

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“Streets of Darkness” by A.A. Dhand

Young Mr. Dhand has a lot to answer for in my view. It is (almost) exclusively down to him that I have been distracted from my own shabby attempts at writing and, instead, have been absorbed in the world he has created in his debut novel.

Despite being born abroad and spending my early years elsewhere, I count myself as a Bradford chap – my mother’s side of our family is Bradford born, bred and dead (indeed, buried at one of the settings from this superb novel), my sister and her children live a mile or so from the centre and I have been a fervent fan of the city’s football team since I moved near to the area in the late 1970’s – and, as a regular visitor to the city, I am familiar with its landmarks, people and life. However, AA Dhand, has led me to a dirty, unpleasant and violent side of the city. He shows us the scary side of the city, the one filled with dangerous, dark souls and which, were I not being safely guided through it by DI Harry Virdee, I would feel terribly ill at ease exploring.

This is a fast paced crime thriller that positively snaps along and it leaves you gasping as you turn the pages and are drawn ever deeper into the murky underbelly of a city riven with division and mistrust. But, out of the shadows and dark streets of Dhand’s Bradford, his vividly drawn Gotham City, comes Harry, our very own Dark Knight.

So, to the plot.

Harry discovers the crucified body of a prominent Asian businessman and, despite being suspended from duty, is tasked with tracking down the killer and solving the racially motivated crime. He faces a race against time as unseen forces conspire against him and racial tensions threaten to tear the city apart. Additionally, his wife is due to give birth to their first child at any moment. The pressure is on and Harry is thrust into a frenzied fight to save his career, his city and his family.

Harry is estranged from his Hindu family following his marriage to Saima, a Muslim, and has to battle religious intolerance and fight to overcome his own demons. He is a complex character, we see several sides to him on this engaging first encounter, and I feel we have a lot more to learn about Harry as his journey continues.

This is an absolutely terrific read; it has been on my radar to read for a short while now and, prompted by the author appearing at the recent Bradford Literature Festival, I took the plunge into his dark Bradford. Now, after safely surviving the first Harry Virdee novel, I am looking forward to being led, very soon, back onto his streets of darkness.

The Kerning (proposed first chapter)

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The Kerning – mock up of cover.

Before

The mercury had climbed steadily all week.

Dawn came to Willow Forge and, creeping alongside it into the new day, came the inescapable threat of the thermometer reaching record highs. The heat, and that damned dry wind, certain to bring yet more discomfort to the town and it’s residents. A fifth consecutive day of sweltering under the sun, clothes slick with sweat, the arid air making it difficult to breathe.

In truth, the nights had been even more uncomfortable to endure than the days. Even as the skies had blackened into darkness, bringing relief from the glare of the harsh sun, the good folk of Willow Forge found sleep or respite from the oppressive heat difficult to achieve. They awoke each morning, if, in fact, they had slept at all, with a listlessness and lethargy that shadowed them throughout the following day. Working proved difficult and even the simplest of tasks, like running to the store to grab a few groceries or calling to check on a neighbour, left people tired and cranky as the unrelenting heat swiftly replaced all efforts at productivity and physical exertion with tiredness and fatigue and draining the civility from those attempting such everyday activities.

A quietness lay over Willow Forge; a stillness had passed into its people. The heat smothered the sounds of commerce and industry, normally vibrant and bristling with energy, reducing them to tired echoes which the dry wind hurried away.

A few miles outside town, four bicycles lay abandoned by the side of a dusty track. Their wheels and frames slowly covered by a fine dust kicked up from the parched path, like dirty icing sugar lightly sprinkled on top of a home baked cake. The mud on the bicycles, now baked hard by the sun, becoming yet another shallow memory and bearing mocking testimony to cooler, wetter, more comfortable days. Wheels spun lazily, each revolution slowing imperceptibly as the hot wind blew lightly over them. Baseball cards taped to the frames caught on the spokes of each slowing dying rear wheel adding a “snick….snick……….snick” as percussive accompaniment to the scratchings of crickets amid the whisper of the tall grass.

Four figures trudged wearily away from the tangle of bicycles towards a line of trees. The tallest of the figures, his ginger head a good six inches above his companions, led the way through the field. He swung lazily at the grass with a stick, clearing a path through which the others would follow. The journey from Willow Forge, though short, was mostly uphill and despite the exhilaration as the wind whipped at their faces and cooled the sweat on their youthful bodies, had drained them of energy. One by one they entered the sanctuary provided by the trees. The Boy was the last of the four to step into the shade and cool and to leave the glare of the sun and the heat of the day behind him.

They made their way to a small clearing where, earlier that year, they had placed large stones in a rough circle around a pit for a camp fire. They came here often, as often as they could, after allowing for the needs of schooling, homework and their parents’ demands to help with household chores. This was their place. Their camp. Their domain.

The Boy reached into his backpack and produced two cans of soda, throwing one over to Ginger. The Boy snapped the ring pull, the hiss of the can as it opened loud and alien among the tranquility of the woods. The Boy gulped greedily at the beverage, the sound of the second soda being opened by Ginger just audible over the noise of his own drinking. Refreshed, The Boy wiped his hand across his mouth before passing the part empty can to one of his companions.

“Look there.” Ginger pointed towards the shadows with the stick he’d used to beat down the grass. His other hand held the knife he’d been sharpening the stick with; a knife he had stolen weeks earlier from his father’s toolbox. Ginger’s father had been furious at the loss, raging as he’d searched his workshop and truck for it before grudgingly making a trip to Bennett’s Hardware on Main Street to buy himself a new model with a better, longer, keener blade. Ginger had searched for the knife all afternoon with his father, longing for the delicious moment when he could retrieve it from its hiding place in his bedroom cupboard.

Ginger’s companions peered into the depths beyond their clearing where sunshine, filtered through the canopy of the trees, cast shadows that danced and flickered as the branches moved in the breeze. A breeze that was beginning to strengthen and build.

“There.”

Ginger stood, stick and knife in hand, and moved towards where he had gestured. The others stood and followed him. The rich carpet of leaves and vegetation muffling the sounds of their movement. An occasional sound disturbed the quietness as a foot snapped a twig whilst overhead the branches moved against each other.

A large bird lay on the ground, it’s head tilted to one side, one eye staring up, it’s chest slowly rising and falling with each laboured breath. The bird’s feathers, dark and glossy, gently lifting with each movement, the tips flicked and teased by the growing breeze. It’s eye opening and closing as it watched four figures approach.

“It’s a crow.” The Boy squatted to inspect the bird.

“What’s wrong with it?” Asked one of his companions. “Is it hurt?”

“Not sure. I don’t think so. I think it’s too hot.”

The Boy cupped his hand, pouring some of his soda into the well formed by his closed palm. Bright orange liquid fell from his fingers as he dripped the soda into the birds’ beak. The crow struggled and tried to stand on legs that were too weak, too tired to bear its bodyweight. It flopped back onto the mossy ground.

“Leave it. It’s dying.” Said Ginger.

“It’s just thirsty and tired. We have to help it.” The Boy bent over the crow continuing to coax the weakened bird to take the soda, buoyed by his initial success.

“Look. It’s drinking.” Smiling, The Boy turned to look up at the others.

Ginger knelt beside him and stared hard at the bird before suddenly pushing The Boy to the ground. Letting out a cry of surprise, The Boy sprawled among the dirt and leaves before scrambling to his feet.

“Why’d ya do that?”

“I told you to leave it.” Ginger rose to his feet and, turning from The Boy, addressed the others. “C’mon, let’s go.” They looked at each another, alarmed and scared by the unexpected altercation between Ginger and The Boy; this was not how they had anticipated their bike ride and adventure in the woods turning out.

“I said we’re goin’!” Ginger snapped.

The two companions took one final, confused, regretful glance towards The Boy. Then, decision made, they grabbed their packs and hurried after Ginger leaving the shadows and half light of the clearing behind them. Above them, the canopy shifted and groaned as the wind licked hungrily at the branches. Grey clouds were gathering, breaking up the blue of the sky and dulling the brightness of the day. The first thick beads of rain fell to the ground where the parched earth greedily sucked them down.

The Boy rubbed dirt from his soda sticky hands. He looked down at the crow. Gingers sharpened stick pinned the bird firmly to the dry earth. Its eye, now lifeless, stared up at him as dark feathers danced in the wind.

In the distance, his companions had reached the track. The Boy watched as his bicycle was lifted from the pile and thrown to one side. The rain came fast and fell on his bicycle; washing the dust from it, revealing the layer of mud below, its sun hardened surface melting under the deluge.

The Boy looked again at the crow. In death the bird appeared smaller. Its feathers, glossy black and slick with rain, clung tight to its body. Its beak now filling with rain as the dead bird finally took the drink which The Boy had offered.

Rain thundered through the cover provided by the trees to pool in the dirt beneath his feet. The heavy drops splashing fresh mud onto his dirty sneakers, the cheap fabric further darkening as rain soaked into them. His clothes were drenched, his thin tee-shirt and torn jeans sticking to his body.

All light was now gone from the day replaced by darkness as shadows lengthened, writhing and gyrating as their shapes grew from the depths of the woods. They grabbed and reached for The Boy as the wind whispered darkly to him through the trees. “Come to us. Let us be your friends.”

The storm raged overhead and thunder roared its approval. The first flash of lightening streaked across the sky, briefly illuminating The Boy as he stood alone in the clearing. He shook in rage and fear as the rain lashed against his body and the storm danced in wicked fury around him.