Time for a writerly update. Currently I have a novel and selection of short fiction with my editor, but even with the upcoming family nuptials, I’m still writing. In the last 10 months or so I’ve written two of three books in my comic modern fantasy, involving Pearl Barley, a trainee exorcist, Sharon Goodfellow, the deceased stylist possessing Pearl’s hair and Nedd, Pearl’s animated reflection. This somewhat muddled trio find themselves in all sorts of perils, contretemps and cockups which they aim to avoid, defeat and deny. Before I undertake book three I’ve decided I need some time for the first two to maturate a little so I will return to them in the autumn.
Meanwhile my first protagonist Harry Spittle has been in touch about a new adventure. I’ve been chronicling Harry’s mishaps and adventures since he was 19 in 1976 (Dead Flies and Shery Trifle) and a student back home for the holidays (‘Harry Spittle is the most fun I’ve had with a book character in a long time.’).
Since then Harry reappeared in 1981 as a trainee solicitor in The Last Will of Sven Andersen (‘It’s a good read with a very satisfying ending.’)
and subsequently in 1987 as a senior solicitor hoping to be given a partnership in Booms and Busts (‘What a fantastically farcical tale of the mishaps and misadventures that Harry finds himself in’).
Now it is 1997 and Harry is approaching 40 in a few months, a respected if also disaffected partner in the Real Estate Team in his law firm, Newe Waters. He is married to his long time love interest Penny Strutt and has three children John, nine and twins Joshua and Jemima, two. He is also wondering about Life, the Universe and why he is not getting enough sex. With everything in Harry’s life, just when it seems boring and predictable, events kick away the stabilizers and send him hurtling in unexpected directions.
Provisionally titled Things Never Get Any Better and set against the backdrop to the election of New Labour under Tony Blair, Harry finds responsibilities coming at him like demented wasps and no amount of flapping will see them off. This fourth instalment in the Spittle Sagas sees Harry mellow settled and bored. It can’t last.
For those who haven’t followed this series yet… seriously, where have you been? I’ve used my own life’s arc and settings to inform Harry’s fictional journey. The times and the places have been taken from my own story; but the people and the crazy events are all fictional… honest.
This is an extract…
Tonight, therefore I have to cycle home, come what may.
It’s as I’m getting on my bike that I realise someone has been mucking about with it and specifically the height of the saddle. As I try and straddle my machine my shorts – a rather trendy light blue Lycra with the logo of a French racing team on the side, but which over time have both faded and shrunk – snag and I topple over, scuffing the shorts and my knee.
Consequently my ride home is not the usually uplifting experience I have come to anticipate. It’s just after seven as I pull into the drive and begin the usual clumsy rummage for my keys that are secured in my bumbag and despite the somewhat downbeat mood I manage a small smile as I contemplate my new home and my family within.
Our house is on a quiet road – Coppergate Close – near the twee village of Dulwich in South London. It’s large and a dull redbrick built in the 1950s to a gothic style meant to be a homage to the Victorian splendour of the nearby Boys’ school, Dulwich College but which is more redolent of a post war asylum what with bars on all the downstairs windows and doors. These are a hangover from the security conscious – read ‘paranoid’ – former owner who still lives locally and can be seen skulking behind hedges and taking down the numbers of passing cars or photographing unfamiliar visitors. It has a large garden (‘lots of potential’), a carriage drive and cost us a bloody fortune. I vaguely recall the estate agent pointing out its charming original features and it’s true there are a few nice bits of plaster work but what he didn’t mention were the reluctance of the toilet in the en suite to flush every third use, a sink in the kitchen that spits out a black foul smelling goo with the frequency of the Government’s Eurosceptic wing and which smells like a Viking midden and a front door bell that is so loud that it drowns out Concorde when it passes over every evening at six thirty.
The house, in the words of the Estate Agent ‘needs a bit of love’, which is sales speak for having ‘a shitload of moolah’ lavished on it. Thus far that particular money shrub hasn’t showed any sign of flowering but when the year-end accounts are settled at the end of April, I know that, like England, Penny Expects Me To Do My Duty.
Meanwhile weekends, such as the one ahead are parcelled into time slots comprising ‘children time’, ‘shopping’ ‘cleaning’ and, most terrifyingly of all ‘DIY’. Sometimes the need to go into the office on a Sunday morning to catch up on work is a blessing, not that you’ll ever hear me say as much.
I have installed a small wooden shed to one side of the house where I lock away the bike. The neighbours to my right – an elderly couple called Paulson who’ve lived there for upwards of thirty years – tell me I shouldn’t need to lock it up as ‘this is Dulwich’ but I’m not convinced that somehow entering the SE21 postcode renders all burglars incapable of theft.
Having secured my flying machine I return to the front door, feeling a lot better. Home at last. It’s the weekend and the children will still be up and ready to assault me. This is one of life’s complete and uncorrupted pleasures: the hunter-gatherer returning to his cave.
Tonight though two things occur to forestall this joy, the one perfectly timed to follow the other.
Thing one: I am conscious my balls want a scratch and it seems only polite to effect said itch-removal before I enter my domain. I therefore reach between my legs and press against the stretchy material with my longish finger nail and employ a firm, circular motion to eradicate the irritation.
Thing two: the front door flies open. This never happens only it does today. Facing me are a sea of faces. Penny, John my nine year old son, the twins Joshua and Jemima – yes, I know, too many Js; this is a well-established criticism of our parenting – are there. Also looking tanned and more relaxed that I can remember is Natalie Pendant, an old friend of ours who we haven’t seen in I would guess five years. She has her arms around two pale-faced boys of about eight or nine I guess, who look nervous. Behind them are my father, Arthur Spittle looking as he does most of the time these days – rather dodgy – and next to him, grinning more broadly than I can recall, Stephen McNoble, an old nemesis who over the near twenty years we’ve known each other has become a rather good friend.
“Well,” I manage to say as I spread my arms wide, “this is truly a splendid and unexpected welcome.”
It is only then that it occurs to me that the happy faces have shifted; the mood, I detect has changed.
Penny’s expression has gone to one with which I know so well – resignation and disappointment. Natalie looks, what wryly amused? Stephen is near fit to bust and all the children look mesmerised. I realise after a beat they are all staring at my shorts.
Somehow I know what I’ll see. It’s Dad’s expression that tells me the worst. It’s that ‘Oh how could you, Harold?’ wince with which I am so very familiar. I glance down. I suspect a combination of the earlier snagging on the high saddle and the more recent scratching has impacted on the integrity of the stitching and the seams and the front panel have come loose and flopped open like a bomb door on a B52 Flying Fortress only the pay load is not high explosives but my tackle. It is John who finds his voice first. “Has Daddy grown a willy beard, Mummy?”