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Being Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 32

"What's up?" Tipper asked.

"Can't get a taxi," I replied.

"Where do you need to go?"

"I need to get home, which is just outside Dunford and then to High Marsh."

"Give me a tenner and I'll run you over," Tipper told me.

"Don't you have classes?" I knew that those who were on required courses could get into trouble if they missed a class.

"Nah, only had Cookie for woodwork this afternoon, and she's doing assessments. Doing half the class today and half the class next Wednesday. My half is next week."

A tenner was a lot less than what a taxi would cost. Assured that Tipper was not missing any classes, I warily agreed. We were, after all, going in his 1969 beach buggy. Fortunately, he did have a soft top to keep the rain out. When we got to the Priory, I asked Tipper to pull up under the car porch; that way, I could get into the house without getting soaked. It did not take long to dump my stuff and change into my work clothes. I was surprised to see Uncle Ben's Maserati pulling into the yard as I came back out of the house. He parked as close as he could without blocking in the beach buggy, then jumped out and made a dash for the cover of car porch.

"Nice car," he said to Tipper, who was sitting looking out through the open sides, with a look of amazement on his face. "Want to earn some money?"

"How?" Tipper asked.

"We could do with a car like this for a film we are working on. It's set in the 1960s, so this would fit perfectly. Give Johnny your contact details and I'll get them off him. When we get nearer shooting, I'll get in touch."

"Look, Uncle Ben, I'm in a bit of a rush; have to be at the yard at four. There's nobody in the house; Mum won't be home till about six."

"Shit, I thought she got back about four today. I've come over to see Tyler; need to book some equipment but wanted to see your Mum, as well."

"She usually would be home," I told him. "But she has a three-hour exam on today, and it did not start till two."

"Oh, well. It looks like I'll just see Tyler unless it takes longer than expected with him. I have an appointment with him at three-thirty." With that, he dashed back to his car, then drove across the yard to park up outside the Stable House. I did not blame him; you could drown walking across the yard in this rain.

I got into the beach buggy, pulled over the side flap and zipped it shut.

"That was Ben Carlton," Tipper said, a touch of awe in his voice.

"Yes, he's my uncle."

"He wants my car for a film?"

I had to think for a moment then realised. "Yes, for Snowball; it's set in the 1960s. I know that there is a big party scene set on a beach. Probably thinking of it for that."

I gave Tipper directions on how to get to the boatyard but did say that the causeway was probably flooded so we would have to use the chain ferry.

"He's really your uncle?" Tipper asked as he pulled out of the Priory yard.

"Yes, he's my dad's brother."

"So, you know Matthew Lewis then?" he said as he turned out of the Priory drive onto the Lynnhaven Road.

"I should; he's also my uncle. He's my mother's brother."

"Do you really own two boatyards?"

"Not quite. I own one, though not directly; it is owned by a trust that I am the beneficiary of. At the moment, my dad is in the process of buying the second one, though I think it's going to be in my name. The trust is also buying into the third yard."

"You must be bloody rich."

"Oh, I am; I fucking am."

"You don't sound happy about it," Tipper commented as we turned onto Marsh Road.

"I'm not; it brings a lot of problems."

We got to the top of the causeway. It was covered in water.

"How deep do you reckon it is?" Tipper asked.

I looked at the marker posts; there was about six inches of black showing.

"About six inches."

"The old girl can manage that."

Before I could say anything, he had revved the engine, and the car surged forward onto the causeway. Spray shot up arching out on each side. For a moment I thought the car was going to falter, but it kept going. Not only did it keep going, but it was picking up speed. We must have been doing nearly forty when we came off the other end and onto High Marsh. I told Tipper to drive into the yard. There was a covered area between the boatshed and the chandlery building so I would be able to get out without getting soaked, and that's what Tipper did.

"I thought it was you," Bran said, from the top of the steps, looking not at me but at Tipper.

"You know him?" I asked.

"I should; he's my brother Tim. Probably the only idiot to try to drive at that speed across the causeway when it's flooded."

"I wouldn't say the only one," Steve added from behind Bran. "You should see Johnny's mum."

"You'd better come up and have some tea, Tim, and explain why you're not in class." Tipper just nodded and climbed out of the buggy, following me up the short flight of steps into the office. As we entered, Steve banged hard on the floor, the sign to anybody down in the chandlery below that tea was being made.

"Why ain't you in class?" Bran asked Tipper.

"No class this afternoon," Tipper replied. "Miss Cooke is running assessments, and she's doing them in blocks of ten so we can all get time on the machines. My group is doing it next week."

"Bloody well hope so," Bran stated. "Don't want your OM onto me again."

"OM?" I asked.

"Offender manager; he's on probation. Got caught chopping cars. Only reason he did not get six months was his age and him agreeing to go to college."

"I didn't know they were stolen," Tipper objected. "Was only giving Tommy a hand."

"You should know better than trust Tommy Price about anything. He's been in trouble with the police since he was twelve."

"That was only once," Tipper stated. "He ain't been in trouble since then until this time."

"That, Tim, was only because he weren't caught. Sergeant Ruston said they've been keeping an eye on him for the last five years."

Being built into what was the side of High Marsh meant that the office was a few feet above the level of the top of High Marsh and High Marsh Lane. However, the two-storey chandlery below went down some thirty feet to the level of the docking area. It was quite a climb up the stairs, which fortunately were roofed, though open on the side, a fact which accounted for Katherine's breathless appearance when she entered the office. Her entrance brought Bran and Tipper's conversation to an end.

"You could have brought a mug down to me," she commented as she walked in.

"Not much point; nobody's coming out to buy in this weather," Steve commented.

"Do you think Larry will come, given the weather?" I asked.

"He's already here," Bran informed me. "He's in the washroom trying to dry out."

"Not very successfully," Larry said, walking into the office, still drying his hair.

"At least you don't look quite like the drowned rat that you looked like when you arrived," Steve commented. "Now, can we get down to discussing the scaffolding shelters we need."

"Well, if you're busy, I'd better get on my way," Tripper said.

"No, you don't," Bran snapped. "I'm not having you wandering around when nobody knows where you are. You can sit here and wait till I go home. You might even learn something."

The discussion started about what needed to be done to get The Lady Ann under cover. Larry stated that was fairly easy. The ground that far back from the creek was solid. All he would need to do was erect the framework around The Lady Ann and then encase it. It was agreed that the best way would be corrugated polycarbonate panels to roof the construction and tarps for the walls.

The difficulty arose in how to enclose the back end of the barge, which was sticking out of Boatshed One. If anything, this was more important than The Lady Ann as the barge was in a far worse state.

Larry pointed out that we could not simply erect a structure over the end of the boat due to ground conditions.

"Why not?" Bran asked.

"Because it's mud," Larry explained. "The boatsheds at the Salvage Yard are built close to the waterline. At high tide, I doubt if there is four foot of clearance between the waterline and the level of the sheds. Get a spring tide and I doubt there is any clearance."

"He's right, there," Steve stated.

"The result is that the ground on each side of the slipway is essentially mud," Larry pointed out. "There is no way I can erect scaffolding on that."

For the next fifteen minutes or so, all sorts of ideas were bandied around as to how we could get cover for the last bit of the barge.

"You know, we should really use her name," Katherine stated. "She is The Princess of Alba. If we keep calling her the barge, we are not giving her the respect she deserves. You don't call The Lady Ann the yacht."

"She's right," Steve announced.

"You could cantilever it," Tipper, who had been totally silent up till now, said.

"What?" Bran asked.

"Cantilever it. The floor in the boatshed must be solid."

"It is. It's concrete."

"So, you build a support structure inside the shed around The Princess of Alba then have three or four scaffolding poles, as long as you can get, stick out at the top, over the exposed end. You can then hang your protective housing off them."

"He's right," Larry said. "I've seen that done on some building sites where we've had scaffolding out over the street but could not put supports in the street."

"How long will it take to do?" I asked.

"Not sure," Larry replied. "The Lady Ann is relatively easy; I should be able to have the scaffolding up in a couple of days. Putting the roof on is probably a day's work, probably the same for tarping it. That's providing I can get someone to help. Scaffolding is a two-man job at the minimum; really, you should have three. Also, I can only work weekends. Just started a weekday job — six-to-two shift — so can't take any time off."

"Weekends is fine," Steve said. "It's not like we are in that big a rush. They've both been out in the elements for years. We only need the protection when we start work on them, and that will not be for a bit. Both boats need a full structural survey done first. So, it'll be at least a month before any work can start. I suppose you'll need time as well to find labour."

"Can I help?" Tipper said.

"You've done any scaffolding?" Larry inquired.

"Worked on a building site over the summer," Tripper said. "Didn't put any up but helped taking it down."

"That's OK. At least, you know what the parts are," Larry commented. "How do I contact you?"

"I'm his brother," Tipper said, indicating Bran.

"Phone me; I'll pass on any message," Bran said. "He's not allowed a mobile phone at the moment."

"Probation?" Larry asked.


Larry just shrugged, then turned to Tipper. "Be here at nine on Saturday morning in work clothes. If you're late, there's no job."

Tipper just nodded.

"How did the survey go?" I asked, remembering Bob was bringing some people to look at The Princess today.

"It didn't," Steve replied. "The roads around Bob's estate are flooded, so he can't get out."

"I'm surprised he did not get a helicopter to bring him."

"In this weather they only fly in emergencies, and I doubt even Bob can make out that a boat inspection is an emergency."

Steve had a point there.

Steve and I moved to the private office. Steve wanted to check on finances with respect to paying Larry. He would want to be paid in cash. I told Steve not to worry; I would draw the max on my card at the ATM each day. Could let him have two grand a week for the next four weeks. I was sure that would cover it. Steve said he hoped so.

That sorted, I gave Katherine a hand to close up the chandlery. Then I got a lift home from Steve. On the way home, I asked him where Colin was today.

"He was in this morning; had to see his psychologist this afternoon, so finished at three."

I thanked Steve for the information and made a mental note to see Colin. I had not really had a chance to speak with him since the day I got back from the Netherlands. When you are pressure-washing hulls, conversation is not really on the cards. It is too noisy.

Mum was not home when I got there, but Uncle Ben's Maserati was still in the yard. I guessed he was still talking to Tyler. Before I started sorting dinner, I thought I'd better check if he wanted to stay. I called his mobile. He did want to stay but said it would be at least an hour before he was finished with Tyler.

"It'll be at least that long before I've got dinner cooked," I informed him.

Before I went up to change, I grabbed some large potatoes out of the pantry, pricked them and shoved them in the main oven. I thought baked potatoes would go well with what I had in mind for dinner.

I was about halfway through preparing dinner when Mum arrived home. Once she got her coat off, she collapsed at the kitchen table. I put the kettle on.

"That bad?" I asked.

"No, it was worse. Five questions on databases to answer in three hours."

"How many did you have to select from?"

"There were seven possible questions on the paper. Three were compulsory."

"The worst three," I suggested.

"You've got it, kid. One was a SQL-sequence question for a query with both a union and a join."

"Sorry, Mum, but I do not understand what you are on about."

"Don't worry; neither do I."

I laughed at that then sorted a mug of coffee out for her.

"I saw your uncle's car in the yard," Mum stated.

"Yes, he's got a meeting with Tyler. I think he is arranging to hire some equipment for their next film."

"I suppose he'll expect to be fed?"

"I've already invited him," I told her.

"Good, I need a word with him."

"He wanted to see you as well."

"Right. What are we having?"

"A vegetarian chili with cucumber raita, baked potatoes and salad."

"Right. I'd better go up and change."

"There's no rush; the chili needs a good half hour yet; an hour would not hurt it."

"Good, I'll probably take a long shower. If your father calls, tell him to ring back later."

Mum was still up in the shower when Uncle Ben came in. He plonked himself down at the kitchen table and let out a long sigh.

"That bad?" I asked.

"I would like to know who taught Tyler how to negotiate? I've been at it for over three hours, and I have the distinct feeling he's got the better out of the deal."

"What is the deal?"

"We need some specialist cameras for the aerial sequences in Fly Boys. It's borderline between renting them or buying them. I was trying to get Tyler to do a deal with us for some longer-term use that would not bankrupt the film."

"Did you manage it?"

"I think so. He's agreed to rent us the equipment for a twelve-week period at something less than two-thirds of the going price. However, somehow during the negotiations I agreed to up his billing on the film."

"I thought he was getting billing, anyway," I pointed out.

"Yes, he was, Johnny, as a supporting actor. He's playing one of the ground crew, not one of the pilots, but now he's got billing immediately below Trevor."

"I don't think Trevor will mind," I stated.

"Probably not. Those two have become good friends."

We chatted a bit more about things whilst I finished off cooking dinner, if making a raita can be classed as cooking. It sounded as if Uncle Ben was somewhat rushed off his feet with getting shooting schedules and locations sorted out between two films.

When Mum came down, looking a lot more relaxed than she had earlier, I served dinner. Over dinner, Mum asked Uncle Ben what he wanted to see her about.

"I remember a few years ago you told us about a friend who was big into vintage fashion."

"Oh, you mean Linda Hall," Mum replied. "Yes, she specialises in the fashion of the 1920s and 1930s. Why?"

"She's an expert in the field, is she?" Ben asked, not answering Mum's question.

"Yes, she teaches fashion at some university in Leicester."

"Leicester University?" Uncle Ben asked.

"No, it's the other one; can't remember its name."

"De Montfort," I supplied.

"That's it. Why do you want to know, Ben?"

"We need a costume consultant for Fly Boys. The costume people have come up with some designs, but our historical experts are saying they are not right for the period. Any idea how to contact Linda?"

"I've got her details in my address book. I can let you have them. She was at Mike's and my wedding. You met her."

"I did?"

"Yes, you did. You complimented her on her turban."

"Red, pencil-skirt dress suit with red scarf turban pinned with a diamond broach," Uncle Ben commented.

"That's her."

"Good, if you can let me have her contact details, I'll contact her tomorrow."

That settled, I asked Uncle Ben what was happening about the Southmead airfield lease.

"Bernard's initiated breach of contract proceedings against the estate," Uncle Ben informed me.

"Can he do that? They had not signed the lease."

"It's not over the lease. They had already signed an agreement for us to use the airfield as a set. The agreement contained a clause that they would enter into a lease for the property on the terms agreed. So, Bernard has issued the first step in an action; he's asking for one million."

"He won't get it," I stated.

"Oh, he knows that. He just wants to put some pressure on them to reach a quick settlement with us."

"What sort of settlement?"

"Well, the lease, if possible, though Bernard has pointed out that they will probably not want to do that because, if the property is leased out, it will be difficult to sell. He has suggested we offer to buy it."

"Can you afford to do that?" I asked.

"Not really, but it might be our only option. Depends on what we can get it for. The thing is, it must be worth a fortune for housing development."

"There won't be any there," Mum stated.

"Why not?" Uncle Ben asked.

"Well, it is still an emergency landing field," Mum responded. "They had a 747 land there a few years ago. That runway is over a mile long."

"If it has to be kept as an emergency landing field, that should keep the price down," I pointed out.

"We can only hope so." Uncle Ben replied.

Uncle Ben left just after half-seven. I decided to leave my revision till the morning. Now I was out of the metalwork course, my first class tomorrow was double maths at one-thirty. That was followed by double physics. It did, though, give me the morning free to do my revision.

The rain, which had been pouring down most of the day, had stopped. There was a bright, late-evening sun, so I decided to take a walk down to the nursery and see Jim and Steven. Being a Wednesday, they would have opened at twelve-thirty, when they got back from college, and stayed open until sunset.

I was rather surprised to see the number of cars parked alongside the wall of the nursery. Entering the walled garden, I found a number of people walking between the rows of plants. Jim was there helping an elderly couple with some plants. He saw me and called across that Steven was in the sales shed. With that, he pointed to the bottom of the garden. I looked in the direction Jim was pointing. There, next to the glasshouses and in front of where the back door to the walled garden was, stood what looked like a wooden shed with part of its back wall missing. I walked over to it.

As I got close, I could see that the lower part of the back wall had somehow been turned into double doors, which were now open. Inside the shed on one side was a bench on which stood a cash register. Steven was behind the bench serving a customer. Once they left, I went in.

"This is new," I commented.

"It was your granddad's idea," Steven said. "We had the sales register in the greenhouse at the end by the door, but your granddad pointed out that we were losing heat every time somebody came in to pay. He suggested getting an old shed and removing one wall. Told Uncle George, and he found us this. Got it fixed up end of the Easter vac."

"When did Granddad suggest this?" I asked.

"When he came down Easter Monday."

"Jack was here Easter Monday?"

"Yes, your uncles brought him and his wife down to look at some property. He popped in to see how we were doing. Bloody good job; we were rushed off our feet. He took over serving for a couple of hours till your uncle came looking for him."

"So, Easter worked out for you?"

"You can say that again. We took in over twenty-eight thousand. Sold out of a lot of stuff. Paid Jack his share of the plant sales, and he's ordered another lot to be in for the bank-holiday weekend. It's coming next Thursday, so we will have to take a day off college to unload it."

"Been busy today?" I asked.

Steven turned the key in the cash register, then entered a code. A moment later the receipt printer spewed out a document. Steven looked at it.

"So far today, we've done fifty-six sales with an average of thirty-five pounds, seventy-three pence per sale. That gives us a total just over two grand. We did about that last Wednesday as well. Took double that Saturday and Sunday; hope to do the same this week. However, we are running low on stock, and it will still be some weeks before our own stuff is ready to sell."

We chatted a bit more about how things were going. Jim came in pushing a trolley load of plants, followed by the elderly couple I had seen him with in the nursery. Whilst Steven was dealing with them, I commented on the trolleys to Jim.

"Got them on Good Friday, Steven's uncle brought them over for us. Made a big difference. People tend to fill them up, so the sales are higher. If a person has a trolley they will normally spend twice as much as someone without. The only thing is we only have twenty, and sometimes there are more customers in that that."

"You need to get some more," I said.

"Easier said than done. They are bloody expensive. Uncle George got this lot from another firm of auctioneers who were doing a liquidation auction. Don't know when another lot will come up."

Having said that, Jim picked up a handbell and went out into the garden and rang it. Then shouted out that the nursery would close in fifteen minutes. I took that as an indication I should get out of the way as, no doubt, the lads would have a stream of customers to deal with.

I looked at the arts-and-crafts workshops, most of which were now occupied and had displays of work in their windows. However, they were all closed.

Getting back to the yard, I found Colin and Arthur unloading the van. Arthur informed me that Trevor was doing some voice-over work and was staying in Town for a couple of days. I asked Colin how things were going, and he assured me that everything was good. He also told me that he had cleaned out the whole of the inside of the barge and was now working on the outside.

I asked him how his appointment had gone this afternoon.

"I think it went well. We talked about things that happened to me. It was good to tell somebody about them."

I could only nod and tell him that I would see him at the yard on Saturday.

"Won't be working. Steve's insisting that we all get two days a week off. I've another appointment Friday afternoon, so that and today is one day. Taking Saturday off for my second day off."

I don't know why, but I felt a bit disappointed by the news.

When I got into the house, Mum was a bit on edge, complaining that Dad had not phoned.

"It's only quarter to nine," I pointed out.

"That's quarter to ten, their time," she responded. "He's late."

Fortunately for Mum's state of wellbeing, he phoned just after nine. Mum asked me if it was OK for Dad to call me in the morning.

"So long as it is not too early. Don't have to be in college till one, so I'm going to have a lie-in."

Mum passed the message on. When she finished the call. she told me that Dad had just got in after fourteen hours of filming and was dead beat, so he was going straight to bed. He was not due to film till twelve tomorrow so would phone me about ten his time, which was nine our time. So much for my planned lie-in. Probably for the best, though, as I did need to do some revision. Otherwise, I might lie in all morning.

It was just before nine on Thursday morning when Dad rang. I asked him how filming was going.

"Good, now that Gert is organising things, though he has upset a number of people," Dad informed me.

"How so?"

"For one thing, he has cut about seven of my location shoots. He's decided that they can be green-screened. As a result, they can use stock video so do not have to do the outside shoots. The thing is, the whole crew is freelance, so if the shoots are not being made, they are not getting paid."


"Precisely. He has also rearranged the shooting schedule, so like yesterday, we shoot at two locations in one day, whilst before, each shoot was on a different day. Same again tomorrow, though we do not have an early start, just a late finish."

"Not today, then?"

"No, they could not change the bookings and permits, so we are stuck for today. The thing is, on the new schedule we will be finished what we are shooting by Saturday, so Lee and I are coming home Sunday. Gert is going to come over the following weekend with Luuk for a planning session. They are flying in on the Friday evening and going back to Schiphol early Monday."

"Sounds a tight schedule," I commented.

"It is, but I need Arthur to set them both up with remote access to the MCP servers."

It took me a moment to remember that MCP was Mike Carlton Productions.

Dad continued. "Can you speak to Arthur and arrange for him to spend some time with Luuk and Gert over the weekend. They are bringing their laptops over with them so he can install anything that is needed."

"OK, I will. Anything else?"

"Yes, your driving lessons."

"What about them?"

"I totally forgot when I was making arrangements for you to come over at half-term, Johnny, but I had promised to sort out an intensive driving course for you over the holiday in Blackpool."

"That's fine. I could go up the third week in June. My exams finish on the eleventh, and there is no teaching after that."

"What exam have you got on the eleventh, then? I thought your AS exams were in May?"

"They are, Dad; the June exam is my woodwork theory."

"Right. Tell you what, if you are prepared to wait until June to do the intensive driving course, why don't you book some local lessons to get you started before you go up. I'll pay for them."

We discussed it a bit more, and we agreed that I would. That settled, Dad updated me on how Luuk was getting on with his research. It seemed that he was finding a lot of information.

"What's going to happen when he goes back to university on Monday?" I asked.

"He says he will still be able to do some, though it will be mostly online, unless he can access sources in Amsterdam. He used to do a couple of hours a day interning at that practice, so he will be free to do that for me now, and I'm paying more."

I laughed at that comment.

"By the way, yesterday was interesting."

"Why?" I asked.

"Well, in the morning, we were filming near Hilversum, but in the afternoon — evening, actually — we were filming in Amsterdam. There was a four-hour break in the afternoon. So, Luuk and Gert went to Wim's flat to pick up Luuk's things. When they got to the flat, Wim was quite abusive to them, telling them that he had thrown Luuk's rags out and he was keeping his other stuff to cover the rent that was owed, though Luuk assured Gert he did not owe anything. What Wim did not know was that they had Lee with them. He was standing off to one side. When it appeared there was a problem, Lee made his presence known. According to Gert, Wim shat himself. They got Luuk's stuff, but Wim had thrown out his clothes."


"Don't worry. I've told Lee to take him clothes-shopping this morning. Lee's got a company card, and I need my production assistants well-dressed, so I'm claiming it as a production expense."

"You don't think there will be any trouble from Wim, do you?" I asked.

"Doubt it, but I've told Gert that if there is, we can always fly Lee over."

That got me laughing.

Once I had finished my call with Dad, I went over to the Stable House to see Arthur and make arrangements for him to link up with Luuk and Gert while they were over. Dad apparently had emailed him about it but not told him any of the background, so I had to explain it to Arthur so he knew what they would need.

"To be honest, Johnny, I would rather not give them remote access to the whole server. That would be asking for trouble. Better I set up a dedicated disk area and given them access only to that."

He then went on to give me a detailed explanation as to why. Not sure I fully followed it, but from what I could understand, his approach made sense. I told him I would let Dad know. I did by sending Dad an email before I got down to revision.

That afternoon in maths, Mr. Taunton gave us a mock exam. When he collected the papers at the end, he told us that he would look at them over the weekend and then base the rest of the periods before the AS-level exams on the parts where he perceived there to be weakness.

"I may ask some of you to see me for one-to-one sessions," he said. "This does not mean you have not done as well as the others. In fact, it probably means you have done better. In which case, it is likely that your weak areas are not those that I will be covering in the general class."

When I got home, there was a message from Martin: 'Could I be around about five o'clock?' He had to see Colin and felt Colin might want me there. He was right. I caught Colin as he came in from the yard just after four and told him that Martin was coming over to see him. Colin said that Martin had already let him know. He then asked if I could be with him when he saw Martin. I said I would.

I told Mum what was happening, and she suggested that we have the meeting in Dad's study. It would be better than all of us crowding into the Stable House apartment. I sent Martin a text to tell him, then phoned Colin. I knew it was no use sending him a text.

The meeting with Martin was fairly straightforward. The application for permission to appeal to the Crown Court had been submitted. A copy, of course, had been supplied to the Crown Prosecution Service, the CPS. It seems that the CPS had been in contact with Martin and, given recent events, had indicated that they would not oppose any appeal. In fact, they were prepared to support one. However, to avoid a need for a retrial, they wanted Colin to agree to a caution.

"What would that mean?" Colin asked.

"Well, you would not have been convicted of any offence, but by agreeing to a caution, you are admitting you were in the wrong. Details of the caution will go on your record and will show up if any criminal-record checks are carried out. Also, if you end up in court again, they may be made known to the judge prior to any sentencing," Martin informed him.

"Don't want to be in court again," Colin murmured.

"Glad to hear it," Martin replied. "If you agree to the caution, you should not have to be in court unless you do something wrong."

"What will I have to do to agree?"

"You will have to sign this. It is a letter to the CPS which states that, in the event of your appeal being granted, you are prepared to accept a caution for the lesser offence for which you will then be likely to be charged," Martin said, placing a letter on the table. "Then, if the appeal is granted, which it should be, you will have to go to the police station to be cautioned."

Colin physically cringed at that news.

"It's OK, Colin, I will go with you," Martin assured him.

Colin asked me to read the letter to him, which I did. I was pleased to note that he did not sign it without checking what it said. However, as I was reading it, something occurred to me. I was sure I remembered Colin saying that he liked to read when he was younger.

Once Colin was sure of the letter's contents, he signed it. Martin thanked him and put the letter in the folder he had before returning it to his case. He then left, saying he had arranged to take Marcia and the kids out. Colin got up to leave. I asked him to stay a moment.

"Colin, why did you ask me to read the letter?" I asked.

"Because I couldn't read it."

"But when we were in the library, when you first came here to meet Uncle Ben, you said you liked to read when you were younger. So, why can't you read?"

"I can read, I just can't read stuff with small letters."

"It sounds as if you need glasses," I stated.

"Don't know, but I can't afford any."

"But I can, Colin. Tomorrow I will go with you into Chelmsford."

"Don't think Professor Susan will let you come in with me."

"I don't want to," I informed him. The idea of sitting listening to him talk about his abuse made me feel sick. "I'll wait outside. Better still, I'll wait in a coffee shop if there is one nearby. After, we'll go and get your eyes tested, and if you need glasses, I'll get them for you."

"You will?"

"Yes, I will."


"Because you've become a friend, Colin, and you need help that I can give."

Colin was silent. He nodded his head a couple of times, then looked at me. "I've never really had a friend."

"You have now," I stated.

Mum took me into college on Friday, but I had to get a taxi to get home in time to meet up with Colin. We needed to get down into Dunford for two to get the bus into Chelmsford so he could make his three o'clock appointment. Fortunately, there was a decent coffee shop not far from where he had to be, so I told him I would be waiting there for him. I had made an appointment for him online the night before at a national chain of opticians who had a shop nearby.

Colin was out of the psychologist's a lot quicker than I had expected. He could not have been in much more than half an hour. However, he seemed happy and had a spring in his step. As we had well over half an hour before his optician's appointment, I got him a hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream on top, together with a sticky bun. He seemed very happy with them.

At the optician's, the eye test took a lot longer than I expected. It definitely took longer than mine had. When they came out of the eye-test room, the optician looked decidedly unhappy.

"Your friend says I should speak to you about what's needed," he said.

"That's probably because I'm paying," I stated. He looked at me with a look of skepticism. I could almost see what he was thinking. 'Oh really, how are you going to pay for it?'

"Well, first of all, he needs to be referred to the hospital eye clinic. He's got cataracts in the lenses of both eyes. If they are not dealt with, they will progressively get worse."

"So, that on the cards, what about glasses?" I asked.

"He needs at least two pair, could probably do with three?"

"Why three?"

"He needs reading and distance-vision glasses; there is no way around that. His midrange vision is borderline. A pair of glasses for that would help, but it is not essential."

"Why not varifocal?" I asked.

"The difference in prescription between distance and reading is too great to get a smooth transition."

"OK, get him all three," I instructed.

That settled, we now had to sort out frames. The assistant who was showing us the available frames automatically pulled out a drawer of some that I certainly would not want to have been seen dead in. I directed Colin to other frames that were on open display.

"They are rather expensive," the assistant informed me.

"So what?" I told her.

It did not take long for Colin to find a frame he liked, and I must admit they suited him when he put them on. Then I told him to find two more. He asked me why, so I told him he needed different frames for the different glasses so he would know which were which. That took a bit of explanation. However, he did manage to find two more frames he liked.

That's when I went a bit mad. I was a bit sick and tired of the condescending attitude that both the optician and the assistant had shown me. So, when it came to what options to have on the lenses, I went for the lot. Light-reactive, anti-glare, scratch-resistant — you name it — if it was available for the lens I was buying. Finally, the assistant totted up the bill, then smirked as she handed it to me: nine-hundred-and-seventy-six pounds. I smiled and handed her my debit card. I enjoyed the smirk when I entered my pin and the machine showed transaction approved and printed out the receipt.

"How long before they are ready?" I asked.

"Usually two to three working days; the distance lenses will be here tomorrow, the others could be, as well."

"He'll be in to collect them on Wednesday. Make sure they ready. You do not want me coming in next Friday," I stated, then we left the store.

It had gone half-five when we got out of the opticians. The weather was showing distinct signs of changing. We could not get a bus till gone six, and that would mean we were looking at somewhere going on for seven before we got back to Dunford. I did not fancy that, so I got some extra cash out of the ATM and got a taxi home. It dropped us outside the front of the Priory.

Walking into the yard, I saw Arthur loading a bag into the back of the van. He looked up and saw us, then waved us over.

"Colin, glad I caught you before I left. Trevor's called, his voice-over work has overrun, so he is in Town for the weekend. It's the girls turn to be on duty this weekend, so I'm going into Town to be with him.

"Johnny, could you make sure that Colin gets something decent to eat; if he's left on his own, he just grazes on crisps."

I promised Arthur I would, then told Colin we might as well start now. He was to come over to the house for dinner. Arthur thanked me and then said he had to get off. Trevor wanted to take in a show tonight, so he was a bit pushed for time to get there. As Arthur drove off, I told Colin to go and get changed — he was wearing his smartest clothes for his appointment — then to come over to the house. I told him I would be in the kitchen.

When I got in, there was no sign of Mum, so I guessed she was either upstairs or in the living room. The latter proved to be correct.

"What's for dinner, and is there enough for three?" I asked when I found her.

"I hope so, otherwise Mary is in a right mess?"

"What's Mary got to do with it?"

"Well, I did not know what time you would be home, and I rather fancy fish and chips, so I thought we could go down to the Crooked Man. Who's the third person?"

"Colin. Arthur's gone into Town to spend the weekend with Trevor."

"That must mean the girls are on duty," Mum observed.

"Yes, they are. Anyway, Arthur asked me to make sure that Colin gets a good meal each day. Apparently left on his own, he just grazes on crisps."

"Right. I'll do a couple of extra chops tomorrow. I was planning pork in cider, if that's OK."

"That's fine."

The backdoor bell rang. I guessed it was Colin so went to let him in.

As it was beginning to spot quite heavily with rain, Mum decided it would be best if we went down in the car. So, we did. We all had fish and chips. Both Colin and I were able to have a beer; we were eating a meal.

When we got back to the Priory, I decided to go to the dojo. It was not yet half-seven, so I knew none of the serious training would have started. Also, Lee was not going to be there, so Simone would be running things. I wondered what the difference would be.

When I told Colin what I was going to do, he asked if he could come and watch, so I took him with me. Simone had no objection to him watching, so I explained to Colin what was going to happen and then went onto the mat to train. Delcie was there, as were Steven and Jim. There were a couple of lads whom I had seen on the course but had not seen training here before. Turned out they were both brown belts who were looking at going for black. For that, they needed their katas. Uncle Ben had told them they should train with Simone and Lee, so they planned to come over here every Friday.

I got the answer to what the difference would be between Lee and Simone training. Simone was a lot harder on us. Though she did buy a round of drinks when we got down to the pub after. Lee never did.

I commented on this to Simone.

"By tradition the dojo supports the Sensei, so it provides the food and drink. Nowadays, that just means he does not have to buy a round in the pub after training," she informed me.

Colin asked if he could learn to fight like we did.

"No reason why not," Simon informed him. "Come along on Monday. You don't need a gi; just come in something you do not mind getting thrown around in."

We finished our drinks. I was on shandy again and somewhat narked that Colin had got a pint, even though he was underage. Then we made our way back up the hill to the Priory. Simone had parked her car in the yard. Delcie and the new lads had parked up by the workshops, so we split at the gate. As we entered, Colin thanked me for letting him watch and said he would like to have a go at it, then left to walk over to the Stable House.

"Now, there is a serious case of hero worship," Simone said.


"Haven't you noticed the way he looks at you?" Simone asked.


"Johnny, that lad worships you. I can guess what he's been through, and I don't think anyone has bothered about him before you. He has a serious case of hero worship, and he is worshipping you. Don't let him down."

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