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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 27

What Steve said gave me some food for thought. I was in a somewhat strange position with respect to the yard. Technically, I was, with the exception of Colin, the least-experienced person in the yard. In the classical yard hierarchy, I was the lowest of the low. However, I owned the Salvage Yard, would soon own a large percentage of the Hamden Yard, and well to be honest, I was not sure what the arrangements were going to be with regards to the Peters Yard. I knew that the purchase of it was going through, but who was going to own it?

That said, my idea did work. We were able to refinish the foredeck of the Beagle in the afternoon, leaving it under cover to fully cure for the morning.

That evening, I cornered Dad in his study and outlined what I had been thinking about.

"Yes, it is a problem. Steve and I hit it when we were discussing slipway and boatshed fees for the Salvage Yard. The Salvage Yard is yours, so who pays whom. Do the customers pay you, or do they pay Steve and Steve pays you? It's going to be even more of a problem when we get the Peters Yard.

"Personally, I think the best option would be to merge all three yards into one business, but I am not sure if Steve would go along with that."

"I don't think he would," I told Dad. "After all, he has only just got control of the Hamden Yard; I don't think he would like becoming a minority shareholder again."

Dad was quiet for a few moments, clearly thinking about something. After a bit, he smiled. "It may not come to that, but I will have to speak with Bernard. I am right in thinking that both the Salvage Yard and the Peters Yard are effectively non-trading at the moment."

"Yes, the Salvage Yard has not really done any business for at least as long as I've been at the yard. Mr Peters has been running things down for the last year. He's taken no new business on since the end of the last season. Just doing a few maintenance jobs for old customers now."

"And the chandlery and most of the new kit at the Hampden Yard is Steve's?"

"That's right."

"That's what I thought. If we exclude the real estate — the business can lease that off the owner and we take goodwill and the value of the chandlery and the new kit, like the boatlift, into account, we might be able to do something that would give Steve at least fifty percent of the merged yards. Before we go down that way, I would need to speak to Bernard."

Joseph phoned that evening just before I got into bed. I had been about to phone him, but he got in first. We spent a good hour chatting on the phone, then had a session of phone sex.

Good Friday is a funny day. It is a bank holiday but not a public holiday, so it is a bit of a problem to know what will be open and what will be closed. Steve decided that the yard would open as the Easter weekend is the start of the sailing season. However, he also decided that we would open Sunday hours, so giving us all a bit of a holiday. Not that it made any difference to the lads at the Salvage Yard, as they just did their normal hours, ten till four. In Steve's yard, we did not open till ten, though both Colin and I were there just after nine. Steve was already there when we arrived.

Once I had made tea for all of us and Steve had gone over the worksheets for the day, he went out to check the cure on the refinish of the Beagle's foredeck. Happily, he was satisfied with the work. Then he called Bran and asked him to send Larry down to give us a hand to take down the scaffolding. That was easier said than done as we had to be extra careful not to drop anything. If we did, it could fall on the foredeck and we would have to redo the whole job.

With the scaffolding down, we had to wait for high tide to get the boat back into the water. Actually, we had two boats to get into the water as Mr. Ponting, who had hired Boatshed Two to paint his boat, wanted to get it into the water. That was not possible while the Beagle had been on the slipway. Fortunately, Bran came down from the Salvage Yard to give a hand. That made life easier.

Rather annoyingly for Steve, Mr. Fairborough, who had hired the other boatshed had not finished the work he was doing and so was not ready to move his boat out of the shed. He was not too pleased to be informed that from today, the daily charge for the shed was going up by a factor of eight. The off-season rate to hire one of the boatsheds was fifty pounds a day. The season rate for hire of a boatshed was four hundred a day, and the season started today.

Steve went to look at what had to be done to get Mr. Fairborough's boat ready. He came back in a bad mood. I asked what the problem was.

"The idiot has removed part of the hull planking so it was easier for him to work on the engine. There's at least three to four days' work to put the planking back and caulk it, never mind repainting the hull. That is with a professional crew working on it. That boat is not going to be ready for the water for at least a week, and I've got jobs booked and need both boatsheds."

"How about getting Slipway One at the Salvage Yard working?" I asked. "I know we can't move the winch engine from Shed Two, but what about getting one of the new electric winches?"

"I'm not sure how you would fit it in the space available," Steve said. "Removing the winch motor and winch gear to put in a new winch would be a very big job."

"You could put the winch off to one side," Bran stated.

"How would that work?" Steve inquired.

"Saw it done in Cape Town when we delivered a yacht. The yard had an old steam winch which had a preservation order on it so it could not be moved. They had put in a new winch at ninety degrees to the slip and had a pulley block at the winch point on the slipway. The rope went round the pulley block and to the winch."

"You know, that would probably work," Steve said. "Actually, if you used a block and tackle setup with three pulleys in each, you could use a much smaller winch. I really need to find an engineer who can work out the stresses involved."

"You could ask Dad," I stated. Steve looked at me puzzled. "Well, his degree is in engineering. Actually, he's got a master's in it."

"I didn't know that," Steve stated. "I thought he was just a writer."

I told Steve he should phone Dad and ask him about it. Steve did. He came off the phone with a whole lot of information he had to get. For instance, what was the slope of the slipway, what was the rolling resistance of the cradle, what was the maximum weight that would be hauled up? For the last hour of the day, Bran and I were tasked with finding answers.

There was some we could not find, like the rolling resistance, but we managed to find most. I made a note of them and took them home to Dad so he could look at them. That evening Dad gave me a lesson on how to calculate the power that would be needed to pull a boat up the slipway into the boathouse. What was surprising is that by using the pulley system on a slipway, we could use a winch with a lot lower power than I would have thought.

Dad put everything into SMath Studio so I could take the workings into Steve in the morning and show him what was required.

One thing I noticed when I got home Friday afternoon was that there were a lot of cars parked in the parking area by the workshops. I mentioned this to Dad. He was in the kitchen talking to Mum.

"They're here for the course your Uncle Ben is putting on. Jan's now got most of the apartments let this weekend, which is just as well as the artist she was hoping to have doing a workshop has had to pull out."

"What course?" I asked.

"He's putting on a four-day training course for his senior students. I think there are about eight of them coming to do it."

I recalled Uncle Ben had said something about running a training course some time back, but I had totally forgotten about it. Also, last week, Lee had said there would be no classes tonight or Monday.

"Does that mean the uncles are here over Easter?"

"Well, they will no doubt be here quite a lot, but they have actually taken one of the apartments for the Easter period," Mum informed me.

"They will be joining us for dinner tonight," Dad said. "Your Uncle Phil is doing some business in Southmead and will be coming here after it is finished. Actually, I had expected him to be here by now. His appointment in Southmead was at four."

I glanced at the clock; it was not quite six. About fifteen minutes later Uncle Ben walked into the kitchen.

"No Phil?" he asked.

"No," Dad replied. "I'd expected him back about an hour ago."

Uncle Ben pulled out his phone and checked it for texts; there weren't any. About five minutes later, both Dad's and Uncle Ben's phones pinged almost together. They both looked at the text.

"From Phil?" Mum asked.

"Yes, and he is not happy," Dad answered.

"What's he said?" Mum inquired.

"All expletive removed up. On way over now; be about twenty minutes," Uncle Ben read.

"No need to remove the expletive for my account," Mum said. "I'll have heard worse in the bar."

"Actually, I was thinking about Johnny," Uncle Ben commented. "Don't want to corrupt him with bad language."

"I think it is you who is likely to get corrupted where my son is concerned," Mum answered. "He knows more vile language than even I've heard."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Well, I've heard you use the English ones, and I've got no doubt you know them in French as well."

"And Occitan and Arabic," I stated.

"French and Occitan, I can understand," Dad commented. "How did you learn them in Arabic?"

"Well, there are a lot of Algerian boys around Arles," I observed.

"Is Phil in the Maserati?" Mum asked.

"No, that's in the yard," Uncle Ben answered. "Leni's driving him. He will take Phil up to Manston in the morning and bring him back Sunday or Monday. I hope Sunday."

"You're missing him?" Mum commented.

"Yes, but that's not the point. If he has to stay till Monday, it means that there is more to sort out than we thought."

About five minutes later, the front doorbell rang. I went to answer it. It was Uncle Phil.

"Sorry, Johnny, I did not feel up to walking around to the back," he said as he entered. He did not look happy. I told him that everyone was in the kitchen, so he set off towards it. I followed.

As Uncle Phil entered the kitchen, Uncle Ben took one look at him. "Problems?"

"Yes, we've been ripped off," Uncle Phil replied.

"Well, whatever it is, it can wait till we've eaten," Mum announced. "By the way, where's Leni."

"On the way to the Belmont; he's booked in there for the night," Uncle Phil announced. "Think he has something going with the receptionist."

"Which one?" Uncle Ben asked.


There was a pause, then Uncle Ben seemed to place the name. "The coloured girl with the French accent?"

"That's the one. He's going for something exotic."

"Not that exotic; she's from Bermondsey ," Uncle Ben stated.

"How do you know?"

"Aunty told me. She's one of her girls. Got a five-year-old daughter and wanted to get out of London, so Aunty got her a job at the Belmont."

"I wonder if Leni knows?" Uncle Phil speculated.

"Probably; he's fairly well in with Aunty's people."

Mum laid a platter of braised steaks in an onion gravy in the centre of the table. That was followed by a dish of mashed potatoes and one of peas. We were told to help ourselves.

Once we had finished eating, including demolishing the apple pie Mum had made, Mum informed us we could talk business once we had cleared up. She was off to the lounge to watch TV, so we'd better use the library or the study. We cleared up. I made some coffees and a tea for Dad, then we went through to the library.

"So, what's up?" Uncle Ben asked once we were all seated.

"They didn't sign the lease," Uncle Phil said.

"What lease?" Dad asked.

"On the Southmead airfield. We had agreed to lease it for one year with an option for a second year at one-hundred-and-fifty thousand. We paid a ten-percent deposit to their solicitors a couple of weeks ago. The final terms were agreed on Wednesday, and I went in to sign the lease this afternoon. I was sitting around the offices of the solicitors from ten-to-four till gone five, but nobody turned up. At five, the chap who was acting for them phoned to see what the delay was. It seems that Elmchurch Estates went into administration at two o'clock this afternoon.

"I asked the solicitors to refund the deposit they were holding, but they informed me that they would have to pass that to the administrators."

"That's not right," I said.

Dad and the two uncles looked at me.

"Their solicitor is holding the deposit in escrow. It will be in their client account. It is their client who has defaulted on the agreement, not you. I presume you had the funds available to pay the balance of any rent due?"

"Yes, I have a banker's draft for the balance of the first quarter."

"In that case, it is their client who is in default, so the funds should be handed back to you. You need to speak to Uncle Bernard."

"I've tried, but there is no answer on any of his numbers; they all go straight to voicemail."

"They will," Dad stated. "It's Passover and he is at Aunt Sarah's. He will have switched his phone off. Doubt if you will be able to get him till Sunday at the earliest. It's no use trying Martin, either; he's taken Marcia to the cinema."

"Who's looking after the kids?" I asked as I knew Lee would be training.

"Jasmin's gone to her grandparents. Trevor and Arthur have taken the boys out. I think they have gone karting. I know Tyler and Jenny have gone with them."

"They probably have," Uncle Ben said. "Tyler is friendly with a couple of Formula 2 drivers. He was talking about a karting event they were involved with."

"As long as Tyler and Trevor stay out of the karts," Uncle Phil stated. Dad looked at him. "They are both under filming contracts; we can't risk them getting injured."

"So, there is nothing that can be done till tomorrow then?" Uncle Ben asked.

"Probably not till Tuesday, realistically," Dad replied. "You can bet their solicitors are closed over Easter. I'm surprised they were open Good Friday."

"Apparently, they opened up specially to do this signing," Uncle Phil said.

We spent about an hour talking about the airfield. Apparently, it was fairly untouched since the days when it was a fighter-command field during the war. The buildings had been maintained and painted differently, but the basic structures were still the same, even down to the control tower.

"Even with what we were paying for the lease, it would have saved us a fortune compared with having to construct a set at that disused place out in the back of beyond," Uncle Ben informed us.

"Where was the back of beyond?" I asked.

"A farm up in Yorkshire," Uncle Phil replied. The runways are still there but everything else is gone. Worse still, there is a wind that cuts through everything. The crew would have been freezing most of the time."

"What about the cast?"

"They're paid to be uncomfortable."

Shortly after eight, the uncles left. Apparently, they both had an early start in the morning, so they wanted an early night. I wondered what else they wanted before they had their early night.

Once they had left, I managed to get Dad to look at the winch problem. He sorted out the maths for me, though he had to take the rolling resistance of the slide to be the maximum as we could not provide a figure. He also suggested we should look at removing the current winch and winch motor and put the new electric winch in its place but still use the block and tackle. I made some notes on his suggestion.

I also had an early start in the morning, so went up to bed early. Before I got into bed, I tried to call Joseph, though he had warned me that he would probably not be able to take my call. He did not. The call went straight to voicemail, so I left a message for him.

I was just dropping off to sleep about half an hour later when Joseph phoned. I told him that Uncle Phil was trying to contact his father. Joseph said he would pass the message on in the morning. He also confirmed that he would be arriving Sunday morning. Given what the Sunday rail service was like, he was looking at getting the train into Chelmsford and getting a bus to Dunford. I told him to forget it; I would try to get somebody to pick him up or arrange a taxi for him from Chelmsford.

Dad was in the kitchen when I went down on Saturday morning. By the looks of him, he had done one of his all-night writing sessions. When I mentioned it, he confirmed he had. As soon as he had some tea and toast he would be going to bed for a few hours. I mentioned about Joseph arriving at Chelmsford in the morning. Dad assured me that he would go and pick him up.

"Actually, you might as well come along," he stated. I was about to point out that I would be at the yard, then remembered it was Easter Sunday; the yard was closed.

Mum came down not long after and started to do a fry-up. I told her that I could manage with some toast and cereal.

"Don't be silly, Johnny; you need a good start if you are going to be working in the yard all day. Anyway, I suspect your uncle Ben will be here shortly to get fed. Leni has just picked up the intelligent one who can cook."

On that she was right, Uncle Ben came in through the back door about five minutes later. Perfect timing, as Mum was just dishing up breakfast.

There was a fine drizzle outside, so I persuaded Mum to give me a lift into the yard. It did not take that much persuading as she was going into Lynnhaven in any event. I also got her to give Colin a lift in. Not sure it really helped as she took the Marsh Road around the marsh and dropped us off at the chain ferry. We had to haul ourselves across, then walk down High Marsh Lane, so were pretty wet by time we got to the yard.

Bran was in the office talking to Steve when we got there. They had not been there long; the tea had not been made, so I set about sorting that out. Once that was done, I gave Steve the papers Dad had printed off about the winch. Steve and Bran looked at them, then agreed that Dad's idea of replacing the winch engine and winch with a small electric winch and using a block and tackle system did make sense.

"Probably be cheaper than getting a new winch engine," Bran commented. Steve confirmed it would be.

That settled, Bran went off to the Salvage Yard with instruction to get the Number One Slipway winch and winch engine dismantled and moved out of the way. In the meantime, Steve was going to phone around and see what he could find in the way of an electric winch.

One advantage of this approach was that we could use the massive concrete block that the current winch setup was mounted on as a base for the new electric winch, though a whole new set of mounting points would have to be made for it. At least Steve expected that to be the case.

Shortly before ten, I went down into the chandlery to get ready to open. From the moment I opened, it was nonstop till we closed at four. I did not even get a chance to have some lunch. Fortunately, Colin knew how to make tea. He kept me supplied throughout the day.

When he could, Steve came into the chandlery to give me a hand. Unfortunately, that was not very often. Too much of his time was taken up with talking to boat owners about problems that they had just discovered with their boats. A couple of times during the day, he had to get Bran to come down from the Salvage Yard and give a hand when the queue of people waiting to be helped got big. In the end, Steve told Bran to tell the lads at the Salvage Yard to go home but that they would be paid for the full day. He did not want to leave them without supervision.

Although we closed at four, it was getting on for five by the time I had finished serving everybody who was in the chandlery when we closed. That was with Steve and Bran helping. Once they were all gone, I mentioned to Steve that I had never seen things this busy.

"To be honest, Johnny, I've never seen it this busy before, either," Steve commented.

"Well, you are the only yard on the creek these days," Bran pointed out.

"What?" Steve exclaimed.

"You're the only yard on the creek. The Peters and the Salvage Yards are closed. So is the Lees' yard; they are busy moving and not taking any jobs on at the moment. The other small yards are all closed as the Elmchurchs have given them notice to quit. You're the only yard that has been open."

"Never considered all that," Steve admitted.

"Well, you'd better start thinking of it; you are going to need more staff," Bran commented. Steve just nodded.

Colin and I got a lift back to the Priory from Steve. He needed to see Dad about something. As we pulled onto the drive around the side of the house, I noticed a number of vans by the workshops.

Once Steve had spoken to Dad and left, I asked Dad if he knew what all the vans were for.

"It's people moving into the workshop studios for the opening on Monday," he informed me. "Jan says most of them are opening their current places today for the Easter trade. They are then moving over this evening and tomorrow to be ready to open here on Monday."

"We won't be here for it," I pointed out.

"No, the opening is at eleven Monday morning. You should be in Schiphol by then."

Uncle Ben came over just after six. Mum asked if there was any news from Uncle Phil.

"He's having a working dinner with Mrs. M and Mary, then Leni is driving him down tonight, though it will be late when he arrives. Apparently, everything is falling into place at Manston."

"Well, I am expecting both of you to join us for dinner tomorrow," Mum stated.

I asked what we were doing for dinner this evening, only to be informed that Uncle Ben had booked a table for seven o'clock at the Belmont and I had better go and get cleaned up and changed. I wondered why we were eating at the Belmont.

It turned out that it was just to give Mum a break from cooking, though either Dad or I could have taken over that task. Actually, one of us usually made at least one of the weekend meals. Also, Dad cooked most of the meals when Mum was at college.

When we got to the Belmont, I was surprised to see Tyler and Jenny there, waiting for us. It turned out that Uncle Ben asked them to join us for dinner. Over dinner, Uncle Ben asked Tyler how shooting was going on The Dodge. Tyler gave us a few amusing anecdotes about events on set. Apparently, the set they were filming on was a lot smaller than it looked on screen, and it was not uncommon for actors to find themselves bumping into each other, especially as there was little rehearsal of the scenes.

"It sounds like fun," Jenny stated.

"It can be; you should try it," Tyler said. "Though, I warn you it is bloody hard work."

"Why don't you?" Uncle Ben asked.

"Do what?" Jenny replied.

"Have a go at acting. You're a great model, so you know how to take direction. Why not have a go at acting?"

"But I'm a model; I've got no training in acting," Jenny replied.

"I had none when I started," Uncle Ben informed her. "It's not a major problem if you can take direction. Tyler's got a camera call on Tuesday. Why don't you come along, and we can give you a screen test, see how you would look on screen? We know you work well with the camera."

Tyler, Jenny and Uncle Ben talked a bit more about Jenny trying her hand at acting. I realised that this was the whole point of the dinner. I recalled either Uncle Ben or Uncle Phil saying something about getting Jenny to take on the part of the girlfriend in Snowball.

Uncle Ben asked Tyler about the shoot schedule on The Dodge. Tyler confirmed that it was scheduled to be finished the third week in June, but his last scene was due to be shot the end of May.

"Any chance of getting a release from mid-June?" Uncle Ben asked.

Tyler responded that he thought he could. I had to ask what a release was.

"Johnny, when an actor is contracted to do a film or TV shoot, they are normally required to commit exclusively to that for the period of the shoot. So, Tyler's contract will state that he is not allowed to do any other TV or film work while he is contracted to the shoot. However, often actors' parts in a shoot will end well before the end of the shoot. If there is no likelihood of them being called back to redo something, they can be released to do other work," Uncle Ben informed me.

"I did not think Snowball was starting to shoot till July," I said.

"It's not, but Fly Boys is. There is a scene in the recruiting office, which Tyler is in. We've found the perfect location but can only get it in June, so will have to film the scene then or find another location."

"Tyler's in Fly Boys?"

"Yes," Tyler replied. "It's only a small part, and I get killed off early. Think it's Trevor's revenge for him getting killed off at the start of Snowball."

"Actually, Trevor did suggest you for the part, though it makes sense," Uncle Ben said. "When he agreed to take the lead, he said he wanted us to show that the British armed forces, especially the RAF, were a multiracial lot in 1940."

"Were they?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Uncle Ben replied. "A lot of the ground crew in the first year of the war were drawn from the West Indies. We did not have that many aircraft flying in England, so not many mechanics around had experience on aircraft. However, aircraft had been used widely in island-hopping in the West Indies from the 1920s onward, so a lot of Jamaican and Trinidadian men had experience on small-aircraft maintenance."

"They got it servicing planes running rum into the Florida Keys during prohibition," Tyler stated. "Nowadays, they are doing the same on planes running coke."

I mentioned to Tyler that I had not seen the Lamborghini around.

"It's parked up at the side of the housekeeper's apartment, though I really ought to get it under cover," he informed me. "The way it eats petrol, I can't afford to drive it, and Jenny says if I'm driving it, I have to fill it."

"Matt's just finished the garages along the far side of the yard," Dad said. "There are two that face out onto the drive, so no need to come into the yard. I've let one, but the other is available if you'd like."

"It's an idea; was thinking of asking about putting a car porch up at the side where I've got the Lambo parked. Could use that for my car. The Lambo is only a loan car."

"What do you have?" I asked.

"A Mini. I drive one in the series and found I liked it, so got one for myself. They are easier to park than the Lambo and don't attract the attention."

Dad told Tyler to come round to the Priory when they got back tonight, and he would sort out about the garage with him. Apparently, he had already got a standard rental form drafted by Martin. Tyler asked what the rent was. Dad told him, and Tyler said it was fine. To me it seemed a bit steep and thought I would check it out with Dad once we got back.

I noticed that when the meal finished, Uncle Ben just signed the bill even though he was not staying at the hotel. When I mentioned this to him on the way home, he informed me that they had an account at the Belmont and there was a room booked on it for Leni. I realised that Leni would have stayed there last night and would be there again tonight.

Back at the house, Dad showed Tyler the garage, or as much of it as he could see in the dark. Tyler said he would take it. Dad agreed that Tyler could put up a car porch at the side of the housekeeper's apartment. We really needed to get a better name for it. First, it is not an apartment; it's a single-story cottage that became attached when the house was extended. Second, Tyler is not the housekeeper, a point I made to Dad.

"You're right; I've been thinking about that. Maybe we should just call it the annex. That's what it's called on the Council tax register," he said.

"So, why don't we call it that?"

"I don't know," Dad replied. "Maybe it's time we started."

So we did.

Sunday morning, I got up when my alarm went off at seven and was down having breakfast at seven-thirty. I had set the alarm automatically, forgetting that everything was closed for Easter Sunday and I did not have to go into the yard. So, I set about making a full English breakfast for me, Dad and Mum. I had got everything prepared and ready to cook, then waited for them to get up. Mum came into the kitchen just after half-eight. I asked what she would like and started to prepare it, then asked how long Dad would be.

"You'd better hold off on your father's," she said. "He was up writing again last night; did not come up to bed till four."

That said, I cooked Mum's and my breakfasts. She asked me what I had planned for today. When I told her not much, except for meeting Joseph when he got to Chelmsford; she said she hoped he was not on the early train.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I doubt your father will be up before half-ten at the earliest."

She had a point there, and I started to get worried. In the end, I need not have bothered as Joseph texted me just after nine to say that they were still at Aunt Sarah's and he doubted if they would get away before eleven.

Given that information I went to have a look on what was going on around the estate. There were a lot of vans by the workshops, and people were moving stuff out of them. I spotted Jan running around with a clipboard and decided that the best course of action was to stay well out of the way, so I did. I went off down to the walled garden.

Steven and Jim were there, busy moving trays of plants around and filling spaces.

"You look busy," I said.

"We are; we have to fill in all the spaces," Jim said.

"We sold out of some stock," Steven added.

"Really?" I asked.

"Yes," Jim replied. "We had two hundred alstroemerias ; there are three left."

"One woman bought fifty of them," Steven added.

"Made a bit, I hope," I commented.

"Well, the alstroemerias sold for fourteen-ninety-nine each, that's … What is it Steven?" Jim said.

"Two-thousand-nine-hundred-and-fifty-three, but we got a bit less, I let the woman who bought fifty have them for fourteen each."

"That's still not bad," I commented.

"Not at all," Jim confirmed. "Especially as we are making ten quid minimum on each. Though half that goes to your granddad."

"So how did sales go for your first two days?" I asked.

"We did just over three-hundred sales on Friday and two-thirty on Saturday when the weather was not so good," Jim stated. "If it stays fine tomorrow, I think we should do well again. Easter Monday is one of the busiest days of the year for nurseries and garden centres."

"So, you did well?"

"Yes, the average sale was between thirty and forty pounds, so we cleared over fourteen grand. We sold out of ivy plants," Steven said.

"And the garden centre we supplied with some wants more," Jim added.

"You'll have to get potting up," I suggested.

I stayed and gave the lads a hand for nearly an hour, then went back to the house. Dad was up when I got there, though I am not sure he was awake. It puzzled me sometimes what he could be writing in these all-night sessions he pulled every now and then. He did it a couple of times a month, at least.

Shortly after eleven, Joseph called to say he was at the station. He had just missed the train to Chelmsford but would get the eleven-twenty-eight, which would get him in at five-to-one. I said I would see him then. That sorted, I made a fresh pot of tea. I was sure that Dad could do with another mug, and I rather fancied one.

Putting the mug of fresh tea in front of Dad, I asked him about the rent that he was charging Tyler for the garage, mentioning that it seemed a bit high to me. He told me he had to sort a rent out for Katherine, so he had looked at what lock-up garages were being let for in town. Then he had basically halved that. I was surprised that they were going so high. Dad told me to just check out the price of self-storage units. He had just finished imparting that information when he gave a yawn.

"Are you going to be alright driving to Chelmsford?" I asked.

"Should be, once I've had this," he replied. Then he looked at the clock. "Got an hour before we need to set off; plenty of time to recover."

"I hope so."

"By the way, Johnny, Lee was looking for you; he's left a note on the board."

I went over and looked at it. Apparently, Uncle Ben was doing a grading this afternoon, and Lee suggested that Joseph and I go to watch. I mentioned it to Dad, and he said Uncle Ben had said something about doing the grading today as it was the only day he could get a panel together.

"Also, Lee's coming with us tomorrow," I mentioned.

"He can't go," Dad said.


"He can't go, Johnny. He's on licence till the twentieth of April, and his offender manager has refused him permission to travel."

"Can they do that?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Dad replied. "The bastard is just being nasty. We asked about Lee coming over with us months ago when it was first suggested. We discussed it with his offender manager then, and she said she did not think it would be a problem. However, he got a new offender manager in March. This one has refused permission; we put in an appeal to his manager, and that was rejected on Monday. Martin shot off an urgent application to the Secretary of State, but there has been no response. Until there is, we can't go for judicial review."

"That's a bit of a bummer. What about his plane ticket?"

"Fortunately, he had booked you, Joseph and himself business class, so he was able to move it to next Sunday. He's flying out on the twentieth unless Martin gets the judicial review before then."

I had forgotten that Dad was going out for longer than we were. The filming would take two to three weeks, but Mum, Joseph and I all had classes starting a week on Monday and none of us could afford to miss one.

"On Sunday, Lee is going to park the car at the airport and leave the ticket in the glove box. He'll text Anne the location. The three of you will fly back to London City Airport so Anne can pick up the car and drive you home after dropping Joseph off."

It was all nicely planned out. I wondered what could go wrong? I also wondered where Mum was.

"Down at the Crooked Man," Dad informed me. "Mary rang; she had a staff shortage and asked Mum if she could help. That's why I was up when you came back in."

We set off for Chelmsford just before twelve and made fairly good time getting to the station just before ten-to. Dad dropped me off while he went and parked. I checked the platform information for Joseph's train, then went and waited by the barrier. It must have been early because I had only been there a couple of minutes when Joseph came through. I texted Dad, took his bag, then we went out front to wait for him. We did not have to wait long.

After he had greeted Joseph, Dad asked what we wanted to do for lunch, pointing out that Mum was out; anyway, it would be past well past two before we got home. He suggested we go to the pizzeria that was across from the station. To me, that sounded like a good idea, one Joseph agreed with.

Of course, going for the pizza made us even later getting home; it was nearly twenty-past-three. Mum was back by then and busy prepping Sunday dinner, a job she gave over to Dad once he got his coat off, informing him she was dead on her feet.

"You're not doing this evening, are you?" Dad asked.

"You're bloody right, I'm not," Mum replied. "Mary's got that covered. It's just that she had two call in sick for this lunch time, and she had a large party in.

"By the way, Mike, she told me English Heritage has signed off on the idea of the glass walkway connection to the barn. Should go through planning the week after next, hopefully."

"That's good," Dad commented.

Joseph started to ask questions about the design, but Mum told him to ask Matt about it. I told him to get a move on and dump his bags in our room if he wanted to get over and see the grading.

He wanted to, so went up and dumped his bag; then we walked over to the dojo. It seems we timed it well. There was some sort of break in the proceedings. Lee and Simone were sitting at one of the tables in the unmatted area having a drink. There were a couple of people with them whom I did not know. More people were seated at the other tables. At the table nearest to the mat, Uncle Ben was sitting; with him was Uncle Phil. I was surprised to see he was wearing a gi and the hakama. With them was an older man, also wearing the hakama; however, his was a deep blue, as was the top of his gi. I mentioned Uncle Phil being there to Lee.

"Gave me a shock when Matthew Lewis came on the mat at lunchtime; even more of a shock to realise he was a fifth dan. Though thinking about it, I should have realised. He's Ben Carlton's business partner, and they met when your uncle was teaching him martial arts."

"Who's the other man?" Joseph asked Lee.

"That's the Dai Sensei. The originator of the style we practice."

"I thought he would have been Japanese?" I commented.

"No, he's English," Lee said, "a student of Bleakman Sensei, Wilson Sensei and Prickett Sensei. Bleakman Sensei established Atemi Jutsu as a self-defence system based on the Judo and Aikido teachings of Abe Sensei. Abe Sensei was Japanese. Prickett Sensei was also a student of Abe Sensei and Reynolds Sensei. Although Atemi Jutsu was established by Bleakman Sensei, it was based on teachings of Abe Sensei, and Abe Sensei set the senior-grading requirement based on the Kimi No Kata from Judo. Dai Sensei had been taught Ju-jitsu by his father but never got on with it very well. He then learnt Aikido under Prickett Sensei and Atemi Jutsu from Bleakman Sensei. Eventually when he started teaching, he tended to concentrate more on the Aikido elements in Atemi Jutsu.

"In 1982, he asked Bleakman for permission to replace the Kimi No Kata with the Tanto Dori Kata — which is from Aiki Ju-jitsu — for first dan gradings, bringing the Kimi No Kata in at second dan. Bleakman agreed but on condition that he distinguished the style from the original Atemi Jutsu. So, it was designated as Ki Ju Ryu. A couple of years later, Bleakman advised him to describe it as Aiki Ju-Jitsu. We now have two paths which run side by side, Ki Ju Ryu Aiki Ju-Jitsu and Ki Ju Ryu Atemi Jutsu."

"How do you know which style you are doing?" I asked.

"They are not styles; they are paths. Basically, if most of the moves you are doing are Aikido-related, you are doing the Aiki Ju-jitsu path. If most of them are Judo related, you are doing the Atemi Jutsu path," Lee said.

Through all this Joseph was sitting there with a smug look on his face. It occurred to me that he probably knew all this.

I did not hear anything said or see any signal given, but everybody started to move back onto the mat. Uncle Ben came over and advised Joseph and me to sit at the table nearest the mat. Actually, he advised me to. He told Joseph that if he wanted to go and get his gi, he could have a grading. Joseph declined, saying he did not feel ready yet. Uncle Ben just smiled, then he went and took his place on the mat.

For the next half hour or so, different members of the group were called out onto the mat; then another member would be called out to attack them. Sometimes it was an unarmed attack; sometimes there would be a weapon. Sometimes there would be more than one attacker. At one point, Lee was called out onto the mat, and four attackers were set on him. As soon as Lee threw one, another would be attacking him, though I noticed that where he could, Lee would throw an attacker into the path of another one.

After Lee had dealt with the four attackers, Simone was called out to deal with four. In my opinion, she did not seem to do as well as Lee, though she managed to deal with them all. Then Lee and Simone had to perform what Joseph informed me was the Tanto Dori Kata. That was followed by the Kimi No Kata. That was followed by Lee having to do a series of what Joseph informed me were single sword and bo katas. Finally, Lee did the bo kata I had seen him teaching Joseph back at Christmas; this time, though, he did it with Simone. What had looked a bit clunky and awkward when he did it with Joseph now seem to flow, almost like a dance, with Simone.

It was gone six when they finished. Uncle Ben and Uncle Phil left the mat and went over to a table. Dai Sensei went to the centre of the mat. He called Lee out, then said, Yokomenuchi. Lee attacked him with a side blow coming in towards his neck. The old man just stood there; then when it seemed inevitable that Lee would knock him for six, he moved his body slightly to the side. I would swear he never touched Lee, but Lee was flying through the air. This was repeated six or seven times. I could not understand what the old man was doing.

I asked Joseph what it was?

"Never seen it before, but I think I've heard of it: kiwaza; it is the highest form of Aiki Ju-jitsu."

"It's not quite the highest," Uncle Ben said from behind us. I had not been aware that he and Uncle Phil had walked up to our table. "Though, I think you might be about to see the highest."

I looked back at the mat. Lee was now standing about six feet in front of Dai Sensei holding a katana, the long samurai sword. He raised the sword over his head, then with a cry, stepped forward to bring the sword down towards Dai Sensei's head. Suddenly a sound reverberated around the dojo. Lee stopped dead, the sword a fraction away from Dai Sensei's head. Dai Sensei stepped forward and touched Lee on the side of the head with his finger, causing Lee to topple to the ground.

"What the fuck was that!" I exclaimed.

"That was kijutsu, the spirit cry," Uncle Ben stated.

The two uncles went and stood at the edge of the mat; when Dai Sensei acknowledged them, they bowed and stepped onto it. The three men took their places in a row at the top of the mat. Dai Sensei in the middle.

Uncle Ben showed Dai Sensei the list that he and Uncle Phil had been working on during Dai Sensei's demonstration. As they worked their way down the list, Dai Sensei just nodded at each entry, then he shook his head. The uncles looked puzzled and a bit worried.

Uncle Ben called out a name, and a small woman stepped out to the middle of the mat and bowed to the three men. Dai Sensei gave a nod of the head to Uncle Ben, who announced first kyu. The ceremony proceeded, and one after another, those taking part stepped out and were awarded their grades. The only change was when the grades got to the dan level; Dai Sensei announced them.

Simone was called out, Dai Sensei announced nidan. Joseph informed me that this was second dan. Then Lee was called out. As far as I could make out, he was the last to be graded. Both Uncle Ben and Uncle Phil looked worried. Dai Sensei looked at Lee and smiled, then announced sandan. There was an intake of breath around the room.

Joseph leaned across and whispered to me, "He's got a fucking third dan, straight from first."

The participants on the mat were bowing, then there was a round of applause. Dai Sensei stood and left the mat. As he came off the mat near the table he turned and spoke to Joseph.

"My senior student tells me that you are ready for black belt but do not feel ready to take the grading."

Joseph nodded.

"It is good to wait until you feel ready, but when you do know, do not delay." Then he was off to the small side room that was used as a changing room.

Uncle Phil came off the mat. "Johnny, tell your mother we will be over in half an hour. We need to shower, then lock up here."

I said I would. Joseph and I went back to the house.

Over dinner that evening, Joseph was asking Uncle Ben about the grading. Alright, I was, as well, but it was mostly Joseph. He wanted to know why they were worried when Lee was called out for the award.

"Well, Phil and I had awarded him a second dan. We both felt he was more than good enough for it. To be honest, now he has got back into practice he is one of the best I have seen in a long time. Also, Dai Sensei gave him a grilling at lunchtime over the history and techniques of the art. Lee actually came up with answers to things that I did not know. So, we thought he was a shoo-in for a second dan. We were more concerned about Simone, and on a couple of things, her performance during the grading was a bit marginal. Actually, I probably would not have given her the grade if I had not seen her perform better at other times.

"However, when we showed the grading list to Dai Sensei, he agreed on them all except Lee. He has the final say on any grade in the Ryu, so we had to abide by what he said. The thing was, he just said Lee was not a second dan. We had no idea that Dai Sensei would jump him to third. It is not done very often and rarely at dan grades."

"Enough of this talk of fighting," Mum said. "How did things go at Manston, Phil?"

"Well, I had to tell the senior staff that we have received an offer for Manston Events."

"You have? Is it a good one?" Dad asked.

"They've offered one-point-five million, which, considering we are only making about a hundred-thousand profit a year, is not bad at all. They are also offering for us to retain a ten-percent share of Manston Events, so we partake in any profits."

"That's assuming there are any profits," commented Uncle Ben. "We know that ploy too well from the film industry."

"What's that?" Joseph asked.

"Well, you offer a star a part at a fee below what they would expect but offer them a share of the film's profits. Then you deduct all sorts of costs and fees from the books, so there never are any profits. The stars get a lot less than they expected. Actors have learned. Nowadays, they always insist on a share of the box office; that's what is taken in before any deductions are made."

"Like Trevor has with Fly Boys?" I asked.

"Yes, and he is really screwing us over that."

"So, how did the staff take the news?" Dad asked.

"They were not surprised; we had already told them that we were looking at the possibility of selling of the events company. It is just taking up too much of our time doing the oversight we need to do as owners.

"What was a surprise is what came after I made the announcement at the morning coffee break, the one time when most of the senior staff were all in the house. Anyway, shortly after, Mrs. M and Mary came up and asked if they could have a meeting with me. Unfortunately, they had a wedding on yesterday afternoon so were not free to meet till the evening, so we agreed to have dinner together.

"The thing is, they have expressed an interest in buying the business. They say they cannot match what Town and County Events have offered; for a start, they do not think the business is worth that much. However, they are prepared to offer a percentage of turnover."

"Did they say how much?" Uncle Ben asked.

"They indicated one-and-a-half percent; I said we would be looking more for like three. I think they would agree to two-and-a-half. I also told them that we would need an offer in excess of one million for the business."

"Is it worth that?" Dad asked. "You said yourself your profit was only around a hundred kay."

"Yes, but our turnover is in excess of two million. To be honest, we could probably increase turnover by quite a bit, but we've not been in a position to push the business."

"Do you think they can raise a million?" Mum asked.

"I really don't know, but I have given them twenty-eight days to come up with an offer. If they can't, I think we will sell to Town and County Events. It's a case of either let somebody else take charge of things or do it ourselves; with the film commitments we have on, there is no way Ben or I can give the place the time it needs."

As we had a very early start in the morning, we had an early night. The uncles left just after half-past-eight. Uncle Ben had one more day of the course to run, and then they were off to London. Joseph and I were getting ready for bed by nine.

"What do you think of my uncles selling off the events business at Manston?" I asked Joseph.

"Well, I can understand why they are doing it. It could probably be a good business if somebody could devote themselves to it full time. The thing is, they can't. Mrs. M is good, and no doubt Mary is, as well, from what I heard Mrs. M say about her, but they are only administering the place. It is your uncles who are running it, and they're not there most of the time."

That is what I thought. I sent a text to Ian asking him to let me have his mother's email address.

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