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Living with Johnny

by Nigel Gordon

Chapter 1

If I was unlucky, I might hear from my ex-wife about twice a year. If I was lucky, she would even forget the Christmas card, as she had last Christmas.

As luck would have it, I was working late. Actually, very late. It was the early hours of the morning, though that was not unusual for me. I often sit down at my keyboard around nine or ten at night and start writing, only to lose all track of time and still be writing when the hall clock strikes two or three.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise to open my front door shortly after two in the morning in response to an incessant hammering and find my ex-wife standing there. More surprising was that with her was a youth. He stood with drooping shoulders, a loose-fitting school uniform for one of the more expensive, minor public schools — it looked as if it had just been thrown on — and unkempt, shoulder-length, dirty-blond hair. From his rather gangly appearance, I guessed he was just entering his final growth spurt. From his looks, I suspected he was my son, Johnny.

"Here's your son," she snapped. "You sort him out." With that, she turned and walked to her car. I stood for a moment, watching her back as she strode down the path and got into her car; then I turned to my son.

"Well, you'd better come in." I stepped back to allow him in. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him and put down his suitcase. I looked down at it, "Is that all you have?"

"Yea Got sent home with that. My other stuff will be packed up and sent on, though they will send it to mother's."

"I presume, then, from that, that you have been expelled — again." He nodded. "You'd better come through to the kitchen; I need tea, and it looks like you could do with something." He went to pick up his case. "No, leave it there; we can sort things out later." That was going to present some problems. My home was a small bungalow in a backwater of a seaside village that had never been a tourist resort even in the 1930s. It had been my parents' retirement place and had come to me on their deaths; they managed to die within a year of each other. That had been just before my breakup with Johnny's mother, and I had moved here then. As a freelance technical writer, it suited me down to the ground. It had a nice kitchen, lounge, bedroom, bathroom and what had been a guest room but was now my study, from where I did most of my work. What it did not have was room for a fifteen-year-old boy, especially a fifteen-year-old boy I hardly knew.

Now let's make it clear, the fact that I hardly knew the boy was no fault of mine. I had over the years made several attempts to get to know him, but his mother had always made it impossible. Johnny was her son, and I was going to have no part in his life. As far as his mother was concerned, I was a mistake that she was going to do her best to forget, and there was no way she was going to let me have anything to do with her 'perfect' son. It seemed, though, that when the son turned out to be less than ideal, I could have him.

We made our way to the kitchen, with me leading the way. I indicated to Johnny that he should sit at the table while I went and put the kettle on. "Tea?"

"Do you have coffee?"

"Might," I opened the cupboard to look, "though it might be a bit stale. Don't use it myself." I found a packet of Douw Egbert Aroma Rood, which I remembered picking up when I was last in Amsterdam about six months before. Fortunately, it was still sealed. Looking around for the cafetière, I noticed Johnny looking at me. "What is it?"

"Well, I don't really know you. Oh, I know you are my father, and I get Christmas and birthday presents from you, but I don't know anything about you."

"Snap, you may be my son; actually looking at you, I have no doubts. You're the spitting image of your grandfather except for your hair; that is definitely from your mother's side of the family. I really don't know anything about you except for the complaints of your mother when she phones to tell me what a mess you are making of her life."

"You were never there for me when I was making the messes." It was an accusation that had some venom in it.

"No, I wasn't, but that was not my choice. Your mother made it quite clear that you were her son, and there was no place in your life for me." He looked at me and nodded. I found the cafetière and proceeded to make some coffee as well as tea for me.

"I suppose," he said, at last, "I might have guessed that, but at times I was pretty pissed off that you were not there for me."

"I can imagine."

"No, you can't."

"All right, I can't. You will have to tell me about it; tonight, though, is not the time for great revelations on either side. I need some sleep, and you look done in. Sorry, but for tonight, it is going to have to be the sofa for you." He nodded, seeming to accept it as inevitable.

"I'm gay, you know." The statement was clearly made to throw me.

"So's your uncle."

"I didn't know I had an uncle."

"Actually, you have two; they are both gay."

"You have two gay brothers?"

"No, I have one gay brother; the other is your mother's brother, who is my brother's partner."

"Shit, I did not know she had a brother."

"She does, and that is how we met, through our brothers. It might well be the one thing I never forgive my brother for, introducing me to your mother."

"That bad?"

"Not at first. There were some good times, but things went downhill before you were born. From the moment she knew she had 'was bearing' a child, I seemed to be in the way."

"You probably were she had me, and that gave her what she wanted."

"That's a bit cynical for a fifteen-year-old."

"Well, Dad, I've had fifteen years of living with her." He had called me 'Dad'.

"I had three; you have my sympathy. Anyway, drink your coffee, and I'll go and find you some bedding."

The incessant noise of the alarm forced me to wakefulness in a somewhat confused state. Normally I wake up about half an hour before the alarm and can lie in bed listening to the news before its ringing requires me to get up. As it was, I really felt like I needed to lie in bed and get back to sleep. Instead, I had to get up and cross the room to switch off the alarm. I learnt a long time ago never to have the alarm by your bed; it's too easy to roll over and switch it off, then roll back and return to sleep.

Having been forced to get up by the alarm, I remembered why I was so short of sleep: I had some responsibilities and a lot to sort out. First, though, I needed a shower and a shave. I was not sure about clothes at this point but decided it was probably not a good thing to walk around the house in front of your fifteen-year-old son wearing only a dressing gown. It might be comfortable, but somehow I guessed most fifteen-year-olds would consider it totally gross when worn by a parent. Not that I had much practice at being a parent.

Once showered and dressed, I popped my head around the lounge door and saw that Johnny was still asleep, he even looked comfortable on the couch. Tempting as it was to leave that as the sleeping arrangement, I decided it was not going to be practical. There was an imperative on me to come up with an alternative. That, though, would have to wait; rather more urgent at the moment was some strong hot tea and breakfast.

In the kitchen I turned on the radio, turning the volume down, and listened to John Humphries tearing a minor member of the government apart over the latest fiasco while I boiled the water and toasted some bread. Then I sat down and reviewed the situation.

Here I was, just the wrong side of forty with a fifteen-year-old son who I had not seen for the past fourteen-plus years and who had been expelled from his third school in four years — a situation which at the least was going to take a bit of explaining to my small group of friends, most of whom did not know I had been married, much less had a son.

Oh, there was also the fact that he was gay. Now, I have no problem with gays. Let's face it, my gay brother has had a far more fruitful relationship with his partner than I had with his partner's sister. To be honest, in my younger days I had played that side of the fence a few times myself, though nowadays I much more preferred this side of the fence — to be specific, Anne the lunchtime barmaid at the Crown and Anchor.

In the last ten years, Anne and I had settled into a cosy little relationship, a relationship where there was really no place for a fifteen-year-old son whose existence the said Anne had no knowledge of. What had been a sweet, peaceful life had suddenly got somewhat complicated.

Back to the point of Johnny being gay, the problem that was going to come up was who he was going to be gay with. I live in what is technically Lynnhaven, a seaside village; let's be honest, it is more mud-side than seaside. A few miles up the coast are popular holiday destinations with long beaches of sand; a few miles down the coast, the sand is replaced with shingle. We've got mud. That may be nice and easy for the handful of boats that are drawn up on the mud banks, but it is not suitable for much else. Besides that, we have one pub, twenty or thirty traditional Victorian fishermen's cottages, a couple of rows of 1950s retirement bungalows, of which mine is one, and a travelling library that comes once a week. There used to be a shop and post office, but that closed some five years ago when the owners retired to Spain. The point of all this is that there is really nothing in the village for a fifteen-year-old boy, let alone a fifteen-year-old gay boy.

I had moved into the bungalow during my divorce. My father had died a couple of months before Johnny's birth, a year after the death of my mother, who was considerably younger than my father. They had moved here when my father retired at sixty-five. Mam had just turned fifty. A few weeks after the move, she had been diagnosed with cancer and was dead within six months. I do not think Dad really got over her death. From then on, he just went downhill, and he was dead in a year at the age of sixty-seven.

One thing was clear, if Johnny was going to be living with me, he was not going to be living with me here. We would have to move. The question was where. Fortunately, my work was such that I could basically live anywhere; the problem was where Johnny would like to live — and what about Anne? That, though, was long-term; short-term, I needed to sort out some sleeping arrangement for him that did not involve the loss of my study. It was clear I was going to need money, and my study was where I earned it.

That was the first thing I had to tackle, and I had no idea how to solve it. What I needed was some advice — advice that was appropriate for dealing with a fifteen-year-old. I phoned Anne and asked her if she could call in before she went to work at the Crown and Anchor.

I had just finished speaking to her when Johnny came into the kitchen. It was clear that he had no worries about grossing me out with the sight of him in a state of near nudity. All Johnny was wearing was a very skimpy pair of briefs. He mumbled something at me; after getting him to repeat the mumble three or four times, I managed to decipher that he wanted a towel. I told him where the airing cupboard was. He slouched off, no doubt to get a towel and have a shower; at least, I hoped that was what he intended to do.

My expectation of his intent was confirmed when I heard the shower start in the bathroom. I decided it might be an idea to make another pot of tea, so I filled the kettle, an act that produced a series of expletives from the bathroom. I had forgotten that when you turned on a tap in the kitchen, it diverted water from the supply to the bathroom. No doubt when I turned on the cold water to fill the kettle, the shower had suddenly become very hot.

The kettle was just boiling when Johnny walked into the kitchen with a towel around his waist.

"What's wrong with your shower? I got fucking scalded."

"First, there is nothing wrong with the shower; it's fine. It is the plumbing that is messed up. Second, you could not have been scalded; there is a thermo cut-out on the hot-water system to the shower, so it could not get that hot, though no doubt it was highly uncomfortable. Third, would you please cut back on your use of expletives; if you use them too much they (a) upset people, especially your grandparents, and you need to be on their good side, and (b) you don't have them available when you really do need them."

"Grandparents? From what mother said, I thought you got this when your parents died?"

"That's correct, I was talking about your mother's parents." Johnny looked at me with an expression of increasing puzzlement. "Let me guess you have never met them?"

"No. I just presumed that they were dead; mother never mentioned them."

"Can't say I'm surprised." Indeed, I was not, my ex-wife probably found having a miner and a school cleaner as parents a bit of an embarrassment in the society she now kept. "Though surely you got Christmas cards and birthday cards from them."

"I don't know. Was never at home for my birthdays, and we were always in France for Christmas."

"It seems, son, you have some family to meet." Just then, the doorbell rang. "You better slip into the lounge and put some clothes on. That will be Anne." He looked at me quizzically but did go into the lounge. I went and answered the door. Anne was standing there with a look on her face just as quizzical as the one on Johnny's had been. I guided her into the kitchen.

"Look, Anne, something's turned up courtesy of my ex, and it is going to have quite an impact on things."

"And what is that?" she asked.

"Me," responded a voice from the lounge doorway. We both turned; Johnny stood there in jeans and a tee-shirt.

"Anne, this is Johnny, my son. Johnny this is Anne, my—"

"Better not go there," Anne interjected. She then walked over to Johnny and looked him up and down. "Well, Mike, you certainly have a good-looking boy; it's a pity I'm not twenty years younger" — she paused for a moment then looked him in the eyes — "unless you're into older women."

"No, ma'am, just older men." Anne laughed, put her arm around Johnny's shoulder and drew him over to the table.

"Well, Mike, I think this is going to be fun."

"Fun!" I must admit I knew Anne had a strange sense of humour at times, but I could not see how having a fifteen-year-old dumped on you could be described as fun. There again, I was having problems deciding exactly how it could be described.

"Yes, you old fogey, this boy's got spunk and a wicked riposte." She turned to him. "So, you are gay."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Now, boy, don't 'ma'am' me; I'm Anne, not the bloody Queen. I'm the local barmaid; I also clean for your father three afternoons a week and sleep with him from time to time." I am not quite sure who blushed more at this disclosure, my son or me. She looked at both of us and then laughed. "Come off it, Mike, if we are going to sort this out, we have to be open about things from the start. Johnny's been open about being gay, so we need to be open about our relationship; I am, of course, presuming that I am something more than a convenient screw."

"Anne, you're my girlfriend, not a convenient screw."

"Well, that is something settled, you know you have never actually said that we had a relationship." Now that she mentioned it, I realised that I hadn't, in fact; I had never really thought about what we had; it just seemed to be working for both of us.

"All right," continued Anne, "you better fill me in on what has happened." I started to speak, but Johnny interrupted me.

"I managed to get expelled from school again. Mother hit the roof and said she could no longer cope with me. The moment I got home last night, she put me in the car, and we drove down here. Once Dad had opened the door, she left me on the doorstep."

My curiosity got the better of me. "Just why did you get expelled? I hope you were not sodomising one of the first years."

"No, Dad, I was caught in the pavilion by the head boy and the head's wife sucking the Junior Games Master."

"Surely, that should be a problem for the Junior Games Master," I commented.

"Not when we were both high on pot, my pot."

"Just how did you manage to get caught."

"Well, the head boy always meets the head's wife there on a Tuesday evening during the Senior Staff Meeting to give her a good screw. They know the head will be tied up for at least a couple of hours with the meeting." At that point, he stopped suddenly realising what he had said.

"So, you knew they would be coming over there?" He nodded. "And you set it up so you would be caught with the Junior Games Master?" He nodded again. "Don't you think that was a bit unfair on the Junior Games Master?"

"Not really. He caught Johnson smoking pot last term; since then, he has been insisting on Johnson giving him blowjobs. All I had to do was let him catch me smoking pot and demand the same."

"Now listen, lad, I'm not happy to find that you're smoking pot."

"Don't worry about that; I don't."

"But you said…"

"I know, but I only smoked it to be caught and then to get him high so he did not realise the risk of being in the Pavilion at that time. Can't stand the stuff normally; gives me a fucking headache." He looked at Anne. "Sorry, ma'am."

"Don't mind me, I work in a bar and have heard far worse; it is your father you need to worry about."

"And smoking pot also made sure you were expelled, right?"


"Why?" I asked, not expecting an answer, but it was a question I had to raise.

"Because the last thing I want to do is go on to do A-levels, then University and all that shit. I want to get out and learn a trade." I looked at him questioningly. He looked back at me. "It's all your fault."


"Remember four Christmases ago, you sent me a book on sailing boats?" I nodded. "Well, I fell in love with them – not with sailing them but looking at them, their shape and their lines. Whenever I could, I used to go down to the river and watch them; I also watched them being made. That's what I want to do, design and build yachts.

"There was no way mother was going to let me do that; she had my future all planned out — A-levels, Law School, the Bar, just like her — but I'm not her; I want to make things. Is that so bad?"

I thought for a few seconds. "No, but I think your methods might be a bit extreme. Even for a trade, you will need your GCSEs to get an apprenticeship."

"I know that, but its only two weeks to the Easter vac; after that, all the study part for the year has finished; it's just revision from then till the exams. They did say I could go back to sit them, though I can't board at the school. Will have to go in as a day pupil. My friend Matterson will send me copies of his notes so I can keep up with the course."

"It's not that simple; the school is two hundred odd miles from here; we can't drive there each day you have an exam."

"No need; Matterson's a day boy. He said I can lodge with him while the exams are on. Look, I know it is not perfect, and I'll have to study hard, but I am fairly certain I'll make some good GCSEs."

It occurred to me at that point that my son appeared to have worked everything out and played my ex-wife perfectly to get just what he wanted. I looked at him with some respect — not approval, but respect.

"Well, son, it seems you are going to be able to avoid A-levels. Don't know about the rest, but before anything else, we need to sort out some sleeping accommodation for you. I'll have to find somewhere else to work, and we can turn the study back into a bedroom for the time being until we can find somewhere else."

"There's my caravan," Anne chipped in. I looked at her questioningly, not sure what she meant. "That old caravan at the back of my place; I've not used it since Tom died; it was his passion going off for the weekend with that thing wafting around behind the car. Move that 4x4 of yours and put the caravan in the car porch; you can use that for your study." It made sense. We immediately started to discuss what would be involved and worked out how to move it, then Anne gave me her keys so we could get into her place and collect it before she set off for work.

"Nice woman," Johnny commented after she had left. "You going to marry her?"

My son's comment stunned me for a moment, I had never thought about marrying Anne. To be honest, I had not thought about re-marrying at all. After my first wife, I was well and truly off the idea of marriage. At least, had been for quite a while. The thing with Anne had just developed, and the question of marriage had never come up — until now. Now it had come up, I realised that it was something I would have to give some consideration to. Turning to Johnny, I informed him that it was something I would have to think about and that we'd better get over to Anne's and get the caravan.

As it turned out, I did not have to move my study; once we got the caravan from Anne's to my place and pushed it under the car porch, Johnny decided it was a better option for him to use as his space. As he pointed out, he could put his things in it when they arrived, play his music and not disturb me. He had a point, so I agreed.

Once he had got my agreement to that, he then informed me that I needed to take him shopping. A raised eyebrow on my part only got the response that all his stuff was at school or at his mother's and he did not know when or if it would turn up. He then gave me a list of items he needed, a list of what he really needed and then the list of what he really could not live without. I could see where some of my eight hundred pound a-month Child Maintenance had been going, which reminded me that I needed to phone my solicitor to sort out how having Johnny living with me impacted on the divorce settlement. Surely my ex should be paying me Child Maintenance now?

In the end, I was saved from shopping by the arrival of Anne. She came back to the bungalow after work. Usually, I would have popped round to her place after she had finished her shift. Her arrival at mine only confirmed to me that normality had gone out of the window.

Anne quickly separated me from what cash I had and my debit card — I never used a credit card; then, using my 4X4, she departed in the direction of Chelmsford with Johnny. The fact Anne had taken my 4X4 worried me; she hated driving it, so her using it indicated she intended to do some serious shopping. I wondered if my bank account was going to be up to it.

Knowing I could count on them being gone for at least three hours — it would take at least an hour to get to Chelmsford, and they would, knowing Anne, need at least that long to shop — I decided to sort some things out. First, I needed to speak to my solicitor about the divorce settlement; then I thought I'd better do something about living accommodation. It was clear that this place was not going to do for us, especially if I was going to take my son's advice and marry Anne — if she would have me.

I rang Bernard, my solicitor, and explained the situation to him. He told me that he would take steps to sort things out but advised me to stop paying the Child Maintenance that I had been paying. When I told him what Johnny had said about me and Anne, he commented that he certainly had a wise godson. I had forgotten that Bernard was one of Johnny's godparents; we had done it for a laugh; I said my son should have a Jewish godfather. Bernard told me that there would be papers to sign, but he would get them all sorted, then pop over at the weekend as he would be nearby on his yacht on the Blackwater. It was the first time I had heard he had a boat, which showed how often I had spoken socially to Bernard in recent years. Usually, it was all about business, except when Anne and I were invited for dinner, when all we talked about was family.

My next call was to a firm of estate agents who had branches in a couple of nearby towns. The young girl I spoke to said they had a valuer in the area that afternoon, and would it be OK if they called round later? I said yes — might as well get it done as soon as possible. About thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, I found a middle-aged lady in a very formidable business suit on the doorstep. She introduced herself as the valuer, shoving a business card into my hand as she stepped past me into the bungalow. There she proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes moving from room to room and out into the garden, taking measurements and making notes. Then she advised me that the property was worth about three hundred thousand. My face must have shown the disappointment I felt, I had been hoping for about a hundred thousand more.

"You could make more by splitting the plot," she said.


"Split the plot. You have an extensive garden; it is a good forty feet wide and nearly a hundred deep. Smokehouse Lane runs down the side. You could easily cut two thirty-by-forty-foot plots from the bottom of your garden and sell them off as developer plots; with outline planning, they should get seventy-five to a hundred grand each. You would still be left with this bungalow and a decent-sized garden.

"Actually, one of the things against this place is that the garden is too big to be easily manageable; reducing the size of it will make the place more saleable." That I could understand; it was indeed too big for me to manage, which is why I paid a fortune to have a firm of gardeners come in and take care of it for me. "Even with the reduced garden, we can still get above two-eighty for this place, so you will only be down about twenty, and you will more than cover that on the two other plots."

It made sense; I told her that I would have to discuss it with my partner and son but that I would get in touch with them in the next week one way or the other. As she left, I realised I had described Anne as my partner. Damn it, Johnny's comment was having more impact on me than I had realised.

Just after she had left, the phone rang. It was Bernard, he had spoken to the solicitors who acted for my ex-wife and suggested that she should offer me the same level of child support I had been paying her. When I asked how that had gone down, he just laughed and said he would see me on Saturday.

I then sat down and carefully looked at my finances. Actually, when I looked at them, I found that things were somewhat better than I had expected. Some years before, I had written an introductory text on degree-level mathematics. I'm not a mathematician, which is probably the reason I had been able to explain things in a way which people can understand. It has always been a steady seller but never hit the heights, selling somewhere between eight hundred and a thousand books a year; that was until two years ago. Somebody in one of the red-brick universities had stumbled across it and decided to make it a set textbook for all the BSc students starting that year — about four thousand of them. This year I had heard on the grapevine that at least four other universities had taken it up, and the text was becoming something of a best seller. I had not taken much notice.

Now, most of my earned income is derived from writing articles to order, usually for the scientific press and mostly for organisations that want to pump their own position. Writing articles gives me a good and steady income, so I have never really bothered with the royalties I was getting from my books. The books are mostly there as advertising; they promote me as a serious technical writer.

It was, therefore, something of a shock when I logged onto my agent's online accounting site and found my sales figures. I knew my maths book had been doing well but had not looked at it since the last half-year figures; what I was not expecting was the level of sales that had been achieved: nearly a hundred thousand pounds over the previous six months. Just to make sure that I was not missing something, I phoned Bob, my agent. After a few minutes chat — we had not spoken since Christmas when he had asked me to consider doing a book on meteorology — I asked him about the figures. He confirmed my sales, informing me that my royalties this year looked like being more than a quarter of million. He then dropped the bombshell and told me that we were looking at doubling that next year, then informing me that a Canadian and couple of American publishers were looking at taking local publication rights for it. Also, there was interest from Australia. It seems my book was now regarded as a standard textbook for all science courses that were not mathematics-based but needed the students to know some maths.

Somewhere in the depths of the part of my mind that acts as a filing cabinet of inconsequential facts, one of those facts took on some importance: contract renewal. I had written the maths book about ten years ago, and it had been published on an initial five-year contract, which I had renewed just over four years ago; that means there was another renewal coming up. I asked Bob if this was correct, and he confirmed the fact. I suggested he contact my publisher and point out that what was now a best seller was coming up for renewal and I would like some better terms. It turned out that I could have saved my breath, Bob told me that he had already sent a letter asking them to put forward a proposal for renewal. Still, he was looking at fifteen per cent on all sales rather than my current ten up to ten thousand and twelve and a half percent over twelve thousand.

Once we had covered the options, he once again raised the subject of the meteorological book, saying that there was an excellent potential market for it. We had a brief discussion, but I once again put him off, this time using Johnny's arrival as an excuse. Bob gave me his sympathies, saying he had eighteen- and seventeen-year-old sons, and they had both been impossible at fifteen. I was surprised to learn that Bob had two sons. I had met the one — must have been the eighteen-year-old — last summer when he was interning at the agency before university. I wondered what the younger son was doing. With that, we ended the call, and I went into the kitchen to start to prepare dinner for three, as I had no doubt Anne would be staying.

It was clear that I was going to have to move, and I had been a bit worried that the only way I could afford to do so was to take on the meteorological book; the advance would have been helpful. Now, though, it was clear that I did not need to; the increase in sales from the maths book would more than cover me. However, I would have to hold off moving for a few months till the royalty cheque popped through the door, so to speak. These days it was just the statement that arrived by post; the payment was made electronically; no doubt the statements would come that way soon as well.

Being uncertain as to what time they would get back from the shopping trip, I threw together a spicy vegetable ragout and put it on a low heat to simmer away. I then made some fresh pasta. That way, I could have a meal on the table quickly after they got back, but it would not hurt if they were late. That was proper planning.

It was just after seven-thirty when I heard the car crunching up the gravel of the driveway. Opening the door, I looked with horror at the pile of bags and boxes in the back of my 4X4; now I knew why Anne had taken it. It was full. Anne got out and looked across the bonnet at me. "Well, he's a growing boy." I had no response.

What had seemed to be quite a pile when I saw it in the back of the car turned out to be a quite a pile when it was unpacked, but I started to understand why there was so much. I would never have thought of getting two duvets; I assumed that one boy would only need one duvet. Anne corrected me on that point, informing me that Johnny would need another duvet if he had a friend stay over. I was tempted to point out that he did not have any friends around here but guessed that such an issue would have been dealt with reasonably summarily; there is no point in going into a battle if you know you are going to lose. Instead, I got on with moving the assembled mass in my hallway into the various rooms and caravan as indicated by Anne, who it seemed, had taken charge of my house. I wondered if Johnny had said anything to her about marriage.

Once Johnny and I had moved everything to where Anne wanted it, I went back to the kitchen, after first confirming Anne would be staying for dinner, and got back to cooking. A few minutes later, I served up pasta with a vegetable ragout over which I had grated some hard Italian cheese. Sorry, I don't see any point in paying twice the price for an inferior Parmigiano when I can get a much better and almost identical cheese that is made a few kilometres outside of the region. Don't get me wrong; I am perfectly prepared to pay for a good Parmigiano when I can get it, but experience has taught me that I don't get it in my local Tesco, so Italian hard cheese it is.

Over dinner, we discussed what we had been up to during the afternoon. I told Anne and Johnny that I was considering putting the bungalow on the market and looking for somewhere else to live. Anne looked at me a bit surprised.

"Look," I pointed out, "this place is a bit cramped just for me; there is no way that all three of us could live here.

"You are presuming that I'll be living with you," Anne commented.

"Well, isn't that what married couples normally do?" Just after I said it, I realised what I had said. Anne looked at me.

"Is that a proposal?"

"Well, sort of. It's not how I had meant it to come out, but I think it would be a good idea if we were to marry."

"Dad, you've got the romantic instincts of a bull elephant in must," my son commented.

"I'll think about it," Anne responded.

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