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Ho Ho Bloody Ho

Purple baubles on dark background

Another year passes. Another year marked by wars and hatred and lies and stupidity.

In short, another year of shittiness. And here in the UK we seem intent on becoming the masters of all things shitty. There have been occasions this past year when I’ve felt a little ashamed to be British. As I’ve said before, this isn’t the place, and I’m not the person, to embark on political rants, but Rwanda. Sigh.

As we left 2022 behind, I wished for a kinder 2023. Might as well have wished to become an international bestseller with multiple movie deals. (Yeah, yeah, all right, I wish for that every year.)

It seems it is too much to expect people to try to get along with others despite them having different coloured skin, or worshipping a different god—or even the same god but in a different way… sigh—or having a different sexual orientation, or any of the myriad other ways we humans can differ from one another.

To shamelessly pinch a line from The Simpsons, Jesus must be turning in his grave.

Talking of graves, let’s spare a thought for those who have gone to theirs.

We said goodbye to more greats this year, including the gorgeous Raquel Welch (I’ll never forget seeing her in a fur bikini in the film One Million Years B.C.), Alan Arkin (who will always, to me, be Yossarian), and Cormac McCarthy (who wrote one of the bleakest yet utterly compelling post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read, The Road), to name but a few.

And Shane MacGowan has gone to join Kirsty MacColl at the smoke-wreathed piano in the sky, where I imagine them belting out my favourite Christmas tune ‘Fairytale of New York’.

But enough doom and gloom. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a grumpy old man, though finding stuff to be positive about in today’s world is not easy. Trying to be upbeat these days feels a bit like peeing into the wind, only without the damp trousers.

I’ll include a snap below of me smiling into the lens, Milo by my side, with our digital Santa hats on. And I’m going to keep telling myself that humanity is ultimately good and raise a glass to a kinder 2024.

Two frothing glasses of beer clinking together

And yet…

I can’t help but feel this is forced optimism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I’m the turkey cheerfully wishing that next Christmas everyone will have turned vegetarian.

So, bollocks to it. Ebenezer Scrooge it is, then. Altogether now, in our best Bah Humbug voices:

Ho ho bloody ho.

Sam Kates and his dog Milo wearing Santa hats

Mediterranean Musings

Image of the P&O cruiseship Britannia
P&O’s Britannia

So Mrs Kates and I mooched off to the Mediterranean for a much-delayed two-week cruise that was supposed to be to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. As it happened, it was the day of our 33rd anniversary that we set off for Southampton.

The lead-up hadn’t gone well, making us wonder whether a holiday can be jinxed. The Cursed Cruise­­—sounds like a title from The Three Investigators series of books. That was down to me.

Around five weeks before the cruise, I suffered an infection in my left forearm from some insect bites. I do a lot of walking in the countryside and the culprit was probably a horsefly—the little sods seem to like tucking into me. It necessitated a course of strong antibiotics and, we think, triggered the worst attack of psoriasis* I’ve ever experienced. My usual go-to steroid treatment didn’t touch it.

Worse, the day before we were due to leave, I noticed fresh red marks (not psoriasis patches) on my right shin and calf. They were slightly swollen, hot and tender to the touch. Fresh insect bites—again, probably horseflies—and too late to do anything about them. Bugger.

Image of a horsefly
Horsefly, aka little sod

After a day or two aboard ship, my lower leg looked as though it had a severe case of sunburn and had swollen so much I could only manage to fit into one pair of shoes in the evenings, a low-backed pair of slip-ons. The onboard doctor diagnosed cellulitis and prescribed another course of strong antibiotics. Ideally, I needed to rest my leg and keep it elevated. Easier said than done on a cruise.

We were determined not to allow these mishaps to ruin the holiday and we had a good time despite them. What follows is a brief recount of some of the highlights. Since this blog is mainly about writing and reading, I’ll mix in some literary flavour where I can.

A word or two about the ship and some of the passengers we encountered. Britannia is a ship we haven’t sailed on before, but we will definitely be keen to board her again. Although she’s big, we rarely felt overwhelmed by crowded spaces. The staff are, as always on P&O ships in our experience, approachable and incredibly hard-working, and massively enhance our enjoyment of the holiday.

We chatted to quite a few of our fellow passengers in bars or restaurants or around the decks, and unfailingly encountered friendly people, with more than a smattering of fellow Welshies. But it was in the main dining room we struck gold. We had club dining, meaning we had the same table reserved at the same time every evening in one of the main restaurants. We shared our table with an awesome young couple from Liverpool (one of them is originally from Manchester, she’ll want me to make known) and, despite (or, maybe, because of) the generation gap, hit it off immediately.

We didn’t eat in the main dining room every evening, and neither did the young couple, but when we were all there at the same time, the evening passed in a flash of lively chit-chat and reminiscing about how much we were missing our pets at home: cats Taco and Nacho in their case, pooch Milo in ours. They celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary while in port at Ibiza and went ashore for a celebratory meal where they met and had photos with a well-known club DJ. My and Mrs K’s clubbing days being far in the past, we hadn’t heard of him, but the couple’s enthusiasm was so infectious we felt as though we were fans, too.

Our waiters often had to stand about waiting for us to stop yakking so they could finish clearing away. (Sorry, Birini and Sonam, you were fantastic, too.) A huge thank you to our lovely table fellows A and C, you helped to make our cruise a memorable one. And come on, you Reds!

Image of dog
Milo (badly in need of a trim)

It being a cruise, there were, naturally, ports of call. Here they are, in the order in which we visited them, with an occasional bookish note and snap from the hundreds we took.

Gibraltar

We have visited Gibraltar on many previous cruises and it has become one of our favourite ports. I like to partake of a pint of San Miguel in one of the local pubs and Mrs K enjoys a glass of sangria in the main square while watching the world (well, at any event, the passengers from whichever ships are in that day) go by.

We’ve explored most of the Rock, inside and out, but this time decided to visit the Trafalgar Cemetery at the far end of Main Street. It was well worth the stroll through the intense heat (to which we hadn’t yet had time to become acclimatised­­­, though a pitstop for liquid refreshment eased our path). The cemetery is a place of great tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of touristy Main Street. It contains two graves of sailors who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar and died of their wounds on Gibraltar. I found myself a little awestruck.

Image of sign outside Trafalgar Cemetery, Gibraltar
Gibraltar

Ibiza

Although we have enjoyed holidays on the Balearic islands of Mallorca and Menorca, this was our first visit to their sister island Ibiza. We wanted to see as much as we could in the limited time available so opted for a guided excursion to the north of the island, taking in quaint villages and picturesque resorts, before stopping for a bite to eat and some liquid refreshment in Santa Eularia.

Image of yacht in bay
Ibiza

Palma, Mallorca

We had nothing planned here as we’ve visited a few times before. We just got off the ship and went for a little wander.

French novelist Albert Camus (I’ve read The Stranger and The Plague) stayed in Palma in 1935 and apparently met his first wife in Mallorca. Totally unrelated, the pic is of a gun emplacement outside San Carlos military museum that overlooks the cruise terminal.

Image of gun emplacement
Palma

Cagliari, Sardinia

Here we spent a cultural morning being entertained by Sardinian folk dancers and singers, while sampling local sweets and cheeses and wines. A most enjoyable morning, indeed.

Sardinia is the subject of a travel book, Sea and Sardinia, about a visit to the island, including Cagliari, by D.H.Lawrence and his wife in 1921.

Image of sun rising over island of Sardinia
Sunrise, Sardinia

Malaga

One of the oldest cities in the world, Malaga is known as ‘the land of poets’. Hemingway is said to have written his nonfiction work The Dangerous Summer while staying in the city.

We took an excursion to visit Marbella, which we found a little disappointing with its preponderance of high-rise, soulless buildings (at least in the part which we got to see), and Puerto Banus, with its array of billionaire’s yachts lining the marina partly shrouded by an eerie sea mist, the occasional Ferrari and Lamborghini parked alongside. How the other half live, eh.

Image of expensive yacht in marina
Puerto Banus

Cadiz

One of my favourite books from my early teens was Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie. I also enjoyed his follow-up As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Lee’s memoir of his 19-year-old self’s journey to and around a Spain about to be engulfed in civil war. He leaves his home in rural Gloucestershire (the setting for Cider With Rosie) and sets off for London, calling in Southampton along the way. In Spain, he starts at Vigo (a port we have been to on a previous cruise) and visits Cadiz, Gibraltar and Malaga. His description of Cadiz is evocative: ‘…a city of sharp incandescence, a scribble of white on a sheet of blue glass, lying curved in the bay like a scimitar and sparkling with African light.’

We, too, are fond of Cadiz and took this opportunity for a wander around parts of the city we haven’t seen previously, before eventually settling—sweaty, footsore and thirsty—in a pavement bar near the port, where we enjoyed a late lunch and a beer or two. Mrs K watched agog when she asked for a glass of sangria and they descended upon our table armed with five bottles of alcoholic beverages and a bottle of lemonade. They proceeded to mix her a sangria by sloshing ‘measures’ into the glass. “How is it?” I enquired. “Delicious,” she replied, “though strong.” Hic

Image of Cadiz cathedral
Cadiz cathedral

 

If you’re been detecting a bit of a theme, you could be right. It’s probably fair to say that when we go on a cruise, we tend to eat and drink our way around the Mediterranean, or Baltic or Norwegian Seas…

Here’s to the next time. Cheers!

Image of Sam & Mrs Kates raising champagne glasses
Back on board for a champagne sailaway

 

* I’ve suffered with psoriasis for many years, a condition which causes my body to produce too many skin cells, making the skin on parts of my body (usually my knuckles, elbows, knees and ankles) inflamed and flaky. Actually, ‘suffered’ is overstating it. It’s not contagious, doesn’t cause me much discomfort apart from occasional mild itchiness and is usually controlled by ointments prescribed by my GP. It’s never been so bad that I’ve needed to see a dermatologist about it. Until now.

Merry flipping Christmas

Headshot of author wearing a Santa hat

This time last year I was in a mild state of despondency. Covid was rife, our government was in a bit of a mess, social media was often a cesspit of hatred and misinformation, my book sales weren’t great, and advertising was growing increasingly expensive and ineffective.

I wish I could say all or some of those things have improved. But, nah.

We’re learning to live with it, but covid is still very much with us. We’ve had not one but two changes of prime minister, and I’m not convinced the current incumbent is much of an upgrade on his predecessors. Social media is as rancid as it ever was. My sales still aren’t much to write home about, and I remain extremely wary of the cost and effectiveness of advertising.

But so much more shittiness (you’ll have to excuse my French—it’s difficult to talk about the current state of this world without resorting to the occasional swear word) has happened in this past year.

The new year had barely begun when, without warning, I lost one of my oldest friends. His funeral in London on a mild day in late January was, as you might imagine, a desperately sad affair.

Also in early January, we watched our televisions disbelievingly as what looked like an attempted coup unfolded across the pond when rioters stormed the US Capitol, apparently with the blessing of or, at least, lack of condemnation from the outgoing president.

The following month and Russia invaded Ukraine, bringing World War III significantly nearer to becoming a reality. Massive hikes to energy prices followed and a consequent cost-of-living crisis.

Inflation has been rampant and interest rates keep increasing to try to counter it. Some believe Brexit has also played a significant role in the current mess we’re in, not to mention a bizarre mini-budget from the previous PM and her Chancellor that sent the financial markets into a blind panic.

Summer temperatures soared in the UK as new records were set and we all wilted like last week’s lettuce.

Then, in September, Queen Elizabeth II died. She was the only monarch I’d ever known and, though I’m by no means a royalist, it was a time of deep sorrow—it felt as though we’d lost a constant presence in our lives that we’d not even been aware of until it had gone.

It was also a surreal time as people queued for days to view her coffin lying in state in the Palace of Westminster and a television channel was devoted to seeing those paying their respects filing past. I sometimes turned over to watch it for a while.

Currently there are strikes everywhere you look, from rail workers to nurses. Last year, the government urged us to clap for the NHS staff who worked so selflessly during the pandemic; now the same government would have us believe they’re being selfish for expecting to be paid a living wage. Sigh. This isn’t the place, and I’m not the person, to go off on political rants. Still, sigh.

That was 2022. A year of loss, insurrection, war, economic turmoil, weather extremes, political and royal upheaval.

There’s undoubtedly a recession looming. We can only hope Armageddon isn’t.

Shit happens, as the saying goes, though it’s a little mild to describe what’s happened this past twelve months. Dumbfuckery of the highest order is more accurate. Little wonder my sense of despondency has, if anything, deepened.

When I was seventeen, I appeared in the school play. It contained a line I still quote, usually accompanied by an exaggerated shrug of the shoulders, whenever dumbfuckery is occurring. It’s especially apt now:

Hey ho, such is life.

Have yourself the merriest flipping Christmas (or whatever) and here’s to a kinder 2023. Perhaps if enough of us say it often enough, more kindness will happen. No, I’m not going to hold my breath either.

Image of cute dog in reindeer suit

 

Tell Them You’re Proud of Them

Barely had the new year begun than the news came through. One of my oldest friends had died.

Howard was fifty-six, a non-smoker, not a heavy drinker. He was slim and active, a member of the RNLI operating on the Thames. He’d run a half-marathon in October. This was a bolt from the blue which hit me, and our other friends, hard. I can only begin to imagine how it has devastated his wife and family.

We’d known each other since we were six when I started attending school in the small village in South Wales where we grew up. We were in the same class for most of our school lives. Over the years we fought like cat and dog, played in the same football and rugby teams, attended cubs and scouts, camped out, drank, chased girls, went on a boys’ holiday to Corfu, and did all the other things you’d expect lifelong friends to have got up to.

He was supportive of my writing endeavours and I believe was secretly chuffed I’d given a character in the Earth Haven trilogy his first name.

In February 2020, in a world only weeks away from being devastated by covid, we spent a weekend in Dublin with some of our other friends. There are photos of him on this blog from that trip: In Dublin’s Fair City. When we made our way back to Dublin airport, he hopped off the bus before the rest of us since he needed to be in a different terminal to catch his flight back to London. As the bus pulled away, he banged on the window and grinned. That was the last time I saw him.

Dublin 2020

Howard lived in London for many years. It’s where his life was, one far removed from our quiet home village. Yet, whenever we saw him—perhaps at Christmas, or at a funeral or a rugby international—we’d pick up where we’d left off, as though it had been months since we’d last seen him, not years.

And how well he’d done for himself. After qualifying as a quantity surveyor and working in private practice, he went on to hold high-powered estate management positions with the Metropolitan Police and, more lately, with the British Museum. A far cry from how our teachers had perceived him when we were in comprehensive school.

Neither of us were loud in class. We tended to keep our heads down and try not to draw attention to ourselves. Accordingly, I don’t think our teachers had any real idea of who we were.

When we were sixteen, Howard and I were asked by the school to attend a local factory which was on the lookout for apprentices. The factory manufactured staples—the sort you use to attach pieces of paper together. I have no idea why the school thought we would be interested in becoming staple manufacturers, but they asked us to go and, seeing the opportunity for a day off school, we both said yes. I don’t remember much about the visit, except that we caught the bus up the valley, attended the factory, nodded and smiled when shown around, and caught the bus home again.

Presumably the school followed up, asking whether we wanted to apply for apprenticeships at the factory, but I don’t really remember. The answers would have been two firm noes in any event. I had no idea what I wanted to be at that age, but I did know I didn’t want to make staples. And neither did Howard. (Nothing wrong with being a staple maker; it just wasn’t for us.)

I went on to become a lawyer and now a writer, and Howard, as already mentioned, went on to become successful in the world of estate management, outcomes that I imagine would greatly surprise whoever’s idea it was that we might want to make staples. It’s something we shared many a chuckle over.

I am proud of what he achieved, not only professionally but in his private life, too—his marriage to a lovely lady who he was completely crazy about; his selfless work for the RNLI; his dry wit and popularity with everyone who knew him. But here’s the thing: I never told him I was proud of him. It’s not the sort of thing blokes say to each other. At least, not among my friends.

Perhaps we should. And not just that we’re proud of each other. Perhaps we should tell our loved ones how we feel about them more often. Our friends and colleagues how much we appreciate them.

Otherwise, before we know it, it’s too late.

Corfu 1988

With a Ho! and a Ho! and, perchance, a Ho!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s here again. No, not another strain of covid, but that time of year when, in theory at least, we feel a sense of peace and goodwill to our fellow man*. As 2021 draws to a close, I suspect with almost as much a sense of relief as we welcomed the end of 2020, so I find myself in a state of mild despondency.

I can’t put my finger on the precise reason why. It’s not only the ongoing ding-dong battle with a virus that seems to mutate almost as often as members of our government are caught out breaching their own rules. It’s not only the spite, bile and mistruths I see flung about on social media as though common rules of decency no longer apply in this world. (I’ve been finding social media such a poisonous, divisive, lie-laden, attention-seeking, drama-driven cesspit that I rarely post on Facebook and Twitter these days.) It’s not only the spiralling costs of effective advertising and my dwindling book sales—I feel almost as invisible now as I did when I first started out.

No, it’s none of those things in isolation. Yet it’s all of them, and more. They’re all getting together (ignoring the rules against gatherings in the best governmental traditions) and contributing to a general feeling of melancholy.

It’ll pass, even if I’m not hopeful that the causes are going to alleviate any time soon. Despite the occasional grumpy-old-man demeanour, I’m generally an upbeat, optimistic person.

Have yourself the merriest Christmas** and here’s to a kinder 2022.

Nadolig Llawen!

 

* meaning, of course, man, woman and those who identify otherwise.
** meaning, of course, other holidays too.

Irregularity

[Reproduced from ‘News’ page]

14th July 2021

I have recently been finding the commitment to post to my blog every fortnight a little onerous. Come off it, Sam, I hear you saying. One post, every two weeks? What could be onerous about that?

Well, I’m trying to write a new novel and finding it slow-going. I’m only 40,000 words in and I’m aiming for around 180,000 words or upwards, so have a long way to go. There are several reasons for the slow progress that can all be lumped under the same heading: Life Happening.

There have been a few occasions of late when, with the two-week deadline approaching, I’ve had to pull away from the novel to draft a new post or find a suitable accompanying image or format book links or any of the other things that have to be done to run a regular blog.

It’s reached the stage where something has to give and it’s not going to be the new novel.

I’m not abandoning the blog and will still post to it when I have something new to say and have the time to write it. I still have some old interviews to post, including a couple with characters from my books which were great fun to do. But I am abandoning the commitment to post every two weeks. For now, at any rate.

So the blog will remain active and new posts (or old ones that previously appeared on other people’s blogs) will pop up from time to time. But not with the same regularity as before.

Back to the novel…

Merry Christmas!

 

Or happy-whatever-holiday-you-prefer. 2020 is drawing to a close. Do I hear you say ‘Hallelujah’?

The photo above is a few years old now. I really ought to update the image with the older, more crinkly version of me, but it doesn’t seem important enough to go to the effort. That’s the thing about this horrendous year – it has made us examine our priorities. Inevitably, I believe, there will be a reshuffling of those priorities, a reordering of the things we cherish most.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to go all philisophical on you. The purpose of this post is simply to raise a rhetorical glass of a favourite tipple to family and friends, and fellow writers and readers.

I wish you all the very best for a peaceful holiday and a better year ahead.

Iechyd da! Cheers!

Stay safe. I’ll be back on 8th January. Till then…

In Dublin’s Fair City

James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, Iris Murdoch, Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy… The list of notable authors associated with Dublin is impressive.

I’ve made several visits to the city, mostly to watch Wales take on Ireland in the Six Nations and once on a cricket tour (yep, cricket). It’s always struck me as a city that revolves around its pubs. And some fine pubs there are, too.

So, literature, pubs and rugby—what better place to spend a long weekend with five old school friends in honour of us all turning fifty-five?

We chose the weekend of 8th February 2020 because that’s when Wales were playing Ireland in Dublin in this year’s Six Nations. (For those who don’t follow rugby, that’s the main annual rugby union championship in the northern hemisphere.) The downside is that to fly from our local airport, Cardiff, means paying outrageously high fares—the operators hike their prices for that weekend because they know how much we Welsh love our rugby and how many of us follow Wales when they play away.

Our solution was to fly from Cardiff with KLM to Amsterdam and spend a few hours in Schiphol airport, before catching a connecting flight to the Emerald Isle. Nobody (least of all me—the older I get, the more I dislike flying) relished the thought of catching two flights in one day and taking seven hours to reach somewhere a little more than an hour’s flight from Cardiff, but a saving of £300 each sealed the deal.

Flying out was fine. The few hours layover in Schiphol we spent in a pub in the huge terminal building. ‘Huge’ is not an exaggeration—it’s the size of a small town, as we were to have painfully brought home to us during the journey home.

By teatime, we had linked up with the final member of our party (who had flown to Dublin from Heathrow), taken photos of the Welsh rugby team (who’d walked past us in Dublin airport), and found our way to our hotel in the city centre, just off O’Connell Street. By six, we were partaking of the weekend’s first pint of Guinness.

 

We arrived in Dublin on the Thursday. The match would occupy Saturday and we were returning home on Sunday. That left Friday to be filled. Since we are fifty-five, not twenty-five, we were keen to avoid a daytime activity that involved excessive amounts of alcohol. When one of our party, who works for the British Museum, suggested a cultural tour of the city, the rest of us were happy to tag along. On our way to the museums and galleries, we passed the house where Bram Stoker once lived. Dracula being one of the novels I loved as a teenager, I had to take some snaps. Here are a few combined.

I won’t bore you with details of the entire weekend—this is a writing blog, after all—but suffice it to say there was laughter and reminiscing and Guinness aplenty. Much as you’d expect when six lifelong friends get together again after a while apart. That’s the thing with good friends: it doesn’t really matter how long you spend apart; when you all meet up again, you merely pick up where you left off.

Here’s a snap I took of the boys outside St Stephen’s Green in the city centre. They look like an ageing rock band recreating the cover of one of their albums from back in the day.

There is one more writing-related mention. On Sunday morning, we braved Storm Ciara to stroll over to Temple Bar. One of the settings of my Earth Haven novel, The Beacon, is Dublin. One of the characters makes her temporary home in The Quays pub in post-apocalyptic Temple Bar. I chose it because I have some happy memories of the pub from previous trips.

Since we were right there, it would have been a shame not to pop in for a pint.

Travelling home wasn’t dull. Since we had to once more fly via Schiphol, having to take off and land twice in the teeth of Ciara was, um, interesting. Due to inevitable delays caused by the storm, we landed in Schiphol and were deposited by the airport bus in the concourse with barely fifteen minutes before the departure gate closed for our connecting flight to Cardiff. Not much of a problem, perhaps, except that it turned out we were at least a mile from where we needed to be. Have you ever seen a group of unfit fifty-five-year-olds with a few dodgy knees and hips between them, suffering the effects of a long weekend on Guinness, legging it down seemingly endless stretches of corridor? By the time we made it to the departure gate, panting and sweating, we must have looked as if we’d crossed a desert, not an airport.

We made it home only a couple of hours late. Since we’d been expecting to miss our connecting flight and have to spend the night on the floor in Schiphol, I’ve never been so relieved to land back in Cardiff.

Oh, and Wales lost the rugby in a disappointing performance. It only briefly took the shine off a fantastic weekend.

National Heroes Service – Part 2

It has been eight weeks since my last blog post; nine since an aneurysm in my right knee caused my foot to go numb and resulted in my having to undergo emergency surgery.

Before I get to the purpose of this post, a quick update on my leg. It’s been a long old haul, not helped by coming down with an infection in the wound. That required a course of strong antibiotics and set back my recovery at least a week. But I’m relieved to say that, although I still have some way to go before I can claim to be completely recovered, if I ever can, my leg has vastly improved. I can now sleep without waking up with throbbing pain every time I move; I can wear long trousers with only minimal discomfort; I can walk a mile before anything starts to ache.

It’s going to be a beaut of a scar, running from the inside of my thigh almost from my groin to around midway between knee and ankle. I aim to gradually increase the distance of my walks, along with the number and severity of inclines, until I can comfortably walk four miles of mixed terrain in an hour. I am hoping the numbness that makes much of my leg feel like a plank of wood will wear off, at least partially.

Enough about me. The purpose of my last post was to praise the staff of the NHS, after my first-hand experience of what they have to put up with—some of the patients in the wards I was in were, to put it politely, hugely demanding, with one or two taking up a massively disproportionate amount of the nursing resources. And look what the staff have been going through since.

I didn’t feel I could resume my blog and not pay tribute to them again. And not only to those who work in our health service, but carers everywhere, our police and other emergency services, those who work in all aspects of retail (from supply and delivery to checkout), refuse collectors, those keeping our public transport going, the postmen and -women… the list could go on. In short, everyone who has continued to work, at risk to their own health, to keep us fed and warm and safe and informed.

Many—too many—have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many—too many—have flouted government advice and made the situation worse. An example: during the weekend commencing 3rd April, well into the second week of lockdown, it was reported that police in Greater Manchester had to close down 660 house and street parties. That’s a lot of people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.

Mind, there have been some face-palming moments that make me wonder how those making the rules expect the rest of us to obey them when they themselves are cheerfully breaking them. Take, for instance, the Chief Medical Officer in Scotland. She was caught, twice, travelling to her second home, more than an hour’s drive from her main home, once with her entire family in tow, having been busy appearing on television and in press conferences advising the public to remain indoors and not to travel unless essential.

And it apparently goes on. A video is doing the rounds on social media claiming to show Westminster Bridge at 8:00 yesterday evening during the weekly expression of gratitude for the NHS. In a seemingly police-sanctioned display (police cars are pulled up to the kerb and police officers are standing on the pavement with members of the public), people are crowded onto the bridge in blatant disregard for social distancing.

This isn’t the place to get political, but our government has to hold its hands up and admit it got a lot of things wrong, especially early on. From not seeming to know what strategy to adopt to combat the viral threat, to confusion over procuring essential PPE and testing equipment, it has, at times, appeared to be a shambles. At the time of writing, the UK is the fifth-highest ranked country in the world for the number of covid-19 deaths—almost 14,000. Fifth… yet we rank twenty-first for population and we’re an island. There will surely be some serious questions to answer when this is over.

My bestselling books are the Earth Haven trilogy, an apocalyptic tale about a manufactured virus that is spread deliberately and brings humankind to its knees. A friend asked me whether I’d write them in today’s climate. My answer was probably not; it would feel too much like writing non-fiction. I’m reminded of the meme that’s been doing the rounds for the past few years, but that seems particularly apt now: a sign outside a bookshop announcing that the post-apocalyptic section has been moved to current affairs.

But I digress. With my leg on the mend, I’m aiming to resume posting to my blog every two weeks from today. The posts will, as usual, be loosely related to writing, reading, publishing and, when I can’t avoid it, marketing. Starting next time.

Today, it’s all about the amazing staff who run our National Health Service, and the remarkable people who are keeping other essential services in our country running. You’re bloody heroes and heroines, each and every one of you.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

National Heroes Service

A week ago—Valentine’s Day—I awoke with a vague tingling sensation in my right leg. I assumed I’d slept on it awkwardly, ignored it, sat at my desk and got to work. It was only a few hours later, at lunchtime, that I realised the tingling had become more focused, centred on my foot, while my right calf, knee and thigh had developed an ominous dull ache. Then I noticed the colour—or, rather, absence of it—in my foot. It resembled a plucked chicken and had grown icy cold.

My wife took one look and whisked me to our local A & E Department—what Americans would call ER. Over the ensuing hours, the colour gradually returned to my foot, but not fully. After a scan, I was informed that I had an aneurysm (a bulging of the artery) behind my knee, which had filled with clotted material that had interrupted the flow of blood to my foot. The lovely surgeon I spoke to explained that I needed to go to a different hospital where they had a specialist vascular surgical team and warned me to expect surgery that evening. She added that they would arrange an emergency transfer. By teatime, I was in the back of an ambulance being transported—blue lights flashing, sirens blaring—the twenty or so miles to Morriston Hospital in Swansea.

I did have to undergo emergency surgery to bypass the aneurysm, though it didn’t take place until Monday evening. I awoke in the recovery room and glanced down. The surge of relief was almost overwhelming when I could see my right foot and feel the toes wiggling. There had been a risk I would lose the leg.

Here’s a snap I took Monday evening when I was back on the ward—the push button thingy lying on the  bed alongside my bandaged leg is for morphine, though I barely felt the need to press it. I’ve rarely experienced such a sense of exhilaration as I felt that night; it was making the pain bearable. Though I couldn’t have got out of bed for all the drips attached to me, I was ready to party.

I came home on Wednesday and have been excelling in the sheer blissfulness of being in my own bed ever since. The incision in my leg runs from the groin almost to the ankle—my daughter counted at least fifty staples holding it together. They are due to come out next Friday.

It’s going to take a good few weeks for me to recover from the surgery so this blog is going to have to take a break for a month or so. But, as Arnie says, I’ll be back.

In the meantime, I had to post something here to thank the amazing men and women who staff our NHS. They are truly a wonderful bunch of people who do our country great credit. Not going to get all political, but the NHS is something bigger and better than any government can lay credit to. Quite frankly, it serves us well despite the politicians, not because of them.

And, yep, unlike the politicians, the NHS staff are, to a man and woman, heroes and heroines. I owe them my leg, if not my life, and will be grateful for the rest of my days.